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Daily Howler: It's wrong when hopefuls discuss their wives. And it's wrong when they 'fail' to discuss them
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DOWD ON WIVES! It’s wrong when hopefuls discuss their wives. And it’s wrong when they fail to discuss them: // link // print // previous // next //

BUT WHO WILL PROBE THE KERRY PROBES: Sign us up today with Paul Glastris, editor of the Washington Monthly. “I've never understood why the Kerry campaign hasn’t made more of the candidate's record in the Senate of holding tough, thankless, let-the chips-fall-as-they-may investigations of the rich and powerful,” Glastris writes. He singles out Kerry’s probe of BCCI, although there were several others:
GLASTRIS (10/20/04): Especially impressive was his pursuit of BCCI, the Arab-owned international bank which turned out to be a massive criminal enterprise that enabled terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, to finance their activities—until it was shut down, largely thanks to Kerry's relentless efforts. The campaign's weird refusal to talk about achievements like the BCCI hearings has allowed Bush to paint Kerry as a do-nothing legislator with no record of achievement during 20 years in the Senate.
We have puzzled about this ourselves. Indeed, when one reads that Boston Globe bio of Kerry, the description of his Senate career is quite impressive—because of these probes. In his post, Glastris links to a Newsweek report which explains why the campaign has shunned this topic. “Should we string up [Bob] Shrum after Kerry loses, or beat the rush and do it now?” Glastris asks.

Glastris wonders why the campaign hasn’t discussed Kerry’s Senate probes. But let’s ask another question—why hasn’t the national press spent more time on this topic? The Bush campaign has endlessly claimed that Kerry has a do-nothing Senate record—and the press corps has responded with silence. That important probe of BCCI? According to a Nexis search, the following passage represents the Washington Post’s fullest exploration of the matter:

BALZ (2/8/04): Kerry's high-profile investigations, such as his probes of the deposed leader of Panama, Gen. Manuel Noriega, and the scandal-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), have led some colleagues to complain privately that he has been more of a show horse than a workhorse.

Others argue that the investigations bore fruit and point to his POW-MIA hearings on whether Americans were still being held in Vietnam, noting that they led to eventual normalization of relations between the two countries.

As noted, that article appeared in early February. The New York Times has done marginally better on this topic, but that paper’s treatment of Kerry’s probes also appeared on February 8. As for the Associated Press, this seems to be the AP’s only treatment of Kerry’s BCCI probe:
BENAC (1/31/04): Kerry has built his Senate reputation more on pursuing investigations than crafting legislation. For example, he led a subcommittee probe into the Bank of Credit & Commerce International scandal and subsequently wrote a book that helped document how international criminal and terrorist networks work together.
That appeared at the end of a longer article—an article written in January.

As the Bush camp has trashed Kerry’s do-nothing record, it isn’t just the Kerry campaign that has failed to offer background information. But this is typical of the way this campaign has been covered. In our view, the most striking part of the 04 coverage has been the astounding latitude given to Swift Boat Vet John O’Neill. But the press corps’ disinterest in substantive writing has been quite impressive as well. As noted, the New York Times found a prominent place for that worthless report on the cost of Kerry’s worldly goods (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/11/04). But other, real topics have gone unexplored. Glastris is right to question the Kerry camp’s conduct. But his colleagues have slumbered hard too.

ANOTHER MUCH-BRUITED EXAMPLE: And yes, we’ve yelled about this all year—but alas, to no great result. For example, consider David Sanger’s report in yesterday’s Times, the report we praised for its new, advanced method (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/19/04). President Bush was out on the trail, hammering Kerry’s feckless ways. “Several times in his speech,” Sanger wrote, “Mr. Bush used the term ‘weak’ or “weakness” to describe Mr. Kerry, saying the senator ‘has a record of trying to weaken American intelligence.’” Yikes! Kerry has a record of trying to weaken American intelligence? A bit later on, Sanger tried to explain. But his efforts were too little—and much, much too late:

SANGER (10/19/04): Mr. Bush attacked what he called ''irresponsible'' legislation proposed by Mr. Kerry in 1994 to reduce the nation's intelligence budget by $6 billion, and said he then tried to cut the intelligence budget again in 1995.

Mr. Kerry did propose the reductions Mr. Bush cited. But in the mid-1990's, members of both parties were seeking cuts in the intelligence budget. Porter J. Goss, then a Republican member of Congress from Florida and recently appointed director of central intelligence by Mr. Bush, co-sponsored legislation in 1995 that would have reduced intelligence spending by more than the cuts sought by Mr. Kerry.

What is wrong with that precis? Let’s begin with something that’s right. Sanger tries to put Kerry’s proposals into a larger context. Yes, Kerry proposed reductions, he says, but Bush’s own CIA head proposed larger cuts in 1995. On the other hand, Sanger’s presentation may simply be slick. How about Kerry’s proposal in 1994? Did Goss or the GOP propose a larger reduction than that? Sanger doesn’t remember to say. He implies that Goss proposed bigger cutbacks than Kerry, but never actually says so.

But then, much of what Sanger writes here is worthless. For example, note the number he uses. In 1994, Kerry proposed “reduc[ing] the nation's intelligence budget by $6 billion,” he writes. But such a number has no meaning without a time frame and a baseline budget. It sounds like a significant cut, but how big was the annual intelligence budget? Over how many years would this cut have been spread? In short, what percentage of the intelligence budget did that $6 billion represent? It’s pointless to include a number like this without including this background information. That, of course, is exactly why Bush throws this number around on the trail. It sounds like some sort of giant cut, so he throws the number to outraged rubes. Sanger’s work is equally weak when he gives us the unexplained number.

But Sanger’s work is frustrating for another reason. As readers may recall, we began discussing this topic in March, when Bush began making the remarkable claim that Kerry tried to “gut” the intelligence services with these budget proposals. The Washington Post challenged that claim at the time, but Walter Pincus used a different number—the number from 1995:

PINCUS (3/12/04): Bush is correct that Kerry on Sept. 29, 1995, proposed a five-year, $1.5 billion cut to the intelligence budget. But Bush appears to be wrong when he said the proposed Kerry cut—about 1 percent of the overall intelligence budget for those years—would have “gutted” intelligence. In fact, the Republican-led Congress that year approved legislation that resulted in $3.8 billion being cut over five years from the budget of the National Reconnaissance Office—the same program Kerry said he was targeting.
At that time, Pincus described a modest, one percent cut—the cut proposed in 1995. This morning, Sanger discusses a cut proposed in 1994—but he fails to put the size of the cut into context by giving a time frame or percentage.

Did Kerry try to gut intelligence? Did he try to weaken American intelligence? These are remarkable charges by Bush—and he’s made the charges all year long. But heaven help the American voter who has tried to get his background information by reading the Post and the Times! In March, Katharine Seelye presented an incoherent treatment of this topic in the Times (links below), and the two big papers have never really sorted out the basic facts. The Times did arrange for page-one coverage of how much Kerry’s wind-surf gear costs. But did Kerry try to gut intelligence? Or has Bush been making a nasty, fake charge? Simply put, no one reading the New York Times has received the real facts on this topic.

In yesterday’s piece, Sanger made a modest attempt to fact-check and truth-squad Bush’s speech. But Bush has been making this remarkable charge since March, and even yesterday, Sanger offered a fumbling analysis. Do readers deserve to get the facts about such crucial, central charges? The Times is scrambling to fact-check—now. Their efforts are much, much too late.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Pincus discussed this matter in March (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/12/04). Seelye also discussed the topic in March (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/22/04 and 3/23/04). We’re no longer sure that we read her analysis of Kerry’s 1994 proposal correctly. But that’s because her treatment was incoherent (and still is, rereading today). Bush has made a remarkable charge, and he’s made it all year long. Heaven help the American voter who has tried to sort it out in the Times! They did give you the facts about wind-surfing gear. But let’s face it—that’s what really concerns them.

DOWD ON WIVES: How empty is the great Maureen Dowd? Last week, she slammed Bush and Kerry for discussing their wives in their third debate (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/16/04). “It was a contest to see who was closer to his family,” the grumbling know-it-all pundit complained. “The two gentlemen callers competed to offer the sweetest encomiums to their wives and daughters.” As we noted, Dowd omitted a central point; the hen-pecked hopefuls were discussing their wives because the moderator, Bob Schieffer, had asked them to do so! But you know Dowd! She complained about the hopefuls’ ways while disappearing her hapless colleague and the utterly pointless, waste-of-time question that led to the hopefuls’ remarks.

