Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: Journalists threw their support to Obama, Judis says, in a vast gaffe
Daily Howler logo
FLOWERING JUDIS! Journalists threw their support to Obama, Judis says, in a vast gaffe: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MAY 22, 2008

KLEIN PLAYS THE FOOL, POSTPONED: John Judis’ new piece is so astounding that we’re postponing all other work. Tomorrow, though, Joe Klein plays the fool—this time, on your side! But darn it! Concerning one of Klein’s ludicrous blunders, Robert Novak has beaten us to it. We know, we know—Vile Novak is bad. In this case, though, he’s right on the facts. Klein was out there playing the fool—this time, against Saint McCain!

FLOWERING JUDIS: We’ve sometimes found ourselves amazed by the work of veteran journo John Judis. But the scribe’s new piece for the New Republic is truly milestone political journalism. Rarely do journalists explain so clearly the shape of events which have changed all our lives. Judis does so, in a truly remarkable piece. And we don’t mean that as a compliment.

Judis’ piece, “The Autopsy Report,” “explor[es] the political reasons for Hillary Clinton's defeat” in the ongoing Democratic campaign. He starts with her first political mistake—her failure to apologize for her vote on the war resolution. We’ll admit that we never quite understood the reason we were supposed to care about John Edwards’ “apology.” But just to be clear, Judis merely says that a Clinton apology would have helped—he doesn’t explicitly say that it should have. And no, this isn’t the part of his piece which makes it so stunning a document.

That part of his piece comes a few grafs later, as he describes Clinton’s second mistake. In just a few remarkable paragraphs, he explains the way this Dem campaign was decided. We think his account of this second mistake is one of the most remarkable journalistic testimonies we’ve ever read. How was the nomination decided? We’ll start things off with this fragment:

JUDIS (5/21/08): Clinton's second great political mistake lay in how she dealt with Obama's challenge. Sometime in December, having realized that Obama was going to be a genuine rival for the nomination, she and her campaign decided to go negative on him. They did the usual thing politicians do to each other: They ran attack ads taking his words somewhat out of context (Obama calling Reagan a "transformative politician"); they somewhat distorted old votes (voting "present" in Illinois on abortion bills); and they questioned old associations (Obama's connection with real estate developer Tony Rezko).

John McCain and Mitt Romney were doing similar things to each other—and Obama did some of it to Clinton, too. But there a was difference between her doing this to Obama and McCain's doing it to Romney—a difference that eluded Clinton, her husband, and her campaign staff.

Before we continue, might we note a familiar part of America’s broken political discourse—the casual ignorance so commonly displayed by scriveners of Judis’ class? When Clinton decided to go negative on Obama, she “ran attack ads taking his words somewhat out of context,” he says. The gentleman cites one example of this: “Obama calling Reagan a ‘transformative politician.’” For ourselves, we were underwhelmed by Clinton’s arguments and ads concerning these matters—but at least we know what her ad actually said. In fact, Clinton explained, again and again, that she wasn’t criticizing Obama’s remark about Reagan being “transformative;” in simple point of fact, her ad criticized a second remark, Obama’s remark about the GOP being “the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the past ten, fifteen years.” (That, of course, was the Gingrich/Bush era. Reagan had left office earlier.) No, we didn’t think the ad made much of an argument. But quite literally, Judis doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about, even now, as he discusses this crucial period—and this sort of thing has long been numbingly common among the satraps of his class. Readers, it wasn’t just that Clinton’s ad didn’t say anything about Ronald Reagan; at the South Carolina debate, Clinton explicitly corrected Obama when he said that she’d been criticizing him for his remark about Reagan. Everyone heard the actual ad—and everyone saw her correct Obama. But so what? As we noted at the time, none of this made the slightest difference among the flowers of Judis’ class. They continued telling the story they seemed to prefer, as Judis continues to do to this day—as they’ve done in so many previous White House elections. But forget about Clinton and Obama! As Judis continues his remarkable piece, he may, at last, be breaking new ground. He may be telling us why this has happened so routinely over the past many years.

