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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 2005

FIGHTING FOR HILLARY, FIGHTING FOR STANDARDS: As he had promised (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/14/05), Bill O’Reilly came out fighting last night, hammering slimeball Edward Klein for his astonishing book about Hillary Clinton (transcript segments tomorrow). He blasted Klein for his sleazy attacks, then staged a discussion with Naomi Wolf and long-time Dem consultant Kiki McLean about how Clinton should approach this astonishing book. McLean said Hillary should ignore Klein; Wolf said she should come out swinging. We’re inclined to agree with Wolf, but this is a matter which Dems should be discussing all across the land.

We’d suggest a framework we first mentioned in the wake of last fall’s election. Question: What are the press corps’ standards for accusers? Clearly, the corps held John O’Neill to absolutely no standards in his attacks against Kerry last fall. O’Neill wrote a crackpot book, Unfit for Command; it was filled with ludicrous charges and undisguised self-contradiction, but the press corps simply stared into air, even as O’Neill and his fellow crackpots transformed a White House election. Now Klein is out with an astonishing book, shortly after we went through a discussion about the dangers of single, anonymous “sources.” Klein’s book finds a new, lower level to the publishing sewer; indeed, it mainly seems to exist as an excuse to gay-bash Clinton. The book is ugly, stupid, vile—and unsourced. Our question: What are the press corps’ standards for such an ugly accuser?

The press corps is full of lofty standards for itself and for the occasional pol. But what kinds of standards does it have for a man like Edward Klein? Last night, O’Reilly hammered Klein up and down. But Democrats will have to insist that slimeballs like Klein get held to real standards. O’Reilly trashed Klein, as he said that he would. But Democrats have to figure out how to deal with these cyclical attacks. Candidate Gore was slimed, then Kerry. When will hapless Dem leaders get off their fat butts and frame a smart mode of attack?

Until that happens, you have one defender. Until then, you have Mr. O.

NEWEST ATTACK ON THE MEMOS: You can be sure of death and taxes. And you can be sure of one more thing; when your “press corps” makes a mistake, they’re always the first to deny it. Today, the Washington Post editorial board joins the New York Times news division, arguing that the Downing Street memos haven’t been covered because they aren’t really worth squat. Complaining about those bloggers’ “demands,” the Post lays down the gauntlet:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (6/15/05): Bloggers have demanded to know why "the mainstream media" have not paid more attention to [the memos]. Though we can't speak for The Post's news department, the answer appears obvious: The memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration's prewar deliberations. Not only that: They add nothing to what was publicly known in July 2002.
“The memos add not a single fact to what was previously known,” the Post says. But the arguments offered are utterly foolish. The memos go well beyond what was previously know, although the editors pretend not to know it.

First, the Downing Street memo seems to say that, by July 2002, Bush had already decided “to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” But this isn’t what Bush was saying at the time; at the time, Bush was insisting that he viewed war with Iraq as the last possible option. To the Post, of course, this is all piffle. “Three summers ago the pages of this and other newspapers were filled with reports about military planning for war to remove Saddam Hussein and Mr. Bush's determination to force a showdown,” the editors huff. Indeed, they quote from their own 8/4/02 editorial: "Debate over whether the United States should go to war against Iraq has lurched into a higher gear." But the memo doesn’t say that a debate was being conducted or that conditional planning was under way; it seems to say that Bush had already settled on war, at a time when he was loudly saying different. Dumbly, the editorial dismisses the fuss—but it doesn’t even seem to know what the fuss is about.

