Part 3—From Whitewater through to the emails: On August 3, 2004, the New York Times' Paul Krugman was right on target, as he routinely has been.
He was explored a striking new concept, a striking new concept called "script." Headline included:
KRUGMAN (8/3/04): Reading the ScriptKrugman continued from there. All in all, the liberal world has ignored the good sound advice he offered that day.
A message to my fellow journalists: check out media watch sites like campaigndesk.org, mediamatters.org and dailyhowler.com. It's good to see ourselves as others see us. I've been finding The Daily Howler's concept of a media ''script,'' a story line that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence, particularly helpful in understanding cable news.
For example, last summer, when growth briefly broke into a gallop, cable news decided that the economy was booming. The gallop soon slowed to a trot, and then to a walk. But judging from the mail I recently got after writing about the slowing economy, the script never changed; many readers angrily insisted that my numbers disagreed with everything they had seen on TV.
If you really want to see cable news scripts in action, look at the coverage of the Democratic convention...
"Script," of course, is a specialized offshoot of "narrative." The mainstream press corps may adopt specialized scripts in service to some ongoing "narrative"—in service to some story line to which they will cling in the face of the facts, or even in the face of onrushing cultural death.
One such narrative dominated the coverage of the year's presidential campaign. Our judges have named it the most consequential narrative of the year(s).
We pluralize the word "year(s)" for an obvious reason. In the beginning was the end!
The potent media narrative to which we refer was hatched in 1992. From that day to this, the mainstream press corps has run with this poisonous story line, while pseudo-liberal corporate quislings have agreed to avert their gaze from this narrative and the many scripts it has spawned.
Almost surely, this combination of behaviors has now sent Donald J. Trump to the White House. This outcome has made "Candidate Clinton is corrupt" the most consequential narrative of the year(s).
"Candidate Clinton is corrupt!" Our judges have named it the most consequential narrative of the year(s). In the course of their exposition, our judges have linked this award to several others:
Their annual "Narrative Which Didn't Bark" prize goes to the absence of a controlling narrative about Candidate Donald J. Trump.
Also, the judges' annual award for "Most Favored Player Status" goes to FBI Director James B. Comey, the latest Republican figure extolled, all through the press, for his obvious moral rectitude.
Let's walk through the interplay of these narratives, including that absence-of-narrative.
The narrative about Clinton's corruption was hatched on the front page of the New York Times in 1992. Through a set of bungled news reports, the Times invented the Whitewater pseudo-scandal—the pseudo-scandal which gave its name to an entire era.
In 1995, Gene Lyons and the editors of Harper's magazine published Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater.
Harper's was one of the nation's oldest and most respected journals. That said, the notion that "the media" had done something wrong made Lyons' book unsuitable for serious review or even for discussion.
Lyons' book, and its claims, were quickly disappeared. Almost all career liberals understood that such notions could not be discussed.
Practices spiraled from there. Starting in March 1999, the mainstream press corps began extending its narrative about corruption to President Clinton's chosen successor, Candidate Gore. Gore was defined by his many lies and by his troubling clothes.
From Week One, one award-winning web site discussed this unfolding narrative and the many scripts it spawned. From that day to this, almost all career liberals knew they mustn't ever discuss what occurred in those next two years.
The narrative about Clinton corruption thus lived to fight another day. In the past two years, it was principally tied to a series of scripts about Candidate Clinton's past email practices. Corporate liberals like Rachel Maddow understood that they must never examine the claims and the deceptions involved in this new set of scripts.
(In the fall of 2012, Maddow had averted her gaze as Susan Rice was thrown under the bus in the wake of the Benghazi attacks. In these ways, the two stories which most undermined Candidate Clinton were invented partly thanks to Maddow's relentless silence. On the brighter side, Maddow continued receiving millions of dollars per year from her corporate owners. Soon, she was splashing about in an Epsom salt enhanced pool as she enjoyed her favorite TV shows. To admire the layout, click here.)
Starting in March of 2015, the mainstream press corps wailed away concerning the Clinton emails. Almost without exception, corporate liberals made no attempt to analyze, explain, critique or challenge the varied assertions and claims.
On July 5 of this year, James B. Comey took advantage of his Most Favored Player Status, making his first intrusion on the White House campaign. The very next day, Slate's Fred Kaplan issued a challenge to Comey's assertions and claims.
As with Rice in 2012, Kaplan went unmentioned on MSNBC all through the rest of the year. The children continued to gambol and play, serving us nightly tribal porridge, with "the great Steve Kornacki" assuring us that the polls looked extremely good.
In these ways, a 25-year-old narrative exacted tremendous damage. Meanwhile, Candidate Trump was helped along by The Narrative(s) Which Didn't Bark.
In the face of a blizzard of weird behavior, the mainstream press corps never created a controlling narrative about the former non-reality star. Concerning this overall absence of narrative, a few key points must be stated:
It isn't clear that a sprawling entity like the mainstream press corps should create a controlling narrative for a White House contender. The larger problem here was the existence of a controlling narrative concerning Clinton, not the absence of same in the case of Trump.
