WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2002
READ EACH EXCITING INSTALLMENT: This week, we offer a four-part series, Why Good Guys Slept, discussing the failure of liberal pundits to write frankly about the coverage of Candidate Gore. Democrats need to understand this important part of the last election. Read each exciting installment:
Why Good Guys Slept, Part 1: Liberal pundits agreeTHE HOWLER was right. But almost nothing was said in real time.
WHY GOOD GUYS SLEPT (PART 2): On June 25, 1999, Howard Kurtz wrote a lengthy piece about the harsh coverage and punditry being directed at Candidate Gore. And, according to Josh Marshalls later assessment, the press corps disdain and contempt for Gore were clear by this time (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/17/02). Indeed, by the time Kurtz wrote, it was QUITE clear that Gore was receiving odd coverage. Four months later, the press corps would display its disdain and contempt in a truly remarkable way.
On October 27, 1999, Gore and Bradley staged their first debate in a small venue at Dartmouth College. The session was broadcast live on CNN. The 300 journalists in attendance watched on large-screen TVs, penned up in a separate pressroom.
And in that room, the Washington press corpsyour bulwark of democracydisplayed its astonishing lack of professionalism. What happened as Gore and Bradley debated? Howard Mortman, then of the Hotline, appeared on that publications cable show one week later. Mortman described the remarkable scene inside that Hanover hall.
How had the press corps acted during the debate? The media groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something, Mortman reported. What happened with Bradley? a panelist asked. Stone silence. Really, Mortman said. And Mortmana staffer in the original Bush White Housewas not alone in his report. Eric Pooley described a similar scene in the November 8 Time:
POOLEY: [Gores attempt to connect with the audience] was unmistakableand even touchingbut the 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were, to use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out by it. Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd.
Seven weeks after the Dartmouth debate, Salons Jake Tapper described the same conduct. Appearing on C-SPANs Washington Journal, he replied to a question about liberal bias:
TAPPER: Well, I can tell you that the only media bias I have detected in terms of a group media bias was, at the first debate between Bill Bradley and Al Gore, there was hissing for Gore in the media room up at Dartmouth College. The reporters were hissing Gore, and thats the only time Ive ever heard the press room boo or hiss any candidate of any party at any event.
To state the obvious, the press had engaged in stunning misconduct. Given the way Gore would be trashed by the press for the rest of the election, every Democrat should be deeply disturbed to read about this remarkable event. (For our real-time treatment of this matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/14/99, with links to earlier reports.)
Clearly, the Dartmouth debate showed the startling growth of the press corps disdain and contempt for Gore. It also showed the contempt the corps has simple standards of professional conduct. But something else was on display in the aftermath of this event. Also displayed was the press corps reflexive secrecy about its own attitudes and conduct.
Dozens of major, well-known reporters were present in that jeering crowd. And Pooley was the only such scribe who described the press corps remarkable conduct. (He, alas, showed no real sign of knowing that the conduct was inappropriate.) By any normal standard, the press corps behavior this evening was news. But hundreds of journalists knew the rules. They knew they shouldnt say a word about their own cohorts strange conduct.
For the record, the punditry about that first Dem debate was just as strange as the press corps behavior. Ludicrous criticisms were directed at Gore by a string of major pundits (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/7/02). Most of those pundits had sat in that room; they knew all about the press corps misconduct. But they also knew the corps Code of Silence. Your press corps does not discuss itself.
In the months surrounding that first Dem debate, Kurtz continued to ask reporters about the battering Gore was receiving (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/30/99). On October 16 and November 27, he asked panels of reporters on Reliable Sources to explain the harsh coverage and punditry. In each case, Kurtz encountered the know-nothing pose the press corps almost always adopts when asked to explain its own conduct. Major reporters stumbled and fumbled, completely puzzled by the Gore coverage. Silly explanations were offered; obvious explanations were never considered. Rememberthe press corps never tells you the truth about its own behavior and attitudes. Americans need to understand that fact when they see good guy pundits fake it on Goreand when they see their good guy pundits play dumb about questions of bias.
Why did so few good guy pundits discuss the battering Gore was receiving? If the press corps disdain and contempt were apparent by May 1999, why was that fact so rarely discussed? Democrats ought to be deeply disturbed by the booing that went on in that Hanover pressroom. But they also ought to be disturbed by the press corps refusal to discuss its own conduct. In particular, they still need to ask why good guy pundits kept silent on the trashing of Gore.
Tomorrow: Joe Scarborough (R-FL) told you the truth. Why didnt The New Republic?