Nor does the editorial have a clue about the second part of the fuss. Was the Bush Admin gimmicking (“fixing”) “the facts and the intelligence” to build support for a war with Iraq? One part of the memo seems to suggest that. But the Post thinks that’s piffle too:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: One observation in the memos is vague but intriguing: A British official is quoted as saying that the "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Yet it was argued even then, and has since become conventional wisdom, that Mr. Bush, Vice President Cheney and other administration spokesmen exaggerated the threat from Iraq to justify the elimination of its noxious regime. And the memos provide no information that would alter the conclusions of multiple independent investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, which were that U.S. and British intelligence agencies genuinely believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that they were not led to that judgment by the Bush administration.
Pathetic. Yes, some were arguing, even then, that Bush was fixing the intel. And yes, it’s now conventional wisdom (among some, not all) that Bush and Cheney did that. But this memo goes well beyond that; if the memo’s “intriguing observation” says what it seems to, it means that the “exaggerations” were being churned out deliberately—not a matter of simple error, and not accidentally, in the heat of the moment. Indeed, if this “intriguing observation” says what it seems, it means the “fixing” of the intel was so deliberate that our good friends, the Brits, were discussing it openly at the highest level of government. This would be a massive new level of info. But again, the editors pretend that they don’t see what the fuss could be all about.

Yesterday, the Times’ Todd Purdum tortured the Downing Street companion memo, pulling out a single short phrase to suggest that Bush had made no decision on war. Today, the Post offers an editorial that is totally clueless—more likely, an intellectual fraud. Sadly, Purdum’s report and today’s editorial read more like work from the Washington Times. But as we’ve noted, there is one sure rule for the mainstream press corps—the press corps can never be wrong.

ONE MORE PATHETIC POINT: Let’s note one more pathetic point from the material quoted above. Did “U.S. and British intelligence agencies genuinely believe Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction?” The record suggests that they more-or-less did, although the Admin exaggerated their state of certainty. (Much more on that all next week.) But that is not what is really at stake when we say Bush “fixed” the intel. What kind of “fixing” is really at issue? In August 2002, the Bush Admin began making wild, scary claims about Saddam’s nuclear program; these claims went well beyond the state of the intel, and constitute the most important “fixing” of same (again, much more next week). When informed critics say that Bush and Cheney and Rice fixed the intel, they refer to specific claims like these—to Rice’s claim that those aluminum tubes could only be used for nuclear weapons, for example. In these claims, the Bush Admin went well beyond the state of the intel. And of course, their claims were just wrong. There’s a simple word for what Bush and Rice did; simply put, Rice was just lying.

Yes, that is what informed critics mean when they say Bush fixed the intel. Sadly, though, the people who run our Dem/liberal firmament are rarely this well-informed. Over and over, leading liberals go on TV and offer the silly “but Bush said there were WMD” argument. This is an automatic loser, as Howard Dean showed on Meet the Press last month in this laughable, hopeless exchange:

DEAN (5/22/05): Some of the things that the president said on our way into Iraq, they just weren't true, and I don't think that's right. So—

RUSSERT: Such as?

DEAN: Such as the weapons of mass destruction, which we have all known about, but the—

RUSSERT: Well, you said there were weapons of mass destruction!

DEAN: I said I wasn't sure, but I said I thought there probably were.

Hopeless! Dean himself had said there were WMD (“probably”), and he looked silly when Russert called him on it. Indeed, many major Dems, including Bill Clinton and Al Gore, had said there were WMD; most leading figures did seem to believe this. But neither Dean, nor anyone else, made those fake, phony claims about Saddam’s nukes—the claims which drive the debate from August 02 through the fall (much more on these claims next week). Sadly, though, today’s Dems and liberals are simply too stupid to organize even the simplest points. They’ve been slaughtered this way on TV for years—and that’s why the Post can offer this cheap escape now. You might want to recall this ineptitude when you get more brilliant messaging from your inspired liberal leaders.

