EVERYBODY LOVES A CHARADE: David Leonhardt enacts the code!


Part 4—Sanitization and silence:
In fairness, Frank Bruni and Maureen Dowd are different types.

Presumably, Bruni was simply dissembling in last Sunday’s column. By way of contrast, Dowd has been visibly out of her mind for a very long time.

No, Virginia! Presumably, Bruni wasn’t “confused” by Candidate Clinton’s campaign in the ridiculous way he alleged. On the other hand, Dowd will go to her grave shouting the gender-crazed screed which defines her visible lunacy:

Democratic women behave like men! Democratic men are like women!

Bruni and Dowd are different types. One was dissembling, one is insane. But each was working from familiar scripts which may decide our next White House election.

As such, their ludicrous columns in the Sunday Review constitute the official start to our nation’s newest charade, in which the “press corps” will pretend to discuss our endless 2016 presidential campaign.

Within the guild we describe as “the press,” everybody loves this charade! That includes David Leonhardt, 42, a major figure at the Times who grew up with all the advantages.

Leonhardt is a dissembler today, but he had all the advantages. He wonderfully prepped at The Horace Mann School. He graduated from Yale in 1994.

In 2011, he was named editor of the Times Washington bureau. In 2013, he became managing editor of The Upshot, a new venture in which the Times pretends to offer in-depth reporting.

In the March 19 hard-copy Times, underneath the Upshot rubric, Leonhardt pretended to publish his thoughts about the factors which will decide next year’s White House election.

In the process, he displayed his fealty to the code of silence which surrounds the workings of the national press. He made one further point crystal clear:

Leonhardt loves a charade!

Alas! If we the people hope to understand the actual workings of the press, our knowledge will never come from people like Leonhardt. Let’s review the things he said as he enabled his guild’s new charade.

Even as he started, the well-bred fellow was playing it dumb. Sillily, he reviewed various gaffes and mini-scandals which didn’t decide past elections:
LEONHARDT (3/19/15): Ronald Reagan said that most pollution came from trees and plants. Bill Clinton’s introduction to many American voters involved accusations of adultery. George W. Bush used a vulgarity to describe a journalist when he didn’t know he was being taped. And Barack Obama said Americans’ interest in guns and religion stemmed partly from economic bitterness.

Remember those gaffes and mini-scandals? They prevented precisely zero of the candidates from becoming president or being re-elected. They’re a useful corrective to the punditocracy’s focus on supposedly game-changing, image-defining stories. Many of them fade—replaced by other gaffes and mini-scandals—while political fundamentals, like the economy and demographics, largely determine elections.
It’s true! None of those gaffes or mini-scandals determined the outcome of a White House campaign.

In September 2000, Candidate Bush was overheard dropping an A-bomb on Adam Clymer, a New York Times reporter. Despite this minor mini-scandal, he did end up in the White House!

Leonhardt had established an obvious point—not every alleged gaffe or mini-scandal will defeat a candidate. On this basis, he said he’s largely a skeptic about the importance of gaffes in deciding elections.

What does decide a White House campaign? In the following passage, Leonhardt listed the basic factors which play a role in every campaign. He also stated a fatuous truism:
LEONHARDT: The fact is, no one knows entirely what determines presidential elections. The rate of economic growth in the year leading up to the election clearly plays a central role. A war or a true scandal, like Watergate, can too. Some analysts also believe in something called the “time for a change” model, which holds that parties struggle to win three or four consecutive terms; others think the data for such a theory is weaker than it first seems.

Yet after you take into account of all these factors, there remains an element of mystery about presidential elections. The simplest way to summarize this mystery is to say that campaigns matter. And if campaigns matter, even those of us who are skeptical of gaffes—who are right to tune out the cable-television obsession with them—should be wary of dismissing them.
According to Leonhardt, certain basic factors affect the outcome of every election. The state of the economy matters. A giant scandal, or a war, will also have an effect.

Even so, “campaigns matter,” the analyst thoughtfully said. As he continued, he illustrated his point with reference to two recent high-profile campaigns.

In the passage which follows, we learn two basic facts. David Leonhardt loves a charade—and he obeys a code of silence:
LEONHARDT (continuing directly): Think about Al Gore in 2000. Someone could make a legitimate attempt to explain his loss without talking about the campaign itself. The economy was slowing sharply by late 2000, and he won the popular vote anyway. But the better reading of 2000 election, to my mind, also factors in Mr. Bush’s apparent lead in likability, fair or not, over Mr. Gore. Similarly, Mr. Romney may have been hurt by his image in 2012.

All of which brings us to the political implications of Mrs. Clinton and her email account. It’s highly unlikely to deny her the nomination or be the defining issue of the 2016 campaign. It may simply fade away in coming months. But it does create a real issue for her and her advisers—their first big challenge of a long campaign.

She lost the nomination to Mr. Obama in 2008 in part because some voters were tired of the Clinton drama: the secretiveness, the pitched battles, the “why would they do that?” stories. This time around, Mrs. Clinton may not face any threatening candidates, but she will need to do more subtle battle with that image. And she likely won’t have the benefit of drama-filled primary victories that seem to wipe away the earlier messiness.
When Leonhardt recalls Campaign 2000, he says that Candidate Bush’s “apparent lead in likability” may have tipped the scales.

(Something like that is almost certainly true. Predictive models that year said that Candidate Gore would win by roughly five points.)

When Leonhardt recalls Campaign 2008, he says that Candidate Clinton lost to Candidate Obama “in part because some voters were tired of the Clinton drama.”

(That statement is plainly true, in part because our brilliant fellow inserted the phrase “in part.”)

By now, Leonhardt had discussed the basic factors which affect the outcome of every campaign. He had also cited some candidate-specific factors which may have played roles in Campaign 2000 and Campaign 2008.

He had cited the role played by the economy, the role played by major scandals and wars. He had discussed the possible role of gaffes and “mini-scandals.”

He had discussed the possible role played by “likability.” He had discussed the possible role played by a candidate’s personal or political history.

Along the way, he even turned to his wife. Her non-professional ruminations made her husband’s phony analysis even more transparently faux.

What follows appeared in the hard-copy Times. Due to the newspaper’s laziness, it doesn’t appear in the on-line version of Leonhardt’s presentation:
LEONHARDT: My wife and I once watched a short film about the history of presidential advertisements, at the Newseum in Washington. When it was over, she remarked how often the more charismatic candidate wins: the younger Bush over Gore and Kerry, Clinton over Dole and the older Bush, Reagan over Mondale and Carter. Some of this pattern is circular, because the presidency bestows charisma, yet much of it seems real.
To likability, please add charisma! Charisma can affect the way the public votes too!

By now, Leonhardt had discussed a long list of factors which may affect the outcomes of our campaigns. That said, there was one obvious possible factor he’d absent-mindedly skipped!

This omission was mandated by the tenets of Hard Pundit Law. Absent-mindedly, Leonhardt forgot to discuss the possible role played by the national press corps!

Can we talk? It takes a deeply disingenuous person to list the factors affecting Campaign 2000 without discussing the national press.

Leonhardt is that person! He also managed to discuss Candidate Clinton without referring to the bad blood which existed within the national press during Campaign 2008.

Right there at his own newspaper, Maureen Dowd—the paper’s most influential columnist—was savaged by the public editor for her gender-trashing of Candidate Clinton during that strange campaign. In this passage, Clark Hoyt refers to a news report about sexist attacks on that particular candidate:
HOYT (6/22/08): Dowd's columns about Clinton's campaign were so loaded with language painting her as a 50-foot woman with a suffocating embrace, a conniving film noir dame and a victim dependent on her husband that they could easily have been listed in that Times article on sexism, right along with the comments of Chris Matthews, Mike Barnicle, Tucker Carlson or, for that matter, [William] Kristol, who made the Hall of Shame for a comment on Fox News, not for his Times work.

...the relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on Clinton—in 28 of 44 columns since Jan.—left many readers with the strong feeling that an impermissible line had been crossed, even though, as Dowd noted, she is a columnist who is paid not to be objective.
“By assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column, [Dowd] went over the top this election season,” Hoyt eventually judged. This conduct, and so much other conduct like it, slipped Leonhardt’s mind as he reviewed the various factors affecting the way people voted.

Leonhardt isn’t dumb. The fact that he isn’t dumb helps us see that he also isn’t obsessively honest—that he was dissembling in his analysis of the upcoming campaign.

