THE WAY WE ARE: Still troubled by 1994!

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2014

Part 4—Storyline ahoy:
To this day, Maureen Dowd rarely fails to drag Hillary Clinton in.

In June 2008, Dowd was savaged by her newspaper’s public editor for the “gender-heavy” way she had covered Candidate Clinton’s White House campaign. According to Clark Hoyt, Dowd’s performance had been so egregious that she “could easily have been listed in” an earlier New York Times report which assigned several major pundits to a sexist “Hall of Shame.”

For yesterday’s post, just click here.

Finally! From an extremely high platform, Clark Hoyt savaged the horrible Dowd for her egregious conduct. And sure enough! All around the career liberal world, timorous onlookers knew what to do:

They ignored Hoyt’s jeremiad, pretending his words had never appeared! This has freed Dowd to continue along with her widely-emailed conduct.

To this day, she rarely misses a chance to drag Clinton in. Last Sunday, Dowd was discussing Julia Pierson’s tenure at the Secret Service. Suddenly this:
DOWD (10/5/14): It is often assumed that women bring a certain set of skills to the workplace, like consensus-building, forthrightness, a resistance to gratuitous belligerence and inclusivity. But that doesn't always hold true. Hillary Clinton scuttled her dream of health care for all by taking a my-way-or-the-highway approach and supported gratuitous belligerence by backing W.'s vanity invasion of Iraq.
Clinton scuttled health care for all by taking a my-way-or-the-highway approach!

Is that a fair assessment of what happened? We have no real idea. That said, Dowd was referring to events from 1994.

Since that time, Hillary Clinton has served eight years as a United States senator, plus four years as secretary of state. She has run a presidential campaign—the campaign which Dowd assailed in those “gender-heavy terms.”

There are many recent ways to assess Clinton’s behavior, but Maureen Dowd keeps going back to that moldering health care proposal! Back in June, Dowd was battering Clinton for her book tour, then found herself saying this:
DOWD (6/15/14): Has she given up the my-way-or-the-highway imperiousness that doomed her health care efforts? Has she toned down the defensiveness that exacerbated the Whitewater affair?
There was the twenty-year-old “my-way-or-the-highway imperiousness” which doomed health care again! Also, Clinton’s (alleged) defensiveness during Whitewater, the pseudo-scandal which defined an era of pseudo-scandal, starting more than twenty years back!

Has Clinton abandoned her (alleged) “my-way-or-the-highway imperiousness,” the imperiousness she put on display in early 1994? The question seems to trouble Dowd’s sleep. In March, some meaningless papers were released from the 1990s. If we might borrow from our Dylan, Dowd found herself “having that same old dream” yet again!
DOWD (3/2/14): The new cache of Clinton papers is benign…but just reading through them is draining. There are reams of advice on how to steer health care, which must have filled the briefing binders Hillary famously carried. But did she absorb the lessons, given that health care failed because she refused to be flexible and make the sensible compromises suggested by her husband and allies? She's always on listening tours, but is she hearing?
Really? She’s always on listening tours? Hillary Clinton’s self-described “listening tour” of New York voters occurred in 1999! In what sense has she “always” been on other such tours?

Dowd’s detour last Sunday was nothing new. It represented the third time in the past seven months that she worried about some very old (alleged) conduct in support of that health care proposal.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with raising a point more than once, if the point is significant. But let a warning go forth from this place to the world:

This can also be seen as the way a “storyline” can get established. Bill Clinton described that type of reporting in April of this year. In this passage, he described vast journalistic misconduct:
BILL CLINTON (4/30/14): 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. 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.
For reasons which are blindingly obvious, journalists aren’t supposed to do that. They aren’t supposed to establish a “storyline” about a political leader, then “shoehorn every fact” into that storyline.

They aren’t supposed to invent fake facts to further a storyline. They aren’t supposed to invent “quotations” to buttress their storyline.

They aren’t supposed to disappear facts which undermine storylines.

For reasons which are blindingly obvious, journalists aren’t supposed to do such things in discussing policy matters, or in reporting campaigns. Plainly, though, the children who pose as our journalists do such things all the time.

(For a wonderful minor example, see this post by Kevin Drum. Drum finds Chris Cillizza playing the storyline game even as he quotes Bill Clinton’s statement on the topic! Did Cillizza realize that he had toyed with a couple of facts to heighten a negative storyline? We can’t tell you that.)

