HOW TO LOSE AN ELECTION (PART 2)! It isnt that hard to debunk phony spin. Let Jon Stewart—a comedian!—show you:
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 4, 2004
DUTY CALLS: Were scheduled today for jury duty, and they say they wont let us phone in our verdict. But we want to finish our series this week, so incomparably, our efforts continue.
HOW TO LOSE AN ELECTION (PART 2): In point of fact, it isnt that hard to debunk bogus spin-points—the scripted, repetitive, ginned-up claims that now decide our White House elections. On Monday nights Daily Show, in fact, Jon Stewart showed how easy the process can be. By Tuesday morning, we were flooded with e-mails about his effort, like the one we report below. But then, we often get rueful e-mails about Stewart:
E-MAIL (8/3/04): Did you see The Daily Show last night? Jon Stewart interviewed Congressman Henry Bonilla and actually forced the issue about the number one liberal statement, citing the National Journal's actual lifetime averages. It's a sad day when we have to rely on a fake news show to tell the truth.Readers often note how sad it is—that Stewart, a comedian, debunks this crap, but our journalists resolutely will not.
And yes, despite a few leading questions, Stewart did hammered Bonilla around, although the clownistry of the point in question did make his job fairly simple. As weve noted, Republicans cite the National Journal when they claim—as they now do whenever they breathe—that Kerry and Edwards are the first and fourth most liberal members of the Senate. But as the Journal has clearly explained, those figures cover 2003 alone—a year in which Kerry and Edwards, out campaigning, missed about half the relevant votes. (Note: Thats the way our system works. While still governor, Candidate Bush spent seventeen months campaigning outside Texas.) Indeed, as the Journal has made abundantly clear, Kerry is far from the number one liberal if you measure his lifetime record, and Edwards is nowhere near number four, the claim voters hear again and again, recited by a gaggle of hacks who are sent on the air to mislead them. But so what? RNC shills state their bogus point—and millionaire journalists sit, drool and stare. For example, heres how Newt Gingrich began his closing remarks on this weeks Fox News Sunday:
GINGRICH (8/1/04): I think what decides this race in the end is, do you think America can go forward better with President Bush continuing to lead, or do you really want the most liberal member of the Senate and the fourth most liberal member of the Senate, people to the left of Teddy Kennedy, people to the left of Hillary Clinton? And I think that choice is going to be so wide and so clear by mid-September.Did Chris Wallace challenge this scripted point—a claim which baldly misled viewers? Of course not! Instead, heres what he said when Gingrich stopped speaking: I've got to say, Speaker Gingrich, that's the biggest bumper sticker I ever heard, but it was a good answer. In short, its easy to mislead voters this way. Our press corps is happy to let you.
Which brings us back to that fateful moment when the RNC began its campaign against Gore. As noted yesterday, the RNC made it clear, in May 1999, that it hoped to make Gore a figure of ridicule; quoting major Republicans, Alison Mitchell described the plan in some detail, right in the New York Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER 8/3/04). The GOP had run endless probes of Clinton, she noted, but they were planning a different approach with Gore. [W]ith Mr. Gore, Republicans are betting that well-timed ridicule can be more devastating than any inquiry, Mitchell wrote. In essence, they are trying to do to him what Democrats tried to do to former Vice President Dan Quayle. As we noted in yesterdays HOWLER, history is repeating itself; Republican sources described a similar plan for Kerry in a front-page report in Sundays Times. Mr. Bushs advisers plan to cap the month at the Republican convention in New York, which they said would feature Mr. Kerry as an object of humor and calculated derision, Adam Nagourney wrote. The plan he described was the very same plan that proved so effective with Gore.
And the evidence is clear—in the case of Gore, the campaign of ridicule worked. From March 1999 through November 2000, the RNC churned a string of bogus stories about Delusional Gore, the guy who doesnt know who he is, and the mainstream press corps made little attempt to challenge their idiot renderings. (Indeed, the mainstream press corps took the lead in conducting the War Against Gore.) Al Gore said he invented the Internet. Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal. Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones. Al Gore misstated the cost of dog pills. The tales were bogus—and never-ending—but the mockery and misstatements worked. Mocking Gore became second nature. Minor example: Right after Bush and Gores first debate, heres the first thing that Tom Brokaw said:
BROKAW (10/3/00): The conclusion of the first debate. The election is just five weeks from today. It ran over—about five minutes altogether. There were some very spirited exchanges. The two candidates kept to their fundamental positions. You did have the feeling that if you'd asked Vice President Gore what he had for breakfast today, he would have said, Two eggs over easy, coffee, and a waiter who was complaining about the tax cuts of the Texas governor.True to the standard the press had developed, it only took Brokaw about twenty seconds to offer his first mocking comment on Gore. But this was routine throughout this election. After Gores convention speech, for example, Margaret Carlson entertained other CNN pundits with her mocking impression of the veeps speaking style. The RNC had hoped to make Gore a figure of ridicule. With the corps active help, they succeeded.
