The Most Partisan Journalist

The prize, at least for this week, goes to George Will. In last Sunday's column in The Washington Post, Will repeatedly employed a moniker that Republican strategists have explicitly called on their supporters to use in a propaganda war against Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle: "Daschle Democrats."


Will's column itself was titled "The Daschle Democrats." In case you're wondering where this phrasing came from, here's a quotation from a December 21, 2001 New York Times story about conservative attacks on Tom Daschle:


It's time for someone, everyone, to start using the phrase 'Daschle Democrats' and the word 'obstructionist' in the same sentence," the Republican strategist Frank Luntz wrote in a memorandum of suggested talking points to the Senate Republican caucus on Wednesday.


"It's time for Congressional Republicans to personalize the individual that is standing directly in the way of economic security, and even national security," the memorandum added. "Remember what the Democrats did to Gingrich? We need to do exactly the same thing to Daschle."


Will doesn't actually use the word "obstructionist" in his column, but he does use a lot of synonyms, accusing Democrats in Daschle's camp of, among other things, "opposing," "stalling," "block[ing]," and "refusing" to go along with crucial legislative priorities. If he was trying to avoid "obstructionist" so as not to be accused of following the Luntz memo too closely, then his success was a stunningly superficial one.


More significant, however, is the way Will repeats the phrase "Daschleized Democrats" -- clearly playing into GOP spin efforts to market a political brand name. All in all, the word "Daschleized" appears nine times in the column, an obvious attempt, as per Luntz's memo, to "personalize the individual that is standing directly in the way of economic security" -- i.e., Daschle. (Will also coins the clumsy phrase "Daschlenomics.")


And then there is an array of ad hominem attacks to go along with this parroting of the party line, as Will heaps accusations of stupidity on "Daschleized Democrats." A sampling:


By blaming the recession that began in March on the tax cut that was not enacted until June and will mostly not happen for several years, Daschleized Democrats seem unable to read a calendar, operate a calculator or pass Economics 101.


So this is Daschleized arithmetic: Your taxes under current law are X. Your taxes would be X plus Y under a new law repealing the older law. But the new law does not raise your taxes.


Granted, it's conceivable that Will knows nothing about the Luntz memo -- but it's highly doubtful. And of course, a columnist is free to bash using any terminology he chooses. But when his language clearly and intimately reflects official party strategy, as detailed in a recently revealed and widely reported-on political memo, then one wonders why he should be taken seriously at all.


Ann Coulter is Right. Much as I hate to say it, at least in this instance it's actually true. Last Friday the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) sent out this Coulter quotation from an interview with CNN's Paula Zahn:



We are looking for Muslims. We know that's what the next terrorist will be, and it's preposterous for airlines to be wasting everyone's time.


CAIR presented this quote without any commentary, as though it were obviously some sort of outrage. Quite the contrary. Ann Coulter is often out of control, but this isn't one of those times. Note that she doesn't say, "we are looking for Arabs." Neither does she say that every last Muslim heeds bin Laden's call, or (at least here) that they ought to be converted to Christianity. Instead, what she said is just basic common sense.


So let's say it loud and clear, in chorus with Ann Coulter: The people who are going to heed Osama bin Laden's call, and try to attack the United States, are Muslims. (No, not all Muslims are attacking us; but then, no non-Muslims are either.)


The fact that such a statement is politically charged is the real problem.


Hominid Fishing. On Monday, The Washington Post ran a story about the recent discovery of a cache of ancient human artifacts in South Africa's Blombos Cave, which contained this bizarre sentence:


Stanford University professor Richard G. Klein, however, questioned the authenticity of some Blombos artifacts and the interpretation given to the red ochre, noting that even Neanderthals, the European precursors of modern humans, produced marked stones and modern-looking tools and bone "every once in a while." [Italics added]


What's wrong with this? Well, just the teensy fact that Neanderthals disappeared roughly 30,000 years ago. Only in the past few years have scientists begun to consider the possibility that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon man -- the true precursor of modern humans who walked "out of Africa" 100,000 years ago -- may have interbred and intermingled. But the fact that our evolutionary origins may have gotten more complicated doesn't mean they have fundamentally changed. Furthermore, there's no way that Richard G. Klein himself believes Neanderthals to be our ancestors; in 1999 he told the New Scientist that "if you accept what I think are reasonable rules of evidence, then the story is finished -- the Neanderthals became extinct."


Calling Neanderthals "the European precursors of modern humans" is, at best, highly deceptive. At worst, it's like calling the passenger pigeon the "precursor" of those obnoxious birds in Central Park.