Interlude—Can liberals prosper this way: Could it be true, what the pundit pair said?
Is it possible that some recent journalism reflects a “bias” against Candidate Romney? We take it as obvious that this could be the case. How could any sane person think different?
But our liberal “intellectual leaders” flew into a fury last week when Allen and VandeHei made this suggestion—when they said that some recent work by the Post and the Times made Republican cries of bias “ring true.”
Sadly, our intellectual leaders flew into a fury about this idea (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/6/12). They got busy challenging claims the pundit pair hadn’t actually made. They made a set of absurd remarks as they challenged Politico's thesis.
Behind this lay a pattern of thought we’d associate with Sean Hannity:
There can be no “bias” against the other team's tribe! Error, unfairness and injustice can only be aimed against ours!
No one with an ounce of sense could really subscribe to this pattern of thought. But as our liberal tribe has emerged from the woods after several decades of slumber, our leaders have increasingly patterned ourselves after the gruesome Hannity.
That said, is it possible that Allen and VandeHei were right? Is it possible that the Post and the Times have wandered off course in some recent reporting on Romney?
To build a framework around this question, let’s consider what John Heilemann told Charlie Rose last Thursday night.
Rose grilled Heilemann about the way the current campaign is unfolding. Eventually, he asked the New York magazine ace to discuss the press corps’ attitude toward Candidate Obama, then and now:
ROSE (5/31/12): Tell me if you think this is relevant. In 2008, the press loved Barack Obama.Is Heilemann right? Was the press corps “soft on Obama” in 2008? Has its attitude grown "more hostile?"
HEILEMANN: They did.
ROSE: Where is the press of 2012?
HEILEMANN: Well, the bloom is off that rose, for sure. There is no love affair with Barack Obama anymore. And my view always was that the thing—I think the press was soft on Obama in 2008. I have said that a million times. And I think it was mostly about the story. You know, it wasn’t about liberal, conservative. It was “new.”
HEILEMANN: It was history. It was, you know, it was all about—that story was irresistible to a lot of people.
ROSE: Young, smart, and color blind.
HEILEMANN: Yes. Yes.
ROSE: And it made America feel young again.
HEILEMANN: Right. What it said about the country—it made America feel virtuous and everything else. They now see him as like a conventional politician and so their traditional way of covering conventional politicians is, be more hostile.
ROSE: Which it always was.
Our opinion? It certain ways, the press corps was plainly soft on Obama four years ago, especially within the framework of the Democratic primary race.
But so what? As the liberal world’s “intellectual leaders” responded to the Politico piece, such ludicrous thoughts could not be brooked, not even for a Hannity minute. Several of our furious leaders cited the fact that the New York Times did a news report about Jeremiah Wright as early as April 2007—“with additional reporting from Kenya,” Dave Weigel said, pretending to be upset. (In fairness, Weigel is transforming himself from a conservative into a liberal, and so he must do such things.) They said this showed that Obama really was vetted in the Campaign 08, dramatically refuting a claim the Politico pair hadn’t made.
In fact, the New York Times report in question was a thoroughly standard bit of reporting. It concerned a key part of Obama’s adult life—a part of his life he had featured in both of his books. ("The audacity of hope" is a quote from Wright.) In our view, it’s hard to see why someone would complain about that news report in the Times. But however one might judge that report, it has nothing to do with Politico’s claim—the claim that the Post and the Times have gone off the rails in some recent reporting on Romney.
For ourselves, we thought the Politico pair had a bit of a point about the recent reporting. But putting that judgment to the side, we were stunned by the sheer stupidity of the (instant) “liberal” response.
Can we liberals prosper by being this dumb? We’d have to guess we cannot.
How dumb were our “leaders” in their response, to which they devoted ten seconds of thought? Let us count the ways:
In general terms, they refuted claims that hadn’t been made. Rather than argue the merits of the Politico piece, they tended to run directly to motive. And the name-calling was widespread, with Andrew Breitbart recalled from the dead to take the place of thought.
But then, good God, the specific assertions! Can progressives possibly hope to prosper by being so balls-out dumb?
Devin Gordon said a newspaper might choose to publish a gigantic story to see how the campaigns will respond!
Weigel said it makes no difference what page a report appears on. After all, journalists will hear about a report even if it’s not on page one!
Joan Walsh repeated a murky factual claim by Gordon, then seemed to say it would be OK if his claim was as much as ten percent right! Walsh even stooped to the point of citing the worthless Project in Excellence surveys about positive/negative coverage.
Meanwhile, look how Walsh refuted one of the GOP's complaints about the report on Ann Romney’s dressage—the claim that this front-page news report carried a “sneering” tone:
WALSH (5/31/12): Politico’s faux-outrage that both the Post and Times “ignored” David Maraniss’s story about Obama epic high school weed-smoking is silly, too: The future president inoculated himself against almost all drug revelations by revealing them himself in “Dreams from My Father.” The memoir leaves little doubt that Barry Obama was a lost stoner in high school. Who cares?In Politico, Ari Fleischer was quoted saying that the Times report on dressage had a “sneering” tone. To show how wrong these complaints really are, Walsh immediately started sneering about Ann Romney’s “silly costumes.” (To their credit, several liberal readers criticized Walsh on this point.)
