Obama's suit, emails and Love Canal too!


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.


  1. "we were struck by the way TV "news" has almost totally given way to commentary, point of view and opinion, especially on cable."

    If you choose to watch a commentary, point of view and opinion show on cable, that's what you're going to see: commentary, point of view and opinion. Duh!

    There are still choices and among them are all-news format stations on cable. Complaining that a station changed its format is stupid, even for Somerby.

  2. "The opinion in question is generally group opinion."

    Yes, these are called talking points. The Republicans have typically enacted much stricter discipline with respect to those talking points than Democrats, who have generally picked up and spread the opinions they agree with, as individuals, not as a matter of party discipline.

    There exist a variety of opinions on the left and these are not dictated by any corporate entity, as Somerby is today pretending exists on cable. Mostly, Somerby appears to be upset because the commentary on the left doesn't include right wing memes -- so he has to spread them himself here at his blog. Democrats do not have to repeat Republican talking points in order to demonstrate diversity of opinion. We have progressives at war with moderates and old style liberals and an occasional actual far leftist to listen too, without needing those pretending to be liberal while raising Republican memes (Bari Weiss, Glen Greenwald).

  3. "Will mainstream journalists soon be blowing things out of proportion at President Biden's expense?"

    Oh, noes! They aren't kissing your zombie cult vegetable leader's ass passionately enough! Say it ain't so, dear Bob.

    ...btw, here, dear Bob, please read real media criticism: https://taibbi.substack.com/p/the-echo-chamber-era

    Excellent piece. Incidentally, he's making fun of your clumsy "nuclear codes" dembottery too:

    "We went through many of these episodes, from Bountygate to the “mass hysterectomies” story to the recent spate of “What if Trump blows up the universe?” scare-o-grams (Forbes, echoing the famed “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is Still Dead” construction, wrote the best of these, with “Enraged and Isolated, Donald Trump Still Has Sole Control of America’s Nukes”)."

    1. Trump tried to gaslight a viral pandemic like it was some moron Republican voter. He probably thought COVID-19 would cheer along his HUGE tax cut for corporate America too.

  4. Quoting Margaret Sullivan: "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."

    Is Sullivan pretending that this sort of criticism came from the left? It comes from right-leaning reporters at the NY Times, which is not now and never has been a leftist publication. Remember that they also printed that supposed expose derived from the book Clinton Cash. And they gave a home to Judy Miller. No one on the left thinks of the NY Times as liberal, much less progressive.

  5. "Will mainstream journalists soon be blowing things out of proportion at President Biden's expense?"

    Is Somerby unaware of the nonsense about Biden's watch? That is the equivalent of Obama's tan suit. It took them all of three days to get there.

  6. "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."

    Why not? Somerby seems to consider this unthinkable, out of bounds, but seriously, why not? Or, as an alternative, stop covering women's clothing as if it symbolized or meant something other than men's clothing.

  7. "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."

    Gosh, I wonder why the hometown Buffalo newspaper didn't see this as their mandate!

    And Margaret Sullivan, now that she has some stature, is being held responsible, not for anything she wrote during Gore's troubles, but for something she didn't write. In fact, I'll bet she didn't write about a lot of diverse wrongs going on in the rest of the country, while newly appointed as editor of her hometown of Buffalo NY.

    Silliness has become Somerby's credo in 2021. It would be amusing, if only he would focus on better targets, such as Boebert and Cawthorn and the rest of the Republican clowns. Margaret Sullivan just hasn't done enough wrong to deserve being today's enemy du jour.

  8. "People are dead all over Iraq because of what the Post and the Times and her own newspaper did."

    Somerby is willing to say this (a huge stretch, in my opinion), but he is not willing to say that even more people are dead right here in America because of Trump's mishandling of the covid response.

  9. Why was Gore so unable to defend himself against this silly newspaper meme that got started and apparently couldn't be stopped? Why didn't Gore himself speak out against the media? Who wants a president that can be undermined so effectively by a stupid reference to Love Canal? How would he be able to defend the country if he cannot defend himself against a misstatement of fact? (Not even a lie, according to Somerby's criteria.)

    Doesn't Gore bear the majority of the responsibility for what happened?

    1. The answer is in the question. What happened?

    2. Please explain how something so trivial could have had such a major effect on Gore's election. Also explain why he was unable to address it effectively.

  10. Jeez. we just read some more of your 'stream of consciousness' drivel, dear Bob, and we have to tell you: you definitely need to do something about this weird bitterness of yours.

    Seriously, dear Bob, see a psychiatrist.

    Y'know, dear Bob, we ourselves would really prefer to see The Commander in charge in the next 4 years, because we enjoy peace and prosperity. But - c'est la vie - if that's deal, we'll watch, with interest, your zombie cult ruining the country - nay, multiple countries, most likely. See? Don't obsess -- observe, dear Bob.

