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19 January 1999

Life in this celebrity press corps: It’s like they all share this one great big mind

Synopsis: Marching in lockstep, the press spoke as one in its praise for those brilliant House managers.

Speech by Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-SC
U.S. Senate, 1/16/99

House ‘Managers’ Seem Satisfied With Their Presentations to Senate
Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post, 1/17/99

Prosecutors demand removal, not censure
Frank J. Murray, The Washington Times, 1/17/99

Our internationally-acclaimed Task Force on Literary Allusions were scratching their heads here at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, as they watched Lindsey Graham aw-shucks-and-jive through his speech on the need for spring cleansing.

And then, of course! The team had it at last! It was Preacher Casy whom Graham evoked. You know--Steinbeck’s Preacher Casy, the stumblebum shaman, who had figured that “maybe all men got one big soul,” and had inspired Tom Joad to deliver this speech as he had to take leave of Ma:

STEINBECK: “Well, maybe like Casy says, a fella ain’t got a soul of his own, but on’y a piece of a big one...Then it don’ matter. Then I’ll be around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere--wherever you look. Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beating up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’--I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready...”

Or maybe in the way kids write letters to Clinton, telling him he should pen mournful essays!

Anyway, we couldn’t help thinking of Preacher Casy as Rep. Lindsey rambled on last week. He was makin’ it up as he home-spun along, purty much jest like the preacher:

GRAHAM: What’s a high crime? How about if an important person hurts someone of low means? It’s not very scholarly, but it’s what I think is the truth. I think that’s what they meant by high crimes. Doesn’t even have to be a crime. It’s just when you start usin’ your office and you’re actin’ in a way that’s hurt people, you’ve committed a high crime...

“It’s not very scholarly?” That’s putting it mildly. Graham’s silly oration was an insult, a sham--a rejection of constitutional authority. Seeking to remove a president from office, Graham was willing to build ruminations on “how abouts” and “what I thinks.” Not a word was uttered by Graham to show what the founders had actually thought. Graham didn’t utter a single word to show that they held his beliefs. Not a word by Graham showed the senate that what he “thinks” is actually true. His speech was disgraceful, deceptive, a coup--a free associatin’ constitutional amendment. His ridiculous statement threw dirt on the grave of the “rule of law” his claque praised to the skies.

But none of it mattered, to this celebrity press corps, looking down on the senate proceedings. Indeed, it was almost like they spoke with one great big voice, they were so ready to praise Graham as “folksy.” Instead of examining the congressman’s odd claims, the press corps gave us nonsense like this, in which a scribe typed up self-serving reports she couldn’t possibly know to be true:

EILPERIN: Graham said he woke up at 3:30 a.m. yesterday, thinking about Paula Jones’ sexual harassment suit against Clinton, the case that would trigger the impeachment trial. He came to a conclusion that he would speak about hours later: That the president’s refusal to disclose his relationship with Lewinsky during a deposition in that case amounted to “vetoing” the decision by the Supreme Court that her case could proceed. [Our emphasis]

Eilperin, of course, has no way of knowing when Graham decided to speak as he did. In her own voice, she recites a familiar account: of a conscience-stricken young congressman, unable to sleep, driven on by duty. It is the self-serving story the managers peddled, and Eilperin, obedient, typed ’er on up. Here’s an earlier passage, reporting more things she can’t possibly know to be accurate:

EILPERIN: All 13 lawmakers spent much of the last two weeks preparing for their moment, and while their staffs provided background research and advice, each one wrote his remarks by himself. As Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis) observed, now was not the time for ghost writing: “This is the most awesome responsibility that will be thrust upon us.” [Our emphasis]

Eilperin recounts a standard story, of humbled servants awed by their charge. But we’d love to hear how she could possibly know that the emphasized statement is true.

Meanwhile, back to the pure-of-heart congressman, nervous, awaiting his chance:

EILPERIN: And only five minutes before he rose to speak, Graham decided he would recount his own family’s uneasy experiences with the civil rights movement in the South, starting to scribble autobiographical notes on the rough outline he had prepared. [Our emphasis]

No doubt with a barely usable quill pen, passed down in his family through the ages. Again we ask: how could Eilperin possibly know that what she states in this passage is actually true?

Obviously, it doesn’t much matter when Graham decided to say the ridiculous things that he said. As humanitarians, we’d actually like to believe his silly words were spoken right off the cuff. But Eilperin decided to spend her time typing up tales she can’t know to be true. Is it any wonder: that a press corps reporting on nonsense like this, skips lightly over matters of substance?

There they go again: Frank J. Murray is even more willing to type up the stories pols like:

MURRAY: “I’m done,” [Henry Hyde] said to punctuate what could be his last word on the substance of the case. Delivering the emotional 24-minute speech he wrote in longhand overnight that moistened his own eyes as well as others in a Senate whose rules brooked no show of praise or disdain but didn’t stop him from invoking what he called a debt to the nation’s war dead.

You’re right. That second set of words ain’t quite a sentence. But can you see a familiar story?

Murray can tell us when Hyde wrote his speech; and he even can tell us that Hyde’s eyes were wet. He saw this from his gallery seat. Now that’s what we call entertainment!