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HOWELL MEETS HOWLERS! Deborah Howell has her hands full with the Post’s childish war against Gore: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2007

A PAIR OF PERFORMANCE GAPS: In today’s Post, E. J. Dionne notes a nagging problem for Democrats. Voters want to elect a Dem next year—until you plug in the names:
DIONNE (6/19/07): The Democrats' worries about the presidential race are less immediate. But it's striking that while the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed the public preferring a Democrat to a Republican for president in 2008 by 52 percent to 31 percent when no specific candidates were listed, public polls have shown much smaller leads—or occasionally, even small deficits—for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when they were matched individually against Rudy Giuliani or John McCain. Although Clinton, Obama and John Edwards still do well against lesser-known Republican presidential candidates, the performance gap troubles many in the party.
In some recent polls, this “performance gap” has been larger than Dionne indicates. In a June 10 Los Angeles Times poll, for example, voters said they’d prefer a Dem to a Rep by an eight-point margin (49-41). But in the same poll, Clinton ran ten points behind Giuliani. This poll is an outlier, but the party-wide “performance gap” is a deeply serious problem. (For recent “performance gap” polling, click here.)

But then, there’s that other “performance gap”—the gap between liberal and conservative pundits. Conservative pundits will scream all day about the media’s “liberal bias,” even when it doesn’t exist. By contrast, it’s impossible to get liberals to raise their voices, even when bias against liberals and Dems seems quite apparent. Why do voters want a Democratic president—until the candidates’ names are mentioned? Dionne doesn’t say, but we’ll offer an obvious answer: This “performance gap” is a reaction to the mainstream press corps’ messaging in the past several years—messaging in which demon tales have been dumped on Big Dems, with hero tales fashioned for Reps.

Do McCain and Giuliani run ahead of their party? Yes—and why would that be a surprise? McCain has been praised for eight years for his mighty “straight talk,” even when he flips and reinvents madly. Giuliani has been endlessly tagged as “America’s mayor.” In short, the mainstream press corps tends to recite these pols’ slogans for them, as we’ve recorded many times.

By way of contrast, let’s just say this isn’t a problem Hillary Clinton has been forced to endure. Just yesterday, we saw the remarkable way the mainstream press refashioned part of Carl Bernstein’s new book, presenting Clinton as a strong-arming, borderline-criminal mobster. (This was a complete reinvention of Bernstein’s book. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/18/07.) Step two of this ugly, three-step process occurred on the front page of Dionne’s newspaper. Step three occurred on an ugly show where Dionne is a frequent, meek guest.

How do these hero and demon tales work? Al Gore is one of the world’s most honored public servants; Fred Thompson is a mediocre, occasional pol. But last month, we saw the way the mainstream press began showering “hero tales” on Thompson when he suggested that he might run for president. Meanwhile, the Washington Post was still mocking Gore as an example of “roadkill.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/21/07—and see our new series below.

But you won’t see this challenged by scribes like Dionne; the pundit performance gap is quite wide. In particular, Hillary Clinton has been demonized in the way we’ve described over the course of the past fifteen years. But this has been done by the mainstream press—and mainstream “liberals” are quite meek and mild. Almost surely, this process will continue, on the front page of the Post. If Clinton is driven out of the race, the demonizing of Obama and Edwards will quite likely follow.

By the way, readers: Have you heard how much Edwards paid for that haircut? How big his disgraceful house is?

THE PUNDIT GAP IN ACTION: How pitiful are the “liberal” columnists in our mainstream press corps? In today’s Post, Richard Cohen writes his latest column about the Scooter Libby matter—and he takes his critique to a new, even more ludicrous level. Who does Cohen blame for this mess? Omigod! “The liberal press!”
COHEN (6/19/07): With the sentencing of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, [Patrick] Fitzgerald has apparently finished his work, which was, not to put too fine a point on it, to make a mountain out of a molehill. At the urging of the liberal press (especially the New York Times), he was appointed to look into a run-of-the-mill leak and wound up prosecuting not the leaker—Richard Armitage of the State Department—but Libby, convicted in the end of lying. This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off.
Every sentence is absurd, but note the blame that Cohen casts—and gaze upon your mainstream press corps! Inside that puzzling game preserve, even the best-known “liberal” columnists will explicitly blame “the liberal press” for society’s troubles!

We’ll assume that the lazer-like team at The Lake will go through Cohen’s ludicrous piece. But in the passage we’ve highlighted, you see that pundit “performance gap” in action. But then, during Campaign 2000, Cohen praised McCain’s brilliant character—and griped about Gore’s troubling clothes. Fifteen years of these foolish tales lead us to Dionne’s column today—to the Dem-Rep “performance gap” Dionne didn’t choose to explain.

DOWD MOVES SCRIPT: Yesterday’s column by Maureen Dowd was typed deep inside Versailles. Here’s how the powdered pundit began:
DOWD (6/18/07): The busty brunette wriggles around in her pink bikini beside a picture of Barack Obama....
Sadly, that mentality has driven your mainstream press for at least the past fifteen years.

Dowd types from so far inside Versailles that she can’t hear your cries from the street. But inside the palace, Script Never Sleeps—and script drove Dowd’s bizarre column. In her piece, Dowd wrote about the Obama campaign’s recent attacks against both Clintons—attack memos Obama himself has now denounced as “stupid.” But inside Dowd’s chamber, Script Never Sleeps. Remember: Obama’s campaign attacked the Clintons. But so what? Here’s how she ended:
DOWD (6/18/07): Hillaryland was panting for an opportunity to paint Obama as a hypocrite for saying he was different and above it all, while acting the same. And its best ally in undermining Obama is Obama, who hoists his pedestal so high he's bound to fall off. He seems more intent on proving he's pure than proving he's tough.

The Clintons act high-minded and do-gooding, while employing a staff of hit men. Obama is tangled in contradictions of high and low, saint and killer, while Hillary moves like a shark.

''She'd lean over and bite his ear off if that's what it takes,'' says Charlie Cook, the political analyst [sic]. ''The question is, will he do what it takes to win? This is a guy who did not have to deal with a single negative ad being run against him in the primary and general campaigns for the Senate. It was almost an immaculate conception.''

Obama is too busy modeling to make this point, but the Clinton financial disclosures raise a big question: Do we want the country run again by a couple who get so easily wrapped around the fingers of anyone who is rich? As long as a guy was willing to give them millions, would it matter if his name were Al Capone?
See how it works? Clinton gets attacked by Obama’s campaign—but it’s Clinton who “moves like a shark,” who employs “a staff of hit men.” By the end, she’s being tied to Al Capone. (On that Chris Matthews Show, it was Luca Brasi.) And of course, Charlie Cook is always on hand with a quote to fit the occasion.

This anti-Clinton messaging has been churned for fifteen years. But the E. J. Dionnes don’t complain. This morning, E. J. worries about that performance gap—and agrees not to say where does it come from.

Script Never Sleeps inside Versailles. And it never gets mentioned by “liberals.”

POINT OF INFORMATION: Yesterday, we discussed Bill Clinton’s speech to the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles (or Long Beach—see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/18/07). How greedy has Clinton’s speech-making been? A reader sent us to this passage from an on-line Washington Post news report:
WASHINGTON POST (6/14/07): Bill Clinton's speech-making prowess has also been reported previously, although today's disclosure form added specificity on his earnings, cementing his reputation as one of the world's highest-paid public speakers—as well as an exceptionally busy one...

Clinton made 352 speeches last year, but only 57 of them were reported on today's form as having generated personal income. The others were given for no fee or for donations to the William J. Clinton Foundation, a charity he founded to promote causes such as fighting HIV/AIDS and global warming.
According to the Post, 295 of Clinton’s 352 speeches were give for free, or for a donation to his foundation’s causes.

Meanwhile, we’re puzzled by the provenance of this Post report. The Post’s web site is completely screwed up, as you’ll see if you explore the link. (What a shock.) Suffice to say this: This material appeared on the Post’s web site—but it didn’t make the front-page news report which implicitly scolded Clinton for his greed in delivering that speech to the Boys and Girls Club. As we predicted, Tucker Carlson thundered about Clinton’s vast greed, then headed off on vacation. (Maureen Dowd typed it up too.)

This has gone on for the past fifteen years. Flawlessly, Dionne fails to notice.

Special report: The assault on...Al Gore!

PART 1—HOWELL MEETS HOWLERS: We’ve begun to feel sorry for Deborah Howell, the vastly overworked ombudsman at the puzzling Washington Post. Surely, there are many things Howell might like to discuss in her once-a-week Sunday columns. But due to her newspaper’s kooky culture, she now has to spend almost every week correcting its coverage of that demon, Al Gore. Howell was the Post ombudsman. Lately, it seems that her principal job is apologizing for the childish assaults her paper directs toward Gore.

Poor Howell! On June 3, she had to deal with Alan Ehrenhalt’s puzzling review of Gore’s new best-seller, The Assault on Reason. For ourselves, we have mixed views about Gore’s book; we can imagine a reviewer finding fault with large parts of its argument. But Ehrenhalt said he agreed with Gore’s thesis; he just had his shorts in a very large wad about how “smug” and “annoying” Gore is. We’ll examine Ehrenhalt’s review in more detail a bit later this week. But on June 3, Howell spent the last chunk of her column letting Book editor Marie Arana explain the gentleman’s puzzling work. Let’s just say that Arana found few good things to say about Ehrenhalt’s effort.

And then, this Sunday, omigod! Poor Howell was stuck with the Gore beat again! On June 10, the Post’s Outlook section had trashed Gore hard. As usual, the paper had bungled:
HOWELL (6/17/07): Al Gore partisans were furious about a piece by Andrew Ferguson titled “Fact Check” in Outlook last Sunday. It started by saying: "You can't really blame Al Gore for not using footnotes in his new book ‘The Assault on Reason.’ It's a sprawling, untidy blast of indignation, and annotating it with footnotes would be like trying to slip rubber bands around a puddle of quicksilver." Ferguson, senior editor of the conservative Weekly Standard went on to say that he didn't believe an Abraham Lincoln quote in the book was authentic.

But Gore did have 20 pages of endnotes and cited a 1950 Lincoln encyclopedia for the quote. Ferguson didn't check the back of the book, and neither did Outlook editors....
Good God! In short, Ferguson called Gore every name in the book—then made the world’s most foolish mistake, enabled by Outlook’s slumbering editors. In her piece, Howell quoted Ferguson, who was moved to say: "I'm mortified about this. It was incredibly stupid. How I missed them [the endnotes] is inexplicable." Howell noted that Outlook had failed to call Gore about the matter, and she quoted Kalee Kreider, Gore’s communications director. “Well before the Outlook piece, [Gore] had learned the quote was questionable, so he requested a change in the second edition" of the book, Kreider said.

[Beginning to feel the spirit herself, Howell said that the Post had corrected its error on Monday (June 11). In fact, the correction appeared in Tuesday’s paper. Who knows? Perhaps Howell meant that the paper’s correction had been written on Monday night. But even the ombudsman was misstating now, so vast and dismal was the swamp the Post had spread around Gore. As Plato himself might have asked: But who will correct the corrections? ]

Poor Howell! Increasingly, she is condemned to spend her time addressing the Post’s kooky coverage of Gore! But then, has any newspaper ever spent so much time printing so much BS about one person? Has any paper ever displayed such an utterly childish culture?

Gore is too fat, the Post told us in April, devoting a front-page, Sunday “Style” piece to the issue of Gore’s deeply troubling waistline. “Calling Planet Girth,” the Post profile cleverly said.

No, Gore is just “road-kill,” the Post said in May, in an insulting, front-page Outlook piece about how brilliant Fred Thompson is.

No, Gore is too pompous, the paper then said. Dana Milbank had seen Gore give a speech—and he was troubled by all the big words Gore had said. In particular, Gore had used such “social science phrases” as “marketplace of ideas,” we were told.

No, Gore is annoying, Ehrenhalt said. No, Gore is untidy, Ferguson countered. And this last scribe was too big a Magoo to find twenty pages of endnotes! Deborah Howell, uttering sighs, was forced to go back into action.

Readers, what is up with the Washington Post? What explains its childish obsession with this former vice president? In the past year, Gore has won an Oscar; he’s been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize; and his film and book, An Inconvenient Truth, have transformed the world’s discussion of warming. But so what? At the Post, he’s still too fat, his words are too large—and he’s still just too godd*mn annoying. When he speaks English, the newspaper howls. This isn’t Howell’s fault, of course—but she has been forced to spend two Sundays back-tracking for her paper’s clowning. But uh-oh! Unless somebody hires a good solid shrink and lets the children get much-needed help, it looks like she’ll be spending more time explaining their inane, childish groaners.

Readers, what is up with the Post? What on earth is going on inside this inane, childish newspaper?

TOMORROW—PART 2: Reading Gore.