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Daily Howler: Today, the Post plays the fool about Gore. Long ago, they were bent on destruction
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BEFORE IT WAS FARCE! Today, the Post plays the fool about Gore. Long ago, they were bent on destruction: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 22, 2007

PIMP V. SLIME: In the past two days, the New York Times has run a remarkable pair of candidate stories. One of these news reports beats the bushes, looking for ways to suggest that John Edwards has been misbehaving. The other report beats the bushes too—to help us see how vastly decent Saint Giuliani really is.

Today’s front-pager concerns Slick Edwards. Leslie Wayne is deeply troubled by the way the Dem has conducted himself in the past several years. Eventually, though, we end up with this. Uh-oh! He did nothing wrong!
WAYNE (6/22/07): Nonprofit groups can engage in political activities and not endanger their tax-exempt status so long as those activities are not its primary purpose. But the line between a bona fide charity and a political campaign is often fuzzy, said Marcus S. Owens, a Washington lawyer who headed the Internal Revenue Service division that oversees nonprofit agencies.

''I can't say that what Mr. Edwards did was wrong,'' Mr. Owens said. ''But he was working right up to the line. Who knows whether he stepped or stumbled over it. But he was close enough that if a wind was blowing hard, he'd fall over it.''
Edwards didn’t do anything wrong! But we get this statement in the next-to-last paragraph, after 1700 words of insinuation. By the way, you should always be suspicious of formulations about “working right up to the line.” Guess what, readers? Legislatures draw legal lines so citizens will know where their efforts must stop. When you drive 65 in your car, you’re “working right up to the line.”

Wayne spent a good deal of time insinuating that Edwards is slick. By contrast, Russ Buettner went to heroic lengths in yesterday’s Times to show us how loyal that Saint Rudy is. We don’t know if we’ve ever seen a news report which works so hard—with such feeble old “evidence”—to prove a candidate’s strength of character. And what is this article really about? Early on, Buettner works us:
BUETTNER (6/21/07): Mr. Giuliani's vision of loyalty is perhaps instructive as he pursues the Republican nomination for president. His practice has been to promote and defend his people, even when they become the subjects of intense criticism, like Bernard B. Kerik, his police commissioner when Mr. Giuliani was mayor of New York.

When Mr. Kerik pleaded guilty last year to criminal charges stemming from his conduct while in the Giuliani administration, Mr. Giuliani said he ''should be evaluated in light of his service to the United States of America and the City of New York.''

Douglas Muzzio, a public affairs professor at Baruch College in Manhattan, said, ''Rudy believes in the loyalty of family.''
Oh! Buettner ignored the irony in the high-minded talk about Giuliani’s loyalty to family. But to all appearances, this report is meant to explain away the whole Giuliani-Kerik mess. It was just Saint Rudy showing his loyalty! Just as he did twenty-four years ago, in the utterly trivial matter Buettner explores in such detail.

We’ll take a guess—this story came straight from the Giuliani campaign. If not—if Buettner himself dreamed up this nonsense—the campaign should hire him today. There is one problem with that idea, though. In most instances, when campaigns dream up stories as tortured as this, they get laughed out the door.

We’re not suggesting that these two pieces define the New York Times’ campaign coverage. But that Buettner piece is truly a classic. One day later, once again, we’re shown what a fake Edwards is.

THEY NEVER GET TIRED: In this post, Kevin Drum discussed our possible answer to E. J. Dionne’s important question: If voters say they prefer a Democratic president next year, why are McCain and Giuliani running (basically) even with Clinton, Edwards and Obama? We think one part of the answer is obvious. The mainstream press has been promoting Saints John and Rudy for years—and trashing most Major Dem hopefuls.

Kevin considered a possibility which he then rejected. “Who knows?” he wrote. “Maybe one advantage of the absurdly early campaign season this year will be to help Dems out by letting the press get all the idiot stories out of their system before the public is paying attention.” Kevin went on to reject the notion that the press will “get all the idiot stories out of their system.” We thought it was worth recalling this aspect of Campaign 2000.

