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AN ODD ACCOUNT! Even Dems think they see liberal bias! Dionne’s account helps explain why: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2007

TOMORROW: Pundit and Press Corps Event of the Year! Don’t miss our grand gala!

NOT ROOTING FOR RUDY: On Sunday, the Washington Post put its thumb on the scale with a deeply unbalanced (and unflattering) biographical profile of Giuliani (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/17/07).

Three days later, the Post presented this front-part “scandal” report about the very same candidate. If you’re inclined to dream conspiracy dreams about the way big newspapers work (we’re not), you’d have a hard time avoiding this thought: For some reason, the Post wants its readers to think very poorly about this particular candidate.

Yesterday’s report was authored by the often gruesome John Solomon; to our mind, the author line was the last part of this piece which made much clear sense. In the main, the piece concerns convicted felon Lawrence Ray; he’s a former close associate of Bernard Kerik, who is a former close associate of Giuliani. But where’s the tie between Giuliani and Ray? The headlines and the opening paragraphs seem to suggest some such thing. But this weak passage, paragraph 4, seems to be Solomon’s nugget:

SOLOMON (12/19/07): That evidence, reviewed by The Washington Post, shows that Kerik brought Ray into contact with Giuliani on a handful of occasions documented in photos and that he invoked Giuliani's name in connection with a New Jersey construction company with alleged mob ties that is now at the heart of the criminal cases.

In short, Giuliani had his photo taken with someone who is now a felon! And not only that: Someone “invoked Giuliani’s name in connection with a New Jersey construction company.” Did Ray do that–or was it Kerik? In context, we’d have to say that this point is muddled. Maybe you can find the answer in the endless, bewildering piece which is built on this flimsy foundation. (We could not.)

In truth, this might be a worthwhile story–about Bernie Kerik. Try though we might, we can’t quite decipher the connection of Ray to Giuliani. If we were the suspicious type, we’d think that this piece had less to do with its actual contents (and surely, few people read the whole thing) than with its prominent front-page placement and its surface insinuations. Giuliani’s photo was taken with a very bad man! So this huge, front-page piece seems to tell us.

That said, Solomon doesn’t fail to entertain through his familiar vacuum cleaner approach. How bad a man is Lawrence Ray? This bad! No, people–really:

SOLOMON: FBI documents show that while Ray has served as a confidential informant, agents have at times questioned his credibility. He can ramble for hours, weaving conspiratorial theories with folksy tales about his high-flying days as Kerik's buddy and his secretive work for the FBI and U.S. military.

Ray was described as a "calculating, manipulative and hostile man" in a psychological evaluation conducted by an expert his wife hired for the divorce case.

Readers, let’s expand our indictment! Giuliani had his photo taken with a man who was denounced by his wife in divorce proceedings! (In fairness, Solomon fills more space by saying this: “Ray’s expert provided a more favorable analysis.”)

As we said, some of this might serve as an intriguing indictment of Kerik. But Ray’s connection to Giuliani is hard to make out from this piece–except in its insinuative placement, headlines and photos. If we were a Giuliani fan, we might form a conspiratorial view after Sunday’s bio and Wednesday’s slam job. We might think the Post didn’t like our guy–and was now doing something about it.

WHAT SCRIBES ADMIT–AND WHAT THEY DON’T: In this post, Greg Sargent provides a valuable synopsis of this important piece by Jamison Foser. Citing Foser, Greg lists a string of major scribes who have announced to the world, at various times, that reporters tend to tilt campaign coverage to make races close. they just love a good horse race, they say. Greg penned this reaction:

SARGENT (12/16/07): I'd like to point out something else that's truly bizarre about this, something you see popping up again and again.

Specifically, I'm talking about the fact that pundits and commentators have a strange and widespread tendency to talk about their profession's collective failings–but without displaying any desire to change them, without showing any awareness that these failings could be changed with a little effort, and even without betraying any awareness or concern that they themselves might be contributing to the problem.

Greg is right–as far as he goes. It’s bizarre to see pundits announce, on the air, that their cohort engages in this sort of conduct–conduct which would be a firing offense in a rational universe. Pundits tilt the coverage to make the race close? Do news consumers know this is happening? Do they know they’re getting skewed coverage because reporter want a close race? We noted this problem back in September 2000, when Howard Fineman told Brian Williams that this was why the mainstream press corps had suddenly gone after Vile Gore once again. Two statements from that important exchange are included in Foser’s listings.

