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WHY GORE ISN’T CURRENTLY PERFECT: Eric was right in 2002. It’s time to demand mea culpas: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2006

THE THREE-CHINA POLICY: Peter Baker’s front-page report in the Post seems to have come from Pravda. Baker discusses yesterday’s bungled session with Chinese President Hu:
BAKER (4/21/06): The one off-script moment in an otherwise meticulously choreographed day came when a member of the Falun Gong religious sect that is suppressed in China screamed at Hu for several long minutes as he addressed hundreds of Bush aides and ticketed guests on the lawn. "President Hu! Your days are numbered," she shouted. "President Bush! Stop him from killing!" A startled Hu paused until Bush leaned over and encouraged him to continue. "You're okay," Bush assured Hu.
The one off-script moment? “In an otherwise meticulously choreographed day?” On page two of the very same paper, Dana Milbank runs through the list of horribles from yesterday’s appallingly-choreographed session. Out on page one, though, life is different. All gaffes are disappeared—but that one.

Readers, they introduced Hu as if he were president of Taiwan! This amazing gaffe is featured in all other papers. At Pravda-by-the-Potomac, though, Baker doesn’t even mention this blunder. Instead, we are affirmatively told about the meticulous staging.

Baker’s piece reads like a dispatch from the official Chinese press. But then too, so does the following passage—in which Baker reports that yesterday’s protestor will soon be frog-marched to prison:

BAKER: When she screamed from a press riser where cameras were recording the event, it took several minutes before uniformed Secret Service officers could get through the throng of photographers to remove her. Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said she would likely be charged with attempting to intimidate, coerce, threaten or harass a foreign official in the performance of his duties, punishable by as much as six months in prison.
Frog-marched off for a six-month stay! As the old saying semi-went: “One, two, many Chinas!”

WHY GORE ISN’T CURRENTLY PERFECT (PART 3 OF 3): So how about it? Is Al Gore “the near-perfect Democratic candidate for 2008,” as Richard Cohen said in Tuesday’s Post? In a rational world, it would seem that he should be—and Dems could use a near-perfect hopeful; it’s hard to spot a White House winner among the projected Dem field. As Cohen noted, Gore was right on Iraq—the day’s leading issue—and he was right-from-the-start on global warming, which is achieving consensus status as uber-issue of the future. But no, Gore isn’t currently perfect—because of two things which Cohen omitted from his column. For one thing, Cohen omitted those dismal numbers—Gore’s Cheney-like favorable-to-unfavorable ratio (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/06). And oh yes—the pundit also omitted the reason for Gore’s ugly numbers. Wouldn’t you know it? Richard Cohen forgot to mention the endless, crackpot press corps war which produced those horrible numbers for Gore—a war which was staged by Cohen’s colleagues and oh yes, by Cohen himself. And no, it isn’t just Cohen’s past work which leaves Gore less than currently perfect. If Gore ran again, we know what would happen. Alpha male pundits would start to churn their thousand-and-one brainless anti-Gore scripts—and betas like Cohen would curl up and die. Cohen praises Gore today—but he’d surely turn tail tomorrow. Dems who fail to grasp these points are living in a fantasy world.

Why isn’t Gore currently perfect? Cohen forgot to include the answer—because of Cohen himself.

But many Dems do live in a version of that fantasy world—in large part, because of our career liberal writers. It isn’t just Cohen—and David Remnick—who refuse to discuss this obvious problem, the reason why Gore isn’t perfect. As writers like Cohen start calling for Gore, other writers—writers we liberals read and trust—refuse to discuss the obvious problem which would make it so hard for Gore to run. For whatever reason, career liberal writers have refused to discuss this topic over the past seven years. And even now, they refuse to discuss it—even as others praise Al Gore and bravely say, “Run, Al, run.”

