Daily Howler logo
NOTHING TO LOOK AT, KEEP MOVING ALONG! Nothing to look at, some leaders will say, much as they’ve said all along: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2007

THE PERFECT EXAMPLE: For the perfect example of what we discuss below, see this classic post by Reed Hundt. Two obvious questions come to mind. We’ll obsess a bit more on the morrow.

NOTHING TO LOOK AT, KEEP MOVING ALONG: On the front page of this morning’s Post, we get a reminder of why the GOP may keep the White House next year.

Dan Eggen does the reporting; he discusses Jack Goldsmith’s new book about the way the Cheney office “pushed relentlessly to expand the powers of the executive branch” after 9/11. At one point, Eggen quotes David Addington, Cheney’s current chief of staff:
EGGEN (9/5/07): "We're going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop," Addington said at one point, according to Goldsmith.
We're going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop. That is precisely what modern liberals won’t do, as we see, once again, in early laconic reactions to Evgenia Peretz’s new piece in Vanity Fair.

In her piece, Peretz describes the press coverage of Campaign 2000—the coverage which sent George Bush to the White House and thereby destroyed the world as we knew it. Several months ago, we spoke with Peretz, while she was working on her report; we think we told her you can’t really do justice to this story at the length of a magazine report. That remains true, but Peretz has done a superlative job—and for the first time, the Gore family and Gore campaign staffers discuss the press coverage, on the record. If we liberals were the types of people who pushed and pushed and pushed until some larger force made us stop, we would see the deep utility in Peretz’s piece, especially with Campaign 08 upon us. But modern career liberals aren’t much like that. For two years, we kept our mouths deliciously shut while the events described in this piece were occurring. Today, we pooh-pooh Peretz’s work in the predictable manner.

Consider Kevin Drum, one of our favorite analysts (except, semi-often, when it comes to press issues). Kevin gives Peretz a “pretty good” review. But we don’t know why he thinks this:
DRUM (9/4/07): It's a pretty good piece. It covers fairly familiar ground for most blog readers, I think, but does a nice job of summarizing Campaign 2000 for magazine readers who haven't heard all this stuff before. It's worth revisiting.
Does Peretz’s article cover “fairly familiar ground for most blog readers?” For ourselves, we’re constantly stunned by the ignorance of liberal posters and commenters when it comes to these issues; if the maddening Huffington Post could only be searched, we could give you an intriguing example from late last week. But for a taste of the way the liberal half lives, consider how Huffington poster Amitai Etzioni ended a know-nothing piece in July. As he closed, he scolded dumb-ass Gore for being too coy about running for president:
ETZIONI (7/11/07): Can you not simply say, "I do not plan to run, I have set up no campaign headquarters nor an exploratory committee, but I will not close all doors, burn all bridges. No one can tell what the nation may need months or even a year from now"?

Frankly this constant reinvention of yourself (remember when you chose to change the colors of your clothing?) and this coyness makes quite a few voters and followers uncomfortable. You and they deserve better.
Good God! Remember when you chose to change the colors of your clothing? In his self-effacing Huffington bio, Etzioni modestly identifies himself as one of America’s top 100 intellectuals—but his ignorance was stunning throughout. But for some reason, Kevin thinks blog readers understand the ground Peretz has covered.

Just a guess: Leaders of the other side would never assume that “most blog readers” understand the most important facts of their recent political history. But then, the other side isn’t like us; the other side likes to push and push and push until some larger force makes them stop! With that in mind, we were also struck by Eric Alterman’s reaction to the Vanity Fair piece. We’ll post Eric’s words at some length. He offers some pros and some cons:
ALTERMAN (9/4/07): I had high hopes when “Going After Gore” appeared in my inbox...The piece is by Evgenia Peretz—but I don't hold the sins of anyone's fathers against their daughters—and the intro to the piece promised that "[f]or the first time, Gore and his family talk about the effect of the press attacks on his campaign—and about his future plans—to the author, who finds that many in the media are re-assessing their 2000 coverage.”

Alas, while the piece is a solid one, and may have a salutary effect on 2008 coverage, it does not begin to fulfill the promise of those words. In the first place, Gore does not open up at all. He makes the same comments he made when asked about it in the past, including when I asked him about it at a dinner following a screening for An Inconvenient Truth at Harry Evans' and Tina Brown's house last year. In the second place, the reporters who criticize the coverage of Gore, like Jon Alter, have also been criticizing it for quite a long time. The guilty parties—the people who should be banned from political coverage forever for what they wrote—do not reassess anything. They either refuse to speak to Peretz or issue bland self-justifying statements that ignore all specifics. And with regard to the coverage itself, Peretz does not address any incidents that I did not read previously in Bob Somerby's obsessive coverage, in Eric Boehlert's excellent articles in Rolling Stone and Salon.com, and in the chapter I wrote—in many respects based on their previous research—in What Liberal Media?

