Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Monday, December 30, 2002
Tapped has recently declared something of a Jihad against Bob Somerby, devoting a series of four posts to criticism of the Daily Howler. Tapped does score a few points in this debate, more against a private e-mail from Somerby that was accidentally cc'ed to Tapped than against the Howler itself. But on the merits, their essential case is weak.

It started with an off-hand suggestion in Tapped that the Lott story was originally ignored in major media due to a reluctance to criticize Washington insiders. Somerby fired back strongly, suggesting that this account deliberately ignored a media tendency to go soft on Republicans. The theory that Washington insiders or useful sources get soft treatment from the media contains some truth, but doesn't explain nearly enough unless you also include a conservative bias. The Clintons first came into Washington as outsiders, as did Jimmy Carter earlier, and that status was used by some to explain the harsh media treatment they got. But Al Gore is very much a Washington insider, indeed, it was one of the things he was criticized for in 2000. (At the same time, the media uncritically pushed the theory that the key to the personality of George W. Bush, whose family lived in Washington and vacationed in Maine, was his deep Texas roots.) More to the point, he was an insider who had received generally favorable press treatment for 20 years until the run-up to the 2000 campaign began and the right wing spin machine stopped focusing on Clinton and made him their primary target. A man who for years had been seen as squeaky clean became overnight a pathological liar who was likely to be indicted at any moment, and stories which were known falsehoods were printed repeatedly and never retracted. In spite of the eagerness of Tapped and some others to do so, I don't think that the sociology of the chattering classes alone can explain that strange event. Only the willingness of the establishment media to bend to the conservative agenda, and the fact that most of the key members of the press and all the senior executives of the corporations that control them are part of the 1% financial elite who receive real benefits from Republican economic policies, explains it.

In the Lott case, many people have noted the early silence of the mainstream media. Fewer have commented on the fact that the real media piling on only began after Bush himself criticized Lott. Until Bush gave permission, which assured that criticism wouldn't be regarded as 'liberal bias' and made it clear that the most powerful conservatives were quite willing to throw Lott overboard, there wasn't nearly enough momentum to force Lott out. So even in the only incident of recent years which seems to run against the pattern, an underlying fear to offend right wing power can be seen.

Tapped provides no explanation of why a press corps so friendly to Washington insiders and valuable news sources turned on Daschle after he criticized Limbaugh, why they disemboweled Gore, or why they embraced every scandal story that came down the chute during the Clinton years, even though one story after another proved fake. Tapped also refuses to make an attempt to refute Somerby's explanation, instead dismissing it as "such a mush of twisted logic and impenetrable non sequiturs that we're not sure where to begin". They also bizarrely claimed not to understand what Somerby might mean by "bow[ing] to conservative power", and labelled him as "consumed by his obsessive-paranoid worldview" . It isn't hard to figure whether it is Somerby or Tapped who is "attack[ing] people who basically agree with him".

At the same time, Tapped has an article up on its web site discussing the media attacks on Gore. The article contains little, perhaps nothing, that hasn't already been discussed more thoroughly in the Howler, much of it years ago, but fails to mention Somerby's prior work.