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Daily Howler: Jonathan Chait kept his trap shut back then. Today, he invents some new history
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BRAVE NEW HISTORY! Jonathan Chait kept his trap shut back then. Today, he invents some new history: // link // print // previous // next //

WHAT DIGBY SAID: We thought the Digster was sadly on target in these comments about Sunday’s Meet the Press. (“I just suffered through one of the most excruciating experiences of my life.”) For ourselves, we don’t have a problem with Bill Cosby’s views about the state of the black (and brown; and white) community. For our money, his views (to the extent that they exist) are in the reasonable range; so are the views of many people who disagree with his points of emphasis. But Cosby blathered and rambled and failed to focus in his hour-long session with Russert. Occasionally, Dr. Alvin Poussaint stopped deferring to Cosby and tried to help. Frankly, he didn’t help much.

It’s all too perfect to see Bob Herbert heap praise on this session today; this was celebrity punditry at its most gruesome, and other celebrities rarely notice. We assume that Cosby (and Russert) mean well, but this was a wasted opportunity. For once, Russert didn’t blow the hour with the week’s latest scripted inane campaign blather. For once, he devoted the hour to real issues. And he didn’t do well—not at all.

Often, Cosby was just embarrassing. You’d think a person with a new book could bring his thoughts into sharp focus—but no sharp focus was present this day. As we squirmed, we thought of people we’d like to see questioned on Meet the Press—questioned about their specific, focused attempts to help the nation’s deserving black youth, those beautiful, deserving kids we taught long ago, right here in this city’s struggling schools:
1) Two years ago, former Post columnist Williams Raspberry returned to his home in Mississippi to run an institute designed to help young, low-income parents learn how to raise more successful children (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/17/05). Low-literacy parents often don’t know about certain aspects of parenting—things that higher-literacy parents do know. They love their children—but may not know how to prepare them for later success in school. (Without help, we wouldn’t know how to raise a child to be a ballet star. Same idea.) We’d love to know how this project is proceeding. Have similar projects been tried?

2) How about the brilliant, devoted young guys who started the nationwide KIPP schools? What has actually worked for KIPP? What parts of KIPP could be applied more widely? These people are active, out in the field. Skillfully questioned, they would have a lot to tell us.

3) How about interviewing Michelle Rhee, new chancellor of DC’s public schools? Rhee was very impressive a month or so back, interviewed by Brian Lamb for an hour; her “leadership characteristics” were very evident, and we mean that in the best possible way. But Brian didn’t ask about her highly improbable past assertions, and he didn’t try to learn how much she knows about low-income classrooms. Of course, Russert would never ask Rhee those difficult questions. She’s now part of the DC elite.
For that matter, Russert seemed to have spent ten minutes preparing for his hour with Cosby. The hour was designed to make us feel good—and was often painful to watch. In this way, celebrity and celebrity-driven ratings trump the needs of actual kids. And celebrity pundits will always be there to praise such boffo sessions.

Stay in school! And: Raise up your kids! This morning, a big scribe agrees.

PARANOIA: Then again, it did give Russert a way to avoid discussing Gore’s Nobel prize. To the paranoiacs out there, everybody seemed to have found one. Russert spent the hour with Cosby. Dowd gave her column to Stephen Colbert. And Frankly, Rich decided to spend the day calling us a bunch of “good Germans.” Apparently, he couldn’t find a way to his favorite analysis: This proves that Al Gore’s a big fake.

Omigod! Sometimes, we just have to treat ourselves to a good solid laugh when we watch these top plutocrats work.

BRAVE NEW HISTORY: Readers were troubled by our comments about Paul Krugman’s most recent column—the one in which he discusses what he calls “Gore Derangement Syndrome.” We understand their feelings—and their loyalties. Krugman has been, and will continue to be, a powerful, heroic force in American journalism; by light-years, he has been the most important journalist on his high level in the past decade. But for years, mainstream reporters and careful liberals have struggled to avoid telling the truth about the shape of our recent presspolitics—and the mainstream press corps’ two-year War against Gore lies at the heart of that awkward story. At present, an odd new paradigm has begun to emerge as liberals look for ways to distort the Gore story—and Krugman’s column fits the Brave New History they are starting to tell.

