THE RISE OF LEADERSHIP DOWN: Drinking beer with Candidate Bush!

FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2019

Candidate Muskie's lost tears:
Yesterday morning, the New York Times published a page A3 exposé concerning the intellectual hygiene of its many readers.

It reminded some of Diane Sawyer's 1990 interview with Marla Maples. For details, see yesterday's report.

All across the future world, anthropologists hailed the relevance of the newspaper's exposé. Today, though, the shoe, slipper, sandal or mukluk is on the other foot.

We refer to the Times' daily "Of Interest" section (print editions only). Sitting atop today's A3, the presentation starts like this:
Of Interest

Bob Hawke, Australia's hugely popular prime minister from 1983 to 1991, once bragged of downing two and a half Imperial pints of beer in 12 seconds.
In the listing compiled by some Times employee, that was today's first "Noteworthy Fact."

In what world does a fact like that strike a journalist as "noteworthy?" Sadly, it recalls the days when the nation's upper-end mainstream journalists evaluated White House candidates on the basis of who the voters "would like to have a beer with."

Who would you like to have a beer with? According to several future analysts, the press corps' persistent focus on such manifest trivia spoke to the intellectual limitations which eventually led to the devastation of Mister Trump's Unintelligent War.

"In the end, this was really all we humans had in the general area of smarts," one disconsolate scholar has said. Beyond that, the press corps' persistent attempts at the assessment of character was a major part of the syndrome which is now widely known in the future as The Rise of Leadership Down.

According to these future scholars, there were many Basic Skill Levels Down during the era in question:

Journalists routinely engaged in fanciful paraphrase. They were persistently overmatched by such basic activities as "adjusting for inflation" and "reporting the actual facts."

Just as Professor Harari has said,
they were heavily drawn to gossip and to the promulgation of potent group "fictions." Their minds would wander to such questions as the one Sawyer raised with Maples:

Was sex with The Donald the best she'd ever had?

Such questions ruled the world of the upper-end press corps during The Rise of Leadership Down.

Journalists of the era had many notable flaws. But above all else, future experts now say, these tribal creatures distinguished themselves by their insistence on forming Group Assessments of Character—group assessments which were routinely comically wrong.

"They kept insisting that Paul Ryan was honest," one future scholar remarked. "What else has to be said?"

Future Historians High in Trees have tried to explain the tendency to produce these assessments of character. Their overview goes something like this:

In the wake of Richard Nixon's downfall, journalists got it into their heads that they should devote more time to the assessment of character. They failed to see that their mental hygiene poorly equipped them for this challenging task.

How faulty could their judgments be? In 1992, Richard Ben Cramer published a three million-page history of the 1988 presidential election.

The book was called What It Takes: The Way to the White House. Though the book was unreadably long and unbearable on a page-by-page basis, it was hailed as a masterwork by other political journalists—a group which was strongly inclined to the familiar human practice of "seeing themselves from afar."

Many reviewers actually claimed that they had read the four million-page book! They would then proceed to hail Ben Cramer's brilliance. The leading authority on this phenomenon cites two examples, then succumbs to despair:
Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Quite possibly the finest book on presidential politics ever written, combining meticulous reporting and compelling, at times soaringly lyrical, prose."

San Francisco Chronicle: "The ultimate insider's book on presidential unparalleled source book on the 1988 candidates."
Ben Cramer's book codified an emerging type of journalism—a type of journalism in which inane assessments of character were based on trivial bits of behavior, with troubling examples of bad conduct sometimes completely invented.

Inane assessments were devised; journalists would stampede off to repeat them as a group. By the fall of 1999, major players were even basing assessments of character on the number of buttons they'd spotted on one major candidate's suit coat.

The third button of the candidate's coat was taken to be a sexual signal aimed at female voters. Everyone else was prepared to pretend that this crackpot assessment made sense.

So went The Rise of Leadership Down in the years leading up to The War. Future scholars suggest that this rampant group behavior may have worked special havoc on Democratic White House candidates, with only one major exception. (In 1996, Lamar Alexander was taken down in New Hampshire on the basis of the hoary old "price of milk and bread" trick.)

