Ashley Parker watch: Silliest piffle ever!


Imitation of news: No one does it like Ashley Parker, the New York Times’ queen of all piffle.

The New York Times specializes in giving you piffle in the place of political news. Has anyone ever mastered the format quite the way Parker did in Monday morning’s piece?

Frankly, we’re not sure.

Parker’s piece makes empty calories look like a big bowl of oat bran. Be sure to note the utterly pointless photo, along with its hiss-spitting caption.

Parker is only 29. It’s hard to know how anyone gets to be so fatuous at such a young age. In this case, Parker got help from Michael Barbaro, whose screaming fatuity we will explore in more depth tomorrow.

We strongly recommend this brain-dead non-report report. When Katherine Boo discussed “creeping Dowdism,” we’ll guess this is what she meant.

Please come to Baltimore!


A musical invitation: In this morning’s New York Times, it’s bombs away—again.

In New Hampshire, the state legislature may repeal the 2009 law which lets gays and lesbians marry. This has inspired Andrew Rosenthal to toss his B-bombs around. In the hard-copy Times, these are the headlines which appear above today’s editorial:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (2/29/12): The Challenge to Marriage Equality

Driven by bigotry, New Hampshire is poised to take a giant leap backward
In one way, these headlines represent an advance. The New York Times typically restricts its use of R- and B-bombs to actions taken by southern whites. In this case, the board is accusing a northern legislature of being “driven by bigotry” too!

Is everyone opposed to marriage equality in New Hampshire “driven by bigotry?” That’s a perfectly decent question—but in the editorial itself, the Times doesn’t bother itself with such trifles. At the Times, B-bombs are thrown so routinely that the editors don’t feel the need to explain their use of this term. Though the editorial does say that the opponents of the New Hampshire law are “right-wingers.”

Are they all "right-wingers?"

Is that an appropriate use of the B-bomb? In our view, our tribe has used its B- and R-bombs so promiscuously for so long that the terms no longer have much meaning. But since Andrew Rosenthal has a different view, we’re extending an invitation:

Please come to Baltimore! No really! Come on down!

As the Times editorial notes, marriage equality is about to become law here in Maryland. But uh-oh! Here in Maryland, opposition to the bill has often come from the state’s black clergy. This front-page report in last Friday’s Washington Post was the latest report about this situation, which you won't likely see discussed on the Maddow Show.

For ourselves, we wish the ministers felt differently. But are we prepared to call them bigots? Are you, after reading that report?

Plainly, Andrew Rosenthal is! Hence, our invitation:

Andrew Rosenthal, please come to Baltimore! We’ll take you to our local supermarket. You can set up a little stand on the sidewalk and drop your B-bombs on black Baltimoreans as they enter the store! We’re sure that Rosenthal, in his great fury, is eager to spread his judgments around. He wouldn’t want to drop his bombs on New Hampshire “right-wingers” while ignoring the Democrats who feel the same way down here!

In this recent post, Kevin Drum said this about our view on the use of the B-bomb: “Bob thinks it's counterproductive to throw around charges of bigotry too casually, and I suppose I agree.” We do think this can be counterproductive. But that isn’t necessarily our main objection to the casual use of this term.

The promiscuous use of B- and R-bombs often strikes us as being rather shaky on the merits. It strikes us as being disrespectful of the history in which real bigotry has been involved—including real bigotry aimed at gays and lesbians. Most unattractively, loudmouths like Rosenthal tend to drop their bombs on tribal foes, while ignoring similar conduct from those within their own tribe.

This is stupid, ugly conduct, but it’s found all over our tribe. It’s amazing how often we liberals will castigate southern whites in the most aggressive ways for holding views which may be widely held within parts of our own coalitions.

We love to drop bombs on southern whites (and on northern “right-wingers.”) We often seem to be too dumb to know that many people within our own tribe may hold the same darn views.

Hence our invitation! Please come to Baltimore, and bring the whole board. We know a supermarket where you rubes can drop your bombs all around.

If we might express ourselves musically: To the tune of “Please Come to Boston:”

Please come to Baltimore for the spring time.
There’s a Motel 6 on the Beltway,
They've got lots of rooms.
You can sell your judgments on the sidewalk
By a cut-rate supermarket where we’ll be shoppin’ soon...

Rosenthal loves to drop his bombs. But only on the other tribe! And only when they’re not present!



Part 2—Just like the other reports: At CNN, they like to make us viewers feel that we’re important too!

For that reason, John King didn’t ask the opening question at last Wednesday’s Republican debate. He gave that honor to Gilbert Fidler of Gilbert, Arizona.

How wonderfully democratic! A highly-paid professional journalist deferred to one of us rubes! Following King’s instructions, Fidler told us who he was. He then proceeded to pop the first question of this last GOP debate:
KING (2/22/12): Gentlemen, it's good to see you again. Let's get right started on the important issues with a question from our audience. Sir, please tell us who you are and state your question.

FIDLER: My name is Gilbert Fidler from Gilbert, Arizona, and I'd like to ask this question to all the candidates if I could.

Since the first time in 65 years our national debt exceeds our gross national product, what are you going to do to bring down the debt?

KING: Thank you, sir. Senator Santorum, let's begin with you.
Fidler advanced a somewhat murky question. King asked Santorum to answer.

What made Fidler’s question seem a bit murky? He wanted to know what the hopefuls would do to bring down the national debt. To do this, we will have to start running an annual surplus. Since we’re currently running annual deficits of well over $1 trillion, this will be extremely hard to do.

How hard would it be to “bring down the debt?” One example may offer some context: The proposal which emerged from the Bowles-Simpson commission wasn’t designed to “bring down the debt.” It would have reduced the amount of additional debt accrued in the next ten years. But even under its ballyhooed provisions, the national debt would have continued to grow.

Whatever! When journalists defer to us the people, confusion may ensue. Santorum proceeded to give a long, detailed, rambling apparent response, in which he seemed to say that he would cut $5 trillion in federal spending over the next five years. Or did he mean that he would cut $5 trillion from projected annual deficits?

We don’t have the slightest idea. And John King didn’t ask.

Yesterday, we showed you Santorum’s rambling statement—a statement he offered in response to a somewhat murky question (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/28/12). We said we’d show you how King reacted to Santorum’s rambling “answer.”

In our view, King should have stepped in to help at this point. For decades, national surveys have made it clear—we the people are deeply confused about federal budget issues. We believe all kinds of crazy shit, often with a lot of help from trained professional dissemblers. We rarely have any real idea what we are talking about.

To amend some famous language from Nixon, we tend to be pitiful helpless know-nothings concerning the federal budget!

In a rational world, we’d get a lot of intellectual guidance from our trained professional journalists. But we don’t live in that sort of world, and King provided very little guidance at this debate. Before we look at what he said in response to Santorum’s rambling claims, let’s get clear on how strange it was to hear Santorum say that he has “put together a specific plan that cuts $5 trillion over five years, that spends less money each year for the next four years.”

Santorum’s answer may have sounded good to Fidler. To our ear, this answer was a bit unclear—and it sounded highly implausible. Consider a news report which appeared in Friday’s Washington Post, a news report which amplified the newspaper’s prior reporting.

Lori Montgomery wrote the report; it appeared on page A6. If Fidler is concerned about deficits and debt, its headline and its opening paragraphs may not seem reassuring:
MONTGOMERY (2/24/12): Report: Debt will swell under top GOP hopefuls’ tax plans

The national debt would balloon under tax policies championed by three of the four major Republican candidates for president, according to an independent analysis of tax and spending proposals so far offered by the campaigns.


According to the report released Thursday by U.S. Budget Watch, a project of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former House speaker Newt Gingrich would do the most damage to the nation's finances, offering tax and spending policies likely to require trillions of dollars in fresh borrowing.

Both men have proposed to sharply cut taxes but have not identified spending cuts sufficient to make up for the lost cash, the report said. By 2021, the debt would rise by about $4.5 trillion under Santorum's policies and by about $7 trillion under Gingrich's plan, pushing the portion of the debt held by outside investors to well over 100 percent of the overall economy, the study said.
Say what? Fidler asked the candidates what they were “going to do to bring down the [national] debt.” But uh-oh! According to this new report, the national debt would grow by about $4.5 trillion under Santorum’s policies! That certainly wasn’t the way it sounded as Santorum gave his rambling reply.

Let’s be fair! Montgomery’s report appeared two days after this final debate. As John King threw to Gilbert Fidler, the study on which Montgomery reported hadn’t yet been released. But people! Similar analyses had already appeared in the national press, and John King surely knew this. Example: On January 30, the Washington Post editorial board discussed this same situation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/2/12):
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (1/30/12): The Republican presidential candidates claim to abhor debt, yet propose tax cuts that would add trillions more.

Yes, trillions.

