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CANARD WATCH! E-mailers respond to the Horton Canard—and at Fox, Alan Colmes fights back:

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2002

HINDSIGHT IS INCOMPARABLE: Nope. Here at THE HOWLER, we simply don’t know what will happen in tomorrow’s races. We’ll leave the speculation and ouija board work to the “experts” now wasting our time on TV. More on their efforts tomorrow in an incomparable Election Edition.

On the other hand, we do know what happened in Campaign 2000. On that score, we received a fascinating e-mail in response to Friday’s HOWLER. We had described the gonzo process by which a string of reporters said that Gore showed his nasty side in 1988 by introducing Willie Horton to America. That RNC-derived claim was utterly bogus—but was pleasingly typed by a string of big scribes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02). Our e-mailer grabbed our attention:

E-MAIL: I watched the H&C segment with Robert Reich that you referred to in your article. Frankly, because I had heard this Willie Horton sh*t about Gore so much, I thought it was true. That night, for the first time, I actually began to wonder if it really was true. Your review of the facts is excellent. It is unfortunate that you are just another voice in the wilderness who is ignored by the “liberal mainstream media.” Please do not stop doing what you are doing.

I voted for Gore in 2000 and thought that he had run a very poor campaign. Now, I’m starting to wonder if his treatment by the press had more to do with his poor showing than any deficiencies in his campaign. The one thing that puzzles me, however, is why does the mainstream media so dislike this man that it willing to trash him the way it does. While I expect Limbaugh, Hannity and the others of their ilk to perpetuate the lies about Gore relating to “the Internet,” “Love Story” and “Love Canal,” among many others, these lies are seldom if ever corrected by the mainstream media. Perhaps you can enlighten me on this.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at Election 02. But our e-mailer makes some seminal points—points which call out for review.

Yes, it is easy—very easy—to believe the long string of canards about Gore. The writer—a Democrat who voted for Gore—had always believed the Horton Canard because he had heard it so often. Indeed, this country is full of voters, including many Dems, who still believe the string of tales spread by the press about Gore. Why wouldn’t voters believe such tales? In the case of Horton, a long string of major reporters happily passed on the silly confection. And almost no one challenged the bogus point, which had long been bruited by the RNC. Why wouldn’t voters come to assume that the Horton Canard must be accurate?

Meanwhile, did Al Gore “run a poor campaign,” a second point our e-mailer ponders? That’s another Official Press Story—one your pundits raced to type in the wake of the White House campaign. They raised questions to which they knew the answers—Example: Why didn’t Gore use Clinton more?—as they continued their well-scripted trashing of Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/2/02). Sorry, kids. Bush and Gore both ran professional campaigns. How bad could Gore’s campaign have been? In March 1999, when campaigning began, he stood fifteen points behind in the polls—and after his “hapless” twenty-month effort, he won the popular vote. Bush, meanwhile, running his brilliant campaign, lost fifteen points in the process. Remember: The press corps tells you the stories it likes—and it likes the idea that Gore f*cked up. Pundits prefer that to the unflattering truth: The press corps conducted a War Against Gore which almost surely determined who sits in the White House. As the e-mailer suggests, the press corps’ relentless campaign against Gore was much more striking—and much more significant—than any errors made by Gore or his camp.

Our e-mailer asks a crucial question: Why did the press corps go after Gore? At THE HOWLER, we try to avoid speculations on motive. But throughout the campaign, a string of scribes spoke to that point; they said that the press was hounding Gore due to Clinton. In those rare moments of press corps candor, major pundits explained the corps’ conduct as a form of “Clinton payback.” We think there are other explanations for what happened; clearly, the press corps is becoming a more conservative entity. But “Clinton payback” was the corps’ own explanation. It’s the place where explanations must start.

