Daily Howler logo
THEY TOO STABBED US IN THE BACK! A Nutmeg Nabob spoke against Clinton. But other Big Dems spoke up too: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 24, 2006

AGAIN, THAT BASIC LESSON: Last week, the New York Times’ Ann Kornblut grievously bungled a simple report about Hillary Clinton. Because Kornblut’s misstatements were such perfect groaners, many writers on the web assumed that her bungling was intentional (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/17/06). But we offered a word of incomparable caution: As a matter of fact, today’s major mainstream journalists are often extremely unimpressive. They’re more than capable of making such blunders without any hostile intent.

Yesterday, the Times seemed determined to prove we were right. One foolish error—by Adam Nagourney—was shot down here by Duncan Black. (Nagourney’s blunder was part of a story which topped the Times’ on-line “Washington” page. According to the Times, this was Sunday’s top political story.) And uh-oh! Right below it, offered as Sunday’s number-2 political story, we saw this brilliantly bungled synopsis of another Nagourney report:

NEW YORK TIMES (7/23/06):
Democrats Propose Moving Up Nevada in
Presidential Caucuses
Democrats envision a 2008 lineup that begins with Iowa’s caucuses, followed by Nevada’s caucuses, and then the caucuses in New Hampshire.
Good grief! Obviously, we all make mistakes. But doesn’t it start to get semi-amazing? Apparently, someone at the New York Times thinks they hold “caucuses” in New Hampshire. And remember—this groaner appeared in a synopsis of the day’s number-2 political story! It appeared right below the day’s top story—the story in which Nagourney had made that first groaning mistake. (This bungled synopsis was still on-line when we spied it last night, at 8:30.)

It may be the most important thing we’ve learned in eight-plus years at THE HOWLER: As a group, these people are amazingly unimpressive. As a general matter, they simply aren’t especially sharp—and they simply aren’t high-powered. Indeed, it sometimes seems you have to prove your dullness before you can advance in this group. In particular, New York Times political writers often seem to rank among the world’s most reliable dullards.

This basic point is counterintuitive. Reason screams out; surely, the people atop our journalistic heap must be fundamentally capable. But no, these people just aren’t very sharp. And as with all such low-voltage types, they love to talk trivia; they hate to talk substance; and they simply love to recite their pleasing group stories. And oh yes: They’re capable of endless groaning errors, as the Times was busy proving throughout the course of last week.

Note: In this second article, Nagourney himself correctly referred to the state of New Hampshire’s quadrennial “primary.” Presumably, someone else bungled the synopsis—and the blunder sat there on-line all day long. On the other hand, Nagourney said, at one point in his report, that Nevada would be allowed to hold a caucus—and then he referred to it as a primary. (Of course, this could have been an editing error.) What kind of event would Nevada be holding? Much like Lyndon Johnson before him, it seemed that the Times was willing—and able—to “teach it flat or round.”

THEY TOO STABBED US ALL IN THE BACK: Why will Bill Clinton be stumping for Lieberman? We don’t have the slightest idea, although we aren’t deeply troubled by the decision. But a string of complaints around the web led us back, through the magic of Nexis, to September 1998, when Lieberman took to the floor of the Senate to denounce Bill’s conduct with Monica. Who else stabbed us all in the back at that time? We were somewhat surprised to recall.

For the record, our own recollection of this event tracks with this passage from Hedrik Hertzberg’s current New Yorker piece. For the record, Lieberman gave the speech in question on September 3, 1998:

HERTZBERG (7/24/06): It was an exceedingly pompous performance, in which the Senator expressed his “deep disappointment and personal anger” at President Clinton for his sad, furtive affair with a White House intern [sic] and deplored “the impact of his actions on our democracy and its moral foundations.” The speech earned Lieberman plaudits for statesmanship, integrity, independence, and the like; some people actually saw it as a service to the Democratic Party and even to the President, on the ground that it...redirected a little of the anti-Clinton feeling from demands for immediate impeachment (which Lieberman rejected as “unjust and unwise”) to mere indignation. Others, however, saw Lieberman’s attack on Clinton—for, among other things, embodying a “mind-set that has helped to threaten the integrity and stability of the family”—as sanctimonious and even a trifle hypocritical.
Late last week, we discussed the speech with a Dem Party worker—who immediately wondered again, as many did at the time, if Joe and Bill hadn’t been in cahoots about this event. Today, many thunderers are quite sure about what this speech really meant. In our view, it’s a good deal less clear.

Hertzberg says the speech was pompous—and, of course, that’s his judgment to make. But for the record, Lieberman wasn’t the only Big Dem stabbing us all in the back at this juncture. Yes, he was the first Dem solon to speak out on the floor of the Senate. But others rushed to second his views. The next day, Dan Balz named names in the Post:

BALZ (9/4/98): Immediately after Lieberman concluded his statement, two senior Democrats—Sens. Bob Kerrey (Neb.) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (N.Y.)—rose to endorse Lieberman's rebuke of the president and to praise him for his words.

Moynihan also sent a warning to the White House that many Democrats on Capitol Hill will resist turning the coming review of the Starr report into a purely partisan exercise. "It will be for us to discharge our constitutional duties," he said.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) had hammered Clinton in a speech the day before, Balz reported. “Other Democrats said yesterday they would support some kind of congressional action against the president.” Dick Gephardt wasn’t quite so sure, but he had stabbed us all in the back one week earlier:
BALZ: Campaigning for House Democrats in New Hampshire, Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who last week castigated the president for "reprehensible" behavior and talked openly about the possibility of an impeachment proceeding, cautioned his colleagues not to rush to judgment. "I don't think we ought to get ahead of ourselves," he said of the talk of censure. "Let's not jump to conclusions.”
After that, things only got worse. At the Post, Peter Baker phoned Russell Feingold—and the solon slipped in the knife:
BAKER (9/5/98): Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.), a strong early critic of Clinton's behavior and his Aug. 17 speech, said today that Lieberman's scorching criticism "pretty well reflected" his own thoughts as well and added that Clinton's effort today was still not enough. "Explanation rather than contrition is the key...not just saying he's sorry but adequately saying how it occurred so people can feel more comfortable about it," Feingold said in a telephone interview from Wisconsin. "What he has to answer is [how] he said one series of things and then changed his story about it. He's got to explain this.”
And uh-oh! At the Times, Eric Schmitt listed more evil-doers:
SCHMITT (9/5/98): Congressional Democrats today began falling in line behind an influential Democratic senator who on Thursday excoriated President Clinton's behavior in the Lewinsky scandal as "immoral" and "disgraceful" from the floor of the Senate...

"I agree with Senator Lieberman that what the President did was wrong and that what the President did hurt the country and the Presidency," Senator Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois said through a spokesman.

Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana issued a statement saying, "I commend Senator Lieberman for his appropriate and timely remarks and the dignified way in which he delivered this difficult but right message."

Several other Democrats echoed similar sentiments in interviews or statements, including Senators Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Barbara Boxer of California and Max Cleland of Georgia...

It’s a wonder we have any backs at all, having been stabbed there so often. Bob Graham, Patrick Leahy and Lee Hamilton also seemed to agree, more than not, with the Nutmeg State nabob. (“My only concern about it was the timing," Schmitt quoted Leahy saying. "Save the criticism for when the President's plane takes off [for his return trip from Ireland], or for Monday or Tuesday.”) Then there was Benedict Ferraro, tattled out by the Times’ Amy Waldman:
WALDMAN (9/5/98): On the first day of a three-day campaign swing in upstate New York, Geraldine A. Ferraro delivered her sharpest criticism yet of President Clinton's involvement with Monica S. Lewinsky.

In a meeting with editors and reporters at The Star-Gazette in Elmira, a Gannett newspaper, Ms. Ferraro, who is in a three-way contest for the Democratic Senate nomination, said she agreed with the substance, though not the timing, of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman's speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, in which he called the President's relationship with the White House intern "immoral."

"I agree with what he said," Ms. Ferraro, the former vice-presidential candidate said of Senator Lieberman.

"I just think it's terrible, you know, what happened," she said of Mr. Clinton's actions. "I actually believed that he didn't do anything. I had no reason not to believe him, and I was as distressed as any, and perhaps more so, because I do know him, and I didn't expect that he'd lie to the American people.”

Hmm. For ourselves, we can’t recall our own precise reaction to Lieberman’s speech—although, as best we can recall, we thought it helped Clinton more than it hurt him. At any rate, the situation may not have been quite as simple as some are now suggesting or recalling. At the time, many Big Dems stepped up and said they agreed with what Lieberman said.

None of this has a thing to do with who should win the Connecticut race. If we were a Connecticut voter, we’d be considering a replacement, too. But we were curious to recall how the stabbing went down, and we assumed you were curious too.

HE WHOM WE ALL ADMIRE: All progressives (and many conservatives) admire the late Paul Wellstone. The AP reported his views on this matter one week before the Lieberman speech:

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (8/26/98): Sen. Paul Wellstone said today he is reserving judgment on whether President Clinton should resign, be impeached or be censured for any of his actions.

Wellstone said he will wait until he sees the report from special prosecutor Kenneth Starr.

"I have always withheld judgment," Wellstone said. The Democratic senator is exploring a run for president himself in 2000.

Wellstone, however, strongly criticized Clinton's actions, which included a relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky and lying to the public about its nature.

"It's reprehensible," Wellstone said. "I don't support it. It's not defensible."

None of this says who should win in Connecticut. It may say something about the human impulse to traffic in demons and saints.

SIC, SIC, SIC: Hertzberg’s report to the contrary, Lewinsky wasn’t “a White House intern” when she had that “sad, furtive affair.” Hertzberg misreports that matter, and reminds us of an important point: It’s amazingly easy to get mainstream reporters—even those of Hertzberg;’s caliber—to repeat these embellished, anti-Clinton/Gore/Kerry/Clinton scripts. Starting tomorrow, much more on that ongoing problem. If you want to tread ahead, just click here.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Darlings, big scribes simply luvved the “21-year-old intern” although, alas, she didn’t exist. It was heaven! Two misstatements in one treasured phrase! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/21/99, with links to prior posts in our famous “Forever young” series.

By the way: At this point, all those embellished reports about Gore lay just around the corner. The War Against Gore began six weeks later. When these fools got through with Vile Bill, they started right in on Vile Al.