But neither are the professors: It’s very hard for people to grasp the sheer incompetence of our upper-end press corps.
Beyond that, many people don’t understand the extent to which the upper-end press is willing to dissemble and lie about its own conduct and attitudes.
Our journalists are incompetent and dishonest. These problems are very clear when our scribes try to discuss, or pretend to discuss, the coverage of Hillary Clinton.
Consider two recent examples.
Over at Salon, one of the youngsters expressed concern about the possible coverage of Clinton. But uh-oh! Along the way, Elias Isquith offered this peculiar account of the press corps’ relationship with the newly-declared hopeful:
ISQUITH (4/13/15): [W]hile many of my colleagues are worried about dealing with the notoriously media-phobic Clinton, I’m not particularly concerned with how the former secretary of state will treat the press. I’m much more worried about how a grumpy press will cover the campaign.To his credit, Isquith voiced concern about the press corps’ instinctive reactions to Clinton. That said, we were thoroughly puzzled by his attempt to describe those reactions.
I’ve written about this once before already, but there’s something about Hillary Clinton that brings out the worst in the media. It’s as if her association with the relatively calm and peaceful 1990s causes those who were journalists at the time to succumb to their worst instincts. Her presidential campaign’s launch is less than 48 hours old, but you can see the embrace of frivolity happening already.
Take New York magazine’s new cover story on whether she’s “good at running for president,” for example. As Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan rightly pointed out, the piece is like a “platonic ideal” of superficial, horserace journalism. Clinton’s policy views and record as secretary of state are essentially ignored...
“It’s as if her association with the relatively calm and peaceful 1990s causes those who were journalists at the time to succumb to their worst instincts?” We have no idea what that might mean, or why the young salonist would say something like that.
Isquith seemed completely unaware of the poisonous history which exists between the press corps he may hope to enter and the Clintons. After voicing his concern about possible press corps reactions, he stated a generic complaint, pounding New York magazine for writing a “horse race” piece.
Isquith is in his fourth year out of Bard. Like many of the youngsters at Salon, he seemed completely clueless about this particular topic.
Sadly shaking our heads, we clicked over to New York magazine. At that site, Jason Zengerle had written a perfectly defensible piece about Clinton’s skill, or lack of same, as a candidate.
At one point, Zengerle did something unusual. He suggested the press corps might have an animus toward Candidate Clinton!
He even suggested that the press corps’ negative coverage might tip the race against Clinton. No really—here's what he said:
ZENGERLE (4/5/15): [C]overing the regular Clinton is often a drag. She’s been around too long, and reporters know her story too well, to get much of a thrill from it; even if she were a fresh face, her particular political talents don’t lend themselves to a riveting narrative. The Republican strategist Stuart Stevens likens political skill to figure skating: “It’s an endeavor entirely judged by a jury with no empirical metrics.” Alienating the jury is a dangerous thing. “I am in the Bill Clinton camp on this,” Stevens says. “For multiple reasons, Obama has been judged differently by the jury than Hillary.”Could Candidate Clinton tame the press corps with a charm offensive? We can’t answer that question.
In small ways, Clinton could repair the relationship. Most important, the same charm offensive she waged on the Obama White House could work on the press pack, too. But it’ll need to be an effort sustained not only in Washington but also in the dog days of Virginia and Colorado, Ohio and Florida.
If she can’t, that will only encourage reporters to cover her critically—maybe even, as Clinton and her allies suspect, more critically than they do other politicians—which in turn could be enough to tip the race in favor of her opponent...
That said, Zengerle was prepared to picture Clinton receiving inappropriately critical coverage. Like Isquith, he did little to fill in the background, which stretches all the way back to early 1992, when the New York Times invented the Whitewater pseudo-scandal.
As he continued, Zengerle tried to offer one piece of background. When he did, we marveled at the general incompetence surrounding such discussions.
Good lord! Zengerle actually spoke with Professor Sides about the negative coverage of Candidate Gore! But when he did, Professor Sides said this:
ZENGERLE (continuing directly): If she can’t, that will only encourage reporters to cover her critically—maybe even, as Clinton and her allies suspect, more critically than they do other politicians—which in turn could be enough to tip the race in favor of her opponent. “To the extent that the news media wants to dissect her, that could affect perceptions of her if that kind of criticism is a sustained feature of news coverage,” says Sides. He points to Al Gore’s experience in 2000, when the press’s repeated hyping of a series of small misstatements and minor exaggerations by Gore increasingly led voters, even Democrats, to conclude that he was untrustworthy. “Can we say that had Gore been perceived as honest in October, as he was in July, that that would have given him the race?” asks Sides. “Not necessarily. But it could have.”It’s a rare day when anyone discusses the press corps’ hostile treatment of Gore. That said, we were struck by the sheer incompetence of Professor Sides’ presentation, which Zengerle left unchallenged.
Good grief! Reading the statement by Professor Sides, a reader would think that Candidate Gore was attacked as dishonest at some point after July 2000.
In fact, the basic theme of Campaign 2000—AL GORE, LIAR—was firmly locked into place by the press in the spring of 1999.
That all-caps headline appeared in the New York Post in June 1999, when Candidate Gore made his formal announcement. But the theme was already several months old at that time. It had already been widely bruited all through the mainstream press corps.
These professors today! Assuming he was quoted correctly, Professor Sides offered this clueless thought:
“Can we say that had Gore been perceived as honest in October, as he was in July, that that would have given him the race? Not necessarily. But it could have.”
To us, that seemed to make little sense. And so we decided to look it up! For all Gallup data, click here.
Sure enough! In late October 2000, Gallup showed Candidate Bush with a clear advantage over Candidate Gore in the area of honesty. At that very late date, 47 percent of voters said they considered Bush to be the more honest and trustworthy candidate. Only 33 percent said they favored Gore in this area.
Unfortunately for the future of the world, the numbers had been the same in late July 2000. At that time, 49 percent of respondents said that Candidate Bush was more honest and trustworthy. Only 34 percent favored Gore.
Absent this perception, would Candidate Gore have reached the White House? Quite possibly so! That said, the press corps pounded away at this theme for twenty straight months, starting in March 1999. From week one of that campaign, this constituted the basic framework for the coverage.
Our journalists kept inventing bogus statements, kept insisting that Gore had made them. Rather plainly, their disgraceful conduct sent Candidate Bush to the White House.
Based on what Zengerle wrote, Professor Sides seems to have little idea about the actual shape of that campaign. In fairness, neither does Zengerle, who is older than Isquith.
The American public has never been told about the press corps’ astounding behavior in that history-changing campaign. Thanks to folk like the three we’ve named, voters will never learn what happened. The public won’t be on alert for similar conduct this time.
Are these life-forms actually human? We’ve asked that question for many years. We still can’t give you an answer.