Chapter 6: The shape of a Salem witch trial!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 26, 2012

It’s a somewhat hard story to tell: We’re not satisfied with Chapter 6 at our companion site, How He Got There.

(To read Chapter 6, just click here.)

We’ll continue to tinker with its contents. But if you want to know how Bush reached the White House, the heart of the story is here. In December 1999, an endless wave of misquotations let the mainstream press corps nail its most sacred theme into place:

Candidate Gore was a LIAR, just like President Clinton!

[Clarification for those who need it: This does not reflect our view of President Clinton. But in the wake of his impeachment trial, the press corps was filled with outrage at Clinton, as Sally Quinn had reported in detail in the Washington Post. The trashing of Gore was closely patterned on the pre-existing trashing of Clinton. Again and again, pundits made this connection as they constructed their GORE LIAR theme.]

Riding a wave of misquotations, the press corps nailed this theme into place in December 1999. On December 1, this punishing theme re-emerged from the previous spring, brought back to life by a strange misquotation. And as the month of December proceeded, this narrative hardened, then turned to stone. The theme that Candidate Gore was a LIAR would shape the press coverage of Campaign 2000 from this point forward.

How did George W. Bush reach the White House? Unless you want to be clueless forever, the heart of the story is here.

Why aren’t we satisfied with this chapter? The story is somewhat hard to tell, mostly due to the volume of “errors” committed by the press corps. The first misquotation was quickly identified, right there on the December 1 Hardball. The videotape was perfectly clear: Gore had been misquoted.

But so what? The Washington Post and the New York Times refused to issue corrections, absurdly claiming that their mutual error hadn’t changed the meaning of Gore’s remarks. And good God! Even after the tape was played on TV, major journalists just kept repeating the misquotation over the next several months! No one said a word about this, except a group of remarkable high school kids in New Hampshire—and new misquotations were quickly churned, adding to the frolic. Right on December 1, the AP somehow managed to concoct a second misquotation; a third misquotation soon emerged from the mist, and one lonely sentence from Gore’s remarks was endlessly quoted out of context. Adding to the chaos, the press corps adopted a mocking paraphrase of Gore’s remarks—a paraphrase that plainly emerged from the RNC's press releases.

This is the way the press corps functioned during Campaign 2000, in the wake of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Professor Krugman still can’t figure this out. (Too shrill!) Luckily, we have.

And yes, this is what the press corps was like in the fall of 1999. The corps had spent the month of November shrieking and wailing about Gore’s clothes—and about Naomi Wolf, the “sexpot counselor” he had supposedly hired “to teach him how to be a man.” A few years later, press critic Dan Kennedy called the press corps’ conduct during that period “a virtual wilding.”

Dan was right on the mark.

In December, they staged a second virtual wilding—a wilding fueled by a raft of misquotations. Due to the volume of misquotations and other burlesques, the story is a bit hard to tell.

We have done the best we could, though we’ll continue to tinker. And by the way—eleven more months of such nonsense would follow. Our companion site will boast eight more chapters before this repellent story is finished. And yes, this story does explain how George Bush got to the White House.

November was a “virtual wilding.” December produced a Salem witch trial. This is how Bush reached the White House, although your career liberal leaders will never, ever tell.

You can bring yourself up to date. Go ahead—read it here.

Tomorrow: Repellent behavior—and pushbacks

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