Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: At the Prospect, one person spoke--and readers howled in protest
Daily Howler logo
ONLY ONE PERSON SPOKE! At the Prospect, one person spoke—and readers howled in protest: // link // print // previous // next //

THE LEAST TERRESTRIAL GUY IN THE ROOM: We’ve speculated that they may be insane. We’ve wondered if they’re extra-terrestrials. This morning, the ET hypothesis carries the day as Dana Milbank—complaining that Gore thinks he’s smarter than you—produces this deeply weird paragraph:
MILBANK (5/30/07): He spoke of Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill, only briefly mixing up his patriots: "James Madison wrote—no, Thomas Paine, I'm sorry." He gave a brief history of the printing press's spread through Northern Europe. He used social science phrases such as "the collective process" and the "marketplace of ideas" and the "exchange of goods and services" and "guided by the role of reason."
Once again, no—we aren’t making that up. Milbank complains that Gore used such high-fallutin’ terms as “exchange of goods and services.” Disturbingly, he even seems to have cited the “marketplace of ideas.” Writing like this makes Milbank a Conehead—if we don’t want to get more honest about his likely actual problem. Meanwhile, as he often does in his columns, Milbank lies in wait, praying that Gore will briefly say one name when he meant another.

Milbank’s “Washington Sketch” has been a disaster from its inception. Most likely, we’ll discuss this problem in our posts next week. But there’s a vast human tragedy lying behind the sheer inanity in today’s “sketch.” Your public discourse lies in the hands of a group of deeply strange people. If you even speak English among this strange crew, they rise in angry protest. The next morning.

When a great nation’s discourse is put in such hands, disaster is sure to follow. When we discuss Gore’s book next week, we’ll point to its great problem: Gore avoids discussing and naming these extra-terrestrials, the largest source of the vast dilemma whose genesis he seeks to describe.

A COKE AND A SMILE: As we’ve told you, the game has never been clearer. When it comes to presidential coverage, the mainstream press corps is now a Republican entity. They create “hero tales” for Republican hopefuls—and “demon tales” for the Dems. Even a mediocre Republican like Fred Thompson gets hero tales from the Post (and from Hardball). But if you’re a Dem, the rules are reversed. Al Gore has won an Oscar; been nominated for a Nobel; and has seen his brilliant film change the world’s discussion of warming. But so what? At the Post and the Times he’s still too f*cking fat. At the Post, he’s still just too annoying.

Yesterday, as if to affirm what we said, the New York Times bestowed this utterly silly, front-page profile on the wondrous Giuliani. Michael Powell, the profile’s author, has just moved from the Post to the Times. And clearly, he brought the silly mind-set of the Post’s “Style” section up to Gotham with him:
POWELL (5/29/07): If Hillary Rodham Clinton is the nurturer warrior and Barack Obama the college idealist and John McCain the tough but irreverent flyboy, then Mr. Giuliani is the father, the talk-tough-on-terror, I'm-comfortable-wielding-authority guy.
But what if Obama isn’t the “college idealist?” In this passage, Powell takes his favorite dolls out of their box and arranges them in his journo doll-house. This isn’t journalism—this is a novel. These are the characters he apparently believes he’s been paid to describe in the unfolding drama which must serve as our own White House race.

Al the way back in March 2000, Post ombudsman E. R. Shipp described this childish approach to campaign coverage (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/1/00). But what is most striking about Powell’s profile is the way he strives to flatter Giuliani. Last Friday, the Post trashed Clinton in the ugliest ways, right at the top of their own front page (more below). Monday, the Times, on its own front page, thoroughly pandered to Rudy.

What’s the theme of Powell’s novel? Rudy has traded his growl for a smile! Yes, it helps to be six years old when you read such perfect piffle, but all through this profile, the Timesman describes a new, user-friendly Giuliani. On the front page, we see a photo of the hopeful as he laughs a huge, hopeful laugh. And here are the paper’s two headlines:
Page 1: Giuliani Tempers Tough Image, Trading a Growl for a Smile

Page 16: Giuliani Tempers Tough Image and Trades Growl for a Smile
On page 16, there’s even a boxed sub-headline: “A G.O.P. candidate who even pokes fun at his tendency to wax a bit authoritarian.” Meanwhile, in the profile itself, almost everything that happens makes Rudy go all warm-and-fuzzy. He’s “a commanding daddy,” Powell writes. A woman even rises at a town hall meeting to tell him that he is “sooooo handsome.”

