Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: Ceci and Dana are both in the news. The pair go way, way back
Daily Howler logo
THE ARRANGEMENT OF CECI AND DANA! Ceci and Dana are both in the news. The pair go way, way back: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2009

The so-called press corps’ mental horizons: On this bright, sunny morning, the front page of the Post’s “Style” section is truly a thing to behold. Three stories consume the vast bulk of its wasted space:

Top left: “A Scandal Beyond Sex/A Smitten Sanford Exposes His...Love!” Neely Tucker finds the latest excuse to plow through those sexy-time e-mails.

Below that: “No Higher Ground/Affair Can’t Hide In Ensign’s Other Las Vegas.” As part of a giant lay-out, Karl Vick explores the two Las Vegases—the seamy Strip and the upper-class neighborhood where John Ensign did his best screwing. The article features two large photos. One shows the fancy home of Ensign’s upper-end girl friend—the home she shared with The Man Ensign Wronged.

Top right: “For Celebs, Is Death a True ‘Triple’ Threat?” In this tribute to full-blown dementia, David Montgomery tries to discern if celebrities really do die in threes. This one seems to be aimed at readers who eschew sexy-time tales, yet long to be inane all the same.

For decades, we’ve been in thrall to this small, stupid mafia’s exceptionally low-IQ culture. They dragged us through it all during the 1990s, then started again in the summer of 2001, when the disappearance of Chandra Levy let them spend months reciting their favorite tales, in which Big Dems screw around with interns and might be murderers too. Remember! They only do it because they’re appalled by all the [select one] lying/hypocrisy/murder! But in all the years of their phony prurience, we don’t think we’ve ever seen a front page to match this one.

With this page, a small, broken mafia leaves its scent. If you have access to a hard-copy Post, we suggest that you give it a look.

Two women: We grew up watching My Little Margie, one of many I Love Lucy knock-offs in 1950s TV. In his obituary for Gale Storm, the program’s cheerful star, the Post’s Adam Bernstein shares a rare piece of gender-accuracy:

BERNSTEIN (6/30/09): Always well-meaning but frequently daffy, Ms. Storm's energetic, enthusiastic Margie Albright lived in Manhattan with her widowed onscreen father and showed a gift for concocting kooky schemes to keep him from new romantic entanglements...

The show, which ran until 1955 and lasted many decades in syndication, helped shape one of the stock characters of popular entertainment: the wacky woman, a fount of endearingly comic mistakes and misadventures.

With I Love Lucy taking the lead, those early sitcoms heavily trafficked in that image of women. In these shows, women were wacky, daffy, misadventure-prone. Luckily, their mistakes were endearing.

We’ll admit it—absent the “endearing” part, we thought of these Olbermann years as we read that passage. Has anyone but the creators of those sitcoms ever ridiculed women so? Olbermann has kept it up for years, helping define our “progressive” values. He has especially loved to mock young women. In one of his most ridiculous outings, he even ridiculed Kirsten Dunst for a perfectly reasonable statement, informing her, “You’re no Carl Sagan.” (He seemed to believe that he was.)

Back to the Post. Thumbing further, we hit this morning’s op-ed page, where we encountered a remembrance of perhaps the most famous—and brilliant—young woman—girl—of the last century. “Anne Frank would have celebrated her 80th birthday this month,” film-maker George Stevens Jr. began. Who knows what that brilliant girl might have done if she’d been allowed to live her life? Near the end of his memoir, Stevens recalls his visit to her family’s famous hiding place. Anne Frank’s father took him there. It happened in those same 1950s:

STEVENS (6/30/09): We climbed the stairway until we were in the fourth-floor rooms where the families had hidden. Otto Frank described the day the Gestapo broke through the bookcase door that concealed the entrance. It was determined later that Gestapo Oberscharfuhrer Karl Silberbauer was the man in charge. He snatched Mr. Frank's briefcase and emptied the contents on the floor. He gathered up the silverware and a Hanukkah menorah and left behind papers and other contents as they herded the two families down the stairs.

Anne's diary remained on the floor.

He stole away with the silverware—and left the precious item behind. Or as the Roman matron Cornelia so famously said: “These are my jewels.” (Our high school Latin teacher would tell that old story with a strong sense of belief.)

We don’t want to knock the late Gale Storm in any way, shape or form. But we were struck by the juxtaposition of these memoirs this morning, with their dueling images of the virtues of young women—girls.

