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THE NEW YORK TIMES CHANGES SIDES! In an important front-page report, the Times at long last has changed sides: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, AUGUST 14, 2009

The New York Times changes sides: It’s a big day in your country today. Formally, in this front-page report, the New York Times (at long last) has changed sides.

Krugman’s column is important too. But about that news report:

Right there on the Times’ front page, Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes debunk the “death panel” bull-roar. In paragraph one, they say the claims about the “death panels” are “false.” And they are soon saying this: “There is nothing in any of the legislative proposals that would call for the creation of death panels or any other governmental body that would cut off care for the critically ill as a cost-cutting measure.” And there’s more! Right on page one, in just their fourth graf, they start naming names of the people who have spread these false claims around. Betsy McCaughey finally gets her name named—fifteen years after Andrew Sullivan let her invent all those false claims about Clinton’s health plan.

Today, the New York Times is calling such false claims “false.” The paper is naming the names of many people who have been spreading these false claims around. In so doing, the Times has at long last changed sides. Why we say that:

In the 1990s, the New York Times was a principal source of the false claims which were lodged against Clinton, then Gore. The Times invented, and enabled, that long string of claims. Today, the Times has switched sides.

There are many things worth noting in today’s news report. Let’s start with David Brock’s statement. Quite correctly, David notes what we have just noted—at long last, history has started to change. That said—and cheering David on—we’ll quibble with one part of his statement, as it has been excerpted:

RUTENBERG (8/14/09): But as Congress developed its legislation this summer, critics seized on provisions requiring Medicare financing for “end of life” consultations, bringing the debate to a peak. To David Brock, a former conservative journalist who once impugned the Clintons but now runs a group that monitors and defends against attacks on liberals, the uproar is a reminder of what has changed—the creation of groups like his—and what has not.

“In the 90s, every misrepresentation under the sun was made about the Clinton plan and there was no real capacity to push back,” he said. “Now, there is that capacity.”

David is the founder of Media Matters, a group which is very active in pushing back. And David is right about the 1990s. “Every misrepresentation under the sun” was made about the Clinton health plan—and about Clinton himself, and then about Gore. (It was in this way that George W. Bush finally ended up in the White House.)

But David’s statement, as excerpted, is wrong or misleading in one key respect. Many people had the capacity to push back against the blizzard of lies which drove our politics in that decade; they just kept choosing not to. Gene Robinson? Frank Rich? E. J. Dionne? Lawrence O’Donnell? Chris Matthews? Bob Herbert? Margaret Carlson, who we saw simpering on Countdown last night? Charles Lane, editor of The New Republic in 1998 and 1999? They all had the capacity to push back. So did Arianna Huffington. So did Keith Olbermann, who instead ran off sobbing to work for Fox Sports. (Good times!) Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! Dealing with the War Against Clinton would “make me ashamed, make me depressed, make me cry,” Olbermann said in 1998. So he put his tail between his legs, abandoned news, and went off to make easy money.

The lies continued, thanks to the people we’ve named above. And many, many more.

Others did find a way to push back. As early as October 1994, Gene Lyons’ first article about the Whitewater coverage appeared in Harper’s. In The National Journal, Paul Starobin noted “the Washington press corps's collective yawn” about Lyons’ report—about a report which “accuses The New York Times of getting the Whitewater story fundamentally wrong.” But then, Lyons’ 1996 book, Fools for Scandal, was massively deep-sixed too. And let’s return to David Brock’s statement: When “every misrepresentation under the sun was made about the Clinton [health] plan,” the press corps yawned about that too! Plenty of people could have pushed back—against that, and against the murder claims, and against the subsequent lies about Gore.

Plenty of people could have pushed back. They simply didn’t want to.

(Some of them were every busy inventing that era’s list of lies. Al Gore said he inspired Love Story? It began at the New York Times! Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, Melinda Henneberger—and their editors.)

Today, on page one, the New York Times is reporting that false claims are false. The paper is naming the people who spread them. But in the 1990s, such names would have come from the Times itself. And from the Washington Post.

