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FRIDAY, JUNE 18, 2010

Bless their hearts: Slowly, our patient work with the Times pays off. To read their editorial, click here. For our instructional primer on this very topic, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/14/10.

Needless to say, their piece needs a lot more work. We’ll critique it on Monday.

Ron Reagan, unprepared, unembarrassed: In the past eighteen years, the New York Times has created a real rogues gallery of “reporters.”

Jeff Gerth, with his Whitewater scam. Katherine Seelye, with her dissembling about Candidate Gore. Judith Miller, in the run-up to war with Iraq. Jayson Blair, with his flat-out inventions.

For our money, Raymond Hernandez is on the verge of adding his name to that list. Yesterday, Hernandez presented his latest hack-work about Richard Blumenthal’s alleged vile lies. And good grief! On the very same day, Jeff Zeleny did another report on Mark Kirk’s alleged vile lies—a report which may be even more absurd, and more unfair, than Hernandez’s report about Blumenthal.

As we’ve learned: When this newspaper starts, it never stops. It never abandons its narratives.

How absurd were yesterday’s reports? For sheer absurdity, consider the way Zeleny started his report about Kirk.

Poor Zeleny! He has his shorts in a wad for a curious reason. He’s upset because Kirk has called himself “a former teacher”—even though he actually is one:

ZELENY (6/17/10): Much Talk of Teaching Career, but Not Its Brevity

Representative Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, a Republican candidate for the United States Senate, has often reminisced about his time as a teacher.

On the floor of the House, in campaign commercials and during interviews, Mr. Kirk has invoked his experience in the classroom. At a speech this spring to the Illinois Education Association, Mr. Kirk declared, ''as a former nursery school and middle school teacher, I know some of what it takes to bring order to class.''

A review of public comments that Mr. Kirk has made over the last decade shows that while he may refer to himself as a former teacher, he does not talk about the brevity of his experience: a year in London at a private school and part-time in a nursery school as part of a work-study program while he was a student at Cornell University.

According to Zeleny, Kirk actually is a former teacher; he taught for a full year in a London middle school. But when Kirk appears before a teachers group and calls himself a former teacher, Zeleny gets his fancy silk shorts all tangled up in a knot. He should have said that he didn’t teach long, the fastidious Timesman reports.

Sorry. It’s absolutely absurd to complain about that quoted statement. But for the record: In adopting this approach, Zeleny revives a standard format: When a targeted liar says things which are true, the Times will list all the other true things they think he should have said!

The Times devotes a full news report to this latest outrage by Kirk. In all honesty, Hernandez’s piece about Blumenthal wasn’t much better, though the journalistic dissembling is a bit more complex. (For one example of Hernandez’ reasoning, try this: Since everyone remembers his draft lottery number from 1969, Blumenthal falls under suspicion when he says he can’t recall his!)

Simple story: Once the New York Times pegs you a liar, the great paper never gives up. What was really pitiful was the way Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews raced to promote this latest bowl of crapola on yesterday’s cable programs, helped along by the usual gangs of compliant, unprepared pundits. In each case, we’d say their conduct of the hosts was repulsive—the sort of thing that would get real news broadcasters fired.

How bad was yesterday’s cable conduct? When we watch garbage like this from Schultz, a basic thought pops into our head—it’s time for this waste-meat to go:

SCHULTZ (6/17/10): Gentlemen, look, you’re either a student pilot or you`re not. You’re either cleared for the visual or you’re not. You either get to fly jets or you can’t. The fact is, it sure seems to me that this guy fabricated his resume and he was never a teacher. And a teacher would be offended by saying that someone who’s a teacher’s assistant is certainly qualified to do the same classroom work.

Astonishing. There isn’t a word in the Times report to suggest that Kirk “was never a teacher.” But none of yesterday’s cable pundits seemed to have the slightest idea what they were talking about. On Hardball, Ron Reagan was the most egregious offender. People who say things like this on the air ought to get out of the business:

REAGAN: I think Blumenthal really benefits from running against McMahon, the [queen] of world wrestling.

You know, the Mark Kirk thing—and correct me if I’m wrong here, guys, you may know more know about this than I do—I think he also misstated his military record in terms of flying intelligence missions over Iraq and taking fire. Now, you know, if that didn’t happen, that’s not the sort of thing you forget. You don’t imagine that you were under fire from the enemy if it didn’t happen—shades of Hillary Clinton ducking sniper fire, you know?

“Correct me if I’m wrong here, guys?” Reagan had agreed to go on the air to discuss the Kirk/Blumenthal stories. This was the only topic this pundit panel discussed. But in this remarkable statement, Reagan said he wasn’t sure about the most basic elements of the pre-existing Kirk story. Truly, that is astonishing conduct—conduct for which Reagan should be reviled. But despite his lack of preparation, Reagan went on two extended tears about the “lies” of Kirk and Blumenthal. And good God! Amid all the typical pundit LAUGHTER, his idiot host ended up saying this:

MATTHEWS: Ron, by the way, is the first person I’ve ever heard on this show in, what, 20 years of doing this, off and on, that’s ever said, “I may be wrong. Check me on this.” Thank you for that humility. I’ve never heard that before on Hardball.

