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IT IS AS IT WASN’T! The New York Times—and Judy Woodruff—let you see what they’ve become:

FRIDAY, MARCH 26, 2004

WHAT THE NEW YORK TIMES HAS BECOME: This was a week of instructive press corps conduct; we’ll examine a range of topics in a “Weekend Howler” tomorrow. But the political coverage in today’s New York Times is especially instructive. What has the New York Times become? Let’s look at three separate articles from this morning’s edition. The pieces appear side-by-side on page A11, all part of the paper’s Bush-Kerry coverage. We think these three pieces are truly remarkable. We’ll start—where else?—at the Heart of Spin, with the indomitable Spinner One, Katharine Seelye.

“KIT” SEELYE’S WORLD OF SPIN: Katharine “Kit” Seelye lives to spin you. More precisely, she lives to spin you against Major Democrats. We’ve told you before: Seelye’s reports are drenched in spin—and this morning is no exception. The scribe pretends to report on last night’s Democratic “Unity Dinner”—an event which produced the page-one lead story in this morning’s Washington Times. Yes, the Washington Times thought this was big news—and Stephen Dinan reports the event fairly straight. But Seelye drips spin from beginning to end. Try to believe that this was published and delivered right to our doorstep:

SEELYE (pgh 1): To swelling trumpets, the biggest stars in the Democratic firmament strode on stage here Thursday night, but true to form, they seemed to lack a certain coordination.
True to form, Seelye injected her negative spin from the start; the Democrats “seemed” to “lack a certain coordination,” she opines. The negative imagery was there to guide you. But to what troubling event did Seelye refer? This is what had the scribe troubled:
SEELYE (2): Leading the parade were two former presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, followed by the party’s presumptive nominee this year, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, then former Vice President Al Gore.

(3) But as Mr. Kerry’s former rivals filled the stage, any choreography was lost. Senator John Edwards maneuvered smack into the center, between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Kerry.

(4) The stars grasped hands and lifted them in an awkward semicircle, then dropped them, unsure of the next step. Laughing, Mr. Clinton turned to Mr. Kerry and said, “O.K. John, you’re running this, what are we supposed to do?”

The problem? Edwards stood in the center, not on the end! All the choreography was lost! At the New York Times, this troubling event produced the negative imagery which led this morning’s clowning “report.” Dems were “awkward” and “unsure,” we were told. But then, that’s how Big Dems always “seem” when this clown makes a joke of your discourse.

But Spinner One was just getting started. At the Washington Times, Stephen Dinan was reasonably straightforward in his reporting of this event. But Seelye has an eye for trivia, and a taste for Spin Against Dems. After including a quote from Kerry’s prepared remarks, she was back to choreography problems:

SEELYE (7): One by one, the former rivals spoke for two minutes each: Senator Bob Graham, Howard Dean, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Senator Edwards, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Gen. Wesley Clark and Representative Richard A. Gephardt. (They were supposed to speak in alphabetical order, but were told if they were late, they would lose their place; again, the desired order became haphazard.)
Yes, this inanity appears in this morning’s Times! But Seelye’s clowning wasn’t finished. Sighing at what she was forced to endure, she told us how boring it was:
SEELYE (8): Most turned to the challenge ahead.

(9) “I’ve served with five presidents,” Mr. Gephardt declared. This one is by far the worst. I’m nostalgic for Ronald Reagan!”

(10) That set the tone for a long evening of speeches.

Sigh! Seelye completed the Rule of Three as she trashed the hopeless Dems. They lacked all choreography, we were told. Their dream—of alphabetical order—had been lost. And good Lord, how endless their speeches had been! Yes, this is what the New York Times delivered to our doorstep this morning. [Note: A different version of Seelye’s article appears on line. We are quoting the paper which appeared on our doorstep, billed as the “Washington Edition.”]

Of course, this is minor clowning for Seelye. She can also produce deep, lasting damage, as she did in 1999 when she accidentally “misquoted” Gore about Love Canal. (The Times then refused to correct her “mistake” for the next ten days!) But try to believe that a major newspaper will actually put this garbage in print—and will then insult its readers’ interests by sending it right to their doorsteps! Do you still not know what the Times has become? This morning, Seelye was trying to show you—as was Spinner Two, Raymond Hernandez.

