Bonus tip for direct mail fundraisers: Instead of labeling your envelope with a message like “John Kerry needs your help to save America”, “America’s #1 Export May Soon be Our Jobs”, “Stop John Ashcroft’s Dirty Tricks”, or “Bill Frist Has Personally Killed Numerous Kittens”, I humbly propose an all-purpose attention getter: “Please Send Us More Money”.

Yesterday, I gave an example of the media’s terrible performance as government watchdog. Bob Somerby does this every weekday for his incomparable Daily Howler. Take their series Gore on war:

On September 23, Al Gore gave a speech on the proposed war in Iraq. Here’s a key portion:

I believe this proposed foreshortening of deliberation in the Congress robs the country of the time it needs for careful analysis of exactly what may lie before us. Such consideration is all the more important because the administration has failed thus far to lay out an assessment of how it thinks the course of a war will run—even while it has given free run to persons both within and close to the administration to suggest at every opportunity that this will be a pretty easy matter. And it may well be, but the administration has not said much of anything to clarify its idea of what would follow regime change or the degree of engagement that it is prepared to accept for the United States in Iraq in the months and years after a regime change has taken place.

As Somerby summarizes, “We’re engaged in a hasty deliberation, Gore said. And we haven’t been told what will happen after regime change occurs in Iraq.” Looking back, Gore was quite right. So what did the media say about it at the time?

William Safire, The New York Times:

The day after Gore’s self-contradictory pushmipullyu of a speech, Blair presented a 50-page dossier from British intelligence detailing the dangers to the world from Saddam, including evidence of his present possession of “mobile biological weapons facilities.”

(Apparent argument: If Saddam has got bioweapons labs, there’s no need to plan for whatever happens after we invade.)

Sean Hannity, Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes:

One thing that really stood out–first of all, look at Gore. Look at his hair. It’s a mess. […] He’s sweating profusely, right? He seems very angry at different points in the speech. He didn’t look presidential. I didn’t see any gravitas, any leadership.

(Apparent argument: Gore’s hair is funny; why should we listen to him?)

Matt Lauer, NBC’s Today:

The former vice president became the first of the possible Democratic presidential candidates to lash out at President Bush over his push for war with Saddam Hussein. … Let’s just remember 1991. As a Democratic senator, Al Gore was in favor of going to war against Saddam Hussein to get him out of Kuwait. So why the big turnaround now?

(Apparent argument: If you support one war, shouldn’t you support them all?)

Tim Russert, NBC’s Today:

He clearly is laying the predicate, protecting his options to run for president again. […] It’s quite striking that he has now decided that in the Democratic field, he was staking out this territory. He accused the president of playing to his right-wing base. Many Republicans yesterday were accusing Al Gore of playing to his left-wing base.

(Apparent argument: There’s no need to consider what Gore said, since it’s all positioning for a presidential run.)

Michael Kelly, Washington Post:

Gore’s speech was one no decent politician could have delivered. It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts—bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible. But I understate.

(Apparent argument: Anyone who tells us to slow down and deliberate is evil.)

Charles Krauthammer, Fox’s Special Report:

[Gore’s speech] offers no alternative. It essentially says—there’s a quote where he says, “We should be about the business of organizing an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction.” Not even eliminate the weapons themselves.

(Apparent argument: If Gore mispeaks about a solution, I can ignore it. And if he has no solutions left, I can ignore him.)

George Will, Fox’s Hannity and Colmes:

[H]e gave it in San Francisco, which I thought was an unfortunate venue because […] it recalled the 1984 convention that they had out there when Jean Kirkpatrick coined the phrase “San Francisco Democrats.” This suggests something a little bit strange in that party.

(Apparent argument: If Gore was talking to gay people, I can ignore him.)

Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank, CNN’s Reliable Sources:

HOWARD KURTZ: [A]ll this analysis and psychobabble about what was Gore doing and he was appealing to the left, and he was positioning himself for 2004. Any possibility this is what Gore really believes or should it be reported in a strictly political context?

MILBANK: Well, it’s funny. Here’s a time when Al Gore actually took a risk and conceivably did something principled, and he didn’t get any credit for it at all. That’s partially our fault, perhaps, but it’s also partially his fault. During the speech, at one point, he leveled all these criticism and then said, well, wait, I’m not actually saying this. There are other people who have said this.

So that sort of gave the opening for this sort of—this industry of sort of Al Gore haters to jump on it and say just another bit of the typical Al Gore.

(Apparent argument: If Gore-haters find something to attack about Gore’s speech, I don’t have to report about its content.)

National Review’s Byron York, same show:

KURTZ: On the other hand, Byron York, did the media do a good job of pointing out some of the contradictions between what Gore was saying this week and his vote for the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and some of what he’s had to say since then about Saddam Hussein?

