FRIDAY, JULY 15, 2022
We were too soft to push back: How crazy was American upper-end journalism as of 1999?
To what extent had The Crazy extended its reach into the world of our own blue tribe? To what extent had The Crazy invaded our own tribe's culture—and thereby our national culture—without our admittedly brilliant tribunes saying so much as a word?
By the time that President Donald J. Trump was offering thoughts about how to fight Covid with Lysol, our slumbering tribe had begun to notice the role The Crazy was playing in our lives. But how far had the Crazy's reach extended back when the press corps was partying like it was 1999?
How far had the Crazy's reach extended? We offer such comments by the upper-end press as the comments shown below—a tiny sampling of the full roster of The Crazy which was rolled out that year.
These comments were made by highly-paid members of the upper-end, blue tribe mainstream press corps. We'll start with Mary McGrory, a Pulitzer-winning, long-time pillar of the insider press corps establishment.
In late October 1999. Candidates Gore and Bradley staged the first Democratic debate of the 2000 White House campaign. The debate was broadcast by CNN. The candidates principally spoke about health care—and the upper-end press corps said this:
MCGRORY (10/31/99): Vice President Albert Gore came to his fateful encounter with newly menacing challenger Bill Bradley carrying heavy baggage. He was wearing an outfit that added to his problems when he stepped onstage at Dartmouth College: a brown suit, a gunmetal blue shirt, a red tie—and black boots.
Was it part of his reinvention strategy? Perhaps it was meant to be a ground-leveling statement—"I am not a well-dressed man." It is hard to imagine that he thought to ingratiate himself with the nation's earliest primary voters by trying to look like someone seeking employment at a country music radio station. Maybe it was the first step in shedding his Prince Albert image.
A hail of similar insults followed. Already, The Crazy was saddling us with "journalism" like that.
McGrory avoided the health care discussion in this and in her subsequent column. Our own blue tribe's demented thought leaders said nothing about this lack of focus. They simply sat and stared.
In fact, it isn't true that our leaders said nothing. In fact, our tribe's thought leaders were pouring it on.
By now, our tribe's thought leaders had been assailing Candidate Gore's disturbing wardrobe for roughly a month. Every part of the candidate's wardrobe was frisked by these subhuman creatures. This let the occasional sane observer see a blinfingly obvious fact:
The Crazy already prevailed.
The candidate was attacked for his suits, his boots, his polo shirts—for the height at which he was hemming his pants. He was assailed for the color of his suits, but also for the number of buttons observed on his suit jackets.
The candidate had actually worn one or more three-button suits! A crazy employee of NBC News described this offense against decency on his nightly NBC cable news program as he questioned a "body language" expert:
MATTHEWS (11/12/99): You know, there's been a lot of talk about the new costuming of Al Gore. You know, he used to wear blue suits like I do, or gray suits. Now he's wearing these new olive suits. He's taking up something rather unconventional, the three-button male suit jacket.
I always– My joke is, “I'm Albert, I'll be your waiter tonight.” I mean, I don't know anybody who buttons all three buttons, even if they have them. What could that possibly be saying to women voters, three buttons?
DIMITRIUS: Well, I, I think that–
MATTHEWS: Is there some hidden Freudian deal here or what? I don't know. I mean, Navy guys used to have buttons on their pants. I don't know what it means. Go ahead.
For the record, Matthews was smuttily employing a theme which had come to dominate the story-telling of the upper-end mainstream press—the notion that Gore's wardrobe somehow represented a fiendish, sexualized attempt to attract female voters.
To her credit, Jo-Ellen Dimitrius seemed puzzled by the lunacy of Chris Matthews' insinuations and questions. After some initial fumbling, she took a diplomatic approach to the problem, suggesting that Gore might understand that “olive green, dark green is much more approachable” than dark blue in a man’s suit.
“Is that why Peter Pan wore green?” Matthews quickly and crazily asked. As Dimitrius fumbled again for an answer, her host finally asked a relevant question:
“How does my mind work that way?” he asked his puzzled guest.
Whatever the answer may have been, Matthews’ mind kept “working that way” all through the month of November. He raised the topic of Gore’s disturbing three-button suits on half a dozen Hardball programs, running through November 24.
On five of these occasions, Matthews said the three-button suits made Gore look like a waiter. He told his “I’m Albert, I’ll be your waiter” joke on three different programs.
Nor was Matthews the only major figure counting the number of buttons on Gore’s deeply troubling suits. On November 9, Arianna Huffington clownishly attacked the candidate for wearing four-button suits!
In fact, Gore hadn’t worn any four-button suits. Huffington had simply added a button, making her unadulterated nonsense stand out from the rapidly growing pack.
“The way he's now dressing makes a lot of people feel disconnected from him,” she told a panel of pundits on Geraldo Rivera’s nightly CNBC show, after miscounting the buttons. (Rivera's was one of the rare cable shows of the era whose host was defending Bill Clinton in the wake of his impeachment.)
