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Daily Howler: Gore is right, the Post review said. But so what? He's just so annoying
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THE ANNOYED OF THE EARTH! Gore is right, the Post review said. But so what? He’s just so annoying: // link // print // previous // next //

CRAZY, SWEATY PEOPLE JEERING MATTHEWS: Three cheers to that AFSCME audience for jeering Chris Matthews at yesterday’s Democratic forum. Truly, we’ve reached an odd point in our national life when a multimillionaire mogul’s store-bought “boy toy” hosts such a major union event. How does Matthews feel about working people? Perhaps you recall his inspiring words from early this year, spoken with former president Carter sitting right there in the audience:
MATTHEWS (1/21/07): You know, I thought one of the smart things President Carter did as a candidate...was, every time President Carter won a primary, instead of standing on a platform with a bunch of sweaty, yelling people—you know, the scene with the Democratic Party usually, a bunch of crazy people yelling—and you had to have the full potpourri of Democrats present on that stage or someone would be ticked at you—you would meet in a hotel room and it was amazing. You’d sit down one-on-one, it was a unilateral, with some anchor or reporter, a serious reporter. And every time you saw a primary, you’d stay up till 11:30 to see who won, and you’d see the president, the candidate, sitting there very calmly talking about the future of the country.
Does anyone fail to understand that? Instead of appearing with those sweaty, crazy, yelling people, Carter would “calmly talk” with “a serious reporter.” And yet, this store-bought tool was on stage Tuesday morning, questioning major Democratic candidates in front of those same sweaty people.

By the way, here’s AFSCME’s Gerald McEntee, finishing his session on Monday night’s Hardball. McEntee’s members are crazy and sweaty. But McEntee himself? A good man!
MATTHEWS (6/18/07): You’re feeling the old music again. I’m hearing it.

MCENTEE: I would hope so.

MATTHEWS: I’m hearing it! Gerald McEntee—

MCENTEE: I would hope so.

MATTHEWS: —an Irishman from Pennsylvania. Good man. Thank you.
Matthews thinks McEntee’s members are sweaty. But McEntee is “an Irishman from Pennsylvania,” so he gets to appear on Matthews’ show.

It’s hard to know when folks will wise up to the shape of this modern press corps. But yesterday morning, the AFSCME crowd hooted at Matthews a bit, and that was a very good sign.

In fairness: Earlier yesterday, Matthews warmed up for this outing on Joe Scarborough’s morning show. He was asked to handicap both parties’ races. On each occasion, he kookily turned to his new favorite source of wisdom—the Irish betting odds! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/16/07.)

In fairness, yesterday’s outing could have been worse. Matthews was hooted when he asked Clinton—twice—about her views on a possible Libby pardon. But let’s be fair: No one was asked if they support an amendment to let Arnold Schwarzenegger run for president (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/10/07). Surrounded by those AFSCME people, he knew he must restrain himself. Somehow, he knew not to ask.

TO WHOM WOULD A MAINSTREAM PRESS CORPS DEFER: As we predicted, Richard Cohen got himself tossed in The Lake (by Christy Hardin Smith), thanks to yesterday’s ludicrous column about the Libby conviction (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/18/07). Beyond that, several readers mentioned Glenn Greenwald’s column on the same subject. Indeed, Greenwald—a superlative addition at Salon—highlighted the same silly paragraph we did, the one which claimed that “the liberal press” had caused so much of the Libby mess. He mocked Cohen’s odd cri de coeur: When it comes to the working of government, it’s often best when we keep the lights off.

But we thought one part of Greenwald’s column deserved a careful review. After battering Cohen about, Greenwald offered this central thought about the modern press corps:
GREENWALD (6/19/07): The most valuable lesson of Cohen's that the overriding allegiance of our permanent Beltway ruling class is to the royal court which accords them their status and prestige. That overarching allegiance overrides, easily, any supposed partisan, ideological or other allegiances which, in their assigned roles, they are ostensibly defending.

Thus, neoconservative Lewis Libby and "liberal pundit" Richard Cohen are peers and colleagues and comrades in every way that matters, which is why Cohen (and Hiatt and Pearlstine and all their friends) have so vigorously protested the Libby injustice. High members of the royal court are, first and foremost, defenders of their bloated and insulated swamp.
From that passage, one might think that the Beltway (mainstream) press corps defers to establishment power as a general matter. But in our view, that’s exactly what they refused to do during the Clinton-Gore years! This same distinction came to mind when we read this later passage from Greenwald’s “Update:”
GREENWALD: The relationship between official Washington and the permanent Beltway media class has become infinitely closer and more cooperative than ever before. Rather than acting as adversarial to one another, the most powerful political officials in Washington and the most influential media stars are part of the same system and nearly all are abundant beneficiaries of it. Many elite national journalists are incentivized to protect and defend powerful political leaders with whom they so frequently interact and on whom they depend for their access and their "scoops."

