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BOTH SIDES NOW! Before the boys can tell us what's true, they have to say things which are false: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2006

LIFE-FORMS UNFAMILIAR WITH FACT: We’ve said it for years. In the culture of the modern press, the very concept of the “fact” often seems to be AWOL. We thought of that yesterday when Chris Matthews asked two top guests to examine a new ad about Harold Ford. Matthews played the ad. Here is the full text:
NEW TV AD: Harold Ford Jr. He`s slick. He`s smooth. But his record? A little shaky.

Ford is Tennessee’s most liberal Congressman. He campaigns in a church, but took cash from Hollywood`s top X-rated porn moguls.

Ford talks values, but voted to recognize gay marriage, voted for taxpayer funded abortions 10 times, and wants to give the abortion pill to our school children.

Harold Ford: Smooth talk, Hollywood values.

The Republican National Committee is responsible for the contents of this ad.
The ad makes a long string claims. Chris asked A. B. Stoddard to comment. Here’s the exchange which ensued:
STODDARD (10/25/06): I thought that it replaces the one that is completely below the belt and really tacky.

MATTHEWS: That was below the belt. This one here is just dancing around.

STODDARD: This one is actually, sort of, the average ad these days. The attacks are on policy. I think the abortion pills for school children might have crossed the line. I think that you hear that and you wonder if it’s really true. But the rest of it is saying, “This is why he is too liberal.”
Stoddard wondered if the claim about abortion pills was true. But no one had actually fact-checked the ad—not Stoddard; not fellow panelist John Harrius; not even Matthews himself. Nor did anyone ever wonder if the claim about “t[aking] cash from Hollywood`s top X-rated porn moguls” was true—or if the claim about “voting to recognize gay marriage” was true. The trio blathered about What It All Meant, but no one examined the truth of the claims. Matthews had had all day to do so. Sadly, the great man hadn’t bothered. (On this morning’s Imus program, Ford said all these claims were untrue.)

Stoddard wondered if one claim was true—but that was about as far as it went. But then, in this morning’s New York Times, John Files does a special feature in which he reviews the previous ad about Ford. Click here, then read his pitiful work. Amazingly, Files makes almost no attempt to fact-check the claims in that now-famous ad! For example, what are the facts about those porn contributions? Files doesn’t quite manage to say.

As we’ve said so many times: It’s almost like the very concepts of “fact” and “accuracy” don’t exist in these life-forms’ strange culture. Last night, Matthew aired a nasty ad—and made no attempt to discern if its claims were true. He did go on and on, of course, about What The Whole Episode Really Meant.

A STAB AT THE FACTS: In yesterday’s paper, the Chattanooga Times editorialized about the first ad. Here is part of that piece:
CHATTANOOGA TIMES (10/25/06): The RNC's "Hollywood values" ad is almost as bad in its lies and innuendo. It says Mr. Ford "campaigns in a church, but took cash from Hollywood's top X-rated porn moguls," for example. The fact is, Mr. Ford did receive, but immediately returned, a $3,600 contribution from a disreputable donor, much as many congressmen—and many Republicans recently—have returned contributions from unsavory lobbyists. This ad also lies about Mr. Ford's votes on several sensitive issues. In fact, Mr. Ford has voted twice in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, not against it; he never voted to give the RU-486 pill to schoolchildren as the ad claims; and he voted only to allow military service women abroad the same reproductive rights as they have under the law inside the United States.
Out in the country, the occasional journalist still wonders if statements are accurate.

Special Report: Truth told slowly!


