MONDAY, JUNE 16, 2003
THE CASE OF THE CROTCHETY COURTIER: Jonathan Yardley could almost serve as Sidney Blumenthals press agent. His review of Blumenthals book, The Clinton Wars, appeared in yesterdays Washington Post Book World; in fact, it was the cover story. (He also reviews Hillary Clintons Living History.) And in his review, Yardley says that Blumenthal is right on almost every topic of the past decade. Whitewater? Sidney is right:
YARDLEY: Blumenthal may well be right that Whitewater was a pseudoscandal as assertion Hillary Clinton echoes in her own [book].Amazing! After all, Whitewater lent its name to a political decadeand Blumenthal rejects the matter as a press-driven hoax. Hes right, Yardley seems to be saying. But then, Blumenthal is also right about the press corps modern culture:
YARDLEY: Hillary Clinton pretty much leaves the press aloneits good will is obviously important to her political futurebut Blumenthal is happy to wade in with all Uzis firing...[H]is basic points are valid.Wow! Yardley quotes several passages from The Clinton Wars in which Blumenthal describes the modern press corps voracious nature. Blumenthal is right about that, he repeats. But then, Blumenthal is basically right about Ken Starr as well. As for Kenneth Starr and his 452-page account of laffaire Lewinsky, Blumenthals verdict on its is smart and witty and deserves extended quotation. True to his word, Yardley quotes it.
One can hardly overstate the significance of these judgments. If Whitewater was a pseudoscandal, then we have lived through a political decade that was largely driven by press corps hoaxing. But you know the way this press corps works. Despite the startling judgments he makes, Yardleys review of The Clinton Wars is a slam! You see, Jonathan Yardley is a press corps bootblacka store-bought slave to prevailing press power. Weve tried to tell you, again and again, that the modern press is really a mafiaa hard interest group which pursues its agendas. Yardley serves that interest groupand within that interest group, all know the law: Sidney Blumenthal must always be slammed. He was right about Whitewater; right about Starr; right about the press itself. But its Hard Pundit Lawhe must be savaged. Heres the way Yardley achieves it:
YARDLEY: [T]he plain fact is that his main role in the White House was directing the below-the-belt campaign against Starr, Newt Gingrich and all those women who elbowed each other for air time to tell their lurid tales of sexual encounters with Clinton. Blumenthal; knows how to use his own elbows, and he used them with a vengeance, serving Clinton faithfully as good soldier, first night in the campaign to discredit Monica Lewinksy, Paula Jones and the rest.This is a truly remarkable passage. In The Clinton Wars, Blumenthal goes to great length to deny the charge that he played any such role in any such below-the belt effort. This is a major part of his book. Yardley never really mention that disavowal, but tells his readers that its a plain fact that Blumenthal did engage in such conduct. Meanwhile, he doesnt provide a shred of evidence to support his ugly assertion. This nasty assertion is plain fact for one reasonbecause Yardley wills it to be.
Weve seen many odd reviews of Blumenthals book. Add this nasty, strange brew to the mix. And add it to the long list of work in which pundits project their souls on their rivals. At one point, Yardley slams Blumenthal as a courtier. Look whos talking, we masterfully said.
