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STEPFORD! No other word can describe the work of your post-human press corps this weekend:

STEPFORD: Stepford!! No other word can describe the work of your post-human “press corps” this weekend. The scribes provided a range of examples. Just try to believe that they did it:

PART ONE—FOREVER IN BLUE JEANS: In this morning’s Washington Post, John Harris gushes over George Bush’s style on the stump. And he stresses the candidate’s casual clothing. Headline: “Shirtsleeves Style Is a Strong Suit for Bush.” Indeed, Harris just loves Bush’s clothes:

HARRIS (pgh 1): President Bush has formidable obstacles to reelection, but he served a reminder last week that he is a politician with formidable strengths.

(2) Anyone who doubts it should spend some time watching the shirtsleeves campaign. In five days of energetic campaigning through five swing states, Bush looked and sounded like someone dropping by a neighbor's lawn party—no coat, no tie, rolled-up sleeves, and conversational speeches in which he implored voters to "put a man in there who can get the job done."

(3) In loosening his style, Bush tightened his message. Fielding friendly questions at “Ask President Bush” forums, or lathering up the crowds at pep rallies like the one here on Saturday afternoon, he presented his case for reelection with a force and fluency that sometimes eluded him at important moments over the past year.

A Post photo also stresses Bush’s clothing. “A casually dressed President Bush holds a baby at the end of a campaign rally in Sioux City,” the caption says.

Why is this piece by Harris so striking? Because of the way his cohort treated this non-topic four years ago. In Campaign 2000, Candidate Gore appeared in casual clothing right from the start, in March 1999, when he spent his first weekend out on the trail. And early profiles of Gore’s campaigning sounded much like Harris’ piece. Gore had “[l]ost the suit and tie to demonstrate that he can connect with voters,” Susan Page wrote in USA Today in May 1999. Other scribes noted Gore’s casual clothes, and explained his wardrobe is much the same way. It’s true, the subject was barely worth mentioning. But, early on in Campaign 2000, everyone knew why Candidate Gore was appearing in shirtsleeves, not suits.

Yes, Gore was campaigning in casual clothes, just as Bush is doing now. But in Campaign 2000, the press corps conducted a War Against Gore, and soon they started attacking Gore’s clothes as a symbol of, yes, his unsuitability. In the fall of 1999, Ceci Connolly—right at Harris’ paper—made up a phony tale about Gore. Gore had recently “ditched his suits,” she falsely said, because Bill Bradley was gaining in the Dem Party polls. This explanation was patently bogus, as Connolly and others clearly knew, but every reporter knew to repeat it. Soon, Brian Williams was worrying hard, night after night, about Gore’s deeply troubling wardrobe. Gore was “wearing polo shirts twenty-four hours a day,” he complained on his 10/6/99 MSNBC program. The polo shirts “don’t always look natural on him,” he grumbled again two nights later. Williams pretended that Gore was wearing the shirts in some sort of effort to fool female voters; he repeatedly asked his guests when Gore’s clever strategy would “all start becoming so transparent [that] no one is fooled” (October 6) or (October 8) whether the strategy would “become absolutely transparent when they go out into the hinterlands and try to sell it?” Incredibly, Williams raised the question of Gore’s polo shirts five separate nights in one eight-day period, from October 4 through October 11. A few weeks, the press corps (once again prompted by Connolly) created a major flap about Gore’s troubling use of “earth-toned” clothing. The clowning was endless, disturbed, universal. But today, Harris notes Bush in casual clothes—and praises him for his brilliant good judgment. When Gore did it, he was a fake. When Bush does it, he’s a great candidate.

Harris, of course, pretends to forget what happened to Gore four years ago. But then, Harris, like the rest of his Android Chorale, is programmed to hide his group’s recent history. Other colleagues simply lied when they trashed Gore for his casual clothing (links below). We’ve told this story many times. But Harris is programmed to forget it.

No, there’s nothing wrong with Bush’s clothing. But something was wrong four years ago when the press trashed Gore for wearing such clothes. But you won’t recall that in this morning’s report. Stepford then—and Stepford now! Harris is wired to “forget.”

PART TWO—TROUBLING JOKES: If you want to think your “press corps” is human, you have to account for Jodi Wilgoren. Most recently, you have to deal with Sunday’s report in the great New York Times. Wilgoren spent an entire report puzzling about a remarkable fact—Kerry tells different jokes in different locations! Only an android could find this surprising. But it’s Big News in the Times:

WILGOREN: Asked aboard his campaign plane Thursday night where he gets this material, Mr. Kerry hurried back to his cabin without answering.
But then, what normal human wouldn’t run from someone asking such oddball questions? Finally, a Kerry aide is forced to answer. He pretends that it all makes good sense.

