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Daily Howler: Gore was right on every big judgment. But Rich is in love with a narrative
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FRANKLY, THAT’S RICH (PART 1)! Gore was right on every big judgment. But Rich is in love with a narrative: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MAY 31, 2006

REHM VERSUS RUSSERT—AND EPHRON: Extremely slowly, the story emerges. Last Friday, Paul Krugman wrote a column which accurately described the press corps’ conduct during Campaign 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/26/06). The press corps went after Gore, Krugman said—and they turned Campaign 2000 into a “campaign about clothing.” And omigod! That morning, Tim Russert appeared on The Diane Rehm Show. Roughly halfway through the hour, Rehm asked Russert this:
REHM (5/26/06): Do you think that the press participated in the loss of Al Gore for the 2000 election?
Yes, the question was clumsily expressed—but, at least, it was asked! We don’t know if Rehm was prompted by Krugman’s column; she has been ahead of the curve on this matter. (In October 2000, she had us on the air as part of a panel which discussed the coverage of Gore.) But omigod! Listeners actually got to hear someone ask a question which should have been asked many times, long ago.

Of course, that question hasn’t been asked many times; in fact, career liberals have ducked the issue almost totally. And that’s why liberals are still so ignorant of their own recent history. That’s why we still read posts like the one which follows, by Nora Ephron at the Huffington Post. In her post, Ephron was actually taking Gore’s side. But our analysts simply threw up their hands when they saw the way she did it:

EPHRON (5/28/06): [A]s you watch [Gore’s movie], what really goes through your head are the number of Americans and Iraqis who are dead because Gore isn't President, and the realization that we're in some way to blame.

Al Gore doesn't make it to the top three reasons on my list of Who's To Blame—Bill Clinton, Ralph Nader and Karl Rove are way ahead of him. But Gore's on the list, he and Bob Shrum and the rest of his advisors. There was triangulation. There was caution. There was the third debate. There was bad makeup. We cared about those things, we said so aloud, we were disappointed in his candidacy, we stood by and watched the Republicans steal the Presidency from him and on some level we behaved as if it somehow proved that the system worked.

Why didn’t Gore become president? As Ephron offers her list of reasons, she mentions “bad makeup”—but not the press coverage! It’s astounding to think that Gore’s supporters still understand Campaign 2000 this way.

For the record, Gore won that “third debate” with Bush; by consensus, pundits called it his best performance. And of course, Ephron recites the New Great Narrative, straight from Joe Klein’s awful new book: Gore isn’t president because he was too cautious, because he listened to Shrum and his other advisers. And by the way—we can’t imagine why Rove is on Ephron’s list. Was Bush supposed to refuse to campaign? In fact, Rove and Bush played almost no role in that astonishing War Against Gore, the one which surely sent Bush to the White House. But it may be that Ephron really doesn’t know that. After all, for an entire generation of liberal writers, it has been safer to avoid the names of the people who did run that war.

One such person (second tier) was Tim Russert. Last Friday, he seemed surprised by Rehm’s sudden question. But the big guy quickly regained his balance—and quickly changed the subject:

REHM (5/26/06): Do you think that the press participated in the loss of Al Gore for the 2000 election?

RUSSERT: That’s—I would say no to that specific question. I have gone back and reviewed our campaign coverage and the questions asked of each candidate. Ironically, after the presidential debates, I did a segment for the Today show where I asked each of the candidates, Bush and Gore, the same questions, because I wanted that level of parity. The one questions I’ve always had about the recount is why the Gore campaign didn’t ask for a statewide recount immediately rather than just picking a select few counties. And I’ve always wondered how that would turn out.

REHM: Indeed.

Russert changed the subject to the Florida recount (which he and Rehm had discussed earlier). Rehm didn’t press her question further. (To hear this program, click here.)

On the one hand, it was great that Rehm asked this question. On the other hand, it’s amazing to think that it hasn’t been asked routinely in the past seven years—that we have to settle for such small favors. By the way, Russert was basically fair on the Today show to which he referred (it aired on October 18, 2000, the morning after that third debate). But in our view, his session with Gore on Meet the Press (7/16/00) may have been the worst performance by a broadcast journalist in THE HOWLER’s eight years. He was appalling from start to finish—and the outing vastly contrasted with his meek-and-mild session with Bush in November 1999. Simply put, there was nothing remotely resembling “parity” when these candidates did Meet the Press.

