Narrative watch: The Washington Post calls Sanders all wet!

MONDAY, APRIL 11, 2016

You won't see these questions addressed:
We were struck by the featured editorial in Saturday's Washington Post.

In Sunday's featured editorial, the editors said that Candidate Trump is all wet about several topics. But uh-oh! On Saturday, they said the same thing about Candidate Sanders concerning the Panama Papers and the Panama trade deal.

Are the editors right in what they said? We have no idea. That said, their editorial ran under this headline:

"The Panama Papers prove Mr. Sanders was wrong about a trade pact with Panama"

As they closed their review of the facts, the editors voiced this judgment: "To us, it looks like the Obama administration’s diplomacy resulted in real progress, and that if anyone’s entitled to say 'I told you so' about that, it would be Ms. Clinton."

Are the editors right in the various things they said? We have no idea—and most likely, we'll never find out. Similarly, we aren't like to find out if Paul Krugman was right about these claims, in in last Friday's column:
KRUGMAN (4/8/16): The easy slogan here is “Break up the big banks.” It’s obvious why this slogan is appealing from a political point of view: Wall Street supplies an excellent cast of villains. But were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?

Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no.
Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers that weren’t necessarily that big. And the financial reform that President Obama signed in 2010 made a real effort to address these problems. It could and should be made stronger, but pounding the table about big banks misses the point.

Yet going on about big banks is pretty much all Mr. Sanders has done. On the rare occasions on which he was asked for more detail, he didn’t seem to have anything more to offer.
Is Krugman right in that analysis? You're very unlikely see that discussed. You also won't see much debate about the claim which emerged last week—the claim that Sanders bungled a series of substantive questions during his interview with the board of the New York Daily News.

Why won't you see these questions discussed? In large part, because they're questions of substance.

The bulk of our press corps longs, above all, to avoid all discussion of substance. Especially on "cable news" channels, this is the most basic part of their flyweight culture.

You won't see such questions discussed; in cable culture, such questions are judged to be disqualifyingly "hard." Instead, you'll see the constant frisking of the latest polls, along with pointless discussions of naughty words said long ago, perhaps on one occasion.

There's a second reason why you won't see such questions discussed. It isn't simply a matter of culture; it's also question of narrative.

In the narratives controlling the current election, Candidate Clinton is the one who's inauthentic, dishonest, untrustworthy. It flies in the face of this decades-old, memorized story to suggest the possibility that someone else may be slip-sliding along in some way or other.

That narrative explains something else. It explains why Candidate Sanders was able to stage this absurd exchange on yesterday's This Week.

To watch that exchange, click here:
STEPHANOPOULOS (4/10/16): We saw that exchange you had with Cecilia Vegas over whether or not Secretary Clinton is qualified. You said this week once that she was unqualified. Did your emotions get the best of you there?

SANDERS: Well look. You know what I think, it's very clear and I'm sure you got the press releases and the memos from the Clinton people.

After we won Wyoming, there was a change in tone on the part of the Clinton people. And essentially, they said we're not going to be very nice to Bernie Sanders any more. We're getting beaten every week, we're going to start beating him up when we go to New York City.

And that's what they have done. Their tone has changed. They used the word, or their surrogates have used the word, about whether or not I am qualified.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It was a headline. She didn't say you were unqualified.

SANDERS: Well, she didn't quite say that. But her surrogates implied that.
Fellow citizens, please!

Candidate Clinton didn't quite say that? Her surrogates implied that? They used the word, or their surrogates have used the word?

With apologies: Four days after his rather dumb remark, Candidate Sanders was still being a bit "Clintonesque," at least in that part of his discussion, not unlike his wife before him.

In fairness, Candidate Sanders is running for office. Understandably, he probably didn't want to say that he simply said one thing that was inaccurate and another thing that was dumb.

But as the person who's been cast as "authentic," he gets to shimmy around quite a bit in resolving matters like this, in the manner of Candidates Bradley and McCain before him. He is allowed to be "Clintonesque." Candidate Clinton is not.

