MICHAEL SHEARS URBAN LEGEND: It was an act of spectacular clownistrya truly comical moment! In todays Post, Michael Shear was discussing the latest distractionDouglas Holtz-Eakins remark about McCain and the telecommunications industry. If youre a major distraction-lover, you may have heard Holt-Eakin say this: John McCain invented the Blackberry. Since the nation is full of such people, this new distraction rocketed aboutuntil Shear, in this mornings Post, invented a comical moment:
SHEAR (9/17/08): But it was the BlackBerry claim that had folks buzzing, given its similarity to the urban legend that Al Gore once said he invented the Internet.
Truly, that is superlative clownistry. In Shears hands, Al Gore said he invented the Internet has now become an urban legend. Presumably, no one knows where this story began, as is the case with these legends.
Sorry, children. Al Gore said he invented the Internet isnt an urban legend at all. In reality, it was one of the principal claims used by Shears mainstream press corps in their two-year War Against Gorethe war which sent George Bush to the White House and sent this nation to ruin. The silly claim was invented in March 1999, then used as a club to batter Gore for two years. Where did this urban legend begin? In part, in Shears own newspaper:
Al Kamen, 3/15/99: House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) is on injured reserve these days with a broken right wrist. Armey took a fall Thursday night at home when he slipped on an icy patch while taking out the garbage, his office said...Did he fall because he was still thinking about the [Kosovo] issue?
No, a spokesman said, that's not what caused the fall: "When Al Gore claimed he had invented the Internet, it knocked him off-balance."
Transcript of question to President Clinton, 3/20/99: Your vice president has recently been ridiculed for claiming that he invented the Internet and spent his boyhood plowing steep hillsides in Tennessee. I'm wondering what you think of those claims and what advice you'd give him about how to brag on himself without getting in so much trouble.
Tony Kornheiser, 3/21/99: I'd just read something in the paper that I'd found very funny. It was an article on Al Gore's presidential chances. Gore, who as you know invented the Internet, the automobile, movable type and oak trees, was said to be in trouble with many voters who felt he "lacked charisma." Voters want charisma? My feeling is, Bill Clinton had so much "charisma" he needed to be blasted with a fire hose.
Ceci Connolly, 3/28/99: [Gore] has stumbled in his early steps on the campaign trail, hindered in part by his own words. He was ridiculed for claiming he invented the Internet, then for offering a Norman Rockwell-style account of his boyhood summers on a Tennessee farm.
Dan Balz, 5/2/99: Gore's advisers respond to this with a mixture of defenses. They acknowledge that some of their problems are self-inflicted, such as Gore's statement that he more or less invented the Internet.
George Will, 5/2/99: Democrats worry about polls that show George W. Bush, about whom voters know little, handily beating Gore in places like Michigan. This in the record 97th month of peacetime economic expansion. And Gore keeps saying strange things. Never mind his I-was-a-hardscrabble-farmer and his I-invented-the-Internet riffs.
This conduct continued for years. How bad would the press corps misconduct become? In the fall of 1999, David Broder took his cohorts mocking paraphrase and put the words inside quotation marks, as if they were an actual statement by Gore. (Other major journos had already done this.) Heres Broder, mocking Gore for his first debate with Bradleyand inventing a bogus quotation:
David Broder, 10/29/99: Gore never seems to know when to leave well enough alone. His efforts at humor fell flat, his inquiries about the questioners' families seemed contrived. When he tried to acknowledge his gaffe earlier this year in suggesting he had "invented the Internet," he couldn't refrain from bragging that he really had done a lot in Congress to make it a reality. At the end, when he thanked the voters of New Hampshire for the "great learning experience" of campaigning for their votes, he was almost a caricature of the pandering politician.
As Broder invented a non-existent quotation, he very stupidly told the world that Gore was almost a caricature. And sadly, the worst was yet to come at Michael Shears criminal newspaper.
A few weeks after that column by Broder, Ceci Connolly accidentally misquoted Gore about the hearings he conducted in the late 1970s concerning Love Canal. Repeat: Connolly flatly misquoted Gore. And sure enough! As she invented yet another bogus quotation, Connolly replayed that favorite old songthat one about the Net. In this moment, you see a major scribe at the Washington Post inventing George Bushs route to the White House. For the record, this is the start of Connollys second bungled story on this subject. Her original misquotation had appeared on December 1:
Ceci Connolly, 12/2/99: Add Love Canal to the list of verbal missteps by Vice President Gore.