Democrats were routinely hit hard. Consider the 1988 campaign, the subject of Ben Cramer's ten-ton book:

In 1987, journalists hid in the bushes outside the home of Democratic front-runner Gary Hart, hoping to prove that he had a girl friend who wasn't his actual wife. When it appeared that he possibly did, Hart had to leave the campaign.

The journalists then eliminated Candidate Biden on a series of minor character raps. Based upon our own knowledge, they also tried to take out Candidate Gore, making endless phone calls designed to see if he had ever smoked marijuana—AKA "Mary Jane"—when he was maybe 19.

That was just in the primaries! In that campaign's general election, Candidate Dukakis went down the drain when he failed to punch Bernie Shaw in the nose after Shaw asked him a repugnant question which imagined the rape and murder of Dukakis' wife.

Plus, he didn't look right in that tank! So it went as roving bands of journalists performed group assessments of character.

In Tuesday's report, we touched upon the state of this crackpot culture by the time of Campaign 2000. But the syndrome went on and on. It sent Bush to the White House in 2001, Trump in 2017.

Who would you like to drink a beer with? Whose suit coats have the right number of buttons? Whose pants are allegedly hemmed too high, making us look at his boots?

Liberal thought leaders stared into air as these questions were pimped on the public. Borrowing from Hemingway, this is the way the press corps was when devotion to Group Assessments of Character began taking hold of their lives.

In all these bizarre assessments of character, one may stand out most. It came quite early in the era. This particular group assessment involved Candidate Muskie's Lost Tears.

The event in question took place in February 1972. Forty years later, the New York Times seemed to be telling the truth somewhat slowly:
PETERS (1/9/12): People have feared and loathed The [Manchester, H.H.] Union Leader ever since the days of the curmudgeonly William Loeb III, who bought the paper in the 1940s and bullied a generation of politicians with vitriolic front-page editorials. Mr. Loeb headlined an article about Henry A. Kissinger’s appointment as secretary of state with an anti-Semitic slur. Edmund S. Muskie became “Moscow Muskie” and a flip-flopper. Mr. Muskie destroyed his candidacy by breaking down and appearing to cry while denouncing Mr. Loeb at a news conference outside the paper’s offices.
For background, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/18/11.

Interesting, isn't it? Candidate Muskies had been the Democratic front-runner—the guy who supposedly had the best shot at unseating President Nixon.

Somehow, though, he "destroyed his candidacy" by appearing to cry! This puzzle involves his lost tears.

This must be one of the strangest stories in modern press corps history. It involves a front-page report by the Washington Post's David Broder—a front-page report Broder seemed to renounce fifteen years later.

In that initial front-page report, Broder described Muskie in front of the Union-Leader Building, "tears streaming down his face." In an age when no girlie-man need apply, a giant hubbub ensued.

As Jeremy Peters implied in the Times, this hubbub took Muskie out. Nixon cruised to re-election.

In real time, that front-page report took Muskie down and out. But fifteen years later, it seemed that the the report's basic claim was no longer operative! Writing in the Washington Monthly, a penitent Broder said this:
BRODER (2/87): Within 24 hours, Muskie's weeping became the focus of political talk, not just in New Hampshire, but everywhere the pattern of the developing presidential race was discussed. His tears were generally described as one of the contributing causes of his disappointing showing in the March 7 primary. Muskie beat McGovern by a margin of 46 to 37 percent, but his managers had publicized their goal of winning at least 50 percent of the New Hampshire Democratic vote. Underdog McGovern claimed that the results showed Muskie's weakness and his own growing strength. Muskie never recovered from that Saturday in the snow.

In retrospect, though, there were a few problems with the Muskie story. First, it is unclear whether Muskie did cry.
Say what? Back in 1972, tears were streaming down Muskie's face. As of 1987, it was "unclear whether Muskie did cry."

This minor revision was described as "a problem with the story!"