PART 3—BOTH SIDES NOW: Give them credit! Among major insider journalists, no one else has ever told so much of the truth about Campaign 2000. “No one who kept a close eye on the media coverage of the 2000 campaign would deny that the press corps assigned to Gore was more aggressive and more hostile,” John Harris and Mark Halperin write, tattling very accurately (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/25/06). Indeed, they even say that some insiders believe that George Bush reached the White House just because of three such hostile Gore reporters—Connolly, Seelye and Sobieraj. At one point, the scribes affirm the judgment of Eric Boehlert, who described the corps’ conduct in Rolling Stone: “Journalists just refused to drop unflattering Gore stories, no matter what the facts revealed.” Yep! As no one else from their cohort has done, Harris and Halperin describe the press corps’ gross misconduct—and suggest that this conduct sent Bush to the White House. “Not every election is a fair fight,” they write. “The media...helped Bush tell his good story about himself, and helped Republicans tell a bad story about Gore.”

Give them credit! In large parts of their chapter on Campaign 2000, Harris and Halperin tell the truth, seven years later, about the campaign which changed U.S. history. But uh-oh! These boys are members of the Gang of 500—and their cohort’s interests must be considered. Result? Mixed in with the startling truth is the screaming nonsense which typifies the work of their “Gang”—and which serves to obscure the facts of what happened. Example? According to Harris and Halperin, although their colleagues grossly misbehaved in their coverage of Gore, the misbehavior turns out to be all Al Gore’s fault! And then, of course, there’s all the Gore Lore these weak-minded boys just keep typing. These weak-willed boys just can’t be weaned from the scripts their vacuous cohort kept typing. “[N]early every one of these controversies [about Gore] was overplayed or mischaracterized,” the boys write. But so what? Even as they wring their hands about the way the press “mischaracterized” Gore, they themselves keep reciting the stories which the lie at the heart of the problem.

Harris and Halperin complain of the “Freak Show.” But they carry a Freak Show within.

Yep! The boys just love to pimp Gore Lore—even as they fret and complain about the way their colleagues pimped it! For example, they quickly check in at a treasured old hall—that famous and fancy hotel:
HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 122): Al Gore’s Tennessee featured rough campaign combat, with a rising Republican Party, powerful gun-rights and anti-abortion contingencies, and a deep-seated distrust of the well-bred, such as a Harvard fancy pants who grew up living in posh Washington hotels (as Gore did).
Ah yes, the fancy hotel—one of Jim Nicholson’s favorites! In fact, Nicholson, then the RNC chairman, preferred for journalists to type the lie that Al Gore was raised at the Ritz (the Ritz-Carlton). Of course, Harris and Halperin know that’s a lie, so bald a lie that they just can’t repeat it. But they bow to the Nicholson legacy anyway, quickly pimping the fancy (“posh”) hotel. And omigod! They even go the old story one better! They pluralize the troubling noun, placing young Gore in posh “hotels.” (As every journalist surely knows, pluralizing—turning one into many—is a favorite trick of those who would “overstate” facts.) But then, as Washington journalists used to note before they started their War Against Gore, the “posh hotel” in which Gore grew up wasn’t really all that posh or fancy. Here’s the way Guy Gugliotta described the old place when Gore was selected to run for vice president. The War Against Gore hadn’t started yet. So Gugliotta—writing in Harris’ Post—was still allowed to be truthful:
GUGLIOTTA (7/11/92): At times Gore boarded at St. Albans, but he usually lived with his parents in the Fairfax Hotel, a modest building with residential units that since has been refurbished and renamed the Ritz-Carlton.
Oops! The Fairfax Hotel—originally known as the “Fairfax Apartment Hotel”—was still “a modest building” back in 1992, before boys like Harris and Halperin began to take their script from Jim Nicholson. (It became the Ritz in 1982. By then, Gore was in his mid-thirties.) In 1998, when it changed hands again, the Post published a retrospective about the venerable old building. Here’s the way Sarah Ann Conroy described the old Fairfax—again, before the War Against Gore started:
CONROY (10/26/98): While some found the family hotel an attraction, others found it a distraction. [Louise] Gore said she once shared a ride from Union Station with a young man. When he heard she was going to the Fairfax, he complained about the noise, children playing baseball and strollers squeaking in the corridors and the playroom...
Really sounds “posh,” doesn’t it? For the record, that’s Louise Gore, a distant (Republican) cousin of Gore’s—and the former owner of the Fairfax.

