Rick Perlstein starts to get it right!


The analysts start to cheer: We did a little snarking last week about Rick Perlstein’s “name-calling” in a recent piece.

Having snarked, let us offer half a cheer. That’s what the analysts started to do in response to one part of Perlstein’s report about the treatment of “Camelot” by the 60s-era press corps.

Perlstein smacks the legendary Theodore White for his serial sycophancy, first toward President Kennedy, then toward President Nixon. At one point, he brought the analysts right out of their chairs.

Is Rick Perlstein allowed to say this? Plainly, no one else does:
PERLSTEIN (11/22/13): The whole thing is a great object lesson in the horrors of access journalism—and access history…If you hate the kind of writing Bob Woodward does now; if you hate Politico or, going back further, if you hate the kind of things Sally Quinn wrote on Monicagate (“ ‘He came in here and he trashed the place,’ says Washington Post columnist David Broder, ‘and it’s not his place.’ ”), or the childish abuse and systematic distortions meted out to Al Gore in 2000 because he didn’t fit into the Washington insiders’ village, blame Camelot—or “Camelot.”
Say what? Candidate Gore was subjected to “childish abuse and systematic distortions because he didn’t fit into the Washington insiders’ village?”

If that is true, why hasn’t this been widely discussed by the emerging liberal world? Why haven’t names been named? Some of them very big names?

Perlstein’s statement is true, of course, though he understates what happened by half. This is what he should have written:
PERLSTEIN REWRITTEN: Or the childish abuse and systematic distortions meted out to Al Gore in 1999 and 2000 because he didn’t fit into the Washington insiders’ village.
As history clearly records, the abuse and distortions began in March 1999. If Candidate Gore had just been trashed “in 2000,” we very much doubt that Candidate Bush would ever have reached the White House.

Only we liberals and progressives do this! Perlstein is one of the only people we’ve ever seen describing the press corps’ grotesque misconduct in Campaign 2000. And when he does so, he understates their misconduct by half!

Might we state another pet peeve? This involves Perlstein’s complaint against Sally Quinn.

People have made this complaint before. Because Perlstein is an historian, we’re amazed to see him make it.

Should you “hate the kind of things Sally Quinn wrote on Monicagate?” Perlstein quotes from Quinn’s lengthy report in the Washington Post on November 2, 1998.

We regard that report as one of the great contributions to the history of the era. Here’s why:

Look what Perlstein presents in that passage. In that passage, Quinn is quoting someone. She is quoting David Broder, a very important figure in the Clinton-era press.

Manifestly, she isn’t stating her own view about President Clinton.

In that 3700-word report, Quinn recorded such statements by a wide array of very major Beltway insiders. In the process, she established a very important historical fact—as of November 1998, President Clinton was widely loathed by a wide array of major D.C. insiders.

Rather plainly, that loathing was transferred to Candidate Gore starting in March 1999. The historical record is strongly established by Quinn’s lengthy report, in which she didn’t express her own view. (She even stated, several times, that the general public didn’t share the anti-Clinton attitudes of these D.C. insiders.)

We’re amazed to see Perlstein complain about that invaluable report. Absent Quinn’s report, an historian of the era would have to work extremely hard to establish the fact that these major figures held those views toward Clinton. This is especially true because of the familiar scripting which holds that the establishment press, with its liberal bias, simply loves people like Clinton.

We’ve spent years recording the “childish abuse and systematic distortions” meted out to Candidate Gore starting in March 1999. Indeed:

After posting Chapter 6 at our companion site, to complete and total disinterest, we finally couldn’t take it any more! Even for us, it had become too hard to keep devoting years of our time to building the record of this historical episode, even as the pay-for-play children refused to even offer a post about a new part of the story.

(We’re still trying to make ourselves finish Chapter 7, which involves several other remarkable episodes, including the widely-advanced claim that it was really Gore who gave us Willie Horton. Within the guild still described as a press corps, everyone and his “research assistant” made that ridiculous claim at some point in late 1999. It was a long-standing bit of RNC cant; in late 1999, it was uniformly adopted by the “mainstream press.” This, of course, is only one part of that remarkable, long-delayed chapter, which we can’t make ourselves type. Within this broken culture, what could possibly be the point of recording historical fact?)