The case for continuing the George W. Bush tax cuts, at a cost of $3.7 trillion over 10 years (including interest), is shaky enough. The cuts for the wealthy alone, which President Obama would end, would cost with interest about $1 trillion over the next decade. But the GOP candidates want to continue all those cuts—and add many more, the vast bulk of which would again go to the wealthiest taxpayers.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney proposes additional cuts that would drain $180 billion from the treasury in 2015 alone, according to calculations by the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. The nonpartisan center has not calculated the 10-year cost of the plan. But merely multiplying by 10 illustrates that Romney is talking trillions.

And Mr. Romney's is the most modest of the GOP proposals. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich's plan would cost an astonishing $850 billion in 2015 on top of the Bush tax cuts. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum's would cost $900 billion in 2015 alone.
Please note: According to this earlier study, Santorum’s proposals would add $900 billion to the deficit in 2015 alone, even after you allow for extending all the Bush tax cuts!

This is the journalistic framework which existed at the time of last Wednesday’s debate. King threw to Fidler for the first question—and Fidler asked about “bringing down the debt.” In a rational world, John King would have swung into action after Santorum’s rambling reply. He would have imposed some clarity on the unfolding pseudo-discussion. He would have asked Santorum to explain the analyses which were already on the public record.

You can’t expect the average rube to understand such matters. In our society, we have trained professional journalists to provide such clarification! And in the realm of cable news, such professionals get paid in seven figures! Surely, these giants work long and hard to justify such pay!

How did King respond to Santorum? Don’t worry, we’ll show you—in time. But let us leave you with this for today:

When it comes to the federal budget, we the people are pitiful helpless know-nothings. It has been that way for a very long time—and our paid professional “journalists” rarely provide any help.

Tomorrow—part 3: The vastness of Barbaro’s clowning

PITIFUL HELPLESS KNOW-NOTHINGS: Pitiful helpless know-nothings are us!


Part 1—King in charge: Is your country a pitiful helpless giant, the way Dick Nixon once said?

Well yes, it pretty much is! One example: As surveys are constantly showing, we the people don’t have a clue about the way the federal budget works.

We believe all kinds of crazy things. We’ve done so for many years.

Why are we the people so pitifully helplessly clueless? Consider what John King did at last Wednesday's GOP debate!

King was moderator for the debate. After a bunch of silly piddle, he kicked things off in the manner which follows. To watch these proceedings, click here:
KING (2/22/12): Gentlemen, it's good to see you again. Let's get right started on the important issues with a question from our audience.

Sir, please tell us who you are and state your question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Gilbert Fidler from Gilbert, Arizona, and I'd like to ask this question to all the candidates if I could.

Since the first time in 65 years our national debt exceeds our gross national product, what are you going to do to bring down the debt?

KING: Thank you, sir. Senator Santorum, let's begin with you.
Did Gilbert from Gilbert’s question make sense? In order to bring down the national debt, we will have to start running an annual surplus. That would take enormous changes. Is that what he meant?

At any rate, King quickly threw to Santorum. He blathered at great length from there:
SANTORUM (continuing directly): Thank you, Gilbert. I put together a specific plan that cuts $5 trillion over five years, that spends less money each year for the next four years that I'll be president of the United States. So it's not inflation-adjusted, it's not baseline-budgeting. We're actually going to shrink the actual size of the federal budget, and we're going to do so by dealing with the real problem.

And here's where I differentiate myself with everybody else, including, obviously, the president. I actually have experience on tackling the toughest problems that we have in this country, and that's the growth of entitlement spending.

Obviously, the first thing we need to do is repeal Obamacare. That's the one entitlement that we can get rid of.


And that's a couple trillion dollars in spending over the next 10 years. But there's bigger issues.

When I was born, less than 10 percent of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60 percent of the budget.

Some people have suggested defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget. It's now 17 percent. If you think defense spending is the problem, then you need a remedial math class to go back to.

Defense spending will not be cut under my administration, but we will go after all of the means-tested entitlement programs—Medicaid, food stamps, all of those programs—and do what we did with welfare.

We cut the welfare—we cut spending on welfare, froze it and then we block-granted it to the states and gave them the flexibility to run that program the way they saw fit with two provisos. Number one, there would be a time limit on welfare and a work requirement. We were going to say that poverty is not a disability, that these programs need to be transitional in nature. We need to do the same thing with Medicaid. We need to do the same thing with, with food stamps. All of the other means tests of entitlement programs.

And unlike the Paul Ryan plan—I see I'm out of time, but unlike the Paul Ryan plan, we also will deal with Medicare and Social Security, not ten years from now. But we need to start dealing with it now because our country is facing fiscal bankruptcy.
Santorum went on and on, describing his plan to “cut $5 trillion over five years.” For ourselves, we’ll come right out and admit it—we don’t understand that part of his answer!

Santorum said that he would cut $5 trillion over five years. Did he mean that spending in each of his first five budgets would be (roughly) $1 trillion lower than is currently projected?

Given the size of the annual budget, that would be an enormous change. Is that what Santorum meant?

From that starting point, Santorum went on and on, rattling off all kinds of points. Trust us! No one in the room, including Fidler, had any idea what the solon was talking about. But did he mean what he seemed to say? Did he mean that would cut projected spending in next year’s budget by (roughly) $1 trillion?

That would be an enormous change. Is that what Santorum meant?

Santorum gave a long, detailed reply to a somewhat murky question. Luckily, we had a professional journalist on hand! He was right up there with the candidates!

John King was in charge of this debate. Why do we live in a country where no one know squat about the budget? What makes us such pitiful helpless know-nothings?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at what King said. When we do, you’ll start getting your answer.

Tomorrow—part 2: What King said

FACT AND LEGEND: The New York Times is opposed to the crafting of legends!


Epilogue—Except when its own writers craft them: Just for the record, the New York Times is strongly opposed to the crafting of legends!

Readers learned this in two different places in Sunday’s New York Times. In each case, a Times writer was discussing “The Lifespan of a Fact,” an intriguing new book about the dumb ideas of John D’Agata, a professor and essayist/fabulist.

Years ago, D’Agata submitted an essay to Harper’s. At least in part, his essay was rejected due to its endless misstatements of fact. In 2003 or 2005, the essay was submitted to the literary magazine, The Believer. This new book chronicles that magazine’s attempt to fact-check D’Agata’s essay.

The fact-checking was a long, hard slog, for an odd reason: D’Agata doesn’t believe that an artist such as himself should be forced to restrict himself to accurate facts. In the course of the fact-checking by The Believer, he kept insisting on his right to change names, dates and numbers around to make his tale work better.

The New York Times disapproves of such thinking! In Sunday’s New York Times magazine, Gideon Lewis-Kraus batted D’Agata around, making perfectly sensible points about the need to be accurate in factual representations. At one point, he quoted the fact-checker, who was using an appropriate term:

“I mean, what exactly gives you the authority to introduce half-baked legend as fact and sidestep questions of facticity?”

What gives D’Agata the right to dream up a “legend” and present it as fact? That’s a very good question!

Does an essayist have right to manufacture fake facts? We think Lewis-Strauss was perfectly right to batter Professor D’Agata around. Meanwhile, in Sunday’s Book Review section, Jennifer McDonald seconded this emotion! In a high-profile book review!

McDonald’s review of this new book ate up the Book Review’s front page. Quite sensibly, she too rejected the idea that a writer can just make shit up:
MCDONALD (2/26/12): D'Agata uses ''facts'' that aren't facts to make a statement about a ''reality'' that is real for no one but himself, and relies on ''coincidences'' that aren't coincidences to reveal something ''profound'' about Las Vegas, or the cosmos, that is not profound but rather an accidental accumulation of detail and event. He argues that in manipulating Levi's story, he's ''making a better work of art—and thus a better and truer experience for the reader.'' But would it have made the experience any less True to call those vans pink? To let Tweety Nails be Tweety Nails? To give that poor school its comma?

''I try to take control of something before it is lost entirely to chaos,'' D'Agata writes, but what he creates is a mirage. He takes randomness and superimposes themes, gins up drama where it doesn't exist, tries to convince us his embellishments are more vivid and revealing about a city, about human nature, about Truth, than reality could ever be.

In short, he plays God...But one could contend he's merely making excuses to conceal his own laziness.
We agree with McDonald’s judgments. But as we read her description of D’Agata’s technique, we couldn’t avoid an obvious fact: She was also describing the way many people at the Times write about politics! They too rearrange or invent facts, ginning up drama where none exists. They too try to convince us that their embellishments are more revealing about a candidate than the unvarnished truth.

Duh! Major writers at the Times have worked this way for decades. On Sunday, Times readers were told that it’s very bad when Professor D’Agata exhibits such conduct! But no one noted the fact that his technique is widespread at the Times itself!

Did Al Gore say he invented the Internet? Well actually, no—he did not.

Did John Kerry clownishly say, “Who among us doesn’t love Nascar?” Well actually, no—he didn’t.

Did Muskie weep? Apparently not! Did Naomi Wolf tell Al Gore to wear earth tones? Incredibly, the Times presented this formal correction in July 2007!
NEW YORK TIMES CORRECTION (7/29/07): An article last Sunday about politicians' choice of clothing while campaigning referred incorrectly to the role of Naomi Wolf in Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. She was a consultant on women's issues and outreach to young voters; she was not Mr. Gore's image consultant and was not involved in his decision to wear earth-toned clothing.
How strange! Whatever made Times reporter Guy Trebay think that Wolf had been Gore’s “image consultant?” What made him think that Wolf was involved in Gore’s (alleged) decision to wear earth-toned clothing? We’ll take a wild guess: Among other things, Trebay kept reading that stupid shit in the New York Times all through Campaign 2000! Among others, Maureen Dowd had been ginning up drama where it didn't exist, trying to convince us that her embellishments were more revealing about Candidate Gore than serious work would have been.

Eight years later, Trebay still believed the stupid shit he had read in the New York Times! To read his bungled report from July 2007, go ahead—just click here.

People are dead all over the world because Dowd and her colleagues did that. Gail Collins played those stupid games too in the twenty months of Campaign 2000. Today, she keeps typing shit like this about Mitt Romney’s dog, a topic she can’t know about:
COLLINS (2/23/12): The prime seats at the center of the table went to Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, one of whom is going to be the nominee for president of the United States.

Take your pick, Republicans. On one hand, the guy who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. On the other, the guy who won his first Congressional race by criticizing his opponent for moving his family to Washington. And then later moved his own family to Washington, but said it didn't count because the Senate was different from the House.
Collins has typed that stupid shit more than thirty times now. She doesn’t have the slightest idea what actually happened on that trip. But as McDonald noted this Sunday, some writers are too fucking lazy to stick to the things they know.

Gail Collins is bad for your mental health. People are dead all over the world because of her past behavior. But she will never stop playing this game, any more than Dowd will. Reporters once “amused themselves” with bogus reports from Wounded Knee. Collins keeps amusing herself with tales about Mitt Romney’s dog.

Romney is an historically terrible candidate. He has made historically awful policy proposals. But Collins will never help readers learn about that. Borrowing from McDonald’s prose, one could contend her own massive laziness may be involved in these choices.

On Sunday, the New York Times made a very big deal about its devotion to facts—about its rejection of legend-invention. Lewis-Straus and McDonald went on and on about how bad it is to gin up drama, to invent legends.

They forgot to mention one key fact. This is precisely the way the Times plays this stupid sad game.

Watching a lady embellish: Lady Collins loves to embellish. It gins up drama where none exists, concealing her cosmic sloth:
COLLINS: The Arizona crowd was totally on Romney's side. This was no easy task, since it required a lot of booing and cheering at those obscure earmark arguments. But Mitt needed all the help he could get. He's facing a must-win primary next week in Michigan, which is, of course, his home state. Along with Massachusetts and New Hampshire and California, where he has, um, homes. Michigan appears to be the only Romney home state where Romney does not have an actual residence.
Question: Has anyone ever tried to claim that California is one of Romney’s “home states?” Presumably no, since it plainly isn’t. But Collins managed to gin up some drama—or perhaps a bit of amusement—with this D’Agata-like “fact.”

It helped her get to the end of a column in which she had nothing to say. As usual.

Funny that! In 1999, the press corps ginned a great deal of drama concerning Candidate Gore’s home state! At great length, they feigned confusion about the idea that Tennessee could be his home state. This phony confusion played a key role as they invented their GORE LIAR narrative.

People are dead all over the world because they ginned up that narrative. For the record, “journalists” have toyed with “home state” themes with several other major candidates, allowing themselves to create the illusion of commentary. But then, these people lie the way other folk breathe—and in truth, they just aren’t very smart.

Times writers are constantly “printing the legend!” On Sunday, Lewis-Strauss and McDonald weren’t ready to tell you that fact.

Distraction watch: Big speech, tiny minds!


The guild explains the guild: Back in November, Michael Barbaro hit the front page of the New York Times with a detailed, thoughtful report about Mitt Romney’s hair style.

On Saturday, he reported on Romney’s “major policy speech” about the economy. Or rather, he reported about all the empty seats he was able to see in Detriot's Ford Field, where Romney gave this address. Like many of his colleagues, the empty young fellow had been badly distracted by all those unused seats.

In his non-report news report on the speech, Barbaro ignored what Romney said and explained why this widespread distraction occurred.

First, the background. At the start of his report, Barbaro rattled the basic events of the day. Romney was giving a major address. But here’s how reporters reacted:
BARBARO (2/25/12): Mitt Romney set out on Friday to deliver a sweeping and sober vision for how to revive the American economy in a major policy speech here. In the end, he delivered something else as well: an unintended lesson about how poor visuals and errant words can derail a candidate's message in this modern political news culture.

In an unusual choice, Mr. Romney gave his speech inside Ford Field, a cavernous indoor football stadium with 65,000 seats.

To the television audience, it appeared perfectly normal. Mr. Romney could be seen standing at a lectern in front of a backdrop that had the logo of the Detroit Economic Club, the event's host. And when the stadium audience of about 1,200 people clapped, they filled the screen as cameras panned across them.

But in the age of Twitter and the Internet, that is not all that matters.

Before Mr. Romney had uttered a word, reporters began posting pictures online showing the stadium from every available angle—almost empty, except for the chairs set up on the field itself, near the 20-yard line.
The age of Twitter made them do it! Somehow, the age of Twitter explained the way the reporters stampeded, posting pictures online which showed the stadium from every available angle. “Row after row of barren blue seats across the giant stadium made the crowd seem minuscule,” Barbaro wrote as he continued. “Through the rapid-fire, reality-reshaping powers of the Web, a storyline for the day began to take hold that undercut and detracted from Mr. Romney's words: big speech, tiny crowd.”

Big speech, tiny crowd? Folk like this are easily mocked. At any rate, the reality-reshaping powers of the Web created a storyline for the day! This is the way these pitiful children explain their own disorders.

What really explains the way the children began posting all those photos? As he continued, silly boy Barbaro let the cat out of the bag. A mordant laugh escaped our lips as we pondered his scribbles:
BARBARO: Ordinarily, such imagery might be overwhelmed by the news of the day: a highly anticipated, substantive address packed with previously unknown details. Mr. Romney called for a 20 percent cut in income taxes; handing control of federal welfare programs to the states; and creating private sector competition for Medicare services.

But the Romney campaign had leaked most of the speech's contents several days ago, leaving members of the news media with little to focus on—except, of course, the scene itself.
"Of course!" It was the fault of the Romney campaign! They had leaked most of the content the day before! There was nothing left for the children to do but to gaze all about the venue!

In this passage, Barbaro tells you a secret: The empty minds of the modern-day “press corps” can’t focus on even the biggest issues for more than one day. Presumably, Romney’s proposals for the economy represent the most important part of his campaign. But in a nation where very few people understand anything about any of this, these silly children can’t think of a way to wrote two reports on this topic.

Only naturally, their attention wandered.

People, Twitter made them do it! That and the reality-shaping powers of the Web! Plus it was the Romney camp’s fault! Of course, the children have always been good at this skill—the skill known as making excuses.

The dog on the roof of the car ate their homework! Barbaro typed a brilliant text, a text which explains your world.

Please read all the way to the end: Barbaro went on and on with endless streams of irrelevant drivel. By the time you were done, you knew that Candidate Obama gave a speech in Boise to 14,000 people.

You still didn't know what Romney had said in his major address.

FACTS AND LEGENDS: Hooray for Hollywood!


Part 4—Sequel to earth tones: If the historians can be believed, American “journalists” have always behaved this way.

They have always enjoyed making up stupid shit—inventing, then printing, their legends. In her 2010 book, Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre, Heather Cox Richardson described the way some “reporters” functioned in the run-up to that disaster:
RICHARDSON (page 222): Sent to report on a story that wasn’t there, reporters invented one. Writing on the long planks of the counter of the agency store after the business closed for the night, they constructed copy out of rumor, or even out of whole cloth...They joined forces with the photographers eager for exciting pictures to sell, staging pictures of hand-to-hand combat with compliant Indians posing as hostile warriors. To while away the time, the reporters wrote stories to amuse themselves, interviewed each other and sent sensational copy back East.

The columns the reporter filed were electrifying, describing Indian murders and atrocities and predicting an imminent battle.
Much like their present-day brothers and sisters, these reporters did these things “to amuse themselves,” Richardson writes.

Steven Spielberg portrayed these same events in his 2005 TV mini-series, Into the West. These events ended quite badly. But that has often been the case when reporters self-entertain in this fashion.

Other figures discussed this “journalistic” tendency long before Spielberg and Richardson did. Briefly, let’s tip our hat to Oscar with a famous screen quotation:

"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” So says a newspaper reporter in a famous (fictional) moment from John Ford’s 1962 film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. On its own, the famous quote is a bit opaque. In context, the (fictional) reporter is saying this: He has come to know that a famous tale isn’t true. But he plans to keep printing it anyway.

John Ford’s film was a fictional work; Richardson’s book is history. But over the course of the past forty years, the modern-day “press corps” has amused itself in this time-honored manner, inventing legends as they pretend to cover our White House campaigns.