The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie "Love Story" and to have invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site when he said at a high school forum Tuesday in New Hampshire: "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal."
Connolly hammered the urban legend which Shear wonders at today.
Today, Connolly is a used-up old hack, consigned to the Posts inner bowels. Broder continues to teeter about, offering his trademark daft musings. And Michael Shear cant seem to imagine where this urban legend came from! So lets help him: Among other locales, it came from the Washington Post, from the hands of bald-faced liars like Connolly. And by the way: They kept it up for two solid years. Here she was, starting a news report in June 2000:
Ceci Connolly, 6/23/00: Vice President Gore has taken a lot of ribbing for claiming to have invented the Internet. But yesterday, technology finally worked for him.
And here she was, describing a monster shed help create, one week before Novembers election. Bush was directing ridicule at Gore, she reportedridicule which included the use of Shears urban legend:
CONNOLLY (10/29/00): Bush used a combination of humor and ridicule to make the case against Gore before several thousand boisterous but bundled-up supporters just outside Appleton, Wis., this morning. "Make no mistake about thiswe're running against a formidable opponent," Bush told several thousand supporters. "He's got the president getting ready to campaign for him."
The statement brought boos from the audience in the Fox Cities minor league baseball stadium.
"He's the incumbent," Bush continued, pronouncing the word as if it were an epithet.
"Yeah, he is so confident about his abilities, he claimed he invented the Internet," Bush said. "But if he was so smart, how come all the Internet addresses start with [dramatic pause] W? Not only one W, but three W's!"
The Republican nominee, who was joined in Wisconsin by vice presidential nominee Richard B. Cheney, also unveiled a new gesture of solidarity for Republicans, a "W" formed by the three middle fingers on his right hand, and the audience quickly returned the gesture while chanting, "No more Gore. No more Gore."
Eventually, that chanting crowd got its wish. But then, in early October, after Bush and Gores first debate, Connolly had helped disinform them once again, with her latest long report about Gores deeply troubling character problemabout his endless misstatements. (Headline: GOP Homes In on Gore's Credibility; Final Assault Links Embellishments to Flaws of Clinton Era.) Be careful as you read this excerpt, though. Connolly deceived the Posts readers every step of the way:
CONNOLLY (10/8/00): In 1992, he described his late sister as "the first Peace Corps volunteer"; Nancy Gore Hunger did work in the Washington office of the Peace Corps but never volunteered overseas. By the time former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley began thinking about challenging Gore for this year's Democratic nomination, he and his staff were convinced that the truth factor would be important in their race. "It was a big deal to us," a Bradley adviser says. The Bradley team perked up when Time magazine reported that Gore had bragged of his role in creating the earned income tax credita law passed long before Gore entered Congress.
"Why should we believe that you will tell the truth as president if you don't tell the truth as a candidate?" Bradley demanded in a New Hampshire debate with Gore. This has become a favorite quotation in Bush's rhetoric.
Over the years, Gore has been accused of exaggerating his role in arms control negotiations, in creating the Internet, in promoting campaign finance reform, in steering to an end the war in Kosovo and in building the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Why does he do it? Biographers have posited an enduring desire to please a father whose expectations were seemingly limitless. Or it could be that a lifetime around high-stakes politics has left Gore feeling that everyone exaggeratesthat it's part of the nature of winning over voters and connecting with them. Whatever the explanation, years of warnings have not cured Gore.
In that passage, Connolly accidentally forgot to say that Gores sister had work[ed] in the Washington office of the Peace Corps without payas a full-time, unpaid volunteer. And Connollys statement about the Earned Income Tax Credit was just flatly false, as she must have known by this time. In fact, Gore had spoken with Time, in October 1999, about the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, not about its creation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/3/05). But so what? This interview appeared shortly before Connolly accidentally misquoted Gores Love Canal statement, and the Bradley campaign apparently saw an opportunity. Simply put, Bradley and his aides started lying about Gores statement to Time, and Connolly went along for the ride, happily extending her jihad. Ten months later, as she mused again about Gores troubling problem, she threw in the requisite created the Internet reference (by now, the Post had toned down its language)and then she began to psychiatrize, channeling the dim-witted work of self-appointed shrink Bill Turque, whose simpering wife, the New York Times Melinda Henneberger, had helped create one of the original myths about Big Liar Gore.
