Don't Know Much About History . . .

Josh Marshall is of course right that it is doubtful that Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House GOP Whip, has ever read a book on Churchill, but I think the question is whether Washington Post reporters Michael Shear and Paul Kane know much of anything about Churchill. After all it was Shear and Kane who wrote this:

Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the House minority whip who led the fight to deny Obama every GOP vote for the plan, is studying Winston Churchill's role leading the Tories in the late 1930s, a principled minority that was eventually catapulted into power over the Labor Party.

(Emphasis supplied.) I do not know what Cantor actually knows or is doing, but I do know Shear and Kane put their names to a story that stated this falsehood (as Josh explains, and as anyone even vaguely familiar with Churchill's life story would know, Churchill did not lead a Tory opposition in the 30s, the Neville Chamberlain government was Tory and Churchill was on the outs with his own party.) This is the Washington Post. Supposedly one of our great newspapers. What a wonderful world it would be if we had a better press corps.

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    I don't claim to be an A student (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 12:38:20 PM EST
    on Churchill, but I sure wish those who are supposed to be reporting on these things would try to be.

    Michael Shear is an idiot (none / 0) (#11)
    by BrassTacks on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:38:58 PM EST
    There's a good reason why he has not been promoted at the Post but is still running around VA mostly reporting local politics.  But he is also a very strong democrat, so we put up with him, and his reporting of Virginia politics.  

    Eric Cantor is VERY popular in his district in Virginia.  I have no idea why.  


    What I want to know (none / 0) (#23)
    by Peter G on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 03:37:20 PM EST
    is, Where is Sam Cooke when we really need him?

    the very first clue (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by cpinva on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:13:05 PM EST
    that neither writer had the least idea what they were talking about, was including rep. cantor's and sir winston's names in the same paragraph. the two couldn't be more polar opposite, intellectually.

    that wp writers didn't bother doing a 2 minute net search should come as no surprise. it would require an expenditure of energy that members of the "village" deem beneath them.

    Interesting sidenote ... (none / 0) (#2)
    by Robot Porter on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:00:16 PM EST
    during the abdication crisis, Churchill supported Edward VIII, and some thought he might have been angling to form a "King's Party."

    This led to a further decrease in his popularity which had been on the wane for years.

    BTD: Here here! (none / 0) (#4)
    by Upstart Crow on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:13:52 PM EST
    Or is it "hear, hear"? Damn. Always get it confused.

    Me Too (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by squeaky on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:23:52 PM EST
    Hear Hear is what you are looking for.

    It is a shortening of Hear ye Hear ye..


    Thanks (none / 0) (#10)
    by Upstart Crow on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:30:23 PM EST
    maybe that will help to keep it straight in my head

    I mean... (none / 0) (#5)
    by Upstart Crow on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:14:24 PM EST
    for a lot of this stuff you can just go to google.

    Churchill is apropos (none / 0) (#6)
    by Erehwon on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:18:59 PM EST
    That these Washington Post reporters lack basic historical knowledge is pretty obvious.

    But for any student of history, whether it is Cantor or Reagan, the modern Republican party always seems to looks for leaders who have made it "big" despite their implicit or explicit (in the case of Churchill) racism.

    Sadly ...

    At least this level of right-wing dishonesty (none / 0) (#7)
    by magster on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:19:00 PM EST
    hasn't affected



    (2 separate links)

    Indeed (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:25:44 PM EST
    And of course that raises the issue of factual inaccuracy (as opposed to diverging viewpoints) on opinion pages.

    That is certainly a big issue.


    I sickens me to hear journalists (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by BernieO on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 02:05:05 PM EST
    defend factually incorrect opinion pieces by  saying "everyone is entitled to his own opinion". I like the response "but not their own facts". I do not understand why opinion writers like George Will are allowed to get away with blatant, provable falsehoods just because they are writing op-ed pieces. Journalists first duty should be to the ideal of an informed citzenry.

    The NY Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, had an interesting piece in Sunday's paper about the speed of posting on the internet promoting inaccurate reporting. When he remarked about this he was told by a colleague "God knows, we've made notorious mistakes very slowly." The colleague specifically mentioned the Times blowing the stories about Bush's case for war in Iraq and the Wen Ho Lee case. What he didn't mention was the Times misreporting on Whitewater or that it was the same reporter, Jeff Gerth that flogged both the false Whitewater accusations as well as those against Wen Ho Lee. In both cases Gerth relied on information from right wing sources and his bosses at the Times let him get away with it without demanding better proof. The exact same thing happened with Judith Miller's reporting on the pre-war evidence for WMD. Allowing star reporters to make these kinds of serious accusations without requiring they have several independent sources is journalistic malpractice. Ben Bradlee demanded that Woodward and Bernstein have three independent sources before they could pring their Watergate accusations. I think this is the kind of standard editors should use for big stories, no matter how prestigious the reporter.

    BTD is right that the world would be much better if we had a better press corps. To me this is the most important thing about our society that needs to be fixed. If the public got accurate, substantive information a lot of our problems would be much easier to solve.


