Why are the documents not so shocking by the time Purdum gets finished? Partly, because Purdum seems to have fixed the intelligence and the facts in the memos around his Bush-friendly preconceptions. Most specifically, Purdum almost wholly ignores the most troubling part of the Downing Street memo—the apparent claim that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [war] policy. Did this phrase mean that the Bush Admin was faking the facts to drive the nation to war? The Downing Street memo is less than clear, but the suggestion is obvious. But Purdum barely mentions this part of the Downing Street storm. You have to read the second part of paragraph 9 to catch his one reference to it.
We plan to take a longer look at the longer memorandum tomorrow. But Purdums piece is the second tortured report by the Times, in which writers pick-and-choose from the memos to draw Bush-friendly conclusions. Why are big journalists so unconcerned at the thought that the intelligence and facts were being fixed? Perhaps because the fixing of facts is such a big part of their own mighty culture!
At any rate, these two pieces have been remarkable efforts at supporting a Bush-friendly views of these matters. On Saturday, Jonathan Weller filed an excellent if slightly-overwrought piece about a Times report on Social Security, another report which had its thumb on the scale to support a Bush-friendly stance. This is about as bad a piece of news reporting as I have seen in the Times in a long time, Weller wrote. We hope he has read these twin Downing Street reports, in which Sanger and Purdum have fixed the facts to pretend that the Master did not.
More tomorrow on the new, longer memo.
BLOGGER PANGLOSS PURE BULLSH*T: Is the mighty New York Times fixing the facts in support of Dear Leader? Wed have to guess that Blogger Pangloss will find a way to deny it! In recent days, Pangloss has been gazing on the works of the mainstream press corps, and everywhere the Blogger has looked, he has seen what he so often sees in that garden: The current state of the art in human perfectibility, his description of the great New York Times. Last Friday, he wondered why anyone would care about the Bush-friendly pap of the Times Elisabeth Bumiller. On Sunday, he explained away the corps lazy treatment of the original Downing Street memo. (In his UPDATE, note how he scrambled to make things right after Atrios said, Look, this is just bullshit.) And yesterday, Pangloss was out in the garden again, mulling the most important press-and-political question of the past dozen years: Why did so many voters come to hate Clinton so much?
Pangloss gives a lengthy-if-limited answer, much of which is accurate. But, as usual, the star-struck Blogger gives a pass to the work of the mainstream press corps. According to Pangloss, pseudo-con crackpots have always been with us, but by the time Clinton arrived on the scene, they finally had potent mouthpieces in talk radio and on the Net. But note how tiny was the role of the poor little mainstream press corps:
BLOGGER PANGLOSS: This, then, is the answer: wingnuts have always been around, but they've never been given a voice. That changed with Bill Clinton.Poor mainstream! For unknown reasons, they felt they had to pay attention to things that the wingnuts were saying! And as he continued, Blogger Pangloss downplayed their giant role once again:
Why? The answer is obvious: instead of crudely mimeographed newsletters, the cranks had access to talk radio and the internet, both of which expanded their audience to the point that the mainstream press felt it had to pay attention. For the first time ever, the wingnuts went mainstream.
BLOGGER PANGLOSS (continuing directly): And that's the difference between Clinton hatred and every other presidential hatred. All presidents have to put up with rhetorical excess, and all presidents have to put up with both scandal and the opponents who make hay out of them. But only Clinton was forced to deal with wingnuts as if they were serious critics. Rush and Drudge made them semi-respectable, the Republican party welcomed them, and then the press paid attention to them. In the end, it all blew up in the absurd spectacle of a wingnut-inspired impeachment that did nothing but make its target more popular than ever, and since then the wingnuts have (mostly) been swept back into the murky fever swamps of delusion where they belong.Youd barely notice the role of the mainstream at all, so deftly does the Blogger pass over them. And by the way, note one other amazing claim. After impeachment, the wingnuts were swept back into the fever swamps. According to Pangloss, the problem of this wingnut Clinton-hatred largely ended after Clintons impeachment.