Someone needed psychiatry here. But it didnt really seem to be Gore.
At any rate, thats where this famous urban legend beganthe urban legend Shear describes. Among other locales, the legend began at Shears own papera fact which well-paid fellows like Shear know they must never disclose.
But make no mistake about one thing: The urban legend to which Shear refers is the tool which sent George Bush to the White House. Shears newspaper worked very hard on this project, for almost two years. Given what President Bush hath wrought, can you see why people like Shear prefer to be vague about origins?
These matters are all discussed in more detail in our archives. But today, we wanted to tip our hats at Shears spectacular clowning. Urban legendthat was rich! Theyre telling the truth very slowly.
When you run with Shear, youre running with Harwood: Omigod! John Harwood played the same slick game in Mondays New York Times! Harwood penned a tortured piece, comparing Candidate McCains situation to that of Candidate Gore in 2000. Gore had to deal with Clinton, Harwood wrote, as McCain has to deal with Bush. But honest to God, you just have to laugh when these fellows play the Pravda cardwhen they airbrush their cohorts misconduct out of our recent history. This is perfect clowning:
HARWOOD (9/15/08): Mr. Gore [struck a separate path from Clinton] in two ways. For his running mate he tapped Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who had blistered Mr. Clinton's personal conduct. And when Mr. Gore spoke as ''my own man'' at the Democratic convention, he promised a populist fight against ''powerful forces'' constraining Americans' economic future.
For a while, it worked. Trailing after the Republican convention, Mr. Gore moved into an early September lead over Mr. Bush.
But voters' attention shifted toward personal contrasts that favored the genial Texas governor over the sometimes-awkward Mr. Gore. In debates, the Democrat might have alienated more voters with impatient sighs than he attracted with policy arguments.
Too funny! Harwood plays the Pravda card very skillfully here.
In fact, Gores approach worked for over a month. Gore went ahead in the polls immediately after his August 17 convention speech, not in early September. And omigod! Gores lead held, then widened, through mid-September, by which time it was nearing ten points. (Undeniable panic is gripping partisan Republicans, Bob Novak wrote on September 7.) But uh-oh! In mid-September, voters attention shifted toward contrasts that favored Bush in a way which is quite well-knownunless you get your news from people like Harwood. Duh! Voters attention shifted at that time because Harwoods cohort invented two more lies and pretended that Gore had said them:
Gore lied about the doggy pills, the Boston Globes Walter Robinson reported on September 18. Gore lied about the union lullaby, USA Todays Walter Shapiro reported on September 20. Both claims were utterly bogus; Gores statement about the lullaby was an obvious joke, and no one ever showed what was wrong with his remarks about those pills. (In the latter case, no tape or transcript ever appeared of Gore actual statement. Quite literally, Robinson didnt even know what Gore had actually said!) But as Harwood surely knows, these claims revived that punishing narrative: Al Gore is the worlds biggest liar. The press corps went back to flogging this claimthe claim theyd been pimping since 3/99. By Thursday night of that same week, Howard Fineman was telling Brian Williams why the corps had returned to its favorite pastimekicking the sh*t out of Gore:
FINEMAN (9/21/00): I dont think the media was going to allow, just by its nature, the next seven weeks, the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign, to be all about Al Gores relentless, triumphant march to the presidency. We want a race, I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, its that we like to see a contest and we like to see it down to the end if we can.
Almost surely, Fineman was putting the best face on the press corps conduct; almost surely, many scribes had returned to this conduct because they hated Gore. But thats why voters attention shifted toward personal contrasts that favored Bush at that time. (Did Pravda ever print murkier prose?) And thats how George Bush reached the White House. Are you happy with how this turned out?
Go aheadread Harwoods entire piece, a piece from our own domestic Pravda. The press corps role in the story he tells gets airbrushed each step of the way. But then, people like Harwood would jump off a bridge before theyd report your actual history. They know what actually happened, of course. They just dont want you knowing.
This morning, Shear is running with Harwood. Al Gore said he invented the Internet? An urban legend, this careful man says. Nobody knows how it started.
Special report: By dint of their narratives!
READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: If John McCain reaches the White House, it will be by dint of his partys narratives. Read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Republicans say the darnedest thingsby dint of their powerful narratives. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/13/08.
PART 2: Joe Klein is mad at Saint McCainnow. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/15/08.
