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Daily Howler: Joe Klein is mad at Saint McCain--now! Back then, he invented the myth
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DEFENDING THE FLAG! Joe Klein is mad at Saint McCain–now! Back then, he invented the myth: // link // print // previous // next //

HOWIE JUMPS THE SHARK: We’ve read lots of nonsense down through the years. Today, though, the life-form masquerading as Howard Kurtz really takes the cake. The highlighted claim must be one of the most ridiculous statements ever put into print by a major newspaper. Ignore the odd sentence structure:

KURTZ (9/15/08): No national candidate in modern history, not even Hillary Clinton, has ever been lambasted and lionized in quite the way Palin is [sic]. Why, for instance, do so many journalists feel compelled to mention her looks? Why are her family choices at the center of a noisy, cable-driven debate? Why are some Republicans convinced that the media apply a different standard to conservative women—and journalists just as convinced that legitimate reporting is being written off as sexist snobbery?

In a word, that highlighted statement is simply deranged—unless we’re hiding behind the word “candidate.” As we’ve long noted, by the summer of 1999, two cable “news” networks were staging long programs about the vast number of murders the deeply vile Hillary Clinton had staged along with her deeply vile husband. (Yes, that’s right—her murders!) In real time, Kurtz mentioned one of those programs, in passing—but he didn’t say a word about the program’s astonishing content. His statement today is simply deranged. Having married a Republican hit-woman consultant, Kurtz has at last lost his mind.

By the way, a note about “looks:”

Earth to Kurtz: Journalists have always mentioned candidates’ “looks.” Jack Kennedy’s looks have been discussed for the past forty-eight years. Lyndon Johnson’s looks were also discussed, unfavorably. In 2004 and again last year, John Edwards’ looks were often mentioned. Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm (Michigan) can’t run for national office, being Canadian-born. But she was named Miss San Carlos (California) in 1977, twelve years after we left the area; she then had a very brief Hollywood career before going to Harvard Law School, where she became an elitist. If Granholm were on the Democratic ticket, her looks would be constantly cited , as is now the case in profiles of the Michigan governor. Has Kurtz been off the planet all these years? Is he from a different part of the multiverse?

Earth to Howie: What follows is a public discussion of “looks” which you chose to ignore. It occurred in August 1999, on Special Report, as Brit Hume and a group of simpering boys looked at a photo of Hillary Clinton from the 1970s. A few days earlier, Bill Clinton had described the way he fell in love with his wife while the two were in law school. Hume posted his chronologically irrelevant photo, and his simpering boys began laughing:

HUME (8/23/99): The picture he paints of Mrs. Clinton is of a sort of a femme fatale. Now [posting the picture] that’s about what she looked like then.


And one—one can’t help but wonder about this.


Apparently, the photo didn’t evoke Pamela Anderson, so Hume’s all-boy panel enjoyed a good laugh. After speculating about how the Clintons were getting along in their marriage, they returned to that decades-old photo:

JUAN WILLIAMS: The problem, Tod, is that nobody can believe, one, that she was this beautiful woman in college, anyone who’s seen the pictures. And, two, who can believe that she didn’t know that this guy was a skirt-chaser all along?

JEFFREY BIRNBAUM: Well, I should point out, about the love-in-college part, that love is blind. But also—


HUME: Well, he never said she was beautiful. He said she was “compelling looking.” And that she may well have been.


Hume thus gained another round of appreciative laughter from his panel. By the way, since these boys were so concerned with the past, let’s recall Juan Williams’ past glory, as described by Kurtz himself, in the Post:

KURTZ (11/2/91): Washington Post Magazine reporter Juan Williams said yesterday that the newspaper has disciplined him for what he called "wrong" and "inappropriate" verbal conduct toward women staffers and he apologized to his colleagues.

Eight years later, Juan forgot how contrite he once had been, and he enjoyed some more good solid fun.

Back in 1999, Kurtz said nothing about Hume’s panel—just as he said nothing about the simultaneous discussions of Hillary Clinton’s murders. He simply forgot to speak up! (Al Gore was running for president in this astounding media environment—an environment liberals seldom mention and didn’t criticize at the time. Among many others, Josh and E. J. kept their traps shut, thinking about their careers.)