In his important column today, Paul Krugman tells a similar story. It’s very important to understand the part of the story which follows. If you don’t understand what Krugman writes here, you will be one of the enablers who wander about, telling the world that the current “wild rumors” are all about our favorite toy, racism:

KRUGMAN (8/14/09): Sure enough, President Obama is now facing the same kind of opposition that President Bill Clinton had to deal with: an enraged right that denies the legitimacy of his presidency, that eagerly seizes on every wild rumor manufactured by the right-wing media complex.

Say what? Obama is facing the same kind of opposition Clinton faced? A bit later, Krugman expands on this observation:

KRUGMAN: So much, then, for Mr. Obama’s dream of moving beyond divisive politics. The truth is that the factors that made politics so ugly in the Clinton years—the paranoia of a significant minority of Americans and the cynical willingness of leading Republicans to cater to that paranoia—are as strong as ever. In fact, the situation may be even worse than it was in the 1990s because the collapse of the Bush administration has left the G.O.P. with no real leaders other than Rush Limbaugh.

Professor Hofstadter to the side, we wouldn’t have used the word “paranoia” ourselves. In our view, sensible liberals will savage the leaders who mislead average people, not those average people themselves. (Watch the way Krugman’s use of that word becomes an “instant classic.” Politically and on the merits, it’s hard to defend such statements.) But once again, it’s important to understand the continuity here:

KRUGMAN (continuing directly): The question now is how Mr. Obama will deal with the death of his postpartisan dream.

So far, at least, the Obama administration’s response to the outpouring of hate on the right has had a deer-in-the-headlights quality. It’s as if officials still can’t wrap their minds around the fact that things like this can happen to people who aren’t named Clinton, as if they keep expecting the nonsense to just go away.

As we’ve long told you: In the 1990s, the rules became clear. You could say any damn fool thing you pleased, as long as you said it about the Clintons, then Gore. Again, we’re going to name some of the people who refused to push back—who allowed this disaster to spread. We’ll cull names from a very long list, for several different reasons:

Frank Rich. Arianna Huffington. Lawrence O’Donnell. Chris Matthews. Keith Olbermann. Gene Robinson. Charles Lane. Margaret Carlson. Bob Herbert. E. J. Dionne. Josh Marshall. Michael Kinsley. Dana Milbank. Andrew Sullivan. Gail Collins, who got so upset when Candidate Gore dared to inquire about a young mother’s sick child.

And of course, the ludicrous Dowd—and hundreds more. All those people could have pushed back, as David Brock did. They just kept choosing not to.

For more than a decade, it was Village Consensus. Today, the Times has changed sides.

Charles Lane ended up at the Washington Post because he refused to push back. He crawled his way up your grandmother’s back on his way to suitable employment. Last Saturday, he published this ridiculous column, in the Post, in which he found various ways to pretend that there really is a problem with Section 1233 of that House bill. The death panel claims were “rubbish,” he said—but he didn’t much seem to care about that. Despite the fact that the claims were rubbish, he found a supremely nuanced way, even now, to serve Insider Corporate Washington’s cause.

It’s a big day in your country today. But the wheels of change grind slow.

This morning, Rutenberg and Calmes write, on page one, that the death panel claims are “false.” They name the names of those who have pimped them. On the op-ed page, Krugman calls these claims “a complete fabrication.” He quotes Republican senator Johnny Isakson saying these claims are “nuts.”

No such push-back occurred in the 1990s—sorry, none at all. At these levels, liberal stars refused to push back. Some of them were actively inventing the claims. And even today, we still have the Washington Post:

The Post has now published three separate columns lending support to the “death panels” claim. (Four, if you count this milquetoast piece by Gene Robinson. Palin quickly put it to use, for fairly obvious reasons.) We think Danielle Allen’s column was especially significant (see below), due to her extremely high status in the academy. But the errand boy Lane and Kathleen Parker also strained to suggest that the “death panels” claim really did have some merit. (Even though the claims were “rubbish!”) At the Post, the old regime dies hard, if it’s dying at all. At the Times, it was overthrown on this morning’s front page.