For us, the most remarkable aspect of that campaign’s coverage was the way the press corps kept reinventing its “idiot stories” about Gore. The notion that Gore was a delusional liar (like Bill Clinton) was firmly in place by mid-March 1999; there were twenty long months of campaigning to go. But the mainstream press corps never came close to getting this story-line out of its system. Instead, they kept inventing absurd new ways to drive home their god-given narrative.

The early staple that Al Gore lied about the farm chores was such an utter, laughable hoax that even the press corps largely dropped it—after a three-month run, of course. Result? In November 1999, the corps came up with a pleasing replacement: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal. Meanwhile, their capacity to keep inventing new “lies” proved to be inexhaustible. By mid-September 2000, Gore was pulling away in the polls, so the corps came up with two more ludicrous “lies:” the union lullaby and the doggy pills. The mainstream press pushed these “lies” very hard—and Gore fell back in the polls. The first Bush-Gore debate produced several new “lies,” and Bush ended up in the White House.

With this, as with several other themes, the most striking aspect of the coverage was the press corps’ astounding ability to keep rebooting its preferred story-lines. Simply put, these people never tire of their “idiot stories.” Almost surely, this sort of thing will happen again if Hillary Clinton is the Dem nominee. (Developing narrative: She’s thuggish, vicious—a mobster.) Beyond that, we wouldn’t predict. But the tendencies of the past fifteen years are by now depressingly clear.

ALL AROUND THEM, A VOICE IS SOUNDING: Back then, they knew that Gore was a liar. Today, they know that Clinton is vicious. And as with the prophets, so too with these: All around them, a voice is sounding! Boehlert saw it happen again. You know what to do—just click here.

By the way: That line was transcendent when Woody dreamed it. But he was a prophet of American values, not of elites pimping tales.

Special report: The assault on...Al Gore!

BE SURE TO READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: The Post has been playing the fool about Gore. Reach each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Deborah Howell has her hands full with the Post’s childish conduct. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/19/07.

PART 2: Gore is right, the Post review said. But so what? He’s just so annoying! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/20/07.
In Part 3, we recall the destructive campaign which has now devolved into farce.

PART 3—BEFORE IT WAS FARCE: Sadly, the Post’s childish treatment of Gore has been around for a very long time. To her credit, ombudsman Deborah Howell has opened a Gore shop of late, devoting chunks of two recent columns to the paper’s weird complaints about the former vice president. Did Gore’s film shatter box office records? Did his new book debut at number one on the charts? Yes, those things happened, out in the real world—but at Planet Post, things were different. Like that visitor from a small planet, Alan Ehrenhalt opened his review of Gore’s book with this memorable construction:
EHRENHALT (5/26/07): Al Gore possesses a skill that no other American politician can match—or would want to. He has a consistent ability to express fundamentally reasonable sentiments—often important ones—in ways that annoy the maximum possible number of people.
So true! By this time, Gore had managed to “annoy” so many people that 1) he had won an Oscar and 2) he’d been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize! But inside the halls of the Washington Post, the paper’s long, childish conduct continued. Soon, Dana Milbank would devote a piece to the charge that Gore uses many big words. And when Andrew Ferguson played magoo, failing to find Gore’s maddening endnotes, Howell, the paper’s overworked mother hen, had to swing into action again.

Has any other major newspaper ever staged such a childish display? Staged such a strange, embarrassing tantrum about so honored a public figure? But sadly, this sort of thing has been going on for a very long time at the Post. After all, Howell isn’t the first ombudsman to discuss the paper’s odd treatment of Gore. In March 2000, Howell’s brilliant predecessor, E. R. Shipp, discussed the Post’s treatment of Candidate Gore, back in the days when the Post’s strange conduct was on its way to changing the world. (“Typecasting Candidates,” said the headline on her short, brilliant March 5 column.) As late as September 17 of that year, Shipp offered this startling review of the Post’s campaign coverage:
SHIPP (9/17/00): When all is said and done, a common thread running through most of the queries and complaints that I have received during nearly two years as ombudsman is a plea for fairness.

