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WHY GOOD GUYS SLEPT! Why did those “good guys” stay so silent? We start an incomparable series.


WHY GOOD GUYS SLEPT (PART 1): Ah, the dangers of e-mail! Yesterday’s TAPPED provides the text of an e-mail we sent to a reader (we didn’t send this e-mail to Tapped, although they sure make it sound like we did). We wish they hadn’t published the e-mail; it mentions the names of individual pundits, and we wouldn’t want to offer implications about the motives of specific individuals. But the e-mail deals with a set of issues which Democrats need to consider. The angry fellows who type for Tapped don’t bother replying to what the note said. But do Democrats need to understand how they lost the last White House election? Do Democrats need to understand what may await them in Campaign 04? If so, Democrats need to consider the issues raised in our purloined e-mail. We’re afraid that Dems do need to consider the question of Why Good Guys Slept.

In March 1999, the press corps began a twenty-month War Against Gore—a seamless extension of the long war the press corps had waged against Clinton. In real time, THE DAILY HOWLER described the corps’ remarkable conduct—just as Gene Lyons had described the press corps’ gimmicked-up Whitewater reporting all the way back in 1996, when he published Fools for Scandal. Lyons’ book was subtitled “How the media invented Whitewater,” and the media knew what to do with such a book. They refused to review it and ignored its author; even now, they pretend that it doesn’t exist. (Routinely, Times big-wigs go on “Washington Journal” and feign ignorance of the questions Lyons raised.) That’s right, kids. Careerist journalists know what to do with writers who challenge the insider press corps. The New York Times has never addressed the serious questions raised in Fools for Scandal. And guess what? Insider pundits would eat worms in hell before they’d try to make the Times address those questions. Lyons’ book went down the memory hole. So did the work at THE HOWLER as the War Against Gore lumbered on.

For the record, Tapped seems to agree with our work on the merits. Writing of our earlier work—that is to say, writing of the work we produced before we dared to poke fun at them—the tappers say, “There was a time when [THE DAILY HOWLER] provided a useful corrective to the media’s tendency to distort and recycle conservative propaganda about Democrats, particularly Al Gore.” Similarly, Josh Marshall seems to agree with our general view of the Gore coverage. On the August 10 Reliable Sources, Marshall discussed the topic with Howard Kurtz. Their exchange was simply remarkable:

MARSHALL: I think deep down most reporters just have contempt for Al Gore. I don’t even think it’s dislike. It’s more like a disdain and contempt.


MARSHALL: That’s a good question, and I’m not sure I have the answer for it entirely, or at least not one that you’d let me run on long enough to make clear here.

KURTZ: He’s never been successful in the courtship of the press.

MARSHALL: No, not at all, and this was, you know, a year-and-a-half before the election, I think you could say this. This wasn’t something that happened because he ran a bad campaign. If he did, it was something that predated it.

That is a truly remarkable statement. According to Marshall, from May 1999 on, you could see the press corps’ “disdain and contempt” for Gore, then a White House candidate. In fact, Josh misfired by a couple of months—that disdain and contempt were perfectly clear as soon as Gore began campaigning in March 1999. It was at that point that we began to track the press corps’ borking of Gore. (Some readers will reject this terminology.)

Quite correctly, Marshall said the press was showing contempt for Gore by 5/99. Also correctly, he said the corps’ “contempt” predated any “bad campaign” that Gore may or may not have run. Indeed, by June 1999, Howard Kurtz would write a lengthy piece at the Post about “the harsh coverage and punditry” being aimed at Gore. That was the very same punditry we had critiqued in THE HOWLER for three months at that time.

It seems fairly clear that something strange was going on with the coverage of Gore. But few pundits spoke up about it. As we have often noted, Kurtz was one of the only insider pundits who questioned the peculiar coverage aimed at Gore in 1999. In particular, your “good guy” pundits stood silently by as the trashing of Gore picked up steam. If Dems want to understand the current world of spin, they need to understand why that happened.

In recent weeks, three major Democrats—Clinton, Gore, Daschle—have offered tough critiques of the press. In fact, all three Dems were offering critiques which had long been expressed in these pages. But it’s funny—even as Big Dems finally speak on this problem, the fellows at Tapped now decide that THE HOWLER is nuts. If Democrats want to understand the problem their party now has with the press, they will want to continue reading this series. They’ll want to find out why Tapped is so troubled.

Tomorrow: When it comes to the press corps’ procedures and conduct, your pundits won’t tell you the truth.

