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VILLAGE HISTORIAN! When we scanned Sally Bedell Smith’s new book, we saw where “history” comes from: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2007

PLAYING BALL: Where do they find them—on what distant planet? In today’s Post, Michael Shear keeps playing ball with Tim Russert. He talks about Giuliani’s World Series choice; he’ll root fort the Red Sox, Rudy has said. And then, the spirit seems to grab him. Playing ball, Shear offers this:
SHEAR (10/25/07): At least Giuliani made a choice. Sen. Hillary Clinton was asked during a recent debate what she would do if the Chicago Cubs played the New York Yankees in the World Series. Pressed by NBC's Tim Russert, she would only say that she "would have to alternate" her support, presumably from game to game.
How do you get grown men to do that? Oh, we forgot! Such stories start with vainglorious Russert. Then, the younger Raccoons agree to recite them, working their way up in the lodge. Three weeks later, Shear still takes this pointless moment of joking and pretends it was serious. That it mattered.

Pressed by Tim Russert! Good God, the sheer nonsense they’re willing to peddle! But then, just wander over to Media Matters to review the nonsense they’ve dealt with this week! It’s absolutely stunning to see how moronic the American discourse is. And of course, this has gone on for at least fifteen years, with barely a peep, or word of comment, from the high lords in the mainstream press. The American discourse has been made a sick joke. And only we web-cats can tell.

At Media Matters, they even have this, about one more aspect of Cubs versus Yankees. Background: In the Village, everyone has now agreed to stop pretending that Clinton was lying when she said that she was a youthful fan of the Yankees. This secret agreement was never announced, but everyone is now observing it. Everyone except one dumb-ass Post blogger and—omigod!—the Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet!

Someone needs to take Sweet aside. Sweet needs her group’s latest scripts.

STUCK ON STIGLITZ: What did Joseph Stiglitz mean when he reviewed Naomi Klein’s new book? We thought we caught him rolling his eyes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/23/07). One e-mailer thought different:
E-MAIL: I think you over-reacted to Stiglitz's review of Klein's (magnificent) new book. I didn't get the impression that Stiglitz was rolling his eyes. My take, therefore, leads to a considerably different conclusion than the one you drew—where Stiglitz ends up agreeing with Klein by the end of the review. My take was that he was with her all the way.

For the record, are you familiar with Joseph Stiglitz's background and his present mind-set as concerns neoliberalization? I really do consider him to be one of the good guys and my take is that he and Naomi Klein are very much in agreement.
Finally, have you read The Shock Doctrine? I think it's one of the most important pieces of "resistance" writing to come along in years and I'd love to get your take on it.
Was Stiglitz with her all the way? Frankly, we can’t tell; we think his opening is a bit odd if that’s really the case. (As we noted, from paragraph 3 on, he largely seems to agree with her thesis.) We’re only modestly familiar with Stiglitz’s views; for what it’s worth, he first appears in Klein’s book (page 163) as “one of the last holdouts against the new [and undesirable] orthodoxy.” But uh-oh! On page 224, he’s back, in Klein’s chapter on Russia; as chief economist at the World Bank, he’s now recommending the dark side. (“In other words, the shock doctrine.”) Incomparably, we decided we’d break the tie. But the third reference to Stiglitz in the index is wrong. He can’t be found on page 334.

Our reader knows more about these matters than we do. That’s part of the reason we’re annoyed at the lack of reviews for this book, which we’ve found deeply fascinating. But that gets us ahead of ourselves just a tad. As we continue the week’s book whirl, we’ll revisit The Shock Doctrine tomorrow.

Special report: Book whirl!


PART 3—VILLAGE HISTORIAN: Let’s start by assuming what’s probably true: Sally Bedell Smith is a very nice person. But she’s also an uber-insider, a very high-ranking Village Person. That explains how she ended up on Sunday’s Meet the Press, clucking and chatting about Hillary Clinton—more specifically, about Clinton’s marriage.

Smith began her career at Time and Life, then became a biographer of the usual suspects (Pamela Harriman; William Paley; Princess Diana; the Kennedys). Her books are described as well-written—and dishy. Her husband, Stephen G. Smith, is former head of U.S. News. When you get Smith, you probably get a nice person. But you definitely get versions of Village History—history her cohort loves.

