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Daily Howler: Press-to! Harris disappears the press, just like Roger Simon before him
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GONE AND FORGOTTEN! Press-to! Harris disappears the press, just like Roger Simon before him: // link // print // previous // next //

COMING TOMORROW OR MONDAY: A final review of Harris’ book—and some thoughts on where future scripts come from.

Special report—The Missing!

PART 5—BY THE END, FULLY DISAPPEARED: Yep! When forced to explain their cohort’s misconduct, reporters can really come up with some doozies (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/25/05). We first noted this trait in the fall of 1999, when Howard Kurtz, to his vast credit, tried to make reporters explain the ongoing trashing of Candidate Gore—the “harsh coverage and punditry” that had begun that March, and would eventually send Bush to the White House (links below). To his vast credit, Kurtz raised this issue three times that year—once in a Washington Post report, and two more times on Reliable Sources. But when he asked high-ranking reporters to explain the odd treatment of Gore, his panelists were completely befuddled. No one could really think of a reason for the hopeful’s obvious trashing. Finally, the New York Times’ Melinda Henneberger had an idea. “There's no question that Gore has gotten much rougher treatment than [primary opponent Bill] Bradley,” she said. Then, she “explained” why that was:

HENNEBERGER (11/27/99): I don't know if it's a pro-Bradley media but, you know, he—it's a new story. I mean Al Gore, people here have been covering him, you know—yes, Bradley was in the Senate, but this is a whole new thing. I think many reporters are charmed by his history as a basketball hero and—
At that point, she was mercifully stopped. Henneberger had started to say that people have covered Gore a long time and were presumably bored by that fact. But then she realized that people had covered Bradley a long time too—so she began to say that the press corps was thrilled by his time in the NBA. And this was the best attempt, in two Kurtz panels, to explain why Gore was getting trashed—why the press corps had already spent eight months inventing fake stories about him. For the most part, Kurtz’s panelists stumbled and fumbled, completely bewildered by their own conduct. But then, reporters are often struck dumb when asked to explain their own cohort’s conduct. They produce no explanation at all—or they procedure an absurd one. They were trashing Gore because of Bill Bradley’s jump shot. And oh yes—they trashed Bill Clinton because he told such corny jokes.

But that’s what reporters constantly do when forced to discuss their own conduct. Understandably, therefore, reporters prefer a different approach. They prefer to avoid discussing their cohort; they prefer to pretend that their cohort’s misconduct never occurred in the first place. To John Harris’ credit, he acknowledges, at the start of The Surivivor, that the Washington press took a weird approach to the newly-installed President Clinton. But uh-oh! By the time he tries to explain Whitewater, the role of the press corps has been disappeared—a strategy he adopts in full by the end of his book, when he devotes an entire chapter to explaining Campaign 2000. (Chapter 38, pages 384-390.)

To his vast credit, Kurtz acknowledged, three separate times, that Gore was receiving weird coverage. But Kurtz did this in 1999, and the trashing of Gore continued. Indeed, the press corps’ conduct became so strange that only one approach is now possible; the corps’ conduct turned out to be so extreme that it has to be completely disappeared. And so, in Harris’ chapter about Campaign 2000, the corps is simply never mentioned. All the fake tales they invented about Gore? All those fake tales have been disappeared. Instead, Harris follows the established press script—the script to which all pundits adhere. He presents a tale of how Gore blew the election through his odd and puzzling judgments—a tale in which the press corps’ misconduct is, for all time, disappeared.

How did Gore manage to blow the election? According to Harris, Gore came up with a puzzling notion; weirdly, Gore thought that Clinton’s impeachment scandals might have an effect on his chances. Quickly, Harris lets us know how silly this notion really was:

HARRIS (page 385): There was an irony in Gore’s predicament, though he was in no mood to appreciate it. By the spring of 1999, polls showed that a majority of the public, and certainly most Democrats, were eager to move on from the Lewinsky obsession—if not necessarily to forgive, certainly to forget, and to accept Clinton for what he was; an imperfect but talented man. Gore was more judgmental, and more mired in the past, than the voters he brooded over.
Before discussing the major problem with this presentation, let’s note the simple flaw with Harris’ logic as he rolls his eyes at “brooding” Gore’s “moods.” Were “most Democrats” eager to move on from the Lewinsky obsession? That may have been true, but a Democrat can’t win an election by appealing to “most Democrats;” he has to appeal to almost all Dems, and to millions of centrists besides. Indeed, as he continues, Harris admits that there was an actual problem with the voters’ outlooks:
HARRIS (continuing directly): This is not to say that the vice president was imagining the Clinton problem. A critical portion of culturally conservative independent voters, people any national Democrat needed to win election, were indeed angry with Clinton and inclined to take it out on Gore. It was a genuine problem, but one a politician like Clinton could have dispatched easily. For a less nimble politician like Gore, the problem was almost paralyzing. It should not have been so hard for him to declare that he was running on the policy record of the previous eight years and his own platform for the next four, while inviting voters to judge his own character on its own, not in the shadow of Clinton. But Gore oddly came to believe that to embrace any part of the Clinton record was to embrace all of it.
One can only chuckle at this “analysis,” which is, of course, the Standard Press Script about Campaign 2000. In this passage, Harris praises the political skill of Clinton—a man who had managed to get himself impeached, only the second president in history to do so—while mocking the ham-handed bungling of Gore, who had “oddly” come to believe that there might be a problem for him in the aftermath of Clinton’s impeachment. According to Harris, it would have been easy for a nimble pol to deal with the political problems that lingered. Indeed, Harris adopts this general frame all through his chapter on Campaign 2000. Repeatedly, he shows us Clinton expressing amazement at Gore’s inability to deal with this problem—a mess which Clinton created, of course, for all of his vaunted abilities. Here, for example, is what Harris sees when Gore makes his formal announcement speech in June 1999:
HARRIS (continuing directly): Clinton was in Europe at the time Gore officially launched his presidential campaign with an announcement in his hometown of Carthage, Tennessee. The speech was packed with references to personal values that seemed by implication an indictment of Clinton...If his subtlety was lost on anyone, Gore made it explicit in an interview with Tennessee reporters in which he recalled “that awful year we went through...I felt what the president did, especially as a parent, was inexcusable.”

In his Paris hotel suite, Clinton had gotten word of Gore’s comments from his traveling staff. He was angry—and incredulous. “What is this about?” he boomed. He calmed down a few minutes later and placed a call to Gore. Making no mention of his irritations, Clinton said he had watched a replay of the announcement speech. “Nice job!” he said.

Then, putting down the phone, he returned to his mystification at Gore’s efforts to put distance between them. “I don’t get it,” Clinton said. “Is this some kind of strategy? What the hell is this about?”

For the record, this passage is sourced to a “Clinton adviser present in the room.” Was this really Clinton’s reaction? Was he really “mystified” by Gore’s statements this day? We have no actual way of knowing. But if this was Clinton’s real reaction, then he was utterly clueless by now, despite Harris’ fawning praise of his massive political skills. Indeed, the only thing dumber than Clinton’s (alleged) “mystification” is Harris’ devotion to a tired old script, in which Gore’s “odd” conduct doomed his campaign—freeing the press corps from any blame for their own key role in this disaster.

What is odd about this anecdote? Let’s start again with the simplest problem: In this speech, Gore did exactly what Harris says he should have done; he “declare[d] that he was running on the policy record of the previous eight years and his own platform for the next four, while inviting voters to judge his own character on its own, not in the shadow of Clinton.” Harris knows that he mustn’t tell you, of course, but at the very outset of the speech, Gore praised the Clinton policy record. Here is what Gore actually said, two minutes into this speech:

GORE (6/16/99): Under the policies President Clinton and I have proposed, instead of the biggest deficits in history, we now have the biggest surpluses in history.


Instead of quadrupling our national debt, we've seen the creation of almost 19 million new jobs.


Instead of a deep recession and high unemployment, America now has our strongest economy in the history of the United States.


We remember what it was like seven years ago, and I never, ever want to go back!


Duh! That is what Gore actually said—although Harris knew he mustn’t tell you. Before Gore said a word about “personal values,” he did exactly what Harris proposes—he wrapped himself in Clinton’s policy record. And then, he did the second thing Harris prescribed—he “invit[ed] voters to judge his own character on its own, not in the shadow of Clinton.” Harris builds his case against Gore’s “odd” judgment by refusing to tell you what Gore really said. “Gore oddly came to believe that to embrace any part of the Clinton record was to embrace all of it,” Harris writes—baldly lying about Gore’s approach. But so it goes when the Washington press corps fights to retain Crucial Scripts.

So Harris clownishly fails to tell readers about Gore’s actual conduct. But what’s the oddest thing about the passages we’ve quoted? Once again, it’s the laughable way Harris disappears the Washington press corps. “By the spring of 1999, polls showed that a majority of the public, and certainly most Democrats, were eager to move on from the Lewinsky obsession,” he writes. But one crucial cohort was refusing to move on—Harris’ own cohort, the Washington press corps, which was daily announcing its total obsession with Lewinsky and all matters related. During this period, they were persistently badgering Gore on this subject—and they were insisting that Gore had to “separate himself” from Clinton’s vile conduct. Indeed, this was the basic framework the press corps adopted in the run-up to this Gore speech. And in the wake of the speech, they insisted that Gore hadn’t trashed Clinton enough—and they publicly said that this was why they were trashing his campaign so wildly.