DIMMESDALES SPEAK: By now, the deathwatch is on for Senator Lott. In our press corps version of a Chinese show trial, pundits recite the solons vile sins. Therefore, a basic point needs restating. Lott made a ludicrous statement last week, but the reporting on Lott-and-race in 1999 was thorough and clear. Your pundits showed little concern back then. Many pundits are faking it now.
Can anybody see a pattern here? In 1999, Lotts ties to the CCC were reportedand he said he hadnt known what the org was really about. The next year, Candidate Bush appeared at Bob Jones. When criticized, he said he hadnt known the schools views on Catholicism (and on his father). At the same time, Candidate McCain was paying $20,000 a month to the publisher of Southern Partisan magazine. When challenged, he said he hadnt known what sort of articles the magazine ran. Pundits showed almost no concern about this rather obvious pattern. Now, they shake their fists in the air. As always, your pundits are faking.
Take what you will from the discussion about Lott. Weve learned things that we didnt know. But your Washington press corps is deeply dysfunctional. Like Dimmesdales, theyre now deeply troubled by Lott. You should be troubled by them.
THE TWO AMERICAS: What a contrast! First, read these savvy letters to Salon about Gore. Then read the Kerry Lauerman piece to which the letters refer. For example, read this passage:
LAUERMAN: But critics, includingmaybe especiallythose on the left, could just as eagerly claim it was all more posturing, that Gore could play the heartless, bloodless pol as well as anybody. He was the guy, after all, who used his keynote speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention to melodramatically recount the tragic death of his sister Nancy to lung cancerand advance his tickets popular attack on the tobacco industry. He was the guy who, having won the popular vote, took 18 months to come out swinging against Bush. Certainly Gore was unfairly savaged sometimes, but that never made him a saint.
We love the highlighted passage. Gore took eighteen months to come out swinging? Everyone knows that Gore was about to come out swinging against Bush at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in October 01and then adjusted when 9/11 occurred. Gore was unfairly savaged sometimes, Lauerman writesjust after having done so himself. (The closing remark in this hopeless passage is addressed by a savvy letter.)
Readers, where do they find them? Where do they find people so silly and shallowso utterly lacking in serious purpose? Surely, Lauerman knows full well what would have happened had Gore come out swinging after Bush first took office. But wherever it is that these pundits grow, they grow in remarkable numbers. In Mondays New York Times, Katharine Seelye penned her usual pap, reflecting on Gores announcement:
SEELYE (12/16/02): In the two years since the Supreme Court ruling, Mr. Gore has been on a private search for a public persona. He immediately went into a hibernation that lasted until shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, when he pronounced George W. Bush my commander in chief. He grew a beard. He later began chastising Mr. Bush for his policy pronouncements and admitted to gaining so much weight that his wedding band no longer fit.
Gore grew a beard. And Gore gained weight! What can it mean that we live in a world such insultingly mindless pap controls our debased public discourse?
As usual, Seelye plays shrink. Why did Gore grow a beard? Seelye know: Gore was on a private search for a public persona, whatever the heck that means. (He says he went on vacation!) Indeed, our major pundits have grown so lazy they wont even think up their own silly phrases. The next day, the editors of the Washington Post walked off with Kits dim psychobabble:
THE WASHINGTON POST (12/17/02): For much of his distinguished career, over a period in which we in the media have demanded more and more access to candidates inner lives, the nation has watched Mr. Gore in a private search for his public persona, or maybe a public search for a private persona; by now its hard to tell which. Perhaps he, as well as the nation, will find some relief as that quest for self-knowledge moves out of the public realm.
The Post editorial started with this: Once again Al Gore seems to have drawn out the armchair psychiatrist in many of us. The writer pretends to lament this armchair psychiatrythen engages in nothing else. The American interest is insulted, each day, by this endlessly fatuous punditry.
When we read Lauermans pieceand then read those letterswe were struck by The Two Americas. There are the serious people of the left, right and center who try to create something decent each day. Then there is The Other Americaour lazy, purposeless pundit class which spends its days retyping scripts and spends its nights trolling at insider parties, telling itself how just brilliant it is. As long as this cohort controls our discourse, our democracy will remain deeply troubled.
This week, the disdain and contempt of this half-witted crew finally drove Gore into private life. Its four-year war was finally won (its long war of Clinton payback). The Two Americas? We live in a world where the E. D. Hills can invent ugly tales about the Goresand the Howard Kurtzes will know to keep quiet. (Kurtz was still trying in 1999.) What have we done to deserve a world in which such a defiantly unintelligent class can wield such incredible power?