If you think you’ve read this profile before, you may be right—and you probably read it in this same Times. In the summer and fall of 1999, the Times was falling all over itself writing this type of friendly profile about warm-and-fuzzy Candidate Bush. Johnny Apple gushed and fawned in August, marveling at the brilliant way Bush could read a story to kids. (He then wrote a profile trashing Gore. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/24/07.) And then, Frank Bruni showed the world how hard a big major journo can gush. “Levity is the Soul of Bush, a Puck Among the Pols,” said the headline. Yes, Bush was now Puck, a figure from Shakespeare! And Bruni wrote Powell’s column, eight years earlier. This morning, we’ll give you a healthy dose from the start of the piece. Cover the eyes of the children:
BRUNI (11/27/99): As George W. Bush loped through the headquarters of the Timberland Company here, he might have been any candidate in the hunt for votes, any pol on the path toward the presidency. He tirelessly shook hands, dutifully took questions and let a multitude of promises bloom.

But there was something different about Governor Bush's approach, something jazzier and jauntier. It came out in the way he praised a 20-year-old man for his "articulate" remarks, then appended the high-minded compliment with a surprising term of endearment.
"Dude," Mr. Bush called his new acquaintance.

It emerged again when Mr. Bush crossed paths with an elderly employee, and she told him that he had her support.

"I'll seal it with a kiss!" Mr. Bush proposed and, wearing a vaguely naughty expression, swooped down on the captive seamstress.

Mr. Bush's arm curled tight around the shoulders of other voters; he arched his eyebrows and threw coquettish grins and conspiratorial glances their way. It was campaigning as facial calisthenics, and Mr. Bush was its Jack LaLanne.

He is frequently that way. When Mr. Bush is not reciting memorized lines in an official speech or rendering careful answers in a formal interview, he is physically expansive and verbally irreverent, folksy and feisty, a politician more playful than most of his peers.

This disarming demeanor goes a long way toward explaining the commitment and confidence of Mr. Bush's core Republican supporters. They clearly see in the two-term Texas governor a warmth and affability that provide a sharp, necessary contrast to the brooding of a Bob Dole or the belligerence of a Newt Gingrich.
“The prankish glimmer in Mr. Bush's eye shines brightest whenever he is assigning someone a nickname,” Bruni wrote. Bush “seems to operate from utter confidence, a happy and lucky man for happy-go-lucky times.”

Our question: How do you like the happy-go-lucky times this prankish candidate brought us?

Surely, we all can note an elementary fact; Powell just re-wrote Bruni’s profile. In each case, the Times is softening a Republican front-runner—and pandering hard in the process. Indeed, how did Bruni end his front-page piece that day? People! He ended like this!
BRUNI: [W]ith every wink, hug and bit of effortless banter, he projects a spirit as mirthful as many voters would undoubtedly like their futures to be.
Yes, the gentleman actually wrote that. And Powell, offering a Coke and a smile, has just typed the same profile.

Surely, anyone can see the pattern we described last week. Nine days ago, the Post gave its Outlook section to Thompson, pandering to him hugely—and repeatedly mocking that “roadkill,” Al Gore. Yesterday, the Times followed suit, this time fawning to friendly Rudy. In the meantime, the Post had kicked the living sh*t out of Clinton, murkily picking-and-choosing to review its old demon tales. Indeed, Gore has been mocked again and again in this week—just to let us know they can do it.

And as this happens, our young liberal journalists stare. They’re in on the game, we sometimes think. And guess what? If they don’t stand and complain long and loud, our “daddy commander” will enjoy his Coke and his smile at a new location—the White House.

