Last Friday, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote a rather snide piece on Howard Dean, drawing on his own previous career as a psychiatrist to diagnose what he calls “Bush Derangement Syndrome: the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.” With obligatory sideswipe at Barbra Streisand, he paints Dean as a previously sane and intelligent man struck by this new disease, and uses two quotes from recent interviews to back up his tongue-in-cheek diagnosis.
Now I have no problem with snide columnists, though sometimes I wish there weren’t quite so many of them. However, I do have problems with columnists who deliberate edit quotes to make readers think something was said that wasn’t. Here’s one of Krauthammer’s quotes — play along at home and see if you can spot where he tries to pull the wool over your eyes:
That’s what has researchers so alarmed about Dean. He had none of the usual risk factors: Dean has never opined for a living and has no detectable sense of humor. Even worse is the fact that he is now exhibiting symptoms of a related illness, Murdoch Derangement Syndrome (MDS), in which otherwise normal people believe that their minds are being controlled by a single, very clever Australian.
Chris Matthews: “Would you break up Fox?”
Howard Dean: “On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but . . . I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not. . . . What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.”
Some clinicians consider this delusion — that Americans can get their news from only one part of the political spectrum — the gravest of all. They report that no matter how many times sufferers in padded cells are presented with flash cards with the symbols ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times — they remain unresponsive, some in a terrifying near-catatonic torpor.
If you answered that the trick is with “those suspicious ellipses which broke up Krauthammer’s pleasing text” then you’ve been reading the same Daily Howler articles I have. As the Howler points out, the official transcript for the Hardball interview gives a whole different context than you get from Krauthammer (missing text in bold):
MATTHEWS: …Ted Kennedy was part of that deregulation, the deregulation of radio. There are so many things that have been deregulated. Is that wrong trend and would you reverse it?
DEAN: I would reverse in some areas.
First of all, 11 companies in this country control 90 percent of what ordinary people are able to read and watch on their television. That’s wrong. We need to have a wide variety of opinions in every community. We don’t have that because of Michael Powell and what George Bush has tried to do to the FCC.
MATTHEWS: Would you break up Fox?
MATTHEWS: I’m serious.
DEAN: I’m keeping a…
MATTHEWS: Would you break it up? Rupert Murdoch has “The Weekly Standard.” It has got a lot of other interests. It has got “The New York Post.” Would you break it up?
DEAN: On ideological grounds, absolutely yes, but…
MATTHEWS: No, seriously. As a public policy, would you bring industrial policy to bear and break up these conglomerations of power?
DEAN: I don’t want to answer whether I would break up Fox or not,
MATTHEWS: Well, how about large media enterprises?
DEAN: Let me-yes, let me get…
DEAN: The answer to that is yes.
I would say that there is too much penetration by single corporations in media markets all over this country. We need locally-owned radio stations. There are only two or three radio stations left in the state of Vermont where you can get local news anymore. The rest of it is read and ripped from the AP.
MATTHEWS: So what are you going to do about it? You’re going to be president of the United States, what are you going to do?
DEAN: What I’m going to do is appoint people to the FCC that believe democracy depends on getting information from all portions of the political spectrum, not just one.
When you see the whole context it’s clear that “no detectable sense of humor” Dean was joking when he said he would break up Fox — obvious when you leave in the audience laughter and Matthews’ comments of “no, seriously.” More importantly, Dean wasn’t answering the question “would you break up Fox” but the more general question “would you break up large media companies,” a question that conveniently fell between Krauthammer’s ellipses. What Krauthammer paints as a liberal conspiracy-theory answer is actually a plainly-stated position on the media consolidation limits currently being debated in Congress. Krauthammer could have honestly argued with Dean’s position, as did Chris Matthews, but instead he chose to pretend Dean was answering a different question and then make fun of him.
Krauthammer leads the column with his other quote:
Diane Rehm: “Why do you think he [Bush] is suppressing that [Sept. 11] report?”
Howard Dean: “I don’t know. There are many theories about it. The most interesting theory that I’ve heard so far — which is nothing more than a theory, it can’t be proved — is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Now who knows what the real situation is?”
— “The Diane Rehm Show,” NPR, Dec. 1
He then builds from the quote to his core accusation:
…When he avers, however, that “the most interesting” theory as to why the president is “suppressing” the Sept. 11 report is that Bush knew about Sept. 11 in advance, it’s time to check on thorazine supplies. When Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) first broached this idea before the 2002 primary election, it was considered so nutty it helped make her former representative McKinney. Today the Democratic presidential front-runner professes agnosticism as to whether the president of the United States was tipped off about 9/11 by the Saudis, and it goes unnoticed. The virus is spreading.
Unlike Hardball, The Diane Rehm Show doesn’t have an online transcript, but it does have a streaming audio link. The quote in question is between 42:00 and 43:30 (or just listen to the whole interview, it’s interesting). Again, here’s the full context:
Diane Rehm: “Why do you think he [Bush] is suppressing that [Sept. 11] report?”
Howard Dean: “I don’t know. There are many theories about it. The most interesting theory that I’ve heard so far — which is nothing more than a theory, it can’t be proved — is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Now who knows what the real situation is, but the trouble is by suppressing that kind of information you lead to those kinds of theories, whether they have any truth to them or not. And eventually they get repeated as fact. So I think the president is taking a great risk by suppressing the key information that needs to go to the Kean Commission.“
Now it may be that three years in California’s liberal environment has addled my brain, but to me it looks like Dean isn’t defending the Saudi tip-off theory at all, but is rather saying that even outlandish theories like this one are getting bandied about because Bush hasn’t been forthcoming with the evidence of what really did happen.
One might wonder why a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist would use these at best negligent and at worst deliberately deceitful quotes, but donning my own psychologist’s lab coat I think I have the answer. If you carefully re-reading Krauthammer’s column, it’s clear that he has he has subconsciously embedded the true cause of these journalistic lapses:
It has been 25 years since I… was considered so nutty… the very sight of… Thanksgiving turkey… caused dozens of cases of apoplexy. What is worrying… is… the… neurologically hazardous punditry… of… Murdoch… in which otherwise normal people… can get their news from only one part of the political spectrum.
Clearly this column was the product of a disturbed mind, with the psychotic episode triggered by a combination of holiday feasting and too much Fox News.
Actually, scratch my last quote and comment — it was childish and cruel of me to distort Krauthammer’s words that way. If I were a professional columnist and not just a blogger, I hope I would be ashamed of myself.
- The Delusional Dean (Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, 5 December 2003)
- One question only, for the Washington Post: When will Charles Krauthammer be fired? (The Daily Howler, 5 December 2003)
- Hardball with Chris Matthews for Dec. 1 (Chris Matthews and Howard Dean, Hardball Transcript, 1 December 2003)
- Democrats promise battle on ownership (Paul Davidson, USA Today, 25 November 2003)
- The Diane Rehm Show — Howard Dean (Diane Rehm and Howard Dean, The Diane Rehm Show, 1 December 2003)
- Audio for The Diane Rehm Show (quote is between 42:00 and 43:30)
- The Pulitzer Prizes for 1987 (Krauthammer won the Commentary category “for his witty and insightful columns on national issues.”)