By the way, the New York Times seems unaware of the gender issues involved in those sitcoms. The Times tells a simpler story today. In the Times’ account, Gale Storm “made wholesome perkiness a defining element of television's golden age.”

THE ARRANGEMENT OF CECI AND DANA: Ceci Connolly and Dana Milbank have both received web attention this week. It might be worth remembering how the two are connected.

This takes us back to 1999—to a time when the world’s history was being changed.

In March of that year, Gore began his informal campaigning for the White House. (Bradley was already on the trail. Bush would start campaigning in June. Clinton’s impeachment trial had just ended.) And Connolly began her deeply unfortunate, twenty-month run as the Washington Post’s Gore reporter.

It became fairly clear, fairly fast, that something was badly wrong with her work. For us, this produced a brush with greatness. In early April 1999, we interviewed Connolly, for the full hour we think, while doing our weekly guest spot on a WMAL radio show. We’d scheduled Ceci because of her peculiar Washington Post magazine cover story, an 8000-word attack on Gore which came complete with four mocking visuals. The piece appeared on April 4, 1999. To read it, just click here.

The report, which dealt with Gore’s fund-raising, remains a museum-level, textbook case of disingenuous pseudo-reporting. (At the time, we didn’t know how bad the work really was. In fairness, we knew pretty well.) But as the year went along, it became clear that something was badly wrong with a great deal of Connolly’s “reporting.”

Eventually, this led to the single most significant bit of bungled “reporting” in that fateful campaign.

That was the completely accidental misquotation, by Connolly and Katharine Seelye, of something Gore said in New Hampshire about his work in the House of Representatives concerning the Love Canal toxic waste site. This completely accidental joint misquotation occurred on November 30, 1999; it rekindled the press corps’ GORE LIAR theme, which was withering on the vine at the time due to a lack of examples. After Connolly and Seelye came up with their completely accidental misquotation, the GORE LIAR theme revived, in a month-long frenzy, and hardened into stone. (Eventual standard paraphrase: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!) This theme drove the rest of the campaign coverage. In the end, it sent George Bush to the White House. It’s completely absurd—Rosen-level absurd—to pretend it didn’t.

Love Canal transformed the coverage—hardened its tendencies into stone. But this was Ceci’s second score in just that one marvelous month. At the start of November, another silly theme had emerged—and it too burned up a month of press coverage: Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones! This grew from a front-page “news report” by Connolly. In it, she quoted Dick Morris “speculating” that this troubling thing might have occurred.

As far as we know, no evidence ever surfaced to indicate that any such thing ever happened. But so what? Connolly’s insinuation swept through the press corps. On CNN, it was being reported as fact by that afternoon. And it produced that famous claim—another claim which remains iconic.

In this format, it would be hard to capture all the nonsense produced by Connolly in 1999. By far, she was the most important—and most destructive—print reporter in that White House campaign. It’s hard to believe that any reporter ever did so much, in modern times, to change a White House campaign.

Here’s the connection to Milbank:

During 1999, Milbank was the top campaign reporter for the New Republic. The journal was owned by Marty Peretz, a long-time friend and admirer of Gore. If any journal was going to report on Connolly’s journalistic misconduct, you’d think it would have been the New Republic. But Milbank said nothing about her work. Nothing, all through the year.

And then, sure enough! In January 2000, Milbank accepted a new and better job—at the Washington Post! He’d spent the entire year ignoring Connolly’s growing misconduct—even as he negotiated with her owners to get a new job for himself. Nor was Milbank alone in this conduct, which simply screamed of conflict-of-interest. Charles Lane, then the editor of the New Republic, took a brand-spanking new job with the Post at the same darn time!

They’re both at the Washington Post to this day. Each fellow kept his trap shut about Connolly’s work—as he negotiated to get hired by her mighty newspaper.

Connolly’s conduct was astounding all through that White House campaign. Equally astounding is the fact that she is now the Post’s lead reporter on such a major, seminal issue as the current health reform effort. It’s astounding—that someone could have done all the things she did in that campaign with nary a peep from the career liberal world. Ten years later, the career liberal world is still too full of craven cowards to utter a peep of retrospective protest. Or to worry about the fact that she’s covering health reform.

But then, even now—with Obama the king and the GOP in retreat—you live inside a Potemkin political world. Two teams seem to compete on the field. They’re called the Republicans and the Democrats—but more often, they behave like the Globetrotters and the Washington Generals. Inside Washington, a career liberal world pretends to compete—but it mainly likes to gambol and play, writing amusements about sex pseudo-scandals. This world mainly pretends to compete. The fact that Connolly is back on the field with nary a scratch shows you the depth of its refusal to actually do so.

