Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Understanding Bob Somerby

Some people (the most recent one being a commenter over at the Tapped blog) have noted with some surprise that Bob Somerby seems to be uncharacteristically eager to defend Joe Lieberman. But if you've been following Somerby's online career over the past decade, it's not that surprising. The irony is that Somerby's latest Lieberman defense winds up proving the very point he wants to discredit: Namely, that Lieberman's 1988 action was a monumental betrayal that really did cause great harm to Clinton and, by extension, to America -- by making it politically possible for the Republicans to proceed with impeachment. Somerby says that Lieberman wasn't the only Democrat to go after Clinton. But Somerby is honest enough to admit that they didn't start attacking Clinton until Lieberman started attacking him. And that, ladies and germs, is what created the "bipartisanness" the Republicans needed to impeach Bill Clinton. (But not, luckily, to remove him.) You gotta understand the dynamic at work with Bob Somerby. Here are the rules he operates by:

The Prime Directive
(not numbered because it is above the numbers, that's how important it is) Al Gore is always right and never makes mistakes (except when he endorsed Howard Dean, who Somerby hates with a white-hot passion). Gore and Somerby were buddies from college onward and thus Somerby has always (with the sole exception being their divide over Dean) backed everything Gore does, up to and including picking Lieberman as his running mate in 2000. The rest of the rules are as follows: 1) Bob Somerby is always right. Goes without saying. He almost never even admits to being criticized, much less to actually being wrong on something important. When he does acknowledge criticism, he cherry-picks the critics and/or the criticisms he thinks are the most easily-debunked and mocks them, or tries to. 2) Bill Clinton is always right, except when stating this reflects badly on Al Gore. (Somerby will defend to the death Gore's apparent decision to distance himself from the most popular president of the past sixty years. This means that he will pretend that Lieberman really didn't hurt Clinton all that much with his 1998 backstabbing.) 3) Any information that violates any of these rules is to be ignored. Goes without saying. Granted, we all have our blind spots. The problem is that you could hide the Grand Canyon in some of Somerby's.

Yeah, Bob is a strange story.

I don't just take people's word for it when they criticize a reporter. If I am planning to criticize the reporter, I check it out. And for a long time, Somerby checked out every time.

And usually there's an identifiable underlying cause for when Bob goes negative. He's mad at Cynthia McKinney for saying that Al Gore had a "Negro tolerance issue." I'd hate to break to him the fact that almost every African-American might, off-the-books, say the same about every white. Race relations are at a low ebb, even inside the Democratic party. But I can see that Somerby might see McKinney as an attacker. His treatment of her hasn't been fair, but it's intelligible.

But backing Lieberman-- which, as far as I know, Al Gore has declined to do-- is weird. Just weird.
My guess is that since Gore, who is busy staying away from electoral politics, hasn't taken a stance on Lamont/Lieberman, Somerby doesn't feel any conflict with his Prime Directive in defending Lieberman.

But, yeah, for the longest time, Somerby checked out every time. Either that, or his biases aligned with my own so that I didn't notice them. :-)
And yet...Somerby remains an astute, if obsessive, interpreter of our media times. We all have our biases.
Mommybrain, you're right.

However, let me assure you that Bob can be even more hysterical in personal e-mail as he can be in print. So, while we all have our biases, Bob sometimes has his at a pitch just below dog whistles.
I have a much more charitable take on Somerby. For one thing, Gore was right with where and how often he used Clinton. You're confusing the public's resentment over a frivolous impeachment with personal popularity in the Red States. The fact is, Gore got Clinton to campaign for him, mostly late in the season but not entirely, and in states where polls showed Clinton campaigning for Gore would actually boost Gore's numbers. There were about as many where Clinton hurt Gore. Perhaps a couple more. Also, they didn't use Clinton nationally to such a degree they overshadowed the candidate. That is S.O.P. For instance afterward they have asked Carville and Begala what Gore should have done differently. They said him not using Clinton enough is "just a stupid criticism. You don't overshadow the candidate. They did what we would have said to do" the main thing Carville thinks Gore should have done was stick it to Bush on populist issues before the convention, and stick to that.

I also find most of Somerby's defenses of Gore are dual purpose. Yes, he wants justice for Al Gore. So do I. But you're ignoring the obvious fact that Somerby is using Gore as his MODEL to show you what's wrong with our modern media. The test case. the example. That media malfeasance, and educational failure, are Somerby's two obessions. Not Gore and his own ego.

Sorry, but from here, the snark fizzles.
And that would explain Bob's self-righteous blindness on Joe Wilson and the Niger story exactly how, Marion?

I'm sorry, but having experienced Bob in personal e-mail, I think there is a hinge that needs oiling.
What Charles Said, Marion. And Heaven help you if you ever try to correct Bob on anything he's said about Howard Dean (much less Cynthia McKinney). "Nuts" is about the nicest thing he's said about Dean in e-mails, both to me and to other folks I know.

Bob wants to think that he's the sole arbiter of sanity and fact, which means that as more and more people are expressing views which don't align with his (especially bloggers) -- and who use facts in context to back up these views -- he has to resort to ever-more-ridiculous contortions to justify his stances on them. (His attacks on Joe Wilson are exquisitely-constructed masterpieces in deliberately refusing to see the forest for the trees. At least, his public attacks are; as with Howard Dean, in e-mail correspondence he doesn't even bother with constructing verbal justifications -- he just calls Wilson AND Plame "nuts" and "hysterics" and leaves it at that.)
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