Greg is right; it’s amazing to see these nitwits go on the air and announce that they’re doing this–that their colleagues are deliberately playing their readers, hoping to make the race close. But let’s keep one more point in mind: This is actually the innocent explanation–the explanation scribes feel permitted to offer. Were reporters really trying to “make it close” when they began trashing Gore as a liar again, in mid-September 2000? (He lied about those doggy pills! And about that union lullaby!) In fact, the press was simply reverting to the conduct it had engaged in for most of the prior two years–a period when Gore was generally behind in the national polls. (Where was their desire for a good horse race then?) Fineman’s statement to Williams was historic and shocking, because the press corps’ bogus new complaints were already driving Gore’s numbers back down. (Bush ended up in the White House.) But it almost surely wasn’t “the truth” about what the press corps was actually doing. It was just the presentable explanation–the one which took the place of the truth. The truth? In large part, the press corps was calling Gore a Big Liar again because they just hated his guts.

Indeed, Tucker Carlson noted that fact just last evening on Tucker. Mark Halperin noted an obvious fact (understating wildly). Tucker then spoke more directly:

HALPERIN (12/19/07): I think in 2000 there’s a good case to be made that Al Gore got tougher coverage than George Bush. So it’s not necessarily the case that the Democrats are going to get easier coverage [in 2008].

CARLSON: The reporters covering Gore–liberals, all of them–so far as I can tell, hated him. They hated them. I think you’re absolutely right.

But if you’re Howard Fineman in September 2000, you can’t say that on cable TV. So you say you’re just “keeping it close.” That’s why you’re beating on Gore!

What Fineman told Williams was astounding–but it probably wasn’t the truth. Ditto for the gruesome Anne Kornblut, quoted by Foser on October 26 of this year. Basically, Kornblut said the press was about to knock Candidate Clinton down, because they were “biased in favor of a good tussle.” (Four days later, we got that debate.) But that was the acceptable story; they don’t let you hear the truth in real time. Carlson kept quiet about the hatred of Gore when it might have actually mattered. Instead, we got the Fineman line; his line described a firing offense, but it was most likely bogus.

How corrupt is the national press corps? Greg is right–these statements are striking. But omigod! Even when they make these appalling statements, they still aren’t telling the truth!

Special report: Return of Kurtz!


PART 2–AN ODD ACCOUNT: We liberals avoid discussing campaign coverage with something resembling a passion. Yesterday was a good example. In the Post, Howard Kurtz wrote a long piece about the coverage of two major Dems (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/19/07)–and the liberal silence was deafening. No reactions at TPM or at Tapped. No reactions from Atrios, or from Kevin Drum. And at Altercation, Eric Alterman–perhaps our best known liberal press critic–offered this thin minute-gruel:

ALTERMAN (12/19/07): Our man Boehlert notes that Bill Clinton is right about the campaign coverage. I don't think “horserace” accurately describes the type of vacuous campaign coverage that has sprung from this cycle. What we're seeing flourish this time on the trail is something else entirely. This is a new, more disturbing (immature?) brand of pseudo-journalism that's delivered with an extra dose of attitude and informs and enlightens even less. Read more here. Then again, when Howie Kurtz and Mark Halperin are pretty sure of something, you can't go too far wrong if you automatically believe the opposite.

Not much to chew on there. Indeed, Eric didn’t even bother to punctuate; most of that is a quote from Boehlert’s piece, but Eric left out the quotations marks and a needed ellipsis. Let’s be clear: There’s no reason why any particular individual (including those named above) has to react to a piece like Kurtz’s. But Eric’s completely unhelpful post was the most detailed discussion of Kurtz’s piece we found in our standard rounds.

We don’t know why we’re so disinclined to tackle so basic a topic–especially after what happened to Gore and then, in lesser measure, to Kerry. (Although we could easily guess.) But the result of our endless liberal silence is evident in a recent survey about the public’s view of the press corps’ coverage of Campaign 08.

Alas! As Boehlert notes in his valuable piece, Harvard's Center for Public Leadership surveyed 1207 adults; among other things, they were asked to state their views about the coverage of Campaign 08. At one point, they were asked this:

Do you think that the press coverage of the election is politically biased?

If yes, do you think it is too liberal or too conservative?

Perhaps you can see where this is going. According to the survey, 40 percent think the campaign coverage has been “too liberal;” only 21 percent think it has been “too conservative.” Incredibly, this judgment extended to many Democrats. In the survey, 28 percent of Democrats think the coverage has been too conservative–but almost as many, 25 percent, think it has been too liberal. (Republicans found the coverage “too liberal” by a wide margin–68-10. Independents also said “too liberal,” 35-23.)

