The Washington press corps’ Paternos!


The lives of the saints may not end well: What explains the disaster at Penn State? We can’t tell you.

But the sanctification of Joe Paterno has been mentioned a lot this week. Paterno was sanctified long ago, all through the nation’s sports press.

Presumably, much of that was deserved. But when a person is cast as a saint, things can end up going wrong, in several obvious ways.

Sanctification rarely ends well. Saints may start to believe their press clippings. And saints may take advantage.

The Penn State disaster has made us think of the political press corps' recent history. Here's why:

Over the past twenty years, the press corps has written a series of novels, inventing demons and saints in the process. The demonization of the Clintons, then Gore, led us to a major disaster—the war in Iraq. But the sanctifications have worked poorly too. Saints tend to take advantage.

Let’s consider four saints of the modern era: Bradley, Dole, McCain and Powell. We’ll guess they're all decent people; we were struck by how bright and sane Powell seemed on CNN just last night. But did these people take advantage of their sanctified status?

Saint Bill Bradley: We rarely use the L-word here. But by December 1999, Saint Bradley was basically lying through his teeth about Candidate Gore. In part, we refer to his claim that Gore was the person who introduced America to Willie Horton.

The claim had been a staple of RNC agitprop since Gore was picked to run for vice president in 1992. The claim was bogus on its face—and Bradley had specifically rejected the claim, in some detail, in his 1996 best-seller, "Time Present, Time Past." But so what? Led by hacks like Matthews and Fineman, the press corps anointed Bradley “the anti-Clinton” all through 1999. They swore, in their typically stupid ways, about his moral grandeur.

By the fall of 1999, the saint was taking advantage. And by the way: Once Bradley began to spread that crap about Gore, the hacks stood in line to repeat it. In the fall of 1999, virtually every reporter and pundit repeated the claim. Most of them knew it was false.

(You could tell they knew by the way they arranged their claims to keep things “technically accurate.”)

Saint Bob Dole: As a comedian, we once did an event for Dole, we think in the fall of 2000. It was a book party for Mary Vincent, a friend of the Doles. She had written a book about Leader, the Doles’ beloved pet dog. (To purchase the book, just click here.)

Instant reaction: It was easy to see why so many people like Bob Dole so much. But uh-oh! By 1996, the “press corps” had cast him in one of their dim-witted novels, a novel in which he stood opposed to the unprincipled Clinton. They never quite sanctified Dole the person, though they did sanctify his military record.

At any rate, this was the standard novel for Campaign 96: Clinton lacks character, Dole’s out of touch. And once the “press” has committed itself to a novel, all events will be forced to fit the mold.

As early as New Hampshire, Candidate Dole was being hailed for his old-time high character, the kind Slick Willie lacked. Result? Dole began lying through his teeth about the Forbes “flat tax” plan. For weeks, Dole ran a series of TV ads which flatly mischaracterized Forbes’ proposal. The ads turned the New Hampshire race around. They may have saved Dole’s campaign.

In all honesty, Dole was lying his keister off—but the script had already been written! The insider press corps fumbled about, pretending to explain the fuss about those TV ads. They never quite managed to tell the public what their “high character” hopeful was doing.

Saint John McCain: No one was sanctified more in this era than the saintly McCain. We’ll let each person decide on his own how well that turned out.

Saint Colin Powell: Powell had been sanctified by 1995, when the insider press corps begged him to run for president versus Clinton. This novel ends at the United Nations, with the sanctified fellow selling the world a bill of goods about Iraq’s weapons.

The press corps was never willing to explore the way that ridiculous presentation actually came into being. After all, every major Washington “journalist" had sworn how convincing it was! Bob Woodward’s book strongly suggested that Powell knew his presentation was perhaps a pile of crap. But once a man has been sanctified, the “press corps” simply won’t go there.

Kathleen Willey was sanctified in 1998, when she looked both upper-class and sane as she accused vile Clinton. That story ended badly too, with Willey being trashed as a liar by the special prosecutor. To keep you from being disappointed, the “press corps” didn’t tell you.

This brings us back to Saint Paterno, so designated a long time ago. The evidence continues to mount, but this is a matter of common sense:

It isn’t healthy for human beings to be sanctified in this manner.

One more saint: Jim Lehrer has long been semi-sanctified due to his high-minded PBS program. In our view, that particular sanctification has turned out poorly too.


  1. Oh, Bob, you left out the pure saint at the tippy-top of all saints, who drove many of the sanctifications you mention, Tim Russert.

  2. ISTM today's most highly sanctified person is Saint Barack Obama.

  3. David, there are times you appear sane and able to participate in conversation.
    This is not one of them. I got a good laugh out of this particularly idiotic comment.

  4. "The demonization of the Clintons, then Gore, led us to a major disaster—the war in Iraq."

    You mean Clinton and Gore continued the war against Iraq through the 90s, killing hundreds of thousands, because the media demonized them? They denied basic goods to the people of Iraq and collectively punished them and controlled their skies and their resources and occasionally bombed them . . . because the media demonized them, right? That's what you're arguing?

  5. If Bob is arguing that Gore would not have invaded Iraq, I am not willing to grant that Gore probably would not have attacked. However we will never be able to prove it either way.

    But I'm curious . . .

    Would Gore have done everything Bush and Obama have done, minus Iraq? The whole war on terror and greater homeland security and fewer rights? He already showed that he loves domestic police forces as he to part in the hysteria that makes the U.S. the leading police state in the world. Would Gore agree with the military and both parties, including Bush and Obama, and allow the "secret" wars in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and over 100 countries!? Would Gore also be doing targeted assassinations and summary executions and engage in drone warfare?

    I somehow don't think Gore would have made much of a difference on most of these issues, even if we granted you Iraq. And why isn't he speaking out on these issues now then? Obama is committing war crimes and the U.S. is a global terrorist menace, starting wars and coups all over the world and using cluster bombs and assassinating unknown people and leveling villages and starting wars wherever it wants on the presidents' say alone. The little resistance we saw from a few Democrats 5 years or so ago, like we saw with Howard Dean and maybe Al Gore, did not make them heroes.

    Talk about sanctifying someone!

  6. Ugh. that should be: I won't concede that Gore would not have invaded. He may have invaded. Probably not, but one never knows.

  7. Walter Wit Man:

    Counterfactuals are pretty hard to argue...

  8. I know hrdindr! But who is making the original counterfactual claim? No me. I'm questioning Bob's counterfactual claim and postulating one of my own.

    I'm also quibbling with the factual premise . . . that the Iraq "war" would have been avoided if Gore had been elected . . . when we were in a state of conflict, war actualy, since the early 90s. Correct me if I'm wrong but many liberals wanted Cliton and Gore to end the conflict against Iraq but Gore wanted to continue it. So maybe he wouldn't have escalated as much as Bush did, using 9/11 as a pretext, but he was definitely a proponent of some sort of war against Iraq.