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THEY SURF DURING ADS (PART 3)! Jodi Wilgoren critiqued a Bush ad. Maybe she shouldn’t have bothered:

THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2004

IN GREECE: Even from the shores of the wine-dark sea, where the breakers crash and drag, even from the birthplace of bungled logic, our readers keep writing to tell us:

E-MAIL: Reading your column today reminded me that I wanted to also thank you for talking about In America. Because I live in Greece I couldn’t see it in the theater but when I found it in one of our local DVD stores, I checked it out—because of your high praise.

I hate checking out DVDs because I hate watching TV and it takes me days to get one into the machine. This one took over a week! But my husband and I were so richly rewarded that we gladly paid the overdue fee. Thanks again.

Tomorrow will be the end of this thread. But we’re glad to hear of the pleasing encounters our readers have had with this movie.

Our current series: They surf during ads!

ENJOY EACH EXCITING INSTALLMENT: Spending records are being shattered as Candidate Bush airs slashing TV ads. But the national press has made little effort to examine the contents of these commercials. Maybe our pundits just surf during ads! Enjoy each exciting installment:

PART 1: The Times says Bush’s ad is unfair—but reporters doesn’t care to find out. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/11/04

PART 2: Rutenberg critiqued Bush’s ad—but he told a much softer story. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/12/04

And now, for today’s installment:

THEY SURF DURING ADS (PART 3): Is Bush’s new ad “particularly cynical?” To all appearances, the press doesn’t care. Yes, Bush is shattering spending records as he airs his slashing commercial. And everyone knows that the heavy ad buy seems to be driving up John Kerry’s “negatives.” But even after the New York Times said the ad was “particularly cynical,” very few of our major news orgs have examined what this commercial says. Voters are having their views affected by this ad’s aggressive charges. And your national press corps burbles and snores. Or maybe they surf during ads.

Tomorrow, we’ll take one more look at the way the press has treated this important ad. But maybe it’s really just as well when the nation’s reporters sleep on the job. After all, what happens when our biggest scribes attempt to critique the campaign’s key ads? Consider Jodi Wilgoren’s long report on another of Bush’s commercials.

Last Saturday, Wilgoren reviewed the Bush campaign’s use of a now-famous statement by Kerry. According to Wilgoren, Bush’s campaign “scour[ed] Senator John Kerry’s three decades in public life in search of material to use against him. But they turned up nothing as potent as 13 words that spilled from Mr. Kerry’s mouth shortly after he effectively secured the Democratic presidential nomination.” Wow! That must have been some statement by Kerry! Wilgoren quoted the potent remark which spilled from the Democrat’s mouth:

WILGOREN (pgh 2): “I actually did vote for the $87 billion—before I voted against it,” Mr. Kerry said on a March afternoon in Huntington, W.Va.
According to Wilgoren, this potent remark is the greatest find of Bush’s opposition research. Early on, she let us know how comical Kerry’s statement really was:
WILGOREN (5): Ken Goldstein, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, said the quotation “just sounds ridiculous.”

(6) “Say it to yourself, it’s funny,” said Mr. Goldstein, an expert on political advertising and communication. “It’s like something Comedy Central would do.”

(7) Indeed, within 36 hours, the Bush campaign had turned Mr. Kerry’s inartful explanation of his stance on financing Iraq’s reconstruction into a devastating punch line for an advertisement claiming he is indecisive and weak on defense. Mr. Bush’s aides also seized on the statement to coin a new term, “foragainst,” which they use to ridicule Mr. Kerry in news releases.

Say it to yourself—it’s funny! According to Wilgoren’s expert, Kerry’s statement “just sounds ridiculous”—like something you’d hear on Comedy Central! And Wilgoren continued the imagery herself, saying the Bush camp had turned the statement into a “devastating punch line.” They were using to “ridicule” Kerry.

Yep! Wilgoren pulled no punches—no pun intended— as she told us how foolish the comment had been. But after engaging in so much fun, you’d think that she would be very careful to examine the merits of Bush’s ad. After all, Kerry’s statement shows that “he is indecisive and weak on defense,” the Bush camp has said. Just in case we missed these points, Wilgoren states them again:

WILGOREN (8): Mr. Bush’s team contends it is emblematic of the larger case they are making against Mr. Kerry: that he is a flip-flopping Washington insider unqualified to lead the nation in wartime.
Kerry’s statement shows that he’s a flip-flopper. And it shows that he’s weak on defense! These are surely serious charges. Sadly, Wilgoren isn’t up to critiquing them. Maybe we’re all better off when they just surf during ads.

Does Kerry’s statement show he’s a flipper? Rather plainly, no, it does not. After all, the solon voted on two different $87 billion bills—one of which was “paid for” through a tax increase, and one of which was not. Indeed, how transparently fake is the Bush camp’s charge that these two different votes make Kerry a flipper? As Kerry himself has often noted, Bush said, during debate on the bills, that he would veto the first of these bills—the one for which Kerry voted. In other words, Bush supported one bill and opposed the other—just exactly like Kerry did. Not only is Kerry not a flipper, Bush’s campaign is slamming him for supporting one bill and not the other—exactly the thing their guy did!

But this obvious point—often voiced by Kerry—isn’t found in Wilgoren’s report. She says that Kerry is being slammed at a flipper—but fails to say that Bush took separate stands on the bills, just as Kerry did. Of course, as soon as we remember that Bush made a veto threat, we realize how phony that other charge is—the charge that Kerry’s vote against the second bill means that he is “weak on defense.” This was not an emergency appropriation, which explains why Bush was prepared to veto. Had the Senate nixed the second bill (joining Kerry), they would have had to negotiate further. But then, that’s exactly what would have occurred had Bush vetoed the bill he opposed. Would that have meant that Bush was “soft on defense?” No, it would have meant the obvious. It would have meant that Bush was involved in a spending negotiation.

As she closes, Wilgoren quotes another academic. Readers, tell us once again: How much do kids pay for tuition?

WILGOREN: “Rather than saying, ‘He’s a flip-flopper, look at his record,’ they now say something much stronger, which is, “He’s a flip-flopper, look at his words,” observed Kathleen Kendall, a political scientist at the University of Maryland. “You don’t expect the damaging evidence to come from the candidate himself.”
Yes, that’s exactly what the Bush camp is saying—but what they’re saying just ain’t really true, a point which escapes Wilgoren’s analysis (and her chosen academics). Like Kerry, Bush took separate stands on the bills—but Wilgoren’s readers won’t get to know that. Readers, when it comes to critiquing ads, your press corps’ skills are often quite weak. We’ll recall this fact as we turn, once again, to the press corps’ hapless treatment of that “particularly cynical” commercial.

TOMORROW: No way to tell

WILGOREN GETS IT RIGHT: In today’s Times, Wilgoren does tackle some silly spin about Kerry. We’re here to tell you when she’s wrong. Today, we’re happy to report some good news: Wilgoren (pretty much) gets it right!

From the annals of fake, phony charges

SEAN HANNITY’S RUBIFICATION PROGRAM: Does anyone play his viewers for fools quite the way Sean Hannity does? Last night, the knuckle-dragging nightly host repeated a Fake Standard Claim:

HANNITY: [Kerry] has voted against just about every major weapons system we now have.
How can Hannity make such a claim? Because in 3 of his 19 years in the Senate, Kerry voted against the annual defense appropriations bill. Why did he do so? More tomorrow. But if you vote against the omnibus bill, then technically you’ve voted against every weapon system it includes. And knuckle-draggers have been very “technical” when they make this claim against Kerry. Why, you might even say that they’ve been “Clintonesque.” Except that is unfair to Bill Clinton.

But last night, a humorous element was involved in Hannity’s fake, phony charge. John McCain was the cave man’s guest. First, he said Kerry isn’t “soft on defense.” A bit later, he noted the obvious:

MCCAIN: I would be accused of voting against numerous weapon systems, because I voted against defense appropriations bills, because they’re loaded down with pork. And they’re obscene today with all of the pork-barrel spending and multi-trillion dollar deficits. I’ll probably vote against the defense appropriations bill this year.
Oops! Just like Kerry, McCain “has voted against just about every major weapons system we now have.” Note to self! Sean will have to avoid this fake, phony charge when people like McCain are around.

Meanwhile, how fake, how phony is the Fox host? Drink in the amusing exchange which followed McCain’s rejoinder:

MCCAIN: I would be accused of voting against numerous weapon systems, because I voted against defense appropriations bills because they’re loaded down with pork. And they’re obscene today with all of the pork-barrel spending and multi-trillion dollar deficits. I’ll probably vote against the defense appropriations bill this year. I was accused of voting against breast cancer research because that was on a defense appropriations bill that I voted against, so—

HANNITY: But on defense issues, the most important issue of our time, that—your guy is George W. Bush, right?

MCCAIN: He is my guy. I’m campaigning for him. I’m supporting his re-election. I want him to be re-elected. I believe he has led this nation with moral clarity. But I was also subjected to allegations of being against things like breast cancer research, which was on a defense appropriations bill.

HANNITY: I remember. I understand.

Why did McCain keep bringing up that fake, phony claim—the claim that he voted against breast research? Perhaps because his beetle-browed host was one of the people who made the fake charge! The charge was first made—where else?—in a Bush 2000 campaign ad. And you know Sean! He pimped the fake charge on the March 6, 2000 Hannity & Colmes, just to cite one sad example.

He made the fake claim against McCain then. He makes the fake claim against Kerry now. Tomorrow we’ll ask our key question again: Why does the press corps sit on its hands while fake charges are widely peddled?

RESEARCH REQUEST: Watching H&C last night, we thought we heard Hannity say, “That wasn’t fair,” when McCain mentioned the breast cancer charge. The official Fox transcript says something different. Out of curiosity, does anyone have a tape of the show so we can sort this one out?