Dating to 1999, we’ve repeatedly shown you how this works. Relentlessly, a code of silence surrounds the actual workings of the mainstream American “press corps.”

Fellows like Leonhardt will never tell you about their guild’s actual workings. Leonhardt put this code on loud display in this grindingly phony piece, in which he pretended to review the factors affecting Campaigns 2000 and 2008.

Can we talk? A long, peculiar history exists between the national press corps and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Right from the start, the New York Times has played a key role in that long, peculiar history.

For twenty months during Campaign 2000, that peculiar history spilled over into the ludicrous coverage directed at Candidate Gore. The New York Times played a leading role in that behavior too.

These matters all slipped Leonhardt’s mind.

Last Sunday, that peculiar history was rebooted. Bruni wrote a column which was laughably fake on its face. Dowd resumed the “gender-laden” lunacy she has directed at major Dems, and especially at Hillary Clinton, over these many crazed years.

A code of silence obscures an important fact—this conduct by these terrible people changed the outcome of Campaign 2000. At this point, you’d have to be out of your mind not to understand that fact. But no one, not even Digby, is willing to stand up and say it.

Now, they’ve started up again. Last Sunday, ridiculous columns by Bruni and Dowd launched their new charade. This new charade could easily send a Republican to the White House.

Leonhardt went to the finest schools. Even Digby won’t tell you the truth.

Tomorrow, we’re going to show you who will. We’ll suggest that we the people should emulate their behavior.

Tomorrow: “Everyday people” push back


  1. No, no, a thousand times no!

    Please, Mr. Somerby.

    The press has no influence on outcomes. Only an elitist would claim that!

    "Oh look at all the poor deluded voters influenced by what they read and see in media. Not me, though, I'm smarter than that!"

    1. Bore, Type 6C

      FTFY - you're welcome.

    2. Thanks @ 11:46.

      I was getting nervous. Now that you have rearranged the straw, could we please hear the story of how brave Clark Hoyt told off crazy Maureen Dowdinpantz one more time back in the summer of ought eight?

    3. If Maureen Dowd were no longer a columnist for the NY Times you might have a point. She is still doing the same dirty work. Clark Hoyt was much braver than an anonymous critic of a vanity blog because he put his career on the line to criticize a powerful media personality who was abusing her position (and still is). You just make noise here.

  2. Even Digby won't tell you not to confuse "Everyday people" with prehuman droogs.

    1. Digby supported Obama last time around. Digby isn't going to criticize the way the press enabled campaign surrogates of Obama to repeatedly attack Hillary in unfair ways (including calling various people racists who supported her)..

  3. "Presumably, Bruni was simply dissembling in last Sunday’s column."

    Or perhaps he was simply joking. There was one obvious possible factor Somerby absent-mindedly skipped in three posts on the topic.

    This omission was mandated by the tenets of Former Comedian Law.

    1. So are you suggesting Bob Somerby's posts about Bruni's expression of "confusion" implies the blogger was showing excessive literalism?

      You do know excessive literalism is a sign of brain injury, which is a sexist charge Karl Rove made against Hillary, or mental illness which is another sexist charge made against women, whose work is dismissed with terms like "crazy" "lunacy" and "insane."

    2. He was trying to be "cute".

      "Poser" is an apt description.

    3. @ 1:51 are you referring to Bruni, or are you holding forth on the helpless old Somerby?

    4. That would be your boy Bruni.

    5. For a minute I was afraid you were another troll accusing the tired old fellow of trying to set a world record for servile distortion of fact.

    6. Inability to anticipate how one's words affect others is a symptom of autism or front lobe injury. Do you imagine those of us who are Somerby's age enjoy seeing you call him old, tired, helpless? Do you know how old Hillary Clinton is -- or is that your point?

      I fully anticipated that this would be a sexist campaign season but I didn't fully appreciate how ageist it would be. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    7. Ashamed of myself? Hah! These are direct quotes taken from the Daily Howler describing Bob Schieffer of CBS I obtained while reading his excellent past work on Maureen Dowd.

      "tired old fellow of trying to set a world record for servile distortion of fact."

      "helpless old fellow"

      All from "DOWD AND DOWDINPANTZ: Misogynistic illogic gone wild!" TDH 11/19/12

      "Speaking with his beloved Saint McCain, Schieffer may have set a world record for servile distortion of fact.

