JUDGING CORDELIA! All last year, the Posts noble eds were troubled by Clintons vile stand: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 2008
WEVE FLIPPED: Weve changed our minds about this weeks menu. We will plan this: On Friday, well plan to give you a taste of what was transpiring at NBCs cable armin early December 1999. This involves some material we recently reviewedmaterial even we found remarkable.
By their own repeated admission, the lads who run that cable net are unusually devoted to their great love, the truth. After all, the nuns and the Jesuits raised them that way; they swore to this point all last week. Just to add sanity into the stew, well plan to show you some actual work from the day when Russert loomed over that network. Despite your press corps propaganda, we think that you deserve to get an occasional glimpse of the truth.
FUNNY HE SHOULD ASK: On cable, everyone got to blow a gasket over Charlie Blacks vile statement. Well let others mind-read Black; theres no shortage of cable mind-readers, after all. For ourselves, well take a somewhat different approach to the latest one-night flap. Why does a journalistin this case, Fortunes David Whitford raise such a pointless question during a supposedly serious interview? In Whitfords account of Blacks vile remarks, note the key highlighted phrase:
Last night, everyone was mind-reading Black. Here at THE HOWLER, we wondered about Whitford. Why would a journalist raise the [vastly hypothetical] issue of who would gain from a terrorist attack? Theres no real way to answer the questionand presumably, such an attack wont occur. What exactly is the reason for raising the issue, then?
A cynic, of course, could mind-read an answer, having seen a bunch of similar movies. Basic plot: A journalist asks a pointless questionand other journalists get to kill time, or spill with rage, when the person being interviewed answers. Needless to say, we have no idea why Whitford raised the issue of future attacks. But for the record, were left with one other question: Who first raised the issue of Bhuttos death? Did Whitford raise that too?
Who would be helped by a terrorist attack? Theres no way to know, and its pointless to ask. Meanwhile, Black does seem to have broken a basic rule when he displayed his startling candor; according to Well-Known Pundit Law, a person must first say the words god forbid when discussing such hypotheticals. Thats what journalists do when they ponder this questionwhich they do fairly often, of course.
But then, you can hardly blame your cable journalists for focusing on this matter. You can only waste the publics time guessing about VP nominations so long. After that, you have to find other ways to slog your way to the end of your hour. Unless you plan to discuss serious topicsand Clear Cable Law forbids that.
In short, Black was reciting pundit conventional wisdom with his first vile comment to Whitford. But then, as we know from previous episodes: Journalists are allowed to speak freely. Campaign aides? Even when asked? Whoa, boy! Not so fast!
JUDGING CORDELIA: Did Obama reverse his previous stand when it comes to public financing of the general election? In our view, its hard to argue that he didnt. (On Sunday, we thought people looked fairly silly when they said he hadnt reversed.) You have to slice the meat mighty fine to find escape hatches in Obamas statements about this matter during 2007. We dont think his change in stance is the end of the world. But for ourselves, we wouldnt claim that he didnt reverse on this matter.
In todays column in the Post, E. J. Dionne states a similar view. (Obamas choice has been criticized by reformers such as Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), and even by normally sympathetic editorialists, because his new position contradicts his old one, which was that he would accept public funds...) But Dionne also says that Obama made the right call last week when he eschewed public money. As a general matter, we agree with that too. But we disagree with Dionnes use of the word opportunistic:
Opportunistic? Why get so hot and bothered? But for the record: If something like opportunism was ever present during this long-running financing drama, it was present during 2007, not in this recent decision.
Presumably, Obama will gain an advantage over McCain by making this decision. But in current discussions of this matter, an earlier fact has rarely been noted; Obama gained an advantage over Clinton during the primaries by taking his previous stand. All during 2007, those normally sympathetic editorialists compared Obama favorably to Clinton because he was taking a high-minded standand because she wouldnt follow. Let us stress: This wasnt a giant part of the coverage, but we think its worth noting. For simplicity, well stick with the work of the Washington Post, though similar invidious comparisons were being rattled elsewhere.
At the Post, the editors first noted Obamas difference in February 2007. Public financing seemed to be dead for the primaries, they correctly noted. (Dionne sketches the history in todays column.) But Obama had offered a novel and high-minded plana plan which might save public financing for the general election:
As a matter of policy, [Obamas plan] could salvage a failing system, the editors judged. The FEC should allow that, and Mr. Obamas rivals in both parties should pledge, if they win the nomination, to help save the system, not destroy it.
But alas! When the FEC ruled that Obamas plan could proceed, some of his rivals wouldnt get with the program! On March 2, the editors discussed the FECs ruling; their headline praised Obama and McCain, who had already signed on to the new plan. (Saving the System/Barack Obama and John McCain agree to call off the fund-raising race. And the others?) In the process, the editors offered their first invidious comparison. Granted, it was fairly mild:
That was the first mild rebuke of Clinton, who wouldnt take the Obama challenge. By August 22, board member Ruth Marcus went further in an op-ed column. She criticized Clinton throughout the pieceand referred to Obamas pledge:
Six days later, the editors cleared their throats again. Now Edwards had taken the pledge, they explainedand that left Clinton standing alone. As the editors praised Obama and Edwards, they criticized Clintons unfortunate stance:
Vile Clinton still wouldnt take the pledge! It was unfortunate, the editors said.
No, this wasnt a major part of the primary coverage. But the Goneril and Regan aspect of this episode was lightly echoed in other areasin the press corps coverage of no preconditions, for example, or in the remarkably unbalanced treatment of the drivers license issue. (Especially at MSNBC, whose working-class, lunch-bucket journalist heroes were devoted to unvarnished truth. By their own admission.)
Lear loved Goneril and Regan best, because they kept telling him things that werent true. Cordelia refused to follow suit. How would editorialists at the Post have treated Cordelias vile stand?