Daily Howler logo
OVER EASY! As troubling patterns return in the press, Josh kisses asses of power: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 2, 2010

When the whale conducts an analysis: It’s very hard to get your arms around the dumbness of the whale. Where, for example, does the whale go to find children as silly as this? (Answer: It goes to the Harvard Crimson. To restore your faith in humankind, check this silly lad’s comments.)

Leaving that for another day, let’s consider what happens when the whale attempts to conduct an analysis. We put aside Milbank and Blow and turn to Richard Cohen.

Yesterday, Cohen was trying to figure out why crime rates seem to be down. We say crime rates seem to be down because Cohen cites preliminary figures from 2009—though he shows no sign of knowing, or even wondering, if that’s likely to make any difference.

Why would crime have been down last year? Surely, that’s a serious question. But Cohen shows no sign of having any idea how to answer such a question. Nor does he show any real sign of having asked people who might know. As is leviathan’s want, Cohen quickly cites “a one-man, totally unscientific survey” he himself conducted in 1967. As he ends his worthless rumination, leviathan’s hire tells us this:

COHEN (6/1/10): Common sense tells you that the environment has to play a role and the truly desperate will sometimes break the law—like Victor Hugo's impoverished Jean Valjean, who stole bread for his sister's children. But the latest crime statistics strongly suggest that bad times do not necessarily make bad people. Bad character does.

Everyone knows all these fatuous things. But why were crime rates down last year? (If they really were down.) As best one can tell from Cohen’s “analysis,” crime rates were down in 2009 because the nation’s 300 million people suddenly had better character than they had in the previous year!

We strongly recommend Cohen’s column, which is almost cosmically hapless. How vast is the dumbness of the whale? Cohen has written his column for decades, at our leading political newspaper. Based on the evidence of yesterday’s effort, it has been a long time since anyone made him try to figure anything out.

Special report: Same as it ever was?

PART 2—OVER EASY (permalink): Who misstated his record more—Mark Kirk or Richard Blumenthal? At this point, we can’t really say (although the evidence remains quite weak about Blumenthal’s misstatements). In part, you can chalk our uncertainty up to the norms of modern reporting. Here’s a large chunk of the short report in which the Washington Post broke the story about Kirk’s misstatements:

SMITH (5/29/10): The Republican candidate for President Obama’s old Senate seat inaccurately claimed to have received the U.S. Navy's Intelligence Officer of the Year award for service during NATO's conflict with Serbia in the late 1990s.

Rep. Mark Kirk, a Navy reservist elected to Congress in 2001, acknowledged the error in his official biography after The Washington Post began looking into whether he had received the prestigious award, which is given by top Navy officials to a single individual annually...

Kirk, an Appropriations Committee member, changed his Web site last week to incorporate a different account of the award. Kirk wrote on his blog that "upon a recent review of my records, I found that an award listed in my official biography was misidentified" and that the award he had intended to list was given to his entire unit.

A professional group, the National Military Intelligence Association, gave Kirk's unit—based in Aviano, Italy—an award for outstanding service in 2000. The association's Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award celebrates “the exceptional achievements of an outstanding Naval Intelligence career professional,” but the citation does not mention Kirk and instead designates the entire Intelligence Division Electronic Attack Wing at Aviano.

Question: Was Kirk a mere member of that honored unit? Or was he the unit’s commander? Only in the latter case could Kirk’s statements over the years conceivably represent some sort of mix-up—and as it turns out, Kirk has claimed the Intelligence Officer of the Year award on more occasions than was first reported. But neither the Post, nor any other paper we’ve seen, has clarified this bone-simple matter:

Was Kirk a member? Or was he the leader? Good luck trying to find out! But so it goes as America’s press corps fights to keep us informed.

That said, we’ve been intrigued by the ways some “liberals” have reacted to the twin flaps concerning Kirk and Blumenthal. Blumenthal was massively savaged by the New York Times, in a badly bungled, unbalanced report which spawned much follow-up trashing (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/1/10). Following the lead of the Times, cable and columnists trashed Blumenthal too. By way of contrast, Kirk, who may have misstated more gravely, has barely received a scratch. This extends several patterns of unfair-and-unbalanced “character analysis” by the mainstream press corps’ big organs, especially the Times—patterns which date at least to 1992.

An active, intelligent liberal world would be tired of this pattern by now—would be actively fighting back. But on Memorial Day, one of our leading liberal players took his tiny pop gun out and fired this pitiful shot:

MARSHALL (5/31/10): What I Did in the War

With the recent Blumenthal and now Kirk stories (and with Memorial Day upon us), it's worth remembering that pols across the board have a long history of either wildly embellishing or just outright falsifying their own military records. Help us pull together a list. What are some of the best? Send tips to our comment email address at the upper right.

Truly, that’s pathetic. But given the leadership of the boss, David Kurtz was soon offering this follow-up post, complete with a link to some truly hapless TPM history:

KURTZ (5/31/10): The Few, The Shameless

Richard Blumenthal and Mark Kirk are only the latest in a long line of politicians who when given the chance, embellish, exaggerate, and just outright lie about their own military service records. Brian Beutler walks us down memory lane.

Kurtz linked to this useless report by Beutler—a report which fails to examine the ways this powerful narrative has been used to damage Big Democrats over the past twenty years.

Question? Could TPM—could Josh himself—be bigger whores for the Times? In these posts, the Three Amigos reward the Times for its massively bungled Blumenthal pig-pile, and for its corresponding failure to consider Kirk’s misstatements. In these posts, the site’s musketeers have told the world that Blumenthal has “wildly embellished or just outright falsified” his record—that he has “embellished, exaggerated, or just outright lied about his military service.” He’s one of “the few, the shameless,” the boys sweetly sing, perhaps best describing themselves.

Meanwhile, Beutler’s history is a joke, given the way this general theme has been used against Major Democrats in the past twenty years—with a certain candidate named Bush getting one of history’s most ginormous passes during Campaign 2000. You can read about such things at Media Matters, where they aren’t kissing the hem of the Times. But over at TPM, lips are sealed—and how much fire can you spot in this review by Steve Benen, in which “the media” are called to task in Standard Generic Manner, without anyone naming the Times?

What makes liberals behave this way? What makes them shy from critiquing our biggest news organs—the organs which have done the most harm to progressive interests in the past twenty years? In individual cases, we can’t say—but TPM is politely cited in today’s New York Times. (You kiss their ass, they’ll kiss yours!) Why have liberals persistently failed to develop a critique of the mainstream press corps? Here’s one reason: Because good reliable fellows like Josh have long kissed asses of power.

Can we talk? Josh has turned TPM into a virtual tabloid. In the process, he has let us know that he thinks our IQs are very low—though in that thought, he may well be right. He gives us the latest on various sexy-time tales—and he hands us garbage like this about the themes which have driven our political era. In the process, Josh remains a Serious Person—the kind of person he fought to remain in the run-up to the war in Iraq, when (as he later told the Times) he was still considering a career inside the mainstream press corps.

We think you know the overall pattern here, a pattern which has been very destructive:

Conservatives pound away at our biggest mainstream press organs—have done so for decades. In response, good career liberals play it safe, defending their own career interests. This may re-emerge as a serious problem as Obama’s primacy wanes, as familiar patterns from earlier eras begin to re-emerge in the mainstream press. The specter of Sestakgate has suggested one such clear possibility.

Digby, Tomasky and Conason have been on it. Josh has kissed asses of power.

Tomorrow: Will a pattern return?