THIS IS WHY JACK WELCH BOUGHT HIM: The bull-sh*t started quickly on last Friday’s Hardball. That morning, the Washington Post, on its front page, had vouched for discredited former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth. Now, Chris Matthews was about to devote his full hour to the Post’s deeply troubling report—a report which was largely based on tales from Gerth’s new Clinton bio. The Post had offered usefully murky tales, picked-and-chosen from two brand new bios—one by Gerth, one by Carl Bernstein. So Matthews started in typical fashion. He too vouched for the failed, fallen Gerth:
MATTHEWS (5/25/07): Let me ask you, John Solomon, is that why the Post gave this [story] such big play, that these two people are top-rated journalists, they’re not just people that scare up these stories on their own in a freelance fashion?
If you read the transcript, you’ll see that Solomon didn’t affirm what Matthews said. But just that quickly, Matthews had transformed Gerth into a “top-rated journalist.” Thus armed, Matthews proceeded to do what he always has done when the Clintons and Gore are in play. He went on to make mincemeat of logic and fact—and he demonized Hillary Clinton.

For today, let’s focus on just one of the ways he reinvented old, established facts to turn Clinton into a demon.

It didn’t take him long to get there. In the following passage, Matthews quotes one part of the Post’s report, written by Baker and Solomon (hereafter referred top as “Baker”). Baker’s writing is helpfully murky in the passage Matthews quotes. Presumably, Baker refers to a familiar, well-discussed episode from deep in the Arkansas past:
MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at—here`s Carl Bernstein’s account. "Both Clintons went to great lengths to keep the lid on his infidelities," according to Bernstein’s book. "At the behest of Betsey Wright and Hillary Clinton, two partners with Hillary Clinton at the Rose Law Firm, Webster Hubbell and Vince Foster were hired to represent women named in a lawsuit as having secret affairs with the governor. Hubbell and Foster questioned the women, then obtained signed statements that they never had sex with Bill Clinton. On one occasion, Bernstein reports, Hillary Clinton was present for the questioning.”
As usual, Matthews started by deceiving his viewers. "Both Clintons went to great lengths to keep the lid on his infidelities?" In fact, that quote is not from Bernstein’s book, the clear impression Matthews gave. Instead, that quote is from Baker’s report; it’s Baker’s account of what Bernstein’s book says, a very different proposition. At any rate, as Matthews continues, he quotes Baker describing a familiar incident from the early 1990s. Did Hillary Clinton meet with some women who had been “named in a law suit?” This is such a tired old incident that Clinton herself mentioned it in her original appearance on 60 Minutes, way back in January 1992. But Matthews—clueless or dissembling, as always—wanted to give it a sinister spin. Here’s the framework he instantly dropped on this familiar old incident:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Now, that is strong stuff. It does get to their marriage, but it also gets to their political partnership, the fact that she would be participating in what is portrayed by Carl Bernstein as an effort to shut up witnesses against the president.
According to Matthews, this was strong stuff; Bernstein had portrayed Hillary Clinton “participating effort to shut up witnesses against the president,” he said. That’s a nasty, ugly claim, and Matthews kept repeating it all weekend long, ratcheting his language higher and higher. (By Sunday, he was accusing Clinton of behaving like Godfather killer Luca Brasi.) But in Baker’s report in the Post, Bernstein makes no such claim, and the events apparently being described in this passage have been well known for years. This takes us back to the kooky old days first described by Gene Lyons in Fools for Scandal. Later, these incidents were described by Lyons and Joe Conason in The Hunting of the President.

