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Daily Howler: Aggressively using the passive voice, the Post starts to type its new novel
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RUMORS WERE SPREAD! Aggressively using the passive voice, the Post starts to type its new novel: // link // print // previous // next //

FROM THE ONGOING ANNALS OF RULE BY THE WRONG: On yesterday’s Meet the Press, Tim Russert spoke about Iraq with a two-man panel—David Brooks and Thomas Friedman. What made this panel so intriguing? Each man supported the war from the start! Thus continued the media custom known in these precincts as “rule by the wrong.” If you were right from the start about Iraq, you’re pretty much banned from network discussions. Only those who were wrong can still comment. It’s something like a basketball tourney where only the losers advance.

Tomorrow, we’ll review some coverage of Dennis Kucinich to show the way a pol gets treated if he gets the big things right. Meanwhile, Brooks and Friedman produced magic moments on yesterday’s show. Those moments should be remembered.

With Brooks, the magic moment was a bit of unintentional humor. Late in the session, Russert played tape of Laura Bush and Donald Rumsfeld; each had said, just this week, that there were lots of good things going on in Iraq. Laura Bush even said that the press just won’t tell us. This prompted the following statement:
BROOKS (12/17/06): Get off of it! I mean, we've got a hero in our newspaper, John Burns. Another hero, Dexter Filkins—there's a whole series of heroes over there. They're not biased about this. They want the best for the Iraqi people, they want democracy. Listen to what they're reporting—they're reporting chaos. You have—I don't know what it is, 1.6 million people leaving Iraq. You've got 9000 Iraqis every week who are moving to their Shia homeland, or to their Sunni homeland. This is a country—it's not civil war, it's just disintegration. So the idea that this is some media concoction, you—I said that a year ago, two years ago. But at some point, face reality!
“At some point, face reality,” Brooks suggested, creating a wonderful bit of found humor. But Friedman’s moment was vastly stupider—a deeply stupid, obnoxious moment that helped capture the strangeness of our time.
As always, Friedman used the session to offer a string of the “hey-look-at-me,” homey homilies that have become his tiring trademark. (“Basically, the government of Syria killed the prime minister next door, and wants to get off with a parking ticket!”) He shared the various “rules I had about the Middle East”—without explaining why, for all his rules, he’s been wrong in so many judgments. (“You know, Tim, if I can share with you another rule I had about the Middle East, it was that any general going to the Middle East—or reporter—should have to take a test, and it would consist of one question: Do you believe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line? If you answer yes to that question, you can't go to Iraq.”) He offered his trademark Kennedyesque constructions—perfectly fine from a 60s pol, endlessly tiresome coming from Friedman. (“We cannot go on having our first-choice boys and girls dying for Iraqis' second choice.”) And he sounded massively out of touch with political reality. “This is a freak show, OK?” he said, of Syria’s desire for that parking ticket. “There's no other part of the world that's behaving like this.” No other part of the world? “Freak show” is the term Harris and Halperin coined to describe the mess Friedman’s cohort has helped give us! American politics has been a “freak show,” they said. And Friedman has been part of that process.

But Freidman’s low moment came near the end, when his clowning led him to mock two Big Major Dems. Good God! There was Friedman the over-caffeinated, repressed nightclub comic, holding his nose to make his voice sound funny, mocking a major Democrat who was right on Iraq from the start! This was a stupid, low moment, even coming from insufferable Friedman:
FRIEDMAN: I want to pick up on David's point, because I think Obama is such a powerful candidate for—for a couple of reasons. David and I were talking about them earlier. One is that I believe Democrats voted in the last two elections like this, Tim: (holds nose—makes squeaky voice—pretends to pull lever) “Al Gore.” (Holds nose—makes squeaky voice—pretends to pull lever) “John Kerry.” They voted with their nose plugged, basically. Democrats are starved, just as David said, to vote for someone they're excited about.
Really, it’s astounding to watch these inane, bloated fellows, among the most foolish our race has produced. By now, even Friedman has probably heard that Gore was right about the war in Iraq. Before that, he was right about global warming—for decades—and he was “right” about the first Gulf War too. Meanwhile, as has long been clear on the web, many Democrats would be “excited” about voting for Gore, because of his many correct judgments. But even now, in the face of his own endless errors, Friedman feels free to come on TV and mock a man who was right on Iraq. But so it goes in our bizarre pundit culture, where those who were wrong mock those who were right. (For Cynthia Tucker’s version of this strange dance, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/7/06).

If you were right on Iraq, you can’t do TV! Sorry, but only the wrong need apply! We live in an age of respect for the wrong—and Friedman, addled beyond repair, thinks the “freak show” is in Syria.

TOMORROW: Dennis Kucinich was right from the start. Therefore, by rule, he is mocked.

THE SEARCH FOR BALANCE: Sadly, Russert’s producers may have thought that they did present a “balanced” panel (Friedman “on the left,” Brooks “on the right”). Next time, perhaps they should add Friedman’s wife! Here’s Friedman, from his 3/2/03 New York Times column: “My wife opposes this war, but something in Mr. Bush's audacious shake of the dice appeals to me.” Friedman’s wife is the one who was right. But under the rules of our current freak show, it’s her over-caffeinated, joking husband whom a miserable public must endure. Needless to say, we speak of the “freak show” that’s happening here, not the one over in Syria.

