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RICHARD’S TURN TO CRY! On Monday, E. J. Dionne played dumb. On Tuesday, along came Cohen: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

The gods continue their laughter: For years, we’ve asked a basic question: Is it possible that our mainstream “journalism” is really a joke of the gods? Could it be that our “journalists” are really androids, sent here to trigger divine amusement? Surely, no human could be as strange as our “journalists” seem to be.

Consider four manifestations. All occurred on Tuesday:

Republicans may repeal or roll back health care: Wow! In yesterday’s front-page lede story, the New York Times warned us rubes about the repeal of health care. Robert Pear (if he really is Robert Pear) started his report like this:

PEAR (9/21/10): Republicans are serious. Hopeful of picking up substantial numbers of seats in the Congressional elections, they are developing plans to try to repeal or roll back President Obama’s new health care law.

This goal, though not fleshed out in a detailed legislative proposal, is much more than a campaign slogan. That conclusion emerged from interviews with a wide range of Republican lawmakers, who said they were determined to chip away at the law if they could not dismantle it.

Wow! Republicans are serious about developing plans to try to repeal or roll back Obama’s health care law! It’s much more than a campaign slogan! This excitement topped the Times’ front page. It wasn’t until midway through his report, on page A20, that “Pear” said this, in passing:

PEAR: Efforts at repeal face several hurdles:

Not even the most optimistic Republicans expect to gain the two-thirds majorities that would be needed to overcome a veto.

Translation: Efforts at repeal face several hurdles, including the fact that it can’t be done! But so what? After this fleeting glimpse of reality—so fleeting that many readers surely didn’t grasp what this statement actually meant—Pear returned to a long, puzzling discussion of the fact that “Republicans are serious” about repeal.

Surely, no human produced that report. Was it a joke of the gods?

Chris Matthews is thoroughly scripted on Newt: Last week, we discussed a long-standing tenet of Hard Pundit Law: Newt Gingrich must be described as a very smart man, as a man of impressive ideas. On last night’s Hardball, Chris Matthews recited this deathless script, even as he battered Gingrich for his current serial lunacy:

MATTHEWS (9/21/10): Gentlemen, I’m amazed. I don’t know what to say. I’m going to let you talk. Gene Robinson: Why is he saying this stuff?

[…]

But why is Newt—Newt has had a reputation for having an IQ. He doesn’t have a drinking problem like Joe McCarthy did. What is his excuse for saying things that clearly aren’t true? ... These comments keep getting higher and higher on the crazy score from a man who’s not crazy.

In fact, Gingrich has always said and done crazy things—and pundits have always feigned surprise, since he has such a high IQ! Surely, no human could be this scripted, after all these crazy years. Was Matthews’ scripted recitation the latest joke of the gods?

Chris Matthews hasn’t heard of the GOP: Last night, Matthews devoted one full segment to Velma Hart, the know-nothing belly-acher who ate up time at Obama’s town hall complaining about Obama’s economic performance. Like that Chicago law professor, Hart has spent a lot of time complaining about how hard it’s getting to be to send two kids to private school while maintain a preferred life-style.

Obviously, everyone knows that the economy is in very bad shape. But on Hardball, Hart belly-ached steadily about the fact that Obama hasn’t fixed everything yet. But when Matthews asked her what Obama could have done, she quickly observed that she doesn’t know. (“I absolutely don’t know the answer to that,” she volunteered, when Matthews asked what Obama could do to lower the unemployment rate.) Most remarkably, Matthews never asked her if she thought the fault mainly lay with Obama, or with the bloc of Senate Republicans who have opposed all his proffered plans.

Hart is a dime-a-dozen, know-nothing belly-acher. By her own admission, she has no idea what could be done to fix the economy. But truly, it was absurd to see this whole segment unfold without the word “Republican” ever being uttered. Does Hart think Obama was elected king? Fawning over his guest’s brilliant hot-dogs-and-beans rhetoric, Matthews never asked.

By rule of law, teachers don’t cheat: On last night’s NewsHour, John Tulenko did a report on a hot topic—“paying teachers based on their performance,” as Jim Lehrer put it. Tim Webb, the Tennessee education commissioner, voiced support for this idea. Then, Tulenko asked an “educational expert” to discuss the possible down-sides.

Richard Rothstein rattled on. But an obvious problem escaped any mention, exactly as it has been scripted for the past forty years:

TULENKO (9/21/10): Others are skeptical.

ROTHSTEIN: I think they're doing tremendous damage by promoting this. It would terribly corrupt American education.

TULENKO: Policy analyst Richard Rothstein worries about the way states like Tennessee measure performance: by relying heavily on test scores.

ROTHSTEIN: The best way to get higher test scores is to prep for tests, to give a lot of instruction in test preparation and test-taking skills, not in the underlying subject. It's to focus on the children who are closest to the passing point and ignore other children. There are all kinds of ways that we can boost test scores that don't contribute to improved instruction.

“There are all kinds of ways we can boost test scores,” Rothstein worriedly said. But he failed to mention one obvious way: Sometimes, teachers and principals flat-out cheat to improve those test score! In these cases, they don’t “give a lot of instruction in test-taking skills” (or “teach to the test”). In these cases, teachers and principals flat-out cheat, in various ways.