But for one brief, glorious moment, they controlled the national agenda. And that's what makes Clinton hatred so very, very special. [end of post]
In this, we hear a familiar message: Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! Yes—conservative crackpots were loud and proud all throughout the Clinton-Gore era, but the mainstream press played an astonishing, active role in the process which led to Clintons impeachment and eventually to Al Gores defeat. Lets go back to the very beginning: The Whitewater stories which gave the name to a political era started in the New York Times in early 1992; the Times has never explained the puzzling journalism involved in these reports, even after Gene Lyons laid out the problems in Fools for Scandal (published in early 1996). This early work wasnt caused by wing-nuts—except to the extent that Jeff Gerth, the Times lead reporter, took his information straight from wing-nuts in deepest Arkansas. But so what? Gerths reporting went straight in the paper. And from that day right on to the end, the mainstream pres played an enthusiastic role in the trashing of Clinton, then Gore—the remarkable conduct that eventually brought Bush to the White House. Do readers have the slightest understanding of the coverage of Campaign 2000, for example? The Washington Post and the New York Times plainly played the leading role in the press corps two-year trashing of Gore. Its absurd to wish this away with a few silly comments about how the poor mainstream press corps felt it had to pay attention every time the RNC spoke—or to suggest, as Pangloss did, that the wingnut Clinton-hatred ended after Clintons impeachment. It did not. In Campaign 2000, the mainstream press directly channeled RNC garbage, from March 1999 on. Weve documented this remarkable story again and again, in lengthy reports that are there for the clicking. But Blogger Pangloss just cant seem to say it about his fair press corps. Cant you just hear him? Kiss kiss!
To borrow from Atrios, This is pure bullshit. Why does the Blogger kiss-kiss so much when he discusses the mainstream press? In the individual case of the Blogger, we dont have any way to say. But as a general matter, your fiery young liberal on-the-make journalists have long played this game, for an obvious reason. They will make their careers in the mainstream press corps, and they refuse to tell you about its real conduct. They sat on their hands and kept their mouths closed while the mainstream press corps brought George Bush to power. Now Pangloss pretends that this never occurred. Cant you just hear him? Kiss kiss!
Two key points: First, the mainstream press corps played a huge role in creating that historic Clinton hatred. And it didnt end with Clintons impeachment; it was then transferred directly to Gore, with the press corps spending the next two years attacking his run for the White House. But for whatever reason, Pangloss sees flowers all over the garden whenever he looks on his mainstream press corps. The wing-nuts did it, he now tells his readers. Cant you just hear him? Hey, rubes!
UPDATE: Good grief! Atrios! Atrios!! The professor graded a bit on the curve when he read through the latest pure bullshit.
Special report—Sunday, pundit Sunday!
PART 2—SUNDAY PUNDITS FOLD: Yep—Hillary Clinton was way out of line when she dared to criticize the mainstream press corps (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/13/05). Unlike our own Blogger Pangloss, she couldnt see that this brilliant group is the current state of the art in human perfectibility. In fact, at a Monday evening fund-raiser, she stupidly said something different. ''It's shocking when you see how easily they fold in the media today, she said. ''If they're criticized by the White House, they just fall apart. Clearly, Clinton had said a vile, stupid thing. So on Meet the Press, Sunday pundits beat her up pretty good. Clintons remarks on the press corps were wrong. But so, it turned out, was every word the hapless New York solon had said.
No, no one had a good word to say for the hapless senator. Why had she said that the Bush Admin was intent on consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda? David Broder started by sniffing that she ought to read up on her history. After that, Judy Woodruff mind-read a bit—Clinton was just positioning herself to run strong in New York in 2006. (Surely she couldnt mean these things she had dared say about Bush.) Meanwhile, Clinton had asked at her find-raising dinner, Why can't the Democrats do more to stop them? And Timothy Russert was there with the answer. What else? It was Hillarys fault!
RUSSERT (6/12/05): Gwen Ifill, she—Senator Clinton talks about why can't the Democrats do more to stop them? And I think back to the debate about Terri Schiavo and the feeding tube, when not one Democratic senator, including Hillary Clinton, stood up and said, "This happens a thousand times a day in hospitals all across America," or "Congress shouldn't be doing this."Ifill agreed—it was all Clintons fault. Then she chimed in with an old, favorite point, about that vast right-wing conspiracy. And the pundits all shared a good smile.
IFILL: Including Hillary Clinton—that's an important point. What we have today, or what you saw this week, was the old vast right-wing conspiracy Hillary Clinton back.
