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THE TRUTH ABOUT “KERRY! ” Boston’s big paper went spanning the globe. It showed how they love spinning bio:


HE ALWAYS SEEMED SO COSMOPOLITAN: How much do they love to spin bio? Tongue-not-in-cheek, reporter Anne Kornblut penned this passage in Wednesday’s Boston Globe:

KORNBLUT: Never in his 21-year career in public life has Kerry gone out of his way to explain his complex roots—even though he discovered some 15 years ago that his paternal grandmother was Jewish, a point he has mentioned only occasionally in public. Even after a story about his Jewish ancestry appeared in the Globe on Sunday, Kerry stuck to policy issues in two appearances in South Carolina that afternoon.
Imagine! Even after the Globe broke a bit of irrelevant bio, John Kerry kept trying to talk about things that matter! Readers, there’s only one thing you can say about this press corps. They simply love to drop the dunce cap right on their own pointed heads.

Heil Globesmen! Most of you know the roots of this nonsense—the Boston Globe had a funny feeling that Kerry might really be Jewish. In a lengthy piece in last Sunday’s Globe, Michael Kranish ’splained what happened next:

KRANISH: Kerry’s genealogy was traced through a variety of means: immigration records from Ellis Island, naturalization records on file in Illinois, death and probate records in Massachusetts, and a birth registry from the former Austrian empire.
Amazing, isn’t it? A press corps which can’t explain its own tax-cut numbers is brilliant at snooping out matters like this. Indeed, “Felix Gundacker, director of the Institute for Historical Family Research in Vienna, was hired by the Globe to examine the Austrian records” as the Globe examined a solon’s race roots. Herr Gundacker “translated from the original German,” learning that “birth records for [the town of] Bennisch include a notation for a person named Fritz Kohn.” Kohn turned out to be Kerry’s paternal grandfather, a Jew who changed his name to Kerry when he came to America—back in 1902.

There! The Globe felt better now, having established that Kerry was Jewish. And at least temporarily, Kerry could be encouraged to stop all that policy chatter, and everyone could have some half-witted fun, spinning some hundred-year bio. In fact, the biographical foofaw got even better; Kranish’s piece went into detail about the grandfather’s bloody demise. (“[S]hot himself in the head,” Kranish wrote, describing an event from 1921.) After insinuating that Kerry had been faking his roots, Kranish closed with a heartwarming passage about the Globe’s bizarre conduct:

KRANISH: [Robert] Friedman, the genealogist at the Center for Jewish History, said he hoped the Kerry family experience would be informative for the country in a positive way.

“Everyone would like to be in touch with their heritage,” he said. “In the past, people were informed in a prejudicial way.”

“Everyone would like to be in touch with their heritage.” And of course, if pols don’t want to be “in touch with their heritage,” the Globe will now handle that for them.

Surely, the Globe had performed a vital new function. But it was left to pundit Joan Vennochi to show how your press corps can spin that hot bio. Vennochi just felt uneasy with the Bay State’s slippery solon. And as she pondered Kerry’s problem, a familiar old doctor was IN:

VENNOCHI (pgh 1): Massachusetts voters could never quite figure out who John Kerry is. Now there is some explanation for the air of mystery that surrounds him: in a most literal sense, John Kerry doesn’t know who he is, either.
Where on God’s earth do they find these people? Flawlessly, Vennochi applied the addled language of Campaign 2000—Al Gore doesn’t know who he is—as she typed the latest tribute to the soul of your soulless press cohort. Try to follow Vennochi’s logic; because Kerry hadn’t known that his grandfather was really Jewish, an “air of mystery” had always surrounded him. Believe it or not, Vennochi even ran to the New Republic and sampled former Globesman Michael Crowley:
VENNOCHI: None of this is part of Kerry’s local political persona. It comes as a surprise, as much as a surprise as it would be to learn that he had long lost relatives in Sicily. In Massachusetts, voters know that John Forbes Kerry windsurfs, rollerblades, rides a motorcycle, plays guitar, is married to Teresa Heinz, and owns a home with a wine cellar in Louisburg Square. His last name sounds Irish, although his dismal jokes during St. Patrick's Day breakfasts should have been a tip-off that Hibernian humor is not in Kerry’s natural gene pool. His middle name and lean, patrician looks appeared as an obvious testament to the Yankee lineage on his maternal side.
We knew that he windsurfs, Vennochi writes. But we just never knew he was Jewish. Where do they find them? Where do they come from? What have we done to deserve their hegemony? The Boston press corps has never liked Kerry—he screwed lots of women, one scribe at last said—and now they have new bio to flog. Readers, gaze upon your oddball “press corps” as it trips on, spinning bio.

NO WINDSURFERS NEED APPLY: Trust us—Kerry should just give up right now. There’s no way on earth that it’s worth it. The magpies have invented their great, mighty theme—there’s something a little bit weird about Kerry—and as we learned in their coverage of Gore, they will stick with their simpering themes to the end. How far has our discourse fallen? Over at the New Republic, Noam Scheiber is pulling his chin about the Globe’s report—and he’s quoting Vennochi’s absurd column (don’t even ask about Mickey):

SCHEIBER: While we’re on the subject, the one person who seems to be unambiguously hurt by revelations of John Kerry’s Jewish heritage is John Kerry. And the reason has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. As this Boston Globe article suggests, Kerry’s evasiveness on the issue “mirrors a larger confusion about his essence: Who is he? What does he believe in? Whether the issue is war with Iraq or support for affirmative action, his political core is hard to pin down, perhaps as difficult as his personal roots.” Talk about becoming a prisoner of your own media narrative.
Your press corps loves to work through “mirrors.” (For the record, no “evasiveness” is shown in Vennochi’s column.) But then, it was TNR that started the current spinning of Kerry, telling us that the cosmopolitan solon “has a distinctly self-indulgent streak” because he likes to play show tunes. Soon, pundits were troubled by Kerry’s hair. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/02, and worry about your dead, dying culture.

Gaze upon your press corps, readers. When Kerry windsurfs, it shows his self-love. When Frist dumps his girl friend, it shows his great courage. If we’re lucky, future generations will try to explain this dumbing down of American discourse. They’ll examine a vacuous press with Millionaire Pundit Values—a press that just loved spinning bio.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Vennochi wrote one of the most inept columns in Campaign 2000 (see “The Daily update,” 5/19/00). In the wake of the Elian Gonzalez foofaw, script-reading pundits had a new point to yodel—Al Gore had been pandering shamelessly, to those loathsome Miami Cubans. Pundits engaged in a month-long race to see who could embellish the point most completely. Vennochi was almost a medalist. In her April 25 Globe column, she slammed Candidate Gore for his “spinelessness” about Elian—without ever noting the fact that Candidate Bush had held the exact same position. In the same column, she praised fallen candidate John McCain as a guy who is just so much more straightforward—without noting the fact that McCain’s position on Elian had been much more favorable to Miami Cubans. That’s right—Gore and Bush held the same position; they favored the use of Florida’s family courts, where custody would likely have gone to Elian’s father. McCain had flatly favored custody for the Miami relatives. But the press corps was saying that Gore had pandered, so it was against the law to note the fact that Bush and Gore held the same position, and Vennochi managed to lap the field when she even dragged in Saint McCain. Where do they find them? Where do they come from? What have we done to deserve their hegemony? By the way, Gore, like Kerry, didn’t know who he was. To see your pundits spinning this point, enjoy some incomparable HOWLER HISTORY.

The Daily update

HOWLER HISTORY—THE DOCTORS WERE IN: Al Gore doesn’t know who he is! Pundits began reciting the point at the start of the Naomi Wolf foofaw. In late October 1999, Time reported that Wolf was advising the Gore campaign (she had advised the Clinton campaign four years earlier), and a string of oddball claims were adopted by a gaggle of fist-waving pundits. For example, according to the Standard Account, Wolf had told Gore that he should wear earth-toned clothing. There was no apparent evidence supporting this claim; it had been based on a “speculation” by Ol Reliable, Dick Morris (a “speculation” reported by—who else?—Ceci Connolly) and Wolf had flatly denied the “charge.” No one else ever said it was true. But no matter; the press corps enjoyed the pleasing claim, and pundits quickly adopted the speculation as fact. Many pundits pretended the claim had come from Time, not wanting to cite Morris’ “speculation.” (For example, Howell Raines attributed this “charge” to Time in a mistaken New York Times editorial. Maureen Dowd also made the false attribution, as did a host of others.) At any rate, the claim was stated again and again, and everyone knew what it meant about Gore—it meant that Gore had hired a woman to show him how to be a man, which proved that Gore doesn’t know who he is. Millionaire pundits shuffled into line, eager to recite the new spin-points.

The points were in place almost instantly. On October 31, the day the story in Time was released, Brit Hume got one spin-point started. What did Wolf’s hiring say about Gore? In the roundtable portion of Fox News Sunday, the doctor was already IN:

HUME: I think what it suggests about Al Gore is…that this may be a man who doesn’t know who the heck he is—doesn’t have any idea who he is and is trying to find who to be…When you have somebody who brings in some exotic consultant from the, you know, feminist psychobabble movement…you wonder if Al Gore has any idea who he is.
It was perfect. Accusing Wolf of “psychobabble,” Hume indulged in the practice himself, saying three times in one short segment that Gore doesn’t know who he is. This odd claim, of course, is the worst kind of babble, but soon the whole press corps was mouthing it. Fred Barnes, Special Report, November 1:
BARNES: I thought he knew who he was. And now he seems to be—he’s put himself in the, in the—with handlers who are trying to tell him, “No, be like Bill Clinton. No, be an alpha man, not a beta man,” whatever that means.
Richard Cohen, Washington Post, November 2:
COHEN: Some of us, though, would settle for just plain Al Gore. But it is more and more clear that no one, least of all Al Gore, knows who that is.
Hume and David Maraniss, Special Report, November 2:
HUME: Who’s the real guy here? Or does anybody really know?

MARANISS: I’m not even sure if he knows.

Chris Matthews, Hardball, November 4 (he even included the fancy hotel):
MATTHEWS: What is going on with this vice president—who’s been around in public life for 20 or 30 years, who’s been famous since he was born at the Fairfax Hotel—trying to figure out who the hell he is?
Matthews and Andrea Mitchell, Hardball, November 5:
MATTHEWS: Who is Al Gore? Does he need advice, not on hair color or whatever or whatever, but who is he?…

MITCHELL: Well, it’s incredible that after all these years in public office that either he doesn’t know who he is or that—

MATTHEWS: Or he doesn’t like who he is.

MITCHELL: Or he doesn’t like who he is.

Bill Reel, Newsday, November 5:
REEL: Bill Bradley seems to know who he is. Unlike insecure Vice President Al Gore, Bradley doesn’t feel a need to hire a flaky feminist at a big salary to tell him to be more manly.
Susan Page, Late Edition, 11/7:
PAGE: I do think [the hiring of Wolf] reinforces an emerging and damaging perception for Al Gore, which is that he doesn’t know who he is.
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune, 11/7:
PAGE: Worst of all, the story reinforces the impression that Gore simply does not have a grasp on who he is.
Steve Dunleavy, New York Post, 11/8:
DUNLEAVY: Unfortunately, this sort of debate about candidates and character takes away from Vice President Al Gore, a decent, honest man who suddenly, in the series of a midlife political crisis, doesn’t seem to know who he is.
Sadly, there were others. On November 4, for example, Mary McGrory recounted an anecdote showing that Bradley did know who he was. (This too was Hard Press Corps Dogma.) Doris Kearns Goodwin echoed the theme on the November 7 Meet the Press, and it began showing up in local papers. One thing was certain—Washington’s pundits knew who they were. They were people who loved to recite Approved Spin-Points, no matter how inane those spin-points might be. Meanwhile, who else was reciting the hot newest point? As usual, the RNC was thick in the stew. In the November 4 New York Post, Deborah Orin quoted Pat Harrison, RNC co-chair. “What this tells us is that a vote for Al Gore is a vote for Hamlet,” Harrison said. “He doesn’t know who he is.” According to Nexis, Harrison first made these remarks on the November 2 Crossfire. Once again, copycat scribes were all saying one thing, and the RNC was saying it early.

Now Joan Vennochi has brought the point back, surmising that Kerry doesn’t know who he is. In the future, people will marvel at these pundits—at the way they just loved spinning bio.