ANOTHER WONDERFUL BIT OF FOUND HUMOR: On This Week, Time’s Rick Stengel produced another bit of unintentional humor. In the wake of Time’s “Person of the Year” selection, the pundits were talking about the way the web “is kind of changing the information age” (Stengel). Late in the session, Stengel produced a wonderful bit of humor:
STENGEL (12/17/06): No, just that—we're living in a new global democratic age where everybody can contribute. And we have to make the best out of it.
Everyone can contribute now, Stengel said. “And we have to make the best out of it!” Surely, he didn’t quite mean it that way. But our analysts shared a good, solid laugh. You see, that was clearly the way it had sounded.

RUMORS WERE SPREAD: The Washington Post’s “coverage” of Campaign 08 has officially started. Lynne Duke began typing the new campaign novel with these lengthy musings—fevered musings on Clinton-and-Clinton which appeared in Sunday’s Style section. Do you wonder why we’d call this a “novel?” The following passage appears early on. Duke describes the Clintons’ joint appearance on the night of Hillary Clinton’s re-election:
DUKE (12/17/06): It was political Kabuki—Bill Clinton, held in check—on a night that some observers saw as the start of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Bill is poised to mightily help or deeply hurt his wife's White House prospects. Either way, his impact will be profound as he undertakes the unprecedented role of ex-president turned male campaign spouse to the first woman ever to have a serious shot at the presidency.
Let’s be candid. This isn’t just a novel, it’s a Harlequin romance—a silly pot-boiler in which, “either way,” our hero’s impact must be “profound.” Bill may “mightily” help—or he may “deeply” hurt. But his impact? It will surely be “profound!”

The Post has started writing its novel. Duke’s childish structures give us a sense of what her cohort has in mind as it looks at Campaign 08.

As we’ve already seen, one thing her cohort has in mind is “massive and messy” overstatement. On the one hand, “Bill can deliver political superstardom” (pgh 5). But then, “there's the other Bill,” Duke notes, “who could be a massive distraction” (pgh 6). And poor Hillary! If she runs, “She will face haters. She'll face sexists. There'll be folks who think she's power-mad...” Admittedly, this makes an exciting story—but, alas, it’s plainly a novel. Is it possible that Bill Clinton could be a minor distraction? That he could help in ways which turn out to be modest? Not in the world of the pot-boiler romance! Wild overstatement makes such tales come alive. Indeed, to heighten the sense of High Drama, Duke even offers this nonsense:
DUKE: She will face haters. She'll face sexists. There'll be folks who think she's power-mad, including some still queasy about what she knew and when she knew it when it came to Bill's marital indiscretions.

Look at the polls; opinions on her are strong and run the gamut. Gallup last month asked 1,003 respondents to state what comes to mind about Hillary. Thirteen percent said they disliked her. Ten percent said she's qualified to be president. Nine percent said she's riding Bill's shirttails. Eight percent called her strong. Six percent called her intelligent, and another six percent called her dishonest and said they didn't trust her.

With numbers like that, plenty of Democrats are asking: Can she win?
“Look at the polls,” Duke urges, saying that “opinions on [Hillary Clinton] are strong and run the gamut.” But then, she cites results from a type of say-the-first-word-that-comes-to-mind survey that is almost impossible to assess systematically. Thirteen percent “said they disliked her?” What conclusion do we draw from that—that she won’t get 88 percent of the vote? In fact, no one with an ounce of sense would build conclusions from data like these. But so what! This is a novel—a real bodice-ripper! Indeed, Duke rides her “data” to a preferred destination; she rides her data to “cocktail parties,” where unnamed “people” have been asking questions—about sex. Here is the rest of the passage we’ve quoted. Gaze on the weak, empty soul of this klan:
DUKE: With numbers like that, plenty of Democrats are asking: Can she win? So the last thing she needs is people asking, as they have in the media and at cocktail parties: Can Bill control himself during her presidential campaign?
Can Bill Clinton “control himself?” “People” have been asking that question, Duke says. They’ve been asking it “at cocktail parties.”

And make no mistake; Duke’s article is an effort to talk about sex, while pretending that someone else is raising these questions. Duke’s piece reflects the focus of the souls who inhabit her sad, empty cohort. But she can’t acknowledge the source of that focus; she has to pretend that it comes from outside. Soon, then, she’s writing passages in which she pins it on the “voters”—on “people:”
DUKE: If she runs, will voters focus too much on him? Will they remember too much of the national trauma known as "that woman" (Monica Lewinsky)—and the presidential prevaricating, hair-splitting (what is"is," anyway?) and impeachment that followed? Can voters look at Bill without thinking of sex?
“Can voters look at Bill without thinking of sex?” Perhaps not, after reading the Post’s bodice-rippers. On a few occasions, Duke even acknowledges the fact that “[t]he media-industrial complex will again feed like hungry hounds” if Hillary Clinton seeks the White House. But over and over, she must pretend that it’s really “the people” who drive her cohort’s obsessions. Here are various passages from her report, along with the way they would have been written if Duke had been slightly more honest:
LYNNE DUKE: If she runs, will voters focus too much on him?...Can voters look at Bill without thinking of sex?

