Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector

15 March 2000

Our current howler: A time when less was more

Synopsis: When is 15 more than 20? When celebrities play Double Standard.

Adviser Pushes Gore to Be Leader of the Pack
Katharine Seelye, The New York Times, 11/1/99

Controversial Feminist Paid By Gore Camp
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 11/1/99

Gore's 'Alpha' Adviser
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, 11/2/99

The Alpha-Beta Macarena
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 11/3/99

The Alpha Gore Project
Maggie Gallagher, The Washington Times, 11/6/99

Known Qualities
Marc Fisher, The Washington Post Magazine, 11/28/99

Rebel flags in the McCain camp
Jim Drinkard, USA Today, 2/8/00

Back in November, the celebrity press corps was utterly shocked at the news. Katharine Seelye blurted it out, right there in her opening paragraph:

SEELYE (11/1, paragraph 1): Vice President Al Gore has been paying Naomi Wolf, the feminist author, thousand of dollars a month to help him figure out how to become the top dog.

Seelye played off exciting news with her hilarious "top dog" remark. According to Michael Duffy and Karen Tumulty in Time, Naomi Wolf was Al Gore's "secret guru!" And, according to the two scribes' "sources," Wolf had told Gore to become an "Alpha male!" The "mad genius" was also telling him about "shirt-and-tie combinations," according to the magazine's sources. (And she had "bonded" with Gore's daughter, Karenna.) And Time had gasped at Wolf's "expensive advice"—her salary was $15,000 a month! Seelye saved the number for paragraph four. Ceci Connolly put it right in her opening:

CONNOLLY (11/1, paragraph 1): Vice President Gore acknowledged yesterday that he hired controversial feminist Naomi Wolf for a $15,000-a-month consulting fee, saying the author and columnist is a "valued adviser" who has helped him target younger voters.

The press corps went on to have weeks of fun with Wolf, a Rhodes Scholar and best-selling author. But all over the press was a sense of shock at that salary Crazy Gore had been paying! Everyone knew just how nutty it was. Richard Cohen sounded off in the Post:

COHEN (11/2): Say what you will about Wolf, she's been more candid about sex than Gore's been about her. He made her a campaign consultant at an astounding $15,000 a month.

To Cohen, the amount was "astounding." The next day, Maureen Dowd chipped in with her musings:

DOWD (11/3, paragraph 1): I will say this in Naomi Wolf's favor: You've got to respect a woman who gets a vice president to pay her a salary higher than his own.

Dowd quickly mentioned the actual figure. Then we got a hint of the retro tone that would soon characterize this endless discussion:

DOWD (paragraph 4): Of course, when a man has to pony up a fortune to a woman to teach him how to be a man, that definitely takes the edge off his top-dogginess.

Purring coolly over gender, Dowd improved Seelye's "top dog" remark. Soon the Think-Alike Crew were all out in force, copying off each other's papers. The whole retro bunch had that funny quip down—you know, about Gore paying-a-woman-to-make-him-a-man? Maggie Gallagher, addressing Gore, slid smarmily into the gutter:

GALLAGHER (11/6): So now I hear you've gone out and hired a feminist babe with big hair, friend of your daughter, to help boost your MQ (that's "masculinity quotient" to you outside the Beltway)...So you've got this pretty little thing (don't get me wrong, smart too, gives good pen) who's going to teach you how to be a man, Al...

Gallagher, spewing smutty sex jokes, mentioned the 15 grand also.

Finally, at the end of the month, Marc Fisher showed how angry the scribes had become. You know—just thinking about all that dough?

FISHER (11/28): So when Al Gore sneaks around and spends $15,000 a month to hire an oddball like Naomi Wolf, a controversialist who campaigns against the tyranny of the beauty culture and then plasters soft-lit glossies of herself and her perfectly teased hair all over the Internet and on her book covers, we have two choices: We can say Gore's a good man who's been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president.

Whoa! That was pretty tough stuff! We've said it before and we'll say it again—when copy-cat scribes all repeat the same tales, they compete to tell them most wildly. By month's end, Fisher was in a crackpot fury, reciting the Memorized Press Corps Official Opinion for roughly the ten thousandth time.

The pundits had become a bit overwrought. (Trust us—we've just scratched the surface.) But at least we'd come to know one thing—$15,000 a month is too much!! The press corps had bellowed, declaimed and complained about money like that for "controversial advisers." Something about the mere thought of that dough had just touched a real nerve with the corps.

And then, alas, on February 8, Jim Drinkard mentioned another adviser. He wrote a brief piece about Saint John McCain's controversial adviser in South Carolina, Richard Quinn. Quinn is the editor of Southern Partisan, a journal with controversial racial views. As we read through Drinkard's intriguing report, this passage, you'll recall, caught our eye (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/00):

DRINKARD: [Quinn] publishes a quarterly magazine, Southern Partisan, that celebrates Southern history and Civil War heritage. McCain pays Quinn $20,000 a month for advice...

Say what? At the time, we noted that Wolf's fifteen grand was less than Quinn's twenty thousand. And Wolf, we note, was based in Manhattan; Quinn lives in South Carolina. Adjusting for basic cost of living, Quinn was getting far more than Wolf. Readers, do you have any idea how many moon pies you can purchase for $20,000?

Any-hoo, we settled back and quietly waited for the storm that was sure to follow. Surely the pundits who railed at Gore's Folly would be that much more upset about Quinn. Wolf was controversial? Quinn was controversial! Wolf was overpaid? Quinn was paid more! But from that day to this, we haven't seen a word about the salary McCain paid Quinn. The cheap little phonies who make up our press corps knew enough not to mention this topic.

Funny, ain't it, that on the Straight Talk Express, the press corps acted out such a standard? That Richard Cohen, "astounded" last fall, just kept ridin' without saying a word? Stuffing doughnuts into his face, the pundit expounded about his sainted McCain. Apparently, "straight talk" is fun to watch, but not something scribes want to do.

We always tell our impressionable young analysts: Stay away from that ol' Double Standard. It's the easiest claim of all to make, and the hardest of all claims to prove. But sometimes unmistakable fact patterns fall in your lap, and they show the relentless bad faith of the press corps. Don't worry—they'll conjure a way to explain it all, to show why Wolf and Quinn aren't the same. But you will surely know better, dear friends; and in the bald double standard the press corps displayed—with pundits remembering to look far away way—we memorialize a year of primary coverage, and look ahead to the general election.


Drinkard gets it right: The only "astounding" thing about Naomi Wolf was the press corps' embarrassing coverage. The Wolf coverage was the largest press corps debacle we didn't get around to covering fully last year. The corps' copy-cat instincts were on full display, and at times the retro-smut was simply breath-taking. Wolf is much smarter and more accomplished than the pundits and scribes, and they were eager to punish her for it. (Promiscuities is a fabulous book. That the author of that book could be ridiculed by Dowd is an emblem of a world gone astray.)

Note to the irate Fisher, by the way: we have copies here of Wolf's three books. Hard cover of Beauty Myth? No picture of Wolf. Paperback of Promiscuities? No picture of Wolf. By the way, is there something wrong with authors having pictures on books? If Wolf opposes obsessive beauty culture, does that mean she's not allowed to look nice? Apparently yes—when the lynch mob is runnin', common sense is quickly shown to the door.

One journalist we do want to commend is USA Today's Jim Drinkard. We have no way of knowing, of course. But we can't help guessing he mentioned Quinn's salary because he remembered the flap about Wolf. For ourselves, we couldn't care less what Quinn was paid; we think campaigns should concern things that matter. But then, we didn't spend a solid month yelling and screaming about Wolf's salary, either. In November, the press corps disgraced itself with its smarmy comments on Wolf—then in February, with its rank double standard.