In recent months, and especially since the presidential campaigns went into high gear after the party conventions, those pleas have centered on The Post's political coverage—and that is the subject of an article by American University professor Jane Hall in the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. Going beyond the merely anecdotal, the article takes The Post and other media to task for unduly negative pre-convention coverage of Al Gore's presidential campaign. During the same period, according to Hall's analysis and to a more extensive study conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence, George W. Bush was depicted as "a different kind of Republican—'a compassionate conservative,' a reformer, bipartisan." Post editors will deny that they have a mission to promote or destroy any candidacy in the news pages, but the analyses in CJR—and readers' complaints—should convince them that the question of fairness needs to be taken even more seriously story by story, page by page.
Quite amazing, to see the Post’s editors denying the notion that they were trying to “destroy any candidacy.” But we’d guess that Shipp chose her words carefully. At the Post, the current reaction to Gore has been clownish—but the animus this scribbling reveals has been present for years, in more viral forms. Had the Post been trying to “destroy” the Gore candidacy? To appearances, Shipp believed that she should ask. And despite what those editors may have said, to appearances, the answer was: Yes.

Indeed, the paper’s animus against Candidate Gore had been put on full-color display soon after the hopeful announced his intentions, in March 1999. On April 4 of that year, the Post placed Gore on its magazine cover, fronting a remarkably dishonest report about the “dangerous,” “staggering” and “unprecedented” sums the Dem candidate was hoping to raise. In fact, the writer of this report, Ceci Connolly, had reported a key fact two months earlier: Candidate Bush would likely eschew federal matching funds; he would therefore be free to raise much more money than Gore. (By accepting federal matching funds, Gore was accepting the FEC’s spending limits.) But this elementary fact was buried in a single sentence deep inside the 8000-word piece—a piece which focused on the “dangerous” and “unprecedented” sums Gore would be trying to raise! Inside, Connolly quoted campaign watchdog Fred Wertheimer, who worried about Gore’s troubling goals—and everywhere, the Post presented nasty visuals showing Gore as a slave to Big Money. On the cover, an illustration showed Gore in a Superman suit—with a large dollar sign on his chest. The color of Gore’s suit was green—and it wasn’t meant to evoke the environment. (“THE $55 MILLION MAN,” screamed the cover, embellishing the amount Gore could raise under the FEC’s limits.) Inside the magazine, nasty visuals portrayed Gore’s devotion to Big Cold Campaign Cash. An illustration showed Gore in a Boy Scout suit—saluting a $500 bill. Another showed Gore as a game show winner, beaming at a sack of money. Still another used a meat-grinder theme; in the illustration, executives were being fed into the top of Gore’s head—and cash was coming out his ears. And remember—Connolly understood that Bush would be raising much more money than Gore. If Gore’s fund-raising goals were so dangerous, what did the Post think about Bush’s goals? Three days later, we would find out—and a tone would be set for the Post’s campaign coverage. Shipp watched this coverage, and finally asked: Was there a chance that the Washington Post was trying to “destroy” someone’s candidacy?

What did the Post think about Bush’s fund-raising goals—goals that were much more ambitious than Gore’s? It wouldn’t take long to find out. Three days after Connolly’s magazine piece, Susan Glasser wrote a 2400-word, front-page report about the Bush campaign’s fund-raising efforts. In her opening paragraph, Glasser showed that she too understood that it was Candidate Bush, not Candidate Gore, who would really be raising “unprecedented” sums. But the tone was now remarkably different—and those worried campaign watchdogs were MIA from Glasser’s report. Indeed, the headline defined the Post’s new tone: When Bush set out to raise vast sums, it was a family-and-friendly affair:
GLASSER (4/7/99):
Bush's Dash for Cash; Family, Friends Join in $50 Million Goal

Texas Gov. George W. Bush is assembling the most ambitious Republican presidential fund-raising effort ever, hoping to raise $20 million more than the previous record by capitalizing on his father's national money network, his own contribution-rich Texas base and financial aid from his fellow GOP governors.

The Bush mobilization has featured a procession of more than 400 fund-raisers—a who's who of the Republican rich and powerful—flying to Austin to hear his pitch. Former president George Bush is making phone calls for his son and last night headlined the campaign's first fund-raiser. And the Bush team is courting the top money men with a special program—"the Pioneers"—for those who pledge to bring in $100,000 within a few months; sources said more than 200 have already signed up.

