A failure of imagination

by Ted on November 20, 2003

Today, Howard Kurtz quoted a story about the discovery of the remains of Howard Dean’s brother in Laos. He then commented:

I wonder if the remains would have been found if Dean wasn’t running for president.

I have been trying all day to imagine what Kurtz could have meant by that, but everything I come up with is ludicrous. Suggestions are more than welcome. (via Atrios)



Brian Weatherson 11.20.03 at 9:34 am

Howie finds the following story plausible:

bq. Becoming a Presidential candidate gives one superhero like powers, including the power to travel back in time. Howard Dean used this new power to travel back to try and save his brother. But we all know that although time travellers can visit the past, they cannot change it, so tragically Charles Dean still died. Howard, however, saw what happened, and when he returned to the present was able to alert the authorities to where his brother’s remains would be. Hence they were found, but wouldn’t have been if not for candidate Dean’s superpowers.

I have others, but they are less charitable towards Howie.


khr 11.20.03 at 10:55 am

If you want to be very charitable, it would awfully poor phrasing, and what he meant was that the find of a little-known US soldier in Laos would not have been reported in the media.

But the more likely interpretation is that it is a knee-jerk reaction by a Dean-hater.


Barry 11.20.03 at 11:44 am

Kurtz’ writings become more coherent if one reads them assuming that he’s a press critic in the same way that an official of one-party state would be a press critic of the state run media. His job is to provide a potemkin criticism, so that people are decieved into thinking that there’s actually free speech and open debate. However, most of the criticism is fluff, and the rest is designed to bolster the official party line.

In short, he should be writing for Astroturf^H^H^H^^H^H Tech Central Station.


Andrew Boucher 11.20.03 at 12:57 pm

Well I’ve thought all of three seconds, and here’s my take.

The report doesn’t say whether the body was found because people went looking for it or by accident. If by accident, then Kurtz is all wet. If people went looking for it (because they knew that the body would be in some particular region), then one could surmise they only did so because Dean is now somebody important. And if those people worked for an organization which has scarce resources, then one can always ask why the search for this body got (say) preferential treatment over the search for somebody’s else lost relative. And that still doesn’t mean Dean himself did anything wrong to get preferential treatment; it could be someone just heard about the case because Dean is in all the papers and then tried to do something about it.

Well that’s a lot of “ifs”, but that’s the take I can provide. Given all the “ifs”, Kurtz’s ruminations are best called “innuendo” if not “slander” (unless he has information which he did not supply in his column).


Matthew Yglesias 11.20.03 at 2:47 pm

Everyone knows the really important part of that Kurtz article is when it mentions me way down at the end. Best media critic ever.


Ted Barlow 11.20.03 at 3:28 pm


I thought about that- that Kurtz was implying that extra attention is a perk that comes with political celebrity. But I don’t think it works for a few reasons:

– Howard Dean was a governor while Clinton was president. He would have had a lot more pull in the 90s, under a sympathetic Administration, than right now, while actively campaigning against the Administration.

– The PMAC is in charge of finding MIA/POWs, and Charlie Dean wasn’t in the military. The report that I read made it sound like they found him while looking for the remains of soldiers. (That could be wrong, of course.)

– Charlie Dean disappeared 30 years ago. I’m not sure that the search teams could have concentrated excessively on a specific individual, even if they wanted to.

It’s better than the superhero theory, but it’s still not very good.


Ophelia Benson 11.20.03 at 6:53 pm

Oh, it’s not just me then [she said stupidly]. I’ve disliked Kurtz for years – thought he was a sort of pretend-media critic who was actually as ‘mainstream’ and conventional and conventional-wisdom-loving and tame as it was possible to be. Yet another of those phenomena that are so familiar in US culture, where various people and institutions have reputations as wildly lefty and extreme and flaky and out there when in fact they’re not even left of center and can be relied on to sneer at anyone who is. The NY Times springs to mind, followed closely by the Washington Post and NPR.

But, so, apparently that’s common knowledge about Kurtz, and I just haven’t been paying attention. Well that’s good – that other people have been, I mean.


nnyhav 11.20.03 at 7:34 pm

When love begins to sicken and decay,
It useth an enforced ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith;
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle;
But when they should endure the bloody spur,
They fall their crests, and, like deceitful jades,
Sink in the trial. Comes his army on?


yami 11.22.03 at 4:40 am

Perhaps Kurtz is merely inviting us to contemplate the ultimate serendipity of life, by way of a little koan.

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