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FRANKLY, WHY! Why has a liberal like Rich trashed Gore? We answer our e-mailer’s question: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 9, 2006

A BROKEN CULTURE: We’d like to check in on the Coulter matter, but for today, let’s leave it at this: The career of Coulter shows how little the press corps values the concept of “facts” (let alone decency). Coulter’s first huge book, Slander, was riddled with factual errors; as we said at the time, if you simply checked its footnotes, it was hard to find a single page which wasn’t driven by gong-show misstatements. But so what! Despite the absurdity of many claims, major newspapers praised her vast research! In particular, the New York Times review praised the author’s many footnotes—while failing to note that they fell apart if you bothered to check them out (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02).

We know of no other public figure about whom we’d say the following. But in our view, Coulter has been visibly “unhinged” since she hit the scene in the 1990s. She’s still around because the concept of “accuracy” no longer seems to exist for our “press corps.” Slander was almost defiantly bogus—and Coulter soon found herself praised for her research! We spent a great deal of time on that book because the way it was received by the press showed the way our press culture was breaking down.

We spent weeks on Slander in 2002. Just click here; scroll back to July 8; and marvel at the perfect crap which your “press corps” praised for its accuracy.

Note: As a result of this HOWLER post, the final page of Slander was changed when it went to paperback. And, in best deranged Coulter fashion, it was changed to something else that was wrong! Coulter is filled with contempt for our culture. But then, when you see the way the “press corps” has winked at her conduct, it’s easy to see how she came to feel that there’s nothing which isn’t permitted.

Special report—Frankly, that’s Rich!

READ EACH INSTALLMENT: We had to laugh when a certain pundit reviewed Al Gore’s deeply troubling new film. But then, Frank Rich has produced this sort of nonsense for years. Be sure to read every installment:

PART 1: Gore was right on every big judgment—but Rich is in love with a narrative. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/31/06.

PART 2: Gore had made a string of sound judgments. But omigod! Someone laughed at his jokes! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/1/06.

PART 3: Rich says Gore was right in 2002. In 2002, he said different. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/06.

PART 4: Before the Swift Boats, Rich invented Love Story. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/5/06.

PART 5: Right to the end, he Frankly proclaimed—Gore was a clown, just like Bush. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/06.

Today, we conclude with an e-mailer’s question: Frankly, why does Rich do this?

EPILOGUE—FRANKLY, WHY DOES HE DO IT: A. O. Scott, the Times film critic, just plain flat-out gets it. Indeed, Scott isn’t just an able film critic; as it turns out, the scribe is a seer. On May 24, Scott reviewed the new Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, after its showing at Cannes. (Director: Davis Guggenheim.) And uh-oh! Scott, a film critic, managed to mention something career liberal writers just won’t. Scott was willing to mention the way the press has behaved these past years:

SCOTT (5/24/06): Appearances to the contrary, Mr. Guggenheim's movie is not really about Al Gore. It consists mainly of a multimedia presentation on climate change that Mr. Gore has given many times over the last few years, interspersed with interviews and Mr. Gore's voice-over reflections on his life in and out of politics. His presence is, in some ways, a distraction, since it guarantees that ''An Inconvenient Truth'' will become fodder for the cynical, ideologically facile sniping that often passes for political discourse these days. But really, the idea that worrying about the effect of carbon-dioxide emissions on the world's climate makes you some kind of liberal kook is as tired as the image of Mr. Gore as a stiff, humorless speaker, someone to make fun of rather than take seriously.
For some reason, A. O. Scott, a Times film critic, understands what career liberal writers still don’t. He knows about “the cynical, ideologically facile sniping that often passes for political discourse”—and he seems to know that much of this nonsense has been aimed right at Al Gore. Just like Post cartoonist Tom Toles, he seems to know that the toffs and the swells have treated Gore like “a punch line” all these fine years (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/06). But then, A. O. Scott isn’t alone. Desson Thomson, the Post film critic, hinted in his own review of Gore’s film that he has been alive on the planet during the past decade too:
THOMSON (6/2/06): "I'm Al Gore, I used to be the next president of the United States of America," he quips at the start of seemingly every show—which he has taken around the globe from Seattle to Tokyo since his defeat. The opener never fails to get a laugh. And as if surprised for the first time, Gore breaks into a Mount Rushmore-cracking smile.

It's easy to see why Gore revels so. He doesn't have to skew his speech to journalists and voters monitoring his every sigh. There are no restrictions on complexity at these venues, no timer light on the lectern.

As we mentioned in an earlier post, Thomson treated his readers to a sly dig at the fatuous scribes who once counted Gore’s sighs. Somehow, film critics—and cartoonists—seem to know how we got where we are.

So Scott is alert—but what makes him a seer? Frankly, it’s easy to see the Scott review as a prediction of Frank Rich’s later column—the utterly foolish May 28 piece which we have been critiquing. If you want to see an example of “the cynical, ideologically facile sniping that often passes for political discourse,” we’ll suggest again that you read Rich’s column, a treasury of this sad genre. In it, Rich assembles a list of absurd, nit-picking complaints with which he trashes Gore’s decades of good judgment. But so it has gone when this “liberal” pundit has written about Gore, the human punch line, during the past slippery decade. As Scott notes, Gore had long been a joke for the press corps. And it’s absurd to pretend that this doesn’t explain how George Bush found his way the White House. It’s absurd to pretend that this doesn’t explain how we all found our way to Iraq.

But right to this day, career liberal writers are prepared to pretend. Somehow, movie critics understand the dynamic surrounding the past decade’s coverage of Gore—but our fiery, on-the-make career liberals still don’t seem to have heard. Somehow, A. O. Scott understands that Gore has been a long-standing press corps target—but our career liberal writers do not. Here we see the know-nothing way one such writer begins her review. Her name is Garance Franke-Ruta—and lord, is she playing it dumb:

FRANKE-RUTA (6/7/06): Al Gore’s new movie An Inconvenient Truth, which opened at No. 9 nationwide over the weekend, seems destined to be a popular hit and political wake-up call all at once. It’s also done something believed to by political consultants to be impossible—it’s taken the very qualities that undid Gore in 2000 and transformed them into the basis of his political comeback. The man charged with pedantry and didacticism, of never failing to give a lecture when a simple answer would do, of acting as if he were smarter than everybody else, is now starring in a film that makes a virtue of each of those one-time vices.
Yes, you can torture her language and pretend that Franke-Ruta alludes to the coverage of Gore. But what the young scribe has literally said is that the qualities of “pedantry and didacticism” “undid Gore” in Campaign 2000. As she continues, she shows how such writers will serve themselves first—and will show their utter contempt for you and your values and interests:
FRANKE-RUTA (continuing directly): What does Gore do in An Inconvenient Truth? He delivers a lecture, about global warming. He waxes didactic. Pedant that he is, he teaches his audience something. He proves that he is smarter than the rest of us, in that he’s developed real, deep knowledge about something we all should care about. And in transmitting that knowledge to viewers, he leaves moviegoers feeling smarter than when they entered the theater. Ennobled and educated by his lecture, in the best academic tradition, cynical Washingtonians have been proclaiming themselves transformed by the film for weeks, like star-struck underclassmen who have received their first true taste of the pleasures of the mind—of really being made to think about the world anew. Gore even emits a breathy sigh just a couple of sentences into the movie, daring audiences to make fun of him now.
Franke-Ruta never says the obvious—that those “cynical Washingtonians” who have been “proclaiming themselves transformed” are the same people who made Gore a punch line for the twenty months of Campaign 2000. (Toles will portray that; Franke-Ruta won’t.) And the young, slick scribe will pander hard too. Actually, no—Gore doesn’t “prove that he is smarter than the rest of us” in the course of his new film, although it makes a nice conceit to pretend that he’s been redeemed on some such point. But beyond that: Who didn’t know, as of 1999, that Gore had already “developed real, deep knowledge about something we all should care about?” More broadly, who didn’t know that Gore had developed such knowledge on a wide range of subjects? Answer: Everyone in the mainstream press corps knew all that as of 1999. But by then, they knew something else too; they also knew that their fatuous cohort had declared that Gore, for all his knowledge, was “someone to make fun of rather than take seriously.” Tom Toles knows this. A. O. Scott knows it too. And Franke-Ruta doesn’t! Here we see the neatly bowdlerized way she describes Gore’s political prospects:
FRANKE-RUTA: As compelling as Gore is, though, in this film, the new insight and appreciation viewers may have of him might not carry through another two years, were he to leave a visual world over which he has some control and re-enter the rough and tumble media environment of live shots, hostile framing, and unscripted moments. What the film shows is that what Gore really needed in 2000 wasn’t better political consultants, but a good and sympathetic editor.
But who provided that “hostile framing” of Gore in Campaign 2000? Franke-Ruta forgets to say—and then suggests that it could have been overcome if Gore just had a better editor. But surely, everyone understands who provided that “hostile framing”—that War Against Gore which sent Bush to the White House. But only cartoonists and film critics tell us. The Franke-Rutas are sworn not to say.

