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THEIR OWN HARRY POTTERS! Barnicle didn’t seem to have heard that a treasured old novel was fiction: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 23, 2007

OLBERMANN PUSHES BACK INSTANTLY: For ourselves, we’re not fans of Countdown in the way some folk are; several reasons are offered below. But we thought Keith Olbermann’s “special comment” last Thursday was the most significant event of the week. Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman had written a letter to Hillary Clinton; he said that her (perfectly sensible) inquiry about troop withdrawal from Iraq "reinforces enemy propaganda.” At the start of the program—right out of the gate—Olbermann blasted back at Edelman for his “outrageous” and “ominous” conduct.

As stated, we’re not giant fans of Countdown. We think Olbermann tends to overstate what he knows and sometimes simply misleads his audience. (As in his deceptive treatment, last Wednesday and Thursday, of Bill O’Reilly’s recent interview with Miss New Jersey, Amy Polumbo. If you didn’t see the actual interview, please don’t insist that we’re wrong.) Beyond that, we think his insistence on mocking young blonde women makes him one of cable’s worst players on gender issues. But that instant push-back on Thursday night is exactly what was often missing, among Dems and liberals, over the course of the past dozen years. If anything like that had happened in 1999 and 2000, George Bush would never have entered the White House. The U. S. Army is in Iraq because we didn’t push back, quick and hard, when the press made its ludicrous claims about Gore.

We were also pleased when the Clinton campaign pushed back against O’Reilly’s comments concerning The Daily Kos. Some of O’Reilly’s work is perfectly reasonable, but the deceitful way he attacks his critics is simply astounding to see. On Thursday’s show, we were glad when Jane Hall made this statement in the weekly segment she shares with Bernie Goldberg:
O'REILLY (7/19/07): Now, hate sites. As we reported, JetBlue now wants their name off the Kos website. What do you think about this, Jane?

HALL: Bill, I really disagree with this. I mean you confronted the guy from JetBlue with a lot of things, most of which were letters to the editor on a website and the guy—you said he sponsored this. This is a website that gets 14 million hits a month. There's a lot of hate from the right. I know you have condemned some of it. You have basically driven [JetBlue] off by saying they were sponsoring a website, compared it to KKK. I really disagree with what you have done...
Yes, that’s only a start. But in the previous week, O’Reilly had taken a few random comments from the Kos site and used them in a blatantly dishonest way, baldly deceiving his viewers in the process. In matters like this, O’Reilly’s intellectual method is a sick, stunted joke; his degree of invective is a blight on the nation. And his viewers have little way to know that they’re being deceived.

Why are O’Reilly’s viewers ripe for deception? In part, because the mainstream and liberal press establishment have winked at this sort of thing for years. First with Rush and Coulter, now with O’Reilly: There is nothing the crackpots of the right can say that will bring a word of rebuke from mainstream or liberal press elites. The most absurd example of this endless submission was Janet Maslin’s New York Times review of Coulter’s ludicrous pseudo-book, Slander ( see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02.) But the mainstream and liberal press elites have walked away from this cesspool for years. Result? We’re left with O’Reilly misleading his viewers—and aggressively comparing mainstream people to the KKK and the Nazis. At long last, Mr. O, have you no shame? Within our powdered press elites, such words never seem to get written.

Last Thursday, we saw instant push-back from Olbermann; on our sprawling campus, everyone cheered. Meanwhile, on The Factor, we were seeing the depths to which our discourse descends when such push-back is missing. Again, such rebuttal was almost wholly absent during Campaign 2000. What happens when liberals and Dems don’t push back? Keep reading! Last Friday night, a remarkably instructive bit of theater was played out on the cable show Hardball. On Hardball, we got a good look at what occurs when liberals and Dems don’t push back.

THEIR OWN HARRY POTTERS: Children love their Harry Potter—but the press corps has its own treasured novels. Last Friday, Naomi Wolf guested on Hardball—and we saw the remarkable way favorite stories take hold when liberals and Dems don’t push back.