(Candidate Clinton didn't quite say that? Earth to dude, four days later: she didn't say it at all!)

Inevitably, a candidate will say dumb things in the course of a long campaign; in this instance, Candidate Sanders said something that was basically dumb. But because he's been cast as the official "authentic" candidate, he gets a lot of leeway in spinning such matters. And, because of prevailing press corps culture, no one is going to examine that other question:

When he's pushed on matters of substance, is it possible that Candidate Sanders doesn't exactly know what he's talking about?

We don't know the answer to that. Because of the culture of the "press," we don't expect to find out.

Just for the record: Candidate Clinton has said some things along the way which are just flatly bogus. We'll post a few striking examples by the end of the week.

That said, narrative rules above all! Even she is allowed to misstate in certain pre-approved ways. It all depends on what type of inaccurate thing has been said!


  1. Isn't getting all wet something major cable stars and NY Times columnists do when they pleasure themselves?

  2. Krugman wrote: "Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no."

    Are these the same analysts Bob uses?

  3. How dare Stephanopolous say it was a headline? First, that is a violation of guild rules. Second, by some accounts, the flap began with reporting using extremely weak journalistic skills by CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

  4. Media expert Bob Somerby's conclusion is that Bernie Sanders has been getting fawning media coverage for months- or, at least, sort of for several days now which amounts to the same thing.

  5. Robert Reich
    April 8 at 8:37am

    [QUOTE- my emphasis] Ordinarily I wouldn’t pick on a particular columnist but I respect Paul Krugman. Also, his perch at the New York Times gives him broad influence – especially just eleven days before the important New York State primary. But his piece today (which I’ve attached) is shot through with errors.

    1. The biggest Wall Street banks did indeed precipitate the crisis on Wall Street in 2008 because of their gambling in newfangled financial instruments and fancy derivatives even they didn't understand.

    2. Their size did make a difference because they were so interconnected with other financial entities both in the U.S. and around the world that they were "too big to fail." Today's biggest Wall Street banks are much bigger than they were in 2008.

    3. Size also has a bearing on their political influence.
    The reason the Glass-Steagall Act was scotched by Bill Clinton's administration, and the Clinton administration wouldn't agree with the CFTC to regulate derivatives, had a lot to do with the influence of Wall Street over the Clinton administration and over Congress. The political power of the biggest players on the Street is even larger today – as evidenced by their capacity to whittle back significant parts of Dodd-Frank in the regulatory process.

    4. Breaking up the biggest banks isn’t a radical idea. In fact, many experts – including the current president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (who’s a Republican and a former executive of Goldman Sachs), and the former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas -- have called for exactly this.... [END QUOTE]

    1. CMike, Points 1 and 2 would make sense if Krugman said that big banks had nothing to do with the 2008 financial crisis. He didn't say nor imply that. He said big banks weren't at the heart of the financial crisis which seems to mean they weren't the leading cause and, as he stated, breaking them up won't prevent future crises. These two statements - that big banks weren't the main cause of the financial crisis and breaking them up won't prevent future crises - don't equate to an overall defense of big banks, which means Reich's points 3 and 4 really don't have anything to do with Krugman's statement. If you read other Krugman pieces you will see he has mixed feelings about big banks but ultimately he understands that, politically speaking, it might be a good idea to break them up. However, the point he was making in Friday's column and the point he emphasized just today is that those who think that breaking up the big banks is the end all be all are missing the point. If that is all we focus on we will have done very little to prevent the next financial crisis. Reich's statements do nothing to refute that claim.

    2. Seems like Reich thinks big Wall Street banks were at the heart of the financial crisis, and is concerned that Krugman is minimizing their negative impact. I do not see anybody suggesting that breaking up the big banks is the end all be all.

    3. And yet Reich remains vague without referencing any specific examples to support his vague claim, whereas Krugman gives examples of the most egregious players involved including Countrywide, Lehman Brothers, and AIG - none of which were big banks.

      When it comes to banking reform, it seems that candidate Sanders believes breaking up the big banks is the end all be all. Do you have an example where Sanders has made it clear there is more he will focus on?