THE CORRUPTION OF THE COURTIER CLASS: Well admit, were tired of stooping to discuss these reviews. But just how strange is the insider press corps? Consider one passage from Yardleys treatment of HRCs Living History. Like Margaret Carlson before him, Jonathan Yardley is driven mad when Clinton yaks about serious issues. In particular, he rolls his eyes as she wastes our time with those maddening foreign trips:
YARDLEY: One of the most frustrating aspects of her highly uneven book is that just as she grants us a brief moment of intimacy such as this one, she retreats into the public persona, with the state dinners and the air kisses and the endless overseas travel (I left South Africa well aware of the challenges I later met with a group of women I left Harare feeling dispirited ) and the incessant wrangling over health-care reform and welfare reform and childrens rights and all the other causes to which she turned her single-minded attention and formidable intelligence. [Yardleys ellipses]Like Carlson before him, Jonathan Yardley is driven mad by these incessant discussions. Lets put it simply. Your insider press corps is quite well off, and it couldnt care less about people who arent. Press corps courtiers tear their hair when asked to consider real peoples real needs. In particular, Yardleys oddly clipped quotes in this passage provide a look at the Modern Press Soul. What air kisses was Clinton dispensing? Here is the fuller passage from which Yardley clipped his quotes:
CLINTON (page 402): I left South Africa well aware of the challenges its leaders faced, yet optimistic about its future. But in Zimbabwe, its landlocked northern neighbor, I found a country whose great promise was being stunted by disastrous leadership. Robert Mugabe, the head of state since the countrys independence in 1980, had grown increasingly autocratic and hostile to his perceived enemies. President Mugabe said little during my courtesy visit with him in the presidential residence in the capital, Harare I left believing he was dangerously unstableWhere exactly are the air kisses? Yardleys descriptionlike his bizarre and insulting pseudo-quotesis stunningly disingenuous. Lets just say ityour insider press corps couldnt care less about the problems of people like these, and they will roll their eyes, crab and complain every time theyre asked to consider them. Last week, we saw Carlsons weird complaints when the Clintons tried to make her listen to talk about health care and welfare reform. Today, we see Yardleys mocking account of Clintons meeting with this group of women. Your insider press corps is deeply corrupteduncaring, unfeeling, untruthful, unknowing. Go ahead. Read those insulting clipped quotes again and marvel at the soul of your press corps.
TOMORROW: Our thrilling conclusion (part 4) to Margarets choice. First, though, a telling prequel in Howler history, below.
For the record, Carlson had explained Gores lousy coverage in real time, in a way that was even more revealing. On Tuesday, October 10, 2000, Carlson appeared on Imus in the Morning to discuss press coverage of Bush and Gores first debate. As she noted, Gore was being slammed as a liar because of a few trivial misstatements. Much larger howlers were being ignoredmisstatements by Bush about policy matters. Speaking with Imus, Carlson explained the press corps apparent double standard:
CARLSON (10/10/00): Gores fabrications may be inconsequentialI mean, theyre about his life. Bushs fabrications are about our life, and what hes going to do. Bushs should matter more but they dont, because Gores we can disprove right here and now. We cant disprove that theres going to be a chicken in every pot.According to Carlson, the press had focused on what was easy. She explained in a bit more detail:
CARLSON: You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get in the weeds and get out your calculator or you look at his record in Texas. But its really easy, and its fun, to disprove Gore.It was fun to disprove Gores errors! Carlson took her presentation through one more startling iteration:
CARLSON: I actually happen to know people who need government, and so they would care more about the programs, and more about the things we kind of make fun of But as sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us. And we can disprove it in a way we cant disprove these other things.What an astonishing presentation! According to Carlson, the press was pursuing Gores trivial errors because it was greatly entertaining to do so. And why had they ignored Bushs errors, which she found more significant? Because they werent as easy to disprove! According to Carlson, the press agenda had been set by what was easyand entertaining and fun. It was sport.
Part of what Carlson said this day was, of course, simply inaccurate. In fact, there was nothing hard about disproving some of Bushs Debate I errors; the press corps simply preferred not to do so. But part of what Carlson said to Imus is clearer now because of her book. What did Carlson mean when she said, I actually happen to know people who need government, and so they would care more about the programs, and more about the things we kind of make fun of? To all appearances, she was talking about her brother Jimmy, who was born with severe brain damage. In her book, Carlson notes that her brother found a fulfilling career because he was given a set-aside job at a navy depot. The American with Disabilities Act is a godsend, she says. To all appearances, it was this powerful personal tie that helped Carlson understand why people might care about those government programsthe things we kind of make fun of. But there she was, telling Imus that it was more fun, greatly entertaining and sport to trash Gore for trivial errors.
Given her life experience, it must have taken a powerful force to make Carlson take part in this kind of sport. Her book suggests what that force may have been. We finish our profile tomorrow.