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Caveat lector

LET THEM EAT DUCK BOOTS! Let them eat pay stubs, Alan Colmes seemed to say, as Sean and Newt lied about Kerry:


LET THEM EAT DUCK BOOTS: Hay-yo! Hay-yo, everybody! In today’s New York Times, those famous duck boots are finally back, courtesy of—who else?—David Halbfinger. On Sunday, the vacuous scribe was on page one, asking Kerry’s wife—the one with the accent—how many times she’s used Botox (see THE DAILYHOWLER, 2/23/04). Today, the addled scribe is out on the trail, helping us see the endless ways Kerry tries to relate to the proles:

HALBFINGER: To bolster his credibility with the working class, Mr. Kerry is trying everything: touring deserted mills and still-bustling ones, talking about the plight of struggling mill and factory workers, campaigning with them at his side, exchanging hugs with tearful laborers, and assuring the countless union members whose bosses are now backing him that he will fight to keep their jobs from disappearing overseas. On Thursday he campaigned at the side of striking California grocery workers.
Kerry “is trying everything,” Halbfinger says. Maybe someone should give the news to the peach-cheeked scribe—this is how candidates run for office. By the way: Has Kerry “tried” to tell these voters what he would do about their problems? Halbfinger is eager to talk about duck boots. But he absent-mindedly forgets to relate the real things that Kerry may have said.

Readers, if you enjoy the High Comedy of contemporary pseudo-journalism, don’t miss this vacuous, page-one report. Halbfinger includes familiar script-points from Tony Coelho (Kerry can’t seem like “the brightest kid in the class”), and he quotes the corps’ favorite “expert,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Most important, he keeps you apprised of the state of those boots. Remember one fact as you read this dumb piece: In the modern national “press,” they really do think this is journalism.

TRIVIA ALWAYS MAKES THEM VANDE-HEI: Meanwhile, Jim VandeHei’s silly piece in yesterday’s Post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/26/04) was hailed all over the press corps. Tucker Carlson praised the scribe’s brilliance at the start of yesterday’s Crossfire:

CARLSON: In his stump speech, John Kerry attacks American companies that move to foreign countries in order to avoid paying American taxes. “I will stop these Benedict Arnold corporations,” he shouts. Notice the phrasing here, Benedict Arnold. In other words, when you do something that John Kerry disagrees with, you’re not just wrong. You’re evil, a collaborator, a traitor to your country, a non-person.

Kerry’s charge is divisive. It’s disgusting, actually. And it’s also pure hypocrisy. In a remarkable front-page story in today’s Washington Post, star reporter Jim VandeHei points out that some of Kerry’s biggest donors are by his own definition Benedict Arnolds. Two of Kerry’s biggest fund-raisers run companies that use offshore tax havens in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. In other words, Kerry has been consorting with and profiting from traitors to America, by his own definition.

And he should stop it immediately. Then he ought to return the money. We’ll keep you posted on whether he does.

Of course, VandeHei’s story was so “remarkable” that Carlson was instantly forced to embellish it. The star reporter did not “point out that some of Kerry’s biggest donors are by his own definition Benedict Arnolds.” And did VandeHei say that “two of Kerry’s biggest fund-raisers run companies that use offshore tax havens?” Well no, he didn’t say that either. What did the star reporter say? He said that one of these fund-raisers, Thomas Steyer, is an executive at a firm which—on one occasion—“helped” another firm set up such a haven. Steyer played no role in the project, he said—and VandeHei didn’t contradict him. But this, amazingly, is the Post’s idea of remarkable front-page news. It’s no wonder that Carlson had to embellish to make the tale seem so exciting.

In fact, VandeHei’s silly reports are worthless unless they’re embellished. On January 31, he penned an absurdly misleading report which has been spun into a flatly false claim—the claim that Kerry is reigning king of Senate special-interest money. (He actually ranks 92nd of 100 senators, according to Peter Beinart.) Now, VandeHei’s latest pointless report is being exaggerated too. Sadly, even Ron Brownstein cited VandeHei’s twin reports in a question at last night’s Dem debate. Brownstein, from the Los Angeles Times, has long been one of the corps’ brighter pundits. Last night, he seemed like a kid from Hollywood Hei when he quoted the “star” scribe’s dumb reports.

NO DEFENSE: Earlier this week, we quoted a hapless attempt by the Post’s Dan Balz to sort out the latest attack against Kerry—the claim that Kerry has “voted against every major weapon system.” As we noted, Balz’ piece was incoherent (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/24/04). But we hoped that others would lay out the facts behind this well-scripted charge.

Someone has now provided that service; needless to say, he doesn’t work at the Post or the Times. At those papers, they write about duck boots—and Botox treatments, and fund-raising trivia. No, the service was provided by Slate’s Fred Kaplan, whose report on these high-profile charges is surely the must-read piece of the week. We won’t try to summarize what Kaplan says. But what does he make of the RNC claim that Kerry “voted against every major weapon system?” (Newt Gingrich; full quote below) “Claiming that [Kerry] opposed a list of specific weapons systems has an air of plausibility,” Kaplan writes. “On close examination, though, it reeks of rank dishonesty.” Yikes! And what should you make of the well-bruited claim that Kerry voted to slash the intelligence budget? Kaplan: “Another bit of dishonesty is RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie’s claim, at a news conference today, that in 1995, Kerry voted to cut $1.5 billion from the intelligence budget.” As before, we’ll suggest that you read Kaplan’s piece to get the full details on that.

Wow! A widely-bruited RNC claim “reeks of rank dishonesty?” And Gillespie engaged in that same dishonesty at a major press confab? Surely the press corps swung into action, working hard to lay out the facts! Well, no—the major press has done no such thing. On the Times’ front page, it’s Botox and duck boots. At the Post, it’s tales about fund-raising trivia. Let them eat Botox, your “press corps” has said. Earth tones then—and duck boots now. What is the state of your American democracy? Let them eat funny accents, the press says.

WHILE ALAN SLEPT: While the “press” debates Teresa Kerry’s funny scarves, the demons again make a joke of your interests. On last night’s appalling Hannity & Colmes, Newt Gingrich “calmly” misstated Kerry’s record:

GINGRICH: As I said earlier, I think the more that the president and the Republicans describe accurately—they don’t have to exaggerate at all; they just have to describe accurately and calmly—what it means to be Dukakis’ lieutenant governor, what it meant to vote to the left of Ted Kennedy, what it meant to have voted against every major weapon system, I think if they stick to that and stick to the facts, Senator Kerry will react by saying that he’s being smeared by his own record. But I think over the course of six or eight weeks people will sort out and realize he’s an honorable, legitimate Massachusetts liberal, and if that’s what you think America needs, he’s the right vote.
Huh! Why, there was the “rank, dishonest” charge, right there in the Speaker’s comments! Responding directly, Sean took things further:
HANNITY: John Kerry is now out there…And he’s trying to say, “I voted for the biggest intelligence budget in the history in the Pentagon budget.” But he wanted to cancel SDI and every major weapons system. Specific votes that he would have canceled the weapons systems we now use. That is not an ad hominem attack. That is a legitimate, accurate portrayal of his record.
But did Kerry cast “specific votes” that would have “canceled every major weapons system?” Kaplan addresses that very point. “There was no vote on those weapons systems specifically,” he notes (his emphasis). Again, see Slate for details.

Amazing, isn’t it? Why, Hannity fooled the rubes again! Surely, Alan Colmes swung into action! But if you watched, you know what he said. “Mr. Speaker, good to have you,” he said, signing off after one more screed by Gingrich. “We welcome—I welcome a factual debate.” But when will that “factual debate” ever start? Let them eat my pay stubs, Alan seemed to proclaim. At the Times, the next day, we ate duck boots.

Annals of radiance

LET THEM EAT GENIUS: Here at THE HOWLER, all the analysts will gather around to watch the Oscars on Sunday night. Rooting interest? We hope the Academy will have the good sense to let Emma Bolger and Sarah Bolger present an award (Supporting Actress would be a good choice). As Djimon Hounsou tells the young sisters at one point in In America, “When luck knocks at your door, you can’t turn it away.” As with luck, so with undeserved radiance, as we hope the Academy will realize.

Last Tuesday, Jim Sheridan appeared with Dublin pal Bono to discuss In America on NPR’s Day to Day. Early on, Alex Chadwick asked him to explain the Bolgers’ work, which has now been acclaimed planet-wide:

CHADWICK: How did you get those performances out of those kids?

SHERIDAN: Well, I think what it was, was I just allowed them to play, you know, by keeping things light on the set, really, I suppose. But they were genius actors, and sometimes Emma did things and I thought she was over the top, and I would say, “You know, Emma, I think you should take it down.” She’d say, “Do you think so, Jim?” and I’d be, “Yeah.” But when—I’d go to the edit, and she’d turn out to be right.

The slimeballs control our political discourse, but sometimes genius knocks at our doors. We’ll be surprised if Oscar doesn’t know: You can’t turn such great luck away.