Everybody knows this fact—and everyone knows it must never be mentioned! Indeed: At present, a high-profile cheating scandal is being investigated in the Atlanta schools—a scandal which involves flat-out cheating, not “teaching to the test.” (Atlanta is a major American city, though Rothstein seems not to have heard.) But even in this conducive context, the fact that teachers and principals sometimes cheat simply can’t be discussed on the air! This is another tenet of High Pundit Law, understood by Lehrer, Webb, Tulenko and Rothstein alike. You can’t discuss or mention this fact. This is a law which has been observed for the past forty years.

Surely, no human would “edit” life so. Are Lehrer, Webb, Rothstein, Tulenko androids of the gods?

Androids like to ask the tough questions: Another possible android, Ed Schultz, posed a question to viewers last night, as he does at the start of each show. This was Big Eddie’s latest:

SCHULTZ (9/21/10): Tell me what you think in our telephone survey tonight…My question tonight is: Do you think the GOP and righty talk show hosts are destroying the American dream? Press the number 1 for yes, press the number 2 for no.

Do humans really ask questions like that? Is Ed Schultz a joke of the gods?

Special report: In lieu of liberal politics!

PART 2—RICHARD’S TURN TO CRY (permalink): At the Washington Post op-ed page, Potemkin pundits take turns pretending to be clueless about our politics.

On Monday, E. J. Dionne had no idea why Obama is running on Bush’s ideas (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/21/10); more on that puzzle will follow. Yesterday, it was Richard Cohen’s turn to act as though he just arrived on the planet. Cohen has simply never seen Republicans acting the way they act now! Someone has cast a spell on these people, this high-ranking analyst says:

COHEN (9/21/10): Republicans under a spell

Christine O'Donnell, the Tea Party candidate from lil' ol' Delaware, confesses to have once "dabbled into witchcraft,” a fittingly ungrammatical revelation that…explains what has happened to the Republican Party. Someone—possibly you know who—has cast a spell on it, and now it has a candidate whose main contribution to political thought or, indeed, the plight of the poor is to have railed against masturbation, which she likened to adultery. Only a spell can explain such thinking.

Only a spell also can explain how Newt Gingrich, possibly a presidential candidate, can attribute the politics of Barack Obama to “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” Obama allegedly picked up this behavior from his father, whom he knew only fleetingly, which is to say almost not at all, and who has long been dead. This, as Gingrich and others under the spell can tell you, is proof of the demonic power that can come out of the grave, enter the White House (look, the gate-crashing Salahis did it) and pervade the very body and mind of the commander in chief. It's enough to give you the willies.

Similarly, only a spell can explain why much of the Republican Party insists on calling Obama a socialist. To apply this label to the very man who saved Big Finance, who rescued Goldman Sachs and the rest of the boys, who gave a Heimlich to the barely breathing banks, can only be explained by witchcraft or voodoo or something like that. It has caused the GOP to lose its mind.

The unseen effects of witchcraft are clearly the reason about one-fifth of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. In fact, as time goes by, more and more people subscribe to this belief—a phenomenon so at odds with logic or rational thinking that the explanation has to lie in the darkest of arts—witchcraft and voodoo. (The GOP does the voodoo that you do so well.)

[…]

To hear Republican conservatives at the recent Values Voter Summit was to hear speaker after speaker talk about things that could not be seen and did not exist. One is the so-called homosexual agenda, which has made a political movement out of sexual orientation. This agenda, whatever it may be, must be a mystery to gay conservatives, of which there are several.

A person would think, from reading this column, that Cohen has never seen anything like it! Near the end, he does say this: “O'Donnell is where the GOP has been heading for some time.” But as he continues, he seems to suggest that the GOP has been heading this way for maybe a year or two. In Cohen’s telling, the current “idiocy” dates to the fall of 2008, if that far.

In this way, the Post’s large team of Potemkin “liberals” continue to gambol and play, carefully hiding various things they clearly know perfectly well.

Cohen seems to suggest, in this silly column, that he has never seen such puzzling conduct—that only some sort of witchcraft can explain the way the GOP has been “caused…to lose its mind.” In fact, the GOP behaved in exactly this way during the last Democratic administration, at a time when Cohen was writing columns for this same major newspaper. To see the lunacy of that earlier era, please: Just review the remarkable videotape we discussed in yesterday’s HOWLER.

Duh. That remarkable videotape shows the lunacy into which our political culture had fallen by the start of Bill Clinton’s second term. There is nothing new about the lunacy Cohen now sees all around.

In yesterday’s HOWLER, we described the tape of a Politically Incorrect program—a program which aired in May 1997, four months into Clinton’s second term. And sure enough! Even at that early date, long before the arrival of Miss Lewinsky, a trio of nut-cakes screeched and wailed, begging for Clinton’s impeachment. Their conduct was every bit as crazy as the current conduct Cohen describes; in seven short minutes, they screeched and wailed about Communists in the White House; about the Chinese government buying the Long Beach Naval Base; about the way Clinton once said he didn’t inhale; and about the death of Vince Foster (two times). They said Clinton was a compulsive liar—that his friends were all in jail. They even previewed a rank talking-point—a talking-point major pundits like Cohen would be applying to Candidate Gore, two years later.