And the RNC will succeed with Kerry—unless more pundits perform like Jon Stewart. Everyone knows what the current spin-points are—well list them on Friday—and well soon learn what the new points will be. In most cases, these points are fairly easy to debunk, as Stewart made clear Monday night. But last Friday, we saw a more typical effort—an effort typical of what he saw from pundits in Campaign 2000 as well. Performing his usual yawning vivisection, Sean Hannity ate Janeane Garofalo for lunch, belched three times, then spat her back out (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/2/04). Liberals, progressives, centrists—and all Dems—have to stop accepting this level of performance. Democrats have to tell Dem pundits—this hapless work isnt OK.
Why, oh why, are Dem-friendly pundits so incapable of strong performance? One thing is clear—your press corps wont challenge fake RNC claims until Dem pundits go out there and make them. Our e-mailers ask us the obvious question: When a comedian, like Stewart, can do so well, why cant other pundits perform? The answer leads straight to the DNC, an organization with which Dems should be furious.
TOMORROW: Why on earth cant Terry McAuliffe prep our major Dem pundits?
WATCHING SPIN GROW: Your mainstream journalists sleep, snore and burble. For example, here was Kate OBeirne, pimping the script on The Capital Gang:
OBEIRNE (7/31/04): In a 45-minute speech, this is [Kerrys] fundamental problem, one of his problems, he spent 26 seconds talking about 20 years of his public career. He acted as though he disappeared after 1971, when he testified against the war in the Senate, and reappeared magically 30 years later. But an object of the exercise in Boston was to try to persuade people that he's not a Massachusetts liberal, and of course, his voting record has him No. 1, the most liberal member of the Senate, so he ain't gonna talk about that much, even though he has 45 minutes.Except in Cartoon Nation, of course, Kerry isnt the most liberal member of the Senate. But how are American voters supposed to know that? Shields, Hunt and Carlson sat, drooled and stared. No one challenged what OBeirne said. This is how White House elections are now decided, but your millionaire pundits—Hunt, Shields and Carlson—in a phrase, just dont really care. They simply dont care if the rubes are misled. They no longer care about that. How much longer will Dems and their allies put up with their sit-and-stare conduct?
TOMORROW: Tom Vilsack, chumped by Bill Hemmer!
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (8/3/04): In his statement, Mr. Ridge stayed away from politics, although he did, as in the past, find it necessary to attach a list of his homeland security achievements along with the warning, which did reduce its impact.Really? Mr. Ridge stayed away from politics? That came as news to a letter writer whose missive appeared in yesterdays New York Times. He wrote from—yes—Ridgewood, New Jersey:
NEW YORK TIMES LETTER (8/3/04): I live in northern New Jersey and work in Midtown Manhattan, near the Citicorp Center. I was listening carefully to Tom Ridge's warning, as the sites he was mentioning for possible attacks basically encompassed all of my daily life. Then he said, We must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror.We must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror. There was more to Ridges TV ad, but lets keep it simple. To the Post, that wasnt politicization. Indeed, the Post went out of its way to say that Ridge didnt do that.
For the record, someone else noticed the politicization. And yes, you guessed it—at The Daily Show, Jon Stewart played tape of that very statement by Ridge, and his young audience hooted and groaned. So lets see. A letter writer in Jersey could see it. A comedian and his comedy audience could see it. But the brilliant eds at the Washington Post? Somehow, they just couldnt see it—indeed, insisted it hadnt occurred! And readers, this is the context in which those spin-points are being recited, embroidered and spun. And this is why Dems and liberals must insist that their public spokesmen be better prepared. Your mainstream press corps is asleep, snoring, absent. Dems must remember Campaign 2000, and they must insist—they must insist—that the hapless, inert, inept DNC not let this mess happen again. Your spokesmen are good at losing elections. More on this problem tomorrow.