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Daily Howler: Kafka imagined Gregor Samsa's decline. But could he have pictured Todd Purdum?
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GERSHON RESPONDS! Kafka imagined Gregor Samsa’s decline. But could he have pictured Todd Purdum? // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 10, 2008

THE PROBLEM WITH TELLING/NOT TELLING THE TRUTH: For our money, the problem with telling/not telling the truth came home in Monday’s New York Times. John Broder and Robin Toner were being truthful—or, perhaps, were being un-truthful—in this part of their report on “the complicated Clinton legacy:”

BRODER/TONER (6/9/08): Allies of the Clintons and neutral observers alike said Mrs. Clinton had much to be proud of in this campaign. She outlasted all but one of a distinguished field of primary opponents, won about 17 million votes and a dozen critical states, and earned grudging admiration for her fortitude even from those who despised her. She shattered the gender barrier at the presidential level for all who come after her. She emerged as the chosen tribune for a major part of the Democratic electorate.

But she also made comments that divided voters along racial lines, stretched the facts and last month raised the specter of assassination as a justification for remaining in the race to the bitter end despite a mathematical near-certainty that she had lost weeks earlier.

Wow! According to Broder and Toner, Clinton “raised the specter of assassination as a justification for remaining in the race to the bitter end.”

Quick note: That statement by Broder is so opaque that you’d have no real idea what it meant if you hadn’t been following the story. But if you have been following the story, you’d know exactly what it meant. According to John Broder and Robin Toner, Clinton said she was staying in the race in case Barack Obama was murdered. Of course, for people able to read and write English, it was always clear that Clinton hadn’t said that—and for people who are able to reason, it was always clear that such a “strategy” wouldn’t really make sense. But so what? Clinton was slimed—savagely slimed—by many journalists. They proclaimed that she had made that remarkable statement.

(Keith-O—perhaps the biggest propagandist ever seen on TV—is one who comes quickly to mind.)

Which brings us to the current problem—the problem of telling/not telling the truth. Do Broder and Toner believe that Clinton made that statement? Because two major journalists, in the past week, seemed to say that their colleagues have been lying when they make this claim.

First to expound was Richard Cohen, in the June 3 Washington Post. Cohen said this, explaining why he’d hated the Democratic campaign: “I hate that Clinton's observation that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June ran on and on when everyone save some indigenous people in the Brazilian rain forest knew what she meant.” If Cohen is right, then Broder and Toner were simply lying in yesterday’s Times. (Neither scribe lives in Brazil.)

Second up was Michael Kinsley, who didn’t seem to hate the lying at all. On Sunday, he bravely said this in the New York Times, knowing that Kevin and Josh and Duncan and all good pseudo-liberal house-brokens have accepted this evil conduct for years: “[A]t the end, when her own clumsy comment about Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June was willfully misinterpreted to suggest that she was wishing that fate on her opponent, it served her right.” If Kinsley’s implication is right, then Broder and Toner were “willfully misinterpreting” what Clinton had said.

Do you see the problem that develops when people like Kinsley and Cohen start telling the truth about not telling the truth? Cohen said the dissembling was wrong; Kinsley seemed to approve of the lying. But both men are veteran journalists; they have lived for decades at the top of the mainstream press pack. And both men seemed to think it was obvious that people like Broder and Toner are lying—simply lying in your faces—when they write bullsh*t like that.

Were John Broder and Robin Toner lying on Monday? That’s what Cohen and Kinsley seem to believe. Needless to say, housebroken boys on the liberal web will know they mustn’t discuss such matters. But do you see the problem that quickly arises when major journalists start telling the truth about not telling the truth?

Next question: Did journalists really think something was wrong with Bill Clinton’s statement in South Carolina? Or was that just a “willful misrepresentation” too? Do you see the problem that quickly arises when we’re told, by two major scribes, that their colleagues tell you things they don’t believe? When John Judis tells you what he did about his colleagues’ view of Obama?

Housebroken pool boys will know not to speak. Despite their long-standing willful silence, can you see the problem involved here?

HOWLER HISTORY—THINKING OF SIMMONS: Speaking of Cohen, he expounds a bit further today on the journalistic treatment of Clinton. We were struck by this passage:

COHEN (6/10/08): Years from now, historians will ponder the attention accorded Hillary Clinton and possibly compare her TO Eleanor Roosevelt, another presidential wife who was inordinately admired and inordinately scorned. Maybe some historians will note that both are women and that maybe, just maybe, women come in for a special sort of vituperation—a kind of contemporary version of burning at the stake.

