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ONE BRIEF PASSAGE! The “press corps” served rising conservative power, as we learn all through Branch’s book: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2009

The argument from space invasion: According to official claims, Gwen Ifill was born in New York City (click here). We really don’t want to sound like the birthers. But for our money, the argument from space invasion was reinforced on last evening’s NewsHour.

We refer to the discussion Ifill led about (to quote Jim Lehrer’s introduction) “how the U.S. health care system compares to the Netherlands and those of other countries.” Ifill’s segment followed Ray Suarez’s second report about health care in the Netherlands.

On Tuesday night, in his first report, Suarez reported some startling facts. “Even with universal coverage, the Netherlands spends less than half what the United States spends per person on health care,” he said. “While spending half the money, the Netherlands gets better results.” Last night, a bit of irony entered the tale: Suarez reported on the ways “government and insurers [in the Netherlands] are working hard on finding new ways to save on health care costs.” Suarez did another capable report—though we wish he’d noticed the oddness there. Too funny! The Netherlands spends less than half what we spend—and they’re working hard to cut costs!

On came Ifill. She soon had the analysts thinking about the argument from space invasion.

(We can’t find the Ifill transcript on-line. To listen to the segment, click here.)

Ifill spoke “to two people with different points of view:” Cathy Schoen, from the Commonwealth Fund (L) and Scott Atlas, from the Hoover Institution (C). The discussion wandered about, starting from this free-form question:

IFILL (10/7/09): Cathy Schoen, based on what we just saw Ray Suarez tell us about just one country, the Netherlands, what about what we just saw there—and he also did this last night, as well, telling us how it works. What’s transferable to the way we do things here and the way we can reform our health care system here?

As Ifill noted, Suarez had discussed “just one [small] country”—but based upon what Lehrer said Tuesday night, his reports represent this program’s first attempt to explore the foreign experience! And Ifill was eager for instant results. Before wasting time on other [larger] countries, she wanted to know what we could cadge from the Dutch experience.

Throughout the segment, we were struck, as we often are, by Ifill’s complete inability to ask the world’s most obvious question: How the freak can foreign nations get better results than we do at less than half the price?

The question is stunningly obvious—but it never seemed to enter Ifill’s head. This was particularly striking last night, because Schoen stressed this stunning fact much more than most pundits do. For our money, Schoen didn’t push this fact hard enough. But right in her first answer to Ifill, she did say this:

SCHOEN: And it’s not just the Netherlands. We see multiple countries that have strong insurance systems with good primary care spending far less. We’re spending about twice as much as every other country. And our outcomes are often not better [indistinguishable] and in—sometimes worse.

Say what? It isn’t just the Netherlands—it’s multiple countries? We’re spending about twice as much as every other country? And our outcomes are often not better—and sometimes worse?

Those are truly stunning statements. If Ifill was really born in New York, to humans, wouldn’t you think she’d react in some way to such a remarkable state of affairs? Not Ifill! She just churned ahead with robotic question. Soon, she even asked this:

IFILL: Cathy Schoen, does the U.S. actually have superior outcomes when you compare it to countries with systems like these?

Earth to Ifill: Cathy Schoen had just said the opposite! So had Suarez, the night before. Poor Schoen tried to soldier on, though she did temper her earlier statement:

SCHOEN (continuing directly): Well, I think one of the things that is startling is that, if we’re spending twice as much, we should expect to see ourselves as real leaders, and we don’t always. Sometimes our rates rival other countries, and sometimes we’re marginally above.

Schoen pushed “we’re spending twice as much” once again. Once again, Ifill just stared.

In fairness, it isn’t just Ifill. Across the board, as a class, major “journalists” seem completely unable to respond to that startling fact: On a per capita basis, we spend two to three times as much as all other comparable nations. It’s one of the most striking facts we know. But you can’t make big pundits react to it.

It isn’t just Ifill. But Ifill behaved very much like a robot last night—or like a space invader. You simply can’t make these people react to that astonishing fact. You can’t make them ask the obvious question: Where the freak is our money going? Who is looting the public?

The analysts came to us, tears in their eyes:

Might Men in Black have something to teach us? the youngsters sadly said.

Special report: Recovering history!

PART 4—ONE BRIEF PASSAGE: The political history of the Clinton/Gore years has largely been disappeared.

Consider a comment Taylor Branch records in his new book, The Clinton Tapes. In his usual “self-pitying” manner (Standard Celebrity Press Corps Script!), President Clinton mentions to Branch, in passing, that Candidate Dole had an Asian-related fund-raising scandal during the 1996 campaign. (We can’t give the actual quote—we don’t have the book here with us.)

Wait just a minute, you may say. Candidate Dole had an Asian-related fund-raising scandal? Yes, he did—through no apparent fault or doing of his own, it must be instantly, forcefully said. But that event has disappeared from history, through the work of the celebrity “press corps,” which was slavish in its devotion to rising conservative power during the era in question. Simon Fireman, one of Dole’s campaign vice chairman, pleaded guilty to laundering money during the actual 1996 campaign. But his name has been disappeared from all known American history.

And by the way, did you know this: After the 1996 campaign, staff of the Federal Election Commission presented its recommendations for fines for fund-raising misconduct. The Clinton campaign should be fined $7 million, they said. The Dole campaign should be fined more than twice as much—$17 million! (The FEC’s commissioners decided to levy no fines.)

You have never heard these facts because these facts have been disappeared. This was the campaign, after all, in which Clinton and Gore were alleged to have committed every known human indecency in their pursuit of cold campaign cash, especially in their alleged pursuit of shady Asian money. In 1999 and 2000, the “press corps” chased Candidate Gore around, making endless wild misstatements about his attendance at an event at a (gasp!) Buddhist temple just outside Los Angeles. (Which was also a community center, a long-time site for political meetings.)

As part of the fun, cable criminals got to play tape of exceptionally funny-looking Asians in funny-looking robes.

But darn it! In February 2000, federal prosecutors said, in open court, that Candidate Gore had no knowledge of the laundered money which a low-level Democratic fund-raiser later received from the temple’s elder—just as Candidate Dole had no knowledge of the laundered money his campaign vice chairman collected. But so what? On March 2, the Democratic fund-raiser, Maria Hsia, was convicted of the same crime to which Fireman had pled—and an ugly Clinton/Gore-hater named Matthews staged one of the endless ugly scene which drove his corrupt cable program, Hardball, all through these unfortunate years. You see, Matthews was a slave to Washington’s rising conservative power throughout the Clinton/Gore era. (He worked for a conservative near-billionaire, GE chairman Jack Welch.) On March 2, 2000, this led Matthews to deceive the public in the manner exhibited below. Remember: Maria Hsia’s prosecutors had explicitly said, at the start of this trial, that Gore had no involvement in Hsia’s illegal conduct (just as Candidate Dole had no involvement in Fireman’s illegal conduct)—conduct which happened in the days after the temple luncheon.

No money changed hands at the temple event. There was no pitch for donations. But Matthews was working on behalf of rising power. So on the night of Hsia’s conviction, he invited super-kook congressman Dan Burton, R-Indiana, to stop shooting pumpkins long enough to serve as a foil on his show—and he said the following things. It’s stunning to think that you live in a world where this man is still on TV:

MATTHEWS (3/2/99): Let's go to this ferociously bad news story today for Al Gore... Chairman Burton, I have to ask you, this is a huge story. For months and years now Republicans and the critics in the media have been going after Al Gore for holding a fund-raiser in a Buddhist temple in 1996, in April of that year, in which he raised over $100,000 from nuns writing checks of up to five thousand bucks. Now it's clear and on the record—those nuns weren't writing checks with their own money, they were being funded with money, they were pass-throughs, they were laundry operations. Al Gore was collecting all this money from rich Asian-Americans, and from the temple itself. What are you guys going to do about it politically, legally and legislatively?

MATTHEWS: What about the illegality? I mean, here's a woman who's got five counts, they're worth five years apiece, that's 25 years of imprisonment. Why does she get jail for working on a campaign which is overseen by Al Gore, and Al Gore doesn't get any hit for it?

MATTHEWS: How does this woman get hung out to dry, and Al Gore is out campaigning without a scratch on him? It just seems odd. If they're in a partnership to raise money for his re-election, doesn't the partnership contain sort of a limited liability. Or is it an unlimited relationship?

MATTHEWS: Has John McCain told you today, or have you read any wire stories or any press releases that suggest he's about to exploit this incredible haul of a 25-year conviction of a person who's Al Gore's bag person—I have to say it politically correct.

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about this bonanza today, this incredible incursion of politics into religion. Why does Al Gore face what I look to be a favorite status in this race to be president, given the fact that he was at the center of a huge fund-raising effort to raise 100 thousand bucks, and now the chief agent in the scam, Maria Hsia, has been convicted of five counts, felony counts, she faces 25 years in jail, and he's out there dancing and doing the Gore dance as if he's not even involved, when it was his fund-raising event where those nuns were writing, whipping off those checks for five thousand apiece and he was the beneficiary— [Referring to tape of Gore at the Hsi Lai temple.] There he is! There you see it! And he's not had a scratch on him today by your Republican Party.

