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Daily Howler: Oddly, Mooney finds it ''odd'' when the Post plays the fool about Gore
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HOW TO READ YOFFE! Oddly, Mooney finds it “odd” when the Post plays the fool about Gore: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 2007

HOW TO READ YOFFE: Seek and ye shall find! On Tuesday, we said we’d like to see big news orgs add to the global warming discussion. And hurrah! Newsweek had already done so, with this informative piece by Begley and Murr in its current edition. Amazingly little work of this kind has been done in the wake of this year’s IPCC reports. We strongly suggest that you read this piece. We hope Newsweek does this again.

By contrast, the Post played the fool again this week, printing a laughable op-ed column by Slate’s Emily Yoffe (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/26/07). Yoffe has as much business discussing climate as we have running the space shuttle program, but so what? Her column was waved into print. Once again, readers were exposed to grossly uninformed, silly musings about current climate science.

No, Yoffe doesn’t seem to know climate science—though she does know the standard ways to suggest that it may just be bunk. But then, we liberals don’t seem to know modern journalism, even now, after all these years. Or so it seemed after reading some liberal reactions to Yoffe’s pitiful column.

Take Chris Mooney’s post at HuffPo. Mooney does understand climate science, and he patiently explain some of the sillier aspects of Yoffe’s “analysis.” But does Mooney understand the modern journo trade? In our view, his piece began oddly:
MOONEY (6/26/07): Oddly, if the goal is to slam Al Gore, it often seems as if standards of serious discussion suddenly vanish. Even scientific information—which you'd think people would be inclined to wield cautiously—gets treated as if it's putty.

That was on full display with this Washington Post op-ed by Slate's Emily Yoffe yesterday. The blogosphere has already done great work taking it apart, but because I think we need to discourage such cavalier treatment of complex science, I'm going to pile on.
Semi-apologizing for “piling on,” Mooney goes on to do an excellent job explaining Yoffe’s groaners. But we were struck by his lack of insight about the Washington press.

Mooney starts with a fact he finds “odd”—the fact that normal standards get thrown down the stairs when the press corps starts slamming Gore. Weird, isn’t it? This has been standard for the past decade, but we liberals still say that we find it “odd”—and we still refuse to explain how it works. After explaining Yoffe’s blunders (quite capably), Mooney finished up with a theory about her bad science. But by now, he’d forgotten all about her strange treatment of Gore:
MOONEY: If I'm being a bit hard on Emily Yoffe, it's because there's a larger point here. Yoffe's piece strikes me as indicative of how some aspects of the Washington journalism culture treat scientific information. A lot of the time, what's prized in that world is the ability to make a clever argument—to turn conventional wisdom on its head.

When you apply this approach to science, however, there's an utter mismatch. In science, "conventional wisdom" is a consensus perspective that has withstood repeated expert attempts to unseat it. In this context, being "counterintuitive"—especially when one is doing so well outside of the traditional channels of scientific discourse—usually amounts to little more than being just plain wrong.
And if you don’t mind us adding this thought: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

As he ends, Mooney complains about the way “some aspects of the Washington journalism culture treat scientific information”—but he doesn’t say which aspects of Washington journo culture he means. And he only considers how science is treated. He has dropped his earlier puzzlement about the ritual trashing of Gore.

Mooney is a bright young lad—and a professional writer. So let’s take a moment to explain the things he doesn’t know, or doesn’t wish to discuss:

Reporting science: Mooney offers a limited thought about the way science is reported. Let us help him see a bit further. In the case of climate science, silly articles are often posted because powerful players want to obscure the actual state of the science. One such powerful player is the Post’s Fred Hiatt, who put Yoffe’s know-nothing column in print. Does Mooney fail to understand this? Or is he unwilling to say it?

Reporting Gore: Will liberals ever stop playing dumb about the reporting of Gore? (And other Big Dem leaders.) The Washington Post has been kicking the sh*t out of Gore for at least the past nine years. There is no longer anything “odd” about it; it’s about as “odd” as heat in Death Valley, or moo-cows on the family farm. In particular, Yoffe’s column was part of a familiar pattern at the Post; it was the latest in a string of ludicrous pieces designed to treat Gore as an object of scorn. But then, this has been a familiar agenda at the Post for at least the past nine years. The only thing “odd” about such work is the odd refusal of people like Mooney to acknowledge this obvious pattern.