Some things never change, however. Let’s consider two:

In the Times, Tom Daschle brings the eternal note of cluelessness in. This is the way corporate-friendly fellows like Daschle have justified their refusal to fight for two decades now:

RUTENBERG: The notion [that health reform would involve euthanasia] was picked up by various conservative groups, but still, as Mr. Obama and Congress remained focused on other matters, it did not gain wide attention. Former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, an advocate for the health care proposals, said he was occasionally confronted with the ''forced euthanasia'' accusation at forums on the plans, but came to see it as an advantage. ''Almost automatically you have most of the audience on your side,'' Mr. Daschle said. ''Any rational normal person isn't going to believe that assertion.''

Earth to Daschle: Check the current polls. Is it dimly possible that someone like Daschle can still be this clueless about the way the public’s outlook gets poisoned? Can Daschle be this daft?

Something else hasn’t changed this morning; it’s AWOL in Krugman’s otherwise sterling column. Let’s go back to his presentation of what happened to Clinton and then to the unnamed Gore:

KRUGMAN (8/14/09): Sure enough, President Obama is now facing the same kind of opposition that President Bill Clinton had to deal with: an enraged right that denies the legitimacy of his presidency, that eagerly seizes on every wild rumor manufactured by the right-wing media complex.

[...]

So much, then, for Mr. Obama’s dream of moving beyond divisive politics. The truth is that the factors that made politics so ugly in the Clinton years—the paranoia of a significant minority of Americans and the cynical willingness of leading Republicans to cater to that paranoia—are as strong as ever. In fact, the situation may be even worse than it was in the 1990s because the collapse of the Bush administration has left the G.O.P. with no real leaders other than Rush Limbaugh.

That’s part of what happened to Clinton, then Gore. But Krugman has deep-sixed the rest of what happened. It’s baldly false to keep pretending that Clinton (and the unnamed Gore) were done in “by the right-wing media complex” alone. Even on this glorious morning, Krugman doesn’t tell you the truth. Here it is: In the Clinton/Gore era, that so-called “right-wing media complex” included the whole of the mainstream press corps! This was the title of Lyons’ book when it appeared in 1996:

Fools for Scandal: How the media invented Whitewater

On which “media” entities did his book focus? The Washington Post and the New York Times! Sorry, but it simply wasn’t “the right-wing media complex” which drove the wars against Clinton and Gore. In very large part, it was Krugman’s own newspaper—through no fault of Krugman’s, of course.

It’s easy to tell the truth about this. The right-wing media complex was part of the war against Clinton and Gore—but so was the mainstream press! The two groups had virtually converged by that time. It’s easy to state that fact in a column. Krugman fails to do so—again.

Final note about Charles Lane:

Lane was editor of The New Republic from 1997 through 1999. A few years earlier, the bungling journal—not the “right-wing machine”—had published Betsy McCaughey’s bullshit-laden takedown of the Clinton health plan. (Her piece was published by editor Andrew Sullivan. Today, he’s a liberal pet.)

In 1998, Lane fell all over himself kissing the keister of Kathleen Willey, who had come forward with thrilling sex claims about vile President Clinton. In the end, Willey was denounced as a liar by Kenneth Starr’s successor, Robert Ray; Ray even said that he had considered prosecuting her for perjury. But in 1998, the errand boys all knew what to do. Lane had never set eyes on Willey. He had no way to judge her character. But so what? With a thrill running up his leg, he joined to rush to proclaim this Faire Ladye the most truthful person in the world. Chris Matthews almost got Cody Shearer killed, so irresponsible was his own conduct with his Fairest Darling, who accused Shearer of something he plainly didn’t do. (A man with a gun was arrested at Shearer's home. Luckily, Shearer wasn't home.)

In 1999, it got worse. Under the leadership of Ceci Connolly, the Washington Post began its perfectly blatant War against Candidate Gore. And over at The New Republic, Chuck Lane kept his big trap shut. The New Republic saw no evil. At the end of that year, Lane accepted a new improved job—at the Washington Post!

Today, Lane continues to serve the view of Upper-Class Corporate Insider Washington, as he did in last Saturday’s tortured op-ed piece.

These people have done a great deal of harm. But they’ve made their mommies proud in the process. They’ve risen to wonderful jobs; to get there, they kissed the appropriate keisters. And to this day, their colleagues won’t tell you what these people have done.

They tell you the “right-wing media” did it. That just isn’t what happened.

How ridiculous is the process by which this cult changes sides without admitting to what they have done?

Last night, Olbermann gave you Margaret Carlson. And good God! Carlson complained about the way people “overdo it” when they criticize Hillary Clinton! Well—not just any people. Amazingly, this is what this perfect troll said about the Clinton-trashing:

CARLSON (8/13/09): But, you know, what the right wing does is it goes too far itself. You can say something about it. But you can count on them to overdo it.

Truly, these people see you as toys. For many years, no one mocked the Clintons and Gore quite the way Carlson did. But so what? As we call the other side dumb, our “leaders” keep feeding us this.

They will never admit to what they did. (What they did was put Bush in power.) This morning, the Times has formally changed sides. Carlson of course was re-purposed last year, for new use under King KO.

IT’S NOW THREE O’CLOCK ON THE MOON: The American public discourse has been crazy for decades. This predates Senator Grassley’s disgraceful claim, delivered this week, about fear of those “death panels.”

On Tuesday, things got a little bit crazier.

On Tuesday morning, the Washington Post published this remarkable op-ed column by Danielle Allen, a highly-regarded, much-praised star of the American academy. We’ll repeat what we said at the time. The most remarkable part of this startling column is its author “identity line:”

WASHINGTON POST (8/11/09): The writer is the UPS Foundation Professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.

Good God. Danielle Allen, 38, hangs at Einstein’s former crib! A few years back, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

And oh yes—one other thing: Allen seems to be a pretender. The professor is incoherent.

Your discourse has been crazed for some time. George Bush rose the craziness into the White House. Grassley added to it this week; increasingly, this sort of lunacy defines our national culture. But when an honored star of the academy can write an column like this, your nation’s intellectual culture is badly, deeply broken. Three cheers then for Jonathan Chait, who tore his hair on Wednesday morning, attempting to discern Allen’s meaning.

Chait marveled at Allen’s incoherence. We’ll add to what Chait said.

Can we talk? As we read Professor Allen’s column, we thought of another well-known professor. We thought of her intellectual forebear, the professor named Irwin Corey (click here). Allen’s prose—and your American culture—are truly in that deep a fix. A nation whose intellectual superstars “reason” this was is a nation that’s in bad trouble.

One last point, before we scan Allen’s column—a column which seems to defend Sarah Palin’s “death panel” remark:

For years, we have asked why the professors don’t help us with our floundering discourse. When our journalists fail to serve, who don’t the professors step forward to help? Where are all the professors of logic, with their vast clarification skills? Why don’t the professors step in to straighten our broken logic?

Why don’t the professors step in? Just read what occurs when they do:

Onward to the piece-in-itself: In a truly remarkable column, Professor Allen attempts to discuss two recent flaps about health care reform. In one instance, she attempts to address an important question: Why have people like Sarah Palin referred to supposed “death panels?” Fairly plainly, Allen takes Palin’s side in the flap which has resulted. Incredibly, the Post has now published three or four columns which find some sort of justification for the sorts of things Palin has said.

Did we mention that one other point? Allen’s column is incoherent! Given her status in the academy, it’s this fact which makes her column so startling. What do you say we move ahead to the thing-in-itself?

Concerning Allen’s column:

Allen starts by noting that Obama has changed his mind about a policy matter since the 2008 campaign. During the campaign, Obama opposed “an individual mandate requiring everyone to buy health insurance,” Allen notes. Now, he basically favors an individual mandate, she says.

