The silence of the logicians: Back in the fall—back in September—we were in the process of staging a personal jailbreak.
In effect, we were saying goodbye to most of this.
We were finally giving up the ghost! We were abandoning a badly failed idea—the idea that there's some conceivable point to critiquing the work of the press corps.
By the fall of 1997, we thought the situation was so bad that we decided to start this site. We could say that we were prophetic—we could say it, but it would be wrong.
When we started planning this site, we thought things were extremely bad—so bad that, not unlike Howard Beale, we just couldn't take it any more.
That said, we had no idea how bad things were going to get.
In the shorter run, we had no idea that the press corps' conduct could descend to the level displayed all through Campaign 2000. We refer to the "war against Gore" the mainstream press waged for twenty straight months, starting in March 1999.
We had no idea that the mainstream press could engage in conduct that awful. We certainly had no idea that this rancid, brain-dead "journalistic" culture could be sustained and furthered to the point where we'd end up with a President Trump, the situation which came to pass in the wake of Campaign 2016.
Back in 1997, a true Cassandra might have seen these slow trains coming. Around here, we did not. We already thought the corps' conduct was stunningly bad. We had no idea that it could get as bad as it quickly did.
Along the way, this site did manage to prove one thing. We proved that there are certain situations, and certain facts, which, in accord with Hard Pundit Law, will never be discussed or examined by the mainstream press.
(We think this is what Chomsky describes as "manufactured consent," though we haven't read the book and therefore aren't real sure.)
We aren't the only ones who have proven that there are certain facts and situations the press will never report, discuss or acknowledge. We think others have made this same demonstration, among them Gene Lyons, Lyons and Conason, Paul Krugman, Kevin Drum.
As if by rule of law, certain extremely basic data will never be reported. Certain situations will never be described.
What explains this peculiar state of affairs? We'll let Kreugman explain it as only he can. In early August 2004, he started a column like this:
KRUGMAN (8/3/04): 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.Krugman's example to the side, the basic point he stated that day was accurate. Much of what we read in the mainstream press is, in fact, a product of novelization and "script."
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...
To an astounding degree, our upper-end journalists do work from "story lines that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence." When the preferred story line is contradicted by even the most basic evidence, the evidence, by force of law, is going to disappear.
These facts are highly counterintuitive, but they're facts nonetheless.
No matter how basic the evidence may be, the evidence will disappear. This explains why you've never seen a competent presentation of public school test score data, whether in the domestic or the international arena.
It explains why you never see the data concerning our country's astonishing per person health care spending. It explains why Drum's discussions of lead exposure couldn't find their way into the national discourse surrounding events in Flint.
It explains why you'll never read a real discussion of the press corps' conduct in Campaign 2000. It explain why Rachel Maddow took a dive on one key topic after another during the campaign which sent Donald J. Trump to the White House.
(This dates to the fall of 2012, when Maddow took a dive on Benghazi. For years later, the Maddow Show applauded Comey when he savaged Candidate Clinton in July 2016! Maddow ducked the emails for two solid years.)
How many times did Krugman explain that Paul Ryan is "The Flimflam Man?" For the first such column, just click here. He followed up many times.
But good grief! Even writing from the nation's highest platform, Krugman couldn't get other liberal pundits to follow him down that disallowed path. In a similar vein, consider today's puzzling column by Jon Meacham, which we'll likely discuss later on this week.
(Why was Bush the admirable upstanding guy? Why wasn't it Dukakis?)
Similarly, Comey was a "made man" among Washington insiders. This explains why the Maddow Show, along with everyone else, refused to take him on.
(Remember when she interviewed Colin Powell and forgot to ask him about his U.N. presentation regarding Iraq? Same basic idea!)
"It's not at all that I dislike Mr. Trump," Maddow said in June 2015, in the fourth year of Trump's reign as king of the nation's birthers. "It's not qualitative at all." Later, she tried to sell us on the greatness of her drinking buddy, "the great Greta can Susteren," queen of Trump's Fox News enablers during those grotesque, hideous years.
These are the kinds of plays our corporate hustlers make. This explains why you've never seen a serious analysis of the long years of gong-show work by such influential press corps figures as Chris Matthews and Maureen Dowd. There's nothing such players can say or do will will ever get discussed.
However counterintuitive they may be, these patterns of conduct are very real. And make no mistake:
Unlike every other corporate or professional guild, the mainstream press corps is in position to control what gets said about itself. For this reason, we should have accepted a basic fact a long time ago:
Criticism of the mainstream press is fundamentally pointless. The guild is going to type what it will—after which, the Jeffrey Toobins will go on TV to offer their fake mea culpas.
It was on this basis that we said, at the start of the year, that "it's all anthropology now." Various guilds are going to tell us the stories they like. Nothing will ever change that.
All that remains is a study of the reasons why our various guilds and tribes choose to toy with basic facts in the ways they do. What makes us flounder and flail in the particular ways we do? It's all anthropology now!
By the middle of the year, we were adding a second question: Why have we received so little help from the nation's many logicians?
Campaign 2000 turned on the logic of paraphrase. No one stepped forward to comment.
Before that, the endless Gingrich-Clinton Medicare debate was a fully semantic pseudo-discussion. That fell in the province of the logicians. No one emitted a sound.
Nothing is going to stop our descent toward Mister Trump's War, which may take various forms in the months and years ahead. For ourselves, as we wait for the shoes to drop—for Adam Schiff's subpoenas to be ignored; for Supreme Court rulings to be ignored; for elections to be postponed or cancelled—we're going to return to a question we were asking this fall:
Where the Sam Hill are the nation's logicians? Where have these people been?
What have the logicians been? In an unintentionally comical effort, "Best Book of the Year" author Jim Holt gave us part of the answer in a new collection of essays this year. In the middle of the last century, "the greatest logician since Aristotle" was trying to explain the logic of 2 + 2 = 4!
Then, along came the later Wittgenstein. Tomorrow, we'll start turning our lonely eyes back towards him.
How do we know that 2 + 2 = 4? All across our universities, the logicians and the philosophers are diddling with such manifest nonsense.
Where have the logicians been? Tomorrow, we'll return to that topic. We'll be working in the garden, as Luther is said to have said!
For today, we recommend Charles Blow's new column, in which he lists the kinds of disasters which may be headed our way in the next two years.
We had no idea it could get this bad—and at the time, it had already gotten so bad that we decided to start this site. It's all the absence of logic now! We'll return to this topic tomorrow.
Full disclosure: We're aware of two serious critiques of Maureen Dowd's influential work.
In 1992, Katherine Boo really did play the Cassandra role in her prescient Washington Monthly essay, "Creeping Dowdism."
Before too long, Boo found her way out of daily journalism. She now writes serious books, the kind that everyone gives awards and no one reads or discusses.
Sixteen years later, Clark Hoyt savaged Dowd for her endless gender-crazy attacks on Candidate Hillary Clinton. Referring to an article about sexist political coverage, Hoyt offered this about Dowd:
HOYT (6/22/08): I think a fair reading suggests that The Times did a reasonably good job in its news articles. But Dowd's columns about Clinton's campaign were so loaded with language painting her as a 50-foot woman with a suffocating embrace, a conniving film noir dame and a victim dependent on her husband that they could easily have been listed in that Times article on sexism, right along with the comments of Chris Matthews, Mike Barnicle, Tucker Carlson or, for that matter, [William] Kristol, who made the Hall of Shame for a comment on Fox News, not for his Times work.There was more, but you get the idea. For ourselves, we think Clinton was a fairly lousy candidate in the last campaign. But twenty-four years of crackpot garbage from people like Dowd explains why Trump's in the White House.
Writing at the end of a long, distinguished career, Hoyt was serving as the New York Times' public editor when he wrote his piece about Dowd. You saw no follow-up discussion anywhere else.
Dearest darlings, it just isn't done—and it never will be. It's all anthropology now—plus the absence of logic.