MATTHEWS (5/30/05): Lets take a look at where the country stands on this. Weve got a CBS poll at hand: 58 percent support medical research using embryonic stem cell research. 31 percent oppose it. If you just look at Republicans, half the Republicans polled—50 percent—support stem cell research. 39 percent oppose it. Howard, whats that say?Lets make sure you understand the numbers that appeared on the screen. Even Republicans favor stem cell research, by an 11-point margin, the poll said. But Fineman is an experienced scribe. Fineman knew how to react:
FINEMAN (continuing directly): It tells you that the presidents in a dangerous position and if the Democrats want to demagogue it, theyre going to be able to.If the Democrats want to demagogue it! According to this standard frame—it goes back to the days of Clinton and Gore—any position Democrats take is pre-defined as demagoguery. In this case, Democrats are said to be demagogues even if they hold a position with which most Republicans agree! But nonsense like this has become so standard that it occurred to no one to challenge Finemans statement. Fineman made no attempt to explain what he had said, and no one bothered to ask.
PART 4—FOLLOW THE MONEY: Why do TV liberals argue so poorly? Kevin Drum asked the question last week, admitting that it had him puzzled. No, Drum didnt give specific examples, so it isnt clear just what he meant. But lets enjoy some HOWLER HISTORY! To see a fiery TV liberal give away the store at a critical moment, lets watch fiery Lawrence ODonnell on the McLaughlin Group. The date: October 6, 2000. It was three days after Bush and Gores first debate—and one month before the narrow election that sent George W. Bush to the White House and transformed all of American politics. But so what? As millionaire TV liberals so often did, ODonnell was out there fighting the fight—on behalf of Bush. Issue Two—Gores tall tales, intoned the programs High Foppist Host. And you guessed it! ODonnell, a well-known TV liberal, was so eager to add to the list of Gores alleged lies that, when he finally got his turn, he journeyed back a year in time to revisit a phony example:
ODONNELL (10/6/00): John, his most ridiculous and his most relevant untruths are his claims of legislative achievement. He told Time magazine last year that he enacted the Earned Income Tax Credit, which of course went into law before he was ever in Congress.Except Gore plainly didnt tell Time that he enacted the Earned Income Tax Credit. As the transcript of the interview plainly shows, Gore referred to the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, for which he had made a major proposal during his time in the Senate. Gores Q-and-A with Karen Tumulty was published in the magazines 11/1/99 edition; his words were there for all to see. But so what? By November 1999, the Washington press corps was making merry inventing a stream of untruths by Gore, and this non-lie had quickly been added to the burgeoning list. Eleven months later—four weeks before the narrow election that led us to our present state—TV liberal Lawrence ODonnell recited this press corps invention again. But then, ODonnell—the fiery TV liberal—offered a whole lot of smack on this day. For example, when the group spent time mocking Gores troubling make-up, the ever-fiery TV liberal joined in the fun, letting us know what Rush said:
MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see his makeup?Everyone enjoyed a good solid laugh, and ODonnell—the fiery TV liberal—made sure that everyone got to hear what Rush had been saying all week. But then, this was just one more part ODonnells relentless performance this day. Earlier, the fiery liberal had expounded at length about the problems with Gores troubling tax plan. As we pick up, ODonnell has already implied that Gores complaints about Bushs cuts for the top one percent were insincere—a classic stand-up:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw his makeup.
MCLAUGHLIN: I got a letter from someone who says he knows that Gore, who did not have his normal makeup artist, saying that we were going to use our staff, actually had some of his Hollywood friends provide him with a makeup artist, and that he was made up to look like Ronald Reagan.
O'DONNELL: Well, this is what Rush Limbaugh—
MCLAUGHLIN: Did you see that?
O'DONNELL: Rush Limbaugh has been saying this all week—that the look they're going for in the hair and in the makeup is Ronald Reagan.
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there's rouge on the cheeks and like a man-tan the rest of it. [Laughter]
MICHAEL BARONE: Well, I think maybe he's got Richard Nixon's makeup artist, John, from 40 years ago.
O'DONNELL: What's missing in the Gore plan is detail. What derives from it is an incredible level of complexity. For example, everybody out there thinks that college tuition will be tax deductible for everyone. It won't. It will be deductible only for filers in the $60,000 to $120,000 category; 100 percent deductible only $60,000 to $100,000 category. It is not deductible for anyone else below $60,000, because below $60,000 there's a tax credit available, which is a totally different provision. You can't—Poor ODonnell! Because he was earning more than 120K, he wouldnt get a thing from Gores plan! And dont worry! ODonnell, a fiery TV liberal, was earning well more than that paltry sum, writing the fatuous Hollywood scripts that had turned him into a screaming fop—the classic TV liberal. Eventually, Eleanor Clift did jump in, complaining about the High Pundit Foppistry with which she found herself surrounded. But ODonnell, a TV liberal, wouldnt stop. He had one last bit of praise for Bushs plan—the plan that would eventually earn him and his Millionaire Pundit Class beaucoup bucks:
MCLAUGHLIN: Now, Lawrence—
O'DONNELL: Go ahead.
MCLAUGHLIN: You're a single person. Do you get anything out of Gore's plan?
O'DONNELL: No. I don't qualify for anything because I'm over the income level that all these things are targeted for.
MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have—do you know working married couples with no children? Do they get anything out of the Gore plan?
O'DONNELL: It depends on their income level. If you're over $120,000, you won't get a single thing from the Gore plan.
MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think they get anything out of it.
MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Bush has said that if you comport to certain predesignated behavior patterns, then Gore's plan will work for you. But he, Bush, says, "I'm making this available for everybody's option. Not just those who've—Translation: Rate cuts work for millionaires like me. But so it went as a TV liberal trashed Gores make-up and made-up lies. So it went as a TV liberal fought to put Bush in the White House.
BARONE: John, John—
O'DONNELL: That's why rate cuts so attractive. Rate cuts work for everyone.
Is this the kind of thing Drum has in mind when he complains about TV liberals? Were not sure; the fiery fellow names no names, as is the familiar norm among the career liberal writer class. And of course, this is the first time youve ever seen anyone cite ODonnells astonishing performance, because career liberal writers have made it their business for the past six years to pretend that all this never happened. They have no plan to let you know how those fiery TV liberals behaved during Campaign 2000. They have no plan to discuss the way the major newspapers took down Candidate Gore, and they have no plan to discuss the way they had gone after Clinton in the years that preceded. In individual cases, we cant say why theyre so prim, so demure and so dainty. But the general reason for this is fairly clear, and well lay it out once again down below.
But there you see the actual nature of todays fiery TV liberal. Why did ODonnell argue so poorly? The answer to that is fairly obvious—because he isnt a liberal at all! He may have been a liberal at some point in the past, and he still says that hes part of the fiery tribe, when he gets a snootful or three at those foppish high Hollywood parties. But ODonnell sits at the right hand of Okrent—quite plainly, hes one more millionaire fop, the breed of cat who is sent on TV to pretend to speak for the discarded interests of the American liberal. Indeed, across America, McLaughlin viewers were told that ODonnell was speaking to them this day as a liberal. Five years later, Bush still sits in the White House; that in mind, perhaps you can see what a towering joke was made of your interests that day.
