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Daily Howler: Greenfield complains about broken rules--now. He didn't complain when it mattered
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RULE BY THE MAYANS! Greenfield complains about broken rules—now. He didn’t complain when it mattered: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2006

THE LOVE BOAT NEXT TIME: In today’s Post, David Broder describes the press corps’ search for 2008 front-runners. When he cites a sainted solon, he employs a remarkable term:
BRODER (12/14/06): So that leaves reporters searching for each season's Mr. or Ms. Excitement—the glamorous, idiosyncratic figure with that elusive "something" ordinary politicians lack. On the Republican side this year, you have John McCain, former prisoner of war and hero of the "Straight Talk Express," and Rudy Giuliani, Mr. 9/11 and "America's Mayor." For the Democrats, it's been Hillary for so long that no one even uses her other names, and now Barack Obama, the charismatic young black man who has shown he can draw huge crowds everywhere.
We’ll note the way Broder crafts pleasing nicknames for the Reps, without quite doing so for the Dems. (“Mr. 9/11?” Good God!) But note the phrase that’s used for McCain: “hero of the Straight Talk Express!” In this phrasing, Broder journeys back six years to recite McCain’s favorite slogan for him. And he elevates McCain to a striking new status—he’s now the “hero” of that much-loved Express.

For the record, it isn’t hard to see why reporters luvved McCain’s bus rides so much. As they themselves endlessly noted, he gave them lots of free, gooey doughnuts; told them about his stripper ex-girl friends; shared thoughts about “what tree would you be;” and even told scribes they were smart. In such ways, he became their “hero”—the remarkable term Broder tosses out in this morning’s column.

And this presents the conceptual problem for liberals as we look to 2008. Our guy got swift-boated in Campaign 04—but as we’ve said, it may be the “Love Boat” this time. When candidates are casually described as “heros,” it does effect how they’re seen by the public. If we Dems and libs want to see McCain covered in a more professional manner, we’re going to have to fight for it—hard. Which brings us to Ben Adler’s informative post at Tapped, which appeared on Monday.

Adler notes McCain’s hiring of “campaign hatchet man” Terry Nelson, who authored “the racist tv ‘bimbo’ ad attacking Harold Ford.” And he links to Ari Berman’s recent post for The Nation, which noted that Nelson is also an “unindicted co-conspirator in Tom DeLay’s scheme to raise illegal corporate cash for Texas state legislature candidates, and the supervisor of the staffer who purposely jammed Democratic Party phones in New Hampshire in 2002” (Adler’s language). As of this morning, this hiring hasn’t killed McCain’s “hero” status for The Dean of all Washington pundits; the press corps’ Love Boat is still sailing smoothly. That’s where liberals and Dems must come in—if we care about the way Campaign 08 will be covered. (For the record, it isn’t clear that we do.)

For ourselves, we were struck by something Adler and Berman didn’t mention in their posts—McCain’s hiring of South Carolina race man Richard Quinn in Campaign 2000. McCain paid Quinn $20K per month to run his campaign in South Carolina—and the press corps all agreed to pretend that Quinn didn’t exist. Earlier, every pundit had marveled and gasped at the news that Crazy Old Gore was paying Naomi Wolf $15K per month. When it turned out that McCain was paying substantially more to a much less mainstream figure, all good pundits knew to ignore it. And now, six years later, in posting our briefs, we liberals disappear this fact too.

In The Nation, Berman said that McCain was “dipping into [the] same race-tinged well” that was used against him in Campaign 2000. But neither Berman nor Adler recalled the fact that McCain splashed in that well during Campaign 2000. It’s hard for us to form winning arguments when we act like our political history started in the fall of 2002. If we’re going to lobby against the Love Boat, we have to have the full body of work to lay out on the table.

In Campaign 2000, the press corps invented two pleasing characters—Vile Al Gore and his opposite, Saint McCain. Their endless pimping of the first decided the outcome of Campaign 2000. There’s every sign that the press corps plans to pimp that second confection in Campaign 08. How ironic! If we don’t learn to argue our brief, the scripts they wrote during Campaign 2000 may end up deciding two races.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For an overview of Richard Quinn, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/10/03. (This includes a long quote from the New Republic’s profile of Quinn, which is no longer available.) For our first report on the press corps’ avoidance of the Quinn matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/00. For a slightly later update, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/15/00.