And as this campaign of silence continues, our young career liberals enable the Riches. Indeed, just as Scott seemed to call Rich’s shot, Rich seemed to argue with Scott in his own later column. According to Scott’s review, An Inconvenient Truth “isn’t really about Al Gore;” it’s really about the science of warming. Rich complained about such “rave reviews” in his column, then bleated sadly to Imus:

RICH (6/1/06): It seems to me that it was in part a campaign film and I find it odd—it got all these great reviews where people just sort of ignored this part of it and just talked about what they wanted to be the main part, which is important, which is climate change and all that...
Of course, Gore’s film is mainly about climate change, as any sane person who attends it will notice. But for Rich, it has to be about Al Gore—about his favorite punch line.

An e-mailer asked us an obvious question (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/06): Why does a liberal like Frank Rich do this? Again, we’ll post his e-mail in full, with a smidgeon of clarification:

E-MAIL (6/1/06): I tell everyone to read you. But come on: "Frankly, is anyone dumber than Rich?" Give me a break.

Look, I haven't seen the film, but even if Rich completely blows his analysis of the film, I'm sorry, his columns are week after week, tough, unforgiving and, "frankly," pretty on target. When the history of Bush is written, we'll look to his columns as contemporary indictments of the ineptitude of this administration. So let's be fair: Maybe he blows his analysis of "Inconvenient Truth". And maybe he fell for the dumb Gore scripts when he should have known better. And yes, he should be held to account for that. But yes, actually a lot of people are dumber than Rich.

This, of course, raises a problem: Rich clearly isn't a simple script-spewer. Certainly not with the Bush administration. So what explains the phenomenon of otherwise smart people being so uncritical about [the attacks on] Gore? I need to think about this one but thought I'd write you anyway in the meantime.

The mailer asked an excellent question: Why has a “liberal” like Rich been so tough on Gore through the years? Why did he invent Love Story in 1997? Throughout the course of Campaign 2000, why did he keep pretending that Bush and Gore were a perfectly-matched pair of bumblers? When Gore spoke out on Iraq in 2002, why did Rich attack him again (inventing his facts as he went)? And in his new column, just two weeks ago, why did he nit-pick those ludicrous complaints about Gore? For example, why did he pretend—in that pathetic example—that Gore “waffled” on creationism in 1999? For the most part, readers have no way to evaluate such claims. Why does Rich just keep making them up?

Below, we’ll post our reply to the mailer. But make no mistake: In part, Rich does this because he can—because he knows that the Franke-Rutas are there to enable his conduct. Cartoonists know what happened with Gore. Film critics know what happened too. Everyone knows it—except Franke-Ruta! In her column, Franke-Ruta neatly avoids the most basic facts of our recent shared history. To this day, she still pretends that she doesn’t know who dropped those “hostile frames” on Gore. This is how young writers build fine careers. But it’s also how Democrats lose elections, and in this case, it also explains how the US marched off to Iraq. At some point, you’d think the Franke-Rutas would be shamed into telling the truth. At some point, you’d think these young scribes would be shamed into saying what happened.

SOMEHOW, KURTZ KNEW: Franke-Ruta still can’t say who dropped those “hostile frames” on Gore. Perhaps you can tease the truth from her piece—but only if you’re skilled at reading Pravda. This is strange, because as early as June 1999, the Post’s Howard Kurtz had no trouble describing the source of those hostile frames. Here was the start of a detailed report about Gore’s weirdly hostile press coverage. Kurtz described the “harsh coverage and punditry” aimed at Gore, and he said that this coverage “threaten[ed] to become a self-fulfilling” prophecy about the Gore campaign:

KURTZ (6/25/99): In the picture painted by the press, Vice President Gore's White House campaign is hardly off to a great start.

