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EIGHT YEARS LATER! David Brooks insulted Gore. At long last, Times readers pushed back: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MAY 31, 2007

EIGHT YEARS LATER, PART 1: What an amazing morning! On Tuesday, David Brooks wrote an insult-laden column about Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason. Gore is “pompous” and “exceedingly strange,” Brooks wrote—“a radical technological determinist” with “a bizarre view of human nature.” With such comments, Brooks recalled one strand of the hail of insults dumped on Gore for twenty months during Campaign 2000—the hail of insults which so plainly sent George W. Bush to the White House. (Or do we still pretend not to know that this happened?) But this morning, a miracle happens. The Times has printed six well-formed letters about Brooks’ column. In these letters, readers talk back to Brooks’ insults. They do so with exceptional clarity.

The first letter comes from Brookdale, California (no pun intended). In part, the writer says this:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: My question to Mr. Brooks: Wouldn't it be nice to have a president who read and understood history, who could write a book (''An Inconvenient Truth'') that has captured the imagination of the world, who takes time to look into the future and who respects reason?
You’d think a journo might value such traits—not look for ways to insult them. A second letter, from Woodland Hills, California, offers sardonic praise for Brooks: “At least Mr. Books isn’t accusing [Gore] of claiming he invented the Internet,” the writer mordantly says. A third letter, from South Bend, quotes one of Brooks’ insults—then imagines what might have been:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: I bet a Vulcan Utopian president would have listened to, and not squelched, professional scientists; would have consulted scholars, and not cronies, before invading a country; would have regarded other nations with respect, and not with pridefulness; and would have made appointments on the basis of competence, not loyalty.
The fourth letter, from Toronto, lays it right out on the line:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: It seems that David Brooks couldn't provide constructive criticism of ''The Assault on Reason,'' so he had to resort to ad hominem attacks, calling Al Gore ''exceedingly strange'' and pompous. Even if he were, that does not change that Mr. Gore was right on the war, the environment and the deficit.
Silly Canadian! He doesn’t understand that the “media elite” in his southern neighbor doesn’t give a flying f*ck about who is actually “right” on such matters. (Much more on that theme next week.) And omigod! The fifth writer, a lady from Austin, revisits our theme from last week:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: In [his book], Gore asks, ''Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?'' I might ask David Brooks a similar question because I cannot see why Mr. Gore's ideas provoked such a visceral response. In fact, it seems a perfect example of his point that ideas are attacked harshly before they can be fairly discussed.
It’s much as we said last week: Al Gore said our discourse is broken. And his critics rushed to prove that he’s right.

Next week, we’ll give Brooks credit for at least addressing some of the actual claims in Gore’s book, claims with which he disagrees. As we’ll see, other reviewers have agreed with Gore’s views, but have devoted themselves to trashing him anyway. The deep dysfunction of this approach should be obvious to anyone—except, of course, to Washington Post editors, who keep waving such oddball work into print. But we were startled and pleased to see so much push-back directed at Brooks’ column today. This is exactly what didn’t happen in 1999 and 2000, when the mainstream press corps—not the right-wing machine—waged its insulting, two-year War Against Gore, thereby sending Bush to the White House.

Many liberals, centrists, progressives and Dems have come to understand a central fact: Every time Gore opens his mouth, a wave of utter bull-sh*t follows from the mainstream press corps. And no, it doesn’t just come from the mainstream press corps’ conservative columnists, people like Brooks. As in 1999, so today: This wave of bullsh*t mainly comes from the dead center of these big mainstream news orgs. Yesterday, for example, we saw the always ludicrous Dana Milbank complain about how pompous Gore is, in a truly ridiculous way. It’s hard to believe that an editor would wave such dreck into print. But at the Post, they manage.

