Part 2—Sixteen years later, the truth: If we might borrow from our Springsteen:
In the summer of 02, Matt Yglesias was 21.
Several years earlier, Yglesias had undergone what he now calls “the formative experience of my political life.” Two weeks ago, he described that formative experience in a lengthy piece for Vox.
Mainly, Yglesias’ piece concerned the new tax plan proposed by Candidate Jeb Bush. His analysis has a lot to recommend it.
Yglesias discussed that new tax proposal. That said, this is the way he began:
YGLESIAS (9/14/15): The formative experience of my political life was the 2000 presidential campaign, in which the media mercilessly persecuted Al Gore over a series of trivial exaggerations and now-forgotten pseudo-scandals while giving George W. Bush a pass on the fact that the central premises of his economic agenda were lies.Was Campaign 2000 really the formative experience of Yglesias’ political life? We have no way to assess that.
That said, Yglesias’ description of that fateful campaign focuses on its journalism. “Journalism failed in 2000,” he says at one point in a bit of an understatement.
Did journalism fail in 2000? We’d quibble with some of Yglesias’ formulations.
(Were those “trivial exaggerations” exaggerations at all? In pretty much every case, we’d say that Candidate Gore’s alleged exaggerations were actually journalistic inventions. The press corps invented Gore’s troubling lies, then agreed to pretend that he said them.)
We’d also challenge some of Yglesias’ emphases. We’d pick at points of chronology, including one which is basic.
(Did journalism fail “in 2000?” In fact, the journalistic war against Gore started in earnest in March 1999, as soon as Gore made his first trip to New Hampshire. The journalistic misconduct that year established the framework for everything which would follow. By December 1999, all the frameworks used against Gore had hardened, then turned to stone.)
One more quibble! Are those pseudo-scandals from Campaign 2000 really “long forgotten?”
Two days before Yglesias’ piece appeared, Dana Milbank typed this critique of Candidate Hillary Clinton in the Sunday Washington Post:
“And now comes the latest of many warm-and-fuzzy makeovers—perhaps the most transparent phoniness since Al Gore discovered earth tones.”
Good God! We promise—before the week is done, we’ll review the history of Candidate Gore’s infamous, ballyhooed “earth tones!” But Yglesias is dreaming if he thinks those pseudo-scandals are forgotten. As we’ve long told you, script never dies! Life-forms like Milbank are programmed, right in the shop, to retain all their guild’s inventions.
Yglesias gives an imperfect account of that campaign’s “journalism,” which was actually no such thing. That said, his account is well worth reviewing, especially in a world where the story he tells is forbidden.
Over the course of the past sixteen years, career liberal journalists have all agreed—the story of that “failed journalism” must simply never be told. As such, this story has been a forbidden story.
That stricture has helped create the current moment in time, as Yglesias semi-notes.
Liberal journalists have always agreed—they must obey a code of silence regarding Campaign 2000. In our view, Yglesias’ account of that campaign’s “failed journalism” is less than perfect.
Having said that, less us also say this:
In the fuller account which is shown below, Matt Yglesias is breaking a heinous and disgraceful professional code. In what follows, he briefly tells a two-part story, a story of heinous misconduct:
YGLESIAS (9/14/15): The formative experience of my political life was the 2000 presidential campaign, in which the media mercilessly persecuted Al Gore over a series of trivial exaggerations and now-forgotten pseudo-scandals while giving George W. Bush a pass on the fact that the central premises of his economic agenda were lies.In that, his opening passage, Yglesias tells a two-part story about the “journalism” of Campaign 2000.
People too young to remember the campaign may wonder how Bush persuaded the country that budget-busting tax cuts for the richest Americans were the prescription the country needed. The answer is that he simply misdescribed his plan. In speeches, in televised debates, and in advertisements he represented his plan as consistent with a continued budget surplus and as primarily benefiting middle-class taxpayers.
Bush won the election and enacted hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Surpluses turned into deficits, and the promised economic boom never materialized.
None of this was surprising or unpredictable to anyone who cared to dig into the details. The problem was political reporters had found those details much less interesting than snarking about Al Gore's wooden speaking style and complaining that his “demeanor” was disrespectful during a debate exchange in which Bush repeatedly attacked Gore with bogus math.
Journalism failed in 2000
According to the conventions prevailing at the time, to offer a view on the merits of a policy controversy would violate the dictates of objective journalism. Harping on the fact that Bush was lying about the consequences of his tax plan was shrill and partisan. Commenting on style cues was okay, though, so the press could lean into various critiques of Gore's outfit.
According to Yglesias, journalists refused to tell the truth about the proposals of Candidate Bush. At the same time, they “mercilessly persecuted” Candidate Gore over a series of pseudo-scandals even as they pounded him about his alleged demeanor, his wooden style and his troubling wardrobe choices.
In our view, Yglesias slightly overstates the press corps’ deference to Candidate Bush. He understates the war which was waged against Candidate Gore.
That said, Yglesias is telling an astonishing story of journalistic misconduct. Beyond that, he says this story was the “formative experience of [his] political life.”
Yglesias makes an important point as his report continues. He notes that the current coverage of Candidates Clinton and Bush seems to be following the unholy pattern he observed during Campaign 2000.
We think he’s basically right about that. For that reason, we ask a basic question:
Yglesias describes grotesque journalistic misconduct in the coverage of Campaign 2000. If the conduct was so bad—if it was the formative experience of his political life—why is he telling this story now? Why hasn’t he told this remarkable story many times in the past?
To his credit, Yglesias tells a forbidden story at the start of that piece for Vox. It’s a version of the forbidden story Bill Clinton told on CNN last weekend.
This forbidden story helps explain why we may have a President Rubio in our future. If you can’t understand that simple fact, you need to stop following politics.
Bill Clinton tells this forbidden story at fairly regular intervals. When he does, career liberal journalists all agree—they must pretend not to notice.
Some sixteen years later, Yglesias spilled. Tomorrow, a fairly obvious question:
Why did the gentleman wait?
Tomorrow: In some ways, the same old conduct, Yglesias correctly says