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FIFTY WAYS TO PLAY THE RACE CARD! How to spin the sniper story? Why not invent racial stories?


SELECTIVELY FINDING THEIR VOICE: “Mr. Bush retains a public image as a plain-spoken man,” Paul Krugman writes in this morning’s 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 Bush’s repeated misrepresentation of his own, seminal budget plan. What happened after Krugman’s 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 hadn’t 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 hadn’t 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 don’t fully grasp your own times.

That’s why we think that Krugman is a bit sanguine at the close of this morning’s piece:

KRUGMAN: Right now the administration is playing the war card, inventing facts as necessary, and trying to use the remnants of Mr. Bush’s 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.

So the administration’s 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.

Is the press corps “beginning to find its voice” as it challenges Bush’s honesty? Frankly, we’re 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.

The corps made it clear in Election 2000—they have no intention of doing their job when it comes to most policy matters. Their opinion leaders are multimillionaires. They have excellent health care; don’t need Soc Sec; and they gain from Bush’s tax cuts. Do they give a fig about policy matters? In the first Gore-Bradley debate, the candidates spoke at length about health care—and the press spoke at length about Gore’s troubling clothes. Let’s say it again: Your celebrity press corps has excellent health care, and to all appearances, they simply couldn’t 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 today’s column, Andrew Sullivan—citing a single anonymous comment—seems 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 don’t have to look very far today to find very bad journalistic work. Indeed, just check out Sullivan’s 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 Malkin’s work, the piece is a study in agit-prop—and in rank dissembling. Here’s 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.

The AWM theory remains a plausible one, of course. But it isn’t the only one.

Shouting out her pleasing tale, Malkin says that “the media” “sensationalized” the racial aspects of Baker’s apprehension. That furthers a story that right-wing hacks love. But there’s a problem with her tale. It’s not true.

Here’s 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, Baker’s 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 Malkin’s home ports. In fact, Baker’s 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 reference—none at all—to the matters which Malkin says were “sensationalized.” The AP reported Baker’s apprehension, but didn’t link him to racial groups either.

Let’s repeat: According to the Nexis archives, only three American papers even mentioned the matters Malkin flogs. And one of those papers—the Washington Times—only mentioned the racial matter in passing, deep down in a long, detailed story which focused on other topics. To complete the record, Baker’s name was mentioned on only one TV program. That was the October 5 Fox Wire. Host Rita Cosby didn’t go into race.

Did the American media “sensationalize” this matter? Sorry. Malkin is up to familiar tricks, having a problem with the truth. And don’t worry, Malkin is tricky. Where did she get her glorious quotes—the 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 don’t worry—Malkin and Sullivan will continue pushing their stupid racial agit-prop. They’ll push it when there’s a basis for actual concern—and they’ll push it when there isn’t. And why will these hack-pots keep pushing this tripe? Because they live in a land of pure propaganda. They’re paid to keep the cattle running—and 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 it’s funny, isn’t it? Within this country, no one targets Enlightenment values more than Sully and Malkin. They want to keep you all worked up, and they’re willing to spin you where it’s needed. “Islamo-fascists?” No, not them. Just good old-fashioned propaganda shills—the kind of sophists who have stalked democracy since Day One, and who almost surely always will.