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THE DEAN DECLINES! Russert asked an excellent question. Broder refused to respond: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 26, 2006

THE DEAN DECLINES: As a general matter, your press corps refuses to discuss its own conduct. Case in point: During yesterday’s Meet the Press, Tim Russert posed two excellent questions to the New York Times’ Anne Kornblut:
RUSSERT (6/25/06): Your paper had a front-page story about the relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton. David Broder weighed in that. When you interview 50 people about their relationship and put it on the front page, it's a statement of some kind. Yeah. Is the issue of what role would Bill Clinton play in a Clinton—in a Hillary Clinton White House—a legitimate one? Is their marriage a legitimate issue?
Plainly, Russert was asking journalistic questions—and his second question was the stinger. Is it legitimate when the Times makes an issue of the Clinton’ marriage? And Kornblut did what scribes typically do. Deftly, Kornblut ducked:
KORNBLUT (continuing directly): Well, I think people are going to be endlessly fascinated with his role—he's a former president—certainly, with their marriage. As a political issue, it's not one you hear Republicans wanting to run on. They would rather define Hillary Clinton as angry, talk about her susceptibility as a woman. You have to remember at the height of impeachment, which is what we're talking about when we talk about their marriage, her numbers actually rose because she was seen as a sympathetic character. So I don't know that it would be the core political issue, but it certainly is interesting to people.
Typical! Asked a journalistic question, Kornblut gave a political answer. She did what reporters so often do; she took a question about her own cohort’s conduct and gave an answer about everyone else. She told us what the public might like, and she told us what Republicans might do. But she never said if her paper’s focus on the Clintons’ marriage was legitimate. And when Russert posed the same question to David Broder, The Dean took a big powder too:
RUSSERT: We did hear initially in 1996 [sic], David, "Two for the price of one." I don't think we'll hear that in 2008.

BRODER: No. I got hammered so much for writing about this subject, I ought to just keep my mouth shut. But I'm afraid it—the marriage will be an issue.

RUSSERT: But certainly—but certainly his role in any administration would be legitimate. But is scrutiny of the marriage legitimate?
BRODER: I think his role is legitimate, and for Democratic politicians, the notion of having to relive all of those stories about what is the nature of their relationship is really a nightmare.

In his follow-up question to Broder, Russert made the distinction again. Discussing Bill Clinton’s role is legitimate. “But is scrutiny of the marriage legitimate?” And Broder did what scribes typically do. He simply refused to respond.

Is it legit to report on the Clinton’s marriage? Russert asked the question twice. He stated the question quite clearly both times. First he asked Kornblut, then the great Dean. And both scribes—well trained—wouldn’t answer.

THE PRESS AND CLINTON/GORE: On Sunday, a superlative question arose as The Lake continued its discussion of Eric Boehlert’s new book. At post 16, Boehlert guessed at the reasons for the press corps’ anti-Dem attitudes. “I’d put fear of the right-wing attacks on the press as [reason] no. 1,” Boehlert wrote. Then, he mentioned another problem—the press corps’ apparent personal antipathy to a string of Big Dems:

BOEHLERT: That said, there’s also a personal thing going on between press and Dems. The press didn’t like Clinton, it hated Gore, it thought Kerry was out-classed and makes fun of Reid, Pelosi etc.
Soon, a simple—but superlative—question arose. Why have journalists seemed to have this “personal thing” about Big Dems? Eventually, at post 102, a reader returned to Eric’s statement:
LINDYH: I too would like to know why. What was there about Gore that the press hated? Was it his southern accent? Why dislike Clinton? I don’t get it, and I wonder if it’s really the grunt reporters or their editors who make these judgements.
This is an important question—and we thought we’d offer a few suggestions. In our view, this type of disdain for Major Dems dates to Dukakis in 1988. But it reached its peak with the press corps’ odd approach to Clinton, then with its outright contempt for Gore. Why did journalists have this thing about Clinton and Gore? For starters, we’ll offer three short frameworks. Then we’ll move to the heart of the matter:
  1. Corporate ownership of the media. This problematic matter has been widely discussed. To the extent that corporate views filter down through the ranks, journalists may understand that they’re being paid (in many cases, being paid quite well) to roll their eyes at Big Democrats.

  2. A millionaire press corps. As we’ve long noted, opinion leaders in today’s press corps are almost all multimillionaires. This is an extremely bad way to run a mainstream press corps. There’s nothing wrong with having some dough, but human nature remains what it is. Our millionaire pundits show few signs of caring about the kinds of issues which often separate Dems from Republicans. As readers will know, we thought this problem was best expressed by Margaret Carlson, speaking frankly with Imus. Link below.

