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PLANET OF THE PUNDITS! Your pundit corps ain’t from this earth. And they love to disappear their own conduct:

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2003

RUN, LYNDA, RUN: Our schedule is still quite shaky through early next week, but we hope to post tomorrow as well. Last night, we were pleased to host the Recording Academy’s annual Washington banquet, with awards to a pair of prime pols (Sen. John McCain, Rep. William Delahunt); to a scintillating songstress (Martina McBride); and to the fabulous people in the Music Therapy Program at Maryland School for the Blind. Political note: “Wonder Woman” Lynda Carter was presenter for Senator McCain’s award. Carter grew up in Arizona, now lives in Maryland. For our money, with the trend toward super-hero governors, she can run in any state that she wants.

PLANET OF THE PUNDITS: In this morning’s Washington Post, Richard Cohen seeks “The Real Wesley Clark.” You can’t call him a peacenik, Cohen judges, but on the other hand, he lacks domestic experience. And that’s when Cohen shows us one of the press corps’ basic traits. Once again, Cohen shows that the corps is rarely forthcoming about its own conduct:

COHEN: That [lack of domestic experience] is bound to matter. What will matter more is whether the American people feel at ease with Clark. In a television era, sheer likability is essential. This is why the spectacularly qualified Al Gore lost to (or tied) George Bush, who was ill prepared for the job and has since repudiated just about everything he said during the campaign about foreign affairs. People liked Bush. The rest is commentary.
Why did Gore “lose to or tie” George Bush? Because he wasn’t likable, Cohen says. This seems to be his basic explanation for the outcome of Campaign 2000.

Gore, of course, got more votes than Bush, a point our pundits toss aside when they offer such deep explanations. But there’s something else our pundits do when they discuss Campaign 2K—they ignore the role their own cohort played in that tightly-fought race. At this time four years ago, the Washington press corps—Cohen included—was conducting a ludicrous jihad against Gore (links below). But they’d rather eat live worms in hell than recall their astounding conduct—even though their cohort’s astounding conduct almost surely decided this race.

No, the Washington press corps doesn’t self-tattle. Just consider Chuck Raasch, for example.

Several readers sent us Raasch’s piece from last Sunday’s Detroit News. A laughable statement caught their eye. The statement in question is so absurd that it deserves a quick mention.

Discussing the “anger” of current Dem hopefuls, Raasch offered his readers a thumbnail summary of recent Democratic politics:

RAASCH: Since the 1980s, Democrats have essentially become a party of calibration, calculation and—some critics say—imitation…

Clinton emerged in 1992 as the centrist compromiser, someone who would reject both Republican and Democratic dogma for his much-celebrated “third way.” When welfare reform followed, some complained that Clinton was Republican-lite.

In ’96, Clinton ran a campaign largely of small ideas—school uniforms being the most infamous. In 2000, Gore spent so much time discussing his wardrobe and image that it crowded out his larger message warning against tax cuts and global warming.

And yes, that last statement really appeared! To hear Raasch tell it, Candidate Gore spent vast chunks of time discussing his wardrobe during Campaign 2000! If you took Raasch’s statement at face value, you would think this was Gore’s campaign strategy.

In this laughable passage, Raasch does something the press corps loves to do—he projects the corps’ conduct onto somebody else. Obviously, it was the Washington press corps which couldn’t stop talking about Gore’s clothes during Campaign 2000 (links below). But the press corps loves to attribute its conduct to others. Usually, they pretend that “late night comedians” are saying the dumb-ass things that they themselves won’t stop reciting. In this case, Raasch pretends that Gore himself was peddling the corps’ dumb-ass tales.

Where on earth do they find such scribes—scribes prepared to type such pap? You’ll recall what we’ve long suggested—they may not find them on earth at all. After all, what earthly scribe could type such nonsense—could pretend that Gore kept discussing his wardrobe? Surely Raasch has come from a distant rock, or has had his soul snatched by a pod.

But take the lesson from these two columns—the press corps rarely describes its own conduct. That’s why we praised Tucker Carlson for his recent Reliable Sources appearance (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/03). Carlson did something that scribes rarely do; Carlson actually told the truth about the coverage of Campaign 2000. “There was a huge amount of hostility, personal hostility from otherwise liberal political reporters directed at Al Gore,” he said. And that is the actual story of the last campaign—a story that has yet to be told in detail (publishers sure don’t want you exposed to our version). It was pundits and reporters who flogged Gore’s clothes, trying their damndest to make him “unlikable.” And, to self-dealing scribes like Richard Cohen, these facts must be disappeared—washed away.

