March 12, 2008

Smear Tactics

I've been very disturbed by a trend I've been observing during this election cycle: the willingness of the left-wing blogosphere to hang its collective hat on every negative word about Hillary Clinton in the MSM. The same MSM that said left-wing bloggers here-to-fore took great pride in challenging, dissecting and fact-checking. Nowadays? Not so much. One of the many untruths that they have seized upon is the scurrilous notion that Hillary eiher has not sufficiently denied the email smears regarding Barack Obama's religion (the relatively gentle view) or, in the extreme view, is using it to benefit her candidacy. Both ideas are completely wrong, but typical of what I am reading in the pro-Obama blogosphere. Some writers have taken this on.

From today's Daily Howler (emphasis mine):

KILLERS AND SMEARS: What should Hillary Clinton have said when Steve Kroft asked her—three separate times!—to state her view about Obama’s religion? We can’t give a perfect answer to that. (We have written many times about the interpretive problems involved in “The Cult of the Offhand Comment.”) But we strongly recommend Brother Boehlert’s post about the way this matter has been reported. [Media Matters] And we’ll recommend that you think for a moment about the third answer Clinton gave:

CLINTON (3/2/08): Look, I have been the target of so many ridiculous rumors. I have a great deal of sympathy for anybody who gets, you know, smeared with the kind of rumors that go on all the time.

That was Clinton, discussing Obama. In that statement, Clinton correctly described these attacks on Obama as a “smear.” The next day, she repeated that language. We will offer three observations about her use of “smear.”

The world’s leading expert: Clinton is surely one of the world’s leading experts on “ridiculous rumors” and “smears.” She has been endlessly smeared in the past; fellows like Kroft never seemed to be bothered. In August 1999, for example, Hardball let Gennifer Flowers spend a half-hour accusing Clinton of serial murders. (At the time, Clinton was first lady.) Result? Flowers’ performance was so outrageous, she quickly got a full hour on Hannity & Colmes, where she repeated her inexcusable claims—and threw in the bonus claim that Clinton was a big giant lesbo. But so what? Pool boys like Kroft forgot to say boo when their nation’s first lady was smeared in that manner. Who knows? Perhaps a thrill ran up Kroft’s leg when he saw the buxom balladeer say it. (As Peter Baker might have put it, “Some will surely wonder.”)

The correct term: Clinton used the accurate term. Obama is being widely smeared, and many voters are dumb enough to believe what they read in their e-mails. How can voters be so gullible? In our political culture, it’s considered rude to ask. Again, we’d love to see Saturday Night Live tackle this important topic.

“Journalists” won’t go there: Hillary Clinton used the right term—but don’t expect your “journalists” to go there. Hacks like Chris Matthews sit around, cherry-picking what Clinton said. (See Boehlert’s piece.) But one of the cherries Matthews won’t pick is that important term: Smear. You see, admitting that a smear is underway might require him to follow its pathways—to ask about who is conducting such smears. We don’t know what a search might find. But don’t worry—Chris Matthews won’t go there.

Why won’t Matthews talk about smears? (This part of Clinton’s Q-and-A has been relentlessly disappeared.) We’ll guess: People like Matthews have been deeply involved in sixteen years of smears by this time. Sometimes, they’ve been involved by looking away; frequently, Matthews himself has played alpha male in pimping smears against both Clintons and Gore. Matthews is up to his eyeballs in smears; smears have been a key part of his ministry. He super-smeared Gore for two solid years. (No one did more.) Today, he complains about Iraq.

Killers like Matthews have lived by the smear. When someone actually says the word, they tend to disappear it. Quite quickly.

Clinton used an accurate term. But in this matter, as in so many more, you hear the snippets they want you to hear. It has been their method for many years: The parts that flatter her disappear. The parts they recite sound unlovely.
From the Media Matters post linked above, Eric Boehlert writes:

After parsing Clinton's answer and then conveniently setting aside key sections of it, journalists at NBC, MSNBC, The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Time, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post, among others, declared her response had been wholly deficient. Worse, Clinton's answer simply confirmed that she was running a "slimy," "nasty" contest. It was a "galling" comment; "the sleaziest moment of the campaign."

The only thing sleazy about the episode was the type of journalism being used to concoct a Clinton slur.

When people suggest that the press employs a separate standard for covering Clinton, this is the kind of episode they're talking about. There simply is no other candidate, from either party, who has had their comments, their fragments, dissected so dishonestly the way Clinton's have been.

The fact is, if you look at Clinton's exchange with Kroft in its entirety, which lasted less than one minute, I count eight separate times in which she either plainly denied the false claim that Obama was Muslim, labeled that suggestion to be a smear, or expressed sympathy for Obama having to deal with the Muslim innuendo. Eight times:


The 60 Minutes controversy -- specifically the intense media spin it sparked -- highlights a disturbing rise in a new form of campaign journalism, which might be best described as post-parsing.

Here's how it works: A candidate (almost always Hillary Clinton) makes a statement, any statement out of the thousands made on the campaign trail each week, and that statement is seized upon by the chattering class and then dissected in order to determine what the real intention was. Experts pore over the text and announce what the candidate should have said during an impromptu exchange with the media. It's not that the statement in question is wrong, or blatantly malicious, it's that the statement wasn't quite right. It should have been a little bit more this or a little more
that. Plus, based upon the pundits' expert training and analytical skills, they're able to spot a deeply disturbing, unspoken meaning right below the surface. Alarmed, they then rush to alert voters.


Lots of the journalism surrounding the story was simply unfair. Meaning, the only way journalists could make the Clinton response to the Muslim question newsworthy was to pretend that when Kroft pressed her, she essentially refused to answer the question and then when she finally did, qualified it with "as far as I know." Journalists had to hide the most pertinent parts of the answer -- the context -- in order to make the exchange newsworthy. And lots of reporters and pundits did just that. [cls: several examples at link]


Much more consistent on the whole matter was Matthews' MSNBC colleague Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman and foot solider in the 1990s Gingrich Revolution. Scarborough saw nothing unusual in Clinton's Muslim comments. And when MSNBC reporter David Shuster appeared on Scarborough's morning program on March 4, brought up the 60 Minutes comments, and quickly echoed the media's conventional wisdom that the comments reflected poorly on Clinton, Scarborough slyly turned the tables to illustrate the absurdity of demanding absolute answers when badgering an interview subject about somebody else's faith:

SCARBOROUGH: Let me ask you this question, David Shuster, do you think [co-host] Mika Brzezinski is a Christian? She says she is. Is she a Christian?
SHUSTER: Yeah, I believe she is. But here's the point --
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second. You say you believe she's a Christian. You 'believe.' What does that mean? Is she or isn't she? Is she a Christian or not?
SHUSTER: Well look, Mika and I have never actually had that conversation and I've never heard anybody have a conversation about her religion.
SCARBOROUGH: But Mika says she's a Christian. So you're saying you don't know if she's a Christian or not?
SHUSTER: That's fine! To me it doesn't matter.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, it doesn't matter? So now you're saying it doesn't matter.

Scarborough perfectly proved the larger point: The Clinton-Muslim story was a soggy game of gotcha, and not much more.

Over the years I haven't always agreed with Joe Scarborough, but I'm able to give credit where credit is due. He may be a Republican, but I've noted that he is not blinded by ideology and has a reasonably-honed bullshit detector.


The Red Queen said...

Totally off topic- but i went to high school in Gardnerville. Well Minden really, but I am familiar with the difficulties of being a dem in very red rural nevada.

carissa said...

Dayum girl, you got this comment up while the post was still warm!

Yeah, Douglas County is even redder than Lyon. It's a tough row to hoe.

Love your blog, btw! I'll be adding it to my blogroll.

The Red Queen said...

Oh Douglas county is definitely super red. I think it has something to do with sheep fucking and fourwheeling, it addles the brain into a conservative state.

I'm totally adding you to my blogroll too. I love your blog.

Mike said...

I finally looked up to see what MSM means. (Not joking...I know it seems lame I didn't know before.)