PART 2A: Michael Kinsley is defending Gore and Kerrynow. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/16/08.
Today, in an interlude, we recall the birth of an emerging monster:
INTERLUDEDR. COHEN/KLEINS MONSTER: Yesterday, Richard Cohen joined the crowd, pretending that Saint John McCain has suddenly changed for the worse. Over at Tapped, Scott Lemieux broke the news: There never was a saint named McCain; that was the press corps imagination. But Cohen was dreaming a wonderful dream as he typed away for the Post (on0line only). And yes, he began with that tale of the flag. Theyll never give up on this story:
COHEN (9/16/08): The Ugly New McCain
Following his loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 South Carolina primary, John McCain did something extraordinary: He confessed to lying about how he felt about the Confederate battle flag, which he actually abhorred. "I broke my promise to always tell the truth," McCain said. Now he has broken that promise so completely that the John McCain of old is unrecognizable. He has become the sort of politician he once despised.
Granted, McCains current campaign is a nightmare. But why does Cohen feel so sure that McCain really abhorred that flagthat he wasnt just conning the press corp again when he staged his dramatic apology? We dont have the slightest idea. But this morning, Ruth Marcus recites this pleasing tale too, even as she attacks the new McCain. Remember what weve always told you: These people are only happy when they all say the same things:
MARCUS (9/17/08):Every hard-fought campaign is in some sense a struggle between the id of political consultants driving for a victory and the superego of policy types who worry about having to govern with the consequences of campaign rhetoric. Every campaign calls on the candidate to calibrate, at some point, how far he is willing to go in pursuit of the prize.
No candidate has felt this tension so keenly, or written about it as movingly, as McCain. In his memoir "Worth the Fighting For," McCain describes the sickening sensation of renouncing his views about the Confederate flag to curry favor with South Carolina voters in 2000"reading it as if I were making a hostage statement."
But why does Marcus feel so sure that McCain really felt this tension so keenly? When he renounced his stated views, how does she know that he wasnt just conning the press corps again? We dont know, but Marcus does throw in a nice wrinkle. As always, McCain hid behind his POW years when he apologized in his book. It was as if I were making a hostage statement, this blubbering bull-sh*t artist said. And of course, the blubbering worked, as it always didjust as it worked when he boo-hoo-hooed about his Keating Five misconduct, saying it felt worse than his captivity (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/16/08).
Today, Marcus and Cohen join Joe Klein in saying that Saint McCain has changed. But this is really Ruth-n-Kleins monster, a horrible creature these people invented through many years of pandering conduct. They pandered to him year after year, averting their gaze from his open misconduct. Today, once again, we want you to see how much they ignored in the past.
Did McCain abhor that confederate flag? We dont have the slightest idea. But uh-oh! The manager of his South Carolina campaign, Richard Quinn, was one of the states most visible advocates of keeping the confederate flag where it was. At the New York Times, David Firestone profiled Quinnand people like Cohen ignored what he wrote, choosing to blubber about McCains greatness. Heres a large chunk of Firestones piecea piece that helps us understands the origins of Cohen-Kleins monster. As youll see, the reporting on Quinn got substantially worse after this:
FIRESTONE (2/8/00): Senator John McCain has recently been accused by Republican opponents of being a shadow liberal, but no one has ever leveled such a charge against his South Carolina political consultant and the architect of his Southern campaign, Richard M. Quinn.
Where Mr. McCain has policy positions from across the political spectrum, Mr. Quinn is one of the proudest and most vocal conservatives in the South, editing one of the region's most right-wing magazines, Southern Partisan Quarterly Review. Where Mr. McCain has alternately criticized and sympathized with arguments for displaying the Confederate battle flag, Mr. Quinn has helped lead the fight to keep the flag flying over the South Carolina Capitol.
Mr. Quinn's political consulting firm, Richard Quinn Associates, has worked for such candidates as Ronald Reagan, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Pat Robertson. At the moment, however, the company is best known for its work supporting the display of the flag in the face of an economic boycott by the N.A.A.C.P. Several state legislators say the company has conducted private polls that show the flag is widely popular in Republican areas, which have persuaded many lawmakers to keep it flying.