Indeed, even the handful of writers who have spoken up choose not to do so currently. One example: Ezra Klein, the bright young Prospect writer. Last month, Klein made history when he wrote an accurate sentence about what happened to Candidate Gore during Campaign 2000. (This is never done.) Quickly, Klein became known as “The Answer.” Perhaps you recall his historic statement, made in a Prospect cover story. He referred to a recent Gore speech:

EZRA KLEIN (4/06): The address was the keynote for the We Media conference, held at the Associated Press headquarters in New York last October and attended by an audience that included both old media luminaries and new media innovators. In attendance were Tom Curley, president of the AP, Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, all leading lights of a media establishment that, five years earlier, had deputized itself judge, jury, and executioner for Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, spinning each day’s events to portray the stolid, capable vice president as a wild exaggerator, ideological chameleon, and total, unforgivable bore.
Omigod! With perfect accuracy, Klein described the two-year War Against Gore, in which the media establishment (the AP and the New York Times—not the “right-wing noise machine”) “deputized itself executioner” of the Gore campaign. It was that mainstream War Against Gore which eventually sent George Bush to the White House—and it was that mainstream press war (and its long aftermath) which produced those bad numbers for Gore. But doggone it! In Klein’s piece, he trumpeted the thought of another Gore run—without explaining why “the media establishment” wouldn’t just go out and trash Gore again. And when Klein did a 45-minute segment on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, his one, shining sentence completely disappeared; Klein never mentioned the press corps’ treatment of Gore’s campaign at all! “The Answer” now became “The Ellipses”—and one more liberal career writer failed to mention the problem this near-perfect candidate would face in 2008.

Given his prior “execution” by the “media establishment,” why would Gore think he could run in 2008? In his Prospect cover story, Klein never directly addressed this point. And by the time he showed up on C-SPAN, the whole theme had gone down the drain.

And now, we’ll mention another good guy—a good guy named Eric Alterman, one of the few liberal writers who has directly discussed the groaning problem of the press corps’ War Against Gore. In his 2002 book, What Liberal Media?, Alterman devoted an entire chapter to the trashing of Candidate Gore, and in October 2002, he wrote a column in The Nation about this remarkable problem. Note well: Alterman discussed the trashing which actually happened—the trashing of Gore by “the so-called liberal media,” not by some right-wing machine:

ALTERMAN (10/21/02): Something about Al Gore brings out the worst in people, and nowhere is this truer than in the so-called "liberal media." Journalists' "default" position on Gore, Joe Klein notes, is "ridicule. He opens his mouth and is immediately assumed cynical, tactical, self-serving, self-pitying, awkward, embarrassing, unintentionally hilarious, or all of the above." That Klein is himself a serial offender only strengthens the power of his unadmitted mea culpa.

The intensity of the media's anti-Gore obsession is a bit bizarre, but even more so, given the strictures of journalistic objectivity, is the lack of compunction they feel about openly demonstrating it.
At an early New Hampshire debate between Gore and Bill Bradley, reporters openly booed him, "objectivity" be damned. "The 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were, to use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out," Time reported. "Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective jeer, like a gang of fifteen-year-old Heathers cutting down some hapless nerd.”
That was the mainstream press corps jeering Gore—not some right-wing hit machine. And Alterman made the same point about Joe Klein which we have made this week about Cohen. According to Alterman, Klein refused to offer a mea culpa—refused to acknowledge that he too tends to adopt the “default position” on Gore he describes. But then, so too this week with Cohen. Today, Cohen urges Gore to run. But when Gore did run, Cohen trashed him—and any sane person would have to assume that he’d end up trashing Gore again. An eternal beta, Cohen would almost surely fall in line with the alphas—praising brilliant, sainted McCain and belittling unworthy, khaki-pantsed Gore. The scripts about Gore are pre-written and endless—and Cohen has shown his tendencies clearly. In 1999, he was troubled by Gore’s khaki pants. Unless they acknowledge what they have done, scribes like this will be troubled again

But darn it! Eric didn’t raise this point when he linked to Cohen and Remnick this week. Earlier, in his column from 2002, Alterman still wasn’t all that high on Gore. (“Personally, I never really liked Gore, and he's not my choice for 2004.”) But, by now, his view has changed; this week, he called Gore “our man,” and he seemed to compliment Remnick and Cohen for saying, “Run, Al, run.” But Eric didn’t demand from them the thing he mentioned when he spoke of Joe Klein; he didn’t demand that these two major scribes provide a “mea culpa.” Why on earth would someone like Gore subject himself to more media jeering? Why would he think he could survive a second dose of the “anti-Gore obsession—“ the obsession Eric correctly described? Today, Cohen and Remnick describe what might have been if Gore, not Bush, had gone to the White House. But they fail to explain that they are the ones who produced this state of affairs.

In 2002, Eric was right when he sought that mea culpa. In our view, pundits like Cohen should stifle themselves—unless they’re willing to cop to the truth. Below, we’ll show you what Cohen wrote this week—and then, we’ll show what he should have typed. It won’t really make sense for Gore to run until the mea culpas get started:

WHAT COHEN ACTUALLY WROTE THIS WEEK: Gore insists his presidential aspirations are behind him. “I think there are other ways to serve,” he told me. No doubt. But on paper, he is the near-perfect Democratic candidate for 2008. Among other things, he won the popular vote in 2000. He opposed going to war in Iraq, but he supported the Persian Gulf War—right both times. He is smart, experienced and, despite the false caricatures, a man versed in the new technologies—especially the Internet. He is much more a person of the 21st century than most of the other potential candidates. Trouble is, a campaign is not a film. Gore could be a great president. First, though, he has to be a good candidate.
Yes, that’s what Cohen actually wrote. But here’s what he should have written:
WHAT COHEN SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN: Gore insists his presidential aspirations are behind him. “I think there are other ways to serve,” he told me. No doubt. But on paper, he is the near-perfect Democratic candidate for 2008. Among other things, he won the popular vote in 2000. He opposed going to war in Iraq, but he supported the Persian Gulf War—right both times. He is smart, experienced and, despite the false caricatures, a man versed in the new technologies—especially the Internet. He is much more a person of the 21st century than most of the other potential candidates. Trouble is, Gore is still burdened by perceptions which arose from his 2000 White House campaign, when my press corps colleagues—and I must admit, I myself—staged merciless, dishonest, scripted attacks on his alleged bad character. The perceptions from these dishonest attacks linger, accounting for Gore’s bad poll numbers. Our attacks were endless—and were endlessly false—and, by helping Bush reach the White House, our dishonest attacks have now changed history. My colleagues and I must explain, and debunk, these dishonest attacks if we now say that Al Gore should run...
There’d be a lot more to say in that column—the column Cohen should have written. Cohen could explain why he insulted his readers’ intelligence by writing about Gore’s troubling pants—and why he pulled invented “quotes” by Naomi Wolf out of his smutty old magazines. He could even explain why he spent an entire column trashing Joe Lieberman for something which George Bush had actually said. (Yes—this actually happened. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/5/04. Real time: See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/7/00.) And by the way, a whole lot of journalists—not just Cohen—need to type that mea culpa. To quote both Eric and Ezra, “the intensity of the media's anti-Gore obsession” was widely expressed—all through “the media establishment”—in the election which Cohen now rues.

Why isn’t Gore currently perfect? Because his numbers are amazingly bad—the legacy of that disgraceful press corps war. It’s utterly silly to say “Run, Al, run” unless we’re prepared to tackle this problem. How many times—in how many elections—do we plan to play the poor, hapless fool?

THOSE STUBBORN FACTS: Again, here are the numbers from that Roper survey, conducted in February (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/06). For each person, we list “favorables” compared to “unfavorables.” It’s absurd to call Gore near-perfect without discussing these unfortunate numbers—and without discussing the recurring press conduct which explains where these numbers came from:

John McCain: 40 percent favorable; 18 percent unfavorable
Rudy Giuliani: 49-15
Hillary Clinton: 42-40
Al Gore: 27-46
George W. Bush: 36-49
Dick Cheney: 29-50
Bill Clinton: 49-33
Condoleezza Rice: 44-27
We think Gore’s number are tragic too. But then, we don’t have a stake in pretending that we don’t know where the numbers came from. We don’t have to avoid explaining why we kept our traps shut at the time.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Amazing, isn’t it? As Alterman noted, the press corps sat and watched Gore debate—and openly booed, hissed and jeered. “The media groaned, howled and laughed almost every time Al Gore said something,” the Hotline’s Howard Mortman said, days later. And here’s Jake Tapper, on C-SPAN, six weeks later: “That's the only time I've ever heard the press room boo or hiss any candidate of any party at any event.” Of course, it wasn’t the booing which actually mattered; it was the later trashing of Gore, which sent Bush to the White House—and the U.S. to Iraq. Today, Cohen and Remnick sadly lament. In real time, though, they—like their cohort—jeered and/or looked away.

And, as always, we told you first! (Not that it made a lick of difference.) In real time, we got a phone call from that press room; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/3/99. Six weeks later, Tapper made it three; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/14/99.