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WHEN SCRIBES SWITCH SIDES (PART 1)! This is the way the world starts to look when the press corps starts taking your side: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MAY 21, 2008

GENDER AND RACE—AND HACKS: There’s no bigger hack than the Post’s Dana Milbank, which explains today’s consummate hackistry. Has Hillary Clinton encountered misogyny in this campaign? Duh! Whatever you think of the overall race, everyone knows that she has; denying that would be like denying the presence of ice in Alaska. But Milbank is paid by the cable “news” network which has been Ground Zero for the campaign’s gender-trashing. So watch a pure hack go to work! In today’s column, he pretends that the claim of misogyny only makes sense if you’ve drunk “the Clinton Kool-Aid.” Here’s one numb-nut example:

MILBANK (5/21/08): Supporters were just entering the ballroom when, at the stroke of 7 p.m., CNN's Wolf Blitzer, on the projection screen, forecast "a dramatic win for Hillary Clinton...perhaps by 30 points." The gathering Clinton crowd was still cheering when CNN's Gloria Borger, at 7:05, reminded everybody that "the prospects are not great" for Clinton, and Donna Brazile mused: "Will it be enough? . . . I don't believe so."

Misogynists!

See how it’s done? Milbank finds a pair of statements about Clinton’s chances which didn’t seem to be driven by misogyny. That means that he’s free to ridicule the whole foolish notion! But read his whole
column if you want to see the way a pure hack “reasons.”

You’re right—no real human reasons this way. But Milbank is a paid press corps hack. They’ve played you this way for many years. This morning, they’re playing you still.

Also in this morning’s Post, Ruth Marcus makes a less foolish attempt to evaluate the claim of misogyny. Unlike boy colleagues named Cohen and Milbank, she doesn’t pretend that it didn’t exist. But even Marcus plays the problem down in predictable, in-group fashion. In accordance with Strict Pundit Guidelines, she avoids noting that the “sexist episodes” she acknowledges often came from famous colleagues in the mainstream press corps. Instead, she only cites episodes involving other candidates. (Good girl!) In fact, Clinton’s now-famous comments to Lois Romano this week explicitly concerned sexism “in the press,” “by the media.” But Marcus absent-mindedly failed to go there. Indeed, her apparent desire to support her professional class led to this twice-bungled tale:

MARCUS (5/21/08): Clinton's least attractive campaign moments came when she took up the gender card and chose to play it as victim instead of trailblazer. The notion that the male candidates were ganging up on her because she is a woman instead of—remember back when?—because she was the front-runner was silly. The complaint that asking her the first question in debates was evidence of a double standard was even sillier.

In fact, Clinton’s “first question” complaint wasn’t silly at all. But as a matter of fact, she didn’t say she was being treated that way because she was a woman; she merely implied that this was happening because the moderators favored Obama. Meanwhile, was it “silly” when Clinton said that “the male candidates were ganging up on her” in the October 30 debate? Largely, we would say that it was—because the real story at that debate was the gang-bang behavior of Russert and Williams, the pair of droogs who used the occasion to continue the long press corps war against the vile people named Clinton and Gore. At the time, the Clinton campaign shied away from this difficult truth, and were left saying something slightly silly.

To her credit, Marcus says there were “sexist episodes;” she just seems reluctant to name the names of players like Matthews, Shuster, Carlson, Olbermann. Like the rest of her well-schooled tribe, she disappears the major scandal (complete with apologies and a suspension) which took place at one major “news” channel. And she disappears something else; she disappears the fact that the biggest assault on Clinton occurred because her name was Clinton, not because she was a woman. These people ran the same war against a hopeful named Gore—and, unless you read Maureen Dowd too much, you know that Gore is a man.

Yes, Virginia (suburbs)! Whatever you think of the overall race, there was obvious misogyny in this campaign. But within the press corps, this misogyny was only one part of a much larger, much longer war. Unfortunately, these people will never tell you the truth about their own conduct in the past sixteen years. Hacks like Milbank will treat you like fools—and Marcus won’t be far behind.

On a brighter note, Courtland Milloy does an excellent job analyzing one racial dimension of the ongoing Dem campaign. We recommend his piece—just click here. It deserves a full look. Tomorrow morning.

Special report: When scribes switch sides!


PART 1—EVEN KESSLER: Eight years ago, we said that he might be “The Man” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/8/00). But lo how the mighty are falling these days! This morning, even the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler has his thumb on the scale a tad, tilting for Obama as-opposed-to-McCain. Here he is, explaining how Obama “has stuck to his position” about meetings with unfriendly foreign leaders:

KESSLER (5/21/08): Obama, meanwhile, has stuck to his position that the president should be willing to talk with enemies of the United States as part of a return to a more open and ambitious use of diplomacy, though last week he clarified that there would be lower-level contacts and "preparation" before any presidential meeting. On the campaign trail, Obama cites President Richard M. Nixon’s opening of U.S. relations with China and President Ronald Reagan;s negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as examples he would emulate.

Has Obama “stuck to his position?” Has he merely “clarified?” We’d say that framework is extremely Obama-friendly. And in this piece, this bit of framing takes the place of the thing Kessler should be doing. It takes the place of an attempt to explain Obama’s position in full.

Has Obama “stuck to his position” about these foreign leaders? Has he merely “clarified?” This takes us back to July of last year—and at that time, the issue wasn’t whether “the president should be willing to talk with enemies of the United States.” (Full Q-and-A below.) At that time, Obama said something much more specific; he said he would “be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of [his] administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.” Last week, in the press avail to which Kessler refers, he seemed to have amended that position, as the New York Times has correctly been noting. This is last week’s first Q-and-A on this topic. In this answer, Obama says he can’t understand why anyone would say he has “distanced himself” from his original position:

QUESTION (5/16/08): Republicans—or the McCain campaign—said that you're just trying to distance yourself from comments that you made last year about meeting with the leaders of rogue nations without preconditions.