You didn’t see that push-back in 1999, when Gore was trashed within an inch of his life. You didn’t see it from average citizens; more significantly, you didn’t see it from the mainstream press corps’ “liberal” columnists or from our liberal/progressive political journals. Tomorrow, we’ll offer a brief overview of the way our four leading journals covered the War Against Gore in real time, when it was changing the course of world history. Those liberal journals did very little in talking back to the mainstream press. As a result, the mainstream press was perfectly free to continue its assault till the end.

But that was then, and this is now—and this morning, the public is talking back. But how about your liberal journals? Have they come to terms with the work of the mainstream press, even now? We think their record remains very poor—and it’s time that their writers and editors began to explain their inaction. In the weeks to come, we’ll keep asking these liberal writers and editors to engage in some basic Q-and-As about these very important matters. Your role: We think that liberals and progressives must insist that these journals start to deal with this basic reality.

We’re seeing superlative push-back today—but it’s happening eight years later. Meanwhile, what about the “hero tales” the mainstream press is now bestowing on Rudy and Fred? What about the demon tales they’re crafting for Clinton, Gore and Edwards? (Obama will follow.) On the whole, your liberal journals have been very tame when it comes to this problem, too. Alas! What happened in 1999 can’t be changed. But readers, what have they done for you lately? And when current Big Dems come under attack from these mainstream news organs, just why is it that these writers and editors seem so disinclined to respond?

EIGHT YEARS LATER, PART 2: Wow! Eight years later, readers of the New York Observer get to hear a bit of what happened. In the Observer’s current edition, Chris Lehmann reviews Gore’s book. Here’s the remarkable way he starts:
LEHMANN (6/3/07): If anyone has the right to fulminate on the irrationality of American political debate, it’s Al Gore. During the 2000 Presidential campaign, the national media turned him into a hapless unofficial extra from Revenge of the Nerds, a stiff who made false claims about inventing the Internet and inspiring Love Story, a wimp who consulted advisors about how to dress in a more convincingly masculine fashion. At the same time, the press corps—by rehashing G.O.P. talking points about his diabolical lust to “say anything” for the sake of winning the Presidency—led us to believe that Mr. Gore was boiling with Machiavellian ambition.
What a remarkable statement! True, Lehmann cloaks several of his statements in a bit of creative ambiguity; in that passage, he doesn’t technically say if Gore ever said that he invented the Internet, for example. Nor does he technically say whether Gore really did “consult advisors [i.e., Naomi Wolf] about how to dress in a more convincingly masculine fashion.” And he talks about the “national” media, skipping the more helpful word “mainstream.” But Lemann does call this whole process “irrational,” implying a fairly obvious judgment about the stories the press corps was peddling. That said, we offer this rad Shorter Lehmann:
SHORTER LEHMANN: During the 2000 presidential campaign, the mainstream media turned Gore into a national laughing-stock, reciting a bunch of irrational stories they took straight from RNC talking points. They kept it up for two years.
We only add that important time-frame, which is so often left out.

That Shorter Lehmann makes a remarkable statement—and, of course, it’s perfectly accurate. Eight years later, Observer readers get to hear a fleeting account of the remarkable journalistic misconduct which put George W. Bush where he is, thereby sending us into Iraq.

Back then, of course, Lehmann worked at Ground Zero; in the fall of 2000, he was a senior editor at the Washington Post’s Book World, occasionally making funny at Gore’s expense. And his wife (Ana Marie Cox) works at Time, also a Ground Zero locale. Such professionals can always find ways to declare that what happened wasn’t really their own cohort’s fault, and Lehmann manages to do so again, even after that striking first paragraph. “The Fault, Dear Al, Is Not in the Media:” that’s the headline of his current piece. The real problem during Campaign 2000, Lehmann judges, isn’t what the press corps said; the real problem is the fact that the public believed them! But then, such fatuous reasoning virtually defines the work of our modern “elite” “press.” Silly escape routes to the side, just look back at that Shorter Lehmann for the nub of what this journo has said.

