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WHAT BACHMANN SAID! Monica Davey refused to describe the weird things Bachmann has said: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2009

When one thing didn’t change: Over the weekend, we got a chance to watch Francine Prose discuss her new book about Anne Frank (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/13/09). We got to watch Prose thanks to C-Span. To watch her presentation, click here.

This morning, in the New York Times, Prose reviews Gail Collins’ new book. The book sounds interesting—but then again, there’s the giant irony. This is Prose’s nugget description:

PROSE (10/21/09): Gail Collins’s “When Everything Changed” points out what the women on “Mad Men” know: that period in our history was less enjoyable for the ladies. Ms. Collins, who edited the editorial page of The New York Times (the first woman to have held that position) from 2001 to 2007 and who now writes an Op-Ed column for the paper, begins her informative survey with a panoramic look at how women lived in 1960—recent history, we might think, until we note how many practices then in fashion seem, by current standards, positively medieval.

Collins’ book surveys the changes in gender politics in the past fifty years. “The early pages of Ms. Collins’s book are peppered with accounts of incidents so outrageous they almost seem like jokes,” Prose writes.

Careful, Prose! the analysts cried. With Collins, you’re never quite sure!

This sounds like an interesting book, about a deeply important subject. But then, of course, there’s the giant irony, concerning Collins and Dowd.

Has “everything changed” since the 1960s? The one thing that plainly hasn’t changed is the simpering, “women’s page” feel on the New York Times op-ed page. The Times employs two woman columnists—Collins herself, and Maureen Dowd. We’re endlessly struck by how little has changed in the tone of their work. To see Dowd as she simpers today, just click here. (Sex! Booze! Gambling! The inevitable hookers!) Relentlessly, Collins and Dowd evoke the days of Mad Men, when men marched off to do the world’s work—and ladies simpered and purred.

Does Collins pepper her book with “accounts of incidents so outrageous they almost seem like jokes?” Warning to Prose: You might want to fact-check such incidents! Other readers may want to check out the grinding irony found on the Times op-ed page.

For ourselves, we got lucky in the summer of 1960. Entering eighth grade, we moved from a Boston suburb to a San Francisco counterpart—to a miraculous place where boys and girls interacted as friends, a place where a young teacher with superb good judgment sternly told a ninth-grade class that they mustn’t laugh at a ninth-grade girl who was being assailed in the usual ways. (She was “a very good person,” we were told. And she was “very smart.”) God bless the late Peter Drobac! We got lucky when we made that move—and when we read Prose’s wonderful book about a brilliant girl.

Hiding Seamus: In her new book, how often does Collins discuss the way Mitt Romney tied his pet dog, Seamus, to the roof of his station wagon? Extending an unwarranted break to her author, Prose refuses to say.

Special report: From the soft soap files!

PART 2—WHAT BACHMANN SAID: Why has there been such a big giant fuss about Michele Bachmann? After reading last Thursday’s New York Times, it was hard to say.

On that day, Monica Davey did a giant, front-page profile of Bachmann, the second-term Minnesota congresswoman (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/20/09). In the profile, it became fairly clear that there’s a big giant fuss about Bachmann. “Bachmann is under attack from the Democratic National Committee for spreading ‘reckless lies’ about the [proposed health care] overhaul,” Davey reported. And not only that! Democrats see Bachmann as “a wacky purveyor of outrageous claims,” Davey said a bit later. Bachmann is “the second-most-hated Republican woman in the country,” Davey quoted Sean Hannity saying. Many people “loathe” Bachmann, Davey said.

But why does this big fuss exist? After reading Davey’s two-part profile, it was still quite hard to say.

Sadly, Davey kept using a tub of soft soap when she described the things Bachmann has said—the statements and speeches which have been denounced as “outrageous” and “reckless.” For one example, consider a recent speech by Bachmann about the proposed health reform plan. Then consider the soft-soapy way Davey described this performance.