Thank you, Clarence. I never said it anyway. “I may be wrong. Check me on this.”

Anyway, Clarence Page, Ron Reagan, thank you both.

What a fool! The thought doesn’t enter this idiot’s head that his guests should be knowledgeable about their topics (or that they should decline to appear). When Reagan admits that he hasn’t prepared, Matthews sees this as “humility.”

I’ve never said I was wrong, Matthews says. We’ve noticed, the analysts cried.

Hernandez is a growing cancer on the senate; Zeleny’s report was the work of a fool. But Schultz and Matthews embarrassed themselves, clowning and misstating basic facts as they savaged Kirk and Blumenthal for that same alleged offense.

They sent George Bush to the White House this way. Happy with how that turned out?

(Matthews also made flat misstatements. “Mark Kirk talks about himself as being an old like public school teacher in the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago,” he said at one point, falsely. “It turns out all he ever did was teaching in a nursery school.” Also false, in a segment designed to measure two pols’ respect for the truth.)

WELCOME TO BOSNIA (permalink): The tribalization of the U.S. electorate continues apace on cable. As once in Bosnia, so here today: Increasingly, the liberal tribe and the conservative tribe are handed strikingly different sets of facts about our politics.

Consider KO’s report about the Dutch and the Norwegians on Wednesday evening’s Coundown.

As usual, Keith was feeding his viewers that good strong liberal gruel. As he opened his program, he said we’d get a good laugh later on, if we just stuck around. As usual, this particular “comic relief” would involve the idiot, Sarah Palin:

OLBERMANN (6/16/10): And the comic relief: Sister Sarah suggests getting a little Dutch boy to put his finger in the oil leak.

PALIN (videotape): The Dutch. They are known—and the Norwegians—they are known for, for dikes and for cleaning up water and for dealing with spills. They offered to help.

OLBERMANN: That woman is an idiot!

Oh boy—this would be good fun! But as it turned out, Palin’s statement about the Dutch and the Norwegians wasn’t any more idiotic than Olbermann’s subsequent presentation. In fact, we would say that Palin’s presentation was more accurate than Olbermann’s, on balance—that it was Olbermann’s liberal viewers who were more strongly misled. In fact, that first statement by Palin—the one quoted above—seems to be perfectly accurate, though Olbermann’s viewers would have no idea by the time their great hero had finished.

Good old KO! He teased the upcoming segment two more times, deriding Palin as “Miss Bendy Straws” and “America’s Oil Princess.” Eventually, we got our comic relief, as KO started his segment about the “stupid” thing Palin had said. As he started, Olbermann summarized Palin’s statement—and he offered a grossly inaccurate statement about his other top target, Bill O’Reilly:

OLBERMANN: There was no official Republican response to the president`s address last night, but that does not mean they did not have anything stupid to say about it. In our fourth story: During Sarah Palin’s unofficial Fox News Channel response last night, she said the president’s biggest mistake was not allowing the Dutch to come to the rescue. And she didn’t mean Ronald Reagan—I don’t think.

Last night, on Fixed News, Sarah Palin turned kid-glove treatment from Palin booster Bill O’Reilly into a gotcha interview.

Speaking of people who “fix” the news, that’s what KO was already doing! In fact, O’Reilly was quite skeptical about the things Palin said on Tuesday night’s program, as he frequently is. That said, Olbermann’s summary of Palin’s statement was basically accurate. When she spoke with Mr. O, she did say that Obama had erred when it came to the Dutch and the Norwegians—that the administration had rejected their help.

Olbermann let us know how “stupid” this was. In the process, he misled his viewers. To wit:

After offering one absurd “rebuttal” of something Palin had said, KO played more tape of her statements about the Dutch and the Norwegians. He then used the authority of the Washington Post to wave her comments away. As he did so, he grossly misrepresented what the Post had reported about the matter in question. Insults and name-calling to the side, KO’s presentation is technically accurate—but it’s highly misleading:

OLBERMANN: We rejoin Miss Bendy Straws already in process.

(videotape)

O’REILLY: The oil company, BP, says, we don’t know how to stop the leak. Obama obviously doesn’t know how to stop the leak. Do you know how to stop it?

PALIN: Well then, what the federal government should have done was accept the assistance of foreign countries, of entrepreneurial Americans, who have had solutions that they wanted presented.

O’REILLY: Who?

PALIN: They can’t even get a phone call returned, Bill! The Dutch. They are known, and the Norwegians, they are known for, for dikes and for cleaning up water and for dealing with spills. They offered to help. And yet, no—they, too, with the proverbial “can’t even get a phone call back.” That is what the Norwegians are telling us and the Dutch are telling us.

(end videotape)

OLBERMANN: The Washington Post reported Monday, quote: “In late May, the administration accepted Mexico’s offer of two skimmers and 13,779 feet of boom; a Dutch offer of three sets of Koseq sweeping arms which attach to the sides of ships and gather oil; and eight skimming systems offer by Norway.”

Watching Olbermann, you would have thought that the Washington Post contradicted what Palin said. But that’s only true to a point.