Instantly, guest host Mike Barnicle recited from a treasured press classic. Like everyone else in his high pundit class, he seemed to know the old story by heart:
BARNICLE (7/20/07): Naomi, let’s start with you. Continuing with Hillary Clinton, the Washington Post this morning, a front page piece in the Style section about Mrs. Clinton showing cleavage on the Senate floor. You once encouraged Al Gore to wear, what, earth tones, to soften his image as—

WOLF: Mike—Mike, let me just stop you right there.

BARNICLE: OK.
Omigod! Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones! By now, our analysts were screaming and covering their ears. But we decided to watch the whole thing—and the exchange which followed was deeply instructive. Here’s what happened when Naomi told Mike that this treasured old novel is fiction:
WOLF: Mike—Mike, let me just stop you right there.

BARNICLE: OK.

WOLF: You’ve basically not done your homework—no offense. First of all, I’m not a Democratic consultant, I’m a writer. Second of all, I was advising Gore 2000 on the kinds of issues, women’s issues, that I’ve been talking about for 15 years—things like flex time, family leave, as well as getting out the youth vote. So you’ve just been—you know, the Republican National Committee came up with a bunch of urban legends, and I’m afraid they pulled the wool over your eyes, so—

BARNICLE: Well, no Republican National Committee member pulled the wool over anybody’s eyes! I mean, I can clearly recall you appearing on various talk shows, you know, when Al Gore was running for president and talking about this specific item. But that’s not what we’re talking about.

WOLF: To refute it!
“That’s not what we’re talking about,” Barnicle said. But it was the first thing out of his mouth, eight years after the novel was written. Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones! He remembered the details as clear as a bell—although the things he said he remembered hadn’t really occurred.

Wolf was right—she had gone on TV to refute this claim, when the press corps was staging its latest jihad about the fake/phony Gore. More specifically, she went on ABC’s This Week (11/7/99), where she told clucking Cokie Roberts, “I am not a fashion consultant.” As far as we know, this was the only TV program on which Wolf discussed the earth tones flap—but Barnicle thought he could “clearly recall” Wolf confirming the story! As such, this session provides an instructive example of the way our discourse works when the press is allowed to craft favored tales, without sufficient liberal/Dem push-back.

Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones! Barnicle offered a perfect example of the press corps’ love of classic fiction. Let’s review the chain of events when the press corps invented this novel:
A speculation: The claim that Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones began with a “speculation,” by Dick Morris, reported by the Washington Post’s Ceci Connolly (11/1/99). No, no one ever confirmed this “speculation.” But so what? CNN was reporting the speculation as fact within hours of Connolly’s report.

Flat denials: Gore and Wolf both denied the claim. (Wolf flatly denied the claim in the November 5 New York Times.) But so what? Darlings, the story was just too delicious! As we’ve noted in the past, the denials were almost never mentioned as the press corps typed and retyped its new story. Journalists continued to report this “speculation” as if it were hard fact.

The murk and the gloam: What did Morris actually mean when he “speculated” about Wolf, Gore and earth tones? We’ve studied this story for years at THE HOWLER, and we still have no real idea. It’s clear that Gore had been wearing earth tones (and non-earth tones) since he started campaigning in March 1999. No one had seemed to think this was odd. When is Wolf supposed to have given Gore this advice? When is Gore supposed to have changed into earth tones? We have never seen a piece which even clarifies the claim. But so what? It made for a wonderfully stupid tale, so the press corps decided to run with it.

The subsequent sexual trashing: The press corps turned this silly tale into a nasty sexual trashing—one of the ugliest press corps incidents of the 1990s. It was a month-long jihad in November 1999, during which a range of journos compared Wolf with (who else?) Miss Lewinsky! The smutty boys and girls of the press wanted to think about nothing else. We’ve discussed this in detail before (links below). But the conduct by the press was inexcusable.
We saw the result of all this nonsense on last Friday’s Hardball. Here at THE HOWLER, we take Barnicle at his word; we’ll guess that, as of Friday afternoon, he had never even heard that there might be a problem with this treasured press story. As the years have gone by, liberals and Dems have made little effort to discuss the press corps’ treatment of Gore. In part as a result, this particular narrative is still widely cited by mainstream journos (recent examples below). In 1999, we didn’t push back—and the press corps composed a classic novel which journalists love to this day.

