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Daily Howler: Is a vote for Kerry a sin? And did Schieffer show what friends are for?
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WHO IS BOB SCHIEFFER (POST-DEBATE)! Is a vote for Kerry a sin? And did Schieffer show what friends are for? // link // print //

WHO IS DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: It’s all over now but the spinning! In particular, we’ll wait to see how the press corps treats John Kerry’s unwise comment about Dick Cheney’s daughter. On Imus this morning, Imus was slamming the comment hard—and so was his early guest, Doris Kearns Goodwin, who turned in the type of revealing performance one sometime gets from guests on this program. We’ll wait till tomorrow before we discuss the ten-minute Goodwin appearance in detail. But Goodwin’s performance was an instant “cable Democrat” classic. She started out trashing Kerry, then trashing Gore. She said that she and all her friends thought Bush won last night’s debate. (They felt he was speaking more clearly to “Joe Sixpack.”) She then puzzled hard, trying to figure why Kerry had won the post-debate polls; it must be because of Iraq, she opined, because it surely wasn’t Kerry. And she revealed the inevitable, of course; she said she had only watched parts of last night’s debate because she was watching the Red Sox instead. Question: Does anyone know why a person too lazy and disinterested to watch this debate is on TV the next morning discussing it? But Goodwin has been this way for years. When she isn’t copying pages out of real scholars’ books, she’s busy reciting inane cable spin. For liberals and Dems who want to know why their whole “leadership” must be replaced, this appearance is a real classic. We’ll bring you full excerpts tomorrow. But the actual “outcome” of last night’s debate will turn on press reaction to Kerry’s dumb comment. And yes, if the pundits decide to stampede, that comment may decide this election.

Final note on this stampede syndrome: Over the weekend, we watched Bush-Dukakis Debate II, the debate where Dukakis outrageously failed to punch Bernie Shaw when Shaw asked an extremely rude question. What followed that iconic moment in this debate? Long, repeated, extended passages in which Bush promised, pledged and swore that he would never raise anyone’s taxes! The pledge was almost surely fake when Bush made it; everyone knew he was going to propose a large tax hike, as, indeed, he later did. But you know the emptiness of your press corps! Sixteen years later, all they can mention from that debate was Dukakis’ failed reaction to their colleague’s rude question—and what it showed us about his troubling “character.” Your press corps loves to seize on dramatic events and use them to define a debate.

Yes, your press corps is empty, inane and dishonest—and they’re far too lazy and far too detached to watch a debate on which they’ll pass judgment. Dems and liberals should trash Doris Kearns every time she appears on the street. And then they should work—and work very hard—to get themselves a new gang of “spokesmen.” When Goodwin isn’t busy stealing the labor of others, she’s busy insulting you on TV. But you know the shape of your celebrity press corps! Goodwin has acquired Millionaire Pundit Values. She doesn’t give a good g*ddam about “Joe Sixpack,” and she did a very good job of proving that again this fine day.

WHO IS BOB SCHIEFFER, POST-DEBATE EDITION: He did less well than we had expected. No, we wouldn’t say that Bush’s good friend necessarily went out there to win one for the Dubya. But when the moderator of a presidential debate is a close friend of one of the candidates, people will naturally be suspicious. And yes—elements of Bob Schieffer’s effort last night were worse than we had expected. (We call him “Bob Schieffer” to distinguish him from his brother, Tom Schieffer, George Bush’s close personal friend and long-time business partner.)

Did Bob Schieffer try to sand-bag Kerry? We wouldn’t make such a claim. But his last two questions to a floundering Bush were not unlike a pair of lifelines. Here is the text of those questions:

QUESTION 18 (of 20): Mr. President, let's go to a new question. You were asked before the invasion, or after the invasion, of Iraq if you'd checked with your dad. And I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority. I would like to ask you, what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?

QUESTION 20 (of 20): We've come, gentlemen, to our last question. And it occurred to me as I came to this debate tonight that the three of us share something. All three of us are surrounded by very strong women. We're all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud. I'd like to ask each of you, what is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women?

