TUESDAY, APRIL 20, 2004
WILGORENS FOLLY: We ought to be happy about one thing; New York Times writers know everything! On Monday, Jodi Wilgoren showcased her range when she reported Kerrys struggles on Sundays Meet the Press:
WILGOREN: The most awkward moment came after the Vietnam-era videotape [from 1971], Mr. Kerrys Meet the Press debut, with the candidate watching his younger self use grave and graphic words to describe the Vietnam War.Times reporters are filled with insight; they can even tell when a grin is odd. No, Wilgoren didnt restrict herself to reporting the things that Kerry had said. She was even able to say which moment in the hour was most awkward.
But so it goes at the Good Shipwreck New York Times, Americas most clownish major paper. How laughable is election coverage at the Times? Again, we invite you to compare Wilgorens report with Stephen Dinans piece in the Washington Times. Dinan writes for a much-maligned Moonie paper, a paper which wears its ideology on its sleeve. But anyone who reads the two Monday reports can see the truth about Gothams Times. Dinans piece is much more professional (and much less spin-drenched) than Wilgorens hopeless effort. At no other rag do reporters clown like they do at the great New York Times.
How foolish does Times reporting get? As noted, Wilgoren hit her low point before she reported the hopefuls odd grin. Her nadir came when she scolded Kerry for his endless evasions (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/04). The scribe typed scripts from an RNC dreamscripts which Dinan refused to recite. In this passage, Wilgoren let Established Spin rule her report:
WILGOREN: The interview did provide new fodder for Republican attacks on Mr. Kerry for avoiding direct questions. Three times, on questions about troop deployment, troop financing and whether he would pledge not to run for re-election if he failed to fulfill promises to create 10 million jobs and cut the deficit in half, Mr. Kerry said it depends on the circumstances or the situation.There he went again, dear readers! You just cant pin Kerry down! He refused to give a yes or no answer when asked to judge the war in Iraq. He said that politics regarding Cuba is different from four years ago. And worst of all, he used the troubling phrase it dependsindeed, he used the phrase three times! According to Wilgoren, this troubling conduct did provide new fodder for Republican attacks. There he went again, dear readers! Kerry was avoiding direct questions.
How daft has Times reporting become? Lets take a look at the troubling cases where Kerry dared say it depends.
Kerrys first use of the troubling phrase came near the start of the interview. Believe it or not, Wilgoren thinks that Kerrys answer was somehow worthy of note:
RUSSERT: If you were elected one year from now, will there be 100,000 American troops in Iraq?Kerry went on to say that, upon inauguration, he would immediately reach out to other nations in a very different way from this administration. But how could anyone sensibly prescribe troop levels for one year from now? Only a fool would find fault with that answer. But then, did we mention that Wilgoren writes for our most clownish paper, the Times?
But Wilgoren had a script to type, and she seemed determined to type it. The second answer which had her nonplussed concerned Kerrys vote against that $87 billion:
RUSSERT: If theres another bill to provide money for the troops, youll vote against it again?Duh! Kerry went on to offer some thoughts about his original vote. But lets state the obviousRusserts question was truly silly. How can someone possibly say how he will vote on unknown future bills? Dinan, at the Washington Times, didnt waste his time with such drivel. But Wilgoren, at our most addled paper, was troubled by what Kerry said.
Yes, Kerry said it depends one more time, responding to one of the days oddest questions. Russert was typing familiar scripts tooincluding a script about candor and clarity:
RUSSERT: Senator, again, in the interest of candor and clarity, you have promised to create 10 million jobs and cut the deficit in half in your first four years. If you dont achieve those goals, would you pledge that you would not seek re-election?According to Russert, this was a matter of candor and clarity. But readers, when was this odd standard established? In Campaign 2000, for example, did Candidate Bush ever say he wouldnt seek re-election if he failed to meet one of his pledges? Did anyone ask for such a strange pledge? Indeed, has Bushor any White House hopefulever been asked so silly a question? Almost surely, the answer is no, and theres an obvious reason for that. Russerts question (and Wilgorens article) had nothing to do with candor and clarity. Russert and Wilgoren were just mouthing scriptsthe scripts that now rule this campaign.