Their names are Dionne, and Robinson—and Ezra Klein? They will never tell you what Ceci did. They have good jobs—and plan to keep them. They are very good team players—if you’re coaching the Washington Generals.

(Regarding group agreements: Did you ever wonder why, fifteen years later, your side still has no serious frameworks with which to approach health reform? Did you ever wonder why everyone has agreed , for fifteen years, not to discuss European health care? Not to scream, in very loud voices, about the world’s most ridiculous set of facts? Everyone but Krugman, that is?)

Right now, Obama is being allowed to put the economy and the financial world back together again. Eventually, the reconstruction will have occurred. The looting will then proceed anew; so will the use of power to keep the public from knowing about it. (Has Naomi Klein been back on Maddow?) Efforts will start to return the less liberal party to power.

At that time, you’ll still think that two teams are competing. But the Dionnes and the Robinsons won’t be competing. They will politely keep their traps shut, as they did in 1999 and 2000 as the slanders rolled out over Gore.

People, those are damn good jobs! Your “leaders” aren’t planning to give them up. And young career writers still want them.

It’s astounding that Connolly walked away from Campaign 2000 with barely a scratch. In large part, that happened because career “liberals” have been standing in line to go to work for the Washington Post. No one in the “career liberal” world has ever wanted to tell the public about what she did.

Ceci and Dana are both in the news. In truth, they go way back.

In real time, across the pond: So you’ll understand how the system works, let’s recall what someone wrote in the Financial Times in the summer of 2000. Below, we’ll tell you who that person almost certainly was.

What follows was part of an unsigned report called “Tale of two press corps.” In the summer of 2000, you had to go across the pond to learn the kinds of obvious facts presented in this accurate piece. (There is no link available.) Over here, the Milbanks, the Dionnes and the Al Hunts were pretending to be unaware of such obvious facts:

FINANCIAL TIMES (8/17/00): [T]he Gore media, for all its experience, sometimes appears to step over the line in its pursuit of critical coverage.

At the heart of the press corps are three reporters, known to their politically-incorrect colleagues as the "Spice Girls". The three are perhaps the most influential reporters on the Gore campaign, having covered the vice-president almost without break this year: Ceci Connolly of The Washington Post, Katharine Seelye of The New York Times and Sandra Sobieraj of the Associated Press. They can also be the most hostile to the campaign, doing little to hide their contempt for the candidate and his team.

Let’s be clear: This assessment is vastly understated, especially when it comes to Connolly, the worst offender of the three writers named. Her hostility toward Gore had been quite clear for well over a year at this point. But people like Milbank wanted good jobs, and so they kept their big traps shut. People like Dionne wanted to keep the good jobs they already had.

Richard Cohen? He was writing whole columns attacking Lieberman for things Bush had actually said.

Yep! You had to journey across the pond to learn the truth in the summer of 2000. By the way, how big a semi-nut was Connolly at that time? This quick glimpse into ConnollyWorld appeared in that same report:

FINANCIAL TIMES: Connolly expressed her feelings most dramatically on last month's plane trip to North Carolina where the Gores were taking their pre-convention vacation. To lighten the mood on board, the campaign had given reporters beach accessories including plastic water pistols.

According to several witnesses, when Gore came back to chat with the press on his plane, Connolly put her arm around the vice-president's shoulder and held the gun to his head. It might have been a joke. But for the secret service on board, as well as the Gore campaign, there were no smiles.

Good times! Meanwhile, here’s how Connolly handled the unwanted publicity, according to Susan Threadgill in the Washingtonian. Even though the publicity appeared across the pond, Ceci wasn’t having it:

THREADGILL (11/1/00): Recently, The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly gave the Secret Service a bit of a heart attack on Air Force Two when she put her arm around the vice president's shoulder and held a plastic water pistol to his head. While Connolly claimed the incident was a joke, others saw it as a reflection of her well-known hostility to the Gore camp, according to the Financial Times.

Connolly has denied any bias against Gore, but she apparently made no bones about her feelings about the Financial Times. An incensed Connolly reportedly gave the Times staff a tongue lashing for daring to write about the behavior of reporters covering the campaign and for breaking the unspoken rule among the press that keeps its own dirty laundry private.

Cute. Now that a few years have passed, we recall being told, in December 1999, about another special event from ConnollyWorld—her accusation that the Gore campaign had been going through her luggage! As best we recall what we were told, the campaign seemed to think that she was maybe just a trifle nuts at this time. She was going through a rough divorce, we were told. We don’t know if any of what we were told was accurate.

Our own tattle-tale: Who tattled on Ceci that way? Let’s recall who was covering the campaign for the Financial Times. That’s right! It was Our Own Richard Wolffe, who now stars on cable TV as Olbermann’s version of Fredo! Below, we’ll link you to Wolffe’s recent, rather sinister thoughts about the way journalism and business interact.

Back then, Wolffe was more idealistic. You may remember him from the end of Alexandra Pelosi’s HBO film, Journeys with George. Wolffe was one of the stars of the film; at the end, he lamented the divergent ways the press had covered Bush and Gore. When the film aired on HBO, Wayne Slater captured a few of his quotes in the Dallas Morning News. For the record, “over here” means “over here on the Bush plane:”

SLATER (3/7/02): Journeys With George is a Rorschach test: You'll see what you want to see. George Bush the good guy or George Bush the goof.

“The Gore press corps was all about how they didn't like him and they didn't trust him, and that kind of filtered through into their stories,” Mr. Wolffe of the Financial Times tells Alexandra. “Over here, you know, we were writing about trivial stuff because he charmed the pants off us.”

There is a curious, Escherlike quality to the movie. The real becomes the unreal and then real again.

Sure enough! Almost surely, that’s the guy who wrote the FT’s “Tale of two press corps!” And after that campaign ended, of course, Wolffe never said such important things again. He could have helped the public learn the truth—but that might have harmed his career. By 2002, he was working for Newsweek, which is of course owned by the Washington Post. Through Newsweek, he became an MSNBC star. (The entities have a corporate tie-in.)

Could Our Own Richard Wolffe have gotten this big if he’d continued to tell the truth about the Washington Post’s campaign coverage?

One last sad example of the way this system seems to work:

In the summer of 2000, excitement was spreading! In part thanks to the Financial Times, word had spilled that other reporters were angry at Connolly/Seelye/Sobieraj—thought their “reporting” was crap. And at Brill’s Content, a major media magazine, Seth Mnookin was on the case! He interviewed us about Connolly and Seelye’s reporting. (We’ve never quite understood how Sobieraj got thrown in this stew.) In the process, we forwarded him to a major reporter who had told us, earlier that year, that he thought their “reporting” was crap.

But uh-oh! When Mnookin’s piece appeared in early September, he had no earthly idea why Connolly and Seelye had been criticized—unless it was because their critics were sexist! Sure, they got Love Canal wrong, he acknowledged. But he couldn’t find squat beyond that!

Mnookin suggested the critics were sexist. And by complete and total coincidence, he took a new, better job in 2002. He took that new, better job with Newsweek—which is owned by the Washington Post!

Could he ever have gotten that job if he’d been more frank about Ceci? We have no idea. We would guess that many young career writers have no plans to find out.

Brill’s Content no longer exists. We’ll further guess that Steven Brill learned a lesson in this whole process: You can’t get young career writers to tell the truth about possible future employers.

To his credit, Our Own Richard Wolffe told the truth in the Financial Times—and on the Bush plane, in Pelosi’s film. Since then, all has been silent. But then, the gentleman made his bones at Newsweek. It’s owned by the Washington Post.

At any rate, Connolly was very much the “alpha female” in the pack which chased Gore down for twenty months. Ten years later, she is back, covering a very important issue. We do not allege that she has an agenda in her coverage of health reform. (She may, of course; we have no idea.) But the compliant hacks of the career liberal world have never uttered the tiniest peep about any of this world-changing history. You aren’t allowed to know such things. Darlings! Jobs are at stake!

And by the way—they never will! They can read the name on the front of their shirts. These superstars play for the Washington Generals. Some things, they’re allowed to say. Other things? Not so much.

Summarizing: They all ended up at Newsweek or the Post:

Ezra Klein

And that’s just the starting five!

Needless to say, we aren’t discussing the people who want to play Hardball. They have to stifle too. Darlings! Jobs are at stake!

Digby captured Wolffe: These days, Our Own Richard Wolffe has become a slightly more hardened player. Earlier this month, Digby nearly fell on the fainting couch herself! But then, she had every right. You know what to do—just click here.