AUGMENTING FOSER! Were big fans of Jamison Foser. We augment his recent time-line: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, JUNE 27, 2009
Augmenting Foser: In these parts, were big fans of Jamison Foserand of his running-mate, Eric Boehlert. We dont necessarily agree with every word Foser says. But his most recent column deserves to be readand we think his facts deserve a small bit of augmentation.
Foser critiques a recent statement by the frequently hapless Mika Brzezinski, co-host of Morning Joe. Brzezinski is a reliable repository for Standardized Press Corps Conventional Wisdom. In his current column, Foser challenges her recent suggestion that the media tend to go harder on Republicans who have sex scandals.
Its hard to measure such matters, of course. As always, we recommend Fosers assessment. But quickly, Foser cited one of the obvious counter-examples:
Why do we like Fosers work so much? Because he routinely offers sensible comments which undercut his own tribal preference. (Nobody would expect an affair involving a senator or governor or even a speaker of the House to garner as much attention as one involving a sitting president.) But its true: The Lewinsky story set off a stunning press corps frenzyone which lasted longer than the year to which he sensibly refers.
Today, we want to extend that initial time-line a bit. (Foser himself notes the press corps lingering obsession with Miss Lewinsky.) In that time-line, he says the Monica frenzy was the dominant topic in newspapers, on evening news broadcasts, and on cable news every day for a year.
Thats true. But wed add to that year.
The Lewinsky story broke into public view in January 1998. It was indeed the press corps dominant story over the next year. In fact, Bill Clintons impeachment trial was held in February 1999. As such, the basic season of this frenzy ran about thirteen months.
But the corps Big Love for Monica wasnt about to end there.
In the past year or so, weve had occasion to review the state of the mainstream press in mid-June 1999. Within a four-day span that month, George Bush flew to Iowa, where he announced he would run for the White House. Al Gore gave his formal announcement speech four days later.
Bush announced on June 12; Gore on June 16. What was happening in the press at that time?
It was still Quite Massively Monica. Fifteen months had passed since this story began. Ten months had passed since President Clinton admitted to an improper affair. Four months had passed since his impeachment trial ended. But even now, in mid-June 1999, the national press corps was all a-tingle over this thrilling matter.
Indeed: As late as June 1999, many of Washingtons major journalists seemed able to focus on little else. In the week before Gore made his launch, the American war in Kosovo reached a sudden, favorable end. But the Lewinsky matter remained the corps focus at the time of Bush and Gores announcements. Bush and Gore sketched plans for the future. But the corps dreamed of The Big She.
The national press corps hadnt moved on as Bush and Gore announced their intentions. Just consider the nations front pages on the weekend before Gore announced.
On Sunday, June 13, the New York Times ran a front-page report about Bushs trip to Iowa. But on that same front page, the Times ran a report about special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who had now been investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton for the better part of five years. Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater prosecutor, will not seek indictments of President Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton but has tentatively decided to issue a final report about their behavior, the paper reported, citing unnamed associates of Starr. There was more, some of which was a bit slippery. The report, which could land in the middle of Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaign, might be blistering in its descriptions of her actions, one Starr associate said.
At any rate, Candidate Bush was on the front page this dayand so was Clintons prosecutor. But then, Starr was everywhere this weekend as the press corps continued reporting on various alleged Clinton scandals. Indeed, he appeared that Sunday on Fox News Sunday, sadly announcing that, four months post-impeachment, hed be forced to continue his probes of the Clintons. Hours after Starrs appearance, the AP reported his thoughts to the world. Prosecutor Kenneth Starr said Sunday he has no choice but to keep investigating the Clintons, the AP said, a course that could collide with the 2000 presidential election campaign and a possible Senate run by the first lady.
The damage this focus could do to Gore escaped the APs notice this day. Again: Starrs investigations had now lasted almost five years.
On Monday, through the APs report, Starr moved from the Times front page to newspapers across the country. Gore made his announcement speech two days later. Alleged scandal still filled the air.