Smith’s new book is about Bill and Hillary Clinton. And that explains why she was booked on Sunday’s Meet the Press. You see, the Head Raccoon had called the Ladies Auxiliary; on Sunday’s program, a gang of four would go to town discussing their favorite subjects. The clucking and nosing about were familiar. Soon, the uber-insider started to sniff about the Clintons’ “collaborative habits:”
SMITH: They have deeply collaborative habits that go all the way back to Arkansas. I mean, this is a couple who are, who are—they’re so political that when they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary they sat home. They didn’t go out for a romantic dinner. They sat home and they watched the presidential debate on, on television.
They’re so political that... It almost sounded like Ed McMahon was throwing lines to Johnny! But then, it also sounded like a group of biddies couldn’t keep their big fat mouths shut! Darlings, did you hear what they did on their anniversary? The Village has never tired of these topics. And it pretty much never will.

Somehow, we don’t think that Russert will invite four male Raccoons to chat about Rudy’s marital history. But at any rate, Smith is an uber-DC insider. She understands the norms of the Village. She knows the Village outlook.

This brings us ahead to her current book—and to the shaping of Plutocrat History.

How trustworthy are the views and findings of uber-insiders like Smith? We’re sure that Smith is a very nice person, but we couldn’t help starting when we read the excerpt from her book which appears in Vanity Fair. On the whole, it struck us as dull, but reasonably fair; basically, Smith was reworking the types of excitement the Villagers love to receive from the Clintons. But then, we hit the brief passage we look at below—and we thought we got a glimpse of how Village History gets written.

What follows isn’t a very big deal—except as a taste of how history works. For us, it’s been a big week for books. The disinformation in the passage below forms one small part of that “Whirl.”

In the following passage, Smith is talking, completely inaccurately, about Al Gore’s conduct in June 1999, when he gave the formal speech announcing his run for the White House. This is Village History at its best—and at its worst, of course:
SMITH: Gore officially announced his candidacy for president on June 16, 1999, at the Smith County Courthouse, in Carthage, Tennessee, his family seat. Bill and Hillary were in Europe on a nine-day trip with their daughter, Chelsea. For Gore, the announcement provided an opportunity to redefine himself and to create some distance from Bill's personal problems. Since the Lewinsky scandal had broken, Gore had expressed his dismay about Bill's conduct to a small circle of advisers but had kept quiet publicly.
Smith goes on to flesh this out. Here are the things Gore said Clinton when he gave this kick-off speech. According to Smith, Gore was saying these things in public for the first time, of course:
SMITH: At his announcement, Gore was surrounded by Tipper, his four children, and his mother. He repeatedly stressed the importance of family values and referred to the president only twice. Later that evening, Al and Tipper sat for an interview on ABC's 20/20 with Diane Sawyer. Asked about the Lewinsky affair, Gore said, "I thought it was awful. I thought it was inexcusable. But I made a commitment to serve this country as vice president." He added that "as a father" he felt the president's behavior "was terribly wrong, obviously." Seeking to differentiate his character from Bill's, he said, "It is our own lives we must master if we are to have the moral authority to guide our children." When Bill heard Gore's words, he erupted, "What the fuck is this about?" Moments later, in a call to Tennessee from his Paris hotel room, he praised Gore's announcement speech. "Nice job," said Bill.
According to Smith, Gore was saying these things publicly for the first time. (And of course, he was “redefining himself.” Smith is too nice to say “reinventing.”) This claim, alas, is just laughably wrong, But it’s clear where such “history” comes from.

The real history? Gore did say those things to Sawyer—but he had said them on endless occasions over the prior nine months. Was Gore criticizing Clinton for the first time in public? Many pundits said so that week, trashing Gore on that basis, but the claim was an invention—a bald-faced, absurd lie. In fact, Gore had routinely condemned Clinton’s conduct in the nine months before his announcement. He had routinely said the same things Smith records him telling Sawyer.

Inexcusable? Awful? Terribly wrong? Like Clinton himself, Gore had said these things endlessly. On September 19, 1998, Ceci Connolly had first reported Gore’s views in the Washington Post. “Acknowledging that President Clinton's behavior in the Monica S. Lewinsky controversy has been ‘indefensible,’ Vice President Gore said today he nevertheless feels sympathy for a suffering friend and does not want Clinton to resign,” she wrote. Four days later, she reported Gore’s views again. “In his public appearances, Gore is unwavering in his support of administration policies,” Connolly wrote, on September 23, 1998. “At the same time, Gore has said repeatedly that Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky was ‘indefensible.’” None of this was confusing or hard to follow, and major news orgs kept reporting Gore’s views—views which jibed with Clinton’s statements about his own misconduct. For example, on December 14, 1998, with the House impeachment vote drawing near, the Associated Press reported Gore’s latest statement. “Gore said Americans agree that Clinton's actions in the Monica Lewinsky affair were ‘terribly wrong,’” the AP reported. “But he says an ‘overwhelming’ majority don't want Clinton to be impeached and removed from office.”