DUKE REVISED: If she runs, will people like me focus too much on him?...Can people like me look at Bill without thinking of sex?

LYNNE DUKE: But there will be questions aplenty. How could there not be?

DUKE REVISED: But people like me will ask questions aplenty. How could we not do so?

LYNNE DUKE: Complained someone who worked on her White House staff, who requested anonymity to speak freely: "If your husband has an affair and you forgive him, you get to turn the corner and move on. She never does." Not in the public mind, at least.

DUKE REVISED: Complained someone who worked on her White House staff, who requested anonymity to speak freely: "If your husband has an affair and you forgive him, you get to turn the corner and move on. She never does." Not in the minds of me and my colleagues!

LYNNE DUKE: She raised the subject in her 2003 memoir, "Living History," writing, "The most difficult decisions I have made in my life were to stay married to Bill and to run for the Senate." Rarely has she discussed that period since. As she has prepared to possibly run for president, questions about the marriage have bubbled to the fore again.

DUKE REVISED: Rarely has she discussed that period since. As she has prepared to possibly run for president, people like me have started asking questions about the marriage again.
Mistakes were made? No, questions were asked! We’re told that questions “have bubbled to the fore”—without being told who has done all this bubbling! Indeed, Duke even extends her passive voice to a rumination about the Clintons’ appearance at Coretta Scott King’s funeral:
LYNNE DUKE: Their appearance set off a wave of speculation about her style vs. his and how it would or would not serve her in a campaign.

DUKE REVISED: After their appearance, people like me set off a wave of speculation about her style vs. his and how it would or would not serve her in a campaign.
Speculations were voiced! But then again, in typing novels, authors typically mask their identity. In steamy sex thrillers by Jackie Susann, Susann’s name won’t appear.

And make no mistake: For Duke, it’s all about the sex—and it’s about the passive voice, the voice which obscures one’s own agency. Rubbing her thighs at a furious pace, Duke even stoops to whispering this. What a low, disgraceful life-form!
DUKE: As she has prepared to possibly run for president, questions about the marriage have bubbled to the fore again.

Earlier this year, both the U.S. and Canadian press ran stories about Bill's periodic meetings with a Canadian auto-parts magnate turned politician, Belinda Stronach. Both have characterized themselves as just friends since they met in 2001 at a fundraiser. But tongues wagged nonetheless, because of the baggage.

Tongues were wagged! For the record, Duke’s own newspaper “ran a story” about Clinton and Stronach in June 2003, when the Canadian press began wagging those tongues. But uh-oh! The piece ran beneath a debunking headline: “Canadian Rumor Mills in Overtime,” it said. In the short piece, Al Kamen said that Stronach’s “pending divorce” had “created much salacious—and surely false—buzz up north.” But who gives a fig if the sex talk is “surely false?” People like Duke want to see rumor spread! Result? Earlier this year, her paper’s resident Old Skeaze, David Broder, inserted an entirely gratuitous reference to Stronach in the midst of a thigh-rubbing column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/06). And yesterday, there was skeaze-master D! Once again, rumors were spread!

Duke is part of a vacuous cohort. They want to repeat thrilling tales about sex—and they don’t seem to care if they’re true or “surely false.” At her cohort’s “cocktail parties,” that’s the thing the children discuss. And in the Post, they began to type their new novel with this thrilling new piece. Blood rushed through the veins!

That leaves us with one simple question: What do we—timid boys and girls of the left—plan to do about their novel? We let them have their fun with Clinton, then Gore. What do we plan to do now?

FUN WAS HAD: Let’s reprint what Digby said about the last time these idiots started (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/15/06):
DIGBY (12/13/06): Is it a sin, in and of itself, that Greenfield trivialized Barack Obama for his wardrobe and compared him to a holocaust denying psychopath? Not really. Is it a major goof for Jeanne Moos to simultaneously go out on the street and ask people if they think his "weird" middle name means that he can't be elected? Probably not.

But you'll have to excuse us hotheads for reacting strongly when we see these things because the last time the media decided to have “fun” and tell “jokes,” this way, enough people believed them that it ended up changing the world in the most dramatic and violent way possible. We are in this mess today at least partly because these people failed to do their duty and approached their jobs as if it were a seventh grade slumber party instead of the serious business of the most powerful nation on earth.

Duke’s cohort has already changed the world once—in “the most dramatic and violent way possible.” But so what? They don’t seem to care! As a result, in Sunday’s Post, it happened again: Fun was had!

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE AROUSE THE VOTERS: Sunday morning, C-SPAN devoted Washington Journal’s first 45 minutes to telephone calls about Duke’s piece. Several callers voiced reservations about the dynastic nature of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton presidential succession. But almost no one voiced concern about Bill Clinton’s ability to “control himself.” (In fact, we’re not sure that anyone did.) Will someone please tell “the voters” about the role they’ve been assigned in this freak show? Will someone please inform the people: Questions must bubble to the fore?