Journalists aren’t supposed to do the things Bill Clinton described. That said, the kind of reporting Clinton described has been conducted on a very wide scale in the past (at least) twenty-five years.

Dating at least to Edmund Muskie, major presidential candidates have been caught in the type of web where major journalists rearrange facts to drive a preconceived narrative. When this happens, journalists are toying with our most sacred political event.

This type of “reporting” was never more potent than it was in Campaign 2000. During that deeply consequential campaign, the upper-end “press corps” created silly storylines to guide the coverage of all four major candidates—Candidates Bush and McCain, Candidates Gore and Bradley.

In the case of Candidate Gore, the storyline which sent Bush to the White House was firmly in place as early as March 1999:

Al Gore is a liar, like President Clinton!

Everyone knew the storyline. Everyone worked to advance it.

From March 1999 forward, facts were trampled, invented, discarded in service to that storyline—but storylines were also concocted for the other contenders. A full year later, the Washington Post’s ombudsman described the major storylines as they existed at that point in time:
SHIPP (3/5/00): [R]eaders react...to 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.
Shipp described some major storylines as they existed at that time, with Bradley essentially out of the race and McCain making his best run at Bush. (She also noted the gross unfairness of this approach to reporting.)

Shipp described the state of play in early March 2000. During the bulk of the primary season, the most ubiquitous storylines had been somewhat different:

Candidates Bradley and McCain had been uniformly “cast” as straight-talking, straight-shooting truth-tellers who spilled with “authenticity.” As such, they were cast in direct opposition to Candidate Gore, who had “a problem with the truth” and “didn’t know who he was.”

Journalists stood in very long lines for the chance to torture facts to serve these storylines. Once Candidate McCain was dispatched from the race, the press corps quickly returned to its friendly treatment of Candidate Bush, in which he was “plain spoken” and a “different kind of Republican.”

But the storylines about Candidate Gore never really wavered or broke. From beginning to end, for twenty straight months, he was cast as the world’s biggest liar and as a troubling psychiatric basket case.

People are dead all over the world because the press corps did that.

It’s hard to imagine the press corps shaping another campaign with such uniform “storylines.” As of March 1999, the mainstream press corps had joined the conservative press in its loathing of President Clinton. Fairly plainly, this loathing was then seamlessly transferred to Candidate Gore, Clinton’s chosen successor.

The liberal world was asleep in the woods. In the face of the trashing of Candidate Gore, liberals offered very few words of elucidation or protest.

How horrible was the liberal performance? Frank Rich spent the entire general election insisting that Candidates Bush and Gore were indistinguishable peas in a pod—“J. Crew vs. Banana Republic.” Other big liberals trashed Gore to the end, working from storyline formats.

For her part, Dowd wrote seven columns featuring Gore’s bald spot. Career liberals refused to complain about this mindless behavior, a deference to the horrible Dowd they maintain to this day.

People are dead all over the world because of this liberal failure.

Liberal news organs began to develop in the aftermath of Iraq. Given the presence of news orgs like MSNBC and Salon, it’s hard to imagine another campaign in which the Democratic front-runner/nominee could be slandered in the storyline-driven way dumped on Candidate Gore.

That said, we offer a word of warning:

If that kind of conduct could happen again, it could happen to Hillary Clinton. She stands at the end of a long, bizarre journalistic era headlined by Clinton hatred.

In the eighth year of this puzzling era, the pseudo-scandals of the Whitewater chase gave way to the unopposed trashing of Gore.

Jack Welch’s best boys sold their souls to Jack Welch; Dionne, Rich and Alter just sat there and watched. If you think that isn’t what happened, we’ve got a bridge to the 91st century we’d be willing to sell you.

Whatever one thinks of Hillary Clinton, it’s fairly clear that some in the press corps are still involved in the long-running drama which led to the trashing of Candidate Gore. Sally Quinn described Insider Washington’s Clinton hatred in her famous November 1998 essay. Cillizza seemed to describe its lingering strains in his recent post.

Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, coverage of her possible campaign shouldn’t be driven by “storylines.” If it is, do you think we liberals will stand up on our stunted hind legs and tell the public what’s happening?

History says that won’t occur. The groundwork certainly hasn’t been laid.