Gore had “repeatedly” stated these views. But the lying about it would soon get its start, from a familiar agent. In February 1999, Connolly reported an odd complaint; RNC chairman Jim Nicholson had told reporters that Gore “has not shown the courage or character” to criticize Clinton, “even for his self-admitted behavior...He's the only politician in America who hasn't done that.” Nicholson’s charge was blatantly false; more simply put, the chairman was lying, as he would do all through this campaign. But so what? In the Post, Connolly again ran through Gore’s statements about the Lewinsky matter—but she didn’t raise any questions about Nicholson’s blatant misstatement. But for Gore, the questions about Lewinsky just kept right on coming. In March, he made his first campaign trip to New Hampshire; in response to a reporter’s question, he stated his views about Clinton again. “When he made a terrible personal mistake and it came out that he actually did, I condemned it, and I condemn it again today,” Gore said, as quoted by Connolly. “It was indefensible, terribly wrong. He apologized for it and the American people made a judgment that they wanted to move on, and I think that judgment still holds.”

How many times must the cannonball fly? None of this was confusing or hard to follow. According to Gore, Clinton’s conduct with Lewinsky had been “indefensible,” “terribly wrong”—but it didn’t warrant removal from office. According to a long string of polls, American voters had agreed with those judgments, even at the height of the scandal. But no matter how often Gore stated these views, journalists wanted to hear them again—and they often feigned confusion about his deeply perplexing position. Result? When Gore made his kick-off speech in June 1999, the press still rocked to one major rhythm—the seductive samba known as Lewinsky. What did Gore think about Clinton and Monica? Gore was asked on every network; Bob Schieffer asked about nothing else. When Gore was asked by Sawyer, he offered her the same tired old answers, the ones he had now recited for nine months or more.

But now, by June, the press had a new focus; they wanted to prove that Gore was a phony. Result? All over the press, it was said—or implied—that Gore had waited until this weekend to express his views about Clinton’s behavior. As we’ve seen, Gore had repeatedly stated these views. But so what? On June 18, the New York Post ran an editorial: AL GORE, LIAR. Here’s how their lying began:
NEW YORK POST EDITORIAL (6/18/99): Just seven short months ago, Vice President Albert Gore was all but nominating President Clinton for a place on Mount Rushmore. At the post-impeachment pep rally on the White House lawn last December, Gore declared that impeachment "does a great disservice to a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest (emphasis added) presidents."

Either Gore was lying then—or he’s lying now. Chatting with Diane Sawyer in an interview broadcast on “20/20” on Wednesday, the day he formally declared for president, Gore suddenly decided that he found Clinton's dalliance with an intern “inexcusable” and “terribly wrong.”
The editorial quoted Gore saying the very same things he had been saying for the past nine months. But the editors pretended that Gore had “suddenly decided” to say these things—and they called him a liar in the process. (They went on to keen and wail about invented the Internet, the farm chores and Love Story.) And no, it wasn’t just the New York Post which was pimping this ludicrous claim about Gore, without the slightest fear of correction. This new claim—Gore has suddenly decided to criticize Clinton—was being widely asserted this week, by pundits and reporters alike. And sure enough! Ceci Connolly found a way to play the game, in the dissembling news reports which Smith has plainly used as the source for this part of her book.

Here’s what Connolly wrote on June 16, the morning of Gore’s speech. In this passage, she’s working hard to mislead her readers without saying anything that can’t be defended as being “technically accurate.” Note how similar this passage is to the start of the New York Post editorial, which appeared two days later:
CONNOLLY (6/16/99): Gore begins his 2000 marathon carrying Clinton baggage. Whatever private misgivings he may have had about the president's personal conduct, he soldiered loyally in public. Most famously, on Dec. 19, the day Clinton was impeached, Gore appeared at a South Lawn pep rally to say the vote “does a great disservice to a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents.”

Now, however, Gore is blunt in his criticism of the president's affair: "I want you to understand that there shouldn't be any mystery," he told ABC's Diane Sawyer in an interview to air on "20/20" tonight. "I thought it was awful, I thought it was inexcusable. But I made a commitment to serve this country as vice president."
“Now, Gore is blunt,” Connolly wrote—and then, she quoted him saying the very same things she had quoted him saying for the prior nine months. The next day, she persisted in her dissembling. It seems fairly clear that Smith adapted the passage in her book from these baldly dishonest “news reports:”
CONNOLLY 6/17/99: Gore mentioned Clinton by name only twice in his speech—in reference to the economy and Kosovo.

