FICITIOUS TIMES: Send in the clown!

TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2012

Interlude—Parker does it again: “We live in fictitious times,” Michael Moore once said.

His statement was made in 2003. For our money, it remains the cleanest, clearest description of our political culture.

Just consider the latest fictition from the New York Times.

Today's leading fictition involves the idea that the New York Times actually covers our politics. Millions of people read the Times thinking this claim is true.

That claim is an obvious bit of fictition. Consider the featured political report in this morning’s paper—this pitiful “Campaign Notebook” report on Mitt Romney’s recent “banter.”

“Road Trip Helps Romney Brush Up on Banter.” That’s the headline on the piece about Romney’s six-state bus trip. The report was written by the pitiable Ashley Parker, the dimmest and silliest of all the chimps in the New York Times’ giant stable.

Because it’s accompanied by four photos, Parker’s piece dominates page A12 of our hard-copy Times. Fleshing out her non-reporting, the Times offers a pointless companion report, in which Sarah Wheaton helps us recall the names of past bus trips by candidates.

Back to Parker: The silly child doesn’t examine the various things Romney said on Face the Nation this Sunday. She doesn’t examine the bogus Romney claim which got so much play in the Times last week, thanks to the chimp-like work of her hopeless colleague, the hapless Michael Barbaro.

No such luck! You see, the New York Times doesn’t do windows—and it doesn’t do substance! Instead, Parker examined Romney’s attempts at banter on his current six-state tour.

Her opening paragraph is a masterwork of The Modern Political Stupid. (She even remembers to mention the fact that Romney knows how to talk French!) But good God! As she continues her lament about Romney’s ongoing problems with banter, Parker is soon typing the groaner which follows.

Times readers live in fictitious times. And Parker, who poses as a journalist, is of course no such thing:
PARKER (6/19/12): The bus trip was perhaps Mr. Romney’s deepest plunge into retail politics since the primaries, when he delighted his traveling press corps by guessing voters’ ages and ethnicities (often incorrectly) and proving himself a gaffe-prone jokester.

Mr. Romney joins a long list of presidential candidates who sometimes struggled with the basics of presidential campaigning. Former President George W. Bush was a fumbling and at times hilariously clumsy orator, so much so that entire books were devoted to his malapropisms. Al Gore was so stilted in 2000 that his campaign, trying to warm him up, paid the feminist writer Naomi Wolf for sartorial advice: earth tones for the man who wrote “Earth in the Balance.”
Good lord. Ignore the sheer inanity here. Focus instead on the facts.

Is it true? Did Gore’s campaign pay Naomi Wolf for sartorial advice? This was one of the three million claims the press corps dreamed up about Candidate Gore during Campaign 2000, with the express written permission of the “liberal world.” About a million of these claims concerned Gore’s deeply troubling wardrobe—his boots, his suits, his polo shirts, the number of buttons he wore on his suits.

The color of his suits and his shirts. The number of buttons he actually buttoned. The way he didn’t look good in his polo shirts.

The Freudian signals he sent.

The chimps devised a set of fictitions and they loved them dearly. Just yesterday, we recalled Bob Schieffer’s astonishing rant in December 2003 about Gore’s troubling campaign wardrobe and the very bad lessons it taught.

Back to our original question: Did Gore’s campaign pay Naomi Wolf for sartorial advice? Did Wolf tell Gore to wear earth tones?

Back in November 1999, Gore and Wolf both denied this pointless claim; there was no evidence to support it. And sure enough! In July 2007, the New York Times finally published a formal correction!

At long last, for unknown reasons, the Times threw a treasured bit of fictition under an unnamed bus:
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.
Except in the most obvious sense, did Candidate Gore even make a “decision to wear earth-toned clothing?” Like the Times, we have no idea. But by July 2007, the Times had finally decided to correct the silly/stupid claim about Wolf—the silly/stupid claim it had pimped for the prior eight years (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/30/07).

Five years later, a silly child has restored this claim! It’s just as we have always told you: Once these chimps have agreed on their tales, their tales never cease to exist!

Reading this nonsense, Times subscribers think they’re getting political coverage. In fact, they’re getting no such thing. That claim is one of the biggest fictitions of these fictitious times.

To grasp the ficititousness of the Times, you should read Parker’s full report. The silly child is concerned today with another troubling fact—Romney called a “Wawa” store by a different name, “Wawa’s.”

It’s hardly surprising if Romney doesn’t know this convention of banter. Like most Americans, he lives in a state where no Wawa stores exist. (For a detailed report on this six-state chain, just click this.) But so what? This morning, a deeply stupid child was given a large chunk of space to repeat an abandoned claim about Gore—and to puzzle about the fact that Romney’s said “Wawa’s” in Pennsylvania this week, not the conventional “Wawa.

In the companion piece, readers learn the names of past bus tours of former White House candidates. And a fictition continues to spread:

Times readers ingest a (false) impression—the impression that America’s greatest newspaper covers our White House campaigns.

Tomorrow, part 2: Bringing up bougie

Parker’s predecessor/Von Drehle bungles Dan Quayle: As Parker revived an abandoned fictition, we couldn’t help remembering David Von Drehle’s classic blunder on the front page of the Washington Post.

It was April 14, 1999. Dan Quayle, the former vice president, was about to announce that he was running for president.

On the front page of that day’s Post, Von Drehle offered a preview of the announcement event. The tone of his piece was simply astounding—and he made a groaning factual blunder, an error much like Parker’s.

This was the start of Von Drehle’s astonishing “news report” about Candidate Quayle, who was billed as “the human punch line:”
VON DREHLE (4/14/99): Dan Quayle doesn't see himself as others see him.

That's the key, according to his close friends and advisers...

Dan Quayle, the human punch line, scorned on scores of Internet sites, shoo-in for the late-night talk show Hall of Fame—enshrined somewhere between Joey Buttafuoco and Kato Kaelin. The man who said:

"I didn't live in this century."

And, at an AIDS clinic during the early days of the drug AZT: "Are they taking DDT?"

And, "What a waste it is to lose one's mind." (He was trying for, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste.")

That is not the way he sees himself. The Dan Quayle running for president is another character altogether.
The tone of Von Drehle’s piece was astounding. So was his mistake.

At the start of his “news report,” Von Drehle attempted to list absurd misstatements by stupid old Quayle. But the second “misstatement” Von Drehle listed was a misstatement by the Washington Post, not by the idiot Quayle.

Way back in 1992, the Post had misquoted something Quayle said about ddC (not DDT), an actual treatment for AIDS. Quayle actually knew about ddC. The glorious Post did not.

For that reason, the Post misquoted Quayle's remark. Then, the paper issued a correction. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/13/05.

Seven years later, Von Drehle typed a front-page “news report” pre-mocking Quayle’s announcement. And sure enough! In just his second example of Quayle’s stupidity, he repeated his own newspaper’s original blunder! Mocking Quayle for being so stupid, he misquoted Quayle once again.

It was at this same time that Von Drehle’s colleagues were inventing their twenty-month war against Gore. Your “liberal leaders” let it go (professional courtesy). George Bush ended up in the White House.

The good news was, we all got a chance to enjoy a good laugh at Dan Quayle!

Von Drehle made a pitiful bungle, repeating a mistake his own newspaper had once corrected. Today, the silly chimp Parker does something quite similar. But don’t worry—your liberal leaders won’t say boo. Darlings, it just isn’t done!

“We live in fictitious times,” Moore said. Has there been a more accurate statement in the nine years since?


  1. I sent an email to the NY Times corrections department about the Al Gore thing, have to wait to see what their response is (not that I am very optimistic).

    1. Daily Howler commenters get results. NY Times editor emailed back and said that a correction is forthcoming. He claims that they are concerned with "even correcting errors like an incorrect middle initial" and that they do "print approximately 4,000 corrections a year" and "correct another 3,500 errors that appear only online." If only they could correct the most important stuff...

    2. The article in question has been corrected.

  2. These "reporters" are pitiful, but their editors more so.

  3. Typical Somerby Fan-SheepJune 19, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    I agree with you -- the press corps *is* broken, and it *is* worth pointing out the many ways -- but...

    You mentioned Gore again?

    The idiots have told you that's verboten!

    Will they arrive soon to declare that pointing out the misquotation of Quayle reveals your pro-GOP bias?

    Or perhaps today is "everything Somerby says is irrelevant day?"

    Can't wait to find out!

    1. Or it may be defensive preemptive strike day....

    2. You may be right, Greg. The air does feel somewhat more breathable today...

      Perhaps there is something to the doctrine of preemption after all.

  4. Reading Parker on Gore/Wolf this morning I thought immediately of Bob Somerby and just knew he'd comment on it. It is amazing that editors and fact-checkers don't catch such blunders -- but then, these are the same editors who assign people like Parker to write on silly stuff like this in the first place, and allot space for this rather than, say, an article on what Romney is saying about policy in his speeches on this road trip -- along with analysis of the accuracy of his claims.

    The scornful delight certain journalists and pundits -- mainly, the ones who cover national politics -- take in the real or supposed blunders of candidates, or the way candidates dress or banter or transport their dogs, makes them seem to me like insecure teenagers who are constantly worried about being "popular" and "cool" (or whatever the word would be today). Not very clever themselves or confident in what the want to do (which should be to be good journalists), they feel quite clever and cool when they put other people down over trivialities. Or, they swoon over someone they've decided is "the most popular" and "coolest" guy around, as they did for a long while with John McCain. This is the same crowd of journalists who didn't know what to make of Stephen Colbert at the Washington Correspondents Dinner or when he testified before Congress on immigration. Went right over their heads (though they vaguely sensed they were being criticized).

    You'd think the NYT could at least be a little bit more sophisticated on the "what's cool" front. Its home IS New York City, after all.

  5. Good job, hardindr. The correction reads:

    "A campaign notebook article on Tuesday about a bus tour by Mitt Romney and his efforts to brush up on his sometimes awkward banter with voters referred incorrectly to the role of Naomi Wolf in the 2000 presidential campaign of Al Gore, who was also criticized for his stilted campaign style. Ms. Wolf advised Mr. Gore on women’s issues and on outreach to young voters; she was not paid to be Mr. Gore’s image consultant and offer sartorial advice, such as wearing earth tones."

    Worded a little better than the original correction....

    Now, the question is: how many more times will we see the Wolf-earth tones assertion made in articles? I predict many more.

  6. It's funny. A lot of people take issue with Bob's continued reference to the 2000 campaign, and Gore in general. But really, before I came across this blog, I had only a vague idea just how mad our press corps is. The fact that Gore's choices of clothing ever got as much press as it did (and generated as much *outrage* as it did!) is remarkable in and of itself. That, alone, is quite a thing. What's really amazing is that they just won't stop. To this day, they're willing to pretend Gore was some sort of weirdo for sometimes wearing brown or gray clothes.

    It needs to be continually pointed out, because once one grasps just how truly insane the situation is, the state of our press comes into focus: you realize that, truly, nothing is beyond this cohort.