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SOME THEMES NEVER DIE! Adam Nagourney went easy on Kirk, then talked about Clinton and Gore: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2010

Standard narratives: Does Alan Wolfe know diddly-squat about the nation’s schools? When he reviewed Diane Ravitch’s new book for the New York Times, we saw no sign that he did. (To read his review, click here.) Why in the world would someone like Wolfe be asked to opine so far outside his field? We don’t know, but we were glad to see this spirited put-down in yesterday’s letters page.

Next question: Does David Brooks know diddly-squat about the nation’s schools? When he wrote this column last Friday, we saw no sign that he did. Brooks did recite Standard Mainstream Cant about the needs of our public schools. But then, all good pundits recite this cant, whether they have the slightest ideas whereof they speak or not.

When it comes to our public schools, all good pundits agree to recite the current conventional wisdom. Here’s Brooks, emitting some standard hot air about that struggling school in Rhode Island:

BROOKS (6/4/10): [T]he Obama administration used the power of the presidency to break through partisan gridlock. Over the past decade, teacher unions and their allies have become proficient in beating back Republican demands for more charters, accountability and choice. But Obama has swung behind a series of bipartisan reformers who are also confronting union rigidity.

In Rhode Island, the Central Falls superintendent, Frances Gallo, fired all the teachers at one failing school. The unions fought back. Obama sided with Gallo, sending shock waves nationwide. If the president had the guts to confront a sacred Democratic interest group in order to jolt a failing school, then change was truly in the air. Gallo got the concessions she needed to try to improve that school.

All good pundits know they must praise “charters, accountability and choice.” (We tend to favor all three, but only if they’re done properly.) They also knew they must always trash that terrible “union rigidity.” But good God! Offering utterly silly Good News, Brooks tells us that Superintendent Gallo “got the concessions she needed to try to improve” Central Falls High. In fact, the concessions were remarkably puny; no one with an ounce of sense would think they will address the mammoth problems the press has described at this struggling school. But it’s entirely possible that Brooks doesn’t know this. You see, in modern journalistic culture, high-minded people like Wolfe and Brooks feel free to write about public schools in the absence of any real background or knowledge. In this way, they show their love for the nation’s “educational experts”—and their contempt for low-income kids.

It got worse as Brooks continued. Soon, as all good pundits do, he was offering Standard Praise for that greatest god, Tougher Educational Standards:

BROOKS: [T]he administration has encouraged local officials to raise educational standards. The feds are not imposing national standards. But the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have come up with blueprints of what kids should be learning in math and English. According to the Thomas Fordham Foundation, an authoritative source on these things, these new standards are tough, rigorous and practical. The feds are offering incentives to states to embrace these goals.

As major pundits know they must do, Brooks praises the notion of “tougher standards.” But how exactly will “tougher standards” help the kids at Central Falls High? In the past year, mainstream reporters have endlessly gaped at the low passing rates achieved at this school. Of course, those low passing rates were achieved under current standards.

Question: If these deserving kids can’t meet the current easier standards, why would they flourish if standards get tougher? Somewhere, someone may have an answer. But trust us: Along with most of our “educational experts,” Brooks doesn’t have the first clue.

It’s amazing to see the way big pundits feel free to talk about public schools. They don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. But they’ve memorized Standard Narratives, and they’re prepared to declaim.

SOME THEMES NEVER DIE (permalink): How harshly should Mark Kirk (R, Illinois) be judged for his misstatements about his military service? For reasons which may emerge in this piece, we think it’s a bit hard to say.

What makes judging Kirk a bit hard? The culture of modern pseudo-journalism! In this case, as in so many others, Kirk’s alleged lies are being described and judged by a jury of major dissemblers. Consider the column in yesterday’s New York Times written by Chicago’s James Warren, best remembered at this site for his loud, clan-tested dissembling during the war against Gore.

Yesterday, direct from Chicago, Warren was puffing his chest and clearing his throat and helping readers know about the terrible things Kirk has said. He started with a bit of The Snide, and with some tortured reasoning, as his type frequently does:

WARREN (6/6/10):We should give Representative Mark Kirk the DVDs of the wonderful, if fictional, cable television series ''Mad Men.''

The protagonist is a smart, tormented and philandering New York advertising executive of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He rises professionally and has a nice family despite fabricating his entire past after stealing the dog tags and identity of an Army superior who died next to him in a freakish Korean War accident.

After Mr. Kirk's fumbling over his own military record, I mused about the possibility that he had swapped identities with a buddy during Operation Desert Storm, the first Persian Gulf war. But, as we now know, he didn't take part in Desert Storm, as his Congressional office claimed.

Mr. Kirk is the latest in a line of prominent Americans caught lying about their past. Googling will bring you tons.

What a remarkable passage! In Mad Men, Don Draper (the former Dick Whitman) steals the identity of an Army superior who dies next to him in Korea, thus “fabricating his entire past.” On what basis does Lord Warren compare Kirk to Draper? Simple! On one occasion, Kirk’s congressional office sent a letter which made an erroneous statement about Operation Desert Storm. By the way: This seems to have been Kirk’s district office, back in Illinois, though Warren forgets to say so.

Was the misstatement in that letter deliberate? Did Kirk even know about the letter? Lord Warren doesn’t attempt to say. Instead, he moves directly to a brilliant comparison—Kirk, whose office made a misstatement, is like Draper, who “fabricated his entire past.” On this basis, Warren quickly reaches the judgment that Kirk “is the latest in a line of prominent Americans caught lying about their past.”

In these ways, the contemporary “journalist” makes his pronouncements, driving our debilitating culture of pseudo-scandal along.

As Warren continues, he lists five of his “favorite” liars. Needless to say, he lists Richard Blumenthal first. As you know, clan members will always pimp for the clan’s latest narrative.

How harshly should Kirk be judged? In our view, it’s a bit hard to say, given the ways our “press corps” has reviewed his alleged transgressions. As he continues, Warren cites that “Intelligence Officer of the Year” award—the award Kirk didn’t win. Warren doesn’t attempt to explain this matter; he merely says that Kirk “fibbed” when he claimed that he won the award. (As is common in columns like this, he then moves to an utterly illogical analysis of the larger issues involved, a critique by a college professor. See if you can make any sense of the quoted analysis, given the facts of this case.) But how have other knights of the keyboard reported that “Intelligence Officer of the Year” award? This is the way the matter was described in the Chicago Daily Herald, last Friday:

PATTERSON (6/4/10): Kirk’s first correction of his military record involved his frequent claims that he had been named the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year in 1999. In fact, as The Washington Post first reported, it was a different award and it went to his entire unit, not to Kirk personally.

Kirk played down the discrepancy, describing it as simply a matter of getting the award’s name wrong in his official biography. He said his aides found and corrected the mistake on their own, although the Navy said it contacted Kirk’s campaign after getting questions from reporters.

From that account, would you have any idea that Kirk was the commander of the unit in question—that he, and he alone, went to Washington to accept the award? As best we’ve been able to determine from an ocean of bungled reporting, that seems to be what happened. This means that Kirk’s past statements were in fact wrong—but they were nowhere near as weird or as inexplicable as one might think from the Herald’s account. But could you even decipher those facts as you read this more detailed account in the Chicago Tribune?

LIGHTY (6/4/10) The controversy over Kirk's military record took off last week when he acknowledged that he did not receive the Navy's award for intelligence officer of the year in 1999.

Kirk, who joined the Navy Reserve in 1989, has repeatedly described the honor as an individual award from the Navy for his actions during the war in Kosovo, known as Operation Allied Force. But late last week, amid media inquiries to the Navy, Kirk corrected his resume to show he actually received a different award.

That citation, the Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award, was given to his unit while it was in Italy. Navy officers make the nominations for the award, which is given by a professional organization known as the National Military Intelligence Association.

The award was properly characterized in a 2000 fitness report Kirk released last week. On Thursday evening he released additional fitness reports that backed up his contention his military service has been exemplary.

Even from that longer account, would you understand that Kirk was the commander of the honored unit? Would you understand that the unit was stationed in Italy doing intelligence for the war in Kosovo? As best we can tell from the press corps’ hapless reporting, them’s the facts.

We hate to tell you, but this is the way the mainstream “press corps” tends to handle matters like this. Once their target has been selected, reporters and editors dissemble hard, picking, choosing and fudging facts to make their indictment tougher.

In this way, professional dissemblers (or hopeless incompetents) help us identify liars.

After reading many news reports about Kirk, we’d have to say that many news orgs have done what they typically do in such cases (intentionally or otherwise). They have put their thumbs on the scale in various ways, tending to embellish a string of claims against Kirk. That said, Kirk is a Republican candidate. For that reason, you can feel pretty sure that the regular staff of the New York Times will not engage in such conduct.

Warren, you see, is a ringer; he files a column from Chicago as part of a news arrangement with the Times. By way of contrast, Adam Nagourney represents the heart and the soul of the New York Times news division, the division which recently savaged Blumenthal (a Democrat) for a small number of misstatements. On Saturday, Nagourney published a remarkably unbalanced attempt to put the Kirk matter into perspective.

