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THE DOCTOR HAS BEEN OUT (TO LUNCH)! Drum inquires about our health. We call him out on the carpet: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, AUGUST 8, 2005

HOW HUMANS REASON: Another e-mailer writes to say that those New York Times experts were full of old shoes. Last Thursday, the Gotham paper quoted “medical experts” who said that stanozolol “is almost always used in injectable form” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/4/05). Not so, one more mailer says:
E-MAIL: Your e-mail source is right about stanozolol being taken orally [see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/5/05]. The New York Times’ "medical experts" were definitely wrong about stanozolol not being taken orally. It's legal use has been as a tablet taken orally. We should wait until the investigation has been completed because there are all kinds of products available from foreign sources on the web. Bush was wrong to defend Palmeiro (saying he believed him) since the odds are that those who fail a drug test actually are guilty of cheating, and Bush even spoke out against steroid use by athletes in his State of the Union Address.

But it is possible that someone gave him an illegal oral form of stanozolol that he thought was just a nutrient. It is also conceivable, but unlikely, that some illegal foreign source created a generic ointment, patch or gel of stanozolol for absorption through the skin, as has been done with testosterone in Unimed'’s AndroGel. If so, a trainer could have put it on his skin without his knowledge, especially if it were combined with something like BenGay.

On the web, the Times would at least have learned that stanozolol has been generally used orally. A number of orally active anabolic steroids have been used legally in the U.S., most notably stanozolol (Winstrol), and methandrostenolone (Dianabol). The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the NIH lists stanozolol only as "taken orally.”

Our mailer linked to NIDA’s web site for more information. You know what to do—just click here.

We don’t know what Palmeiro did. But as we’ve noted, this case provides a good window-seat on the way our press corps examines basic issues. There’s no real partisan politics involved (although industry politics is surely in play), but the press has examined this matter in the same inept, uninquisitive way they tend to examine political matters. In those cases, we tend to attribute analytical failure to bias. This matter suggests that they miss basic issues even where no real “bias” is involved.

What has been wrong with the Palmeiro coverage? The basic story doesn’t seem to make sense; after all, why would a player take a heavy-duty steroid like stanozolol in a year when he knew he was going to be tested? (Our mailer quotes Mike Dodd of USA Today saying that stanozolol is one of the easiest steroids to detect.) No, the story-line doesn’t seem to make sense—but few reporters seem to have noticed. Is there some other element involved in this story? Could “masking agents” play a role in this story? Could the stanozolol have lingered in Palmeiro’s body from an earlier use, as Jose Canseco helpfully suggested? If stanozolol is a tablet which is taken orally, could somebody just drop one in a player’s soda pop? We don’t know, but few reporters seem to have noticed the problems involved here. And let that stand as a measure of our human abilities. Sadly, when we see big reporters failing to notice obvious problems with political stories, it may just be that’s the best they can do. For all our talk about “man the rational animal,” it may just be that the current state of human development doesn’t allow us to analyze better.

On yesterday’s Fox New Sunday, one guest, Senator Jim Bunning, droned ahead with the standard story line. But Rep. Tom Davis showed signs of knowing that the standard story may not quite make sense. Here’s what he said at one point, for example:

DAVIS (8/7/05):Well, it's hard for the public when you have a statement he's never taken it and two months later he's tested positive. And we also don't know how long that can stay in the system. We don't know exactly when the tests were taken. We have a duty to investigate this further, obviously.
Hmm. There was a suggestion that Raffy’s steroid might have been ingested earlier.

The problem with the standard story seems to have occurred to Davis. But we’ve seen few journalists notice. As we say, this may tell us something about our world. It may say that many of our modern-day journalists simply aren’t able to reesun reel gudd—that this is part of the problem we’ve faced in a decade of journalistic blundering about political issues.

INDUSTRY POLITICS: Of course, the industry (baseball) would rather not hear discussions about “masking agents.” We have no idea if masking agents are playing a role in current testing. (Dodd’s article says stanozolol is “difficult to mask,” thereby suggesting that masking may play a role in the use of other steroids.) But if they are, you can bet your bippy that baseball is pushing the discussion away from their possible role.

A LONG-STANDING PROBLEM: As we’ve said, our problem with Bunning dates back to July 20, 1958, when we were present in Fenway Park to watch him no-hit the Red Sox. What kind of man pitches no-hitters on the road, thereby upsetting the local children? And yet, Bunning pitched both his no-nos as a visitor. We’d like to see someone ask him about that. Yesterday morning, Fox’s Chris Wallace just wasn’t up to the task.

