Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: Mark Penn states a range of views--and Cottle calls him names
Daily Howler logo
KILLING THE PIG/PENN! Mark Penn states a range of views–and Cottle calls him names: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 13, 2008

IT TOOK ONE DAY: “Watch the press corps beg Obama to second this high-minded strategy.” We said it yesterday–and today, it happened. You know what to do–just click here. More on this topic next week.

COLLINS AND THE CLAN: The front-page piece in today’s New York Times is about as good as you’ll get from this clan. In a lengthy report, Katherine Seelye examines the claim that sexism played a role in the way the Democratic campaign was covered. On the merits, Seelye’s piece has some flaws; we’d say it’s roughly a C-minus effort. But if you were grading it on a curve, you’d almost have to give at an A, so thoroughly do these players cover up for their own colleagues’ work.

(On today’s Morning Joe, Gail Collins was tut-tutting and deflecting, along with the truly egregious Mika Brzezinski and the ludicrous man of deflections, Mike Barnicle. There are two words we’ve never used in our life; this morning, Brzezinski made us wish we could use them. “I think it’s worth talking about what’s fair commentary and what’s not,” Collins magisterially allowed as her ludicrous segment ended. Meanwhile: “You can’t say anything in this country any more without offending somebody,” Barnicle said, offering variants all through the program. Instantly, Collins said this about Seelye’s report: “You’ll note that in the article, most of the people who are mentioned are visiting commentators.” We’re not sure if that’s accurate—but this was her obvious way of helping rhymes-with-rich avoid discussing players like Matthews and Tucker Carlson. There’s simply nothing these people won’t do to cover for the rest of the clan. By the way: Collins is the mainstream press corps’ version of a “feminist.”)

In Seelye’s favor, she names the names of many real journalists—and her editor includes mug shots of the twins, Matthews and Olbermann. Beyond that, she gives prominence to Katie Couric’s statement of life’s basic realities. But there are down-sides to Seelye’s performance too. She never mentions her own paper’s Maureen Dowd, one of the press corps’ most disturbed gender-trashers. And an accompanying sampler of sexist remarks begins in November 2007. Matthews had been gender-trashing Candidate Clinton for roughly a year at that point.

Several players come off quite poorly in Seelye’s piece. Let’s start with a gruesome rube-runner—perhaps the most egregious propagandist we’ve ever seen on TV:

SEELYE (6/13/08): [M]any in the news media say that sexist episodes had little effect on the outcome of the primaries. Instead, they said, Mrs. Clinton’s problem was a flawed campaign.

Keith Olbermann, the host of “Countdown” on MSNBC, said that while there were “individual, sexist, mistakes,” there was no overall sexism.

Any suggestion that MSNBC “was somehow out to ‘get’ Senator Clinton is false and unfair,” Mr. Olbermann wrote in an e-mail message. “We became a whipping boy.”

He said that after Feb. 5, when Mrs. Clinton went on a losing streak, her campaign strategy was to blame the news media, which he said was “its only fuel.”

Still, he said, there was “constant reflection and analysis at MSNBC, and I must say there was constant good faith in trying to make certain Senator Clinton was not treated unfairly.”

Good God! The man’s an utter embarrassment. Sidebar: Once MSNBC came under attack for its relentless gender-trashing, Keith-O dropped the nightly segment in which he mocked young Hollywood women. How long will it be until this great man returns to this pleasure? We have no earthly idea, of course. But how long must young male viewers suffer?

Howard Dean comes off quite poorly too. Truly, this is pathetic:

SEELYE: Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party, who says he was slow to pick up on charges of sexism because he is not a regular viewer of cable television, is taking up the cause after hearing an outcry from what he described as a cross-section of women, from individual voters to powerful politicians and chief executives.

“The media took a very sexist approach to Senator Clinton’s campaign,” Mr. Dean said in a recent interview.

“It’s pretty appalling,” he said, adding that the issue resonates because Mrs. Clinton “got treated the way a lot of women got treated their whole lives.”

Mr. Dean and others are now calling for a “national discussion” of sexism.

Truly, that’s pathetic. For the past sixteen years, journalists could say any damn thing they pleased about major Democrats—especially Clinton, Gore and Clinton—safe in the knowledge that Dem Party figures would never care enough to complain. Now we learn why this long roll-over occurred: Party leaders like Howard Dean weren’t regular viewers of cable! How were they supposed to know about the vile things being said? None of us are geniuses out here, but that “explanation” is even insulting to us. Dean would have been much better off if he’d simply said nothing.