Making this lunacy even more lunatic was a report by Lou Cannon, another major Post correspondent (and one of our favorite biographers). In August 2011, Paul Waldman seemed to tell part of the rest of the story, again in the Washington Post:
WALDMAN (8/14/11): The less well-known part of this story is that some influential journalists had decided long before that there was something slightly off about Muskie. In his 1977 book "Reporting: An Inside View," legendary journalist Lou Cannon wrote that, after playing poker with Muskie, he concluded that the senator was too temperamental to be president. "What does a political reporter do with this kind of insight?" Cannon asked. "As in this instance, it is rarely written as a hard news story the first time the thought arises…What we reporters tend to do is to store away in our minds such incidents and then use them to interpret—to set a context—for major incidents when they occur.”
Future Anthropologists sadly say this was very "human" behavior. To wit:

To all appearances, a judgment was formed while major scribes played poker with Candidate Muskie. Later, basic facts were perhaps rearranged to help us adopt the assessment of character journalists had formed.

In 1999 and 2000, so it went as Gore's words were persistently scrambled to reinvent him as the world's biggest liar. In this manner, the press corps found a way to punish Bill Clinton, and to give us the war in Iraq.

Is that what happened in 1972, when the tears which later didn't exist were streaming down Muskie's face? You'll never see that question assessed. When it comes to our upper-end press, Homey don't play that game!

Al Gore's suit coat had too many buttons. Muskie didn't play poker right.

Dukakis should have punched Shaw in the nose. Hillary Clinton (AKA "Nurse Ratched") didn't ski on the bunny slopes right. Plus, she'd murdered all those people! Meanwhile, you'd like to drink a beer with George W. Bush.

Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves (TM) tell us that, anthropologically speaking, this is all we human beings ever really had.

"Man [sic] is the rational animal?" That was always a fantasy, these despondent future experts have said. "In fact, we liked to gossip and promulgate fictions, just as Harari once said!"

At any rate, so it went during the embarrassing yet unremarked Rise of Leadership Down. This went on and on and on, and then it went on some more. Until a crazy person got elected, nobody noticed or cared.

Was it the best sex she ever had? Mercifully, Maples wasn't willing to answer Sawyer's thoughtful question.

She managed to keep that news to herself. Still, the inanity led to The War. "What I wouldn't give for a glass of beer now," one future scholar has said.

Next week: Professoriate Down!


  1. "In what world does a fact like that strike a journalist as "noteworthy?""

    In the liberal zombie cult world.

    In their post-political 'end-of-history' world, where their zombie clowns are marketed like soap, because all they do is clowning.

    But everything has changed in 11/9/2016: politics are back with the vengeance. And thank God for that. Viva The Donald!

    1. Mao, this is total crap. Your constant, repetitive Goebbelsian propaganda is extremely tiresome. There's something wrong with you.

    2. @2:45

      Captain Obvious chimes in...

    3. Thank you for reading and replying, dembots.

      Please rest assured that your contributions will receive all the attention they deserve.

    4. ok demented Trumpbot, hopefully you'll follow through and get some help,

    5. "Please rest assured that your contributions will receive all the attention they deserve."

      C'mon now. My comments don't "deserve" to be obsessed over by a shit for brains Right-winger, but I get that you'll obsess over them anyway. Cheers!

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  2. Whether intentionally or not, Bob has written a powerful defense of Trump. Wouldn't it have been nice if Gore could have shut the media up, when they made a big deal out of nonsense? Today, that kind of unfair media mistreatment is primarily anti-Republican. Trump is justified in giving the media a big FU. He can't stop the media from reporting in a biased way, but he can reduce the media's influence.

    1. Threatening violence against the press is incompatible with a functioning democracy. That should have been a warning to prospective voters but too many were too stupid to heed it.

    2. Yet, Trump has not used his official powers against the media the way his predecessor did. The New York Times reported
      Over the past eight years, the [Obama] administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.

      Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records, labeled one journalist an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case for simply doing reporting and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources and testify in criminal cases.

    3. Leave David alone. He's a Republican because Democrats want the government to tell people what they can and can't do. LOL.

    4. "... unfair media mistreatment is primarily anti-Republican."

      This sounds like a Newt Gingrich quote, from his appearance on "Meet the Press".

  3. Hawke was a colorful and significant figure in Australian politics. He is in the news because he just died. There is this tidbit about him:

    ‘His reputation as a tippler was cemented during his years as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England, where he earned a Guinness world record by downing 2 1/2 pints of beer in 11 seconds.