On September 30, Bachmann took to the floor of the House to discuss one alleged part of the House health reform bill (H.R. 3200). In great detail, and with great passion, she seemed to say that the proposed health plan would establish a wide network of “school sex clinics”—“sex clinics” which would apparently be run by Planned Parenthood. She seemed to say that these “school sex clinics” would perform abortions on 13-year-old girls—without telling her parents, of course. “This isn't the kind of country that we grew up in,” Bachmann thoughtfully said.

What follows is part of what Bachmann said on the floor of the House that evening—and on C-Span, of course. For a fuller transcript, and for the tape, just click here:

BACHMANN (9/30/09): But there's something that hasn't been talked about much, and it's the whole idea of school-based clinics in schools all across America. And that's in H.R. 3200.

Now, this would raise the hackles on the necks of school parents all across this country when they understand Section 2511 of H.R. 3200. The House government take-over of health care bill has a section called school-based health clinics. It would allow a non-profit health agency—just say “Planned Parenthood,” because that's what this is written for.

Again, we need to be serious. Planned Parenthood is an organization that is the largest abortion provider in the United States. And written into this bill is a provision whereby Planned Parenthood could become the proprietor for school-based clinics in every school across the United States.

These have been more accurately called “school sex clinics.

[...]

This isn't the kind of country that we grew up in, but today, where we have almost a patting on the back of telling young people, “It's your choice; do whatever you want to do.” Now the federal government is going the final step, and they're saying, “Let's put sex clinics in our schools.”

Can you believe this, Mr. Speaker? “Let's put sex clinics in our schools,” and “Let's put Planned Parenthood in charge of these sex clinics.” Because the bill requires, under this provision, Planned Parenthood would be authorized to serve as a sponsoring facility for the nation's schools.

As a matter of fact, the bulk of this health care bill is scheduled to go into effect in 2013. Remember, all the taxes will start this coming January, Mr. Speaker. Right away, at the time we can least afford it, the taxes will go into place, but the provisions of this bill actually go into effect in 2013.

Not the school-based sex clinics. They would go into effect next summer, so that these clinics would appear in public schools next fall, and it would require that the school-based sex clinics would provide on-site access during the school day when school is in session and have an established network of support and access to services with back-up health providers when the school is closed.

Can you imagine what this would cost, Mr. Speaker, if every school in the United States had a built-in health clinic? And this health clinic, parents won't have access to.

How do we know that? Parents are going to be excluded from Planned Parenthood as they run these clinics because the bill orders that these clinics protect patient privacy in student records.

What does that mean? It means that parents will never know what kind of counsel and treatment that their children are receiving. As a matter of fact, the bill goes on to say what's going to go on—comprehensive primary health services, physicals, treatment of minor acute medical conditions, referrals to follow-up for specialty care.

Is that abortion? Does that mean that someone's 13-year old daughter could walk into a sex clinic, have a pregnancy test done, be taken away to the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, have their abortion, be back, and go home on the school bus that night? Mom and dad are never the wiser. They don't know any different.

[...]

Mr. Speaker, I am almost without words to think that we have come to the time when the Democrats that control Washington, D.C.—and, make no mistake, they control every level of power in this city—now they want the taxpayers, if they haven't been beleaguered enough, to pay for sex clinics all across the United States... And now we're going to have the sex clinics in the schools and they're essentially going to take over the health care services of our kids?

Rebuttals of these claims have been numerous and voluminous—to the extent that big news orgs have bothered taking them seriously. For ourselves, we won’t go into the details. To read a brief rebuttal by The Hill, click here. For a longer effort by Minnesota-based MinnPost.com, just click this. Plainly, though, this is the kind of presentation which has been denounced as “outrageous” and “reckless” by Bachmann’s critics. But alas! In this passage from her profile, Monica Davey got out a big tub of soft soap in describing what Bachmann said:

DAVEY (10/15/09): In recent months, Ms. Bachmann has been particularly outspoken against Democrats' proposals on health care. She has questioned whether Congress has the constitutional authority to set such policy in the first place. She has suggested that one proposal's privacy rules for school-based clinics could open the way for young girls' getting referrals for abortions. And she has said that illegal immigrants will get access to taxpayer-subsidized health care, one among a list of comments by Ms. Bachmann that the Democratic National Committee has attacked as false.