Hmmm. Will historians decide that contemporary women “came in for a special sort of vituperation?” We don’t know. But if they ever do ponder that question, we hope they’ll consider Cohen’s column in November 1999, in which he savaged Naomi Wolf—and mocked Candidate Gore for taking advice from such a laughable person. Of course, Wolf had also advised the 1996 Clinton campaign, and she had written three major books, two of which had been honored as New York Times “Notable books of the year.” Other candidates were being advised by men who were a thousand miles farther from the mainstream than Wolf ever dreamed of being. But so what? Cohen spent an entire column mocking Gore for employing her. “Who else is on the payroll, Al—Richard Simmons?” he cleverly asked.

Richard Cohen was really funny, back when his cohort was wreaking revenge for Bill Clinton’s troubling bl*w jobs.

We still want to know who sent Cohen the (inaccurate) five-year-old Esquire piece on which he based his bungled report. (Why do we suspect it was [name of prominent Dem strategist withheld]?) But if historians ever ask the question Cohen suggests, we hope they’ll consider his own past work—the work which helped make a joke of Gore, thus leading us on to Iraq.

GERSHON RESPONDS: Yes, we’re going to do a series on Todd Purdum’s piece in Vanity Fair. We now plan to do it next week—it takes time to sift through that much scum, to invent language which is appropriate. But in some ways, we’re all scum-bags now, thanks to upstanding fellows like Purdum. Here’s one of the truly remarkable things he wrote in his stirring report:

PURDUM (7/08): Over the last few years, aides have winced at repeated tabloid reports about Clinton’s episodic friendship and occasional dinners out with Belinda Stronach, a twice-divorced billionaire auto-parts heiress and member of the Canadian Parliament 20 years his junior, or at more recent high-end Hollywood dinner-party gossip that Clinton has been seen visiting with the actress Gina Gershon in California.

Please note, and this is very important: Purdum doesn’t claim to have any idea if what he writes about here is accurate. Surely, “scum-bag” is too kind a word for a man of this low character—for a journalist who “sources” his work to “high-end Hollywood gossip.”

Yesterday, Gershon went on Live with Regis and Kelly, where she discussed this matter with Kelly Ripa and guest host Mario Lopez. We suggest you watch her whole (three-minute) discussion of this matter, which was really quite thoughtful. (Just click here; then move ahead to 3:30.) Gershon flatly denied the gossip, just as she did last week. Then, she stated her larger view of the episode.

“This disturbed me on so many other levels,” she said, “that I kind of felt I had to stand up for myself and speak the truth.” Speaking like a sentient human, Gershon put things in a human perspective:

GERSHON (6/9/08): In the bigger picture, my God! We’re in a crucial election, you know. Right now—and people want to know who to vote for. I think everyone wants to make the right decision. But how do you do that if you can’t believe what you read or what you see, because it’s been taken and pulled apart?”

Gershon was too courteous to mention Purdum’s name. But she offered a few thoughts about him and his cohort and his work:

GERSHON: Well, the thing is journalists today, it's so scary, because they take these rumors or hearsay. They put it in a story. Then that story goes around the world in about a minute, courtesy of the Web, and people read this. They perceive it to be the truth, so therefore lies are the new facts. And that is scary.

“You know what’s disgusting to me?” Gershon asked. “These —these journalists, these irresponsible journalists, they are not accountable for anything. There’s no accountability. And I don’t know. I just think it’s wrong.”

(We wonder: Does Gershon know that journalists didn’t believe that nasty sh*t they wrote about Hillary Clinton? Because that’s what Cohen and Kinsley said—and they sit at the top of the press corps.)

Gershon used the word “disgusting.” Someone else had used the word “scum-bag”—a word that’s surely too kind for a fellow of Purdum’s type. But again, make sure you understand: Purdum doesn’t claim, in any way, to know what he is talking about. He is reporting “high-end gossip.” It was said at a dinner table. Blood began to rush through his veins, and he ran and he blabbed it around.

As we watched the Gershon tape, we thought of the students at Concord (New Hampshire) High School who complained, in 1999, when Candidate Gore appeared at their school and was misquoted about Love Canal. (Then mis-edited. Then mis-paraphrased. All in just the first day of the episode!) The debacle turned into an education for some of those students, who tried to get the misquotation corrected. Quite plainly, the Washington Post and the New York Times had misquoted Gore—but then, incredibly, they refused to correct, for six and nine days respectively. Let’s use Gershon’s language: As they refused to correct their mistake, their mistake “went around the world.” (Papers still quoted it, two months later.) Four weeks after this episode started, the Boston Globe’s Laura Dolce reported the students’ reactions to the conduct they’d observed:

DOLCE (12/26/99): The students agree it was a great lesson, but in a way lament their loss of innocence as readers and viewers.

"How can we trust the media now?" said junior Alyssa Spellman. "We see too much bias. We really want to know the truth."

Gershon and Spellman sounded like actual people. They sounded like people who actually care about the real things of the world.

Concerning Purdum, we’ll only ask this: Kafka imagined Gregor Samsa’s decline. But could he have pictured Todd Purdum?