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SELLING THE HAMSTER! Edwards? He’s like a used-car salesman! So says the great New York Times:
MONDAY, JULY 19, 2004

SELLING THE HAMSTER: It never stops at the great New York Times! Yesterday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg described John Edwards’ first week on the trail. Without wasting time, the petulant pundit came up with a typical simile:
STOLBERG (pgh 2): From the Statehouse in Des Moines to an ornate ballroom in Chicago to a modest front porch in New Orleans to a gathering of Hispanics here, Mr. Edwards has been talking up Senator Kerry this week like a used-car salesman urging his customers to look past the dents. While vice-presidential candidates have traditionally been assigned to tear down the opposition, Mr. Edwards, in a kind of role reversal, has been deployed to build Mr. Kerry up.
What kind of reaction does Edwards get for campaigning in a positive manner? In the Times, he is quickly described as “a used-car salesman.” And just that fast, Stolberg explained why Edwards has been forced to go positive:
STOLBERG (5): That he is giving Mr. Kerry such a glowing sales pitch is, in a sense, a tacit admission by the campaign that Mr. Kerry has not done a particularly good job of selling himself. Even the most loyal Democrats, who would support Mr. Kerry no matter what, say Mr. Edwards has helped them see the presumptive nominee in a different light.
Edwards is acting like “a used-car salesman” because Kerry can’t peddle himself.

Of course, there’s nothing new in this kind of typing at the hapless Times. Last month, Jodi Wilgoren began a front-page profile by comparing Kerry to “a caged hamster” (links below). That followed an earlier page-one profile about the hopeful’s “glorified valet”—the one he drags around on the trail to make peanut-butter sandwiches for him. Later, Wilgoren penned a silly piece about how absurdly rich Kerry is. She even let her readers know how much his water-skis cost.

Now, Edwards is a “used car salesman.” He’s out there selling the hamster.

For the record, not all Timesmen feel obliged to trash their subjects in this manner. For example, Thomas Crampton reported in Sunday’s Times about Dick Cheney’s campaigning. Here’s a chunk of Crampton’s report—a report which failed to call Cheney names or mind-read the VP’s performance:

CRAMPTON: Mr. Cheney and organizers of the rally worked hard to project an almost youthful spirit.

Signs held aloft by children and inscribed '”Cheney Rocks” and “Too Cool” were part of an MTV-style photomontage projected on screens beside the stage inside the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Taking to the stage, Mr. Cheney whipped off his blue blazer before starting to speak, prompting a raucous cheer from the crowd.

In his speech, he emphasized the sure-handed experience that he said the Bush administration would provide in a difficult period. “These are not times for leaders who shift with the political winds,” Mr. Cheney said. “Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.”

While describing the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, as unable to make up his mind, Mr. Cheney took an indirect swipe at Mr. Edwards, a former trial lawyer. “For the good of the economy we need to end lawsuit abuse,” Mr. Cheney said. ''It is a lot easier for American businesses to hire more workers if they don't have to hire more lawyers.''

The allusions to Senators Kerry and Edwards drew cheers from the audience of supporters in a Midwestern battleground state.

Crampton didn’t call Cheney a used-car salesman; in fact, he didn’t engage in any name-calling. Nor did Crampton try to explain why Cheney was saying the things that he did. For example, he didn’t say that Cheney’s attacks on Kerry and Edwards were “a tacit admission that the Bush campaign can’t do a good job of selling its own record.” He simply reported the things Cheney said. He left all the foofaw to others.

But then, Stolberg has long been part of the gong-show gang which defines the Times’ hapless campaign reporting. (To recall an especially hapless attack on Candidate Gore, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/6/00.) At the Times, campaign reporting has taken this odd turn in almost all recent White House elections. Dem hopefuls are “hamsters” and “used-car salesmen.” Republicans? Four years ago, Frank Bruni fawned to Bush for over a year. Yesterday, Crampton simply reported the facts when he went out to limn Cheney.

As a general matter, the Bush-Kerry race is not being covered in the astounding way Bush-Gore was. But at the Times, old habits linger. To Stolberg, Edwards seemed just like a used-car dealer. And the petulant powder-puff was willing to share her deep thoughts. To that, we say one word: Alas!

