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THE FLIGHT FROM SUBSTANCE! Will pundits ever stop their clowning? Let’s take a look at the record:


WE PLAN AN INCOMPARABLE LOOK AT OUR PUNDITS:Was Al Gore right in last Monday’s speech? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But press reaction has been wholly predictable—and startling at the same time. Even in the face of impending war, America’s pundits won’t stop the silly games they’ve played with Gore since March 99. Even in the face of a dangerous war, our pundits won’t put down their silly scripts and examine major claims on the merits.

Did Gore make reasonable claims in his speech? He basically offered the same critique Brent Scowcroft offered in August. Again, here was Scowcroft in the Wall Street Journal on August 15, 2002:

SCOWCROFT (8/15/02): [T]he central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence.
And here was Gore, in last Monday’s speech:
GORE (9/23/02): We need to look at the relationship between our national goal of regime change in Iraq and our goal of victory in the war against terror. In the case of Iraq, it would be more difficult for the United States to succeed alone, but still possible. By contrast, the war against terrorism manifestly requires a multilateral approach. It is impossible to succeed against terrorism unless we have secured the continuing, sustained cooperation of many nations. And here’s one of my central points: Our ability to secure that kind of multilateral cooperation in the war against terrorism can be severely damaged in the way we go about undertaking unilateral action against Iraq. Now, if the administration has reason to believe otherwise, it ought to share those reasons with the Congress, since it is asking Congress to endorse action that might well impair a much more urgent task; that is, continuing to disrupt and destroy the international terror network.
Scowcroft and Gore voiced the same “central point.” A unilateral War on Saddam could endanger the ongoing War on Terror, due to the loss of needed assistance from nations who disapproved of our actions.

Were Gore and Scowcroft right in that judgment? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But E. J. Dionne made a simple request. “Why couldn’t you have a straight account of what Al Gore said, and then a debate, including all the questions?” he asked. “If you want to have Rush Limbaugh on trashing Al Gore afterward, fine,” he sensibly said. But “report the news,” Dionne advised. “Report what he said, and then criticize him.”

Gore and Scowcroft—two public officials of experience and substance—offered the same critique. But did our pundit corps “report what Gore said?” Did it hold “a debate, including all the questions?” Hardly. Instead, we saw the press corps’ Standard Scripted Reactions to Any Gore Statement Whatever. Your pundits showcased their usual tricks. They invented “contradictions” in lesser remarks. They complained about Gore’s unappealing delivery. They speculated about Gore’s motives. They wondered how the speech might help/hurt him politically. All the usual dimwit twaddle was on display as the cohort reacted. And it was almost impossible to find a pundit responding to this speech on the merits.

Readers, your Washington press corps is deeply dysfunctional, our most dysfunctional professional sector. Over the course of the next few days, we’ll take a look at a few of the pundits who did address Gore’s critique. Could high school students conduct themselves in the manner of some insider pundits? Tomorrow, we’ll start with Andrew Sullivan, railing at Gore’s rank address.

MEANWHILE, LOOK WHAT THEY’VE DONE TO WILL SALETAN: How predictable—and slimy—will your pundit corps be? On Monday, Will Saletan splained the fall of New Jersey’s disgraced Torch. How did Torricelli go down the drain in a state that’s filled with so many Democrats? “By combining the worst of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Al D’Amato,” the daring scribe bravely told us. According to Saletan, Torch didn’t go down because he done wrong. No, Torch went down because he seemed like Al Gore!

Slimy is as slimy does. Linking targeted pols to one deemed a crook, Will Saletan was suitably slimy.

At any rate, here is Saletan’s chin-pulling theory on how The Torch Is Just Like Debbil Gore:

SALETAN: Maybe Torricelli’s offenses weren’t inherently fatal. Maybe if Clinton had been in Torricelli’s shoes, he could have survived. But Torricelli didn’t have Clinton’s personality. He had Gore’s. He accused Forrester of “risky schemes” and talked endlessly about fighting. “So many years and so many fights,” he recalled fondly at Monday’s press conference. Like Gore, Torricelli spoke like a caricature of a senator, arranging pauses and facial expressions to milk every line for effect. Like Gore, he seemed relentlessly scripted. Like Gore, he looked as though he was lying even when he was telling the truth.
Can you see how much alike they are? Torricelli said that he would “fight.” And Gore said he’d “fight” for you also!

Comically, Saletan accuses Torch of seeming scripted while dusting off hoary old scripts about Gore. Gore “looked as though he was lying even when he was telling the truth,” the scribe recited. Why not also note that Gore “acts like the kid in the front row with his hand in the air?” Or that he’s “been planning from Day One to be president?” When modern scribes accuse pols of scriptation, the pot has called gray objects black.