Gore hadn’t worn any four-button suits. That just made the story sound better.
Meanwhile, concerning the crazy claim that “the way [Gore was] now dressing makes a lot of people feel disconnected from him,” let it be said that Gore went on to win the New Hampshire primary and every other Democratic primary in that election cycle. (No other Democrat had ever won every contested primary.)
Apparently. Democratic voters hadn't felt quite as "disconnected" from Gore as Huffington had imagined. Nor was Huffington the only major observer who gave voice to such crazy thoughts about the way Gore's troubling suits were being viewed by the public.
On Sunday, November 28, the Washington Post's Marc Fisher went down this same path in a crazy profile of Gore in the newspaper's Sunday magazine. Fisher linked a viciously misogynist sets of attacks on a female adviser to Gore with a similar lunatic claim about the troubling suit Gore had worn at that first Democratic debate.
Fisher added a widespread claim his guild had adopted from the annals of pop psychology“—the endlessly-repeated claim that Candidate Gore "doesn't know who he is."
Had the candidate been duped by aides? Fisher asked. If not, he wasn't "fit to be president:"
FISHER (11/28/99): We have two choices: We can say Gore's a good man who's been duped by over-eager aides, or we can say this is a man who does not know himself, a man who is unknowable, unreadable and therefore not fit to be president.
A person who makes her living by writing pop philosophy about sex tells a man who would be president of the United States that he must be a different kind of man, that he must be more assertive, that he must wear a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American. And he says, "Okay."
To call him unreadable is to be charitable.
That was the end of Fisher's profile. According to Fisher, Gore had been wearing a brown suit "of a sort that was alien to virtually every American."
Fisher's statement about Gore's suit came live and direct from The Crazy. To this day, he writes lengthy, front-page pieces for the Washington Post.
It's impossible to fully convey the extent to which The Crazy had invaded our upper end (mainstream) press corps by this point in time. This manifest lunacy about Gore's wardrobe went on and on, then on and on, all through the mainstream press.
On NBC cable, Brian Williams writhed and railed, night after night, about the way Gore was costuming himself in a way designed to woo female voters. No other journalist said a word about the manifest lunacy driving this onslaught. Already, The Crazy was in the saddle and was riding upper-end humankind.
We're sparing you the transcript of Chris Matthews' half-hour interview with Gennifer Flowers in August 1999. At that time, Flowers was offering a for-profit website devoted to recitations concerning Bill and Hillary Clinton's many murders.
Matthews went on and on, in embarrassing ways, about what a stone-cold super-babe Flowers so plainly was, especially compared to Hillary Clinton. Along the way, Flowers' performance with Matthews was so crazy that she was gifted with a full hour on Fox to discuss the Clintons' murders.
She got the full hour on Hannity & Colmes, but she'd broken through on NBC cable. Before this lunacy jumped to Fox, our own blue tribe was performing a rendezvous with The Crazy.
It took our tribe a very long time to see that The Crazy surrounds us. This week, we've ended up with the Jill Biden breakfast tacos "scandal"—and truly, you simply can't get any dumber than to see a scandal in that.
Is there a way out of this mess? In this morning's New York Times, David Brooks sees a (possible) bad moon rising:
BROOKS (7/15/22): I’d like you to consider the possibility that the political changes that have rocked this country over the past six years will be nothing compared with the changes that will rock it over the next six. I’d like you to consider the possibility that we’re in some sort of prerevolutionary period—the kind of moment that often gives birth to something shocking and new.
Brooks poses the possibility that "the political changes that have rocked this country over the past six years will be nothing compared with the changes that will rock it over the next six."
He considers the possibility that "we’re in some sort of prerevolutionary period—the kind of moment that often gives birth to something shocking and new."
Long ago and far away, classicist Norman O. Brown already said that he saw that coming. Among liberal intellectuals, Brown was very hot at the time. The year was 1966, and Norman O. Brown said this:
BROWN (1966): I sometimes think I see that societies originate in the discovery of some secret, some mystery; and end in exhaustion when there is no longer any secret, when the mystery has been divulged, that is to say profaned...And so there comes a time—I believe we are in such a time—when civilization has to be renewed by the discovery of some new mysteries, by the undemocratic but sovereign power of the imagination, by the undemocratic power which makes poets the unacknowledged legislators of all mankind, the power which makes all things new.
Brown made those remarks in a Phi Beta Kappa address. We can't say we know exactly what he was talking about, but as our society breaks down around us, we highly self-impressed blue tribe members should remember this:
The Crazy came for us and our "thought leaders" too! This was abundantly clear by the late 1990s.
By the late 1990s, The Crazy was in the saddle among the people we're taught to respect. Our own allegedly brilliant blue tribe was simply too clueless to see this.
Maybe tomorrow: Jill Biden