PAY ME, IM WORKING AT HOME: As we noted yesterday, hacks raced to peddle Palins tale about the way she fired that state chef, saying, I can make sandwiches for my own kids. (Were quoting the way John Fund told the tale. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/8/08.) Today, the Post offers a new perspective on such claims, reporting a fairly remarkable fact: Palin requests and receives per diem pay from the state of Alaska on the many days she lives at home rather than in Juneau, the capital. In typical press corps fashion, the Post fails to state the size of the stipendand it offers confusing, seemingly self-contradictory statements. Judging from a paragraph about Todd Palin, it seems that Sarah Palin may request and receive roughly $54 per day when she works at home.
That should help a hockey-mom make a whole sh*t-load of sandwiches. On the other hand, the Posts reporting is confusing and quite hard to parse. Compare paragraph 1 with this later statement: Palin rarely sought reimbursement for meals while staying in Anchorage or Wasilla, the reports show. Does this mean she accepts a lodging fee rather than money for meals? The Posts reporting is typically hapless.
When Palin arrived on the scene last week, she arrived with a bag full of pleasing narratives. Plainly, these pleasing tales were being pimped to define her superlative character:
I told Congress to take their bridge and shove it!
I sold the governors jeton eBay!
I got rid of the governors chef, though my kids really miss her!
As noted yesterday: It was stunning to see the way big major journalists ran to recite these pleasing claims, some of which are baldly inaccurate. (Others are quite misleading.) Many slick politicians offer such claims. Journalists arent supposed to recite them.
Even more stunning: Chris Matthews dim-wittedness on last evenings Hardball. Matthews tried to discuss the Bridge to Nowhere claim, but he quickly said he couldnt understand why were wasting time on such topics. He then completely bungled the matter. He didnt know the facts of the case; neither did one of his guests, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon. The other guest, Republican strategist Todd Harris, quite capably pimped misleading claims about the matter. Harris could accomplish this task because Matthews and McMahon were so thoroughly and completely unprepared.
McMahon is a wealthy DC insider; Matthews is a wealthy pseudo-journalist. Let us explain the world to these tools: Were discussing the Bridge to Nowhere claim for an obvious reasonPalin is using the tale to define her brilliant character to unsuspecting, unknowing voters. Now, well explain the world to our readers: In a slightly more righteous society, Matthews and McMahon would be dragged out into the countryside, where theyd get a free public re-education. (Sorry, fellasno vouchers!) Each is a millionaireat your expense. Each man was completely unprepared for last nights pseudo-discussion.
HUG ME, IM FATUOUS: The depth of the upper-end press corps fatuity simply defies description. This morning, the New York Times second-biggest political story is this report by Elisabeth Bumiller. In it, Bumiller examines an etiquette question: Should John McCain hug Sarah Palin?
No. Were not making that up.
Bumiller goes onand on; and oneventually quoting Letitia Baldridge, the manners authority and former White House social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy. Here at THE HOWLER, we go way back with Baldridge; we even guested with her on Politically Incorrect, amazing the world with our wit and irreverence. Were sorry Letitia got herself dragged into this addled, empty-headed, sordid mess.
For the record, the question of political hugging has long been a prime obsession for the dimwits who run the Times. In 1984, Maureen Dowd attracted early attention from the papers editors when she spotted the story at the Democratic ConventionWalter Mondales perceived uncertainty about hugging Geraldine Ferraro. At this utterly daft pseudo-paper, the imbecile Dowd rose to prominence thanks to a string of such insights (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/27/08). Today, Bumiller extends her legacy; indeed, a large photo of Mondale and Ferraro sits atop this groaning piece. Out on page one, right at the top, the Times teases interest with two more photosphotos of McCain hugging his wife, and hugging the aforementioned Palin.
Lets say it again: This group is so daft as to beggar description.
Rememberthis is the second biggest political story the Times offers readers today. (On page one, the paper is concerned with fund-raising.) On a facing page, Patrick Kit Healyhe sits when he hissesoffers a disappointed piece about Hillary Clintons failure to get herself into a cat-fight with Palin. Hiss! Hiss-spit! Hiss-spit! Meee-ow! Dowds spawn is saddisappointed.
