In Sunday's Washington Post, Newsweek editor-at-large Evan Thomas reviewed Taylor Branch's The Clinton Tapes. After some throat-clearing, Thomas begins the meat of his review with a refreshing confession rarely seen from mainstream media figures:
It is possible to sympathize with Clinton. Today, when the mainstream media seems so weakened, we forget how powerful -- and arrogant -- the New York Times and The Washington Post, along with the networks and news magazines, seemed to be in the early and mid-1990s. They were part of a giant scandal machine that dominated official Washington in the first few years after the Cold War. The endless string of special prosecutors and the media's obsession with Whitewater seem excessive in retrospect. [Note: it seemed excessive to rational people even at the time; Gene Lyons wrote a whole book about it 15 years ago.]
Clinton was not wrong to be frustrated or to believe that the single greatest mistake of his administration (against the advice of the first lady) was to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Whitewater. He also had the canny insight that Whitewater served as a proxy for what really interested reporters: those rumors of "bimbo eruptions" floated by political enemies and less-than-reliable state troopers.
But just when you think that finally (and belatedly) a major journalist may grasp the simple concept that the 'Clinton scandals' were media scandals, not political scandals, Thomas shows that he still just wants to hear about the "bimbo eruptions":
Given all that, how could Clinton have been so foolish as to take up with a White House intern just as he was turning back the tide of Gingrichism in the fall of 1995? The reader longs for some insight, some Shakespearean narrative to help explain Clinton's self-destructive recklessness. But Branch does not deliver; he merely reports that Clinton said he "just cracked." Branch seems almost too embarrassed to try to find out more.
And Thomas seems not to realize that not everything is a Shakespearean drama. Sometimes a dumb affair is just a dumb affair. Millions of people have them; they don't all yield the kind of fascinating morality play Thomas yearns for even 11 years later.
And that yearning makes up pretty much Thomas' entire review. He doesn't waste a word on health care, or on national security, or on welfare reform or the 1994 crime bill or ... Well, much of anything. Thomas may finally realize the media's obsession with Whitewater was obsessive, but he remains fully obsessed with the "bimbo eruptions" that Whitewater was merely a "proxy for."
Salon's Joan Walsh nails it:
Jesus, take me now. We know way too much about the Lewinsky mess; we know not nearly enough about the collapse of health care reform, the compromises over Clinton's crime bill, the strategies of GOP leaders in those years, and yes, certainly, Haiti. Who really thinks we don't have enough insight into what Clinton thought and felt about the Lewinsky affair? What grownup journalist who lived through Whitewater, the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment, in the prosperous days before 9/11 and the Bush economic collapse, doesn't hate themselves in the cold light of (post-Bush) day?
Sadly, most of them don't. Many are reliving minor Clinton issues through the lens of Branch's book, at the neglect of the major ones, including my friend Chris Matthews on "Hardball."
Twelve hours ago, I knew nothing about Deepak Bhargava. I didn't know that he is executive director of the Center for Community Change. I didn't know that he worked for ACORN a number of years ago. I had no idea that he was getting his BA at Harvard undergrad at the same time President Obama was at Harvard Law. But now that I've listened to Glenn Beck's radio program yesterday and watched his television program yesterday afternoon, not only do I know Mr. Bhargava's name and these curious factoids about his personal life, I also know that he's a "radical," he's at the center of some inexplicable government conspiracy to engineer crises of financial and foreign policy, and we should all be "scared" of him.
Beck, as is his wont, didn't really explain how the heretofore unheralded Bhargava came to hold such influence. What Beck did say, however, was this: "I want to make it clear -- I don't have any evidence that he has any links to the White House. I am not bringing him up and saying, 'Look, he's making policy.' I just want you to listen to his words and compare them to the words of our president." OK, so no evidence of any connection to the White House or any policymaking of any kind, which doesn't really help to explain why Beck is attacking him. And just in case you thought Beck would actually explain why he thinks this man is important, he followed this all up with: "See if you can figure out why I think this man is important."
Ah, so it's our job to figure out why Beck is going after Bhargava. Apparently, it has something to do with a panel discussion hosted by The Nation in April that Bhargava spoke at, in which he praised the administration's anti-poverty measures but bemoaned Obama's "stealthy agenda" that doesn't "lead with questions of poverty or racial justice." OK, so Bhargava likes the administration's anti-poverty measures but wishes they were more about racial justice. Of course, that's just one man's opinion, and since Beck explained that Bhargava has no influence with the White House at all, we still hadn't figured out why Beck cared about him.
However, in spite of this lack of influence, Bhargava, according to Beck, is a key component of the "strategy" being employed by Obama, which involves creating "intentional" crises in order to "transform" the country. Beck explained all this -- well, perhaps "explained" is too generous a word -- he shouted lots of words about all this in one of his bizarre albeit entertaining chalkboard segments, all the while telling us that we are not going to "freak out."
But clearly he's bad, right? I mean, for Beck to call him a "radical" who wants to engineer crises and devote so much time to exploring who he is, he must be a pretty awful guy whose doing some serious damage to the country, right? Well, not really, it seems, as Beck led off his discussion of Bhargava with Breitbart crony Scott Baker by saying, "So, help me out on who this guy is. I'm not even claiming this is a bad guy, or anything. Who is he?"
At this point we didn't know what to think. Thankfully, Baker was there to do the thinking for us. "He's not a guy who works in the White House, but he's not just a guy either," Baker explained. "There are connections between Deepak Bhargava and his Center for Community Change and Barack Obama." Those connections are, apparently, that Bhargava worked for ACORN for a few years and was at Harvard with Obama at the same time. And they've appeared at a few labor events together. That's it. What matters most to Beck and Baker, apparently, is that Obama and Bhargava "use the same language." Words like "transform" and ... well, that's the only example Beck offered. But apparently that's enough in Glenn Beck's world to not only earn yourself an entire cable news segment devoted to you and you alone, but also a key role in the Obama-engineered conspiracy to create "intentional" crises.
And to round it all out, Baker declared, based solely on the fact that Bhargava is tangentially connected to Obama, that "people should be scared." Beck and Baker could offer no link between Bhargava and Obama other than the utterly trivial, and they acknowledged as much during the 20 minutes they spent defaming him on national television simply because he and the president have used similar-sounding language in the past.
The only thing more reprehensible than Glenn Beck dragging Deepak Bhargava through the mud was the fact that Beck admitted that he couldn't explain why he was doing it.
It's a skill that makes journalism that much easier because it allows you to not only report the facts but also assign motivation, which is no easy task. It allows you to announce why somebody said something, even if you don't have proof.
Today's Post pulls off the mind-reading trick in an article about Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who commented Monday that military advisers, in order to better serve the president, ought to keep their opinions regarding warfare out of public view.
Here's what Gates said:
"In this process, it is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations -- civilians and military alike -- provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately."
Gates' comments were reiterated by Gen. George Casey. Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. Both men spoke in the wake of weekend remarks by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan, who said that any attempt to significantly scale back the U.S. military presence in the country would be "shortsighted."
McChrystal made his views known in public; Gates and Casey thought that was a bad idea. But the Post could read minds and its report added this [emphasis added]:
The Army's top general immediately echoed Gates's remarks, which seemed designed to rein in dissent within the ranks.
Neither Gates nor Casey suggested they opposed dissent within the ranks. And in fact, when asked directly on Monday whether Gates was trying to stifle McChrystal's evaluation, Gates replied, "Absolutely not."
The Post had no evidence that anyone was trying to "rein in dissent." But it seemed like that was going on, so the Post reported it as news. Why? Because the Post can read minds.
UPDATED: The Los Angeles Times managed to report out the same Gates/McChrystal story without trying to read minds.
Almost six years to the day after radio host Rush Limbaugh resigned in disgrace from his brand-spanking new gig on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown for, as CNN reported at the time, "his statement that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed," El Rushbo confirmed today that he's interested in buying the St. Louis Rams.
From KMOX News Radio in St. Louis:
Rush Limbaugh issues a statement confirming he's seeking to buy a stake in the St. Louis Rams.
Limbaugh is now responding to reports that he and Blues owner Dave Checketts are trying to buy the Rams:
"Dave and I are part of a bid to buy the Rams and we are continuing the process. But I can say no more because of a confidentiality clause in our agreement with Goldman Sachs. We cannot and will not talk about our partners. But if we prevail we will be the operators of the team."
Marge Schott, eat your heart out.
UPDATE: This could get interesting. According to an OpenSecrets.org review of Federal campaign contributions between 1989-2009, the Rams are the bluest team in the NFL giving 98% of its contributions to Democrats. (H/T to S.L.)
More than 60 advertisers have reportedly dropped their ads from Glenn Beck's Fox News program since he called President Obama a "racist" who has a "deep-seated hatred of white people." Here are his October 5 sponsors, in the order they appeared:
Oh what a wicked web we weave when first we … well, you get the picture.
RedState's Erick Erickson, whom we humorously errr conclusively tied to ACORN just two weeks ago, has now tied Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele to the dreaded ACORN. I guess that means ACORN has deep ties to everyone in the Republican Party?
From his Twitter profile:
Maybe this is what happens when all journalistic standards are thrown out the window in a wild game of guilt by association.
From an Oct. 5 Associated Press article:
Upscale British supermarket chain Waitrose said Monday it was pulling its advertisements from Fox News in the U.K. after customers complained about the cable news channel's Glenn Beck program.
The popular and controversial talk show host is already the target of a boycott campaign in the United States after he accused President Barack Obama of harboring "a deep-seated hatred for white people."
Waitrose, known for its upmarket fare and focus on organic foods, said in a statement it was responding to customer concerns, and that the move was not politically motivated.
The wide coverage afforded to Beck's tirade against the U.S. president and the subsequent boycott campaign has also been noticed in Britain - where Fox owner Rupert Murdoch controls a powerful news and broadcasting empire.
Color of Change, the group which has lobbied advertisers to steer clear of Beck's show, claims that about 80 U.S. companies, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have deserted the pugnacious television host.
Last month The Independent newspaper quoted James Rucker, Color of Change's executive director, as urging British companies to put similar pressure on Fox in the U.K., where it is broadcast by British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC - a satellite TV service 39 percent owned by Murdoch's News Corp.
Although most U.S. companies who have dropped Beck's program still continue to advertise on other segments of Fox News, Waitrose spokesman James Armstrong said the company was pulling out of the channel as a whole.
He declined to say how much money was involved in the ad deal, calling the information commercially sensitive. Sky Broadcasting, which looks after Fox News advertising sales in Britain, did not provide a figure either.
As Joe Conason notes in his Salon column, during the 1990's reporter Christopher Ruddy, cheered on by his boss Richard Melon Scaife, became something of a one-man, right-wing clearing house for all kinds of hateful and misleading attacks on the new Democratic president [emphasis added]:
Working at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, owned by billionaire and avowed Clinton foe Richard Mellon Scaife, Ruddy popularized the canard that Foster had not committed suicide, as determined by five official investigations, but more likely had been murdered -- possibly to cover up corruption in the Whitewater land deal or because of an illicit affair with Hillary Rodham Clinton or both.
Beyond spreading paranoia about the Foster tragedy, Ruddy and Scaife both played central roles in the distribution of nearly half a million copies of "The Clinton Chronicles" and other covert machinations against the Clinton White House –- most notably the "Arkansas Project," a $2.4 million scheme to dig up or invent crimes by the president and first lady, with assistance from several unsavory characters, including die-hard segregationist Jim Johnson, a couple of private detectives and a bait-shop owner.
Virtually none of that Ruddy/Scaife-sponsored nonsense ever panned out. And now, 15 years later, the two are forces behind Newsmax, which (surprise!) has become a clearing house for all kinds of hateful and misleading attacks on the new Democratic president.
Ruddy was among the most insistent endorsers of the Obama birth certificate myth, playing much the same role he once did during the Vince Foster affair. He has assiduously promoted the "tea party" movement and the "socialism" meme. When Newsmax published an essay by an obscure former newsman that seemed to urge a military coup against Obama last week (and then removed it), the reverberations were felt across the political spectrum. Every day the site blasts forth a barrage of supposed Obama scandals and embarrassments to be amplified by Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the panoply of talk radio and cable megaphones, knowing that by sheer volume, some of it will stick.
Here's the kicker though. In today's Washington Post, Ruddy concedes that his often hysterical reporting during the Clinton years was bogus. He confesses he was "overzealous" and "over the top" in his partisan Clinton hunting. In fact, Ruddy now considers Clinton to have been "a great president."
So why on earth would anyone take seriously a single word published in the Obama-hating Newsmax publication if in ten or fifteen years Ruddy is just going to turn around and admit he'd been a bit "over the top." Meaning, Ruddy and Scaife built their journalism 'reputations," as they were, on mindless Clinton pursuit and were caught peddling dark fantasies; fantasies that Ruddy admits were bogus.
Now the two are doing the exact same thing with regards to Obama via Newsmax, and we're supposed to expect different results?
As Eric Boehlert pointed out earlier today, a significant fissure is opening up on the Right. The increasing influence of extremists like Fox News' Glenn Beck and radio host Rush Limbaugh has shaken more mainstream conservatives who are searching for a new set of leaders -- and the conservative establishment is lashing out. Consider some of the recent comments from prominent conservative media personalities and elected officials:
These are just a few examples of a serious trend. Right-wing media figures are now routinely attacking each other's tactics and relevancy. On Friday, Brooks (nonsensically) dedicated an entire column to explaining why conservative media leaders like Beck and Limbaugh are not worthy of attention. He argued that we are once again witnessing "the story of media mavens who claim to represent a hidden majority but who in fact represent a mere niche -- even of the Republican Party." It's a point he made several weeks earlier, when he said that "[i]f the Republican Party is sane, they will say no to these people." Beck, in turn, responded by reading Brooks' editorial on the air and mocking the idea that he was the overlord of thoughtless, right-wing radio audiences who will "kill people because we tell you to." Feeling defensive, Glenn?
Numerous other conservatives are speaking out as well, with Beck taking a good deal of the heat. On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said to Fox News' Bret Baier that Beck "doesn't represent the Republican Party," adding, "You can listen to him if you like. I choose not to, because quite frankly, I don't want to go down the road of thinking our best days are behind us."
On September 22, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough went after Beck specifically. "You need to call out this type of hatred, because it always blows up in your face," he said. "You cannot preach hatred. You cannot say the president's a racist. You cannot stir up things that could have very deadly consequences."
Peter Wehner, a former Bush speechwriter and a regular blogger for Commentary, wrote in September that the content of Beck's broadcasts "should worry the conservative movement," and that some of his attacks "are quite unfair and not good for the country." Another former Bush speechwriter, David Frum, has employed even harsher language:
Glenn Beck is not the first to make a pleasant living for himself by reckless defamation. We have seen his kind before in American journalism and American politics, and the good news is that their careers never last long. But the bad news is that while their careers do last, such people do terrible damage.
The View's Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Charles Johnson of the popular conservative blog Little Green Footballs, and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) have all offered similar assessments. Even Mark Levin himself seems to dislike Beck and has called him "mindless," "incoherent," "pandering," and "pathetic."
It will be very interesting to watch the growing disharmony on the Right play out. But for now, it wouldn't be too surprising if the ego-driven, media-led conservative movement continued forming its firing squad into a circle.