YORK: Right. That would have been the bigger news story, it seems to me.

KURTZ: The bigger news story—bigger than what Gore actually said?

YORK: Well, the fact that it was a major restatement of some of the things that he has said in the past.

(Apparent argument: If Gore voted for one war, he can’t oppose another. And his violation of this rule is more important than whatever he might say.)

Did we need to slow down and think more about whether we should go to war or not? Had the administration planned for the war’s aftermath sufficiently? Apparently that wasn’t worth discussing. Instead, they talked about his hair, his lack of proposals, his supposed flip-flopping, his supposed presidential race positioning, and his minor mispeaks. I guess that was more fun.

You can see why the Daily Howler can be depressing. But it provides much more than these bare quotes; each day it tells a story with background and context and, of course, humor. The author, Bob Somerby, is not a journalistic historian but a comedian.

Watch the comedians: The Daily Howler.

posted June 21, 2004 03:54 PM (Politics) (7 comments) #


Did You Know? Ronald Reagan Edition
Weblogs: More Driving by the Rear-View Mirror (or, Static Documents by One Person)
The End of Professionalism: Why do talk radio hosts and Times reporters have no talent?
Who makes a movie?
Watch the Comedians: The Daily Show
Watch the Comedians: The Daily Howler
Watch the Comedians: Fafblog!
Justice Thomas and the Case-Dodgers
When can I keep an enemy combatant?
Why Ralph Runs


Too bad your birthday isn’t a few weeks earlier, so you could vote in one of the most important elections.

posted by Mike Cohen at June 21, 2004 04:51 PM #

The problem with the Howler is that while it does a reasonably good job — I don’t know how he finds the time — it is so one-sided that it makes for a very poor source of daily reading, unless you like to be bombarded with only one side of the story.

posted by pudge at June 22, 2004 10:47 AM #

Heh, I looked at the Howler just now, and man, what a pile of crap it is today. He spends reams of bytes talking about how Russert isn’t as pure as he thinks Russert thinks he is. And what of the lack of purity in the Howler that he should care so much about such an unimportant and useless thing? Wank wank wank.

posted by pudge at June 22, 2004 10:52 AM #

pudge, last time someone openly declared their intention to rule the world unchallenged, to stamp out dissent wherever it may exist, to kill “as many people as needed” in wars they alone decide to wage against nation states, to break every and any existing and binding international law to achieve their aims was the regime of good old Adolf Hitler.

I’m absolutely horrified by the way the General charaterizes people from other cultures as “retarded”, “child-like”. That is true Nazi ideology. That’s O-tone Hitler talking about Jews and how they were the “source of all evil and endangered the furture of Germany”, even if this shrink-head has no idea what he’s talking about and, you know, “only means well”.

The doctrine of “rogue” or “failed” nation states that need to be “put right” is in my opinion the exact same idea that led the Nazis to “put the Jews in their place” - by ultimately killing them in concentration camps. Perhaps the only thing still “missing” from Camp X-ray might be an incinerator…. Which only proves that humans are very good at one thing - forgetting the past and what it might be able to tell us about ourselves. And how we might ourselves from ourselves. I’m quite upset about this stuff.

posted by thorolf smør at June 22, 2004 12:10 PM #

I don’t think today’s piece was “a pile of crap”. For one thing, it was a pretty funny puncturing of self-absorbence. But it also provides insight into a man who has quite a lot of power and the media that lavishes praise on him.

posted by Aaron Swartz at June 22, 2004 12:11 PM #

Aaron, reading the Howler is a bit like watching someone else trying to make you think - it’s a bit comical in itself!

Q. What’s worse - mis-representation by the usual media outlets or Senate Committees in which partisan senators are using their alloted time to honk their respective ideological horns? If Republican Senators are simply repeating a few key words and phrases like “the enemy” or “the hostile forces” or Bush’s famous “evildoers” – that they do not even bother qualify any further and that remain uncontested as pure innuendo from both other Senators and the media – what really remains to report but the twistedness and distorted reality they play out in that chamber? Why do they all seem so much like boys with toys?

posted by thorolf smør at June 22, 2004 01:19 PM #

I don’t think it was funny. I didn’t find it offensive or anything, I just saw not a bit of humor in it. And I don’t think I missed anything.

And I don’t think it was insightful at all. It was some guy trying to make himself look good by pointing out how some other guy makes himself look good. He made a big deal out of how Russert makes a big deal out of nothing, thereby turning himself into a parody of what he makes Russert out to be. YAWN.

posted by pudge at June 22, 2004 04:30 PM #

Subscribe to comments on this post.

Add Your Comment

If you don't want to post a comment, you can always send me your thoughts by email.

(used only to send you my reply, never published or spammed)

Remember personal info?

Note: I may edit or delete your comment. (More...)

Aaron Swartz (