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EXTRA! One question only, for the Washington Post: When will Charles Krauthammer be fired?


EXTRA! We focus here on one topic only. Later today, and tomorrow, we’ll explore other issues. For now, though, only one question obtains: When will the Washington Post fire its dissembling columnist, Charles Krauthammer? And one other question obtains: What are the paper’s obligations to its misled readers?

THE POST’S LATEST LYING LIAR: Charles Krauthammer is deeply dishonest. In fact, the Washington Post should fire him, now. In a fire-breathing column in this morning’s Post, Krauthammer tells the world what a crackpot that Howard Dean is. To promote his point, Krauthammer presents a “transcript” from Monday’s night’s Hardball—a “transcript” he has artfully doctored. Here’s how the scribe presents one Q-and-A from Monday night’s Hardball program:

Chris Matthews: “Would you break up Fox?”
Howard Dean: “On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but….I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not….What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.”
Wow! “On ideological grounds,” Howard Dean wants to break up Fox! According to Krauthammer, this exchange shows that Dean “is now exhibiting symptoms of a related illness, Murdoch Derangement Syndrome (MDS), in which otherwise normal people believe that their minds are being controlled by a single, very clever Australian.”

Of course, Krauthammer was playing Post readers for fools. Because we’ve dealt with people like Krauthammer for years, our reaction to this “transcript” was virtually preordained; our eyes were drawn to those suspicious ellipses which broke up Krauthammer’s pleasing text. And so we did what we’ve done for years—we checked the official transcript. And yes, we found what we frequently do; Krauthammer was playing Post readers for fools. The key words in the transcript are [LAUGHTER], which Krauthammer deftly removed:


MATTHEWS: Rupert Murdoch has the Weekly Standard. It has got a lot of other interests. It has got the New York Post. Would you break it up?

DEAN: On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but—


MATTHEWS: No, seriously. As a public policy, would you bring industrial policy to bear and break up these conglomerations of power?

DEAN: I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not, because, obviously—

MATTHEWS: Well, how about large media enterprises?

DEAN: Let me—yes, let me get—


DEAN: The answer to that is yes. I would say that there is too much penetration by single corporations in media markets all over this country. We need locally-owned radio stations. There are only two or three radio stations left in the state of Vermont where you can get local news anymore. The rest of it is read and ripped from the AP.

MATTHEWS: So what are you going to do about it? You’re going to be president of the United States, what are you going to do?

DEAN: What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.

So you see what Krauthammer’s ellipses removed—and you see how men like Krauthammer subvert your democracy. As anyone watching this program would know, Dean was joking when he made his statement about wanting to break up Fox. But then, anyone who read the transcript would know that too—the transcript records audience laughter two times, and shows Matthews asking Dean to “be serious.” But men like Krauthammer hate your democracy; they want to reduce you to the status of rubes. So the creative man began cutting-and-pasting, making you think that Dean had been serious. The Washington Post should do the right thing. They should fire Charles Krauthammer—now.

Of course, there’s little chance that the Post will do so. The Post established its very low standards back in March 1999, when Michael Kelly dissembled so hard about Al Gore and those troubling farm chores. As we pointed out at the time, it was clear that the Kelly had deliberately misled Post readers. But the mighty Post kept their man on the job. Why should they do different now?

For the record, we had started today to focus elsewhere. Krauthammer, a former psychiatrist, loves to offer psychiatric judgments about disturbing Democratic hopefuls. He has endlessly aimed this behavior at Gore; this morning, in a somewhat joking tone, he indulges himself at the expense of Dean. We were going to start by noting that Dean was foolish to make a certain statement on the Diane Rehm program—the statement which begins Krauthammer’s column. But first, we looked up this second quote—and Krauthammer was misleading readers again. Can we trust his quote from Rehm’s program? Obviously, no—not without checking—and the Rehm program’s transcripts are hard to obtain. Can this be the standard the Post holds for readers? Yes, you can read the Washington Post—if you have independent ways to check the truth of its factual assertions?

