FAUX AND FALLEN GENIUS WATCH: We recommend the Roxane Gay piece!

TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2012

We don’t recommend Rachel Maddow: We’ll recommend the new piece by Salon’s Roxane Gay about the latest faux genius.

Gay asks a lot of good questions about the genius Lehrer (no relation). Before we mention another young genius, let’s look at a few of Gay’s clips:
GAY (7/31/12): There is a cult of bright young things, a cultural obsession with genius, a need to find beacons of greatness in an ordinary world. In a December 2002 article in The Atlantic Monthly, Marjorie Garber writes, “At this point in history genius has become a commodity, an ambition, and even a lifestyle.” She also notes that, “Deep within us lies a certain strain of longing for genius, a genius worship, that might be described as messianic: the hope that a genius will come along to save us from our technological, philosophical, spiritual, or aesthetic impasse.” When young people display remarkable intelligence or creativity, we are instantly enamored. We want or need geniuses to show us the power and potential of the human mind and we’re so eager to find new people to bestow this title upon that the term and the concept have become quite diluted.
The quote from Garber sounds strong. How about yet another "strain of longing" on our part—the hope that a genius will come to save us from our own manifest dumbness? From our manifest lack of purpose? From our horrible tribalized values?

We live at a time of enormous stupidity. We liberals try hard to blame it on Them. But our side has proven its ginormous dumbness too—dumbness so vast that we’re on the verge of electing a nightmare like Romney.

Sorry. In large part, this is a world of our making. We have spent the last thirty years creating the danger we face.

Gay is intrigued by the culture which elevates climbers like Lehrer. Before we name another name, we’ll recommend this:
GAY: How did Lehrer think he could get away with making up quotations from a singer who is still alive, notoriously reclusive, and obsessively followed? In the age of the Internet, when everything is just a click away, how did Lehrer think he wouldn’t get caught, both when he plagiarized himself and again when he simply lied over and over? What else is fabricated in his books? Does he think that little of his audience?


The question isn’t really why did Lehrer fabricated those Dylan quotations and then lie about it nor is the question why did he plagiarize himself time and again in his highly visible position as a staff writer for The New Yorker. The question that intrigues me most is how this happened at all, how Lehrer was elevated to a position of such prominence. Are we that enamored by bright young things that they can act with impunity?

Lehrer’s success and this current humiliation, how far he had to fall, is a symptom of a much bigger problem, one that is systemic, one that continues to consistently elevate certain kinds of men simply for being a certain kind of man. Jonah Lehrer fits the narrative we want about a boy genius. He is young, attractive and well educated. He can write a good sentence. He can parse complicated science for the masses and make us feel smarter for finally being able to understand the complexities of the human mind. He is the great white hope.
How did Lehrer think he could do this? These people are very young and poorly grounded—and the rewards are gigantic. Regarding the culture that allows this to happen, Gay feels this is only done with and for men. But here’s another name:

Rachel Maddow.

In many ways, Maddow is one of the frauds of our age. On her cable TV show, she has set records for blatant crackpot dishonesty.

The liberal world simply can’t tell.

Beyond that, the liberal world refused to speak when Al and Lawrence and Charles lied in our faces, week after week, about the killing of Trayvon Martin. (Is there anything these people won't con you about? By the way: making up a quote by Dyulan egst you fired. But in the modern liberal world, making up reams of shit about amurdre is just part of doing your job.)

The truth is, we are very bad people. In part because of our moral sloth, we keep getting played by these frauds. And we've helped create a world where Romney may get to the White House.

Back to Lehrer and his type: The rewards today are very great for these hustling young climbers. Tomorrow, we’ll finish our current series on Chris Hayes’ new book, which proved quite hard to review.

We’ll only say this—we find a great deal of hustle and pop in Hayes’ work now too. We weren’t thinking such thoughts about young Hayes until we tried unpacking his rather odd book, which disappears his own elite and seems to say that the others failed because of their "social distance."

On its jacket, this very fuzzy book is fulsomely praised by the usual suspects of the liberal elite. Do these people know how to read at all? If they do, when do they plan to start?

The world is full of ambitious young climbers. We recommend the Roxane Gay piece. We don’t recommend Rachel Maddow, unless liberals hold her to rules.

Additional bonus point: Some of these youngsters would turn out fine—if we didn’t have the need to get played by them in these ways, the impulse that has Gay puzzled.

They simply never abandon their stories!

TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2012

Resurrecting Popkin’s poop: They simply never abandon their stories!

That said, we found it ironic when Nicholas Confessore passed on a timeless tale from Professor Popkin’s new book. (For background, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/30/12).

Popkin’s deeply erudite book is all about White House campaigns. The review appeared in the New York Times. That was the source of the irony:
CONFESSORE (7/30/12): Even harder, Popkin says, is the third type of candidacy: the successor. When Al Gore ran in 2000, the country had enjoyed years of peace and prosperity. But voters are skeptical of vice presidents who claim credit for a president’s accomplishments, Popkin notes...

Gore couldn’t solve that puzzle, Popkin argues, in large part because he was pulled in different directions by his White House staff, his family and his campaign aides. Gore resented Bill Clinton for his infidelities and impeachment, empowering staff and family members who blamed “Clinton fatigue” for his lagging campaign. He overrelied on his adviser Naomi Wolf, a friend of his daughter’s, whose suggestions—wear earth tones and act more alpha—leaked to the press, turning Gore into a laughingstock.
These stories simply never die. You simply cannot stamp them out.

The irony here comes from the fact that Confessore writes for the Times. Five years ago to the month, the New York Times ran a formal correction saying that Naomi Wolf didn’t tell Gore to wear earth tones. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/30/07.

When the Times published that puzzling correction, eight years of bullshit were wiped away. Five years later, without batting an eye, Confessore brings the hoary tale back!

For the record, the claim that Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones didn’t result from a “leak” to the press. Ceci Connolly reported the claim as a “speculation”—by Dick Morris, no less.

Within a matter of hours, the speculation was being reported as fact. That's the way the "press corps" worked all through Campaign 2000.

Thirteen years later, the good professor writes a book full of his manifest erudition. In this pitiful instance, he sources his claim to a Newsweek piece from November 2000—a post-election report which was full of unsourced standard blather.

And sure enough: Despite his newspaper’s formal correction, Confessore just types it back up! (Just so you can feel reassured, he’s covering the current election.)

No, this doesn’t exactly “matter” at this point. But these are the dumbest humans ever. The fame and rewards are there for the taking. And within the mainstream “press corps” elite, it’s OK to make this shit up.

Everybody knows this is true. Because they have to protect their careers, career liberals never complain.

These are the dumbest humans ever. Your nation and its way of life are dying beneath the weight of decades of this conduct.

Our own Julien Sorels pile up!

TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2012

Name withheld, meet Jonah Lehrer: Maybe he got some bad ideas at a meritocratic high school!

We have our latest Julien Sorel! In this instance, the climber in question is the grasping Jonah Lehrer (no relation).

Julie Bosman tells the ancient story in today’s New York Times. You should read it:
BOSMAN (7/31/12): A publishing industry that is notoriously ill-equipped to root out fraud. A magazine whose famed fact-checking department is geared toward print, not the Web. And a lucrative lecture circuit that rewards snappy, semi-scientific pronouncements, smoothly delivered to a corporate audience.

All contributed to the rise of Jonah Lehrer, the 31-year-old author, speaker and staff writer for The New Yorker, who then executed one of the most bewildering recent journalistic frauds, one that on Monday cost him his prestigious post at the magazine and his status as one of the most promising, visible and well-paid writers in the business.

An article in Tablet magazine revealed that in his best-selling book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” Mr. Lehrer had fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan, one of the most closely studied musicians alive. Only last month, Mr. Lehrer had publicly apologized for taking some of his previous work from The Wall Street Journal, Wired and other publications and recycling it in blog posts for The New Yorker, acts of recycling that his editor called “a mistake.”

By Monday, when the Tablet article was published online, both The New Yorker and Mr. Lehrer’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, made it clear that they had lost patience with him.
The rewards are vast—and the gullible are all around. In this setting, Lehrer became the latest child who sold the elites a con.

Lehrer invented quotes by Bob Dylan—in a book called “Imagine," no less! We’ll tip our hat to Isaac Chotiner for noticing something before this news broke—for noting the fact that Lehrer's book was just plain dumb on the merits.

Click here, then ponder the dumbness all around—the dumbness of our pseudo-elites, which is taking the nation down.

Are you sure you want to believe everything Rachel tells you? We thought she was a little bit slick in her first segment last night.

Daisey comes battling back: In yesterday’s New York Times, we learned that another fabulist is back, snarking about the shit he made up, with a highly regarded theater company using his scam as a way of selling his show.

(Sorry—the link to the Times doesn’t seem to be working. We refer to Charles Isherwood’s review of Mike Daisey’s show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.)

The rewards are great; the gullibility is vast. Our youngsters just keep making shit up. Their elders are eager to buy it.

The Times sets its mental age at 16!

TUESDAY, JULY 31, 2012

Part 2—What would sophisticates think: What would “sophisticated readers” think of the New York Times?

