ANSWER TOMORROW: Weve decided to do a stand-alone piece about the Posts statistical bungle (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/2/08). In the DC area, are low-income students closing the achievement gap? We dont have the slightest ideaand neither does the Post. Can you discern the Posts statistical bungle? Tomorrow, we explain.
THE IFILL COWER: Gwen Ifill asked very few follow-up questions last night. Was that because of the evenings format? Or was it a function of Ifills political problems? Brit Humes first remarks after last nights debate referred to the problem Ifill carried with her into this debate:
HUME (10/2/08): Well, now the families come on the stage to join the two contestants as they say good-bye and thanks to the moderator, Gwen Ifill, who seemed to have gotten through this evening without anybody jumping on anything she said or making her the issue, which I'm sure she's very grateful for.
Lets translate: If Ifill had challenged Palin last night, conservative elements would have scorched her for displaying her vile liberal bias. And yes, thats clearly what Hume meant. Because lets face it, there was exactly zero chance that weaklings of the pseudo-left were ever goin to jump on Ifill. As we all know, conservatives go after people like Ifill. Liberals ask her for jobs.
Last night, Ifill dragged the appearance of a conflict of interest behind her as she entered the room. This produced a vast distractiona distraction which could only help Palin and McCain. But sure enough! Yesterday, around the liberal web, some young career liberal writers kiss-kiss-kissed to the wonderful Ifill, wiping the tears from their eyes as they pondered her vast, incomparable fairness. At the same time, liberal rube-runners handed readers the dumbest possible message: If conservatives are attacking Ifill, then Ifill must surely be grand. When The Skins attack, The Shirts must defend! Last evening, for example, Josh Marshall, AKA The Oracle at Delphi, grandly deigned to tell the world why Ifill did what she did:
MARSHALL (10/2/08): No Follow Ups
We were just talking about why Palin did better tonight than she did in her interviews. I think it's actually very simple. No follow ups. It's not a criticism of Gwen Ifill. It wasn't the format she was supposed to work with. But if you look at Palin's interview trainwrecks things always got bad on the follow upwhen the interviewer (Gibson or Couric) pressed her on the nebulous answer for some specifics, which she couldn't provide. That's the difference.
Duh. In part, Palin did better because Gwen Ifill asked no follow-up questions.
Of course, Ifill could have asked some follow-up questions, of Biden and Palin both. We think the debate was weaker because she didnt. Is there any chance she was scared away by the threat of conservative criticism? Good pseudo-liberals all know not to wonder. Inside their low-IQ, rube-running world, if conservatives are yelling at Ifill, then liberals must say that shes right.
Of course, Josh has been like this a very long while, going back to 2002 when he wrote those ridiculous reviews of Campaign 2000reviews which thoroughly disappeared the work of the mainstream press corps. But many career liberals have been this way tooyoung liberal writers whose future careers may lead through our big mainstream news orgs. As a group, they and their forebears ignored the press corps wars against Clinton and Gore; they even kept their traps tightly shut during the two-year journalistic farce which sent George Bush to the White House. And the effects of their silence still drive our politics. Their silence allowed Palin to make these statements last nightstatements which still have enormous traction:
PALIN (10/2/08): I want to let you know what I did as a mayor and as a governor. And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you [gesturing to Biden] want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.
PALIN (10/2/08): I like being able to answer these tough questions without the filter, even, of the mainstream media kind of telling viewers what they've just heard. I'd rather be able to just speak to the American people like we just did. And it's so important that the American people know of the choices that they have on November 4th.
Effortlessly, Palin lumped Biden with Ifill, then boo-hoo-hooed about the way the mainstream media kind of work.
Truly, thats remarkable. After the pounding administered to both Clintons and Gore (and to Kerry and Edwards, to a lesser extent), its amazing that the GOP retains the power to bash the press corps that way. But most voters who heard what Palin said have never heard about the mainstream press corps wars of the past sixteen years. Theyve never heard because good career liberals kept their traps tightly shut.
The pattern continued in the past few days, as career liberal writers and liberal rube-runners praised the great fairness of IfillIfill, whose most important act of the Bush years was the way she rolled over and died for her personal friend, Condi Rice. But voters dont hear about such things because career liberals all know to keep quiet. Theyve ducked such misconduct for many years. They were ducking again this week.
Sorry, but Ifill shouldnt have hosted last night; someone else could have done the debate without the appearance of conflict her book project brought down on her head. Joshs mind-reading to the side, its entirely possible that she avoided follow-up questions to avoid a pounding from the right. Last night, Hume made a sagacious comment; Josh just played the rubes again. This helps explain why media bias remains a powerful GOP tooleven after sixteen years of relentless Big Democrat-bashing.
One party fightsand the other one doesnt. Conservatives continue to kick the sh*t out of mainstream figures like Ifill. On your side, your leaders beg them for jobs. Oh please please please please please notice me, young liberals say, kissing their ears.
Barrett gets it right: At CJR, Liz Cox Barrett gets it right. Remember the key word: appearance. And remember the other key point: Once the appearance of conflict appeared, Ifills role in last nights debate could only work against Democrats.
JONATHANS ALTERED STATE: Joe Biden made a remarkable statement near the end of last nights debate. When on earth have you ever heard anything even remotely like this?
BIDEN (10/2/08): I'll be very brief. Can I respond to that?
Look, the mavericklet's talk about the maverick John McCain is. And, again, I love him. He's been a maverick on some issues, but he has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives.
He voted four out of five times for George Bush's budget, which put us a half a trillion dollars in debt this year and over $3 trillion in debt since he's got there.
He has not been a maverick in providing health care for people. He has voted againsthe voted including another 3.6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan, when he voted in the United States Senate.
He's not been a maverick when it comes to education. He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college.
He's not been a maverick on the war. He's not been a maverick on virtually anything that genuinely affects the things that people really talk about around their kitchen table:
Can we sendcan we get Mom's MRI? Can we send Mary back to school next semester? We can'twe can't make it. How are we going to heat theheat the house this winter?
He voted against even providing for what they call LIHEAP, for assistance to people, with oil prices going through the roof in the winter.
So maverick he is not on the important, critical issues that affect people at that kitchen table.
Whatever you may think of that statement, youve rarely heard such statements before. Part of that is the fault of Dem pols. And then, theres Jonathan Alter.
In the current Newsweek, Alter writes again about McCain, his former love interest. In this passage, Alter makes an astonishing statement about Saint McCain and the press corps. As he starts, he is discussing McCains tendency to compare himself to Teddy Roosevelt:
ALTER (10/6/08): Whatever their differences, you can understand [McCains] TR fixation. It's fitting for a man who has always been his own action figure. Whether it was flying so low that he once cut power lines in Italy or cheering up his fellow POWs with his antics, McCain has proved a figure of impish fun. This and offering total media access that up to this year resulted in such slobbering press coverage that he only half-jokingly referred to reporters as "my base." Until they started doing their jobs. Then they got trashed.
As long as McCain was in the Senate, the back flips, pirouettes and half-gainers off the high board were exciting. And when they went over badly, McCain developed an appealing habit of profusely apologizing, as he did after shamelessly pandering to racists in South Carolina on the Confederate flag in 2000. Earlier, while denying wrongdoing, he self-flagellated for getting cozy in the 1980s with savings-and-loan crook Charles Keating. This led to his fervor for campaign-finance reform (forgotten this year as his campaign loaded up with lobbyists), but the "Keating Five" S&L debacle did not cause him to support more banking regulation. Because of his charm and the respect others feel for his ability to survive his Vietnam captivity, his apologies were routinely accepted, even if his promises not to ever sell out his principles again were honored in the breach.
In a rational world, thats astounding. According to Alter, McCain got slobbering press coverage right up to this year, when reporters finally started doing their jobs. (McCain even got a free pass after shamelessly pandering to racists in South Carolina and after getting cozy in the 1980s with a savings-and-loan crook.) McCain became a giant national figure in September 1999. This means that Alters cohort slobbered for at least nine years.
But then, the penumbra of that slobbering coverage are visible in this passage from Alterfor example, when he reflexively describes McCains irresponsible conduct in that incident in Italy as an example of impish fun. (Some habits never quite pass.) And of course, Alter forgets to say that he himself was one of the journalists dishing out that slobber. For example: Using Nexis, we can find no sign that Alter ever told us, in real time, that McCain shamelessly pander[ed] to racists in South Carolina on the Confederate flag in 2000. In real time, he called the flag issue a distraction, and said nothing critical about McCains stance. As this was happening, Ramesh Ponnuru mocked the slobbering coverage in The National Reviewand he singled out Alters conduct in the Palmetto State:
PONNURU (3/20/00): After McCain lost South Carolina, one of Newsweek's writers, Jonathan Alter, confessed on Don Imus's show that it was "hard for us to cover" the campaign, so distressing were the attacks on McCain. Imus later remarked that Alter "sounded like he was going to slit his wrists.
Well guess that Alter forgot to tell Imus about McCains shameless pander to racists. But so it went with the slobbering coverage which Alter wont own up to now.
Why did Bidens speech sound strange? In part, due to pander bears like Alter. In real time, he slobbered over the famous maverick, under headlines like A Very Human Hero and A Soft Spot for a Hard Charger. In the latter piece, Alter explained why the press loves John McCain (headline). He ended with this perfect nonsense:
ALTER (11/8/99): McCain is learning to make that case in more human terms as a gateway to solving other problems. How do you reform the Pentagon when lobbyists are insisting on C-130s [transports] that the military doesn't want? he asked in New Hampshire last week. How do you reform the tax code when special interests keep getting personal favors? The answer is, you probably don't. There's a quixotic quality to the McCain campaign that reporters adore.
