THE SHORTHAND AND THE POWER: The gong-show from Stanford and Yale!


EPILOG—At long last, Rachel cites Reuters: We must be the strangest creatures who ever drew breath on the earth.

Just consider the way we go about selecting our nation's presidents. Here are three examples from the past twenty-four hours:

*In this morning’s New York Times, Gail Collins writes another column which cites the fact that one of the candidates, in 1983, “drove to Canada with an Irish setter tied to the roof of the car” (paragraph 4). By now, Collins has cited this (misleading) fact in more than thirty columns. In all those columns, she has never explained what judgment we’re supposed to take from this ancient incident. She has never bothered to explain these endless citations about a dog care decision in 1983.

*In South Carolina, Thursday night’s Republican debate opened with a question about one of the candidates’ marital problems—a marital problem from 1999. In this morning’s Washington Post, Marc Fisher reports one voter’s reaction:
FISHER (1/21/12): As the days until the primary ticked by, [Flynn] McKinney has struggled toward a decision. The ABC interview with Gingrich’s second ex-wife, in which she said he wanted an “open marriage,” slammed the door on voting for him. Now she’s “leaning toward Romney” but still open to Santorum.

“I am very fact-based,” she says. “My principles are set in stone, but I like to see two sides of any argument. I take the time to look up people’s voting records to see if I agree with them. My friends think that’s a little weird, but that’s how I make decisions. I want to see the full gamut.”
McKinney says she is “very fact-based.” She also says she is basing her vote on a marital allegation she can’t possibly fact-check. That said, this type of decision-making tracks the way our elections get framed, in “shorthand” fashion, by those in the mainstream press.

*Last night, Rachel Maddow finally mentioned the January 6 Reuters report about Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital! Maddow is pimped as a former Rhodes Scholar. But so what? Here’s what she said:
MADDOW (1/20/12): The criticism of his time at Bain isn’t made up. It’s real, and it’s been around for a long time. And even though the establishment succeeded in shutting down other Republican candidates from talking about it, the Republican Party establishment cannot shut up everybody. The problems with Bain are a mainstream journalistic story. I mean, there’s something there. It’s in the Wall Street Journal. It’s in Reuters. It’s in the Washington Post. It’s in the Tampa Bay Tribune. There is stuff there to be reported on.
“There’s something there,” Maddow declared. “There is stuff there to be reported on.” But Maddow made no attempt to explain what the “stuff” in question is; she made no attempt to explain what Reuters reported. Viewers were left in the dark about that—although, within about thirty seconds, they got to see tape of Romney saying this: “I like to fire people who provide services to me.”

Everyone agrees that this statement was taken out of context. But by now, it’s a staple of tribal “news” programs. It’s one of the ways the corporate world shows us libs a good time.

(For what it’s worth, Collins appeared with Maddow last night. “I’m always good for a good sex scandal,” she said at one point. “That’s my point in life, really.” To what extent was Collins joking? You can judge that for yourself. We dare you! Just click here.)

This is the way our nation’s “press corps” has been covering White House campaigns for at least twenty years. A person could easily make the case that this ridiculous “shorthand” culture dates to 1972, when Candidate Muskie allegedly wept. Last Sunday, Dana Milbank helped us recall the mental/intellectual illness which now defines the American model, rattling a list of the ludicrous claims which defined the coverage of Candidate Gore during Campaign 2000. (Al Gore wore three-button suits! And boots! He sighed at that first debate!) He also listed a set of inane complaints about Candidate Romney—complaints from the cuckoo's nest. (He told a joke about hollandaise sauce! He once said, “Who let the dogs out?”) Milbank even recalled a few complaints from other recent White House campaigns. Candidate Kerry went wind-surfing! He owned too many houses!

Milbank’s complaints about Romney and Gore define a mental/intellectual breakdown. But Milbank is hardly the only scribe who builds his election discussions around these shorthand, gong-show claims—around these enduring emblems of our intellectual breakdown. Three days before Milbank’s column appeared, Maddow devoted the first twenty minutes of her program to the dog who was strapped to the roof of the car, offering a nuanced account of the story’s actual meaning. Beyond that, she rattled a list of gong-show complaints from earlier White House campaigns—although, true to her program’s focus, she only listed complaints about Republican candidates, and she acted like these complaints had a good deal of merit. (President Bush was amazed by the supermarket scanner! During his debate with Clinton, he took a look at his watch!) In restricting herself to these complaints, she buried the most significant political history of the past many years. She kept her viewers barefoot and clueless. But so what! They were well entertained!

(Adding to the air of general breakdown, tribal viewers were entertained by a new shorthand complaint about Romney, courtesy of Steve Kornacki: He got a shoeshine on a tarmac! Before the program was over, Maddow had to explain that the shoeshine claim was a bit of a hoax. As it turned out, the photo in question really showed Romney getting wanded for security purposes. But so what? Salon kept showing the photo for days. It served a shorthand purpose.)

Dana Milbank graduated from Yale [sic], Rachel Maddow from Stanford. We sometimes wonder what their professors must think when they see these corporate buffoons clowning their way across the stage, making a joke of American discourse and dumbing a large nation down. At any rate, your nation has suffered a mental/intellectual breakdown when such people behave in such ways. And within the world of American politics, it’s the liberal world which has paid the price for this gong-show culture.

All through the Clinton-Gore years (and beyond), the liberal world paid a very large price. We paid that price real hard.

Paul Krugman still won’t tell you that fact, although he plainly knows it’s true. As Gingrich thunders about the press, why won’t this professor speak?

Coming Monday: To borrow a word from the furious Newt, we think that post is appalling


  1. So sayeth Somerby:

    'Viewers were left in the dark about that—although, within about thirty seconds, they got to see tape of Romney saying this: “I like to fire people who provide services to me.”

    Everyone agrees that this statement was taken out of context.'

    Everyone? Really? Do we really have to be quite that Jesutical? What kind of man says: "I like to fire people who provide services to me", in ANY context? I've never said it -- not of actual hires under my control, nor of my defaulting local dry-cleaner. Such a sentiment would simply never occur to me.

    I understand: we're all virtuous howler liberals. Apart from pledging that Al Gore was the Second Coming, we are sworn brothers to the literal. Whatever the other side does, we must remain virtuous, even when there's precious little room for doubt.

    Romney revealed as much about himself in this comment as any he's made on the debate podium. Slim pickings? Yes. But a Democratic party not willing to exploit his sociopathic responses is a party which doesn't deserve to win, for the simple reason that it will be utterly ineffective as a ruling party -- sort of like now, dig?

    Are we liberals or are we just fools?

  2. Anonymous, you're missing Somerby's point, which is that if you're going to flag Romney's statement, taken totally out of context, while NOT doing the fairly simple job of breaking the Bain LBO process down for voters, you ultimately are damaging your own cause.

    People can just dismiss the criticism of Romney's statement as taking it out of context. But they cannot say that people are misstating Romney's Bain career when they show, as the Reuters report did, that borrowing heavily to enrich yourself to ultimately bankrupt the company, leave the workers with destroyed pensions and the government--the hated government, as conservatives see it!--on the hook in the end, is DEEPLY problematic.

    But liberals won't do that, or these dingbat multimillionaire liberals won't do that. THEY DON'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT REGULAR PEOPLE! When are we going to get this through our heads? They love the elites and rich people. They might not despise average Americans as much as the GOP elites do, but they are far more comfortable laughing and noshing with their own kind, i.e., wealthy elite "liberals." As Somerby said, they nearly destroyed Clinton, they put and kept Bush in the White House, and before they'll done, they'll bring Obama down if he's not careful. Rush Limbaugh and Co. are the worst of the worst, but the Gail Collinses of the world aren't that much better.

    1. Oh, please, his point is impossible to miss, it's repeated on a daily basis.

      Both sides do it, don't you know! So we're constantly told here! But of course when Somerby says "liberal", he means corporate flunkies, the ones who play liberals on the op-ed pages and on TV. From this, he reasons that "our side" is just bad as the their side, despite the fact that we don't have a "side" and don't have a voice and have never had a voice. He doesn't seem to realize that Fox and MSNBC and NYT management are the *same* side, and that actual liberals have no say in any of these places.

