Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

SCRIPT THE PUNDITS WELL! The Times concocted an ugly hoax. On CNN, pundits read from the script:


SCRIPT THE PUNDITS WELL: Just how easy has it become to script America’s pundits? Last Monday, the Washington Times launched a slander campaign against the NEA. Using a handful of truncated “quotes” pulled completely out of context, the paper’s Ellen Sorokin claimed that the NEA’s “Remember September 11” web site was teaching kids to “Blame America First” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/26/02). According to Sorokin, the NEA was even saying that we shouldn’t blame al Qaeda for last year’s attacks. The teachers were saying that we shouldn’t “suggest any group is responsible,” Sorokin claimed in her Day One report.

In truth, it would take an especially dim-witted person to place his faith in such a claim, especially after viewing Sorokin’s Day One report in the Times. Her strangely truncated “quotes” gave fair warning—a spin campaign was underway. And a simple review of the NEA’s site gave the lie to Sorokin’s assertions. Sorokin had pulled her “quotes” from an essay by Professor Brian Lippincott—an essay to which the NEA had an ancillary link. Had Lippincott warned against blaming al Qaeda? Of course not. He had said, with perfect clarity, that children should be taught not to blame Arab-Americans as a group for the September 11 attacks. Sorokin’s report was consummate rubbish. The Times was building a slander campaign on the rubble of last year’s events.

Was the NEA covering up for al Qaeda? It would take a fool to believe the claim—but America’s pundits are up to the task. Consider Sunday’s panel discussion on CNN’s Late Edition, and this remarkable bit of script-reading by guest host Kate Snow:

SNOW: Another education story this week. The National Education Association, NEA, suggesting that teachers, in some of their lesson plans relating to the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, should avoid suggesting that any group is responsible, avoid placing blame for the terrorist assault. Is this political correctness on the NEA’s part, Robert [George]?
Incredible. Six days after the initial deception, Snow was still reciting Sorokin's line, pretending that the NEA had said we should “avoid placing blame for the terrorist assault.” Lippincott had said that we shouldn’t blame Arab-Americans; his meaning was perfectly clear on the point. But six days later, Snow was still pretending that the NEA had said something larger, and conservative Robert George raced to agree that this was “political correctness” of the worst kind. When did our discourse become a comic book? Drink in the sheer stupidity as a slander campaign moved forward:
SNOW: Is this political correctness on the NEA’s part, Robert?

GEORGE: Oh, yes, of course. I mean, if you can’t say that, you know, the terrorists happened to be Islamist fundamentalist extremists, I mean, you know, what is that? I mean, it seems it’s doing a disservice to the children.

George articulated what Snow had implied; the NEA was saying that we shouldn’t attribute the attacks to Muslim fundamentalists. The Lippincott essay says no such thing, but there it was, blabbed again, six full days after Snow and George should have examined the NEA’s texts.

And now, prepare to see the extent to which our discourse has become a sick joke. Next to speak was Peter Beinart, editor of the New Republic. How easy is it to script today’s pundits? Listen to Beinart’s astounding remarks, and weep for America’s future:

BEINART (continuing directly): Yes, I mean, you know, if the NEA didn’t exist, conservatives like Rich [Lowry] and Robert would have to invent it, because it makes liberals like myself look so idiotic.
We’re fighting a war, for goodness sakes, on the basis of knowing who committed 9/11. To say we can’t tell children is absurd.
Beinart did indeed look silly, but it was hardly the NEA’s doing. Beinart—self-identifying as a “liberal,” and representing the left on the CNN panel—recited the talking points of the right, smearing the NEA once again. And just how benighted was the pundit? Incredibly, Beinart said that if the NEA’s foolishness didn’t exist, conservatives would have to invent it. But that, of course, is just what had happened in the Washington Times that week. The Times did invent a ludicrous story; cable’s screamer took it from there. And six days later, Beinart—representing liberals—still didn’t have the first clue on earth. It didn’t seem to have entered his mind that he was reciting the right’s latest slander.