There’s the text, but here’s what those questions really asked: Mr. President, tell us how deeply religious you are. Then tell us how you’re a great husband!

Were those questions unfair? Unwise? Ill-advised? Yes, Kerry got to answer the last question too. (The question seems to be drawn from an earlier century, given its implied view of relations between “the sexes.”) But Bush is married to a popular, highly-visible First Lady, and Kerry is on his second marriage. Automatic advantage to Bush. Meanwhile, look at the structure of an earlier religious question—a question posed to Kerry:

QUESTION 7 (of 20): Senator Kerry, a new question for you. The New York Times reports that some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman's right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem-cell research. What is your reaction to that?
What a remarkable question! A tiny number of borderline kooks are suggesting it’s sinful to vote for Kerry. And Schieffer—with only ten questions to pose to each candidate—gives these crackpots the largest forum they ever will get on this earth! Meanwhile, let’s state the obvious—anyone who understands our politics will know how damaging that question can be. Last night, many Catholic voters were watching—voters who were forming their judgment of Kerry. And in Question 7, Schieffer told them that “some Catholic archbishops” are saying that it’s a sin “to vote for a candidate like [him].” Senator, do you think it’s a sin to vote for you? Incredibly, that’s what Kerry was asked.

Was something wrong with Question 7? That is a matter of judgment. But just compare those religious questions—Question 7, posed to Kerry, and Question 18, to Bush. Question 18 is open-ended—a softball, an invitation to shape a pleasing self-portrait. Question 7, by contrast, is deeply accusatory. For the first time ever in a White House debate, we actually heard that it may be a sin to vote for one of our two major candidates! Meanwhile, couldn’t Schieffer have crafted a similar, accusatory question for Bush? Couldn’t he have asked something like this:

POSSIBLE QUESTION 18: Mr. President, after the invasion of Iraq, Bob Woodward asked you if you’d ever sought advice from your father, the former president. And you said, quote, “You know, he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to.” Meanwhile, Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, recalls hearing you say, quote, ''I believe that God wants me to be president” on the day of your second inauguration as Texas governor. And some of your religious supporters see Biblical prophecy being carried out in current Middle East politics [this should be researched more fully]. Should voters worry that your religious belief might sometimes stand in the way of sound judgment? Why didn’t you get advice from your father?
If it’s maybe a sin to vote for Kerry, why isn’t the other guy maybe a nut? Is it maybe because of all those golf games? Because of all that fun in spring training?

In fairness, Schieffer lobbed Kerry at least one softball—question 15, on the “back-door draft:”

QUESTION 15 (of 20): Senator, the last debate, President Bush said he did not favor a draft. You agreed with him. But our National Guard and Reserve forces are being severely strained because many of them are being held beyond their enlistments. Some of them say that it's a back-door draft.

Is there any relief that could be offered to these brave Americans and their families? If you became president, Senator Kerry, what would you do about this situation of holding National Guard and Reservists for these extended periods of time and these repeated call-ups that they're now facing?

If you’ve followed this election, you know that question was right in the senator’s wheelhouse. On the other hand, Karl Rove couldn’t have done any better in crafting this groaner for Kerry:
QUESTION 9 (of 20): Let me direct the next question to you, Senator Kerry, and again, let's stay on health care. You have, as you have proposed and as the president has commented on tonight, proposed a massive plan to extend health-care coverage to children. You're also talking about the government picking up a big part of the catastrophic bills that people get at the hospital. And you have said that you can pay for this by rolling back the president's tax cut on the upper 2 percent.

You heard the president say earlier tonight that it's going to cost a whole lot more money than that. I'd just ask you, where are you going to get the money?

You have proposed a massive plan! How many millions do we have to pay so we don’t get a question like that?