RAYMOND HERNANDEZ DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO COUNT: On Wednesday night, President Bush appeared at the Correspondent’s Dinner, and told a string of tasteless jokes about the failed search for WMD. On last night’s Hardball, Chris Matthews blasted Bush shill Tucker Eskew about the president’s screaming bad taste. Do the dead and wounded think this is funny? Matthews tried to make Eskew say. We strongly suggest that you read the full transcript, which we’ll discuss tomorrow.

Uh-oh—Bush had stepped in the doo-doo again! So the New York Times knew what to do—it baldly misstated what Bush had done! Enter the hopeless Raymond Hernandez. This headline appeared above his small piece at the bottom of page A11:

NEW YORK TIMES HEADLINE: A Bush Dinner Joke Amuses (and Does Not)
We were surprised by the headline. “A Bush Dinner Joke”—just one? Bush, of course, told a series of jokes about the hilarious missing weapons. Indeed, as Paul Farhi makes clear in this morning’s Washington Post, Bush told at least three hilarious jokes on this theme. But what has the New York Times become? By some puzzling bit of alchemy, Hernandez dont count two reel gud:
HERNANDEZ (pgh 1): Laughter filled the room Wednesday night at the annual dinner for radio and television correspondents when President Bush displayed a photograph showing him down on his hands and knees looking under furniture in his office and saying, “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere!”

(2) This morning the joke did not seem quite so funny. CNN, which showed a clip of the event, was getting e-mail messages from unhappy viewers. Foreign newspapers were reacting with outrage. And the White House was busy defending the joke that President Bush delivered as he put on a slide show, called the “White House Election-Year Album,” at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association's 60th annual dinner.

Three separate times, the New York Times tells readers today that the flap about Bush concerns one joke! If you didn’t know what the Times has become, marvel today at this piece of “reporting.” Then move ahead and gaze on Jim Rutenberg, pretending to “analyze” an ad.

JIM RUTENBERG DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO READ: As we’ve noted, the Bush campaign has been wonderfully active the past few weeks, presenting a series of baldly inaccurate claims about John Kerry. Incredibly, one such claim has gotten some attention—the tortured claim that Kerry has a “plan” to raise taxes by $900 billion. A number of journalists have noted the obvious—Kerry has presented no such plan. But that hasn’t stopped the Bush campaign from offering a new clowning ad on this theme—an ad which takes the claim even further. This morning, Rutenberg pretends to perform an analysis of this new ad. He quotes the TV ad’s complete script, although we’re not really sure why he bothered:

THE SCRIPT A male announcer says, “John Kerry’s economic record: Troubling. Kerry voted to increase taxes on Social Security benefits. And he voted against giving small businesses tax credits to buy health care for employees. Kerry even supported raising taxes on gasoline 50 cents a gallon. Now John Kerry’s plan will raise taxes by at least $900 billion his first 100 days in office. And that’s just his first 100 days.”
What is especially strange about that? It’s the oddball claim that Kerry’s “plan” will raise taxes by $900 billion in “just his first 100 days.” In just his first 100 days? It’s hard to know just what that claim means, but it really amps up the Bush camp’s clowning. When Kerry produces his budget plan, will it really increase taxes by $900 billion? At this point, no one can tell. But the “hundred days” adds to the swelling hyperbole, giving rubes the uneasy sense that there will be more—much more—to come.

Yes, that “100 days” takes things to the next level. So what doe Rutenberg do in his “analysis?” Simple! He simply rewrites what the Bush ad says! Continuing directly in his piece, Rutenberg critiques the ad’s “accuracy:”

ACCURACY …Lastly, the spot asserts that Mr. Kerry’s “plan” would raise taxes by $900 billion over 10 years because his health care proposal is estimated to cost that much, and because he has vowed to reduce the deficit. Though Mr. Kerry has yet to detail how he would pay for his health care changes, he has not proposed a $900 billion tax increase.
Suddenly, the ad is “asserting” something more rational—that Kerry will raise taxes by $900 billion over 10 years. Confronted with the latest but of clowning by Bush, Rutenberg simply tidies it up. No, Rutenberg don’t reelly reed two reel gud. And he don’t cut-n-paste two gud neether.

It was true during Campaign 2000, and it’s true today—the Times has become our most laughable newspaper. But note what links these three pieces from page A11; note the way all three articles reinvent the news to help Bush. Seelye does what she always does—she mocks Big Dems from her opening paragraph. Hernandez—lying, or unable to count—pretends that Bush just told one joke. Rutenberg—unable to copy a text from his own report—pretends that Bush has said something sensible. But this is the face of your great New York Times. Of course, it’s a paper driven by liberal bias, as Rush Limbaugh will tell the rubes throughout today’s three-hour program.

TOMORROW: Joe Klein sees nothing wrong with those jokes. Bill O’Reilly keeps spinning Clarke. Someone finally tells the truth about Rice. And at last, part IV of Training Seelye.

Annals of baldly fake statements

JUDY WOODRUFF’S TOTAL BULLSHIT: They now call the program Judy Woodruff’s Inside Politics, as if we’re somehow supposed to feel thrilled to see the brilliant CNN ace. But maybe they should call it Judy Woodruff’s Total Bullshit, in honor of what she allows on the show. Yesterday, Woodruff wasted the public’s time with fake-and-phony mountain loudmouth Zell Miller, who was up to familiar old tricks, lying through his teeth on cable. Here’s how the loudmouth mountain fraud finished up yesterday’s interview:

MILLER: I know this, though, that John Kerry has voted to increase taxes 350 times since he’s been in the United States Senate. That to me looks pretty much like a tax-increaser. And he has said that during his first 100 days he wanted to do that health care initiative. And it would cost $900 billion. And the only way I know where you can get that kind of money is to reach down into the pocketbooks of every man and woman in America.
Amazing, isn’t it? John Kerry has voted to increase taxes 350 times! As we saw on Wednesday, this ludicrous claim by the Bush campaign is built on outright, bald-faced lying (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/24/04). There’s simply no other way to put it. The slimy Miller—well, let’s just say it—was lying in America’s face when he made his ludicrous charge. We did get lucky about one thing, though. On Wednesday morning, Michael Kinsley explained the scam in the Washington Post—Judy Woodruff’s hometown paper. The total fakery of Miller’s claim was clear—and yes, Judy Woodruff did read it.

But did you really think that a millionaire “journalist” like Woodruff would stoop to challenge a bald-faced lie? Miller’s interview was played on tape. It could have been edited any way Woodruff chose. But here’s the way she ended the session. Do you see why CNN should perhaps change the name of her program?

MILLER (on videotape): I know this, though, that John Kerry has voted to increase taxes 350 times since he’s been in the United States Senate. That to me looks pretty much like a tax-increaser. And he has said that during his first 100 days he wanted to do that health care initiative. And it would cost $900 billion. And the only way I know where you can get that kind of money is to reach down into the pocketbooks of every man and woman in America.

(end videotape)

WOODRUFF: Georgia Democratic Senator Zell Miller endorsing President Bush.

Actually, what Woodruff meant to say was: Georgia Democratic Senator Zell Miller, lying through his teeth on my program. And yes, Woodruff knew that Miller was lying. Do you see why CNN might well change the name of her show?

For the record, there are several things Woodruff could have done to counteract Miller’s outsized lying. Presumably, she challenged his ludicrous statement when the interview was taped; if so, she should have played that part of the tape. But if she somehow failed to object when Miller lied right in her face, Woodruff could have voiced a word of caution as she ended the tape. Or she could have cut this part of the tape—the part where her “guest” was baldly lying.

But Woodruff had a better idea; she let Ol’ Zell lie right in your face. In fact, Woodruff has become a millionaire by letting this sort of thing go unchecked. After all, fake old Zell is a pleasing “Fox Democrat,” and CNN wants legions of rubes to tune in to watch their “news” programs, too. And let’s face it. It would flat-out kill the rubes’ fun if Woodruff stopped this fake man from lying.

Readers, please revisit Kinsley’s column about this utterly ridiculous charge. If Woodruff won’t challenge a statement like this, then let’s just say it—she won’t challenge anything! So maybe CNN should name the show this: Judy Woodruff’s Growing Net Worth. Or how about a name like this: Judy Woodruff’s Screaming Subversion of the American Interest?

HE DA MOUNTAIN MAN: Please note: CNN features Miller in the headline of yesterday’s program. Translation: CNN wants to pander to rubes. That’s why Ol’ Zell was on; that’s why his name is in the headline; and it’s why Woodruff sat quietly by and allowed him to lie in your face. Maybe they should call the show Judy Woodruff’s Code of Silence.