WALDMAN GETS IT (MOSTLY) WRONG: We’re going to disagree with Atrios today; Paul Waldman does not “have a good column up about Dean, the Democrats and the press.” Yes, Waldman’s column is accurate in several major ways. For example, Wolf Blitzer will play the fool in our current debates, such as the current debate about Dean; at THE HOWLER, we’ve written about this day after day, for the past seven years. (The modern press isn’t exactly Republican, but it’s beginning to come pretty close.) But Waldman writes a lengthy piece, and only one sentence notes a key fact; only one sentence notes the fact that Dean has also been at fault in these recent matters. Here it is, the one grudging acknowledgment:

WALDMAN: This isn’t to say that Dean bears no responsibility for what get characterized as his “missteps.”
For what gets characterized as his missteps? As a matter of fact, Dean has made a bunch of missteps; presumably, that’s why Waldman says that he bears some responsibility for them. But Waldman can’t even write this one sentence without engaging in self-contradiction—without saying that Dean bears some responsibility, then suggesting he has done nothing wrong. And just that quickly, he treats you like rubes, offering this absurd account of one of those obvious missteps:
WALDMAN: Everyone now agrees that Howard Dean needs to be careful about what he says. But there may be no way for him to win. Consider the last of Dean’s recent “controversial” comments, his statement that the GOP is “pretty much a white Christian party.” In other shocking news, the sky is blue and the sun rises in the east. According to the 2004 exit polls, 87 percent of Bush voters were white and 89 percent were Christian (by comparison, Kerry voters were 66 percent white and 71percent Christian).

If as mundane an observation as that can be twisted into the question, “Does Howard Dean hate white Christians?” (as Fox News did), no amount of care on Dean’s part will stop Republicans and the press from turning what he says into a “controversy.”

But this is simply absurd. Of course, Fox will be the stupidest player; Democrats need to develop ways to educate voters about Fox’s inanity. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/12/05. File under: Miller, Stephanie.) But it’s silly to pretend that Dean simply made a “mundane observation”—a statement like “the sky is blue.” Here’s what he actually said:
DEAN: The Republicans are not very friendly to different kinds of people. They're a pretty monolithic party. They pretty much—they all behave the same and they all look the same, and they all—you know, it's pretty much a white Christian party. And the Democrats here adopt everybody you can think of in our party.
In a country that is largely Christian and white, that’s an amazingly dumb thing to say. “They all look the same?” Given the history of race in this country (in this world), that’s an amazingly dumb thing to say. Guess what? Dems are trying to attract white Christian voters; this is the perfect way to suggest that such voters aren’t really welcome. Whatever Dean was attempting to say, this was a lazy statement from a lazy mind, and a party which is forced to deal with Blitzer and Fox can’t afford to perform so ineptly.

Nor can Dems afford to pretend that this hasn’t been partly Dean’s fault. Dean may yet make a marvelous chairman. But should Dems defend his recent statements? Waldman insists that they should—but he’s dreaming in this part of his piece:

WALDMAN: Here’s a tip: If you want reporters to write about all the things the Bush administration is doing wrong, don’t criticize your party chair to them. Lots of Washington Democrats don’t like Dean much either, but there are plenty of people to whom they can air their complaints—their staffs, their colleagues, their spouses, their dogs. Heck, they can walk over to DNC headquarters and wring his neck if they like. But when they criticize him to reporters, that enables those reporters to write one of their favorite stories, “Democrats are squabbling again.” If the politicians didn’t give those quotes, they wouldn’t be able to write those stories. Then they’d have to focus on something more advantageous to Democrats, like Bush’s failure on Iraq, or his failure on Social Security or his failure on the economy.
But those highlighted statements are straight out of dreamland. Given the current state of the press, reporters are not going to “focus on Bush’s failures” if Dems stop criticizing Dean. On Sunday’s Meet the Press, for example, the pundits spent an entire segment on Bush’s horrible poll numbers. Dean was not at issue. But they didn’t “focus on Bush’s failures” during that segment, as we reported in grinding detail (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/13/05); instead, they soft-soaped Bush’s failures, in keeping with their current culture. In short, today’s reporters aren’t going “to focus on Bush’s failures” until Dems come up with hard-hitting, compelling approaches that force the discussion in that direction. And that’s where the problem with Dean comes in. His recent statements have been lazy, stupid and completely undisciplined. A party which is at a disadvantage with an idiot press can’t afford those failings.