Interviewers have pressed him on his view of President Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky. Commentators have ridiculed his shouted oratory, with the Chicago Tribune's James Warren likening him to a "Baptist minister on amphetamines." And no report on Gore is complete without noting the early horse-race polls that show him trailing Texas Gov. George W. Bush by double-digit margins.

"You're on the defense immediately," said Lorraine Voles, Gore's former communications director, citing a recent round of interviews about her ex-boss. " 'Why is he doing so poorly? Why is he so much more stiff than Bush? Why did Bush have such a great week?' God, it's 17 months away. Can we at least have part of the campaign before you write him off?"

For the moment, the harsh coverage and punditry about Gore threaten to become a self-fulfilling process, magnifying his mistakes and adding to the perception of a campaign in trouble.

Somehow, Kurtz was able to identify the source of those “hostile frames”—and this report was written seven years ago. Today, though, Franke-Ruta still just doesn’t know where those “hostile frames” really came from! This is how young writers build careers—and it’s how people like Bush reach the White House. Prediction: As long as career liberal writers play dumb, you can expect to see Dems lose elections.

AT LONG LAST, OUR REPLY TO OUR READER: So how about it? Why has Rich been willing to ape the dumbest attacks on Gore? We can’t tell you with perfect certainty; Frankly, we can’t mind-read that Richly. But here’s what we told our sharp reader:

REPLY (6/1/06): Here's my general view: Rich is a completely reliable "blue-state" social liberal. That is, he will always repeat the reliable case about how dumb any "red-state" manifestation is. For that reason, he's generally easy for most liberals to like. But the underlying theme with Rich must always be: "I, Frank Rich, am brighter than all." ("Along with my upper-class Manhattan cohort.") So he had to be smarter and better than Clinton and Gore—although, quite plainly, he isn't—and he reacted with horror any time they did anything that might suggest respect for the "red-state" electorate. When Gore occasionally mentioned his religious faith, for example, this struck Rich as fake and reprehensible, and he offered thunderous complaints about what a phony Gore was—just like Bush. [This also explains the absurd remarks in Rich’s recent column about the fact that Gore once owned a rifle. He’s kissing up to the NRA!]

For the record, Rich did more than fall for the scripts; in fact, he invented the script on Love Story. And after Gore gave his 9/02 speech on Iraq, Rich trashed him in a deeply dishonest way (see tomorrow). The record here is just horrible.

You're right, in that Rich would score well on an IQ test. But I think there's something unbelievably dumb in the Millionaire Pundit Values I have discussed—and Rich is clearly the reigning poobah of the Manhattan branch of this worthless brigade. His "reasoning" in Sunday's piece is so dumb that it borders on mental dysfunction. (Gore was right about global warming. But he once owned a rifle!) This would be easy for liberals to see—if we weren't inclined in his favor because he takes our side (often embellishing facts) about those worthless red-staters.

During Campaign 2000, John McCain (like JFK before him) kept telling the press corps that they were smart. But that’s roughly the service Rich provides us; he tells us how dumb those damn red-staters are. But then, because Rich must always be Brightest Than All, he also must tear down our Dem Party leaders—and in doing this to Gore from 1997 through 2000, he sent George Bush to the White House. As he has proven, he’ll find a way to tear down people like Gore—no matter how hard he must work to find complaints, no matter how absurd the complaints must be. Readers, Gore was right about Iraq. But his film has a multicultural audience!

We’ll only add one more small point. If we had lived a life like Rich—if we had been so relentlessly fatuous—we might want to tear others down too. As Franke-Ruta’s Washington swells are “discovering,” Gore has assembled astonishing knowledge about a wide range of important topics—and yes, he’s judged right on a range of key matters. That doesn’t mean he has perfect judgment; it just means that there’s a reason when DKos readers say they’d like Al Gore to be president. Frankly, if you’d lived the life of Rich, you might resent that fact too.

KERRY TOO: Needless to say, Rich was vastly superior to Kerry too. When Kerry appeared at a NASCAR event, Rich joined the whole Times crowd in passing on an invented “quotation.” No, Kerry hadn’t said it—but he’d pandered to red-state NASCAR voters, and therefore, the man had to pay.

See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/21/04 (scroll down). Note the way Rich makes the key, haughty point: Kerry and Bush? What’s the difference? But then, that haughty perception lies at the heart of every column Frank Rich ever typed.