He’s calling for a discussion now! Just in time for it not to matter!
But then, you could say much the same thing about orgs like NOW and Emily’s List, who come off in Seelye’s piece like offspring of Rip Van Winkle. Could these people be more clueless if their lives were at stake?

SEELYE: Both the National Organization for Women and Emily’s List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights, are generating e-mail campaigns to the cable channels when they see sexism. The networks have usually issued on-air apologies.

“We’re certainly not going to take this lying down,” said Ellen Malcolm, the president of Emily’s List. She said her hope was for a national discussion to focus on “what is fair in the new political world of Internet, cable and traditional news coverage.”

NOW is starting a campaign to highlight its “Media Hall of Shame,” an online project in which it points to examples of sexist language.

NOW’s president, Kim Gandy, said her members would remain alert: “We’re going to keep watching because we think Michelle Obama will be the recipient of the same kind of attacks that Hillary was.”

NOW is starting a campaign! Just in time! Seventeen months later! And by the way, could Gandy possibly have less of a clue? Almost surely, Michelle Obama will not “be the recipient of the same kind of attacks that Hillary was”—at least, not from the media players named in this article. (Good!) The fact that Gandy doesn’t understand this fact means that she’s been snoring soundly for the past many years.

Or that she’s playing it dumb.

And then, the Greenfields will always be with us. There’s no way to know if Seelye has quoted him fairly. But after watching Collins play the fool, we’ll assume that she has:

SEELYE: Jeff Greenfield, a political correspondent for CBS News, said that charges of sexism often came through a political prism. “Throughout this campaign, people’s perception of the press has been in line with what they wanted to happen politically,” Mr. Greenfield said. “If my person lost, the press did a bad job.”

We involuntarily splay our legs every time a hack like that makes such a wh*rish comment. (Partisans have been imagining this!) It may be that Greenfield was quoted unfairly. But millionaire hacks have carried this water for the clan ever since this discussion began.

It’s as we’ve noted for the past ten years—they’re experts at playing it dumb. Indeed, here was Collins, in her mandatory column on this subject, a column she published last weekend:

COLLINS (6/7/08): I get asked all the time whether I think Hillary lost because sexism is worse than racism in this country. The answer is no. She lost because Obama ran a smarter, better-organized campaign. It’s possible that she would have won if the Democratic Party had more rational primary rules. But Obama didn’t make up the rules, and Clinton had no problem with them until she began to lose.

Here’s where the sexism does come in. If Barack had failed in his attempt to make history by becoming the first African-American presidential nominee, you can bet we’d have treated his defeat with the dignity it deserved. Even if he went over the deep end at the finale and found it hard to get around to a graceful concession.

Did Clinton lose because of the press corps’ gender-trashing? There’s no real way to answer that question—and, therefore, it’s a great way to confuse discussions about the general subject. (See our first quote from Seelye, above. “Many in the news media” took this approach, Seelye said. Indeed, they love to muddy the waters by dragging this larger point in.) And by the way: The sexism didn’t “come in” when Clinton “failed in her attempt to make history.” On the part of people like Matthews, the overt gender-trashing “came in” long ago, as soon as Clinton started her run. It then persisted for a year and a half, as Gail Collins shut her trap, saying nothing.

By the way, Collins left something out of her column. Her utterly absent-minded omission sums up all we’ve said:

In Collins’ column, we learn that “the nation’s wounded feminists” are troubled by the treatment of Clinton. We learn that Clinton’s supporters feel she “has not been respected.” They feel that she has taken a “beating”—a “battering,” “abuse” and “insults,” we’re told. At one point, Collins herself even seems to call Clinton’s campaign a “battle against prejudice.”

But go ahead! Read through Collins entire column! See if you find a single word explaining who has dished this abuse! If there a battle was waged against prejudice, just whose prejudice was involved? Candidate Clinton took a beating? From whom did that beating come?

Omigod! There isn’t a single word in this whole f*cking column explaining who engaged in this conduct! Matthews, Carlson and Dowd? Never mentioned! But then, Collins never gets around to mentioning the press corps at all! Go ahead—read the whole column! Look for a single reference.