There will be other days to discuss Howard Dean. This morning, the question must go to the Post. To Fred Hiatt: Are you willing to let this dissembling go on, right there on your op-ed pages? Krauthammer treats your readers like fools. When do you plan to release him?

NOTE TO FRED HIATT: The Delusional Dean! Fred, that’s the headline on today’s column, a column you put into print: So let’s see if we have this straight. To persuade your readers that Dean is “delusional,” Krauthammer deceived them about basic facts. Is this acceptable at the Post? How soon will your writer be fired?

KRAUTHAMMER’S FOREBEAR: For simplicity’s sake, here is the text of a letter we wrote about Kelly’s “Farmer Al” column. (Our text was lightly edited by the Post.) The letter ran in the Post on April 10, 1999:

Refresher From the Farm

Michael Kelly’s March 24 column “Farmer Al” [op-ed] is a little hard to critique because it makes no specific declarative assertions. But the column concerns Vice President Gore’s recent description of work he did on the Gore family farm. Gore’s remarks appeared in a March 16 Des Moines Register piece and have since been subject to considerable attack.

Although artfully posed, the attacks have plainly suggested the vice president was dishonest in his comments. The Weekly Standard said Gore’s description had been “preposterous.” The Republican National Committee’s chairman, Jim Nicholson, issued a statement saying Gore was “shoveling it.” Kelly pictured Gore growing up in a “vast” Washington apartment in a spiffy hotel on Embassy Row with various signs of privilege (and personal arrogance).

But the evidence suggests that Kelly’s insinuations are false—and Kelly should know it. In 1987 he wrote a detailed profile of Gore for the Baltimore Sun, at the time that Gore was running for president. In that column, Kelly describes the same life on the Tennessee farm that “Farmer Al” seems to say didn’t happen.

Like almost everyone who has profiled Gore in the past 12 years, Kelly stressed the fact that Gore had grown up in both Washington and Tennessee. “As the son of the famous Gore of Tennessee, Mr. Gore grew up in distinctly different worlds,” Kelly wrote. He went on to say:

“But every summer, and during some congressional races, the Gores would head down to the family farm, in Carthage.” And later, “Down on the farm, at the insistence of his father and over the objection of his mother, life was different. ‘In the summer, I would have to get up before dawn and help feed the livestock,’ her son says. ‘Then I would have to clean out the hog parlors. Then I would go back for breakfast. Then I would work on the farm all day and feed the stock again at night before dinner.’ By all accounts, Mr. Gore was from early youth unusually serious and hardworking.”

I don’t think someone should vote for Gore because of the chores he did. But I also don’t think that public figures should be dissembled about in major newspapers. The only message a reader could take from “Farmer Al” is that Gore was a child of Washington privilege and couldn’t have done all those chores on the farm. Kelly’s 1987 profile shows that he knows better.

I can think of nothing more objectionable than misleading readers to make them think that a public official has been dishonest.

Bob Somerby

Needless to say, Kelly was neither fired nor publicly reprimanded. But you know how your discourse now works! For the next three months, Gore was trashed as—what else—“delusional,” for making perfectly accurate statements. Plainly, Kelly knew that Gore’s statements were accurate. Unfortunately, many Post readers didn’t know this, because Michael Kelly baldly deceived them. Krauthammer does the same thing today. When will this pundit be fired?

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: We’ve never written the full story of the “farm chores” episode, in which Gore was attacked as “delusional”—and a liar—for months. For our fullest account, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/26/00. For real-time accounts of Kelly’s dissembling, enter “Kelly AND farm chores” in our whirring search engines. For the record, we conducted a three-day exchange on this topic with Kelly himself in the widely-read insider publication, The Hotline. Of course, you know how these people play it; Kelly had only been joking, he said.

Imagery from Kelly’s artful deception was used to trash Gore for many months. The Post, refusing to reprimand Kelly, established this as their great standard.