There’s nothing astonishing there. Most people grasp a basic point—for good or for ill, politicians sometimes change their positions. But having described this change by Obama, Allen explains what it means:

ALLEN (8/11/09): This change in Obama's position goes a long way toward explaining the objections to the new reforms that are being raised vociferously through grass-roots action by citizens on the right. The issue here is not that these citizens consider Obama untrustworthy—though they do. The issue, rather, is that they recognize that the stated goals and structure of a policy may not fully capture its full range of outcomes in practice. This is why these citizens, including professionally briefed participants such as Sarah Palin, can continue to maintain, in the face of a barrage of insistences to the contrary, that the reforms will (1) result in rationing and (2) establish “death panels.”

Let’s try to simplify here. A policy may start out one way—but end up as something different. According to the professor, when Palin posted her claim about Obama’s panels, she meant that his policy will end up “establish[ing] ‘death panels,’” though that isn’t his current idea. People like Palin “recognize that the stated goals and structure of a policy may not fully capture its full range of outcomes in practice.” In Allen’s own language, that’s why Palin can “continue to maintain that the reforms will establish ‘death panels.’”

Allen makes no attempt to explain how she can possibly know this. How does she know that Palin meant that? How doe she know that Palin’s “issue” is that she “recognize[s] that the stated goals and structure of a policy may not fully capture its full range of outcomes in practice?” How does Allen know that Palin was thinking anything like that at all? We have no idea. The professor has forgotten to say!

We’re already off to a very bad start—but Allen soon turns incoherent. As she slides into that incoherence, we begin to see why the academy seldom attempts to clarify our struggling public discourse. Can what follows really be the work of one of our very brightest professors? The pomposity here may strike you first. (We apologize to Williams James for letting him get dragged into this.) But Allen’s spectacular incoherence shows up in each of these paragraphs:

ALLEN (continuing directly): These activists do not claim that the proposed reforms include policies whose explicit purpose is to ration, nor do the more careful among them claim that the policies will establish panels to help people decide when to die. They are not arguing about the semantic content of the policies; that is, they are not arguing about the meaning of the words that are actually in the relevant drafts of bills. Instead, they are considering, as the pragmatist philosopher William James put it, “what conceivable effects of a practical kind the [policy] may involve—what sensations we are to expect from it, and what reactions we must prepare.”

Their claim is that, whatever the stated goals of policymakers, the concrete outcomes that will flow from the policies on the table will include experiences that feel like rationing and conversations that sound like “death panels.”

Those paragraphs are truly stunning, as Chait noted on the day Allen’s column appeared. Let’s try to paraphrase Allen—although it isn’t entirely clear that she’s still speaking English.

To simplify things a bit, let’s ignore Allen’s ruminations about the “rationing” claims; let’s limit ourselves to what she says about the “death panel” comments. Let’s assume she’s still speaking about Palin, for whose status (Palin is “professionally briefed”) she has already vouched.

According to Allen, when Palin posted on Facebook about those “death panels,” she wasn’t claiming that Obama’s policies “will establish panels to help people decide when to die.” Of course not! Using James’ language, Allen says that Palin was simply “considering...what conceivable effects of a practical kind the [policy] may involve—what sensations we are to expect from it, and what reactions we must prepare.” For ourselves, we have little idea what those words might mean—and things get worse as we proceed. According to Allen, Palin’s real claim “is that...the concrete outcomes that will flow from the policies on the table will include conversations that sound like ‘death panels.’”

Like you, we have no real idea what that string of words might mean.

The concrete outcomes will include conversations that sound like “death panels?” Each word is an English-language word, known to children in all fifty states. But strung together, this barrel of words has no apparent meaning. Judged by any normal standard, Allen is barely coherent here. It’s sad that the Washington Post chose to publish such prime bafflegab. It’s more troubling to think that such monstrous gab could emerge from the top of the academy.

