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WIND-SURF WIND-TALKER! What’s up with those puzzling portraits of Kerry? At long last, a Globe pundit tells:



RULES ARE RULES: And NBC seems to know them! Tom Brokaw did Bush and affirmative action on Wednesday’s NBC Nightly News:

BROKAW: This is a volatile and complex issue, and the decision of the president to make such a bold statement raises the political stakes considerably. NBC’s David Gregory tonight on the president’s position and how he reached it.
According to Tom, Bush had made a bold statement. But someone forgot to tell David Gregory. Here’s what he said when he got Brokaw’s throw:
GREGORY (continuing directly): Today, the president tried to walk a fine line through a political mine field. On one hand, the president opposed Michigan’s affirmative action policy, but he refused to take a stand on whether race could ever be a factor in college admissions.
Rules are rules! Even when Bush “tries to walk a fine line,” the headline is Hard Pundit Law: Bush is bold. Bush “refused to take a stand?” Brokaw still says he was bold.

By the way: The spinning of the UM plan is running rampant all through the press. Bush, alas, is leading the way. First example? See below. Much more, starting Monday.

Today's howlers:

WIND TALKER: Brian McGrory has broken the code. “The John Kerry I know isn’t presidential material,” he wrote in Sunday’s Boston Globe. Here’s McGrory’s overview of the man who shouldn’t be prez:

MCGRORY: He is at once appealing and maddening. He gives insightful speeches questioning Democratic dogma like affirmative action and teacher tenure, then fails to build a foundation for legislative change. He enjoys good restaurants, but once there rarely talks about anything but his career. He can seem oddly normal, but is compelled to constantly reinvent himself. He is dogged to an unusual degree by two questions: Who is he, and why? Indeed, his friends have spent more than a little time lately talking about Kerry as “a changed man”—the implication being that he’s not the undisciplined opportunist that so many critics believe him to be…
I’m suspicious. He’s nearly 60 years old, and at that age, at any adult age, you are who you are, no?
Actually, it all depends on whose story you’re telling. For example, according to Standard Press Corps Accounts, George W. Bush became a New Man at age 40, then did so again at age 55 (after 9/11). In fact, if the press is on your side, you can stop being “who you are” as many times as the corps likes.

But McGrory isn’t on Kerry’s side. Indeed, he includes the odd, nit-picking complaints that have turned up in other Kerry profiles. One example, from the passage above: Should we be surprised that Kerry “talks about his career” when he’s at a restaurant with a reporter? It seems an obvious thing to do, but McGrory flogs him for it. And a bit further on in his puzzling profile, he provides this Routine Press Corps Nonsense:

MCGRORY: I met Kerry last week in a restaurant called Bistro Bis in the Hotel George on the Senate side of Capitol Hill. He did his typical barroom thing—could he have a taste of a dark beer he didn’t recognize? Any snacks available? Hey, you look great.
Try to figure out why you’re reading this utterly stupid material. To Brian McGrory, the fact that Kerry asks for snacks at a bar has something to do with his character. (Kerry also shouldn’t say “You look great.”)

Readers, we’ve seen these weird complaints before. In June 2002, for example, Michael Crowley of the New Republic said that Kerry “evinces a distinctly self-indulgent streak” because he drives a convertible, sometimes wind surfs, and like to play show tunes on his guitar! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/02.) Clearly, something else was bothering Crowley. At long last, McGrory says what it is:

MCGRORY: Years ago, Kerry regarded himself as above the needs of rank-and-file state activists and mayors. He had, for lack of a better description, a maturity problem. He would regularly dispatch trusted friends to inform young women in bars, “The senator would like to meet you.” He would think nothing of whining and shouting at reporters if he didn’t like what they were about to write.
Can you find the True Complaint? John Kerry—the dog—has scored with hot women! In fact, he has apparently scored good-looking women right there in front of your angry male scribes! And just as they did with one William Clinton, the thigh-rubbing boys of your self-involved press corps don’t intend to put up with such conduct. They tell you he winds surfs and asks for beer nuts. But they’re thinking—what else?—he has sex!

What on earth did we ever do to deserve this baby-boy press corps? Baby Boy Brian is very upset because John scored some chicks in a bar. As we’ve told you in the past—even at a time of national danger, this press corps simply won’t stop its clowning. But at least McGrory has broken the code. Those previous, puzzling portraits of Kerry? It was Clinton—all over again!

(For the record, Kerry was single “years ago.” He divorced his first wife in 1988, after a four-year separation. He married again in 1995. Is this the period when John misbehaved? Don’t expect McGrory and Crowley to tell you. They talk about beer nuts and troubling show tunes. They bury their real topic: sex.)

FRIST, RESPONDER: After Bill Frist got through with that Florida car wreck, he ran to the phone and blabbed to the press (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/16/03). Last Sunday, the self-effacement continued. Appearing on Meet the Press, the selfless surgeon found himself trapped. Tricked by a question from Tim Russert, he discussed his good deeds again:

RUSSERT: The NAACP has…re-released a report card on the Senate, including your voting record, and they say in the last four sessions of Congress, Bill Frist, F, F, F, F. One of the issues important to the NAACP is affirmative action. They are urging the Bush administration to write a brief in favor of the University of Michigan and the university’s position, policy on affirmative action for admission of minority students. Should the administration do that?
Granted, Russert had asked an unfair multiple question. But here was Frist’s first response:
FRIST: First of all, the scorecards—and you know, but some of your viewers around the country may not know, that we have scorecards placed on us by hundreds and hundreds of groups. And it is really unfair to encapsulate one person by a group of 12 or 15 or 25 of those, because it leaves out my support of African-American judges in Tennessee, leaves out the fact I go to Africa once a year or twice a year to work with the African-American [sic] community, my commitment to minority health and minority health disparities. And so when we see these ratings that are up there, we need to ask, where is all of this other work that’s done in terms of an individual who cares passionately, passionately about racial reconciliation, diversity and helping the disadvantaged people of this country which are disproportionately of color?
Tim had tricked the selfless sawbones into honking his own horn again.

Everyone knows how selfless Frist is, but later, he bungled some facts. Russert described the Bush tax proposal, then asked how the plan could pass:

RUSSERT: If you have a plan where two-thirds of all the benefits go to just five million taxpayers, how is that possibly going to pass Congress?

FRIST: We’ll debate it. Remember, you took the dividend exclusion out and all the other elements which I mentioned, which result in 92 million people receiving a $1,000 check this year; a family of four, making $40,000, two workers, having their taxes essentially eliminated by this bill.

Oops! Frist’s statement was false. Will 92 million people get a check for $1000? Sorry. That is the average tax cut for the 92 million filers who gain some money from this plan. But we think you know how averages work; in fact, the vast majority of those 92 million people will receive far less than $1000. The selfless surgeon has spent lots of time calling the press to describe his heroics. Maybe he ought to spend some time learning a few basic facts.

Meanwhile, Commerce Sec Don Evans misstated this basic fact too. Evans appeared on Face the Nation. His statement is also inaccurate:

EVANS: But let’s talk about the direct benefits. The direct benefit is to 92 million taxpayers an average of about $1,100 a year. Not just this year, but next year and the year after and the year after.
Oops! Evans remembered to say the word “average,” but he said the cuts are the same size each year after that. In fact, 2003 is the biggest year for new cuts. Do the math! Bush’s plan reduces revenues by $674 billion over ten years—$67.4 billion per year. Obviously, 92 million people can’t get 1100 bucks every year. Dudes! It just wouldn’t add up.

The White House has used two key points in presenting its tax plan. Each point tends to mislead, even if stated accurately (for details, see below). But White House spokesman go on TV and make the misleading claims even better. And of course, something else seems to happen each time. People like Russert and Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer don’t even say “Boo” when they do it.


HAIL TO THE SPINNERS: Many pundits have mouthed a pleasing spin about UM admission procedures. The president made the point in his Wednesday speech. But Russert—addressing that selfless suturist—had delivered the point three days earlier:

RUSSERT: The University of Michigan has a very specific program, and I’ll show it to you. The undergraduate gives applicants points, with 100 out of 150 usually enough to establish admission. A perfect SAT score, for example, will net you 12 points. Being African-American, Hispanic or American Indian is worth 20 points. Do you agree with that—that you should get points towards admissions simply for being a minority?
We’re supposed to be shocked by the highlighted data. We’re supposed to be shocked to think that an applicant’s race is more important than his academic performance.

This spin-point is being recited all over, but it’s just baldly misleading. Under the Michigan admission plan, an applicant with a 4.0 GPA gets 80 points; a 1600 SAT gives him 12 points beyond that. (In other words, UM weights GPA more heavily than SAT score.) Beyond that, an applicant get 10 points for having attended a rigorous high school, and 8 more points if he took advanced courses. Add it up: A student with a perfect academic record gets 110 points on UM’s scale, not 12. Should race be factored as Michigan does? That remains a matter of judgment. But the treasured spin-point which Russert recited is carefully culled to give false impressions. Bush spun you blue with the spin-point on Wednesday. Big pundits had beaten him to it.

By the way, white applicants from the working or welfare class also can get that twenty points. Eminem didn’t have to act black. He’d have gotten his twenty points anyway.

TWIN SPINS: For the record, here are the key talking-points on the Bush tax plan, as presented on the White House web site:

WHITEHOUSE.GOV: Under the President’s proposal to speed up tax relief, 92 million taxpayers would receive, on average, a tax cut of $1,083 in 2003…
Example: A typical family of four with two earners making a combined $39,000 in income will receive a total of $1,100 in tax relief under the President’s plan.

For the record, how can these points be misleading? First, most of those 92 million taxpayers get far less than $1083. (Fifty million more filers get nothing at all.) Even when this point is stated correctly, it tends to mislead. But Frist, Evans and Dan Bartlett have embellished the point, making it sound even better. (For Bartlett’s quotation, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/9/03. Remember when the press just hated all signs of embellishment or exaggeration?)

Second, that “typical family of four” isn’t as typical as you might think. Most filers aren’t families of four. According to the Washington Post, tax-payers earning $29,000-46,000—the middle fifth of all earners—would gain an average of $289 in 2003 under the plan. And not all families of four get this help. The Bush plan does give big help to middle-income families with kids. But a family of four with a lower income doesn’t get any help at all. In short, the statement about that family is accurate. But left alone, it may tend to mislead.

A diligent press corps would spell all this out. Our advice again: Don’t hold your breath.