What’s the shape of this puzzling new narrative—a narrative which keeps voters in the dark about the work of their mainstream press corps? In this new narrative, you’re allowed to discuss the trashing of Gore—but you have to say it was done by “right-wingers.” (The mainstream press must be disappeared.) And an even more amazing suggestion is becoming part of this Brave New History: The suggestion that the trashing of Gore began or peaked only after Bush reached the White House.

Both parts of this narrative are utter fantasies—but the narrative seems to be floating around. Before we look at Krugman’s column, let’s consider that piece by Jonathan Chait in this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times—the utterly puzzling op-ed piece which presents this new account of our history.

Leading liberals have spent eight years refusing to tell the truth about Gore—refusing to discuss the war the mainstream press corps waged against him when he ran for the White House. Chait’s puzzling piece defines a new way to avoid this embarrassing history.

Here’s the way Chait’s piece begins. He starts with a perfectly accurate fact—then attempts to “explain” it:
CHAIT (10/14/07): When Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, conservatives reacted with apoplexy. Talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, conservative bloggers and other Republican faithful denounced the prize as a fraud.

You might wonder why they care so much—Gore, after all, is obviously not going to run for president, and even some conservatives now concede that global warming is real. The answer is that Gore's triumph is a measure of George W. Bush's disrepute.
Chait starts with a perfectly accurate fact; many conservatives did “react with apoplexy” when Gore was awarded the Nobel prize. But Chait then attempts to explain why this happened. “The answer is that Gore's triumph is a measure of George W. Bush's disrepute,” he confidently, and vaguely, declares. Chait’s meaning isn’t yet clear at that point. So he attempts to explain it:
CHAIT (continuing directly): Indeed, in the political culture, Gore's role is as a negative indicator of the president's standing. For all the talk of a "new Al Gore," there's nothing new about the man. His public reputation is almost entirely a function of Bush's.
Gore’s “public reputation is almost entirely a function of Bush's?” For ourselves, we still don’t have the slightest idea what that formulation means. But now, as Chait’s rumination continues, he finally begins to flesh out his meaning. Unfortunately, he makes an assertion that is simply, completely absurd:
CHAIT (continuing directly): The high point of Bush's prestige came in the months after Sept. 11, 2001. As Bush put it in a year-end interview: "All in all, it's been a fabulous year for Laura and me." (It certainly was, if you could put aside the 3,000 American deaths, which Bush apparently could.)

That was also the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore. He was described as "goofily bearded" or "sulking." Democrats were publicly declaring they were glad Bush, and not Gore, was in the Oval Office.
Again, Chait is right about one thing; the months which followed 9/11 did begin the period which constitutes “the high point of Bush’s prestige.” Bush’s poll numbers went through the roof, and his standing remained quite high until the war in Iraq began to fail, several years later. But it is simply insane—it’s a vast invention—to say that the period after 9/11 “was also the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore.”As we reached the end of 2001, Gore had been aggressively ridiculed for almost three years—by the width and breadth of the mainstream press corps. The ridicule began in March 1999, the first time Gore opened his mouth as a candidate; the press corps’ ridicule achieved full cyclone force within a week of that event (examples below). It is absurd to say that it became “more fashionable” to ridicule Gore in late 2001—unless you’re looking for a way to disappear the vast misconduct which happened earlier, the misconduct which occurred among Chait’s own class, indeed right at Chait’s flunky journal.

But then, Chait plays the public for rubes/suckers/fools when he makes this puzzling assertion. Here’s his fuller attempt to support this claim—a claim which is convenient to gentlemen of his fine class but, in point of fact, quite absurd:
CHAIT: That was also the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore. He was described as "goofily bearded" or "sulking." Democrats were publicly declaring they were glad Bush, and not Gore, was in the Oval Office.