Question: Is there any other professional sector where such utter incompetence is now so expected? This hapless exchange shows the sad state of our public discourse. But it also shows another sad point—the ease with which our “mainstream” scribes submit to scripting by the right’s lowest orders. The Times had run a nasty slander, and six days later, Snow and Beinart still mouthed it. Increasingly, this is par for the course as conservative power gobbles up our mass media.

THE TWO-HOUR SOLUTION: Six days after this nonsense began, Snow and Beinart still lacked the first clue. But how quickly had it become apparent that Sorokin’s claims were a fraud? The point was clearly made on Day One, by American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner. On August 19—the day of Sorokin’s first report—Kuttner appeared on the O’Reilly Factor. Speaking to guest host John Gibson, Kuttner had a word for Sorokin’s claim—“hoax:”

KUTTNER: You know, John, your producer called me about two hours ago and told me about this column in today’s Washington Times that alleges this. So, I looked up the column in the Washington Times, I looked up the NEA web site, and I would say the column in the Times is about the most dishonest piece of journalism I’ve read in years because, in fact, the NEA web site has hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of links, including the American Red Cross, the CIA, CNN, Time magazine. One of the many hundreds of links is to something by a psychologist that was written right after September 11 that talks about the danger of blaming members of ethnic groups for the actions in this case of al Qaeda, which reads almost like what President Bush said about the danger of scapegoating Arab-Americans. So this is just a completely trumped-up hoax of a charge.
For Kuttner, it took two hours to sniff out this hoax. According to Kuttner, Sorokin’s report was “about the most dishonest piece of journalism” in years. Gibson and his repellent guest, Sandy Rios, then engaged in vigorous sophistry, trying to move Kuttner off his point. But on Day One of this foolish campaign, Sorokin’s work was described for what it was. Correctly, her work was described as a “hoax” on cable’s most-watched news program.

It took Kuttner two hours to see through the fraud. But six days later, there were Snow and Beinart, reciting this bogus script of the right. By now, of course, the script had been mouthed all over the media. How easily can our press corps be scripted? More on this topic tomorrow.

SCRIPTING JOHN GIBSON: How hard did Gibson fight against Kuttner? At one point, he offered a weird idea—American schools should ignore 9/11:

GIBSON (8/19/02): Robert Kuttner, let me put it this way. What is the NEA doing telling teachers anything but—this may be an odd concept, but it is mine. Why tell kids anything about September 11? Why not teach them about math and science and history and leave these current events until we all know what did happen and what really happened? We have some suspicions right now that a certain group was responsible, and we may end up tagging them for it in the end. But why is the NEA getting involved telling teachers to tell kids anything about this?

KUTTNER: Let me understand what you’re saying…You think that September 11 should go by, the first anniversary of the terrorist assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and America’s teachers just should teach math as if nothing had happened a year ago? Are you kidding?

GIBSON: Well, I mean, I don’t see how America’s teachers are—I don’t know when they’re teaching math. I mean, they seem to be failing in a lot of basic things to a great degree, and yet they want to have a big hand-holding session about September 11. Why don’t they do their job in the normal course of teaching subjects we are expecting kids to learn about when we send them to school?

Bizarre, isn’t it? Gibson thought that American schools should simply ignore 9/11! “This may be an odd concept, but it is mine,” Gibson said—but of course, it wasn’t his concept at all. Whose “odd concept” was the Fox-Man mouthing? The script had come from Phyllis Schlafly, quoted in Sorokin’s report:
SOROKIN (8/19/02): Phyllis Schlafly, president of the conservative Eagle Forum, said schools should stick to teaching more important subjects such as math, English and science.

“There is nothing that schools can add to what happened on September 11, that the children haven’t already seen in the media,” Mrs. Schlafly said. “They should stay off of it and teach what's true. They should leave it alone.”

Phyllis Schlafly had typed the odd script. Obedient Gibson was now just reciting. Say hello to the sorry state of America’s corrupt public discourse.