Has coverage of Campaign 08 been “too liberal?” In fairness, we’re not sure how we’d answer such an imprecise question–but we’d be surprised if there were a way to back up such an impression. After all, the two Republican front-runners at the start of the year were men whom the press corps had endlessly lionized: Rudy Giuliani, “America’s Mayor,” and John McCain, king of the “Straight Talk Express.” Pundits had recited their slogans for years; it’s hard to believe that the press corps suddenly started trashing such icons. (Beyond that, Fred Thompson was treated like a rock star when he first said he might run.) Meanwhile, the Democratic front-runner was a woman whom many in the press have long despised. And pundits soon began to show their deep concern with a second Big Dem’s troubling haircut.

Forget about a sweeping entity like “Campaign 08;” has coverage of the candidates been “too liberal?” You’d have a hard time making that case. But it’s hardly surprising that the public voted “too liberal” by a two-to-one margin; conservatives complain about press coverage constantly, and we liberals have spent the past fifteen years running and hiding from the topic–refusing to complain about the treatment our major candidates get. Why would voters think that Candidate Clinton might be getting shafted–when we haven’t even bothered to tell them about the treatment of Candidate Gore? Yesterday’s silence is very familiar. If you care about who wins elections, this seems amazingly foolish.

At any rate, even Democrats split down the middle as to whether the coverage has been “too liberal.” In our view, it’s astounding to see that this judgments is still being made in the wake of the past fifteen years, in which the mainstream press has waged an endless string of assaults on Major Dem leaders. But we liberals like to gambol and play when the matter of campaign coverage is concerned. In our view, this liberal silence was on display again in E. J. Dionne’s Tuesday column.

Writing one day before Kurtz’s report, Dionne described the recent problems encountered by Candidate Clinton. Here was his (typically) odd account of how her campaign hit the skids:

DIONNE (12/18/07): A month and a half ago, Clinton was widely seen as the inevitable victor. Now, she faces a moment of great peril.

For most of 2007, Clinton benefited from a virtuous cycle. Her continuing lead in the polls slowly eased Democratic doubts about her ability to beat the Republicans next fall. Her crisp debate performances reinforced her message that she would be ready "on day one" to be president. This fed back into more good poll results.

But her spiral downward began with a single mistake in an Oct. 30 debate over a New York plan to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, even as she was coming under more aggressive attack from Obama and John Edwards. The decline affected her standing not only in Iowa but also in New Hampshire, which was supposed to be Fortress Clinton.

Surely, something is missing from this account. According to Dionne, Clinton was enjoying significant leads in the polls for most of 2007–until she made a single mistake in that October 30 debate. But does that account even seem to make sense? Does it make sense to think that a single mistake, in a single two-hour debate, could have turned things around in this manner? Dionne’s account is especially odd when we add a fact he chose to omit: In the next Democratic debate, on November 15, Obama gave an answer about driver’s licenses that was amazingly similar to the answer Clinton had given two weeks before–the answer which supposedly sent her campaign into a tailspin. In all honesty, there was nothing much wrong with Obama’s statement–but then, there was nothing much wrong with Clinton’s statement, the one which brought her world crashing down. But Obama’s statement was so similar to Clinton’s that it drew laughter from the audience–and fleeting comment in the press. This raises an obvious question, one Dionne avoids in his odd account: If Clinton’s answer sent her campaign into a tailspin, how could it be that Obama’s answer produced no matching downdraft?

How did that happen? The answer is easy. But as he has done for years and years now, Dionne agreed to leave something out of his Tuesday column. He disappeared the remarkable conduct of his multimillionaire insider colleagues, including the pair of giant journos who ran that October 30 debate. In fact, at least three big names were MIA when E. J. typed his (latest) bowdlerized column. And uh-oh! E. J.’s silence helps explain why voters assume, to this day, that Republicans get shafted by the press. It helps explain why Major Dems have trouble reaching the White House.

We liberals love to run and hide when campaign coverage is concerned. On Tuesday, E. J., one of our highest-placed liberals, showed this familiar cultural impulse. People like E. J. ran and hid during the nightmares of Campaign 2000. And omigod! Wouldn’t you know it! On Tuesday, he did it again.

TOMORROW–PART 3: In Kurtz’s report–as in Dionne’s–three huge players were AWOL.

POSTSCRIPT: Who told you this week that the press hated Gore? Of course! The assignment was left to Tucker Carlson. (Disgracefully, E. J. has never discussed his cohort’s coverage of Candidate Gore.) When it comes to basic matters like this, we liberals display a bit of noblesse oblige. We sip sweet drinks on the big front porch, being careful to keep very quiet. We don’t dirty our hands with such mess. We let our conservatives do it!