Mooney knows how to read the science. Is he really this clueless about the press corps? Yoffe’s piece was the latest silly report about warming—and the latest snide denigration of Gore. But to this day, mainstream liberals refuse to discuss the way the mainstream press corps denigrates Gore (and other Dem leaders). Fred Hiatt published this latest sniping at Gore—at Gore, the man who is scaring the children. But even now, nine years after this nonsense began, we still say that we find it “odd.”

Have you ever seen a group of people so happy to finish second? Have you ever seen a group of people so eager to hide the rolling misconduct of those who work to defeat them? By now, all career liberals know they must say how much they admire Gore’s work. But we still play dumb about the way those “standards of serious discussion suddenly vanish.” Oddly, we still pretend that we find it “odd” when we hear the Post’s big moo-cows moo.

EDWARDS V. COULTER: Why is it hard to argue with Ann Coulter? In part, because of this astounding performance by David Gregory, on the Today show. He spoke with Elizabeth Edwards, who briefly debated Coulter on Tuesday evening’s Hardball:
GREGORY (6/28/07): You said rather pointedly that you think Ann Coulter's guilty of hate speech against your husband and others as well. If you strip away some of the inflammatory rhetoric against your husband and other Democrats, the point she's trying to make about your husband, Senator Edwards, running for the White House is, in effect, that he's disingenuous, especially on the signature issue of poverty, whether it's a $400 haircut or taking big money to speak in front of a poverty group. If you, again, strip away the inflammatory rhetoric, is that a real point of vulnerability that you have to deal with in this campaign?
Shorter Gregory: If you strip away the inflammatory rhetoric, you get to the pseudo-complaints!

David Gregory isn’t stupid. But when it comes to Coulter, he’ll play the fool, as he made clear in this gruesome performance. He is willing to insist that Coulter has a “point she’s trying to make.” He’s willing to vouch for these alleged points, even when they’re inane and mindless. (Your husband paid too much for a haircut!) And what the heck! He’ll even misstate elementary facts, helping Coulter sound more sincere. No, Edwards didn’t “take big money to speak in front of a poverty group,” although Gregory was willing to pretend that he did. Media Matters explains it all here; amazingly, Gregory even misstated some basic facts as he vouched for Ann Coulter’s good faith.

It’s very hard to argue with Coulter if Gregory is willing to do that.

But then, it’s also hard to argue with Coulter because of Wednesday night’s Hardball. Chris Matthews spent the entire hour discussing the previous evening’s show—the show on which Elizabeth Edwards (on the phone) tried to argue with Coulter. Throughout the Wednesday evening program, Matthews decried the “trash talk” for which Coulter is famous. But none of his guests—zero; not one—asked why Coulter appear on his show if that’s what he thinks of her work. Hilary Rosen didn’t ask him; Lois Romano didn’t ask him. Chuck Todd didn’t ask him either—and Matthews never pondered the question himself. Here’s the way the program ended, with a bit of high-level hypocrisy:
MATTHEWS: Lois Romano, mother of two, speaking as a mother of two, because you have two beautiful daughters and you know what it means to have—well, you`re lucky enough not to have had misfortunes like, certainly like the Edwardses. But doesn’t a mother have to defend her young and her husband when he`s attacked and threatened with basically terrorist assassination, is what Coulter took a shot at him, and also made fun of their love for their lost—their son Wade?

ROMANO: Right, but I agree with Ron [Christie]. I mean, you can’t argue with Ann Coulter. I mean, she’s in her own world, she’s narcissistic, she’s only out to promote herself. And I don’t know what—I was actually kind of shocked by the phone call [by Elizabeth Edwards]. I don`t know what strategically the Edwardses were trying to accomplish. Maybe it was fund-raising, maybe it was to give life to this campaign. But I think the net result was that it was very demeaning for Elizabeth Edwards. I mean, you have Ann Coulter yelling at her, you know.

