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Caveat lector

18 February 2002

Our current howler (part I): The plague

Synopsis: Jack Germond still plays the shrink. Why is our land so afflicted?

Joel Siegel, The New York Daily News, 2/13/02

Gore Shows It Again: Dems Swing, GOP Punches
James Klurfeld, Newsday, 2/14/02

Al Who? Gore’s Uphill Road
Jack Germond, The Los Angeles Times, 2/10/02

Democrats Start Early On the Presidential Trail
Richard Berke, The New York Times, 2/18/02

Pathetic, isn’t it? Joel Siegel was allowed 351 words to discuss an important foreign policy speech. The most serious issues of war and peace had been discussed. And Siegel spent one paragraph limning this:

SIEGEL: Sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, and looking slimmer than he did at the end of the presidential race, Gore was joined by his wife and two daughters.

Life and death issues confront the nation, and Siegel is trying to guess Gore’s weight! He also did some celebrity scanning:

SIEGEL: The crowd of 300 was filled with bold-face names, from Barbara Walters and Tina Brown to former AOL-Time Warner chief Gerald Levin. It included a number of Gore supporters—such as actor-director Rob Reiner and Democratic donor Carl Spielvogel—but no local Democratic officials attended.

Wow—even Spielvogel was there! Here at THE HOWLER, we’re just thankful that the Daily News sent its "senior political correspondent" to report the event. After all, some fresh-faced cub might have wasted time on the fluff, the fol-de-rol and the foofaw.

The event, of course, was Al Gore’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations Tuesday night, in which Gore called for "a final reckoning" with Iraq and suggested that the Bush admin should play nicely with allies. But even as Gore discussed matters of moment, the press corps played its familiar old games. Indeed, a debate broke out in that heady New York press concerning one issue of importance:

JAMES KLURFELD: Gore, who has returned to public life with a beard and a few extra pounds, went out of his way to not only praise how Bush has handled the United States’ retaliation against terrorism but he also defended Bush's description of an "evil axis" of bad-actor states—Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

Writing in Newsday on February 14, Klurfeld agreed with Siegel that Gore had a beard, but seemed to dispute his account of Gore’s poundage. So it goes as the corps’ boys and girls play games in their familiar old sandbox.

Of course, the vacuous is the norm from this corps, especially where Gore is concerned. Consider the column penned by Jack Germond in the February 10 Los Angeles Times. Germond, of course, reviewed his journalistic career in his 1999 book, Fat Man in a Middle Seat. To Germond’s own term of preference, "fat," we can now add "lazy," "out of touch" and "indifferent:"

GERMOND: There may have been strategic and tactical mistakes [in the Gore campaign]—should Clinton, say, have been utilized more effectively?—but the core of the problem was the candidate. He changed his shirts and his persona so often that, as the campaign came to an end, many Americans didn’t feel comfortable with him. His campaign was too contrived and mechanical; there was no one willing to walk through a wall for him.

Germond was back on Al Gore’s clothes—on which so much time was wasted, about which so many lies were told—and he was back to playing the shrink. In fact, Germond even seems to like playing the shrink about Gore’s very-troubling chin-whiskers:

GERMOND: Nor has Gore’s behavior since the election been comforting. He was clearly entitled to a European respite, but he could have shed the beard before coming back. Instead, he continues to wear it in what is being interpreted as a signal of another "new" Gore, this time a laid-back model. What political professionals see here is evidence that the flaws that cost him the 2000 election he should have won were not the kind of flaws that can be corrected. He can talk about "mending fences" in Tennessee, an obvious first step toward 2004. But he cannot shed the image of the contrived candidate too controlled to be human.

And that is absolutely correct. It’s true—Gore "cannot shed the image of the contrived candidate too controlled to be human" as long as contrived pundits too controlled to be human keep reciting approved spin-points, as Germond does. (In Germond’s world, Gore is at fault for Germond’s dimwit pals have "interpreted.") Even at a time of war, they can’t stop talking about wardrobe and beards—and they can’t stop reciting the corps’ Approved Cant about all matters, worthwhile and vacuous. Readers, some have suggested that America must have done something wrong for God to let September 11 happen. At THE HOWLER, we raise a more primal question: Why does God permit this plague of Germonds which still troubles our land?

At THE HOWLER, we used to offer a marginal sally; we used to say that it would take World War III to make this gang drop its schoolboy buffoonism. Now the corps makes something clear—even World War III won’t be enough. With issues of life and death on the line, they still like to play their foolish games. The press corps’ vacuous coverage of Gore provides a window on its soul and dysfunction.