    4. How many billions were required to bail out the big banks? Whatever the hell "at the heart of" means in this case, the truth is the big banks became a massive problem and exacted a great cost.

    5. "I do not see anybody suggesting that breaking up the big banks is the end all be all."

      Isn't there some guy named Bernie suggesting exactly that?

    6. It was trillions, not billions, to bail out the big banks. That is why breaking them up is the essential beginning to financial industry reform.

    7. For the Anonymous who asked for another issue Bernie has addressed on financial regulation, other than breaking up the big four banks: re-instating Glass Steagall (which Annie Oakley rejects):

  6. "Clinton has said some things along the way which are just flatly bogus"

    No doubt, no doubt...

    I must admit, I am eager to see whether we will agree on /which/ things!

  7. Bob Somerby:

    RE: "Candidate Clinton didn't quite say that? Earth to dude, four days later: she didn't say it at all!"

    No, Sanders' claim is fairly accurate. She didn't quite say that Sanders is unqualified for office, but she and her campaign are "raising the question."

    In this context, it's analogous to "raising the question" of whether Candidate X beats his wife. It doesn't really matter whether Candidate Y literally said "X beats his wife," because it's sufficient for the latter's campaign purposes that the question be raised. For Candidate Y to then claim "I never said X beat his wife" would be...well, we're trying to stay away from the term "Clinton-esque" around here, I suppose. Let's just say "disingenuous," shall we, Bob Somerby?

    Let's look at what our favorite press corps was reporting:

    CNN, Jeff Zeleny, Wednesday, April 6th, 2016:

    "A Clinton campaign fundraising appeal after the Wisconsin primary offered a glimpse into the new approach. The campaign's deputy communications director, Christina Reynolds, argued that Sanders is unqualified, sending a full transcript of a New York Daily News editorial board interview of Sanders."

    "Jeff Zeleny, senior Washington correspondent for CNN, was with the Clinton campaign as the news of Sanders’ Wisconsin came in, and he described a Clinton campaign staff that was “running out of patience.”

    “They’re going to be deploying a new strategy. It’s going to be called ‘disqualify him,’ ‘defeat him,’ and they can unify the party later,” he explained."

    Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin & Anne Gearan, Wednesday, April 6th, 2016:

    "Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president

    Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Wednesday questioned whether her rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), is qualified to be president.

    "I think he hadn't done his homework and he'd been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn't really studied or understood," Clinton said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," just one day after losing the Wisconsin primary to Sanders, "and that does raise a lot of questions."

    She didn't say the precise phrase "Bernie Sanders is unqualified to be president," true.

    But when Sanders points out that "SANDERS: Well, she didn't quite say that. But her surrogates implied that," he is correct.

    You know it, I know it, everybody who pays attention knows that "she didn't say it at all!" isn't accurate, Bob Somerby.

    I agree with CMike, in as much as that our liberal MVP is making incredible claims regarding the role of money center banks in the U.S. economy's health and stability, so it behooves us to get back to the issues.

    It's just a bit disconcerting when our Daily Howler plays deliberately obtuse regarding how campaigns "raise the question" using our fantastic press corps.

    Thanks for reading and considering this, Bob Somerby.

    1. Stuart Z, you didn't quote any Clinton surrogate who directly implied Sanders wasn't qualified. You quoted a journalist who claimed he heard such a thing but that journalist didn't provide a quote either. If you put your full faith in journalists to accurately characterize someone's statements without providing quotes then so be it. Many of us don't take what journalists say at face value without accompanying facts that support their claims. Also, when you reference a new strategy where the Clinton campaign is going to disqualify Sanders you are talking about a future event. You aren't talking about current events and you certainly aren't talking about any events that led to last week's "is Bernie qualified" brouhaha.