Candidate Muskie wept! Al Gore said he invented the Internet! Al Gore hired a woman to teach him to be a man! These are some of the most consequential legends these horrible people have pimped. But surprise! The very dumbest of these slackers are pimping a legend in this year’s campaign! Mitt Romney drove to Canada with his pet Irish setter “strapped to the roof of his car!”

The fatuous tale of the dog on the roof is this year’s version of earth tones. Because Gail Collins has returned to this tale in her two most recent New York Times columns, might we note a few facts about this new legend, which pseudo-journalists like Collins write “to amuse themselves?”

Can we talk? Lady Collins has no real idea about this now-legendary pseudo-event. She doesn’t know if Seamus was uncomfortable during his ride on the roof of the car. She doesn’t know if he was wet, or perhaps even “very wet,” during the ride. She doesn’t know if it was windy inside his carrier—the type of carrier in which dogs frequently travel.

Romney said, in 2008, that Seamus enjoyed riding in his carrier up on the roof of the family car, that he would scramble up into his suite unbidden. Collins has no way of knowing that this isn’t true. She doesn’t have the slightest idea what she is talking about.

On balance, she's making this up, then feigning surprise at the way folks "glom on to" her tale (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/12).

Collins has no real idea what did or didn’t happen. But like the people who invented those tales from Wounded Knee; like the people who spent twenty months dreaming up tales about Candidate Gore; like the famous dean of pundits, who told us that Muskie wept, then took it back fifteen years later; like those earlier horrible people, Collins is determined to put a novelized tale into play.

Week after week, she just keeps printing the legend!

Hooray for Hollywood! “Seamus was strapped to the roof of the car” is the latest sequel to earth tones! Earth tones was aimed at a highly capable candidate; the dog on the roof of the car is aimed at a horrible candidate—a man who’s a bit of a nut. But the biggest nut in this fruit jar is Collins. Here’s how she started her most recent column. She herself put the questions in bold:

COLLINS (2/25/12): I know you’re extremely excited about the latest developments in the Republican presidential primaries. As a public service, I am ready to answer all your questions.

Is it true that a giant cat in Wisconsin saved the life of its owner by giving her the Heimlich maneuver?

You see, this is the way rumors get started. I believe you are talking about Amy Jung of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., who is not a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. However, the story about Pudding, her 21-pound cat, has gone viral since it was first reported by Samantha Hernandez in The Door County Advocate.

Jung adopted Pudding from the local Humane Society. Just a few hours after the cat joined the family, his new mistress suffered a seizure while sleeping. According to Jung, Pudding sat on her chest in an attempt to wake her, hit her face with his paw, bit her nose until she was aroused and then ran to her son’s room to summon help.

Wow, where can I find a similar 21-pound cat to monitor my health in the late-night hours?

I would suggest that we reserve judgment on this story until we see if Pudding jumps on top of sleeping people and bites their noses even when they are not in imminent danger.
Your nation is in a very bad way. We badly need clarity, clear understanding. And that is the way a leading “journalist” burned up the first 215 words of her most recent column. She ended with Romney’s dog “tied” to the roof of the car, a remarkable switch from “strapped,” the misleading term she has used in more than thirty columns.

People died because of those Wounded Knee “legends.” People are dead all over the world because of the way Collins and her colleagues clowned with earth tones and many other legends during their war against Gore. Your lizard brain is telling you that this year's sequel can’t be wrong. Your lizard brain is saying that Lady Collins should be creating this legend.

As always, your lizard brain is wrong. But hooray for Hollywood! Tomorrow, we’ll tell you why, shouting, “That’s a wrap!”

Tomorrow: Why are we all so clueless?

This is what Collins thinks about!

We'll finish our series on Monday: Currently, we're away from our desk, on a mission of national importance.

Next to our bed last night, we found the current Atlantic. On the cover, they tease one article with this question: "Do brain parasites shape your behavior?"

Do brain parasites shape human behavior? Frankly, we weren't sure. Then we read Gail Collins' new column.

This is what Collins thinks about! With apologies, we expect to be able to finish our current series on Monday.

FACTS AND LEGENDS: Little crowd on the prairie!


Interlude—Chris Matthews visits Ford Field: Have we mentioned the fact that cable “news” hosts treat us rubes like baboons?

Consider what happened when a very bad person hosted last evening’s Hardball. As he started, he tickled a key he would tickle all through the program:
MATTHEWS (2/24/12): Mitt was in Detroit today to push his new economic plan, but the optics didn`t help. Check out the scene—1,200 people there at Ford Field where the Lions play football, which means Romney addressed 65,000 empty seats. Who’s the guy’s advance man on this one?
Romney had given a major address about his ridiculous budget proposals. But people like Matthews don’t tire themselves with matters of substance. All through the program, he focused on all the empty seats a person could see as Romney gave his address. Over and over, again and again, he played tape of the empty seats and ridiculed Romney for the “optics:”
MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, at his big economic speech today at Ford Field in Detroit, Mitt Romney spoke to an audience—well, we've got a—of 1,200 people in a football stadium that holds 65,000 people, not the ideal message of a thunderous, overflowing crowd you'd want to see heading into a critical primary, would you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Mitt Romney spoke to a crowd of 1,200 today in a football stadium that held, well, 65,000 potentially.

MATTHEWS: Well, here's a totally unfair comparison of dueling stadium speeches and the crowds attending. Take a look. On the left, you see the packed crowd at Invesco Field at Mile High back in 2008, when Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president. It was a full house that night in Denver.

And there on the right, well, that's Romney’s little crowd today at Ford Field in Detroit, all 1,200 of them, and a lot of empty seats in that huge stadium.
Throughout the program, Matthews kept playing that tape, mocking Romney for the optics created when a “little crowd” sits in a large stadium. He even played that tape side-by-side with the tape from Obama’s convention address in 2008. As he played that bit of tape, he even told us baboons, right to our faces, that this was “a totally unfair comparison!”

Over and over, Matthews mocked Romney for the small crowd in the large park. Imagine our surprise an hour later when correspondent Peter Alexander, on NBC Nightly News, offered this explanation:
ALEXANDER (2/24/12): And tonight the Romney campaign insists that it had nothing to do with the decision to hold today’s speech on the field, Brian. The Detroit Economic Club, the host of the event, said they originally planned to hold it in the stadium’s atrium. But the Secret Service, they say, was concerned that the size of the crowd would make that area unsafe so it was decided to move it to the field. But as you know, Brian, in these events stagecraft is often as important as what the candidate himself says.
Really? The event was moved from the atrium to the field because of the Secret Service? We don't know if that is accurate. But matthews made no attemptto explain the pointless matter he flogged throughout the hour.

Later, Rachel Maddow devoted one of her endless, pseudo-professorial segments to this pointless piffle. Note the skillful way she explained away the possible role of the Secret Service, which she said she had to mention:
MADDOW (2/24/12): Booking a 65,000-seat stadium for 1,200 person event. That is not an accident. They knew this was going to happen. There were pictures that ran in the local press before the event took place showing how bad the event was going to look.

Did the Mitt Romney campaign bail on the event? No, they did not. And then to add further injury to injury, they did not even fill the seats that they put there on the field in the first place. Even after jamming everyone in this teeny tiny little sliver of a stadium to try to make it look there was crowd, there were still all sorts of empty-folding chairs.

It should be noted that the Romney’s campaign swears today that this was not their fault. They say because of security concerns with the original location, the Secret Service asked them to relocate, and the surface of the field was the only option at that point. But again, everybody knew way in advance this is what it was going to look like before the event started and they decided to go ahead and stick their candidate in the middle of that anyway.
They should have bailed on the address! The lord god professor has spoken! (Good god, but Maddow is awful…)

By the way: Does it matter if a major economic address is held in a very large stadium? Actually, no—it doesn’t. In even a slightly rational world, people would realize that the content of a major economic address is more important than “the optics.” And the content of Romney’s economic proposals is foolish bordering on insane. But the children who pretend to be a press corps will find any way to avoid such boring discussions. In the morning’s New York Times, the hottest new silly-boy, Michael Barbaro, goes on and on—and on and on—about the troubling optics.

These people don’t like discussing matters of substance. Note again the wonderful way Alexander ended last night’s report, speaking to Brian Williams:
ALEXANDER: But as you know, Brian, in these events stagecraft is often as important as what the candidate himself says.
Really? In these events, stagecraft is often as important as what the candidate himself says? Why in the world would that be the case?
Alexander seemed to think we’d all understand. Brian simply thanked him.

In her pseudo-professorial way, Maddow mentioned a few events of this type involving Candidate McCain in 2008. The chimps are always ready to play, especially if the troubled optics involve a targeted pol. One more flashback: In July 1999, the Secret Service involved itself in a Gore campaign event, an environmental event involving a canoe ride on a river. This too produced some bad optics. The chimps jumped and screeched and flung their poo for a good solid week. At that time, Gore was targeted.

These are very empty souls—and they’re making millions of dollars.
By the way, what did Romney say in that major address? Matthews didn’t go there.

The children are very upset: The children are also very upset by Romney’s remarks about Michigan's trees. Given the chance to speak to a journalist about the economic address, this was Maddow's first question:
MADDOW: Joining us now is Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for the Washington Post. She`s been traveling with the Mitt Romney in Arizona and Ohio and Michigan. Karen, thank you for being here. It's nice to see you.

TUMULTY: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Do you have any insight into why he keeps bringing up the height of the trees in Michigan? I thought it was a non-sequitur the first time, but he keeps doing it. Does it mean something?
That was this child's first question.

The children are very stupid. The greatest album we’ve ever heard is the debut album by the McGarrigles. In her glorious coming-of-age song, Talk to Me of Mendocino, the late Kate McGarrigle spoke about trees in the state where she came of age in much the way Romney does:
I bid farewell to the state of ol' New York
My home away from home
In the state of New York I came of age
When first I started roaming
And the trees grow high in New York state
They shine like gold in autumn
Never had the blues from whence I came
But in New York state I caught 'em.
People who hate look for ways to hate. They aren't happy until they find one.

FACTS AND LEGENDS: A mission of national import!


Creating a one-day postponement: We’re off on a mission of national import. Tomorrow morning, we expect to continue our series about facts and legends.

To prepare, and to punish yourselves, go ahead: Just click here.

What Romney said and meant!


What did he say and mean: Paul Krugman’s new column includes some very bad news for all Americans. This very bad news appears more than halfway through the piece:
KRUGMAN (2/24/12): Given his advisers, then, it seems safe to assume that what Mr. Romney blurted out Tuesday reflected his real economic beliefs—as opposed to the nonsense he pretends to believe, because it’s what the Republican base wants to hear.

And therein lies the reason Mr. Romney acts the way he does, why he is running a campaign of almost pathological dishonesty.

For he is. Every one of the Romney campaign’s major themes, from the attacks on President Obama for going around the world apologizing for America (he didn’t), to the insistence that Romneycare and Obamacare are very different (they’re virtually identical), to the claim that Mr. Obama has lost millions of jobs (which is only true if you count the first few months of his administration, before any of his policies had taken effect), is either an outright falsehood or deeply deceptive. Why the nonstop mendacity?
Is Romney “running a campaign of almost pathological dishonesty?” Is he engaged in “nonstop mendacity?” In a forum as important as this one, we’d stay away from psychiatric-sounding language. But Krugman’s statements are in the ballpark.

Therein lies the bad news.

Romney could still end up in the White House. For that reason, Krugman’s basically accurate statements are bad news for all Americans. We don’t know if anyone has ever run such a weirdly disingenuous White House campaign. It’s hard to imagine where this leads if Romney gets to the White House.

That said, we were struck by the way Krugman started his column, not by its gloomy conclusions, which made a great deal of sense. As a reader, we were struck by the way he presented the highlighted quotation from Romney—the quotation which forms the basis of today’s rumination:
KRUGMAN: According to Michael Kinsley, a gaffe is when a politician accidently tells the truth. That’s certainly what happened to Mitt Romney on Tuesday, when in a rare moment of candor—and, in his case, such moments are really, really rare—he gave away the game.

Speaking in Michigan, Mr. Romney was asked about deficit reduction, and he absent-mindedly said something completely reasonable: “If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.” A-ha. So he believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal.

The right’s ideology police were, predictably, aghast; the Club for Growth quickly denounced the statement as showing that Mr. Romney is “not a limited-government conservative.” On the contrary, insisted the club, “If we balanced the budget tomorrow on spending cuts alone, it would be fantastic for the economy.” And a Romney spokesman tried to walk back the remark, claiming, “The governor’s point was that simply slashing the budget, with no affirmative pro-growth policies, is insufficient to get the economy turned around.”

But that’s not what the candidate said, and it’s very unlikely that it’s what he meant. Almost surely, he is, in fact, a closet Keynesian.
Is Romney a closet Keynesian? We have no idea. In our view, he has seemed to dissemble about so many things that we don’t know if he believes anything at all at this point. But we were struck by that highlighted quotation—and by the way Krugman judged what Romney likely meant.

On their face, Romney’s 22 words seem to be a heresy for those on the pseudo-right. According to Krugman, the Club for Growth quickly snapped off a reply, insisting that we should balance the budget with spending cuts only. (The group is often confused with the Hair Club for Men. In fact, there is no connection.) Meanwhile, Romney’s spokesperson explained what he supposedly meant. Romney meant that we should have pro-growth policies and spending cuts, the campaign officially said.

According to Krugman, “it’s very unlikely” that this is what Romney meant. In his opening paragraph, he seems to assert a stronger degree of certainty.

Krugman offers a chain of reasoning in support of this view. But he offers no context.

Krugman tells us what Romney meant. As a reader, we are wondering what he said. Did he utter those 22 words and not a word more? If he only uttered those 22 words, are they sufficient to form a judgment? Are they even worth discussing?

As a reader, we were surprised that Krugman offered no context for Romney’s remark—and no explanation for the lack of context.

As we devoured Krugman’s column this morning, we hadn’t yet researched Romney’s remark, although we’d seen it flogged on cable. Even now, as we type, we still haven’t researched the 22 words; we expect to do so this weekend, after a bit of a train ride. But as a reader, we were struck by the lack of context in Krugman’s piece. What were Romney’s fuller remarks? What exactly had he been asked? What else, if anything, did he say? Surely, a serious person wouldn’t judge what Romney meant without considering the fuller context, if there is one.

We make this point for a reason. On cable “news” channels, the silly, tightly-clipped pseudo-quotation has become a reliable staple. MSNBC is now a master of this practice. A tiny portion is pulled from a longer remark; gangs of chimps then sit around misrepresenting what was actually said. This is now one of the principal ways the chimps entertain us baboons.

The “press corps” has mastered variants of this technique over the course of the past twenty years. Even back in the 1990s, this was one of the principal ways our “journalists” would go after targeted pols. The technique is now a reliable standard on our “liberal” cable “news” channel. And by the way:

When we let journalists function this way, we give them enormous power. This year, they may decide to use this power against a GOP front-runner. But in the past, they have played this game against a string of major Dems—and they may flip back the next time.

As a general matter, this is the way we rubes get made dumb. This is the way we give control of our minds to gangs of chimps.

Like most people who will read Krugman’s column, we haven’t done the background research (yet). But as we read the column, two questions popped into our mind:

What did Romney actually say? Shouldn’t we have been told?

Seeing the electoral glass one-fifth empty!


Ruth Marcus finagles her framework: Is the Democratic Party lousy at winning elections?

Who knows? There may be better approaches the party could take. But good grief! Look at the way the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus started yesterday’s column. We’re using the headline which appeared in the hard-copy Post:
MARCUS (2/22/12): Why the Democrats don’t win

Far more Americans favor Democrats over Republicans. For decades, the number of Americans identifying as Democrats or calling themselves independent but leaning Democratic has far exceeded the share of Republicans and Republican leaners. That gap has persisted, even in landslide Republican years like 1984 and 1994.

So why don’t Democrats perform better in national elections? Why have Democrats won only four of 10 presidential races since 1972?
In her column, Marcus explains “why the Democrat don’t win” presidential elections. She also explains the steps they should take to put an end to their slide.

Who knows? Democrats might get more votes if they take her advice. But what did Marcus forget to note?

Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the last five White House elections! In three of those elections, they won by fairly large margins. In 1992, 1996 and 2008, they won by six to eight points.

In fairness, Marcus was discussing a new report by Third Way, a “moderate Democratic group.” It was Third Way which constructed the framework in which Democrats have “won only four of 10 presidential races since 1972.” Even there, Third Way counted Campaign 2000 as a loss, even though the Democratic candidate won the popular vote.

That said, no one forced Marcus to adopt the group’s gloomy framework. No one stopped her from noting an obvious fact: Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the past five White House elections!

Who knows? Maybe Democrats would get even more votes if they took Marcus’ advice—if they became more “centrist/moderate.” But for a taste of her analytical skill, consider this example:
MARCUS: First, the Democratic-leaning independents are far more likely to switch loyalties and vote Republican than are their pure Democratic counterparts. This may seem obvious, but consider: Republican leaners were far less likely to defect than were Democratic leaners.

For example, in the 2002 House election, 46 percent of those who had identified themselves as Democratic-leaning independents two years earlier voted for Republicans; just 26 percent of Republican-leaning independents switched to vote Democratic.
2002 was a bad year for Democrats in those House elections. Many independents did go with the Republicans. But does Marcus remember the context there?

President Bush was ginning up a war. He was pushing a whole lot of buttons.

Marcus thinks the Democrats should move back toward the “middle” in the hope of attracting more votes. As she continued, this was another piece of her analysis:
MARCUS (continuing directly): Second, the Democratic-leaning independents have different views than those who call themselves Democrats. As Eberly reports, they are “less supportive of government intervention in the economy, more likely to believe that the government has gotten too involved in things people should do for themselves, and express higher levels of support for cutting Social Security spending.”

Eberly’s conclusion: “There may be more money and passion among activists on the left, but there aren’t enough voters there to secure consistent electoral victory for Democrats. The true wealth of voters in the Democratic coalition resides in the vital political center and that’s where the Democratic Party will find the path to sustained electoral dominance.”
Democratic-leaning independents “express higher levels of support for cutting Social Security spending” (as compared to Democratic activists). To Marcus, this means Democrats should support cutting this program too.

Possibly! But might that fact mean something else? Might it mean that Democrats should find a way to explain to the public that they have been disinformed about Social Security for at least the past thirty years? By the way: A party can’t learn how to do such things by coasting along on stupid stories about the other party’s pet dogs. Democrats may defeat Romney that way. But they'll be left without a real politics.

What will they do if the next GOP nominee never owned a pet dog?

In our view, Marcus offers lousy advice. That said, her pitch is cued by a comical failure—a failure to note an obvious fact:

Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the past five elections! Did this fact cross Marcus’ mind? How about the mind of her editor?

FACTS AND LEGENDS: Just making stuff up!


Part 3—Gail Collins should look in the mirror: The analysts chuckled when they perused Sunday’s Washington Post.

The Style section featured a sprawling, two-page report about “Watergate,” Thomas Mallon’s new novel. In large, bold letters, the layout featured this pull-quote from an interview with Mallon:
“There's a story about Nixon that as a child he got a briefcase for Christmas and was happy about it. There was always that striver aspect of Nixon, and it never went away....If he's going to be of any interest to a's not going to be as a pasteboard villain who twirls his mustache and ties his victim to the railroad tracks.”
“There’s a story about Nixon,” Mallon had told the Post reporter.

Mallon’s story fits a traditional picture of Nixon. But is the story true? There was no sign that Mallon knows, or that the Post reporter cares. People! The story is amusing! And it fits a traditional picture.

Within our fact-averse journalistic culture, that’s frequently all it takes.

Facts are very pliable things within our political discourse. At the start of this month, the White House made a misleading factual claim which rapidly took the world by storm. Everyone repeated (and revised) the claim, although it wasn’t real accurate.

The New York Time still hasn’t tried to report the relevant facts. But then, what else is new? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/22/12.

Monday evening, on the Last Word, one of our most vapid “journalists” mused about the history of this fact-averse culture. For unknown reasons, Gail Collins has written a book about William Henry Harrison, who served exactly 32 days as the ninth American president. In keeping with her preternaturally lazy approach, Collins’ “book” runs all of 125 pages. Its opening pages feature the weird connections which are frequently found inside her squirrel-inhabited head.

In the following exchange, Collins told Lawrence O’Donnell what Harrison had to teach us on this year’s Presidents Day. Lawrence said he was only raising the point to sell a couple of books. Everything these life-forms do is about stuffing bucks in their pockets. To watch this garbage, click here:
O’DONNELL (2/20/12): Gail, quickly, before we go, let’s get in a book-selling word about "William Henry Harrison."

COLLINS: Presidents Day, yes!

O’DONNELL: Does he have anything to teach us on Presidents Day about this the presidential campaign?

COLLINS: I think so. You know, he, like Mitt Romney, was the son of a very—he was the son of a founding father, signer of the Declaration of Independence, a very wealthy family in Virginia on a plantation. But he ran as president in an age when you could just make stuff up and go with it.

O’DONNELL: Those were the days!

COLLINS: As a very poor soldier living in a log cabin. And that was the center of his campaign. People danced the log cabin two-step. If only Mitt Romney could do that now, he’d be so happy if he could recreate himself as, you know, this guy from Brooklyn.
For our money, Collins would be one of the truly loathsome figures on the national stage, if it weren’t increasingly plain that squirrels are banging around in her head. As usual, she seemed to be treating the public like fools in this moronic exchange. Harrison “ran as president in an age when you could just make stuff up,” she marveled, transitioning to a jibe aimed at Romney.

O’Donnell pretended to marvel too. Of course, he, like Collins, knows something you don’t: Like Harrison, Romney is running “in an age when you can just make stuff up.” There’s one major difference between these two candidates: It’s more often the press corps which makes the stuff up in the present age.

The “press corps” makes up the stuff now! They spread their silly tales around, just as Harrison may have done. They just make stuff up and go with it! They’ve done this for three or four decades.

Candidate Muskie wept! David Broder said it was so. Fifteen years later, he said it probably wasn’t.

Who gets to just make up silly shit now? Increasingly, people like Collins! Earlier, O’Donnell asked her about the stuff she has (pretty much) been making up in the current campaign. As always, Collins’ response was hugely disingenuous. Here you see her describing her role in some Harrisonian conduct:
O’DONNELL: Now, Gail, I want to talk about what’s happened in the polls and basically we see a Romney collapse. Rachel, in the previous hour, tracked it to, literally to the day Donald Trump endorsed Mitt Romney. Numbers have gone down for him since then.

OK. So there’s Trump. But there’s also the Romney dog. How much of this collapse can we assign to Mitt Romney as the worst dog manager in history?

COLLINS: Well, as we all know, Mitt Romney did, years ago, drive his family to Canada with the family dog strapped in a crate on the top of the car, and it was actually wet for most of the trip, because he got diarrhea at the beginning and was hosed down. So you’ve got a very wet Irish setter on the top of the car, on the highway, going down the highway. I can’t imagine he would have been real happy about it.

But it’s amazing to me that people glom on to this as meaning something about Mitt Romney. And it seems to. It really does. I mean, it’s really caught hold in a very strange and interesting way.

And you know, he’s going to be forever kind of the guy with the dog on the top of the car.
Is anyone more disingenuous than this horrible person? “It’s amazing to me that people glom on to this as meaning something about Mitt Romney,” the vacuous upper-end crackpot said—failing to note that she herself has been working extremely hard to encourage people to do just that. As she and O’Donnell continued their chat, so did the high lady’s scam:
O’DONNELL (continuing directly): Well, candidacies find different attachments to the people, and I think one of the things about Mitt Romney is, he’s not found any personal attachment. No connective spot, except here, with dog owners, and it’s an extremely negative connective spot with dog owners.

COLLINS: Well, he keeps trying. As we all know, he talked this week about how he likes the size of the trees in Michigan, and he loves cars. He really loves cars, so on and so forth.

But every time he tries for that really personal attachment, something goes terribly wrong and he winds up saying that he really enjoys firing people or that he got pink slips or something else horrible happens. And it never goes well for him when he tries to make a personal connection. It’s very strange.
In this exchange, Collins continued to flog a pair of meaningless statements by Romney, as many of her coleagues have done. Then, she said “it’s very strange” that moments like these “never go well” for this candidate.

Presumably, Collins understands why these moments don’t “go well” for Romney. In this exchange, she was really describing the way people “just make stuff up and go with it” in our modern presidential campaigns.

She failed to note that it’s now people like her who get to “just make stuff up.”

In this instance, she and her colleagues have been pretty much making stuff up about Candidate Romney. It’s easier, and much more fun, than discussing his gruesome, absurd proposals.

Unfortunately, they played this same destructive game with Candidates Kerry and Gore.

Speaking with O'Donnell, Collins made the rare accurate statement; she said that Romney “is going to be forever kind of the guy with the dog on the top of the car.” That may be true, of course. But she forgot to add an additional fact—this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this movie. Thanks to Collins and her colleagues, Candidate Gore was “forever kind of the guy with the earth tones Naomi Wolf told him to wear.” He was also “forever kind of the guy who said he invented the Internet.” Collins could have risen to challenge her peers when they just made up this stuff. Instead, she cavorted, clowned around and pimped this stupid shit too.

Are you happy with how that turned out? No, really—try to think!

It wasn’t just Candidate Gore. Four years later, Candidate Kerry was forever sort of the guy who said he was for it before he was against it. As Jacob Weisberg reminded us this month, he is still sort of the guy who put the wrong cheese on his cheesesteak. He was forever sort of the guy who went wind-surfing when he should have gone jogging. And as with Romney, so with these Dems: It never went well for them when they tried to make a personal connection! As with Romney, so with Kerry and Gore: Whores like Collins would scan every gesture and word, looking for ways to make them seem strange. Then, they pretended it was “weird” that they couldn’t make a personal connection—forgetting to note that they themselves had been working to keep that from occurring.

(Candidate Kerry was forever sort of the guy who said, “Who amongst us doesn’t like NASCAR?” Collins’ colleagues laughed and laughed, forgetting to tell us that they themselves had made the statement up.)

Lady Collins and her colleagues just sort of made that stuff up. In the case of Candidate Gore, people are dead all over the world because of what they did.

Because of what Collins did. People are dead all over the world because of what Gail Collins did.

Today, this horrible person clowns around concerning a dog on the roof of a car in 1983. She says she's amazed at the way “people glom on to this as meaning something about Mitt Romney.”

We’re amazed to see people glom on to that too. But then, we haven’t been begging people to do so. By the way: How well does Collins understand her basic facts?

Collins never seems to say the same thing twice about the meaning of this story—the story she cites in this morning’s New York Times column for more than the thirtieth time. In an hour-long session with Diane Rehm which was weird even by Collins’ standards, she told Rehm that she sees the story as a sign of how uber-orderly Romney is. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/1/12.)

Reading her columns, few people would ever guess that this is the point of this uber-flogged story. (Speaking with Rehm, Collins misstated the facts which appeared in the Boston Globe, the original source of this groaner.) And sure enough! Monday, on Presidents Day, Collins seemed to say that the actual point of the story involves the discomfort of Romney’s poor dog.

Seamus “was actually wet for most of the trip, because he got diarrhea at the beginning and was hosed down,” Collins stupidly told the nation. Seamus was “very wet,” she quickly said, thereby improving the tale. As squirrels wrestled in her brain, she then began imagining things. “I can’t imagine he would have been real happy about it,” she worriedly said.

Was Seamus wet, even verywet, during most of the trip? Like Collins, we have no idea. Collins is old enough to know a bit of social history: As of 1983, most wealthy families owned towels.

Romney wasn’t super-rich yet. Based upon our own recollections, we’ll guess that he owned at least one.

How wet was Seamus during that trip? Collins lacks the first fucking idea. But she keeps displaying a familiar form of mental/intellectual illness, an illness which is quite widespread within her loathsome cohort.

When it comes to just making stuff up, she has been playing the Harrison role for a good many years.

Coming: Printing the legends

Virginia is for copy-cats!


We were surprised by this fact: At the end of last week, we were talking to a very big name about the proposed Virginia law involving the ultrasound exams.

We haven’t seen a lot of press coverage, we said, expressing a bit of puzzlement.

Yesterday, the New York Times did a news report on the situation. We were surprised by the highlighted fact:
TAVERNISE (2/21/12): Requiring ultrasounds before abortions has become one of the principal tactics of the anti-abortion movement, with similar rules now in effect in seven states and being held up by legal challenges in two more—Oklahoma and North Carolina.
If Virginia is the tenth state to enact such a provision, that might explain why there hadn’t been a whole lot of coverage. Here’s why we were surprised:

Especially watching the Maddow Show, we have gotten the impression that this proposed Virginia law was a major new departure. We haven’t gone back to read all the transcripts in detail. But we’ve watched quite a few segments about this law. We were surprised to read that Virginia would be the tenth state in line.

Looking at Monday night’s transcript, we see that Dahlia Lithwick mentioned the fact that Texas has a similar law. But scanning transcripts back through last week, we see no discussion of the sweep of such laws—of those nine other states.

We were surprised by that fact in the Times, a fact which seems a bit depressing. Having said that, we have an excuse—we watch lots of cable TV!

Just to be clear: We can't speak to the accuracy or the thoroughness of that highlighted fact. It does seem to us that it's a basic, if unfortunate, part of the overall story.

Mind-reading Governor McDonnell is fun. Who are the other nine governors?

Imagine all the people!


Maddow and Lithwick can’t: How are we liberals now being trained?

We were struck a colloquy on Monday evening’s Rachel Maddow Show.

Maddow was speaking with Dahlia Lithwick about the spread of state laws which limit abortion rights. Virginia was on the verge of passing a law which would require invasive ultrasound examinations.

In just her second question, Maddow wanted to know if this proposal made any internal sense. Were laws like these compatible, in any way, with conservative “small government” frameworks? Is there any way to avoid the conclusion that The Other Tribe is just a big gang of slobbering hypocrites?

Unlike us, that is! This was Maddow's proffer. To watch the full segment, click here:
MADDOW (2/20/12): Dahlia, you I think more than anybody have done more to help non-lawyers understand the legal means by which some of these issues have been approached by the right—the way that abortion rights have been sort of chipped away at from the edges by the anti-abortion movement and conservative movement more broadly. When you look at the approaches to the legislation like this, trying to change state laws like this, the approaches they’ve taken in terms of federal legislation— Is there any connection that I just can’t see, because I’m a liberal, between the way they have approached this issue as a policy matter and the rhetoric about supporting small government?
Maddow said she just can’t see it. Lithwick explained why that is:
LITHWICK (continuing directly): You know, there is none. This is—it makes no sense for a party that purports to want to shrink government down to the size that you could drown it in a bathtub, to then sort of insert it into your uterus. It makes no cognitive sense.
Maddow can't see the connection here because there is no connection! It makes no "cognitive sense." (We'll admit we don't know what that phrase means. But we think we get the idea)

As she continued, Lithwick discussed Anthony Kennedy’s vote in the 2006 Gonzales case. For ourselves, we were struck by her declaration about the other side’s complete lack of “cognitive sense.”

As readers may know, the Maddow show is the place to go to hear that the others are hypocrites. Presumably, this is true about many of the other tribe’s office-holders. But is it true that it “makes no sense” to favor small government while supporting various anti-choice measures, including this highly intrusive measure?

Does this really “make no sense”—“none?” Here at THE HOWLER, we favor abortion rights as conventionally defined. But on a logical basis, could it make sense to favor “small government” while opposing abortion rights? Are those two stances incompatible?

For our money, those two stances are compatible, although we don’t support either one. It’s amazing to see that Maddow and Lithwick can’t even imagine the thinking involved here.

“Small government” isn’t no government. It isn’t strange to favor small government while supporting laws against murder or assault, for example. And pro-life people say they consider abortion to be the taking of a human life. We don’t see it that way ourselves. But it’s amazing to see that Maddow and Lithwick can’t navigate this well-lit pathway—to see that they can’t even imagine the possible reasoning here.

The Virginia law under discussion is very intrusive. But if you can’t even imagine a way this procedure could be supported within a “small government” framework, we’d have to say you aren’t very good at imagining things that extend beyond your own highly limited self.

But then, please remember the world’s oldest stricture, a stricture which extends from pre-history:

The tribe must never imagine the mental life of the other tribe. Such flights of fancy can’t be allowed. The other tribe isn’t human!

We'd oppose that Virginia law ourselves. But can we imagine where it comes from?

Well actually, yes. We can!

FACTS AND LEGENDS: Where do facts come from?


Part 2—What Jay Carney said: If it wasn’t for facts which are bungled, misleading or false, would we have any facts at all?

Sometimes, it seems we wouldn’t. Bogus facts have come to play a leading role in our pitiful discourse, especially as the discourse has become more tribal.

Tribal groups like to generate “facts” which seem to support preferred policy goals. They’re too lazy to argue the genuine merits of their proposals. So they gin up a few helpful “facts.”

It seems that something like this occurred on February 2, when former journalist Jay Carney dispensed the following highlighted “facts.” Carney, now the Obama press sec, was discussing the administration’s original proposal concerning contraception coverage:
CARNEY (2/2/12): In some of the commentary about it, there's been some misstatements about what it actually does. No individual will be required to use or prescribe contraception. This rule does not force anyone with a religious objection, such as a Catholic doctor, to prescribe or provide contraception. It merely requires that insurance companies provide coverage for contraceptives to patients who want them, which is the recommendation of the non-partisan Institute of Medicine.

And it's important to note that doctors prescribe contraception for medical and health reasons, including helping to reduce the risk of some cancers.

It's also important to know, because I think this has not been clear in some of the commentary, that the policy maintains the religious-employer exemption. Churches are not required, they're exempt. Other houses of worship are not required, they're exempt, to cover contraception.

So it's also important to note that as we developed this policy and found what we believe is the appropriate balance, that 28 states, more than half—28 states in the country have laws with contraception-coverage mandates. Over half of Americans already live in those 28 states. Several of those states, like North Carolina, New York and California, have identical religious-employer exemptions. Some states, like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all—no exemption for churches or other houses of worship.
At one time, Carney was a journalist. This may explain why he was comfortable offering those highlighted statements. At any rate, the highlighted part of Carney’s statement launched a thousand factual claims. It seems that many of these claims have turned out to be false or misleading.

If it weren’t for misleading facts, would we have facts at all?

Let’s be clear: The highlighted part of Carney’s statement can be defended as technically accurate. According to all the reporting we’ve seen, 28 states actually do “have laws with contraception-coverage mandates.” Over half of us rubes do live in those states. Some of those states do have religious-employer exemptions which are, at least on the surface, identical to the exemptions found in the original Obama proposal—the proposal Carney was discussing that day. According to the Washington Post, some states do have “no exemption at all—no exemption for churches or other houses of worship.”

At least on the surface.

As far as we know, every part of Carney’s statement can be defended as technically accurate. Unfortunately, the statement also seems to have been misleading in various ways. The Washington Post discussed some of these factual problems in a recent news report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/21/12); a few days earlier, the New York Times had called attention to one apparent problem (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/17/12). But supporters of the Obama proposal quickly began repeating Carney’s factual claims, in a wide variety of ways. We rubes were told, again and again, the 28 states already make the kinds of demands encompassed within the Obama proposal. This alleged fact allegedly showed that the bishops’ objections to Obama’s proposal were hypocritical or bogus, we rubes were frequently told.

None of this has a thing to do with the actual merits of Obama’s proposal, whether in its original form or in the amended version. But you know how our discourse works! Supporters of various proposals are often too lazy, or too tribalized, to argue the actual merits. Instead, they look for shortcuts. They may be especially drawn to shortcuts which help us see that The Other Tribe is really a big gang of hypocrites! Unlike us! We’re OK!

In this case, supporters of Obama’s proposal were quick to help the proposal along with some bungled or misleading facts. The widespread claims about those 28 states track to Carney’s statement.

Within our discourse, where do facts come from? In this instance, Carney’s misleading factual statements launched a thousand ships. But a second statement, released the next day, was quite widely ignored. That statement came from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a group which tormented our earliest years, making Sunday the most horrible day of the week; their statement seems to have identified some of the flaws with Carney’s claims. In this part of their rebuttal, the bishops frisked one part of Carney’s statement:
Claim: "Over half of Americans already live in the 28 States that require insurance companies cover contraception: Several of these states, like North Carolina, New York, and California have identical religious employer exemptions. Some States like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all."

Response: This misleads by ignoring important facts, and some of it is simply false. All the state mandates, even those without religious exemptions, may be avoided by self-insuring prescription drug coverage, by dropping that particular coverage altogether, or by taking refuge in a federal law that pre-empts any state mandates (ERISA).None of these havens is available under the federal mandate. It is also false to claim that North Carolina has an identical exemption...
However a person may judge the merits of Obama’s original or amended proposal, that highlighted statement seems to be accurate (and relevant). But this rebuttal launched very few ships. Everyone heard about 28 states. Few people heard about self-insurance, or about the ways the proposed federal mandate would exceed the reach of the laws found in most (perhaps all) of those states.

Over and over, people were told about 28 states. It was only this week that the Washington Post did a first news report about the laws in those states. The New York Times still hasn’t bothered.

But then, what else is new? When it comes to the coverage of domestic politics, the Times is a long-running joke.

In the end, none of this speaks to the actual merits of the Obama proposal, however one may judge those merits. It does speak to the dishonest ways we generate “facts” in our culture. Indeed, bogus facts have played the key role in our debates down through the years:

In similar ways, we the people got conned into thinking that “no one was talking about Medicare cuts” back in the mid-1990s. In that case, the misleading facts were aggressively pimped by Newt Gingrich and his minions. These misleading “facts” were then widely advanced by the lost souls of our mainstream “press corps.”

(Bill Clinton got branded a LIAR in the process, although he was telling the truth. You see, conservative power was gaining force in DC—and our “journalists” wanted to serve.)

In similar ways, Fox News viewers are currently being told that “gas prices have doubled under Obama.” As with Carney’s claim about the 28 states, that claim is technically accurate—and it’s grossly misleading.

Where do facts come from in our world? Often, they come right out of partisan asses! Cable hustlers then shout them along, justifying swollen salaries. We the rubes begin to believe that we’ve heard the actual facts. We don’t understand that we’re being misled by folk who may not be real honest.

In this way, the dumbness spreads. So does the tribal division. At one time, this was an artifact of the right.

Our side has been catching up fast.

Tomorrow: Facts are dead—long live legends!

Back to Krugman’s extremely important column!


How should this story be told: In the past week, we have continued to read and reread Paul Krugman’s very important column from February 13.

We hate it here when Krugman snarks. In this case, we thought the snark he marbled all through his piece undermined its effectiveness (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/13/12).

That said, the column dealt with the most important fact in modern American politics. “Something has clearly gone very wrong with modern American conservatism,” Krugman wrote at one point in his piece. In the following passage, he asks a very important question, setting aside the snark:
KRUGMAN (2/13/12): How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality? For it was not always thus. After all, that health reform Mr. Romney wants us to forget followed a blueprint originally laid out at the Heritage Foundation!
We think Krugman’s premise is right. In various ways, contemporary American conservatism really is “detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality.”

In our view, the corporate world is now creating institutions which are designed to take us liberals in similar directions. But in many ways, the conservative world has been devoted to disinformation and nonsense for three or four decades now. We liberals are working hard to catch up. But the other side has a large head start, and the process has created the state of affairs Krugman described.

It’s very important to explain these facts to the wider electorate. In our view, snark tends to undermine that process. Beyond that, we would offer three complaints about Krugman’s column, which had to be shortened because he burned so much time being snide:

Who’s to blame for this state of affairs: Krugman blames this state of affairs on Republican politicians. That’s part, but only part, of this story. How do you write a column like this without naming Limbaugh and Hannity?

When did this situation start: Krugman implies that this lunacy is a fairly recent manifestation. In the passage we have quoted, he implies that thing weren’t this way in the early 1990s, when the Heritage folk laid out that good solid health care blueprint. Please! Spin-tanks like Heritage had been active for many years at that point, convincing us rubes that (to cite one example) we were more likely to see a UFO than to ever get Social Security. Why understate this point?

What crazy beliefs are at issue: If you’re going to say that tens of millions of voters believe a bunch of crazy things, you ought to be careful when you list those beliefs. You also have to ask yourself who you’re trying to persuade. For our money, Krugman did a fairly lazy job listing the crazy beliefs in question. Question: How do you list crazy claims from the current GOP campaign without even mentioning Newt Gingrich? Gingrich’s lunacy got a pass. But Krugman did include this:
KRUGMAN: Then there’s Ron Paul, who came in a strong second in Maine’s caucuses despite widespread publicity over such matters as the racist (and conspiracy-minded) newsletters published under his name in the 1990s and his declarations that both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act were mistakes. Clearly, a large segment of his party’s base is comfortable with views one might have thought were on the extreme fringe.
Can we talk? In reality, Ron Paul didn’t get popular among conservatives pimping those racist newsletters twenty years ago. This type of presentation may make us liberals feel good. But who are we trying to influence?

That was a very important column. It tells a very important story. We liberals should try to learn how to tell it.

Who are we trying to persuade? Assuming we aren't just pleasing ourselves, how should this story be told?

Gack: A depressing look at us the people!


The Los Angeles Times hurts our heads: The miracle lies in the fact that our nation ever made it this far.

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times performed a dual service. First, it showed us how hopelessly dumb we the people are.

Second, it showed us the hopeless intellectual standards of the modern upper-end press corps.

The Times accomplished these depressing tasks by printing a pair of op-ed columns. Kevin Drum is to blame for the fact that we saw these head-hurting efforts at all.

What hath the L. A. Times wrought? On Sunday, it printed a matched set of columns: Charlotte Allen's "Why conservatives can't talk to liberals" and Diana Wagman's "Why liberals can't talk to conservatives."

What we can’t figure is why anyone would want to talk to either writer at all.

Allen is cookie-cutter conservative flyweight—has been for a good many years. She offered the standard flyweight complaints about how horrible (all) liberals are.

Wagman is a novelist. She may even be a good one. But she has been writing silly columns in the Los Angeles Times for years. On Sunday, she seemed determined to prove that liberals really are as hopeless as Allen said.

Here’s how her column started:
WAGMAN (2/19/12): I recently played poker with a bunch of Republicans. My husband and I, both bleeding-heart liberals, are part owners of a cabin in the Sierra outside Fresno, a very conservative area. The Camp Sierra Assn. president has an annual poker game, and this year we, the newcomers, were invited.

No one mentioned politics. We talked instead about our kids and Las Vegas and the odd warm weather. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of very good Scotch. I had fun even though I lost $4.

When the game was over, we walked home with our across-the-road neighbors and invited them in for a final nightcap.

They are the best neighbors in the world. Always ready with a tool, an ingredient or a jump-start for the car. Whatever you need, if they have it, they will give it. They are a lovely family: husband, wife and four smart, funny, polite children. I was sure they were Democrats.
How did our nation ever make it this far? Consider what Wagman said:

According to Wagman, her new neighbors are friendly and helpful. Their children are smart and polite.

Apparently for these reasons, Wagman “was sure they were Democrats.”

Go ahead! Break your hearts and hurt your heads by reading those two columns. But ask yourself this: How does anyone get dumb enough to write an opening passage like Wagman’s? And how did we ever reach the point where a major newspaper would even consider printing it?

Allen played the fool on the conservative side, as she frequently does. Wagman broke our hearts even more. That said, the actual question is this:

In what sort of world do columns like these ever get near a major newspaper? Those columns let you gaze on the intellectual standards of the guild we describe as our “press corps.”

How did we ever get this way? Is there a way to attone?

Dueling banjos: No banjos can be heard in these columns. But the columns appear beneath these dueling synopses:
Synopsis on Allen's column: Debating a liberal is maddening: They think conservatives are evil, while we think they're silly.

Synopsis on Wagman's column: We are not the same. I equate Republicans' political views with thoughtlessness, intolerance and narcissism. They're neither kind nor empathetic.
Gack! Noted in passing:

Wagman’s column tends to support Allen’s claim. Wagman does think conservatives are evil.

Allen’s column tends to refute Wagman’s claim. To a depressing degree, these writers are "the same."