Sorry, readers. Our political history didn’t start in 2002. The Broders seem eager to pimp their great “hero” as they script Campaign 08. If we don’t plan to go down with the Love Boat, we need to marshal all our facts. We need to tell complete stories.

GREENFIELD’S LAMENT: Jeff Greenfield got it semi-right in the wake of his ill-advised essay on wardrobe (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/12/06). As Josh Marshall reported yesterday, Greenfield says that his CNN feature was just a joke—but he said the resulting complaints were his fault. Well—he sort of said the complaints were his fault. Here’s what he says he thinks happened:
GREENFIELD: Most of what happened here, I think, is a demonstration of the hair-trigger instincts that have grown up among some of the bloggers (not to mention the need to fill all that space every day, or hour, or 15 minutes).

In a political world where partisans routinely assume the worst about their adversaries—and where conspiracy theories stretch from Bill Clinton as a drug ring- and murder-enabler to Bush as planner of 9/11—there's a tendency to find malice aforethought.

And explosions of outrage take a lot less a time than falling into the habits of the Mainstream Media—like, say, calling or e-mailing a reporter to ask, “What were you thinking?”
Ah yes, those hair-trigger bloggers, who sadly fail to emulate the “habits of the Mainstream Media.” Greenfield has it semi-right—but truth to tell, he still doesn’t get it. Or if he gets it, he doesn’t let on.

Should Dem-leaners have “hair-trigger instincts” about the work of the mainstream press? Yes, they should—and in the second paragraph we’ve quoted above, Greenfield ostentatiously fails to see why. Is it true? Do we live in “a political world...where conspiracy theories stretch from Bill Clinton as a drug ring- and murder-enabler to Bush as planner of 9/11?” Yes, we live in such a political world. But we also live in a journalistic world—a journalistic world which kept inviting major players to recite those murder theories about Clinton, even while he was president. In the summer of 1999, for example, two cable “news” programs gave major time to Gennifer Flowers, letting her accuse both Clintons of a long string of murders—and we’ve never found a single pundit who said one word about it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/03). In particular, Jeff Greenfield didn’t say boo about it—and today, he doesn’t seem to know that Bush and Clinton were treated quite differently when it came to those “conspiracy theories.” Nor does he seem to understand the recent history of wardrobe critique.

A bit of history: In 2004, John Kerry didn’t take heat for his troubling wardrobe; he took heat from the press for his troubling wind-surfing. But in the fall of 1999, Greenfield’s cohort had basically lost its mind in the wake of Bill-and-Monica’s blow jobs, and they began a long period of crackpot attacks on Al Gore’s troubling wardrobe. Their incoherent claims about “earth tones” have now passed into political lore, but Greenfield’s colleagues went after Gore on every conceivable sartorial basis—and they did so in a long, sustained manner. Brian Williams is now the anchor of NBC Nightly News; in the fall of 1999, he was so troubled by Gore’s polo shirts that he discussed the matter six times in ten nights on his ludicrous hour-long cable show, The News with Brian Williams (perhaps thereby making Jack Welch’s heart glad). Newsweek’s Howard Fineman was snug by his side, offering crackpot theories about Gore’s shirts—and psychiatric speculation about why Gore would wear such clothing. As we mentioned in Tuesday’s post, Gore was repetitiously savaged (often psychiatrically) for his earth-toned clothes; for his cowboy boots; for his polo shirts; and for his brown and three-button suits. His wardrobe was “alien to virtually every American,” one crackpot wrote in the Washington Post. This went on (and on; and on), and Greenfield never said one word about it. Nor did Greenfield say a word when his crackpot colleagues endlessly said that Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones; that this showed that Gore doesn’t know who he is; and that it also showed that Gore hired a woman to teach him how to be a man. For the record, we’ve worked on these topics for the past seven years and we’ve never found any published evidence that Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones; as we’ve noted, the whole story was built on a single “speculation,” by Dick Morris, reported by—who else?—Ceci Connolly. But Greenfield’s colleagues instantly turned this “speculation” into fact; Wolf’s denials were almost never mentioned. Greenfield is snippy about journalistic practice today, when he doesn’t like the way he is treated; in 1999, he kept his mouth shut while his colleagues engaged in their endless clowning. If Dem-leaners have an ounce of sense (and no, it isn’t clear that we do), we’ll scream holy hell every time Greenfield or one of his addled colleagues starts to muse about candidates’ clothing. Greenfield still acts like he doesn’t know why. We’ll have to assume that he’s just slow—or that he’s been hanging with Tucker and Willie.