      "In particular, she should have told the helpless old Schieffer that intelligence officials suspected affiliates of Al Qaeda of being involved in the deadly attacks."

      She still seems to say that Rice was somehow holding back from the tired old fellow.

      So it is you who accuse Somerby of autism and frontal lobe injury and chastise me for taking TDH as a literary role model. I am still trying to figure out if you are human.

    8. This is all a gotcha get-Somerby game to you. Your autism prevents you from understanding that others here care about the issues Somerby raises, whether they agree with him or his language. You don't. You are just about hating him.

  4. We love to be manipulated, but do not want to be told that we are. We think that we are immune to influences like advertisements. We think we are pulling a fast one when we watch "free" TV. We are a nation of suckers. $180,000,000 last year in the USA on ads. They wouldn't spend it if it didn't work.
    The press corp is just a part of this machine. Ask Archer Daniels Midland.

    1. Sorry, should be $180,000,000,000.

    2. I'll never forgive the advertising industry for causing the downfall of Jacko.

  5. "After Russia pays Bill Clinton half a million dollars for a speech, Hillary tells the State Department to sell half of US uranium ore to Vladimir Putin."
    That, or something like that is all over not only the blogosphere, but major dailies.
    Woe is us.
    From preliminary research from my indefatigable analysts, it would appear that Russia got snookered into buying ore they can't import or sell in a lackluster world economy.
    As I am on vacation I will have to wait to sort this out.

    1. It will glow in the dark throughout the campaign.

    2. It's just another bullshit smear of Hillary by the NY Times.

      They're just recycling the same garbage they tried to peddle in 2008.


    3. Why on earth would anyone keep peddling old stuff from 2008?

    4. There's a difference between documenting facts that occurred 10 years ago and disseminating bullshit that was thoroughly exposed for the bullshit it is repeatedly. But of course you'd never understand.

  6. Another thing Leonard left out about what influences elections, is what positions the candidates take on issues, and what effect (if any) it will have, and on whom, when one or the other of them wins. Nothing else matters, but in the Alice in Wonderland world of our elections, this isn't deemed worthy of discussion in the media. It's 95% horserace coverage.

    1. This stuff needs to be discussed by the press because a lot of voters won't take the time (or don't know how) to look up the candidate positions on various issues. A lot of the consternation (buyer's remorse) with supporters of Obama came from people who were upset when he did things that were entirely consistent with his campaign statements and positions on issues. There should have been no surprise. People didn't know because they reacted to his books and his campaign messaging (hope, change) instead of to his actual policies.

      An example. Obama said he would fix Social Security. Clinton said Social Security didn't need fixing. Old people tended to support Clinton -- no surprise. They knew which candidate supported their interests. Then everyone said it was because they were racists because old folks are always racist. They are also more likely to vote and more likely to check out the positions of their candidates on issues instead of reacting to warm fuzzy messaging.

      I would really like to see systematic coverage of policy positions by candidates. Before she was elected County Supervisor, Sheila Keuhl sent a series of emails to subscribers in which she analyzed each of the propositions on the California ballot in depth. Having served as Speaker of the California Legislature before terming out, she was uniquely qualified to do that. It was fascinating and extremely helpful to voters. We need the press to do stuff like that because voters need to be informed. It is a very rare politician willing to take on that role for voters and the principal reason I donated money to her campaign even though I don't live in LA and couldn't vote for her to become Supervisor. She beat out a Shriver for her office and deserved to win!

  7. When Leonhardt recalls Campaign 2000, he says that Candidate Bush’s “apparent lead in likability” may have tipped the scales.

    (Something like that is almost certainly true. Predictive models that year said that Candidate Gore would win by roughly five points.)

    When Leonhardt recalls Campaign 2008, he says that Candidate Clinton lost to Candidate Obama “in part because some voters were tired of the Clinton drama.”

    Candidate Gore won more votes than candidate Bush, and candidate Clinton won more votes than candidate Obama. Perhaps "likability" played a part in close results but in neither case did an alleged likability gap cause candidates Gore and Clinton to win fewer votes than their opponents.

  8. Frank Bruni was taken in by George W. Bush's monogrammed cowboy boots, and he still has a job as a high-profile journalist?! Is there no standard anymore?

    1. Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear. Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen.