FRIDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2002
SELECTIVELY FINDING THEIR VOICE: Mr. Bush retains a public image as a plain-spoken man, Paul Krugman writes in this mornings column, when in fact he is as slippery and evasive as any politician in memory. Krugman echoes our Thursday column when he makes this incomparable statement:
KRUGMAN: The recent spate of articles about administration dishonesty mainly reflects the campaign to sell war with Iraq. But the habit itself goes all the way back to the 2000 campaign, and is manifest on a wide range of issues.
Krugman is much too modest to say so, but the most striking example from Campaign 2000 involved his own three columns in the early fall; in them, he detailed Candidate Bushs repeated misrepresentation of his own, seminal budget plan. What happened after Krugmans columns? When Bush made the same gross misstatement of his own budget plan at the start of Bush-Gore Debate I, the press corps pretended that they just hadnt noticed. It was just too hard for the scribes to decipher. Ted Koppel appeared on Larry King Live the next night, saying that it made his brain hurt when he tried to determine who was telling the truth (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/24/00). In the Post, Richard Cohen echoed Ted, saying he hadnt been so confused since high school. Instead, pundits performed a familiar task; they simply scoured the Bush-Gore transcripts, looking for ways to call Gore a Big Liar. Readers, if you think you actually have a press corps, you dont fully grasp your own times.
Thats why we think that Krugman is a bit sanguine at the close of this mornings piece:
KRUGMAN: Right now the administration is playing the war card, inventing facts as necessary, and trying to use the remnants of Mr. Bushs post-Sept. 11 popularity to gain control of all three branches of government. But then what? There is, after all, no indication that Mr. Bush ever intends to move to the center.
Is the press corps beginning to find its voice as it challenges Bushs honesty? Frankly, were skeptics on that. More probably, something different is happening; in its war planning on Iraq, the Admin has finally begun to adopt a policy which many in the press corps oppose. For that reason, Bush is finding himself contradicted where previously he has gotten free rides. But there are few other areas where the celebrity press corps opinion leaders are likely to worry about Bush Admin plans. Is the press corps really finding its voice, or simply opposing a particular effort? We suspect that Bush will still be allowed to spin hard about matters of budget policy.
So the administrations inner circle must think that full control of the government can be used to lock in a permanent political advantage, even though the more the public learns about their policies, the less it likes them. The big question is whether the press, which is beginning to find its voice, will lose it again in the face of one-party government.
The corps made it clear in Election 2000they have no intention of doing their job when it comes to most policy matters. Their opinion leaders are multimillionaires. They have excellent health care; dont need Soc Sec; and they gain from Bushs tax cuts. Do they give a fig about policy matters? In the first Gore-Bradley debate, the candidates spoke at length about health careand the press spoke at length about Gores troubling clothes. Lets say it again: Your celebrity press corps has excellent health care, and to all appearances, they simply couldnt care less whether anyone else on earth does.
We suspect that Krugman, as usual, is being too kind. His closing comment makes sense if we have a real press corps. But recent history makes it clear: We do not.
FIFTY WAYS TO PLAY THE RACE CARD: Did racial profiling let the sniper killings continue? In todays column, Andrew Sullivanciting a single anonymous commentseems to assume that it did. Did Baltimore police free Muhammad and Malvo on the basis of race? If so, that would be very bad police work. But so far, the evidence is less than compelling.
But you dont have to look very far today to find very bad journalistic work. Indeed, just check out Sullivans Thursday posting, where he plays the sniper race card. Sully sends kudos to Michelle Malkin, who was among the first to raise questions about the assumption that the killer was white. Sully links to a Malkin piece, which appeared on October 11.
As with much of Malkins work, the piece is a study in agit-propand in rank dissembling. Heres one of her nugget assertions:
MALKIN: The media immediately embraced the Angry White Male theory by sensationalizing the cops questioning over the weekend of one Robert Gene Baker. Newspaper reports described him as heavily tattooed and linked to militia and white supremacist groups. The headlines screamed: Supremacist Sought in Sniping Spree and Neo Nazi Named as Sniper Murders Suspect. But in fact, Baker was never a suspect and had no weapons on him at the time he was taken into custody for an outstanding auto-theft warrant.
Shouting out her pleasing tale, Malkin says that the media sensationalized the racial aspects of Bakers apprehension. That furthers a story that right-wing hacks love. But theres a problem with her tale. Its not true.
The AWM theory remains a plausible one, of course. But it isnt the only one.
Heres the background information: Late on Friday, October 4, federal authorities in Charlotte issued a bulletin for Baker, hoping to question him in connection with the Washington shootings. According to the October 5 Raleigh News-Observer, which played it as a home town story, [t]he bulletin described Baker as a drug user affiliated with various militia and white supremacist groups. Also according to the News-Observer, [t]he ATF says it believes Baker is armed with a handgun and high-powered rifle and should be considered extremely dangerous. On Saturday, October 5, Baker was taken in custody and questioned. According to the October 7 Washington Post, police appeared to lose all interest in Baker after the Saturday interview session. He then disappeared from the news.
Obviously, Bakers apprehension was news. But did the media sensationalize its racial aspects in the manner described by Malkin? According to Nexis, only three American newspapers even mentioned the white supremacist matter, although it had appeared in the police bulletin. Those three papers? The News-Observer, the New York Daily News, and the Washington Times, one of Malkins home ports. In fact, Bakers apprehension got little play of any kind in American papers. The Washington Post and New York Times reported his apprehension and release, but the papers made no referencenone at allto the matters which Malkin says were sensationalized. The AP reported Bakers apprehension, but didnt link him to racial groups either.
Lets repeat: According to the Nexis archives, only three American papers even mentioned the matters Malkin flogs. And one of those papersthe Washington Timesonly mentioned the racial matter in passing, deep down in a long, detailed story which focused on other topics. To complete the record, Bakers name was mentioned on only one TV program. That was the October 5 Fox Wire. Host Rita Cosby didnt go into race.
Did the American media sensationalize this matter? Sorry. Malkin is up to familiar tricks, having a problem with the truth. And dont worry, Malkin is tricky. Where did she get her glorious quotesthe quotes which seem to prove her thesis? Mainly, she cherry-picked her thrilling quotes from a set of crackpot foreign papers. For example, who described Baker as heavily tattooed? The Scottish Daily Record! Of course!!
But dont worryMalkin and Sullivan will continue pushing their stupid racial agit-prop. Theyll push it when theres a basis for actual concernand theyll push it when there isnt. And why will these hack-pots keep pushing this tripe? Because they live in a land of pure propaganda. Theyre paid to keep the cattle runningand the cattle will be fed lies and swill.
We tend to agree with Sullivan that liberal values are endangered by the rise of some (external) Islamic groups. But its funny, isnt it? Within this country, no one targets Enlightenment values more than Sully and Malkin. They want to keep you all worked up, and theyre willing to spin you where its needed. Islamo-fascists? No, not them. Just good old-fashioned propaganda shillsthe kind of sophists who have stalked democracy since Day One, and who almost surely always will.