Then again, a big piece on the topic in Vanity Fair is not chopped liver. If reporters have to worry about being embarrassed in the future as Ceci Connolly (now a Fox News contributor), Maureen Dowd, Frank Bruni, and others surely must be, then it might be a useful piece.
Eric calls Peretz’s piece “solid;” twice, he says it may affect the coverage of Campaign 08. But that is extremely unlikely to happen unless liberal leaders scream and yell and cause this piece to have that effect. Do Connolly, Dowd and Bruni feel “embarrassed” by this piece? They’d likely prefer that it hadn’t appeared, but they surely know they can count on one thing; there will be no attempt in career liberal circles to bellow and yell about this piece—to insist that it get discussed, to use it to demand improved conduct. Oooooh! Surely Dowd is quaking with fear, thinking that—if she gets out of line this year—some liberal might criticize her for it in the year 2015! But surely, Dowd knows one thing well: in the year 2007, Peretz’s article will not be discussed on cable or network news program—and liberal writers won’t scream and yell, or jump up and down, trying to make that happen. Darlings, you can bet the summer house on it: Your liberal journals and your career liberal web sites will not scream and yell about what Peretz says. But then, you live in a bipolar world. One side pushes and pushes and pushes until some larger force makes it stop. And your side tends to stare into air. Nothing to look at, they reflexively tell you. Nothing to look at—keep moving.

By the way, we like Jonathan Alter as much as the next guy; we’ve often praised him as the sanest and fairest cable pundit on his (very high) pundit level. But the notion that Alter “ha[s] been criticizing [the coverage of Gore] for quite a long time”—well, that’s such a perfect fantasy one hardly knows how to begin. Let’s go ahead and tell the truth: Except for Paul Krugman, no one in a major mainstream press position has ever discussed the coverage of Campaign 2000; that is why, to quote Eric’s post, “the guilty parties—the people who should be banned from political coverage forever for what they wrote—do not reassess anything” they did or said in their comments to Peretz. To cite one example, Chris Matthews plays it wonderfully dumb in his comments to Peretz. But he knows that he will never be challenged on his past conduct in any forum that matters—not by Alter, rarely by Alterman, and not by anyone on his own program. We like Jonathan Alter as much as the next guy. But when has he ever criticized Matthews’ past conduct, or that of anyone inside the circle? Quick guess: He never will.

For ourselves, we’ve finally come to see something in the past month or so; our side is deeply, terminally resistant to the task of challenging the mainstream press corps about the types of issues discussed here. We don’t know why individuals act as they do, but the larger conflicts of interest are clear. (By the way: Alterman has often criticized the mainstream press; for one example from April, click here. We strongly recommended What Liberal Media? and we strongly do so again.) The (lucrative) careers of career liberal writers typically move through the very press organs which produced the conduct Peretz is describing; to all appearances, most young career liberals have no intention of blowing those future careers with accurate and sustained descriptions of the way the modern press really works. When it comes to the mainstream press, the other side pushes and pushes and pushes until some larger force makes them stop; after Dan Rather’s egregious blunder in Campaign 04, for example, we had to watch them revisit imagined acts of “liberal bias” dating all the way back to the 1970s. But our side has long refused to fight. As a general matter, we’d have to guess that the reason for that lack of fight—that lack of honesty—has long been abundantly clear.

Read that nonsense by Etzioni to see how well the liberal world understands the history Peretz recites. The other side would have screamed and yelled for the past eight years if anything like that had happened to Bush. But our leaders offer different advice. Nothing to look at—keep moving along, many will continue to tell you this week. Oh, please please please please please please please ! Please don’t ask our journals or blogs to note the harm these people have done. Please don’t ask our liberal orgs to stand on their hind legs and fight!

THE OTHER SIDE WOULD HAVE YELLED AND SCREAMED: Long ago, we quoted former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, describing what happened during Campaign 2000. He spoke on Hardball in late 2002, when people were wondering If Gore would challenge Bush’s re-election. He said something very truthful about what his side would have done:
SCARBOROUGH (11/18/02): I think, in the 2000 election, I think [the media] were fairly brutal to Al Gore…If they had done that to a Republican candidate, I’d be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased.
If they had done that to a Republican candidate, I’d be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased. And let’s face it—Scarborough was vastly understating. If the press corps had even dreamed of treating Bush the way they treated Gore for two years, the other side’s advocates would have screamed—and they’d still be screaming about it today! But when it comes to confronting the press, there are two different groups in our modern politics—the Globetrotters and the Washington Generals—and this week, you’ll see your side in its standard, practiced in-action. One side pushes and pushes and pushes until some larger force makes them stop. Our side looks at Peretz’s piece and tells you: Keep moving along!

Peretz’s piece will not be discussed—and few people on your side will demand it. Go ahead—watch their silence this week! We hope their money is spending real good, because you are the thing being bartered.

THE OBSESSIVE OF THE EARTH: A final note about Eric’s piece: It’s truly strange to see the repetitive way he describes our work on this topic as “obsessive.” In her piece, Peretz describes one of the most important press episodes in American history. We’re in Iraq because of these events—and yet, our side has typically refused to discuss them, and will continue to do so this week. We’ve tried, for years, to interest liberals in understanding these events—and in putting them to use in our politics, in attempts to improve the ongoing coverage. As we said, we’ve pretty much come to see that this is a futile quest.

Trust us—there’s a lot of completed work which we haven’t posted about the stunning coverage of Campaign 2000. Oddly, Eric—a college professor—finds such conduct to be “obsessive.” (In musty old halls, it’s referred to as “scholarship.”) But then, we haven’t asked you to read pretty tales about the things Alter hasn’t said.

Nothing to look at! Alter has said this! Except, of course, for the fact that he hasn’t. Pardon us while we obsess a bit more about our refusal to fight.

Final note: We strongly recommended What Liberal Media? We strongly recommend it again.