Perlstein has done an amazing thing in the passage we’ve posted. He refers to stunning journalistic misconduct—an episode which went on for twenty straight months, starting in March 1999.

Given the narrow way Campaign 2000 was decided, it’s obvious that this act of group malfeasance sent George Bush to the White House. It would take a fool to deny that fact—a fool, or a gang of store-bought “career liberals” who have simply refused to tell the public the truth.

Darlings, it just isn’t done! Do you have any idea what that does to a person’s career?

Incredibly, Perlstein notes the fact that a war was waged against Candidate Gore in Campaign 2000. In the process, he understates the length of that war by half—and he complains about the person who most clearly established the historical record about where that war came from.

We live in very peculiar times. Most strikingly, our society’s “manufactured consent” is almost total. The liberal world has refused to squeal about what the press corps did to Clinton, then Gore.

In that passage, Perlstein actually refers to the truth! Is Perlstein allowed to do that?

More about Teddy White’s conduct: Perlstein describes the sycophancy of Teddy White—first toward President Kennedy, then later toward President Nixon.

Let’s return to something we wrote long ago:

In The Making of the President 1960, White describes the sycophancy of the reporters on the Kennedy plane during the 1960 campaign. He described grotesque misconduct on the part of the press, but he couldn’t quite make himself say so.

(He describes reporters singing satirical songs about Nixon with Kennedy staffer as they fly around the country on the Kennedy plane. He says that “all” their coverage was “colored” by the ass-kissing directed at them by Candidate Kennedy himself.)

White’s descriptions are remarkable, as is his refusal to speak frankly about his colleagues’ misconduct. Sad! We had planned to treat this remarkable material at some length in Chapter 9, as it becomes especially relevant to the press corps’ misconduct during Campaign 2000—the gross misconduct your heroes won’t tell you about.

White’s account is astounding, as is his deference to his colleagues’ misbehavior. For a briefer description from ten years back, go ahead—just click this.


  1. We’ve sniffed the scent of narcissism in... relentless musings too.

    1. A sane man might ask himself, when no one is interested in his message, if there might be something wrong with his message, rather than with the rest of the world.

    2. Why do you assume that if you are not interested no one else is? There is a big difference between interesting the general public in something, or having commercial potential, and interesting those with similar interests, including most of the people who read this blog.

    3. Troll, go to hell.

  2. Hey Anon 12:48-

    Did Bob Somerby make you the butt of a joke in a stand-up routine years ago or something? How else to explain the obsessive fascination with a blog you find so distasteful? I mean, you've obviously read all the posts on the blog over the last couple of days, since your comment above references Sunday's post. Who will ever be able to limn the motivations of the legion of OCD trolls who inhabit this site. Are you all one and the same? (KZ, is that you?)

    If it's narcissistic to create a blog and write about the topics you choose, not the ones preferred by your dedicated trolls, then that's setting the narcissism bar pretty low.

    1. Yes, it is rather narcissistic to create a blog and write about the topics you choose, especially if you are going to whine about nobody being interested.

      Have you actually tried to slog through "How We Got There"? It is absolutely unreadable. In fact, it reads like a compilation of a narcissist's blog posts without any editing.

    2. I only hope on hope that Bob will ban the troll. This is really destructive.

  3. My fantasy is that the trolls are all Maureen Dowd.

  4. Don't get the narcissist bit and "How we got there is dense, but at times, pretty funny and amazing. And it's conclusion is hard to get around: the Press Corp acted like right wing infants and basically sent W to the White House in 2000. If you think the results of that are relevant, it's a story worth exploring. What's possible at this point, however, is that Bob's personal relationship with Gore put him further to the left than most reporting on Clinton Gore, that is, he was nominally sane and fair. The Daily Howler often writes as if the media went crazy during this period and strayed from the ways of David and Walter. More likely, if Jimmy Carter had had a Daily Howler ( Jack Anderson on ABC, bitter that he had missed the Watergate Story, did things on a par with Clinton era Matthews at his worst) we might have an alternate history of his Presidency, quite persuasive indeed.

    1. "Dense" is a good word, Greg. I would also add "unreadable."

      If you are going to write a definitive book about any presidential campaign, and especially one as dramatic as the 2000 campaign, you got to do more than cut and paste your blog posts reacting to stuff that was already on the record.