HOWLER HISTORY: Who talked (and talked) about Gore’s clothes? Duh! The Washington press corps did, not Gore! And how ludicrous could their chatter be? Consider the work of Cohen’s colleague, columnist Marc Fisher, in the November 28, 1999 Washington Post Sunday magazine. At this point, the corps’ dim-witted frenzy about Naomi Wolf had lasted four solid weeks. And, like many of his addled colleagues, Columnist Fisher was deeply concerned with Al Gore’s troubling clothes. Why had Gore hired Wolf as a campaign adviser? Predictably, it meant that Gore “doesn’t know who he is,” Fisher said. Having recited this standard diagnosis, the scribe hit another problem hard:

FISHER: A person who makes her living by writing pop philosophy about sex tells a man who would be president of the United States that he must be a different kind of man, that he must be more assertive, that he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American. And he says, “Okay.”
Fisher’s hyperbole was simply astounding. According to Fisher, Al Gore—who would soon receive more than 50 million votes for president, half a million more than his opponent—was campaigning in a type of clothing that was “alien to virtually every American.” And, so you can see how strange the modern press corps really is, let us explain what was wrong with Gore’s suit, which he’d now worn to several events. First, the suit was olive, or a shade of brown, as the troubled Fisher duly noted. Not only that, it had three buttons, a point which pundits had flogged for weeks by the time Fisher’s well-scripted column arrived. By November 1999, of course, such suits had been in fashion for years. In fact, three-button men’s suits were now so common that Brooks Brothers, the conservative clothier, was showing such suits in large display ads—in the conservative Wall Street Journal, no less! But no matter. Excited scribes made wild-eyed statements about Gore’s troubling number of buttons. Surely, “dysfunction” is much too kind a word to use in describing so addled a discourse. But this crackpot flogging of meaningless trivia defined coverage of the 2000 race.

Indeed, was there any aspect of the candidates’ clothing that wasn’t explored for its clues about character? With amazing regularity, Gore was criticized for wearing blue suits, brown suits, blue shirts, polo shirts, earth tones and cowboy boots. On two separate occasions, writers in the Los Angeles Times complained that his boots were too shiny. By contrast, Bill Bradley, Gore’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, was routinely praised for his (allegedly) twenty-five-year-old shoes and for his nondescript neckties. To addled members of the press, these items showed Bradley’s good character. Indeed, for members of the Washington press, nothing showed a candidate’s character quite like the cut of his clothing. For example, when Gore and Bradley held their first debate (in October 1999), the candidates spoke, in some detail, about their respective health care proposals. The pair took questions from New Hampshire citizens; health care ranked high among voter concerns. But when Mary McGrory reviewed the event in the Post, she opened with these bizarre comments:

MCGRORY (pgh 1): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.
“Was it part of his reinvention strategy?” she asked. “Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—‘I am not a well-dressed man.’” Clearly, health care was the least of the pundit’s concerns. “It is hard to imagine,” McGrory continued, “that [Gore] thought to ingratiate himself with the nation’s earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station.” Five days later, she wrote again, this time complaining about Gore’s “distracting new suit, a three-button brown affair that caused much nostalgia for navy-blue serge.” McGrory’s columns were stunningly frivolous—an open insult to the American public interest. But then, pundits reviewed the 2000 campaign in this way from its start to its end.

There’s more—as you know, there’s much, much more. But this screaming nonsense was going on right there at Cohen’s world-renowned paper. Today, of course, he’s completely oblivious. Remember—your Washington press corps is not of this earth, and they love to disappear their own conduct. How will they cover the campaign this time? Like all strange creatures from distant worlds, they need to be watched very closely.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: No, there was no real evidence that Naomi Wolf told Al Gore that he ought to wear earth tones. The pleasing tale was based on a single “speculation.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/03.

For about a month, the press corps obsessed about Gore’s troubling boots. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/03. Note the press corps’ obsession with clothes (and note Richard Cohen’s dumb-ass remarks). And oh yes—one more thing. Please note the corps’ outright lying.

On Hardball, Chris Matthews raised the matter of Gore’s three-button suits five times in November 1999 alone. On November 12, the great pundit asked if the number of buttons might have some hidden sexual meaning. “What could that possibly be saying to women voters, three buttons?” the brilliant scribe asked. “Is there some hidden Freudian deal here or what? I mean, Navy guys used to have buttons on their pants. I don’t know what it means.” And yes, this is the way your election was mocked. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/10/03. To this day, of course, Cohen and Raasch remain utterly clueless. Raasch thinks that Gore kept discussing his clothes. And Cohen doesn’t have any idea why some voters may have found him “unlikable.”

By the summer of 2002, a few Big Pundits began stating the obvious about the coverage of Candidate Gore. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/31/02. Scroll down to the bottom.