  3. Battles of the boomers. Clinton and Gore were the first boomer-aged, White House-level pols to be covered by boomer-aged reporters. Over the years, it has been hard to avoid the thought that their generational primacy—and their intellectual abilities—were resented by their less capable peers in the press. As a general matter, our boomer-aged pundits are quite unimpressive—but they’re also rich and famous celebrities, with all the ego that implies. They have endlessly criticized Gore as “the smartest kid in the room,” and they’ve displayed a general tone of contempt for Clinton and Gore’s intellectual accomplishments. By contrast, boomer-aged Bush is an intellectual slacker—and boomer-aged reporters have seemed to find a more comfortable fit with his slacker traits. In this analysis, Bush is the Prince Charles of his cohort—a relatively unimpressive chap who reached his high post through inheritance. Boomer reporters don’t have to resent him. It’s his very lack of distinction which puts boomer scribes at their ease.
Why have modern scribes tended to go after Dems? We’d guess that these factors are part of the picture. But for the larger story, let’s look to a comment by David Ehrenstein—post 44 at The Lake. Specifically, Ehrenstein discusses the press corps’ dislike of Clinton. But we think his analysis starts to take us where we need to go:
EHRENSTEIN: Clinton was all about their class-hatred, Eric. Don’t you remember what “Dean” Broder and Sally “Kneepads” Quinn wrote about him “trashing the place”?

He was Britney Spears to them—pure Trailer Trash. The fact that he was smarter, braver and more tenacious than they were only made it worse for them.

Reading minds is hard to do—but we’d guess that this comment is on the mark. On the other hand, there’s a surface problem with this analysis. By the time of Campaign 2000, the corps hated Gore even more than Clinton—and far from being “trailer trash,” Gore came from the DC/St. Albans class. Yes, he also grew up on the Tennessee farm. But in the most literal sense, Gore was not a class outsider, available for simplistic “class-hatred.”

That said, we’d guess that the press corps’ problem with Dems is, in large part, a matter of class. Human beings have always been tribal, and our modern, tribal national politics is largely a tribalism of class. We haven’t discussed this matter before, and we won’t be skilled in our descriptions. But it’s fairly clear that tribal connections have long defined our two major parties, and have done so more and more since the time of the GOP “Southern Strategy.”

Increasingly, the GOP is the tribe of the upper-class, older American order—and the Democrats are the tribe of everyone else. Everyone who doesn’t fit in the old order has found their way to the Dem coalition. The Dems are the party of The Other—of the “lower-class;” of racial minorities; of gays; of uppity women. The Republicans are the party of the traditional upper-class ideal—and of all those who will swear allegiance to that orders’ values. This does not mean that Dems are always right—or that Reps are always wrong—about issues involving class and race. It does mean that the parties represent two different tribes—and that many people align themselves based on tribal impulses.

To which tribe do our millionaire pundits belong? Please. In some ways, Tim Russert defines this group’s class membership; he flies to a multimillion-dollar home on Nantucket to write a book about living in Buffalo. (This doesn’t mean that he’s not a nice person.) Consciously or otherwise, we’d guess that modern scribes “see” themselves as what they are—as part of a fatuous millionaire class. Clinton never belonged to that class; Gore was more or less a class traitor.

Modern reporters worship at the alter of fame and financial success. For them, reporting has become “fun,” “entertainment” and “sport”—even if, as in Carlson’s presentation to Imus, they happen to know someone who needs major help from a government program. But in many cases, these people have stopped caring about—or identifying with—the people who still form the Dem coalition. The press corps adores upper-class blacks; Rice and Powell are their greatest untouchables. But to all appearances, they no longer identify with major figures, like Clinton and Gore, who have tended to stick with The Others.

We humans have always stuck with Our Own—and have been inclined to look down on The Other. In The Iliad, at the moment of truth, Nestor tells the roiling troops about the important of tribal loyalty—of loyalty to the hearth, to the clan:

Lost to the clan,
lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for the horror of war with his own people...
To the extent that Major Dems like Clinton and Gore speak for “the people, not the powerful”—to the extent that they “feel the pain” of working people—they have declared themselves “lost to the clan.” The modern upper-class tribal consensus is embarrassed by—and uninterested in—the problems of people who may need Medicare, or Medicaid, or Social Security. Ruling classes have always tended to look down on the needs of the great unwashed. And, by virtue of their vast salaries, opinion leaders in the modern press corps are now part of a high ruling class. That doesn’t make them bad people—though some of them may be. But human nature remains unchanged—and their salaries are vast.

“I don’t get it,” Lindyh said—and she has a right to be puzzled. Why did the press corps dislike Clinton? Why did they simply hate Gore—to the point where they built a two-year war around claims they knew to tortured or false? As readers will know, we prefer to stick to narrower types of questions. But The Lake’s discussion raised a superlative question, a major question for our age. For all the murkiness of our own discussion, we thought we might offer a glimmer or two to those who are puzzled—with reason.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: When Carlson spoke so frankly with Imus, we thought she described the “Millionaire Pundit Values” which we’ve discussed for years. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03. For millionaire pundits, reporting is “fun,” “entertaining” and “sport.” It’s all about zeroing in on what’s “easy.” And these pundits seem to reserve their scorn for Dem politicians, like Clinton and Gore, who haven’t made this transition in values. Throughout history, fatuous members of high, powdered courts have always looked down on class hold-outs. Fatuous party-people have always felt scorn for “the smartest guy in the room.”

We prefer to discuss more specific matters—matters which can be settled more clearly. But we think those Millionaire Pundit Values start to answer the very important question raised by Lindyh.