Dean is very energetic. He might yet be a great party chair. But many Dems are walking around in a delusional dream-state this week. The party needs to frame strong messages—and it has shown little skill in this area. Meanwhile, Dean just has to stop making blunders—and Dems like Waldman have to stop pretending that Dean said “the sky is blue.”

Special report—Sunday, pundit Sunday

PART 3—NO LIBS NEED APPLY: Yes, Hillary Clinton looked like a seer by the time Meet the Press was all over. “It's shocking when you see how easily they fold in the media today,” she had said. ''If they're criticized by the White House, they just fall apart.” And wouldn’t you know it? That’s just what happened when Tim Russert’s panel did a segment on Hillary this week, followed by a segment on Bush. Hillary Clinton? Give them a break! She ought to read history, one pundit snorted. And the Dems’ problems? They were all her own fault! Gwen Ifill even knew that she should throw in that dumb-ass, brain-dead “vast right-wing” claptrap! But when Bush was discussed, all the scribes were serene. Bush’s problems weren’t his own fault. And the great man had plans to keep fighting!

So we saw the press corps “fold,” just as a seer had predicted. But then, it doesn’t really take a seer to predict what our Sunday pundits will do (they’ll read scripts) or to predict that, at some point, they’ll offer some comic relief. On Sunday, that fell to the hapless Ifill. When Ifill explained the problem with Dean, low, mordant chuckles soon followed:

IFILL (6/12/05): What he keeps saying is, "The Republicans are using me as a diversion." Well, if you know they're going to do that, then why give them the brickbat to hit you over the head with? I'm a preacher's kid, as you know, Tim, and we were always told, you know: "Act right all the time, because someone's always watching." And that's what he's got to do.
What an idiot! Why can’t Dean be as fine as I am? For years, it’s been the plain ur-text of this deeply dysfunctional band.

Which brings us to the morning’s question. Just who are these folding accordions who love to batter Hillary Clinton for saying what is baldly obvious? You can count on one thing—they aren’t “liberals!” Oh, they may be pro-choice on abortion rights. They may have been liberals back in the 60s. Some of them may even vote for Dems, after trashing them on TV, of course. But plainly, these people aren’t liberals. So who are these Sunday pundits? Last Friday, Bill Moyers answered that question on Hardball, where he was making a rare appearance. First, though, he answered a different question. Who are the hapless people leading the modern Dem party?

MATTHEWS (6/10/05): Well, there was a time, certainly in the 30s...where the red meat throwers were on the left.

MOYERS: Oh, yes. No question about it. But times have changed since—The Democrats in power 40 years, ran out of the whistle, or ran out of steam, became corrupt, became complacent, didn`t build a constituency, were run by the guys in Washington, lost touch with the country. I mean, I have, I have no question but that after 1960, the Democrats lost touch with the nerve of this country.

MATTHEWS: You write about it here.

MOYERS: Yes.

MATTHEWS: What happened? You said that they got surrounded by the Beltway in Washington, that somehow the Democratic Party became an establishment and lost touch with real people.

MOYERS: Yes, they lost touch with people who were barely holding on. And I was a poor boy from East Texas. My parents never made very much money. They died poor, but happy. But they always felt that the Democrats in Washington knew about their situation, were concerned about it. And, by the way, I never had books in the room, but there was a public library. I went to good public schools. My brother went to college on the G.I. Bill. I hitchhiked to college along a public highway and rested in a public park.

And my folks knew that somehow this—that this was the result of our collective action, of our government. And they just accepted the fact that Democrats cared about them. And then, after the 70s, something happened. I wish I knew what it was, except a lot of Democrats in Washington became more concerned with their cash constituents than they did with their voting constituents.

MATTHEWS: The money people.

MOYERS: The money people. They started taking their cues—

MATTHEWS: The trial lawyers.

