Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

SPIN U! Four easy lessons on current spin culture. With notes on The Dean—and the Carlsons:


LESSON ONE—HOW TO SPIN TAX CUTS: We got an e-mail—“Broder deserves better”—critiquing our remarks on the great Pundit Dean (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/14/02). We think the writer asks some good questions. Here is the heart of his criticism:

E-MAIL: Reading the full text of Broder’s article gave me a quite different impression of his tone than your column, which brought me right out of my seat with disbelief. Surely I thought, THE HOWLER won’t resort to the same spin tactics it denounces to smear a journalist it doesn’t like. Broder appears to me to simply describe a shift in the Democratic Party, and I can find nothing in the article to suggest that he is unhappy about this. The only inconsistency with his prior work is that he does not applaud the Democratic shift, as you would think one who was advocating it for so long would make a point of doing.
The writer makes some good points in his mail, but we think he’s dead wrong in his view.

Is Broder “simply describing a shift in the Democratic Party?” Is he impartial about the shift? Sorry, we don’t think that gets it. We think Broder does something quite different here—he finds a way to recite the standard spin-points about Pelosi’s election. Sadly, this is what pundits race to do when power shifts inside the capital.

Largely, Broder recites the Standard RNC Account of Pelosi’s impending election. Here’s how the Approved Story goes: The Dems are electing a San Francisco liberal. With her kooky views, she will take the party way to the left. The party will be out of step with mainstream America. There’s one obvious problem with this Official Account, which has been recited all through our conservative media. Like everyone else who is typing this tale, Broder has no earthly idea how Pelosi will actually perform as House leader. But if he’d simply typed this Standard Approved Tale, at THE HOWLER, we would have moved on.

But the mighty Pundit Dean went farther. In a move that made no apparent sense, he drug in six Dem White House hopefuls; in each case, he noted, in some detail, that the candidate doesn’t support the Bush tax cuts. Since his piece concerns the way Dems are supposedly “tipping to the left,” one can only assume that these candidates’ views are supposed to be part of this trend. After noting that each of the hopefuls opposes the cuts, he says, “For all these reasons, odds are the Democratic nominee will be someone Nancy Pelosi will love.” Pelosi, of course, is that “San Francisco liberal” who is dragging the Dems to the left.

Of course, these six Dems’ views on the Bush cuts have nothing to do with any such drift. How could they? In the case of Gore, to cite one example, his view was announced back in 1999! And what makes Broder’s work so astounding? Just eight days before he wrote this piece, he was actively scolding national Dems because they wouldn’t challenge the cuts. But now King Bush rules all he surveys, and Broder rushes to bring him tribute. Needless to say, he swallows the view he advanced all fall—the view that these Dems are right on the merits. Weird, isn’t it? Last week, their views on the tax cut made them right. This week, their views make them lefties.

In sports, it’s known as a make-up call. Broder to White House: I hammered your tax cuts all through the fall. But now you’ve won a big election. So I’ll hammer six Dems who oppose them.

Broder’s remarks on the tax cuts make almost no sense. To the extent that they do, he’s flip-flopping madly. The Dean has brought His King six heads. Voices tell us it just can’t be true. But such courtiers do rule in Washington.

LESSON TWO—HOW TO SPIN NEEDLES: Spin? It’s all about mouthing key, preferred phrases. On Wednesday’s program, Sean Hannity had a phrase he liked. He knew he should just keep repeating it:

HANNITY: The Democratic Party is now on the verge of electing, as their leader, the San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi. I don’t think they could make a bigger mistake, not that they’re going to take little old Sean Hannity’s advice. Do you agree with that?
Sean kept saying “San Francisco liberal.” He used it throughout the show. (Also, of course, the phrase “needle exchange.” The idea, of course, is to link Pelosi to IV druggies as well as to gays.) Later in the evening’s program, Alan Colmes called his colleague on the carpet. “They want to demonize Nancy Pelosi using the code phrase ‘San Francisco liberal,’” he said. Robert Reich had a reassuring reply. “Well, that’s what they’re trying to do,” he said. “They are trying to do that, but we’re not going to let them.”

Reich had better get busy. After all, it wasn’t just Hannity who was using that “code phrase”—Broder just happened to type it up too. Indeed, Pelosi was “the near-perfect embodiment of a San Francisco liberal,” he said in his shape-shifting piece.

“San Francisco liberal” is an unlovely phrase. It has a long and slimy past. But Broder knew he should type it up fast. For another phrase, see Lesson Four.

LESSON THREE—HOW TO SPIN BOOING: In Sunday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Eric Black penned a lengthy review of Paul Wellstone’s death. Some conservatives have noted Black’s work, happily taking the latest chance to yell naughty names at Fritz Mondale (“a loser,” Andrew Sullivan said). In some ways, we’re surprised that cons would point to this piece, in part because of the following passage. Black describes the memorial event:

BLACK: Williams Arena is jammed with the famous, the unknown, the rich, the poor, the powerful and the humble. Former President Bill Clinton walks in to thunderous applause; he beams and waves to the crowd of more than 20,000, including those in the arena and those watching on video screens in an overflow area next door and standing outside.

Lillehaug hears a smattering of boos as Republican senators file in, which he considers rude, but no one is thinking that this will turn into an event remembered for its partisan tone. The early memorial speeches are beautiful and touching. The emotional high note is Wellstone aide Connie Lewis’ eulogy to Sheila Wellstone, which has the room blubbering.

