TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2004
OOPS: We have new equipment on our sprawling campus, and we lost part 2 of our current series. Well try to resume the series tomorrow. In the meantime, two easier topics:
MEET MR. BLUSTER: NBCs Tim Russert was really hot! The day before, a Meet the Press interview with Colin Powell had been interrupted in an odd way. Now, Russert was chatting with Todays Matt Lauer. And the newsman was full of high dudgeon:
LAUER (5/17/04): What happened, Tim?Its no wonder Tim was so hot! Its the first time in my 13 years of doing Meet the Press that a press aide has ever tried to pull the plug on an interview, he complained to Lauer. In Mondays Washington Times, Steve Miller captured more of his outraged piety:
MILLER: Now, this is someone paid by the U.S. taxpayers, trying to cut off an interview with an American journalist and the American secretary of state, Mr. Russert said. Ive been in countries where staffers pull the plug on people. This is the United States of America. It really is unacceptable.Wow! This sort of thing could happen in Kyrgistan! But not in the U.S., Russert said.
But what really happened during the interview? Of course, no one wants to blame King Tim, but it seems that Russert exceeded the time allotment for his session with Powell. In Mondays Washington Post, Howard Kurtz mentioned this fact, then captured Russert as he pandered to Powell:
KURTZ:What happened was that both NBC and Fox News were using Jordanian television facilities for back-to-back Powell interviews. Russert was allotted 10 minutes and was asked to wrap when he went over by about two minutes. He said Finally, Mr. Secretary, but abruptly lost his guest.You know the way these big-shots do it! Pander to Powell. Trash the aide. Forget to say that you screwed up. We wondered if this is how Big Russ behaved back when he worked those two jobs?
(For the record, Russert may have gone three minutes over. According to Andrew Migas report in the Boston Herald, [Powells aide] was apparently miffed the interview went three minutes beyond the scheduled 10 minutes, an NBC official said, and later called the show to complain.)
None of this foolishness was ever worth discussing. But we mention one last point that is: Russerts dark rants about attempted news management may reflect a growing feeling within your celebrity press corps. As the situation in Iraq seems to worsen, mainstream journalists are quite noticeably jumping off the Good Ship Bush. Our guess: Many bigfeet in mainstream press circles have finally decided that Bush has to go. You may see that reflected in future press coverage. And given the way these people work, it may produce more hysteria of the silly kind Russert whipped up.
Russerts outrage was silly and self-involved. But if things continue to spin down for Bush, this may be the shape of future coverage. Readers, prepare to get angry and abandon this site if we cite such future events!
THAT FINAL QUESTION: Some readers have asked about Powells response to Russerts final question. What follows is the complete Q-and-A. Again, note Russerts pandering:
RUSSERT: In February of 2003, you put your enormous personal reputation on the line before the United Nations and said that you had solid sources for the case against Saddam Hussein. It now appears that an agent called Curveball had misled the CIA by suggesting that Saddam had trucks and trains that were delivering biological and chemical weapons. How concerned are you that some of the information you shared with the world is now inaccurate and discredited?Some readers wondered what Powell meant when he said that some pre-war intel was deliberately misleading. Indeed, Keith Olbermann presented an excited, jumbled report on this matter last night. As we said: If the press corps decides that Bush must go, you can look for more such smudged-and-fudged work.
Presumably, Powell was referring to the bogus intel now attributed to Curveball, the agent Russert cited. On March 28, the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy report on this subjecta report which the rest of the press corps ignored. We referred to this report in the hypothetical question we penned in the wake of Bushs last press conference (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/16/04). Of course, you were exposed to lots of such phony intel in the months before the war. More on this topic will follow as we tell you how Hamza did Hardball.
SPINNING BIO: If you want to spin a White House hopeful, campaign bio is a great way to do it. So many episodes to (pick-and-) choose from! Just consider some odd assertions by Todd Purdum in Sundays New York Times.
