How did the malpractice get this far?


Pierce, Drum and Krugman explain and fail to explain:
In his latest column, Paul Krugman made several charges about the press corps' behavior.

"America is rapidly turning into a [banana republic]," Krugman wrote. "This debacle didn’t come out of nowhere," he further alleged.

Krugman said this state of affairs has been developing for decades. He fingered "the supine news media" as a major player:
KRUGMAN (1/2/17): How could this happen in a nation that has long prided itself as a role model for democracies everywhere? In a direct sense, Mr. Trump’s elevation was made possible by the F.B.I.’s blatant intervention in the election, Russian subversion, and the supine news media that obligingly played up fake scandals while burying real ones on the back pages.

But this debacle didn’t come out of nowhere.
We’ve been on the road to stan-ism for a long time: an increasingly radical G.O.P., willing to do anything to gain and hold power, has been undermining our political culture for decades.

People tend to forget how much of the 2016 playbook had already been used in earlier years. Remember, the Clinton administration was besieged by constant accusations of corruption, dutifully hyped as major stories by the news media; not one of these alleged scandals turned out to involve any actual wrongdoing. Not incidentally, James Comey, the F.B.I. director whose intervention almost surely swung the election, had previously worked for the Whitewater committee, which spent seven years obsessively investigating a failed land deal.
According to Krugman, the age of "fake scandals" dates at least to Whitewater, which began (in the New York Times) in early 1992. He says "the supine news media" has "obligingly played up" these fake scandals while "burying real ones on the back pages."

According to Krugman, the press corps behaved this way this in the 2016 campaign, and in the original Bill Clinton era. Krugman is thereby alleging a cultural spiral which has been underway for at least twenty-five years.

We think Krugman's history is basically accurate. We also think that mainstream and liberal journalists don't like discussing this topic.

According to a recent release by the New York Times, Krugman's most widely read column in 2016 was the September column which carried the headline, "Hillary Clinton Gets Gored." In that column, Krugman said the press corps was treating Candidate Clinton the same way they treated Candidate Gore during Campaign 2000. He ended up making this connection three separate times this fall.

At the time, we noted a bit of a problem. Very few people had ever heard about the press corps' War Against Gore, we brightly alleged. For that reason, it seemed to us that Krugman's warning might tend to fall on deaf ears.

Is it true that very few people have heard about the War Against Gore? Consider the way two liberal journalists recently described that phenomenon. This may help you see why the misconduct Krugman describes somehow managed to survive for a full twenty-five years.

We'll start with Charlie Pierce at Esquire. In the week before Christmas, Pierce savaged the mainstream press corps' treatment of Hillary Clinton, and of Candidate Gore before her. Here's part of what he wrote:
PIERCE (12/20/16): [T]he 2000 election is instructive. There was no question that Al Gore was the victim of extraordinary media malpractice. There was no question that [George W. Bush] won because he carried Florida, and there was no question that he carried Florida through various schemes arranged in that state in which his brother was the governor and his state chairman was secretary of state. There was no question that a perfectly legal recount in that state was stopped by the unprecedented—and non-precedential—intervention of a Scalia ex machina Supreme Court, several justices of which had naked conflicts of interest. Some 100,000 people showed up in Washington to protest the inauguration, and TV showed them hardly at all.

Soon, all of this was obscured by the fact that Al Gore had "lost his home state," that he had failed to use Bill Clinton properly, and that he had failed to counteract the stupid caricature of himself that was presented to the voters in the guise of campaign journalism. The unique circumstances of how his loss had been calculated and certified were just one factor among many, and it was time to move forward as a nation.

We are seeing much the same thing at work today. There is no question that Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular balloting by almost three million votes. There is no question that she did this despite extraordinary media malpractice dating back 25 years...
Pierce specifically said that the media malpractice against Hillary Clinton "dated back 25 years." Beyond that, you'll never see a career journalist describe the War Against Gore more clearly.

