BECAUSE OF YOU! Herbert kisses up to Gore. We recall what actually happened: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 5, 2007
THE DARNEDEST THINGS: Celebrities say the darnedest things—often, it seems, in an attempt to honor the bounds of Conventional Wisdom. In todays New York Times, for example, celebrity historian pundit Robert Dallek reviews the new bio of Hillary Clinton written by Gerth and Van Natta. What follows is Dalleks third paragraph:
DALLEK (6/5/07): Mr. Gerth and Mr. Van Natta see themselves as relating the unvarnished truth about Senator Clinton. ''Never before has such a high-profile candidate occupied the spotlight for so long without the public's learning the facts about so much that is crucial to finally understanding her,'' they write. Mrs. Clinton; her husband, Bill; and their supporters have told a flattering story about the couple. ''Now it is time for another,'' less laudatory version.For all we know, thats a faithful account of the way Gerth and Van Natta present their project. (We cant imagine why Dallek thinks he knows how they see themselves.) Who knows? Perhaps these writers really think the world is awash in flattering stories about the Clintons. Perhaps they think that what this world really needs is a less laudatory version of Hillary Clintons story—the unvarnished truth. (For the record, those phrases both come from Dallek—not from Gerth and Van Natta.) But why would Dallek present such a strange claim without a word of comment? As every non-cyborg surely knows, the world has long been awash in unflattering books about Hillary Clinton. Its bizarre to claim that the time has come for a less laudatory version of her story. But so what? Dallek offers this framework in paragraph 3—and never says boo about it. A reader might even think that Gerth and Van Natta are plowing new ground. Finally! Someone has offered a portrait of Clinton that doesnt come from her supporters!
Why would Dallek write such a strange paragraph, placing it right at the top of his piece? We dont have the slightest idea. But celebrities say the darnedest things!. Theyve been doing so for the past fifteen years when it comes to the Clintons (and Gore). Dallek simply extends this odd practice in that peculiar paragraph.
But then, we were even more struck by a passage from Michiko Kakutanis review of Carl Bernsteins new Clinton bio. In this case, its Bernstein himself who is typing, quoted by Kakutani. Do celebrities say the darnedest things? In this case, Bernstein says something accurate:
KAKUTANI (6/5/07): At times Mr. Bernstein tries hard to feel the Clintons' pain. He argues that the couple were ''treated more harshly, and often pursued with different standards and more relentlessly—during virtually the whole of their occupancy of the White House—than any president and his wife of the 20th century.'' He contends that many of the ''underlying assumptions'' of the assertions that fueled the investigation into their lives ''were often contextually misleading, exaggerated in significance, and sometimes factually off-base.''Wow! Though Kakutani frames Bernsteins statement with snark, she quotes him making a remarkable claim about the politics of the past fifteen years. Remarkable! According to Bernstein, Bill and Hillary Clinton were treated more unfairly than any president and his wife of the 20th century. The investigations that drove the politics of the 1990s were often contextually misleading, exaggerated in significance, and sometimes factually off-base, he says. Playing good soldier, Kakutani edits carefully; she doesnt say who is alleged to have behaved so unfairly when it comes to the Clintons. But presumably, the mainstream press corps, even the Times, is involved in this remarkable conduct. If thats the claim, then this statement by Bernstein helps us see how odd that presentation by Dallek is. But then again, it also raises an obvious question about Bernstein.
Who is Bernstein discussing here? Once again, lets be clear: Kakutani has failed to say who Bernstein blames for this vast unfairness. But if Bernstein has dared to name the press, he has made a truly remarkable statement. Just think of it! In an era when were constantly told about the press corps liberal bias, Bernstein may have said that the first Democratic president in twelve years was treated more unfairly than any other president of the past century! If true, thats an astonishing story—so astounding that one has to ask why Bernstein didnt write a book about that! Why did he write the three thousandth profile of Hillary Clinton when he could have written the first major book about the most important journalistic fact of our era—the fact that the national mainstream press corps is now a Republican entity?
Did Bernstein say what he seems to have said? Did he say that President Clinton was treated more unfairly by the press than any president of the past century? If he did, it seems that he skipped quickly past a truly remarkable fact. But then, celebrities do the damnedest things in the desire to stay in that circle. Neither Dallek nor Bernstein seems inclined to help you grasp the most important political fact of your time.
EARTH TO BOB HERBERT: Bob Herbert is very upset—today. In todays Times, he describes his reaction to an interview with triumphant Al Gore:
HERBERT (6/5/07): You look at him and you can't help thinking how bizarre it is that this particular political figure, perhaps the most qualified person in the country to be president, is sitting in a wing chair in a hotel room in Manhattan rather than in the White House.Its bizarre that Gore isnt president, Herbert says—and he goes on to note a long string of history-changing blunders by Bush, blunders Gore would not have made. Later, he lets Gore semi-suggest how Bush ended up in the White House:
HERBERT: I noted that he had at least been good enough [at politics] to attract more votes than George W. Bush.And make no mistake—it was the focus on triviality, artifice and nonsense that kept Gore out of the White House. And no one should know that better than Herbert! The last turning-point of Campaign 2000 was that first debate between Bush and Gore—the one Gore handily won on the overnight polls, before the press corps began to complain about the fact that Gore had displayed bad conduct and had made a few minor factual errors. Sensible people tried to fight back that week, against the waves of triviality and nonsense coming from the mainstream press corps—a wave of spin that reversed Gores win and sent him plunging down in the polls. And where was Herbert when history changed? Herbert worked on the side of sheer trivia! Here he was, on October 5, two days post-debate. Well do something we never do—well reprint his column in full:
HERBERT (10/5/00): If he can somehow force himself to stop sighing and interrupting and behaving condescendingly in front of the television cameras, Al Gore may yet get elected president.It would be hard to overstate the bad judgment displayed in that column. Or the way it elevated triviality over substance. (By the way: When Gore did temper his fighting style in Debate 2, the pundits all complained about that!)
Lets run through some claims Herbert made as history hung in the balance.
First, it was absurd to say that most of America understood that the competence bar had (somehow) been set low for Bush. In fact, the bar had been set amazingly low—set there by Herberts own press corps. (Link below. Dont miss it.) But very few people understood the remarkable process by which this was occurring—and Herbert chose not to explain it. You know the ways of this celebrity breed: You never tattle on your friends—and they never tattle on you.
Second, it was absurd to say that Candidate Bush had done the best he could in giving his various inaccurate answers. Bush was baldly misleading that public that night; Paul Krugman had explained part of this ongoing, blatant process three separate times in the previous month. But Herbert, for reasons only he can supply, vouched for Bushs good faith. Quite astounding.
In that same vein, it was amazing to say that Bush seemed not to understand the finer points of his own tax cut and Social Security proposals. The fine points? In the first half of this debate, Bush baldly misstated the most essential facts about both proposals—then kept calling Gore a liar when he made accurate statements in rebuttal. Like so many other pundits, Herbert understated Bushs vast misstatements. He failed to mention Bushs name-calling—and complained about Gores bad manners! In this column, Gore was boorish, supercilious, smug, contemptuous and condescending. And Bush had behaved in good faith!
Astounding. No other word for it.
And by the way: Jim Lehrer made that quoted statement to both the candidates, at the end of their long exchange about prescription drugs—the exchange in which Bush kept calling Gore as a liar as Gore recited accurate facts. (Amazingly, the New York Times never did a fact-check segment on this extensive exchange, perhaps the most striking in presidential debate history. Times readers never got to know that Gore had been right on the facts—and Bush had been wrong—even as Bush called him a liar.) Herbert has Lehrer chastising Gore alone, thereby implying that Gore was the big-mouth who wouldnt stop talking (and interrupting). In fact, Bush spoke more words than Gore in this debate—a fact which many pundits ignored as they kept saying and implying that big, supercilious know-it-all Gore wouldnt let Bush get a word in edgewise.
But the most appalling part of Herberts column was the way he pretended to speak for the public. You should be very unhappy with Herbert for that, right up to this very day.
Earth to Al Gore, he condescendingly said. Your superciliousness turns people off. But that had happened in the minds of pundits like Herbert—pundits who were now changing history. In the real world, five polls of viewers had been taken—and Gore had won all five polls, by an average margin of ten points. Despite this, Gore was battered—by crackpots like Herbert—for turning off the public! On the evening of the debate, viewers interviewed on cable complained about Bushs bad manners (his repetitive name-calling) more than they complained about Gore. And lets face it: They would have really hated Bush if someone had told them that he was wrong on the facts as he kept name-calling Gore—and, in turn, that Gore had been right. But very few pundits deigned to tell them—and Herbert played this same sorry game. Bush had been doing his best, he told readers. Gore was the rude, troubling man.
By the way: How much did Gore really sigh that night? Here at THE HOWLER, we taped the NBC broadcast of the debate, and you really have to struggle and strain to see or hear this now-iconic misconduct on the tape of that broadcast. Plainly, it hadnt kept the people who watched this debate from naming Gore the winner. But you know that press corps! Rather than focus on Bushs fact-challenged name-calling, they decided to focus on Gores troubling sighs! (As sport, it was more entertaining and fun, Margaret Carlson would soon tell Don Imus.) They created a loop tape of the sighs; jacked up the volume; and they played their tape again and again. And as they did so, Gores poll numbers dropped like a stone. If they had played tape of Bush saying fuzzy math, the same thing would have happened to him. But the press corps hated Clinton and Gore. The result is now broken history.
Herberts displayed gruesome judgment in that October 5 column. Yes, he knew that Gore, not Bush, should be the next president. But we have to share a dirty little secret. Herbert was (and is) a bit of a Clinton-hater too, for reasons hes never quite been willing to own, and like the rest of his crackpot crew, he had transferred that animus over to Gore. Along with the others, he piled on that week—and Gores numbers dove to the floor. (Good God! Avert your eyes! He even played the Eddie Haskell card!) Gore was never quite able to recover. Today, Bob Herbert cries big tears about the outcome of that election. Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss, he tells Gore. Oh please please please please please please please! Why wont you please run for president?
Herbert thinks its bizarre that Gore isnt president. But we can recall how it happened.
Its hard to find sufficient words for the work of front-running pundits like Herbert. Earth to Bob Herbert: Were in Iraq because of you, you dumb, phony front-running clown.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: The bar had been set very low for Bush—set there by the national press corps, moving script for the RNC. This is an astounding story. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/06.
ONLY YESTERDAY: Just yesterday, hero Paul Krugman discussed the lying by Bush that Herbert glossed. Heres how he started his column:
KRUGMAN (6/3/07): One of the lessons journalists should have learned from the 2000 election campaign is that what a candidate says about policy isn't just a guide to his or her thinking about a specific issue—it's the best way to get a true sense of the candidate's character.Raw dishonesty is the term Krugman used as he recalled Bushs policy statements. In real time, though, as history was changing, Herbert swore Bush was doing his best. He lambasted Gores gruesome conduct.
Today, he thinks its simply bizarre that this great man isnt president.