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FROM SIR WITH LOVE! Harold Evans recalls a dark day—and points the way to the future: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 16, 2007

MADE IN TEXAS: For those who didn’t watch it live, we’ll strongly recommend Saturday’s memorial service for Lady Bird Johnson—if C-SPAN posts the full tape. (At present, they’ve posted an oddly truncated version. It stops as the memorial speeches begin.) In the Dallas Morning News, Wayne Slater describes part of Bill Moyers’ fascinating speech. Moyers recalled some tragic history—history we’d forgotten, or had never known:
SLATER (7/15/07): Mrs. Johnson's commitment to spreading wildflowers along the nation's highways and the establishment of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center near Austin were mentioned repeatedly as elements of her public persona.

Bill Moyers, a former press secretary to Mr. Johnson, cited another quality—her example as a "triumph of civility" in difficult times.

Mr. Moyers recalled a visit to Dallas in 1960 when Mr. Johnson was the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket with Sen. John F. Kennedy.

Confronted by furious protesters in the street outside the Baker Hotel, Mrs. Johnson smiled at her tormenters, creating "a small zone of grace in the midst of that tumultuous throng."

In much the same way, when Mr. Johnson ran for election as president four years later, Mrs. Johnson was "a voice raised against the mob" during a solo campaign swing by train through the South.

Mr. Moyers recalled how opponents of the Civil Rights Act, signed by Mr. Johnson as president, booed and jeered her at campaign stops. She faced death threats and racist taunts, he said.

Throughout, Mrs. Johnson met the opposition with grace and civility, he said.

"Yes, she planted flowers," he said. "Walk this weekend among the paths and trails and flowers and see the places she loved.

"But as you do, remember she also loved democracy and saw beauty in it," he added. "Remember that this shy girl from Karnack, Texas, with eyes as wistful as the cypress and manners as soft as the whispering pine, grew up to show us how to cultivate the beauty of democracy."
Needless to say, you could do a lot worse than leave a legacy as the person who spread those wild-flowers all around. But many who booed and jeered back then are almost surely wiser today, in part due to Johnson’s “grace and civility.” We’ll also recommend the remembrances offered by three of Johnson’s (adult) grand-daughters—one of whom had collected the thoughts of Johnson’s great-grandchildren as well. In real time, the Johnsons were often looked down upon by the swells. For us, this service provided an inspiring second look at a good person made in Texas.

By the way, it’s hard to “cultivate the beauty of democracy” when millionaire pundits spend their time spreading bull-roar about people’s haircuts. We’ll now return to our regular programming. But if C-SPAN posts the tape of the full service, we’ll suggest that you give it a look.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI’S BIG CHECK: Have we mentioned the fact that you simply must read Jamison Foser each Friday? Last Friday’s piece at Media Matters is a sad reminder of the endless joke the mainstream press corps is willing to make of your democracy—indeed, of your lives.

Foser starts with the press corps’ treatment of John Edwards’ troubling haircut. But soon, he recalls the silly trashing of Candidate Gore—and he reviews the gruesome “cheese steak” episode from Campaign 2004. In the process, he makes an increasingly obvious point about the press corps’ flogging of trivia: As a general matter, “President Bush and conservatives aren't subject to that [kind of] treatment by the media.” Readers, Foser knows trivia! To recall the instructive cheese steak debate, we strongly advise you—read Friday’s column.

Increasingly, trivia drives our discourse. But many liberals and centrists (and decent Republicans) still aren’t sure how to react to these narratives. Tomorrow, we’ll show you some e-mails we’ve received on the subject of Edwards’ haircut—and we’ll offer good sound advice about the way liberals should respond to such trivia.

Yep! On Friday, Foser proved he knows trivia. But as you read his instructive piece, be sure to note his very instructive catch about NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski. Uh-oh! Foser knows pay-days too:
FOSER (7/13/07): When NBC chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski spoke May 1 before the Rhode Island Business Expo (in exchange for $30,000 from the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce), he talked about Iraq, about al Qaeda, about the Bush administration's response to the September 11 attacks—and he told his audience that John Edwards is a "loser." Why? The haircut, of course.

Let's stop there for a minute.

Journalist Jim Miklaszewski took $30,000 from the Chamber of Commerce for a speaking appearance in which he criticized Edwards over the haircut. [Foser’s italics]
Let’s be generous, as is our wont. Based on the news report to which Foser links, it seems Miklaszewski only mentioned the haircut briefly, in a Q-and-A. His actual speech at the Business Expo concerned much more serious matters. But in that passage from Foser’s piece, you see the nexus we’ve discussed in the past—the nexus between massive journalistic pay and massive journalistic inanity. Readers, gaze on the soul of your press corps—and go ahead! Enjoy a good solid laugh! In this episode, you have a $30,000 speaker—complaining about a $400 haircut! We asked our analysts to tackle the math: According to their calculations, Miklaszewski was “earning” $500 per minute as he spoke to that Rhode Island group. Every 48 seconds, he was “earning” the amount Edwards spent for that troubling coif. (Their calculations were based on the assumption that Miklaszewski spoke for an hour. In that hour, he “earned” more money than many voters do in a year.)

To be fair, Miklaszewski isn’t one of our press corps’ prime buffoons. But this marvelous anecdote helps us see the soul of modern millionaire press culture. That 30K speaking fee helps us recall the financial strata in which our major press figures dwell. Readers, who are the “hypocrites” when people like that pretend to be shocked—shocked— by the price of that troubling haircut?

Simple story: If you want a middle-class democracy, you can’t have a millionaire press corps. Inevitably, you’ll end up with what we have now—with utterly fatuous pseudo-stories aimed at the leaders of the more liberal party. They really don’t do this to Republicans any more, as Foser says. But they’ve done it to Big Dems for the past fifteen years. Read Foser—he’ll help you recall.

Tomorrow, a basic thought about how decent people (of the left, right and center) ought to react to this spreading nonsense. (By the way—we have to start reacting much more aggressively.) In the meantime, gaze on the soul of your press corps and laugh! Omigod! A $30,000-an-hour speaker—mocking a $400 haircut! We wonder: Did the absurdity of this occur to “Mik” as he stuck that fat check in his wallet?

TOMORROW: The strategy is clear: Just say no.

FROM SIR WITH LOVE: In recent weeks, have we mentioned the fact that Harold Evans is never wrong? On Friday, the Wall Street Journal celebrated ten years of political blogging; when the Journal asked astute people to comment, it presented the views of Sir Harold first. Sure, we could edit “for brevity” here. But what the heck—we’ll just leave Eric in!
EVANS (7/14/07): Some blogs have become the best check on monopoly mainstream journalism, and they provide a surprisingly frequent source of initiative reporting. As an example, the only hope of staying sane in the lockstep stereotyped reporting of the 2000 presidential campaign was to look up Eric Alterman on MSNBC.com and the Daily Howler hilariously documenting the false narrative into which every story about Al Gore was fitted.
And by the way: That 2000 presidential campaign began in March 1999, twenty months before we all voted. Al Gore is a liar, just like Bill Clinton: This mainstream press narrative was firmly in place by mid-March 1999! Here at THE HOWLER, we discussed its elements in detail, in real time. But at the time, it was hard to get other liberals and Dems to challenge this mountain of mainstream dissembling. (None of us did enough.) And it’s sometimes hard to get liberals and Dems to discuss this rank history even today! In part for that reason, many voters’ bull-roar detectors don’t go off when they read complaints about Edwards’ haircut—or when they hear about how screechy Hillary Clinton’s voice has been.

In that same Journal piece, Jane Hamsher discussed how things have changed in these past ten years. We think Jane is quite right—and partially wrong. We’ll tack our thoughts on at the end:
HAMSER: During the '90s, railing at the TV set was the isometric sport of the silent majority. Progressive political junkies watched in isolation as the Washington Post prominently printed one Whitewater story after another as if they originated on tablets of stone rather than the fax machines of Arkansas political operatives. Many people felt like they were the only ones who scratched their heads in wonder that it all made no sense, recoiling in horror as a slick PR operation rapidly escalated from the realm of lazy, spoon-fed journalism to the constitutional mockery of the Clinton impeachment.