MATTHEWS: I know, it is. It is demeaning. Thank you, Lois, very much for coming on. Lois Romano, Chuck Todd and Ron Christie.
Matthews never contested the notion that Coulter is a nasty narcissist. He himself listed the nasty things Coulter has said about Edwards. But so what? Everyone knew not to ask him the question: If that’s what you think of Coulter’s work, why does she appear on your program? The next morning, Gregory went whoring on the Today show, misstating the facts as he vouched for the “points” that Coulter is trying to make.

But there’s a third reason why it’s hard to debate Ann Coulter; Coulter is a vastly experienced demagogue. She’s profoundly disingenuous, so disingenuous that few normal people (like Elizabeth Edwards) have any practice dealing with anyone of her type. On the other hand, she plays her own warped games every day; she herself is tremendously experienced in the types of discussion she generates. She has an endless array of claims—claims that let her argue that she’s really just engaging in jokes and “satire” when she makes her inane, nasty statements. For this reason, it would take a very skilled person to win a debate with Coulter. Your big broadcasters have no plans to try, and the Democratic Party has spent the past fifteen years pretending that it doesn’t know how its big leaders get slimed.

Many liberals thought Edwards did well in her tussle with Coulter. These things are hard to measure, of course, but we didn’t see it that way at THE HOWLER. In our view, Edwards had the advantage for the first minute or two, until Coulter, momentarily surprised, began to fight back. And yes: Coulter’s responses to Edwards made little real sense, as Paul Waldman noted in this post at Tapped. But Coulter wasn’t trying to make sense at this point; she was trying to win a dispute, in this case by throwing off counter-complaints, driven along by her trademark insults. (As it turns out, John Edwards made his money by “doing these psychic [or shyster] routines in front of illiterate juries.”) She had her normal strong tone and sense of certainty; Edwards, on the phone, was at a disadvantage, and the program’s host wasn’t planning to argue. Matthews could have pressed his guest on the contradictions Waldman noted. But he was being paid not to do that. He agreed not to push very hard.

By Thursday morning, Gregory was whoring on the Today show, vouching for Coulter’s essential good faith. And yes, he even misstated facts to show us that Coulter has good points to make (just like Edwards), once you strip the distractions away. Within the world of cable broadcasting, Coulter is a powerful player—and Gregory is a well-trained lad. He’s paid more than $2 million a year; many people will do many things to keep such pay-checks coming.

Special report: A day in the life!

PART 3—SLICK NAME-CALLING: Sunday can be a puzzling day for a modern news consumer. This past Sunday, Time’s Rick Stengel read Mike Bloomberg’s mind—but his clairvoyance didn’t seem to make sense (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/07). On the same program, Kathleen Parker said the lack of blondes around Hillary Clinton was “very telling”—but she said she doesn’t know what it means (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/28/07). But then, even when Sunday pundits make nice, their proclamations may not make much sense. Here was David Ignatius, chatting on that same Chris Matthews Show:
MATTHEWS (6/24/07): David, a year ago, nobody thought [Hillary Clinton] could be both an anti-war Democrat, which most Democrats are, and keep her foot solidly on the security base.

IGNATIUS: She has done something very smart, which is basically say to the country, “Elect me president and I will deal with Iraq.” And she's leaving a lot of the details fuzzy. I think it's an ideal position. Just to watch that tape of John Kerry trying to explain his back and forth vote, just to remember that's not the way to go.
But hasn’t every candidate said, “Elect me president and I will deal with Iraq?” It was nice to see David playing nice, but we couldn’t quite decipher his meaning. But then, we didn’t understand several other things these scribes said on this puzzling program. On Sundays, you get to see your favorite savants. They may not make too much sense.

And often, they don’t play it nice. Consider Sunday’s Meet the Press. Surprise! Russert opened his campaign discussion with a very shaky anti-Clinton column, written by the AP’s Ron Fournier. Fournier had authored some clever name-calling—so Russert turned to it first:
RUSSERT (6/24/07): Let me turn to the 2008 race for the White House. I'll start with Hillary Clinton. Ron Fournier, the veteran political correspondent for the Associated Press wrote a column in which he talked about Hillary Clinton's sense of humor and her experience and her abilities on the campaign trail, but then wrote this:

"Slick Hillary...”
“Then” Fournier wrote “Slick Hillary?” In fact, Fournier started his column with that bit of name-calling. Who knows? Maybe Tim just made a mistake. Or maybe he was trying to hide how pointed this silly piece really was.