THE DOCTOR HAS BEEN OUT (TO LUNCH): Friday afternoon, the doctor was IN as Kevin Drum—clowning again—inquired about our well-being. Kevin quoted a piece by Slate’s Jack Shafer—a piece in which Shafer says mainstream journalism has never been better. Here is the passage Kevin quoted:

SHAFER: The larger point that the boneheads who so despise the media need to appreciate is that the mainstream American press is better than it's ever been. If you don't believe me, visit your local library and roll through a couple of miles of microfilm of the papers you're currently familiarly with. By any comparison, today's press is more accurate, ethical, reliable, independent, transparent, and trustworthy than ever. Skepticism is a healthy disposition in life. I wouldn't be a press critic if I regarded the press as hunky-dory. But mindless skepticism is mainly an excuse for ignorance. Even the people who denounce the New York Times as the bible of liberals ultimately get most of their useful news from it.
And that’s when the doctor was suddenly IN. “I happen to agree with [Shafer],” Kevin said, “but really, the only reason I'm bothering to link to this piece is to raise Bob Somerby's blood pressure. Somebody's got to do it, after all.”

Actually, our blood pressure is rather low—as is often the case for lucky duckies who get to say what they actually think without attempting to cover the truth in service to a pay-master. In fact, even as Kevin was worrying hard, we were prancing about on stage, telling jokes for folks in Virginia, and we all understand how healing a dose of good, solid laughter can be. Indeed, as the gods on Olympus once laughed at us mortals, we’ve long emitted low chuckles at clowning like Kevin’s—clowning in which he pretends not to know what we’ve been saying for seven-plus years. At Daily Kos, Armando quickly batted Drum’s nonsense away, probably writing his piece in about fifteen seconds while doing three or four crossword puzzles (so easy was it to correct Kevin’s clowning). But before we pose a few questions for Kevin—questions he should finally stand up and answer—let’s make sure we help him grasp our reaction to Shafer’s assertion.

Is it true, what Shafer said? Is it true that “the mainstream American press is better than it's ever been?” Not being completely stupid, we try to stay away from dumb, sweeping claims, but we’ve never made any attempt to compare the current mainstream press corps with any earlier version. How did the mainstream press corps cover the reign of Millard Fillmore, for example? How searching was the treatment of the Yukon gold rush? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue, and we’ve never voiced an opinion. No, our “blood pressure” wouldn’t go up at a statement like Shafer’s—we’d be more inclined to chuckle a bit at the slop that gets printed so often at Slate, the journal we dubbed the “Washington Post West” long before that newspaper bought it. For those of you who haven’t noticed, Slate is a store-bought arm of the mainstream press, and it’s hardly surprising to see its writers praising the genius of that cohort, or of the Post itself, with which it has always been inter-married, literally as well as figuratively. Is there a journal which notices less about the failures of the mainstream press? It would be hard to imagine such a mag. But we don’t have the slightest idea how the mainstream press used to be. As Armando noted (while playing a chess match and watching two ball games, so easy is it to bat down Drum’s nonsense), we have written, for the past seven years, about the way press corps works now. Was it better or worse in the past? We don’t know, and we’ve never said. Somehow, Armando knew that—and Kevin Drum didn’t. Or was Kevin just pimping for his cohort again? Was Kevin just saying, Hey rubes?

At any rate, since Kevin has been a little bit slow and hasn’t yet processed our seven-year output, let’s go back—speaking real slow—and explain what THE HOWLER has been all about. Here’s what Armando wrote: “It appears to me that what Bob Somerby is discussing, and what Kevin's strawman (with Shafer) avoids, is the uptick in media incompetence through the 1990s.” Armando goes on to mention the elephant in the room—the way the press corps went after Clinton—and indeed, that’s the matter which led us to start THE DAILY HOWLER in the late 1990s. (We began designing in late 97.) On a personal basis, our interest began with the Clinton scandal stories in January 1992, and then it took a giant leap forward with the Gene Lyons Harper’s piece which led to Fools for Scandal (1996). Rather convincingly, Fools for Scandal argued a striking claim; it argued that the Washington Post and the New York Times had “invented” the Whitewater scandal. Mainstream outlets all knew what to do with such a vile, troubling book—they all knew they had to ignore it—and store-bought outlets (outlets like Slate) have ignored such topics right to the present. Once we started THE HOWLER, of course, we encountered the most remarkable press story of the past many years—the two-year press corps War Against Gore which eventually put George Bush in the White House. That war was run by the Post and the Times—just like the trashing of Clinton before it—and so store-bought, mainstream tribunes like Slate found a way not to see what was happening, just as Kevin tends to do in his own musings on the press corps today. Indeed, almost all career liberal writers knew not to notice what the press corps was doing to Gore—and they knew they mustn’t mention it once the wilding was over. By 2002, career liberal writers all knew to pretend that the press corps’ War Against Gore hadn’t happened. Among others, store-brand liberals like Michelle Cottle and Josh Marshall were presenting a common absurd line:

COTTLE (Hardball, 12/5/02): I mean, [Gore] had this great situation handed to him. The economy was great, the Clinton years, except for a few unfortunate personal scandals, were fine, and Gore blew it.

MARSHALL (Salon, 4/11/02): When Al Gore kicked off his presidential campaign in 1999, he enjoyed near-unanimous support from his own party, including the Democrats’ chief officeholders, political operatives and the most deep-pocketed fundraisers. The only problem appeared to be the voters, who didn’t seem to have particularly strong feelings about Gore one way or another.

Two years after the 2000 race, that was the standard mainstream line, designed to obscure the role the press corps itself had played in the outcome of Campaign 2000. How completely absurd was the claim that “Gore had this great situation handed to him,” that “the only problem appeared to be the voters?” In the summer of 2002, we (very) mildly criticized Josh’s past silence about the coverage of Campaign 2000, and he went on Reliable Sources and massively self-contradicted, telling Howard Kurtz the raw truth:
KURTZ (Reliable Sources, 8/10/02): Josh Marshall, don't a lot of reporters believe deep down that Gore ran a horrible campaign [in 2000] and doesn't deserve another shot?

MARSHALL: I think it's even more than that. I think deep down most reporters just have contempt for Al Gore. I don't even think it's dislike. It's more like a disdain and contempt.

KURTZ: Why?

MARSHALL: That's a good question, and I'm not sure I have the answer for it entirely, or at least not one that you'd let me run on long enough to make clear here.

KURTZ: He's never been successful in the courtship of the press.

MARSHALL: No, not at all, and this was, you know, a year-and-a-half before the election, I think you could say this. This wasn't something that happened because he ran a bad campaign. If he did, it was something that predated it.

That statement by Josh was perfectly accurate. In fact, twenty months before the election, the mainstream War Against Gore began. Of course, people like Cottle didn’t want you to know that—didn’t want you to know what their cohort had done—so they kept reciting their cohort’s rank lies, lies that are still reflected in the see-no-evil coverage that comes from a redoubt like Slate.

For the most part, over the past seven years, we have discussed a puzzling and very important phenomenon—the mainstream wars against Clinton and Gore, and then against subsequent Democrats. As we have repeatedly said, the mainstream coverage of Candidate Kerry was not like the mainstream coverage of Gore, and we speculated, just last week, that the mainstream press corps’ fever may have broken, so vast has been the failure of Bush’s presidency—the presidency they brought into being through their astonishing conduct during Campaign 2000, the astonishing conduct Marshall described on Reliable Sources. (Have you ever seen him mention it since?) But understand—mainstream and liberal career writers have persistently refused to discuss this recent history, and they play you for absolute fools when they refuse to discuss it today. Why do they refuse to discuss it? Presumably, Shafer explained it best in his famous Slate exposition! Here’s what Shafer himself had to say about the way his powdered cohort simply refuses to tell you the truth about the Post and the Times:

SHAFER (4/8/05): I started writing press criticism at Washington City Paper back in 1986, because as editor I couldn't get anybody else to do it. Writers were frightened that if they penned something scathing about the Washington Post or the New York Times they'd screw themselves out of a future job. Today, the sort of dagger and epee work I used to perform on big media gets done by hundreds of bloggers before I can rise and read the morning paper. Thanks to blogs, we've gone from a culture where few criticized the press to one where it's the new national pastime.
Duh! Unfortunately, it was the Washington Post and the New York Times who “invented” the Whitewater scandal—and it was those two papers, filled with fury, who conducted that twenty-month War Against Gore. (No, it wasn’t the conservative press, although some famous liberals still tell you this, falsely.) That remarkable history flies in the face of all received wisdom about “liberal bias.” We’ve been writing about that for the past seven years. Kevin, of course, still doesn’t quite see that. He still thinks we’re mourning how great the press was in 1839.

So Kevin, it’s time for you to get off your ass and say what you think about all these matters. Never mind all the clowning about our “blood pressure” here at THE HOWLER. Dude, just be a man for once and speak to the questions that have driven your age! Why did the Post and the Times “invent” Whitewater, as Lyons described in Fools for Scandal? What explains those Jeff Gerth reports? What explains those Howell Raines editorials? And why did the Post and the Times then conduct that twenty-month War Against Gore? (The one your cohort refuses to mention, so thoroughly do you cover for your press corps betters.) And most important: Why did all our “liberal” publications keep their mouths shut while these wars went on—wars which eventually put Bush in the White House? Why did the New Republic keep quiet? Why did the Washington Monthly say so little? What about the American Prospect? And what was going on at The Nation? We think you know the answer fairly well (go ahead, take one more cue from Shafer) and we would guess that it may explain why you still keep your mouth shut today. Dude! For once, stop being so store-bought! Today, stop treating your readers like rubes; stop covering up for the cohort which pays you; stop covering up for the Post and the Times, and stop pretending to be so danged clueless. Just stand up just this one time, man, and tell us what you think has occurred. Explain the press from 92 on. Overcome your desire to pretend that we’re talking about something else—the coverage of the Battleship of Maine, or the way the west was conquered. Discuss the press conduct that changed your world—the strange wars which put Bush in the White House.

SPOT-ON: Armando’s piece was so spot-on that we link to it once again. Duh! At THE HOWLER, we have written about a strange war the press corps conducted on Clinton, then Gore. But career store-bought liberals all know not to go there. Uh-oh! The war was run by the Post and the Times—and they run the world in which these boys live. These worthless fellows love the insider life. And yes, they’ll play you for fools to stay there—indeed, they’ve done so for years.