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MEET MR. BLUSTER! NBC’s Tim Russert was really hot. It may be the way of the future:

TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2004

OOPS: We have new equipment on our sprawling campus, and we lost “part 2” of our current series. We’ll try to resume the series tomorrow. In the meantime, two easier topics:

MEET MR. BLUSTER: NBC’s 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 Today’s Matt Lauer. And the newsman was full of high dudgeon:

LAUER (5/17/04): What happened, Tim?

RUSSERT: Matt, we were concluding our interview with Secretary Powell. And I said, “Finally,” asking the last question, and an overzealous press aide interfered and actually ordered the camera to be pulled off of Secretary Powell so as not to allow him to answer the question.

It’s no wonder Tim was so hot! “It’s 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 Monday’s 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. “I’ve 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 Monday’s 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.

Russert was still puzzled afterward. “A taxpayer-paid employee interrupted an interview,” he said. “Not in the United States of America, that’s not supposed to go on. This is attempted news management gone berserk. Secretary Powell was really stand-up. He was a general and took charge.”

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 Miga’s report in the Boston Herald, “[Powell’s 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: Russert’s 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.

Russert’s 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 Powell’s response to Russert’s final question. What follows is the complete Q-and-A. Again, note Russert’s 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?

POWELL: I’m very concerned. When I made that presentation in February 2003, it was based on the best information that the Central Intelligence Agency made available to me. We studied it carefully; we looked at the sourcing in the case of the mobile trucks and trains. There was multiple sourcing for that. Unfortunately, that multiple sourcing over time has turned out to be not accurate. And so I'm deeply disappointed. But I'm also comfortable that at the time that I made the presentation, it reflected the collective judgment, the sound judgment of the intelligence community. But it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.

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 subject–a report which the rest of the press corps ignored. We referred to this report in the hypothetical question we penned in the wake of Bush’s 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.

From the annals of candidate bio

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 Sunday’s New York Times.

We’ve already seen Purdum’s uber-view about his task as Kerry’s 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. Kerry’s 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.

(2) Danny Barbiero, a middle-class boy from suburban Long Island who was Mr. Kerry’s best friend, remembers how they made common cause in a boarding school full of Pillsburys, Peabodys, Pierponts and Pells. One day, Mr. Barbiero went to see a favorite teacher, the school’s first black faculty member, and found someone else already there.

(3) I went into his apartment,” recalled Mr. Barbiero, now an employee benefits consultant. “And he said, ‘This is Johnny Kerry. He’s just feeling a little out of sorts because he thinks people don’t like him.

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?” You’d have to have a powerful theme to want to start with an image like that. Or you’d have to have a powerful script, as Washington scribes often do.

And Purdum does seem to have a script, one you’ve heard many times before–John Kerry is aloof and apart. RE Kerry, it’s 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 inhabited–from grade school to college to Vietnam to the Senate–moving 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, we’re 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 things–or 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 Yale’s most high-status club. Readers, think how well he would have fit in if he hadn’t held himself apart! But that’s 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, he’s quoting words that don’t fit Kerry. And the words that don’t fit just aren’t 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.

(12) “I think hatred is too strong a word,” Mr. Rousmaniere said. “Loathing is too strong a word. He may have seemed a little calculating to some people, and perhaps to me as well at the time, but he wanted to be liked. He may have just been a little more obvious about it. Not bad training for a politician. He wanted recognition, and in a place like that, anybody who did stand out in a noneccentric, nonsarcastic way, some people might be a little suspicious of.”

You have to have a script (or incredibly bad judgment) to start a biographical series that way–picturing “Johnny” as he boo-hoo-hoos, then saying he wasn’t “hated” or “loathed.” But then, Purdum’s 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.”

(10) “And he still has that lean and hungry look,” said another classmate, Philip Heckscher, now a teacher and Chinese calligrapher, who played Marc Antony. “He was a very good actor.” He was also, Mr. Heckscher said, “a very focused person, and that might have made him seem ruthless to some. He was very focused in a culture where people were generally indirect about things, and that made him stand out a bit.”

For whatever reason, the iconography of RNC attacks on recent Dems seems to dominate Purdrum’s opening. We hear that Kerry is “lean and hungry” and “a good actor,” and, of course, that he’s “ruthless” and “calculating.” But he wasn’t hated or loathed, Purdum fair-mindedly says.

But remember: Campaign bio is perfect for spin–and 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 him–and daunt him–are the same ones that buoyed and bedeviled him when he was 16 and striving to succeed at St. Paul’s...
Purdum seems to be all-knowing. He knows the “personal qualities that propel” Kerry now–and the personal qualities that drove him then! He says they’re the same “to a striking degree.” And he doesn’t betray an ounce of doubt. Real biographers don’t think this way. They do think this way in the press corps.