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BERN, BABY, BERN! Carl Bernstein defines dishonesty down on an appalling book tour: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 11, 2007

HEIR TO CLASS TRAITOR: In today’s Times, Paul Krugman’s discusses the mainstream press corps’ love affair with “authenticity.” As you know, John Edwards is “inauthentic” because he owns a great big house. By contrast, Fred Thompson is highly “authentic” because—well, because they just say that he is! At one point, Krugman notes the role this fuzzy concept now plays in our quickly devolving “public discourse:”
KRUGMAN (6/11/07): Talk of authenticity, it seems, lets commentators and journalists put down politicians they don't like or praise politicians they like, with no relationship to what the politicians actually say or do.
And yes, that’s pretty much all there is to it. “Authenticity” became the press corps’ favorite buzz-word in 1999, along with its silly handmaiden, “comfortable in his own skin.” And let’s state the obvious: When the press corps adopted such subjective markers as key standards of measure, they were giving themselves the right to tell whatever story they choose. It’s perfectly easy to shape a narrative in which any candidate is most “authentic.” As long as our standards of measure are so subjective, there’s no real process of assessment being conducted at all.

But let’s understand a further point that’s lurking inside Krugman’s column. Today, John Edwards is called “inauthentic.” But back in the day, FDR was called something else, Krug recalls:
KRUGMAN: [T]hat's not how the political game was played 70 years ago. F.D.R. wasn't accused of being a phony; he was accused of being a ''traitor to his class.'' But today, it seems, politics is all about seeming authentic. A recent Associated Press analysis of the political scene asked: ''Can you fake authenticity? Probably not, but it might be worth a try.''
Yep! When FDR considered the interests of average people, he was called a “traitor to his class.” But in a democratic system, that’s a stupid way to trash a pol—and today, our ruling elites are much better at playing this political game. Today, our plutocrats don’t denounce Big Dems as “traitors to their class.” Instead, they hire a bunch of worthless creeps—and these overpaid hirelings proceed to call these Big Dem pols “inauthentic.” As such, “inauthentic” is direct heir to “class traitor.” In reality, this is the very same game, played in a much smarter fashion.

Let’s get specific. In the 1990s, Jack Welch didn’t call the Clintons and Gore “traitors to their class.” Instead, he made multimillionaires of his famous “Lost Boys of the Sconset,” and these three Lost Boys did his name-calling for him. But uh-oh! They didn’t say that Gore was a class traitor—they said he was inauthentic (fake, phony).This same slick process continues today, and its shape is abundantly clear. But it’s still the rich asserting their interests—this time, through the intercession of a group of store-bought, scripted boys (who love to talk about the way they come from the working class).

Sadly your liberal journals won’t tell you about this; their writers are happily standing in line, hoping to be “Lost Boys” themselves.
“Class traitor” then, “inauthentic” now. In a word—the same ball game.

Bonus—Howler history: In late December 1999, USA Today’s Walter Shapiro noted the rise of the “cliche-ridden” terms we’ve discussed above:
SHAPIRO (12/24/99): Comfortable with Himself and Authenticity: In a few short months, these have become everyone's favorite buzzwords to describe the come-from-behind appeal of Bill Bradley and John McCain. Compared with the scripted George W. Bush and the synthetic Gore (see "Alpha Male"), these two different-drummer candidates seem spontaneous, original and, yes, comfortable with themselves.

The phrases are so cliche-ridden and inauthentic it's difficult to figure out who first applied them to the dynamic duo of Bradley and McCain...
In one way, Uncle Walter was right—the terms in question were deeply “cliche-ridden and inauthentic.” But thanks to Nexis, it was easy to see who had first applied them to that year’s crop of candidates (hint: it was the Bradley campaign)—and Shapiro’s subsequent explanation was remarkably weak. (Sorry—no link to Walter’s column is available.) We’re surprised to see that we’ve never posted any of our voluminous material on this fascinating subject. We’ll plan to dig this material out of our files and return to this bit of Howler History by the end of the week.

But yes, these silly standards of measure were firmly in place by the fall of 1999. Today, store-bought journos use these absurdly subjective terms to trash Big Dems; in the same breath, they let us know that Big Reps are “authentic”—and “straight-talkers” (see below). Plutocrats are slicker today than in the days of FDR. When you hear their hirelings yell “inauthentic,” you can translate: They mean “class traitor.”

SPEAKING OF WHICH: Pathetically, these were George Stephanopoulos’ first nine words on yesterday’s This Week:
STEPHANOPOULOS (6/10/07): John McCain. Has the straight-talking maverick lost his magic?
If you didn’t know how your “press corps” now works, you’d think such nonsense wouldn’t be possible. You also would have been surprised as George set up his interview:
STEPHANOPOULOS: At the first of a series of town meetings starting in Pella, Iowa this weekend, McCain was in his element, cracking jokes...and talking straight on immigration.

MCCAIN (videotape): The great center didn't hold. As you know, the president of the United States and I and many others were hopeful that we could come to some conclusion on this. Well, my friends, because we didn't, then several hundred people will cross the Arizona border today into Arizona and go around the country and several hundred tomorrow and then the next day.
No, there was nothing especially “straight” about that statement by McCain. But so what? Twice, within minutes, at the start of his program, Stephanopoulos went out of his way to vouch for the solon’s stunning honesty.

