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SONS OF GERTH! Obama did nothing wrong, they typed. And then, they kept on typing: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JUNE 14, 2007

SONS OF GERTH: In our view, this is the most interesting sentence in this morning’s New York Times front-pager:

“There is no sign that Mr. Obama, who declined to be interviewed for this article, did anything improper.”

There’s no sign that Obama did anything wrong! Why, you might think that would end the report! But that sentence appears in paragraph 6—and Times reporters Drew and McIntire labor for 32 paragraphs more. To get specific, their report today concerns the fact that there is no sign that Obama did anything wrong in his various associations with Chicago businessman Antoin Rezko. As they struggle to belabor this puzzling point, they offer tightly-reasoned piffle like this, at the end of their long rumination:
DREW AND MCINTIRE (6/14/07): The disclosure came four days before Michelle Obama was to appear as a special guest at a charity fashion show organized by Mrs. Rezko. Mrs. Obama attended, though others there said it seemed a bit awkward.
Four days after the disclosure of facts in which “there is no sign that Obama did anything improper,” his wife had the temerity to appear at a charity event given by Rezko’s wife, the scribes say. At this point, the Timesmen display their analytical skills, telling us the event was awkward. Well no—the event seemed awkward. Well, no—some said the event seemed awkward. Seemed a bit awkward, in fact.

We’ve said this before; let’s say it again: This is the kind of self-impressed work that only appears in the New York Times. No other paper lets its reporters show the world how they love the sound of their voices. “There is no sign that Obama did anything improper.” Thirty-two paragraphs later, we’re being told how some people said it seemed—“a bit”—at a charity function.

Are these analysts sons of Gerth? In 1992, the Times set off on a long, corrupt chase, bird-dogging Clinton all over the Ozarks. Their work was corrupt, and the Times won’t explain it. Today, our greatest, least disciplined newspaper starts on another great hunt.

TAKE BACK THEIR SUBJECTIVITY: Libs, Dems and centrists ought to demand that the press drop the “authenticity” beat. This is a purely subjective measure—a license for journos to write preferred stories. And make no mistake: When it comes to presidential politics, the mainstream press corps has largely become a Republican entity. As Gene Lyons wrote this week, we know just how they’ll handle this beat (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/13/07). They’ll tell us that Republican hopefuls are “authentic”—even in their rented red trucks. And they’ll tell us that Big Dems are not.

Their scripts are written; they’ve been written for years. There’s only one way to deal with this. We have to take back their subjectivity. That in mind, let’s treat ourselves to a bit of HOWLER HISTORY.

At Tapped, Scott Lemieux posted on this problem yesterday. In comments, Col Bat Guano scolded an earlier commenter who had insisted that Candidate Gore really did seem inauthentic during Campaign 2000. Guano struggled to help the commenter grasp the nature of subjectivity. “Gore was savaged in almost every media venue up to the front pages of both the Washington Post and NY Times,” the colonel wrote. “Who was he supposed to turn to to change the perception? Go door-to-door speaking to every voter?”

Guano had asked a very good question. In our HOWLER HISTORY wing, archivists swung into action.

In fact, Gore did go door-to-door in his campaign, in New Hampshire—and the predictable occurred. In the New York Times, Katherine Seelye described the way this annoying man had bothered the Mulligan family! Below, we offer the relevant excerpt. She kicked things off by helping us see the way Gore frightens kids:
SEELYE (10/27/99): Instead of just cooing at babies, he now picks them up. This did not amuse one little girl here who looked at him with some alarm. "I'm not too scary!" the Vice President tried to reassure her. "I'm not too scary!"

Perhaps the biggest change is in his campaign appearances. He is making fewer speeches on podiums to vast audiences, instead making himself available to small groups of voters to press his case one on one. He is even campaigning door to door. Last night he ducked into a few houses here, spending several minutes with surprised families. ("The house is a mess," grumbled Tom Mulligan, who said the visit was "totally unexpected.")
Huh! But then, it was always thus in this scribe’s haunted work. In Seelye’s stories, frightened babies were constantly crying at Gore’s approach. Meanwhile, Tom Mulligan “grumbled” about Gore’s visit, complaining that he’d been surprised.

