Drum defends one of the "bad guys:" The Gods of Narrative will be honored within our floundering, immature discourse.
We'll be told that nothing has worked in our public schools. For all those years, we were told that the Social Security trust fund was just a bunch of worthless IOUs. In a desk drawer in West Virginia!
In our presidential campaigns, the narratives will most commonly turn on the press corps' assessments of character. We're speaking about the mainstream press corps. We're not zeroed in on Fox.
The history here may date to the character problems widely ascribed to President Nixon. But by the time of Campaign 1988, the press corps knocked two major candidates out of the race on the basis of perceived character problems (Biden and Hart).
At that time, the hunt was general. As someone who had known Candidate Gore way back in college, we fielded many phone calls from journalists eager to know all about his possible teen-aged transgressions.
Had he ever smoked marijuana? Were there any "academic incidents?" Journalists were eager to explore their deeply withered concept of "character."
Four years later, Bill Clinton arrived on this rather peculiar scene.
As Matt Yglesias suggested in his recent piece at Vox, the mainstream press will often tilt its coverage of major political figures on the basis of perceived character. The "good guys"—that's the term Yglesias used. Despite its childishness, it's highly appropriate—will have their conduct examined in a rather permissive manner.
(For our previous report, click here.)
Other figures will become targets. Within the novelized world of our national press, everything these Others do will, by the rules of the game, display their lack of character.
This brings us to Kevin Drum's recent post, which we strongly recommend. Yesterday, the post appeared beneath this sadly appropriate headline:
"Sigh. Yet Another Non-Scandal at the Clinton Foundation"
Sure enough! Politico had spotted another non-scandal scandal at the Clinton Foundation! This latest non-scandal concerned the conduct of Bill Clinton, who has now been widely defined, by the Gods of Narrative, as someone with character problems.
Does Bill Clinton have "character problems?" To some extent, we'd assume that pretty much everyone does. But in the Kingdom of Narrative, the "good guys" are seen as wonderfully pure. As for the Others, let's recall Woody Guthrie:
Every crime in Oklahoma will be added to their names.
Lies and misstatements will be invented. We'll be told that the targeted pols uttered these lies. Things will devolve from there.
In this case, Bill Clinton is accused of yet another act of misconduct at his foundation. We'll suggest that you read Drum's complete post, but this is the way he ended his post about Clinton's alleged misconduct:
DRUM (9/1/16): This is not just "not illegal," it's the way pretty much any similar kind of operation works. Even me. Mother Jones pays me an annual salary, but if I write an op-ed or something, I bill that time to whoever I wrote the op-ed for.Before we're done, we'll return to one key part of that passage. But this is very typical stuff in our current Kingdom of Narrative, where so many mainstream press corps story-lines involve perceived issues of character.
Go ahead and read the whole thing. There's really nothing even remotely blurry or scandalous or shady or anything else. It's just the standard way anyone operates who has multiple interests, multiple funding sources, and staffers who do work for multiple organizations. There's no hint that any of the charges were incorrect, or that any of the purchases were misallocated. As near as I can tell, it was all entirely above board, and the GSA was actively involved in scrutinizing everything.
Basically, the reason for headlines like this is because Bill Clinton decided after his presidency to set up a large and active foundation that raised a ton of money for exceptionally worthy causes around the world. If he had decided to just lounge around instead, none of this would ever have come up. It's a little hard to believe that he's getting so much grief for this.
We mentioned Yglesias' appropriate use of a childish term—"good guys." Starting in 1992, the mainstream press has adopted a steady succession of pols who were defined in this way.
Again and again, these people have been presented as straight-talking truth-telling straight-shooters. Childish fairy tales have been told about how truthful these "good guys" are.
The mainstream press corps has tended to tell these childish tales as a group. Their judgments have routinely turned out to be wrong, as fairy tales always are.
In 1992, the designated truth-teller in the Democratic race was the late Senator Paul Tsongas. As far as we know, Senator Tsongas was a good, decent person. That said, he wasn't a character from a fairy tale.
For whatever reason, Bill Clinton was quickly defined that year as the guy with the character problem. For that and other reasons (Tsongas was a deficit hawk), Tsongas was therefore cast as the "good guy" truth-teller.
