TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2004
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 reporta report explaining how inept the Patriot has turned out to be.
But Kerrys past votes on weapon systems will clearly be an issue. Thats why we groaned when Dan Balz tried to sort it all out in this mornings Post. Midway through his report, Balz offers an overview of Kerrys past votesbut 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 Ive learned since then.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 clearwhen dealing with Botox, funny accents or scarves. Lets hope this first attempt at discussing Kerry-on-defense doesnt 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, thats more than I make, but in Washington, to a multi-millionaire senator, its laughably paltry. Ive 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 amountan amount raised over the past fifteen years!
As we noted yesterday, the Bush ad is based on a front-page report by the Washington Posts Jim VandeHei. This January 31 report was profoundly misleading, in ways that should be made clear.
What was wrong with the Post report? Lets start with a blatant misstatementa 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 VandeHeis 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, VandeHeis article was extremely misleading.
But there was another problem with VandeHeis reporthis use of that 15-year time-span. Most current senators havent 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 havent 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. Its hardly shocking if hes raised more lobbyist money than someone who has run many fewer campaigns. But none of this context was available in VandeHeis report, either.
Were 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 ads 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, Bushs 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 mornings Post, Richard Cohen dishes the latest smack about why Gore didnt 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 presidencythat exuberant economy above allwhile at the same time distancing himself from the Mess of Monica. As he later showed with Joe Lieberman, Gores 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, lets all go ahead and blubber again about that phone call to Lieberman! Otherwise, Cohens 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 VPs 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 punditryand he wondered why the coverage of Gore seemed to be focussed on Monica Lewinsky. Roger Simon laid it out straight. Its 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. Were going to make him jump through the hoops. I dont think theres anything wrong with that. Its simply astounding that Simon didnt 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 rememberscribes like Cohen will never tell you what occurred during Campaign 2000. More precisely, they will never describe their own cohorts role in that surprising election. What really happened in Campaign 2K? As Simons quote makes all too clear, the press corps got its shorts in a wad about Bill Clintons troubling blow jobs, then set out to make Gore pay the price. Because he wouldnt 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 Gores 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 Gores suits and boots. Now he pretends that this didnt occur. But then, the press corps controls your national discourseand theyll 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 cant you hear what hes saying? Hey, rubes!