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Daily Howler: Friday morning, the Post savaged Clinton. And four liberal journals slept
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WHY THE PROSPECT SLEPT! Friday morning, the Post savaged Clinton. And four liberal journals slept: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, MAY 29, 2007

ONE OF THE SILLIEST PROFILES: Will “hero tales” be constructed for Republican hopefuls in Campaign 08? We have to post early today, but just gaze on this foolish work—one of the silliest profiles of the campaign so far. It sits on the Times’ front page—as did a very similar profile of the wondrous Candidate Bush. We’ll sift through this novelized nonsense tomorrow. But Dems and libs must react now.

TORTURING BERNSTEIN: By Sunday, they were both “unflattering books”—or so it said in the thrilling headline perched atop this Post “news report.” But is Carl Bernstein’s new bio of Hillary Clinton really an “unflattering book?” We haven’t seen the Bernstein book—or the one by former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth. That said, has Bernstein written an “unflattering book?” That isn’t quite what Peter Baker said in Friday’s front-page “news report” in the Post—the report which started the latest kerflubble about this vile, troubling Democrat:
BAKER (5/25/07): In the works for eight years, Bernstein's 640-page book is the more extensive biography and, while not unsympathetic, includes some damning observations from people once close to the senator.
By Sunday, Bernstein’s book had become “unflattering”—but two days before, it was “not unsympathetic.” And no—despite the brave
Is Bernstein’s new bio really “unflattering?” So far, we just don’t see it.
claim made in that passage, Baker didn’t seem to have found a whole lot of “damning observations [about Clinton] from people once close to the senator.” In fact, he seemed to have found just one; in Bernstein’s book, former White House policy aide Bob Boorstin does describe Clinton in unflattering terms, if Baker’s reporting can be trusted. But what follows is the second—and final—“damning observation” offered by Baker in Friday’s report. Gaze upon the slithery work the Post still insists on producing:
BAKER: Mark Fabiani, who as White House special counsel played a key role in defending the Clintons, said she was "so tortured by the way she's been treated that she would do anything to get out of the situation....And if that involved not being fully forthcoming, she herself would say, 'I have a reason for not being forthcoming.' " Her logic, he said, was: "If we do this, they're going to do this to me. If we say this, then they're going to say this. You know, [expletive] 'em, let's just not do that."

Fabiani said Clinton personally directed the White House defense, telling Bernstein that private attorney David E. Kendall dealt mainly with the first lady and met only rarely with the president until the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal. "He was easy to deal with compared to her," Fabiani said of the first couple.
That was Baker’s second, and final, “damning observation from people once close to the senator.” And we’re sorry, but it has to be said; Fabiani’s observation just isn’t “damning” at all. As always in matters like this, Baker offers murky prose, which oddly obscures what is being discussed. But presumably, Fabiani is discussing Clinton’s reaction to the Kenneth Starr investigations—or he may be discussing her reaction to earlier treatment by the Washington Post! This last possibility would of course explain why Baker chose to write so obscurely; he wouldn’t want you to know that the Post was being accused of bad conduct.

At any rate, the general matter involved in this passage has been widely discussed for at least ten years. Rather sensibly, Clinton judged that Kenneth Starr—and earlier, the Washington Post—had no intention of treating her and her husband fairly in the early years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. In the case of the Post, therefore, she decided it would be wise to offer them less documentary info, rather than more; she decided to deny the Post’s request for a total release of all private records about the matters the Post was “researching.” As a result, the paper proceeded to savage the Clintons for their disturbing breach of courtesy. Fabiani is describing a sensible reaction on Clinton’s part (though some Clinton people disagreed with her judgment); what he says here is hardly “damning.” Remarkably, though, this seems to be the second most troubling “observation” Baker could find in Bernstein’s book, which totals 640 pages. That’s right! Baker tortured Bernstein’s book—and he found exactly one damning putdown of the vile Candidate Clinton.

But so what? By Sunday, the Post’s headline transmitted the pre-approved tale: Bernstein has penned an “unflattering book!” There’s no objective way to measure whether a book is “unflattering,” of course. But even Baker didn’t make so explicit a claim about Bernstein’s book—and we’ll guess that the book won’t turn out to be as “unflattering” as that headline would make readers think. But the Washington Post has behaved this way since the early years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. This kind of yellow “journalism” is exactly why Clinton reached the judgment described by Fabiani, of course—if Fabiani is talking about the Post, which can’t be discerned from Baker’s oddly murky writing.

But so what? On Friday night, one of Jack Welch’s famous “Lost Boys” swung into action on his cable show, Hardball; all too predictably, he devoted his program’s full hour to Baker’s deeply disturbing report. Tomorrow, we’ll review this fellow’s factual bungling and nasty misstatements, along with that of one of his cable colleagues. All week long, in fact, we’ll review the ways your “mainstream press corps” spun and improved on the often bland material found in these forthcoming books.

Readers, let’s restate the obvious: In recent years, these “demon tales” about Big Dems have sent Republicans to the White House. If Dems and libs sit still for this treatment again, get ready for President Rudy.

TOMORROW: Matthews and Carlson called Clinton vile names—and bungled the Post’s slick reporting.

Special report: Why the Prospect slept!

PART 1—SEEING NO EVIL: Last Friday, The American Prospect slept. But then, so did the fiery young “liberal” writers at our other leading liberal/progressive journals. This pattern of conduct is very familiar—and the silence of these liberal journals suggests that it may be very hard for Dems to regain the White House.

Let’s make sure we know what happened last Friday—the day The Prospect slept.

Friday morning, the Washington Post topped its front page with a thrilling report; two biographies of Hillary Clinton would be appearing next month, the Post reported (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/07). “Books Paint
Last Friday, The Prospect slept. But so did three other big journals.
Critical Portraits of Clinton,” the top-of-page-one headline said. “2 Biographies Detail Marital Strife and Driving Ambition.” But at this point, is it really news to be told that there once was “strife” in this candidate’s marriage? And is it ever news to be told that a White House candidate is “ambitious?” Given past reporting on the Clintons, any Dem on the face of the Earth should have been wary of this report, written by Peter Baker and John Solomon. And sure enough, Baker and Solomon reverted to the slippery journalism which has characterized Post reporting of the Clintons for large parts of the past fifteen years. Quickly, Baker and Solomon described a weird “thirdhand report” about the Clintons—a third-hand report which had already been called “preposterous” by its supposed second-hand source. Then, they penned this misleading account of these new books’ authors:
BAKER/SOLOMON (5/25/07): Unlike many harsh books about Clinton written by ideological enemies, the two new volumes come from long-established writers backed by major publishing houses and could be harder to dismiss. [Carl] Bernstein won national fame with partner Bob Woodward at The Post for breaking open the Watergate scandal, while Gerth and Van Natta have spent years as investigative reporters for the New York Times.
In fact, Gerth is a former New York Times reporter; his “investigative” work at the paper dwindled sharply after 1999, when he badly bungled the Wen Ho Lee story. Years before that, he had become a controversial figure because of his bungled, apparently dishonest work on the Whitewater matter. Alas! Gerth began his Whitewater work in January 1992, and the topic eventually gave its name to an entire political era. But the scribe’s reporting was left for dead by Gene Lyons’ 1996 Fools for Scandal, and, after Gerth bungled the Wen Ho Lee story, the Times had to assign a second team of reporters to redo his work on that story. Last Friday, Baker’s flattering profile of Gerth helped push Gerth’s new book to the top of page one—but it kept Post readers from understanding this failed reporter’s actual record. Meanwhile, the Post’s report on these two new books was larded with slippery, misleading reporting. Here at THE HOWLER, we’ll detail Baker and Solomon’s slick, slippery sophistries all through the rest of this week.

At any rate, the Post was vouching for Gerth last Friday. And the paper’s reporters were presenting the kind of slippery work which has tended to dog the Clintons wherever “mainstream” press dogma is sold. For that reason, the liberal watchdogs at Media Matters quickly offered a string of posts calling attention to the obvious problems with the Post’s front-page report (links below). Here at THE HOWLER, we also offered a detailed post warning about the Post’s front-page report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/07). And at Hullabaloo, Digby offered this robust complaint about Gerth’s well-known past bungling.

