SATURDAY, JANUARY 23, 2021
Pepperidge Farm remembers: Margaret Sullivan's latest column for the Washington Post has been getting some play on Fox.
At present, Sullivan is the Washington Post's "media columnist." This follows her earlier stint as the New York Times' public editor.
Sullivan has conducted a long, substantial career. Here's the part of yesterday's piece which some have enjoyed on Fox:
SULLIVAN (1/22/21): The national press—battered by four years of abuse by the president, and by the incompetence and falsehoods of his spokespeople—is in a precarious position. We run the risk of being seduced by an administration that, in many cases, closely reflects our values: multiculturalism, a belief in the principles of liberal democracy, and a kind of wonky idealism. (Cue the “West Wing” theme.)
The commentary from TV broadcasters across the board, all day long, was at times embarrassingly complimentary. Maybe that’s fine for a day or two while everyone takes a few sighs of relief that democracy has survived its stress test.
Watching some of that embarrassing commentary, we were struck by the way TV "news" has almost totally given way to commentary, point of view and opinion, especially on cable.
The opinion in question is generally group opinion. At Fox, it was part of group opinion to cite Sullivan's reference to the embarrassing group opinion being voiced everywhere else.
We agree with Sullivan on that point—at times, the work was embarrassing. As she continued, though, she brought us right out of our chairs:
SULLIVAN (continuing directly): But soon, I’d guess, another norm will return: the desire to appear combative and to blow things out of proportion to demonstrate toughness. Because journalists pride themselves on being tough and objective, they like to take an adversarial-seeming approach, especially to the party in power or the candidate with whom they most identify. (And, of course, actually holding power to account is the most important job that journalists have. It’s what we’re here for.)
But there’s a difference between truly holding power to account and grandstanding. It’s the latter that gave rise to ridiculous dust-ups like the one over President Barack Obama’s wearing of a tan suit—not to mention the vast and shameful overplaying of the Hillary Clinton email scandal during the 2016 campaign.
Will mainstream journalists soon be blowing things out of proportion at President Biden's expense? We'll guess that this won't happen soon—but we were especially struck by the past examples of mainstream misconduct Sullivan chose to mention.
Question: Did the ridiculous dust-up over Obama's tan suit last longer than an MSM minute? Briefly Googling, we were able to find Vanessa Friedman sadly saying that it was about time that the press corps examined the wardrobes of male politicians as well as the wardrobes of women.
In all candor, we don't recall that ridiculous dust-up amounting to much at the time. By way of contrast, the mainstream press corps spent many months in Campaign 2000 savaging Candidate Gore for his boots, his suits, his polo shirts and the heinous earth tones he wore—a lengthy, deeply ridiculous episode which has been thoroughly disappeared in line with the MSM's code of silence.
That earlier episode went on at great length; it was spectacularly stupid, deeply ugly and, in the end, quite destructive. The code of silence which sent it down the memory hole enabled another destructive mainstream gong-show—the focus on Hillary Clinton's allegedly disturbing emails, the "shameful" press conduct which helped send Donald J. Trump to the White House.
As with the warfare directed at the girly-man Gore's troubling three-button suits, so too with Clinton's emails. The episode was part of a decades-long war against Clinton and Clinton, a mainstream press corps war which played a key role in sending the last two Republican presidents to the White House.
Sullivan will never mention that war; the code of silence forbids it. Also, she herself played an insider role in the war against Gore, dating to her time as editor of her hometown Buffalo News.
We refer to what we'd view as the pivotal episode in the twenty-month War Against Gore. We refer to the invention of the claim, in December 1999, that "Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal."
The claim was invented by the Washington Post and the New York Times. This followed a solid month devoted to the candidate's wardrobe, but also to the ugly and stupid claim that Gore, described as "today's man-woman" (Chris Matthews), had "hired a woman [Naomi Wolf] to teach him to be a man" (everyone in the press).
The month of November had been devoted to those stupid and ugly and shameful claims. Early in December, Love Canal turned the page.
"Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!" Deliciously, the invented claim got its start through a blatant misquotation of something Candidate Gore had said to a high school class in New Hampshire.
Even more deliciously, this blatant misquotation was then called to light by those same high schools kids. Deliciously, they had videotaped Gore's remarks to their class, and they made a point of calling attention to the Post/Times misquotation.
Thanks to the high school kids' videotape, everyone was soon able to see that the Post and the Times had flatly misquoted Gore. You'd almost think it would have been a great story:
New Hampshire high school kids take down the Post and the Times!
You'd almost think that would be a great story, but the code of silence within the guild doesn't permit such delights. Inevitably, the inevitable occurred:
Rather than admit their mistake, the Post and the Timed got busy inventing slippery new ways to claim that they'd been right all along. Everyone else agreed to avert their gaze and to play along.
"Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!" This became the reviled candidate's third alleged lie. As such, it completed the rule of three, thus hardening the Storyline which drove the mainstream press corps campaign:
Candidate Gore is the world's biggest liar, just like his boss, Bill Clinton.
In fact, Gore had made the world's most innocuous set of remarks when he spoke to that high school class. His comments involved the discovery of the toxic waste site at Love Canal in upstate New York—a site for which the Buffalo News would have been the local paper of record.
At the time, Sullivan was editor of the Buffalo News, a post she'd held since August. Sadly, the newspaper never spoke up to challenge the deeply destructive, gong-show claims being made by the Post and the Times.
Al Gore had a problem with the truth! The press corps spent the next eleven months describing Gore as the person Donald J. Trump really was. Along with the rest of the guild, Sullivan and the Buffalo News came down on the side of the Post and the Times at the moment of truth. In the process, this invented Storyline hardened and turned to stone.
November of that deeply stupid year had been devoted almost wholly to the candidate's troubling wardrobe. (Brian William kept the lunacy going for several months after that.) Comically, the New York Times published its first correction concerning such matters in June 2012.
At any rate, that's what these idiots did in November 1999. In December, they invented the kill shot.
Sullivan was there on the scene. Today, she remembers Obama's tan suit and that puzzling email flap, forgets what went before. Just for the record, the war against Gore and the war against Hillary were all part of one long, unexplained "forever war" on the part of the upper-end press.
No one will ever ask Sullivan why the News didn't speak up. People are dead all over Iraq because of what the Post and the Times and her own newspaper did.
Why did Sullivan fail to speak? Today, she's a media columnist for the Post. That follows her stint at the Times, and no one will ever ask.
For a history of the Love Canal episode, please visit Chapter 6 at our award-winning companion site, the award-winning How He Got There. Long story short:
A group of principled high school kids embarrassed the Post and the Times. As required by laws of the guild, the students and their embarrassing tape were sent down the memory hole.
This is the way our world really works. In these ways, we're allowed to recall certain events. Everything else disappears.