In recent days, Gore has had harsh words about the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal and blunt talk about personal responsibility. In interviews with Tennessee reporters, Gore for the first time acknowledged he was “upset” by Clinton's illicit affair with the former White House intern. Referring to "that awful year we went through," he said, "I felt what the president did, especially as a parent, was inexcusable."

Today, in a remark some in the crowd interpreted as a reference to Clinton, Gore said, "I say to every parent in America: It is our own lives we must master if we are to have the moral authority to guide our children.”
Slick! Nothing in that is technically false. But it’s absurdly misleading—as was intended. (Gore had never said he was “upset” before. Thus, Connolly’s statement is technically accurate—and it’s grossly misleading.)

If you compare those reports to the passage from Smith’s book, you can see that Smith has basically reworked the things that Connolly said. But uh-oh! Connolly was busting her ass in these reports to deceive her readers about Gore. You know Ceci! She had reported Gore’s comments for the prior nine months; but now, she pretended that Gore hadn’t made them. You see, the plutocrat droogs in her crackpot Village wanted to say that Gore was reinventing himself, redefining—lying. So Ceci worked hard to play along. Eight years later, Smith came along—and a bit of Village History was born.

Who knows? Maybe Smith is so well-bred that she doesn’t understand the process involved here. Maybe she still doesn’t know that Ceci went out and made sh*t up about Gore for two years. At any rate, she gives us a taste, in this brief passage, of the way Village History works. First, they send the Connollys out. Eight years later, the Smiths come along—and the nonsense becomes official.

At any rate, that passage by Smith is just laughably wrong. “Gore had expressed his dismay about Bill's conduct to a small circle of advisers but had kept quiet publicly?” Gore had spoken publicly again and again—over and over, for the prior nine months! He had to; a Monica-holic Washington press corps couldn’t stop asking Gore to speak about their dearest darling. But in June, when Gore made his kick-off speech, the Villagers wanted to trash their man hard. Some simply lied, like the New York Post’s eds. Others, like Ceci, were slippery.

But so it went in one small part of what we’d call last weekend’s “Book Whirl.” The Head Raccoon drug Sally Smith out to cluck and chat about Clinton’s marriage. The Village never tires of this—or, for that matter, of any part of their history. Much of this history is fake, false, invented. It’s pure bull-roar—but it’s their bull-roar. Village People love it.

TOMORROW—PART 4: A book which deserves your review.

THE VILLAGE HAS RULES: Let’s say it again; we have no doubt that Sally Bedell Smith is a very nice person. But if she wants to construct some actual history, she has to stop cutting-and-pasting Ceci. And she might want to dump that Village outlook. What follows is the first Q-and-A from her interview with Vanity Fair. For those who puzzle about the war that blew up between the Village and the Clintons, we thought this Q-and-A captures the conflict that (we’re told) took hold:
QUESTION: When the Clintons came into office, in 1993, they seemed to think they could do whatever they wanted, in terms of the structure and staffing of the White House, or Hillary’s oversight of a task force to overhaul the health-care system, to name just two examples. Where do you think that hubris came from?

SMITH: Its origins were in Arkansas. That’s where they began to operate a kind of permanent campaign, in the way that they pursued policies and politics. That point of view carried over. It was so visible, particularly in the early days of the White House. They came to Washington and were just convinced that they could operate the way they’d always operated. And of course they couldn’t.
“They seemed to think they could so whatever they wanted.” “And of course they couldn’t.”

You can decide where the hubris is there. Imagine the thought—that a president thought he could do what he wanted in terms of staffing the White House!

None of this would matter, of course. If Ceci wouldn’t make things up. If Smith would check Ceci’s work later.

SEELYE TOO: In the New York Times, Katherine “Kit” Seelye was bull-sh*tting too. This is just plain flat-out lying. It also seems self-contradictory:
SEELYE (6/17/99): While Mr. Gore has said—and repeated tonight in a taped interview on the ABC News program "20/20"—that Mr. Clinton's behavior was inexcusable, he had not said publicly before that he was upset over the time that was squandered. During the impeachment scandal, Mr. Gore stood loyally behind the President and declined to criticize him.
Gore declined to criticize him! Ceci was slick—but “Kit” didn’t bother. Other days this week, she was more careful. This may be an “editing error.”