But then, ODonnell is typical of the high class which now runs the press corps in Washington. By the fall of 1998, they were in head-long pursuit of Vile Clinton, as Sally Quinn incomparably described in a lengthy report in the Post. Quinns report returned to the news this week because of John Harris new book about Clinton; indeed, Atrios reprinted her full 11/2/98 piece (to read it, just click here.) For ourselves, well strongly disagree with those who trash Quinn for writing this seminal report; in our view, this was one of the most important journalist works of the 1990s. With perfect accuracy, in full detail, Quinn reported the outrage of the foppish elite which powders its nose at high Washington parties. But early on, she made it clear—these people werent like thee and thine:
QUINN (11/2/98): With some exceptions, the Washington Establishment is outraged by the president's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The polls show that a majority of Americans do not share that outrage. Around the nation, people are disgusted but want to move on; in Washington, despite Clinton's gains with the budget and the Mideast peace talks, people want some formal acknowledgment that the president's behavior has been unacceptable. They want this, they say, not just for the sake of the community, but for the sake of the country and the presidency as well.At THE HOWLER, we say it loud and proud: Thank God for Quinns essential piece, a brilliant portrait of the age! In great detail, Quinn recorded the way the Washington High Foppist Class had its knickers knotted over Clinton. As of late 1998, were opinion leaders of the Washington press corps actually driven by that famed liberal bias? Only a fool could sustain the claim after reading this detailed report. Four months later, by the way, Candidate Gore began to campaign—and this gang of Capitol Fops landed on him like a big ton of bricks, inventing a string of phony misstatements and mocking his make-up, his clothing, his demeanor and his manner, as a fiery TV liberal would still be doing some nineteen months after that. The Drums dont like to bring this up, and they clearly dont like to name High Names. But Quinns report makes something quite clear—the Washington press corps opinion leaders are not a bunch of fiery liberals. Neither, of course, are most TV liberals. Neither was simpering, dissembling ODonnell on that fateful and memorable day.
In addition to the polls and surveys, this disconnect between the Washington Establishment and the rest of the country is evident on TV and radio talk shows and in interviews and conversations with more than 100 Washingtonians for this article. The din about the scandal has subsided in the news as politicians and journalists fan out across the country before tomorrow's elections. But in Washington, interest remains high. The reasons are varied, and they intertwine.
Why do TV liberals argue so poorly? Lets face it—most TV liberals arent liberals at all, although they may have been so in some earlier day, and although they are still more than happy to play the role on TV. Again and again, we see what they actually are—posers, with Millionaire Pundit Values. On their own, they wouldnt enact Bushs agenda, but they clearly dont care if his tax plans go through; indeed, as ODonnell made so clear, theyve gained beaucoup bucks from it. And as Carlson told Imus on that memorable morning, even when they know whats important, they prefer to gambol and play. Its fun to disprove Gore, she said, explaining two years of disgraceful press coverage—coverage which put George Bush in the White House. As sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us. Amazingly, Drum still says he doesnt know why TV liberals argue so poorly. We think that its been clear for years. But then, some people—remember ODonnell—have reasons to misstate whats clear.
Yes, even among fiery young liberals at fiery liberal publications, punches sometimes seem to get pulled in deference to High Foppist Values. Everyone knows it: Given the way todays press corps works, fiery young liberals will be millionaires too—as long as they arrange not to blow it. So they pull their punches and lower their voices, depriving you of representation. They dont speak up when Time pimps Coulter—or when the Times plays nasty with Krugman. Thats right—this week, it happened again! At Atrios, at Digby, over at Kos, you were allowed to see Okrent trashed—but career liberal writers were notably silent. At the New Republic, Jonathan Chait did trash the greatest of Manhattans fops—but elsewhere, almost no one spoke. (Not a word at Tapped, for example.) The bravest of the rest was Matt Ygelsias. He had the courage to link:
YGLESIAS (5/31/05): I've been reluctant for personal reasons to wade into Daniel Okrent's decision to use his final public editor column at The New York Times to launch an unsubstantiated attack on Paul Krugman's ethics, but I have to recommend Jonathan Chaits skewering of Okrent's efforts to defend himself on this score.Hes been reluctant for personal reasons! When we survey the work of todays career liberal, wed have to call that unfortunate phrase an answer for too many seasons.
For what it's worth, I think the whole concept of ombudsmen and public editors is deeply, deeply misguided...
TOMORROW—AN ASTONISHING SEQUEL: A fiery liberal takes Okrents side. Cant you just hear him? Kiss kiss!
WHY LAWRENCE CANT READ: Regarding the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, Gore said this to Tumulty: That is something for which I have been the principal proponent for a long time. (He was saying that his opponent, Bill Bradley, was a relative new-comer to the issue.) Its hard to know how you could read that and think Gore was saying that he enacted the Earned Income Tax Credit. Why couldnt Lawrence read? Perhaps hed been listening to Rush too long. Or perhaps you were seeing un-repealed human nature. Why couldnt Lawrence read? To repeat a famous old piece of advice, perhaps you should follow the money.