MOYERS: Trial lawyers, courtroom—look, fifty Democrats voted for the bankruptcy bill, which makes it very hard for ordinary people to get a second chance, have a fresh start. That wasn`t the trial lawyers. That was the corporate money that was coming.

Huh! Who are those Dem party leaders—the ones who can’t frame a message to save their lives? They’re concerned with “the money people,” Moyers said. And as he continued, he cited another key fact. Those Sunday pundits—the ones on Meet the Press? What a surprise! They’re just “the money people” too:
MOYERS: What deeply troubles me, and why the Democratic Party is really fumbling this ball, is that—if you travel the country as I do, and you do, often—if you listen to ordinary working people out there, you know that they no longer feel the governing elites understand them or speak for them. Millions of them can hardly pay their bills. And the Democrats are forgetting that those people who were in the middle class are slipping and the working-class people in this country, or the working people in this country, can hardly make ends meet.

MATTHEWS: OK. I watch Sunday television. I never see a really good articulate labor leader on television. What happened to the George Meanys and the Walter Reuthers we grew up with? Where are the strong, articulate voices of the working person, the working family out there? That voice that you`re talking about, who worries about trade policy, who worries about tax policy, who worries about being trained for the job, where are those voices on Sunday?

MOYERS: Well, where are they on public broadcasting? I mean, I made a speech recently in which I said, you won`t hear the losers in the class war, even on public broadcasting, because we too represent the consensus of the corporate underwriters, the establish—

MATTHEWS: Yes. No, but they`re not—they don`t have speakers. I`m telling you, I can`t think right now of a labor leader that could match wits with a Dick Cheney on television. They don`t want to get out there and debate, like they used to. People on the center or the political left, or center-left, you tell me who the great spokesmen are for labor right now. Who are the great spokesmen against this administration`s trade policies or this administration`s tax policies? Who are they?

MOYERS: There are some wonderful people at the grassroots level, activists taking place, people like Beth Shulman, who writes about working people. They are terrific. But they never get on television. We put celebrities on. We put elites on. We put establishment people on. But we never give working people a chance, by the way, to speak for themselves.

Why don’t we see articulate spokesmen for the working-class, Matthews asked? Moyers answered, loud and clear—we put on the elites, the money people. In our own language, this means we put on the millionaire fops—the clucking Broders, the simpering Ifills, the Nantucket barons like Matthews.

By the way, how absurd is it when Matthews complains about those Sunday line-ups? Matthews runs a Sunday program—and he only puts on the fops, too! Tomorrow, we’ll take an embarrassing look at the clowning this week on his own Sunday program. But first, a question: Who could go on Sunday TV and be a “great spokesmen for labor right now?” Who could be a “great spokesman against this administration`s trade policies or this administration`s tax policies?” Ironically, one of them was sitting right there with Matthews—and Matthews never has him on his own shows! How often has Moyers been on Hardball in the past year? Once—on last Friday’s program! And how often has Moyers been on Matthews’ Sunday program? He’s never been on it at all! Meanwhile, how about the other Sunday shows in the past year? Moyers and Russert? Never been on! Moyers and Stephanopoulos? Never been on! Moyers and Schieffer? Never been on! And Blitzer? And Wallace? Never been on! And how about Paul Krugman, another “articulate voice” for working- and middle-class pocketbook interests? Almost never on Sunday shows! And let’s be clear—Moyers and Krugman aren’t on, of course, because they’re both being actively demonized, and because gut-bucket phonies—phonies like Matthews—would much rather clown with the fops.

Yes, it’s all about those millionaire fops—the money people, the elite, the establishment. The people prepared to recite pleasing scripts! Last Sunday, they were out on Meet the Press, rattling words like “vast right-wing conspiracy”—and making Clinton a seer in the process. But then, just wait till we show you the clowning on Matthews’ sad program last Sunday.

ALSO COMING, THURSDAY OR FRIDAY: Wife of Russert meets Nancy Grace! Readers! Incomparable foppistry!