ANTHROPOLOGY LESSONS: Invention of Narrative 101!

FRIDAY, JUNE 27, 2014

Interlude—The minion’s return: In today’s editions, Philip Rucker is on the front page of the Washington Post. Again!

Across the nation and around the world, anthropologists are scurrying to acquire hard-copy editions of the paper, in which Rucker and his tribal elders behave in ways these scholars are calling unprecedented.

At issue is a cultural practice of the primitive stone-age people known as the “mainstream press corps.” It’s the practice known as “inventing a narrative,” a variant of the traditional practice known as “creation myth.”

What happens when this group decides to establish a “narrative?” The basic practice can be divided into three parts:
Three basic steps in creating a “narrative”
Step one: Obscenely wealthy tribal elders present the conceptual framework through which a presidential campaign will be discussed. From this point forward, all discussion of the campaign must conform to this “narrative.”

Step two: Lesser figures in the tribe rush to advance the “narrative.” These are the figures Mann called “minions” in the Inka context.

Step three: All such adepts pretend they don’t know where the “narrative” came from.
That final step is important. As we’ll note below, Rucker enacts this feigned cluelessness in each of his front-page reports. Other adepts have been performing this function on cable.

Anthropologists have long known about this three-step tribal practice. This morning, though, they are saying that the highly primitive “press corps people” have never established a “narrative” so far in advance of an actual White House election.

With this basic background established, let’s turn to Rucker’s second front-page report of the week. Each report supports the narrative introduced by the obscenely wealthy Diane Sawyer on June 6:

Hillary Clinton is too damn rich to be running for president!

Within the press corps, all “minions” must ignore the oddness of a person like Sawyer advancing this heartfelt concern. At the Washington Post, Rucker has now authored two lengthy front-page reports in support of this “narrative.”

For the most part, this morning’s report simply repeats the contents of Monday’s report. Each report was quite lengthy:
Rucker’s front-page reports (so far):
Monday, June 23: “Clinton's rarefied life could be a liability in campaign.” 1820 words
Friday, June 27: “How the Clintons went from ‘dead broke’ to rich.” 1833 words
Never before has this primitive group established one of its sacred “narratives” so far in advance of a White House election. Amazingly, the White House election now in question is 29 months away!

Even in Campaign 2000, the press tribe didn’t establish its “narrative” (Al Gore is a liar, just like Bill Clinton!) until March 1999, 20 months in advance of the election. At that time, they invented three “lies” by Gore in support of their theme.

Their work sent George Bush to the White House.

That campaign set the previous mark for earliest creation of “narrative.” In the current case, no one is even running for president! And yet, it is abundantly clear that a “narrative” has already been declared.

The early onset of this “narrative” shatters all previous records. Equally striking is the sheer amount of space the Washington Post is devoting to this effort.

This morning’s report runs 1833 words, but it is accompanied, in hard-copy editions, by a large, utterly useless graphic on page A10. This graphic is designed to show the importance of a matter which has inspired such a large spread.

On-line, Rucker's piece is littered with an endless series of graphics, almost to the point of parody. More commonly, the Post is known for its inability to assemble any information at all.

This morning’s report is every bit as waspish as Monday’s effort. Beyond that, it stresses the same basic themes.

Once again, Rucker stresses the only two topics in which his tribe takes interest—personal wealth and “gaffes.” This is the way his piece begins, hard-copy headline included:
RUCKER (6/27/14): How the Clintons went from ‘dead broke’ to rich

Over seven frenetic days, Bill Clinton addressed corporate executives in Switzerland and Denmark, an investors' group in Sweden and a cluster of business and political leaders in Austria. The former president wrapped up his European trip in the triumphant Spanish Hall at Prague Castle, where he shared his thoughts on energy to a Czech business summit.

His pay: $1.4 million.

That lucrative week in May 2012 offers a glimpse into the way Clinton has leveraged his global popularity into a personal fortune. Starting just two weeks after exiting the Oval Office, Clinton has delivered hundreds of paid speeches, lifting a family that was "dead broke," as wife Hillary Rodham Clinton phrased it earlier this month, to a point of such extraordinary wealth that it is now seen as a potential political liability if she runs for president in 2016.
As always, alleged gaffes are featured. In this case, Hillary Clinton’s alleged gaffe (“dead broke”) is featured in the headline and in the opening paragraphs, where it goes unexplained. It's also featured in the headline atop the internal graphic.

Readers can search Rucker’s text on their own, observing its waspish persistence. Suffice to say the young “minion” leaves no stone unthrown in his search for negative insinuations and associations.

Our analysts were especially struck by the regularity with which the Class of 06 climber inserted statements about various people who wouldn’t comment on various aspects of his largely pointless report. By our staff’s most recent count, Rucker spreads six such references through his report, creating a much desired negative impression.