Next: Jeff Gerth lives! A page-one piece in the New York Times revives some familiar old tactics.

Speaking of small bores: How vacuous is NYT’s Richard Berke? Today, he profiles a group of Dem White House hopefuls, on the trail in California. Get ready for "four more years" of utter nonsense. At one point in his vacuous piece, the empty little scrivener scribbles this:

BERKE (pgh 15): In another small-bore slip—but one that prompted snickers—Mr. Edwards said, "Like many of you, I grew up in a small town in North Carolina."

That’s right, boys and girls; get ready for four more years of the brainless nitpicking this mindless fraternity peddles as news. (The brilliant Berke was deconstructing Senator John Edwards, D-NC.) Indeed, did we get a whiff of the old Gore coverage when Berke led to that nonsense with this?

BERKE (pgh 14): While his speech offered no hints about his presidential hopes, Mr. Edwards, a first-term senator from North Carolina, tried to puff up his credentials. Citing what many Democrats and Republicans said was his impressive effort to question Judge Charles W. Pickering, whom Mr. Bush has nominated to a federal appeals court, Mr. Edwards sounded like the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Last week, this judge appeared before our, my, Judiciary Committee and I was able to raise serious questions," he said. Actually, Mr. Edwards is the committee’s most junior Democrat.

Good lord, could it possibly be true? Could it be true what we’ve heard all these years—that Howell Raines just hates white male southerners who are more accomplished and more impressive than he is? (Or maybe it’s just more handsome?) Whatever explains this ludicrous passage, one can’t help but remember the Gore campaign coverage, when spinners like Berke micro-examined every utterance, inventing a string of pseudo-misstatements which plainly decided Election 2000. Edwards has been on the trail for a week, and the ludicrous Berke is already rubbing his thighs as he indulges in the practice once again.

But then, Richard Berke is pure-bore empty. It’s part of the deal in his cohort. Indeed, he swore his fealty to the rest of the frat with this subtle sign early on:

BERKE (pgh 3): To those who are not political junkies—who do not look for meaning in Al Gore’s beard, or endlessly deliberate over a statistically insignificant rise in Mr. Daschle’s disapproval rating—it may seem perplexing that would-be presidents are already campaigning.

It’s one way this gang now signals each other. It’s the law—when you mention Gore, you say "beard" right away! Our question: God sent locusts to doom the Egyptians. But what in the world has our country done to trigger this plague of Rick Berkes?

The Daily update (2/18/02)

It figures: At THE HOWLER, we moved to the edge of our chairs. Andrew Sullivan was promising the BEST KRUGMAN COLUMN YET on his web-site last Friday morning. "The invaluable and unimpeachable Jonathan Rauch puts a fork in the Times’ columnist Who Gets Money Calls," the Brainy Brit said, posting at exactly 37 seconds after 8:34 in the morning. Finally! Finally we’d be able to get to the heart of the big problem with the terrible Timesman.

But when we linked to Rauch’s much-hyped piece, we found the typical motive-bashing which Sullivan likes to toss to the cattle. The column is too churlish to waste time describing, but rest assured that it deals with no substance. As we’ve said, Sullivan is a consummate poser—and, oh yes, he’s is a consummate coward. Too clever to challenge Krugman’s work on the merits, he simply tries to run the herd with his schoolboy attacks on Daddy’s character.

But then, this is the self-same Brilliant Brit who wouldn’t respond to Joe Conason’s column about Clinton and terrorism because it was posted on Salon premium! Hay-yo! Hay-yo, everybody! Indefatigably, we put our question to our favorite poseur once again. When, brainy scribe, do you plan to evaluate Krugman’s work on the merits? And we ask another, broader question: What in the world can this country have done, that God would let our shores be invaded by the likes of this poser and phony?

For amusement purposes only: For sheer amusement, read Krugman’s column from last Friday about the Bush global warming plan. Then, read Sullivan’s treatment from the day before. If you ever wondered why the Brainy Brit doesn’t do substance, you might pick up a hint or two here. Here at the incomparable DAILY HOWLER, we were all sixth-graders once too. So we can remember writing passages like this—when we didn’t have the slightest idea what we were talking about:

SULLIVAN: All in all, [Bush’s proposal is] a decent first stab at arguing that conservatism and environmentalism are not in any way contradictory, and in many ways, natural allies. After all, the essence of conservatism is a desire to conserve—and that means conserving our society and economy and our natural world. Bush has begun to figure out a way to do all three.

The essence of conservatism is a desire to conserve? You’ll probably think we made that up. But go look—it’s right there on his web site. Why in the world has God decreed that this should be plaguing our land?