Part 3—Joan Walsh’s false instruction: In the aftermath of Monday’s debate, the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis did something that’s just never done.

A mainstream journalist himself, MacGillis criticized other such creatures—by name! Even more outrageously, he suggested they were pimping a fact-challenged line—a fact-challenged line which would have come from the Romney campaign itself.

(See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/25/12.)

Mainstream journalists have been pimping right-wing lines for a long time, of course:

They did so all during the Clinton years as mainstream news orgs helped the right invent a string of pseudo-scandals. “Whitewater” gave its name to a political era. This pseudo-scandal got its start in bogus reports on the New York Times’ front page.

They did so during Campaign 2000, when the mainstream spent twenty months advancing poisonous claims against Candidate Gore. In the piece which broke all the rules, MacGillis alluded to that era, a point we’ll visit tomorrow.

Mainstream journalists have been pimping RNC narratives for a good long time. But darlings! It has always been against the law for mainstream journalists to say so! Careerists have said the darnedest things as they’ve agreed to hide this basic fact.

That statement by Chait was the wildest of all. But all careerists knew they must never reveal the true ways of the guild.

MacGillis broke with this tradition, naming the names of mainstream hacks who seemed to be pimping the Romney camp’s line. To our ear, he sounded sincere.

We’ll admit we had a different reaction when we read this piece by Joan Walsh.

Poor Joan! Like MacGillis, she seemed to be writhing as mainstream pundits reacted to Monday's debate. Like MacGillis, she felt she saw a double standard at work in their reactions.

After this year’s first debate, Obama was battered for his prevent defense, Walsh wrote. But this week, Romney was praised for taking the same approach!

Good lord! Like MacGillis, Walsh was directly criticizing the mainstream press! She was even saying that mainstream pundits were pimping a Romney camp line!

Still and all, we weren't impressed. Beneath a rather ironic headline, this was the start of her piece:
WALSH (10/23/12): The man without a soul

I’m having a hard time watching television coverage of Romney’s debate performance the morning after. The conventional wisdom seems to be that while President Obama won the debate, Romney’s “prevent defense” at least kept him in the race—and it was the politically wise course. Of course, Obama’s “prevent defense” two weeks ago in Denver was a debacle that changed everything. I’m not sure why Romney’s turn at it is supposed to be smarter politics.

Beyond scoring the debate on style points, though, why aren’t more people horrified by Romney’s capacity to disavow virtually everything he’s said on foreign policy and cuddle up with Obama, in order to seem less frightening to voters? On Afghanistan, on Iran, on abandoning Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, on killing Osama bin Laden, on Syria, on drones, Romney mostly said “me too” to Obama’s policies...And when he wasn’t echoing Obama, he sounded like a schoolboy reciting what he just learned in world geography class.

I found it chilling. Once again I thought to myself: Who is this guy who’s trying to imitate a cautious, sober global statesman (albeit one who sweats a lot)? I just watched Doris Kearns Goodwin on “Morning Joe” say Romney did the right thing because his goal was not to scare anybody and lose the momentum he gained from Debate 1, and everyone seemed to agree. But in what new realm of cynicism is it the right thing to hide your real policies in order to become president?
Incredibly, Walsh even named a famous name; it belonged to Doris Kearns Goodwin. Funny that! We have been naming that name for twelve years! This dates back to the war against Gore, the war Walsh wouldn’t oppose in real time and still won’t talk about now.

Poor Joan! She felt betrayed by the very conduct for which she has always covered! We thought of The Band singing Tears of Rage, though one small change in the famous lyrics did pop into our heads.

These are the generation-defining lyrics which suddenly popped into our heads. To hear The Band’s famous rendition, you can just click here:
From Tears of Rage:


It was all very painless
When you ran out to receive
All that false instruction
Which we never could believe

And now the heart is filled with gold
As if it was a purse
But, oh, what kind of love is this
Which goes from bad to worse?


We pointed you the way to go
And scratched your name in sand
Though you just thought it was nothing more
Than a place for you to stand
I want you to know that while we watched
You discover no one would be true
That I myself was among the ones who thought
It was just a [careerist] thing to do.
As you know, the Dylan/Manuel lyrics said it was just a childish thing to do. But to our ear, Walsh continued to walk a careerist path as she discovered—just this week!—that Doris could be untrue.

Goodwin has been a squish forever, though many others have been worse. But so what! For years, Walsh played this game on the insider track as she stealthily worked her way up the careerist ladder.

Consider Walsh’s evolution from Campaign 2000 to now:

In 2000, Walsh was already at Salon—and Salon was one of the only publications which (belatedly) tried to challenge the war against Gore. In the fall of 2000, Eric Boehlert appeared at Salon, writing about this mainstream press war.

It was a fabulous hire.

Surely, Walsh read Boehlert’s work. Was she really unaware of our own work here at THE HOWLER and at Speakout.com? But as Campaign 2000 ended, she wrote a long scripted piece in which she repeated ever piece of mandated cant the Goodwins and the rest of the gang had churned for the prior two years. (For link, see below.)