Readers can search Rucker’s text on their own. In closing, let us illustrate the third step in the process by which this tribe establishes one of its “narratives.”

In this case, Diane Sawyer unveiled the “narrative” back on June 6. Rucker’s elders at the Post chose him to further the “narrative.”

In the course of his work, Rucker has executed the crucial third step in this familiar process. He suggests the narrative is coming from somewhere else, not from his own reports.

Rucker executed this task in Monday’s front-page report. In the following passage, he made it seem that he himself might even be concerned about the “caricature” of Clinton which may lie ahead:
RUCKER (6/23/14): Bill Clinton rose from poor beginnings in rural Arkansas to the presidency. In 1992, it was Clinton's everyman connection that helped him defeat then-president George H.W. Bush, a patrician who was ridiculed for not knowing the price of a gallon of milk and for expressing amazement at supermarket scanners.

Now, Hillary Clinton risks a similar caricature. On tour this month for her new book, "Hard Choices," Clinton mingled with regular people at signings, but only under strict rules: no photographs and no personalized autographs. There are Secret Service agents to keep the crowds in order and aides to hand her books, count how many she signs and ferry her to the next stop. The former first lady recently said she hasn't driven a car since 1996.
Skillfully, Rucker warns of a possible “caricature” without saying where its outline is coming from. In the very same paragraph, he himself advances the caricature, as he does all through this piece.

Today, Rucker negotiates the same task, again with ease and skill:
RUCKER (6/27/14): Since leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton has followed her husband and a roster of recent presidents and secretaries of state in this profitable line of work, addressing dozens of industry groups, banks and other organizations for pay. Records of her earnings are not publicly available, but executives familiar with the engagements said her standard fee is $200,000 and up, and that she has been in higher demand than her husband.

The speaking itineraries could be a political challenge for Hillary Clinton should she run for president, giving opponents an opening to attack the Clintons for being beholden to powerful interests. Some companies that have paid Bill Clinton for speeches have faced scrutiny from federal regulators.
In that passage, Rucker warns that Clinton’s wealth and speaking fees could let her opponents attack her. He fails to note that the attack is already underway in his own waspish work.

We’ve noted this practice many times over the past fifteen years. That said, every “minion” knows that he or she must walk this highly cynical line—must fail to mention the obvious source of the narrative and the attacks in question.

On Wednesday night, Margaret Hoover executed this task on CNN. She spoke with Erin Burnett:
HOOVER (6/25/14): The point is, her favorability has actually gone down five points in the last few weeks. I mean, this has suffered—I think they realize that they hit a roadblock here. And this is something— There's a narrative solidifying that is, is she going to be relatable? She hasn't driven a car in 16 years. She's been driven around because she's been either the first lady or a secretary of state or a senator.


HOOVER: You and I both know what it takes. Narratives solidify early and stumbles like this don't get washed away.
Hoover said a “narrative” was solidifying, a narrative that probably wouldn’t get “washed away.” But she never said where the “narrative” came from, even as she herself rather plainly advanced it.

Sunny Hostin also advanced the new narrative that night, far more egregiously than Hoover. This is required conduct from the money-grubbers who battle for cable cash by reciting the tales of the elders.

Hostin’s fawning “embrace of narrative” was especially skillful this night. We’ll review her words at some future point.

In closing, let’s note Hoover’s “royal lineage,” or panaqua. Margaret Hoover of CNN is Herbert Hoover’s great-granddaughter!

That's right! Even Herbert Hoover’s kin are concerned that Hillary Clinton is out of touch!

Fifteen minutes later, Burnett threw to Anderson Cooper. Cooper had advanced the new narrative two nights earlier. He is Gloria Vanderbilt’s son.

Gloria Vanderbilt’s son thinks Clinton may have too much cash! Kin of Hoover are concerned that Clinton is out of touch!

For obvious reasons, some anthropologists are suggesting that this pattern may reflect elaborate “dark humor” arranged by tribal priests. But no matter how clownish this gong show may get, corporate liberals will let it continue. That’s what they did in Campaign 2000, sending George Bush to the White house.

Anthropologically speaking, fiery “liberal” clowns like Joan Walsh have their paws in the money pile too. You simply don’t challenge the tribal elders when they get their “narrative” going. The minions don't challenge the gods.

Tomorrow, we’ll see what happened when Chris Haves discussed the growing attacks on Clinton with Molly Ball, yet another Yale grad (class of 2001). We’ve never seen anyone echo the elders with so much speed and precision.

At some point, did Yale start teaching a course called “Adherence to Narrative 101?” Around the world, top anthropologists, shaking their heads, have finally started to ask.