Gore, the thinking went, was too intellectual and lacked Bush's gut-sense understanding of good and evil. A staunch Gore backer explained his relief at Bush's victory thusly: "[Gore] may know too much." At the time, this trait was seen as far more problematic than knowing too little. A poll in late 2001 found that 76% of Americans preferred Bush over Gore as a war leader.
In these two paragraphs, Chait fleshes out the claim that the period after 9/11 was “the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore.” But his evidence is cherry-picked and absurdly flimsy. In some ways, his claims are just false.

After 9/11, “Democrats were publicly declaring they were glad Bush, and not Gore, was in the Oval Office,” Chait writes. But based on the evidence that is offered, this claim is simply untrue. In fact, that “staunch Gore backer” whom Chait quotes was speaking off the record (if he exists); he was anonymously quoted by the New York Times’ Richard Berke, described as a “former senator.” Berke’s article, which seems to be Chait’s primary or only source, was notable because only one of the handful of Democrats Berke claimed to quote was being quoted on the record; when Chait says these Dems were “publicly declaring,” he’s saying that seems untrue. (Berke’s article included a string of other Democrats, on the record, who publicly disagreed with the notion that Bush would be the better war leader.) Meanwhile, Berke fails to note the actual source of the other belittling comments he quotes. It was a mainstream journalist, the Washington Post’s Al Kamen, who described Gore as “goofily bearded.” And it was a mainstream journalist, New York Times “reporter” Dean Murphy, who alone described Gore as “sulking” during this period. (We’re working from the Nexis archives, September 11 through the end of 2001.) Truth to tell, we’re surprised there weren’t more “sulkings” too. But simply put, Gore was not a principal focus during this post 9-11 period. It’s absurd to suggest that this was “the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore”—unless you’re constructing the latest narrative designed to disappear the loathsome conduct of yourself and your foppish colleagues during the period when Gore really was savaged, in ways that put Bush where he is. Of course, fine young gentlemen like Brother Chait have been now performing that service for more than eight years.

Was late 2001 really “the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore?” Good God! The notion is simply absurd. As noted, Gore began to campaign for the White House in March 1999 (March 9, to be exact). With a week, the press corps had assembled the Standard Group Narrative which would control so much future work—the notion that Candidate Gore was a weirdly delusional liar. The ridicule was instant—and ubiquitous. By March 16, 1999, the corps had established a favorite narrative: Al Gore said he invented the Internet! And they had tied it to an earlier tale, the one Dowd and Rich invented in 1997: Al Gore said he inspired Love Story! Result? Their ridicule was all over cable. Here’s a gruesome sample from Hardball; then-Republican congressman Joe Scarborough joins Chris Matthews and USA Today’s Tom Squitieri as they ridicule Gore for his alleged crazy statements:
SCARBOROUGH (3/16/99): I mean, every time he steps out, he stubs his toe...Now he’s the father of the Internet, or the fifth Beatle or whatever it was. And, and—

MATTHEWS: He invented the Internet, he said.

SCARBOROUGH: He invented the Internet! And, also, you know, he was in Ryan, you know, Ryan O’Neal’s story—

SQUITIERI: Love Story!

SCARBOROUGH: Love Story! So this guy steps on his—sort of steps on his toe a good bit.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, he was the guy who was making the snow-prints there with Ali MacGraw.

SCARBOROUGH: Exactly. He was, he was Ali MacGraw’s—and, of course, he, he’s—I think we’re gonna be able to embarrass him.
Scarborough was right about one thing, of course. His party would “be able to embarrass Gore” in the years ahead—with the endless assistance of “mainstream” “journalists” like Matthews and Squitieri. Indeed, Gore was mocked by four cable pundits in a similar session the very next day. On CNN’s Inside Politics, co-hosts Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw let Margaret Carlson and Tucker Carlson misstate a wide range of elementary facts. For pundits eager to ridicule Gore, another favorite had now gone on the play-list: Al Gore said he grew up on a farm, when he really grew up here in Washington:
TUCKER CARLSON (3/17/99): You had Gore, yesterday, telling voters at a campaign stop, about how he spent his childhood plowing steep hillsides with a mule team. Which, I mean, there are a couple—first, it’s terrible for the environment to be plowing steep hillsides with anything. And second, it’s hard to imagine, you know, what steep hillside at St. Albans he was plowing. But this is, this is part of—

SHAW: You’re referring to the private school he attended here in Washington.

