THE WAY WE ARE: President Clinton said it, not us!


Part 1—Like Shipp and Krugman before him:
Bill Clinton said it. Not us!

It seems he said it back in April, although his remarks went undiscussed. In a recent blog post for the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza reported the former president’s deeply unpleasant comments:
CILLIZZA (9/25/14): “If a policymaker is a political leader and is covered primarily by the political press, there is a craving that borders on addictive to have a storyline," Bill Clinton said in a speech at Georgetown University back in April. “And then once people settle on the storyline, there is a craving that borders on blindness to shoehorn every fact, every development, everything that happens into the story line, even if it’s not the story.”
Say what? Did Bill Clinton actually say those things? Are such comments even permitted?

Apparently, Clinton did say that! Cillizza linked to an April 30 on-line report by CNN’s Dan Merica. In that report, the young scribe quoted the former president making those very remarks.

It looks like Clinton actually made those remarks! But can his claims possibly be true? It seems he said these things about the upper-end press corps:
What Bill Clinton seems to have said:
1) With a craving which borders on addiction, the press corps establishes “storylines” about major political figures.

2) Once they’ve adopted a storyline, they will work, with “a craving which borders on blindness,” to “shoehorn every fact into that storyline.”
Might we make an obvious point? In that passage, Clinton is accusing the press corps of gross misconduct—of journalistic malfeasance.

For reasons which are blindingly obvious, journalists aren’t supposed to behave in the ways Clinton described. Their editors aren’t supposed to permit it. For reasons which are blindingly obvious, the journalistic conduct Clinton described should never be allowed to exist.

According to Merica’s report, Clinton seems to have offered a wider context for his unpleasant remarks. He seems to have said that this adherence to “storylines” is offered in lieu of serious coverage of serious policy issues.

Clinton seems to have linked his remarks to the way Obamacare was reported in 2010. That said, it’s somewhat hard to tell from Merica’s report. Adopting a time-honored storyline, Merica spent more time explaining how boring Clinton’s speech was than fleshing out the actual context of his actual charges.

Can President Clinton say those things about the national press? Apparently, he can! Indeed, several other folk have said the same things in the past.

In March 2000, the ombudsman for the Washington Post described the same sort of journalistic misconduct. In a short but brilliant Sunday column, she blasted the way the Post was covering the four major candidates in Campaign 2000.

We’ve often cited E. R. Shipp’s brilliant 600-word column, “Typecasting Candidates.” Needless to say, her remarks were completely ignored by the rest of the press corps:
SHIPP (3/5/00): Typecasting Candidates

There is something not quite satisfying about The Post's coverage of the quests of Bill Bradley, George W. Bush, Al Gore and John McCain to become our next president.


[R]eaders roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama. Gore is the guy in search of an identity; Bradley is the Zen-like intellectual in search of a political strategy; McCain is the war hero who speaks off the cuff and is, thus, a "maverick"; and Bush is a lightweight with a famous name, and has the blessings of the party establishment and lots of money in his war chest. As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
This is the best we can do for a link.

As she continued, Shipp described the way the Post’s reporters had invented some facts, and discarded some others, to maintain these preferred storylines.

(One of the invented “facts” was a deeply damaging misquotation the Post had put in the mouth of Candidate Gore. Shipp boiled her paper’s misquotation down to its appalling essence. The misquotation “fits the role The Post seems to have assigned him in Campaign 2000.” For details, see below.)

All the way back in March 2000, Shipp described the very process Clinton described last April! Ironically, her critique was completely ignored for an obvious reason:

It didn’t fit a key storyline—the storyline the national “press crops” maintains about its own work!

Major journalists almost never say the sorts of things Shipp said in that column. But uh-oh! In a column in 2004, Paul Krugman described the same process:
KRUGMAN (8/3/04): Reading the Script

A message to my fellow journalists: check out media watch sites like, and It's good to see ourselves as others see us. I've been finding The Daily Howler's concept of a media “script,” a story line that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence, particularly helpful in understanding cable news.
In that passage, Krugman used the same language Clinton would use ten years later. According to Krugman, the press corps will often adopt “a story line.” Once they’re adopted, such story lines will often “shape coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence.”

In April, Clinton used that term—“storyline.” Ten years earlier, Krugman used identical language, even as he cited our own “helpful” term: “script.”

Shipp used a different metaphor in her earlier column. She said the press corps was assigning “roles” to the candidates in “a political drama” they were inventing, often in the face of the actual facts.

But everyone was describing the same basic process—a process Clinton described again this April. The press corps adopts a storyline, then tortures the facts to maintain it.

Clinton, Krugman, Shipp, ourselves? That’s an impressive lineup! But you can be certain of one thing when someone describes this type of misconduct:

Their highly unpleasant comments will go almost wholly undiscussed! To the extent that their comments are discussed at all, they will often be derided.

All this week, we’re going to discuss this concept—the concept of a journalistic storyline, drama or script. We’ll do it as part of a new award-winning series, The Way We Are.

In this series, we plan to discuss the basic ways our “national discourse” actually works. Bill Clinton said a mouthful last April.

All week, we’ll discuss what he said.

Tomorrow: Cillizza, displeased

Concerning that completely accidental misquotation: In her short but brilliant column, Shipp described the deeply damaging way her paper misquoted Candidate Gore in December 1999.

Needless to say, the misquotation was completely accidental. Here’s what Shipp wrote about the incident, which turned out to be profoundly consequential:
SHIPP: Readers have questioned a Post article that portrayed Gore as delusional, thinking that he was not only the man who discovered Love Canal, a New York community contaminated by illegally dumped toxic waste decades ago, but also the basis for the character of Oliver Barrett IV in Eric Segal's "Love Story." Gore (Albert II) was, according to Segal, one of the preppies he had in mind in creating the character; the other was Gore's roommate, the actor Tommy Lee Jones. As for Love Canal, Gore said that after a high school student contacted him about a toxic waste site in Toone, Tenn., he sought information about other such sites, learned about Love Canal, and used the two as case studies in a hearing that led to legislation aimed at cleaning up such sites. As he put it: "I...had the first hearing on that issue, and Toone, Tenn.—that was the one you didn't hear of—but that was the one that started it all." That is a whole lot different from The Post's version, "I'm the one that started it all," which fits the role The Post seems to have assigned him in Campaign 2000.
Wouldn’t you know it? Somehow, Shipp managed to misquote the original misquotation! Completely accidentally, Ceci Connolly had quoted Gore saying this:

"I was the one that started it all.”

As videotape made perfectly clear, that wasn’t what Gore had actually said to a high school class in Concord, New Hampshire. But the misquotation, which was completely unintentional, created the latest thrilling claim: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!

In turn, that thrilling but inaccurate claim revived a powerful storyline: AL GORE, LIAR. That storyline had been dying on the vine. That completely unintentional misquotation revived it.

After the hubbub surrounding that misquotation, that powerful storyline never died. It kept reappearing, again and again, right through November 2000, as the press corps kept inventing new “lies” by the highly Clintonesque Candidate Gore.

Plainly, that storyline sent George Bush to the White House. People are dead all over the world because of the storyline that misquotation revived and set into stone.

Without any question, that misquotation was completely and wholly accidental, of course. That said, for a full account of the astonishing episode Shipp tried to discuss in that very short passage, see Chapter 6 at our companion site, How He Got There.

People are dead all over the world because of what you will read in that chapter. We’re now in our second war in Iraq because of the way the Washington Post (and the New York Times) unintentionally misquoted Gore, completely by accident of course.

A quick point of personal privilege:

When we posted that detailed, astonishing chapter,
it was met with total silence among the careful, corrupt career players who pretend to be part a “press corps.” It’s a key aspect of Hard Pundit Law:

The type of conduct Bill Clinton described simply cannot be discussed. Our recent history can’t be discussed. Dearest people, it just isn’t done!


  1. TheDouchebagsYouKnowAllTooWellOctober 6, 2014 at 11:39 AM

    The press is terrible, in great part for the exact reason which you, Krugman, Clinton, et al, cite.

    But you can't expect us to simply allow you to mention Al Gore again!

    1. Why not? He could conceivably run for president in 2016.

    2. I would be for him. He made his mega millions the hard way.

    3. We should start the meme that he is the only one who can save the country from Hillary.

    4. He's can point to many more accomplishments. He invented the Internet in the Senate and Reinvented Government as VPOTUS.

      He never led an abortive effort to socialize medicine and in fact campaigned effectively against Bradleycare.

      Plus, by picking Lieberman he distanced himself from the bad behavior in the White house during the Clinton years.
      His marital problems will be tough to explain, though.

    5. Why? People grow apart.

  2. Douchebags@11:39. As you attempt to dfend this blog in your own way (and thank you for that!) keep this in mind:

    "If someone's formulation isn’t exactly like ours; if someone dares to make a statement which isn’t the statement we would have made; then we will seek to snark, name-call or misparaphrase those miscreants down.

    We’ll paraphrase them in ludicrous ways. Immediately, we’ll attack their motives. We’ll create a cult of aggression that seeks the elimination of all nonbelievers from our discussion or comment thread."

    Please don't let the shoe fit.

    1. The doucheshoe does fit the Gorewhores though!

  3. I am surprised Bill Clinton's speech did not get more coverage and that the Howler did not notice it at the time. That said, a certain orientation does perhaps seem to remain.

    1. As I recall, he did.

    2. I wish young scribe Dan Merica had covered Clinton's lecture at his alma mater as respectfully as Merica's own version of the same thing had been covered by even younger scribes at his own alma mater.

    3. I don't recall Somerby covering it myself. I know I would have remembered anything that quoted Bill Clinton making reference to someone else having "a craving that borders on addictive" and "a craving that borders on blindness."

      Talk about Freudian feeding of a script.

    4. Maybe I saw the reporting of the original quote in the paper back in April and that is what I'm recalling. Memory can be slippery. But I thought Somerby talked about it.

  4. Rush Limbaugh has been pointing this out for 25 years. Welcome to the party; better late than never I guess.

    1. Your formulation isn't exactly mine, and I wouldn't have made that statement. But why do you think this undermining of democratic values is a "party."

    2. I see the trolling has evolved into vague paraphrases of previous Somerby statements posted as non sequiturs.

      Deadrat, if troll-noise doesn't impede discussion in comments, why do trolls bother creating it? It must serve some disruptive function or they wouldn't spend so much time doing it.

    3. That is certainly an aggressive accusation against someone wishing to discuss something with a commenter who suggests Somerby is a latecomer to a position long advocated by Rush Limbaugh.

      I would not, however, say your motive is an attempt to eliminate discussion since you asked a question of someone, even though that person appears not to be on this thread at the current time.

    4. @12:57, seems odd that you're posting as Anonymous when you have something useful to say.

    5. I never use a nym because it encourages stalking and because trolls then try to play the foolish consistency game and waste your time. Anonymous only has to be consistent within a single post, not across a posting history. When I used to use a screen name, I had people trying to figure out who I was, where I worked, and threatened to contact my employer (during the contentious 2008 primary) to suppress things I was saying in comments. Names can be used against you.

    6. Shucks @ 2:36, imaginary noise in the form of print on your screen seems to spook you.

    7. Yes, it is funny unless it happens to you.

    8. @1:28P, I'm here. I'm always here. All that's necessary is to invoke my name.

      @12:57P, I assume that many trolls post comments for the same reason that I do. We love the sound of our own voice. What exactly do you find disruptive? The @12:45P comment about Limbaugh? The touching story of a boy and his dog @2:27P? The Jack Gilbert reference @3:12? (I liked that last, not least because I learned something.)

      Consider all the troll noise about TDH's jealousy of Josh Marshall, and then read the deft skewering @2:28P. Is it not good when trolls are made fast to their own petards and thereby hoisted?

    9. I second @ 2:36's concern. Having followed her comments here for some time I can see why they went after her in 2008.

  5. Here is a perfect example of what is bering talked about. A teacher
    gets suspended without pay for trying to help a student. The New York Times covers it. The New York Daily News takes that coverage and shoehorns it into a story about a sex crazed teacher that is getting paid. The Daily Howler takes that story and shoehorns it into a story about Bill Gates, Jack Welch and MSNBC not covering test scores.

    1. Do you think the story about ingratitude toward teachers fits better in a story about sex-crazed teachers getting paid or a story about how Bill Gates is ruining public education? Does Somerby work for the Daily News?

    2. I didn't see it as a story about ingratitude toward teachers. I saw it as a story about bureaucracy eating its own. I missed the part about Bill Gates ruining public education. Who wrote about that?

    3. These daily posts are part of an ongoing discussion.

    4. I think a story about ingratitude towards teachers is big enough to shoehorn perv teachers and Bill Gates into it.
      What is so bad about shoehorning?

    5. When you try to get something to fit that doesn't actually fit, you have to shave off pieces or distort. Both of those affect accuracy. The function of journalists is to accurately inform readers, not tell a pleasing story. So distorting a story by changing facts or leaving some out is journalistic malpractice.

      When I was a kid, a newspaper reporter took a picture of my dog with an icebag on his head, sitting next to a small boy with an ice cream cone. The puppy was trying to lick the cone -- it was very cute. The reporter created the picture by putting our dog together with someone else's kid. It was meant to illustrate the heat wave. We waited eagerly for the picture of our dog to appear in the paper, but were devastated when the other kid was listed as the dog's owner, not us. It was one of those moments where children lean not to trust -- in this case, I learned that papers print things that are untrue. They did it because it was a better story with the younger, cuter kid. The distrust that arises is what is bad about such shoehorning (creation of pleasing narratives by reporters, irrespective of facts).

    6. What we feel most has no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.

    7. It's the Dickensian aspect as described in The Wire - these are "stories" and "shows" - a story must be told. People must be entertained. Straight facts are impossible for a mass audience to consume. Commercial, publicly held enterprises can't make it with the truth these days. It's great that the Howler calls them on it. In real time no less! Bravo!

    8. Right On, 5:14. In Real Time.

      And that's the way it is here in the home of the brave and land of the free fathered by a great guy who couldn't tell a lie.

  6. Perhaps Clinton is just jealous of Josh Marshall's success.

  7. Krugman hasn't mentioned the Daily Howler again. Did someone get to him?

  8. Being a politician, Clinton focused on how the media sticks to a chosen narrative about political figures. However, IMHO they also stick to other types of narratives.

    E.g., some reporters are happy to blame climate change for any effect at all, no matter how ridiculous the claim. E.g., the canard that climate change supposedly affected walruses.. Or, the New York Times' continuing bias against Israel.

    1. Hijacking a thread to spread garbage is troll behavior.

    2. According to Somerby's recent post, trying to silence discussions because you disagree with someone is the trollery, 9:57. Somerby was talking about you.

  9. Thank you, Bob. Love this stuff. LOVE IT. They won't talk about it, but it is the most influential thing, because they can destroy a candidate with a negative script, storyline, or role anytime they want...For quite a long time now the media preferred narrative goes something like this: Democrat=Bad; Republicon=Good.....They are killing our democracy is our news media with this bullsh*t, like I said, the most important thing, but you are the only one who talks about it....I enjoy every time you do. It keeps me sharp!

    1. I like it almost as much as when the grocery store I shop in replays Blue Moon by the Marcels over their sound system.
      It keeps me young!

  10. Is that you Rachel? Is this me?


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