It was always like that in Seelye’s work. But uh-oh! Other reporters described Gore’s visit with the Mulligans—and they seemed to have witnessed a different event. In the Post, even Ceci Connolly seemed to have seen a vastly different encounter:
CONNOLLY (10/26/99): [I]ncreasingly, Gore is shedding some of the reserve and seeming pompousness that has distanced him from voters. When a Dover woman teared up describing the recent cancer death of her sister, Gore reached out and rubbed her arm, saying: "I still get emotional talking about my sister," Nancy, who died of lung cancer.

Here in Nashua today, Tom Mulligan, 48, said Gore was "the first [candidate] to come to my house and tell me what he's all about." After discussing health care and education, Iris Mulligan sent the vice president out into the brisk dusk: "That's one down; now you've got a million or so more to go."
Huh! A different, much more cheerful encounter—though Connolly managed to cram in a reference to Gore’s “seeming pompousness.” Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles Times, Ed Chen added another detail—Iris Mulligan was deaf:
CHEN (10/31/99): At all but the biggest campaign events now, the vice president also lingers to shake every last hand...

When he chanced upon a roomful of French Canadians at a Concord, N.H., diner the other day, Gore burst into French, identifying himself and informing them of his quest. The tourists applauded.

While knocking on doors in a Nashua neighborhood, Gore met a deaf woman, Iris Mulligan, and told her "thank you" in sign language.
Rest assured—those tourists never applauded in Seelye’s crabbed, crackpot work. At any rate, Chen and Connolly were capturing something at work on the ground; it was during this period that Gore passed Bradley in the New Hampshire polls, thanks in part to the personal approach on which Seelye had thrown her wet blanket. Had Tom Mulligan really “grumbled” when annoying Gore loomed at his door? Not likely. In the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram, Timothy Connolly quoted the Boston Globe’s Thomas Oliphant, who had also seen Gore meet the Mulligans:
CONNOLLY (10/27/99): Gore, who has slipped below Bradley in the polls, is trying to revive his campaign with retail politics—he is canvassing neighborhoods and talking to people in their living rooms.

"After one stop, this guy named Mulligan said he was impressed with Gore," Oliphant said. "When I asked why, Mulligan said, "He's the first presidential candidate to knock on my door.’”
On Planet Seelye, Mulligan grumbled. Everywhere else in the solar system, he had been pleased and impressed.

The moral to this story is clear. With propagandists like Seelye out on the trail, decent people should try to restrict their access to the pleasures of rank subjectivity. Do we want to let a creep like Seelye report about who seems “authentic?” She’ll hand you a bullsh*t tale every time. Unfortunately, we have a remarkably unimpressive group of people reporting our White House campaigns. (This is especially true at the Times.) Letting them blabber about “authenticity” is a strikingly bad idea. It’s bad for your basic democracy.

By the way, Seelye kept pumping this perfect bullsh*t all the way to the end of the race. On the campaign’s final weekend, another baby cried in her piece as the loathsome Gore drew near. (“Christina started to bawl.” Link below.) And omigod! How hard she now was working! Here is the horsesh*t the voters are handed when we let these sick f*cks “work subjective:”
SEELYE (11/4/00): Though the air was nippy, Mr. Gore took off his suit coat, as he has for the last several days, despite the creeping November chill. Lately, he has been wearing a blue suit, white shirt and red tie, a uniform that one adviser described as a move to appear presidential as well as to show consistency. Mr. Gore had been faulted earlier in the campaign for frantically changing his wardrobe and dressing casually, in earth tones, in an effort to show that he was a regular person.
“In an effort to show that he was a regular person!” Yes, Seelye was one of the sickest f*cks who ever determined a White House election. But the Times seems to have an endless supply of such consummate trivia-spinners. Should we let them lecture on authenticity? We might as well give those crying babies access to untrammeled fire.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Seelye’s November 4 report was an instant classic; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/13/00. But then, Seelye remained in classic form right through Election Day. On Tuesday morning, November 7, she “reported” the following “fact” in her final “political memo:”
SEELYE (11/7/00): In sharp contrast to Gov. George W. Bush, Mr. Gore is close to Clintonian in his appetite for brain-frying travel and hunger for votes.
Script never slept! Gore was the Clintonian fellow with the insatiable hunger for votes. By “sharp contrast,” Bush was vastly more laid-back; you might even call him “a regular person.” This was one of the Bush campaign’s most basic self-portraits. So Seelye typed it up once again.

On this final day, Seely went on to a lengthy discussion of the way Gore’s father had been defeated in an election “almost exactly thirty years” earlier. “Mr. Gore has not mentioned this on the campaign trail lately,” she thoughtfully mused. “But as it happens, Mr. Gore is following the steps his father took on his final election night, Nov. 3, 1970.”