Who slimed Clinton? Collins won’t tell! The lady is covering up for the clan, as she and her colleagues have done for so long. Indeed, they’ve played this game for the past sixteen years—and “career liberal” pool boys refuse to tattle. Kevin and Josh, good housebroken lads, will explain the whole scam in their memoirs.

KILLING THE PIG/PENN: In our view, pundit discussions of campaign advisers are almost always pointless. (That may be why the mainstream press corps enjoys such discussions so much.) We’ll offer you a very small tip—while campaign advisers may offer advice, the candidate decides whether to take it. In Campaign 2000, did advisers warn Gore (perhaps sensibly) not to stress global warming too much? We have no idea. But to the extent that they gave such advice, it would have been Gore who decided.

Will someone please explain this point to adviser-obsessed Joseph Klein?

That brings us up to the present. Yesterday, GQ’s Lisa DePaulo presented a long, intriguing interview with Clinton adviser Mark Penn. In the course of the detailed session, Penn made a fairly obvious point. The basic structure of the campaign—a structure which he thought worked poorly—was the choice of Candidate Clinton. This critique takes form during three sets of Q-and-A’s. Here are the second and third sets:

Can we go back to the campaign organization for a minute? What would you have changed specifically?
If I were to do things differently, it would be that the organizational and message teams would have been together, in tandem. And in this campaign, that wasn’t the case.

So were you not controlling the message?
I was head of a team of message people, but not of the political organization, the resource allocation. If I did something wrong, it was not having reset the organization in a way that could be functional, to deal with some of the problems that later occurred. And I would have had to say—and I came very close to this a number of times—that this organization, you know, doesn’t work.


Did your lack of allies hurt you?
Well, you know, obviously in [the 1996 Bill Clinton campaign], I had a team of allies. We had a wonderful functioning team that made decisions in minutes. This was not… I didn’t have that kind of team.

But whose decision was it to not let you have your team?
Ultimately, I think this was set up in a way that Hillary wanted to set it up.

I think she believed that diffusing things was a better way.

Do you mean diffusing power?
Yeah, diffusing authority. Letting experts in, in different areas. You know, that’s why political was Harold Ickes, and you know, Patti was the manager, and Mandy was media. I’m just saying that this was set up as a diffuse organization. And I think, look, again, when you look at it under… Maybe a theory that this kind of creative tension would produce better advice—

There’s more detail in the interview. But Penn offered a variant of an obvious point. In campaigns, advisers advise. Candidates make the decisions.

Penn’s interview is lengthy and detailed. He makes a wide array of claims about the way the campaign was run; about the way it was covered by the press; and about his own performance. He specifically says that some familiar, near-iconic claims about the campaign are simply bogus. But to the shrieking harpies of the mainstream press corps, under the leadership of Michelle Cottle, this interview can mean only one thing—it can only provide the latest chance to further their preferred narratives. Hence, Cottle starts her post about the interview with a pander to her colleague, DePaulo. Then, she offers the kind of “analysis” which defines such defectives’ work:

COTTLE (6/12/08): GQ star Lisa DePaulo has a postmorten Q&A out today with the much-maligned Mark Penn. Couple of things struck me:

Most notably, the entire exchange comes across as remarkably self-justifying and self-aggrandizing, even for the genre—and even for Penn. For all the words spoken and ground covered, Penn's analysis still boils down to: It wasn't my fault. And if all you idiots had let me run things my way, we wouldn't be in this mess.

Case in point: When pressed about his biggest regret, Penn whines that he didn't have a crack team like he had in 1996. "I wish in reality that I had a team of people, you know, who was with me, that I organized, as I had in '96." (Now, some might point out that the '96 team and strategy were principally put together by evil genius Dick Morris, who didn't get ousted for his toe-sucking tendencies until a couple of months before the fall election. But why nitpick?) More specifically, Penn lays the blame for the campaign's failure at the feet of both Patti Solis Doyle and Harold Ickes, primarily for their mishandling of money.

Classic Cottle.

For starters, is her first claim true? Does Penn’s “entire exchange comes across as remarkably self-justifying and self-aggrandizing?” It didn’t strike us that way; at one point, Penn is quite clear about something he bungled majorly (his failure to step down from his role as CEO of Burson-Marsteller). But it’s typical of people like Cottle to start with a sweeping subjective assertion—one which perfectly follows the outlines of previous “analyses.” And please note the way she continues: In her third paragraph, she is instantly wasting everyone’s time with irrelevant “nitpicking” about ancient “toe-sucking.” And uh-oh! When she identifies a second claim by Penn—his claim about the handling of money—she goes on to trash him for saying such a thing, without remembering to let us know if his claim is right or wrong. Here is the rest of her post, an exercise in pointless name-calling

COTTLE (continuing directly): This is not a new self-defense tactic by Penn—which is also what struck me about the piece. In a perhaps understandably sympathetic intro, DePaulo notes that, despite all the beatings he took during this race, "Penn never once defended himself, even as the Blame Penn chorus grew louder.”

Um. Unless you count that period in early March, not long after Patti Solis Doyle was kicked to the curb, when Penn, nervous about growing grumbling concerning his own performance, ran around throwing Solis Doyle, Mike Henry, and Ickes under the proverbial bus—a display of such rank ass-covering, incidentally, that it finished shredding the campaign's once united front as outraged colleagues rushed to the defense of those maligned by Penn. (Again, can't insert link to classic LAT piece. Apologies.) Mark Penn has been many things in this race, selflessly stoic is not one of them. The man has yet to meet a piece of blame he couldn't hurl in someone else's direction.

That said, I highly recommend giving the piece a read, if for no other reason than to confirm all of your preexisting biases about what a spectacular egomaniac Penn is.

As you’ll note, Cottle spends much of paragraphs 4 and 5 criticizing something DePaulo has said. Then, she uses her closing paragraph to name-call Penn again. Meanwhile, something completely slips her mind. She forgets to tell us if Penn’s critique of the money management is actually correct. (She thereby takes the side of the anonymous sources who have been crying to her for the past several months.) She also forgets to evaluate Penn’s critique of the campaign’s larger organization.

She doesn’t say if Penn’s claims are right; she just name-calls Penn for making them. In fact, Penn says a great many things in this long interview. Are his claims right or wrong? Life-forms like Cottle don’t stoop to that level. Instead, they name-call the people they hate—and they pimp for their poor dearest darlings.

Meanwhile, the boys and girls of the career liberal world know they must fall in line for this claptrap. In this post about the interview, Kevin Drum sits at the children’s table; although it’s clear that he actually thinks the interview had a good deal of meat, he obediently starts his piece with a complaint about Penn’s “obsessive self-defense.” As for Noam Schieber, what can you say? His twin posts about this piece are almost purely fatuous. More on that below.

And of course, everyone knows they must avoid That One Unacceptable Topic. In Scheiber’s “What Penn Got Wrong” post, the youngster offers a low-wattage critique (which he soon had to supplement) concerning Penn’s comments about the campaign’s failure, starting in late October. Let us hand you a tiny, small hint about what is omitted here:

First: Typically, big players like Penn don’t tell the truth when asked about the press corps. (They need the press for future ventures, as do their clients. For obvious historical reasons, this is especially true of Big Dems.) That said, Penn is much more frank about the press in this interview than is the norm for his party; Cottle, Drum and Scheiber all absent-mindedly forget to cite this part of his discussion. But what actually happened in late October, the part of the campaign on which Scheiber lazers? Duh. In one long section, Pernn correctly describes this period as the campaign’s turning-point. He describes the way Obama began to attack. He describes the press corps’ reaction:

What happened in October? How was that the turning point?
Well, October of ’07 we were forty points ahead. What happened in October, or really the beginning of November, was that Barack Obama personally attacked Hillary Clinton. Called her disingenuous. They attacked her in the debate on the driver’s licenses.

Ah, the driver ’s licenses.
Right. And until then, basically, people were declaring the race over. The message strategy had been so successful that everybody was declaring it over. And they got so frustrated that what the Obama camp did was that they restrategized. And they concluded, obviously, the only thing they could do was attack her personally. It took us a while to kind of throw off those basic attacks. And I think that it was a tough organization to respond to that. You know, the response to a lot of those attacks became “Let’s do the soft, personal stuff.” And that didn’t work.

Go back to the licenses.
What happened was, Obama announced the day before [the debate] that he was gonna go after her personally. Called her disingenuous in The New York Times. Now, at that moment, and up until that moment, you know, we had won the experience primary; we won the new-ideas primary. A lot of the leads that we would rely upon in the big states were already built up. He was fading in the national polls, and he said, “Look, the strategy here isn’t working. I’ve gotta do something different.” And Obama did. He attacked her. And a lot of the press egged him on.

But he should have. You would have, right?
I would have, yeah! But… So that attack, on the driver’s licenses, was then played an absurd number of times by the media.

And you didn’t come back fast enough.
Well, we didn’t come back. We came back in the next debate, two weeks later.

That’s a long time. She was strong. She pushed back. He got asked the very same question on driver’s licenses. He hesitated—he had to be asked, I think, two or three times by Wolf Blitzer—and then we thought, “Okay, we’re back. We’ve done it. We’ve shown that she can parry it back effectively and that he couldn’t answer this driver’s-license question either.” And you know what the media did with it? Nothing. The media played it not at all.

Penn is correct about all that. And he’s correct in identifying that period as the campaign’s (first) turning-point.

We’ve explained this obvious history before. Let’s run through it again:

In the weeks before that 10/30 debate, major journos (especially Matthews) began begging Obama to attack Clinton. Time was running out, they implored. In the New York Times interview cited by Penn, Obama said he would do it.

At the actual debate, Obama shrank back from the promised attack. But Russert and Williams pounded Clinton hard, throughout the entire two hours. Let’s say it again: Moderators have never targeted a candidate in anything resembling that manner, in any presidential debate—ever. Their conduct that night was outrageous—and wholly without any precedent.

Late in the debate, Clinton gave a slightly jumbled answer about an (irrelevant) driver’s license issue. For the next week or so, the pundits corps behaved as if they’d caught her robbing a bank—and shooting several tellers in the process.

Two weeks later, in a truly odd moment, Obama gave an amazingly similar answer to the same driver’s license question (as Penn notes). And the pundit corps completely ignored it, just as Penn says. How irrelevant was this issue, really? How fake was their initial swarm against Clinton? The pundit corps spent several week insisting that Clinton couldn’t get elected with such a ridiculous stance. When Obama adopted the very same stance, they didn’t say boo about it. They haven’t said boo to this very day, much as Penn describes.

The swarm against Clinton was utterly fake. And as everyone except Lord Scheiber knows, that’s when the campaign began changing. That’s what happened in October when the campaign began breaking down.

In short, it was at this point—on October 30—when the press corps began targeting Clinton actively. (We have no idea why they waited so long. They waited about ten minutes with Gore.) From that point forward, the assault was on. The campaign’s second turning-point occurred near the turn of the year, when the press corps began pimping the claim that the Clintons were slobbering racists. Did pundits believe that? We have no idea. Cohen and Kinsley recently said that pundits didn’t believe what they said about RFK. And John Judis said that a much larger calculation was in place with the press by this time.

Penn discusses some of this in his interview—pulling some punches, as big players do. (“You know, I’m not gonna blame the press,” he says. Democrats always say that.) And then, the interview passes to career liberals, like the three we’ve already mentioned. Cottle, of course, is Quinn-in-waiting, a reliable fount of class-acceptable blather and nonsense. Kevin and Noam are well-behaved boys. They’re sitting at the children’s table, politely eating their Thanksgiving turkeys. Someday, they’ll get to the adult table—as long as they aren’t tattle-tales.

We now return you to Cottle. You’ll find her calling Penn naughty names—and refusing to let you know if his various statements are accurate. For Scheiber, here’s a shorter explanation of Penn’s remarks: The Clinton campaign was “performing flawlessly”—until your cohort piled on.

COULDN’T BE MORE ACCURATE: On Monday, we’ll show you the very naughtiest part of Penn’s inexcusable book, Microtrends. In the meantime, this couldn’t be much more accurate:

When you talk about the media and the treatment of her, you know, part of it—in the beginning of the campaign, back when it seemed like she was the inevitable nominee—she was really distant from the press. Don’t you think that had something to do with the fact that the press fell in love with Obama?
Well…no. [laughs] The press fell in love with him, period.

The press always falls in love with the new cool intellectual candidate. You know, he is their kind of candidate. Go back through history. They didn’t like Al Gore. They loved Gary Hart. They love those kinds of candidates, always have.

That couldn’t be much more accurate. In the press corps’ novelization, Obama/Clinton was a virtual copy of Bradley/Gore. (We’d assume that Obama’s campaign studied Bradley’s—knowing they had a much more attractive candidate, of course.) This is a very lazy group. They don’t like inventing new novels.