Prelude—The year of liberal narrative: Before he was president, did Bill Clinton have "an affair" with an actress named Gennifer Flowers?
That's what it says in this news report in today's Washington Post. Late in their hard-copy report, Tumulty and Sellers refer to "Gennifer Flowers, an actress who had an affair with Clinton when he was governor."
Did Clinton and Flowers have an affair? As always, everything is possible. But we know of no reason to make that assertion—no evidence to that effect.
Still, the claim became part of treasured script at some point during the mid-1990s. And make no mistake—our public discourse very much runs on script.
When he was president, did Bill Clinton have an affair with a "22-year-old intern?" Did he have an affair with an intern at all?
You can defend those descriptions as technically accurate. The more specific description went viral last week—Ron Fournier even repeated it!—after it appeared in a column by the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus, with Marcus referring to Clinton's "inexcusable relationship with a 22-year-old intern."
In the column, Marcus said she agreed with Candidate Trump, who she described as "crude and vulgar" and also as "racist, sexist, narcissist." Marcus said she agrees with Trump: Bill Clinton will and should be "fair game" in the coming election.
(Headline: "Trump is right: Bill Clinton’s sordid sexual history is fair game")
We aren't even saying that Marcus is "wrong" in her judgments. Personally, though, we'd recommend that pundits avoid the centuries-old term "fair game," which got its start in regulations about which types of wild animals could legally be hunted.
Our political "journalism" is in large part bloodsport. In our view, it features too much hunting of game as it is.
But within that context, journalists are now describing Monica Lewinsky in the way Marcus did. In fairness, the current description is an improvement over our previous "journalistic" norm, in which Lewinsky was routinely described as a "21-year-old intern," a standard treasured description which was just flatly wrong.
Did Bill Clinton have an affair with an intern? How old was the person in question?
Thanks for asking! Your answers:
When the affair in question began, Lewinsky was already 22—almost 22-and-a-half! It's true that she was still an intern, with eleven days left to go on her term.
That said, Lewinsky had already accepted a full-time White House job when her affair with Clinton began. She had been offered and had accepted the job before interacting with Clinton.
Given these facts, Lewinsky was an intern for exactly eleven days of an occasional relationship which lasted several years. She was never 21 during the years in question. During the bulk of the time, she was actually 23 or 24!
Lewinsky was 22—almost 22-and-a-half—when the affair began! Why then did the mainstream "press corps" persistently refer to a "21-year-old intern" during the long impeachment war which ended up sending George Bush to the White House?
Why did our most famous "journalists" persistently do that? Easy! For the most part, our public discourse runs on narrative and script, not on information or fact.
The "affair" with Flowers and the affair with the "the intern" are parts of a larger controlling story, a story our press corps loves to tell. Because they love the story so much, our discourse persistently runs on bogus facts.
Their elbows and thumbs get placed on the scales; so do both cheeks of their ascots. Facts are invented, embellished, disappeared, changed in service to preferred story-line.
That's what the analysts told us today after they spotted the Post's latest reference to the "affair with Flowers." Love of narrative brings us such claims, they all declared. They said these claims are driven by deference to preferred story.
The analysts may be right! We thought we saw the same impulse at work in a new report in this morning's Post about last year's fatal police shootings. The report appears in the hard-copy Post, along with the report which cites Bill Clinton's "affair with Flowers."
As we noted on Monday, the Post performed a large service last year in its compilation of this database concerning those fatal shootings. But uh-oh! Once again, we thought we might see narrative at work in this part of today's report:
SOMASHEKHAR AND RICH (1/7/16): The Post sought to document every shooting death at the hands of police in 2015, and it revealed troubling patterns in the circumstances that led to such shootings and the characteristics of the victims.According to Somashekhar and Rich, the Post's important journalistic project "revealed troubling patterns in the characteristics of the victims" of those fatal police shootings. The reporters offer two examples, in one of which they still have their thumbs on the scale.
The project will continue this year. Federal officials have announced plans to improve their data collection, but the new initiative will not be in place until 2017. Already, The Post has tallied 11 fatal police shootings in 2016.
Over the past year, The Post found that the vast majority of those shot and killed by police were armed and half of them were white. Still, police killed blacks at three times the rate of whites when adjusted for the populations where these shootings occurred. And although black men represent 6 percent of the U.S. population, they made up nearly 40 percent of those who were killed while unarmed.
Incomparably, your Daily Howler keeps pounding out those results! In part 1 of our current series, we noted a problem with a statistical comparison the Post offered in late December. In the second pattern cited above, Somashekhar and Rich have slightly adjusted their colleagues' presentation, perhaps in an attempt to fix it.
If they tried to fix it, they failed. We offer their continuing error as a prelude to Part 3 of our current award-winning report, in which we'll describe 2015 as the year of liberal narrative.
Did the Post's valuable research turn up some "troubling patterns?" At least on face, it did. In their example, Somashkehar and Rich say that "police killed blacks at three times the rate of whites when adjusted for" population. But then, they bungle their second comparison, producing a more pleasing apparent ratio of almost seven to one!
In late December, another team of Post reporters presented a form of that bungled comparison, in which a six percent rate is compared to a much larger forty percent. This produces the thrill that the script-lover loves. It produces the thrilling sense of an even more deeply troubling statistical pattern.
Somashekhar and Rich made a slight adjustment to that initial bungled comparison. Were they attempting to "fix" the initial bungle? We have no way of knowing that, but if they tried, they failed.
In the realm of journalism, was last year the year of liberal narrative? Was it really a year when devotion to liberal narrative swept sound journalism away?
Was it really a year in which emerging liberal/progressive news orgs began to play by The Rush and Sean Rules? When our own high-minded tribe began treasuring script more than fact?
If it was, the narratives in question largely involved fatal shootings by police. On Monday, we'll start to look at the way such liberal scripts prevailed over sound journalism.
Journalistically, liberal narratives strongly prevailed. In the process, journalism was strongly washed away.
Coming Monday: Part 3—The year of liberal narrative
Visit our incomparable archives: Way back in highly authentic real time, we documented the press corps' repetitive references to that "21-year-old intern," the one who didn't exist.
We did so in an award-winning series of posts. Our reports were presented under a whimsical rubric: "Forever Young."
For links to that award-winning series, click here. It's your chance to see the nation's top "journalists" agree on a basic point:
Narrative murders fact!