Just consider the Washington Post, whose own front page was still moving with Monica. On Sunday, June 13, a news report captured the sunny high spirits involved in Bushs Iowa launch. But this upbeat report shared the front page with the latest dollop of Clinton/Lewinsky.
On that same day, the Post began a three-part serialization of Bob Woodwards new book, Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate. Woodwards book studied the ways a scandal culture had affected five American presidents in the decades following Nixon. But more than half of Woodwards new book would focus on Clinton, the Post now reported. And all three excerpts on the Posts front page involved Clinton/Lewinsky. Nothing else.
On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday mornings, Monica starred on the Posts front page. Gore gave his speech the next day.
Then too, there was the press corps embarrassing, childish conduct during Gores actual launch. It was fifteen months since the story began, four months since impeachment ended. But when Gore sat for interviews that week, he was routinely asked to discuss Bill and Monicaand little or nothing else. In the Post, Howard Kurtz reported the corps odd focus. In our view, Kurtz was a tad too kind to the press on this subject. But note what Simon said:
In fact, Schieffer asked about nothing but Clinton/Lewinsky in the interview segments he aired. (He interrupted Gores very first answer to declare Clinton a liar.) Sawyers inane, repetitive questions on the same subject were an embarrassment to the human race. And sure enough, there was Simon, committing a classic Washington gaffeby unwisely telling the truth about something. Clinton/Lewinsky was the story that has shaped our time, the flush-cheeked fellow excitedly said. And then, he said a remarkable thing. He and his colleagues were going to make [Gore] jump through the hoops until hed insulted President Clinton in the manner they deemed sufficient.
They were going to punish Gore till he said what they wanted to hear.
One other point must be mentioned here. That involves the groaning conduct of the Posts Ceci Connolly.
By the time of his announcement, Gore had criticized Clintons conduct with Lewinsky for nine solid months. Over and over, he had said the same things: The presidents conduct had been inexcusable, indefensibleterribly wrong. (Clinton himself had said similar things. So had many Big Democrats.) But so what? Over and over, reporters kept asking Gore the same questions, making him repeat the same comments. Despite this, the usual gang of stooges and hacks came up with a good idea this week. When Gore repeated these statements to Sawyer, they began to pretend that the slippery fellow had just flip-flopped about Clintons conduct! They began to insist that the slick, slippery Gore had just said these things for the first time.
Poor Ceci! Shed endlessly reported Gores earlier comments, dating back to September 1998! But membership in this high cohort means Always Repeating The Approved Standard Story. And so, she knew what she had to do. She had to imply that Gore had flipped, without ever quite saying so.
Connolly was slickand wonderfully skilled. In the evolving formulations shown below, she implies that Gore had just criticized Clinton for the first time, without ever quite saying that. (Warning! She came damn close!) Indeed, by her second and third formulations, she had figured out how to use the explicit phrase, for the first time, while still saying things which were technically accurate. By June 27, she and John Harris were even pretending that there was something stunning about Gores comments that weekcomments she had routinely reported over the prior nine months:
Ceci was slick. Now, however, Gore is blunt in his criticism of the president's affair, she wrote on June 16as she repeated the very remarks shed reported for nine solid months at that point. On June 17, she got even slickerand what she wrote was still technically accurate! It was trueGore had used the word upset for the first time when he spoke with those Tennessee reporters. In this slick and slippery way, Ceci slithered in line with the flagrant misstatements now being made by her colleagues.
Monica was the woman they lovedthe only woman they ever could care for. Even now, in their sixteenth month, they kept squeezing this perfect garbage through their loins and out onto the land.
Happening that same week: During that same week, the press corps was inventing the claim that Hillary Clinton lied about the Cubs and the Yankees. Almost surely, their judgment was wrongbut their denunciations were savage (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/16/08). This too was part of the howling storm through which Gore launched his formal campaign. And since you asked, this is of course the way Bush reached the White House.
The only woman theyll ever love: Shes the only woman theyll ever love! Just note how quickly Chief Dunce Milbank mentioned her name in yesterdays Sketch. (Sorry. Youll have to read to paragraph 6. Lovers dont like to be obvious.)