Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

THEY SURF DURING ADS (PART 1)! The Times says Bush’s ad is unfair. But reporters don’t care to find out:

TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2004

ANNALS OF THE UPLIFTING: On Friday, we’ll offer a full report on the following uplifting item. But HOWLER readers deserve to know that this is a special day indeed; it’s the day when In America goes on sale in the nation’s video stores. Ann Hornaday announced the event in Sunday’s Post, trying to make amends for the way she omitted the film from last year’s Ten Best list. She also went out on a critical limb, praising Emma Bolger’s “amazing” performance over that of her sister, Sarah Bolger.

Last Saturday, we enjoyed an “Evening with Jim Sheridan” as part of the Maryland Film Festival (incomparably, we walked to the transplendent session, held just three blocks from our own sprawling campus). On Friday, we’ll review this film once again. In our view, In America put certain things on the screen that will never be put there again. We don’t know how it will play on TV. But today, you can start to find out.

THEY SURF DURING ADS (PART 1): On May 2, the lead editorial in the New York Times took dead aim at a TV ad. “President Bush’s newest commercial seem[s] particularly cynical,” the Times said. “It shows weapons disappearing from Iraq while actors in uniform watch in dismay, and an announcer accuses Mr. Kerry of trying to kill these very programs.” We don’t even live in a “battleground” state, but we have seen this commercial repeatedly. It’s part of the biggest ad buy in political history—an ad campaign which the slumbering press corps has made little effort to assess.

Why did the Times think this ad was so “cynical?” Early on in their piece, the editors offered an overview:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: [T]he Republicans have accused Mr. Kerry of trying to kill the very weapons that are essential to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. At best, these charges are rather sloppy interpretations of complicated votes on military budgets. At worst, they are flat wrong. All are sad examples of the sort of election-year gimmickry that makes it hard for members of Congress to vote responsibly on military spending, lest they be denounced as opponents of a strong national defense.
As the editorial continued, the claims about this “election-year gimmickry” got more specific. “The most glaring flaw in the Bush-Cheney assault is that the bulk of the votes for which Mr. Kerry is being castigated were cast in the early and mid-1990’s, when there was a bipartisan consensus in Washington for slashing the huge Reagan-era military budgets to reflect the post-Soviet world,” the Times said. “[Vice President] Cheney actually got the ball rolling by pushing through the biggest military spending cuts in a generation as defense secretary for the first President Bush.” Indeed, how cynical is that Bush-Cheney ad? According to the Times, some of the weapon systems which disappear from the screen are systems which Cheney opposed, just like Kerry! “In 1990, Mr. Cheney’s first budget canceled, among other things, production of the M-1 tank and the Bradley fighting vehicle, and made big cuts in the F-18 fighter,” the Times said. But these are some of the very same systems which disappear in that Bush-Cheney ad! The commercial calls Kerry’s defense record “troubling” because he opposed these weapons systems. But according to the Times editorial, Vice President Cheney—Bush’s right-hand man—opposed these systems too!

Holy cow! It’s not hard to see why the Times would call such a TV ad “cynical.” If this editorial gives a fair account of the facts, the Bush-Cheney team is trashing Kerry for doing what Cheney did too! Surely, the nation’s newspapers have leaped into action, examining the contents of this commercial. After all, never before has so much dough been spent on ads in a White House race. Surely, the nation’s scribes have also set records in the space they devote to these ads.

But alas! We can’t quite say if this editorial is fair, because the nation’s press is asleep at the switch as the TV ad wars unfold. On the news side, the New York Times has made little attempt to assess the ad which the editors slammed. Indeed, when Times reporters have attempted to discuss the ads which now fill our screens, they have produced such hopeless work that we almost wished they would go back to their deathless reports about Botox, peanut butter and ski trips.

Yes, the national press is snoring again as these ads drive the national discourse. At the Times, they talk about who makes Kerry’s sandwiches. They’re quite intrigued by his snowboarding comments. But clearly, your “press corps” surfs during ads. All week, we’ll review the lazy way they’ve pretended to check out these ads.

TOMORROW: How fair is that ad?

From the annals of our kookiest paper

SPINNING, THE GLOBE: How kooky will the Boston Globe be in its ongoing coverage of Kerry? Last Thursday, Michael Kranish topped even himself with a report about Kerry’s 33-year-old (alleged) conduct. On Wednesday, the FBI had released “thousands of pages of documents detailing how the agency monitored the activities of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and occasionally took note of the speeches of one of its leaders, John F. Kerry,” Kranish explained. Then he revealed what he’d found in the files. First, though, the scribe noted this:

KRANISH (pgh 2): Much of the information in the documents is secondhand hearsay, such as a report on a comment Kerry reportedly made June 14, 1971.
Uh-oh! Much of the “information” was “secondhand hearsay”—including the part Kranish rushed into print. Given the way the FBI worked in the period under review, this is a way of stating the obvious—Kranish doesn’t have any idea if the “information” involved here is actually accurate. But so what! This is the Boston Globe, where “more prejudicial than probative” is a watchword, not a warning. Having said that the “information” was basically worthless, Kranish quickly typed a tidbit about how Kerry just luuvved Ho Chi Minh:
KRANISH (3): The report quotes a source as saying Kerry told an audience at a Philadelphia YMCA that Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese communist leader, was “the George Washington of Vietnam. Ho studied the United States Constitution and wants to install the same provisions into the Government of Vietnam.”
According to a campaign spokesman, Kerry actually said that the Vietnamese people believed that Ho was their George Washington. But could the Globe get any more clueless? The “issue” involved here is 33 years old, and is, therefore, grindingly irrelevant. Meanwhile, the paper doesn’t have the slightest idea if its “second-hand hearsay” is actually true. So what did the Boston Globe do? Easy! They found the weirdest item they could—and they rushed it straight into print. In Boston, the paper is known as the Globe. But it works likes it’s run by flat-earthers.

But then, it’s almost impossible to comprehend how bad this newspaper’s “judgment” really is. Over the weekend, we purchased the Globe’s new biography of Kerry, and we could barely believe the comical preface penned by the paper’s editor, Martin Baron. Trust us—it’s truly worth the price of the book just to read these ten oddball pages. Tim Noah discussed the preface a few weeks ago, but failed to do it full justice (understandably). We’ll wait a few days before we try. We do want to get this one right.