At any rate, after misstating the shape of Fournier’s piece, Russert continued to read from it. He read and he read—and he read some more. Here was his full presentation from Fournier’s far-fetched column:
RUSSERT: Ron Fournier, the veteran political correspondent for the Associated Press wrote a column in which he talked about Hillary Clinton's sense of humor and her experience and her abilities on the campaign trail, but then wrote this:

"Slick Hillary. Former President Clinton earned the nickname, Slick Willie, for his mastering the political arts of ducking and dodging. He had a knack for convincing people on both sides of an issue that he agreed with him.

“His wife may not be as smooth, but Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing a passable impression of the ever-parsing former president. Would she pardon Scooter Libby? No comment. Would she nominate a union leader to be secretary of labor? Maybe. Would she repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement? Can't say. She told a crowd she had been calling for a troop withdrawal for some time not mentioning that her rivals have held that position for a longer period. On the other hand, she said some troops will need to remain in Iraq to contain al Qaeda, protect Kurds, keep an eye on Iran, protect the U.S. Embassy and maybe train Iraqi forces. The answer offered a little something for everybody for or against U.S. involvement in Iraq. Pretty slick.”

“Gwen Ifill, what's your take?” Russert asked, after reading at length from a very weak column.

Ifill’s “take” should have been this: Fournier seems to have gotten so dumb that he should be on these Sunday shows too! Repeatedly calling Clinton “slick,” he had lodged a set of absurd complaints against the “ever-parsing” candidate. How absurd were his complaints—complaints which justified his name-calling? Why, Clinton wouldn’t even commit to naming a union leader as secretary of labor! As everyone knows, it would be very unusual for a candidate to make a commitment like that at this point. But so what? Fournier called Clinton a very slick name for some very normal conduct. Meanwhile, Clinton hadn’t been asked if she would repeal NAFTA. Here is what she was actually asked, by Chris Matthews, at the AFSCME convention:

MATTHEWS (6/19/07): Dennis Kucinich, the congressman, was just here, and he gave a big roaring condemnation of NAFTA, said he would get rid of it as one of his first bits of business as president. The crowd really responded positively. What's your response?
The transcript shows Clinton getting [cheers, applause] at the end of her statement; Matthews moved on to the next topic. But no, she wasn’t specifically asked if she would get rid of NAFTA; slickly, Fournier had embellished a tad. And by the way, when it comes to dumb, the scribe should get a special medal for this—let’s review it again:
FOURNIER: She told a crowd she had been calling for a troop withdrawal for some time not mentioning that her rivals have held that position for a longer period.
Clearly, Fournier has proved it. The AP ace will play it so dumb that he’s ready to “play on Sunday.”

Yep, Fournier had played it dumb in the piece where he name-called Clinton. But it felt good to call her “Slick Hillary,” and Russert had opened his panel with it. Result? When Russert threw to Ifill for comment, she knew she must moo with the herd:
IFILL: ...Even though it infuriates us—and Ron is completely right about the questions that Hillary Clinton is really good at not answering—I don't know that there is any evidence that voters are sitting here thinking, "Well, I don't know what she thinks. I'll have to vote for someone else." They're just paying attention to what she says they think they agree with.
“Ron is completely right,” Ifill said. After all, he’d called Clinton a name—and Russert had begun with his column.

But then, Ifill had herself quite a weekend. We’ll skip two more Meet the Press groaners; on Friday night, she started the weekend with a classic performance on her own Washington Week. Fred Thompson is just so “folksy,” she said; in fact, she said it two separate times. Indeed, Thompson is “one of those candidates who's competing in what I call the outsider primary.” .

Surprise! Jeffrey Birnbaum tore Gwen Ifill up when she recited about that “folksy” “outsider.” Our analysts cheered—but were rather amazed. A standard script was left for dead. On Sundays, it just isn’t done.