We’ve worked with George on this problem for years. (For example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/05.) Why, we even held a pleasant session with him at the Washington Improv. But uh-oh! Since no one is actually stupid enough to fail to see the problem here, we have to assume that George has a motive for this anti-democratic “journalistic” behavior. No, we don’t know what it is.

At any rate, there you see your millionaire press corps, vouching for this Big Rep’s authenticity. By way of contrast, to see how hard they’ll scrape and scrounge to tell you that Big Dems are dishonest, see Part 1 of our series on Carl Bernstein’s book tour. Below.

DELAY TEACHING THE CHILDREN WELL: Try to fathom what Elizabeth Weil reports in Sunday’s New York Times magazine. According to Weil, states have found yet another way to artificially inflate student test scores. Amazing! They are passing laws which delay the age at which students enter kindergarten:
WEIL (6/10/07): Since 1975, nearly half of all states have pushed back their birthday cutoffs [for the start of kindergarten] and four—California, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee—have active legislation in state assemblies to do so right now. (Arkansas passed legislation earlier this spring; New Jersey, which historically has let local districts establish their birthday cutoffs, has legislation pending to make Sept. 1 the cutoff throughout the state.) This is due, in part, to the accountability movement—the high-stakes testing now pervasive in the American educational system....

Indeed, increasing the average age of the children in a kindergarten class is a cheap and easy way to get a small bump in test scores, because older children perform better, and states’ desires for relative advantage is written into their policy briefs.
Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve been writing about accountability-driven “cheating” on standardized tests since the early 1970s. We thought we’d seen (and thought of) it all. But good lord! Truly, there is nothing our education establishments won’t do to produce artificial “bumps” in test scores. What a truly remarkable species we “humans” turn out to be!

Make sure you understand what’s being done here—assuming that Weil’s claim is accurate. All these states had decided, long ago, the best age for kids to start kindergarten. No, there’s no perfect age at which a kid should start school—unless that age can be determined by elaborate research. But these changes in the start-date for kindergarten aren’t being driven by research; they’re being driven by the desire to fool the public with slightly higher test scores. All things being equal, older kids will do better in school than younger kids. So these states will delay many kids’ education by a full year to produce that artificial bump.

Amazing! What sub-humans we mortals turn out to be! But then, this helps explain why the Carl Bernsteins, the Kevin Phillipses and the Patrick Healys are crawling all over our floundering discourse. At this stage of human devolution, there is simply nothing so foolish and bogus that we aren’t prepared to accept it. More on Bernstein below; Phillips and Healy to follow.

Special report: Bern, baby, bern!

PART 1—DISHONESTY CHIC: Over the course of the past fifteen years, America’s multimillionaire celebrity press corps has defined itself by its vast dishonesty. Surprisingly, Carl Bernstein’s book tour—not his book—has established a new, bizarre low.

We would have thought it was no longer possible—that we had hit the barrel’s bottom. But as he parades about on his tour, Bernstein is defining dishonesty further down than it has been done before.

What sorts of things has this accidental icon said as he tries to get you to buy his book? Consider the stunning dishonesty he put on display when he chatted with Wolf Blitzer on last Thursday’s Situation Room. (The interview was re-aired as part of yesterday’s Late Edition.)

“He's been paying very close attention to American presidents since Watergate,” Blitzer gushed at the start. “Now the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl Bernstein has written a new book about a presidential candidate!” Blitzer then played tape of an interview he’d conducted with Bernstein. And sure enough! The first question went to a tired old place. As always, Blitzer wanted to know about Hillary Clinton’s honesty:
BLITZER (6/7/07): Let's talk a little bit about what makes Hillary Clinton tick—and I want to read a passage from the book, on page 554.

“As Hillary has continued to speak from the protective shell of her own making, and packaged herself for the widest possible consumption, she has misrepresented not just facts but often her essential self.”

Give me an example or two.
In fact, Blitzer was reading from the book’s final page, where Bernstein appends a negative theme about Clinton’s character—a theme that’s almost wholly absent from his actual book. Hillary Clintonhas misrepresented not just facts but often her essential self,” Bernstein types in this weird addendum (which starts on page 552). And uh-oh! When Blitzer asked him for an example, his burned-out guest gave him this:
BERNSTEIN (continuing directly): Her own book. Her own book, Living History, which is supposed to be an autobiographical account of her life, beginning in her childhood, is at variance with the rendition of events by those who were closest to her and around her at the time. Her best friend from childhood, Betsy Ebeling, told me in great length, as you read in the book, about how abusive her father was of her mother, how he humiliated her.

