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HOW WE’VE LET BIG DEMS GET DONE (PART 1)! Seven years later, a major Post scribe cops to a puzzling fact: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 25, 2006

THE CLUNKERS OF KORNBLUT: Omigod! There she goes again! Here’s how Ann Kornblut begins this morning’s report in the New York Times about a new speech by Hillary Clinton:
KORNBLUT (7/25/06): With divisions in the Democratic Party on full display nationwide, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to stake out the center here on Monday, issuing a broad policy platform geared toward helping middle-class voters and the working poor through a series of tax credits and other modest government programs.
Good God, that’s awful journalism! Before she tells us what Clinton said, she rushes to tell us why she said it—using one of the simple-minded labels our weakest political scribes simply love.

Clinton was seeking to stake out the center! The center of what, Kornblut never quite said. (The center of the just-referenced, divided Dem Party? The center of the American political spectrum?) No, it isn’t necessary to mind-read motive in this utterly childish manner. In today’s Washington Post, for example, Dan Balz begins his report a bit differently. He simply tells us what HRC said:

BALZ (7/25/06): Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) accused Republicans under President Bush of economic mismanagement and favoring the rich here on Monday as she outlined a Democratic campaign agenda of tax breaks and incentives designed to make the costs of health care, college and retirement more affordable for millions of Americans.

The former first lady delivered the keynote address at the centrist Democratic Leadership Council's summer meeting, unveiling the results of the "American Dream Initiative," a year-long effort she led on behalf of the DLC to produce a domestic platform that Democrats can take to voters this fall in their bid to win control of the House and Senate.

Before he got around to explaining her motives, he actually gave us a rough idea of what Clinton had actually said.

For the record, this kind of “motives first” journalism was widely practiced during Campaign 2000. In this detailed report in the Columbia Journalism Review, Jane Hall noted the way this “motives approach” had been employed in reporting the speeches of Gore. (Hall: “The substance of what Gore has been saying in speeches around the country often has been wrapped in reporters' cynical language that effectively casts doubt about his motives before he even opens his mouth.” This was being done to Bush much less frequently, Hall said.) And today, there’s Kornblut, at it again, with that silly opening about Clinton’s speech. This is horrible, horrible writing. But as we’ve said: At the Times, it often seems that you have to prove how unimpressive you are before you get a job writing politics.

By the way, Kornblut ends much as she began. Good God! What an embarrassing closing paragraph:

KORNBLUT: Mrs. Clinton also called for a freeze on raises in Congress and at the White House ''until the incomes of average Americans start to rise again.'' She did not, however, go as far down the populist path as other possible presidential candidates, in particular Senator John Edwards, who is focused almost exclusively on poverty as he campaigns in early primary voting states.
Hillary Clinton went to the center—but John Edwards has been more populist! This is horrible, grade-school writing. Get ready to see much more of it.

Special report: How we’ve let Big Dems get done!

PART 1—SEVEN YEARS LATER: For starters, congratulations to Michael Grunwald and the Washington Post for this front-page piece from Sunday’s Outlook section. (Headline: “Warming to the Inconvenient Facts.”) At THE HOWLER, we had begun to wonder: After Gore’s film, after Brokaw’s documentary, after all the talk about scientific consensus on warming, when were newspapers going to start to tackle this gigantic issue? Several million American adults have now seen An Inconvenient Truth; this means that several hundred million adults have not. But few newspapers have even begun to explore the issues involved in this film. With this piece, the Post starts to project these issues into the discussion in our big daily papers. We hope they’ll continue to do that.

But omigod! After reading Grunwakld’s report, we struggled through this companion piece, in which the scribe makes a “modest proposal”—Gore should run for Vice President again in Campaign 08. That strikes us as a thoroughly silly idea—does Grunwald really fail to grasp the “fun” his cohort would have with that move?—but we were especially struck by Grunwald’s recitation of some tired old knocks against Gore. As we read his piece this Sunday—and as we reread Eric Boehlert’s chapter on the Swift Boat Vets—we thought we saw the way we’ve continued to let our Big Dems get done in.

In fairness, Grunwald does make the one debunking statement major scribes now seem permitted to make. In the following passage, he starts to explain why Gore shouldn’t run for the top job again. In the process, he notes—only seven years later!—that a ballyhooed event never happened:

GRUNWALD (7/23/06): The inconvenient truth is that as a politician, Gore has always been more successful in a supporting role. In the Senate, he was a visionary on environmental issues, nuclear proliferation and, yes, the Internet, which he never did claim he invented.
Now they tell us! Seven years later, many major scribes, like Grunwald, seem to feel free to mention the fact that Gore never said he invented the Internet. Missing of course, is an attempt to explain why we heard, all through Campaign 2000, that Gore did make this comical statement. And yes, the public kept hearing that punishing charge right there in Grunwald’s own paper. For example, here is the Post’s Ceci Connolly in December 1999, one day after she invented another bogus claim—the claim that Delusional Gore had hauled off and said that he discovered Love Canal:
CONNOLLY (12/2/99): Add Love Canal to the list of verbal missteps by Vice President Gore.

The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie "Love Story" and to have invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site when he said at a high school forum Tuesday in New Hampshire: "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal."

Gore went on to brag about holding the "first hearing on that issue" and said "I was the one that started it all."

Simply put, that is one of the ugliest moments in recent American history. In this moment, Connolly—a journalistic disgrace throughout this campaign—invented another fake claim about Gore, a claim that would be repeated, far and wide, for the rest of Campaign 2000. If you want to know why the U.S. Army is now in Iraq, go ahead—reread those three paragraphs by Connolly, who would be drummed out of any real profession for her astonishing conduct throughout this campaign. Starting in early April 1999, Connolly just kept making up bogus claims about Gore. Result? George Bush ended up in the White House—and the US Army ended up in Iraq. If you don’t understand that chain of events, you don’t yet understand recent history.

Today, many major reporters, like Grunwald, feel free to tell us—seven years later—that Gore never said he invented the Internet. Routinely, though, they fail to answer the obvious question: Why was the public we told the opposite all through the course of Campaign 2000? In fact, Ceci Connolly’s serial inventions did send George W. Bush to the White House. Seven years later, we get one small morsel of truth: Al Gore never did claim that he invented the Internet!

So yes, we did emit low chuckles when we saw that statement by Grunwald. But as we continued, we saw other claims—standard, iconic, inaccurate claims about that hapless Candidate Gore. This Sunday, we read this piece by Grunwald—and we read back through Boehlert’s chapter on the Swift Boats. And alas! We thought we saw, once again, the ongoing way we’ve all allowed our Big Major Dems to get done.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Earth tones—and the Buddhist temple! Still crazy, after these seven years!

STILL UNEXPLAINED, RIGHT UP TO THIS MOMENT: During Campaign 2000, you pretty much had to go off-shore to read about the press corps’ misconduct. But in August 2000, the Financial Times, across the pond, managed to tell the truth about Connolly—and about her gal pal, the New York Times’ “Kit” Seelye, who also “accidentally” “misquoted” Gore about that damaging Love Canal matter. According to the Financial Times, the pair were “hostile to the [Gore] campaign, doing little to hide their contempt for the candidate.” Seven years later, we get one tiny morsel. Reporters now routinely say that Gore never claimed he invented the Internet. But they forget to explain why they told us, for two solid years, that he did. They forget to explain a great modern mystery—the way two solid years of such “errors” sent George W. Bush to the White House.