We ask for a reason. On Sunday, Arthur Brisbane, the Times’ public editor, reported an interview with the newspaper’s politics editor (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/30/12). In the following passage, he recorded part of what Richard Stevenson said about the way the New York Times should cover this White House campaign:
BRISBANE (7/29/12): I asked Mr. Stevenson, the political editor, to provide his perspective on the choices The Times faces in covering the election.

''I don't have a problem with high-frequency” coverage, he told me. ''I guess the question is: Is it worth it in terms of news value? I think we ought to be guided, especially in coverage of politics, by: Are you really adding value for a sophisticated New York Times reader?''
In context, “high-frequency coverage” means the silly day-to-day drivel which has dominated the current campaign.

As the interview continued, Stevenson said it was OK for the Times to be “insidery,” but he said the great newspaper must do more. According to Stevenson, the New York Times has to “add value” for its “sophisticated readers.”

Question: How many readers of the Times are even dimly like that?

Routinely, the New York Times panders to its readers’ belief that they are savvy sophisticates. That said, what would a truly “sophisticated reader” think of the modern-day Times?

Such readers would spill with scorn for this dumbest, most elite newspaper. For starters, consider this news report from Sunday’s Times—a report about a possible problem with testing in Texas schools.

As he started, reporter Morgan Smith described the alleged problem. The story started in 2006 when a professor was puzzled by some test results:
SMITH (7/29/12): In 2006, a math pilot program for middle school students in a Dallas-area district returned surprising results.

The students' improved grasp of mathematical concepts stunned Walter Stroup, the University of Texas at Austin professor behind the program. But at the end of the year, students' scores had increased only marginally on state standardized TAKS tests, unlike what Mr. Stroup had seen in the classroom.

A similar dynamic showed up in a comparison of the students' scores on midyear benchmark tests and what they received on their end-of-year exams. Standardized test scores the previous year were better predictors of their scores the next year than the benchmark test they had taken a few months earlier.
Professor Stroup believed that these students were better than their TAKS scores suggested. It’s possible that he was right, of course. But it’s also possible that he was wrong.

Question: Could it be that those “benchmark tests” were poorly designed? Could that explain why scores on the benchmark tests weren’t matched when kids took the TAKS?

If the benchmark tests weren’t all that good, that could mean that the TAKS results were accurate after all. But this possibility didn't seem to occur to reporter Smith. He simply moved to the following passage—a passage which would have sophisticated readers gnashing their teeth and cursing the great New York Times:
SMITH (continuing directly): Now, in studies that threaten to shake the foundation of high-stakes test-based accountability, Mr. Stroup and two other researchers said they believe they have found the reason: a glitch embedded in the DNA of the state exams that, as a result of a statistical method used to assemble them, suggests they are virtually useless at measuring the effects of classroom instruction.

Pearson, which has a five-year, $468 million contract to create the state's tests through 2015, uses ''item response theory'' to devise standardized exams, as other testing companies do. Using I.R.T., developers select questions based on a model that correlates students' ability with the probability that they will get a question right.

That produces a test that Mr. Stroup said is more sensitive to how it ranks students than to measuring what they have learned. That design flaw also explains why Richardson students' scores on the previous year's TAKS test were a better predictor of performance on the next year's TAKS test than the benchmark exams were, he said. The benchmark exams were developed by the district, the TAKS by the testing company.
Professor Stroup may be right, of course. It may be that the TAKS tests are a poor measure of students’ math proficiency.

But how about the New York Times’ journalistic proficiency? We’ve worked on testing issues for decades—but we have very little idea what that highlighted sentence means.

In constructing the TAKS, test developers “select questions based on a model that correlates students' ability with the probability that they will get a question right?” This statement lies at the heart of the alleged problem—and we have little idea what it means. But then again, neither did Smith—or the editor who simply waved that word jumble into print.

A sophisticated reader might have been struck by that key jumble of words. But then, such readers would hardly be surprised by incoherence and basic incompetence in the New York Times. Through several decades of creeping Dowdism, the Times has become a pseudo-newspaper—a paper designed to tickle the fancies of a self-impressed, not especially intelligent, imagined elite.

Consider the work Times readers found on Monday’s op-ed page.

Bill Keller is a major player at the New York Times. For more than eight years, he was the paper’s executive editor. In 1989, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the breakup of the Soviet Union.

One other note: Bill Keller’s father, the late George M. Keller, retired as chairman and CEO of Chevron, a fact that is rarely mentioned but may be relevant here.

By all accounts, the late George Keller was a good decent person. By all accounts, so is Bill Keller, with whom we happen to share the old hometown, same-era tie. But Keller hails from society’s upper end. This fact may have been showing in this long op-ed piece, in which he blithely suggested significant changes in the American social contract.

From its horrible headline on down, Keller engaged in the unsophisticated thinking that defines the modern-day Times. His work may be completely sincere—but sophisticated readers will gnash their teeth when faced with such underfed musings.

At great length, Keller engages in the silly thinking which tries to decide which generation is better or best. Having primed the pump in this unhelpful fashion, he turns to questions of the social compact—and his work goes right in the dumpster.

How should we the people deal with the financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare? When the rubber hits the road, Keller offers the kind of work which would make sophisticated readers wail and tear their hair:
KELLER (7/30/12): At least the Republicans have a plan. The Democrats generally recoil from the subject of entitlements. Centrists like those at Third Way and the bipartisan authors of the Simpson-Bowles report endorse a menu of incremental cuts and reforms that would bring down costs without hitting the needy or snatching away the security blanket from those nearing retirement. They include gradually raising the retirement age to compensate for the fact that we now live, on average, 14 years longer than when F.D.R. signed Social Security into law. They include obliging those of us who can really afford it to pay a larger share. They also include technical fixes like aligning the automatic cost-of-living formula with reality. To curtail the raging inflation of health costs, the government could better use its market clout to hasten electronic record-keeping, replace the fee-for-service model, reform medical malpractice laws and promote living wills. (A quarter of health care spending comes in the last year of life.) But you won’t hear much of that on the campaign trail.
Gack! In his piece, Keller conflates the different challenges facing Medicare and Social Security. In the passage we have posted, he repeats a misleading fact about life expectancy—a fact which has been challenged, debunked and clarified about ten million times by now. (Ezra Klein: “Since Social Security’s inception, life expectancy at age 65 has risen about five years.”)

He recommends a significant cut in Social Security payments, tossing this proposal off as a mere “technical fix.” Sophisticated readers will notice this move. Most Times readers will not.

(Responding to the Keller piece, Dean Baker refers to "our broken health system." As Baker has often noted, all future budget problems disappear if we reduce our health care spending to the levels of our developed nations. But you will never read such a fact in New York Times news reporting. For one thing, such facts are too hard; silly pretensions to the side, the Times panders to high-interest topics. For another thing, “fixing the health care system would likely mean lower payments to insurers, hospitals, drug companies and doctors,” Baker notes—and the Times fawns to such interests.)

The New York Times sells itself as a paper for a brainy elite. In this way, highly unsophisticated, self-impressed readers get drawn into an unimpressive club.

In fact, the work of the Times is relentlessly low-IQ. Just consider the pitiful effort in today’s letters column.

On Sunday, the Times did a rare and good thing. It featured this opinion piece by Andrew Hacker.

Hacker’s piece bore the headline, “Is Algebra Necessary?” “My question extends beyond algebra and applies more broadly to the usual mathematics sequence, from geometry through calculus,” Hacker wrote.

Hacker had done an unusual thing. He had spoken to some people who might even know what they’re talking about. Are current math requirements needlessly swelling our dropout rates? That’s what Hacker suggested:
HACKER (7/29/12): This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.

Shirley Bagwell, a longtime Tennessee teacher, warns that “to expect all students to master algebra will cause more students to drop out.” For those who stay in school, there are often “exit exams,” almost all of which contain an algebra component. In Oklahoma, 33 percent failed to pass last year, as did 35 percent in West Virginia.

Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white.
Hacker wrote a challenging piece. In response, the Times has now published six letters from readers.

How pitiful is the New York Times? How silly is its basic intellectual functioning? Four of the letters dispute Hacker’s thesis—and three of the four are written by high school students! In fairness, one of the three is “looking to study mathematical biology at an Ivy League university.”

These students show no sign of understanding the problems Hacker is addressing. There is no reason why people so young should be aware of these societal problems—but these teen-agers aren't. These problems afflict kids who won’t be attending Ivy League colleges, who won’t be the kinds of “modern global citizens” one of the youngsters speaks of.

But leave it to the New York Times to respond to Hacker’s piece this way! Printing those letters, the Times plays it cute—and it sets the mental age of its readers squarely at 16 years.

Sophisticated readers would quit on this Dowdian paper a long time ago. And yet, the career liberal world won’t speak about the dumbness of this societal whale.

What has made these very bright people stay so remarkably silent? The silence of the liberal world feeds the dumbness of the Times, which just keeps conning its readers.

Tomorrow: The New York Times covers the race


Postponement: We'll finish our award-winning series tomorrow.

For today's posts, see below.

Professor Popkin finds the key to the cosmos!

MONDAY, JULY 30, 2012

The IQ of the two major parties: Professor Samuel L. Popkin has written a book about White House campaigns.