And Hillary, in Living History, describes an almost idyllic “father knows best” suburban childhood. It was anything but. Her father was a sour, unfulfilled man, a martinet, beat the kids. She, in fact, in her own book, talks about he didn't like to spare the rod. And we don't know the extent to which he beat the children. She says in her book that she thought it was sometimes used excessively and she tried to intervene on behalf of her brother. She doesn't say at all anything—
Mercifully, Blitzer interrupted at this point, asking Bernstein to play the shrink—to explain how this affected poor Clinton. Largely, Bernstein refused to play shrink. But soon, he offered this sad summary of his brilliant findings:
BERNSTEIN: Again, her book—and I say that in a footnote, actually, or an endnote to the book—her book is full of omissions, obfuscations. It's not mendacious. It's a self-portrait as she would like to see herself, but it has very little to do with—with the full reality of her life.
Clinton’s autobiography “is full of omissions, obfuscations,” Bernstein told Blitzer (weirdly saying he explains all this in an endnote). Indeed, “she has misrepresented not just facts but often her essential self.” And Bernstein’s key example was really quite tangy: Clinton was beaten as a child, he told Blitzer—but she didn’t include this fact when she wrote her autobiography. Indeed, Bernstein mentioned the alleged childhood beatings two separate times as he peddled his book. In fairness, Blitzer probably didn’t know that his empty-souled guest was deceiving him.

Because you see, there isn’t a word in Carl Bernstein’s book about Hugh Rodham beating his children! Yes, Bernstein quotes Clinton’s childhood friend, Betsy Ebeling; and Ebeling does seem to have told Bernstein, “in great length,” about the state of the Rodham household. But there is no sign that Ebeling, or anyone else, told Bernstein that Clinton or her brothers were beaten. Simply put, the claim is absent from Bernstein’s book. “We don't know the extent to which he beat the children,” Bernstein told Blitzer this day. But in fact, to judge from Bernstein’s own book, we don’t know that Hugh Rodham ever beat his children at all.

If we hadn’t watched this press corps in the past fifteen years, we would likely have been surprised by such a puzzling performance. Indeed, in Bernstein’s own book, the strongest passages about Hugh Rodham’s discipline are the passages he cites from Clinton’s own books; as you can see in the excerpts above, Bernstein was weirdly citing those passage to Blitzer last Thursday, even as he called Clinton a liar for failing to tell the truth about this subject. “She, in fact, in her own book, talks about he didn't like to spare the rod,” Bernstein said. And: “She says in her book that she thought it was sometimes used excessively and she tried to intervene on behalf of her brother.” In his own book, Bernstein cites these observations by Clinton—and they constitute the strongest things he says about this subject. But even as he cited them to Blitzer, he pretended that his own book told us more—and that Clinton had been withholding the truth! This press corps’ capacity for weird dishonesty reached a new low in this episode.

Did Hugh Rodham ever beat his kids? There isn’t a word in Bernstein’s book to suggest that anyone ever said so. No, Betsy Ebeling isn’t quoted saying any such thing. Despite this, he criticizes Clinton, in familiar old ways, for failing to report this “fact”—a “fact” he himself has failed to report! You would have thought, from Bernstein’s interview, that this “fact” is in his own book—and it might have made you want to buy it. But this claim isn’t in his book—and there is no sign that Ebeling, or anyone else, ever told him about this.

But then, that’s much the way this book tour has gone, as Bernstein flounders and flails all about, looking for ways to sell you his book. Last week, we saw his bizarre exchange with Bill O’Reilly; asked if Clinton ever broke the law, he gave Mr. O four or five separate answers (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/07). At Media Matters, Jamison Foser even took out the stop-watch; Bernstein took “five different positions in a span of 64 words,” he sagaciously wrote. And we saw Bernstein claiming that Clinton is dishonest because she didn’t tell friends that she flunked the DC bar exam—in 1972! Last Thursday, his conduct reached a new low, as he pimped a thrilling theme that simply doesn’t appear in his book. And yes, his conduct has been even worse as he flails about on his tour. As we’ll see tomorrow, he has been pimping an even uglier theme on his book tour—another theme that is AWOL from his actual book.

As we’ll see later on in the week, Bernstein’s book is an unadventurous, cowardly dodge of the major issues of the past fifteen years. It utterly fails to come to terms with the inherent problems of Clinton biography. But far more remarkable than the book itself is the author’s inexcusable book tour. Bernstein—criticizing Clinton’s character—keeps pimping themes that don’t appears in his book. Since the day when this man was an accidental star, dishonesty chic has increasingly driven this “press corps.” But how strange—how dishonest—does a man have to be to behave this way in public?

YOU KNOW THE RULES: As you know, Big Reps are “authentic,” Big Dems are dishonest. That in mind, here’s the way Blitzer introduced his interview with Bernstein when it re-aired on Late Edition:
BLITZER (6/10/07): Welcome back. Senator Hillary Clinton wrote her own book years ago. But was her version of her life story complete? At least one author says it's far from the real story. Earlier this week, I sat down with the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Carl Bernstein to talk about his new book on Hillary Clinton, a book entitled, A Woman in Charge.
Blitzer had three days to fact-c heck the tangy claims that Bernstein made on Thursday’s program. Instead, he simply re-aired the segment, jacking up his introduction. Big Dems have a problem with the truth! It is now this cohort’s grandest script. It’s used to sell their worthless books—and to justify their pay-checks.

TOMORROW—PART 2: On tour, Bernstein keeps pimping another claim he doesn’t make in his book.