As the years went by, Walsh kept kissing the ass of Chris Matthews, who seemed to become her point of entry into the upper-class press corps. Surely she knew what Matthews had done when he served as Jack Welch’s top spear-chucker in the twenty-month war against Gore.

By today, of course she knows what Matthews did! But Walsh kept her trap shut tight—and, in recent years, she even began to tell us liberals, on the air, how much she admires Matthews’ values.

This was before Matthews completed the switch which made him a reliable liberal. Gagging, our analysts covered their mouths as they ran for the yard.

But Walsh achieved fame and success by fawning this way—and by withholding the truth.

Today, a person like Walsh can earn good swag on The One True Liberal Channel. Finally, she is allowed to notice small bits of the conduct which has helped define our politics over the past twenty years.

But even now, Walsh seems to stick to permissible observations. As everyone knows, liberals are now allowed to criticize Morning Joe. But as she continued this week's piece, Walsh completely forgot to say who else she was talking about.

It's a familiar pattern:
WALSH (continuing directly): I suppose the media folks who are reassured by Romney’s mild debate performance think that’s the real Romney–he’s not the hawk who’d let crazy John Bolton, a key adviser, run his foreign policy. This is the same approach a lot of people take to Romney’s extremism on women’s issues–oh, c’mon, ladies, he’s really a Massachusetts moderate who doesn’t mean any of what he says about overturning Roe v. Wade or defunding Planned Parenthood. That’s ridiculous. The fact is, we don’t know which Mitt Romney would take the oath of office, and that alone should consign him to an ugly defeat in two weeks.

The only thing the post-debate punditry really cares about is whether Obama’s modest (by their standards) debate win can make a difference, and again the conventional wisdom is it won’t, because foreign policy debates never do. First of all, I’m not so sure about that. I’d like to see some polls before I weigh in. But most important, insisting that the debate won’t move the electoral needle almost instructs voters not to take it seriously, and downplays the extent to which Romney’s reinvention is played as big news.
That's fiery! But just who are the “media folks” who created this “post-debate punditry?”

Walsh forgot to say!

Breaking every rule in the book, MacGillis actually named the names of some major press corps players, including one at the Washington Post. But uh-oh! Chris Cillizza is a regular guest on Hardball—and Hardball is the program on which Walsh has made her bones.

Hardball belongs to her lord and savior. Walsh will never criticize Cillizza. It simply isn’t allowed.

(As she continued her piece at Salon, who did Walsh batter by name? You guessed it! She battered Kevin Drum! He had seemed to criticize liberal pundits! This had to be batted down!)

Judging only from her performance, Walsh has been a careerist every step of the way. But the liberal rank and file has a very hard time seeing such patterns. For decades, they have been deceived by people who simply won’t tell them the truth.

They think Joan Walsh is on their side. They don’t understand that people like Walsh have made their bones by refusing to tell them the truth about our modern politics.

Surely, MacGillis knows more than he said in his piece this week. But to our ear, he actually sounded aggrieved—and he actually named some of the names you won’t hear named on MSNBC. Rachel will talk about “the Beltway,” or even about “the Beltway media.” But she will never name Cillizza. She won’t name Mike Allen by name.

She won’t even name Rick Klein! Rachel Maddow doesn’t go there. Her owners do not want that done.

Tomorrow, we’ll start with MacGillis’ glancing reference to Campaign 2000. Walsh refused to warn you in real time, won’t tell you the truth even now.

On Tuesday morning, Walsh discovered that Goodwin could be untrue. But Walsh has been conning you for years. We’ve been among the ones who thought it was a death-dealing thing to do.

Tomorrow: We who have been deceived

Visit our incomparable archives: For one review of Walsh’s past work, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/15/07.

To read Walsh in real time, click this and prepare to writhe. You’ll find a 3500-word piece Walsh wrote on the eve of Election Day 2000.

In those 3500 words, Walsh never described the way the mainstream press had gone after Gore for the past twenty months. She did find time for scripted mainstream press garbage like that which follows.

Twenty months of false instruction larded Walsh's work:
WALSH (11/6/00): But first, let’s state the obvious: Al Gore is a flawed candidate who has presided over a troubled campaign. For me, the indelible image from the Democratic National Convention wasn’t Al kissing Tipper, it was a photo Tipper shared of her Halloween-loving husband (Is it the costumes he loves? The infinite changeability?) dressed up like Frankenstein. I cringed: The image of Gore as Frankenstein captured his blockheaded otherworldly essence, the way he sometimes looks like a guy who’s been torn apart and stitched back together, unnaturally. It’s the perfect image to conjure up his synthetic feel, his mutability, the air of alienation from himself that sometimes feels almost poignant. It looked like a ready-made Republican campaign poster. I was sure I’d see it again.