All this was a crucial part of the way Campaign 2000 was unfolding. And Harris disappears every part of it, pretending that Gore took an “odd” approach to this firestorm which the press wouldn’t drop.

How deeply was the corps involved in insisting that Gore must rebuke Bill Clinton? Coverage of Gore’s kick-off speech was almost uniformly stupid and nasty. Gore had shouted, the pundits complained. In doing so, they expressed a view that is impossible to reconcile with the actual tape of the speech—and a view that had come directly from Mindy Tucker of the Bush campaign. No one said that Gore shouted in real time—but Tucker made the complaint one day later, and after that, every pundit ran to shout it (links below). As usual, the pundits all tried to top each other in the force of their denunciations. For example, here was the disgraceful Gail Collins in the New York Times, typing an utterly ludicrous script which had come to her ass straight from Tucker:

COLLINS (6/21/99): The new Al Gore yells quite a lot. Caught between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, two natural campaigners, the Vice President is trying to make up in decibels what he lacks in spontaneity…

This is our fault. We have been carping about how boring Al Gore is, and the poor man is all but howling at the moon in an effort to sound more compelling. We are being forced to watch him go through an enormous effort to look effortless, and it is as discomfiting as looking at the underside of a swan swimming on the lake. Voters are not going to elect a President who makes them feel like nervous parents at the second-grade class play.
Gore was compared to “the underside of a swan” by this consummate, well- scripted idiot. Indeed, it was the trashing of this speech which led to Kurtz’s first attempt to explain the Gore coverage. (He quoted some of the colorful claims about the way Gore shouted.) And when Kurtz asked pundits to explain the trashing of Gore, several slipped and answered him honestly; the press was trashing Gore, they said, because he was refusing to trash Bill Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky! (Gore’s statement—that the conduct was “inexcusable”—hadn’t been nasty enough.) Today, Harris mocks Gore for the “odd” thought that he had a Lewinsky problem. But in his 6/99 report in the Post, Kurtz noted the way the national press corps wouldn’t stop hounding Gore on the subject. Indeed, here’s what pundits were actually saying when they were questioned by Kurtz:
KURTZ (6/25/99): Roger Simon, chief political writer for U.S. News & World Report, defended the focus on Lewinsky: "It's still the story that has shaped our time. We want to hear him say what a terrible reprobate the president was, while defending his record. We're going to make him jump through the hoops. I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
According to Simon, the press corps was going to make Gore “jump through hoops” until he said what they wanted to hear—that Bill Clinton was “a terrible reprobate” because of his conduct with Monica. It’s hard to imagine a more open statement of press corps misconduct, but everyone wanted to join in the fun. For example, Kurtz quoted Bob Schieffer making an absurd complaint—when Gore answered questions about Lewinsky on the three network news shows (it was all anyone was asking about, Kurtz noted), his response "was, almost to the comma, the very same answer,” Schieffer groused. It’s hard to know why that would be wrong, but Kurtz provided the actual transcripts—transcripts which showed that Scheiffer’s statement was simply inaccurate. But so what? Everyone had something stupid to say about Gore and Lewinsky, their great, thigh-rubbing obsession. Meanwhile, Jim Warren seemed to agree with the Simon analysis:
KURTZ (6/25/99): Simon and others say it is easier for journalists to criticize Gore because he is part of a 6 1/2-year-old administration, while most are unfamiliar with the details of Bush's record in Texas. "We know more about Gore, and maybe that's part of it," said the Tribune's Warren. "We're sort of bored with Clinton, and many of us think Clinton's a moral scum, and probably subconsciously, at a minimum, we taint Gore by virtue of his association.”
According to Warren, reporters thought Clinton was “a moral scum,” and “at a minimum,” they were “probably subconsciously” tainting Gore because of it. (Six years later, this idiot was still trashing Clinton. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/17/05.) But all of this is washed away as Harris reinvents the Gore kick-off speech. Today, Harris shows Clinton watching Gore’s speech and saying, “What the hell was that about?” But at the time, everyone knew what that was about; the Washington press corps was hounding Gore to make a fuller break from Clinton, and they were openly trashing him because his criticisms of Clinton weren’t nasty enough. But so what? Harris disappears all this clowning—and he puzzles at Gore’s “odd” reactions. He tells us that voters were prepared to “move on,” but hides the fact that his cohort was not—indeed, were boasting that they would send Gore “through the hoops” because of their darling, Lewinsky, over whose body they all rubbed their thighs. To state the obvious, similar conduct went on for two years. Eventually, of course, it put Bush in the White House. In The Survivor, it’s all disappeared.