Stunning. No one was “whipping off checks” at the Gore event. And Hsia’s prosecutors had explained why Gore wasn’t “getting any hit” for Hsia’s conduct. It was because he had played no role in/had no knowledge of what happened. But Matthews was working for rising power—and so, after a lazy weekend, his anti-American conduct continued. But then, Matthews is a very bad person—an enemy of the public interest, an enemy of the people:

MATTHEWS (3/6/99): You know I have to ask, this is my point of view— I want to ask you about this Buddhist temple embarrassment, where the vice president of the United States was out there, you know, dancing for money, and he was taking money from nuns, they were whipping off $5000 checks, it was ludicrous, it was obviously a pass-through of some kind, there was money-laundering going on. This woman, Maria Hsia, long-time Bush [sic] associate, 25 years in felony charges against her, all convictions, five times five, five year penalty— What in the world do Republicans have, why haven't they brought this issue up?

There was more, but you get the idea. Al Gore “was taking money from nuns?” Let us repeat: It’s stunning to think that you live in a country where a man like this is able to stay on the air.

(For part of our real-time treatment of this matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/17/00. Other “journalists” knew what Matthews had done. Given the way the era’s breezes were blowing, they just didn’t know how to care.)

We thought of this part of the last decade’s history when we read Clinton’s passing comment to Branch—a comment which, by Hard Pundit Law, must of course be described as “self-pitying.” Here at THE HOWLER, we had long been struck by the differential press treatment of these two fund-raising episodes—episodes which are very similar, except for the fact that Fireman, the Republican money-launderer, was a much bigger player than Hsia. But even we had never realized that the Fireman money-laundering matter had an Asian connection. (We checked this week, and sure enough—that self-pitying statement by Clinton was accurate.) No, that part of the story doesn’t actually matter. Except that the Fireman history has been disappeared—and the Buddhist temple “history” which the public heard was invented by ugly people like Matthews, who was presumably dancing for the checks he received from Jack Welch.

(Four years later, Welch allowed Matthew to purchase a home on Nantucket, thus joining the NBC News elite.)

That is just one tiny moment from Taylor Branch’s new book. The book records a great deal of disappeared history—but the various store-boughts who pose as a “press corps” have gone to work on its contents, in predictable ways. A few examples:

Last Thursday, Matthews played the fool with Branch, who may or may not have understood the role Matthews played in this era’s misconduct. A few days later, Evan Thomas clownishly pretended that the press corps’ misconduct during this era has only come clear “in retrospect.” But several other types of people have worked to disappear Branch’s book. You might check this post by former Timeswoman Melinda Henneberger, who just can’t get past all that icky sex stuff. Or this inanity from the Huffington Post, the dumbest known site in the world.

Is there any limit to the ways we work to disappear this era’s history? Press apologists like Henneberger (quote below) urge you to look away from what their clan so disgracefully did. (They’re telling the truth very slowly.) “Progressives” roll their eyes at Clinton, being much too cool for any known human school. In its own way, each group keeps the public barefoot and clueless about the ways its interests were hijacked by conservative power during the Clinton/Gore era. Guess what? When you read those passages from the Hardball of March 2000, you are reading about the way George W. Bush reached the White House. You are, therefore, reading about the way your country went to war in Iraq. (Matthews continues to offer himself as one of that war’s brave opponents.)

At HuffPo, they’re just too cool to care about that. Henneberger’s crowd is too sex-obsessed—or perhaps too self-serving. And so, your history stays disappeared. The dead of Iraq remain very dead. And the ways in which corporate power controlled that era remain unknown to the public.

Is there any chance that this groaning ignorance helps Corporate Power defeat/water down proposals for health reform?

Tomorrow, an incomparable epilogue. Modern nations can’t function this way. Your history needs to be reappeared.

The old hound dog and the press: Evan Thomas and Thomas Friedman may be telling the truth very slowly. But Henneberger, like many others, can’t even pretend that she cares about what her cohort, the press corps, did:

HENNEBERGER (9/22/09): [H]aving been assigned to write about such historical figures as Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp for The New York Times, my initial reaction to Clinton's gazillion hours of yakking to Branch was I've seen that movie, thanks—and some of it was tedious the first time. (In the book, our 42nd president complains not a little—hard to believe, right?—about being dragged through toxic sludge by the press. To which I say: Backatcha, Bubba.)

Nevertheless, the old hound dog does get off some good ones...

According to Thomas, “the New York Times and The Washington Post, along with the networks and news magazines...were part of a giant scandal machine that dominated official Washington in the first few years after the Cold War. The endless string of special prosecutors and the media's obsession with Whitewater seem excessive in retrospect.”

The words “in retrospect” are clownish, of course—especially since Thomas works, and worked, for one of those news magazines. But to Henneberger, the era remains the tale of an “old hound dog” dragging delicate scribes through the toxic sludge. Huffies are too cool to reappear history. Some press types can only see the part of the era’s history that was tedious—and icky, of course.