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Outlook section gave the book huge play. Mike McCurry reviewed the book right on Outlook's front page.

Who is Samuel L. Popkin, you say. That is an excellent question! We watched the professor on C-Span last night, and all we will say is: Good God!

That said, McCurry seems to thinks Popkin’s a genius right up there with Newton and Einstein. McCurry went on, and on and on, about the professor’s greatest invention—the campaign message box:
MCCURRY (7/29/12): A good campaign begins, Popkin says, with the development of a message box, a big piece of paper divided into four quadrants. The upper left is for what the campaign/candidate will say about itself; to the right is what the campaign/candidate will say about its opponent. The bottom half is the reverse—what the opponent says about its own campaign/candidate and what it says about you. This box is familiar to every Democratic campaign operative, although we traditionally associate it with the late and legendary Paul Tully, who taught the technique to most of us.

Political director for the Democratic National Committee during the 1992 campaign cycle, Popkin is a veteran of most Democratic presidential campaigns going back to Robert F. Kennedy’s in 1968. Curiously, he does not credit Tully with making the box a standard feature of campaign strategy, but I suspect there is a longer story there. It could be that Popkin introduced the box to Tully, although the author makes no such immodest claim. That is worth some follow-up, given how ubiquitous the message box is in current campaign strategy, at least on the Democratic side (I have heard that Republican campaigns have their own version of this, too).
The GOP may be doing this too! Let’s see if we’re able to follow:

First, you write down what you will say about the other guy. Then, you write down what the other guy is going to say about you! Then, you do the same thing, but this time a little bit differently!

This doesn’t sound like rocket science. But McCurry couldn’t stop exulting about the wisdom involved in this highly exotic practice.

McCurry didn’t seem to be kidding—and he couldn't seem to stop:
MCCURRY (continuing directly): To understand the importance of the message box, go ahead and fill in each of the four quadrants in the context of the current presidential campaign. Hmm. Lots of negative under “what we say about our opponent” and not much on vision—that is, what positive things we say to define our candidate and what we will build for the future. Campaigns are infinitely complex now because of the messages disseminated by all the affiliated and semi-affiliated super PACs, but if you reduce the current dialogue to the simple box that Popkin describes, the context of this debate comes into much sharper focus.

Popkin applies the message box to his case studies of presidential campaigns: Bill Clinton vs. George H.W. Bush in 1992, George W. Bush vs. Al Gore in 2000 and Barack Obama vs. John McCain in 2008...
OK, OK! We get it!

We’ll have to admit. We began to wonder about the IQ of the two major parties as McCurry went on and on, and on and on, about the wisdom of this practice. Then we read the Times review of Professor Popkin’s explosive new book.

We'll have to say things got worse.

Tomorrow: The press corps' tales never die

The press corps refuses to cover the press!

MONDAY, JULY 30, 2012

Carr maintains the pretense: It’s just as we’ve told you for so many years: The press corps refuses to cover the press corps.

You can see this age-old culture at play in Christopher Hayes’ plainly sincere new book. You can see the culture in its slipperiest form in David Carr’s column in today’s New York Times.

In the column, Carr performs an ancient one-two: He pretends to be giving the press corps a whack while actually giving his colleagues a pass. This type of Potemkin press criticism is remarkably common.

On the one hand, Carr seems to be criticizing the press. According to Carr, the press corps has failed to give sufficient coverage to the scandal plaguing News International, the British newspaper division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Should that scandal get more coverage here? Color us less-than-excited. At any rate, Carr is soon saying that our own American press corps has some problems too!

That is where the con takes shape. Gaze on Carr’s list of horribles:
CARR (7/30/12): But journalism’s ills don’t live exclusively on Fleet Street or stop at British shores...

There is no accusation here of a broad, corporate-sanctioned effort to break the law in pursuit of the news. But the pratfalls have been tough to miss, including fundamental lapses in ethics: Casey Anthony, accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, was acquitted of that offense in spite of significant evidence. When it was revealed that ABC News paid for most of her legal defense, through payments for exclusive photos, very few eyebrows were raised.

The Wild West ethos that often prevails has led to some startling mistakes. After the Supreme Court health care ruling in June, Bloomberg News bragged that it had beat Reuters by 12 seconds in reporting the decision, but the public was less interested in who went first than the fact that both CNN and Fox News got it wrong. When speed is the priority, the truth can be run over in the rush. Not only was the Supreme Court ruling mauled in haste, but a Colorado Tea Party organization was falsely linked by ABC News to the deadly theater shooting in Aurora.
Over here, on this side of the pond, Carr is aware of three “lapses in ethics.” In the course of his discussion, he even finds two errors in reporting, one of which lasted maybe five minutes before it was corrected.

Note the way Carr pretends that “the public” was upset by that error.

Whatever Carr’s intent might be, gullible readers of the Times get conned by columns like this. They get the impression that scrupulous watch-dogs are tracking every step by the American press.

That is absolute nonsense. Who knows? Maybe Carr really can’t think of bigger lapses by our own press corps. But might we suggest these few?

The biggest tax increase in history: After that same Supreme Court decision, a riot of disinformation ensued. Night after night, for several weeks, major pundits and major news orgs kept insisting that the health care law (or perhaps its penalty payment) was “the biggest tax increase in history.”

This disinformation was pushed for weeks. Newspapers like the New York Times didn’t say boo. (It isn’t done!) Today, Carr substitutes a brief misreading of the Court’s ruling for a weeks-long campaign which disinformed millions of voters.

Disinformation in Florida: Carr cites behavior by ABC in the Casey Anthony case. He cites no misreporting, just an alleged divergence from standards concerning payment.

But in a more recent Florida case, a major news org pushed reams of disinformation for weeks on end. Night after night, MSNBC pushed the following claims (and others), all of which were bogus:
Actual disinformation from Florida:
The Sanford police let Zimmerman walk away with his gun.
The police didn’t even take his clothing for forensic analysis.
For three days, the police didn’t let the Martins know what had happened to their son.
Zimmerman weighed 250 pounds, Martin just 140.
A police dispatcher told Zimmerman that he should stay in his car.
Zimmerman couldn’t have a broken nose. Lawrence and Charles could just tell!
All those claims (and many others) were false. The false claim about the police dispatcher was even repeated in a New York Times editorial. But so what? MSNBC pimped those claims for weeks, disinforming millions of people in tbhe process.

The New York Times said nothing about it—and neither does Carr. He substitutes an older, much more trivial lapse from a different Florida court case.

The endless bungling and hoaxing: The hopelessness of America’s “press corps” knows no limit or bounds. Two weeks ago, a reporter at Forbes published a sad but detailed account of the way a professional hoaxster got himself quoted as an expert or as a witness in numerous major news stories.

We haven’t fact-checked all of David Thier’s examples. But as part of his Forbes report, Thier links to quite a few news reports which include corrections of the hoaxing. One such hoaxing/correction occurred at the Times (click here).

We’ll guess you haven’t seen Thier’s report discussed. Darlings, it just isn’t done!

Carr’s piece follows a classic, repetitive pattern. The alleged press critic cites minor errors, thereby giving us rubes the impression that snarling watchdogs are ferreting out the press corps' every lapse.

Nothing like that is true. And by the way, before he’s done, Carr delivers the ultimate insult. Why doesn’t the press corps correct itself more? Gaze on Carr’s explanation!
CARR: We depend on the Web to serve as a self-cleaning oven, revealing bad reporting and mistakes of fact and then fixing those pixels to reflect the current truth. But the big industrial-strength pat-down is barely in sight when it comes to the business of journalism.

The news media often fail to turn the X-ray machine on themselves because, in part, journalists assign a nobility to the profession that obscures the flaws within it. We think of ourselves as doing the People’s work, and write off lapses in ethics and practices as potholes on the way to a Greater Truth.
It isn’t that journalists cover up for the guild; it’s just that they think their colleagues are noble! In that way, Carr turns a classic con into a smirking attack on his readers’ intelligence.

Gullible readers get conned by these plays. But then, what else is new?

ELITE DELUSIONS: The Times panders on!

MONDAY, JULY 30, 2012

Part 1—Sophisticated reader alert: Arthur Brisbane has been rather mush-mouthed as the New York Times’ public editor.

Yesterday, Brisbane wrote his most illuminating column. It was also his most delusional.

Brisbane had spoken with Richard Stevenson, politics editor of the Times. In the wake of that discussion, Brisbane described the current White House campaign and the role the Times should play in covering the ongoing nonsense.

Can we talk? By light years, this is the dumbest White House campaign of the modern era. After describing this grisly state of affairs, Brisbane says the manifest dumbness creates “an acute problem” for the Times.

How should the New York Times respond to the dumbness? As he answered, Brisbane was showing clear signs of delusion:
BRISBANE (7/29/12): By the Times’s own account, a campaign that should be offering voters clear choices on substance has devolved instead into an exercise in attacks and rapid-response counterattacks.

This presents an acute problem for The Times, which many people look to for coverage on substantive issues. If there is a news organization with the muscle to force substance back into this presidential contest, it is The Times. Does it have the will to make that happen?
Already, Brisbane was turning delusional. Two questions:

Do people still look to the New York Times “for coverage on substantive issues” during White House campaigns?

It’s always possible—everything is. But we can’t imagine why.

Second question: Does the New York Times have the will to “force substance back into this” campaign? In our view, only a delusional person would ask.

In fact, the New York Times has played a leading role in the disintegration of our political culture over the past five or six White House campaigns. This time around, the campaign coverage by the Times has perhaps been the dumbest yet.

What was the Times’ top campaign story two days before Brisbane’s piece appeared? Lizette Alvarez did a photo-festooned “news report” on the state of strip clubs in Tampa! The GOP will hold its convention there! Inquiring readers needed to know if the strippers look like Sarah Palin!

(See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/28/12. Prepare to weep for the failing republic and for its empty “elites.”)

For the past five or six White House campaigns, New York Times has rather plainly been the problem much more than the cure. But within the world of our lofty elites, such things are never said.

Rotting elites never announce the fact that they are rotting. This pattern held as Brisbane described his conversations with several experts from elite institutions.

If Brisbane’s account can be trusted, these experts said they hoped the Times will keep things lofty this year.

“The Times is one of a handful of news outlets that can still be looked to to dig into issues, to scrub the background of candidates, to stray beyond the dialogue of the moment,'' Tom Rosenstiel allegedly said, speaking on behalf of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Up at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Joshua Benton reportedly said something similar.

Question: At this late date, why would anyone expect the New York Times to dig into major issues? Whatever the answer might be, Brisbane soon explained what Stevenson thinks about his newspaper’s challenge.

Only 98 days are left in this dumbest of all modern White House campaigns. How will the New York Times use this time? As he offered his view, Stevenson ticked off the basic delusions which are still used to prop up the Times—and the whole sorry liberal world:
BRISBANE: I asked Mr. Stevenson, the political editor, to provide his perspective on the choices The Times faces in covering the election.

''I don't have a problem with high-frequency” coverage, he told me. ''I guess the question is: Is it worth it in terms of news value? I think we ought to be guided, especially in coverage of politics, by: Are you really adding value for a sophisticated New York Times reader?''

He added, ''I hesitate to say that we don't want to play in that lane at all because I think being up to date and relevant and insidery is not a bad thing, but not at the cost of high-value, high-impact journalism.''

Yet, as he observed, every four years the candidates have a way of defining downward the substance of the debate, reducing important issues to bumper-sticker rhetoric—a process that works against The Times's higher journalistic ambitions.
There’s nothing wrong with being “relevant and insidery,” Stevenson incoherently said. But the Times should be about something more, he loftily added.

All the basic delusions are there--or should we say, All the basic cons? This includes the claim that the collapse in our political culture is the fault of the candidates alone, not of the press corps too. It includes the plainly delusional claim that the New York Times has “higher journalistic ambitions.”

But the mother of all these delusions may have come in the second paragraph we have posted. As liberal elites so typically do, Brisbane and Stevenson laid it on thick, fawning to New York Times readers.

Is it true? Does the New York Times boast a cadre of “sophisticated readers?” Signs of that cadre disappeared long ago, but the press corps panders on and the obvious truth can’t be said.

Tomorrow: What would a sophisticated reader think of the Times?

Romney’s quotation is out of context!

FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2012

And Blake is out of his head: At its upper end, our political press corps is simply astounding.

If you’ve ever doubted that fact, just examine this new blog post by the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake.

Blake is a rising member of the insider press corps. The logic he displays in his post is that of an 8-year-old child. (Originally, we set the age at 9. But then, we decided to drop it.)

Blake discusses the Romney ad which shows Obama saying this: “Just like we’ve tried their plan, we tried our plan. And it worked.” In Romney’s ad, viewers get the impression that Obama meant that his plan has worked in the past few years, during the time when he was president.

But uh-oh! Reviewing Obama’s fuller statement, Blake agrees: It’s “pretty clear” that this isn’t what Obama actually meant. Obama meant that we tried the Clinton tax rates on high earners in the 1990s and things went well back then.

(For the record, it’s abundantly clear that that is what Obama meant. The Clinton tax rates haven’t been in effect in recent years. For that reason, Obama couldn’t have meant that the Clinton tax rates have worked in recent years.)

Blake says it’s pretty clear that this is what Obama meant. But good God! He then says this:
BLAKE (7/26/12): If you’re a Democrat, Romney’s ad will look wildly out of context and irresponsible.

But if you’re a Republican, you can make a credible case that the ad is completely justified.

It goes like this: Obama was contrasting two different tax policies—one being the Republican policy, and the other being the Democrats’ policy. Obama was talking about how the Democrats’ policy is better. But Democrats have been in the White House for four years now, and things are still bad. So obviously Democrats’ policies—on taxes or otherwise—aren’t that great.
Can Republicans “make a credible case that the ad is completely justified?” Yes, they can, Blake says. After all, Obama has been in the White House for (almost) four years, and things are still bad. So his policies can’t be that great!

This is when you start to wonder if Blake is eight years old.

How could that Republican case be “completely justified,” given the fact that Blake agrees that isn’t what Obama said or meant? Your guess is as good as ours! In all honesty, Blake’s presentation doesn’t make any sense.

This leaves you with two basic choices:

Aaron Blake can’t reason at all. Or Blake is simply play-acting, pretending to be fair and balanced.

For what it’s worth, we wouldn’t rule the first option out. Incredibly enough, this is where Blake goes next:
BLAKE (continuing directly): If you’re predisposed against Romney, that sort of justification will seem ludicrous and make your skin crawl. But it paints just enough of a gray area over the whole matter to justify the attack.

Romney may be attacked in the days ahead for running an out-of-context campaign, and some objective reporters might even say it has gone too far.

But the fact is that these two comments further clarify a picture (or caricature, depending on where you stand) of Obama that’s already out there. And plenty of—nay, almost all—people who don’t dissect this stuff as much as we do are going to take the pulled quotes at face value.

Is it warm and fuzzy? No. Does it work? Yes. And that’s why they do it.
Why does Blake say that Republicans “can make a credible case that the ad is completely justified?” Because an argument Blake agrees is wrong “paints just enough of a gray area over the whole matter to justify the attack.” Because it “clarifies a caricature.” Because “people who don’t dissect this stuff as much as we do are going to take the pulled quotes at face value!”

Does Aaron Blake know what it means to say a claim is "completely justified?" There's little sign that he does. By the end of his post, he seems to say that a claim is completely justified “if it works”—that is, if people believe it.

No, that doesn’t make normal sense. But this is America’s mainstream press corps, right at the top of the pack.

Nine-year-olds reason more clearly than that. Do you think Blake is sincere?

Does Aaron Blake speak English: Blake's headline clarifies his confusion:
Context be damned: Obama’s ‘It worked’ quote should work for Republicans
We agree—the ad may work. Voters may believe its message. But how does that mean that its claim is "completely justified?"

Aaron Blake doesn't seem to speak English. This is the shape of your "press corps."

The Times finds a stripper who looks like Palin!

FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2012

The Times is a sad sick elite: In its political reporting, the New York Times is well beyond an embarrassment.

What is their principal topic today? The number of strip clubs in Tampa!

This news report by Lizette Alvarez tops the first page of the National section. It’s accompanied by three color photos, including a large photograph of a lady without many clothes on:
ALVAREZ (7/27/12): Over at the back door of the 2001 Odyssey, a limo-size tent with flaps—especially designed for discretion and camera-shy guests—is ready to go up. Déjà Vu is welcoming extra “talent” from around the country in its V.I.P. rooms.

And Thee DollHouse is all Americana: women plan to slip out of red, white and blue corsets and offer red, white and blue vodka. The headliner that week is expected to bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain ex-governor from a wilderness state, known for her strong jaw and devotion to guns and God.

“She’s a dead ringer for her,” said Warren Colazzo, co-owner of Thee DollHouse. “It’s just a really good gimmick to get publicity.”
It isn’t just that the Times is featuring strip clubs. In the opening paragraphs, they invite their readers to picture a stripper who looks just like Sarah Palin.

(When these broken-souled idiots deal with Palin, this sort of thing just never stops.)

Why is the Times frisking strip clubs in Tampa? Because Tampa will be the site of the Republican National Convention! Republicans tip well in strip clubs, we’re told. Then, "to be fair," we get this:
ALVAREZ: To be fair, Tampa is known for other things: cigars, Ybor City—the historic district where Cuban and Spanish cigar makers first settled in the late 1800s—three major sports franchises, four Super Bowls and beautiful beaches a short drive away. It is the Florida Gulf Coast’s economic engine and hosts a raucous pirate party every year called Gasparilla.

But Tampa cannot shed its national reputation as the strip club capital of the country. “It’s not true,” said Joe Redner, the owner of the renowned Mons Venus and a man famous for fending off local attempts to close his club. “It would be nice, though.”

The Tampa Bay Times has reported there are 20 strip clubs in Tampa and 50 in the Tampa Bay area. Per capita, it ranks behind Las Vegas and Cincinnati. But it is hard to be sure because strip club statistics are squishy, at best, and per capita numbers vary in a tourist town. Tampa does not have as many strip clubs as New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston, New York and Las Vegas, owners said. Miami boasts quite a few, too.
It seems Tampa really isn’t the "strip club capital"—but it just can’t shed that reputation! Could that be because wastemeat like the Times keep printing stories like this one?

By the way, does Charlotte have any strip clubs? That’s where the Democrats meet.

The New York Times does excellent work in some areas. In the area of national politics, the Times is a sick, sad empty-souled elite—a deeply empty, brainless crew, a source of decline and defeat.

Repeat: This is the sprawling featured report in today's National section.

Honesty stops at the press corps’ edge!

FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2012

Part 4—Chris Hayes seems to deep-six the press: A funny thing happened last night on the repurposed cable show, Hardball.

As Chris Matthews teased his final segment, he talked about Ann Romney’s horse, who will compete in dressage in the London Olympics.

As Matthews framed the pointless discussion, it was all about Them—and Us:
MATTHEWS (7/26/12): Up next, why did Mitt Romney say he won’t even watch the dancing horse? He’s got a horse in this race. He says he’s not even going to watch that horse. He says he’s going to let his wife Ann worry about that.

Is he embarrassed by his wealth and the way he spends it? Could it be he is one of Them, not one of Us?
Reportedly, Matthews was paid $5 million last year. (Beyond that, his wife is a Marriott exec.) Romney’s income: $27 million.

On that basis, Matthews says Romney is one of Them. Matthews is one of Us!

Do other viewers roll their eyes when Matthews postures this way? We have no way of knowing. But as with Fight Club, so too here: The first rule of the press corps is you don’t discuss the press.

Press corps salaries are avoided; millionaires are permitted to posture. Everyone agrees to play. It’s the first rule of the (elite) mainstream press.

Journalists don’t discuss the press corps except in certain approved standard ways. This agreement extends even to your favorite young liberal stars.

That said, a funny thing happened on Wednesday night when Ezra Klein guest-hosted for Rachel.

Norman Ornstein appeared as a guest. At the end of his segment, Brother Ornstein broke the rules—and Ezra enacted a dodge:
ORNSTEIN (7/25/12): Figuring out who to hold accountable is fuzzy now and it’s the biggest one we have, given the way the parties are operating. They not only gridlock and do great damage, as you say, and it really is damage to the country, the fabric of the economy, but they leave voters with little opportunity to figure out who genuinely to blame. And frankly, the press corps is an unindicted co-conspirator to that.

KLEIN: I cop guilty to that.

Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, and Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution, co-authors of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, which I have read and is terrific. And you guys should all check out. Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here.
Oops. Ornstein mentioned the role of the mainstream press in our broken national discourse; you're not supposed to do that. Skillfully, Ezra said he accepted the blame, then signed Norman off.

Does Ezra really mean that? Has he really been guilty of conning the public? If so, why has he done that? Plainly, you aren’t supposed to think such a thing. Ezra was just throwing off a line, in the process of escaping a topic that’s avoided all over the press corps.

Famously, the first rule of Fight Club is this: You do not talk about Fight Club! (The second rule of Fight Club is this: You DO NOT talk about Fight Club!)

But that’s also the way with the mainstream press. Ezra Klein has learned this lesson—and so has the plainly honest Chris Hayes, the scrub-faced fellow who seems to con the nation a bit in his upstanding new book, Twilight of the Elites.

Hayes’ book is all about our elites—all our elites except one. By page 12 of his heartfelt tome, he has already made his key move:
HAYES (page 12): Declining trust in the mainstream media isn’t helped by the simple fact that it hasn’t performed particularly well during the past ten years. By and large the media managed to miss the two most consequential stories of the decade—the manipulation of intelligence that led to the Iraq War, and the growth of the housing bubble and associated financial chicanery that would ultimately cause the crash.

But after surveying the wreckage of the fail decade, it takes some willful delusion to blame the media or an ungrateful public for our predicament. We do not trust our institutions because they have shown themselves to be untrustworthy. The drumbeat of institutional failure echoes among the populace as skepticism. And given both the scope and the depth of this distrust, it’s clear that we’re in the midst of something far grander and more perilous than just a crisis of government or a crisis of capitalism. We are in the midst of a broad and developing crisis of authority.
Hayes often seems like a puppy dog shaking a chew toy—but he also can be rather slick. Ignore the fact that he limits his scope to the past decade, freeing himself from explaining the decade in which the press corps invented long strings of pseudo-scandals about Bill Clinton, then Candidate Gore.

Ignore that helpfully limited scope. Instead, look at the logic employed in the highlighted passage.

So slick! Just like that, Hayes links the media to the public, decoupling it from the elites his book is designed to explore. He also splits the media from “our institutions,” accomplishing this in one move.

“Our institutions” have “shown themselves to be untrustworthy,” Hayes quite correctly says. It’s safe for Hayes to say this thing because the elite institution to which he belongs has now been severed from this sweep of blame.

“We are in the midst of a broad and developing crisis of authority,” Hayes correctly says. He can say this because, by the rules of the game he has drawn, the mainstream press corps has ceased to be one of our institutions of authority. He can safely continue on the next page, throwing down thunder like this:
HAYES (page 13): We now operate in a world in which we can assume neither competence nor good faith from the authorities, and the consequences of this simple, devastating realization is the defining feature of American life at the end of this low, dishonest decade. The failure and the distrust it has spawned is the most powerful and least understood aspect of current politics and society. It structures and constrains the very process by which we gather facts, form opinions and execute self-governance. It connects the Iraq War and the financial crisis, the Tea Party and Move On, the despair of laid-off autoworkers in Detroit to the foreclosed homeowners in Las Vegas and the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans: nothing seems to work. All the smart people fucked up, and no one seems willing to take responsibility.
Hayes signals authenticity with his rough, earthy talk. “All the smart people fucked up,” he says, unable to restrain himself, “and no one seems willing to take responsibility.”

Of course, on the previous page, Hayes has seemed to excuse his own elite from any real share of responsibility for the disasters under review. “It takes willful delusion” to blame his elite, our earnest young straight-talker said.

So it has gone for the past twenty years as the press corps keeps conning us rubes.

It isn’t that Hayes never mentions the press as he explores elite failure. At occasional points, the press corps does get mentioned, almost always with modest billing and with no names disclosed.

As Hayes nears the end of Chapter 1, he describes our troubled state of affairs. If you use a magnifying glass, you will see the role of the press corps:
HAYES (page 28): At the moment, we are caught in a strange limbo between stage one and two. While the pillar institutions of American life are now, almost without exception, viewed with deep skepticism by the American public, these institutions remain largely unreformed, helmed by the same elites who screwed them up in the first place. The men who oversaw baseball’s scandal-ridden steroid era still run the sport. The same bishops who lied about and covered up serial sexual abuse of minors are still running dioceses around the country. In Washington, the very architects of disaster—the pundits who sold the Iraq War, the prophets of deregulation, the corrupt and discredited lobbyists and merchants of influence—return time and again, Terminator-like, to the seats of power. We’ve swapped out the party in charge in three successive elections, and yet the country’s key unelected power brokers remain unchanged.

In the case of Wall Street, the situation is even worse. Thanks to unprecedented government assistance, Wall Street has managed to increase its economic and political power. Bonuses and profits are near record levels, as is the money the financial services industry is spending on lobbying and donating to campaigns. Just a year after they induced the worst financial crisis in eighty years, Illinois senator Dick Durbin was moved to tell an interviewer that banks’ influence on Capitol Hill was so great that “they frankly own the place.”

The American body politic is sick. We are stalked, as a patient with a fever might be, by the maddening sensation that things aren’t right.
The press corps doesn’t escape all mention as Hayes describes our parlous state. In this summary, the pundit corps gets seven words—although no names have been named.

Does Hayes ever do justice to the failures of our press corps elite? Hayes now belongs to this failing elite; presumably, he’s paid a good wage.

Does he bite the hand which feeds—the hand which will feed him in seven figures (and with great fame) if he can just stay on course?

The rubber hits the road in Chapter 4, of seven chapters in all.

Chapter 4 bears this title: WHO KNOWS? In this chapter, Hayes discusses the way American citizens garner their facts and their knowledge. But how strange! Instead of organizing his chapter around the famous elite institutions which are designed to inform us, Hayes adopts a framework which strikes us as odd, especially given the stated focus of this high-minded book:
HAYES (page 106): Which brings us to the most destructive effect of the fail decade. The cascade of elite failure has discredited not only elites and our central institutions, but the very mental habits we use to form our beliefs about the world. At the same time, the Internet has produced an unprecedented amount of information to sort through and radically expanded the arduous task of figuring out whom to trust.

Together, the discrediting of our old sources of authority and the exponential proliferation of the new ones has almost completely annihilated our social ability to reach consensus on just what the facts of the matter are. When our most central institutions are no longer trusted, we each tale refuge in smaller, balkanized encampments, aided by the unprecedented information technology at our disposal. As some of these encampments build higher and higher fences, walling themselves of from science and empiricism, we approach a terrifying prospect: a society that may no longer be capable of reaching the kind of basic agreement necessary for social progress.
You’ve heard that general story a million times, but Hayes takes a peculiar, novel approach as he continues this 34-page chapter. Despite the fact that his book, right in its title, claims to be about our elites, he builds this chapter around our “mental habits” (see bolded text above), not around the “central institutions” which have failed us so.

In this way, major news orgs escape inclusion in this chapter’s featured topics. Instead, the chapter is broken up into discussions of our mental habits. Adopting his super-academized tone, Hayes examines the “mental shortcuts” “most of us have grown accustomed to using” as we try “to stay informed.”

He doesn’t feature the major news orgs which comprise the press corps elite.

What gets featured in the sub-headings of this chapter? Hayes doesn’t feature any elites. He doesn’t feature any central institutions.

He doesn’t feature the press corps itself, or its more famous members or orgs.

Instead, Hayes builds his chapter around three of our mental habits: “Consensus,” “Proximity” and “Good Faith” become the erudite fellow’s sub-headings. In this way, our focus is turned away from the press corps elite—away from the famous institutions which have repeatedly failed us.

Again, Hayes doesn’t completely ignore the press; in his discussion of “Proximity,” he gives the press corps somewhat less than four pages. Judith Miller, the safest of all mainstream press corps bêtes noirs, rates one full page of discussion; Hayes then turns to “the business press” for roughly two pages, a safe place to go for a liberal. (CNBC’s James Cramer is named.) Even here, this rising young member of the press corps elite is laughably soft in his assessments and judgments.

Is this the work of a fiery progressive, or of a trusting child?
HAYES (page 117): While proximity grants access to information others do not have, it also has a tendency to produce cognitive capture: reporters who spend all their time covering and talking to investment bankers come to see the world through their eyes and begin to think like investment bankers. There’s nothing nefarious about this tendency—it’s an inevitable outcome of sustained immersion—but what it meant was that when all the investment bankers were seeing a bull market and a securitization bonanza that would last forever so were many reporters on the beat.
Hayes can’t even bring himself to cast blame on the business press! There was nothing nefarious about what went on! The errors made here were inevitable!

We have no idea why Hayes is so soft in his (very short) discussion of such a very important elite. Correctly, Hayes says our elites are "corrupt." In our videw, hints of corruption are floating around all through the mainstream press.

But Hayes can't pull the trigger here, to the extent that he looks at the press corps at all. In such ways, grasping young scribes may perhaps ingratiate themselves within the elite in which they’ll continue to rise.

People who may be a bit like Hayes have been described through the ages. Stendahl described the grasping young Julien Sorel; Oliver Stone had Bud Fox. Each reader of Hayes will have to decide what he or she thinks of the strangeness of this book, in which one of our major failed elites—the elite to which Hayes himself belongs—seems to get a rather large pass.

It would take some willful delusion to blame our state of affairs on the press! So Hayes quickly declares, on page 12. Later, his highly peculiar Chapter 4 keeps us from such delusions.

Suddenly, elites are gone. We focus on our own mental habits!

Each reader will have to decide for himself about Hayes’ treatment of one key elite. Does the first rule of Fight Club obtain when Hayes seems to deep-six the press?

Tomorrow or Monday: High self-regard and errata

OUT OF CONTEXT: Alec MacGillis is shocked, just shocked!


Can’t recall where this practice began: By light years, this is the dumbest White House campaign staged in the modern era.

Are you allowed to cite a claim which hasn’t been taken out of context? Quite correctly, liberals have criticized Romney’s absurd complaints about Obama’s remarks on building a business.

We liberals are very upset about that. On the other hand, Romney’s old remark about “firing people” has become part of our liberal wallpaper. And when Romney made this pointless remark, a string of liberals noted the obvious:

His comment was being taken out of context—“wildly” so, Kevin Drum said. A wide range of liberals made this obvious comment. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/3/12.

(Beyond that, note this fact-check of Obama’s recent Florida speech, in which he continued to flog Paul Ryan’s old Medicare plan—even though Ryan, responding to liberal complaints, has crafted a new Medicare plan, working with Senator Wyden. The original plan was very bad. And so, unless Glenn Kessler is crazy, Obama is still pretending it’s Ryan’s current plan.)

This is our dumbest campaign by light years. The dumbness all around us is simply astounding. This includes the dumbness of the feigned outrage which animates all discussions.

This is our dumbest campaign by far. But when Alec MacGillis discussed the problem of out-of-context citation, he forgot where it all began.

Quite correctly, MacGillis slams Romney’s cynical, out-of-context clowning. He even slams the mainstream press corps for failing to challenge Romney’s behavior! As he finishes, the high-minded scribe is shocked, just shocked, to see the press acting this way:
MACGILLIS (7/25/12): I’m genuinely perplexed that people who work with words for a living can be so blithe about the deliberate misuse of words to mislead. What are we in this business for if not to hold the people we cover to basic standards of context, rather than just scoring the marks left by the mistruths?
Good God! Where the heck was Alec MacGillis when this culture got started?

Answer: MacGillis was part of the mainstream press corps when this culture got started. Indeed, the press corps invented this broken-souled practice. We refer to the twenty months of Campaign 2000, when the press corps took every syllable spoken by Candidate Gore and rendered it out of sane context.

Al Gore had said he inspired Love Story! Al Gore had said he invented the Internet! Why, Candidate Gore had even said that he discovered Love Canal! That he invented the Earned Income Tax Credit! That his mother sang him a union lullaby before it had even been written!

Al Gore even made crazy lying remarks about his dog’s arthritis pills!

This was a disgraceful performance; it sent George Bush to the White House. Romney is doing the same thing today. But, within the modern context, the culture of flogging remarks out of all sane context was invented by MacGillis and friends in early 1999.

Everyone has agreed to pretend that this conduct never occurred. But, of course, it did occur. Surely, MacGillis must know this.

Always scratch the other guy's back!


Part 3—Fuzzy mind, woolly logic, can't win: A large amount of Chris Hayes’ new book is stuff you’ve already heard, perhaps a million times.

You learn about the way baseball players took steroids to make the big money. You learn about the Catholic Church and its sex abuse scandal.

You learn that Enron got deep in the greed, producing our largest corporate bankruptcy. You learn that the press corps—

Well, to be honest, you don’t learn much about them!

You learn that income inequality has grown in massive ways. And when you reach Hayes’ solutions (see Chapter 7), you’ve already heard them too: Hayes favors progressive taxation and a higher marginal rate. The estate tax should be restored.

What keeps this book from seeming old hat is Hayes’ fuzzy, academized theory about the role meritocracy played in bringing these nightmares to pass. That said, we can’t exactly describe his theory, which is based, in major ways, on very woolly reasoning.

Hayes’ analysis is academized, which may make it sound smart. Everyone from Max Weber to C. Wright Mills gets mentioned.

That said, Hayes’ analysis doesn’t make real good sense in major ways. It's also hard to follow.

For starters, meritocracy is hardly new within the American system. As far back as 1948, a former haberdasher was elected president. He was already serving as president, having been elected vice president in 1944.

In 1953, a son of Abilene, Kansas went to the White House. His father is said to have owned only $24 when his son, the future president, was two years old.

George Romney is often cited as one of the saner CEOs in the older regime. But Romney also rose from nowhere to become head of American Motors. He was a child of meritocracy too—in the 1950s.

Before the 1970s, America weren’t a feudal world where every male was simply handed his father’s income, title and job. As Hayes correctly notes, the system has now been opened up to minorities and women—but we surely don’t want to blame those groups for our gruesome condition.

Does meritocracy lead to oligarchy (or something like that), as Hayes says in this book? If so, we might as well give up right now; we won’t be turning to a system in which someone, perhaps Hayes himself, assigns everyone his or her job and issues us all equal pay. At least since the time of the robber barons, everyone has understood that we human beings, left on our own, will sometimes over-reach, plunder and steal.

Someone has to restrain human greed. But that is hardly new.

In Hayes’ book, you will hear a great many things that you have already heard. You will see these familiar stories stitched together by a fuzzily-reasoned theory. This theory doesn’t make clear sense, but it’s driven along by impressive phrases. (Did you know that inequality is autocatalytic?) For that reason, people inclined to trust authority figures may not realize that Hayes is presenting a fuzzy theory driven by woolly logic.

(Check back tomorrow for Hayes’ logic about his own high school.)

This isn’t a brilliant book. In 2007, Paul Krugman published The Conscience of a Liberal; he discussed the topics Hayes discusses in a much clearer, more accessible way. But Hayes has been picked by a corporate elite to be part of the liberal world’s new breed. Had we been wiser, we would have known that his book would have problems when we saw Rachel Maddow say this:
MADDOW (6/20/12): The great Chris Hayes, who you know from this network, has a new book out called Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. And in this new book, Chris makes the case that people who are supposed to be good at stuff in our country are no longer good at stuff. We’re sort of calcified in a way in this country that we count on an elite to do everything, but for a very important reason, our elite [pause] sucks. And it’s kind of hard to argue with him on that.


Joining us now for the interview, my friend and colleague, Chris Hayes, the host of Up with Chris Hayes, weekends on MSNBC, and the author of the brand new blockbuster Twilight of the Elites. Chris, it is great to see you. Congratulations, man! You did it!
After chatting with “the great Chris Hayes,” Maddow delivered her own great pronouncement. We should have known the book would have problems when we saw her say this:
MADDOW: Chris Hayes is the author of Twilight of the Elites, the host of your must-watch weekend viewing, Up with Chris Hayes, weekends from 8 to 10 Eastern right here on MSNBC.

Chris, when you asked me to read the book when it was still in galleys, I said that this is the next big thing that we have been waiting for. And I really think that. I think that this is a, I think this is the concept we need to be debating in terms of talking about big-picture structural stuff about the country and the direction that we’re going. I think this is a huge achievement. I’m really impressed! Congratulations, man!

HAYES: That means a lot, Rachel. Thank you so much.

MADDOW: Thanks.
After helping us know what our “must-watch viewing” is, Maddow heaped foolish praise on Hayes’ book. Hayes returns the compliment in the acknowledgments to his tome. According to Hayes, “Rachel Maddow has been a comrade and a role model: her generosity and integrity [sic] are an inspiration.”

In such ways, an elite’s new stars scratch the great backs of each other.

Please understand: In his book, Hayes talks about many issues and topics which deserve deep exploration. If you’ve seen Hayes on TV, you know that he often discusses such topics, sometimes with thoroughly worthwhile results. His enthusiasm and blatant sincerity are clear in such discussions.

But in his book, Hayes is often quite fuzzy. Last October, the New York Observer recorded his overview of his still-unreleased book:
STOEFFEL (10/19/11): Mr. Hayes is fairly obsessed with wealth inequality and tends to address the topic at a machine-gun clip. “The core economic fact of America since 1973 is rising, accelerating income inequality, more specifically, in a pattern that confers the largest gains to a smaller and smaller group at the top,” he explained.


“I call it fractal inequality, because inequality reinscribes itself every level.”

This is not blowhard punditry; Mr. Hayes, an editor-at-large at The Nation, is deep in it right now. On his days off, he works on revisions of his book, due out from Crown Publishing in spring 2012. “The book is about how accelerating inequality has produced dysfunctional elites,” he explained, “which have produced failing institutions and broken the bonds of trust between the people and the leaders of the institutions.”
It’s true—he does call it fractal inequality. On the other hand, those topics are plainly worth exploring; they define our broken state. But which is it? Did accelerating inequality produce dysfunctional elites? Or have our massively greedy elites produced accelerating inequality (thereby rewarding themselves and their patrons) by purchasing the nation’s politicians, then rotting out our federal tax system and our regulatory structures?

Plainly, these questions matter. Hayes often seems rather fuzzy as he discusses such topics in his book—although no challenge will be offered as Maddow reads her promotional spots for her channel’s newest star.

That said, Hayes almost seems to be soft on greed among his fellow elites. Consider his absurdly high-brow discussion of our elites' “social distance.”

In Chapter 6 (out of seven in all), Hayes seeks to explain the dysfunction of our modern elites. Eventually, he asks a key question: What produced “the financial crisis” of 2008?

Is it possible that Oliver Stone provided the answer in 1987? (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/24/12.) Is it possible that greed has become very good (again) over the course of the past fifty years, in the era when, as Krugman describes, the masters of wealth began fighting back against the strictures of the New Deal?

Is it possible that corporate players have been buying pols and looting the world because vast greed is involved? In Hayes’ long penultimate chapter, a different explanation prevails:

Our elites have been destroying the world because of their “social distance.”

Go ahead: Read this long chapter, in which Hayes displays his academized side—and perhaps, his tendency to gild the lily on behalf of his fellow elites. When David Brooks discussed Hayes’ book, he managed to explain why our elites “stink” without ever suggesting that something like greed might perhaps be involved.

Hayes doesn’t go that far, but in a stew of contradictory claims he comes amazingly close. After explaining the difference between vertical social distance and its horizontal cousin, Hayes explains four modern disasters, ending with “the financial crisis” of 2008.

All four disasters have the same cause, Hayes reductively says. The Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal? The failure to rescue New Orleans after Katrina? The bungling of the last decade’s “long war?” The recent financial crisis?

All four were caused by the “social distance” between our rulers and those whom they rule. Hayes goes on and on in this chapter, asserting this high theoretic.

Why did our financial elites create the scams which destroyed the world? It was because of their “social distance,” Hayes says. Again and again, he makes it sound like things really might have been different had the relevant elites interacted more with the people they were looting. Or something like that: Often, it’s hard to know what’s being said when Hayes dispenses his theories.

Go ahead—read that long chapter. Again and again, Hayes seems to suggest that our financial elites destroyed the world because they didn’t realize what was happening among the lower orders. (Or something like that.)

Long ago, Stone said it was greed. Dreamily, the youthful Hayes has his head semi-off in the clouds.

Brooks disappeared the role played by greed among our elites. Hayes largely muddies the picture. But Maddow is there to tell true believers that this is the blockbuster book we must read.

In such ways, corporate elites ask us to buy the newest line of elite corporate players. This is very much like the system Hayes describes all through his book—a system in which existing elites rig the game in support of family and friends.

Brother Hayes may be fully sincere—but he’s young, ambitious and very fuzzy. This really isn’t the next big thing, despite what they tell you on Hayes’ own channel.

Sorry—this isn’t a blockbuster book. And guess which elite isn't here?

Tomorrow—part 4: One elite must disappear

Richard Cohen is wrong on the facts!


So is Amanda Marcotte: Should Romney release more tax returns?

That is a matter of judgment. In our view, the press corps could write reams of informative reports based on what is available now.

The truth is, they don’t want to do that.

In his current column, Richard Cohen muses about those returns. At one point, he says the following. On the facts, Cohen is wrong:
COHEN (7/24/12): In general, presidential and vice presidential candidates have released their returns. Maybe this was because most of them were public servants whose salaries were already known and whose wealth was modest. Others, though, were persons of considerable wealth—Lloyd Bentsen, John Kerry, John Edwards—who laid it all out on the table.
Cohen is wrong on the facts. To the extent that Kerry was a person of wealth, he didn’t “lay it all out on the table.” (We’re not saying he should have done so, or even that he could have.) The wealth was in his wife’s tax returns. Despite demands from the Post and the Times, she released no full tax returns.

(She released two-page summaries for two years of returns. She released the summary for the second year late in the fall campaign. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/20/12.)

These are very simple facts, but a headlong chase is on. Misinformation can lost a long time when the press corps has a preferred story.

Misinformation can last a long time: Recently, Armanda Marcotte penned the following passage at Slate. It concerns the killing of Trayvon Martin:
MARCOTTE (7/17/12): Sexual abuse is a form of bullying, a violent crime whose pleasure for the attacker is far more about enjoying their power and dominance over the victim than it is about sexual urges. Subsequently, sexually violent men tend to be more violent generally, particularly against people they believe are lesser or weaker. If you're trying to establish that Zimmerman had it in him to hunt down and murder a teenager who is much smaller than himself, than a history of sexual assault does help demonstrate this.
Did George Zimmerman ever commit sexual assault against his cousin? We have no way of knowing.

We do know this: In the matter of Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman didn’t kill a teenager who was “much smaller than himself.” MSNBC pushed that inaccurate claim for weeks. (The channel’s viewers were falsely told that Zimmerman outweighed Martin, 250 pounds to 140.)

Marcotte still seems to believe it—and she’s still passing it on. Plainly, she thinks it’s relevant.

Cohen is wrong on the facts; so is Marcotte. Misinformation can last a long time, especially when it drives preferred stories.

The official data, such as they are: Trayvon Martin’s autopsy listed him as 5-11, 158 pounds. When Zimmerman was taken into custody, he was listed as 5-8, 185 pounds.

Zimmerman wasn’t measured or weighed on the night of Martin’s death. That said, MSNBC’s claims were plainly wrong. In this, as in many other matters, the claims went uncorrected.

Misinformation can last a long time when "journalists" refuse to correct.

Punishment is our product—our only product!


The edicts of Chairman Nocera: Should the NCAA have punished Penn State in the ways it did?

We have mixed feelings on that one, especially since Jerry Sandusky is in prison, and several other major figures are facing criminal charges.

We rarely root for punishment here. In this case, we’ve been struck by the emphasis on punishment, as opposed to the desire for outreach, growth, reconciliation, learning—education.

More on that war below. Yesterday, in the New York Times, Joe Nocera was back on his punishment jag.

In our view, Nocera’s logic was striking. It’s “silly” to worry about uninvolved people getting hurt, he boldly said:
NOCERA (7/24/12): I had advocated that the N.C.A.A. impose the death penalty on Penn State, and that didn’t happen. I still think Penn State should stop playing football for awhile—not so much to atone, but to remind its fans and its community that football had become too important at Penn State; that football had, in fact, corrupted Penn State. I wish Rodney Erickson, the Penn State president, were willing to [shut football down].

But he’s not going to do that; even now, football remains too important in the Happy Valley. Nor, of course, did the N.C.A.A. impose the death penalty—Emmert claims it was, in part, because innocent bystanders would be hurt. But that’s a silly excuse; its sanctions invariably hurt players and others who have done nothing wrong. That is the nature of the beast.
Nocera’s logic is remarkable. Since some innocent people will be hurt (his language), it’s “silly” to worry about how many! "That’s the nature of the beast," The Chairman blithely decrees.

It’s silly to worry about how many innocent people get hurt! But then, Chairman Nocera seems to know what’s best for people all through the Penn State region. In particular, he knows what best for Penn State’s "fans and its community." He wants someone to remind them that football had become too important.

How does Nocera know that the fans and community don’t already know that? That matter is never spelled out as Chairman Joe issues his decrees.

Did the fans and community engage in these deeds? It’s silly to ask yourself that! Even now, football "remains too important" to the community, Nocera says. How does Nocera know such a thing? He gives us no idea.

Later, Nocera slams the NCAA for its “galling sanctimony”—though this is the group he would put in charge of lecturing all those fans! That said, Chairman Nocera is pleased to tell us what those fans will now be forced to think:
NOCERA: In effect, a moral transgression was being punished with economic sanctions. On the other hand, the sanctions ensure that Penn State will be awful for the foreseeable future. Its fans will have to find other things to do instead of investing their collective identity in Penn State football. That will be a useful discipline.
There! The Chairman feels better, knowing that millions of people he’s never met will have to revise their weak minds. “Useful discipline” has been imposed. This will help them reshape their collective identity.

The Chairmen always love dishing out punishment. They love punishing people they’ve never met, people who have done nothing wrong. It’s silly to worry about how many such people will get caught in their moral improvement schemes.

Many folk have proposed major punishment schemes in the case of Penn State. At the same time, we have been struck by how few people have offered any thoughts about outreach, learning, the future.

Just a guess:

Penn State is full of idealistic young people. This includes many male and female athletes. What could those hopeful young people do to build something from this disaster? How could those idealistic young people—and Penn State’s adults—build upon this disaster?

Could they possibly teach younger people what they should do when they know that something bad is occurring? Could they help younger people learn empathy for the world’s countless victims?

How might those young people do that? How might such sentiments be expressed at Penn State's actual games?

Penn State is full is idealistic young people. But the nation’s various Chairmen will always be drawn to vast punishment schemes.

The more people punished, the better.

Postscript: As of 1999, your mainstream "press corps" had decided that President Clinton had to be punished.

In their coverage of Campaign 2000, they enacted their punishment scheme. Are you happy with how it turned out?

Joe Nocera still knows what's best. Punishment comes first to mind.

THE IRON LAWS OF DISCUSSING ELITES: Remember the first rule of Fight Club!


Interlude—Who is Chris Hayes: Christopher Hayes seems completely sincere. But then again, so did Tim Russert.

Hayes is young—just 33. He brings a puppy-dog air to the cable set and to his somewhat peculiar new book. In his enthusiam, he sometimes seems to be shaking his head with a favorite chew toy, sometimes with sloppy results.

Hayes seems completely sincere. In the acknowledgments of his new book, he captures the air MSNBC is promoting as it sells its young new cable elite to the liberal world:
HAYES (page 241): Throughout the development of the book, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with friends and colleagues about its main themes. And these conversations inform every page of the work. Our crew in DC comprised an intellectually vibrant and loving community during our time there...
By "crew," he seems to mean friends, not co-workers. Hayes names nine names from this loving community, before moving on to thank Ezra Klein, who apparently played no part in the lovin’. Soon, though, he’s back on the peace and love trail, thanking “the Hunter crew [his high school friends], who I’ve known since adolescence and look forward to growing old with.”

Hayes has been “blessed with talented and industrious research assistants”—seven are named—and with a “kind and fastidious” fact-checker. His agent is “fiercely loyal.” He goes on about his parents and his aunts and uncles, and even about his in-laws, who “have been endlessly supportive, providing me with everything from child care to wise career advice.”

“Every day,” Hayes’ brother Luke “faces the grueling, indispensable work of citizenship with grace, humor, cheer and passion.” There’s nothing additional to explain this rather odd declaration.

Regarding Hayes’ wife, let’s just say that her “depthless compassion, kindness, strength and openness have taught [Hayes] how to be a better person.” Before we learn that, Hayes lets us know how great she really is.

Is that the theme song to “Friends” we’re hearing? In theory, it’s rejuvenating when a new generation is merged into a sclerotic elite—and make no mistake, Hayes is now part of the failing elite known as the upper-end “press corps.”

We're not sure Hayes knows that. At the heart of his book, he sometimes seems to be wringing his hands about the fact that he attended a meritocratic Manhattan high school—a high school specifically designed to train a rising elite.

That said, Hayes seems to have endured the trauma of attending Hunter College High School, then Brown. In his acknowledgements, he thanks Lawrence Lessig for being “gracious enough to invite me into the fold of the Edmund J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard, where I spent a year as a nonresident fellow.” As it turns out, “the imaginative and generous scholars to whom” Hayes was exposed during that sojourn “had a huge influence on the direction the book took.”

Given the bags of air which blow through this book, that may not speak well of the Center.

There’s nothing wrong with being a nonresident fellow at the Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, of course. There’s nothing wrong with that unless there is—and one thing can certainly lead to another! In his book, we see Hayes at Davos in 2011, where “your first instinct is to feel a bit of satisfaction that you are one of the elect few chosen to hobnob with the most powerful people on earth.” Only later does it strike you, Hayes says, that you haven’t yet reached the top:

“This constant envy is the dominant experience of the Davos conference, an obsessive looking over the shoulder instilled by the participants’ knowledge that the reality of fractal inequality means there are infinite receding layers of networking happening that one doesn’t even know about.”

Fractal inequality!

There’s nothing wrong with going to Davos, unless in some way there is. In Hayes’ acknowledgements, he says this about the corporate player who gave him his greatest job yet:

“At MSNBC, Phil Griffin has enough faith in me to entrust me with four hours a week on his network, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

At 33, serving as host of his own cable show is the best job Hayes ever had! Last weekend, Hayes returned the favor to Griffin, offering an absurd remark to TPM about the lunacy of the idea that MSNBC could be drifting in the direction of Fox in some minor way or other.

Did Hayes believe the odd thing he said? We don’t know, but TPM did. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/12.)

Who is Chris Hayes? We have no idea! But make no mistake: MSNBC is big business, and Hayes is part of the press corps elite, an elite which largely gets disappeared in his sincere new book. Hayes spends page after page telling us about the effects of outsized compensation on major league baseball players. He barely mentions the effects of such pay on his colleagues and friends within the press corps, the people he surely knows best.

Unfortunately, the mainstream press is a very important elite. It has failed us very badly in the past few decades. But we think you know the first rule of Fight Club. It may be that Hayes knows it too.

Christopher Hayes seems completely sincere—but then again, so did Russert. (In most ways, we'll assume that Russert was sincere.) In the time of Russert and Brian Williams, NBC News built its endless promotions around the idea that its major stars were just humble men of the people:

Russert was just a Buffalo kid. Williams was once a volunteer firefighter, plus he always loved Nascar.

A very different promotional play is under way on behalf of NBC’s new young elite. As NBC sells its idealistic cubs, it is stressing several themes—it’s stressing the theme of youth and sincerity, and it’s stressing the theme of brainpower. As it markets Maddow, Harris-Perry and Hayes, MSNBC flatters its audience by telling the oldest liberal tale: Our team is smarter than theirs is.

Hayes’ book fits into that sell, though it’s nowhere near as smart as it seems, and it may be somewhat slippery to boot. On the other hand, it does mention fractal inequality.

Before we started reading the book, we made a helpful suggestion: Hayes should tell us his salary, we suggested. he should tell us the salaries of those above him on the MSNBC chart. In large part, Hayes’ book concerns the destructive role played by great wealth within our elites; it would be nice to know how much he is being paid as he says the kinds of things he said to TPM last week. Meanwhile, as Hayes discusses our broken elites in his book, a funny thing occur:

The role of vast pay within his elite completely disappears. In fact, the failures of that major elite are hard to find in his book.

Baseball players are thoroughly frisked. Big major journalists aren’t!

In his column about Hayes’ book, David Brooks avoided the role played by wealth and greed within our horrible, failing elites. Is it our imagination, or does Hayes—completely sincere as he is—do some things very much like that?

Tomorrow—part 3: “Social distance”

Friday: Nothing to look at! Move on!

Our politics is about nothing at all!

TUESDAY, JULY 24, 2012

The Post reports no gaffes: Last Saturday night, a debate took place in Virginia.

It was a fairly major debate, involving two Senate hopefuls. As you may know, this is one the biggest Senate races in the nation.

On Sunday morning, the Washington Post reported this great debate. It was the featured report at the top of page one of the Metro section.

Tim Kaine and George Allen are big major players. These were the headlines in the hard-copy Washington Post:
Allen, Kaine spar in debate
Race for Va. Senate seat extremely tight
What was the first thing you learned in those headlines? Neither guy made any gaffes!

In a triple headline, you learned about gaffes—after which, you learned about polls. Our politics is about nothing at all!

At long last, the Post has confirmed this.

For the full news report: For the full news report, click here. We’ve recorded the headlines which appeared in Sunday’s hard-copy Post.