Concerning the work of the Times: In our view, Lawrence O’Donnell won the week with some good press analysis.
Along the way, he sometimes overstated and erred. But he won his basic point:
The New York Times hasn't established the fact that “witnesses have given investigators sharply conflicting accounts of the killing” of Michael Brown.
Let’s be clear. It’s possible that witnesses have provided “sharply conflicting accounts.” But in its Wednesday front-page report, the Times offered no examples.
As usual, America’s most hapless newspaper didn’t come close to making the case. At the Times, public editor Margaret Sullivan agreed with O’Donnell’s assessment.
Despite some overstatements and errors, O’Donnell did a good job critiquing that widely-repeated assertion. But even as he did, he spent two nights heaping praise on the brilliance normally seen at the Times.
Ranking guild members will always do this. They grossly mislead the American people when they engage in this scam.
In its domestic political coverage, the Times is a terrible paper. This has been so for a good long time. Consider what O’Donnell told Chris Matthews fourteen years ago.
It was May 5, 2000. The mainstream press corps’ War Against Gore was in its fourteen month.
On two successive mornings, the New York Times had published front-page reports which savaged Candidate Gore for his “cascade of attacks” against poor Candidate Bush. James Dao, who O’Donnell trashed this past Thursday night, had written those front-page reports.
As we noted yesterday, Dao’s front-page reports had been absurd beyond inane. Appearing on Hardball that second night, O’Donnell broke every rule in the book:
O’Donnell explained what the Times was doing! Let's recall what happened.
(For our real-time report, just click here. Scroll down to 5/9/00.)
At the start of the segment, Matthews introduced two of his network’s O’Donnells. Then, he began reciting the script which was being repeated all over the press:
MATTHEWS (5/5/00): We've got Lawrence O'Donnell here with me in California. And we've got Norah O'Donnell back there on assignment in Maryland.Below, you’ll see major pundits on three other shows using the very same language. The corps’ preferred theme was clear at this point: Gore was being nasty and negative in his attacks on the “clean and good” Bush.
Norah, let's start with you about this amazing campaign. Who would believe that George W. Bush would look so clean and good right now after that bruising fight with John McCain?
He is up about five points in a number of polls this week. And yet you see Al Gore picking away at him with these left jabs of his—he's dangerous on Social Security, he's got a scheme out there on Social Security, he's dangerous on foreign policy, he's arrogant, he's smug.
It's the same thing he did to Bill Bradley. Attack, attack, attack!
Suddenly, it was considered unseemly for Candidate A to criticize Candidate B's proposals. But good God!
When Matthews turned to Lawrence O’Donnell, he explained what the press corps was doing! He specifically cited the Times:
O’DONNELL: Chris, it's interesting. These are winning issues for the Democrats. When the Democrats demonize the Republicans on entitlements like Social Security, the middle-class entitlements, Social Security, Medicare, it has always worked. It has never failed.According to O’Donnell, the press corps, especially the New York Times, had decided they didn’t want to be “complicit” in the Gore “scare tactics”—in the “tactic” of criticizing Bush for proposing the partial privatization of Social Security.
There is a very interesting thing developing this week, which is the media, especially the New York Times, seems to be making a decision about how complicit they want to be in the Gore tactic. You notice they're doing less reporting actually now on what Gore is actually saying, and much more analysis about the tactic of it and why he's saying it. They didn't do that in the fall when it was Gore versus Bradley on health care stuff.
MATTHEWS: So the Times is avoiding being used as a weapon by Gore against the Republicans by simply trumpeting all his charges and scare tactics. They're saying he is using scare tactics.
O’DONNELL: There is a sense in the press corps that not only did Bill Bradley let Gore get away with taking those shots in the fall, but the press feels, it seems to me, a little bit complicit in helping deliver them, and so now you're seeing what I think, in many ways, is almost an over-analysis, in terms of the press, of the Gore tactic, as opposed to the substance of what Gore's actually saying, which does have some real merit.
According to O’Donnell, what Gore was saying did “have some real merit.” But the Times was now presenting “almost an over-analysis” of Gore’s “tactic”—the outrageous tactic of criticizing his opponent’s major proposal.
They weren’t reporting what Gore was saying. They were discussing why he was saying it. They were discussing his “tactic!”
Readers, was it true? Had the New York Times been offering almost an over-analysis?