      Where's the interviews with Gore? Where are the interviews with key campaign staffers? What was Naomi Wolf's reaction to the tall tale about why she was brought on board? What were the campaign decisions concerning the early attempts engineered by Rove to define Gore on Rove's terms? Why on earth did Gore pick Joe Lieberman as his running mate?

      My take on the "War on Gore" is that yes, it did have some effect on a very close race, but not nearly the effect Somerby imagines. Just ask President McCain. Or President Bradley. Gore was hardly the first candidate for president in this nation's history that the "mainstream press corps" said mean things about.

      My take is that Gore was in a bare-knuckled street fight and he chose to fight by the Marquis de Queensbury rules, always playing it safe.

      And in doing so, he subverted all his passion for issues that he felt the most passion for, especially the environment, and focused on three things -- the "lockbox" on Social Security, "targeted" tax cuts, and Medicare prescription drug plan. And in the latter two issues, he wound up arguing with Bush over whose plan to accomplish the same thing was better.

      And please, tell me why Joe Lieberman, other than he was a "safe" pick as Gore tried to distance himself from the Lewinsky scandal.

      Connecticutt was pretty much in the bag. With John Edwards' own personal scandals years away, suppose he had taken a young up-and-comer like him instead of Sen. Droopy Dawg. Or suppose he had taken Dick Gephardt, who might have helped him in Missouri. Or suppose he had gone really bold and taken Jeanne Shaheen, then governor of New Hampshire. Or Bob Graham of Florida.

      Again, my take. But had Bob found a publisher for "How He Got There" in its present form, and it had gotten any attention at all, it would have been laughed at for the shallowness and laziness of its "analysis."

  5. I love this site and "How He Got There" both. Wolfgang Blitzer, however, has a very different take on Perlstein's article. http://wolfgangblitzer.blogspot.com/2013/11/crazy-nation.html

  6. I remember the blogger starting to obsess about Gore and Willie Horton - and if the following is true -



    Dukakis DESERVED the feral-looking Horton getting stapled to him.

    "Horton had been sentenced to life imprisonment and was incarcerated at the Concord Correctional Facility in Massachusetts when he was released in June 1986 as part of a weekend furlough program.

    While on furlough in April 1987, Horton twice raped a woman in Oxon Hill, Md. He stabbed and pistol-whipped her fiancé.

    At the time, Michael Dukakis was the Democratic governor of Massachusetts. While Dukakis had not initiated the furlough program, he supported it as a measure to help with criminal rehabilitation.

    After the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that this right extended to first-degree murderers, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill prohibiting furloughs for such inmates. However, in 1976, Dukakis vetoed this bill.

    Thus, the program remained in effect, and Dukakis continued to support it.

    Michael Dukakis thought that denying weekends away from prison from convicted murderers was a bad idea, and so he ensured that these weekend excursions would continue. And two people were murdered as a result of this policy, separately from Willie Horton’s raping and stabbing rampage. This may rank as among the worst ideas in the history of the criminal justice system. This was the precise opposite of “dirty politics” or a “smear campaign” or some nonsensical charge."

    This blogger has undergone a career change opposite to the one that he ttributes to Chris Mathews - from writing things like "Shawn happens" he has trasnsmogrified into an obsessive liberal-basher.

    There are hardly any liberals at the national level in the US anymore, but a large number of Democrats deserve to be slimed for their sliminess.

    1. "This may rank as among the worst ideas in the history of the criminal justice system."

      Ahem, the entire War on Drugs would like a word.


  7. Bob, whether you ban the troll or not, do not be in any way influenced by such sickness. I love the blog, so do friends.

  8. Deadrat, I am not wrong about the 1960 convention. According to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was present and wrote about it at the time, the CA delegation was pledged to Brown as a favorite son. On the morning of the vote, Brown announced for Kennedy but he didn't release his delegates. The delegates then voted for Kennedy on the first ballot (not Brown). This upset people because "many of the delegates were pledged to Stevenson on the 2nd and 3rd ballots" according to Roosevelt. Stevenson did not enter the race 2 weeks before the convention. He came to LA where the convention was being held two weeks ahead of the vote. He was a "draft candidate" and he did not run in the primaries because he was the Democratic nominee in the two previous general elections, running against Eisenhower who was unbeatable because of his role in WWII and the recovery in Europe after the war.

