FRIDAY, AUGUST 9, 2002
WHAT ARE THE RULES? Are journalists supposed to report real facts? Or are they supposed to dream up Pleasing Group Stories, then invent bogus facts to support their sweet tales? Clearly, the press corps took the latter route all through Campaign 2000. Sadly, the rancid press corps with which were now stuck is happiest working from scripts.
Your press corps is happiest working from scripts! In the most insightful column of Campaign 2000, Washington Post ombudsman E. R. Shipp described the phenomenon. Her columnwritten on March 5, 2000was titled Typecasting Candidates. There is something not quite satisfying about The Posts coverage of the quests of Bill Bradley, George W. Bush, Al Gore and John McCain to become our next president, she began. Deftly, she limned the Posts problem:
SHIPP: [R]eaders reactsometimes in a nonpartisan way, more often notto roles that The Post seems to have assigned to the actors in this unfolding political drama
As a result of this approach, some candidates are whipping boys; others seem to get a free pass.
According to Shipp, it was less like the Post was reporting the news, and more like the Post was producing a drama. Each actor had been assigned a role in the unfolding production. News events were simply made up or reshaped. Shipp specifically scored Ceci Connollys Love Canal story from December 2, 1999. Connollys work portrayed Gore as delusional, Shipp wrote, which fits the role The Post seems to have assigned him in Campaign 2000.
Shipps column, of course, was completely ignored. But it also was right on the money. Al Gore was delusional. Al Gore was a liar. Al Gore had grown up in a fancy hotel. Inspired by rank dissemblers like Connolly, the corps invented a wide array of scripts, which they slavishly followed through the two-year campaign. With their robotic allegiance to these Official Group Stories, your press corps made an ugly joke out of a White House election.
Who were the great malefactors? Well look at Chris Matthews on Monday. But citizens need to understand what happened in the 2000 race, and Democrats need to understand the way their party gave up the White House. In particular, Democrats need to understand the remarkable silence of the lambs. Connolly and Matthews helped lead the dissembling, but they were able to do so because others kept quiet. Its time we discussed these silent scribes, and its well past time that we named them.
What do the press corps dissemblers do when good guys in the corps stand silent? Prepare yourself for some ugly examples as we look back at Matthews next week.
SMILE-A-WHILE! CLASS WARFARE WATCH: Theres been much talk this week about class warfare, especially as played by ol debbil Al Gore. We just thank our lucky stars that Gores opponents dont take that route, also.
Case in point: On Sundays Meet the Press, Republican strategist Ed Gillespiehe comes from a working-class backgroundwas asked about the Gore-Lieberman semispat. Gillespiewhose father was a humble immigrantbegan with some thoughtful recollections:
GILLESPIE: Tim, let me just say something here. Al Gore, Bob [Shrum], others in the Democratic Party think that ours is a country where people are seething with resentment over what others have and what we dont have, and the fact is that I am the son of an Irish immigrant. My father came to this country on a boat. He worked as a janitor. He sold salt. He saved enough money to put his children through college, the first in the Gillespie family to go to college, and eventually bought a bar, every Irishmans dream in the United States.
Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo. Big, salty tears rolled down Eds cheeks. But Gillespiehis father sold salt, and now he does tooshowed how big a man he is. No one could blame him for resenting his betters. But Gillespie, having very strong values, simply wont go down that route:
GILLESPIE (continuing directly): Al Gore, by contrast, was born a senators son, grew up in a tony Washington hotel here in town. I dont resent that. I dont resent his ability to go to St. Albans
Readers, Republicans simply love that tony hotel! When thoughtful pundits like Gillespie start expounding, they check in that hotel every time.
SHRUM: Sounds like it is.
GILLESPIE: I dont resent his going to Harvard. I dont resent him getting his fathers Senate seat. Thats fine. What I resent is Al Gore trying to pretend that its something different, that hes something different and Al Gore thinking that an immigrants kid cant figure that out. The fact is we do know where Al Gore came from. I dont mind it but dont pretend like youre this man of the people, your father said you were born and raised for the presidency and then come and tell me that youre going to stand up for people from where I came from. I resent it.
But theres one funny point you may have observed. Have you ever noticed that its only class warfare when practiced by Gore, not when its practiced against him?
LAST CALL FROM THE FANCY HOTEL: Why does the RNC love the fancy hotel? That takes us back to Gores first White House bid. When Gail Sheehy profiled Gore in the March 1988 Vanity Fair, she noted that he had earned good reviews in some early debates. How might the GOP handle Gore? Sheehy quoted Kevin Phillips, then a top image-maker:
SHEEHY: The first hint of Republican nervousness over the young senator from Tennessee surfaced when G.O.P. strategist Kevin Phillips warned that his party had better begin to cut Gore down by describing him as a spoiled rich kid from St. Albans who smoked marijuana and had a soft job in Vietnam.
By 1999, pot and Nam were dead as issues, but spoiled rich kid still made great spin. Gillespie still was playing that card as he wept, cried and boohooed for Russert.
By the way, how tony was the Gores apartment at the Fairfax Apartment Hotel? Bill Turque surveyed the spread in his Gore biography. Until he graduated from high school in 1965, Gores home was Apartment 809, a smallish, two-bedroom suite, he wrote. And yes, you read that passage correctlythe Gores abode was so vast and so lavish that, until Gores older sister went to college, the siblings shared a bedroom. In her 1998 Vanity Fair profile, meanwhile, Marjorie Williams had debunked the notion that the Gores were rich when Gore was a youth. [Gores father] would become rich after he left the Senate, she wrote. But the senior Gores correspondence is full of suggestions that, when Al was young, the familys upper middle-class existence was a stretch. Gores biographers agree with this assessment.
To state the obvious, none of this should have had any bearing on who got elected to serve in the White House. But in June 1999, RNC hookers worked the fancy hotel, dissembling in the press corps face at they did so (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/8/02). Many pundits knew the facts about these utterly pointless matters. But they also knew that they mustnt speak up as the spinning of Gore rumbled on.