And so it went throughout the first Sunday segment, when Russert and his merry band beat up on Clinton and then Howard Dean. Dean got slightly more balanced treatment. But eventually, it came down to this:
WOODRUFF: He's got to tailor what he's saying.We tend to agree with Broders assessment of Deans recent comments. But for the record, the gang of pundits had no problem beating up on Clinton and Dean. Clinton needed to read up on her history. Clintons own bungling had caused the Dem problems. And of course, Clintons remark on the press was absurd. Give us a break! the Pundit Dean cried, in a tone that was plainly disturbed.
BRODER: And it's a diversion from what the Democrats desperately need to be doing. No single American is ever going to vote Democratic in this country because of something that [contemptuously] Howard Dean said. If they can get back talking about the economy, about Iraq, then they have some things that are important to people. And by focusing so much on himself, Howard Dean, as a spokesman for the party, has really done a disservice to the party.
But readers, what happened during the panels second segment, when the pundits were asked to talk about Bush? Unless we totally heard it wrong, we thought we detected a change in the weather. Suddenly, pundits seemed much more polite—mush more helpful, much more understanding. Bushs problems were beyond his control—and few pundits voiced a word of complaint. Why, an observer could almost say that the pundits folded a bit when they were asked to chat about Bush. You could almost say that the change in tone showed that Clintons comment had—uh-oh!—been right.
Russert began the second segment with a list of gruesome poll numbers. If pundits wanted to go after Bush, they surely had plenty to work with:
RUSSERT: And we are back. Let's look at the latest polls on George W. Bush's second term: Approve 43 percent; disapprove 55 percent. On the economy: Approve 40 percent; disapprove 58 percent. On Social Security: Approve 34 percent; disapprove 62 percent. On Iraq: Approve 41 percent; disapprove 58 percent. And this one, handling the war on terror, which always had been George Bush's strongest issue: Approve, 50 percent; disapprove 49 percent. David Broder, what do you make of all this?Good grief! Bushs numbers were awful!!! But Broder didnt tell Bush to read up on history. His reaction was mild, almost helpful:
BRODER: Bad time for the president. And I think if it were Bill Clinton still in office, we know that there'd be meetings in the Oval Office to say, "What are we going to do differently?" This president tends to go straight ahead, and he can do that, I suppose, on Iraq, because there are very few options for him. But he really needs to think about the domestic side. Health care is a huge problem that he is not addressing at all. The economy—despite the numbers, statistics, jobs are a real concern to people. He needs to start focusing on these domestic issues.No sneers or slams for Bush, just a suggestion about what he should do. And of course, there was nothing Bush could do on Iraq—and Broder didnt offer a comment on how the poor president got there. And then, the Pundit Deference grew. When Russert turned to Gwen Ifill, she ended up seeming to say that it wasnt really poor Bushs fault:
IFILL: What is curious to me is what he does about it. David wrote in his column this morning that if it were the Clinton people, they'd be sitting around and figuring out how to pull themselves out. Instead the president is continuing to go around the country and peddling Social Security, which the needle is not moving on. He started talking a little bit this week about the Patriot Act because I think he thought bringing the subject back to terrorism would help, but, of course, we just saw even that's not helping. So he's got a lot of things working against him which aren't necessarily under his control, and I'm not sure he's familiar with that.Poor Bush! Had he had created a horrible situation with a bungled war and a stupid SS plan? No, Ifill said he was facing a lot of things which werent under his control! And then Russert turned to Judy Woodruff—and the fawning came out of the closet:
RUSSERT (continuing directly): Judy?One small, tiny dig at the end—but not until we had heard about Bushs supreme confidence, his not backing down, and his belief that he will always prevail. Of course, you could have crafted that very same paragraph about the embattled Dem leader, Dean. But try to imagine a Sunday pundit saying something like this:
WOODRUFF: But this is a president who is supremely confident from everything we are given to believe about his leadership, about his policies. As Gwen and David have said, he's sticking to Social Security, he's sticking to the tax cuts. He hasn't backed down on a single thing. Yes, there was a mild compromise federal judges, but this is a president who believes if he hangs in there long enough and toughs it out that he's going to prevail, that courting the base, the Republican conservative base, is going to stand him in good stead. I think that there are enough Republicans now that are worried about where this administration is headed, who are worried about their own prospects in '06 and '08, that the White House must be hearing this from them. We know there's some small evidence of that, but, you know, how much longer can they do, as David just said, sit there and—essentially with blinders on?