      And when you directly reference Clinton's Morning Joe interview you seem to think the statement "that does raise a lot of questions" is the smoking gun where clearly Clinton implied that Sanders is not qualified, right? Not even close. In the statements leading up to that final statement, Clinton talked about Bernie not doing his homework, not studying, and not understanding certain things. All that speaks to is preparedness. It doesn't speak to overall being qualified, and there is a distinct difference between the two words. If I am a teacher with 20 years experience teaching 8th grade math and I am scheduled to teach an 8th grade math class tomorrow but I don't have a syllabus nor a study lesson ready, am I qualified to teach the class? My 20 years of experience would indicate a resounding yes to that question. But am I prepared? Obviously, the answer would be no.

      I could come up with 100's of similar examples to show the distinction between being qualified and being prepared because they are not the same thing.

      Clinton made it very clear she didn't think Sanders was prepared to handle the topics covered in the New York Daily News interview. Any reasonable person who read the interview would almost certainly conclude the same thing. Clinton was clearly talking about Bernie's preparedness when she ended with "and that does raise a lot of questions." Questions about what? Questions about Bernie's preparedness for any number of topics, and not whether or not he was qualified.

      Morning Joe tried very hard to get Clinton to say Bernie wasn't qualified. She refused to say it. When she decided to talk about Bernie's interview with the New York Daily News she was clearly referencing his preparedness. Why, Stuart_Z, are you trying to imply she was talking about something else?

    2. Hillary is too smart to say it directly herself. She does it by innuendo. Exactly as she would never answer directly as to whether Obama was a muslim in 2008. Anyone who does not recognize her M.O. is not being realistic in my view. Posted by Steve Robinson

      Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Wednesday questioned whether her rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), is qualified to be president.

      "I think he hadn't done his homework and he'd been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn't really studied or understood," Clinton said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," just one day after losing the Wisconsin primary to Sanders, "and that does raise a lot of questions."

  8. "She didn't say the precise phrase "Bernie Sanders is unqualified to be president," true."

    Oh, for the love of god, please drop it. Sanders is embarrassing himself.

    From his embarrassing Charlie Rose interview.
    R: You said that Secretary Clinton isn't qualified because she takes Super PAC money and has supported trade deals.

    S: What I said was in response to what she has been saying. Washington Post headline, quote: "Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president". I thought it was appropriate to respond.

    Demonstrating once again that he didn't do his homework. 30 years in politics and he doesn't know to read the actual article and headlines can be misleading?!?

    Continuing from the Charlie Rose interview:

    R: Do you believe Secretary Clinton is unqualified to be president?

    S: Well, does Secretary Clinton believe that I am unqualified to be president?

    Why would this cranky little baby ask Charlie Rose that question? Rose doesn't speak for Secretary Clinton. Totally embarrassing performance.

    Try growing a pair Bernie. Secretary Clinton has got more balls then all the rest of the candidates put together.

    "she didn't say it at all!"

    That is correct, in fact she quite plainly avoided Squint Eyes Joe Scarborough baiting and goading her into saying it.

    Grow up.

    1. Clinton has no balls. She doesn't need any either. Her supporters are a big problem when they try to make a macho man out of her. Come to think of it, some of her supporters are her biggest problem.

      Trying to show you've got balls has always been a problem for men who have more than their tiny hands full even before taking their balls into account.

    2. Bernie's statements attacking her qualifications were intemperate but accurate in my view. I believe judgement is an essential qualification. HRC's litany of apologies (for Iraq vote, gay marriage, racist crime policies in the 90's, etc.) are indications of her bad judgement. I simply would not vote for her for any office because of her history of weather vane policies. She is demonstrably a politician who puts ambition before public service. She lies and distorts constantly, both personally and through campaign surrogates and media surrogates such as Capeheart, NYT, WaPo, etc.

    3. The Clinton campaign, through Podesta, Brock and others lies like a rug while Hillary engages in innuendo about his qualifications. Bernie's performance at the NYDN interview "raises questions" about him, classically Clintonesque. Thom Hartmann, who received a rambling dissembling email from the Clinton campaign in order to capitalize on Corpoate Media lies in the wake of the NYDN hit piece, injects truth (a rare commodity) into a Clinton campaign cycle:

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