Meanwhile, Matt Drudge’s favorite journalists are angry that the Post published revelations about Romney’s high school bullying. They seem to think high school behavior matters in the case of Obama but not Romney, just another example of the pervasive partisan double standard in media. But I don’t want to say I learned nothing from the [Politico] piece: It features populist Haley Barbour defending Ann Romney from the mean Times this way: “The New York Times does a huge exposé that Ann Romney rides horses. Well, so does my wife, and a few million other people. Watch out for equine performers!” You are so fricking losing the dressage vote, Team Obama! Take that!
The ultimate moral vacuum at the heart of the story is its failure to care that just two days after its “exposé” of Ann Romney’s fondness for seven-figure horses and the silly costumes that go with them, the Times ran a chilling investigative piece about Obama’s “kill list” process, with damning details about how the president decides on drone strikes and other methods of killing suspected terrorists.
Can liberals hope to prosper by being this dumb? More generally, consider these points about Walsh’s remarkably low-IQ rant:
Whatever one thinks of the “kill list” report, it concerned a plainly serious topic. It can’t tell us if the reports on bullying and dressage were pointless or overblown.
Did Politico claim that the Post and the Times “ignored” the high school drug use story? We don’t know why Walsh put “ignored” inside quotes. The word doesn’t appear in the Politico report. (Are we all Sean Hannity now?)
Does Politico “seem to think high school behavior matters in the case of Obama but not Romney?” Please. The writers noted the disproportionate coverage given to the two stories. They didn’t say that Obama’s youthful behavior should be covered while Romney’s should get a pass. (How dumb do you have to be to make such a bogus claim?)
Did Obama’s memoir “leave little doubt that Barry Obama was a lost stoner in high school?” Please. As has been widely noted, the facts in Maraniss’ report go well beyond what Obama revealed about his high school drug use. As such, the report provides new information—and it suggests that Obama was less than candid in the past about this (generally pointless) topic.
As a general matter, we oppose the coverage of youthful drug use. Beyond that, we assume that most politicians have dissembled about this general topic. But we also oppose hacks like Walsh treating liberal readers like fools:
For decades, we’ve seen Hannity acting that way. We don’t think liberal “intellectual leaders” should pattern themselves on this man.
Have the Post and the Times gone off the tracks in those reports on bullying and dressage? In our view, the Politico pair had a bit of a point—and a later report in the Post made us think similar thoughts (more tomorrow). But good God! Even as our “intellectual leaders” defended the Times for exploring dressage, they were, to a person, too empty and clueless to complain about the way the Post and the Times have failed to explore Mitt Romney’s more serious conduct, his rather unpleasant conduct as the head of Bain Capital.
In his current piece at The National Memo, Gene Lyons explores this largely unexplored conduct (for more detail, see our next post). But even as they defended the Times for its front-page report on dressage, our “intellectual leaders” were too dumb, too courteous and too ideologically soft to note this refusal to report.
Can progressives prosper with “leaders” like this? The answer seems obvious: No!
In closing, let’s reflect on the way our recent White House campaigns have been covered, given the hapless and/or corrupt behavior of our “liberal leaders.” As he continued his chat with Rose, Heilmann’s ruminations took him all the way back to Campaign 2000:
HEILEMANN (continuing directly): The Romney—the Romney campaign has treated reporters with, at an arm’s-length way bordering on hostile. They are suspicious. I think they think the press is liberal. They have a lot of different reasons for doing what they do, but they have not inculcated, you know, anything like the kind of warm and collegial relations and this is not just—I mean conservatives will say, “Well, that was easy for Obama because you are all liberal.”Does Heilemann believe that that’s the real story of the press coverage of Campaign 2000? We find it hard to believe that he does. But the liberal world is handicapped by the way our hackish “intellectual leaders” have refused to tell the truth about the coverage of that history-changing campaign—more generally, about the journalism of whole Clinton-Gore era.
George W. Bush's team had great relations with the press. I mean he was— The press infinitely preferred, the supposedly liberal press infinitely preferred George W. Bush to Al Gore in 2000.
HEILEMANN: Because he was human, open, accessible, funny and the people who worked for him liked the press and cultivated the press and didn’t give them the back of the hand. So it is not an ideological thing. Conservatives can win that game. The Romney people have not. They have not done it very well.
Given the things the public is constantly told, it’s stunning to hear that “the supposedly liberal press infinitely preferred George W. Bush to Al Gore in 2000.” That claim is plainly true, of course—but the public has never been told.
Joan Walsh refuses to tell them such things. That would force her to name the names of her princes, her large benefactors.
Gag! People like Walsh have buried this deep, protecting their generous mentors as they stuff bags of dough in their pants. Today, Walsh defends that front-page report on dressage—and drives our IQ to the ground.
Can progressives prosper with “leaders” like this? If we had an ounce of self-respect, we’d drive the Walshes into the sea.
But our leaders are much like Sean Hannity now, and we are a gang of sad ditto-heads. We’re handed pure pap—and we swallow it down.
Tomorrow: What came next.
Tomorrow, Part 4: Is Jonathan Solomon “biased?”