But don’t waste time asking the press corps about it. Washington’s pundits are reliably disingenuous when asked to explain their own conduct. In the fall of 1999, Howard Kurtz asked two different panels to explain the unfolding War Against Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/12/02). And what happened? Major pundits fumbled and stumbled, utterly baffled by their own cohort’s conduct. No one plays dumb like the Washington press corps—and they did conduct a War Against Gore. “They hate Gore,” Mickey Kaus wrote in January 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/7/02). The Horton Card—played one month before—was an example of their striking misconduct.

COLMES COMES THROUGH: On Friday evening’s Hannity & Colmes, Alan Colmes came off the bench to dispute the addled Horton Canard. As usual, the program was pondering allegations of naughty Democratic race-baiting. When Alan stepped in, Dennis DeConcini had just told Sean that both parties do play the race card:
COLMES: Senator, welcome. I never heard the Republicans take any responsibility for the Willie Horton ad. Now here’s what happened. Here’s what happened. Al Gore brought up the furlough release program when he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination.

HANNITY: Willie Horton.

COLMES: But it was not Al Gore—

HANNITY: Yes it was.

COLMES: —who found Willie Horton—

DECONCINI: That’s correct.

COLMES: —and introduced him to the American people.

HANNITY: Not true.

DECONCINI: That’s correct.

COLMES: It was the Republicans who did that. I’ve never heard them apologize for it.

Hannity still said that Gore played Horton—but he didn’t raise the subject again when he got to ask more questions. We compliment Alan for his presentation, although it’s astounding that this discussion could still be occurring—more than ten years after George Will launched the Canard on This Week.

By the way, this isn’t the first time that someone told Sean that Gore never mentioned Willie Horton (or Horton’s race; or Horton’s crime; or anyone’s race). On January 13, 2000, H & C discussed Bill Bradley’s new/improved racial attack against Gore (see Friday’s HOWLER for background). Democratic consultant Mark Mellman laid out the basic facts:
HANNITY: Now Bradley is bringing back the Willie Horton issue by accusing the vice president of injecting racism into that 1988 presidential campaign. You may recall then Al Gore attacked Dukakis for releasing the black prisoner from jail early. The man named Willie Horton then went on while on furlough to rape a woman…[Gore is] the one that brought up the Willie Horton ad in spite of the belief of many that it was Republicans…

MELLMAN: Well, there is not even a kernel of truth in that Big Lie, Sean. I mean, the reality is you’re rewriting history and rewriting it in a big way. Al Gore never mentioned Willie Horton’s name. He never mentioned Willie Horton’s race. I have a lot of respect and affection for Bill Bradley. But Bill Bradley can’t go around saying he’s above the fray while he’s hitting below the belt.

Of course, Mellman was wrong on that one final point. As we noted on Friday, the press corps—deeply involved in its “Clinton payback”—allowed Bill Bradley to say what he liked, so long as he kept sliming Gore. Later, Mellman scolded Sean again:
MELLMAN: The reality is—the fundamental charge here that’s being made is that Al Gore injected Willie Horton into the 1988 campaign. That is fundamentally false. It is inaccurate. It is misleading. And when you state that it’s true, you’re misleading people.
But then, misleading people is Hannity’s business. The Horton Canard played a minor role in Campaign 2000, but Sean still pushes the bogus tale now. And don’t worry—he’ll push it again. Misleading the public is Hannity’s goal. Bossman is pleased when he does it.

ONE MORE THOROUGHLY SEMINAL POINT: A pithy e-mail made another key point about the Horton matter:
E-MAIL: I would love to know why the information was not printed on the front pages of our newspapers. The sad part is, Mr. Hannity is on national television nightly on Fox channel. Why has not someone faced him with this information and made him admit this terrible lie? The older I get the harder it is to believe anything I read in our papers.
That e-mail came from an American voter. And she’s right—sad but true, it’s very unwise to assume the truth of things you read in our papers. In fact, any time pundits all say the same thing, you can be almost sure that it’s bogus. In the fall of 1999, a string of journalists all told the public that Al Gore revealed his nasty side when he introduced the public to Willie Horton. All of them said it, within a matter of weeks. It’s too bad that their claim was so false. Sean, of course, still loves to push it.

TOMORROW: Election 02!