PODHORETZ (8/19/05):Podhoretz spent the next several days back-tracking from this remarkably uninformed post. But, most simply put: Um—yes. True. As Krugman is forced to waste time explaining today, both consortium recounts showed that Gore would have won if all Florida votes were recounted. Almost surely, Podhoretz didnt know this fact—a fact which has been clear for four years. And therein lies a remarkable tale—a tale which Krugman under-tells in this mornings column.
KRUGMAN TRIES TO PULL A FAST ONE: Paul Krugman tells a whopper today in his column about media recounts in the 2000 election: "Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida's ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore." Um—no. Wrong. Bzzzzz...This will be the subject of about a billion blog entries today. Did Krugman really think he could get away with this?
KRUGMAN (8/23/05): So why do so many people believe the Bush win was rock solid?Krugman is right—press reports tended to stress the likelihood that Bush would have won under certain scenarios. And they tended to bury the fact Krugman cited last week—the fact that Gore would have won if all votes were recounted. Unsurprisingly, this tendency was visible in Krugmans own paper, where Richard Berkes analysis of the Times recount completely failed to mention the outcome that had Podhoretz so bollixed last week. (The Times news report, by Ford Fessenden, was more forthcoming.) People like Berke deep-sixed this result—and four years later, people like Podhoretz were outraged by Krugmans whopper! But so it has gone, in so many areas, over the past dozen years.
One answer is that many editorials and op-ed articles have claimed that no possible recount would have changed the outcome. Let's be charitable and assume that those who write such things are victims of the echo chamber, and believe that what everyone they talk to says must be true.
The other answer is that many though not all reports of the results of the ballot reviews conveyed a false impression about what those reviews said. A few reports got the facts wrong, but for the most part they simply stressed the likelihood—in some cases presented as a certainty—that Mr. Bush would have won even if the U.S. Supreme Court hadn't intervened.
Which Clinton scandals get debunked in The Survivor? Lets start with the granddaddy of them all—Whitewater, the pseudo-scandal which gave its name to a political era. On Wednesday, well pay more attention to Harris treatment of this iconic matter. But was Whitewater really a scandal at all? In his only real summary of the matter, Harris discusses the Whitewater documents—documents which Hillary Clinton didnt want to hand to Harris imperious employer, the all-knowing Washington Post:
HARRIS (page 105): Why did she feel so strongly? Theories abounded, then and later. Some took her at face value: She simply regarded the familys private papers as nobodys business, never mind the questions being raised by Whitewater. Later, as many of the papers she was shielding were indeed made public...there were certainly embarrassments within. These included the revelations that years earlier she had scored big through trades in the commodities markets—a fact that seemed a bit hypocritical from a couple that had denounced the 1980s as a decade of greed. Even so, there was nothing in those documents that would have caused the Clintons any more than passing discomfort. There was shoddiness, perhaps, but not illegality.Please note the standard way Harris disappears the Posts role; in this construction, questions were being raised by Whitewater, not by his papers loud-mouthed editors. As we will eventually see, Harris makes little attempt to explain the way a trivial non-scandal like this could come to define the Clinton years. But was there an actual Whitewater scandal? Sorry—there was nothing in those documents that would have caused the Clintons any more than passing discomfort, he judges. But then, so he judges on a long string of celebrated Clinton-era pseudo-scandals. Travelgate? That name is surely overblown, Harris writes on page 38. Indeed, he even takes a poke at the press corps in this one: The uproar that ensued, both [Hillary Clinton] and the president believed with some cause, reflected the insularity of Washington and the self-absorbed nature of the White House press corps (page 40; emphasis added). But then, Harris also bats away the Filegate pseudo-scandal (details below), and he offers a remarkable judgment about the fund-raising scandals from Campaign 96. His judgment is striking because of the heat these scandals provided right through Campaign 2000:
HARRIS (page 273): Despite the presidents protests, the campaign finance furor of 1997 was not an inventions of the news media or the Republicans...Still, what happened in 1996 was about sloppiness and excess, nothing more. No criminal wrongdoing was ever uncovered. The Democratic moneymen, including [John] Huang and [Johnny] Chung, pleaded guilty to fund-raising violations, but no link to espionage or Chinese government infiltration was ever established. And like so many of the Clinton scandals before it, it faded slowly away.It faded slowly away—after it helped put Bush in the White House! (More on this later on in the week.) In our view, Harris is strikingly blase about the remarkable pattern he describes, in which a string of pseudo-scandals somehow managed to drive a whole political era. But as with so many Clinton scandals, Harris brushes the 1996 fund-raising scandals away. As noted, Harris press corps flogged these chimerical scandals all through 1997—and continued to flog them during Campaign 2000, until they finally put Bush in the White House. As well see later on in the week, even as he dismisses these scandals, Harris fails to come to terms with the endless way his cohort flogged them—with the way these now-dismissed scandals changed the face of American life.
HARRIS (page 408): It would not have been possible for an FBI director to hold hostage a president with a scrupulous personal reputation. Nor should a responsible president have allowed himself to be held hostage—no matter the firestorm that would have resulted. The presidents refusal to assert the authority that belonged to him over the FBI and insist that the agency become a fully cooperative partner in the campaign against terrrorism was a critical abdication of leadership.Meanwhile, what of the famous first-term scandal in which Freeh was involved—the deeply troubling Filegate matter? Harris shoots that turkey down too. Many of the same Republicans who hated Clinton treated his FBI appointee as a golden boy, he writes on page 278. Which side was Freeh on? And uh-oh! The answer became obvious [in 1996], Harris judges, when the pious Freeh self-pityingly claimed that the FBI and I were victimized during the Filegate flap. Harris bats that statement away—and puts down the whole Filegate scandal:
As Clarke, who despised Freeh and regarded him as a serious obstacle to an effective counterterrorism policy, later concluded, He should have fired Freeh and taken the shit it would have caused.
HARRIS (pages 278-279): Freehs statement was not only gratuitous; it was wrong. The White House security office had requested the FBI files for permanent White House employees who were holdovers from the Bush administration. This was a proper request. What came back from the FBI headquarters were the files not only of the permanent employees but of the political appointees who had left with the change of administration. No doubt it was sloppy for the Clinton White House not to notice this immediately and return the wayward files. It was sloppier, and more troubling, for the FBI to have sent over the errant files in the first place....In the meantime, the matter of the FBI files was added to the growing brief of independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Four years later, his inquiry would find no criminal violation by the Clinton White House. Clintons explanation of a bureaucratic snafu had been correct.Four years later, the scandal died! At any rate, Harris savages Freeh as a self-dealing, incompetent Republican shill—and shoots down Filegate as he does.