It doesn't seem like that far back but, as these things are measured, I guess it really was a generation ago.
It was 1976. Gerald Ford had replaced the disgraced Richard Nixon as President of the United States. He was facing a serious challenge from upstart conservative Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California. Several Democrats were vying for the party nomination. Hubert Humphrey was looking strong. Morris Udall was an underdog. And a former Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter was just beginning to look credible as he faced George Wallace in a few southern states.
But the big name, the one name that dominated the news was Senator Ted Kennedy. Chappaquiddick and the death of a young admirer was still in everyone's mind. The degree of Kennedy's responsibility for her death was a topic of discussion and debate.
More than anything on the news, the possibility of another Kennedy run dominated. Word came out that the Senator would be making an announcement soon.
The announcement came from his office. Senator Kennedy would not be running for President that year. Still, a few voices were heard wondering just how definitive that announcement really was. That afternoon, Senator Kennedy held a press conference. No, he said. No, no, no. He was not going to run for President in 1976. No.
By the end of the workday, as commuters clogged the expressway in Baltimore where I lived, as businesses closed for the day, the news programs on the radio reviewed the day's events. I listened as I drove. Okay, okay, I got it. Senator Edward M. Kennedy would remain Senator Kennedy. There would not be another President Kennedy. Not for a while, at least.
At home that evening, I turned on the television set. Jerry Turner was a reliable presence. You could always count on him to appear. I wondered if he ever took a vacation. He was reliable. His words were not. He mixed his opinions into his news and he was not careful about his facts.
That evening, he announced the big news from that morning. Edward Kennedy was about to run for President. Details after the commercial break.
Even by Turner standards, that was a surprise. It was before Fox News made the practice of spin a normal expectation. In those days, journalists did not aspire to balance as much as they did to accuracy. Let the chips fall.
Accuracy was the fashion, and Jerry Turner was no slave to fashion.
I may be aging, but I still have my mind. The sense of déjà vu while watching MSNBC made me wonder about my mind, but only for a second.
A week or so before, a publication for investors called "Money Morning" carried a bit of a misleading story that started with Warren Buffett. The story was that Buffett, back in 2010, had joined in the health care debate. He had voiced skepticism about Obamacare as it was being considered by Congress. If he was President Obama, he would scrap the program and start over.
The quote from 2010 was semi-true. Obamacare did not exist yet, and Buffett was being interviewed about two versions being debated at the time. He preferred a Senate version over a House version, but was concerned about the increasing costs of health care in recent decades. He was afraid that neither plan would seriously push back against costs. He wished a better plan that would directly attack costs could be devised. If he was President he would have started differently, adding more cost push backs to the mix.
Still he supported Obamacare over the system in place at the time. It was a major improvement and he was for it. He just wished it had more cost cutting provisions.
The Money Morning piece did not dwell on the misleading Buffett quote. It just used it as a jumping off point to explain how horrible Obamacare will be and how Americans "loathe every facet" of it. But the new program does offer major investment opportunities, so listen up, readers. Money Morning is, after all, an investment newsletter.
A few days later, the conservative Weekly Standard wrote about how Warren Buffett now stands opposed to Obamacare. You know things are bad for President Obama when even Warren Buffett has soured on Obamacare and says that "we need something else."
The Weekly Standard somehow forgot to mention that the quote was not current, in fact was from 2010.
Like some demented version of a children's game of telephone, the conservative publication selectively quoted an investment newsletter which in turn selectively quoted this public figure.
And, of course, a thousand conservative bloggers chipped in their version of the Weekly Standard version of the Money Morning version of Warren Buffett. So now the internet conservative news was that Warren Buffett had seen the light. The one time supporter of health care reform was now vigorously opposed to it.
Republicans appeared on talk shows to score points, now that Warren Buffett had joined them in opposing Obamacare.
None of it was true, of course.
A few writers began to push back, after doing their homework and researching the quote. Yes, it really was from three years back when Obamacare did not yet exist, when the legislation was still being worked out. And yes, the context of the quote made the meaning pretty much opposite of what conservatives were trumpeting about it.
Warren Buffett quickly issued his own denial. As soon as the stories began, he spoke with the Omaha World-Herald.
Stories saying that Warren Buffett wants to “scrap Obamacare” are false, the Omaha investor said Tuesday.
“This is outrageous,” Buffett said in a World-Herald interview Tuesday. “It's 100 percent wrong ... totally false.”
- Omaha World-Herald, September 17, 2013
Apparently, Mr. Buffett was not happy at being misquoted.
I've never suggested nor thought Obamacare should be scrapped. I support it. It relates to providing medical care for all Americans. That's something I've thought should be done for a long, long time.
- Warren Buffett, interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald, September 17, 2013
Now that should settle it, right? Oh, you'll still have countless minor conservative office holders or talk personalities who never get the word, or who lack enough confidence in themselves or their issues to stick with the truth.
But mainstream conservatives have pretty much turned to more productive arguments.
Well, some may have. Maybe.
The controversy has died down, the Weekly Standard has updated it's story with a tiny little note that Buffett was speaking three years ago. Still no context, and still no other corrections, but you can't expect everything.
Five days after the dust has settled, five days after Warren Buffett's scathing correction of the record, five days after Buffett reaffirms his support of healthcare in general and Obamacare specifically, conservative Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe, speaks to a regular member of the show, and informs a national audience:
By the way, Warren Buffett came out last week and said, Willie, we've got to start all over. Obamacare is not going to work. We need to start all over. Warren Buffett, big Democrat.
- Joe Scarborough, on Morning Joe, September 22, 2013
Jerry Turner left this mortal realm a quarter century ago. I still sometimes hear his voice in my imagination growling that his name is Legion "for we are many." It was startling to see his inner demons possess another television personality.
But we must acknowledge our blessings. For example, I'm thankful at how fast my face is already healing.
I've got to learn to stop listening to Scarborough in the morning during the few minutes it takes me to shave.
If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. - Joseph Goebbels
That quote is true if you live in Faux Noise world.
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