What did the Washington Post actually say in the report KO quoted? (He was citing this news report by Juliet Eilperin and Glenn Kessler.) Your first clue comes in the Post’s headline: “After delays, U.S. begins to tap foreign aid in gulf spill” (our emphasis). Simple story: Olbermann’s quote for that report was accurate, but it was highly selective and grossly misleading. According to Eilperin and Kessler, the U.S. has now started accepting help from these foreign governments—but only after rejecting such help earlier in the gulf disaster. This is the way the Post report started—the report which Olbermann quoted:

EILPERIN/KESSLER (6/14/10): Four weeks after the nation's worst environmental disaster, the Obama administration saw no need to accept offers of state-of-the-art skimmers, miles of boom or technical assistance from nations around the globe with experience fighting oil spills.

"We'll let BP decide on what expertise they do need," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told reporters on May 19. "We are keeping an eye on what supplies we do need. And as we see that our supplies are running low, it may be at that point in time to accept offers from particular governments."

That time has come.

The Post report saw the glass half full, keeping things fairly cheerful. But it described the way the U.S. had rejected help from the Dutch and the Norwegians for more than a month—help the U.S. is now accepting. The U.S. started accepting this help “in late May,” the Post reported.

The Post adopted a cheerful tone. Meanwhile, other major newspapers have reported this glass half empty. The Christian Science Monitor first reported this situation back on June 1. This was part of Mark Guarino’s report:

GUARINO (6/1/10): Dutch companies that manufacture the sweeping arm system first contacted BP officials April 23, three days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, according to [Dutch official Sjon] Huisman, who spoke by phone from his office in The Hague Tuesday. After receiving little reply, the companies turned to his department for help in reaching out to the US State Department, Huisman says.

"We specifically asked those companies that if you have a firm order from BP or the US government, then we can make the arrangements available," he says. The US Coast Guard made a formal request for the systems May 18, according to Huisman.

[...]

Huisman and Koops would only speculate why recovery officials apparently waited about a month to request the technology. One reason may be Environmental Protection Agency regulations that prevent discharging oil-affected water back into the source.

In Guarino’s report, it was BP which failed to react early on; it isn’t clear when the Obama administration got into the flow. On June 9, the Houston Chronicle offered a somewhat gloomier account, Loren Steffy reporting:

STEFFY (6/9/10): DISASTER IN THE GULF/U.S. was slow to accept offer of Dutch expertise

Three days after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch government offered to help.

It was willing to provide ships outfitted with oil-skimming booms, and it proposed a plan for building sand barriers to protect sensitive marshlands.

The response from the Obama administration and BP, which are coordinating the cleanup: "The embassy got a nice letter from the administration that said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,'" said Geert Visser, consul general for the Netherlands in Houston.

Now, almost seven weeks later, as the oil spewing from the battered well spreads across the Gulf and soils pristine beaches and coastline, BP and our government have reconsidered.

Which of these three accounts is more accurate? We don’t know. But Olbermann made no attempt to tell his viewers what his idiotic Oil Princess was actually talking about. He simply constructed a narrow rebuttal, then indulged in a lot of name-calling. In the process, he gave us liberals that enjoyable “comic relief.”

By the way: How long did viewers have to wait for this comic relief? This was the second topic Olbermann covered this night. This comic relief began about fifteen minutes into the program.

What was wrong with Palin’s presentation? In her segment with O’Reilly, she gave the impression that the Dutch and Norwegians are still being rebuffed in their offers of aid; plainly, that isn’t accurate. But Olbermann simply played the fool in providing his “comic relief.” He name-called, clowned and generally treated his viewers like a gang of rubes.

Was Palin wrong in her basic charge? Funny that! On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow has been very hard on the bungled way the clean-up has been conducted; that criticism is A-OK, because it comes from one of our tribal leaders. And by the way: Here was tribal leader Gene Robinson, echoing Palin’s concern in Tuesday’s Washington Post:

ROBINSON (6/15/10): The question isn;t what Obama is feeling, it's what he's doing. Why haven't skimmers been brought in from around the world to scoop up more of the oil? Why isn't the defense of the coastline being run like a military campaign, with failure not an option? Why is the answer to every question essentially the same—"We've repeatedly asked BP to get that done”—when we're dealing with a crisis that has to be seen as an urgent matter of national security and the public welfare?

“Why haven't skimmers been brought in from around the world?” We don’t know, but that’s exactly the problem the idiot Palin raised!

Your country’s growing tribalization is neatly displayed in this stupid episode. Palin made one clear misstatement on Tuesday night’s program, saying that the Duitch and the Norwegians are still being ignored. But Olbermann clowned and played the fool, generally misleading his viewers. On the other hand, he did gives us rubes our comic relief—and he entertained us greatly with his string of insults.

Palin overstated the case, but she described a real situation. Olbermann basically called her names, even when he showed her saying things which were perfectly accurate.

More and more, MSNBC is becoming a type of counterpart to Fox. More and more, its hosts behave like a gang of dumb, dissembling hacks. Welcome to the new Bosnia! Note—this system worked out poorly there.