    Correct. And see below (none / 0) (#24)
    by Cream City on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 04:01:48 PM EST
    my comment about the loss of the crucial role of copy desks -- those were the editors who caught errors, fact-checked, etc.  That role is almost gone.

    And any left will be gone within weeks -- I just got forwarded a memo today at the major paper and a major employer in my town.  Despite cuts, cuts, bailouts, and more cuts, the devastation is just beginning, with ad revenues down so much.  It's the sort of message I doubt that my dad got in the news biz during the Depression, when print media had so much less competition.


    They need to be grilled (none / 0) (#12)
    by Maryb2004 on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:41:51 PM EST
    by Chris Matthews on the history of Neville Chamberlain (the only time I've ever enjoyed Matthews was his Chamberlain moment).  

    They are confused, possibly, because there was a labour component to the change.  But that doesn't justify printing untruths.

    Chamberlain barely survived a de facto vote of confidence (it wasn't called that, but it was, for all practical purposes).  Many in his own party voted against the govt - and it became clear a change needed to be made and there was pressure to form a govt that included all parties.  Labour would not serve under Chamberlain though.  Churchill's name was put out (along with Lord Halifax who didn't want it).  In the midst of this Germany invaded the Netherlands, France and Belgium.  Labour acceded that they would serve under Churchill and so Churchill replaced Chamberlain but kept him on in the War Cabinet so there would be an appearance of continuity.  

    But the Tories certainly weren't the minority nor was Churchill "catapulted into power over the Labor Party."

    I read an interesting book last year Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World 1940-1941.  It went through the whole thought process on keeping Chamberlain in the War Cabinet.

    He died not too long after that though.

    Sure (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:47:25 PM EST
    the irony for Cantor is that the Churchill model requires him becoming acceptable to Dems who would revolt against Pelosi and he would become a type of coalition Speaker.

    He is obviously not following that model.

    But my point is these are some basic facts about Churchill in the 30s, and the idea that he was leading a Tory opposition is not even remotely close to the truth and yet the Washington Post published an article stating that as a fact.

    I know it is all the rage to make fun of Cantor (and with good reason) but I honestly was more angered by the quality of reporting the WaPo turned in on this story.

    It is, in many ways, the bigger part of this story.


    I agree (none / 0) (#14)
    by Maryb2004 on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:56:17 PM EST
    It's not even that the fact check didn't happen, which should be a basic part of the process at a leading newspaper like WaPo.  It should never have gotten into the story in the first place because this isn't ancient history and the reporters shouldn't have gotten it wrong in the first place.

    Especially after the volumes of WWII books and TV shows about WWII that have come out in the last few years.  


    The realities of newspapering today (5.00 / 3) (#17)
    by Cream City on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 02:07:45 PM EST
    are showing:  Computerization (by which reporters send stories straight to type) and budget cuts have killed off a lot of copy desks.  That was my training and first career, being a copy editor.

    I came back to it decades later, a decade ago, as a summer job -- and I saw that I had made the right decision to switch careers.  What was left of copy desks had become a travesty, little more than proofreading . . . which was my first job, in high school, so I knew the difference.  

    Copy desks used to be collections of wonderfully, incredibly diverse minds filled with remarkable trivia but also with insatiable seeking of "truth," or at least solid facts.  Copy editors were respected, and reporters had to listen to them.

    No more.  And now you see the result.


    There is a revisionism (none / 0) (#15)
    by Cream City on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 01:58:14 PM EST
    among a coterie of British historians that is leading the unschooled astray.  Of course, to be so led astray, the unschooled also have to be willing to remain unschooled and resist reading more than recent babble.  

    There always will be revisionists -- and there ought to be, as that is how history, she is done.  But some also are so obvious that it ought not to be hard to see a red flag waving:  Read more. . . .

    My favorite aspect of Churchill (none / 0) (#18)
    by Mike Pridmore on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 02:14:40 PM EST
    is his sense of humor.  And I think that Cantor and certain puff piece writers at the post lack a sense of irony.

    Hm (none / 0) (#19)
    by Steve M on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 02:18:36 PM EST
    I don't think the Tories were in power in the early 1930s, it was some kind of weird Unity Government thingie.  Chamberlain was Conservative, of course, but he wasn't PM until the late 30s.

    Regardless, Churchill's story is not Gingrich's no matter how much these people want it to be.

    "Late 1930s" (none / 0) (#20)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 02:24:24 PM EST
    "Neville Chamberlain's government."

    Not sure what you think you are correcting.


    You are right (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by Steve M on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 02:29:16 PM EST
    I think I misread it.  They're so confused that it is getting me confused as well.

    Churchill wasn't PM until 1940 (none / 0) (#21)
    by Cream City on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 02:28:06 PM EST
    say my sources.  He was out of the Cabinet from 1934 to 1940 aka in the "late '30s."

    National Government (none / 0) (#25)
    by cal1942 on Mon Feb 16, 2009 at 08:13:23 PM EST
    Ramsay MacDonald was Labour Prime Minister from '29-31.  The Labour Party split but MacDonald remained Prime Minister with a coalition consisting of part of the Labour Party and the Tories.

    This was the National Government and MacDonald remained Prime Minister until 1935.