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PART II! BORKING GORE! The Washington press corps is still borking Gore. They’ll tell you odd tales. Do be careful:


WHERE WAS BILL? Was E. J. Dionne’s column correct about Gore? This Tuesday, the Post scribe penned an account of Campaign 2000 which has almost become press corps dogma (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/1/02). Why didn’t Gore utilize Clinton correctly? “Gore was so angered by Clinton’s very real failures that he never took full advantage of Clinton’s successes,” Dionne wrote. “There is little to learn here about populism vs. its opposite, but much to learn about the Democrats’ self-created demons.”

Why did Gore campaign as he did? At THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But Dionne’s odd thesis has been widely embraced by a press corps which is still borking Gore. As early as the fall of 1999, the press corps was widely suggesting that Gore had big psychological problems. In the Standard Story which Dionne now presents, an angry, self-defeating Gore weirdly walks away from the White House.

This story has steadily gained favor. But back before the spin congealed, some pundits recited more plausible tales. On November 20, 2000, for example, Newsweek published its book-length review of Election 2000. In one section—“Calling All Swing States”—lead writer Evan Thomas and his Newsweek team explained why the Gore campaign didn’t want Clinton on the stump near the end of the race:

NEWSWEEK: Clinton was itching to hit the hustings, but most Gore strategists, and certainly Gore himself, didn’t want to see the president anywhere near the campaign. They were still smarting over Clinton’s unwanted intrusion into the race a week before. At a meeting with congressional Democrats, Clinton had piped up that he “almost gagged” when, during the third debate, Bush falsely claimed credit for Texas’s patient’s bill of rights and Gore failed to call him on it. The remark had made front-page news. From Nashville, Tad Devine called Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, Steve Richetti, to complain. “Listen, this is bad, and I want to tell you why it’s bad,” Devine told the White House aide. “Before the president did this, Gore had a 46 [percent] favorable [rating], 42 unfavorable. After the president did this, Gore had a 42 favorable and a 47 unfavorable. What happens is, the president goes out and awakens doubts about Gore, and all the bad stuff about Gore—his trustworthiness, his veracity—begins to come to the surface.” Richetti called back the next day and said the president understood. The two camps had agreed: Clinton would campaign in Louisiana to boost black turnout and in California (including [Maxine] Waters’s district), then back in Harlem for Hillary. “And that’s it,” said Devine. “That’s the Clinton gig.” No big rallies in the Midwest—too many easily alienated swing voters.
Too many easily alienated swing voters. By October, the race was focussed on those voters, and swing voters didn’t like Clinton. “Gore tried to explain all this by phone to the Black Caucus as he flew to his next campaign stop,” Thomas wrote:
NEWSWEEK: Clinton posed a dilemma for the campaign, said the veep. The Republicans were trying to drag Clinton into the race. They want to run against the president, “not me,” Gore said. Gore reminded the restless lawmakers that in 1998, when the Democrats won an unexpected number of House seats, they avoided mass rallies in big cities and quietly mobilized minority voters through targeted phone calls by Clinton. “That might be a better strategy,” Gore gently suggested. Sensing the skepticism of his listeners, knowing that the rumors of bad blood between the old running mates was now front-page fodder, Gore went on, “Listen, this guy is my friend, and this isn’t any kind of personal thing. Sometimes people misunderstand that.”
Is it true? Were Republicans “trying to drag Clinton into the race?” Does the Pope still live in Rome? Dick Cheney voiced the strategy at the Republican convention. “Somehow we will never see one without thinking of the other,” he said, of Clinton and Gore. In mid-September, the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes, reporting from Austin, explained the Bush campaign’s outlook:
BARNES: So, eight weeks out, the presidential race comes down to a single question: Will Gore’s separation from Clinton endure? Bush and his advisers recognize how difficult Gore will be to defeat if he’s no longer seen as an extension of Clinton, indeed as the vehicle for a third Clinton term in the White House. Their goal is, in [Karl] Rove’s words, to “re-link Gore to Clinton.”
Barnes directly quoted Rove; he wanted to link Gore to Clinton. Both campaigns surely understood that Clinton could be used to harm Gore. At Newsweek, Thomas continued:
NEWSWEEK (continuing directly from passage above): Back at [Gore] headquarters, campaign chairman Bill Daley was a little more direct. People who think that Clinton should be out there making speeches for Gore don’t know the facts, he said—like Clinton’s high disapproval rating among Michigan African-Americans. “They don’t care, because they had this genius idea at a cocktail party.” The normally patient Daley was getting tired of having to calm Washington power types, whom he described as “fat a--es,” every time the polls twitched.
Why did Gore campaign as he did? At THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But pundits will tell you that crackpot Gore crazily threw the White House away. When your dysfunctional press corps recites such odd tales, we advise this: Consider the source.

WHERE WAS CECI? CECI WAS THERE: Barnes’ piece appeared in the September 18 Weekly Standard, released on September 11. Rove expressed his hope to “re-link Gore to Clinton” in the week preceding that date.

One scribe seemed to get the message. In a strange “Campaign Memo” in the September 10 Washington Post, consummate Gore-spinner Ceci Connolly expressed the Rove spin brilliantly. Her dispatch was headlined, “Gore Coming ’Round Again to Clinton.” To Ceci Connolly’s active mind, Al was now seemin’ like Bill:

CONOLLY (pgh 1): There was something very familiar about the Al Gore campaign this past week. Traveling across the country, the vice president was looking and sounding remarkably like the Bill Clinton of 1992, co-opting the language, tactics and themes of a man he once feared would cost him the election.
We can’t find another scribe who noticed this “remarkable” similarity. Indeed, just how “remarkable” was Gore’s resemblance to Clinton? Here was one ludicrous example:
CONNOLLY (7): Even Gore’s visit to Comerica Park in Detroit, where he pitched to the pros during batting practice, conjured images of the football tossing of the summer of ’92.
Get it? When Gore pitched batting practice for the Detroit Tigers, it reminded Connolly of Clinton playing touch football! Other examples were equally absurd. Everything Al did reeked of Bill:
CONNOLLY (5): Gore’s rhetoric now focuses on middle class “working families”, reminiscent of Clinton’s battle cry eight years ago on behalf of the “forgotten middle class.” The taciturn Gore has taken to frequent hugging and has dropped into a more colloquial, southern-tinted speaking style turning “schools” into “skuuuls” and alerting crowds that “I’ll tell ya.”
Follow that? When Gore hugged someone, that was like Clinton. So was his southern accent. When he said “working families,” that was Bill too. In paragraph 2, Connolly said that this was all part of “Gore’s decision to enthusiastically run with Clinton.” According to Connolly, Gore was saying things like “I’ll tell ya” in order to be more like Bill. There was more in the oddball piece, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll rein it in there.

Was Connolly deliberately peddling RNC spin? In a given case, it’s impossible to say. But she seemed to do so all throughout the campaign, in a truly remarkable performance. Let’s start the weekend with a comic example: On December 2, 1999—Day Two of Connolly’s Love Canal hoax—the opening sentence of her Post story was the headline of the previous day’s RNC press release. To all appearances, Connolly had been reduced to virtual cut-and-pasting.

Headline on RNC press release, 12/1/99: “ADD LOVE CANAL TO THE LIST OF GORE DISCOVERIES.”

First sentence on Connolly’s article, 12/2: “Add Love Canal to the list of verbal missteps by Vice President Gore.”

Maybe it was all just a big coincidence. But when Rove was hoping to “re-link Gore,” Ceci Connolly, as always, was there.

WHERE WAS JOSH? Alas! We’re heading off to entertain the troops (OK, the members of a North Carolina country club), and we won’t be able to respond in full to Josh Marshall’s post this morning. But even in the part of yesterday’s HOWLER which Josh quotes, our statement is perfectly accurate. “[T]he fact that the press borked Gore for twenty straight months will seldom be mentioned in the press corps’ narrations,” we wrote. That statement is nothing but accurate. Over the past year, press regulars have offered one summary after another of Campaign 2000. In these summaries, pundits profess amazement at Gore’s ability to lose a race which was, theoretically, his to win. They puzzle hard over how it happened. We invite Josh to find us even one such summary which mentions the press corps’ remarkable role in this process (starting in March 1999). What we said yesterday, quoted by Josh, is in fact quite correct. “This press corps never tells you the truth when its own conduct is part of the tale,” we wrote. And this: “In [the press corps’] renditions, the press corps itself plays absolutely no role; their effect on events is completely disappeared. In the case of Campaign 2000, the press corps is removing itself from the turrible tale as it concocts its group story about Gore.” We’ll pat ourselves on the back again. Those statements are perfectly accurate. That is the way the press corps works, whether we want to understand it or not.

Let’s talk stats. It’s not “statistically significant” that the press corps didn’t appear in the short rendering recently offered by Josh. And it’s not statistically significant that the press corps is missing from E. J. Dionne’s recent account. But when the press corps is missing from every such account, that reflects something real—the corps’ Code of Silence. Let’s say it again: The press corps is not going to tell you what happened in the last election, in which its own bizarre conduct played a vast role. And the press corps is currently concocting Standard Group Accounts which convey the impressions it likes.

It’s true: The press corps almost never describes its own conduct. And we did “[think] of that enduring press strategy when we read a dispatch by Josh Marshall just a few days ago.” That’s about as far as we went in characterizing Josh’s motives, with which we aren’t familiar. Nor are we familiar with his real-time treatment of the 2000 election. “[A]nyone who’s even remotely familiar with my reporting and columns during the 2000 election knows that I was quite favorable to Gore and quite critical of the way the media covered him,” Josh writes. And this: “Most of the press was imbecilic in its treatment of Gore.” Our question to Josh, then (and we don’t know the answer): What was your most aggressive, real-time critique of the 2000 coverage? To the best of our recollection (we can’t check it now), E. J. Dionne’s final comment on the corps’ strange borking of Gore came in late September 1999 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/11/99). We think Democrats should be quite disturbed by the way major, mainstream pundits rolled over and accepted their colleagues’ misconduct. Josh says the press was “imbecilic” in its treatment of Gore. We’re inclined to think the word is too kind, implying a lack of larger motive. But if the press was at least “imbecilic,” let’s let readers begin to see when different pundits may at least have said that.

Sadly, even many Democrats have purchased the press corps’ self-serving tales. Our incomparable view at THE HOWLER? It’s time to discuss this more fully.