Sure enough! As typically happens when the New York Times talks about liars, Nagourney pretty much gave this Republican a pass—then talked about Clinton and Gore!

A few weeks earlier, the Times had savaged Blumenthal for a small handful of misstatements. Whatever the truth about Kirk might be, he and his staff seem to have made a larger number of errors. But you’d hardly know that from reading Nagourney. All in all, Nagourney skipped quickly past Kirk’s misstatements. He clarified nothing at all and generally made it sound like Kirk, on balance, has perhaps even been mistreated.

The two passages which follow represent Nagourney’s full attempt to explain the storm around Kirk. In these passages, Kirk gets a very different type of treatment from that which was dumped on Blumenthal’s head just a few weeks before:

NAGOURNEY (6/5/10): It happened again. Another candidate for office is struggling to reconcile misleading statements he made about his record in the military. This time, it is Representative Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois running for the Senate, apologizing for misleading statements he made about, among other things, serving in the first Iraq war and in Kosovo.

“I simply misremembered it wrong,” he said, a remark that was blared across the front page of The Chicago Sun-Times on Friday.

[...]

Mr. Kirk has admitted to a number of errors and discrepancies related to his military service. In the last week, Mr. Kirk acknowledged that his official House Web site incorrectly stated in 2005 that he served “in Operation Iraqi Freedom” when he was actually serving stateside. The problem was found that year and corrected to say that he had served “during” the invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Kirk has often said he served in Iraq—which his campaign clarified that he did for two months in 2000 in Operation Northern Watch, which enforced the no-fly zone above Iraq. He also served twice in Afghanistan.

We’d call that synopsis soft. The one error Nagourney specifically cites happened five years ago—and it was self-corrected! Indeed, by the time Nagourney is done, Kirk almost sounds like a misunderstood hero—and readers have no real idea what he may, or may not, have done wrong. But land-o-goshen! Nagourney quickly helps his readers recall some other Big Major Liars. Note the way the hapless fellow construes the term “both parties:”

NAGOURNEY: This type of political behavior is hardly new. Over the years, a parade of politicians from both parties— John Kerry, Al Gore, Tom Harkin, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and David Duke, to name a few—have had to account for what opponents portrayed as exaggerations or worse about their military service (or their attempts to avoid service altogether). Some of those candidates and many others have been called out for less-than-fully-truthful statements on countless other topics as well.

In work of this type, newspapers typically break their backs to balance their lists of miscreants, presenting equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. Not Nagourney! At the New York Times, “both parties” means four Democrats and one Republican—and one Klansman, of course.

And by the way: When Nagourney says that “some of these candidates...have been called out for less-than-fully-truthful statements on countless other topics,” which ones do you think he meant?

This is a rather simple story—the tale of a political age. It was the New York Times, through the work of Jeff Gerth, which invented the Whitewater pseudo-scandal. It was the New York Times which led the way in inventing the disastrous notion that Candidate Gore was the world’s biggest liar—just like his boss, Bill Clinton. If you read Nagourney’s latest piece, you will find little attempt to clarify the claims against Kirk. But you’ll find a surprising amount of focus on these treasured blasts from the past.

(This comes complete with overstatement. In Campaign 2000, there were very few claims that Candidate Gore had “exaggerated his service.” Why bother making such claims, when powerful hacks at the Post and the Times had invented so many other “lies” by Gore? Meanwhile, Tom Harkin! Even we have no idea what Nagourney is talking about!)

(And can you really believe that John Kerry gets drug through this mud again?)

Alas! Nagourney does very little to help us judge Kirk’s misstatements. But a punishing trope from the past twenty years flourishes in this piece. Once again, Democrats seems to be the Big Liars! For whatever reasons, the mainstream press, ands especially the Times, has pimped this trope for the past twenty years. It’s still being pimped at the Times—even in a report built around the misstatements of a Republican.

How serious have Kirk’s transgressions been? To this day, the New York times has made no real attempt to say. They savaged Blumenthal a few weeks ago, dumping a mountain of trash on his head. By way of contrast, they have gone quite easy on Kirk. Elsewhere, we have found America’s major news organs doing what they typically do in cases like this—embellishing, exaggerating, leaving things out to heighten their deathless indictment.

For twenty years, our political culture has run on pseudo-scandal. These pseudo-scandals are often built around sex, war records and ginned-up “lies.” By a factor of roughly a million, Democrats have been the big losers as the press corps has pimped this brainless culture. But so what? Some of our emerging liberals are pushing this culture along.

Tomorrow: The Duke and Duchess of Crotchylvania have pimped this culture along