Tomorrow: Ball’s recitation


  1. It is great that Bob is pointing out this narrative is a myth. I do wish the press would quit creating the myth of how rich the Clinton's have become when Hillary tries so hard to explain why they are not.

    $1.4 million in a week is not so much. Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, and Prague. It's hard work but when the little woman back home doesn't even have a car she can drive to her own speaking gigs,
    a true family man buckles down and endures the grind.

    1. In the words of a manager at one of my temp jobs, "You a idiot!"

    2. As a temp who works from speech to speech and is working to solve word gaps like that of your manager, I am sure Hillary would sympathize.

      Unless you suggested you had to take those temp jobs becasse of the work requirements of the Welfare Reform legislation President Clinton signed into law. Then she would probably get testy.

  2. There is no reason to think that great wealth is a disadvantage politically. Those who have got theirs are generally admired, however they did it. Even the egregious plutocrat Romney got almost half the vote in 2012 - his attitude toward the 47% probably counted against him, but not his wealth or his pedigree (people also generally like aristocracy).

  3. OMB (Strawberries missing? OTB has solved these cases before!)

    Look at the nefarious question used to set up poor innocent Al Gore while he was exploring the process of volunteering to lead our great land.

    "Why should Democrats, looking at the Democratic nomination process, support you instead of Bill Bradley, a friend of yours, a former colleague in the Senate? What do you have to bring to this that he doesn't necessarily bring to this process?"

    How could someone with Al's bakground as the son of a Senator, Congressman, US Senator, previous candidate for President and sitting Vice President known that saying something like "I took the initiative to create the internet" could be misstated and ridiculed by opponents and the media. I mean, its not like he had any experience with the press.

    But that nasty Dianne Sawyer did not even have the decency to ask a question before trapping the equally naive Hillary Clinton, whose interview was arranged by her publisher for the apolitical purpose of selling books.

    "It has been reported you've made five million making speeches. The president made more than $100 million."

    "Well, if you, you have no reason to remember, but we came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses, for Chelsea's education, you know, it was not easy."

    All those years at home baking cookies and standing by her man while he was savaged by the vicious right wing conspiracy never prepared her to let a reporter ask a question before she answered it.

    Neither Al Gore nor Hillary Clinton did anything at all in their previous life to develop an impression among people that would lend itself to narrative writing. It is just this side of heinous.


    1. When KZ snark becomes incomprehensible and ridiculous. Sure is clever, though.

    2. Bob Rule No. 1: Never blame the favored candidate for the dumb things he/she says.

      Bob Rule No. 2: It will soon be Rachel Maddow's fault.

    3. I agree, the culpability lay with the candidates themselves not the journalists.

    4. KZ,

      I'm disappointed in you. I can't believe that after all these months of bashing Somerby for his mistakes (real and imagined), you proceed to bungle the ur quote of this entire blog: it's not "I took the initiative to create the internet," but rather "I took the initiative IN CREATING the internet." Physician heal thyself!

      Just kidding. You know I love you KZ. : )

    5. During my service as a commenter I took the initiative in creating many initiatives that contributed to mistaken quotes and errors which have hopefully been corrected.

      cacambo, if you, you have no reason to remember, but we came out of our galaxy not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got here and we struggled to, you know, piece together the comment s we have made.

      It was a lazy error. It may differ again.


  4. I can't believe Bob's fans swallow this crap.

    1. That's really an intelligent comment. Please identify the crap.

    2. Well, please substantiate this crap below:

      ". . . he has more readers, including more influential readers, than he did in 1999."

      Really? Do you know how to look up traffic counts? This blog's count is pathetic, especially for a blog that's national in scope and has been around for 16 years.

      Once upon a time, this blog used to get linked to all over the place. Now? Even Kevin Drum ignores it. And Drum was Somerby's last friend in the blogosphere until Somerby went completely off the rails last winter defending poor Chris Christie and Gov. Ultrasound from the vile, evil Rachel Maddow.

      Go ahead. Google up "Bob Somerby" and see how recently has name has come up anywhere.

      In short, once upon a time, Somerby was original and relevant. He is no longer either.

    3. Urban, you know just like the crap that is pointed out by KZ. It's the candidates fault.

  5. It's early, and it's obviously a stupid narrative because they did not inherit the wealth and anyone running for high public office these days has, and probably must have, a lot of money. They come from, respectively, the lower middle class (Bill) and the slightly upper middle class.

    So it is likely to fizzle because there's no there there. This is where Somerby is at his best, and he has more readers, including more influential readers, than he did in 1999. He has probably done more than anyone to identify the press "narrative" or "script" as anathema to true journalism. Our own small army of people ready to pick up the phone and complain about such practices to editors may help making them short-lived.