TUCKER CARLSON: I am. In Washington, where he grew up at the Fairfax Hotel. So it’s sort of an implausible image.

MARGARET CARLSON: Well, there were mule teams at the Ritz-Carlton where he lived.


MARGARET CARLSON: You know, Al Gore has made a few gaffes, the unforced errors that sometimes can define a person if there are enough of them. Dan Quayle—potato. Al Gore—Love Story. Not exactly the hero of Love Story.

WOODRUFF: Inventor of the Internet.

MARGARET CARLSON: I created the Internet, not quite right.
We can’t take time to detail all the misstatements involved there. But just to take one pungent example: No, the Gores never lived at the Ritz-Carlton. But so what? The inaccurate statement heightened the mockery, so Carlson tossed it onto the pile. (Moments later, she called Gore “hyperbolic!”) Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson misstated the (perfectly accurate) comments Gore had made about his youthful farm chores (to a reporter, not on the trail)—and he cited the wholly irrelevant fact that Gore had attended St. Albans. And of course, Al Gore said he invented the Internet! The loathsome Woodruff introduced the claim when her laughing guests failed to do so. But then, this mocking claim was already iconic among the capital’s insider “journalists.” On March 18, four “all-star” pundits ridiculed Gore on Fox News Channel’s Special Report. At one point, NPR’s Mara Liasson harmonized nicely with the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes:
LIASSON (3/18/99): Al Gore’s problem looks like it’s turning into hyperbole because of course he had a role in pushing the Internet. He was one of the people in Congress who at a very early stage understood—

BARNES: Mara, he said he invented the darn thing!

LIASSON: But he said he invented it, which is not true. And the problem is that it was the same thing where he said he was the model for Love Story.
Plainly, Liasson knew about Gore’s congressional role in creating the Internet—but she bowed to Barnes’ wisdom anyway. He said he invented the Internet, Barnes said“which is not true,” she agreed.

This is just a small taste of the ridicule dumped on Gore’s head—in March 1999, the instant he started his run for the White House. And this level of ridicule never abated during his twenty-month run for the White House. But Chait was a well-trained boy back then—and he displays the same virtues today. It is beyond absurd to pretend that late 2001 was “the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore.” Indeed, within the cohort that will one day make Chait rich and famous, it has been highly fashionable to ridicule Gore over the course of the past eight-plus years! (Did anyone read the Washington Post when Gore’s book came out this year?) Indeed, Gore was barely discussed in late 2001, as compared to the gruesome trashing which occurred all through 1999 and 2000. This gruesome conduct sent Bush to the White House—and Chait kept his trap tightly shut as it did. But then, so did the other good, fine boys at the good and fine New Republic. Democratic voters didn’t understand the press corps’ conduct—because the Jonathan Chaits knew they mustn’t tattle. You could see the press corps’ contempt for Gore by May 1999, Josh Marshall said—three years later.

Chait’s column in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times invents a new and bizarre reality—and it disappears embarrassing history as it does. Chait disappears his own cohort’s conduct, and even pretends that the ridicule of Gore reached its high point in 2001. But then, the most amazing thing about Chait’s piece is the fact that the Times would print such blather at all. Just drink in the sheer absurdity as Chait continues from above:
CHAIT (continuing directly): It's not an accident that the current celebrations of Gore come at a time when Bush's popularity has cratered. Once conservatives mocked Gore as the radical tribune of a tiny political fringe; now it is they who represent the fringe.
Note again: In the Brave New History the scribe constructs, it is only “conservatives” who ever mocked Gore. But what does Chait mean when he says, “It’s not an accident that the current celebrations of Gore come at a time when Bush's popularity has cratered?” We have no idea, and he never explains it. To state the obvious, “the current celebrations” of Gore are occurring because he just won the Nobel Peace Prize! But Chait’s weird piece is full of weird statements. Try to limn this one, for instance:
CHAIT: Some of us prefer a president like Gore no matter what. But many people don't have a strong preference, or don't think very hard about what Gore would have been like as president. Therefore, he lacks a positive identity; people think of him only as the anti-Bush.
In this passage, Chait explains what “people” think. According to Chait, “people”—we’ll guess that pretty much means everyone—“think of Gore only as the anti-Bush.” We have no idea what that means, why Chait says it, or why the Times would print such blather. But if pimps and fools are given their way, some such nonsense will likely prevail.