According to Pierce, Candidate Gore had to battle a "stupid caricature of himself that was presented to the voters in the guise of campaign journalism." According to Pierce, "there was no question that Al Gore was the victim of extraordinary media malpractice."

For ourselves, we had a slight problem with that.

Maybe it's all a matter of what the meaning of "was" is! Reading that passage, a reader would almost surely think that the "media malpractice" described by Pierce was widely discussed and understood in real time.

Obviously, any such idea would be totally false. At this site, we tried for years to get career journalists to discuss the phenomenon Pierce correctly describes in that post. (We started in March 1999, in the very week when the attacks against Candidate Gore began.)

For the next ten years, we tried to get career journalists to discuss the phenomenon Pierce correctly describes. We found that it simply couldn't be done, that mainstream and liberal writers simply refuse to go there.

As an apparent example of what we mean, consider Kevin Drum's recent discussion of this same topic.

Drum's post appeared on New Year's Eve. In it, he offered a somewhat odd assessment of the reasons for Candidate Clinton's loss to Candidate Trump.

Along the way, Drum mentioned Candidate Gore. In this passage, you see the way career liberals have persistently curried defeat:
DRUM (12/31/16): ...I want to suggest something the 2016 election does teach us: persistent, obsessive investigations pay off. In the 90s, Republicans started investigating Whitewater. Even Ken Starr knew there was nothing to this after a couple of years, but he was put under pressure to keep at it, and eventually he hit some fluke paydirt: Monica Lewinsky. This had nothing to do with Whitewater, but who cares? Scandal is scandal, and it rubbed off enough on Al Gore that Republicans took back the presidency in 2000.

Fast forward to 2012. Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong related to Benghazi. That was clear pretty quickly, but Republicans kept at it. I laughed at them at the time, but they had the last laugh when they once again hit a fluke bit of paydirt: Clinton's private email server. Clinton didn't really do anything seriously wrong here either, but it didn't matter. Republicans kept at it for the next year and a half, and that was enough to convince a lot of people that Clinton was, somehow, corrupt and untrustworthy. That allowed Republicans to retake the presidency.
In the narrow sense, Drum is certainly right. "Persistent, obsessive investigations" did pay off for Republicans, first in the case of Candidate Gore, then in the case of Candidate Hillary Clinton.

But according to Krugman and Pierce, that "persistent, obsessive" behavior only had the desired effect because of "extraordinary media malpractice" by the "supine news media." Drum blows right past that factor in his description of Campaign 2000. He simply says that the Whitewater/Lewinsky fluke "rubbed off on" Candidate Gore in some unspecified way.

Good God! At this site, we spent years describing the ways the earlier pursuit of the Clintons managed to "rub off on" Gore. It involved twenty months of outrageous media malpractice, in which a "stupid caricature of [Gore] was presented to the voters in the guise of campaign journalism."

This presentation was made again and again and again and again, over and over and over and over, in journalistically outrageous ways in every available medium. For whatever reason, people like Drum have always preferred to bury that outrageous malpractice, as he did in that silly account of what happened in Campaign 2000.

And yes, the disappearing of that media malpractice in Campaign 2000 has always been the overpowering norm. To state the obvious, this helps explain how similar conduct could have been directed at Candidate Clinton sixteen years later.

What can you say for a liberal world which operates this way? Only that its major career players have long been complicit in its disastrous defeats, and that its rank and file are unable to notice this conduct.

For ourselves, we were struck by Pierce's suggestion that the media malpractice directed at Gore was discussed and understood at the time. Plainly, it was not.

Eleven days later, we were struck by the familiar way Drum disappeared this entire kettle of fish. But then, let's state the obvious:

Our leading stars have behaved this way from 1992 forward. That's true of our major mainstream journalists, and of our liberal journalists. We've explained the presumptive reason for this until we're blue in the face. Nothing affects our tribe's remarkable lethargy.

Krugman's column alleged journalistic malpractice which continued for twenty-five years. "How could that possibly have happened?" a thoughtful reader might have asked.