BLACK KIDS COUNT: William Raspberry seems like a decent man—and he likes to write about children. In particular, he follows the fashion of an earlier age—he still thinks that black children count. In the 60s, that outlook was chic; soon, the public’s interest faded. This week and last, Raspberry again has written columns about the problems of black kids in school.

All praise to The Razz for still caring! But Raspberry should be very careful. Last week, he wrote about a man named Ronald Ross—a man who seems to work miracles:

RASPBERRY: Ross is worth listening to. Now a “distinguished fellow for urban education reform” at the New York office of the National Urban League, he is credited with turning around the school system of Mount Vernon, N.Y., in the few years of his recent superintendency. At Longfellow Elementary, for instance, only 12 percent of the fourth-graders passed the state achievement test the year he arrived. The following year, 94 percent did. The citywide pass rate rose in a single year from 33 percent to 50 percent—then to 75 percent and up.
Those numbers are meant to thrill the soul. In fact, they should be mildly disturbing. When a school goes from 12 percent to 94 in a year, that should wave a red flag marked “fraud.” What could a superintendent do to produce such change in a single year? Almost surely, nothing. If Ronald Ross is a competent supe, he surely must have looked into those numbers. And The Razz should have asked him about them.

But journalists never ask such questions; it’s a problem we’ve discussed here before (links below). Cheating scandals have been widespread for years; our standardized programs are profoundly compromised. But the press corps simply hates that story; reporters know to act surprised whenever a new cheating scandal erupts. Routinely, education reporters are shocked shocked shocked—just as they were when the last scandal happened, perhaps just a few years before. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/01.

The Razz still cares about urban schools. He still believes that black kids count. But our testing programs are riddled with fraud. Raspberry ought to explore it.

(For earlier work on this issue, enter “Cannell” or “Rand” or “TAAS” or “KIPP” into our mighty search engines. By the way, serious allegations of test fraud in the Texas schools arose during Campaign 2000. Showing their overpowering “liberal bias” once again, the pundit corps wholly ignored the story. They were also showing their trademark disinterest in serious issues that matter. How does today’s pundit corps handle urban ed? Except for Raspberry, they simply type pro and con spin-points about school choice, then repair to the lounge for a beverage.)

TRY TO BELIEVE THAT SHE SAID IT: Sorry—for technical reasons (Marc had to go to a funeral), we weren’t able to post the Saunders e-mail yesterday, as promised. We weren’t trying to drag the tale out, and we apologize for the confusion.

A bit of review is now necessary. Last week, Saunders falsely claimed, in the San Fran Chronicle, that Gore “ran TV spots on [Willie] Horton during the 1988 presidential election” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/13/02). It’s one of the RNC’s oldest Gore slanders. After we challenged Saunders’ misstatement, she sent us an e-mail explaining.

Saunders has long been one the most reliable misstaters of fact about Gore. And she certainly ought to know her stuff; she even wrote a book about Gore. Still, she somehow fumbled the Horton matter. And try to believe that the San Fran sage really sent us this silly explanation:

Mr. Somerby,

You are correct. My column is incorrect. I mistakenly deleted some words from my Thursday column. It should have read, as it once read: “Then-Sen. Al Gore used the incident against Dukakis in the 1988 presidential race. Later an independent campaign supportive of then-Vice President George Bush ran spots on Horton. Dukakis lost the presidential race.”

The Chronicle will run a correction and the web site will change accordingly.

Personally I don’t see the distinction in whether Gore mentioned Horton by name, but if my editor does, well, they’ll reflect it in the correction. I apologize for the error.


Try to believe that she said it! Saunders “doesn’t see the distinction in whether Gore mentioned Horton by name!” Let’s see: During the general campaign in 1988, “mentioning Horton” became the very symbol of American racial politics. For that reason, the RNC began trying, at least by 1990, to make people think that Gore had mentioned Horton (translation: had played the race card) before the Bush campaign did. He didn’t. But willing spinners have long pushed the claim, embellishing nicely as they went. It was part of the endless War Against Gore that almost surely decided Election 2000. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02.

By the way: Why were such slander campaigns so effective during the 2000 race? Because “good guy” pundits stood by and said nothing about an endless string of such bogus stories. Even last week, spinners like E. D. Hill were still inventing ugly tales about Gore’s mother! They were able to do so for an obvious reason. They knew there was no chance in hell that any pundit—or Washington Post “media reporter”—would ever say Boo about their conduct. Long ago, the mainstream press corps made it clear. It has no intention—none at all—of sorting out RNC spin.

Democrats need to understand the reasons for this situation. Will it affect the race in 04? Simply put, Dems would be totally out of their minds to suppose that this syndrome is over. The age of Clinton payback is over. Rush Limbaugh’s spin will live on.