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TELLING THE TRUTH TWELVE YEARS LATER! Jonathan Chait told the truth very slowly. Kevin Drum brought in The Snide: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 16, 2011

Return of recent political history: We were away the last three days, visiting an older friend who is ill. That visit gave us a perspective on Paul Krugman’s invaluable column from last Friday (“Seniors, Guns and Money”)—his column about the amount of the federal budget which goes to medical care for seniors.

We’ll discuss that column tomorrow.

Last Friday, we had planned to compliment Digby for her recent incursions into recent political history. At the same time, we planned to announced that we were back to work on How He Got There, our book about the press coverage of Campaign 2000. In the past few weeks, we have tightened and shortened the parts of chapter 5 which had already been posted. We should finish the chapter in the next month.

To recall just one small but ugly part of the twenty-month war against Gore, just click here. Remember these ugly, disgraceful events the next time you hear that no Democrat ever got slimed on earth before Donald Trump slimed Obama. Progressive interests can’t be served when liberals agree to be so dumb.

The birther nonsense is inexcusable crap. It’s been done many times before.

We didn’t get around to that post last Friday—other topics had arisen, and we had to catch the 5 AM train. But over the weekend, this same historical topic popped into view, brought forward by Jonathan Chait, then by Kevin Drum and by Krugman.

We’re really sick of the ways these boys play. Our thoughts are offered below, with our compliments to Digby for keeping (historical) truth alive.

TELLING THE TRUTH TWELVE YEARS LATER (permalink): Digby did something last week that we liberals simply don’t do. To her vast credit, she wrote a post about recent political history, her second such post in the past few weeks.

To read her post, click this. Her block-quote comes from The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The Hunting of the President is the 2000 book in which Gene Lyons and Joe Conason documented the long campaign to destroy Bill Clinton—an aggressive campaign which dates to 1989, several years before Clinton announced for the president. In 1996, Lyons had published Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater, a discussion of the way the New York Times and the Washington Post invented the pseudo-scandal which virtually defined the Clinton era.

Without these books, you simply can’t understand the political history of the last twenty years—but most liberals don’t know these books. When these books appeared, career liberals ran in fear, agreeing that they mustn’t be cited. This was especially striking in the case of Fools for Scandal, which was aggressively promoted, for years, by Harper’s magazine—alas, to no avail.

Because career liberals agreed to avoid these books, many regular liberals don’t understand the history of the past twenty years. When other career liberals act surprised by the recent nonsense aimed at Obama, regular liberals may not understand how absurd this pose really is.

In fact, it’s we liberals who have been treated like “fools;” for the past several decades, we’ve been treated like fools by our career liberal elites. This brings us to a recent episode which got its start with this column by Dana Milbank—a column in which this silly child says that Mitt Romney “has an Al Gore problem.”

Due to our recent travels, we might have missed the column. But Jonathan Chait jumped on Milbank’s statement in this post at the New Republic. Kevin Drum then cited Chait’s post (click here), as did Paul Krugman (click this).

Krugman excerpted this part of Chait’s post. We agree with the way Chait defines “the Al Gore problem,” though Romney doesn’t exactly have such a problem at this time:

CHAIT (5/13/11): An Al Gore problem is what happens when the media forms an impression of your character and decides to cram every irrelevant detail of your appearance and behavior into that frame, regardless of whether or not it means anything. Thus Romney's hair and lack of tie are now evidence of a character flaw, as is his decision to give a detailed policy lecture in a university town without being officially sponsored by a University. An Al Gore problem results in the media ganging up on a candidate like cool kids mocking a geek, with literally everything he's doing serving as more evidence for the predetermined narrative.

I'm glad that reporters are paying attention to the Al Gore problem. But I wish reporters would understand what the problem is—namely, a media pathology. After all, John McCain spent the years leading up to the 2008 campaign madly dissembling about and frantically reversing his record, but his mannerisms or appearance were never deemed to be a metaphor for a character flaw.

Krugman said this about that, quite correctly: “Indeed: the treatment of Gore in the 2000 race should be taught as a lesson in journalistic malpractice.”

That’s absolutely accurate. That said, we think Chait is a very strange apostle for this creed, for reasons we will explain below. We might not even have cared about that, but Kevin Drum decided to bring out The Snide in his own remarks about Chait’s post. So cheeky! Kevin offered this pathetic reference to the person who reported and described this problem in real time, when it was actually happening, not a safe twelve years later:

DRUM (5/13/11): Mitt Romney is a panderer who's shifted his positions repeatedly as the sweet spot for the Republican nomination has shifted. But that was never Al Gore's problem. Gore's problem was that, as politicians go, he was a perfectly decent but not especially sociable guy. So the press didn't care for him much. But instead of simply reporting occasionally that he was a serious but not especially sociable guy, they turned on him like a pack of hyenas and insisted that every word out of his mouth, every stitch of clothing he wore, and every story told about him was part of a carefully calculated, meticulously constructed political persona. It was a feeding frenzy. See Bob Somerby for several million more words on this.