Russert is extremely slick—and he found his way past Rehm’s question. But his conduct with Gore that day was appalling. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/03, with links to four reports from July 2000. And see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/1/03, to get the sense of the mooshy softballs he had lobbed at Candidate Bush. We normally avoid the “double standard” approach—but no, not with these awful sessions.

RUNNING TO THE RECOUNT: By the way, why didn’t the Gore campaign “ask for a statewide recount immediately?” As Russert of course knows, there was no provision under Florida law to ask for a manual statewide recount. (Requests had to be made county-by-county, and cause had to be shown.) On November 15, 2000 (eight days post-election), the Gore campaign did ask the Bush campaign to join them in seeking a statewide recount—and the Bush campaign refused. Russert knows all this, of course. (Presumably, that’s why he said “immediately.”) He also knew he should get a new subject—one that put the onus back on Gore for the outcome of Campaign 2K.

Special report—Frankly, that’s Rich!

PART 1—IN LOVE WITH A NARRATIVE: In his Sunday New York Times column, Frank Rich was just talkin’ the talk on Al Gore! “He was way ahead of the Washington curve,” Rich wrote, “not just on greenhouse gases but on another issue far more pressing than Mrs. Clinton's spirited crusade to stamp out flag burning: Iraq.” Land o’ goshen! Yes, Rich stuck the needle in Hillary Clinton—but Gore had been right about global warming! And Gore had been right on Iraq—from the start! Indeed, as he continued, the mighty pundit described Gore’s wisdom concerning the war in Iraq:

RICH (5/28/06): An anti-Hussein hawk who was among the rare Senate Democrats to vote for the first gulf war, Mr. Gore forecast the disasters lying in wait for the second when he spoke out at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Sept. 23, 2002. He saw that the administration was jumping ''from one unfinished task to another'' and risked letting Afghanistan destabilize and Osama bin Laden flee. He saw that the White House was recklessly putting politics over policy by hurrying a Congressional war resolution before the midterm elections (and before securing international support). Most important, he noticed then that the administration had ''not said much of anything'' about ''what would follow regime change.'' He imagined how ''chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam.”
For the record, Gore also said that war with Iraq could weaken America’s role as world leader. "In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, more than a year ago, we had an enormous reservoir of good will and sympathy and shared resolve all over the world,” he said in that speech. "That has been squandered in a year's time and replaced with great anxiety all around the world.” But Rich didn’t even have time to note that; instead, he heaped a bit more praise on Gore’s wisdom. “In truth, as with global warming, Mr. Gore's stands on Iraq (both in 1991 and 2002) were manifestations of leadership,” he wrote, “the single attribute most missing from the current Democrats with presidential ambitions.”

Good grief! Gore had been right on Iraq in 1991. And he’d been right on Iraq in 2002. And all along, he’d been right on warming! You’d almost think that Rich was making his way to a positive statement about long-reviled Gore. And what the heck! While we’re on the subject of Gore’s good judgments, Peter Beinart went Rich one better in his own recent assessment:

BEINART (5/30/06): If you were to go from the Gulf War through Kosovo and Iraq, you would find that a large number of people in every facet of the liberal Democratic universe were wrong, on at least one of those wars. Very, very few people were right about all three of them. The people who were—and I think Al Gore is in this category—deserve a significant amount of credit, but the truth of the matter is, if you were looking for an untainted record, you would find very few people.
Based on past writings, we’d guess that Rich would agree about Kosovo too. Who knows? Perhaps he’d even agree with Joe Klein, who says this, about Gore as vice president, in his awful book, Politics Lost: “His judgment was rock solid, admirable and visionary. And yes, I really did learn a lot from him about both military and environmental issues.” But was it true? Was Rich building to an overall positive statement about the wisdom of long-reviled Gore? Pshaw! If you thought that, you don’t understand the world of the pundit—and you didn’t understand that cartoon in yesterday’s Post, the one in which Tom Toles told all.

In fact, Rich was headed in a different direction. He was getting his kind words out of the way so he could drop the bricks on Gore—so he could continue that treasured press “narrative” in which Gore has long served as a “punch line” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/06). Gore had been right on the first Gulf War. And Gore had been right on the war in Iraq. And for decades, Gore had been right about warming. But none of this actually mattered to Rich. In his richly (and unintentionally) humorous column, he went on to mock the human punch line, as always—and to mock the dopes at the Daily Kos who think Gore should run for the White House.