These swoons are proof that idealism and journalism aren't total strangers; that's nice to know. But if McCain starts to win, the romance is bound to end badly for both sides. Reporters are lousy loverseasily disillusioned and inevitably treacherous. Candidates routinely use journalists when they need a boost, then dump them down the road. Even accounting for sincere mutual regard, each would do well to share some updated Renaissance advice: put not your faith in princesor pundits.
Weird! In Alters mind, the press corps swoon, which led to the slobber, had somehow become proof that idealism and journalism aren't total strangers. But uh-oh! He warned us that the romance was bound to end badly for both sidesthat McCains lovers would prove to be treacherous. In his new piece, he tells us when this finally happened. It finally happened this year.
The lousiest lover of all has been Alter. Today, he goes on Countdown and swoons about a new love. Once, he slobbered Saint McCains way. Today, all that is gone.
At some point, real pundits would have said some of the things Biden finally said last night. But Alters gang was slobbering hardwhich helps explain why Bidens speech was such a shock to the ear. John McCain has been no maverick on the things that matter to people's lives? Pundits, locked in a slobbering swoon, never quite managed to go there.
WHAT $15 MILLION BUYS: Its hard to find good help these daysespecially if youre looking for someone to ask a few simple questions. Many observers have marveled at Sarah Palins odd answers to Katie Couric this week. But just how bad were Courics questions? Consider her hapless line of inquiry concerning abortion.
As everyone must know by now, when Palin answers questions about abortion, she tends to discuss what shed do in her personal life, rather than what shed mandate as a matter of public policy. She took this familiar approach with Couricand Couric was completely unable to redirect the discussion. Couric asked a series of questions about these issues. And Palin brushed Couric aside as if she werent even there.
This was extremely incompetent questioning. But then, for $15 million per year, its hard to find good help these days.
Lets run through Courics series of questions. The first Q-and-A ran as follows. Youll note that Palin makes little attempt to answer the actual question:
COURIC (9/30/08): If a 15-year-old is raped by her father, you believe it should be illegal for her to get an abortion. Why?
PALIN: I am pro-life, and I'm unapologetic about my position there on pro-life. And I understand good people on both sides of the abortion debate. Now, I would counsel to choose life, I would like to see a culture of life in this country, but I would also like to see, taking it one step further, not just saying I am pro-life and I want fewer and fewer abortions in this country, but I want, then, those women who find themselves in circumstances that are absolutely less than ideal, for them to be supported, for adoptions to be made easier.
Palin said she would counsel to choose lifebut Couric had asked her why she would mandate such an outcome, even in an extreme type of case. So Couric asked her question againor, more accurately, she gave Palin a second chance to orate. Quite literally, no question is asked here:
COURIC (continuing directly): But ideally, you think it should be illegal for a girl who is raped, or the victim of incest to get an abortion.
PALIN: I'm saying that, personally, I would counsel that person to choose life, despite horrific, horrific circumstances that this person would find themselves in. And, if you're asking, though, kind of foundationally here, should anybody end up jail for having had an abortion, absolutely not. That's nothing that I would ever support.
Eventually, Palin said she wouldnt put the 15-year-old in jail. But she never said why she would make it illegal for that girl to get an abortion in the first place. That was the question Couric had asked. The question never got answered.
Couric had failed to get a real answer. But so what? She moved ahead to another question, once again destined to fail. This time, her questions concerned the morning-after pill. Please note the self-defeating vagueness of the two questions she asks:
COURIC (continuing directly): Some people have credited the morning-after pill asfor decreasing the number of abortions. How do you feel about the morning-after pill?
PALIN: Well, I'm all for contraception, and I'm all for any preventative measures that are legal and safe and should be taken. But, Katie, again I am one to believe that life starts at the moment of conception and
COURIC: Ergo, you don't believe in the morning-after pill.
PALIN: I would like to seeI would like to see fewer and fewer abortions in this world and, again, I haven't spoken with anyone who disagrees with my position on that.
First, Couric asked Palin how she felt about the pill; then, she seemed to ask if Palin believed in the pill. She still hadnt asked the obvious questionif Palin would make the pill illegaland therefore, she hadnt gotten an answer to this, her obvious point of concern. By now, though, even Couric seemed to realize that she wasnt shedding much light on the question. So she asked a third question about the pill. But uh-oh! This question was hopelessly inept too, and Palin again took advantage:
COURIC (continuing directly): I'm sorry, I just want to ask you again. Do you condone or condemn the morning after pill?
PALIN: Personally, and this isn't a McCain-Palin policy, adminstration policy
COURIC: No, that's OK. I'm just asking you.
PALIN: But personally, I would not choose to participate in that kind of contraception.
Sigh. It isnt a question of whether Palin condones or condemns the pill, whatever those hopelessly vague terms might mean. Its a question of whether shed make it illegal! But Couric failed to sharpen her question. As a result, she got another worthless statement about how Palin would personally act.
In fairness, if Palin were running for next-door neighbor, these might be excellent questions.
At any rate, Couric simply gave up at this point, moving ahead to global warming. It would be hard to frame a more worthless series of questions than Couric had managed to frame. But then, Couric is paid $15 million a yearand its hard to get help at that price.