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RUSSERT DOES REAGAN! Clowning hard—and insulting Reagan’s memory—Tim told an absurd, pleasing tale:

MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2004

NOTES ON A SMALL, CORRUPT MAFIA: If you missed our Saturday HOWLER, we strongly suggest that you read it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/5/04). Yes, we admit, it’s HOWLER HISTORY, but the history is quite recent, and the episode that we describe shows you your “press corps” at its absolute worst. When Al Gore gave his speech on Iraq—a speech that now looks rather prophetic—did the corps debate the merits of Gore’S address? Of course not! Instead, they did precisely what they had done with Gore since March 1999. They invented a “lie;” pretended Gore said it; and used it as an excuse to trash Gore and avoid discussion of his views. In this episode, you clearly see the Washington “press corps” doing the two things they love best. You see them finding another way to avoid discussing a matter of substance. And you see them extending a Beloved Fairy Tale—lying in the face of the public, telling a rank, corrupt tale.

In any other “professional” sector, such conduct would lead the “professionals” into court. But your “press corps” has behaved this way for (at least) the past dozen years. Think of them as a small, corrupt mafia—one that has taken control of your discourse. When similar groups takes control of trash collection in some New York borough, law enforcement swings into action (we hope). But when this small, corrupt group takes control of our discourse, we aren’t quite sure how to react.

Last week, your Washington pundits were wringing their hands about their poor work in the rush to Iraq. But even as they feigned remorse, they extended their New Favorite Story—Al Gore is unhinged, off his meds and insane. How corrupt is your Washington “press corps?” Our last HOWLER shows how this gang really works. As you watch their astonishing conduct, think of them as a small, corrupt mafia—one that has now seized total control of one of our most vital functions. And go ahead—look at it straight. As you review this amazing case, see what they really have done.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Pundits pretended that Gore had lied. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/5/04.

RUSSERT DOES REAGAN: Sometimes, readers ask an intriguing question: How do we continue our work without becoming depressed? We normally give two incomparable answers. We think the conduct of the press is a fascinating study in human psychology (in anthropology, if you will). And we’re usually able to see the humor in their chimp-like ways.

That said, we have found the coverage of President Reagan’s death so bathetic that it has even left us depressed. And no, that isn’t a comment on President Reagan himself, or on intelligent members of the press who genuinely admire his legacy (William Kristol, to cite one example). It’s a comment on the foolish fawning of the rest of the store-bought scribes who have been clowning about Reagan’s legacy. Few events in recent years have so clearly shown their hopeless group culture—their love for sentimental, fact-averse clowning in service to beloved Press Corps Tales.

Numerous examples have presented in the course of the past several days. But as we more and more come to feel, no one does it like Tim Russert. His work on yesterday’s Meet the Press was an insult to President Reagan himself—and to the millions of normal citizens who might have wanted to examine Reagan’s legacy.

Like pundits all over the TV dial, Russert’s panel was busy pretending that Reagan was the Man Without Flaw. Reagan himself would not have thought this, of course, but all the pundits knew the day’s story, and they competed to see who could present the silliest view of the Gipper’s career. Finally, Russert took control of the clowning, raising “the issue of accountability:”

RUSSERT: The issue of accountability. I want to bring in Doris Kearns Goodwin and Andrea Mitchell if I can. In 1983, the terrible loss of 282 Marines in Beirut, the barracks blown up. The president again went to the country and said this:

REAGAN (videotape): If there is to be blame, it properly rests here in this office and with this president, and I accept responsibility for the bad as well as the good.

MR. RUSSERT: Doris Kearns Goodwin, how often do we hear that from a president?

Every reader knows the Appropriate Answer—presidents almost never do that. Goodwin sang sweetly, straight from the script:
GOODWIN (continue directly): Much too rarely. But I think that was part of the magic of Reagan, that he was able to establish a national bond with the people so that he projected his own sense of confidence, his optimism, his jauntiness, onto them...
Goodwin went on and on—and on and on, praising the way Reagan accepted responsibility. Russert, of course, was deeply impressed, just as Big Russ would have been:
RUSSERT: It is quite striking. President Kennedy with the Bay of Pigs, President Reagan with the Marines in Beirut; when presidents step forward and accept responsibility, there is a sense of acceptance by the American people.

GOODWIN: And you would think that more presidents would understand that. It’s such a simple thing. But I think you get surrounded by people in the Oval Office who don't want you to take any kind of error and make it seem like it was yours, when, once you do it, it almost cleans the slate and you can start again.

Fair enough—but here’s where the consummate clowning began. Without so much as skipping a beat, Russeert moved to a case where Reagan seemed to muddle his acceptance of responsibility:
RUSSERT (continuing directly): The arms for hostages, Andrea Mitchell. Let me show you two Ronald Reagans, one in November of 1986 and then another March 4 of 1987. Let’s watch:

REAGAN (videotape, 11/13/86): We did not, repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.

REAGAN (videotape, 3/4/87): A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true. But the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.

Oof! Not one of Reagan’s finer moments—and has any president ever been more “Clintonesque?” Refusing to offer a straight assumption of responsibility, Reagan said that his “heart and [his] best intentions” still told him he hadn’t done the thing which he quite obviously had.

Surely, this would be an example of something we know—President Reagan was human. But not in the precincts patrolled by Tim Russert! Go ahead and chuckle darkly as you see how this moment struck Tim:

RUSSERT (continuing directly): A real scandal in the Reagan administration, where weapons were sold to the Iranians. In return, hostages released from Lebanon and the profits from weapons sales were used to fund the Nicaraguan rebels, and Ronald Reagan insisting to the country it didn’t happen, later coming on and using very interesting words. He said “My heart and best intentions tells me it's not true, but the facts and evidence tell me otherwise.” Very believable.
Very believable, Russert said, praising Reagan’s muddled presentation! And Andrea Mitchell knew she should feel that way too:
MITCHELL (continuing directly): Well, it is very believable because he didn't really believe it had taken place.
He didn’t really believe it had taken place! Pundits insulted Reagan’s memory as they spun, deceived and played foolish games. Yes, Reagan had his strengths and his weaknesses. But we’d be inclined to think this: Reagan never engaged in the type of clowning deceit your “pundits” now toss down so routinely. Conduct like this is now deep in their bones. The Russerts and Mitchells don’t have to think twice as they offer their absurd, silly tales.

Yes, this conduct will continue all week. Serious discussion of President Reagan will have to make way for the pundit corps’ clowning, just as serious discussion made way two years back when they knew to say Al Gore had lied.