Twenty-four years of powerful narrative got its start in this fashion. As it turned out, Paul Tsongas died in January 1997, two days before his first term in the White House would have ended. It was fairly clear that he had misled the public and press in 1992 about the cancer which killed.
From that time forward, the press corps' official "good guys" have routinely taken advantage of the kid glove treatment their designation afforded them. Quite routinely, this has produced awkward insults to Narrative.
In his piece at Vox, Yglesias correctly identified Colin Powell as one of the press corps' major "good guys" of the past several decades. As far we know know, Colin Powell is a good, decent person. That said, did you see the presentation he made at the U.N. in the run-up to war in Iraq?
In real time, the nation's pundits stood in line to affirm what the great good man had said. When it turned out that his assessment had been weirdly, gruesomely wrong, the nation's news orgs worked rather hard to avoid an obvious, awkward question:
How in the world did Colin Powell manage to get it so wrong?
At least since 1992, the nation's mainstream press has persistently offered us silly, novelized group fairy tales built around perceptions of character. They tend to invent and disappear facts to keep their tales alive.
Many of their "good guy" exemplars have been Republicans and conservatives. For quite a few years, Paul Ryan has been an official straight-talking truth-teller. So was Michelle Rhee, as is anyone else who supports "education reform."
So were Bill Clinton's sex accusers. Kathleen Willey was widely declared a god of truthfulness on first sight. In a profoundly absurd display, pundits stampeded into line to affirm her obvious truthfulness.
A few years later, Kenneth Starr's successor, Robert Ray, stated in his formal report that his office had considered charging Willey with perjury. This fact was widely disappeared. Narrative mustn't be mocked!
From the late Paul Tsongas on, an array of major figures have been defined, in these group fairy tales, as straight-talking truth-tellers. Meanwhile, who have been diagnosed as the ones with with the "character problems?"
According to the Gods of Narrative, Clinton, Clinton and Gore have been among the era's largest offenders! If we might borrow from Teddy White, this has been coloring all the reporting of the current White House campaign.
Does Hillary Clinton have some sort of character problem? We'll assume that everyone does. But Yglesias' piece, and Drum's post, show the way reporting is colored by the power of narrative, especially that about character.
To that, we'll only say this:
When it comes to matters of character, the press corps has had its thumbs on the scale since 1992. This has been especially true concerning Clinton / Gore / Clinton.
The liberal world has tolerated this state of affairs every step of the way. It's hard to avoid an obvious thought: career journalists have tolerated this because these highly destructive themes have largely come from the major mainstream organs. Career journalist have tolerated this because it served career interests.
Ever so slowly, we would say that this has possibly started to turn. That Yglesias piece comes extremely late in the game, and we'd say it's quite polite. But it starts to define the way the mainstream press has worked for the past many years.
We said we'd return to one part of Drum's post. Here's the part we had in mind:
DRUM: Basically, the reason for headlines like this is because Bill Clinton decided after his presidency to set up a large and active foundation that raised a ton of money for exceptionally worthy causes around the world. If he had decided to just lounge around instead, none of this would ever have come up. It's a little hard to believe that he's getting so much grief for this.The highlighted statement isn't "wrong." In a rational world, it would be hard to believe that Bill Clinton, or anyone else, would get so much grief of this type.
But in our world, this has been the journalistic norm since 1992! These kinds of character attacks were aimed at Candidate Gore for twenty months during Campaign 2000. He was Bill Clinton's chosen successor! Within the mainstream group fairy tale, that made him a bad guy too!
This remarkable journalistic behavior has been the norm since 1992. In the current campaign, whatever one thinks of Candidate Clinton, all reporting of her "character problems" is being colored by the power of this decades-old narrative line.
As we liberals ever-so-slowly turn, we find ourselves asking this:
This has been the journalistic norm for a very long time now. What will it take before liberal journalists like Yglesias and Drum reflexively make this blatantly obvious statement? Before they start calling out names?
Let's borrow some language from Candidate Trump. When will our anger harden? Our sense of duty as citizens? How about our resolve?