According to Baker’s presentation, Hillary Clinton’s law firm was “hired to represent women named in a lawsuit as having secret affairs with the governor.” We haven’t seen Bernstein’s book, but the Post’s murky reference seems fairly clear; presumably, this is a reference to the kooky law suit filed in 1990 by Little Rock crackpot Larry Nichols (later of Clinton Chronicles fame). As Lyons first explained in the mid-1990s, Nichols was fired from his Arkansas state job in 1988 for making long-distance phone calls to the contras, on the state of Arkansas’ dime. (No, we’re not making this up.) Nichols, a well-known local crackpot, then filed a $3 million lawsuit against Governor Clinton, the troubling man who had dared fire him; in the suit, he claimed that he had been fired in order to conceal “the largest scandal ever perpetrated on the taxpayers of the state of Arkansas.” Nichols would later abandon his suit, admitting that his claims had been made up. But in the suit, he named five women he claimed were Bill Clinton’s mistresses; according to Nichols’ suit, Clinton had supposedly been spending state money of these women. In The Hunting of the President, Lyons and Conason describe the clownishness of the suit, and the immediate aftermath:
LYONS/CONASON (page 16): Of all the women named, only Gennifer Flowers wasn’t a well-known public figure. Two were former beauty queens...Another was Clinton’s press secretary, Susie Whitacre, and the fourth was Deborah Mathis, a Little Rock newspaper columnist and former anchor of the state’s highest-rated television news broadcast...Well known to every reporter in town for her irreverent wit, Mathis joked about Nichols’ allegation in private. “Hell no,” she told friends, she had never gone to bed with Bill Clinton. “But if I did sleep with that fat white boy, he’d still be grinning.”

Reporters who contacted the women heard vehement denials from all of them. Three of them hired lawyers and threatened to sue if their names were used. Considering Nichols’ dubious reputation, every media outlet in Little Rock made the same decision: The women’s names were not published, and the lawsuit was ignored on buried on the back pages.
Presumably, this is the suit to which Baker referred in Friday’s murky report. The suit was “dismissed with prejudice by an Arkansas judge—barring further action in state courts,” Lyon and Conason wrote, seven years ago. But Nichols refiled his suit in federal court, and The Star, a national tabloid, reported on it in January 1992, naming all five women. Within days, Nichols apologized for having brought the suit, saying he’d been trying to destroy Governor Clinton. But he soon filed another suit against Clinton, “this time demanding Clinton’s resignation as governor for allegedly reneging on his promise to serve a full term,” Lyons and Conason write. Given the work last Friday by Baker and Matthews, this screaming nutcase has now driven our discourse for the past fifteen years.

At any rate, that’s a taste of the lunacy surrounding the lawsuit to which Baker presumably referred last Friday. There is nothing in the passage he quotes from Bernstein which suggests that Hillary Clinton participated in “an effort to shut up witnesses against the president,” though Matthews would continue to make this charge all throughout the weekend. (More on Matthews’ charges tomorrow.) Question: Why had several of these five women been represented by the Rose Law Firm? We’ll wait to read Bernstein bo0ok to answer—you can’t find out from Baker’s report—but all the way back in that first, famous 60 Minutes appearance, Hillary Clinton had described this situation to Steve Kroft:
HILLARY CLINTON (1/26/92): When this woman [Flowers] first got caught up in these charges, I felt as I felt about all of these women, that, you know, they've just been minding their own business, and they got hit by a meteor. I mean, it was no fault of their own. We reached out to them. I met with two of them to reassure them. They were friends of ours. I felt terrible about what was happening to them.
We assume that Whitacre, Clinton’s press secretary, was one of the women repped by Rose; we don’t know who else may have been repped. But how old, how unexciting is this incident? Clinton told Kroft in 1992 that she had met with two of these women. “They were friends of ours,” she accurately said. “I felt terrible about what was happening to them.”

There’s no apparent reason to doubt what Clinton told Kroft; if there is a reason, the Post didn’t cite it. But last Friday, the Post’s helpfully murky, front-page “news report” took us back to the fever swamps of early-90s Arkansas politics, when Lee Atwater and other Republican hit-men were in the state trying to destroy Bill Clinton (as Lyons and Conason described, seven years ago). In its selective treatment of Bernstein’s book, the Post returned us to Larry Nichols’ lunacy—but the Post failed to say that the law suit in question had been brought by this world-class crackpot. As noted, Nichols went on to wider fame in the Clinton Chronicles, the evil Jerry Falwell production which did so much harm to our country. But the Post didn’t bother to mention that either. The Post told readers that Gerth was an ace—and disappeared Crackpot Nichols altogether.

This story was told in The Hunting of the President; the book appeared seven years ago. But Hardball’s Matthews will always play dumb—if he’s aware of these matters at all. All weekend, Matthews put nasty insinuations into Bernstein’s mouth, often accusing Clinton of crimes. But why had Clinton met with one of these women? “They were friends of ours,” she correctly told Kroft. She said this in 1992.

As we’ll see tomorrow, Matthews behaved like a criminal all weekend long. While he did so, your young liberal writers sat and stared into air. In 1990, Larry Nichols, a well-known locval crackpot, filed a nuisdance suit that was thrown out of his court—a suit for which he klatyer apologizes. Last Friday morning, that law suit was back—and so was the broken soul of a truly evil man, Matthews.

Special report: Why the Prospect slept!

PART 2—ONLY ONE PERSON SPOKE: On Friday morning, the Washington Post struck, at the top of page one—and a couple of unsavory players re-entered our political discourse. The Post was vouching for the loathsome Jeff Gerth, a discredited ex-New York Times reporter. And kooky Larry Nichols even seemed to be back in our lives, although the Post was too slick to name him. In the process, the Post had returned to the nasty, murky tales which drove our politics in the 1990s. In the 90s, they weakened Bill Clinton with this garbage, then they set their sites on Al Gore. George Bush is in the White House today because the Post (and the New York Times) played these vile games—and the U.S, Army is in Iraq. You’d almost think that liberals, progressives and Democrats might complain when it happened again.

If you thought that, you would be wrong. At our four leading liberal/progressive journals, almost all were silent last Friday when the Post returned to these tired old slanders. At the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum took a pass on the topic, and no one breathed a word at The Nation, even on the journal’s six blogs. Nor did anyone utter a peep at “The Plank,” The New Republic’s fiery blog. And the fiery young scribes at The American Prospect slumbered and dozed last Friday, too. No one said boo about Baker’s report—except Garance Franke-Ruta. Of all the people who could have spoken when this garbage re-entered the blood stream, Franke-Ruta was the only one who managed to speak.

And uh-oh! Franke-Ruta’s post, though well-intentioned, brought screams of protest from Prospect readers. (Including us. We commented twice.) We’ve admired Franke-Ruta (and do admire her) for the way she resists gender-based attacks against Hillary Clinton, attacks which have been quite common this year. (Few of her colleagues have an ear for such matters.) But, though she was the only writer to speak at these leading journals, we were amazed by her post. Do young liberal writers have any sense of the type of nasty, anti-Dem work which has driven our mainstream presidential-level journalism for the past fifteen years? We’re glad that Franke-Ruta spoke. But she seemed to be writing from Mars as she assessed the Post’s report—and the new Gerth bio.

First, her opening paragraph. This part of her post didn’t occasion much comment, but we do think it’s worth briefly noting:
FRANKE-RUTA (5/25/07):
HILLARY HATIN'. The Washington Post has a big takeout on two new books on Hillary Clinton that's kicking up a bit of dust today. The Carl Bernstein book, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, which the Post devotes two-thirds of its story to, sounds like the more explosive and closely held one, which is probably why I was able to obtain a copy of Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta's Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, forthcoming from Little, Brown and Company in June, which I started poring through last night.
We don’t know why Franke-Ruta thought the Bernstein book sounded “more explosive”—or “explosive” at all, for that matter. To our ear, the Post had been deliberately murky in reporting incidents from Bernstein’s book, perhaps for a very good reason. If you know the history of these matters, you’re not likely to be upset by Bernstein’s quote about the troubling law suit in which Larry Nichols named those five women; you’re more likely to be upset with Baker for his murky prose—and for failing to say that the law suit in question was filed by a world-class nut. (When professional writers offer murky prose, they have usually done so on purpose.) Based on the murky summaries Baker presented, we’ll be surprised if Bernstein’s book turns out to be “unflattering” in any serious way, as we stated yesterday. But you have to know the history of these incidents to come to such a judgment, and there was little sign in Franke-Ruta’s post that she knows this tragic period at all. Indeed, what follows is her reaction to the Gerth/Van Natta book. This is the passage which provoked howls of protest from a good number of Prospect readers:
FRANKE-RUTA: The Clinton campaign's attempt to "yawn" off the [Gerth] book doesn't give you much sense of its actual flavor, which is too bad, because its opening tone is surprisingly nasty. And yes, I know it's the Clintons we're talking about, so that nastiness should never come as a shock, but these are Timesmen, of whom I would expect better, even in their private efforts. The introductory chapters are jam-packed with the sort of dated '90s aspersions that have been mocked into the ground this decade, as just about every hoary anti-Clinton cliche you've ever heard—and some you thought were anti-Gore cliches!—is trotted out and applied to events across the span of Clinton's life. You almost feel bad for the authors for failing to follow the change in the media climate. These tropes are deployed at such regular intervals in the early parts of the book that the effect is ultimately somewhat comical, as in the below, from an early chapter:

“Hillary's commitment to carefully selecting a persona that would suit her best is revealing partly because of the determined and calculating way that she went about it. She wanted to weigh every pro against every con, consider each possibility from every angle. Her almost scientific devotion to self-creation.”

A comment on her decision to run for the Senate from New York? Her time in the White House? Or maybe her new quest for the presidency? Nope. None of the above. That's the authors' take on Clinton's sophomore year at Wellesley College. And the book goes on like that. It manages to cast a single, retrospective, cliched interpretation.
In the interest of fairness, we’ll suggest you read Franke-Ruta’s full post. And we want to stress this point once again: Franke-Ruta is the only writer at these four journals who posted on Baker’s report at all. But Franke-Ruta seems to inhabit a dream world when she discusses the ongoing “media climate.” Such other-worldly attitudes help explain why Candidate Gore was savaged for almost two years with little defense from these journals—and they suggest that next year’s Dem nominee may not reach the White House either.

Commenters posted obvious complaints about Franke-Ruta’s outlook. Like us, they were astonished by her air of surprise when she finds Gerth and Van Natta doing a sophomoric hatchet job. Why would this be cause for surprise? Gerth has been famous since Fools for Scandal for his dishonest Whitewater hoaxing, and the Times was savage with Candidate Gore—but Franke-Ruta seems to say that she’d expect better because Gerth is a Timesman! (A former Timesman, in fact. He also bollixed his work on Wen Ho Lee, and finally left the paper.) Meanwhile, what can one say about the notion that this sort of work has been “mocked into the ground this decade”—about the notion that there has been some kind of “change in the media climate?” On Friday evening, Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson devoted almost all of their hour-long programs to murky claims from the Post report; Matthews’ nasty charges became wilder and wilder by the time of Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show. We can’t imagine why Franke-Ruta would think that some “changed climate” prevails. But if she thought that, a weekend of insider pundit-watching would have disabused her of this notion.

Let’s say it again; Franke-Ruta is the only writer who bothered to speak at these journals. But are writers at these journals really this clueless about the current state of our mainstream media?

We’d like to ask Franke-Ruta about that. For starters, we’d like to ask her if she’s read Fools for Scandal and The Hunting of the President; and if she thinks her colleagues have read these seminal books. In a more general way, we’d like to ask her what sorts of attitudes her colleagues tend to bring to these sorts of questions. Showcasing a revamped style, we’ve e-mailed a request for such Q-and-As. We hope that we’ll be able to stage such a useful colloquium.

But alas! The “media climate” is vicious for Democratic White House hopefuls, and many Prospect readers seem to know it. But then, writers at our liberal journals were fairly clueless about such matters during Campaign 2000 too. The War Against Gore met little resistance at the four leading journals we’ve named—and that enabled the mainstream press to trash Gore for two solid years. Today, Thompson and Giuliani are being pandered to; Clinton and Gore are being savaged. Meanwhile, John Edwards’ house is much too big—and he paid too much for his haircut! It shows he’s a girlie-man—just ask Broder! If recent history provides any guide, this will be done to any Dem pol who ends up with the Dem nomination. Indeed, McCain’s attacks on Obama last week showed exactly how he will be spun.

Silent then, silent now. It strikes us as an excellent way to craft Democratic defeat.

TOMORROW—PART 3: Then as now, largely silent.