The liberal world has maintained astonishing silence about the storylines we’re discussing. More on that astonishing, long-running failure tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Cokie pretends to explain

29 comments:

  1. "a deference to the horrible Dowd they maintain to this day."

    When you see someone trashing another person relentlessly and publicly, there is a hesitation to protest because you yourself might become a target of that kind of attack. Dowd has her very visible column and apparently can say anything she wants. I doubt anyone would want to attract her negative attention by calling her out -- on anything.

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    1. Dowd got publicly called out very recently and widely ridiculed by her "bad marijuana trip". And yes, even by Salon which, according to Somerby, has some sort of corporate rule about never criticizing Dowd.

      So you can stow the Myth of the All-Powerful Dowd with the rest of the fables Somerby is selling.

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    2. People are dead all over the world because liberals will only speak up when their stash is involved.

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    3. One example of something that isn't particularly related to her journalistic competence doesn't disprove Somerby's point. This insistence that Somerby's evidence must be 100% true or it is entirely false is tiresome. Most other journalists don't comment on Dowd's obvious obsession with Clinton and even the trolls know it.

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    4. One point Bob makes that isn't a fable is how the press invented lies about Gore in 2000 and helped sway the election and the world in a disastrous way.

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    5. Well Anon. @ 2:12 that's BOB's storyline and he's sticking to it and shoehorning or massaging every fact he can to fit into it, while ignoring those which don't.

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    6. Many of us were alive and following politics during that time period so we have our independent judgment to confirm Somerby's assertions. I agree more with him than with anything you've ever written here.

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    7. I'm not the same Anon, but I should like to amend the final sentence:

      "I agree more with Somerby than with anything d'KZbreath has ever written or is ever likely to write."

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  2. It is a pity Dowd is stranded in 1994 instead of 1999.

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    1. Somerby makes his recurring looks at the story of journalistic malfeasance during the 1999-2000 presidential campaign relevant to today by identifying the consequences we're dealing with in the present only because there ever was a Bush 43 presidency and by constantly citing and analyzing ongoing instances of the very type of journalistic malfeasance exemplified back in '99 and 2000 and which are continuing to damage the prospects for our political process to deliver effective solutions to the problems of economic inequality, environmental degradation, social conflict, elections determined by big money interests, and the "influence... of the military industrial complex" on foreign policy.

      Dowd keeps returning to her one "my way or the highway" example of a purported H. Clinton trait, i.e. the manner in which the then First Lady ran her health care reform task force in 1994. Dowd is unable to update her criticism with subsequent examples of H. Clinton behaving in that way. While she's at it Dowd encourages her readers to assume facts which are not ever going to be in evidence, namely that the same Republicans in the Congress which passed B. Clinton's 1993 deficit reduction bill without a single one of their votes were poised to work with H. Clinton in the area of health care if only she had been willing to make a concession or two to them. And to make her criticism relevant to today Dowd also has to forego mentioning an obvious point, that H. Clinton has has seemed to have adopted an accommodating stance towards those with different views from her own in subsequent years as the former First Lady has gone on fit right in while serving both in the U.S. Senate and at State.

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    2. The king of run-on sentences strikes again.

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    3. In this galaxy periods don't grow on trees.

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  3. For more on this, youtube has some very nice clips of Clinton himself lecturing a delighted Chris Wallace (he's getting some great video of a fulminating, finger-jabbing Clinton) for ambushing him on bin Laden when he agreed to come on to talk about the Clinton initiative. Seems there was a brief attempt on the part of FOX and the looney right at blaming 9/11 on Clinton, since he failed to get OBL.

    Another clip has Bill telling off the late Peter Jennings (yes, superior Peter Jennings!) for the press's part ( ABC, too) in the Hummergate circus. There are times Clinton can be his own best advocate. Was Gore, ever?

    Both ends of the political spectrum have been making noises about moderation being a losing position. Any candidate appearing to represent centrism and workable compromise is going to be hit by both sides. The Third Way of the Clintons, Gores, and Obamas is dead, to misunderparaphrase that Neechie guy. The journalistic storyline will forever come back on that Mobius strip of eternal return to wreck the chances of any decent candidate or promising leader.

    America's done. Stop screening for ebola.

