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YOU KNOW THEM, AL (PART 4)! In New York, boys covered men. And the Post cut-and-pasted Kondracke:


BOYZ ON MEN: In Pundit Land, everyone knew to avoid what Gore said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/12/03). On Fox, Fred Barnes made ludicrous factual misstatements, with Mort, Brit and Juan pretending not to notice. On Hardball, Chris Matthews played the fool, asking a pair of befuddled guests to ruminate about Al Gore, loser. On Washington Week, Gwen Ifill scratched her head, trying to puzzle out Gore’s hidden motives. And at CNBC, Alan Murray staged the greatest insult, inviting Kellyanne Conway to serve stale old jokes and to talk about Commie New York. Yes, Conway is a Prime Pundit Clown, and when Murray lets her be booked on his show, he knows what it is that he’s booking. But then, clowning sophistry is now the meat on which our mighty pundit corps feeds. Did Al Gore make a serious charge against a sitting United States president? Surely, no modern pundit would want to evaluate that! Instead, CNBC insulted the public interest with Conway, a reliable harlequin.

But then, among the modern press elite, how treasured a value is clowning? To find out, you have to read this week’s New Yorker, where Ben McGrath takes a crack at Gore’s speech. No, we’re really not making this up. This is the way the scribe started:

MCGRATH: The will-he-or-won’t-he follies reached fever pitch last week, and amid the chaos and comedy of this season’s incipient and aborted political candidacies—Gary Coleman, in; Jerry Springer, out; Larry Flynt, likely; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hasta la vista, Gray Davis—it was perhaps easier to take seriously the call by the former New York governor Mario Cuomo for Al Gore to change his mind and enter the Presidential race. No matter that Cuomo, with his past equivocations, was an unlikely prod, or that Gore’s spokesman had repeatedly denied that the former Vice-President would run again; Cuomo’s plea arrived on the eve of a speech that Gore had personally requested the opportunity to deliver, and after a week of growing concern among Democrats that the front-runner, Howard Dean, is unelectable. What could be more perfect, now that Dean had demonstrated the previously untapped power of the Web as a fund-raising tool, than a revived campaign by the man who invented the Internet?
Good God! Can there really be a single American who still thinks Gore said he “invented the Internet?” But that’s the way press culture now works. If even one person is impossibly clueless, the celebrity press corps will learn who it is, and will rush his dim thoughts into print.

McGrath is hollow all the way down, but that’s the essence of modern press culture. Just how vacuous is this sad crew? At one point, McGrath describes a group of “reporters” who were—Good God! Yes, it’s true!—assigned to cover Gore’s speech:

MCGRATH: In the back of the auditorium, as the seats filled up, a group of mostly conservative reporters talked among themselves.

“So is this the center of the liberal universe?” one asked.

“I don’t know, I usually think more of Columbia,” another replied. They took turns speculating about what clues they’d soon be called upon to interpret. Beard or no beard? Earth tones or dark suit? Fat or thin?

Beard or no beard! Fat or thin! And yes, they even talked about “earth tones!” Americans will die in Iraq this week, and, if Ben McGrath can be believed, your halfwit reporters spend their time “speculating” about things like this—meaningless matters they (correctly) think they’ve been “called upon to interpret.” Truly, it seems that this is the best they can do. All across the major press, boys are sent to report on real men.

So you’ll know, Gore was “medium-big,” McGrath says. And so you’ll know how he wants you to feel, McGrath informs you that Gore “sauntered” in and spoke “in his best whistle-stop baritone.” Indeed, how thoroughly empty is Ben McGrath? To all appearances, he can’t wait to show you:
MCGRATH: Gore’s appearance would mark his first major public address since last September, when he was greeted by the Commonwealth Club, in San Francisco, with an impromptu a-cappella rendering of “Hail to the Chief”—and then delivered what was widely thought to be a disastrous speech. The pundits were invariably brutal—“self-contradictory pushmipullyu” (William Safire); “a pudding with no theme but much poison” (Charles Krauthammer)—and within a couple of months Gore had withdrawn from contention.
But what did Gore actually say in that speech? How well has it stood the test of time? Don’t expect McGrath to tell you. According to McGrath, “the pundits” said that the speech was quite bad. To overmatched fellows like Ben McGrath, that’s all a reporter must tell you.

By the way, were pundits “invariably brutal” about Gore’s speech last September? In the Post, Richard Cohen said, “Bully for Al Gore!” Then he assailed the nation’s Dems. “As for the Democrats, many of them are so afraid of being labeled appeasers that they want to quickly give the president the war resolution he wants,” Cohen wrote. “Many of these Democrats happen to share Gore’s misgivings, but, to put matters in their crassest terms, they seem quite willing to sacrifice the odd 19-year-old soldier for the odd congressional seat.” Cohen summarized what Gore had said. He noted others who held the same view:

COHEN: [Gore] advocated “taking on Saddam Hussein in a timely fashion,” but only after the United States had built an “international coalition” to do so. He also said that Washington ought to first finish the job against Osama bin Laden and ensure that Afghanistan does not once again become a Club Med for terrorists.

These are some of the same points made by three retired four-star generals who testified that same day before Congress. The three—John M. Shalikashvili, Wesley K. Clark and Joseph P. Hoar—warned the Bush administration against going it alone on Iraq and said that war there could detract from the campaign against terrorism.

Cohen’s remarks are intriguing today—but when The New Yorker sends boys to cover men, its readers won’t have to consider them.

No, the pundits all knew to avoid what Gore said. In Iraq, “the odd 19-year-old soldier” will die this week. But so what? Let the clowning begin! Milling around in the back of the room, Ben McGrath has a joke about earth tones!

HOLD YOUR SAFIRE: In retrospect, Safire’s “brutal” column is also intriguing. His closing passage includes the point McGrath quoted:

SAFIRE: Al Gore is a man of wide experience whose advice deserves to be taken seriously. [Brutal!] But at a moment calling for decisiveness, he is, in Churchill’s phrase, “resolved to be irresolute.”

He referred to Prime Minister Tony Blair as “getting into what they describe as serious trouble with the British electorate” because of supposed doubts about Bush’s motivation. By so doing, Gore crossed swords with an un-wobbly ally not conflicted about the coming conflict.

The day after Gore’s self-contradictory pushmipullyu of a speech, Blair presented a 50-page dossier from British intelligence detailing the dangers to the world from Saddam, including evidence of his present possession of “mobile biological weapons facilities.

“Should Saddam continue to defy the will of the international community,” Blair told the House of Commons in a speech that contrasted starkly with Gore’s, “this House, as it has in our history so many times before, will not shrink from doing what is necessary and right.”

Alas! The Brits still argue about that dossier, and those mobile labs have turned into pumpkins. If The New Yorker would stop sending boys to cover men, its readers might even get to hear this.

The Daily update

TIME TO TAKE AWAY THEIR CABLE: Last Sunday’s Washington Post was a classic. On page one, the paper ran a lengthy report helping show how the Bush Admin gave false impressions in the run-up to Iraq. Meanwhile, on the editorial page, angry editors denounced Al Gore for suggesting that the Bush Admin gave false impressions in the run-up to Iraq! Here was a bit of their deathless reasoning:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: There was a cogent case to be made against the war…There’s plenty to criticize in the administration’s postwar effort too. What isn’t persuasive, or even very smart politically, is to pretend to have been fooled by what Mr. Gore breathlessly calls the Bush “systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology.”
But Gore wasn’t saying that he had been fooled—he said the public received “false impressions.” Any chance that could be true? Amazing, isn’t it? Fifty percent of American adults thought Iraq was involved in 9/11, and the brilliant fellows at the Post find Gore’s thesis extremely improbable! Actual scribes might be chagrined to see the public so oddly misinformed. But the Post pretended that Gore made no sense—even as the Post’s reporting helped suggest how the process had worked.

For the record, one part of the Post’s “breathless” ed brought low, mordant chuckles from us at THE HOWLER. Hmmm—one comment seemed oddly familiar:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (8/10/03): Nearly at the end of his speech last week, almost as an afterthought, Mr. Gore allowed that “the removal of Saddam from power is a positive accomplishment in its own right for which the president deserves credit.” He’s not the only Democrat who thinks he can have it both ways, pandering to anti-Bush passion while protecting his national-security flank.
As boys always do, they went after motive, insisting that Gore was “pandering.” But sadly, the angry fellows who wrote this piece seem to be watching a bit too much cable. Was Gore’s remark about Saddam “almost an afterthought,” delivered “at the end of his speech?” Where, oh where, had we heard that before? Oh yeah! We had heard it on Fox:
BRIT HUME (8/8/03): Gore did say that it was a significant achievement to unhorse Saddam Hussein.

KONDRACKE: That was almost an afterthought in the speech. It came way in the end

See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/03. What happens when news orgs let boys cover men? Sometimes, the youngsters sit down and watch their Fox. Then they curt-and-paste Uncle Morty.

OUTFOXED: The eds said Gore only praised Saddam’s downfall “nearly at the end of his speech, almost as an afterthought.” For the record, let’s point out that Gore said this at the start of his speech:

GORE: According to the just-released congressional investigation, Saddam had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks of September 11th. Therefore, whatever other goals it served—and it did serve some other goals—the decision to invade Iraq made no sense as a way of exacting revenge for 9/11.
Speaking to an anti-war org in Commie New York, Gore said, at the start of his speech, that the war in Iraq did serve real goals. But Washington pundits don’t read full speeches; instead, they don’t even read their front pages! Instead, they cut-and-paste from Fox. But let’s hope the editors learn a valuable lesson! When you cut-and-paste from Fox, your work may not be fair-and-balanced.