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 todays Times, Paul Krugmans 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, thats 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 lets 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. Its perfectly easy to shape a narrative in which any candidate is most authentic. As long as our standards of measure are so subjective, theres no real process of assessment being conducted at all.
But lets understand a further point thats lurking inside Krugmans 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, thats a stupid way to trash a pol—and today, our ruling elites are much better at playing this political game. Today, our plutocrats dont 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.
Lets get specific. In the 1990s, Jack Welch didnt 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 didnt 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 its 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 wont 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 Todays Walter Shapiro noted the rise of the cliche-ridden terms weve 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.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 years crop of candidates (hint: it was the Bradley campaign)—and Shapiros subsequent explanation was remarkably weak. (Sorry—no link to Walters column is available.) Were surprised to see that weve never posted any of our voluminous material on this fascinating subject. Well 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 yesterdays This Week:
STEPHANOPOULOS (6/10/07): John McCain. Has the straight-talking maverick lost his magic?If you didnt know how your press corps now works, youd think such nonsense wouldnt 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.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 solons stunning honesty.
Weve 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 dont know what it is.
At any rate, there you see your millionaire press corps, vouching for this Big Reps authenticity. By way of contrast, to see how hard theyll scrape and scrounge to tell you that Big Dems are dishonest, see Part 1 of our series on Carl Bernsteins book tour. Below.
DELAY TEACHING THE CHILDREN WELL: Try to fathom what Elizabeth Weil reports in Sundays 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....Here at THE HOWLER, weve been writing about accountability-driven cheating on standardized tests since the early 1970s. We thought wed seen (and thought of) it all. But good lord! Truly, there is nothing our education establishments wont do to produce artificial bumps in test scores. What a truly remarkable species we humans turn out to be!
Make sure you understand whats being done here—assuming that Weils claim is accurate. All these states had decided, long ago, the best age for kids to start kindergarten. No, theres 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 arent being driven by research; theyre 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 arent 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, Americas multimillionaire celebrity press corps has defined itself by its vast dishonesty. Surprisingly, Carl Bernsteins 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 barrels 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 Thursdays Situation Room. (The interview was re-aired as part of yesterdays 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 hed conducted with Bernstein. And sure enough! The first question went to a tired old place. As always, Blitzer wanted to know about Hillary Clintons 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.In fact, Blitzer was reading from the books final page, where Bernstein appends a negative theme about Clintons character—a theme thats almost wholly absent from his actual book. Hillary Clinton has 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.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.Clintons 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 Bernsteins key example was really quite tangy: Clinton was beaten as a child, he told Blitzer—but she didnt 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 didnt know that his empty-souled guest was deceiving him.
Because you see, there isnt a word in Carl Bernsteins book about Hugh Rodham beating his children! Yes, Bernstein quotes Clintons 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 Bernsteins book. We don't know the extent to which he beat the children, Bernstein told Blitzer this day. But in fact, to judge from Bernsteins own book, we dont know that Hugh Rodham ever beat his children at all.
If we hadnt watched this press corps in the past fifteen years, we would likely have been surprised by such a puzzling performance. Indeed, in Bernsteins own book, the strongest passages about Hugh Rodhams discipline are the passages he cites from Clintons 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 isnt a word in Bernsteins book to suggest that anyone ever said so. No, Betsy Ebeling isnt 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 Bernsteins interview, that this fact is in his own book—and it might have made you want to buy it. But this claim isnt in his book—and there is no sign that Ebeling, or anyone else, ever told him about this.
But then, thats 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 OReilly; 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 didnt 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 doesnt appear in his book. And yes, his conduct has been even worse as he flails about on his tour. As well see tomorrow, he has been pimping an even uglier theme on his book tour—another theme that is AWOL from his actual book.
As well see later on in the week, Bernsteins 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 authors inexcusable book tour. Bernstein—criticizing Clintons character—keeps pimping themes that dont 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, heres 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 Thursdays program. Instead, he simply re-aired the segment, jacking up his introduction. Big Dems have a problem with the truth! It is now this cohorts grandest script. Its used to sell their worthless books—and to justify their pay-checks.
TOMORROW—PART 2: On tour, Bernstein keeps pimping another claim he doesnt make in his book.