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Daily Howler: Norah O'Donnell's closing pander outlined the script for 08
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THE SHAPE OF THE SCRIPT! Norah O’Donnell’s closing pander outlined the script for 08: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JUNE 22, 2006

THE SHAPE OF THE SCRIPT: Her interview had reached its end. And so, she bowed to her cohort’s great script. It’s the law—all pundits must vouch for McCain! So Norah O’Donnell pandered:
O’DONNELL (6/21/06): All right, Senator John McCain—the maverick McCain. [O’Donnell, McCain share a laugh.] Up in the Senate, I know it`s been a lot of tough issues you`re debating up there, Iraq and North Korea and the headlines of certainly what`s going in Iraq. Thank you very much for your time, we appreciate it.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Norah.

It’s the law! Before you sign off with the sainted McCain, you’re required to vouch for him as a “straight-talker” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/05, for example). Or you can vouch for him as a “maverick,” the route O’Donnell took last night in her stint as Hardball guest host.

McCain’s a “straight-talker!” No—he’s a “maverick!” If you couldn’t see major journalists doing it, you wouldn’t think they could be so compliant—or so thoroughly unprofessional. But the scripting of McCain has firmly been in place since the days of Campaign 2000. Voters rarely see McCain on TV without seeing big journalists vouch for his character. This is the polar opposite of the process the press corps adopted with Candidate Gore. But it will likely produce the same outcome—the seating of one more Republican president, this time in Campaign 08.

In future weeks, we’ll offer a four-part series on the sometimes-comical shaping of this script during Campaign 2000. But E. R. Shipp—then the Washington Post’s ombudsman—described the process very neatly on March 5, 2000. Her column—headlined, “Typecasting Candidates”—was a brilliant study of the way the Post was scripting Campaign 2000. In the following passage, Shipp described the unprofessional way the Post was covering the four major hopefuls—Gore, Bradley, Bush and McCain:

SHIPP (3/5/00): But The Post has gone beyond that kind of [“horse race”] reporting in favor of articles that try to offer context—and even conjecture—about the candidates' motives in seeking the office of president. And readers react—sometimes in a nonpartisan way, more often not—to roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama. Gore is the guy in search of an identity; Bradley is the Zen-like intellectual in search of a political strategy; McCain is the war hero who speaks off the cuff and is, thus, a "maverick"; and Bush is a lightweight with a famous name, and has the blessings of the party establishment and lots of money in his war chest. As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
In Shipp’s formulation, the Post wasn’t really reporting this race. The Post was doing something else; in effect, it was assigning “roles” to various “actors” in an ongoing “drama.” Shipp went on to criticize the work of Ceci Connolly, whose reporting was clearly turning Gore into a Washington Post “whipping boy.” And she described the way the Post was giving McCain that “free pass:”
SHIPP: What didn't fit the role assigned to McCain, apparently, was his frequent use of a word deemed derogatory by Asian Americans: "gook." To his credit, Howard Kurtz mentioned this usage in a December article about "the sweetly seductive relationship between the senator and the press"—one in which McCain "smothers journalists with access and they produce colorful copy." Not until last month did McCain's use of the G-word become an issue for those apparently "seduced" campaign reporters and other journalists.
According to Shipp, McCain was involved in a “sweetly seductive” relationship with the Post’s reporters. And since McCain had been assigned a favorable role in the newspaper’s unfolding drama, the Post was disappearing his blunders, Shipp wrote. (Much more on that in our upcoming series.) Meanwhile, in what specific role had McCain been cast? What was the nature of his “typecasting?” McCain had been cast as a “maverick,” Shipp wrote. Last night—six years later!—O’Donnell typecast this drama once again.

It’s probably too late to derail this typecasting. To borrow language from Digby’s recent post, “if McCain can get past James Dobson, he's going to be tough to beat;” more likely, he’ll be impossible to beat, we would have to guess. And the die was (type)cast during Campaign 2000. As Gore was being turned into a demon, McCain was being made into a saint—and that script still dominates the way he’s presented to the public. As we’ve long said, we assume that McCain is a perfectly decent person—but so was Gore, and so was Clinton, and so are the various Democrats against whom McCain might end up running in 08. But in Campaign 08, only McCain will be “typecast” as the moral sun-god returned to the earth. O’Donnell just couldn’t resist last night—and her closing pander helps us see how Campaign 08 will be won.

HOW HE GOT THERE: The passing of labor lobbyist Evy Dubrow, 95, is recorded today in the New York Times. “Tireless and an eloquent speaker, she was a powerful voice for labor and for social legislation, including Medicare, school spending and civil rights,” Steven Greenhouse writes. The story of Dubrow’s remarkable life is well told—and well worth reading.

Omitted is the role Dubrow should have played in the closing chapters of Campaign 2000. By September 2000, Gore had pulled ahead in the polls, and clearly seemed to be headed for victory. (“Undeniable panic is gripping partisan Republicans,” Bob Novak wrote on September 7. And: “There is little doubt that Bush needs to change the atmosphere to keep panicky backers from heading for the high grass.”) The GOP had entered a state of panic—and Gore seemed to be pulling away. And then, press corps “typecasting” was dragged out again—and Bush ended up in the White House.

Few voters have ever heard the story of the crucial incidents to which we refer. We’ll take a quick look at that matter tomorrow—and we’ll ask you for some help in bringing this remarkable tale to the public. How did George Bush ever get to the White House? Voters deserve to hear the truth about their nation’s recent history. Dubrow was disappeared in September 2000—as our truly astonishing press corps crafted their drama’s closing act.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Yes, we’ve sketched this story before; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/03. What did the mainstream press corps do when Gore began pulling away from Bush? Howard Fineman explained their conduct to Brian Williams—and, tangentially, it involved the disappearing of Evy Dubrow. Our position: Voters deserve to understand the way George Bush ended up in the White House. Voters deserve the learn about the “drama” which led to Iraq.