    "This feat was to endear me to some of my fellow Australians more than anything else I ever achieved," Hawke wrote of the 1955 stunt in his autobiography.”’

  4. Questionable statements from Somerby:

    “Hart had to leave the campaign.”

    “Had to?” He chose to leave, despite opinion polls showing that the public didn’t care about the sex story. He re-entered later, but quitting and re-entering didn’t work for him, just as it didn’t work for Perot.

    “Candidate Dukakis went down the drain when he failed to punch Bernie Shaw in the nose after Shaw asked him a repugnant question”

    In truth, Dukakis was leading in the polls until the Republican convention, after which Dukakis never led in the polls again.

    “that front-page report took Muskie down and out.”

    Really? Again, there must have been other behind-the-scenes factors driving this.

    And the Gore stuff. Well, again, the media acted inexcusably stupid, but how could Gore allow such trivial nonsense to take him down?

    I go back to both Bill Clinton and Trump. Both were besieged by bad stories in the press during the campaign, but they both prevailed.

    As much as some of us liberals liked Dukakis or Gore, it has to be at least possible that they weren’t strong enough candidates to beat the negative press that was inevitable. By totally blaming the press, it seems Somerby is providing pleasing justifications rather than looking at the situation more carefully and is thereby avoiding some unpleasant truths.

    1. Somerby is just continuing his insipid and ineffectual attempt at gaslighting.

    2. Well, I listened to an interview with Hart on NPR, relatively recently, and more than two decades after his campaign: Hart did think that he had to leave. He realized that his affair would be the sole focus of the subsequent reporting. He had to bow out of the campaign. Why does the media latch on things like that? Because to paraphrase Barbie: public policy reporting is hard!

    3. @ilya:
      No one made him leave. That is Hart’s justification for his action. One could argue he let liberals down by throwing in the towel instead of fighting.

      And why did he get back in later in that same campaign year if he “had” to leave the first time?
      Also, Bill Clinton faced similar stories in 92, but he didn’t drop out.

    4. Clinton's stories were not in real-time, meaning that he wasn't having an affair during the campaign. Sure, one can always argue that Hart should have stuck with it. The question that the TDH asks is whether the media concentrates on the superficial aspects of our politicians at the expense of everything else, often creating the narrative which is pretty thin gruel -- and that's being charitable.

    5. @ilya
      The media doesn’t exclusively report on what you call “superficial aspects”. (Now, to some, extramarital affairs aren’t superficial.) But, I grant that some in the media pursue bs narratives. But that is no reason Hart “had” to pull out. Somerby doesn’t say Hart felt he had to pull out; he says Hart had to pull out. That is removing any agency from the candidate. And it gives liberals a pleasing reason to absolve the candidate of any responsibility for his own decision, or the possibility that Hart was a poor candidate or terrible politician, as he has recently labeled Hillary and Elizabeth Warren.

    6. anon 4:37, you are right, nobody held a gun to Hart's head and forced him to withdraw. But I think it's correct that the exposure of his thing with Donna Rice is what brought about his withdrawal. I think you're quibbling.

    7. "The question that the TDH asks is whether the media concentrates on the superficial aspects of our politicians at the expense of everything else, often creating the narrative which is pretty thin gruel -- and that's being charitable."

      The answer is yes. The question TDH doesn't ask is "Why?" The answer to that is, "Because the media is the propaganda arm of global corporations."

    8. @AC: I don’t see it as quibbling. Do liberals want candidates who throw in the towel and let the media dictate their actions, or do we want fighters to push back against the media? We, the rank and file, can only do so much. It is up to our leaders to, you know, lead. And provide stronger pushback. It seems remarkably silly to say that complaints about three-buttoned suits did Gore in. Was he really the fighter that we needed, losing to a schmuck like W? Plenty of people concluded they were uninspired by Gore independent of what the press did.

  5. “Plus, he didn't look right in that tank!”

    It was a photo-op staged by the Dukakis campaign. It wasn’t uncontroversial within the campaign itself.

    And people had eyes. They didn’t need anyone from the press to tell them what to think about the photo.

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