In seven short minutes, they displayed the lunacy of our political culture at the start of Bill Clinton’s second term.

Cohen seems to voice surprise at crackpot Republican conduct today. But surprise! Back then, in early 1997, he seemed to know all about such thinking; indeed, he used that specific term! What follows is part of a column he wrote one month before the seven-minute mental breakdown on Politically Incorrect. In fairness, Cohen was mainly speaking about conservative journalists in this column, not about politicians or voters. But as we read the passage which follows, it’s hard to know why this great sage is so thoroughly gob-smacked today:

COHEN (4/21/97): It seems that for some publications and journalists, Clinton has freed them from any restraints whatsoever. They don't have to be fair, they don't have to be accurate, they don't have to be precise, and on occasion, they don't even have to make any sense.

We start, as we must, with the conservative newspapers that helped establish the credibility of Gary Aldrich, the ex-FBI agent whose book, "Unlimited Access," is a mighty grim fairy tale of many things that did not happen. It was Aldrich, you will recall, who wrote that Clinton hid under a blanket and was snuck out of the White House so he could meet some woman at the Marriott Hotel here. It turned out that Aldrich didn't know what he was talking about.

No matter. The Washington Times and other newspapers featured the book, and the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial and op-ed pages are toxically anti-Clinton, turned over some op-ed space to Aldrich, identifying him as a former FBI agent and an "investigative writer." The former is true, the latter the worst sort of false labeling.

The Times, in particular, has been remarkably receptive to almost any sort of crackpot anti-Clinton piece. As my colleague Howard Kurtz has pointed out, it has recycled the mad scribblings of one Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Washington correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph, who was among the first to reveal the cover-up regarding the death of Vincent Foster. It was not, as we all know, a suicide and, as we all further know, the body was moved to Fort Marcy Park from God-knows-where. (Probably the Oval Office.) Only every relevant police agency and two independent prosecutors disagree—as you would expect they would. (They're in on the conspiracy.)

The loony right's hate for Bill Clinton is well-nigh inexplicable. Its feelings transcend politics in the usual sense and Clinton is treated not as someone with a different, if daffy, ideology, but as an illegitimate president foisted on the country by the dark and powerful forces of immorality—in other words, misguided voters. He is loathed with a passion once reserved for schismatics and apostates.

Yet the right-wingers are not alone. Even elements of the more mainstream press tend to treat Clinton as if his tendency to occasionally trim the truth means that he is an across-the-board liar, corrupt as well, and as a result, so loathsome a character that the ordinary rules of fair play need not be applied.

Cohen went on to discuss the late Michael Kelly, who would soon be writing two Clinton/Gore-hating columns a week at Cohen’s own Washington Post—positioned as a centrist, of course.

“The loony right's hate for Bill Clinton is well-nigh inexplicable,” Cohen wrote, in April 1997. But today, Cohen seems completely surprised to see conservatives behaving so strangely toward the current president! Only a spell can explain their conduct! He’s never seen anything like it!

Can we talk? In Tuesday’s column, Cohen refuses to do what any non-Potemkin would do. He refuses to tell his readers that the crackpot thinking described in his current column has been the norm since the 1990s; he refuses to say that he himself described similar lunacy at that time. He refuses to say that Gingrich has always behaved like this—that the man who is currently under a spell has always engaged in such gruesome conduct. He fails to recall the lunatic conduct of the early Clinton years. (Dan Burton had already shot and killed a pumpkin by the time of that first Cohen piece.)

Simply put, Cohen refuses to tell the truth about our political culture.

For the record, something quite important occurred just nine months after Cohen’s old column. In January 1998, Miss Lewinsky emerged on the scene; after that, everything was different. By the fall of 1999, the Washington press corps had suffered a full-blown group breakdown; by that time, Cohen was almost as crazy as Kelly, writing a series of ludicrous columns in which he praised the greatness of Saint John McCain and mauled the troubling lack of character of the deeply vile Candidate Gore.

Who knows? Perhaps Cohen can’t recall the lunacy of 1997 because he himself slipped into those waters, just a few months later. But for today, we’ll repeat our invitation from yesterday: Go ahead! Watch that Politically Incorrect tape from May 1997! (For video see below.) You’ll see full-blown lunacy on full display, with Bill Maher teasing the bear a tad, and Al Franken backpedaling steadily. (Not his fault!) You will also see, in that lunatic tape, the rather obvious answer to E. J. Dionne’s silly question:

Why is Obama proposing extension of Bush’s tax cuts? Why isn’t he instead proposing extension of his own tax cuts? Surely, E. J. knew the answer, even as he typed Monday’s column.

Like Cohen, he simply wouldn’t say. This too is part of our politics.

Tomorrow—part 3: The (obvious) shape of our (lunatic) politics has somehow escaped Dionne’s grasp

To watch that tape: In seven short minutes, you can see the full-blown lunacy of the early Clinton years: