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CASH AND KERRY! The WashPost stumbles out of the gate in its coverage of Candidate Kerry:


COMPLETE INCOHERENCE: The Bush campaign has begun hitting Kerry for his past votes on defense. Some complaints do seem a bit odd; yesterday, for example, RNC chairman Marc Racicot complained that Kerry voted against the Patriot missile system. The complaint was lodged two days after a brutal 60 Minutes report—a report explaining how inept the Patriot has turned out to be.

But Kerry’s past votes on weapon systems will clearly be an issue. That’s why we groaned when Dan Balz tried to sort it all out in this morning’s Post. Midway through his report, Balz offers an overview of Kerry’s past votes—but his presentation is completely incoherent. Try to tease an ounce of sense out of this string of contradictions:

BALZ (pgh 10): As a candidate for the Senate in 1984, Kerry proposed eliminating a series of weapons systems, including the B-1 and B-2 bombers, the F-14A, F-14D and F-15 fighter jets, the Aegis air-defense cruiser, the Patriot missile system and the M1 Abrams tank, among others. Kerry told the Boston Globe last year that some of those proposals were “ill-advised, and I think some of them are stupid in the context of the world we find ourselves in right now and the things that I’ve learned since then.”

(11) Asked Monday when he changed his mind and which proposals were ill-advised, Kerry replied, “I never voted for one of those, I don’t think, so I very quickly came to that conclusion when I was in the United States Senate in 1985 and 1986.”

(12) Kerry immediately amended that statement, saying he had opposed former president Ronald Reagan’s missile defense system, anti-satellite weaponry and the MX missile. “I think I’ve tried to do things that made sense for the long-term defense of our country,” he said.

(13) That touched off a flurry of documents from the Republican National Committee and the Bush campaign citing votes Kerry made against a number of those weapons systems, and a response from the Kerry campaign asserting that he had sought to cut fat from the Pentagon budget but had supported a strong defense throughout out his career.

If you think that makes any sense, you need to go back and read it again. And the problem clearly lies with the Post, not with Kerry or the RNC. Your mainstream press is crisp and clear—when dealing with Botox, funny accents or scarves. Let’s hope this first attempt at discussing Kerry-on-defense doesn’t give us a glimpse of the future.

CASH AND KERRY: An e-mailer makes an excellent point about Kerry and that mountain of “special interest” money. As we noted yesterday, a Bush campaign ad complains that Kerry has taken $640,000 in “special interest money” over the past fifteen years:

E-MAIL: What I find interesting about that earth-shaking $640,000 is that spread over 15 years, it comes out to less than 43 thousand per year. Now, that’s more than I make, but in Washington, to a “multi-millionaire” senator, it’s laughably paltry. I’ve pointed this out to several at CNN and elsewhere, but it seems like my point is a little too tough for them to grasp, let alone make part of the script.
Indeed, given the scope of modern fund-raising, this is a fairly modest sum. Again, we quote Brooks Jackson on his Annenberg site: “So far, for example, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist reported $1,022,063 in PAC donations for his 2004 campaign alone.” Weirdly, the Bush ad complains about a much smaller amount—an amount raised over the past fifteen years!

As we noted yesterday, the Bush ad is based on a front-page report by the Washington Post’s Jim VandeHei. This January 31 report was profoundly misleading, in ways that should be made clear.

What was wrong with the Post report? Let’s start with a blatant misstatement—a misstatement made by the Bush ad itself. As we noted yesterday, VandeHei did not say that Kerry has received “more special interest money than any other senator,” the bogus claim which appears in the ad. VandeHei said something quite different; he said that Kerry “has raised more money from paid lobbyists than any other senator over the past 15 years.” The total came to $640,000, the scribe said in his front-page report.

So what was wrong with VandeHei’s work? First, lobbyist money comprises only one small part of “special interest” money. As Jackson noted, total “special interest” donations to Frist dwarf those received by Kerry. According to Peter Beinart, Kerry actually ranks 92nd among senators in raising special interest money. By failing to offer this small bit of context, VandeHei’s article was extremely misleading.

But there was another problem with VandeHei’s report—his use of that 15-year time-span. Most current senators haven’t served that long, so the use of this time-span can create false impressions about a veteran solon like Kerry. (Obviously, Kerry will have raised more money than those who haven’t served as long.) Meanwhile, some 15-year veterans have only run two senate races during that period; Kerry has run three such campaigns, and a White House campaign to boot. It’s hardly shocking if he’s raised more lobbyist money than someone who has run many fewer campaigns. But none of this context was available in VandeHei’s report, either.

We’re not surprised when our e-mailer says that his point is too taxing for CNN. Mainstream news orgs are adept at Botox reporting, but they tend to be overwhelmed by simple matters of substance. Indeed, news orgs have rarely even bothered to note that the Bush ad’s claim is simply false. Again: Kerry has not raised “more special interest money than any other senator,” the bogus claim that is made in the ad.

Yes, Bush’s ad is simply false. But the ad was built from a front-page report that was, on its face, grossly misleading. Is this really the best the Post can do? If so, the Jacksons and Beinarts will get little rest as Campaign 04 rumbles on.

GORE LORE: And, of course, it goes without saying: They simply never stop dissembling about the conduct of Campaign 2000. In this morning’s Post, Richard Cohen dishes the latest smack about why Gore didn’t get to the White House:

COHEN: [T]he reason Nader managed to get 3 percent of the national vote in the first place is that Gore was such an abysmal candidate. He not only failed to sharply define the difference between himself and Bush, he also failed to find a way to embrace what was wonderful about the Clinton presidency—that exuberant economy above all—while at the same time distancing himself from the Mess of Monica. As he later showed with Joe Lieberman, Gore’s sense of loyalty stops with himself. When he decided to endorse Howard Dean, he somehow could not come up with a dime to call his former running mate. It was this inner-Goreness that cost him the election in 2000. Nader just added insult to (self-inflicted) injury.
Readers, let’s all go ahead and blubber again about that phone call to Lieberman! Otherwise, Cohen’s account is hard to decipher. He seems to be saying that Gore failed to show a “sense of loyalty” to Clinton in Campaign 2000. “It was this inner-Goreness that cost him the election in 2000,” Cohen says. But at the time, the press corps tended to make the opposite complaint during Campaign 2000; they routinely complained (as they do to this day) because Gore had defended Clinton during impeachment. The VP’s troubling loyalty to Clinton came in for repeated press criticism.

In June 1999, for example, Howard Kurtz wondered why Gore was getting such “harsh coverage and punditry”—and he wondered why the coverage of Gore seemed to be focussed on Monica Lewinsky. Roger Simon laid it out straight. “It’s still the story that has shaped our time,” he told Kurtz. “We want to hear [Gore] say what a terrible reprobate the president was, while defending his record. We’re going to make him jump through the hoops. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.” It’s simply astounding that Simon “didn’t think there was anything wrong” with such a plan. But this morning, Cohen turns history on its head, pretending that Gore showed no loyalty to Clinton. In real time, the Pundit Corps routinely lodged precisely the opposite complaint.

But remember—scribes like Cohen will never tell you what occurred during Campaign 2000. More precisely, they will never describe their own cohort’s role in that surprising election. What really happened in Campaign 2K? As Simon’s quote makes all too clear, the press corps got its shorts in a wad about Bill Clinton’s troubling blow jobs, then set out to make Gore pay the price. Because he wouldn’t call Clinton “a terrible reprobate,” they made him “jump through the hoops.” Their clowning lasted from March 1999 through November 2000. Today, they love pretending that this was Gore’s fault. But it was the press corps’ doing, from its start to it send, just as Simon made clear.

For the record, Cohen played a role in the game with his stupid columns about Gore’s suits and boots. Now he pretends that this didn’t occur. But then, the “press corps” controls your national discourse—and they’ll deceive you every day, keeping you clueless about what they have done. Today, Cohen even boo-hoo-hoos about that stupid phone call again. He says this explains the last election. But can’t you hear what he’s saying? Hey, rubes!