Sunday, May 17, 2009


Bob Somerby goes off in a somewhat unusual direction in his post from yesterday. His main focus is on the misrepresentation of Nancy Pelosi's statements about when and what she knew about the Bush administration's criminal torture behavior.

One of the reasons Somerby is an incomparable resource is because he researches and sources what it is the press reports over time. His write up of the current mendacity shows what Pelosi has been reported as saying for the last six months. He presents the original material (transcripts, Pelosi's own press release, a TV clip) and then identifies how reporters, in this case the WaPo reporter Paul Kane) changed her words to make them fit the spin the press wished to "report". This is standard operating procedure for Bob, a degree of fact finding (dare we say it? a degeree of reporting) that is absent from most of the press and virtually all blogging.

Towards the end of the post, Bob links to an Oliphant cartoon that depicts Pelosi smoking a joint and claiming she didn't inhale. What Bob says about this cartoon is critical:

The political price: What political price will Democrats pay for Pelosi’s sweeping accusation? Consider Pat Oliphant’s new cartoon, which appears in this morning’s Post. Too gaze on it, just click here.

The cartoon is called “The Pelosi Position.” Pelosi is shown smoking a large joint marked “Torture.” She’s making a familiar statement: “But I didn’t inhale.”

Translation: Pelosi’s sweeping charge is reactivating press/pundit frameworks from the Clinton era. This has been obvious watching cable. Oliphant spells it out nice and clear.

During the 1990s, Clinton—then Gore—were portrayed as feckless dissemblers, "willing to do and say anything." You couldn’t believe a thing they said! Clinton had said that he didn’t inhale—and Gore had said he invented the Internet! In June 1999, Hillary Clinton even said she was a childhood fan of the Cubs and the Yankees! Earlier profiles seemed to show this was true. But so what? The press called her every name in the book (links below). As they’d done throughout the era, the corps was prepared to pretend.

You couldn’t believe a thing Big Dems said; Big Dems were feckless dissemblers. (If the press corps had to dissemble to "prove" it, dissemble the press corps would.) Given Obama’s impressive demeanor and unusual background, this framework has been dying on the vine this year. But it still lurks inside these idiots' heads. Pelosi made a sweeping accusation this week—and the framework returned from the closet.

A few guesses about the political price to be paid:

The hubbub will make it slightly harder for Obama to nominate Sotomayor (as opposed to a more "traditional" choice like blonde Diane Wood). But Obama will nominate Sotomayor anyway. Because of the hubbub and the reactivated frameworks—the nomination fight will be a bit harder. Obama, and his party generally, will lose a bit of political capital in the form of a few ratings points.

This makes the health care fight a bit harder. Does the public plan therefore come out? These are the political problems we sometimes create when we scream our deepest beliefs, as progressives have begged Obama to do all through the course of this year. (my emphasis)

Jonathan Turley just can’t understand why Obama won’t scream long and loud, just like him. Then again, the heartfelt professor already has good health care.

About the Cubs and the Yankees: In June 1999, Hillary Clinton said she loved the Cubs and the Yankees as a child. Earlier profiles seemed to suggest that this was true—but the corps called her every name in the book. It triggered an established framework, you see. Send your own kids to another room. Then, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/16/08.

In 2007, they took a turn with this bullroar again. This time, their clowning may have been even dumber. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/2/07. The n-word even got used this time! (When trashing Clinton, as when trashing Gore, the n-word was “Nixonian.”)

This is the way they portrayed Big Dems right up through Obama’s nomination. Under Obama, these frameworks had been dying on the vine. In the last day or two, they are back.

Somerby appears to be saying that because Pelosi spoke the truth about the manipulations of the CIA in the service of the criminal Bush administration, that the press will use this to make it just that much harder to achieve the Democratic agenda. On one level, the most obvious level, Bob seems to be saying that political liberals need to be quiet so as not to make things toughre for Obama. In this, I disagree with the Incomparable One, though with care, as Bob is a more insightful and subtle thinker than people assume, because the way he frames the situation, he questions why saying patently obvious and common sense political things gets some political actors demonized by the Villagers.

Combine his judgment with comments made by Ian Welsh in this comment thread on Corrente and we get a familiar picture of the culture inside the Beltway. The cultural exclusivity of the Village translates into political danger for policy and politicians who do not do not properly reflect the opinions of the Village - which is most of the substantively liberal objectives of the Democratic Party.

Bob points to the peculiar split between the party and The Precious, how the press treats "Big Dems" one way while engaging in adulation of Obama on the other. The frameworks have not been dying; they merely have not been applied to Obama. Thus we end up with the strange situation where Pelosi is being pilloried in the press for saying she did not know at the time the full extent of the Bush torture regime, while the stories about Obama (who now is in a position to know everything about that policy) refusing to release the rest of the torture photos and reinstating the Guantanamo tribunals are washed away from the front pages.

Boehlert talked about the way in which Obama got everything he wanted from Left Blogistan without having to make promises in return. Perhaps the correct framing is that he got everything he wanted from the Democratic Party without having to promise much of anything in return.

The situation is that Big Dems are still the enemy while Obama basks in the glow of media approval.



R. S. Martin said...

Somerby needs an editor. From that post one would think that Oliphant is criticizing the press for their baloney. Oliphant's cartoon reflects that baloney through and through; it does not reflect Somerby's view of the dynamic that is at work in Pelosi's treatment by the press. I get the feeling he knows this, and that that is what he meant to say, but that's not the way it comes across. Either that, or his sarcasm is proving too subtle for me here. And I don't associate quiet irony with Somerby any more than I associate underplaying with William Shatner.

Don't get me wrong. He's otherwise on target. As is usually the case.

cmugirl said...

While Queen Nancy may not have been in the position to implement or stop any policy of torture, I can't get over the fact what a silly argument it is that the Speaker of the House did not know what was going on. Right - Pete Hoekstra knew, by Nancy Pelosi did not.

It's a little hard to believe Nancy when she has given multiple versions of what and wasn't allegedly told to her (psst - that's what happens when you lie - you can't keep your story straight).

And really - Leon Panetta, a former Democratic Congressman, and inside party-player, is just going to throw the Speaker of his own party under the bus even for something that happened under his Republican predecessor?

Color me skeptical.....

Marsha said...

I seldom disagree with the things you write. And I thank you for explaining Somerby to me – he sometimes talks in “blog-speak” to such a degree that I have a hard time knowing exactly what he’s trying to get at.

This time, as usual, I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. But I am angry at Pelosi – and my reason may be one that others in the unwashed masses will feel, too. What pisses me off about Nancy (other than the fact that I can’t stand to watch her speak) is that she represents all of the “others” who were sent to represent us in government during the time our executive branch was doing its best to destroy our constitution and our reputation.

I don’t really care what Nancy knew when. I care that at sometime in the past 6 years she did know. She knew a lot more than any of us could know. And what did she do about it? NODT - not one damn thing.

She stood up at her press conference like a smirking chimp (remind you of anyone else?) and insisted that the fact an aid told her “we” were torturing didn’t count. It only mattered that the CIA didn’t tell her to her face.

So while the press and Nancy and everyone else get their knickers in a twist about being played by the GOP (once again), I am fuming because of something else.

They all knew “we” were torturing (she admits that). They all knew that “we” were lied into this war. They all knew – and they did nothing (NODT) even though they – every bloody one of them – were elected to represent us – not them, not their special interests. US, and what "we" stand for (perhaps I should say "stood" for).

So Nancy may be innocent of some things. But she is as guilty as the whole disgusting crew in DC on so many other things that I am set to fuming – once again.

We gave our (my former) party the Dems they wanted and needed. We gave them the muscle to take the Speaker’s seat and become a majority in the Senate. We’ve sacrificed and walked and talked and donated and hoped (I hate that word!) and what did they give us in return. NODT. And they're still doing nothing.

So when the dust settles about what Nancy knew and when she knew it, and when the facts remain clear that Bush/Cheney and his whole disgusting crew are war criminals, don’t forget – so are Nancy and her friends.

With friends like this, we really don’t need any enemies (IMHO).

Anglachel said...


I agree that Bob presented it weirdly, which is why I called it out.

Somerby is holding Oliphant up as a demonstration of what the press is doing, someone who literally illustrates what is going on in their heads. It isn't sarcasm. He is saying look at this picture to understand what the MSM really thinks of Democrats and understand that they still hate you. Pelosi (whatever her actual failings) is being fucked over. Her protestations are being belittled and trivialized, reduced to something that is itself a symbol of the vacuity of the the press, while the true issue - torture as the new normal - drops out of view.

Somerby will *not* criticize Obama. He will not endanger a sitting Democratic president. But he is also too smart and too much of a liberal to just give in. He knows that Obama will throw the entire liberal cause under the bus without hesitation. He knows that Obama escapes criticism because he rejects the party agenda - just like his buddies in the press.

So what is Somerby to do? He lays the facts out on the table, hoping the readers will put two and two together on their own.

That's my take.


Anonymous said...

I guess Somerby's oddly discordant criticism of Pelosi's "sweeping" claim could amount to him saying that, regardless of the actual merits of her statements, it's the kind of claim that our lovely media will pounce on and make fun of.