OBAMA: I haven't distanced myself at all. I say that in every town hall meeting that we have and every rally. What I've said is that I will meet with not just our allies and our friends but I will initiate tough diplomacy with our enemies, and that includes Syria, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela. I would meet with them. And I would meet with them without preconditions, although with preparation. And I would present to them very clearly what my expectations would be in terms of them changing their behavior: if it was in the case of Iran, stop threatening Israel, stand down on nuclear weapons development, stop funding Hamas and Hezbollah and stop stirring up problems inside of Iraq.

If they are willing to change behavior, then we would offer inducements and benefits diplomatically. And if they don't, then we will continue to ratchet sanctions and isolation on Iran. That's been a consistent policy that I've presented throughout. There's no contradictions whatsoever. So I have no idea where it is that they're suggesting that somehow there's been a change in policy.

“I would meet with them without preconditions, although with preparation,” he said. So many angels were dancing on the head of that pin that a second question was asked a bit later:

QUESTION: Senator, I'd like to get a little more clarification on the notion of direct presidential diplomacy as it flows out of [last July’s] YouTube debate remarks that you made. When you say that you—that you would be involved, "I," do you mean, from the get-go, the president of the United States, or do you mean an Obama administration through the National Security Council, special emissaries, State Department—

OBAMA: The latter, but—I mean, understand what the question was. The question was a very specific question: Would you meet without preconditions? Preconditions, as it applies to a country like Iran, for example, was a term of art, because this administration has been very clear that it will not have direct negotiations with Iran until Iran has met preconditions that are essentially what Iran views and many other observers would view as the subject of the negotiations; for example, their nuclear program.

The point is that I would not refuse to meet until they agreed to every position that we want, but that doesn't mean that we would not have preparation, and the preparation would involve starting with low- level—lower-level diplomatic contacts, having our diplomatic corps work through with Iranian counterparts an agenda. But what I have said is at some point I would be willing to meet.

And that is a position—I mean, what's puzzling is that we—that we view this as in any way controversial when this has been the history of U.S. diplomacy until very recently.

Much of that answer can be paraphrased thusly: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah misdirect. But Obama professed to be surprised by the notion that he had amended his original position. “What's puzzling,” he said, “is that we—that we view this as in any way controversial.” But in fact, the controversy which blew up last July wasn’t puzzling at all. Last week, Obama said that lower-level negotiations will take place, and that “at some point [he] would be willing to meet” with the foreign leaders in question. That isn’t controversial, of course, because that is a fairly standard position. But here’s the Q-and-A from last year. We’re sorry, but it sounded quite different back then, and when criticized, Obama stuck to what he had said quite hard:

QUESTION (7/23/07): In 1982 [sic], Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this: That the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous. (Applause.) Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to the Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them, they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we have the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward. And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them.

No, it isn’t perfectly clear what the phrase “without preconditions” means. But Obama didn’t say he would be willing to meet with these leaders “at some point;” he said he would meet with them in his first year. He offered no thoughts about the type of preparation which might precede such meetings. To our ear, this answer might have been viewed as basically sensible, if a bit imprecise; David Corn was much tougher on Obama, asserting the obvious—Obama seemed to have flubbed (just click here). But uh-oh! When Hillary Clinton said, “I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these during my first year,” Obama began to criticize her as a Bush/Cheney type. "I don't want a continuation of Bush-Cheney,” he said in the ensuing discussion. “I don't want Bush-Cheney lite.”

Last week, Obama largely slid to the position Clinton had asserted. And even people like “The Man,” Glenn Kessler, are letting him do it. They’re saying he hasn’t flipped—he’s just “clarified.” And they certainly aren’t asking him why he name-called “Bush-lite” at the time.

In our view, this has always been, at its heart, a rather tedious dispute—a dispute built around a minor flaw in one imperfect answer. But from that day to this, Obama has offered a shifting set of statements about what he really meant, about what he really would do—even as he used the dispute as a way to tell Dems that there was a major difference between himself and his Bush-lite opponent. On the one hand, he was walking his statement back quite quickly: ''I didn't say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon,'' he told Iowa’s Quad City Times one day after the YouTube debate. On the other hand, he kept name-calling Clinton as “Bush-Cheney lite”—duping Dems about a distinction which he also seemed to be saying didn’t really exist. And uh-oh! That raises the role the press corps has played in this long, ongoing contest.

In a rational world, the job of the press corps, in such a matter, is to clarify the candidates’ positions. What did Obama really mean last July? How would be really structure diplomacy with the nations in question? As usual, the press corps failed to perform that mission. To all intents and purposes, they only began asking the relevant questions last week—and Kessler can be seen this morning asserting Obama’s key talking-point. Has Obama “stuck to his position?” Kessler rushed to say that he had (to assert a viewpoint), without giving us very much background information. For ourselves, we wouldn’t be inclined to put it that way. But first and foremost—before we judged or asserted a view—we would try to give our readers the basic background information.

To liberals and Dems, we’ll only say this: This is the way the world starts to looks like when the press corps begins to hack away on your side. They’ve hacked against you for many years. But now, they’re sick of the GOP War Machine, and no, they don’t hate Bracak Obama (good!), as they’ve long hated All Things Clinton/Gore (bad!). To be very clear, Kessler didn’t take part in that war. But this morning, even Kessler has his thumb on the scale, asserting a fuzzy, debatable framework which comes straight from Obama himself. But this is pretty much how it looks like when a deeply destructive, inexcusable war nears its (temporary?) end.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Joe Klein hacks away—on your side!