Say what? How did Rich end up trashing the guy who had made those endless good judgments? Easy! For brilliant pundits like Rich, hanging on to the treasured old “narratives” is the one thing that matters. And for Rich, those enduring narratives must all say one thing: There is no one on earth quite as bright as Frank Rich. Soon, Rich was rolling his eyes at the Kossacks for their pitiful “desperation”—and he was rolling his eyes at Gore too. Among other things, the world’s most brilliant pundit was disturbed by Gore’s hopeless new movie:

RICH: Though many of the rave reviews don't mention it, there are also considerable chunks of ''An Inconvenient Truth'' that are more about hawking Mr. Gore's image than his cause. They also bring back unflattering memories of him as a politician. The movie contains no other voices that might upstage him, not even those of scientists supporting his argument. It is instead larded with sycophantic audiences, as meticulously multicultural as any Benetton ad, who dote on every word and laugh at every joke, like the studio audience at ''Live With Regis and Kelly.”
Good God—the film contains multicultural audiences! If you’ve actually seen Gore’s film, you’ll know how cosmically foolish that is. (If memory serves, at least two of those audiences were “multicultural” because Gore was speaking in Japan and in China! As the film makes clear, Gore has delivered his speech about warming all around the world.) Readers, can you believe that this brilliant sage was once a much-feared theater critic? In truth, Rich’s complaints about Gore’s film are almost impossibly daft (more tomorrow)—but then, so too are his scripted remarks about Gore’s 2000 campaign. And of course, by the Great Pundit Rules, one thing had to dropped from sight—Rich’s own cosmic blunders from Campaign 2000, when he assured us all that Bush and Gore were two equally unworthy dopes, and that it couldn’t possibly matter which one of the two got elected. (Only Saint McCain was worthy, the brilliant scribe knowingly judged.) Bush or Gore? What was the difference, Rich brilliantly asked. Today, he persists in mocking Gore, even after listing Gore’s string of sound judgments—and he forgets to mention his own long list of bad judgments (and his journalistic misconduct)—bad judgments which are cosmic and legion.

Speaking of the fate of the earth, does the planet house a more disingenuous soul than that of this Manhattan mauler? Frankly, we thought this column was perfectly Rich; Gore has been right on every big judgment, but, to Rich, he’s still a big dope! After all, his film has multicultural audiences! Who could put up with a person like that? The sheer absurdity of this Rich “reasoning” brings home the thrust of that Tom Toles cartoon. Satraps like Rich will kick and scream, struggling to maintain treasured “narratives.” And their favorite “narrative” has long had Gore as its “punch line”—and these losers will die to maintain it.

Yes, for pundits like Rich—and,alas, Arianna—being in love with a treasured old story means never having to say that you’re sorry. You never have to admit the truth—that you were the one who was cosmically wrong in all of those cosmically dumb things you said. That in mind, it occurred to us that you might like to see the way this Greatest of All Living Pundits has actually worked in the past ten years. And uh-oh! As we’ll see in our next three installments, Rich was disgracefully wrong in 1997; embarrassingly wrong during Campaign 2000; and, oh yes, we’ll see something else. When Gore gave that prescient speech on Iraq, how did the world’s greatest pundit react? Of course! That November, he offered another Gore-bashing column, in which he flatly lied about Gore.

But so what? It’s the law! All great columns penned by Rich must say that no one but Frank Rich is worthy (except, of course, for sainted McCain). Can we tell you what we thought when we read this latest great column? Frankly speaking, we thought it was Rich when this most worthless of world theater critics clung to that tired and foolish old “narrative” in which the great “punch line” is Gore. Frankly speaking, we thought it was Rich—and worth a four-part exploration.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Frankly, is anyone dumber than Rich? More on this pundit’s ludicrous “thoughts” about that important new film.

AS IT’S BEEN POSTED: Rich’s column has been posted here, by some Tennessee ladies.

TOLES TOLD: Once again, we advise you to consider that right-on cartoon. Tom Toles really nailed it.

FOR THE RECORD: For the record, ten Dem senators voted for the Gulf War. You get to decide if their judgment was good. But here are their names, for the record:

Breaux, Louisiana
Bryan, Nevada
Gore, Tennessee
Graham, Florida
Heflin, Alabama
Johnston, Louisiana
Lieberman, Connecticut
Reid, Nevada
Robb, Virginia
Shelby, Alabama
Shelby—he of the permanent majority—became a Republican on November 9, 1994, the day after the Senate switched hands.