Back to South Carolina: According to Judis, McCain and Romney were banging each other—“and Obama did some of it to Clinton too.” But hold on there! It was different when Clinton went after Obama, Judis helpfully tells us. In this truly stunning passage, the Grand Inquisitor speaks:

JUDIS (continuing directly): My friend David Kusnet, Bill Clinton's former speechwriter, explained the difference to me by citing what ex-heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson had once said about Muhammad Ali. "I was just a fighter," Patterson had said, "but he was history." Obama, too, was, and is, history—the first viable African-American presidential candidate. Yes, Hillary Clinton was the first viable female candidate, but it is still different. Race is the deepest and oldest and most bitter conflict in American history—the cause of our great Civil War and of the upheavals of the 1950s and '60s. And if some voters didn't appreciate the potential breakthrough that Obama's candidacy represented, many in the Democratic primaries and caucuses did—and so did the members of the media and Obama's fellow politicians. And as Clinton began treating Obama as just another politician, they recoiled and threw their support to him.

Truly, that’s stunning. Maybe Judis was drinking or doing drugs when he committed this “Washington gaffe”—when he foolishly told us the truth. But in this passage, Judis explains the conduct of the press corps in this Democratic campaign—and, by inference, in so much of the startling campaign coverage they’ve authored, to our ruin, in the past.

Just try to believe that he said it:

According to Judis, the Clinton campaign failed to “appreciate” something that journalists did understand. They failed to see that Obama “was history” (in a good sense)—that he was in a different category from all the regular pols. It was one thing to go negative on McCain/Romney/Clinton—and it was a “different” thing to do this to Obama! And according to Judis, “members of the media” understood this. “As Clinton began treating Obama as just another politician, they recoiled and threw their support to him.”

Good God! That’s just a stunning statement. And yes, that is what he said. According to Judis, “members of the media” knew that Obama was a special case—a more important historical figure than Clinton. “And as Clinton began treating Obama as just another politician, they...threw their support to him.”

Once again, go ahead. Just try to believe that he said it.

Judis makes several remarkable statements in this striking passage. First, he makes it explicit: In his view, it’s more important that Obama become the first African-American president than that Clinton become the first woman. “Race is the deepest and oldest and most bitter conflict in American history,” he writes—“the cause of our great Civil War and of the upheavals of the 1950s and '60s.” We don’t disagree with that quoted statement. (Though, of course, there were other upheavals during the 1950s and 60s.) Still, it’s striking when a high-ranking scribe states the conclusion which Judis states—that our tortured racial history makes Obama’s candidacy more important than Clinton’s. But it’s where that judgment takes Faire Judis that makes his piece so remarkable.

In the sweep of American history, Judis thinks Obama’s candidacy is more important than Clinton’s. We don’t necessarily share that view—on balance, we’d vote for the most capable candidate—but we certainly don’t have a problem with some pundit expressing that viewpoint. But according to Judis, “members of the media” didn’t express that view during South Carolina. According to Judis, they did something quite different; they “threw their support to Obama!” As far as we know, they didn’t tell you they were doing that—nor did they tell you why they had done it. Indeed, Judis is careful—as these fellows always are—when he describes what this entailed. How did journalists “throw their support to Obama?” As usual, the bird flies very far from the nest when he offers his lone example:

JUDIS: Clinton lost the opinion-making class's vote during those fateful early weeks of the primary season. This included her fellow politicians, who would serve as superdelegates, and the media. Even though Obama appeared to be on the skids after losing New Hampshire, he won a bunch of endorsements leading up to the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday...Some of these endorsements might have come anyway, but several of the most important were provoked by Clinton's campaign.