Yes, aides have to put their suspicions aside. But for those who claim Wilgoren is human, one part of her kooky report will surely be hard to explain:

WILGOREN: The local crowds generally eat it up, their laughter and applause drowning out the collective groan from the traveling press corps.
Oops! Normally, reporters describe their colleagues groaning in pain when they hear the same speeches night after night. With her wiring somehow crossed, Wilgoren says the tribe now groans when they hear different jokes.

May we offer an explanation? Wilgoren, like the rest of her group, is programmed to look for “flip-flops” from Kerry. When the hopeful changed his jokes, inadequate programming led her to pen this plainly post-human report.

PART THREE—WEIRDLY INSENSITIVE: When Chris Wallace asked the first time, Richard Lugar tried to duck. Lugar was guesting on Fox News Sunday. Note how the solon tried to avoid his host’s query:

WALLACE (8/15/04): Senator, I want to switch subjects with you, and I want to play a couple of clips from the campaign trail in recent days. Take a look:

KERRY (videotape): I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations.

DICK CHENEY (videotape): America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive.

WALLACE: Senator, in the context in which Senator Kerry was speaking, “being sensitive to reach out to other countries”—anything wrong with fighting a sensitive war on terror?

Wallace was begging Lugar to state the obvious—this is a ludicrous, fake, phony issue. And Lugar, a Republican, is known for good sense. Sensibly, he attempted to duck:
LUGAR (continuing directly): Well, we should reach out to other countries. And we're doing that in North Korea, obviously, with the six-power talks and with all of the talks that are involved in Iran—and, for that matter, with Iraq. We are eager for anyone to come in and to help us; encouraging people to do that.

So there's no difference really in the reaching-out process here. I think I would just say Senator Kerry is really moving against a false target. The reaching-out process is really profound.

Knowing how stupid this whole topic is, Lugar, a moderate, tried to avoid it. Indeed, he seemed to say that we’re already being sensitive. But Wallace saw that Lugar had basically ducked. So he asked again—and Lugar relented:
WALLACE (continuing directly): But when he says, “I want to fight a thoughtful, effective, sensitive war on terror,” is there anything wrong with sensitive? Because the Republicans have been making fun of him for saying that.

LUGAR: Well, I think the word “sensitive” has become a campaign issue itself. And you saw, as I did, the two clips that were brought at the fore. It is not an appropriate word, given, I suspect, the dangers that are involved.

Principally we've been talking about Iraq. There's nothing sensitive about the situation there for the moment. This is a tough business as to who is going to prevail and what kind of winds of political change could make possible a democracy in a tough situation.

It is not an appropriate word! It was sad to see Lugar stoop, pretending this was a serious issue.

But Lugar, of course, is a GOP pol. Major TV pundits are not. But so what? It was almost impossible, over the weekend, to find a pundit willing to say that this whole foolish flap was a big, screaming joke. On a Sunday night Hardball, Chris Matthews continued to trash Bush and Cheney for promoting this fake, stupid issue. But strings of pundits on weekend shows struggled and strained to gloss over the question. No one seemed to think this was phony! Indeed, on Meet the Press, guest host Andrea Mitchell offered some comic relief. When John Harwood pretended the “sensitive” matter was serious, she offered this comic reaction:

MITCHELL: Of course, George Bush has also used the word "sensitive," but that gets kind of glossed over. Anne Kornblut, you've been out with the Kerry campaign. You've watched him in action. Why is he having such a hard time explaining his vote on Iraq?
Saying that Bush’s use of the word gets “glossed over,” Mitchell glossed over the issue itself! No tape was played of Bush and Cheney saying the things for which they trashed Kerry. Instead, Mitchell quickly threw to Kornblut, who gave a skillful non-answer answer about the whole “sensitive” foofaw:
KORNBLUT: I would say on the question of the word “sensitive,” it's not a debate that's over yet. We had John Edwards come out a couple days ago and defend John Kerry. It's part of the sort of rhetorical back-and-forth that they're having. George Bush was using the phrase "turn the corner" for a while, and Kerry fought him on that. And so each of them is sort of parrying and sparring over specific words that they then drop and abandon.
Thanks for saying nothing at all! But on to Roger Simon we went. Sadly, Simon was eager to tell a “French” joke—and to describe the Stepford Logic that rules your android press corps:
MITCHELL (continuing directly): Roger, I see you nodding.

SIMON: "Sensitive" is the kind of word a French candidate for president would use. [Laughter] It's not a word that Kerry needed. He went one adjective too far in responding to that question. George Bush has, indeed, used the same word in approximately the same context, but no one has ever accused George Bush of being overly sensitive about anything. John Kerry has been accused of being overly sensitive and overly nuanced.

Could any human follow such logic? Bush has used the same word in the same context, Simon says. But it’s OK for Bush, and not for Kerry, based on what people have previously charged. The merits of this don’t make any difference. It’s all about what folks have said.

If the Washington press corps was actually human, don’t you think that someone would take offense at the nonsense these pundits described? If the press was actually human, wouldn’t someone say something like this—perhaps with a hint of real feeling?

WHAT SOME HUMAN WOULD SURELY SAY: But Bush and Cheney have said very similar things! This is a totally fake, phony issue. Out on the trail, Cheney is acting like Kerry was recommending “sensitivity” toward terrorists. Obviously, that isn’t what Kerry was saying, and Cheney knows it. Cheney is totally faking on this. [To panel] I’m amazed you don’t come out and say so.
If your pundits were actually human, wouldn’t someone say something like this? But if you watched their recitals this weekend, you didn’t see that statement made. For the record, the androids on Washington Week were the worst. But we didn’t tape their performance, and the show hasn’t posted it yet.

PART FOUR—WHAT THEM WORRY: How do you know your pundits aren’t human? On Saturday, Nicholas Kristof published Part 2 of his ongoing Times report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/04). His headline read, “The Nuclear Shadow.” Here’s the way he started:

KRISTOF: If a 10-kiloton terrorist nuclear weapon explodes beside the New York Stock Exchange or the U.S. Capitol, or in Times Square, as many nuclear experts believe is likely in the next decade, then the next 9/11 commission will write a devastating critique of how we allowed that to happen.

As I wrote in my last column, there is a general conviction among many experts—though, in fairness, not all—that nuclear terrorism has a better-than-even chance of occurring in the next 10 years. Such an attack could kill 500,000 people.

Yet U.S. politicians have utterly failed to face up to the danger.

Experts predict a domestic nuclear attack in the next decade. Kristof reported this two times this week. If your pundits were actually human, wouldn’t someone—somebody, somewhere—have reacted this weekend to that? But your pundits aren’t programmed to talk about that. They talked about clothing, fake claims, stupid jokes. Substance “kind of gets glossed over,” Mitchell said. Someone should tighten her wiring.

GLOSSING HARD: Harris keeps glossing a Standard Bush Charge. For about the ten millionth time, he penned an Official Preferred Recitation. He had lots of space to discuss it:

HARRIS: [T]his background serves mostly as preface to an attack on Kerry. At each stop last week, Bush regaled his audiences by noting that the Democrat voted for the Iraq war resolution and then "declared himself the antiwar candidate" in last winter's primaries, and now, having "found a new nuance," has said he still "agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq."

"And I want to thank Senator Kerry for clearing that up," Bush chortled. "Although I caution you, there are still 80 days left where he could change his mind again."

He continues by noting that everyone in Congress voted for his $87 billion appropriations request on Iraq except for a "small what I would call out-of-the-mainstream minority of 12" Democrats, "and two of those 12 are my opponent and his running mate."

"You might remember his initial explanation," Bush told partisans at the Iowa event. "He said, 'I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.' That doesn't sound like the way people in Sioux land talk. The pressure got on a little bit about that vote. Then he said, well, he's proud of the vote. And he went on to say, the whole thing is a complicated matter."

Then came what is becoming one of the standard applause lines in Bush's stump speech: "There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat."

Harris wrote over a thousand words in all. He had plenty of time to describe Bush’s clothes—and five grafs to lavish on this Standard Story. But why wouldn’t a human who had words to waste give readers a few basic facts?
WHAT HARRIS COULD HAVE WRITTEN: "You might remember his initial explanation," Bush told partisans at the Iowa event. "He said, 'I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.' That doesn't sound like the way people in Sioux land talk. The pressure got on a little bit about that vote. Then he said, well, he's proud of the vote. And he went on to say, the whole thing is a complicated matter."

Then came what is becoming one of the standard applause lines in Bush's stump speech: "There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat." Of course, though Bush says this matter wasn’t complicated, he himself threatened to veto the $87 billion six days after Kerry’s “no” vote. Bush was concerned that the bill might include loans to Iraq, not outright grants.

Omigod! Harris could even ask the Bush camp a question. He could ask why Bush keeps saying “nothing complicated” when he himself said he would veto the bill! But functioning androids don’t do things like that. They just type Approved Press Corps Stories.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: The press corps trashed Gore’s clothes for two years. The extent of this story is hard to believe. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/03, with links to prior reporting.

STARTING TOMORROW: Don’t read Clinton’s book, the Times said. In four parts, we help you know why.

ALSO: The Androids have agreed on some pro-Kerry stories. More on those topics this week.