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Daily Howler: Brooks licks every man in the house. We'll zero in on Katrina
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DAVID AND KATRINA! Brooks licks every man in the house. We’ll zero in on Katrina: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2005

DAVID AND KATRINA: How about credit where credit is due? David Brooks is essentially right, about all comers, in today’s New York Times column.

First, he’s right about our embarrassing White House. “I can't believe what I'm seeing,” he says, denouncing the Bush Admin’s reaction to the ballyhooed Newsweek flap. “[W]hat have the most powerful people on earth become? Whining media bashers,” Brooks writes. “They're attacking Newsweek while bending over backward to show sensitivity to the Afghans who just went on a murderous rampage.”

And, yes, Brooks is also right about his conservative colleagues. “Many of my friends on the right have decided that the Newsweek episode exposes the rotten core of the liberal media,” he writes. “Excuse me, guys, but this is craziness.” What a shame it took a conservative pundit to state a couple of obvious facts: “The people who run Newsweek are not a bunch of Noam Chomskys with laptops. Not even close. Whatever might have been the cause of their mistakes, liberalism had nothing to do with it.” We don’t necessarily agree with every particle of that last statement. But no—the perfumed poodles running Newsweek are not a bunch of crazy liberals. They proved this, over and over again, in their wars against Clinton, then Gore. But it’s amazing how hard it is to get our fiery “liberal spokesmen” to say this. They have decided to “get over” those recent wars—wars which their fiery “liberal” publications all agreed to ignore in real time.

And sadly, yes, one more thing is true—Brooks is also reasonably accurate in his comments about big progressives. Yes, there’s a bit of hyperbole mixed in with the irony. But sadly, not all that much:

BROOKS (5/19/05): Meanwhile, the left side of the blogosphere has erupted with fury over the possibility that American interrogators might not have flushed a Koran down the toilet. The Nation and leftish Web sites are in a frenzy to prove that the story is probably true even if Newsweek is retracting it.
Yes, there’s a bit of hyperbole there. But we watched the Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel as she played some Hardball Monday night. And yes, we saw precisely what Brooks describes. To our eye and ear, vanden Heuvel did seem to be insisting that the toilet tale was “probably true.” Vanden Heuvel has no earthly way of knowing whether the incident happened. But so what? “The allegations have been out there in terms of reporting,” she pleadingly said:
VANDEN HEUVEL (5/16/05): I think Newsweek made an error. But the debate, it seems to me, has been very narrow in its fixation on this issue of single sourcing, of anonymous sourcing, because, you know, the allegations of the desecration of the Koran have been out there in terms of reporting, whether in The New York Times, in The Washington Post, in the BBC, detainees who come out of Guantanamo or Bagram in Afghanistan—

MATTHEWS: Right. But the story says—this is very important that I get this straight on my television—

VANDEN HEUVEL: But these are sources—

MATTHEWS: No. I want to make this very clear, what you just said, and I want to clarify it.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes, but these are—

MATTHEWS: The only sources we`ve had for a detailed account or any kind of account of religion being used against detainees has come from detainees. We`ve never even had until this time even a hint of an official acknowledgment. Susan, correct me on this, is that right?

PAGE: That`s—

MATTHEWS: That`s why this story was so inflammatory.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But there was a New York Times—

MATTHEWS: It was that we have got to be really careful about what we say here.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I know, but there was a New York Times report of an officer talking about a hunger strike in Guantanamo which was precipitated, according to the officer, by chronic misuse of the Koran. So there—but I`m just—there have been reports. And I think to fixate on the anonymous source issue, and by the way, the Pentagon is very interesting in first saying that the riots were not precipitated by the story. But then was the Pentagon source put under pressure to back off? I think these are legitimate questions to raise in light of a White House now trying to deflect attention from documented abuses onto Newsweek tarnishing the image of the United States in the world.

You can defend her statements as “technically accurate.” (Although the May 1 Times report to which she refers is based on another anonymous source, and vanden Heuvel gave that source a slight raise, from “interrogator” to “officer.” For the record, the Times report does not refer to any allegations about Gitmo toilets.) But as we watched, we were struck by how hard vanden Heuvel was emoting. And yes, we thought she was clearly suggesting that the toilet story is “probably true,” although she has no earthly way to know if it actually happened.

We thought vanden Heuvel’s performance was unwise in several ways. First, there has been a great deal of documented misconduct at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram. It’s silly to feel that we have to argue about whether this one toilet tale really happened. The toilet tale adds next to nothing to the larger story about these sites. It’s silly to emote about a mere detail—especially when you have no idea if the detail actually happened. And yes, the politics here are quite foolish. Inevitably, this sort of performance makes it look like progressives and liberals are rooting against American interests. This is the dumbest kind of politics—and vanden Heuvel couldn’t wait to go play them.

