FRIDAY, JUNE 4, 2004
READ EACH EXCITING INSTALLMENT: Howler history! Gore spoke on Iraqand the press corps clowned. Read each exciting installment:
PART 1: Two years ago, Gore nailed Iraq. Guess how your pundits reacted? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/04.And now, for todays installment:
GORE ON WAR (PART 3): No, Gores September 2002 speech didnt prophesy all future developments. Most specifically, he didnt say that Saddam would be caught without any stores of chemical or biological weapons. On the other hand, he didnt even waste his time referring to any nuclear program. And he said Saddam posed no immediate threat, even if he did have chem and bio.
But alas! Even as Gore warned about the rush to judgment, our heroes in error had their thumbs on the scale, ratcheting up the nations fears about Saddams deadly arsenals. On TV, Condi Rice was misstating sweetly about those famous aluminum tubesthe ones she said were only suited for nuclear weapons programs. Judith Miller was writing the pieces that an editors note rejected last week. And three days after Gore gave his speech, William Safire opined in the Times:
SAFIRE (9/26/02): The day after Gores self-contradictory pushmipullyu of a speech, Blair presented a 50-page dossier from British intelligence detailing the dangers to the world from Saddam, including evidence of his present possession of "mobile biological weapons facilities."Oh boy! There they were, the mobile labs that Colin Powell would tout five months later. Heroes in error were spreading this tale, and the New York Times was buying. Yes, it would have been even better if Gore had discussed these reports. (Warning: That would have made his speech even longer.) But surely, many pundits will now agree that we suffered from a foreshortened debate as we hurried toward war in September 02. With that in mind, you might say that Gore gave some good sound advice when he suggested a fuller debateand when he said that the Bush Admin had no plans for post-war Iraq. But then, such debate almost never occurs in this country. As usual, pundits raced into action after Gores address, making a joke of your discourse.
Foolishly, Gore had tried to raise the question of what our country needs to do to defend itself from the kind of focused, intense and evil attack that we suffered a year ago, September 11. But many pundits had a better idea. That evening, Sean Hannity discussed Gores speech with Dick Morris. Heres how the thoughtful discussion began. We use the Nexis transcript:
HANNITY (9/23/02): Hey, Dick.And no, we arent making that up! To Hannity, the thing that really stood out was Gores messy hairand the laughing pundit then complained that Gore had displayed no gravitas! But then, this is the setting in which the nation was struggling to make its decision on war. Morris went on to make pointless remarks about the load of malarkey Gore had offered.
For the record, some scribes did show some gravitas. On Foxs On the Record, David Gergen and William Kristol offered serious reviews of Gores speech (although they focused on the politics). Gore was taking a gamble, Gergen said:
GERGEN (9/23/02): I was shocked by the speech because it was so uncharacteristic for Gore. It is so clearly against the current thinking in the country that heshes obviously ready to take the risk. This is somewhat uncharacteristic of Gore.Kristol agreed that Gore was taking a riskand he said that Gores address had set up an honest difference of understanding as to the best way to shape a more peaceful world. But Gergens view this night was prophetic. Already, Gore was being pounded by the opposition for the deeply troubling things he had said. But the problem didnt lie with the Republicans. As Hannity had already shown one hour before, the problem lay with the vacuous conduct being put on display by the press.
Pundit reaction was quite predictable. You can forget that honest difference about the best way to shape a more peaceful world. Your pundit class doesnt bother with thatyour pundit class talks politics. For example, when Tim Russert appeared on Today the next morning, every question seemed to come back to speculation about the 2004 White House race. And on Special Report, the pundits all knew why Gore said the things he had said:
BILL SAMMON (9/23/02): But, you know, for Gore to come out opposing action in Iraqthe public opinion polls are showing 67 percent of the public favors Bushs plan for action against Iraq. Why would he line up on such a loserfor no other reason than politically?It couldnt be that Gore believed what he saidno, it must be a plan to get nominated! But then, many pundits wasted their time speculating about Gores motives. When Russert did Today, he offered little comment about what Gore saidhe just kept speculating about why he said it. And many scribes offered the hopeless analysis served up by Matt Lauer:.
LAUER (9/24/02): Tim, lets just remember 1991. As a Democratic senator, Al Gore was in favor of going to war against Saddam Hussein to get him out of Kuwait. So why the big turnaround now?Gores speech had listed a string of reasons. But in Lauer-think, if you have ever supported one war, its puzzling if you dont vote for them all! On Special Report, Birnbaum also puzzled about this big turnaround. Gore was going to the left, he concluded.