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    1. The way to get out of such loops is to go meta -- make explicit what is happening, call people on it until everyone gets the point. I think that is what Somerby is doing and what the Clintons are now doing in advance of another campaign. It is the only way to get out of destructive vicious circles in relationships and dysfunctional situations in organizations. That's why counselors and arbitrators are useful -- they can identify what is going on and explain it to everyone so they can set it aside and move forward.

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    2. The journalistic storyline will forever come back on that Mobius strip of eternal return....

      Doesn't that mean that each time around left and right get reversed?

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    3. Whatever goes around the Möbius strip comes back upside down.

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  4. Every election is sacred. Some are more sacred than others. People who toy with that which is sacred need to have someone who has winning-electoral-majority speaking ability talk to them in an understanding, non dismissive persuasional manner.

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  5. "Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, coverage of her possible campaign shouldn’t be driven by “storylines.” If it is, do you think we liberals will stand up on our stunted hind legs and tell the public what’s happening?"

    No, because as we've seen in 2008, there will be lots of "liberals" grabbing their pitchforks and happily joining in the fun.

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    1. Liberals invented pitchforks.

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  6. OMB (BOB on BOB: Everybody Must Get Stoned)

    Sooner or later readers all must know, Bob just tries to write like Dowd.

    To this day BOB rarely fails to drag Maureen Dowd in.

    Hoyt spanked her and BOB he felt so good, he told you about it time and time again.

    But he would not feel so all alone, if liberals didn't wait till she got stoned.

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    1. The non-exception that proves the rule: You're full of yourself and nothing else.

      Which would be fine, but it seems you're made entirely of bullshit.

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  7. Somerby urges us to read a Kevin Drum piece to see how the game of "storyline and shoehorning" is played.

    "Did Cillizza realize that he had toyed with a couple of facts to heighten a negative storyline?" asks Somerby, who earlier indicated it is wrong for journalists to "disappear facts which undermine storylines."

    Explain to me, if the concern is inventing things to fit a storyline, why Drum is not every bit the equal if not better of Cillizza at doing what both Somerby and Drum decry.

    Cillizza quotes from an Amy Chozik piece describing how a Clinton Foundation press aide followed her into a restroom and waited outside her stall.

    "It's not fair to imply that this is special treatment that Chozick got because she's the beat reporter covering the Clintons," scolds Drum. Except Cillizza didn't say that. Drum has to invent what Cillizza didn't say in order to shoehorn a non existent fact into his own storyline, that Cillizza is another guilty hypocrite engaging in the very act Bill Clinton accuses the press of committing with every act of policymaking they cover. So he trots out what the soft Krugman would call "black magic voodoo." Cillizza didn't say it. He implied it. That way those who already believe the storyline can be sure to read into Cillizza's piece that which isn't really there.

    Drum says this type of security being applied to reporters is debateable, but it is universally applied. Here he gets to disappear somehting that doesn't fit. Chozik, in her piece, notes:

    "It wasn’t always like this. While there were always metal detectors and heightened security at the conference,... reporters could roam relatively freely until last year, when interest in and scrutiny of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation spiked amid speculation that Mrs. Clinton would run for president in 2016."

    That observation doesn't fit Drum's storyline. It does fit Cillizza's.

    Does that make Cillizza right? No. But neither does it make those who accuse Mr. C. of wrongdoing or misconduct right when they do exactly the same thing.


    The exact same thing happens in the next post, where Somerby first urges you to read a Conanson piece before perusing an Isikoff piece about former Whitewater prosecutor Robert Fiske's book. Conanson's first complaint:

    "Let’s begin with the headline, which struck me as misleading, perhaps intentionally. “First Whitewater Prosecutor Says ‘Serious Crimes’ Were Uncovered In Probe” is a statement carefully crafted to suggest that the investigation revealed felonies committed by either Bill or Hillary Clinton or both.

    If they wanted to suggest it, Mssrs. Somerby and Conanson, the headline writer could have deleted the word "First" and inserted the word "Clinton's." The entire paragraph stuck me as an example of Bob & friends doing exactly that which they profess to deplore.

    Tell me again. How much worse is it to invent quotation marks than to simply say someone implies, suggests, or seems to say something a Somerby or Drum wanted a journlaist to say but they did not?

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    1. Al Gore invented the quotation mark.

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    2. Correction, Gore was troubled by coverage of his
      invention of the "quotation" marks.

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