But then, is it really surprising to see vanden Heuvel arguing in favor of error? To see her rush to say “yes, but” when Newsweek commits its latest blunder? Why does she defend the weekly rather than make an obvious statement: “They’ve long done this sort of thing to us?” Perhaps because vanden Heuvel herself enjoys waving utter nonsense into print. After all, why is George Bush in the White House at all? Here’s the garbage vanden Heuvel was printing three weeks before the 2000 election—three weeks before the close election which transformed American politics. The Nation’s Alexander Cockburn did the honors. Prepare to avert your gaze in embarrassment:

COCKBURN (10/16/00): What an odd presidential race! So long as George W. Bush keeps his mouth shut and remains in seclusion he floats up in the polls. His best strategy would be to bag the debates, take Laura on an extended vacation and come back a couple of days before the election. Meanwhile, Gore reinvents himself on an almost daily basis. Nothing has been more comical than his "populist" posturings about the Republicans being the ticket of Big Oil and himself and Lieberman being the champions of the little people...

Gore's "populism" is comical, yet one more facet of a larger mendacity. What suppressed psychic tumult drives him to those stretchers that litter his career, the lies large and small about his life and achievements? You'd think that a man exposed to as much public derision as was Gore after claiming he and Tipper were the model for the couple in Love Story, or after saying he'd invented the Internet, would by now be more prudent in his vauntings. But no. Just as a klepto's fingers inevitably stray toward the cash register, so too does Gore persist in his fabrications.

Recently he's claimed to have been at the center of the action when the strategic oil reserve, in Texas and Louisiana, was established. In fact, the reserve's tanks were filling in 1977, when Gore was barely in Congress, a very junior member of the relevant energy committee. The legislation creating the reserve had been passed in 1975. At around the same time as this pretense, the VP claimed to have heard his mother crooning "Look for the union label" over his cradle. It rapidly emerged that this jingle was made up by an ad man in the seventies, when Al was in his late 20s.

As a clue to why Al misremembers and exaggerates, the lullaby story has its relevance as a sad little essay in wish fulfillment. Gore's mother, Pauline, was a tough character, far more interested in advancing Albert Sr.'s career than in warbling over Gore's cot. Both parents were demanding. Gore is brittle, often the mark of the overly well-behaved, perfect child. Who can forget the panicked performance when his image of moral rectitude shattered at the impact of the fundraising scandals associated with the Buddhist temple in Los Angeles?

As most of our readers understand by now, there’s a term for work like this; Cockburn’s piece was political pornography. And by now, everyone surely understands the fact that dare not say its name; everyone knows that the two-year War Against Gore which Cockburn channeled actually put George Bush in the White House. In short, everything against which our flower now rails was put into play by that twenty-month onslaught. And it wasn’t enough that vanden Heuvel failed to fight it in her journal; weeks before Americans voted, she was actively pimping the porn which changed every one of our lives! Are you really surprised to see her now defending Newsweek’s right to party? After all, people who enjoy printing garbage themselves will often rise to defend the great practice. And yes, that garbage did appear in the Nation, put into print by vanden Heuvel’s firm hand. This week, she’s out there defending Newsweek, and arguing that the toilet tale “probably happened”—engaged in the silly, pointless politics that has long harmed progressive interests.

By the way, here’s the final paragraph of Cockburn’s piece. Does anyone on earth still believe this?

COCKBURN: Gore's a fibber through and through, just like Bill. A sad experience in the closing weeks of the campaign is to encounter liberals desperately trying delude themselves that there is some political decency or promise in the Democratic ticket. There isn't. Why talk about the lesser of two evils, when Gore is easily as bad as Bush and in many ways worse? The "lesser of two evils" is by definition a matter of restricted choice, like a man on a raft facing the decision of whether to drink seawater or his own urine. But in this election there are other choices, starting with Nader and the Greens. It isn't just a matter of facing seawater or piss.
Was Gore “easily as bad as Bush?” That is a matter of judgment, of course. But Cockburn found his way to this conclusion by reciting a litany of fake, phony tales—lies the mainstream press corps dreamed up during its two-year War Against Gore. “Gore’s a liar, just like Clinton!” The press corps said it again and again—and they invented phony misstatements to “prove” it. Are you surprised to see the woman who printed this political porn toting seawater for Newsweek?

FOR HISTORY-LOVERS ONLY! THE NATION, PIMPING FOR BUSH: To state the obvious, Cockburn was rattling Bush campaign spin in that remarkable column. To help establish the historical context, here’s part of Mike Allen’s news report in the Washington Post about Gore’s “strategic oil” statement:

ALLEN (9/24/00): For the third time in a week, Vice President Gore's aides today found themselves explaining a possible exaggeration from a campaign appearance.

