Part 2—Pinocchio script never dies: Watching Lawrence O'Donnell last night, we learned two possible facts.
The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne doesn't read the Washington Post. Neither does Lawrence O'Donnell!
How did we learn these possible facts? We learned them when Dionne and O'Donnell discussed Candidate Trump's endless stream of misstatements and apparent misstatements.
As you may know, Lawrence has always been a fan of shouting the forbidden term "lie." To see him doom Candidate Kerry's chances by doing this in 2004, you can just click here. For amusement purposes only!
(Lawrence managed to get himself suspended from MSNBC as an additional part of this process. Only part of his performance that night is included in that tape. We've never found a videotape of his two-segment meltdown, which liberals unwisely applauded at the time.)
For ourselves, we think the forbidden term "lie" remains journalistically tricky. It's also politically tricky. Calling some candidate's statement a "lie" allows his supporters to change the subject in several different ways.
Handed this opportunity, skilled supporters will quickly put the accuser on the defensive. The fact of the candidate's endless misstatements will often be wiped away.
Whatever! Dionne and O'Donnell were discussing Candidate Trump's endless misstatements and apparent misstatements. At one point, they suggested that the national press should start using that forbidden term, "lie," in its discussions of Trump.
[If MSNBC ever posts the transcript, you'll be able to access it here.]
Do these guys read the Washington Post? Just last week, the editors repeatedly dropped the L-bomb on Trump's head in a featured editorial. Neither pundit showed any sign of knowing that this had occurred.
(This morning, the New York Times drops an L-bomb on Trump too. Needless to say, the Times decided to upstage the Post, attacking Trump's "racist lies." For better or worse, the R-bomb gives readers another way to disregard what's being said.)
Personally, we think pitfalls still surround the accusation of "lying." That said, this campaign has featured a level of crazy misstatement and crazy apparent misstatement which has never been seen in recent White House campaigns.
Candidate Trump has been the leading player in this parade of crazy statements. The problem has been especially egregious in the last week or two. That's why we were especially struck by Sunday's Washington Post.
In our view, Sunday's Washington Post pretty much went for the hat trick. On the front page of Outlook, the Post featured an impassioned first-person account concerning police procedures and race—an impassioned first-person account which was journalistically egregious.
On the front page of the entire newspaper, the Post featured a screaming headline about the total amount of money Bill and Hillary Clinton have raised throughout the course of their political careers. In the Post's extremely lengthy report, money raised for charitable purposes was folded in with money raised for political campaigns. Has the fund-raising of any other candidate ever been handled this way?
(We were especially struck by this treatment because of the jihad the Post conducted in 2014 concerning Candidate Clinton's speaking fees. The relentless treatment was unlike anything the paper had ever done. The reporting was also, in various ways, perhaps a bit less than obsessively honest. Courteous as always, the nation's compliant career liberal journalists let this jihad pass.)
On a journalistic basis, we thought those featured front-page pieces were a pair of rather fat turkeys. But good God!
On page A4, its accustomed spot, the Post ran its weekly "Fact Checker" piece. As Trump's cascade of appalling statements continued, the Washington Post was concerned with this troubling factual question, as expressed in its hard-copy headline:
"Did Hillary Clinton try to join the Marines?"
Did Clinton try to join the Marines? Somewhere inside that pitiful org, some editor thought this was the number-one factual concern of the week!
"Did Clinton try to join the Marines!" In this all-important fact-check, Glenn Kessler reviews a somewhat murky story which Candidate Clinton seems to have told exactly twice in the twenty-two years since she arrived in Washington.
(To review the story, read Kessler's piece. We won't waste your time here.)
Clinton first told the story in 1994, her second year as first lady. Needless to say, this set off a cheeky, nosy "news report" in which the New York Times' pitiful Maureen Dowd examined the story's possible connection to the Clintons' pre-marital status in 1975.
(Dowd in 1994: “So, if she was talking to a Marine recruiter in 1975 before the marriage, was she briefly considering joining the few, the proud and the brave of the corps as an alternative to life with Mr. Clinton, who was already being widely touted as a sure thing for Arkansas Attorney General?” At the time, this pitiful obsessive was still a Times "reporter!")
Candidate Clinton told the story for the second time on November 10 of this year. Two days later, Kessler examined its accuracy in an on-line Fact Checker post.
When he did, he pitifully quoted the pitiful Dowd at inordinate length. (Also, Tony Kornheiser!) He then awarded Candidate Clinton two Pinocchios for the trivial ancient tale.
Should the watchdog have done that? According to Kessler's silly-bill rating regime, this is what a pair of Pinocchios means:
Two PinocchiosAre there "significant omissions or exaggerations" in the story Clinton told? If so, we have no idea what they are. Neither does the inerrant Kessler, to judge from the text of his post.
Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people. (Similar to “half true.”)
To judge from the text of his post, Kessler has no earthly idea if Candidate Clinton's murky story is true, "half true" or false. She obviously left a lot of things out when she briefly told the story this month. But Kessler doesn't seem to know what the omissions are, or if they're significant in any way.
We'll also cite the lofty statement of purpose of the Fact Checker site. This is one of the site's "basic principles:"
Basic principlesThe misstatements and apparent misstatements have been astonishing this year. Under the circumstances, should Kessler have focused his "attention and resources" on this minor, one-off story?
We will focus our attention and resources on the issues that are most important to voters. We cannot nitpick every detail of every speech.
We'd be inclined to say no. But given his very fuzzy analysis, we have no idea where his pair of Pinocchios came from.
Whatever! Kessler posted his "fact-check" on November 12. There it sat, drawing little attention, perhaps suggesting that this apparently trivial matter was of little "importance to voters."
Ten days later, we got the bad news. The fuzzy fact-check did seem important to some editor at the Post!
As Kessler's fact-check sat on line, Trump continued his blizzard of bizarre and appalling apparent misstatements. But so what?
Based on Sunday's edition, some editor decided that Candidate Clinton's twice-told tale was the most important factual matter to which voters should be directed. And please remember: when we say "twice-told," we mean this story has been told exactly two times in the past twenty-two years!
We thought we saw a lot of turkeys in last Sunday's Washington Post. One of them was the weekly hard-copy Fact Checker piece, which advanced a treasured narrative about the endless lying of the Clintons and Gore.
It's a narrative Lawrence has done a lot to advance and E.J. has always run from. Last Sunday, it got its new boost in the Post.
Lawrence and E.J. will eat fine turkeys this week. The rewards for service to their guild can be wickedly great.
That said, do they even read the Washington Post? If they do, you can bet your life they won't criticize what it says.
The Post has loved this turkey for two decades. On Sunday, the paper embraced it again.
Tomorrow: Last Friday, our greatest historical turkey took off and flew again