That isolation ended with the advent of the progressive blogosphere, which acts as a virtual water cooler for those who not only want to rail at the TV set, they want the TV set to listen. Probably nothing better contrasts the pre- and postblogospheric worlds than the Whitewater and CIA leak stories. In one, the endless repetition of meaningless gibberish was allowed to take root and become conventional wisdom. In the other, despite the constant reiteration of abject fantasies like "no underlying crime was committed," the public seemed to realize that it's not okay to perjure yourself in front of a grand jury and obstruct justice on behalf of your boss. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was allowed to try his case in court before GOP spinmeisters could try it in the press, and a recent Gallup poll shows that 66 percent of the country thinks Bush should've left Scooter alone to do his time.

That message wasn't carried by the beltway Brahmins of the MSM, the media elite who transcend party loyalties and embrace Libby as one of their own. They collectively bristled at the thought that Scooter (and no doubt themselves) should be subject to the verdict of some "ignorant jury" (as Ann Coulter likes to call them). No, that message was carried by bloggers and their readers, the thousands of people who collectively pored over the story's coverage, serving as institutional memory and holding media outlets to account when the politics of access journalism threaten to obscure the truth.
To Evans, it was hard to “stay sane” in the late 1990s. Jane describes a similar phenomenon: “During the '90s, railing at the TV set was the isometric sport of the silent majority...Many people felt like they were the only ones who [saw] that it all made no sense.”

Today, things are better, Jane correctly reports. People can come to the liberal web and find critiques of the press corps’ narratives. She suggests—we’ll guess semi-correctly—that public reaction to the Libby commutation reflects this new situation. Of course, it’s hard to know just how much of that 66 percent disapproval rate was driven by liberal blogs (or by spill-over from same). And while Jane is surely right in one way, she may overstate the progress we’ve made, as we can possibly see if we consider some other examples.

In her comments, Jane compares Whitewater with the CIA leak. But how about a second comparison? How about comparing two of the stories Foser discussed?
Story 1—March 1999: Al Gore is a delusional liar because he said he invented the Internet.

Story 2—July 2007: John Edwards is a hypocritical phony because he paid too much for a haircut.

(Or: Because he owns a big house. Or: Because he was paid for a speech about poverty.)
Jane’s comparison stresses the way the liberal web has expanded the discourse. And she’s right—for many, there has been a big change. But the wide reach of the ongoing haircut nonsense suggests we have a long way to go.

For that reason, we’re planning to start a new org, as we mentioned a few weeks ago. At present, voters can come to the liberal web to read critiques of the mainstream press. But back in April, we came away from our trip to Nebraska with a basic thought: People need to hear these critiques voiced in public, in the open air. It’s one thing to visit web sites where the work of the mainstream press corps is challenged. But liberal critiques of the mainstream press are rarely heard on TV or on cable, or anywhere else in our vast public square. It’s time the public heard speakers and panels expressing these long-suppressed critiques.

It’s true—ten years’ work on the web has helped a great deal. But it’s time the public saw and heard these liberal critiques expressed in the open air.

In the next few weeks, we’ll tell you more about the new org we’re planning to form—an org that will speak loud and clear, out in public, in university and union halls. And yes, we’re going to ask for your money. This time, it will take some dough.

For now, let’s think back to those miserable days when it was hard to “stay sane.” We first heard from Harold Evans, who we didn’t know, in late November 2000; he called us very generously, out of the blue, to thank us for what we had tried to do in the proceeding twenty months. Plainly, we hadn’t done enough. And we plainly haven’t done enough in the seven years since.

Since that time, we’ve become frustrated here at THE HOWLER; in the process, we’ve sometimes abandoned the affable tone that once made us a widely-admired avatar of urbane politesse. But that frustration has been deserved (if, at times, poorly expressed)—and the liberal message can’t succeed if it’s restricted to the web. We have to speak under those famous clear skies, right out there in the public square. If we’re lucky—and if you’re prepared to cough up—we hope to present those street-fighting speakers and panels fairly soon. (Yo! Jane! Start writing your speech...)

People deserve to hear the truth about the work of the mainstream press. People deserve to hear the truth about John Edwards’ haircut. They need to see a real live person tell them about Miklaszewski’s big pay-day. We were left with a thought when we went to Nebraska: It’s time to take the web’s critiques into the vast public square.

By the way: We’re very grateful to Harold Evans for his continued kind words. And sure, we could have edited what he said just a bit. We could have done it—but it would have been wrong!