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SCRIPT NEVER SLEEPS! The Post and Times disappear a savant—with a lesson for Campaign 08: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 2, 2006

NOTES FROM WITHIN THE FRATERNAL ORDER: To what extent is the Washington “press corps” really a slumbering fraternal order? Several observers noted the closing paragraph of David Broder’s column this Sunday. The Dean, discussing the Lieberman race, made a puzzling comment:
BRODER (7/30/06): Democrats everywhere are looking to Connecticut for clues about the party's direction. The primary will probably point them leftward, toward a stronger antiwar stand. But often in the past, the early successes of these elitist insurgents have been followed by decisive defeats when a broader public weighs in. That is why this contest is so consequential for the Democratic Party.
Say what? Lamont’s supporters are “elitist” in taking their “antiwar stand?” In fact, as Eric Alterman (and others) noted, “the ‘elitist’ position on Iraq to which [Broder] refers has the support of 56 percent of Americans.” Strange, isn’t it? In Broder’s hands, the majority view now became the elite.

On the other hand, it’s fair to note what Broder said near the start of this same column. The Dean must have dozed off at some point between his start and his finish:

BRODER (pgh 3): One night last week the party establishment, led by former president Bill Clinton and Connecticut's other Democratic senator, Chris Dodd, whipped up an orchestrated show of enthusiasm for the three-term incumbent, whose support of the Iraq war and friendship with President Bush have put his nomination in jeopardy. But none of them—including Lieberman— made any effort to deal with what Clinton called "the pink elephant in the room," the massive public revulsion in this state for Bush's war in Iraq.
In paragraph 3, Broder notes the “massive public revulsion” in Connecticut for the war in Iraq. But uh-oh! By the time the Dean got done—seven paragraphs later—you were an “elitist” if you had taken such a stance.

How to explain such puzzling work? In fact, this pundit corps has long been a slumbering elite—a snoozing, detached, puzzling cohort.

SCRIPT NEVER SLEEPS: We were struck by the seer who didn’t bark in this morning’s Post and Times. Yesterday, Bill Clinton announced a new international effort to reduce greenhouse gases—an effort he’ll conduct through his Clinton Foundation. In the Times, Jennifer Steinhauer quoted POTUS about the way his interest in this issue has grown:

STEINHAUER (8/2/06): Mr. Clinton said in an interview on Tuesday that his interest in climate issues arose during his presidency and had grown in recent years as he followed news reports on heat-trapping gases, watched with chagrin as the United States rejected the Kyoto Protocol and observed his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, negotiate energy policy with ''Republicans who were recalcitrant on the issue.”
As she continues, Steinhauer quotes Clinton as he describes a new world consensus on warming:
STEINHAUER (continuing directly): He said he would focus heavily on the climate issue over the next year.

''It seems to me that there is now a consensus in the world that climate change is real and that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,'' he said. ''What we need now is more information about how to do it quickly, economically, and organize the efforts to do it. It seemed to me that the challenge was quite a bit like the work I've done on AIDS.”

The Clinton initiative sounds good to us. But our press-watchers put their ears to the ground and marveled at a missing savant. To all appearances, Steinhauer never asked Clinton an obvious question; to what extent has his interest grown because of his former vice president, Al Gore? To what extent has that growing consensus come from Gore’s long-term efforts, which have been widely discussed in recent months because of Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth? As noted, these are fairly obvious questions—but it seems the questions were never asked. Gore isn’t mentioned in Steinhauer’s report. And he also fails to bark in the Post report, by Juliet Eilperin.

At one time, the press corps wouldn’t have stood for it! During Campaign 2000, any time Gore took a breath, the corps would rush to drag in Clinton—and to talk about Monica L! (And then, they’d huff and wonder why Gore wasn’t mentioning Clinton more often.) The most comical example came in June 1999. Gore appeared at a rally for women’s groups with his wife and with Hillary Clinton. Result? In one of her most laughable efforts ever, Katherine “Kit” Seelye went to work:

SEELYE (6/2/99): Today's event was notable, too, because it united three figures—Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Gore and his wife, Tipper—who by their assemblage brought to mind the absent fourth.

President Clinton, who was down the street at the White House, was mentioned only in passing. Still, he loomed in a contradictory way.

On the one hand, the Gore campaign wanted to signal that Mr. Gore was the opposite of Mr. Clinton—a devoted husband whose private life would not lead to the kind of political upheaval brought on by Mr. Clinton's extramarital affair...

All roads had to lead to that affair! By the way, did you catch the logic there? The fact that POTUS wasn’t present somehow “brought him to mind” for Seelye—and thus provided the latest chance to blather about Darling Monica. POTUS wasn’t present this day—but still, “he loomed!” In the mind! There once was a time when these scribes knew the rule—if Gore draws breath, you must mention Clinton (and then, of course, go straight to Monica). Now, the rule seems to be a bit different. Now, the scribes don’t mention Gore even in the most obvious context. And if they do, they rush to recite bits of old disinformation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/06). Al Gore “collected campaign cash at the Buddhist temple?” No, as a matter of fact, that’s false. But so what? It’s a time-honored howler.

The Clinton initiative sounds good to us—but the message for Gore in these stories does not. An Inconvenient Truth has been a tremendous intellectual and commercial success. (And yes, it will win the Oscar next year.) When it appeared, David Remnick and Richard Cohen wrote versions of an obvious story: The guy we trashed for all those years has turned out to be massively right! (Omigod! The man who “had a problem with the truth” was telling the truth all along!) The column virtually writes itself—and very few pundits like anything better. But for the most part, other such columns haven’t appeared; this press corps doesn’t do “soul search” real well. And today, the Post and the Times both disappear Gore, even in an obvious context. What did our press-watchers think this meant? If it’s Gore v. McCain in Campaign 08, one man will tour in a pleasing love boat—and one man will still be pariah.

Script never dies with this miserable crew. They scripted their demon and saint long ago. Now that their demon has turned to savant, there’s a new law—savants mustn’t bark.