  11. Unlike Margaret Sullivan, I don't expect the media to ever hold Biden and Harris fully to account. E.g., the media made a big fuss over the fake story of Trump removing MLK's bust from the Oval Office. oTOH according to CNN, According to CNN, the reaction to the Churchill bust removal was muted for Biden. https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/21/politics/winston-churchill-bust-oval-office/index.html

    1. Dotard in CaliforniaJanuary 23, 2021 at 9:40 PM

      Actually, my imbecillic namesake, the original idiocy was...
      You guessed it...
      Obama replaced Churchill with MLK and the future fascists wet the bed.

      Please fuck off.

    2. You mean there are now TWO busts of Churchill in the Oval Office?

    3. If you multiply the number of Churchill busts in the Oval office by the number of good faith Right-wing arguments heard in the last 50 years, you get the number zero.

    4. Has anyone checked to see whether the Churchill bust was among the items Trump stole from the White House when he moved out?

    5. Dotard in CaliforniaJanuary 24, 2021 at 1:01 PM

      Wander into the right wing nut house.
      Churchill was co-opted as a gop icon in the run up to Iraq II. Naysayers were appeasers like chamberlain. Hence the Churchill bust in the white house. Obama moves MLK bust into oval office and Winnie goes to some other hall or salon in the white house. Stupid fascist freak out blah blah blah. 8 years later Trump rights this egregious wrong reaffirming Churchill rightful place in US history.
      Of course to my imbecillac namesake this is a leftist media tempest in a teapot

    6. Dotard - you seem to be missing the point. There was an MLK bust in the Oval Office when Trump was elected. He left it there, even though some media falsely reported that Trump had removed it.

    7. He didn't remove it, but he did reinstate Churchill too. My question was whether Biden still has all the busts owned by the American people or whether those went out the door with the other artwork Trump stole.

      No one would ever call Trump an admirer of art, so it is moot what he chose to leave around the White House. His taste reeks and leaving any bust where it stood represents his indifference to art, not any political position. It would never occur to him that art means something beyond the paintings of himself, the only art he has ever shown any interest in.

    8. @3:09 - How do you know whether Trump admires art?

    9. By the photos of his home at Trump Tower and by his purchase of paintings of himself bought with his Foundation money and by the photos of the way he redecorated the oval office. He has no taste. Neither does Melania. No one who admires art would have gold commodes in their bathrooms. It would seem too silly. His taste is casino gaudy. Also, I have been to the Trump Tower in NY and seen what that looks like, and he supposedly micro-managed the appearance of that one.

      Trump sees art as instrumental, something to invest in or to display to impress other people, not something with aesthetic value because he has no aesthetics, no appreciation. He would rush everyone through an art museum in order to get to the snack bar. Or he would ask the docent how much each painting was worth.

  12. “The commentary from TV broadcasters across the board, all day long, was at times embarrassingly complimentary.”

    Is she saying that even Fox News was embarrassingly complimentary? Because, according to Somerby, who ought to know, Fox News was using Sullivan’s commentary as a way of ridiculing all those non-Fox TV broadcasters, which implies that Sullivan, like Somerby, omits Fox News from her critique, thereby giving them a pass.

    But if you’re going to say “across the board”, one would hope you mean it.

    In the same vein, she uses the term “national press”, or simply “the media” as the headline puts it, and implies that its values are: “multiculturalism, a belief in the principles of liberal democracy, and a kind of wonky idealism.” That makes “the media” sound vaguely liberal.

    Once again, any national press or TV commentators (like Fox) not exhibiting these “values” need not worry about being criticized here, and once again, Somerby fails as a media critic to challenge the idea that the “national press” actually exhibits these values.

    This plays right into the hands of Fox News by allowing them to stand outside “the media” or the “national press.”

  13. Neither Sullivan nor Somerby give any examples of “embarrassingly complimentary” commentary.

    1. How is it that Somerby can applaud Lincoln's speech one day, then applaud someone saying things that are contradictory to it, the next?

      I feel like Somerby has only fastened on Sullivan's remarks because she referred to journalistic "misconduct" and not because of her larger message. It gives him a chance to rehash Gore's supposed mistreatment.

      When Hillary was mistreated, everyone said that she should be tough enough to take it and to fight back. Why is it that Gore isn't held to that same standard? My theory is that hazing of women is permitted because of an underlying belief that they don't belong in politics if they cannot take the heat, but hazing of men is serious because it has political implications and can harm their actual chances of winning, something women are not expected to have. So the hazing of Gore seems like a betrayal to Somerby, but the hazing of Hillary seems deserved because she should never have run.

  14. Instead of looking backward, does Somerby agree with Sullivan’s suggestions as to how the (“mainstream”) press should behave going forward?

  15. Surely some TDH reader noticed the irony of Fox News, who spent 4 years fellating Trump, mocking the “at times” complimentary commentary of the “other” broadcasters on the first full day of Biden’s presidency.

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