There was a similar turn in the media. It showed up in newspaper endorsements. In backing Obama, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch admitted "to a certain 'Clinton fatigue,'" before launching into this: "The emergence of the former president as the Luca Brasi of the campaign trail reminds us of the worst of the Clinton years; the divisiveness and the bickering; the too-casual, if artful, blend of truth and half-truth. We're not eager for the replay." I heard the same refrain from journalists and bloggers who had been either pro-Hillary or on the fence. They used the same two words to explain their disenchantment with the Clinton campaign: "South Carolina." Indeed, I went from being pro-Hillary (because of her experience and comparative electability in a general election) to a fence-sitter during this period, and when primary day in Maryland came along, I left the booth without casting a vote.

Poor sad Hamlet, unable to act, forced to leave the voting booth without exercising his franchise! But note the way Judis withholds the names that might really matter, directing us many miles away to an editorial in St. Louis. Though he “heard the same refrain from journalists,” he doesn’t tell us who those journalists were—nor does he tell us what they did in the course of “throwing their support to” Obama. Did they perhaps decide to lie about Clinton’s ad in South Carolina? Judis is still misstating its content, as so many did back then. Is that the sort of thing they did when they “threw their support to” Obama? Pointing instead to distant St. Louis, Judis forgets to say.

Perhaps these journalists did nothing wrong, though Judis’ language is truly astounding. But if recent history serves as a guide, they did what they’ve done many times before, dishonestly, gruesomely, showing off their cosmic bad judgment. We all know what they’ve done in the past: Having decided which hopeful was “different,” they’ve put their collective thumb on the scale, tilting endless stories and themes to help their champion prosper. It’s what they did during Campaign 2000, when Judis and other fixers like him decided that Bradley was the great good man—and that Vile Gore was a monster. It’s perfectly obvious how they behaved during that campaign; indeed, in June 1999, one of their members committed an earlier gaffe, explaining the game to Howard Kurtz. “We’re going to make [Gore] jump through the hoops” until he says “what a terrible reprobate [Bill Clinton] was. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.” That was Roger Simon, describing astounding press corps misconduct—misconduct they maintained for two solid years, even when the opponent was Bush. Now, we’re told that they’ve “thrown their support” again. They didn’t tell us they had done this—but Judis is telling us now.

Judis must have been drinking or drugging when he committed this “Washington gaffe.” Now watch the good boys and girls of the career liberal world pretend that he never said it! They kept their traps shuts during Campaign 2000 as Judis’ inexcusable cohort “threw their support to” Bradley, then trashed Gore all through the general. Now, Judis seems to suggest that his brilliant group has chosen a winner again. He needs to step forward and tell us much more. But good career liberals know how the world works, and they’ll keep their traps shut tight all day long.

Should journalists “throw their support to” a candidate? In the recent past, they’ve done an amazingly terrible job in their assessments of presidential character. By their own admission, they swooned for Bradley; they swooned for McCain—and, of course, they hated Vile Gore. Anyone can see from this how cosmically bad their judgment has been. But nothing will stop them from playing this game, from their endless and grievous misconduct.

DOUGLASS THROWS HER SUPPORT: In today’s Times, Jim Rutenberg reports the latest; Linda Douglass is leaving “journalism” to work for the Obama campaign.

Quite literally, Douglass is “throwing her support to” the candidate—and of course, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t. But then too, here’s where the humor comes in. Despite the protestations of National Journal’s know-nothing headman, Douglass plainly “threw her support to” Obama long ago, in her hatched-hearted “analyses” of Clinton during her endless Hardball spots. To state the obvious, there’s nothing wrong with preferring Obama to Clinton; tens of millions of Democrats do. But Douglass’ “support” was thrown long ago; this fact was quite obvious watching those programs. Despite her boss’ know-nothing posture, there was something wrong with that.

Is this what Judis has in mind when he says his colleagues “threw their support?” Or did it just happen out in St. Louis, where none of his name colleagues lives? Judis has offered astounding constructions. He needs to stand up and explain them.

On the ball: Josh Marshall, ever vigilant, offers his thoughts about Douglass. Let’s say it, folks—rust never sleeps.

Of course, Josh played the fool on behalf of Joe Klein. More on this gong-show tomorrow.