But elsewhere, things were remarkably silent. None of the liberal writers at The New Republic bothered to post any thoughts about the Post’s front-page “news report.” The Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum took a pass, and no one said a word at The Nation—not even at the journal’s six blogs. And no one mentioned the Post report at Tapped—except Garance Franke-Ruta, who seemed completely surprised by the thought that writers from the New York Times could pen the kind of silly work she had come across in her own copy of Gerth’s new book. As we’ll see tomorrow, Franke-Ruta seemed to be working from a time warp as she reviewed the Post’s report. But give her credit (as we do): At these four famous “progressive” journals, Franke-Ruta was the only writer who reacted to this story at all. Everyone else remained perfectly silent as the trashing of Clinton was renewed.

And by Friday night, Clinton was being trashed hard, for the full hour on Hardball and Tucker. This Sunday, she was fileted on the loathsome Chris Matthews Show, in a performance that was deeply dishonest even by this program’s club basement standards. But career liberal writers had stared into space as Baker loaded these cable programs’ big guns. What explains this pernicious pattern, a pattern we’ve often observed in the past? We can’t mind-read, but as the week progresses, we’ll invite writers and editors at these journals to offer their thoughts on the issues involved here. Make no mistake: As long as this pattern of silence prevails, Dems will have a very hard time making their way back to the White House. You can mark it in your date-book: If these journals roll over and die once again, you can make way for President Rudy.

TOMORROW—PART 2: At Tapped, one writer did speak up—as if from inside a time warp.

THE BRILLIANT REPORTER THEY VOUCHED FOR: Last Friday, Baker and Solomon vouched for Gerth—and baldly misled the Post’s readers. In fact, Gerth’s work at the Times was deeply troubled. The Post’s readers should have been told.

The gentleman’s history is hardly a secret. First, Gerth bungled Whitewater (or deliberately misreported it), as Lyons detailed in Fools for Scandal. Then, he badly bungled the Wen Ho Lee story. Last year, Tim Rutten (of the Los Angeles Times) recalled that second Gerth disaster. Rutten was profiling author James Risen, one of Gerth’s former colleagues:
RUTTEN (1/20/06): In 1999, [Risen] and New York Times colleague Jeff Gerth went spectacularly wrong when they relied on a disgruntled energy department investigator's allegations that a Taiwanese American scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Wen Ho Lee, was passing nuclear secrets to the Chinese. Lee was innocent, a victim—if not of xenophobic bigotry, then of official paranoia and hysteria abetted by the New York Times' reporting and commentary. Risen, among others, is still in court, fighting legal orders that he disclose his sources' names.
For the record, Gerth was “still in court” at this point too; he too was defending against Lee’s lawsuit. In June of 2006, the New York Times (and the Washington Post) joined the federal government and three other news orgs to pay Lee $1.6 million.

Yep! Gerth’s bungling of the Wen Ho Lee matter was so grisly that even the Times had to own it. In the mid-1990s, the Times had chosen to tough it out when Lyons debunked Gerth’s Whitewater hoaxing. But even the Times relented when Gerth’s reporting on Lee blew up. It happened in September 2000. At the Post, Howard Kurtz did the honors:
KURTZ (9/27/00): In an extraordinary editor's note, the New York Times acknowledged yesterday that its reporting on allegations against scientist Wen Ho Lee contained "flaws" and "a problem of tone" that "fell short of our standards."
That “extraordinary editor’s note” concerned Gerth’s bungled work. And the Times didn’t stop with this “extraordinary” statement; in another extraordinary journalistic act, the Times went on to re-report the entire Wen Ho Lee story. The Times presented its new reporting on February 4 and 5, 2001; its new work and totaled 15,000 words. But so it went as the hapless Times atoned for Gerth’s latest bungling.

Last Friday, Baker and Solomon vouched strongly for Gerth—and they penned clownish attacks on Clinton. But so what? Through the day, The Prospect slept—as did our other top “liberal” journals. By now, the pattern is abundantly clear: “Demon tales” will be dumped on Big Dems; “hero tales” will assist the Big Reps. When in the world will our “liberal journals” be willing to take on this fight?