Yes, that Shorter Lehmann is truly remarkable—a statement of vast historical consequence. Given the narrow way Campaign 2K was decided, Shorter Lehmann implies an obvious fact; unless we all take leave of our senses, it implies that the mainstream press corps’ irrational, RNC-fueled conduct decided the outcome of that historic race. But then, one could easily draw this same conclusion from things that others have said. Just last year, for example, Ezra Klein said the following, at the start of an American Prospect cover story. He was describing a speech Gore had given:
KLEIN (4/06): The address was...attended by an audience that included both old media luminaries and new media innovators. In attendance were Tom Curley, president of the AP, Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, all leading lights of a media establishment that, five years earlier, had deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator, ideological chameleon, and total, unforgivable bore.
What Shorter Lehmann said! But as we’ve mentioned, Klein made this remarkable statement once, then put it away. He pretty much never said it again.

Eight years later, in this week’s Observer, New Yorkers actually get to hear an account of what happened during Campaign 2000. But Lehmann quickly finds a way to avoid dwelling on what he describes, just as Klein, one year before, seemed to know that he must move on from the truth. But if Klein and Shorter Lehmann are right—and they are—they’re describing one of the biggest journalistic stories in American history. But Lehmann is married to the mainstream and Klein has health care to address. But we do know this: You could read our liberal journals year after year without ever hearing this remarkable bit of our recent political history discussed. Simply put, these journals have been in the bag for years, devoted to selling out your real interests.

Why do today’s superlative letters reach the New York Times eight years too late? In part, it’s because of the work of these “liberal” journals. These journals have largely slept, for years, as the world of Shorter Lehmann unfolds. Tomorrow, next week, we’ll continue exploring this critical problem.

DIRECT FROM THE CONEHEAD FILES: We got several reactions to yesterday’s ludicrous “Washington Sketch” by Dana Milbank. Poor Milbank! The scribe was was troubled because Pompous Gore used such high-fallutin’ terms as “the marketplace of ideas” when he spoke in Washington. On the chance that it doesn’t get printed, we share with you a letter to the Post, sent them by one of our readers:
LETTER TO THE POST:
Dear Post:

On May 29, Al Gore gave a speech at GWU. On May 30 (page A2), the Post told us that Gore spoke. The Post did not tell us what Gore said. The Post told us Gore used big words. The Post thinks Gore likes big words. The Post thinks Gore is too smart for his own good. The Post thinks we are too dumb to read big words. The Post thinks we don't want to know what Al said.

The Post is wrong, wrong, wrong. For shame, Post! Please, Post, tell us what Al says! We can take it.
Our plain-spoken reader resides (lives) in Virginia.

Milbank lives where Coneheads are sent during their brief stay on Earth.

THAT BAKER BOY: Two more cheers for Garance Franke-Ruta! To her credit, the Prospector returned to those new Clinton bios on Tuesday, this time armed with a copy of the Carl Bernstein book. We haven’t seen Bernstein’s bio ourselves. But Franke-Ruta found a tone in his book which we’d semi-predicted:
FRANKE-RUTA (5/29/07): I haven't yet had time to read the review copy of the 628-page Carl Bernstein volume, but my first impression of it based on reading the introductory pages and some key passages makes two things clear: 1) this book will be a much more enjoyable read than the Gerth/Van Natta book and 2) its tone is far more sympathetic than the one Gerth and Van Natta took, even as the reporting is more personal and seemingly invasive when it comes to Clinton's private life.
As we told you Tuesday morning, we saw nothing in Peter Baker’s original Post report to make us think that Bernstein’s book would turn out to be “unflattering” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/29/07). Without a doubt, Baker’s front-page report in the Post might have made readers think that the book was loaded with unpleasant anecdotes. But Baker chose to “write murky” about various incidents—and when professional writers pen murky accounts, there’s often something they’re trying to hide. In this case, Baker may have been hiding this fact: Bernstein’s book is about a person, not about a demon.