They have come instinctively to believe that Washington officials are intrinsically good people. Journalists live in the same social and socioeconomic circles, and the most powerful Washington figures are thus their colleagues and friends, not their investigative targets.

Thus, many journalists have become implacably resistant to the idea that these political leaders are lying about profoundly important matters, let alone engaging in serious or illegal misconduct. Many journalists have come reflexively to believe what their closest government associates say and to refrain from searching for or trying to uncover serious wrongdoing, because they simply do not believe it is there or, if it is there, have no desire or incentive to expose it.
“Many journalists have become implacably resistant to the idea that these political leaders are lying?” Let’s not forget: That’s the opposite of the syndrome which obtained in the Clinton-Gore years. During those years, Washington’s mainstream press corps was constantly accusing both Dems of lying—even when they plainly weren’t. No, Bill Clinton wasn’t lying when he talked about “cuts” in the GOP Medicare program. And no, Al Gore wasn’t lying when—well, they made up so many “lies” by Gore that you can’t fit them all in one book.

“They have come instinctively to believe that Washington officials are intrinsically good people?” In fact, this same press corps broke its back to say that Gore was a dishonest, delusional, fake, ruthless, fake and phony person. At present, they’re pushing the same themes about Hillary Clinton—and John Edwards is clearly a big phony too. Do fancy-pants journos tend to believe that Washington officials are intrinsically good? Or is that what they tend to say about Republican leaders?

We need to sift the evidence here: Does the modern mainstream press corps tend to defer to establishment power? Or does it defer to Republican power? We think the answer has become increasingly clear during the nonsense, and in the disasters, of the past fifteen years.

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

PART 2—THE ANNOYED OF THE EARTH: In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising that Deborah Howell bothered with Alan Ehrenhalt’s review of Gore’s new book—the review which she herself reviewed in her June 6 ombudsman column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 619/07). Yes, the review was a trifle odd; though Ehrenhalt said he agreed with Gore’s claims, he built his review around the fact that he finds Gore just too damn annoying. But things would soon get worse, much worse, in the Washington Post’s childish treatment of Gore. In retrospect, Ehrenhalt looks like a genius compared to Dana Milbank, who devoted an entire “Washington Sketch” to all the big words Gore has been using. (Why, he even said this: “Marketplace of ideas!”) And then, along came poor Andrew Ferguson. He was so blinded by Gore’s troubling ways that he couldn’t manage to find Gore’s twenty pages of end-notes. (Fiendishly, they’d been placed at the end of Gore’s book.) Neither did his Outlook editors, who waved Ferguson’s embarrassing blunder into print, forcing Howell to defend Gore again.

So yes, the Post’s recent reactions to Gore have been childish—and they’ve been quite inventive. Poor Ehrenhalt! In retrospect, he looks like a genius compared to the editor who chose to publish the following letter—a letter deriding Gore’s grades as a teen-aged college student. Uh-oh! It seems that one Post reader is so perfectly daft that he thought Milbank was praising Gore, for being smart, when he used all those big fancy words. He whipped off this letter about how dumb Gore is—and sure enough, the Post chose to run it. There it sat, on the Saturday, June 9 “Voices” page, another strange shot at vile Gore:
Al Gore, C Student

At least twice recently, The Post has published columns about how Al Gore is extremely intelligent—"Is It Wise to Be So Smart?" [Washington Sketch, May 30] and "An Egghead for the Oval Office" [op-ed, June 1].

Each time The Post failed to mention how Gore was a C student in college (including a C and a D in his science courses) and failed to complete either of two graduate programs, as described in The Post seven years ago ["Gore's Grades Belie Image of Studiousness; His School Transcripts Are a Lot Like Bush's," front page, March 19, 2000].

Hardly seems like a great intellect.

—M. B.
If you ever thought that the Washington Post had a bright collection of readers, you might consider this “C student” letter. Milbank had written a scathing piece about how pompous and phony Gore is—but out in Fairfax, a reader thought Gore was being praised for being “extremely intelligent!” Result? A twofer for the Post! First, the paper trashed Gore as a big, pompous phony. Then, they got to print this “rebuttal,” explaining how stupid he is!

But so it has gone in the past few months as the Post trashes Gore because he’s too fat, because he’s too pompous—and, of course, because he lacks footnotes. And oh yes: Because he’s annoying! Here’s the first paragraph of Ehrenhalt’s piece, the Post’s formal review of Gore’s book:
EHRENHALT (5/27/07): Al Gore possesses a skill that no other American politician can match—or would want to. He has a consistent ability to express fundamentally reasonable sentiments—often important ones—in ways that annoy the maximum possible number of people.
Our question: Where does the Post find the perfect fools required for such oddball musings?

Throughout his review, Ehrenhalt conjoins the odd pair of judgments found in that opening section. Yes, Gore is almost always right, he says—but much more important, he’s just so annoying! No American politician “would want to match” this trait, Ehrenhalt says. And Ehrenhalt goes on to muse rather wildly, saying that Gore has the skill to “annoy the maximum possible number of people” even as he says reasonable things—things which are even important. But is it true? Is there any sign that Gore has “annoyed the maximum possible number of people” in the recent efforts which have made him one of the world’s most honored public figures? His Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, was the third-largest grossing documentary in history, despite its technical subject matter. Meanwhile, its companion book was a major best-seller—and Gore’s current book, the one Ehrenhalt was reviewing, recently debuted at number one on the New York Times’ well-known chart.

Perhaps no pol would want to match the skill which Gore has displayed in these efforts. But a lot of writers and film-makers would sell their souls if it let them annoy so many people so thoroughly! By the way, what evidence does Ehrenhalt give in support of the remarkable statement which highlights this opening paragraph? Readers! This is the Washington press corps! No evidence will be offered or sought when the clan’s favorite scripts are hauled out!

Come to think of it, maybe it’s time to retract what we said at the start of this piece. Yes, Milbank and Ferguson set new standards for pure buffoonery as they complained about Gore’s big words—and about his lack of footnotes. But Ehrenhalt may be in their class as he leads with his wild assertion about how annoying Gore is. And yet, this silly assertion—in paragraph one—typifies the work of the upper-end press corps, a press corps which seems to put loyalty to the clan ahead of all other concerns. What did Ehrenhalt really mean in that passage? Let’s put the reviewer on serum:
EHRENHALT ON TRUTH SERUM: Al Gore possesses a skill that no other American politician can match—or would want to. He has a consistent ability to express fundamentally reasonable sentiments—often important ones—in ways that annoy the maximum possible number of people at the fatuous cocktail parties where my cohort composes the tales with which we’ve made a running joke of your discourse for the past many years.
Who knows? Maybe Ehrenhalt submitted that text, then sadly saw the highlighted portion cut for reasons of space.

At any rate, Ehrenhalt managed to maintain this stance throughout the course of his review. Gore is right on the merits, the scribe admits. But he stresses the more important fact: This man is just too damn annoying! Indeed, Gore had even shown these traits in his recent, world-changing film. Ehrenhalt offered our favorite claims here, in just his third paragraph:
EHRENHALT: Even as a citizen activist, however, free from the burdens of office and campaigning, Gore nearly always manages to sound like Gore. His documentary film on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," is sophisticated, provocative and in many ways convincing. But it is also smug and self-centered, and its failure to consider even moderately differing points of view serves to alienate skeptics rather than to persuade them.
As everyone knows, Gore’s film has helped transform the world’s debate on climate change. Its science has been widely supported. In large part because of the force of the film, Gore has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. But so what! The film was “smug and self-centered,” Ehrenhalt breathes, without deigning to tell us what he might mean. And does anyone know what Ehrenhalt meant when he complained that the film “fail[ed] to consider even moderately differing points of view?” You could imagine a statement resembling that which actually made a (small) bit of sense. But when someone lectures, as Gore does in the film, to what extent must he include claims which are wrong? Miraculously, it now seems to be Gore’s fault when Fred Thompson says this: Mars is warming!

But however you might want to translate this mess, this was what the Washington Post got when it sought a review of Gore’s book. In fairness, book editor Marie Arana seemed unhappy with this effort when ombudsman Howell asked her about this strange porridge. Poor Arana! As quoted by Howell, here’s how she explained the provenance of that review:
ARANA: [Ehrenhalt] was chosen to review Al Gore's book, “The Assault on Reason,” because we know Alan's work and we felt that, as a non-politically aligned intellectual, he could judge Gore's book on its own terms. Had he at any point avowed personal animus against Gore, we would not have assigned him the book. Once he had been given the assignment in good faith, however, our duty was to publish his judgments. Book World is a journal of opinion, after all.
To our ear, it sounds like Ehrenhalt had annoyed a majority of one—the book section’s editor! She had assigned him the task “in good faith.” When she published the mess he turned in, she was just doing her “duty.”

Poor Arana! Perhaps she failed to understand the pool from which she had drawn this “intellectual.” Alas! In the land-locked pool from which she selected, Gore has annoyed the maximum number of people. They simply hate it when he’s right; they long for ways to say that he’s wrong. In the past few months, their childish complaints about his work have made a stale joke of Arana’s newspaper. Much more important: In the past eight years, they helped create international tragedy as they enacted the long, strange assault they refuse to drop even today.

TOMORROW—PART 3: Gore’s book.