Today, Howie wants you thinking that no one has been “lambasted” like Palin. In our view, it’s time this life-form was dragged off into the woods, where he could get, at public expense, a good solid re-education.

Men in Black had much to teach us about life-forms like Kurtz.

CHARLIE GIBSON’S PERFORMANCE FROM NOWHERE: After watching all his interview sessions with Sarah Palin, Charlie Gibson’s final grade took a dive in our grade book. His strongest segment was the first one, Thursday evening’s session on foreign affairs—though there too he made some mistakes, some of which cut against Palin (see below). But Gibson’s performance tumbled from there. In this editorial, the Washington Post said Palin gave “an unsettling interview”—and the paper also complained about “a frustrating lack of follow-up questions.” In our view, Palin did worse than that. Ditto for Gibson.

[Note: For transcripts of the full interview sessions, click here. This transcript seems to be full and unedited, although ABC doesn’t quite articulate this claim. Representations on ABC’s web site are routinely unclear.]

How did Gibson fumble? Let us count the ways:

Stenographer-gate: Gibson was amazingly weak and uninformative when it came to the Troopergate matter (page 8 of the ABC transcript). He let Palin discuss the topic at length, but he didn’t introduce elementary facts into the discussion. In August, Palin acknowledged that a half dozen top aides and associates, including her husband, made at least two dozen contacts concerning this matter during her first eighteen months in office, before she fired Walt Mohegan. This admission contradicted her previous claims, which turned out to be grossly inaccurate. But Gibson’s viewers heard none of that—or much of anything at all, except what Palin chose to tell them. When it came to Troopergate, ABC could have saved Gibson’s plane fare. The network could simply have aired an infomercial in which Palin just said what she pleased.

What, him prepare: The Post was right to criticize Gibson’s lack of follow-up questions. This was one such complaint:

WASHINGTON POST (9/14/08): Her efforts to explain some previous statements were lacking in candor...[S]he denied any turnabout on climate change despite having said, in 2007, "I'm not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity.”

On its face, Palin’s denial was quite hard to credit. Yet here was Gibson, letting her apparent “lack of candor” go completely unchallenged:

GIBSON: Color me a cynic, but I hear a little bit of change in your policy there, when you say, yes, now you're beginning to say it is man-made. It sounds to me like you're adapting your position to Sen. McCain's.

PALIN: I think you are a cynic, because show me where I have ever said that there's absolute proof that nothing that man has ever conducted or engaged in has had any affect, or no affect, on climate change.

Pitiful. Gibson simply moved on at that point, letting this groaner stand.

Palin’s denial was typically slippery. No, she has never said there’s “absolute proof” about the causes of climate change. But she did offer that standard snark about the views of Stupid Old Gore, and there are one or two other past statements which sound a good deal like it. Many pundits criticized Tim Russert for playing “gotcha” with pols’ past statements. (We don’t think we’ve ever voiced that generic complaint, though Russert played that card quite hard.) But in this matter, Gibson failed to present Palin’s past statements at a time when he clearly should have. Gibson was either unprepared, or unwilling to challenge a fairly clear misrepresentation by Palin.

The Post also cited Gibson’s lack of follow-up on Palin’s statements about abortion. They were right about that as well. In her 2006 gubernatorial debates, and in this interview, Palin has tended to be slick and slippery when questioned about such topics. Gibson let her slip-slide away, much as the Post describes.

He can’t “ear” you: The Post complained about Palin’s “disappointingly shallow” discussion of earmarks. But this criticism could have been aimed at Gibson as well:

WASHINGTON POST: Even on the domestic issues about which she could have been expected to have more familiarity, Ms. Palin's responses were disappointingly shallow. Defending her state's—and her own—record on earmarks, Ms. Palin suggested that the problem was not shoveling money toward pet projects but the failure to make this shoveling transparent—seemingly not recognizing that this is far different from the more fundamental complaint of her running mate, John McCain. The "Bridge to Nowhere," after all, was no secret.

Duh. But Palin got away with this “disappointingly shallow” presentation because Gibson failed to note this distinction. Her presentation wasn’t just shallow—it was slick and slippery. Gibson didn’t seem to now and/or care.