But then, Allen’s column is a monument to broken intellectual culture. Chait surrendered to the darkness at this point; he simply ignored the rest of her column. But Allen continued pretending to speak—seeming to vouch for those, like Palin, who have made the claims in question. These critics “have a point,” Allen now says:

ALLEN (continuing directly): In asking lawmakers to consider not merely the goals of their policies but also the experiential meaning of concrete realities that those policies may bring, they have a point. One can't answer them by saying: “These policies won't ration; there will be no death panels.” If these reforms do either of these things, they will do so as a matter of unintended consequences. The appropriate answer, therefore, is to explain the institutional checks that will prevent the emergence of such unintended consequences.

According to our brightest professor, the Republican stooges at issue here are “asking lawmakers to consider...the experiential meaning of concrete realities that [their] policies may bring.” Unfortunately, that string of words has no obvious meaning in English either. Later, we’re told it will be an “unintended consequence” if death panels do result from this policy. For that reason, policy makers should “explain the institutional checks that will prevent the emergence of such unintended consequences.”

Professor Allen has made a great point; policy-makers should have “institutional checks” to prevent the emergence of any death panels. Somewhat similarly, Professor Allen’s appointment to the Institute for Advanced Study may result in her robbing a string of banks in the Princeton area! For that reason, her employer should surely create institutional checks that will prevent such misconduct.

Meanwhile, does the Washington Post have institutional checks against the possibility that Allen will start presenting herself as the newspaper’s owner? It would be strange if they don’t!

Good God. Whatever Obama’s stated goals might be, “the concrete outcomes that will flow from his policies will include conversations that sound like ‘death panels?’ ” We can imagine what Allen might mean by that. But elsewhere, when people say things like that, men in coats help them away. Almost surely, that isn’t anything Palin was claiming—and no, that statement doesn’t make much sense. But then, bafflegab rules substantial parts of the world we still call the academy. In his later work, Wittgenstein seemed to say that large chunks of traditional philosophy are composed of incoherent statements. (Statements like “It’s now three o’clock on the moon,” as opposed to “It’s now three o’clock in Los Angeles.”) Alas! The “surface grammar” of the incoherent statements so resembled that of their coherent cousins that philosophers couldn’t see that their lofty-sounding remarks made no sense! With the help of the Post op-ed page, Professor Allen has bravely stepped forward to show how the problem has spread.

For the record, Allen wasn’t through with those death panels yet. Having made a joke of your lives, the big muddy just kept on:

ALLEN: And perhaps the counseling sessions meant to help us all think about end-of-life issues should be conducted when each of us is in the prime of life. To demystify such counseling sessions, the president held up as examples himself and his wife, who have living wills. But they have set these up when the natural end of their life seems remote. In the context of such counseling sessions, this distance surely provides a certain psychological protection. Perhaps if we developed a practice of expecting these counseling sessions to occur in our 40s and 50s, we would view them, like financial counseling, simply as a necessary step toward being able to enter retirement with peace of mind.

There is a real debate going on in what appear to be crazy town hall meetings. If only both sides had ears to hear. Would somebody please call the otologist? [end of column]

Allen offers some fatuous thoughts in this passage. But at least we can pretty much tell what she pretty much means.

Our discourse has been crazy for decades. The professors have rarely stepped forward to help. Professor Allen, heir to Corey, seems eager to let you know why.

A nation is in a world of hurt when columns like this emerge from the very top of the academy. Readers, it’s now three o’clock on the moon! Do you know where your floundering nation’s intellectual culture is?

What hath genius wrought: We’ll suggest you take one final look at what the professor has wrought:

Lawmakers should consider the experiential meaning of concrete realities that their policies may bring.

Palin is considering what conceivable effects of a practical kind the policy may involve—what sensations we are to expect from it.

The concrete outcomes that will flow from Obama’s policies will include conversations that sound like “death panels.”

Have those statements been rendered in English? Chait tore his hair, but he couldn’t quite tell. Presumably, Fred Hiatt was resume-cowed by Allen—was afraid to acknowledge his own confusion. Journalists sometimes type murky prose. But modern journalists never present bafflegab quite like that.

Readers, it’s now three o’clock on the moon—half past the cat up in Jersey.