IMAGINARY WOODRUFF, SPEAKING OF DEAN: But this is a party chairman who is supremely confident from everything we are given to believe about his leadership, about his policies. As Gwen and David have said, he's sticking to his comments about the Republicans. He hasn't backed down on a single thing. Yes, there was a mild compromise on one or two remarks, but this is a chairman who believes if he hangs in there long enough and toughs it out that he's going to prevail, that courting the base, the Democratic progressive base, is going to stand him in good stead.Wow! That would have been a great sound-bite for Dean! And guess what? If you can imagine a Sunday Pundit actually crafting such a bite, weve got a McMansion on Ted Koppels block that were willing to sell you. In fact, heres what Woodruff had actually said about poor unschooled Dean:
ACTUAL WOODRUFF (6/12/05): Tim, I think some of this is Howard Dean comes from a small state of Vermont. We forget that because he ran for president and got all that national publicity. When you're in a small state—and God bless Vermont—you don't get the kind of exacting press coverage, the spotlight that you get in Washington, where everybody's hanging on every word, as Gwen just said, and I think he's still learning that. I think he's still figuring that out.Of course, maybe Bush is still figuring out that you cant dissemble your way into an unplanned war and make up fake numbers about SS. But Woodruff will serve up those condescending thoughts the day Tim Russert selects Scott Ritter to be the next king of Nantucket.
No, theres no scientific way to compare two segments like these. Its almost always a matter of judgment—when we say that a gang of Sunday pundits were tougher on Clinton and Dean than on Bush. But all that trash-talk about Howard and Hill certainly seemed to fade away when it came time to talk about Bush. Had Hillary Clinton caused her own problems? That didnt seem to be true with poor Bush. Moments later, Ifill resumed her heartfelt boo-hoo-hooing:
IFILL: But what happens if he has to veto stem cell research, something which is considered to be very popular among the American public at large, which could also offset—once again puts him on the wrong side of popularity, at least? That is another distraction.What happens if he has to veto stem cell research? Why in the world would he have to do that? Again, this was Ifills boot-licking way of pretending that Bushs problems come from somewhere in space. More precisely, it was Ifills way of avoiding saying this:
IFILL REVISED: And Bush will probably veto stem cell research, something which is very popular among the American public. Bushs view is pleasing to his conservative Christian base but its opposed by solid majorities in both parties.Ifill found a nicer of way of discussing that veto, saying that Bush had to do it. Of course, she also avoided mind-reading Bush—avoided saying that Bush would veto stem cells to position himself with that narrow base. Woodruff had absent-mindedly failed to extend that favor to Clinton.
Yes, we almost thought we heard something happen when the subject changed from Clinton to Bush. We almost thought we heard the Sunday pundits fold—we thought we heard them drop the tough-talk about motives, dumb conduct, and long-mocked old sayings. We almost thought we saw them go on best behavior when it came time to limn Bush. And of course, there was one other thing we definitely didnt hear—we didnt hear a liberal viewpoint. We didnt hear what the world would have heard if a liberal had been there that day:
IMAGINARY LIBERAL PUNDIT: Tim, those are horrible numbers for Bush, but in fact, you could say that those are his true numbers. In fact, thats where Bushs numbers were headed before the events of 9/11—before the nation rallied behind him after that horrible day of attacks, and before they rallied behind their president when he took the country to war in Iraq. But why are the numbers down again? As those numbers show, large parts of the public has decided that Bush unwisely took the nation into war, didnt have a well thought-out plan, and may even have misled us. And Bushs plan about Social Security has turned out to be very far from the actual pulse of the public; as your poll numbers show, the more the public learns about his proposal, the less they actually like it. But then, Bushs specific proposals were never popular, even when he first ran for president. Those are the numbers that hell most likely have till the end of his presidency, unless we get in another war.No, youll never hear that on Sunday TV, because no liberals need apply in that region. Why do TV liberals argue so poorly? Because the people you se on Pundit TV are almost never liberals at all! On Sundays Meet the Press, in fact, we almost thought we saw some pundits behaving just as Hillary said. ''It's shocking when you see how easily they fold? ''If they're criticized by the White House, they just fall apart? If we didnt know much better, wed think thats what we saw Sunday.
TOMORROW—PART 3: Bill Moyers explains who gets on these panels. Thursday, a gang of clowning foppists elsewhere on Sunday TV.
TWO KEY NOTES ON PUNDIT WATCHING: Two ways to know who the pundits disfavor: