EPILOG—Why not the truth: In a recent column in the Post, Dana Milbank explained the disgraceful “shorthand” system our “press corps” uses to cover elections.

This system is just amazingly stupid, but it’s all around us. On the same day Milbank’s column appeared, Frank Bruni wrote this column in the Times. In the course of his musings, Bruni referred to these elements of recent campaign shorthand:
Shorthand found in Bruni’s column:
Candidate Romney is currently wearing casual dress
Candidate McCain couldn’t count his houses
Candidate Kerry had five houses—and he was married to an “heiress”
Candidate Bush (1992) was unfamiliar with a supermarket scanner
Candidate Kerry went wind-surfing
This is the kind of ridiculous piffle with which our pseudo-journalists pretend to cover elections.

This kind of shorthand is very dumb—but beyond that, shorthand can kill! We should have learned that unfortunate fact during Campaign 2000, when twenty months of journalistic “shorthand” was aimed directly at Candidate Gore, sending George Bush to the White House.

The “press corps” was outraged at President Clinton; they aimed their fury at his chosen successor. Their dim-witted shorthand was all around.

In the end, shorthand worked—and it killed.

We should have learned that shorthand kills during that twenty-month, gong-show campaign. But most voters still don’t know that fact because of folk like Paul Krugman. Among mainstream journalists, Krugman has been the liberal world’s most valuable player over the course of the past dozen years, by a very wide margin. But even he won’t tell the truth about the way the “press corps” works.

We noticed this fact as we read this recent unfortunate blog post by Krugman. How is it that Newt Gingrich can prosper with the simple-minded claim that the media love to take out Republicans? In part, because major liberals—even our very brightest players—agree to write piffle like this:
KRUGMAN (1/14/12): Untruths, Wholly Untrue, And Nothing But Untruths

I was deeply radicalized by the 2000 election. At first I couldn’t believe that then-candidate George W. Bush was saying so many clearly, provably false things; then I couldn’t believe that nobody in the news media was willing to point out the lies. (At the time, the Times actually told me that I couldn’t use the l-word either). That was when I formulated my “views differ on shape of planet” motto.

Now, however, Mitt Romney seems determined to rehabilitate Bush’s reputation, by running a campaign so dishonest that it makes Bush look like a model of truth-telling.
Is Romney “running a campaign so dishonest that it makes Bush look like a model of truth-telling?” Arguably, he is. But then, as Krugman surely knows, Candidate Bush wasn’t the leading purveyor of nonsense, bullroar and disinformation during Campaign 2000. Candidate Bush didn’t even come close to being the largest offender.

Surely, Krugman knows that Candidate Bush wasn't the leading purveyor of lies. But even now, in this recent blog post, he keeps this news to himself. Milbank’s “shorthand” is amazingly stupid—and his silly shorthand can kill. Why then won’t liberals tell the public the truth about the way this shorthand has worked in the recent past?

Regarding Krugman’s unfortunate post, let’s ask this question for starters:

Was Krugman “deeply radicalized” by Campaign 2000? Please. As we’ve told you, Krugman came to partisan politics extremely late in life. Perhaps because of this late emergence, his reactions can sometimes be a bit overwrought in this realm—a bit juvenile, if we want to be honest. By his own account, Krugman was too busy building his own career to have noticed, before the year 2000, that the GOP was flooding the country with waves of ridiculous bullshit (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/6/11). Was he “deeply radicalized” by the new judgments he says he reached in the year 2000? If so, we note, from reading his blog, that this form of “radicalization” involves a lot of Acela rides and a lot of international air travel. If memory serves, it involves quite a few posts which say that his income places him among the top earners.

If we might borrow from the early Dylan: But oh what kind of radicalization is this, which goes from bad to worse?

Was Krugman “deeply radicalized” by the things he saw in Campaign 2000? Please. The notion is deeply ridiculous. If he had been radicalized, perhaps he would give the world a fuller account of Campaign 2000 than the one he presents in that post.

Krugman tells us that Candidate Bush said “many clearly, provably false things” during Campaign 2000. He says he “couldn’t believe that nobody in the news media was willing to point out the lies.”


For ourselves, we’d be more careful with the word “lies,” but we don’t doubt that this is an accurate account of Krugman’s reactions in real time. He began his Times column in January 2000; Gore had already been buried under nine solid months of garbage-can press corps “shorthand.” (He had already been defined as a LIAR, just like Bill Clinton, to cite the most crucial example.)

As the year 2000 proceeded, Krugman expressed amazement at some of Bush’s flagrant misstatements concerning policy matters. For example, he wrote three columns in the fall of 2000 in which he railed against the misstatements Bush was making—was being allowed to make—about his budget proposals.

“I couldn’t believe that nobody in the news media was willing to point out the lies,” Krugman says in his post. We’ll assume that this was true at the time—but if so, it only shows how poorly Krugman understood the shape of the world at the time he started his column, or as Election Day neared. Please! In September 2000, why would the press corps have corrected Bush’s misstatements? By that time, they themselves had spewed more “lies” about Bush’s opponent than Bush would spew about all topics during that whole campaign.

Krugman may not have understood that fact in real time. Surely, he knows it now. Even as of 2006, his knowledge had rather plainly grown. Consider the column he wrote when Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, was let loose on the land, occasioning shrieks from the Times’ Frank Rich, to cite one pathetic example.

In that column, Krugman discussed the “disinformation campaign” that was greeting the release of Gore’s film. In the passage which follows, he went on to discuss the way “some journalists” had covered Campaign 2000. Krugman’s speculation about these journalists’ motives strikes us as very narrow. But his basic description of that campaign hit quite close to the mark:
KRUGMAN (5/26/06): “An Inconvenient Truth” isn't just about global warming, of course. It's also about Mr. Gore. And it is, implicitly, a cautionary tale about what's been wrong with our politics.

Why, after all, was Mr. Gore's popular-vote margin in the 2000 election narrow enough that he could be denied the White House? Any account that neglects the determination of some journalists to make him a figure of ridicule misses a key part of the story. Why were those journalists so determined to jeer Mr. Gore? Because of the very qualities that allowed him to realize the importance of global warming, many years before any other major political figure: his earnestness, and his genuine interest in facts, numbers and serious analysis.

And so the 2000 campaign ended up being about the candidates' clothing, their mannerisms, anything but the issues, on which Mr. Gore had a clear advantage (and about which his opponent was clearly both ill-informed and dishonest).
Some journalists in Campaign 2000 were “determined to jeer Mr. Gore?” In all honesty, it must have been a fairly large group to produce the reaction Krugman describes—and his description is perfectly accurate.

In truth, Campaign 2000 did “end up being about the candidates' clothing, their mannerisms, anything but the issues.” In truth, this was the result of “the determination of some journalists to make [Gore] a figure of ridicule.” (As we noted when Krugman’s column appeared, the press corps literally “jeered” Gore at one point in this gruesome campaign, during his first Democratic debate with Bill Bradley, for the full hour. Three major journalists agreed that this had occurred.) But this disgraceful conduct didn’t emerge from “some” journalists. It emerged from the vast bulk of the mainstream press, from March 1999 forward. That explains why “some” journalists were able to make a joke of that White House campaign, precisely as Krugman described.

Krugman may not have understood these facts in real time, as Campaign 2000 unfolded. But he seemed to know them by 2006—although he forgets again now.

If we might borrow Milbank’s language, Campaign 2000 was ruled by “shorthand”—by silly, moronic, brain-dead shorthand designed to advance a pre-conceived judgment. But from that day right up to this, the tribunes of the career liberal world have chosen to keep this information from the wider world. People like Gingrich rail and roar about the way the press attacks his faction. Our “leadership” still won’t tell the truth about what was done to us—and to the whole world.

Shorthand ruled Campaign 2000. And as it turned out, shorthand can kill. But Krugman plays the anguished teen when he says he was deeply radicalized.

When he’s really radicalized, he might tell the fuller truth.

The public remains barefoot and clueless because intellectual leaders, for the past dozen years, have agreed to wipe away the history of the Clinton-Gore years. First, they buried Fools for Scandal; then they buried The Hunting of the President 2000. We ourselves have swamped them with information about the conduct of Campaign 2000.

But Krugman is in the quiet car. As Gingrich screeches, whistles and yells, he chooses be less than fully truthful.

The gent remains our most valuable player. But good lord! In truth, that post was false.

Everyone tells the truth once: By the apparent rules of the game, everyone has to tell the truth once! Krugman told a pretty good version of the truth in that column in May 2006. One month earlier, in the American Prospect, Ezra Klein had taken his turn with the highly unpleasant, career-threatening task:
KLEIN (4/06): [Gore’s] address was the keynote for the We Media conference, held at the Associated Press headquarters in New York last October and attended by an audience that included both old media luminaries and new media innovators. In attendance were Tom Curley, president of the AP, Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, all leading lights of a media establishment that, five years earlier, had deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator, ideological chameleon, and total, unforgivable bore.
Good lord! According to Klein, the “media establishment...deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.” Naming news orgs like CBS News, the AP and the Times, Klein said the media establishment had “sp[un] each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator, ideological chameleon, and total, unforgivable bore.”

That is a truly astonishing statement; it’s also completely correct. In what world is this said only once?

Ezra has never said it again. He is now in the pay of a long list of the media entities whose remarkable past misconduct he no longer describes or deplores. He is paid by NBC, not by the vastly less culpable network he named. He is paid by the Washington Post, not by the New York Times.

Gingrich was ranting about media bias last week. Your “leaders” have always kept their traps shut. In this way, the public is kept in the dark—but journalistic careers are maintained.

Money is stuffed into journalists’ pants. Telling the truth is no fun!


  1. If you need another illustration of the vapidness of our "press corps," Jonathan Bernstein provides it today in his blog post about the latest GOP debate:

    "During the first half hour, all of us on the twitter machine were bashing Brian Williams for asking only political and gotcha questions, which he did to the extent of twice interrupting a Newt/Mitt policy discussion to urge them to return to personal attacks (yes, really). Then they went to a break, and came back focused almost exclusively on policy questions until the end....

    "About 15 minutes or so into the policy portion, the reporters and others I follow on twitter started complaining how boring it all was.

    "My feeling? I'm for the policy questions. Sure, they're dull for those of us who have watched over a dozen debates, plus stump speeches and TV hits and the rest of it. But part of the point of having debates, presumably, is for regular citizens, and while most of them probably changed the channel after the fireworks, a good number of them presumably stuck around and heard all that stuff for the first time from this field."

  2. As an academic in a quantitative field located somewhere between science and social science, the lies" which will interest and animate Krugman are NOT those concerning Love Story, Love Canal, the internet, earth tones, the candidate's character etc.

    Krugman is talking, or was talking about, provably wrong public policy claims and false accounts of then recent history. He's not talking about, and isn't terribly interested in, what Al Gore said or didn't say on any given day about his contribution to this or that piece of legislation.

    It doesn't seem quite fair to confute the two as somehow equal in importance, or reproach the man for ignoring press malfeasance in areas of little interest to him and which were already commonplace.

    1. There was a quantum leap in policy-absurdity bald-facedness by a Presidential candidate in that election -- making the "sighs" (and radicalization of an observer to the travesty) thoroughly appropriate. The Howler seems to forget that this was the first time Karl Rove was running the show. The compulsion to engage in equal opportunity demonizing plays tricks with the memory.

  3. I totally agree with BillNRoc. Williams did not seem to want to discuss the candidates' policy proposals, but kept trying to goad them into a personal scuffle. Meanwhile, there were, yet again as at earlier GOP debates, some outlandish proposals. Gingrich suggested a second Bay of Pigs to assassinate Fidel Castro (who no longer leads Cuba, having ceded his spot to his brother, but hey, who cares about facts?); Mitt Romney pushed "self-deportation," an unworkable approach to addressing undocumented immigration issues; Ron Paul again seemed to suggest doing away with major government programs, though he did sound quite reasonable on clamping down on the military industrial complex; and Rick Santorum, who is supposed to be a "small government" conservative, defended his behavior in the Terry Schiavo episode and pushed for government intervention in people's personal affairs when they conflicted with (his) conservative obsessions.

    These are only a few of the very disturbing proposals--like war with Iran, which Romney supports--that these candidates have advanced. But at these debates the "journalists" playing "moderators" have done a very poor job of challenging the candidates, asking them to explain these policies and what the practical effects would be, and asking them for factual evidence that they're basing their policies on. Instead they have let them suggest that cutting the Federal Tax rate to zero would be feasible, that Turkey is ruled by "Islamic terrorists," that the economic collapse began after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, and on and on. What's even worse is that when you read reports of the debates, the "mainstream" media resort to scripts, they don't address the really dangerous statements and proposals, and they focus as always on "personalities" or "who won." David Corn's Twitter feed is so notorious for this that I may have to stop following him; all he ever seems to do is snark and announce that Mitt "won." Don't any of these journalists realize the effects these politicians' policies--and I include President Obama in this--have on regular people, in the US and across the globe? Do they care?

  4. Brian Williams no doubt wanted to portray the Republicans in the worst possible light. He is, after all half of the team (the late Saint Tim Russert was the other half) who presided over the shameful 10/30/07 debate. After an hour of relentless "gotcha" questions, trying to "get" Mrs. Clinton, they finally achieved their goal when she muffed a question about driver's licenses for illegals. That was the moment when Hillary started to fall, and Obama rise. In a moment of candor, Chris Matthews noted approvingly that Russer saw his chance and went for it.
    I doubt that Williams has gotten less willing to use his position to push an agenda, or achieve a political result.

    1. You obviously missed the debate. He wanted a skirmish, but as for painting the Republicans "in the worst light," that was not even a question. The mainstream media love the Republican establishment candidate, Romney. They've been touting him for months now. They called the primary season over and his victory inevitable after his shaky non-win in Iowa. He is everything they admire, from being rich with a Harvard degree (two!) to being somewhat "moderate" conservative at times to having a blonde wife and five sons and lots of homes and really nice hair. He is their ideal...except that he's a Mormon, which sort of icks them out. Brian Williams is like the rest of his media gang. Were Romney and his wife to start dining with them all a bit more on the Washington social circuit, he'd be all over the floor for him. As is, they'd probably like Gingrich more if he'd learn to watch his tongue. He's so brilliant and the "smartest man in the room" and the "ideas" guy, you know.