“It also was a favorite with Foreign Service families,” Conroy wrote—because “[t]he hotel apartments were the only ones with kitchens that were within the State Department's usual stingy temporary-housing allowance.” Yep! That’s the way the Post was describing this “fancy hotel” before the War Against Gore began. And it wasn’t just the Post. Did Gore grow up in a fancy hotel? The trivia factor here is immense—as is the case with almost all “Gore Lore” narratives—but Marjorie Williams didn’t think so in her 1998 Vanity Fair profile. “Although the Fairfax Hotel later became the Ritz-Carlton,” she wrote, “it was not a posh place at the time Gore was growing up.” Bill Turque agreed in his later biography. “[T]he Fairfax was a bit more modest in Gore’s day,” he wrote. “[T]he bare linoleum floor and thick steel doors suggested transience and utility.” None of this was ever worth discussing, of course; it’s all part and parcel of the studied irrelevance which drives the “Freak Show” which Harris and Halperin decry in alternate paragraphs of their strange book. But as you can see, before the press launched its War Against Gore and began to suck at the script of Jim Nicholson, Washington writers felt free to describe the Fairfax as it actually was. But so what? Seven years later, Harris and Halperin check in at the fancy hotel—and they even agree to make it plural! Seven years later, the boys see Jim Nicholson—and they raise his stupid tale at least one.

But then, on every page of their chapter on Gore, the boys keep reciting the standard Gore Lore, even as they decry the way their troubling colleagues recited it. After checking out of the fancy hotel[s], they turn to another old chestnut:

HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 123): [At the start of Campaign 2000], Gore advisers knew there was also a negative story waiting to be told [about Gore]. He had never really explained his positions on some issues, such as his shift from being morally and politically opposed to abortion to supporting it as a legal right.
But when did Gore fail to “support abortion as a legal right?” Early in his House career, he opposed federal funding of abortions. But he always supported Roe v. Wade; he never supported any of the era’s proposed constitutional amendments, which would have overturned Roe. (By contrast, Dick Gephardt did support such an amendment as a young congressman. He favored overturning the “legal right” to abortion. Gore did not.) Here again, we see the boys doing the very thing they decry out of the other sides of their mouths; we see them “overstating” the facts so they can keep reciting Old Chestnuts. Why, a fellow could almost put it like this: “No matter what the facts reveal,” Harris and Halperin “just refuse to drop unflattering Gore stories.” And omigod! At one point, Harris even puts his name to this steaming pile of pure bull-roar:
HARRIS/HALPERIN (pages 130-131): In the eyes of Washington’s elite reporters and political operatives, Al Gore’s biggest political problems all derived from Bill Clinton. Gore had defended Clinton on the day of impeachment, then condemned his conduct when he entered the presidential race.
What a phony Al Gore was! Of course, this presentation is perfectly bogus, as anyone who read the Washington Post in 1998 and 1999 would know. In fact, Gore “condemned Clinton’s conduct” from September 1998 on, as Ceci Connolly stressed, again and again, in the pages of that paper. But so what? When Gore kicked off his campaign in June 1999, a new “mischaracterization” came forth on the land: Gore has flip-flopped about Clinton’s conduct! And omigod! Even though Connolly had endlessly reported Gore’s prior statements, she did her best to play this card too—and Harris co-authored one such report! Tomorrow, we’ll take you through this minor incident to show you how Harris “mischaracterized” Gore back then—just as he keeps doing now.

Of course, no recitation of standard Gore Lore is complete without the Grand-Daddy of Them All. In their chapter on Campaign 2000, the boys play this treasured card early and often:
HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 123): [Gore] had a penchant for tailoring his rhetoric to the occasion and for exaggerating his achievements.

HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 123): The vice president’s reputation for not telling the whole truth, particularly about his record, contributed mightily to his losing control of his public image. The campaigns of both his opponents [Bradley and Bush] made Gore’s propensity to shade the facts the centerpiece of their efforts to undermine him

HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 123): Gore regularly compounded the violation of one Trade Secret (Do not exaggerate or bend your own record) with the violation of two others ones...