At any rate, Chait’s weird column defines a new history—a Brave New History which is simply delusional. In this new history, only conservatives have ever mocked Gore; the mainstream press corps has been disappeared. Indeed, we’re even supposed to believe that mocking Gore came into fashion post-9/11! But then, in this well-raised boy’s Brave New Tale, there are some epochs that can’t be discussed. The following passage illustrates something else you should look for in the press corps’ emerging pseudo-histories:
CHAIT: The defensiveness of Gore's critics comes because he is the ultimate rebuke to Bush. Gore, obviously, is the great historic counter-factual, the man who would have been president if Florida had a functioning ballot system. More than that, he is the anti-Bush. He is intellectual and introverted, while Bush is simplistic and backslapping.
Please note one more Brave New Rule: When we discuss Campaign 2000, we’re allowed to discuss what happened in Florida. But uh-oh! Everything which happened before that episode will have to be disappeared.

Understand the rules? You’re allowed to say the “right wing” savaged Gore. And you’re allowed to rail about what happened in Florida. But you’re not allowed to mention the press. 1999? It must now disappear.

But then, what happened in the twenty months before the fiasco in Florida? During that period, Chait’s future pay-masters ridiculed and lied about Gore, in an astonishing twenty-month war—and Chait and the rest of the well-trained lads sat around and allowed it to happen. So Chait is inventing new history today, covering up this undesirable conduct. (Wait till you see what he says in his book!) They’ve refused to discuss it for more than eight years; now, this column defines the latest way this cohort is obscuring the shape of your history. In this way, the public is kept from understanding the shape of its plutocratic “press corps.” But this Brave New Paradigm is starting to spread, even to bold, brilliant Krugman.

TOMORROW: Omigod! Even Kruggers!

UNBELIEVABLY STUPID: It’s unbelievably stupid to say that the months after 9/11 constitute “the moment when it was most fashionable to ridicule Gore.” As you may recall, September 11 happened late in 2001. And it had been exceptionally fashionable to ridicule Gore for several years before that.

Indeed, in June 1999, Gore gave the formal announcement speech for his White House campaign—and Post media reporter Howard Kurtz devoted a long report to an obvious question: Why was Gore receiving such “harsh coverage and punditry” in the mainstream press? As we have long and quite uselessly noted, Roger Simon and Jim Warren answered Kurtz’s question quite directly; they also explained why the press corps was badgering Gore about the troubling blow jobs Bill Clinton had received from their favorite wet dream, Miss Lewinsky. Here is Simon, explaining the ridicule dumped on Gore’s head while the lads at The New Republic kept their lips tightly shut:
KURTZ (6/25/99): Roger Simon, chief political writer for U.S. News & World Report, defended the focus on Lewinsky: "It's still the story that has shaped our time. We want to hear him [Gore] say what a terrible reprobate the president was, while defending his record. We're going to make him jump through the hoops. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.”
Good God! According to Simon, the mainstream press corps was “going to make Gore jump through the hoops” until he said what a terrible reprobate Bill Clinton was. Warren told Kurtz something similar. And like the rest of his high-toned cohort, Jonathan Chait read those startling words—and he kept his big trap shut.

This all occurred in the first half of 1999, when the War Against Gore started up, at an absolute fever pitch. Nothing in the post-9/11 period dimly resembled this level of mockery. That is, until Chait began thinking—inventing the latest way to keep the rubes from understanding the ways of their plutocrat press corps.