“As it happened,” Seelye was praying for Gore’s defeat, and making little effort to hide it. In those last few days, babies’ cries rang out in her head; her dreams were invaded by earth tones again. With kooks like this reporting our politics, we have to learn to fight—and fight very hard—to take back their subjectivity.

Special report: Bern, baby, Bern!


READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Carl Bernstein’s book tour—not his book—has been a work for the ages. Read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Bernstein defines dishonesty down on an appalling book tour. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/11/07.

PART 2: Bernstein makes another ugly claim that doesn’t appear in his book. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/12/07. http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh061207.shtml
In Part 3, Bernstein twists his tales on TV shows—and shouts about Clinton’s vile doings:

PART 3—TWIST AND SHOUT: One thing is clear about Carl Bernstein’s book tour: If you don’t like what Bernstein is saying, you should just wait a while. When he did his O’Reilly appearance last week, he quickly gave Mr. O four or five different answers to a fairly straightforward question. But then, he did the same thing on Charlie Rose when he made the ugliest claim of his tour—the ugly claim that Hillary Clinton “savaged the women Bill Clinton was involved with.” Well—that’s how Bernstein phrased this claim when he did his session with Bill O’Reilly. But one night before, he had said roughly the same thing when he sat with Rose. Then, as always, he quickly began to contradict his own nasty tale:
BERNSTEIN (6/4/07): The real thing is, and this goes back to her religion—she forgave Bill Clinton time and time again, which seems to be a terrific thing to do.

ROSE: Lots of women do and lots of men do.

BERNSTEIN: She did not forgive the women. She savaged them. She had them investigated. She had them ruined in some cases.

ROSE: Who was ruined?

BERNSTEIN: And so—well, some of the women about whom dossiers were obtained and then leaked to various newspapers, etc., etc. She savaged them. She hired her own—had her own law firm hired to represent several of these women. Webb Hubbell, herself, and Vince Foster, her law partner...and the man she was closest to beside her husband sat down and interviewed—

ROSE: Vince Foster—

BERNSTEIN: —and interrogated these women, who, incidentally, might not have had a relationship sexually with Bill Clinton—got their statements that they hadn’t.
Say what? One night later, Bernstein would tell O’Reilly that Hillary Clinton “savaged the women Bill Clinton was involved with.” With Rose, the story started out even better; Hillary Clinton had “ruined” some of these women, Bernstein excitedly said. But when Rose asked Bernstein to give him some names, Bernstein demurred—and began reversing. Whoever these “ruined” women were, her own law firm had represented several of them—“who, incidentally, might not have had a relationship sexually with Bill Clinton,” he said. Typically, Bernstein never told Rose who these “ruined” women were. But sure enough! One night later, with O’Reilly, Bernstein was flipping and flopping again:
BERNSTEIN (6/5/07): Because she then went on to savage the women Bill Clinton was involved with—

O'REILLY: It goes to ruthlessness.

BERNSTEIN: Wait a minute!

O'REILLY: It does.

BERNSTEIN: It goes to a whole person and a whole story. Part of that story is those who came after her and her husband insanely, with false tales, with totally made-up stories.

O'REILLY: That's part of it.

BERNSTEIN: So you need to look at the siege she was under. You need to look, if she believed that these women, indeed, had affairs with her husband. Because often she believed they did not.
These weird reversals have been quite common on this strangest of book tours. When O’Reilly said that Clinton’s behavior sounded ruthless, Bernstein objected, then seemed to reverse. Suddenly, we were being told about women who came after Bill Clinton “insanely, with false tales, with totally made-up stories.” We were being told that Hillary Clinton often hadn’t believed that these women were involved with her husband at all. And it sounded like she had a good reason; some stories were “totally made-up,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein’s claim about “savaging women” is ugly—and about as clear as mud. And one more thing—this story, which makes for great TV, doesn’t appear in Bernstein’s book! Bernstein paraded about last week, claiming that Clinton “savaged” and “ruined” unnamed women. But nothing dimly resembling this is described inside his book—the 554-page book he’s supposedly discussing when he does these TV spots. Once again, Bernstein is telling a tale on TV—an ugly tale—that doesn’t appear in his new Clinton bio. His hosts and their viewers do get a cheap thrill. But they also get badly misled.