HARRIS/HALPERIN (pages 127-128): Bush’s advisers took advantage of old Gore controversies and a steady stream of new careless remarks to keep him off balance for most of the campaign.
It’s a familiar old story—but is it true? Did Gore “have a penchant for exaggerating his achievements?” Did he have a “propensity to shade the facts, particularly about his record?” Did he “regularly exaggerate or bend his own record?” Did he issue “a steady stream of new careless remarks”—careless remarks which let Bush (read: Ceci Connolly) keep him off balance? Wouldn’t you know it? Although they make this claim early and often, the boys forget to provide an example! On page 129, they do offer a list of six things Gore said, and these seem to be the “new careless remarks” which Candidate Gore just wouldn’t stop making. Sadly, pathetically, here’s one example—one of the six they come up with:
HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 128): Gore’s joking claim that when he was a child, his mother had sung him a labor union tune as a lullaby; the song was not written until he was in his twenties.
Pathetic, isn’t it? The boys acknowledge that Gore was joking, but they list this as a “careless remark” all the same! One of only six they can think of! Others are equally strange, of course. Predictably but kookily, here’s the first one they offer:
HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 128): Gore’s alleged claim that he and Tipper Gore were the models for the main characters in Love Story.
Gore’s “alleged” claim? Did he make the claim or not? The boys know that he didn’t, of course; they also know that this absurd incident dates back to 1997, which means that it wasn’t a “new” remark, and they know that the two journalists who heard what Gore said have rejected the press corps’ treatment of it. (“I was sort of appalled to see the way it played in the media,” Karen Tumulty said. “I thought it was very unfair.”) But so what! Nine years later, these blithering idiots present this “alleged claim” as one of Gore’s “steady stream of new careless remarks”—one of only six they can think of. Buttressed by such overpowering evidence, they present a steady stream of comments about Gore’s “propensity to shade the facts!”

It’s hard to believe what boys will do to maintain their status inside a fraternity. In fairness, these particular boys have told much more of the actual truth than any of their frat-mates ever have done; along the way in this brain-jangling chapter, they do describe the gross misconduct of their cohort during Campaign 2000. But uh-oh! These well-heeled boys want to stay in the club, and so they have to tell the truth slowly—and in a weirdly jumbled, disordered manner. The press corps misbehaved grossly, they say—but it was somehow Al Gore’s fault! The press kept overstating the facts, they complain—but then, they endlessly do so themselves! It’s hard to grasp the moral sickness which lies at the heart of this fancy pants “press corps.” Tomorrow, we’ll take you to June 1999—and Freak Show, thy name will be Harris.

TOMORROW—PART 4: Freak Show, they name was John Harris.

MAYBE NOW YOU SEE WHAT WE MEANT: Maybe now, you see why we said it. Last week, we said that one remarkable early sentence typifies the work found all through this book (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/16/06). Again, we highlight that sentence:
HARRIS/HALPERIN (page 5): As it happened, folks at the Republican National Committee had been paying attention [to Kerry’s hair], too. Sometime earlier, a tasty nugget of news raced around RNC headquarters. Would you believe that Kerry gets his hair cut at the Washington salon of Cristophe? Yes, exactly, that Cristophe—the same guy who did Hillary Clinton’s hair. Cristophe was also the stylist who was trimming Bill Clinton that time in 1993 when Air Force One sat on the tarmac in Los Angeles while the whole world cooled its heels (never mind that reports about delayed air traffic turned out to be false).
Remember why that highlighted sentence was striking? In the second half of the sentence, the boys let us know what is actually true: No one was delayed by Clinton’s haircut. But in the first part of that very same sentence, they present a version of the incident which they know is false; they say “the whole world cooled it s heels” while Clinton got his trim. But that pattern obtains all through this book. Before these boys can tell you what’s true, they feel obliged to tell you what’s false. As we said: It’s sad to see what boys will do to keep themselves inside a club.