Over the years, weve come to a sad realization, in line with the famous tale about that emperors famous new clothes: The sheer inanity of this cohort is simply too vast for most people to see. Even critics of the Times havent really come to terms with the shape of this upper-class Gotham elitethe profoundly daft, inane palace-dwellers who drive our national discourse. Go aheadjust read the Bumiller piece. This is what happens when a middle-class democracy accepts a multimillionaire press corps. When our silliest, dimmest darlings gain control of our discourse.
MALLABY KEEN AND WAILS: Yesterday, at the Washington Post, Sebastian Mallaby was crying real tears. He cried about the demise of a saintand typed things that were wrong in the process. Heres the way the boo-hooing Brit finished his blubbering column:
MALLABY (9/8/08): McCain used to be a real straight talker. On campaign finance, spending earmarks, Iraq and immigration, he has fought bravely for his principles; and that record might have been a trump against an opponent who has taken almost no such risks. But we are now witnessing what might be called McCain's Palinization. McCain once criticized Christian conservatives as agents of intolerance, but he has caved in to their intolerance of a pro-choice running mate. McCain claims to be devoted to his country, yet he would saddle it with a vice president who is unprepared to serve as commander in chief. In the same sad way, McCain has caved in to his party's anti-tax fanatics. The man of principle has become a panderer. The straight talker flip-flops.
As the tears splashed down his cheeksbadly dampening his tattersall trousersthe Brit recited the standard bull-roar pre-keyed into pundit computers.
Did McCain used to be a real straight talker? Was he a man who fought bravely for his principles? We dont know why Mallaby feels so certain. For most of us, an obvious thought will come to mind when a person walks away from his stated principles; well think he was perhaps pretending when he claimed these as his principles. In fact, McCain misstated the truth all through Campaign 2000, about George W. Bush and Al Gore. He had a major race-man running his South Carolina campaign; he made robo-calls about Bush in Michigan, then lied to the press corps about them. But the press corps was on this greatest saints side, and so they chose not to notice. People like Mallaby wrote fatuous pieces about the wonders of Saint McCain and Saint Bradleyand, of course, they hammered Demon Gore, who they knew was a very bad man. (For a taste of Mallabys stupidity during Campaign 2000, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/5/08.)
By the way, Mallabys memory played a few tricks as he wept about his great loss. As the tears splashed down his cheeks, he recalled the way the great Saint McCain once criticized Christian conservatives as agents of intolerance.Sadly, though, the Brit forgot what the great saint did a few days later. In real time, Frank Bruni reported in the New York Times:
BRUNI (3/2/00): Under growing fire over his recent attacks on leaders of the Christian right, Senator John McCain apologized yesterday for remarks the day before in which he characterized Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell as "forces of evil." He said those remarks had been intended as a joke.
Repeating that he "disagrees with the political message and tactics" of Mr. Robertson and Mr. Falwell, Mr. McCain added in a prepared statement, "I do not consider them evil, and I regret that my flip remark may have mistakenly created that impression."
"In my campaign," he said, "I often joke about Luke Skywalker, evil empires and death stars. It was in that vein that I used the phrase yesterday."
Mr. McCain's apology focused on remarks he had made on his campaign bus that amplified on a speech he gave on Monday, calling Mr. Robertson and Mr. Falwell "agents of intolerance."
Talking on the bus the next day, he said: "To stand up to the forces of evil, that's my job, and I can't steer the Republican Party if those two individuals have the influence they have on the party today."
Mr. McCain issued the apology shortly after his most prominent supporter on the Christian right, Gary L. Bauer, harshly criticized him for attacking Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson, and suggested that the attacks could cost him the Republican nomination.
We discussed all these things at they time they occurred. But so what? People like Mallabyand Josh Marshall, of courseknew a great man when they saw one!
In fact, McCain was all over the lot during Campaign 2000, on all kinds of topics and messages. But so what? Blubbering babies like pitiful Mallaby cheered his every word and deed. Today, they remember the things they so deeply enjoyed, and swear this great man was once driven by principle. Meanwhile, the Post went to Great Britain to hire this fellow! Are we face with some kind of domestic fool shortage that requires the purchase of imports?
THIS FELLOW JUST CANT STOP: Some men are born to behave this way. One fellow clearly cant stop:
MADDOW (9/8/08): And so, you think [Obamas] confidence is about what comes next in the campaign, not necessarily an undue confidence about where his tactics thus far have gotten him.
OLBERMANN: Well, look what heshes fought off this. Hes fought off this, you knowwe found somebody at Schwabs Drugstore in Hollywood and give her a screen test and now shes Liza Minnelli and a star is born and were making her the vice president of the United States or at least the candidate on the ticket.
In this way, this fellow adorned the first few moments of Rachel Maddows first program! But then, some men are born to insult women; they keep it up to the day they die. KeithO seems to be such a guy. Hell never stop gender-trashing Palin, even if it puts her consort safely inside the White House.
WITTGENSTEIN AND BENEN: In our view, Steve Benen has done terrific work since taking over for Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly. That said, this recent post, concerning a new McCain ad, shows why its easy for Republican pols to invent bogus claimsand to escape correction.
Sorry, Barack, but they can make stuff up. This episode helps show us why.
Steves post concerns the new McCain adthe ad which starts with the following claim about Saint McCain and Saint Pit Bull:
MCCAIN AD: The original mavericks! He fights pork barrel spending. She stopped the Bridge to Nowhere.
But did Palin stop the Bridge to Nowhere? As Steve notes, the ad cites a news report from the 12/27/07 Anchorage Daily Newsand that news report makes no such claim. As he continues, Steve offers his own account of the matter, eventually saying, the ads claim is obviously not true. But it would be hard to sell his account to a larger new org; his chronology is basically wrong, as is his overall judgment. What follows is Steves account of the matter. But this chronology is badly jumbledand in some ways, is wrong. And though we agree that the ad is grossly misleading, Steves highlighted claim is a stretch:
BENEN (9/8/08): In reality, Palin supported the bridge project, and campaigned on a pledge to build it. The bridge was scrapped, not by Palin, but when an embarrassed Congress stopped the project. Even then, Palin took the money and spent it on other Alaskan transportation projects. Unless the McCain campaign is prepared to change the meaning of the word "stopped," the ad's claim is obviously not true.
For reasons well review below, that account is hard to square with the real chronology. Such errors create a basic problem for a truth-seeking liberal.
Simply put, big news orgs dont like correcting the claims of Major Republicans. In the character narratives of the past sixteen years, Big Republicans have been plain-spoken straight-talkers; they may be out of touch (Dole) or incurious (Bush), but theyve almost never been presented as liars or dissemblers. In press corps narratives of the past sixteen years, it has been a succession of Major Democrats who have had problems with the truthwho have been liars or feckless flip-floppers. Journalists are comfortable correcting Dems statements. If you want them to correct a Big Rep, your case has to be air-tight
We know, we knowif youre a rational person, its hard to believe that journalists function that way. But thats precisely the way the news gets processed and shapedand Steve will have a hard time selling his presentation to a major news org. His explanation isnt clear enough. Beyond that, its just wrong in some parts.
Did Palin stop the Bridge to Nowhere? Expressed that way, the claim is grossly misleadingbut it can be said to be technically accurate. Indeed, the McCain campaign seems to have cited the wrong news report about the matter. On Saturday, September 22, 2007, an article by the APs Steve Quinn appeared on page one of the Anchorage Daily News. Heres how the report beganand yes, this report was accurate:
QUINN (9/22/07): Some called it a bridge to the future. Others called it the bridge to nowhere.
The bridge is going nowhere.
On Friday, the state abandoned the controversial project in Ketchikan that became a national symbol of federal pork-barrel spending.
It closes a chapter that has brought the state reams of ridicule, but it also leaves open wounds in a community that fought for decades to get federal help.
The state abandoned the project, Quinn wrote. Three grafs later, he fleshed out his statement, naming the person he meant:
QUINN: Gov. Sarah Palin directed the state Department of Transportation to find the most "fiscally responsible" alternative for access to the airport.
Without federal funding, the state cannot afford a bridge, so the best option would be to upgrade the current ferry system, she said.
Local officials called the decision premature, saying it came without warning.
"For somebody who touts process and transparency in getting projects done, I'm disappointed and taken aback," said state Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan.
"This is contrary to about every statement she has ever made," he said. "We worked 30 years to get funding for this priority project."
In short, on September 21, 2007, Governor Palin did pull the plug on the infamous projectagainst the judgment of some local pols. In that sense, Palin did stop the project that had long been derided as the Bridge to Nowhere. Steve says, the ads claim is obviously not true. But uh-oh! Even though the ads claim is grossly misleading, Steves claim could be a hard sell.
The ads claim isnt exactly untrueits just grossly misleading. But that fact doesnt explain itselfand given the low skill level of major journalists, few of them will ever be likely to tackle this problem. If you want them to get it right (or do it at all), an imperfect account just wont do. We liberals must be very precise if we want the truth covered.
What is wrong with that ads claim? In fact, Palin did stop the bridge project last fallbut its absurd to claim that this action made her some sort of a maverick. Governors make decisions like this all the time; if dropping a project makes Palin a maverick, then every one of the other forty-nine is a big maverick too. Yes, some people in her state wanted to proceed with the projectbut that is always true in these matters. There was nothing unusual in what she did. When Sarah Palin dropped this project, it proved nothing grand about her.
This brings us back to that basic chronologythe simple chronology that Steve bungled, like almost everyone else who has tried to present it.
What was the real chronology of this project? It isnt complex. Here we go:
THE CHRONOLOGY: In the summer of 2005, Congress directed Alaska to build the bridge using federal funds. After Hurricane Katrina hit in September, this use of federal funds turned into a political firestorm. In November 2005, Congress rescinded its orderbut Alaska was allowed to keep the federal money that had been earmarked for the bridge; the money could now be used for any purpose the state saw fit. One year later, in her campaign for governor, Palin said she still favored building the bridge. She finally dropped the idea in September 2007specifically saying that Congress wouldnt give the state any more money for the project.
That would be an accurate chronology; wed love to see someone simplify it. Steve is simply wrong in some of his claims. Example: The bridge was scrapped, not by Palin, but when an embarrassed Congress stopped the project. Its hard to know what he means by that. And as a general matter, journalists wont call Republicans liars unless the case is air-tight.
So how about it. Has Palin been lying in her standard claim about this matter? And how about the claim that is made in that new McCain ad?
Palins standard claim: Palins standard claim is so bogus that wed basically call it a lie. At no point in that chronology did Palin tell the Congress to go stuff their bridge, as she has repeatedly claimed. Plainly, Palin is trying to make voters think that she boldly stood up to Congress. But the claim is laughably false; even when she stopped the project, she said she had to do so because Congress wouldnt provide more funds! But because our side keeps bungling our presentations, weve seen this sort of thing said in very few places. Basically, Palins standard claim is a lie. Weve seen few big journalists say so.
The new ads claim: The new ads claim is less grandiose, but its still grossly misleading. As governor, Palin did stop the bridge projectbut nothing about her action stamps her as a maverick. If she was telling the truth to Alaskas voters, she wanted to proceed with the projectbut Congress wouldnt give her the money! Nothing about that makes her a maverick. If a lie exists in the ad, thats where it lies. (And of course: This ad reinforces voters recollections of Palins earlier statements, which were flatly wrong.)
But alasour side isnt good at explaining such things. Benen has done superlative work since assuming his post, but his chronology is simply wrong in this case, and his accusationthe ad's claim is obviously not trueis very poorly explained. Your press corps doesnt like to correct the claims of Big Reps, and work like this isnt likely to tempt them. We have to make our claims air-tight if we want our claims to proceed.
Lets get lofty! Wittgenstein, in a famous remark, described a cousin to this problem. In philosophical reasoning, conceptual confusion is easily created, he saidbut its very hard to untangle: We feel as if we had to repair a torn spiders web with our bare hands. (Philosophical Investigations, 106.)
But so it goes with Republican messagingwith deceptive messaging like the slickster Palins. That new ads claim is grossly misleadingbut its been constructed by Republican experts. They know how to create misleading picturespictures which are hard to refute, especially in a political culture which assumes that Republican pols are plain-spoken straight-talkers.
If Dems and libs hope to succeed, we have to work hard to refine our skills. Benen has done superlative work. But his post about Palin is wrong.
Off our standard path, but relevant: We cant recall when any pol arrived on the national scene with such a bogus set of narratives. If Dems and libs cant debunk Palins claims, things will only get worse in the future. We think her claims are deeply bogus. But alas! In the world which now exists, you have to be able to show it.
Also wrong: Benen links to this Think Progress posta post which is also bungled. Like Steve, Think Progress noted that the 12/27/07 Anchorage Daily News report said nothing about Palin stopping the bridgeand that was good enough for them. But Palin did pull the plug on the project, in September of that year, as the Daily News clearly reported. When progressive interests are represented this way, such interests are destined to fail.