Tuesday, 15 April 2008 15:42

The Caroline Aftermath: The Blogosphere Defines Itself, and it's Not a Pretty Picture

A family that was good enough for the likes of Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King isn't good enough for Jane Hamsher and Markos Moulitsas. And, in lockstep, their unthinking followers write fake letters to the New York Times, writes Jim DiEugenio.

The aftermath of the Caroline Kennedy affair is almost as fascinating as the follies that preceded it. The two things that are interesting are 1.) Who Gov. David Paterson actually appointed, and 2.) The post-mortems that are taking place within the blogosphere to explain and justify what happened.

As everyone knows by now, on January 23rd, after Caroline Kennedy e-mailed Paterson and told him she wished to be dropped from consideration, he selected Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to take Hillary Clinton's seat in the senate.

I found this choice to be jarring. The so-called liberal blogosphere—led by Jane Hamsher and Markos Moulitsas—had gone after Kennedy relentlessly and savagely for six weeks. Hamsher opened the salvo by saying if Paterson selected Kennedy it would be a "truly terrible idea". To me, a truly terrible idea would be selecting a Republican for the empty seat. So after all this over the top hysteria, which should be reserved for Republicans, what do we get? A Republican-Lite! Yep. Gillibrand is a member of the Blue Dog caucus within the Democratic Party. Most real Democrats look at the Blue Dogs with scorn since a large part of that caucus is made up of southern conservatives chosen by Rahm Emanuel when he was trying to take back the House. Hamsher railed against Emanuel's strategy of choosing conservative Democrats. He was hedging his bets by not losing the mythical "center" on social issues like gun control and gay marriage.

Guess what? Gillibrand had an incredibly perfect 100 rating with the NRA. This is in New York state of all places! Not the south. Her record on this is so extraordinary that even the Republican Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, spoke out against it. (AP wire story of 1/23) Gillibrand even co-sponsored legislation to deny information that cities and police need to track the use of illegal guns. (Ibid) Got that: she did not just vote for it, she co-sponsored it. Further, her father was a powerful Republican lobbyist in the state capital of Albany. (Wikipedia bio) Yep, a Republican. As a lawyer in two high-powered law firms, she represented Philip Morris up until 1999. This is startling. Because at that time, due to years of discovery motions, it had become clear that the tobacco companies knew they were addicting customers to cigarettes and tried to cover up their criminal conspiracy to do so. This is what led to the huge verdicts and settlements that were meted out. It got so bad for them, that in 2003 Philip Morris changed their name to Altria.

Need more? She twice voted against the TARP bailout bill. She was the only New York representative to vote for the May 2007 funding bill for the Iraq War. (Time Magazine, 1/23) She was against gay marriage before she was for it. (Ibid) She also co-sponsored a balanced budget amendment for the federal government. Which, I hate to tell you Markos and Jane, is not a good idea right now. (Huffington Post 1/23) John Maynard Keynes, FDR's favorite economist, is throwing up in his grave on that one.

The capper for me was this. When Paterson introduced her as his appointment, there was a very strange person on the platform next to her. It was former Republican Senator Al D'Amato. I'm not kidding. I later found out that Dirty Al is a friend and investment partner of her family. D'Amato is the hack who held senatorial hearings on every wild charge leveled by the wingnut right against Bill Clinton. This eventually paved the way for that ugly and prolonged impeachment fiasco.

As Sherman Yellen wrote in the Huffington Post, for Paterson this was his John McCain moment—as in picking Sarah Palin. It was an attempt to gain traction upstate with the conservative wing of his party and with moderate Republicans. Yellen continued, "This is a woman who represents the far right of the Democratic Party. Her political roots are deep in the Republican Party and its platform; her instincts are Republican contrarianism." (I/25) In other words, she is synoptic of everything the liberal blogosphere is supposed to be against. Jane and Markos, take a bow.

But for me it's even worse than that. Gillibrand is a close ally of Hillary Clinton. She has raised money for her, and Clinton supported her appointment. To me that makes perfect sense. Because, led by the disastrous Mark Penn, this was essentially Clinton's approach pre-primary, and in the early days of the primary season. (And Hamsher supported her all the way.) The idea was for Clinton to appear presidential by taking the centrist route. To the point of her even voting for a resolution which could have paved the way for a war with Iran. And it was this approach and rhetoric which finally repelled Ted and Caroline Kennedy. To the point that they organized their powerful pubic endorsement of Obama at American University. They didn't want any more of this stuff. Especially since the country didn't want it either.

So instead of having a person who is a true Democrat, one who fought for a real Democratic ticket, who comes from impeccable Democratic lineage, the blogosphere helps us get a Blue Dog Republican-Lite. And now they are trying to cover up this strategic embarrassment. Markos says that Gillibrand will now track left. Markos, with Kennedy there would have been no need to "track left." She's not the kind of person who supports the NRA a hundred percent. Do I have to tell you why? (Hint: Dallas, 1963.) Moulitsas has also said that people who were supporting Caroline were being "romantic". If Gillibrand and the Blue Dogs are his idea of realism, I'll take a little romance any day.

The second interesting point about this disheartening sideshow is what it says about the vaunted blogosphere. I would like to note two symptomatic episodes that appeared on Daily Kos. The first argument Markos made against Kennedy was that, if Paterson appointed her, she was not then the choice of the people. The whole "fiat" charge. (Markos missed the point that anyone appointed by Paterson to fill the post would be in office by "fiat".) This argument was smashed by the first polls appearing on Dec. 15th. Each of them had Kennedy with a substantial lead over second place Andrew Cuomo in a Democratic primary—by 21 and 10 points. Clearly, she would win the nomination in a primary. And she would also beat the suspected GOP nominee, Peter King. (Probably foreseeing this, King jumped on the Hamsher/Moulitsas bandwagon and started criticizing Kennedy on her inexperience. Nice to see the blogosphere helping out the Republicans.)

Realizing this gutted the whole "choice of the people" argument he was broadcasting, Moulitsas then did something that we would expect of a GOP "oppo research" hack. And it reveals his almost pathological behavior in this whole circus. On December 18th, he did a trick with the numbers to mitigate the harpoon he had sustained. Realizing Kennedy's numbers looked too good in a primary—and that she actually was the Democratic choice—he added the "Democratic only" numbers to an "all voters" sample. He then averaged out the two differing sets of numbers to decrease her lead. Markos, you win the primary first and then you run in the general election. When presidential candidates are running in primary elections, pollsters don't add their primary and general election numbers together to reach an average. They are two different races. But even with that disgraceful stunt she still had a lead over Cuomo and was 25 points ahead of Gillibrand.

But clearly, the nutty campaign by Hamsher and Moulitsas fired up the unthinking extremists in the Netroots (they are called Kossacks at Daily Kos.) They now decided to pull something that is, again, usually reserved for the general election. That is, against your Republican opponent. They faked a letter to the New York Times. This is utterly fascinating of course because the Times has always been negative on the Kennedys. So they would be willing and eager to print a letter from the Mayor of Paris criticizing the tentative appointment of Kennedy. How do we know it was probably from a Kossack? Because it called the appointment "appalling" and "not very democratic". The incriminating clincher in the letter was this: "What title has Ms. Kennedy to pretend to Hillary Clinton's seat? We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling." Only a reader of the blogosphere under the influence of Hamsher/Moulitsas hysteria could write such tripe. Well, the Times was so eager to add to the sideshow that they never even called the French mayor before they printed it. The hoax was not exposed by an ombudsman from the Times. It was exposed by a French web site. The Times apologized to the mayor and its readers. But revealingly, not to Kennedy.

This sorry incident marked a milestone in the saga. The Times began to cooperate with the blogosphere in this bizarre and unhinged campaign against Kennedy. When Kennedy went upstate to introduce herself to some local politicians, Hamsher called this "meeting with elites". (How the mayor of Syracuse is a member of the "elite" escapes me.) And Markos compared it—unbelievably—to the Sarah Palin rollout by McCain. Well, the Times followed this cue! On December 17th the Times web site compared this visit to the "carefully controlled strategy reminiscent of vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin." Thus the so-called alternative media was perfectly matched to the MSM. In opposition to a strong and real Democratic candidate who, by all indications, who would have steamrolled the Democratic field. Talk about topsy-turvy.

But the circus was even worse than that. And it took some real reporting—not cheap blogging— by New York Magazine to expose it. Hamsher and Markos were criticizing that Syracuse trip as if it was based on Kennedy's instincts. You know, she's the type who meets politicians, not the real people. Writer Chris Smith reveals that this excursion was Gov. Paterson's idea. And he also told her not to talk to the press while she was up there. Further, Smith reveals why Kennedy hired media strategist Josh Isay. Paterson had made it clear Kennedy was his favorite, but behind the scenes he actually suggested to other interested parties—e. g. Randi Weingarten and Liz Holtzmann—that they were in it also. So when they, quite naturally, started attacking the front-runner, Kennedy turned to Isay, who she knew from her public school fund drive, for help. (Hamsher left out that last fact and billed him solely as "Joe Lieberman's fixer". Wow. )

Smith also reveals something else that is disturbing. Paterson enjoyed keeping Kennedy jumping because it kept him in the limelight. For instance, instead of doing an Albany cable channel show he was scheduled for, he begged off because of -get this-stomach problems. The stomach problems cleared up enough for him to discuss the upcoming appointment with, on Monday January 19th with Larry King, on Tuesday the 20th CNN News, and Wednesday the 21st, Katie Couric. As long as the spot was kept open, Paterson was in the public eye. And the accidental governor needs to run for office next year. The clear implication of Smith's fine piece is that Kennedy grew sick of the media spectacle that Paterson had created in both the MSM and the blogosphere at her expense. She was being exploited. For instance, King's lead for his interview with him was "Can you hold out against all these Kennedy forces?" That was it for her. She called him to say she was withdrawing. Then Paterson did something that was nakedly self-serving. Yet it supports what Kennedy suspected. He asked her to "release a statement saying she'd changed her mind and was staying in the contest." He pleaded with her, "You can't withdraw, you gotta stay in this thing, and I'll just not pick you." Kennedy would not go along and sent him an e-mail certifying her withdrawal.

Now, Paterson was left without his first choice. This is when he turned to the Blue Dog, tobacco lawyering, NRA supporting upstate congresswoman Gillibrand.

But actually it's even worse than that. Because Smith reveals that Paterson now got angry with Kennedy for dropping out of his self-created sideshow. And this is where the phony personal smears began to circulate in the press: about back taxes, marital problems, nanny problems etc. He had been shirked and now he had to reverse that image.

Smith's article, a real piece of investigative journalism, makes both the MSM and especially the blogosphere look sick in comparison. Besides exposing the false attributions of Hamsher and Markos, it focuses on the real villain of the sorry affair, namely Paterson. (That enlightening essay can be read by clicking here.) And I should add, it also humiliates Joshua Micah Marshall and his Talking Points Memo site. Marshall actually wrote that the reversal of Kennedy's decision to withdraw was by Kennedy. He completely missed on Paterson's pleading with her not to drop out. Probably because he did no investigation. And then Marshall actually had his new hire Matt Cooper do a summing up story on the whole affair. With absolutely no shoe leather—or brainpower— expended, Cooper blamed the affair, in order on: Ted Kennedy (Huh!), Caroline Kennedy, and, ridiculously, Mayor Michael Bloomberg! And the former Time reporter, and Patrick Fitzgerald target, made the same error about the genesis of Kennedy's upstate trip. He says it was her idea, when it was actually Paterson's. Cooper's brief piece is almost a parody of the MSM. It's a disgrace that 1.) It's on TPM, 2.) Marshall hired this Karl Rove confidante, and 3.) the blogosphere still won't print the truth.

Which brings me to a point that refers back to the title of this essay. Everyone interested in alternative journalism, that is anyone who craved for a real outlet besides the compromised and canned MSM, had high hopes for the blogosphere. Especially when it began to rise in the wake of Bush's inexplicable invasion of Iraq. We thought: Once this thing matures, it will become a real and genuine journalistic apparatus. One that—like Gilbert Seldes— will be unblinded and unbent by compromise, politics, ignorance, sloth, or personal predilections. It might actually begin to mimic the last great icons of alternative journalism from the last great rush of a progressive movement. Anybody who understands where I am coming from knows of what I speak: Warren Hinckle's Ramparts and Art Kunkin's LA Free Press. To say the least, it hasn't happened yet. Not even close. Either in the quality and depth of reporting, or the desire to go where the MSM will not venture. In fact, I can detect no real investigative field reporting anywhere in the blogosphere. And as far as what will be reported on and what will not, Daily Kos actually discouraged some comments on the voter fraud issues in their diaries. This is an issue which was addressed at length in mainstream publications like Harper's and Rolling Stone. It is quite a negative testament when the alleged "alternative media" will not go as far as those two well-established mainstays. Or commission their own serious and sustained inquiry into something as fundamental as the right to vote. Its almost as if the ambition of the blogosphere is to become a more moderate version of the MSM.

And now this. A family that was good enough for the likes of Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King isn't good enough for Jane Hamsher and Markos Moulitsas. And, in lockstep, their unthinking followers write fake letters to the New York Times.

For me, I'll take the endorsements of two great men like King and Chavez any day. They would have laughed at the NRA endorsed Blue Dog Hamsher and Moulitsas brought upon us. But alas, those were the days of real alternative journalism.

Go to Part Three

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