At times, Gibson’s fumbling cut against Palin. As we noted on Friday, he misrepresented a past statement by Palin about Iraq—and in the foreign policy segment, ABC omitted a chunk in which Palin said, “We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies” (see page 2). Though this construct was offered repeatedly and thus sounded scripted, it made Palin sound less reflexively hawkish than the material ABC chose to air. And Gibson’s initial question about the Bush Doctrine was plainly designed as a gotcha. There’s nothing automatically wrong with such questions, and we thought that Palin’s fumbling answers were extremely instructive. But Gibson’s question was somewhat vague (though not as vague as some have alleged), and it was somewhat forced. For the record, “the Bush Doctrine” just isn’t an every-day term. In the twelve months before Palin’s interview, the phrase had appeared only seven times in the Washington Post—only five times in serious contexts. (One of the uses was a throw-away line in a movie review; one was a throw-away joke in a piece about gardening.) For our taste, if Gibson wanted to quiz Plain on her foreign policy knowledge, he should have just just said as much, explaining why he was doing so.

But for our money, Gibson’s most instructive fumbling came when he tried to challenge Palin’s hero tale about the Bridge to Nowhere. Gibson gigantically failed in this matter, helping bring a sense of closure to his cohort’s fumbling of this topic. Palin has introduced herself to the public through this grossly misleading tale; Gibson’s inability to sort this out is emblematic of a multimillionaire press corps that is too fat, too lazy and far too inept to sift through such spin and distortion.

Did Sarah Palin “tell the Congress” to take their Bridge to Nowhere and shove it? Actually, no—she did no such thing; her hero tale is a gross deception. Tomorrow, we’ll end our discussion of this key hero tale by showing you Charlie Gibson, media giant, as he fumbles, flounders and fails with this ongoing topic.

Eight years ago, people like Gibson were completely unable to debunk a set of lies about Gore. His performance with Palin helps show why that happened. Gibson’s multimillionaire colleagues tends to be lazy, incompetent, weak. In a word, Charlie Gibson’s unskilled. Your nation’s most vital interests are compromised by this vast problem.

Special report: By dint of their narratives!

BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: John McCain is on his way to the White House by dint of his party’s well-entrenched narratives. We’ll explain this matter all week; your big pundits simply can’t do it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/13/08, for a brief and fumbling Part 1 of this important discussion.

PART 2—DEFENDING THE FLAG: Grrr! Grrr-snap! Grrr-snap! Grrr-owwwwl! Joe Klein was snarling and snapping last week, tugging hard at his rhinestoned leash. Klein was recalling the way the vile John McCain apologized after Campaign 2000—apologized for repeatedly lying during the South Carolina primary. I can’t wait till he tries it again, Klein snapped last week. Grr! Grrrrr-snap! Grrrr-owwwwl!!

KLEIN (9/10/08): Back in 2000, after John McCain lost his mostly honorable campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he went about apologizing to journalists—including me—for his most obvious mis-step: his support for keeping the confederate flag on the state house.

Now he is responsible for one of the sleaziest ads I've ever seen in presidential politics, so sleazy that I won't abet its spread by linking to it, but here's the McLatchy fact check.

I just can't wait for the moment when John McCain—contrite and suddenly honorable again in victory or defeat—talks about how things got a little out of control in the passion of the moment. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.

Please note: Even today, Klein can’t force himself to say to it: John McCain repeatedly lied about that flag during Campaign 2000. The best he can do is refer to this as McCain’s “most obvious mis-step.” And just for the record, McCain didn’t simply apologize “to reporters” after it no longer mattered that year. He paraded down to South Carolina, where he staged a large public spectacle—a spectacle which angered Palmetto Republicans, thereby winning him praise from fawning journos all over the mainstream press corps. (For a recent post on this tired old tale, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/8/08.)

At any rate, Klein was really showing some anger when he offered his leash-snapping post last week. And as always happens at moments like this, liberal bloggers admiringly linked to him. Liberal bloggers stood in line to praise Klein for his great, true, heartfelt effort.

