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Caveat lector

Jules Witcover’s latest well-scripted column seems to support Men in Black.

FRIDAY, JULY 5, 2002

THE LATEST BAD MEN IN BLACK SEQUEL: Could they really be of this earth? Where on this earth could you find such unintelligent life forms? In this morning’s Baltimore Sun, that tired old script-reading pundit, Jules Witcover, robotically mouths the same tired lines his colleagues have all mouthed before him:

WITCOVER: Al Gore, in a recent closed meeting in Memphis with key supporters, vowed that if he runs for president again in 2004, he’ll listen to his own counsel rather than that of consultants, of whom he had a small army in 2000.

“I’d just let it rip,” he said, and “let the chips fall where they may. ... To hell with the polls, tactics and all the rest.”

That’s a familiar refrain from losing candidates. They imply that it was bum advice from others that cost them the election in question.

Predictably, Witcover’s robotically scripted remarks ran beneath a scripted headline. “Al Gore seeks to reinvent himself,” the mandatory Gore headline said.

Note the dimness of Witcover’s “reasoning.” In a closed meeting, Gore is said to have said that he’ll ignore the polls if he runs for the White House again. To Witcover, this means that Gore has “impl[ied] that it was bum advice from others that cost [him] the election.” But of course, nothing in Gore’s quoted statement actually leads to that naughty conclusion. If the second-hand “quote” from Gore’s meeting is accurate—and Witcover, of course, doesn’t know if it is—then all Gore really said is this: I paid too much attention to polls. Why would that lead a sane human being to say Gore is blaming consultants?

The answer is perfectly obvious. No sane person reasons this way, but pundits like Witcover are there to type scripts, not to behave like real humans. And, according to the press corps’ well-rehearsed scripts, Gore must always be reinventing himself; any unattractive way you can restate his words is perfectly OK after that. In the last week, every pundit in the land has raced to type this new approved script. Where on this earth could our editors find such complete lackeys, such consummate copyists?

Are the Witcovers actually of this earth? Could any human be so dim and so scripted? Last evening at Arundel Mills mall, we were turned away from Men in Black. But with life forms like Witcover running around, do we really have to go to the mall to suspect that ETs now have landed?

PUNDITS SAY THE MOST SIMILAR THINGS: But then, here was Charlie Cook’s utterly hapless assessment. Cook types scripts for the National Journal:

COOK: Listening to former Vice President Al Gore’s graceless remarks over the weekend, when he effectively blamed his 2000 presidential campaign loss on “polls, tactics and all the rest,” one question kept coming back to me: “Does he really believe what he’s saying?”…[F]rom my vantage point it seems that Gore was the weakest link in the Gore/Lieberman campaign—not his pollsters, his strategists, his tacticians or his other consultants.
To Cook, when Gore blames his loss on “polls and tactics,” he is actually blaming his pollsters and tacticians. Sometimes, work like this makes us flash to Men in Black. But sometimes, after a week of such efforts, we give up and we say, Dumb and Dumber.