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Daily Howler: The Washington Post staged its formal debut all through Sunday's paper
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THE POST COMES OUT! The Washington Post staged its formal debut all through Sunday’s paper: // link // print // previous // next //

NOW THEY’VE EVEN GOT VEDANTAM: Shankar Vedantam’s weekly feature, “Department of Human Behavior,” is one of the Washington Post’s best offerings. Each Monday, the scribe reports some piece of recent scientific research about what makes us humans tick. In one way, this morning’s piece is like all the others; Vedantam works from a fascinating, deeply suggestive piece of recent research. Omigod! A study suggests that voters punish Democratic politicians for “waffling” more than they punish Republicans—even if the Republican pols have waffled just as much:
VEDANTAM (10/8/07): Evidence, however, has recently emerged to suggest...that voters may view inconsistency differently among Republican and Democratic politicians.

In one experiment conducted in Obama's home state by psychologists Cynthia Nordstrom and Susan Thomas of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, volunteers were painted a picture of an inconsistent politician.

The psychologists found that while waffling among all candidates was frowned upon, voters were more likely to punish Democrats who waffled. "Moreover," they noted in an article they published this year in the North American Journal of Psychology, "the Democratic candidate was perceived to be more of a waffler and was less likely to be voted for than the Republican candidate."
Wow! In this experimental situation, the researchers “found that while waffling among all candidates was frowned upon, voters were more likely to punish Democrats who waffled.” And not only that: even in similar cases of waffling, "the Democratic candidate was perceived to be more of a waffler and was less likely to be voted for than the Republican candidate." Given the powerful role that claims of waffling have played in recent White House elections, you’d almost think that the researchers, or Vedantam himself, might wonder why these subjects reacted this way to these make-believe candidates.

No such luck! Speaking of the peculiar ways we humans react, this obvious question doesn’t seem to have entered Vedantam’s head. Instead, he simply recites conventional garbage about who the big “wafflers” have recently been. For example, here’s his pitiful, scripted take on the Bush-Kerry election:
VEDANTAM: Waffling, or the perception of political inconsistency, played a big role in the 2004 presidential election, when Sen. John F. Kerry's contortions provided President Bush with endless ammunition. Studies have repeatedly shown that voters say they want consistent leaders.
Vedantam gives himself some cover when he cites the perception of inconsistency. But he recites the following claim as if it’s fact: Kerry's contortions in Campaign 04 provided Bush with endless ammunition. It doesn’t seem to enter his head that Bush was guilty of “contortions” too—perhaps as many as Kerry, perhaps more. In his new book, The Big Con, Jonathan Chait discusses a long-discussed fact; objectively, it isn’t clear that Candidate Kerry engaged in more “flip-flops” than Candidate Bush. But Vedantam simply recites the Bush campaign script; it was Kerry who provided the “endless contortions,” he says, as his colleagues so endlessly did. As such, Vedantam seems very much like the people this intriguing study describes. He himself seems inclined to punish Dems for waffling—and to give Republicans a pass.

But then, it isn’t just Kerry who is presented as a big waffler by Vedantam. His piece starts and ends with Hillary Clinton—and he offers scripted thoughts about her stance on Iraq. Indeed, his whole piece is built around a deep puzzle, in which he tries to figure out “why Clinton is not being punished for what some say is her about-face on the war.” Again, Vedantam buys himself some cover with a slick formulation: “some say.” But his ruminations on this subject are quite unimpressive—and they fit the Dem-hunting story-lines which now prevail at the Post.

Vedantam describes a fascinating, potentially important finding: Voters punish Dems for waffling more than they punish Republicans! We can think of an obvious possible reason for this remarkable finding (if it’s actually true)—but it doesn’t seem to occur to Vedantam that this finding is deeply important, and ought to be explained. Rather, he seems to have gulped the Kool-Aid too as he recites about Kerry’s flip-flops—and about Clinton’s stance on Iraq. Yo, Vedantam! Is there any chance that voters punish Dems more because hacks like you have told them, for years, that it’s always Dems who do the big waffling? Because your gang has recited the RNC script: Dems are just feckless flip-floppers?

Special report: The Post comes out!

PART 1—OUTLOOK’S TWIN EURO-HACKS: Sometimes, major news organizations will “come out,” in much the way that a debutante does. In a remarkable moment or episode, they will finally let the world know who and what they actually are. In the summer of 2001, for example, the cable networks—chasing Gary Condit like clowns—came out as tabloid news organizations. We’ll talk about news when we have to, they said. In out hearts, though, we’re nothing but tabs.

On Sunday, the Washington Post did a similar thing. We were all invited to kiss the bride—to throw handfuls of birdseed into her hair. On Sunday, all through its varied “news” sections, the Washington Post made it official, “came out” at long last: The Post is now a foppish conservative org, the paper officially said.

It will take several days to review the nonsense which suffused the Sunday newspaper. For today, let’s start with the steady decline of the Sunday “Outlook” section. Simply put, “Outlook” is now—officially—kooky-conservative. This news was announced, quite unmistakably, yesterday, on the section’s first page.