That was it! Bachmann “has suggested that one proposal's privacy rules for school-based clinics could open the way for young girls' getting referrals for abortions,” Davey told New York Times readers. And yes, that was Davey’s full description of Bachmann’s remarkable speech.

Thanks to that soft soap from Davey, Times readers were left with no idea of what the big fuss is about.

But then, that was Davey’s approach all through her giant, two-part profile. Another example:

Last October, three weeks before the election, Bachmann appeared for a solo interview session on Hardball. In the next few weeks, this interview was widely discussed because of Bachmann’s unusual statements. During extensive questioning, Bachmann repeatedly said that Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have expressed views which are “very anti-American.” Eventually, Chris Matthews asked Bachmann if she puts other Big Democrats in the same category:

MATTHEWS (10/17/08): What about people like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the liberals you were mentioning a moment ago? Where would you put them? Would you consider them anti-American as well?

BACHMANN: I would consider them to have—

MATTHEWS: Are they anti-American?

BACHMANN: —far leftist views. I'm not going to say that they're anti-American or pro-American.

Bachmann was generous in that exchange. But the long interview ended with a call for journalistic inquiry:

MATTHEWS: How many people in the Congress of the United States do you think are anti-American? You've already suspected Barack Obama. Is he alone, or are there others? How many do you suspect of your colleagues as being anti-American?

BACHMANN: What I would say—what I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an expose like that.

MATTHEWS: Okay, thank you very much, U.S. congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

Bachmann is entitled to her views, of course. Different people will evaluate her statements and views in different ways. But did Times readers learn what the fuss is about when Davey scrubbed this Hardball session down, very late in her profile? This was Davey’s full description of that remarkable interview:

DAVEY: In serving the district, a spokeswoman for Ms. Bachmann said, the congresswoman is most proud of ''providing the best constituent service'' and pushing to obtain a veterans health clinic.

Still, in Ms. Bachmann's first bid for re-election in 2008, many speculated that she was in serious trouble. Shortly before the election, she said on ''Hardball'' on MSNBC that she was ''very concerned'' that Mr. Obama ''may have anti-American views.'' Her Democratic opponent, El Tinklenberg, lost by three percentage points.

That was Davey’s full account of this much-discussed session, in which Bachmann called for a journalistic inquiry into the anti-American views of her colleagues in the Congress. Whatever one thinks of Bachmann’s interview, were Times readers allowed to know what the big fuss is about?

But then, Davey’s use of soft soap made her whole profile slide down easy. Bowing to the absurd, the analysts threw up their hands and enjoyed a good laugh when Davey included this passage in the “fact check” feature which accompanied her profile:

DAVEY: And in April, Ms. Bachmann told an interviewer that she found it interesting that “it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter.” She added, ''And I'm not blaming this on President Obama; I just think it's an interesting coincidence.''

As it happens, the scare of the 1970s came in 1976, PolitiFact found. Gerald R. Ford, a Republican, was president.

Davey’s presentation can be defended as technically accurate. When PolitiFact fact-checked that statement by Bachmann, the site did restrict its focus to her narrow factual error; in fact, the flu scare of the 1970s occurred when Ford was president. But in that passage from her profile, Davey slides over the deeper lunacy driving this statement by Bachmann. What kind of crackpot parades about suggesting that flu outbreaks are somehow tied to the person who happens to be in the White House? Decades ago, Bob Dole was widely criticized for a glowering reference to “Democrat wars.” Bachmann had gone to a vastly crazier place—to a place where she was laying suggestions about Democrat flu outbreaks. While saying that she wasn’t trying to do such a thing, of course.

It was the craziness in Bachmann’s statement which made it stand out—which might make it seem “outrageous” and “reckless.” But so what? Rubbing her profile down with soft soap, Davey restricted herself to Bachmann’s narrow factual error.

Davey used several tubs of soft soap in her two-part profile of Bachmann. In the process, she raised a question:

It’s been said that Fox ain’t a real news org. Is the New York Times?

Tomorrow—part 3: Running scared, lacking values