I suppose one could do this a dozen times a day, but this particular example stood out to me. It’s a CNN interview with Carl Bernstein, one half of the most famous journalistic duo (Woodward and Bernstein) in American history. The subject is Hillary Clinton, someone Bernstein has written a book about.
Here’s what struck me about this interview. Mr. Bernstein concedes what any reasonable person has to: Mrs. Clinton “has had a difficult relationship with the truth” since the Arkansas years. But here’s what’s known in poker as the “tell”: Bernstein spends the rest of the interview making excuses for Clinton’s prevarications. There are reasons for her dishonesty, you see, and they have to do more with Mrs. Clinton’s critics than with Mrs. Clinton. Let’s see if we can follow the bouncing ball.
Mrs. Clinton has been the object of “attacks” because she’s been “at the heart of the cultural warfare in this country over the last 30 years” — and “the demographics today reflect that she is on the right side of this cultural warfare.” This is a non sequitur. What does this have to do with Mrs. Clinton being dishonest on issue after issue? Answer: Nothing. She dissembled because of her flawed character, not because of the culture wars.
But Bernstein isn’t done yet. He points out that Hillary Clinton is a politician and fudging the truth is endemic among them — though he’s quick to add that she’s become “a specialist at it.” (How euphemistic. She’s a “specialist” at “fudging” the truth rather than, say, a chronic liar.)
And the reason she’s become a specialist at it? Why, it has to do with the “peculiarities of the Clinton’s situation.” It has to do with Bill Clinton’s relationship with other women and the fact that “she’s had to defend him.”
“It’s been very difficult to do with the whole truth and all the truth and nothing but the truth,” according to the man who made his career covering and then fiercely condemning a president had great difficulty tell the whole truth, all the truth, and nothing but the truth.
Bernstein sums up his case this way: “She’s been in a very difficult position.” What we need to appreciate about Mrs. Clinton are her “complexities.” She’s “sui generis” — the “most famous woman in the world” and “all over the world this morning, people are having the discussion we’re having around their breakfast tables (!). It’s remarkable, this phenomenon.” So, you see, we have to “look at this election in a little bit different terms, and her in a little bit different terms than anybody else.”
Now think about how the Bernstein case could have applied to oh, say, Richard Nixon. Mr. Nixon had a difficult relationship with the truth — but the reason for that, you have to understand, was that he was a key figure in the culture war fight over Alger Hiss. And what Nixon did in Watergate wasn’t right — but then again, it wasn’t all that unusual. Those kinds of dirty tricks had been going on forever, including during the Johnson and Kennedy administrations. And remember: Nixon didn’t give the approval for the Watergate break-in; he fudged the truth in order to protect underlings who had done something without his approval. Sure it wasn’t right, but at the heart of this case was a two-bit burglary. And in any event, Nixon was a great foreign policy president — and the first from Yorba Linda — so you have to look at what he did in a little different terms, and him in a little bit different terms.
Carl Bernstein is a regrettable case — a journalist who helped expose a scandal and who has now, for ideological reasons, become something of an apologist for scandal. His liberal political biases have blinded his ability to speak with any dispassion on matters, including Mrs. Clinton. His CNN interview was a perfect example of motivated reasoning, and evidence of much of what is wrong with the press these days. Carl Bernstein isn’t really a journalist so much as he’s a liberal advocate. That’s his right, but we shouldn’t pretend he is what he’s not.