On Thursday night, we saw Olbermann pushing back hard. One night later, watching Barnicle, we saw what happens when push-back is missing. America’s children love Harry Potter—but the press corps has its favorite tales too. Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones! The story never made much sense, but flyweight journalists loved to tell it—and Barnicle still believes every word.

Indeed, we’d have to say that’s the difference. Children know Harry Potter is fiction. But when our journos invent favored tales, they cling to them, thinking they’re fact.

YOU NEVER FORGET YOUR FAVORITE NOVELS: Once these fictions get established, our journalists never seem to forget them. Ugh! Here’s Guy Trebay, writing about “campaign chic” in yesterday’s New York Times:
TREBAY (7/22/07): Voters will be hearing a lot about authenticity in the coming months. Mr. Carrick, the Democratic strategist, called it ''the one thing you've got to worry about.'''

'If somebody doesn't come across as real and believable in their image,'' he said, ''they're not going to be believable in their content, either.''

They risk becoming Al Gore in earth tones, in other words, to cite a famously lampooned misstep the former presidential candidate undertook on the advice of Naomi Wolf, then his image consultant. They risk making the mistake that Nixon did when he wore lace-up shoes on the beach. They risk John Kerry's damaging decision to turn up on television tinted the tangerine hue of a Mystic Tan.
Trebay seems to think he remembers the earth tones too. Meanwhile, for a third, especially egregious example of false memory syndrome, you know what to do—just click here. Be sure to read the last paragraph.

As we’ve told you, journos are now allowed to say this: Al Gore never said he invented the Internet. But they never explain why they told us the opposite for so many years—and they still peddle these other fake tales. This is what happens when Dems don’t push back. Like Pepperidge Farm, we should remember.

IT’S A GIVHAN: Many liberals have misconstrued Robin Givhan’s recent piece about cleavage. Givhan is impossibly arch when she pens these silly “Style” pieces about the wardrobes of big politicians; they read like parodies from The Onion. But Givhan has written these pieces for years, about pols in both major parties; there is no sign that they’re meant to be partisan. It was Givhan, for example, who wrote the much-criticized, excessive piece about Katherine Harris’ excessive make-up (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/22/00). And guess what? In November 1999, Givhan was virtually alone in the mainstream press. Omigod! She challenged the trashing Gore was getting about those troubling earth tones:
GIVHAN (11/2/99): If presidential politics were a playground brawl, the churlish scrutiny of Al Gore's personality would be akin to getting trapped inside the monkey bars. Gore has been cornered by a pack of taunting bullies. The tormentors are calling him names: prosaic, stiff, boring.

Dull boy, dull boy. Dull, dull, dull. Poor Al, can't bond with people because he's stiff as a board. Waaa!

The bullies fire off the insults as if they've studied the very nature of bland and found Gore to be its essence.
As it turned out, Givhan had purchased several Bad Facts from that churlish gang of bullies; for example, she seemed to think that Gore had just started wearing cowboy boots, one of the blatantly bogus claims her fellow journos were loudly bruiting. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/03, for a full discussion of this particular bit of trivia.) But she alone, in these Ground Zero precincts, said how silly this trashing really was.

It’s a Givhan! This scribe is going to write absurd pieces about the wardrobes of major pols. But in the wake of her latest effort, many liberals rushed to complain about the Post’s bad conservative bias. In matters like this, it wouldn’t hurt if we knew whereof we spoke.

REFLEXIVE SEXISTS: We cheered the New York Times’ A. O. Scott when he reviewed Georgia Rules back in May. This passage captures one of our problems with Countdown:
SCOTT (5/11/07): But the movie really belongs to Ms. Fonda and Ms. Lohan, actresses whose formidable skill is often underestimated and overshadowed by off-screen notoriety. Ms. Lohan in particular has been subjected recently to the prurient, punitive gaze of an Internet gossip culture that takes special delight in the humiliation of young women with shaky discipline and an appetite for fun.
“Special delight in the humiliation of young women” is all over cable, of course. But it galls us when we’re asked to buy it each night as part of a liberal news package.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones! We’ve told this gruesome tale in five parts. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/03, with links to all five reports.