That said, even as they pounded Candidate Clinton, the mainstream press showed an amazing ability to avoid challenges to Candidate Trump's most gruesome behaviors. Their refusal to question his birtherism was perhaps the most glaring and repulsive example, but other behaviors stood out.
On several occasions, Anderson Cooper played pool boy to Trump concerning his relentless bogus claims about his alleged opposition to the war in Iraq. Starting in June 2015, Maddow stood out for her weird, presumably self-dealing deference to the Birther King.
In these brief remarks, we've tracked the confluence of narrative, and absence of same, which decided this year's election. To see how slavishly these imperatives will be followed by the press, consider a news report from this morning's New York Times.
The news report is suitably buried inside the paper, on page A19. All too suitably, it shares space on the page with three other obituaries. The four headlines in question are these:
New York Times headlines, page A19:Photographs accompany the reports about Wilkins, Jeffries and Garrett, with Jeffries looking remarkably "hot." (Boxed sub-headline: "A career celebrated for a sexy samba in The Pink Panther.")
Esther Wilkins, Dental Hygiene Pioneer, Dies at 100
Fran Jeffries, 79, Singer, Dancer and Film Actress
Garrett Gomey, 44, Leading Jockey Who Battled Addiction
Filing Reveals Reasoning of F.B.I. in Clinton Case
No photograph accompanies the fourth report. Decorously, editors kept the name of Comey the God out of their remarkably anodyne headline.
Does anyone know why that fourth news report was buried next to Jeffries? The report concerns the conduct of Comey the God late in the White House campaign.
If you read to paragraph 7, you'll be exposed to a startling charge. Well-known mandates of mainstream scripting decreed that this had to be buried:
WEISER AND GOLDMAN (12/21/16): David E. Kendall, Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer, said in a statement Tuesday that the unsealed affidavit “highlights the extraordinary impropriety of Director Comey’s Oct. 28 letter, publicized two days before the affidavit, which produced devastating but predictable damage politically and which was both legally unauthorized and factually unnecessary.”Say what? The high-profile lawyer for Candidate Clinton said that Director James B. Comey engaged in "extraordinary impropriety?"
He added that what is “unassailably clear” is that “as the sole basis for this warrant, the F.B.I. put forward the same evidence the bureau concluded in July was not sufficient to bring a case—the affidavit offered no additional evidence to support any different conclusion.”
Is David E. Kendall allowed to say that? Apparently not, based on the placement this news report received in this morning's Times.
To understand the world in which you live, you have to understand the interplay of narratives, from which scripts emerge. In the case of that underplayed news report, you must understand these points:
James B. Comey had long been defined as a figure of unquestioned rectitude. Hillary Clinton had long been defined as a figure who was corrupt.
Donald J. Trump was never defined by a controlling press narrative. To the extent that cable news "defined" him in a uniform way, he was defined as the amusing former reality star at whose ridiculous statements our pundit stars never stopped chuckling.
Liberals must understand one last point about this destructive interplay. Throughout this campaign, their favorite corporate TV stars made little attempt to fight these mandated narratives.
Rachel Maddow is often called The Nun; her friend Chris Hayes is sometimes called The Puppy. Together, they're often described as "the children."
Along with Maddow's consultant-invented, incessant weird grin, these nicknames have helped establish these stars as trusted liberal figures—as the liberal viewer's imaginary cable friends. This makes it hard for liberals to see what these corporate stars haven't done for them lately, all through the past brutal year(s).
Starting in early July, Comey the God got a pass from these stars. Back in 2012, they'd agreed to throw Susan Rice under the bus as an array of scripts about Benghazi were being invented. These silences enabled the invention of the powerful scripts which sent Donald Trump to the White House.
This year, the stars agreed to ignore what Comey the God had done; they never breathed a serious word about the existence of that 25-year-old Clinton narrative. By the time Maddow appeared with "the great Tom Brokaw" on November 1 of this year, our analysts were actually posing a question to us:
Is it possible that Maddow supported her beloved "Poppy Bush" in 1992? We didn't know how to answer their question, but Maddow's weird remarks, through the years, about both Clintons and about "Poppy Bush" had finally made this a sadly reasonable question.
Alas! In this recent post, Kevin Drum showed the front page of the New York Times in late October, the morning after Comey the God struck again.
Drum scorned the New York Times in his post. On cable, our corporate liberals would jump off a bridge before they'd engage in such conduct.
Their silence, and that of their peers through the year(s), helped create this year's interplay of narratives. Those narratives have now sent you-know-who you-know-where.
On the brighter side, these cable stars spoon-feed us our porridge each night. We learn how foolish Rick Lazio was! We go to bed happy and warmed.
Tomorrow: An array of awards
Friday: Reality need not appear