Who exactly are the women who Hillary Clinton supposedly “savaged” and “ruined?” In three TV sessions, Bernstein failed to name names (even when asked), and he semi-contradicted himself on both Rose and O’Reilly. But at least one reference was perfectly clear; we know what Bernstein meant when he told Charlie Rose that some of these women had been represented by Little Rock’s Rose Law Firm (no relation). This episode is described in Bernstein’s book—but there’s one small problem with the description. In his book, Bernstein doesn’t say a word about these women being savaged or ruined; indeed, he doesn’t even claim that they were ever “involved with Bill Clinton.” What happens in the book is quite tame. What’s described on TV is quite ugly.

In his remarks to Charlie Rose, Bernstein was clearly referring to the 1989 lawsuit by Larry Nichols, the Little Rock crackpot who filed suit against Governor Clinton after getting fired from his state job for making long-distance phone calls to the contras. (For a fuller account on this famous, ludicrous incident, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/07.) As we’ve noted, Nichols filed a nuisance suit claiming that Governor Clinton was spending state funds on five different mistresses. Eventually, Nichols apologized for the suit, saying he’d been trying to destroy Clinton. But in the meantime, the women Nichols had “named” in his suit fought to keep their names out of the newspapers. Murkily, Bernstein described some part of the process, in which the Rose law firm played some sort of part:
BERNSTEIN (page 189): The suit was an obvious attempt to damage Clinton not just in Arkansas, but in any future race for president. (Nichols was a surrogate for Clinton’s opponent and longtime antagonist in the governor’s race, Shef Nelson.) As such, it was particularly dangerous in both the short and long term to Bill and Hillary, as she recognized.

At the behest of Betsey Wright and Hillary, Webb Hubbell and Vince Foster were hired, by or through the campaign, to represent the women and obtain from the women their signed statements that they had never had sex with Bill Clinton. Some of the women were brought into an interview room to be questioned by Vince, Webb, and on one occasion, Hillary. Two of the women were prominent friends of Bill and Hillary—both black—and almost no one familiar with the case believes they were anything more than friends. But a line had been crossed, in appearance if nothing else. Hillary, or her law firm, or both were now acting as counsel to the women with whom her husband was accused of having illicit affairs. Acting through another lawyer, Betsey Wright was able to get Gennifer Flowers to sign a statement that she had never had a sexual relationship with Bill.
That’s it. In this account from the book, there’s no suggestion that any of these women were “savaged” or “ruined” in any way. Of the four women who may have been interviewed, Bernstein doesn’t claim that any of them had an affair with Bill Clinton; indeed, he specifically says that two of them didn’t. Of course, despite the eight years Bernstein claims he spent on this book, his writing here is quite murky; he doesn’t say how many women were interviewed, and he doesn’t say who they were. Nor does he name the (one) woman with whom Hillary Clinton met. Meanwhile, were all five women “represented” by the Rose firm in some way? Read literally, that’s what this passage says; he told Charlie Rose it was only “several.” So yes, the writing is quite murky. After eight years of ceaseless labor, the facts here are quite unclear.

Do you mind if we tell you what may have happened here? Here goes:

A crackpot filed a nuisance suit trying to destroy a gubernatorial (and future presidential) candidate. (Bernstein essentially says this. These attempts are described in detail in Lyons and Conason’s The Hunting of the President.) Perfectly sensibly, the campaign set out to acquire sworn denials. Obtaining denials may not have been hard; there was never any sign that Nichols knew what he was talking about. (For the record, a third woman recklessly named by Nichols—not one of the two black women— was Bill Clinton’s press secretary, another friend of both Clintons.) So, while Bernstein makes a half-hearted attempt to suggest that some sort of “line had been crossed,” it may simply be that the Rose personnel took statements from personal friends of the Clintons, where “no one familiar with the case believes they were anything more than friends.” Are we supposed to be shocked or surprised to hear that Hillary Clinton met with one of these women—presumably, with someone she knew as a personal friend? Why exactly would that be shocking? Once again, here’s what she herself said on Sixty Minutes, in 1992:
CLINTON (1/26/92): I felt as I felt about all of these women, that, you know, they've just been minding their own business, and they got hit by a meteor. I mean, it was no fault of their own. We reached out to them. I met with two of them to reassure them. They were friends of ours. I felt terrible about what was happening to them.
Clinton said she met with two of the women—women who had been “named” by a famous crackpot in a crackpot lawsuit. “They were friends of ours. I felt terrible about what was happening to them,” she said, in 1992. Fifteen years later, we’re supposed to be shocked at the “revelation” that she met with just one of the women.

So no, there isn’t a lot of beef in that part of Bernstein’s book. Indeed, Bernstein doesn’t make much of this matter—in his book. There is no claim that any of these women were “ruined” or “savaged”—or harmed, for that matter. But so what? When Baker and Solomon described Bernstein’s book in the Post, they crafted a murky account of this famous old story, and soon Chris Matthews went to work with it. Five women were “named in a lawsuit,” Baker wrote—and he absent-mindedly forget to say that this was the famous old crackpot lawsuit brought by Nichols, the kooky, long-distance friend of the contras. But yes: That weekend, Chris Matthews took this bit of porridge—and cooked up a vast, vicious stew.

With only this episode to go on—no more—Matthews thundered all over TV that women had been “strong-armed” by Hillary Clinton. “We are seeing strong-arm tactics used to try to get people to sign affidavits,” he said on that Friday evening’s Hardball. “They’re obviously not worth the paper they’re written on, these affidavits,” he said—though we now can see that Bernstein’s book suggests something vastly different. By Sunday, though, the slander machine was at full force. Recall, if you will, the disgraceful conversation that took place on The Chris Matthews Show that day. Remember: These pundits were working from Baker’s report, nothing else—and Baker had reported nothing except this one crank lawsuit incident:
FINEMAN (5/27/07): It shows Hillary, to a greater degree than we even realized, controlling the process of shutting down stories about infidelities by her husband, about her looking the other way personally and skirting the edge, I think, in terms of legal ethics, in terms of clamping down on people back in Arkansas who—

MATTHEWS: Right. Getting women who were ready to speak against Clinton—in terms of relationships with him in the past—getting them lawyers who were her friends to get them to sign affidavits that these affairs didn't occur.
HEARN: Yeah!

FINEMAN: Perhaps emotionally understandable, but not legally cool.

BORGER: But it turns her into the Godfather, essentially.

MATTHEWS: It's Luca Brasi behavior.

BORGER: Yeah!

MATTHEWS: To try to use people, through intimidation, to get people to sign affidavits to deny what they believe.
In other professions, people who play with facts in that way get fired, then sued, sometimes charged.

To state the obvious, these ugly claims bear no relation to anything described in Bernstein’s book. But this is the precisely way these gruesome people have behaved for the past fifteen years—first with Clinton, then with Gore. Our politics—our democracy—has been vastly reshaped in the course of ten thousand such discussions. There is absolutely nothing in this part of Bernstein’s book about “us[ing] people, through intimidation, to get people to sign affidavits to deny what they believe.” But that’s what Matthews was saying by Sunday—and he was comparing Hillary Clinton to Luca Brasi. Gloria Borger, one of the worst, introduced the “Godfather” reference. No one voiced one word of protest.

For the record, there is one place in Bernstein’s book where someone says something about women getting “savaged.” The person who says it is Clinton-hater Dick Morris—and Bernstein makes no attempt to support what Morris has said. As noted, Bernstein’s book is 554 pages long. As far as we can tell, this is the only reference to women getting savaged:
BERNSTEIN (page 276): The efforts “to savage women who have been alleged to have had sex with Clinton, or subsequently said that they had sex with Clinton,” always originated with Hillary, Morris said. (If so, she had a handmaiden in Betsey Wright.) “In a real sense she is his human face, not just his advocate...She’s a real person.” [Bernstein’s deletion]
That’s it. And please note: That is Morris, fleetingly alleging something Bernstein discusses nowhere else in his book. In this passage, Bernstein doesn’t affirm that this “savaging” happened. Eight years of research under his belt, he doesn’t say that Morris is right—nor does his book say so elsewhere. But now, he parades about on TV shows, claiming that Hillary Clinton “savaged the women Bill Clinton was involved with.” Funny—he says he spent eight years on his book, but he forgot to include this ugly claim there. But now, he yells this all over TV. He goes on TV and says ugly things he doesn’t say in his long book.

The publisher gave him 554 pages—but he forgot to include this claim in his book! But then, he also didn’t say that Hugh Rodham beat his children—until he spoke with Wolf Blitzer last week. There’s something deeply, profoundly wrong with a man who toys with truth in this manner. Tomorrow, we’ll see how worthless and lazy this fine fellow is as we go to the heart of his book.

TOMORROW—PART 4: The refusal to serve.