Wilgorens piece was deeply silly. But sometimes, intelligent comments do appear in the Times. In this mornings letters section, a reader discusses such scripts:
To the Editor:Glaser calls attention to one of the scripts which rule the Times disordered minds. According to that pleasing script, John Kerry just wont give a straight answer. Every scribe has heard that script; the RNC is reciting it daily. And if youre a flyweight like Jodi Wilgoren, youll apply it to everything that moves.
Where do they find the empty minds which type these scripts for Gothams Times? Wilgorens piece was an utter embarrassment. If you doubt it, read Dinans report in the Washington Timesa paper which wasnt willing to stoop to the levels of the Good Shipwreck Wilgoren.
THE GOOD SHIPWRECK BUMILLER: Meanwhile, right next to Wilgorens report, Elisabeth Bumiller was offering another White House letter. This time, she helped us see how totally normal it is when President Bush avoids press conferences. Yes, this is how she began:
BUMILLER: As Iraq continued to fall into chaos on the Thursday before Easter, the vacationing President Bush decided he would have to submit to an event he hates: a live prime-time news conference in the classical grandeur of the East Room of the White House.Mr. Bush has so far had 12 solo news conferences, Bumiller noted, far fewer than any other president. But why does Bush regard such events with dread? Could it reflect his weak grasp of policy matters? Could this explain why Bush would only meet the 9/11 commission with his trusted vice president, Tonto, at his side? Not in Bumillers work, it couldnt! Instead, Bumiller instantly says that most modern presidents feel as Bush does. And she finds a wise sage to support her:
BUMILLER: [A] news conference is considered news, and, [David] Gergen said, it is the best way for the president to reach a large prime-time audience, however unpleasant the setting for him.Surely, Bumiller could have found another pundit willing to offer a less Bush-friendly, balancing view. Instead, she just kept driving home her pointeveryone feels the way Bush does! She reminded us that Mr. Bushs aides, like all White House aides, regard a prime-time conference as a highly risky hour. Everyone sees this the way Bush does! The lettrist was shilling again.
In truth, Bumillers piece was somewhat less fawning than the recent raft of White House letters in which she has spotlessly pandered to Bush (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/5/04). But Times readers have begun to complain about Bumillers serial grovels, and the magisterial Times has begun to explain why these fatuous pieces appear. Indeed, several of our own HOWLER readers have sent us a note from Arthur Bovino, an assistant to Times public editor Daniel Okrent. Why do Bumillers pieces appear? Bovino has raised this with Okrent:
E-MAIL FROM ARTHUR BOVINO:Apparently, Okrent issues his statements to Bovino. Bovino then passes the statements along to the unwashed who wrote in.
But note the problem with Okrents response. As one reader told us, Okrent is of the opinion that merely labeling these pieces as insubstantial should ameliorate the problem. But this makes no sense, the reader notes. If Mr. Okrent cant see the obvious bias in Ms. Bumillers writing, theres very little point in him holding the position he does. Naturally, they ignored my question as to when John Kerry receives similarly adulatory treatment.
When does Kerry receive such treatment? The answer to that question is obvious: At the dysfunctional New York Times, Kerry doesnt receive such treatment. Instead, his wife is asked how many times shes used Botox. Kerry is pestered about his religion. And hes trashed for his troubling 12-word answersanswers in which he avoids direct questions. Readers, no other paper was more Bush-friendly in its coverage of Campaign 2000. And this paper seems determined to stage its great shipwreck again.
Yes, our reader specifically asked Okrent to comment on Bumillers fawning to Bush. And no, he didnt get an answer. But Daniel Okrent draws a good wageand seems to know where that fine wage comes from. Wed guess that there is little chance he will ever answer this question. Maybe Okrent understandably dreads this great task, the same way the president does.
SCHEDULE: Well be AWOL on Thursday and Friday. Well get to several topics tomorrow, including Woodward-on-Bushs-religion and Chris Wallaces coddling of Condi.