No, that fuller debate really wasnt occurring as Gore took his pounding from the opposition. Meanwhile, how inane would print pundits be? As always, Michael Kelly ranted and raved at the Washington Post:
KELLY (9/25/02): Gores speech was one no decent politician could have delivered. It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of factsbereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible. But I understate.Wow! But what were Gores embarrassingly obvious lies? Kelly said that Gore had lied when he said that those who attacked us on Sept. 11...have thus far gotten away with it:
KELLY: [P]erhaps Gore was talking loosely. No. He made clear in the next sentence this was a considered indictment: The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized....[A]gain, this sentence is a lie. The men who implemented the coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are not at large. They are dead; they died in the act of murder, on Sept. 11. Gore can look this up.Kelly, ranting long and hard, was playing a foolish word-game. But then, Charles Krauthammer also played silly games when he trashed Gore on Special Report:
KRAUTHAMMER (9/24/02): [Gores speech] offers no alternative. It essentially saystheres a quote where he says, We should be about the business of organizing an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Not even eliminate the weapons themselves.Good Lord! Nit-picking ninnies crawled on the speech, looking for commas to land on.
But as always, Hannity led the way. On the second night, he spoke with George Will. He was still haunted by Gores perspiration:
HANNITY (9/24/02): I assume, if you didnt see Viceformer Vice President Gores speech, you read about it.At least he didnt mention Gores hair. (For the record, Hannitys account of what Gore said is as clownish as his focus on sweat.) Sadly, Will stooped too:
WILL (continuing directly): He gave ithe gave it in San Francisco, which I thought was an unfortunate venue becauseActually, it suggests something a little bit gay. Today, Will complains about the Bush Admins handling of the war. Two years back, he embarrassed himself when Gore called for fuller debate.
Gore had complained of foreshortened debate. In response, we heard about his funny hair, and about the troubling city he spoke in. And then, your pundits applied a prize theme. Gore was just a Big Liar, they now said.
TOMORROW: What do you do when Gore gives a speech? Of course! You invent a new lie.
SWEAT HOGS: Hannity was troubled by Gores alleged sweating. For the record, the notion that Gore sweats too much was an established theme in dimwit press commentary. (It showed that Gore is like Nixon.) It hit its comedic high point after the first Gore-Bradley debate when CNNs William Schneider said that Gore even perspired, perhaps that was planned, to make himself look like a fighter. To Schneider, Gore had planned to perspire! But remember: There is nothing so foolish that your press corps wont say it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/7/02.
MR. SMITH SNORES IN WASHINGTON: In Mondays Post, Dana Milbank reviewed Bush and Kerrys adsand he judged that Bush has dissembled more than Kerry (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/1/04). But alas! A gruesome example of Ad Watch reporting was offered on Wednesday nights NewsHour. Terence Smith did the honors, hosting Brooks Jackson of FactCheck.org. During the session, Smith presented a familiar type of balanced report, the type that pretends both hopefuls are really the same, whatever the facts really are.
Determined to present the illusion of fairness, Smith analyzed three ads by Kerry and three ads by Bush. But Bushs ads were teeming with deceptionsso many that Smith had to skip giant howlers. By contrast, Kerrys ads were so innocuous that Smith had to focus on trivial claimsin one case, on a claim that was perfectly accurate. Yes, Kerry was criticized for accurate statements. Heres the way Smith critiqued a Kerry ad called Lifetime:
KERRY AD (videotape): For more than 30 years, John Kerry has served America. As a tough prosecutor, he fought for victims rights. In the Senate, he was a leader in the fight for health care for children. He joined with John McCain to find the truth about POWs and MIAs in Vietnam. He broke with his own party to support a balanced budget; then, in the 1990s, cast the decisive vote that created 20 million new jobs. A lifetime of service and strength. John Kerry for president.Twice, Smith belabored the claim that Kerrys vote was decisivea fleeting claim that is utterly trivial and is also perfectly accurate. But when he played a corresponding Bush ad, Smith was forced to skip at least one giant howler. Heroically, Jackson fought his way through the string of misstatements found in the ad called Troubling. But check the transcript, and note that Smith and Jackson never discussed one of the ads most problematic claimsthe claim that Kerrys plan will raise taxes by at least $900 billion in his first 100 days. No, Kerry doesnt seem to have such a plan; indeed, its not entirely clear what Bushs claim means. But Smith was eager to hurry on to another innocuous Kerry adanother ad in which Jackson had to strain to come up with a misstatement. According to Jackson, this ad should say that the Bush Admin made a certain statement. It shouldnt just say that Bush said it.
It would be hard to find a better example of hopeless Ad Watch reporting. Instead of following the facts where they lead, Smith insisted on balanced treatment. He wasted time on utter triviaand skipped right over major problems. But theres one great advantage to this approach. The Bush campaign wont call you up and yell at you for your misconduct.
News orgs could do a lot with this years ads. (Yes, Kerrys actual budget plans, whatever they are, would be well worth examining, as would Bushs.) But Smith slumbered, snoozed and snored this day. No, you cant review the claims from six ads in the amount of time the NewsHour allottedespecially if you plan to spend your time scolding accurate statements to present the illusion of fairness.