A NEW POST: During Campaign 2000, the Washington Post joined the New York Times in a remarkable, two-year trashing of Gore. For a hint of the way times have changed at the Post, read Vanessa Williams’ report on Edwards’ campaigning.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: To Wilgoren, Kerry seemed just like “a caged hamster.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/14/04. His aide seemed like “a glorified valet.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/28/04. And let's face it—the hopeful is much too rich. To see Wilgoren put price-tags on all his possessions, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/21/04. By the way, every Republican hack on the planet is reciting these price-tags, as Wilgoren did. For example, watch Howie Carr’s embarrassing hour with Brian Lamb on lFriday’s Washington Journal. (Carr calls Kerry a “gigolo” twice.) Because we admire Lamb so much, we can’t imagine why he’s willing to lower himself with people like Carr. In the last few decades, our so-called “democratization of media” has given idiots like Carr a place in the sun. It will take us generations before we have the good sense to deep-six them.

SAFIRE SPINS WILSON SPINS NIGER: When Bush gave that State of the Union Address, did he really speak “Sixteen Truthful Words,” the headline of William Safire’s column this morning? In point of fact, we still don’t know. Yes, it’s true, as Safire notes—in his report last week on British intelligence, Lord Butler did draw this conclusion:

BUTLER: We conclude that the statement in President Bush’s State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that “The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” was well-founded.
Butler has examined the British intelligence; Safire and others in this country have not. But “well-founded” is not quite the same thing as “true,” and Butler is a Lord, not an oracle. (For example, see Josh Marshall's words of warning about Butler's lordly reasoning.) The fact that Butler reaches a judgment doesn’t mean that the judgment is valid. Did Iraq seek uranium from Africa? Last year, we told you—there was no way to know. And there is no way to know even now.

So yes, on this and other matters, Safire embellishes in today’s column. But unfortunately, Joe Wilson continues to spin—and embellish; and evade; and misdirect; and over-state—in his responses to the recent Senate Intelligence report, which included complaints about his conduct. Last week, many readers sent us Wilson’s letter to Chairmen Roberts and Rockefeller, the letter which appeared in Salon. And they assured us that Wilson had brilliantly answered the charges the Intelligence report makes against him. But readers, in that letter—and in Saturday’s letter to the Washington Post; and in yesterday’s appearance on Late Edition—Wilson continued to establish himself as the Mother of All Misdirectors. Here at THE HOWLER, we have rarely seen a guy set up—and knock down—so many Straw Men. In response to your many invitations, we’ll look at Wilson’s statements tomorrow, and we’ll hope we don’t have to revisit this topic again.

But let’s get one over-statement out of the way. On Late Edition, the Honest Ambassador did accept one of the Intelligence Committee’s findings. He accepted the finding that Cheney wasn’t briefed about his trip to Niger:

BLITZER: Is there anything you want to take back right now? Any statements you made based on current information that if you had had, you would have phrased differently?

WILSON: Well, I'll tell you, I’m surprised one of the things that I've always said is that I believe the vice president himself would have been briefed on this. And in fact, on March 5th [2002], I believe—

BLITZER: Because the report says he was never briefed on—

WILSON: That’s correct. On March 5, apparently he asked for an update. My own report on this was circulated a couple of days later. But he was never specifically briefed on it.

BLITZER: And when you said he was, that was based on your previous government experience?

WILSON: Well, I have always said that the way the government works—and I've always tried to articulate, separate out the difference between the vice president himself and the office of the vice president—but I did believe, and I think I have said, that I believe that he was briefed. And frankly, I'm surprised that he wasn't.

It was always clear that Wilson had no way of knowing if Cheney was briefed. But no matter! Starting with his 7/6/03 Meet the Press, Wilson kept suggesting that Cheney must have been briefed, using this as an additional sign of the VP’s perfidy. Now he agrees that Cheney wasn’t briefed. But this was typical of Wilson’s flawed performance. All through this overblown case, he drew conclusions that went far beyond the logic and facts of the case.

As we have always told you—the Washington press went down a side road when they invested so much in the Niger story. (Unfortunately, so did Bush’s critics.) It was never clear that the 16-word statement was false; it may still be that the statement was true; and there were other examples of Admin embellishment that were far more significant and clear-cut. But like the press corps, some of our readers fell in love with the Honest Ambassador, despite the incomparable warnings we gave them. Now, they triumphantly send us Wilson’s letters—letters which are rife with evasion. We don’t know if Wilson is this disingenuous, or if he’s just a hopelessly fuzzy thinker. But Dems and liberals made a bad deal when they invested so much in his presentation, and they’re going to take a hit for it now—a hit that will sometimes be lightly embellished, as in the case of Safire’s column. But then, the American people will take a hit too. From the start, the public was kept from more significant issues by the press corps’ love of that Honest Ambassador. Now, the public is going to spend time reading what isn’t true: George Bush was right from the start.