But of course, it was all part of Dowd’s endless message—We pundits are smarter than they are. Dowd is always ready to type that tale—and she can type it flat or she can type it round, as she has now brilliantly shown when it comes to the candidates’ wives. Last January, as a matter of fact, Dowd was trashing ol’ dumb-ass, Howard Dean. What had Dean done that was so deeply wrong? Of course! He hadn’t brought his wife on the trail! Here’s a good chunk of her clowning:

DOWD (1/15/04): The doctors Dean seem to be in need of some tips on togetherness and building a healthy political marriage, if that's not an oxymoron.

Even by the transcendentally wacky standard for political unions set by Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Deans have an unusual relationship.

She is a ghost in his political career. She has never even been to Iowa, and most reporters who have covered Howard Dean's quest here the last two years would not recognize her if she walked in the door, which she is not likely to do, since she prefers examining patients to being cross-examined by voters and reporters.

The first hard evidence most people had that Howard Dean was actually married came with a startling picture of his wife on the front page of Tuesday's Times, accompanying a Jodi Wilgoren profile.

In worn jeans and old sneakers, the shy and retiring Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean looked like a crunchy Vermont hippie, blithely uncoiffed, unadorned, unstyled and unconcerned about not being at her husband's side—the anti-Laura. You could easily imagine the din of Rush Limbaugh and Co. demonizing her as a counterculture fem-lib role model for the blue states.

While Elizabeth Edwards gazes up at John from the front row of his events here, while Jane Gephardt cheerfully endures her husband's "Dick and Jane" jokes, while Teresa Heinz Kerry jets around for "conversations" with caucusgoers—yesterday she was at the Moo Moo Cafe in Keokuk at the southernmost tip of the state—Judith Steinberg has shunned the role of helpmeet.

Hiss! Me-ow! Meow—hiss—spit!! The vacuous pundit was deeply displeased by Judith Dean’s coiff and her lack of adornment (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/15/04). Meanwhile, Dowd’s overall judgment was quite apparent. Two wives were dumb because they were campaigning. Meanwhile, Dean’s wife was dumb because she wasn’t! And then, last week, Dowd flipped again. In January, she rolled here eyes at Candidate Dean because he wasn’t discussing his wife. Last week, she stamped her feet at Kerry and Bush because they discussed theirs too much.

Can you see the emptiness of the people who sit at the top of your national discourse? Hiss! Meow! Meow—hiss—spit!! Dowd is an empty, aimless soul. What have we done to deserve our fate? Why does Dowd’s empty fraternal order sit at the top of our discourse?

THOMAS SPOTS A PROBLEM: Media Matters has chronicled pundit views of Mary Cheney’s troubling orientation. “Conservatives equated Mary Cheney's sexual orientation with abortion, adultery, alcoholism, and now obesity,” one recent headline says. But mainstream scribes aren’t trend-setters on this matter, either—which helps explain why Kerry’s ill-advised comment got the play it did in the press. On yesterday’s Imus, Newsweek’s Evan Thomas opined on this matter. Evan Thomas is thoroughly mainstream—and here was his view of the incident:

THOMAS (10/19/04): My guess is that [Kerry] was doing it on purpose, that he just thought, you know, this is a good way to take a shot to stir up the right and make them, you know—sow confusion among the enemy and make them—you know, they want to dampen down Christian turn-out...And I think it back-fired because I think it just offended an awful lot of people who say you just don’t talk about peoples’ kids when they’ve got a problem. And I think that—I get the sense that the Bush campaign is doing pretty good these days, that they’re ticking up a little bit in the polls, and I think that Kerry’s mistake there at the end of that third debate was important.
We tend to agree with Thomas’ political analysis. We would guess that Kerry made his remark as part of a strategy, and it seems fairly obvious that the remark has back-fired—has helped Bush, not Kerry. But why did pundits treat this matter in the way they did? In part, because they see Mary Cheney’s orientation as “a problem”—as something you just shouldn’t talk about. Result? It’s Kerry who now has a problem—in part because he made a bad guess about what mainstream pundits might have thought.