What’s wrong with pimping these dumb stupid tales?


Life in a Brave New Dumb World: Last night, Rachel Maddow took a good snootful and rattled off a collection of silly old tales.

She recalled the way George Bush 41 looked at his watch in that debate! She recalled the time he was amazed by that supermarket scanner!

Just for the record, it isn’t clear that Bush really was amazed by that scanner—though only a fool would think that such nonsense mattered. The story has passed into Permanent Lore. But this is what Howard Kurtz reported in the Washington Post soon after the incident:
KURTZ (2/19/92): The story of George Bush and the incredible supermarket scanner has become the media yarn that wouldn't die.

First the New York Times gave front-page prominence to Bush's alleged amazement at seeing a quart of milk, a light bulb and a bag of candy rung up at an ordinary checkout stand, spawning a tidal wave of satiric columns and late-night comedy routines about an out-of-touch president.

Then came a round of debunking stories, disclosing that Times reporter Andrew Rosenthal never saw the incident but wrote the story from two paragraphs in a pool report. The author of the pool report, Gregg McDonald of the Houston Chronicle, didn't even mention the incident in his own story.

The Times returned fire Thursday, saying it had reviewed a network videotape of the Great Scanner Scandal and that Bush "was clearly impressed" by the garden-variety gadget.

Not so, says Newsweek, which screened the tape and declared that "Bush acts curious and polite, but hardly amazed."


Time magazine's Michael Duffy, another pool member, called the incident "completely insignificant as a news event. It was prosaic, polite talk, and Bush is expert at that. If anything, he was bored."
Was Bush amazed by the scanner? Like you, like Darling Rachel, we have no idea. Being sane, we don't care.

By the way, did you notice who generated this pointless story in real time? Andrew Rosenthal, now the editor of the Times editorial page! We're sorry, but that's no surprise.

Our political culture has been swamped by these tales over the past forty years. We’d date the culture to “Romney cries,” another part of Permanent Lore which may be bogus. Here's how the culture works:

Basically, the press corps invents these brainless, easy-to-understand tales to express their sense of a candidate. Tremendous harm has been done by this process. Rachel and Steve clowned around with some of these stories last night. But this culture made things very bad for President Clinton—and it killed Candidate Gore.

The children had big fun playing around with their stories last night. But this culture can be used both ways—and it has plainly done the most harm to progressive interests and Democratic candidates. Most dramatically, the “press corps” invented two years’ worth of tales about Candidate Gore. This sent George Bush to the White House.

Are you pleased with how that worked out? It’s stunning to see Our Own Rhodes Scholar advancing this brain-dead, vile culture.

This culture sent the U.S. to Iraq. Our side enjoys playing its games.


  1. That would be "Muskie cries," right?

  2. Should read "muskie cries"?

  3. I have to admit, the standards at Salon have been sinking, and it's disheartening. It is not frivolous to be terrified of what another Republican Administration might do to the Country, but the jokey silliness belies any genuine concern.

    On the other hand, one of the reasons I can't tell if they are "Aping" the likes of Fox is that the Daily Howler never writes about the Right anymore. Somersby once wrote me that "I write about journalists"; but for years now that's pretty much restricted to MSNBC and The New York Times. Is what Salon or MSNBC says about the Republicans really more important than how they are getting covered over at Fox?
    I've seen much of our "liberal" reporting go this way over the years, and it ends up as pretty much a pass for the Right.

    1. I read Greenwald but not much more of Salon's political coverage. Salon's movie and television reviews are also quite good.

  4. If all you've gotten out of the past few years is "a pass for the right"...

    sheesh, man. If that's true, and you're not being disingenuous, Bob must be understating the terrible state of liberal awareness.

  5. Regarding Bush and the scanner....I have no idea how the Times came by the story or any of that. Maybe the Times reporter never saw it. But I did. That whole incident occurred in my town, and there was a lot of local coverage of the incident, and it was pretty clear that Bush was surprised by the device. A President being in town was a big deal, and local media covered the hell out of it. For what it's worth, Bush was amazed by the scanner. He actually used the words "I'm amazed by this technology." The reason the whole thing became a big deal was because a Bush spokesman had used a story of Bush doing his own shopping in Kennebunkport as an example of how Bush was a man of the people. Anyway, the scanner thing is not an urban myth, and references to it as a myth are only a few years old.