Indeed, Franke-Ruta already reports a significant find in this respect. In Baker’s front-page Post report, he offered an unflattering account of one part of Clinton’s life, attributing his account to Bernstein. But surprise! Franke-Ruta has read that part of Bernstein’s book, and she says that Baker’s characterization is simply inaccurate. We strongly suggest that you read her post to see how this familiar old ball-game works. But this is a very familiar old game. The Post has been toying with you and your interests in precisely this way for at least the past fifteen years. They do it to you on their front page. And we liberals sit there and take it.

We’re still a bit unclear on the specific matter Franke-Ruta discusses. (Our problem: Baker’s account includes a key, three-word direct quote from Bernstein, and she doesn’t account for it.) But if Baker did misrepresent the contents of Bernstein’s book, that should hardly be a surprise. We’ve watched Baker and his colleagues spin these stories in precisely these ways for the past fifteen years. (Ditto the New York Times.) Because of that history, we don’t know why Franke-Ruta wasn’t more suspicious about last Friday’s Post report. But if she’s right about this matter, she has found precisely the sort of thing we’ve found a thousand times in the past. In these matters, the pattern became clear at least a decade ago: When you look up the Post’s murky claims, you’ll often find that the claims are just bogus.

We look forward to rereading Baker’s report when we can check his claims against Bernstein’s text. But let’s make sure we understand the way this game so typically works. Last Friday, Baker printed some murky, unflattering tales, claiming he got them from Bernstein’s book. And then, Chris Matthews began to “improve” on these tales—tales which already seemed a bit suspicious. By Friday night, Matthews was literally accusing Clinton of crimes—and claiming Bernstein as his source. By Sunday, his insults and accusations had reached a point that ought to make all Americans furious. Details on that tomorrow.

By tradition, though, we liberals just sit there and take this sort of deception. Matthews has made up bogus claims about Big Dems for the past ten years—and our career liberal journals have refused to fight back. Our question: When have you ever seen an accurate profile of Matthews’s work in any such journal? Given Matthews’ endless misconduct, it has been astounding to see these liberal journals ignore his work over all these years.

But then, career writers want to do TV—and MSNBC is a prime venue for political pundits. Not only that, Matthews is connected to Tim Russert, whose Sunday show is the industry’s gold standard. You’d have to be a Conehead yourself to miss the apparent connection here. For the past dozen years, our liberal journals have sold you out for the chance to advance their writers’ and editors’ careers. Isn’t it obvious? That your liberal journals have shut their traps so they can show up on television?
We libs have accepted this game for the past fifteen years. First, they played it against Clinton and Clinton; then they turned their guns against Gore. And now, their deceptions are starting again. When they started up last Friday, Franke-Ruta was the only writer at the four liberal journals who even bothered to comment. (Admittedly, her comment was lacking.) This Tuesday, she came through again—though we’re still surprised that she plays it so mild when she finds that the Post has misreported an episode from Bernstein’s book. But elsewhere, the lads and ladies sun by the pool. Who knows? If God is great, one day they’ll be big Post superstars too!

Final note on Franke-Ruta’s post, which you should read in full: Peter Baker’s name isn’t mentioned, a standard courtesy in these matters. But Baker, like Jeff Gerth before him, has been a part of this game for years. Indeed, it seems to run in the family with Baker. We’ll expound in the days ahead.

VINTAGE BOEHLERT: Boehlert knocked it out of the park with yesterday’s profile of Jeff Gerth. You know what to do—just click here. Anyone know why our “liberal journals” don’t turn out this sort of work?

PLUS THIS: In the past year, Scott Lemieux has been doing excellent, name-naming, press-critique work at Tapped, for the American Prospect.

TOMORROW: From Baker to Matthews.

Special report: Why the Prospect slept!


READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: The Post praised Gerth—and four journals slept. Read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Friday morning, the Post savaged Clinton—and four liberal journals slept. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/29/07.

PART 2: At The Prospect, one person spoke—and readers howled in protest. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/07.
TOMORROW, PART 3: In Campaign 2000, these journals (largely) slept. There’s no excuse for sleeping tomorrow.