Saletan—in thrall to Hard Pundit Law—slimes Gore with another’s dishonor. Big brave scribes do that sort of thing when a pol is an Approved Press Corps Mark. And by the way: Why did Gore “seem like he was lying even when he was telling the truth?” Because pundits like Saletan—knees knocking hard—were very careful to stay very silent when Gore was slimed as a liar throughout Campaign 2000. Did Al Gore say he invented the Internet? No, but boys like Saletan kept very still when this and a hundred canards were invented. It’s just the way Dionne explained it—increasingly, Rush Limbaugh invents America’s “news,” and boys like Saletan know not to notice. Career prospects turn on being good. They know quite well who produces the news. And they know not to make boss-man angry.

Later, Saletan finds another similarity. “Torricelli had something else in common with Gore. Politically, he held the upper hand on the issues.” Weird! And how did Gore lose Election 2000, despite that upper hand he held? He lost because he was slimed for two years, while boys like Saletan stood and watched. You may recall the pundit corps’ scripting. Al Gore said he invented the Internet. Al Gore grew up in a fancy hotel. It was clear that Gore didn’t know who he was. Why, he hired a woman to teach him how to be a man. But then, he was willing to do and say anything to be president. (That’s why he just kept reinventing himself!) Jesters recited these scripts for two years, but now report that our pols are too scripted! Readers, treat yourselves to a low, mordant chuckle as you peruse the latest sliming—and shake your heads sadly as you lament What They’ve Now Done To Will Saletan.

POSTSCRIPT—OUR INCOMPARABLE SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH: You know us—we thought we’d conduct a thorough search to see how often the Gore-like Torch accused his rival of “risky schemes.” And it was weird—the Bergen Record recorded no instance. Neither did the Philly Inquirer. In fact, we were almost starting to get the feeling that Saletan may have embellished a tad. Maybe he was willing to do and say anything. Or maybe he even had a problem with the truth. Gosh—maybe he felt the need to embroider even when the truth would have been good enough. We found that it wasn’t hard to imagine what probably happened when Saletan typed his piece up.

But finally! The New York Times replied to our search for “Torricelli AND risky scheme.” Here is the offending example, from a September 19 report by David Kocieniewski. For the record, this is the only response to “Torricelli AND risky scheme” on the entire NEXIS archive:

KOCIENIEWSKI: Mr. Forrester, who has tried to focus the campaign on questions about Mr. Torricelli’s ethics, has [used] the Social Security squabble to challenge the senator’s credibility. At a news conference in Trenton today, he said he would oppose the Bush administration’s plan to privatize Social Security and any attempt to invest part of the trust fund in the stock market.

He also cited Mr. Torricelli’s appearance on CNN’s “Crossfire” program in October 2000, in which the senator appeared to embrace a proposal to invest part of the Social Security trust fund in stocks.

“It’s a risky scheme, with two pitfalls,” said Bill Pascoe, Mr. Forrester’s campaign manager. “First, as demonstrated by the stock market downturn, we could end up losing the money. Second, you’d be in a situation when the government is picking stocks, choosing one company over the other, with the potential for political influence-peddling.”

Mr. Torricelli’s campaign manager, Ken Snyder, said that the senator had been invited to appear on the television show because he opposes privatization and that it would be misleading to interpret “a vague moment on a rapid-fire political talk show” as a formal endorsement.

Weird, eh? In the one recorded case where someone yelled “risky scheme,” it was Forrester’s manager—he’s a Republican—yelling “risky scheme” at the Torch! Why, if we didn’t know the press corps better, we’d almost think that Will’s “fact”—which helped slime Vile Gore—was mistaken. Or had just been made up.

One last illuminating fact, for the record—Torricelli had not endorsed privatization, or anything like it, on that Crossfire show (10/5/00). Forrester’s man was dissembling about that. But of course, that’s what you’re allowed to do when your opponent is a Big Press Corps Target. That’s why pundits were allowed to dissemble and lie about Gore during Campaign 2000. And it’s also why our group-stepping pundits run now to compare him to Torch.

OMMIGOD! HE’S LIKE GORE TOO! This is really getting eerie. Agreed, Bob Torricelli is just like Al Gore. But now even Lautenberg’s sounding like Gore! According to the New York Times, here’s what the substitute hopeful said at yesterday’s slapdash unveiling:

LAUTENBERG (10/1/02): This will be the shortest campaign I have ever been involved in. I say to my opponent: I am going to fight just as hard, just as energetically [as in past campaigns].
Crazy, isn’t it? How do Democrats think they can win with another guy who sounds like Al Gore?