WEDNESDAY, JUNE 2, 2004
ZINNI ON RUSSERT: We received a number of e-mails about Tim Russerts session with Nancy Pelosi (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/1/04). One e-mail raised an important point, a point which may call for clarification:
E-MAIL: Nice to see a dissection of Russerts questioning of Pelosi. When he began asking his questions, which blatantly assumed the Republican spin position 100 percent, I found myself slack-jawed in disgust.By contrast, some mailers say they emitted low, mordant chuckles. We found this mailers slack-jawed response more suitable for the occasion.
But heres a point of clarification. It isnt necessarily wrong to consider GOP (or Dem) talking-points. If a host plans to ape them the way Russert did, he might want to say whose outlook hes pimping. But the two parties have a right to express their views, and especially if they raise good points, its perfectly OK to use them.
The problem here concerns the content of the GOP points. Russerts questions had nothing to do with the actual merits of Pelosis views; instead, he seemed to scold her for having expressed them. Such an attitude strangles democracy. When he appeared on 60 Minutes, General Zinni discussed such approaches:
ZINNI: Look, there is one, theres one statement that bothers me more than anything else, and thats the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning and troops were dying as a result; I cant think of anybody that would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what's the difference between that and a faulty plan and a faulty concept and strategy thats getting just as many troops killed and is leading down a path where we're not succeeding in accomplishing the mission that we've set out to do?Zinni is the former commander of all U.S. troops in Iraq. But somehow Russert knew much better about the way the troops must be feeling. The GOP had been pushing this line, and Big Russs obedient Buffalo boy knew he should peddle it too.
Our current series: Gore on war
GORE ON WAR (PART 1): As you know, its Hard Pundit Law. Any time Al Gore makes a speech, pundits scramble into position, competing to make the silliest comment. To prove they belong, they recite approved scripts. For example, when Gore spoke last week to MoveOn.org, the New Republics Ryan Lizza recited on CNNs Inside Politics:
LIZZA (5/30/04): I basically agree with what Jonah [Goldberg] said. I mean, you have to have someone that goes to the [Democratic] base and sort of gives them a little bit of red meat once in a while. And if Kerry is not going do it, why not Al Gore? This is whoAl Gore has sort of reinvented himself in the last few years.Good boy! Lizza thought Gores speech made political senseso he managed to score Pundit Bonus Points by working in reinvented. Not prepared to be outdone, Goldberg soon tossed it out too:
GOLDBERG: [Gore] may have 2008 in mind. But thats betting that hes not going to reinvent himself between now and then, which has so far been a losing bet for Al Gore.Good boy! Reinvented is always safe when pundits are asked to comment on Gore. So too with another guild-approved claim: Its all about the next White House election.
Meanwhile, on Meet the Press, Andrea Mitchell took a different tack. Mitchell was at pains to misstate what Gore said in his speech:
MITCHELL (5/30/04): I think whats most unhelpful to John Kerry in this regard is Al Gore. The Al Gore speech sets out what is a growing feeling in the Democratic base. We want out [of Iraq]. We want quick withdrawal. And John Kerry has not signed on to that. And the more Al Gore speaks out in this fashion, emotionally pulling at the heartstrings of the Democratic liberal base, the more it sets Kerry apart from his own party.Of course, Gore said nothing about withdrawal. In fact, he explicitly said that Kerry shouldnt propose any specific plan for Iraq. But so what? When Al Gore speaks, pundits start inventing. Its a special time for our pundit brigadesa time when they get to imagine the world, and just let the facts be gol-danged.
But mostly last week, as everyone knows, pundits said Al Gore was crazy. It looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again, said spooky Fox pseudo-psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/28/04). But the phony doctor was really IN when John Podhoretz typed for the New York Post. It is now clear that Al Gore is insane, he explained. I think he needs medication. Of course, lets recall something we mentioned last week. Given the Short Attention Span of most pundits, the claim that Gore is clearly insane often means that he just spoke too long:
PODHORETZ: Gores speech is the single craziest political performance of my lifetime, and I use the word craziest advisedly. The speech, at 6,600 words, was twice as long as Bushs address to the nation on Monday night. The indiscipline shown by the sheer endlessness of Gores address is a reflection of the psychic morass in which he has become mired.To Podhoretz, when Gore had more to say than Bush, it meant that Gore was crazy. But so it has gone for several years when Gore dares to give public speeches.
Yes, the pundits clowned and played, as they have done for years with Gore. But the timing of Gores latest trashing intrigued us here at THE HOWLER. On the same day The Veep made his troubling speech, the New York Times wrote an editors note explaining why the brilliant paper had bungled the run-up to war in Iraq. In Washington, everybody understandsnowthat our press elites failed us two years ago. And everyone is busy swearing that theyll be much more careful the next time.
But wouldnt you know it? One well-known person spoke quite clearly in the period now under review. On September 23, 2002, a former officialhis name was Al Goredelivered a highly-publicized speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. I want to talk about the relationship between Americas war against terrorism and Americas proposed war against Iraq, he began. Like most Americans I've been wrestling with the question of what our country needs to do to defend itself from the kind of focused, intense and evil attack that we suffered a year ago, September 11.
We think Gores speech is intriguing today because it turned out to be so prophetic. On that datetwo years agoGore recited a list of points that have now become Conventional Wisdom. Two years later, many Americans would surely say that Al Gore hit the nail on the head. More particularly, every pundit knows to agree with the things Gore said in his address.
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, 5/27/04: John Kerrys advisers were surprised and annoyed to hear that Mr. Gore hollered so much, he made Howard Dean look like George Pataki.Matthews was giving the shows introduction. During the actual program itself, he played a few clips of what Gore had said, interspersed with excerpts from Deans famous speech. And Newsweeks Jon Meacham knew what he should do. He said what his host hoped to hear:
MATTHEWS: Wasnt that a great chorus there, Jon? Do you think thats leadership there? I meanGood boy! Meacham did what Good Pundits dohe agreed with his social superior.
Of course, its fun to see where these spin-points get started. According to Nexis, this one began on Wednesdays Capitol Report, voiced by RNC shill Barbara Comstock. Alan Murray, host of the show, quickly agreed with his guest:
COMSTOCK (5/26/04): No, I have to think that the Kerry campaign is cringing when you see those images that are very Howard Dean-like. AndGood boy! According to Nexis, it started with Comstock, then roared through the ranks, becoming one of the weeks basic points. Well enjoy more of the pundit corps clowning as our series continues this week.
By the way: As we noted last week, Gores speech was extremely low-key, except for a few moments when he called for Bush Admin resignations. To see the speech which few pundits watched, you know what to do. Just click here. Warning: Despite the speakers clear insanity, you will have to wait a good long while before you see Gore raise his voice.
From the annals of Globe-al vacuity
ADOPTING THE NICHE OF A NAMESAKE: How far back do we go in this business? Why, we can even remember a day when, if you heard someone make fun of the Globe, you assumed they meant the supermarket tabloid! But the Boston Globe has ended all that. Consider Sundays Matthews Show. Nina Easton, the Globes ace Kerry reporter, was one of programs guests. Yes, the following exchange really happened. No, we really arent making it up. And yes, thats the New York Times David Brooks chiming in with the vacuous joke. In the empty world of the modern press, no man is a Gilligans Island:
MATTHEWS: Welcome back. Who's the real John Kerry? Before he headed off to Vietnam, John Kerry was a loner at the elite St. Pauls Boarding School, but already charting his course for the presidency at Yale. Nina, is this a guy that was one of these guys you meet in school, they run for student council president every year, theyre planning to go to Harvard Law, and the whole things about becoming president of the United States?For the record, Kerry went to Boston College Law. But yes, dear readers, it really is true! We have now reached the point where major pundits like to quote Nixon calling Kerry a phony! Laughably, the Globe biographical team to which Easton belongs is so enamored of this Nixon comment that they quote it three separate times in their bio of Kerryfirst in the preface, then in the introduction, and then in the actual bio itself! By the time you hit page 110, youve seen them lovingly quote Nixons comment three times! (Not that they have any problem with Kerry!) But lets get back to Sundays show. Our biographer continued her limnings:
EASTON (continuing directly): The thing that people dont realize about John Kerry, hes not really from a Massachusetts neighborhood. He lived his lifehe was always saying goodbye. He lived his life across a dozen towns in two continents. He was shipped off to boarding school when he was 11 years old. This is notthis is somebody whoWhat does Nina Easton think when she hears young Kerry discuss Vietnam? Of course! Easton think its very funny, because of Kerrys funny accent! At any rate, lets skip the part about dating Jackies half-sister. And lets skip the brilliant theories about the suicide of Kerrys grandfather. Lets get to the part where the BBCs Katty Kay puzzled her head about John:
KAY: What I don't understand about Kerry is here is a man whos wanted to become president, it seems, all his life. Hes worked in politics for so long, but he hasnt managed to masterand this is what David was saying, he hasn't managed to master that ability to connect with people. I mean, this is something you can learn, I think. He doesnt have to do these speeches. I think even the foreign policy speech that he gave this week, there was a lot of valuable stuff in there, but it didntwasn't a speech that got my heart soaring, thinking, Right. Here is somebody that's going to lead us in a safer direction. Why has he not been able to do that?Katty! Maybe Kerry met lots of people like you and just didnt want to connect!
Of course, heres the miracle about todays presstheyre too lazy to update their own Standard Stories. Anyone can see the obviousthe stories these pundits recite about Kerry are the same silly stories they told about Gore. He always wanted to run for president! Weirdly, he doesnt know how to connect! His father just wasnt warm enough! Too lazy to bother inventing new tales, your pundit corps recites tired old hits. And yes, they really are that empty. When Easton hears Kerry talk about Nam, she cant get past the funny accent. Is it any wonder that the Globe bio is one of the most comical books of its kind ever written? Or that, when people mock the Globe, they no longer think of the tabloid?