Did Bob Schieffer showcase his Bush-buddy bias? That’s a matter of judgment—and of mind-and-soul-reading. But one thing isn’t a matter of judgment as we look over Bob Schieffer’s questions. Revisit that religious question to Bush. And let’s look at some of its low-lights:

QUESTION 18 (of 20): Mr. President, let's go to a new question. You were asked before the invasion, or after the invasion, of Iraq if you'd checked with your dad. And I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority. I would like to ask you, what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?
God help we disenfranchised Americans, whose millionaire stewards conduct business like this! Doris Kearns Goodwin was too lazy to sit and watch the debate she would judge. And Schieffer? He was too lazy and too undisciplined to look up Bush’s actual quote, or even to find out when he said it! By contrast, how is it that we able to present Bush’s real quote in our POSSIBLE QUESTION? And how did we know that Bush made this statement after the war? Easy. We set aside about ten minutes and looked up the quote in Bob Woodward’s book! Then we actually went on-line and searched out that quote by Richard Land (there are others). But Schieffer? Ten of millions of people would watch when he hosted this crucial debate. But go ahead and reread that question! He didn’t know when Bush made this statement, and he didn’t know what Bush had said. Is he simply too lazy to look up this info? Or was he just playing dumb for a friend? Here at THE HOWLER, we can’t read his mind. But we know that Goodwin needs to be gone, and Schieffer needs to go out the door with her. “I don’t know the exact quote,” he said. How much must we pay these compromised people before they’ll agree to be gone?

TWO QUOTES FOR THE AGES: Yes, gaze on the soul of your millionaire press corps as we recall these two powdered statements:

Bob Schieffer (10/13/04): I don’t remember the quote exactly.

Doris Kearns Goodwin (10/14/04): I was able to watch both the debate and the game mainly because, loving the Red Sox as I do, whenever the Yankees were up, I was too agitated to watch.

Amazing, isn’t it? With weeks to prepare, Bob Schieffer forgot to. And Goodwin only watched the debate when she felt too afraid to watch baseball! How many millions do they have to be paid before they’ll even pretend to perform? Gaze on the soul of your millionaire press corps—too lazy, too store-bought, to serve.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: And let’s not forget VP moderator Gwen Ifill. Yep! One moderator was Bush’s old friend; the other was Rice’s dinner buddy! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/03, to recall this earlier portrait of press corps misconduct. (See links to earlier reports on Ifill’s toothless interview with her friend.) Meanwhile, emit dark chuckles when you hear a familiar refrain—when you hear how Schieffer and Ifill are driven by corrupt “liberal bias.”

From our incomparable “who but the Times” file

WHO BUT THE TIMES: Yes, Brian Williams opened his NBC “fact-check” with an odd example last night (more tomorrow). But then, who but the New York Times—in an editorial this morning—would make us read this long-debunked groaner:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (10/14//04): Mr. Bush took every possible opportunity to note that Mr. Kerry was once rated by a magazine as the most liberal senator and is from Massachusetts. Mr. Kerry, for his part, seemed to be vying to see how many times he could mention that Mr. Bush was the first president in 72 years to preside over an economy that has lost jobs.
Good Lord! Gail Collins is clearly supporting Kerry. But so what? Seven months after the National Journal exposed this highlighted claim as bunk, Collins still types it into her piece. How easy is it to be Karl Rove? Reread that mind-boggling paragraph!

Go ahead—emit mordant chuckles. But by the way—does Collins even read her own pages? On July 26, she published an op-ed piece on this very subject, written by three Brookings Institute honchos. Sarah Binder, Thomas Mann and Alan Murphy told readers about that misleading claim:

BINDER/MANN (7/26/04): The Bush campaign has gotten particularly good mileage out of a National Journal analysis of roll call voting in 2003 that ranked John Kerry of Massachusetts as the No. 1 liberal in the Senate and John Edwards of North Carolina as the fourth-most-liberal senator.

Yet the senators' ratings are misleading because of the large number of votes each man missed. Mr. Kerry, for example, attended so few votes on social and foreign policy that his composite score in 2003 was based only on economic policy. Even then he was not the single most liberal senator on economic issues; it was a distinction he shared with six other senators, including Bob Graham of Florida.

The rating was misleading, the Times’ op-ed said. The National Journal itself had said the same thing in March. But so what? This morning, Collins—supporting Kerry—retyped the claim and passed it to readers. Bush had said it, several times. So Collins—supporting Kerry, for crying out loud—felt she could say it as well.