Much of the $50 million Bush wants to collect will be raised by the end of this year, in a nine-month dash for cash fueled by his desire to capitalize on his front-runner status and a front-loaded 2000 primary calendar in which the Republican nomination will be decided by next March. The Texan's strategy is also premised on the prospect of a Democratic rival, Vice President Gore, who has embarked on his own plan to break the fund-raising record.

With Bush staying put at the governor's mansion until June and the close of the state legislative session, the money "mountain has come to Mohammed," said Floyd Kvamme, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who will escort as many as 10 other high-tech magnates to Texas next week.
That statement about Gore was vastly misleading; as became clear late in this report, Glasser fully understood that Bush was planning to raise much more money than Gore. There was nothing illegal about that plan—but three days earlier, the Post had devoted its Sunday magazine to an ugly, grossly misleading piece about the “dangerous” sums that Gore would be raising! The Post knew Bush would be raising much more—but now, these dangers were absent. There were no visuals of cash-crazy Bush worshiping at an altar to Mammon. Neither Fred Wertheimer, nor anyone else, was quoted about the dangers involved when Bush chose to pursue vast sums—sums that really were without precedent. Few people who read the Glasser report would even realize that Bush would be raising more money. Did Glasser’s editor read Connolly’s report? What could explain the dual standard?

It would be hard to imagine a more unbalanced pair of reports at the start of a race. (In July, Connolly and Glasser teamed for two front-page reports about Gore’ alleged wild spending—reports that were baldly deceptive.) Without question, the Post’s remarkable animus against Gore was put on full display, right at the start of his race for the White House. But in those days, the paper wasn’t simply playing the fool, complaining about the lack of footnotes in a book which had twenty pages of endnotes. To all appearances, the paper was trying to destroy a campaign, as Shipp’s words would seem to suggest, eighteen months of dishonesty later.

So what’s the source of this newspaper’s animus—an animus that has moved, in the past month, from tragedy all the way down to farce? Explaining the nature of this paper’s Gore-hating would truly be an ambitious venture. But the Post’s open hatred descended to farce when Ehrenhalt wrote his review of Gore’s book. Gore’s book was right on the merits, he said. But he built his review around that other key fact: Gore is just so damn annoying!

Today, the Post plays the buffoon, laughably failing to find a book’s endnotes and telling the world that Al Gore is too fat. Once, though, the Post was destroying a candidacy—and was handing the world to the whims of George Bush. But that leads us back to Gore’s new book, to a complaint about its contents—a complaint which Ehrenhalt didn’t state. Gore’s book begins with an epoch-defining question—but what is missing from its thesis? On Monday, hoping to avoid big words, we turn to the volume itself.

MONDAY—PART 4: The book itself.

SHIPP CONTINUES: When Shipp wrote that September 17 column, Gore was pulling away in the polls—and Bush had just suffered several weeks of bad press. Here’s what Shipp said, quite correctly, as she continued from the passage we’ve quoted above:
SHIPP (continuing directly): Since the convention and Gore's apparent surge in the polls, Hall—and readers—sense a change in The Post's coverage; in fact, some readers complain that it is Bush who is being mistreated, with too much emphasis on such blunders as mispronouncing words. (That is especially irksome to people who frequently find words misspelled or misused in The Post and see such bloopers as an Aug. 21 photo and caption identifying baseball great Hank Aaron as Ghana's President, Jerry Rawlings.)
Those readers were right. Gore had jumped ahead in the polls after the Democratic convention (in late August); for the next few weeks, as his numbers rose, he enjoyed his only stretch of favorable coverage, while Bush was mocked for saying “subliminable.” But Shipp’s column appeared on Sunday, September 17—and Gore’s joy-ride would end the next morning. On that day, the doggy-pill story hit the Boston Globe—and Gore told a joke to a union crowd about a lullaby. From that point on, Gore was the world’s biggest liar again—and Bush was on his way to the White House.

At the end of that week that was, Howard Fineman explained why the press had turned back against Gore so suddenly (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/03). But history had flipped, about twenty-four hours after Shipp’s column appeared.