At the top of Outlook’s page one was a giant lay-out of this piece by international scientific “concern troll” Bjorn Lomborg. By now, everyone knows the rules: If you want to debunk the global warming consensus in a way the average person might fall far, you trundle to Denmark and request the work of this non-gloomy Dane. Lomborg has long been denounced as a fraud; years ago, Peter Raven, chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called him "the prime example in our time of someone who distorts statistics and statements to meet his own political end," for example (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/19/02). Earlier this year, Lomborg flitted around and about, offering blatantly bogus thoughts in the wake of the new IPCC report about the dangers of warming. Meanwhile, his new book was reviewed in the Post just last month. “Glib, misleading associations mark Lomborg's style,” climate scientist Tim Flannery wrote. After reviewing Lomborg’s what-us-worry approach to the question of glacial melting, Flannery summarized Lomborg:
FLANNERY (9/9/07): And so the arguments go on, from rising seas to extreme weather events to malaria and other tropical diseases, the collapse of the Gulf Stream, food shortages and water shortages. In one case after another, Lomborg asserts, it's cheaper and better to do nothing immediately to combat climate change, but instead to invest in other things.
“Glib, misleading associations mark [Lomborg’s] style?” Inevitably, then, the next stop for the useful Dane would be page one of Outlook! But Lomborg’s giant front-page piece wasn’t the most insulting presentation found in yesterday’s section. That honor would go to this front-page piece, in which the Post imported a British conservative to address a headlined question: “Who Made Hillary Queen?”

Presumably, Outlook’s hapless new editor, John Pomfret, couldn’t find an American conservative who would write so insultingly stupid a piece. At least, he couldn’t find such an American conservative who readers wouldn’t dismiss out of hand. Suffice to say that Wheatcroft (real name) is a European concern troll too. But he’s one whose name won’t be familiar here, one whose ideological foppishness might therefore pass without notice. Alas, poor Wheatcroft (actual name)! Having seen his own country throw off the bounds of royalty, it hurts his soul to see us Yanks adopting a new royal family—the Clintons! Pathetically, Wheatcroft (real name) seems to get all his info reading the columns of Maureen Dowd, whose fatuous work he cites two times. (If it weren’t for Bill Clinton, Wheatcroft recites, Hillary Clinton would be running for president—of Vassar! Hiss! Hiss-spit! Hiss-spit! Meee-ow!) Truly, Pomfret has sent in the clowns. And because the clown he sends is a Brit, his readers have little way of knowing how big a clown they’re receiving.

In fairness, Wheatcroft (real name) does pick the best chaff. His fatuous piece is neatly summed up in a pair of early questions:
WHEATCROFT (actual name): Among so much about American politics that can impress or depress a friendly transatlantic observer, there's nothing more astonishing than this: Why on Earth should Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton be the front-runner for the presidency?

She has now pulled well ahead of Sen. Barack Obama, both in polls and in fundraising. If the Democrats can't win next year, they should give up for good, so she must be considered the clear favorite for the White House. But in all seriousness: What has she ever done to deserve this eminence? How could a country that prides itself on its spirit of equality and opportunity possibly be led by someone whose ascent owes more to her marriage than to her merits?
“What on earth” has Clinton done to deserve her status as Dem front-runner? That question, of course, is easily answered by many Americans, even those who may not prefer her. But Wheatcroft, a furriner, may not know the answer—and so, we’ll answer his question this week, after we finish walking you through the wealth of nonsense and propaganda that was stuffed into every relevant section of Sunday’s astonishing Post. But let’s do say this: “Outlook” is now such a fraudulent section that it traveled the globe, finding two fops whose biases are so unfamiliar that their drivel might pass for Post readers. Pomfret traveled to Denmark to debunk stupid Gore—and to England to take down worthless Clinton.

This is nothing new for Outlook, whose tone has become increasingly clear in the past year. You may recall the section’s ludicrous piece in praise of Fred Thompson—so sexy, so handsome, so honest, so brilliant, so unlike that “road kill,” Gore. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/07, for all five parts of our series.) You may recall the section’s previous foolish piece, the one which told us how great things would be if we’d only elected Jeb Bush, not George. On balance, Outlook has been “coming out” all year—announcing itself as what it is, a kooky, Republican-worshiping section. But the growing inanity of Outlook’s outlook was carried to a new level by Wheatcroft, the little-known English kooky-conservative. Yes, that is his actual moniker—but no, the section gave you no warning about his political views. In this manner, Pomfret let us imagine that the average Brit would be thinking these troubled thoughts about about our new impulse toward royalty.

But Outlook’s clowning was only one part of the Washington Post’s big day. Sometimes, a big news org finally makes it official—comes out, just as the debutantes do, in a magnificent gala. As what did the Post come out this Sunday? It’s official—the Post is now an upper-class, pseudo-conservative hoax sheet. It proudly said so all through Sunday’s paper. We’ll show you the nonsense for the next several days. Then, we’ll answer that question.

WHEATLEY’S BEST CHAFF: Gazing from across the water, Wheatingham seems to get his best “information” from the brilliant columns of Dowd. But he also borrowed a favorite script from the Head Raccoon himself, Tim Russert:
WHEATSTONE: At a time when Americans seem to contemplate with equanimity up to 28 solid years of uninterrupted Bush-Clinton rule, please note that there are almost no political dynasties left in British politics, at least on the Tory side. Admittedly, Hilary Benn, the environmental secretary, is the fourth generation of his family to sit in Parliament and the third to serve in a Labor Party cabinet. But England otherwise has nothing now to match the noble houses of Kennedy, Gore and Bush.
Russert loves that crap about 28 years. (As he tells the other Raccoons: Don’t leave the lodge without it!) Now, Wheatborough types the same troubled tale. From the Brit viewpoint, of course.

Funny, isn’t it? No one yelled “dynasty” in 1999 and 2000, when the second fellow named Bush was running. But now that Dems may keep it all in the family, all the Raccoons rise up and howl! In their “28-year” formulation, Dems can’t pick the hopeful they might prefer because Republicans did so the last time! Inside the world of the Grand Raccoon Lodge—of Outlook—this howling makes perfect sense.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Broder and Balz. One word: Crackpot.