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'Major League'? Try 'Bush League'

George W. Bush insults a reporter, so naturally, the ConWeb blames ... the reporter! And Clinton!

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/8/2000

The usual ConWeb signs are there in their coverage of George W. Bush's Sept. 4 comment, picked up on an open microphone, that New York Times reporter Adam Clymer is a "major league asshole."

Reports on Clymer's personal life. Anecdotal evidence used to make sweeping conclusions. And absolute refusal to take Bush to task for the remark as they reverted to the old chauvinistic rape defense that the victim had it coming to him.

NewsMax, given its love of the salacious, was all over it. Its first article referred to the remark as "a little plain speaking" and throws in a slam at Al Gore for effect. An article the next day rips into Clymer for writing a "flattering" biography of Sen. Ted Kennedy: "If you're a liberal Democrat who knows how to commit manslaughter driving drunk off bridges, reporters like Clymer write glowingly about your compassion. If you're the son of Republican president running for president yourself, promoting a conservative agenda, well, you get knifed."

And because it's apparently NewsMax policy to always equivocate anything bad a Republican does with something President Clinton is alleged to have done, another article the same day howls that Clinton's language on the Gennifer Flowers tapes was never criticized by the media. It appears NewsMax is unable to tell the difference between secretly recorded phone conversations with an alleged mistress and a Labor Day campaign podium.

That article was followed by an article titled "Meet Adam Clymer, Biased Liberal Reporter." (You can figure it out from there.) Then, on Sept. 7, NewsMax ran an unusually (for NewsMax) useful piece on the varied reactions to the remark. (The meat of the article originated in National Journal, however, so NewsMax can't be given all that much credit for it.)

The article then switches into a critique of a Clymer critique written by Mickey Kaus, oddly calling his Kausfiles a "liberal Democrat Web site." Kaus bashes Clinton and Gore regularly on his site in addition to engaging in a recent war of words against Jeffrey Toobin's book "A Vast Conspiracy." Hardly a "liberal Democrat."

The confusion seems to stem from the fact that Kausfiles also appears on what the Media Research Center calls "the liberal-leaning Web site Slate.com." But elsewhere, MRC calls Kaus "not a raging right-winger," so it knows Kaus is not a liberal and is misusing Kaus' Slate connection as "proof" that people who are not "raging right-wingers" agree with Bush.

Speaking of the MRC, L. Brent Bozell weighs in on the issue with his usual 50-megaton subtlety. He throws out a couple anecdotal examples of Clymer's alleged liberal bias, mixing in along the way a couple of his favorite targets, Bryant Gumbel and Dan Rather, and a quick shill for Fox News.

"The hypocrisy of the press is boundless," Bozell writes -- and he ought to know. The "asshole" remark itself gets dismissed as a "no-no" by the man who crusades relentlessly against vulgarity in the media. And Bozell uses looks disdainfully on some of Clymer's more uncouth remarks; this from someone who has no problem hurling terms like "lackey," "hit man" and "political prostitute" at anyone who disagrees with him.

WorldNetDaily, meanwhile, was way behind the curve. The incident is first buried in a Sept. 5 campaign story by Jon Dougherty, but then they finally follow the pack and run a story by Julie Foster containing catty remarks Clymer reportedly made at a recent forum (originally reported in Investor's Business Daily) and retelling a 1997 run-in between Clymer and security officials (originally reported in the Washington Times).

This was such a big story that other conservative sites got in on the act as well. National Review ran an article by the MRC's Tim Graham pointing out that Clymer was the reporter who broke the story about a taped cell-phone conversation that featured Newt Gingrich appearing to violate an agreement over his House Ethics Committee sanction for lying to the committee about possible violations of fund-raising rules. "Illegally recorded" conversations at that, Graham is careful to note. No apparent concern from Graham about the legality of Gennifer Flowers' taping of conversations with President Clinton could be found.

Robert McFarland of the Free Congress Foundation also chimes in, calling Bush's remark understandable (and Mickey Kaus "left-leaning").

Whether or not Adam Clymer deserves to be called an asshole is beside the point. It can easily be argued that any decent reporter is an asshole to some degree. We will defer on that issue to an excellent article on Inside.com, which quotes one of Clymer's colleagues in the press corps: "He is an asshole in that fabulous, classic, New York Times asshole kind of way. They're pompous, self-important and snotty. And they are all so very good at it."

What none of these ConWeb sites will answer, though: How does calling someone an "asshole," meant for public consumption or not, mesh with Bush's oft-stated desire to "restore honor and dignity" to the White House?

Don't expect an answer from these folks. To them, vulgarity in the service of conservative goals is no vice.

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