Simple! A code of silence has long obtained, enabling this malpractice. For that reason, when Krugman alluded to Gore this fall, we said the same thing every time: Very few people are going to know what he's talking about!

Everyone, Krugman included, has played a sick role in this horrible game, which, as Krugman correctly describes, has led to the edge of disaster.

Tomorrow: Different strokes? Amazingly, the New York Times bungles Trump's birtherism again!


  1. I’m reading an article by the inestimable Glenn Greenawald, and he nails Bob’s point. Greenwald names names. He softens the blow with “I genuinely do not mean to single out these individual journalists for scorn…” But that is clearly what he’s done.

    Though Greenwald mentions several motives for journalistic malfeasance, I’m of the opinion that the one thing that accounts for all of it is MONEY.

    Fact is, Bob has been ahead of the curve on this phenomenon (now known as “fake news”), for a couple of decades at least. That is estimable in my view. Some people, with mainstram cred, are finally catching on.

    May be too late though. And never forget the name Edward Bernays.

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  2. Here is the other fact that no one wants to mention. This conservative attack on Hillary Clinton, abetted by major media malpractice, was motivated by sexism. Drum won't acknowledge that either. Somerby doesn't.

    The woman who today is still voted the most admired in our country (beating Michelle Obama), who had extremely high favorability ratings before announcing her campaign, had to be taken down by all means possible. They were able to portray her as corrupt largely because a receptive base of men and women who couldn't imagine a female President were seeking a justification. The lengthy crusade to tarnish her provided that justification.

    Somerby likes to focus on how this happened. I believe he should also talk about why it happened. The more cynical among us knew that she would never be allowed to win.

    Somerby needs to explain to us all how a pussy grabbing cretin could be considered preferable to the most qualified candidate in history by roughly half of American voters.

    All of these labored attempts to explain the outcome of this election ignore that elephant in the room. A nation thrilled to elect its first female president should have generated a landslide, especially against arguably the worst candidate in political history. There is more going on than media malpractice.

    1. how can you be so certain that Clinton's loss was motivated by sexism?


      Rebecca Traister does the best job of explaining this.

      "There has been a lot of talk in this election about Hillary Clinton’s failure to adequately appeal to America’s working-class white men, who are suffering from the collapse of manufacturing and coal industries and plagued by a heroin epidemic. But maybe a woman trying to build a coalition of marginalized groups, and espousing policies that would help those groups, simply could never have appealed to Trump’s base—even though those policies would also have helped that base. Yes, Clinton was weak on trade. Yes, she made money giving speeches to Wall Street. Yes, she was an Establishment candidate in a populist era. But Occam’s razor suggests that a wave of white men and women, low-income to college-educated, who came out in unanticipated numbers to vote against the female successor to a black president, and for a candidate whose supporters openly proposed imprisoning and killing both of them, were not acting wholly in response to Clinton’s waffling on TPP. Even suggesting that, critics are told, is exacerbating the problem: Alienating white men (and women) by noting that they responded to racism, sexism, and xenophobia is apparently more grievous a political miscalculation than giving voice to racism, sexism, and xenophobia."

      Read the whole thing.

    3. “Somerby needs to explain to us all how a pussy grabbing cretin could be considered preferable to the most qualified candidate in history by roughly half of American voters.”

      No, he doesn’t. I have no idea why you think he should. But actually, he does try to explain it. Your critique seems based upon the fact that you think his critique doesn’t align properly with yours.

      He’s been relentless in terms of exposing the media’s decades-long treatment of the Clintons. Traister doesn’t make a case at all for this historical fact. And then she writes this:

      “Clinton would BLEAT about being a woman, a grandmother, different from literally everyone else ever to have been on a general-election presidential-debate stage, yet her claims never really landed.”

      Doesn’t sound like she’s trying to help, actually.

      Then you write ““There is more going on than media malpractice.”

      No, that’s the core of the problem that Bob tries to address. I have to ask, do you think misogyny was the prime mover in Hillary’s loss? . It surely played a role. I suppose it is debatable, but I think that factor was overwhelmed by others.

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