THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2004
BUT WHO WILL WATCH THE AD-WATCHERS (PART 2): How lazily has the New York Times reviewed the ads from Campaign 04? Consider Jim Rutenbergs latest Ad Campaign feature, the one in yesterdays paper.
Rutenberg reviews the latest Bush adand the ad makes a nasty accusation. John Kerry has changed his position on the Patriot Act because hes been pressured by fellow liberals, it says. Kerry is playing politics with national security, the ad says at its conclusion.
Its hard to make a nastier charge. But time out_ Rutenberg says this:
RUTENBERG: Contrary to this advertisements claim, Mr. Kerry has not called for the repeal of the acts expanded use of wiretaps and other surveillance tools in terrorism investigations. He has, rather, called for a greater level of judicial oversight.Say what? Although the ad makes a nasty charge, its principal claim is false, Rutenberg says. And he notes that the Bush campaign cant back up its claims about Kerrys motives. The Bush campaign has offered no proof that Kerry bowed to pressure from liberals, he writes. Indeed, Rutenberg notes that several Republicans who supported the bill now want to change some provisions, as does Kerry.
So lets see. The ad misstates Kerrys stand on the bill, and makes an unfounded claim about motive. And it does all this in just thirty seconds_ Why, youd almost think that this information might play a large role in Rutenbergs report. But you have to read to the end of his ACCURACY sectionalmost at the end of his pieceto gain this seminal information. Meanwhile, what does the headline on his piece say? Incredibly, the headline says this:
NEW YORK TIMES HEADLINE: Portrait of a Patriot and a Flip-FlopperHas Kerry flip-flopped on the act? Thats hardly what Rutenberg seems to be saying. But so what? Readers see the spin-drenched term sitting atop this piece in its headline. Indeed, enjoy the ironic Scorecard passage which closes Rutenbergs report:
RUTENBERG: SCORECARD: This spot is consistent with two of Mr. Bushs more prominent lines of attack against Mr. Kerry: that he is a perennial flip- flopper who is weak on national security. Mr. Bushs aides say that for all of the objections Democrats and journalists can raise about the commercials claims, voters will be left with the clear impression that Mr. Kerry has yet again switched positions on an important issue...And Rutenberg is surely right; voters will be left with that clear impression. Indeed, theyre left with that clear (if misleading) impression if they read the headline that runs on his piece_
May we ask a pair of obvious questions? First, if a nasty ad features bogus claims, why isnt that the headline? Why doesnt this headline say: Bush ad based on bogus claims? Rutenberg tells you about this ads claims, but he and the Times seem unable to care. You find this info deep in his piece. The headline spouts spin about Kerry.
But how about a second question? If this ad is as bogus as Rutenberg says, why isnt that a news story? Why is such important information relegated to a dusty old Ad Campaign feature? As everyone knows, a record-shattering volume of ads is helping define this White House campaign. Isnt it news when Bush runs an ad whose nasty claims are false and unfounded? Millions of people will see this adand they wont know that its claims are bogus_ Shouldnt it be major news when voters are misled this way?
Alas! At the Times, it isnt big news. Like other news orgs, the paper seems unable to care about these crucial TV ads. But then, in each of the past two White House campaigns, the Times has done inept Ad Watch work. This routinized piecewith its hopeless headlinecontinues the papers weak record.
TOMORROW: An e-mail critique of Tuesdays piece. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/04.
THE SPIN GETS INTO THE HEADLINE: Always remember: Spin will be served. Hesiod Theogeny notes a similar headline in this mornings Boston Herald. And no, Kerry hasnt flip-flopped on the matter at hand; as the Herald reports, the solon floated a trial balloon, then made his decision on Wednesday. But so what? Flip-flop is one of the years biggest spins. At the Herald, as at the Times, the spin-point went straight to the headline, where it could do the most good.
SPEAKING OF CONVINCING HEADLINES: The lead story in this mornings Post concerns those seven al Qaeda villains. Officials Convinced Attack on U.S. Is Being Planned, the headline says.
But are these officials really convinced? To state the obvious, the Post doesnt know. Indeed, in this mornings Times, this story gets a quite different play. It appears on page 10, and from the third paragraph on, Richard Stevenson suggests theres room for doubt about the sincerity of this new warning. Some intelligence officials said they were uncertain that the link between the fresh intelligence and the likelihood of another attack was as apparent as Mr. Ashcroft made it out to be, Stevenson writes. Theres no real new intelligence, and a lot of this has been out there already, one anonymous administration official says. Beyond that, Stevenson quotes Senator Richard Durbin saying that the Senate intelligence committee had received no word of any new information of the type Mr. Ashcroft described.
Is this a real threat? Or it is just hype? Is Ashcroft convinced of what he has said? Here at THE HOWLER, we simply dont know. But then again, were hardly alone; the Post has no way of knowing, either. Moral? Papers should report what pols say. They shouldnt report what theyre thinking.
LETS PLAY FOOZBALL: How worthless can our discourse be? Viewers of Tuesday evenings Hardball received a dispiriting lesson. Excitable Hardball host Chris Matthews was joined by Terry Holt, a spokesman for Bush, and Tad Devine, repping for Kerry. Quickly enough, the chatter went bad when Holt played a Tired Old Card:
MATTHEWS: Why is [Kerry] nailed on the flip-flop thing whenever you ask the poll question? Is that just negative advertisement or is that his history?Nobody can understand this matter? In fact, school kids can could understand it; Kerry voted for a spending bill he favored, and against a different bill he opposed. And Bushs position was just like Kerrys; Bush supported one of the bills and opposed the other, just like his rival. This snoresome story could hardly be simpler. But instead of clarifying this pointless old saw, Matthews said Kerrys statement sounds crazy. Yes, Devine made no effort to sort this out either, extending the Kerry campaigns striking ineptitude. But journalists dont have to wait for pols to clarify such silly issues. Devine was hopelessbut Matthews was worse. And his viewers were quite poorly served.
But then, having failed to clarify this attack on Kerry, Matthews started trashing Bush. Having nothing of value to say, he too played a Tired Old Card:
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a question about a choice in John Kerry's life.Well spare you the rest of this pointless discussion. But heres our question: Has Matthews been off the planet since March? Surely, all his viewers were well aware of the Tired Old Topic he flogged. The host brought nothing new to the topica matter which has been exhaustively explored.
Meanwhile, Matthews keeps flogging the fatuous foofaw which scribes of his class refuse to abandon. On Tuesday, he wasted time and insulted his viewers by asking if Kerry is cuddly enough. Last night, he killed time on a poll about who voters want to have barbecue with. Even after 9/11even in the face of Iraqmajor scribes wont abandon these topics. Remember: If you want to examine this crowd, you must regard them as alien beings. Nothingnothing_will stop their clowning. Such scribes surely arent of this earth.