THE PERILS OF SKILL-FREE LIVING: Jim Palmer wasn't 6-foot-6!


Interlude—Applause for third-grade work:
Long ago, though not far away, we uncorked a fiery statement which was demonstrably false.

We were sitting in the upper deck at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. We told our friend, Name Withheld, that Jim Palmer was 6-foot-6.

Our friend was Baltimore's version of Mark Rudd—and a life-long Orioles fan. He quickly said that we were all wet, that Palmer was not 6-foot-6.

For whatever strange reason, we were sure we were right. We'd long believed that Palmer, a future Hall-of-Famer, weighed in at 6-foot-6.

As our friend quickly proved, our statement was demonstrably false. He bought a scorecard, and there it was, listed as part of the Orioles' roster:

Jim Palmer was 6-foot-3. He had been all along!

We offer this pointlessness for a reason. We're weren't telling a lie that day. We were sure of our (inaccurate) claim, but we were, in fact, misinformed.

Almost everyone would know that our statement wouldn't rate as a lie, even though it was demonstrably false. Everyone but major journalists, that is, in this land of skill-free living.

Yesterday, we posted the first five paragraphs of a widely-lauded report by the New York Times' David Leonhardt. It appeared in the Sunday Review on Sunday, June 25.

At best, it resembled third grade work. Once again, for the record, here it is:
LEONHARDT (6/25/17): All the President’s Lies

President Trump’s political rise was built on a lie (about Barack Obama's birthplace). His lack of truthfulness has also become central to the Russia investigation, with James Comey, the former director of the F.B.I., testifying under oath about Trump's “lies, plain and simple.”

There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No other president—of either party—has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.

We have set a conservative standard here, leaving out many dubious statements (like the claim that his travel ban is “similar” to Obama administration policy). Some people may still take issue with this standard, arguing that the president wasn't speaking literally. But we believe his long pattern of using untruths to serve his purposes, as a businessman and politician, means that his statements are not simply careless errors.

We are using the word “lie” deliberately. Not every falsehood is deliberate on Trump's part. But it would be the height of naïveté to imagine he is merely making honest mistakes. He is lying.

The list above uses the conservative standard of demonstrably false statements. By that standard, Trump told a public lie on at least 20 of his first 40 days as president.
Leonhardt is a graduate of Yale and a Pulitzer winner. He works at the very top of alleged American journalism.

Does he know what a "lie" is? Does he understand that familiar concept? Based on that remarkable work, it's amazingly hard to tell.

In various ways, that short presentation reads like the work of someone who's barely literate. Who knows? Perhaps it was subjected to an editing process which took it past five or six different pens.

That said, it isn't clear, in any way, that Leonhardt understands the basic concepts surrounding the notion of a "lie." Amazingly, it isn't clear that he understands the simple term "lie," even though it's a familiar word, one you will hear every day.

At one point, Leonhardt seems to say, with substantial accuracy, that a lie is a deliberate falsehood. Elsewhere, his conception seems less clear.

By that fifth paragraph, he almost seems to be saying that a lie is a "demonstrably false statement." Why on earth would a major journalist produce such strange, muddy work?

We can't answer that question. If we had to offer a guess, we would start with this:

For many major American journalists, it has been a very long time since they actually tried to figure anything out.

They tend to work from script, full stop. They advance the mandated narratives of their guild. Their intellectual effort stops there.

Leonhardt's essay reads like the work of someone whose brain has withered from disuse. Above his essay, he listed the statements he or someone had headlined this way:

"All the president's lies"

That headline fulfilled a guild mandate, a mandate requiring Watergate comparisons when discussing our current disordered president. But speaking of intellectual disorder, this was Leonhardt's second example of our president's "lies:"
JAN. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine—and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.” (Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.)
Why should we think that was a lie? How do we know that Donald J. Trump didn't believe those statements?

Donald J. Trump has always had terrible values and instincts. By now, it isn't clear that he isn't "mentally ill" in some way. It also seems possible that he suffers from some version of early onset dementia, a terrible disease.

Out of that stew has emerged a vast intellectual and moral disorder. That said, our upper-end press corps has also displayed vast intellectual and moral disorder over the past thirty years.

That jumbled piece by Leonhardt seems to have emerged from the brain of a child. That said, it was met with vast approbation within our liberal world.

We liberals! We're silly and childish and we aren't super-smart. Not do we show much discipline.

Beyond that, we're in the hands of an upper-end, often corporate press corps whose performance and conduct have been appalling over the past thirty years. We seem to have only the vaguest awareness of this.

Leonhardt's piece seemed to be the work of a none-too-impressive child. In our liberal tents, we thought it was great.

In May, Masha Gessen delivered a lecture which was frequently interrupted by liberal applause. Gessen is sincere in ways our upper-end press corps, on balance, is not.

Gessen is an admirable figure. We thought her work was revealing and poor.

Tomorrow—Part 3: Gessen, a fully admirable figure, seems to quote Donald J. Trump

Assorted brushes with greatness: At one point, we'd lightly jeered Palmer as he left a game at Fenway Park.

Standing behind the Orioles dugout in the final inning of another lost cause, we may have gotten the false impression that he was 6-foot-6. Almost surely, this box score records that occasion.

From Fenway, we proceeded to Logan Airport that day. "Greatest man of his generation" Name Withheld was flying in from the coast!

By the time we hooked up, the master ironist had had his own brush with greatness. He said he'd passed the whole Orioles team in the long walkway leading to the terminal from his plane.

He said they were all laughing, as they left Boston, about the way they'd blasted Fireball Freddy Wenz during the four-game series which had just concluded.

