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END TIME! Time's Mike Allen may have the written the worst “news report” of all time: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, AUGUST 11, 2006

HIPPIES AND HILLARY: Tonight or tomorrow, An Inconvenient Truth will become the third-biggest documentary film of all time. More important, the film is an enormous intellectual achievement. Once again, here’s what warming scientist Jim Hansen said about the film and its companion book in the New York Review. He refers to a policy dispute he once had with Gore:
HANSEN (7/13/06): I did not hear from Gore for more than a decade, until January of this year, when he asked me to critically assess his slide show [on which the film is based]. When we met, he said that he “wanted to apologize,” but, without letting him explain what he was apologizing for, I said, “Your insight was better than mine."

Indeed, Gore was prescient. For decades he has maintained that the Earth was teetering in the balance, even when doing so subjected him to ridicule from other politicians and cost him votes. By telling the story of climate change with striking clarity in both his book and movie, Al Gore may have done for global warming what Silent Spring did for pesticides. He will be attacked, but the public will have the information needed to distinguish our long-term well-being from short-term special interests.
To its credit, the Washington Post continues its impressive recent work on warming with two more reports in this morning’s edition. (First, click here. Then, click this.) What a shame that this same newspaper spent much of 1999 and 2000 telling the public that Gore was a nut—engaging in the scripted ridicule that Hansen ascribes to politicians. And what a shame that liberals and Democrats didn’t demand that the Post’s conduct stop. We are in Iraq today because Dems and libs sat that one out.

But then, so too with Hillary Clinton. With all the clownishness of this past week’s press conduct, we haven’t returned to an important matter—the way Clinton is being “framed” by the press (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/8/06). Clinton may be the next Dem presidential nominee—and the spinning of her devious inner life is already well under way. (No, it doesn’t match what was done to Gore—but that doesn’t mean that it should be ignored.) Just this week, we were struck by this weakly-reasoned piece by Anne Kornblut—and by this unfortunate Bob Herbert column. We’d have to say that Herbert has largely bought the package—and we’d have to guess that many hippies are prepared to follow suit.

As we said at the start of the week: Ezra Klein was very wise to link to this deeply troubling report. Hillary-hatred is alive and well, even in liberal and Dem Party precincts. As a result, many hippies may end up casting their vote for Saint McCain’s wars, even as they complain about Bush’s. During Campaign 2000, they managed to convince themselves that Bush-versus-Gore didn’t matter (so they voted for wondrous Nader); they may be ready to think similar thoughts once again. We expect to return to the framing of Clinton and Saint McCain soon. But the framing of Clinton is well under way in Kornblut and Herbert’s unfortunate pieces. We hope this gives hippies—and hippie-lovers—a brief, shining moment of pause.

END TIME: For forty-plus years, they’ve yelled “liberal bias”—going all the way back to a time when the complaint might have been justified (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/03). And now, at long last, just this week, Mike Allen has written a “news report” so perfectly awful that we can finally, definitively say it—after reading Allen’s “news report,” you’d really have to be out of your mind to believe in that tired old cry.

How cosmically awful was Allen’s report? No, really—this is how his “news report” actually started:
ALLEN (8/9/06): From Washington State to Missouri to Pennsylvania, Democratic candidates found themselves on the defensive Wednesday as the Republican Party worked ferociously at every level to try to use the primary defeat of Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to portray the opposition as the party of weakness and isolation on national security and liberal leanings on domestic policy. Doleful Democrats bemoaned the irony: At a time when Republicans should be back on their heels because of chaos abroad and President Bush's unpopularity, the Democrats' rejection of a sensible, moralistic centrist has handed the GOP a weapon that could have vast ramifications for both the midterm elections of '06 and the big dance of '08.
Good God! Does anyone “edit” at Time any more? This past week has featured some world-class press corps clowning—but that one paragraph does takes the cake. Unless you’re simply out of your mind, it single-handedly ends a forty-year era of agitprop about mainstream bias.

Meanwhile, some liberal sites have critiqued that post in ways which we think are fairly wrong-headed. So let’s go over Allen’s “news report” and get clear on what’s right and what’s wrong.

For the record, some of what Allen writes is factual and basically accurate. For example, it’s true—the GOP did “try to use the primary defeat of Sen. Joseph Lieberman to portray the [Democrats] as the party of weakness and isolation on national security.” That statement is basically accurate. And something else is true here as well: The rejection of Lieberman actually could “have vast ramifications for both the midterm elections of '06 and the big dance of '08.” But uh-oh—here’s where the problem begins. Allen has no way of knowing what those ramifications might be; if the ramifications will be “vast;” or which party the ramifications will favor. Like everything else in that ludicrous paragraph, the insinuation that these ramifications will help the Republicans has no place in this alleged “news report.”

But then, almost nothing in this paragraph belongs in a news report. Poodle? Lapdog? Words don’t exist to describe the way Allen panders to his GOP masters. This is as bad as “reporting” ever gets. Let’s run through the problems:

First question: Did Democratic candidates “find themselves on the defensive Wednesday as the Republican Party worked ferociously at every level?” Allen paints a pleasing picture of one party up and the other gang down. But why doe Allen work so ferociously to paint this picture of party advantage? There is nothing in his report—nothing at all—to support his basic claim, the claim that the Democrats are “on the defensive.” He could just as easily have written this—as he might have done in the early 60s, pandering to beloved JFK:
WHAT ALLEN COULD HAVE WRITTEN: From Washington State to Missouri to Pennsylvania, Democratic candidates were licking their chops on Wednesday as the Republican Party desperately struggled to use the defeat of Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to portray the opposition as the party of weakness and isolation on national security and liberal leanings on domestic policy.
No, we don’t have the slightest idea whether Democrats were “licking their chops” on Wednesday. But then, Allen provides no evidence (none at all) that Dems were “on the defensive.” To all appearances, he wrote that because it felt very good. It pleased his great lords in the White House.

Second question: Were Democrats “doleful” after Tuesday night’s primary? Allen doesn’t provide a bit of evidence in support of that claim, either. (Let’s guess—some Dems felt one way, and some Dems felt another.) He could just as easily have written this—as he might have done in 1962, trying to please JFK:
WHAT ALLEN COULD HAVE WRITTEN: Elated Democrats laughed at the irony: At a time when Republicans should be cheering the defeat of a recent Democratic VP nominee, Dem voters’ selection of a sensible centrist has handed their party a weapon that could have vast ramifications for both the midterm elections of '06 and the big dance of '08.
He could have written that just as easily. This would have been a horrible “news report” too—but no worse than the one Allen wrote.

Third question: Oh yeah! Is Lieberman “a sensible, moralistic centrist?” Obviously, that’s a matter of judgment; for example, many Dem voters think that Lieberman has shown amazingly little “sense” about Iraq. On foreign policy, they think he’s among the least “sensible” members of the whole Congress! Meanwhile, at least 52 percent of Dem voters in Connecticut seem to think that Lamont is “sensible” too. But a reporter’s judgment about who is “sensible” has no apparent place in a “news report.” Does anyone edit anything at Time? What an astounding performance!

In sum, Allen writes two things which are factually accurate. Yes, the GOP did, in fact, “try to portray the Democrats as the party of weakness and isolation.” And yes, the current president is, in fact, “unpopular;” this is shown by a long string of polls. Those two parts of this report are quite accurate; the rest of it is world-class garbage. Our questions: Does anyone edit at Time any more? And why isn’t such a hapless lap-poodle driven out of town and let go?

EXTRA! ADDENDUM TO DRUM: This post by Kevin Drum is important—but it doesn’t go quite far enough. (This takes us off our normal beat, but we’ll offer a bit of wisdom all the same.) It isn’t enough to do what Kevin suggests—to “make it absolutely clear, every single time somebody spouts this rubbish, that supporting the Iraq war doesn't mean you're ‘on offense against terrorism.’” In politics, answering-correctly-when-attacked isn’t enough; you have to punch the bums back as you do so. (This was standard Clinton 92 doctrine.) In this case, this means something like the following: Democrats have to accuse the Giulianis of playing politics with Iraq; of treating voters like perfect fools; and most important, of obscuring their own cosmically awful judgment on Iraq. It isn’t enough to answer correctly; Democrats have to punch them back. (Yes, we actually have to say it: Rudy was cosmically wrong—a pure rube!) Luckily, in this particular matter, this will involve telling voters the truth. In our view, that’s a practice which Democrats should work every day to be known for.