    Meanwhile, we get to see which young reporters are slated to join the Ron Fournier Look-Alike Society for a lifetime of decent jobs, zero respect from anyone who pays enough attention to public affairs to happen to know their names, and the ever-present threat of a critical mass of public ridicule as to make those decent jobs always at some risk of early termination. It will be up to people like us, of course, to create the conditions for that critical mass to form.

    Note that the narrative: (1) matches the Karl Rove methodology of trying to turn her positive -- unmatched experience in public matters at the state and national level -- into a negative -- out of touch because of all that experience. Democrats need to become adept at spotting the flip side of every good thing that can be said about Hillary; the Republicans employ a real army division of bow-tied Young Republicans doing just that: (2) rather than doing the bidding of the wealthy, floating the narrative this early may be a desperate media play to keep the next election from being boring. Remember the comment in the 2000 election --Margaret Carlson as I recall -- about wanting to tear down Gore to make the election more interesting.

    1. Legend, that is about the dumbest. wordiest analysis I have seen. Which makes it very worthy of Somerby's combox.

      Here's a clue for you: This has pretty much already blown over. Except one place: The Daily Howler, where he will use it as a club to beat his favorite targets for years.

      Another clue: Hillary said a very stupid thing. Why is it so hard for you, and Somerby, to admit that? And no, it wasn't merely a "gaffe". It was a damned stupid thing to say.

    2. It is not her fault, 5:11. She was still shell shocked from taking fire back in Bosnia in '96. You remember, when sniper fire almost cut short the career of future war correspondent Chelsea Clinton?

    3. We agree with urban legend. It will blow over. That is what John Dickerson seemed to say as well.

      Joan Walsh made a better point when she wrote "Democrats shouldn’t be baited into arguments about their comparative personal wealth." Her article on this topic seems to have been disappeared even if her paws in the pile of money haven't.

    4. Actually, "it will blow over" is also one of the consistent media themes. Even the vile, evil Lawrence O'Donnell blames the whole flap on a very slow news period, and the "conventional wisdom" is that the election is still more than two years away -- plenty of time for this whole thing to blow over.

      In fact, as far as I can tell, this whole flap burned bright for a few days, and is already fading -- except perhaps on The Daily Howler, Fox News and Limbaugh, all of whom will milk it dry for their own purposes.

      But to Somerby?

    5. Famous moments in history.

      Just ignore them Al, this crap about you being a delusional liar and claiming to invent the internet will blow over.

      Just ignore them Sen. Kerry, those swift boat goons will blow over soon.

      We're watching classic republican rat-fucking of Clinton in real time. This is what they know how to do.

    6. It has so blown over that Jon Stewart spent time repeating conservative memes. Anything for a laugh.

    7. Guess mm missed the part where it was shown the classic republican rat-fucking began with journalists on the left. You know, the guys that got the scoop on Romney's 47%?

    8. Yeah, Diane Sawyer, leftist icon.

    9. "It has so blown over that Jon Stewart spent time repeating conservative memes. Anything for a laugh."

      Bill Maher got in on the fun last night too.

  6. We should be glad some liberals, as imperfect as they may be, have their hands in the money pile. Otherwise, we would barely hear from anyone with similar views.

    1. Are you talking about the Clintons, Joan Walsh or all three?

    2. Another Rachel Maddow apologist.

  7. cacambo has me in a suitably correctional mood.

    Technically Al Gore was not a candidate when his narrative was inscribed by the heir of Inka ritual. Mrs. Clinton may never be again. We hope not.


    1. "We"? Speak for yourself. Many of us hope she will run and win. Somerby noted how early this started with Gore (20 months). Conservatives hope to prevent the strongest candidates from being nominated. Are you declaring yourself as a conservative, KZ?

    2. Certainly, you are not under the impression that the Clintons are "liberals" are you? They are not. They are very much pragmatic centrists. The problem is, the right-wing of this country continues to move so far to the right that centrists look like Abbey Hoffman in comparison.

    3. I was alive during Bill Clinton's 8 uninterrupted years of prosperity. I don't care what label you put on the Clintons, they were good for the country. You tell who is "liberal" by who the conservatives aim their vitriol at.

      The people who populate the far left in this country are largely clowns. I don't know why that it, perhaps the left has been undermined from within, but these are not people I would trust with any kind of power. Give me a centrist with a clear view of what will benefit our society and the ability to use office to attain concrete goals, any day.

    4. 10:49. Read KZ's comment again. Slowly. For comprehension rather than knee jerk Bobinista tribal reaction.

    5. So I guess that makes Eric Cantor a "liberal" because "conservatives" sure aimed a lot of vitriol his way.

  8. Has anyone noticed that David in CA is MIA?

    1. Bill Clinton was called America's first black President. But this is about Hillary Clinton not Bill. Hillary Clinton was not called America's first black First Lady. Therefore David in CA has no interest in Hillary.


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