Sorry, Kevin. As folk who admire your overall work, we’ll suggest you take that “several million words” and shove them right up your keister. Kevin’s quite good at The Snide in this post; like Chait, he’s also quite good at telling the truth twelve years later, when it’s finally safe to do so. But as the person who wrote those “several million words”—as the person who wrote quite a few of those words in real time—we thought we might take this opportunity to explain why we did so.

Beyond that, we thought we’d take the opportunity to show you how “career liberals” like Chait conduct their business, even today.

Why did we so tediously write those “several million words” on this topic? In large part, we wrote several million words because people like Chait and Drum wrote none. The things Chait told you in Friday’s post? We started explaining those things in March 1999, just as the war against Gore got started. We wrote about that war for the next twenty months, both at THE DAILY HOWLER and at the now-defunct Speakout.com (from June 2000 through the election). In the spring of 2000, we were solicited by Marty Peretz, whom we don’t know, to write a piece about this ongoing war for the New Republic; as we’ve noted in the past, we submitted a piece which never got published (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/11/00). Alas! The pretty children at TNR kept their traps shut very tight as this war against Gore unfolded—except to the extent that Milbank advanced this war all through 1999 as TNR’s campaign reporter, just before taking his current job at the Washington Post.

This ugly war was being conducted by the Washington Post. Somehow, Milbank failed to notice. Having failed to tell his readers about the war the Post was waging, he then signed on with the Post in January 2000. There he sits, to this day.

Jonathan Chait is outspoken today, some twelve years after the fact. Back then, he too wrote for the New Republic—and he kept his big trap shut about what the press corps was doing. In a piece he wrote on July 3, 2000, a reader could have read that Gore was “back in his customary role as pundit fodder”—but his discussion of this syndrome was very brief and very limited. His readers learned very little about the way Gore was being trashed by the mainstream press, in a war which had been going on for a full sixteen months at that point. Aside from that murky reference, we can find no sign that Chait ever mentioned the “media pathology” he discusses today—though he did write an embarrassing, 3800-word report in January 2000 about the political “apostasy” of Candidate McCain. (Headline: “This man is not a Republican.” Chait pretty much got conned.)

Today, Chait describes “a media pathology” in which the press corps “ganged up on [Gore] like cool kids mocking a geek, with literally everything he's doing serving as more evidence for the predetermined narrative.” But Chait kept quiet about this pathology when speaking up might have mattered. Jonathan Chait kept his big trap shut until it was safe to speak.

For ourselves, we did a month-long report on this very “pathology.”. Indeed, that exactly what we called our month-long series: “The pathology of the press corps: a special report.” But we did that report in May 2000, when it actually mattered. (Click here, scroll down to May 9.) We even paid money that month to get our “pathology” reports posted by a widely-viewed press release service. We were trying to get people like Chait to write about this gruesome problem. And sure enough! It finally worked! Eleven years later, Chait has stepped forward to describe this problem, using our very word.

To what extent do these career liberals play you? Forget what Chait wrote, and chose not to write, in 1999 and 2000. Instead, consider the ludicrous things he was still writing in his aptly-titled 2007 book, The Big Con.

Much of this book was well worth reading. But in chapters 5 and 6 (eight chapters total), Chait discussed the way the mainstream press corps has discussed politics in the past decade or so. When Chait’s book appeared, we planned to spend a week on his treatment of this topic, so absurd was his overall treatment.

We never got around to that task. We’re sorry now that we didn’t add to our millions of words. But let’s take a look at one part of what Chait wrote in 2007, seven years after the events which displayed that “media pathology.”

With apologies for the length of the excerpt, consider the following ludicrous passage. In this passage, Lyons and Conason get swept away; so do a decade’s worth of Republican character attacks on Dukakis, Clinton and Clinton. With regard to Campaign 2000, so does the bulk of the “pathology” Chait has finally denounced, twelve years later, now that it’s safe to do so.

Key point: In this passage, Chait describes the role of the New York Times in the war against Gore. This may be the most ridiculous account we have ever read of any earthly topic. Just for the record: As of 2007, Chait was already writing for the Times on occasion. In this passage, he clownishly disappears the role his employer played in the long and gruesome war which sent George Bush to the White House.