    I don't think we disagree about many of the facts of the 2008 primary and convention, but we certainly disagree about their interpretation. The rules committee was in the bag for Obama and made decisions in his favor. It is hard to consider that fair. Clinton did go along with her own railroading toward the end -- maybe she had already negotiated a deal with Obama at that point (who knows), but her supporters were no less outraged by the conduct of the Obama campaign and the various Obama supporters who helped put him across. It was far from fair or honorable, whether they had the "right" to do what they wanted or not. People with more concern for ethics wouldn't want to conduct themselves that way -- Clinton didn't push it, just as Gore didn't push things when he was being shut out of the office he had won in Florida. That doesn't mean Obama "won."

    1. Anonymous @1:56A

      I think you are wrong about a number of things that happened at the 1960 convention. I hope you don't think I'm being a jerk about this, a statement I feel compelled to make because I don't care what some other commenters think of my replies. And I'm sure that shows.

      First of all, Stevenson had no committed delegates in the California delegation on the first ballot. This notwithstanding any positions taken by the CDC. That's because the second "C" doesn't stand for "Convention," but for "Council." The CDC was not a part of the official Democratic Party apparat, and its sentiments might have been binding on those of its members who became delegates, but only after the first ballot. All the delegates were committed to Brown on the first ballot not as a result of a state convention but as a result of the state primary.

      Brown wanted to be a favorite son candidate and had promised Robert Kennedy that he would deliver his delegation for John Kennedy in return for Kennedy's decision not to run against him (Brown) in the primary.

      Brown did release his delegates before the first ballot, endorsing Kennedy but pleasing nobody. His unruly delegation split their votes as I noted. Kennedy was displeased not to have received all the votes as promised. And the Stevenson delegates were displeased at the release because their only hope for a successful draft was to keep Kennedy from a first -ballot victory, and any California votes for Kennedy on the first ballot hurt that cause.

      As for the 2008 convention, I think you can make a case that the Michigan decision was unfair to Clinton because Obama got delegates when he wasn't on the ballot, but Obama didn't bother to get on the ballot in Michigan because the DNC had stripped Michigan of all its delegates before the vote. Then the rules committee reversed that decision. Was that fair to Obama?

      There were 27 members of the rules committee. News reports said that 13 of them were committed to Clinton. I don't see how that puts the committee "in the bag" for Obama.

      Clinton got more of the popular vote, and Obama got more delegates. But that was not the result of any underhanded play on Obama's part. He took advantage of the arcane rules of delegate allocation. I don't see how that's "dishonorable." Them's the rules. Clinton could have won had the superdelegates swung to her side, but they didn't want themselves as appointed delegates to be the deciding factor. I don't see how that's Obama's fault either.

    2. There was no subterfuge or anything underhanded in the way Obama won the nomination in 2008. He was incredibly well organized in the caucus states. In fact, it was unprecedented how well they were geared up to win the caucuses.

      For instance, I live next door to heavily Republican and affluent Johnson County, Kan. In normal years, that county's Democratic caucus could be held in a phone booth. Obama's campaign had citizens standing in line outside an elementary school in a cold rain.

      That was the story. Clinton focused like a laser beam on the primary states, hoping to hold her own in the caucus states, while Obama concentrated on the caucus states, hoping to hold his own in the primary states. Turns out, Obama's stategy worked and Clinton's didn't. She got swamped in caucus states, while Obama held his own in primary states.

      The only people who were surprised by this were the pundits who thought that Clinton was such a prohibitive favorite she would coast through Iowa. When she didn't, she was proclaimed to be dead meat. Then she won the New Hampshire primary, leaving the pundits scratching their heads for the second time within a week.

    3. I'd like to amend that slightly to say that Obama's strategy of winning the caucus states worked better than Clinton's strategy of concentrating on primary states, but only slightly better. That was also a very, very close contest between two outstanding politicians that went down to the wire.

    4. "There were 27 members of the rules committee. News reports said that 13 of them were committed to Clinton. I don't see how that puts the committee "in the bag" for Obama."

      I watched the rules committee proceedings televised. They didn't show the votes (which were behind closed doors), but the committee did not go Clinton's way on anything. That is why I say the committee was "in the bag" for Obama. The results speak for themselves.

      If you are OK with a presidential nominee put into place by such manipulations and by red state caucus wins but without the popular support of the majority of voting democrats -- denying the historic opportunity to nominate a female candidate who won more primary votes than anyone (male or female) in history, then you deserve what you got. I feel vindicated by the FACT that Obama has governed exactly in accordance with his campaign promises, and none of his betrayals have been a surprise to me because all were present in his statements during the primaries. Democrats have gotten what they deserved by letting this happen. Unfortunately, it is the whole population of the US that will be affected.

      It was a shock to me that Democrats could behave as they did during the primary, setting aside long-held liberal values and adopting the ugly campaign tactics of conservatives (to win any way possible). I will never contribute to the DNC again and I no longer consider myself a Democrat, but have gone further left. This was disillusioning for those of us who had hopes for Clinton, and this belated consolation prize of 2016 changes nothing. I think a lot of Democrats now have buyer's remorse, but I don't feel much sympathy for them.

    5. Do you have any idea how caucuses work? Have you ever participated in one?

      Here's how they work in my state. You show up at a central location. You declare your initial preference for any candidate you choose, including Santa Claus if that is your desire.

      The candidates with organizations then send workers to try to talk you into their guy before the final vote is taken, particularly if the preliminary indication shows two candidates very close.

      Then a final vote is taken, and that result is reported to state party headquarters. Depending on each state party's rules, delegates are then apportionted accordingly.

      It is very much a process open to all, and very much open as it is occurring. As much as you want to believe there was subterfuge involved, the key to winning caucuses is to identify and get your voters out to the meeting. This was a lesson that Pat Robertson taught very well in 1988.

    6. Anonymous @9:24A,

      I can't think of anything on the rules committee agenda that adversely affected the Clinton's delegate count in 2008 except the allocation of Michigan delegates to Obama. I didn't watch the proceedings, so perhaps you have other items in mind.

      The committee had two things to decide about Michigan. The first was whether to keep in place the punishment of denying the state any vote at the convention. The didn't want to alienate the party from an important state, so they split the difference, and gave Michigan half its votes. That done, they needed to figure out what to do with the delegates. Obama wasn't on the ballot, so he didn't win any delegates. But he wasn't on the ballot because he relied on the party's word that Michigan's primary wouldn't be counted. Giving him nothing would have alienated Obama supporters in Michigan, so they gave him delegates with an eye to the general election.

      "In the bag" doesn't mean that things didn't go Clinton's way. It means that the rules committee was stacked with Obama supporters who would never give Clinton a chance. But that wasn't true of the committee. Unless you mean that somehow Obama bribed or blackmailed the Clinton supporters into abandoning her.

      If you have evidence of "manipulation," present it.

      The rules were agreed upon before the contest began. Maybe red state caucus wins shouldn't have counted as much, and maybe the popular vote should have determined everything. Neither of those obtained; neither of those was Obama's fault.

      I may deserve what I got. Obama may have governed imperfectly and illiberally. Neither of those things can have any affect on the nomination process. You know, because of that time travel thing.

      According to you, Democrats set aside "long-held liberal values" during the primaries. Which Democrats were those, and which values did they set aside?

      According to you, Democrats adopted the "ugly campaign tactics of conservatives." What Democrats were those, and which tactics did they embrace.

      Obama outmaneuvered Clinton on the complex and arcane delegate selection process. That process may be faulty, but I don't see how it's Obama's fault for exploiting the rules.

    7. What you call exploiting the rules, others of us consider to be dishonorable, unfair and inconsistent with liberal values or downright immoral. Of course, we don't come from Chicago.

      For example, can you imagine Clinton ever giving a speech in which she gave the finger to her opponent, not overtly but as an extended middle-finger scratch beside the nose at key points? It isn't technically the finger, is it, but there was no doubt about what it was. A lot of Obama's maneuvers were like that. Sneaking, down and dirty, deniable personally but clearly benefitting him. It isn't the kind of candidate I would feel good about supporting, but to each his own.

      What did Obama promise his supporters? We recently have seen him payoff Oprah with an award and Caroline with an ambassadorship. It would be interesting to trace what others have received, the ones who switched their delegate votes, made endorsements, delivered caucuses, obstructed Clinton in various ways, to help Obama achieve his goal.