Wenz was supposed to be the Red Sox' next star closer. The historical record seems to show that that the Birds didn't exactly blast him that week. But he didn't make it as a major-league closer, and those Orioles proceeded to win the next three American League pennants.

Name Withheld lurked about the dorm for the rest of the year. For whatever reason, he decided to rent a cap and gown and march in Harvard's graduation that June. Our values being a bit more pure, we decided to sit that one out. As we used to tell Patton and Blaine, we were busy stopping a war.

Years later, we briefly met the personable Palmer over at Name Withheld's house. To this day, he's a superb analyst on Orioles' broadcasts. But we can assure you of one thing:

Jim Palmer is no 6-foot-6. Frankly, he never was.


  1. Counterpoint: this type of post is exactly why I read this blog and will continue to do so. There are a lot of places I can go for the "standard" anti-Trump commentary; calling out the media in the way that Bob does here (including media that is anti-Trump at this particular point in time) is unique to the Howler.

    1. I agree with you to a point. I was drawn to this blog during the Clinton/Gore years and found Bob to be insightful, particularly his take on the press during those years. Nowadays, though, one of my biggest beefs with Bob is the constant repetition of the phrase: "We liberals are terrible, horrible, failures,etc". Aside from (in my view) being untrue, it's "destructive" rather than "constructive" criticism. Go after the press or TV pundits, politicians, etc., but don't project the sins of these groups onto average people who mostly can't control what the press or TV pundits do. There's no reason for a liberal to be "offended" by Bob's columns, but there's not much reason to read them either. I think everyone(?) knows that TV punditry is mostly BS. But I also think that Bob underestimates the seriousness of the Trump malfeasance. As another note, I have never seen Bob go after Fox News or any other right-wing news organization. My local TV affiliate,owned by Sinclair Media, is being forced to air pro-Trump propaganda. To me, that's a big deal, but we mostly gather from Bob that Rachel Maddow is the source of all evil. Not too enlightening.

    2. I'll put your lip on the sidewalk.

    3. 'I have never seen Bob go after Fox News or any other right-wing news organization. My local TV affiliate,owned by Sinclair Media, is being forced to air pro-Trump propaganda. To me, that's a big deal, but we mostly gather from Bob that Rachel Maddow is the source of all evil. '

      This is very notable. Maddow has her defects, but she's done some good work. She deserves some criticism, but Bob's continual rants against her are bizarre and spark of mental instability.

      By contrast, Bob almost never says anything about Hannity a true enabler of Trump. Also, flagrantly dishonest. His despicable coverage of Seth Rich alone should be fodder for several columns. But not Bob's, since what is really important to Bob is attacking Maddow and other liberals.

    4. I'll put my toe on your cheek.

  2. Well thanks for giving up the ghost, Bob. Tell all those people fighting for health care and clean air, etc, to go f themselves, because "we" liberals are one giant failure, every last one of "us". Our leader Maddow is the font of all liberal decay, and we should just all go sit in the corner and let the Trump train roll. Let Trump commit crimes, treason maybe?...who cares, right? Because Maddow is so damn smug.

  3. I believe the Gessen speech is here
    interrupted more by laughter than by applause, although the audience clapped at her discussion of lie vs. misstatement.

    One trouble may come from the repetition. If a misstatement is repeated does it then count as a lie. Having read on Day 1 and Day 2 and Day 3 that Palmer is NOT six six, does it become a lie if you assert it on Day 4 again?

    That view seems to ignore Newton's second law of arguments, which states "for every argument there is an equal but opposite counter-argument (at least in the eyes of the person making it)"

    It's kinda hard in this world to settle anything.

    I had a co-worker, for example, continue to insist that Galileo invented the telescope even AFTER I showed him an encyclopedia that said he did not.

    Well, you know, encyclopedias can be wrong too, and so can programs.

    My own story of how my aunt doted on me, is my school's own Mr. Basketball. The program stated that he was 5' 8". My own observation from standing near him was that he was more like 5' 10". I could be wrong in that estimation. After all, one of my college roomies who was 6'4" often made ME feel like I was 5'8" even though I am just exactly six feet.

    However, my point, which I may eventually wander over to, is that even after being contradicted by people, even after being shown the program, it seems to me it is possible for me to insist that Mr. Basketball is NOT 5' 8" irregardless (sic) of what the program says. I might continue to believe my own misstatements even after the fake news has proven me wrong.

    There's another example right there. Most people are gonna write "has proved" and I swear, like the fool on the hill, that it should be "proven". (Oxford desk says it could go either way (most people will write drink wrong in my experience too, and snuck long ago became colloquially correct (but still rates a red underline here, hmm) but I digress...

  4. The President of the US has a greater responsibility to make sure his statements are accurate. Trump may be confused about Time covers because of the fake ones hanging in his hotels. But surely those are lies. That makes his confusion a lie emanating from his own deception. How can Somerby excuse or defend this?

    1. Because BS is an old white conservative and Trump is his God who can do no wrong.

  5. Here's a specimen of Masha Gessen's writing.

  6. If Somerby cared at all about his blog, he would moderate his comments and get rid of this troll who keeps making physical threats, borrowing the nym of a legitimate commenter and otherwise disrupting discussion here. I have reported this guy to blogger several times but he keeps coming back. I guess we know what abuse monitoring is worth at blogger now.

    This guy is clearly mentally ill, but 95% of mentally ill people do not engage in any kind of violence. There is no excuse for this commenter's behavior. If he cannot control himself, he needs to leave. Somerby should be monitoring this and preventing his comment section from being the site of attempts at bullying via threats of physical violence.

    1. I'll smack ya on the cheek with a tennis racket.


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