One of Mr. Quinn's longtime associates at the magazine, Christopher M. Sullivan, is also the co-chairman of the South Carolina Heritage Coalition, which organized a large pro-flag rally on the statehouse steps last month. Mr. Sullivan's coalition recently began running television advertisements urging voters and legislators to stand up to liberals who are trying to remove the flag. Mr. Quinn's son, Rick Quinn, is majority leader of the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he has been in the forefront of the effort to keep the flag flying.
"Richard Quinn is a key person in the pro-flag movement in South Carolina," said Dwight James, executive director of the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "He and his son have disseminated a great deal of misinformation to keep that flag flying."
Mr. Quinn, in fact, is such a polarizing figure around South Carolina that he has stayed in the background to avoid obscuring his client with a long-running Southern debate. He said today that he would not discuss his position on the flag or as editor-in-chief of the Southern Partisan, which he has led since 1984. In a statement, he disavowed some of the more inflammatory articles it has published.
"I am not the working day-to-day editor of Southern Partisan," he said. "My title as editor in chief is purely honorary. Frankly, I do not personally read the articles before they are printed, and I certainly disagree with many of the opinions expressed by others on the pages of the magazine."
The McCain campaign also issued a statement, saying that Mr. Quinn was a "highly respected South Carolina campaign consultant" who had worked for a variety of Republicans, including some now supporting Mr. McCain's chief rival, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.
A look at some of the articles in Southern Partisan shows why it has become the nation's leading journal of the so-called neo-confederacy movement, publishing scholarly treatises, political interviews and commentary that glorify the Southern traditions underlying the secession movement.
In issue after issue, writers in Southern Partisan vilify Abraham Lincoln and other Union leaders, and venerate the rebel soldiers who fought to secede from the United States. The quarterly regularly takes the position that the Civil War was fought not over slavery, but over the preservation of a Southern way of life that to this day is worth preserving.
Within a few weeks, more information emerged about Quinns own writing. Terry Neal, in the Washington Post:
NEAL (2/18/00): This afternoon, People for the American Way asked McCain to fire Richard Quinn, a top adviser here, who edits a controversial conservative magazine called the Southern Partisan. Reporters first asked McCain about Quinn earlier this month, and the senator defended him, saying he did not consider Quinn a racist and was unaware of the racist material the magazine has published.
It turns out, according to research by the group, Quinn has contributed to the magazine's body of racist work over a 20-year period. In one article, he called Nelson Mandela a "terrorist" and a "bad egg." In another, Quinn said of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke: "What better way to reject politics as usual than to elect a maverick like David Duke?" And in a 1993 article arguing against a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, he wrote that King was a man "whose role in history was to lead his people into a perpetual dependence on the welfare state, a terrible bondage of body and soul."
Ralph Neas, head of People for the American Way, wrote McCain today that Quinn "has repeatedly used his column to attack heroes of the struggle for equality. At the same time, he has discounted the evils of slavery by suggesting that it was not as bad as it has been portrayed and that slaves were better off in slavery than out of it.
Neal called that racist; well let you decide. At any rate, as we noted last week, Bob Herbert wrote an eye-rolling New York Times column about McCains association with Quinn. But Cohen looked the other way, dreaming his endless dreamy dreams about his dreamy hero. But then, thats pretty much how it went in Campaign 2000, and in the years which lay ahead. You heard the good things about Saint John McCain. The other things all got airbrushed. (And of course, these very same pundits were savaging Gore all through the same period.)
Back to Cohen: In the fall of 1999, Cohen had trashed the vile Al Gore for the ridiculous salary he was paying Naomi Wolf. ($15,000 per month. But then, all the pundits were trashing Gore for this ridiculous salary.) But uh-oh! As it turned out, McCain was paying Quinn $20,000 per monthand Cohen didnt utter a peep. McCain was also paying $14,000 per month to the son of another prominent pro-flag South Carolina activist (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/11/08). But Cohen didnt mention that big salary either. You see, if the fabulous Saint McCain was doing it, it had to be A-OK.
These were the rules under which the narratives driving this election were forged.
By the way: Anyone can understand the politics of paying those pro-flag guys so much money. But so what? This was Saint McCain playing the game! Later, when it no longer mattered, the great saint boo-hoo-hooed and blubbered about how much he despised that flag. It was almost like being a POW! Even today, Cohen, Marcus, Klein and others take these boo-hoos at face value.
This is how they created their monsterthe monster they now fear and despise. This creature didnt create himself. The John McCain who now lurches about is very much Dr. Cohen/Kleins Monster.