As it happened, nobody made much of the Frankenstein photo, but I saw it again every time I watched Gore lurch from issue to issue, debate to debate, trying to reinvent himself anew. The trouble with Gore is his failure to tell a convincing story about what’s at stake in this election, from start to finish, to communicate a sense of calm conviction and unswerving values on core issues, the way he instead remakes himself when he’s in trouble and, in his worst moments, looks stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster, kind of sad and scary.

So it’s tempting to say, “It’s the likability, stupid,” and blame Gore’s troubles on Gore. Maybe the best assessment of Gore’s personality problem comes from our own Jake Tapper, who sums it up in two words: “Dingell-Norwood.” That’s the HMO reform bill Gore wasted time trying to explain in the last debate, instead of hammering Bush hard for vetoing a patients bill of rights in Texas, and capitalizing on the fact that voters support Gore’s approach on healthcare in most polls by connecting with the issue viscerally and emotionally.

Likewise, he’s run a mediocre campaign, beset by squabbling leadership and an inability to stay on message. Gore was in trouble right away, trailing Bush substantially in most polls by the summer of 1999. Criticized for his K Street campaign digs and his Rose Garden-and-motorcades strategy, he moved his operations to Nashville, and hired former Richard Gephardt/Jesse Jackson operative Donna Brazile as campaign manager to complete the populist overhaul. But the slight bounce he got from moving to Nashville’s Mainstream Drive was leveled out by his first big campaign blunder—the revelation that he’d hired Naomi Wolf to coach him on being an alpha male...
That was pure political porn. Don't let your children look.

Walsh typed like a mainstream robot that day. She recited each bit of misdirection, every piece of guild cant. She mentioned Gore’s infinite changeability! His attempts to reinvent himself! The way Naomi Wolf told him to be an alpha male! Even (good God) Dingell-Norwood!

It’s always possible that Walsh was really that dumb in November 2000. (And that sexist. The press corps' attacks on Wolf were drenched in misogyny. Was Walsh unable to notice?) But down through the years, she has maintained this clueless posture; this has extended well past the point where such cluelessness could be believed.

She has endlessly kissed the ass of Matthews, although of course she understands what he did and who he did it for. And why he did it. Joan knows!

Walsh has refused to tell you the truth, from that day right to this one. Although, on Tuesday, she finally noticed that Goodwin could be untrue! You're permitted to say that now!

Walsh has kissed plenty of keister and played it dumb on her way to the top. We hope her money is spending good. She’s done tremendous harm.


  1. "(albeit one who sweats a lot)?"

    Walsh just can't help herself.

  2. It's important to be critical of current media coverage. And we shouldn't forget past media coverage either. Should we have our eyes open to the possibility that Joan Walsh has an agenda? Sure.

    But if that's prudent, then so is wondering how the Howler can write so many posts about Susan Rice without mentioning Rwanda--which is relevant in the sense that her political role then showed her awareness years ago of the importance of public relations aspects of foreign policy and its impact on electoral success. It seems that we should evaluate Rice's public statements very carefully. Needless to say, Rice's career appears to have benefited from making sure her words are chosen to please powerful interests.

    The Daily Howler seems to have degenerated into a daily airing of Bob's grudges and pet peeves as opposed to a rational take on current events. For ten years or so it was an example of how good a blog could be. Hopefully, it will return to form.

  3. Bob's been the same for 10 years - horribly repetitive but insightful and germane. If only the media had improved...

  4. I read Salon regularly but never read Walsh so her damage is pretty limited, at least for me.

  5. Always insightful, such as Media Matters focusing almost entirely on right wing media and barely touching mainstream adoption of the same memes, but not always germane. Harboring a 12-year-old grievance, as justified as it was, does little that is constructive now. Careerism and kiss-ass-ism is everywhere and forever. In every field it is the way to get ahead -- in journalism, the only way to get your voice heard. I still would rather have Joan Walsh and Rachel Maddow presenting a generally liberal point of view on MSNBC than have MSNBC be what is was 10 years ago. What, Walsh is now, with her own unclean hands, going to go on Matthews' show and attack him for what he did in 2000? Here, she does take on a "liberal" mainstream icon by name, an act that would seem not without risk.

    It's time to move on, take current actions on their own terms without constantly coloring them by things that happened 12 and 13 years ago. Trying so hard to tear down those liberals who have gained a platform with words like "horrible" or "disgusting" -- such as Maddow who is where she is because she is entertaining as well as knowledgeable -- raises questions about what the true agenda is.

    1. To be perfectly clear, despite your insinuation, this piece refers to no one as either "horrible" or "disgusting."

      It's fair and even "constructive," to use your word, to recall just where people have come from, what they've repressed that they know, how that benefited them and what they're still unable to say.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Regardless of the precise words used in this particular post, I submit that "horrible" and "disgusting" is a quite fair characterization of Somerby's opinion of Walsh and his rather small list of favored targets.

  6. I love this blog and consider it to be the most "germane and relevant" political analysis that I'm aware of. (Hope I didn't just place a big target on myself...)

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