Black becomes the latest scribe to report a “smattering of boos.” But as we’ve noted: With lightning speed, conservative spinners embellished wildly, deceiving the public about this matter. Peggy Noonan went on TV and said that all 20,000 were booing (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/11/02). Tucker Carlson went on TV and said that Republican speakers had been “shouted down” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/31/02). A spin campaign was off and running—driven by dissembling conservatives. Soon, timid, trembling Washington pundits were saying the service made Dems look negative. Not a word about the dissembling, misstatements and simple lying which drove this dumb spin campaign on.

Did Rick Kahn show poor judgment in his speech? He did, as we said at the time. But major conservatives showed poor morals—and PunditLand knew not to notice. Indeed, the spinning of the service is all too familiar; such spin campaigns ruled Campaign 2K. Your mainstream pundits are now quite accustomed to mouthing the spin-points these campaigns produce. Carlson, Noonan, Chris Caldwell, Limbaugh? They, of course, can do what they please. Conservative power now rules in DC, and timid, quaking “good guy” pundits know not to mention their conduct.

By the way, have you ever seen tape of the horrible booing? No you haven’t, and almost surely, that means one thing; the booing at this event was so slight that playing tape would have ruined the spin-point. Result? TV producers across the land knew not to show you what happened.

LESSON FOUR—HOW TO SPIN CLINTON: How deeply dysfunctional are your insider pundits? While Broder rolled his eyes at Dems who held a position he long had espoused, Margaret Carlson also ran to align with newly ascendant Bush Power. According to Carlson, last Tuesday’s election “dr[ove] a stake through the Clinton era…This is Bush Country now.” In a column, Carlson battered Bill, her contribution to the new mood in Washington.

For sheer stupidity and fatuous fawning, this column really does take the prize. Regarding Clinton’s role as a campaigner, Carlson says, “During the primaries, association with Clinton proved toxic.” Two loony examples, of several offered: “Where Clinton did go, candidates like Maryland’s Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Massachusetts’ Shannon O’Brien lost.” These losses now are Clinton’s doing? But no problem: Knowing how foolish her basic claim is, Carlson provided a helpful distraction. “Clinton wasn’t, of course, the primary reason the Democrats lost,” she quickly said, “but there’s no reason to think he would accept responsibility if he were.” Oh. Readers, when CW shifts in the nation’s capital, there is simply no comment so completely inane that courtiers won’t run to type it. (By the way: Is Clinton any part of the reason these two hopefuls lost? We don’t have the slightest idea. Neither, of course, does Carlson.)

But how well does Margaret type up preferred tales? Her take on the Wellstone event:

CARLSON: Clinton compounded his problems at the infamous memorial service for Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. There he was, his face blown up on the Jumbotron, cheering and swaying as if he were at Woodstock IV, showing no disapproval then or later over the booing of Republican Senator Trent Lott, who had come to pay his respects. If Jesse Ventura, the ex-wrestler, can credibly take offense and, with impunity, order flags flying at half-mast to be raised early, you know it was unsavory. Here’s how Congressman Tom Davis, chairman of the Republican Congressional Committee, summed it up: “Nothing gets Republican voters more hyped up than seeing President Clinton on the tube…it got our base ginned up.”
How does she know the event was unsavory? Because Jesse Ventura didn’t like it! And, of course, it’s Clinton’s fault that his face was blown up on the Jumbo. (So, of course, was Senator Lott’s. The senator also was smiling.) Meanwhile, Carlson quotes Chairman Davis explaining his party’s reaction to seeing Vile Bill on the screen. Bill gets his voters “ginned up,” Tom explains. Does this suggest that reaction to the service may have been partly “hype?” Not to Carlson. She gins them up more.

Readers, fawning courtiers will let you know whose spin-points are ruling your capital. Broder knew to type “San Francisco liberal.” See if you can spot the phrase which Carlson knew she ought to type:

CARLSON: A parallel shift in the culture suggests that Clinton-era values are no longer America’s. Though a baby boomer, Bush rejects the instant-gratification ethic embraced by Clinton, the nation’s first baby boomer President…

Clinton revered CEOs; they now appear regularly in televised perp walks. Clinton loved Hollywood; celebrities like Barbra Streisand had his ear and an invitation to the Lincoln Bedroom. Bush doesn’t have movie stars over; he’s in bed with Laura by 9:30. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the one politician to survive the association with Bill, although at a high personal price. If she decides to run for President, she may want to change her name yet again and become a Rodham once and for all.

Surely, readers, you rolled your eyes at the ludicrous CEO comment. Kenny Boy’s night in the Lincoln is gone. (Of course, earlier courtiers knew to pretend that the visit occurred under Clinton!) But what spin-point simply leaps from that passage? Of course! Carlson knew to type “Barbra Streisand!” In the past month, conservative spinners have mentioned Streisand as frequently and as dumbly as possible. Carlson, knowing what spin is preferred, also ran quickly to type it. (On Crossfire, Tucker Carlson has mentioned Streisand on October 17, October 19, October 21, October 30, October 31, November 6, November 7, November 11, and November 12. Reason for this dim-witted conduct? It “gins up” Republican voters.)

Our pundit corps’ courtier culture astounds. So too, their astounding stupidity. And make no mistake—American democracy ceases to function when its discourse is run by this vacuous tribe. It’s hard to grasp how deeply dysfunctional our insider pundit corps actually is. But as they pander, flip-flop and fawn, they deeply insult the American interest. Here’s the good news, boys and girls: They’re paid astonishing sums for their “work,” and their money is spending quite nicely.

EXTRA CREDIT: Hannity has used the phrase “needle exchange” on November 11, November 12, November 13 and November 14. A slimy man, he wants you to associate Pelosi with AIDS and with drugs. Don’t expect Margaret Carlson to notice.