From the section heading down, this entire account is inaccurate or grossly misleading:

CHAIT (pages 169-170): THE REPUBLICAN CHARACTER MACHINE

The Republicans’ seminal insight was that the random process by which small events came to wield great symbolic insight into the character of presidential candidates didn’t have to be random. It was possible to prime the pump, in a way. This innovation first made itself felt during the 2000 campaign. It is difficult to remember now, but heading into his presidential campaign, Al Gore had a reputation for earnestness and probity. To the extent that he had any public persona, it was as a dull policy wonk—an image that itself had certain positive connotations, especially in contrast to Clinton’s rogue charm. Republicans set about quite deliberately to alter that image. In May 1999, the New York Times reported on this effort:

“After years of battling with President Clinton, House Republicans are shifting their sights to Vice President Al Gore and using ridicule as their weapon of choice. The office of the House majority leader, Representative Dick Armey of Texas, has become an unofficial clearinghouse of anti-Gore press releases and activity, with Mr. Armey mocking Mr. Gore over his pronouncements on air travel, the Internet and traffic congestion…

“For years Congress ran multiple investigations of Mr. Clinton. But with Mr. Gore, Republicans are betting that well-timed ridicule can be more devastating than any inquiry. In essence, they are trying to do to him what Democrats tried to do to former Vice President Dan Quayle: make him the foil for comedians on late-night television.”

In the ensuing months, the case against Gore was refined from his general ridiculousness to a specific tendency to lie, and the cast of the accusation took on a less lighthearted and more sinister tone. The task of fanning the flames passed from the hands of the Republican National Committee chairman, Ed Gillespie, who regularly distributed what he called “candy-grams” or “stink bombs”—attacks on various Gore statements that would seep into the media and feed the perception that the vice president was a compulsive liar.

By October 2000, those forays had settled so deeply into the mainstream narrative that the Times itself was now repeating them as settled fact…by this point, the Times had become a participant in the very phenomenon it had described year and a half earlier.

That whole passage is simply astounding. But the account of the New York Times’ role in the war against Gore is just this side of insane.

For unknown reasons, Chait pretends that the GOP first began sliming the character of major Democrats “during the 2000 campaign.” This statement is utterly mad; it disappears the earlier character wars against Dukakis, Clinton and Clinton. (Of course, since the books of Lyons and Conason harshly criticized the Times and the Post for their soles in the sliming of Clinton, all good liberal career players had to ignore what they said. In this passage, Chait went a good deal farther, disappearing an entire decade of GOP attacks.) Beyond that, Chait plainly suggests in this ludicrous passage that the New York Times only began sliming Gore as a liar in October 2000—that this was an unfortunate break with the paper’s earlier practice.

That assertion is simply insane. There’s just no way on the face of the earth that Chait could really believe that.

Today, twelve years later, Jonathan Chait is quite outspoken concerning the war against Gore—concerning the “media pathology.” In real time, though, he kept his trap shut. As late in the game as 2007, he was still publishing ludicrous nonsense like that passage above.

Today, this fiery liberal is very brave. He failed you when it counted—and for many more years after that.

Kevin Drum has become quite bold too, liberated from his previous timidity. On Friday, Kevin even brought out The Snide, discussing the millions of words we’ve written on this subject. As noted earlier, Kevin can shove The Snide right where it belongs. While he does, let us offer this etiquette lesson to Kevin, who himself wrote ludicrous things about the high-minded press corps until well into the last decade:

Dear Kevin:

There are ways to call attention to the people who got major stories right. For ourselves, we always note the way Gene Lyons wrote the book on the Whitewater pseudo-scandal—on the way Lyons and Conason described that earlier GOP conduct. We often note that Krugman has been the MVP of the liberal world, as of course he has.

We don’t count the number of words they have written, rolling ourselves as we do. In the case of Lyons, we simply say he got it right. We simply say he got it right when no one else did.

Well guess what? THE DAILY HOWLER “wrote the book” on the press corps’ war against Gore! We were writing about it—and we were right—from the first week forward. A boy with slightly better home training would just come out and say that.

He would put The Snide away. He might even explain his own goddamned silence over so many years.

Final note: For some reason, the comments to Krugman’s post aren’t appearing this morning. But the fifth commenter (or so) said something like this: “I only wish you had cited Bob Somerby, who has been right about this all along.”

Indeed, that’s the way some people behave—people with good home training. But we have been a bit too shrill, and this professor is an increasingly serious person. Regarding Kevin’s turn to The Snide: In this gruesome “press corps” of ours, there is no greater sin than the sin of having been right in real time. The Snide will always dog such people, even when the children crawl out of their holes to adopt such a person’s analysis, twelve years later.

Can we talk? Your “career liberal” leaders are horrible citizens. Last Friday, Chait was right twelve years too late, helping us see how this works.