      So the whole debate is nonsensical and incorrectly conceived from the start. Hate corporate news and election coverage? Fine! But that coverage has got nothing to do with liberalism. If he thought he could shame these sham [social] liberals into becoming decent journalists (and actual liberals), he ought to be disabused of that notion by now.

      Similarly, there's a constant demand here that "liberals" (real ones, presumably?) play nice -- as if we're engaged in some idiotic debating society, without consequences. I've got news for The Debating Society Proponents: fairness doesn't win American elections. And even less so in a thoroughly corrupt society like ours, where the truth will not be aired, and the candidate with the most money reportedly wins 94% of the time.

      And consider the ox who gets gored, pardon the expression. There's no inclination on this site to examine the actual politics of the Howler Heroes, Clinton & Gore. Were they "liberals"? The answer is "no", if "liberal" still means anything. Indeed, they were about as phony as the liberals who play liberals on TV. What do we really expect from such a culture? Things will be fine, as long as corporate liberals don't "misquote" Romney?

      Sure, I'd love to see detailed and accurate Bain coverage. But why flagellate "liberals" for the failure? Bob's quarrel is with corporate American, and its hires; it's got nothing to do with "liberalism". But to make that concession, Bob would have to concede that his heroes aren't liberals, either, that the culture gives no expression to liberal views.

    2. @HubbaHubba
      Sorry about my mistaken inclusion of your comments with my response to @anon
      Hasty carelessness on my part.

  3. Hubba Hubba: Unless one cannot read the English language, it is impossible to miss Bob's point. He's been making the same point for years, with relentless repetition. He makes the same point day after day after day after day. He apears to be aiming for a world's record.

    Anonymous: Yes, exactly. Following the wisdom of The Howler leads you to one destination: sanctimonious defeat. And after you're defeated, you spend the next decade or two blaming Maureen Dowd. Thanks but no thanks. I'd rather win.

  4. Problem is, Romney's done nothing illegal. If you lean conservative and don't know much about "lazy balance sheets" or asset-stripping then it does look a bit like us lazy, overpaid workers are just bitching again.

  5. @HubbaHubba,@Anonymous

    So you both think it would be helpful somehow to American democracy to ignore the effects of the "press corp" doing journalism in ways that are:

    "making a joke of American discourse" and
    "dumbing a large nation down."

    If you're so sure Bob's so wrongheaded about this stuff, why spend your time here?

    I just don't get what's in it for you to take the time to comment...

    1. Yeah, that's spirit Sam! Only read people you agree with.

      As for Bob....he wrote this: "Paul Krugman still won’t tell you that fact, although he plainly knows it’s true". No Bob...only you. Only you.

    2. Bob provides a valuable service when he pursues the Dowdification of news reporting, the ignorance of the fabulously wealthy news defilers, the laziness, cant and incompetence found daily on the front pages of our Papers of Record, the fatuity of opinion columnists, etc.

      Where it goes deadly wrong is in the meta-analysis. The corporate model, with revenues derived from advertisers, along with a Royal Court culture, where reporters and subjects belong to the same social class and have shared public policy interests, would seem to explain this behavior far more effectively than recourse to tribal partisan allegiances. On the cocktail circuit, there are no sides. During most of the Bush years, MSNBC found it more profitable to promote pro-Bush/Republican party cant. Now it finds Obama/Democratic party cant a better choice. Of course, this model still puts "liberals" -- meaning the talking heads acceptable to corporate America -- at a significant disadvantage, because 1) the volume of liberal discourse, real or phony, is still quite minimal, and 2) the Democratic party establishment doesn't promote actual progressive domestic and foreign policies, which turns both domestic liberalism and a principled foreign policy into "fringe" positions in the U.S., which don't get reported or are regarded as ludicrous. Meanwhile, the right-wing retains its manias and passions in full bore, and the rhetoric of politicians and corporate hacks is consistent and center-stage, dragging the discourse further and further to the right.

      This shift to the right is, of course, one which Democrats like Clinton and Obama welcome, because it makes it easier for them to do what they were hired to do. But failure to report on the unacknowledged shared policy interests of establishment Dems and establishment Repubs is not one you'll see bemoaned at The Daily Howler. For example, we have both parties dying to cut "entitlements" (American retirees apparently live too well), and the only impediment at this point is that neither party wants to be blamed for it. But we must not say so!

      Note also here that the best we have in major media, Paul Krugman, doesn't do much more than insist on basic arithmetic -- a demand that we call "up" up and "down" down. The man is hardly a "leftist" -- he's not, after all, calling for the nationalization of the financial sector, cutting the military budget by half, prosecuting torturers and mortgage bankers, or for a 90% marginal tax rate. But he's still unacceptable to most corporate media, because arithmetic is unacceptable to the top 1%. Recourse to "tribal" explanations won't help us here. There's a reason Rachel Maddow won't do any real reporting, or have guests who do real reporting: the facts will get you fired on cable TV, and she knows it. Even on Fox, the lies have to take a very particular form (Repubs good!; Dems bad!), for the simple reason that Fox News is a lobbying organization for Murdoch's entertainment business. Deviate from the playback, or give offense or make uncomfortable to the top .1%, and you're finished (Glenn Beck?)?

      I submit that this state of affairs is not best analyzed through the prism of the 2000 election, or by recourse to tribal party loyalties.

    3. OK

      My apology for mistakenly putting @HubbaHubba in my comment. Plain carelessness re keeping straight who's saying what. And who I was actually reacting to.

    4. @ Anonymous
      re: "Note also here that the best we have in major media, Paul Krugman, doesn't do much more than insist on basic arithmetic -- a demand that we call "up" up and "down" down."

      Is insisting on 'basic arithmetic' of little value? What's your program for Krugman to make Krugman's work meet your standard of value?

      Maybe he should drop his field, and try to take on the "corporate model"?

      I very much agree with you re many aspects of the corporate model you raise.

      But apparently you think there is so little value in Somerby's and Krugman's analyses they should actually drop their work, and move on to your meta-analysis.

      Seems to me that "the Dowdification of news reporting, the ignorance of the fabulously wealthy news defilers," and problems in media coverage of economic policy re "basic arithmetic" issues contribute a great deal to explaining how the "corporate model" came to be and how it sustains itself.

      There are a variety of prisms that are necessary to help citizens understand "this state of affairs." History seems to be a basic tool of human understanding. Math, too.

    5. Amen again, Anonymous.

    6. @Sam Gunssch

      There's value, a lot of it, in both Krugman and Somerby.

      Note that without Krugman, we'd be dead. It's not inconceivable, for example, that without Krugman, Bush would have succeeded in privatizing SS (in advance of the stock market crash--how about another bail-out?). And even more "liberals" would doubtless be demanding austerity now at this very moment.

      My point was, the man is hardly a radical, but anyone who tells the truth in our political culture is considered a nutcase.

  6. Howler repeats himself ("the media is a clown show"): Very, bad, pointless.

    Maddow, Collins, Rich, et al, repeat themselves ("here's another b*llsh!t half-truth for you to enjoy"): Great fun, we're going to ride this to a big Democratic win!

  7. what makes you think ms. collins might possibly have been joking? given her public history, i believe she was dead serious.

    i think you're being a tad harsh on ms. maddow. she expended a lot of time and energy on that rhodes' scholarship thing, and getting her tv show, expecting her to use what little she still possesses, to provide facts for her audience, may be beyond her.

    dana milbank. his name is self-explanatory.

  8. Anonymous said:Everyone agrees that this statement was taken out of context.'

    Everyone? Really? Do we really have to be quite that Jesutical? What kind of man says: "I like to fire people who provide services to me", in ANY context? I've never said it -- not of actual hires under my control, nor of my defaulting local dry-cleaner. Such a sentiment would simply never occur to me.

    Huh? So, if your landscaping company chopped down your rose bushes you wouldn't like the option to fire them? You wouldn't be glad to fire them? If your cable company provided crap service, you wouldn't like to fire them and switch to DirecTV or whatever? You're an odd bird if that's really true. Frankly, I don't believe it. I don't believe anyone could really be of that opinion.

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