Earlier this week, Gore faced questions about why he had told union leaders he had listened to "Look for the Union Label" as a lullaby, even though he was 27 when it was written. (An obvious joke, Gore said Friday.) His campaign also conceded that he had given prescription costs from a Democratic study when he had implied the prices concerned his mother-in-law and his dog. (His staff said the underlying point, that the same drugs can cost more for humans than for dogs, remains undisputed.)

Now, for what Texas Gov. George W. Bush is trying to promote as strike three. "There he went again," Bush said today.

On Friday, during a discussion at a news conference about the use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat rising oil prices, Gore said, "I've been a part of the discussions on the strategic reserve since the days when it was first established."

Bush, speaking by satellite to the Pennsylvania Republican Party from Orlando, said today, "Problem is, the reserve was established in 1975, two years before Al Gore even went to Congress." Earlier, Bush said, "My opponent, unfortunately, has spent the week misleading Americans."

Gore's campaign replied that although the reserve had been authorized by Congress in 1975, it began operating in 1977, the first year Gore was in Congress. He was a member of the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce energy and power subcommittee, and his staff said he had been part of the discussion and votes on the reserve, and had voted to increase the amount of oil in the reserve...

Although Gore has an explanation for each of the incidents and none seems earth-shattering, Bush has begun stitching them together in his speeches to suggest that, as a Bush news release was headlined today, "Gore Makes Things Up."

Gore's credibility has surfaced periodically as an issue throughout the campaign,
so heavy news coverage is given to statements that might be chalked up to rhetorical license if they came from another public figure. Whatever the validity of the charges, the statements in question have given ammunition to Bush, and Gore's staff has spent hours answering questions about them.

“Gore’s credibility has surfaced periodically?” Let’s be a bit more frank: Starting in March 2000, Bush began calling Gore a liar all over the nation, joining an ongoing war which the mainstream press had been waging since March 1999. No, Bush didn’t “paint Gore as a flip-flopper whenever possible,” as Jonathan Chait weirdly said in the New Republic last fall (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/05). Bush kept “painting Gore” as a liar. So did the mainstream press, over the course of two bizarre years—and so did the heroic Nation, our great progressive journal. Meanwhile, on the micro level, the “union lullaby” and “doggy pill” stories completely transformed the race in September 2000, as Gore seemed to be pulling away in the polls. For Howard Fineman’s amazing explanation of these utterly trumped-up stories, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/03. Oh yes, by the way—Fineman works for Newsweek, the utterly laughable publication whose water vanden Heuvel now totes.

For the record: Gore’s statement about the union lullaby was, quite clearly, an obvious joke. Even Bob Novak said so. And regarding the doggy pills: Gore had cited the data from an unchallenged, year-old House study, accurate data which many Dems had cited in the previous year. (He added two more accurate facts—his pet Labrador and his mother-in-law were both taking the drugs in question.) But so what? The press corps was painting Gore as a liar, and it was willing to work with these accurate data. In the Washington Post, for example, William Kristol lost his mind about these accurate statements by Gore. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/30/04. Warning—prepare to be amazed by the things Kristol wrote.) But then, Cockburn sold the truth away too, writing in that progressive publication, The Nation.

Finally, one key point: We know! We know! We understand! You’d rather believe in progressive “tooth fairies” than hear the truth of your recent history. But please don’t send us e-mails saying it’s time to “get over” the Clinton-Gore years. We have “liberal spokesmen” to pen that brilliant advice—spokesmen who are always ready to offer prescriptions for the demise of your interests. So if you want to dream on dumbly about the shape of your recent history, we know of an excellent way to achieve it. Just don’t visit the incomparable site where you’ll hear what really occurred.

IT WAS THE MAINSTREAM, NOT THE CONSERVATIVE: For the record, it was the mainstream press corps, not the conservative, which invented the long string of tales about Gore. Who came up with the “union lullaby” nonsense? Walter Shapiro, USA Today. Who came up with the doggy-pill clowning? Walter Robinson, of the great Boston Globe. (Earlier, who had invented the Love Story nonsense? You hate this, but it was Frank Rich and Mo Dowd.) Readers, all good scribes were in a tizzy to think that Clinton had gotten those bl*w jobs. The natural reaction? Invent a string of crackpot tales to punish the gentleman’s next-in-line, Gore. And yes, this actually is what happened—this is what put George Bush in the White House. Are you really surprised that this gaggle of goons carries water for dear Newsweek now?