    8. Anonymous @3:56P

      The tired snark about Chicago aside, I'm trying to understand exactly what it is that you consider to be "dishonorable, unfair and inconsistent with liberal values or downright immoral." The only actual example you've given is that Obama scratched his nose with his middle finger "at key points." This is apparently for you not an actual bird-flip but it was "no doubt" a bird-flip. Are you kidding me?

      Apparently a "lot of Obama's maneuvers were like that"? OK, let's stick with the delegate counts. Since you won't give me an examples beyond the Michigan allocation (and I'm having trouble coming up with an election ploy that's the equivalent of scratching one's nose with a middle finger), I'll come up with one, and you tell me whether it's dishonorable, etc.

      Nevada chose its 25 pledged delegates by caucuses, which Clinton won by 51% to 45%. 51% of 25 is 12.75, and 45% of 25 is 11.25. Rounding up for Clinton gives her 13 delegates and rounding down for Obama gives him 12. But that's not how the delegates were chosen. There were 3 at-large delegates, 6 pledged superdelegates, and 5 area delegates. Three areas had an even number of delegates allocated, and two areas had an odd number. The superdelegates and the even-delegate areas split down the middle. For odd-delegate areas, rounding favored the winner. Clinton won the overall vote so she took 2 at-large delegates to Obama's 1. But Obama won Washoe-CD2 and Rural-CD2, with three and one delegate allocated respectively, so Obama got 2 delegates to Clinton's 1 in Washoe, and he got the single delegate from Rural. Thus he ended up with 13 delegates to Clinton's 12, even though she got more votes.

      Obama had no hand in making the rules. Was his 13-12 win in Nevada immoral?

  9. "Clinton could have won had the superdelegates swung to her side, but they didn't want themselves as appointed delegates to be the deciding factor"

    But ironically they were the deciding factor.

    1. Why would the "superdelegates" swing to Clinton? She had already conceded, and quite powerfully and graciously.

    2. I don't know what the hell you're talking about. Superdelegates were pledging through the entire process, and towards the end, the more Clinton won the more superdelegates swung to Obama.

      Bill Richardson promised his vote to whoever won his state and then when Clinton won he turned around and endorsed Obama. Clinton trounced Obama in WV and immediately thereafter Senator Robert Byrd announced for Obama.

      Since Hillary Clinton's big Ohio-Texas day last Tuesday, 13 formerly uncommitted Dem superdelegates have announced their intentions. They've broken 8-5 for Barack Obama, according to delegate-obsessed and very helpful DemConWatch Superdelegate Tracker.

      Heading into the Ohio-Texas-Vermont-Rhode Island, Obama was coming off a 10-day stretch of outgaining Clinton by 23-4.

      So, what have we learned? The rush of superdelegates to Obama has slowed considerably, which is good news for Clinton. But hasn't stopped, which is better news for Obama.

      Clinton's lead among publicly committed superdelegates, which stood at 97 on Feb. 10 (224-127) is now down to its lowest level ever of 39 (244-205). And the DemConWatch graph of Clinton's shrinking superdel lead has not changed direction and barely changed slope.

      Superdelegates were being tracked throughout the primary process and Clinton held an overwhelming lead, then despite her very strong finish they kept switching to Obama. Weird.

    3. Clinton ultimately conceded because clearly the fix was in and the democratic process, which she competed in and won, was broken. We won't know how this actually happened until after Obama leaves office and people start writing their books.

      If you read The Confidence Men, Obama became the darling of Wall Street well before he declared as a candidate. If there was one single reason why I could never vote for Obama, his name was Larry Summers. If you want to know why Bob has to keep writing these articles about education, consider Obama's early and declared support for vouchers and charter schools (supposedly parental choice) and his appointment of Arne Duncan should then be no surprise. There are so many reasons why Obama should never have been a Democratic nominee (based on his policies) and yet no one cared about any of that. I find that pretty weird too.

    4. I really don't see any difference between Obama and Clinton. The fear about Clinton (in the bag for corporations, triangulating-sellout of the Democratic Party's historical core competency --fighting for economic justice--, etc) was exactly what we ended-up with in Obama.

      BTW, if there was one single reason why I could never vote for Obama it was his Senate vote for Telecomm Immunity. That vote assured me there was no difference at all between he and Clinton.