Sorry. Our reaction was vastly different; it was one of utter contempt. You see, we could recall the clownish way Klein reacted to McCain’s apology in real time—to the self-glorying apology McCain produced after it no longer mattered. McCain staged his event in April 2000: I lied about the flag, he boo-hooed—and of course, he alleged he was sorry. And sure enough: Mainstream journalists stood in line to boo-hoo-hoo along with McCain—and to praise his vast moral greatness. Example: In a column headlined “Political courage,” the Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi praised McCain’s great “battle for courage”—before lashing out at Gore’s troubling character. It’s hard to get much dumber than this. But a string of big “journalists” tried:

VENNOCHI (4/25/00): The battle over Elian [Gonzalez] dominates the news. But I am still thinking about John McCain's battle for courage in today's political arena. Maybe they are not unconnected.

Before the weekend rescue mission in Miami—while the little Cuban boy was still being paraded around by distant relatives—the Arizona senator apologized for betraying what he called the most important principle of his bid for the Republican presidential nomination: saying and doing what you truly believe, regardless of the political consequences. McCain traveled to South Carolina last week to confess that he did not reveal his true feelings when asked his view of the Confederate battle flag flying over the state house.

At one point during the campaign, McCain said he considered the flag "offensive" and a "symbol of racism and slavery." The next day, he reversed himself and called the flag "a symbol of heritage." Later, he said: "My forefathers fought under the Confederate flag. I believe that they believed their service was honorable."

McCain gave this reason for his conflicting responses: "I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win in the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth."

It is fascinating that a man who had the courage to face torture and death as a prisoner of war lacked the courage to face defeat as a political candidate. McCain endured immense physical and psychological pain in the midst of war. In the heat of something much less—mere political battle—he blinked.


As McCain acknowledged last week, "Honesty is easy after the fact, when my own interests are no longer involved." Still, he finally said and did what he believed, and that is worth something to those who wanted him to do it when it mattered more politically.

Like many colleagues, Vennochi expressed high regard for the fact that McCain had “finally said what he believed.” But how did she know that McCain had done that? How did she know that he wasn’t playing the issue again, to gain the praise of mainstream reporters? She had no way of knowing, of course—but she did know her cohort’s most trusted narrative. Saint John McCain is a man of high character! To a long string of script-reading scribes, even his lying now proved it!

Vennochi’s piece about “courage” was silly. (For our real-time reaction, click here, then scroll down to 5/19/00.) But this silly piece virtually defines the way McCain achieved his reputation for honesty—the reputation he’s now riding hard on his way to the White House. It’s very hard to turn around a narrative as old and entrenched as this one. Indeed, McCain is now lying his keister off, gambling that he can survive seven weeks without a new narrative forming—in the press corps, or in voters’ heads. In short, he’s taking advantage of all the times the press corps called him the worst’s greatest man. This reputation is one of the narratives with which McCain is now beating Obama.

Let’s be frank: Over the course of the past dozen years, everything has proven McCain’s character—even his blatant lying. And oh yes: In the wake of McCain’s self-glorying apology, no one wailed about his greatness as much as Joe Klein did. No one constructed more excuses for the great man’s previous lying. Last week’s barking and snapping were AWOL. Instead, Klein paraded about, playing the fool, inventing a string of elaborate excuses for the fact that the great man had lied.

Some examples: A few weeks after McCain’s high-profile public apology, Klein went on the cable show Russert. During the hour, he trashed the character of the deeply vile Gore—and he explained to his host why McCain had lied to Palmetto State voters. “It’s really difficult to make the right decisions,” he said, telling Russert that McCain was “one of the most honorable people that either of us have ever covered.” In this exchange, Klein kissed the ass of the bald-faced liar whose lies he now claims to despise:

KLEIN (5/6/00): You were talking before about how difficult all the decisions are in the heat of the campaign. Just think of what McCain did. McCain is one of the most honorable people that either of us have ever covered, and he went down to South Carolina [after quitting the race] and admitted that he had taken a position on the Confederate flag purely for political reasons and—and apologized for it. I think that all these people are faced with those kinds of decisions all the time. And I don't even think that we should demand that they make the right one all the time because—because politics is the process of getting to the right conclusion through means that aren't always so savory.

RUSSERT: So the end justifies the means?

KLEIN: Not every time. I mean, you have to make very careful calculations...

RUSSERT: So John McCain makes a calculation. “If I come out in a Republican primary in South Carolina and say, Take the Confederate flag down, I lose the primary and I'm finished. I cannot win the Republican nomination. I can't win the presidency and I can't bring my reform agenda to Washington; therefore, I'm going to finesse my position a little bit. Say something I really don't believe because, you know, it's really a small issue compared to the large scheme of things.”

KLEIN: Well, you know, the funny thing about that is that it was really a stupid decision politically, I think. I think it would have been much smarter for him to condemn the Confederate flag. He would have gotten publicity all over the rest of the country. I think part of what happened to McCain is that the campaign ended before a great many Americans even knew that it had begun. And—and if he had taken the courageous position, the word would have gotten out and he would have felt better about himself. But the—the point is that it's really difficult to make, you know, the right decision under that kind of pressure all the time. And I might add that it's not only when the cameras are pointed at you in anger. When you have all these cameras pointed at you in adulation, it's hard to think clearly, too.

Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! In accord with the press corps’ greatest script, Klein explained away McCain’s lying. “When you have all these cameras pointed at you in adulation, it's hard to think clearly,” he ass-kissingly said.

But then, Klein paraded all about that spring, making similar presentation on a string of cable programs. (He was pimping his new novel, The Running Mate, whose noble main character seemed to be patterned on the great Saint McPerfect.) When he did Crossfire, he explained the origin of his novel. Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! John McCain was a great, great saint—and Klein was a hapless acolyte:

KLEIN (5/2/00): I was having a conversation like that with John McCain four years ago at the [1996] Republican convention and he told me that being fingered as part of the Keating Five was more difficult for him emotionally in some ways than being a prisoner of war because his honor had been called into question. And my first thought was, “Oh, my God. I mean, this is one of the most honorable people I know.” And my second thought was, “Well, that might be a novel.”

Sad. Before getting conned by Saint McCain about his lying in South Carolina, Klein got conned by Saint McCain about his role in the Keating Five. Needless to day, McCain had dragged Vietnam into the stew as he slickly gained Klein’s sympathy.

Last Saturday, Bob Herbert referred to the “profound double standard” shaping coverage of this year’s election. In some ways, Herbert overstated the matter—but profound double standards have long been at play, and it isn’t clear that people like Herbert are willing to say what they are. This looks like a Democratic year, pundits say—but they ignore the fact that the GOP is in control of the nation’s most powerful narratives. These narratives shape a good deal of the coverage. Beyond that, they help explain why voters are persuaded by some claims, are skeptical of others.

John McCain is the world’s most honest man! This has been one of the press corps’ most treasured narratives over the course of the past dozen years. Losers like Klein nailed this script into place; it makes us gag when we see web liberals praise him now for his snapping and growling. Could our “liberal leaders” be any dumber about the actual shape of our politics? Could they possibly be more tolerant of the people who created this fix? Truly, our movement is led by children. And the Democratic Party itself has long been a part of this game.

John McCain is the world’s most honest man! It’s only one of the powerful narratives we will examine in this week’s series. But McCain is on his way to power by dint of these tales.

Indeed: Yesterday, there it was again! On This Week, weak-minded Jay Carney sat next to his wife and issued a famous old memorized tale. Moments like this created the narrative McCain will ride to the White House:

CARNEY (9/14/08): We’re returning to a culture war—making it a cultural distinction. As you’ve said, this has divided conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. What is distinct about this is how un-John McCain-like it is, and— This is the John McCain who went to South Carolina for no reason except to clear his conscience, to apologize for not taking a stand against the Confederate flag. It’s not the same man who is running that race.

Truly, that’s astounding. Even now, it hasn’t crossed this simpleton’s mind that “the John McCain who went to South Carolina” may have been insincere, even then. In fact, McCain dissembled and lied in various ways in the course of that 2000 race—about George Bush, about Candidate Gore. But so what? These simpletons memorized childish tales, and even now, they want to recite them. Even yesterday, Carney seemed to insist that the real John McCain was/is an honorable man.

In this way, the narratives which drive this campaign have been hammered into place. This creates a set of “profound double standards.” Herbert can’t explain this. We will.

TOMORROW—PART 3: Dems tell lies—and Republicans don’t. Kinsley, today and back then.