To his credit, Kurtz actually asked his colleagues to explain the remarkable trashing of Gore—and a few of them were stupid enough to tell him the truth about the corps’ conduct. But please understand—the press corps will typically lie in your faces when they’re asked to explain their own conduct, and they weren’t above doing just that as their War Against Gore rumbled on. At least through November 1999, Kurtz continued to work this beat, staging those two CNN panels, in which he asked two gangs of reporters about the trashing of Gore. And now, Simon lied in Kurtz’s face when asked (again) about the corps’ conduct. In June, Simon had done the unusual—he had told the truth about the trashing of Gore. Now, in October, Kurtz asked again. And now, of course, in best press corps fashion, Simon said the whole thing was nonsense. Why in the world would anyone think that the press corps was trashing Al Gore?

KURTZ (10/16/99): Roger Simon...if you took all of the positive and negative coverage of Bradley and put it on a scale, I don't think there's any doubt that it would be wildly unbalanced on the plus side. Why is that?

SIMON: He's not Al Gore. [Laughter] He's doing well in the polls. He's a fresh face...The Gore campaign feels that it's the victim of a vast press conspiracy that goes something like this—because the media were unable to get Bill Clinton, they're going to try to get Al Gore. I don't believe that for a second.

Huh! Back in June, Simon had said that they were trashing Gore. Now, he pooh-poohed Gore’s odd ideas—just as Harris would do six years later.

But then again, this is standard press corps conduct, as we see in Harris’ book. Early on, Harris admits it—the press corps behaved in insolent ways toward the new President Clinton. His explanations of this conduct are strange, but at least he’s frank in describing the problem. But by the time he gets to Whitewater, Harris can’t even recall how this “scandal got started—in a set of bungled front-page stories in the great New York Times. And by the end of the Clinton years, the press corps has been disappeared altogether. They are never mentioned—not mentioned once—in his chapter on Campaign 2000. Al Gore said he invented the Internet? Inspired Love Story? Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal? Al Gore is deluded about his farm chores? Al Gore grew up in a fancy hotel? Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones? Al Gore lied about doggy pills? About the union lullaby? Al Gore lied about that school desk in Florida? Gore’s “odd” judgments are picked apart—and two years of press corps misconduct are missing. Why did Gore think he might have a Lewinsky problem? Duh! Most likely, for an obvious reason—because the press corps was obsessed with the topic, and had vowed to punish him for it. They said they would make him “jump through the hoops”—and they did so for two solid years, putting the hapless George Bush in the White House. Today, of course, they prefer to avoid it. So John Harris makes it all disappear.

In Kurtz’s June 1999 report, he discussed the “harsh coverage and punditry” aimed at Gore, and he even quoted major reporters explaining why Gore was being trashed. But eventually, the press corps’ gross misconduct put the hapless George Bush in the White House,. From that day to this, your favorite reporters have known one thing—they must never discuss what they did. And so they invented an alternate script—a script which is full of “odd” judgments by Gore. Press-to! Harris disappears the press, just like Roger Simon before him.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: The press corps’ trashing of Gore’s kick-off speech followed a familiar pattern. In real time, no one said that Gore had “shouted,” and the claim is impossible to reconcile with the actual tape of the speech. But in the next day’s Houston Chronicle, Bush uber-flack Mindy Tucker lodged the mindless complaint, and soon the entire press corps was saying it. This pattern occurred again and again in the disgraceful punditry of 1999. For a short account of the “shouting” script, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/7/03.

This is how Bush found his way to the White House. For that reason, you’ll read about such matters from Harris on the day that the earth stands still. But then, your favorite “career liberals” have agreed to disappear this too, which makes it more likely to happen again. More on that in Part 6. But yes, your souls have been sold straight to hell—by Harris, and his “career liberal” colleagues.

TO KURTZ’S VAST CREDIT: At least in 1999, Howie tried. For an account of his 6/99 Post report, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/99. To see him struggle with those dumb-founded pundit panels, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/30/99.

Meanwhile, why did Gore think he might have a Lewinsky problem? The corps’ “obsession” lasted all year. Indeed, when they created their “scandal” around Naomi Wolf, they took turns comparing her to Lewinsky. Her cheeks were like Monica’s. Her lips were like Monica’s. She sounded like Monica. Gore approached her as Clinton did Monica. To understand the smutty, fake, broken souls which still drive your national press corps, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/03—and remember how Harris tells you it’s “odd” that Gore thought this might be a problem. Like corrupted courtiers throughout human history, Washington pundits will do and say anything to keeps their Standard Stories alive.