A few weeks ago, tristero was nice enough to say the following—and it’s profoundly relevant:
TRISTERO: Yes, indeed, Josh, Somerby has been right for years. The discourse is so bad it truly boggles the mind.
Tristero is right. Since some point in the Clinton-Gore years, the American discourse has been so amazingly bad that it truly does boggle the mind. For that reason, the discourse has been hard to describe—and it has often been hard for observers to grasp how cosmically awful it has been. But let’s say this, about a bit of our history: By the spring and fall of 1999, Jeff Greenfield’s journalistic cohort had essentially lost its mind. In the past few years, we’ve searched for metaphors to describe the work they did in that period, especially during the twenty months of Campaign 2000, the period on which we’ve done the bulk of our work. But the metaphor of the group nervous breakdown is a fairly good place to start. Nothing they’re doing at the present time is nearly as crazy as what they did then. But their conduct back then was virally crazy, and it plainly sent George Bush to the White House. That said, we liberals and Dems would be out of our minds to sit back while it started again.

It’s very hard to explain the insanity of the Campaign 2000 wardrobe criticism. The human mind simply isn’t built to comprehend such lunatic conduct—conduct whose consequences are now clear. But Greenfield surely knows what happened, and he surely knows why he was yelled at this week. It was a very good thing when Josh Marshall yelled—we wish he’d offered the fuller context—and there was no reason to ask poor Jeff what he meant by his dumb comments. Democrats and liberals would be out of their minds to let this sort of thing start again.

One final note to Greenfield, who is plainly one of our brighter pundits: You sat back—you rarely said boo—while your colleagues staged their lunatic war against Gore. In that way, you took part in the crackpot process which sent George Bush to the White House—and the U. S. Army to Iraq. As such, it’s a little bit late for you to start crying about high-minded journalistic practice. Start by describing what your colleagues did. Then, start to criticize us.

RULE BY THE MAYANS: A person has to search far and wide for metaphors which can capture the clownish work of this “press corps.” Try this: In last year’s 1491, Charles C. Mann describes the scene as two Mayan armies clashed, about 1300 years back. For the record, Mann’s book is a history, not a novel:
MANN (page 309): Eventually an army under Nuun Ujol Chaak met the forces of Kaan on April 30, 679...In an unusual excursion into the high-flown, the inscriptions on the stairway apostrophized the gore: “the blood was pooled and the skulls of the Mutal people were piled into mountains.” B’alaj Chan K’awiil was carried into battle in the guise of the god Ik’ Sip, a deity with a black-painted face. In this way he acquired its supernatural power. The technique worked, according to the stairway: “B’alaj Chan K’awiil brought down the spears and shields of Nuun Ujol Chaak.” Having killed his brother, the vindicated B’alaj Chan K’awiil took the throne of Mutal.
Some of that conduct sounds strange today. But it’s surely no stranger than what occurred in our own country during Campaign 2000. The “press corps” had lost its mind by that time—and it has barely sobered.

That Mayan conduct sounds strange today. But it’s no stranger than the work of the modern “press corps”—a cohort which 1) pens weirdly-reasoned paeans to Pinochet; 2) boasts that it hasn’t seen major documentaries; 3) writes weird columns in which it complain about who the president’s twin daughters may be dating; and 4) doesn’t blink when our major war counsels are composed solely of those-who-were-wrong-from-the-start. (It took Russ Feingold to mention this fact, and his observation was hugely ignored.) Mayan commanders, faces painted black, would simply roar at this group’s bizarre conduct. Our modern “press corps” is deeply strange. One has to range quite far afield for ways to describe their odd conduct.

Just who are these extremely strange people? For a bit more help, think Marie Antoinette. But readers, it isn’t an exaggeration—that bullshit about Gore’s polo shirts is why we’re currently in Iraq. You think the Mayans engaged in weird conduct? That B’alaj Chan K’awiil was odd?