Almost an over-analysis? That very morning, Dao had listed the five nastiest things Gore had said in the previous seven weeks. Exactly as presented by Dao, this was one of the worst examples in Gore’s “cascade of attacks:”
MAY 3—“What about the waitress who's carrying a heavy tray, what about the longshoreman, what about the steelworker and the auto workers? When they get to the current retirement age, they don't want to be told that in order to finance some risky tax scheme for the wealthy, they are going to have to keep on working until they are 70 years old.”Over the course of seven weeks, that was one of the nastiest things Candidate Gore had said!
Can we talk? Dao wasn’t offering “almost an over-analysis.” Dao was conducting a brain-dead war—part of a war which was being conducted all over the upper-end press. (For examples, see below.)
O’Donnell used some very soft soap that day, but he did something very unusual. Right there on a cable program, he was describing the mainstream press corps’ ongoing War Against Gore. He was describing absurd misconduct by the press corps, while using a bit of soft soap to help the misconduct slide down.
Dao’s front-page reports on May 4 and May 5 were just this side of crazy. On May 15, Bush formally unveiled his privatization plan in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
Dao reported Bush’s speech with a “Cucamonga” dateline. In a slightly more rational world, the Times would have left him there.
O’Donnell savaged Dao this Thursday, but he heaped praise on the normally brilliant New York Times as he did. At one point, he even made this confession:
“In 30 years of studying the New York Times coverage of these cases, I have never been critical of their work until yesterday.”
O’Donnell was slicing the cheese very thin. In that statement, he was referring to police reporting only.
Still and all, O’Donnell heaped praise on the Times for two straight nights this week. In truth, he knows much better that that. He just isn’t willing to tell you.
The dead of Iraq look up from the ground into the faces of people like Dao. Standing behind them are Matthews and O’Donnell, pockets stuffed full of Welch cash.
Matthews’ salary went from $1 million to $5 million as he trashed Gore for two solid years. Other guild members kept their traps shut.
Today, you can see them on cable!
For some strange reason, all the pundits were saying the very same things: How dare a person like Candidate Gore criticize proposals by Bush? All over the “press corps,” people like Matthews had memorized their scripts.
Below, you see excerpts from four cable discussions about this same topic. Everyone knew the script:
The Beltway Boys, Fox News Channel, April 30, 2000“Almost knee-jerk,” Russert said, describing his own behavior.
KONDRACKE: Look, the dynamic here is perfectly obvious. Gore is behind in all the polls, so he's doing what worked with Bill Bradley, attack attack attack. And you know, and he's hoping that it'll work on George W. Bush. The difference is that George W. Bush is not going to take it forever. I mean, George W. knows how to counterpunch, and I predict soon that he'll start doing it.
BARNES: Yes, he's not going to be the guy on the ropes just getting punched. No rope-a-dope for him. But look, Gore was attack attack attacking, and he's—in the beginning, and now he's been going down as a result of that attack attack attacking.
Hardball, MSNBC, May 5, 2000:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Norah, let’s start in talking about this amazing campaign. Who would have believed that George W. Bush would have looked so clean and so good right now after that bruising fight with John McCain? He’s up five points in a number of polls this week, and yet you see Al Gore picking away at him with these left jabs of his...It’s the same thing he did to Bill Bradley—attack, attack, attack.
Russert, CNBC, May 6, 2000:
JOE KLEIN: The concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he’s kind of becoming a one-trick pony.
TIM RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.
KLEIN: Attack. Attack.
RUSSERT: Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and he attacks, saying that is risky...Why, why—why does Gore just, almost knee-jerk, attack, attack, attack?
Inside Politics, CNN, May 17, 2000:
CHARLES COOK: For Governor Bush, it’s a chance to show sort of bold leadership...But at the same time, getting into that area is certainly a risky thing and it’s going to test all of George Bush’s abilities of persuasion to sell this, because Al Gore is very good at the attack, just look at what he did to Bill Bradley on health care...
BERNARD SHAW: What comes to mind, Stu?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, in general, he has been attacking for months now and there’s been a lot of criticism that he’s been overly negative. Once again here, attack, attack.
Why were all those upper-end pundits saying the very same things? Cleaning it up for the public to hear, O’Donnell told Matthews the truth.
This week, he heaped praise on the gruesome newspaper which was up to its neck in that scam. Needless to say, other examples of gruesome work at the Times are endless.
The dead of Iraq look up from the ground at those highly obedient pundits. They also see the liberal pundits who still refuse to tell the public that this scam ever occurred.