Weve already seen Purdums uber-view about his task as Kerrys biographer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/17/04). In part because life is like high school, he writes, giving us a peek at his own development, Mr. Kerrys adolescent experiences are worth examining in some detail. But adolescents have many experiences. Here is the one Purdum led with:
PURDUM (pgh 1): He was a champion debater, a good student, a strong and graceful athlete in a small, judgmental universe that prized such skills and knew him well. But for five formative years, John Kerry stood a step apart at St. Paul's School, gaining achievement more than acceptance.This reads like an out-take from Stuart Smalley. But this is how Purdum starts a biographical series about someone who wants to lead the western world. Readers, can you say more prejudicial than probative? Youd have to have a powerful theme to want to start with an image like that. Or youd have to have a powerful script, as Washington scribes often do.
And Purdum does seem to have a script, one youve heard many times beforeJohn Kerry is aloof and apart. RE Kerry, its the press corps Most Tired Old Saw. Purdum unveils it in paragraph 1 (see above). In paragraph 5, he hyperbolizes:
PURDUM (5): Mr. Kerry has always been a pace apart in every world he has inhabitedfrom grade school to college to Vietnam to the Senatemoving forcefully and successfully through diverse milieus without ever being fully of them. To his critics, his ambition has always been just a little too obvious, his manner too calculating. To his friends, his tenderheartedness and complexities have been too little understood. Always and everywhere, his seriousness has stood out.Kerry has always been a pace apart in every world he has inhabited, Purdum writes. No, were not sure what that statement means either, but we do look forward to seeing how Purdum applies this theme to Kerry-at-Yale, where, upon his graduation in 1966, Kerry was given the honor of delivering the class oration (Michael Kranish, Boston Globe) and where he had this further experience:
KRANISH: While a senior at Yale, Kerry [was] inducted into the secret Skull and Bones society, an exclusive club for Yale men destined to do great thingsor at least for those who were or sought to be well connected. Only 15 students were chosen each year, and Kerry was picked mostly because he was viewed as a future political leader...Kerry was chosen to given the Class Oration. He belonged to Yales most high-status club. Readers, think how well he would have fit in if he hadnt held himself apart! But thats how campaign bio works. The writer sifts sixty years of events; those events are hammered to fit a Great Theme. Was Kerry the most-respected man in his class? So what! He still stood apart!
How odd are the episodes Purdum selects? Again, can you say more prejudicial than probative? By paragraph 11, hes quoting words that dont fit Kerry. And the words that dont fit just arent nice:
PURDUM (11): Mr. Kerry had his detractors then, but also many skills, said John Rousmaniere, a nautical historian who played with him on a hockey team led by the class's best athlete, Robert S. Mueller, now the director of the F.B.I.You have to have a script (or incredibly bad judgment) to start a biographical series that waypicturing Johnny as he boo-hoo-hoos, then saying he wasnt hated or loathed. But then, Purdums opening passages drip with Standard Negative Portraits of Kerry. When Johnny performed a bit of Shakespeare, did he know how it would be used decades later?
PURDUM (9): In an 11th- or 12th-grade student production of Julius Caesar, Mr. Kerry played a memorable Cassius, warning in his already sonorous voice, The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.For whatever reason, the iconography of RNC attacks on recent Dems seems to dominate Purdrums opening. We hear that Kerry is lean and hungry and a good actor, and, of course, that hes ruthless and calculating. But he wasnt hated or loathed, Purdum fair-mindedly says.
But remember: Campaign bio is perfect for spinand the New York Times has been quite strange in its coverage of the last few White House elections. Be on the prowl for bio-spin wherever such profiles are sold.
THEY TEND TO KNOW ALL: Press biographers tend toward omniscience. Purdum captures their endless self-confidence in this overview statement:
PURDUM (4):Mr. Kerry is 60 now and running for president of his country, not of his [high school] class. But to a striking degree, the personal qualities that propel himand daunt himare the same ones that buoyed and bedeviled him when he was 16 and striving to succeed at St. Pauls...Purdum seems to be all-knowing. He knows the personal qualities that propel Kerry nowand the personal qualities that drove him then! He says theyre the same to a striking degree. And he doesnt betray an ounce of doubt. Real biographers dont think this way. They do think this way in the press corps.