3 February 2000
The Howler overview: The Merrimack runs through it
Synopsis: Flying home with Manchester musings, the analysts critiqued Uncle Walter.
Presidential race could turn into a nail-biter yet
Walter Shapiro, USA Today, 2/2/00
This Is an Election, Not a Tea Party
Andrew Ferguson, The Weekly Standard, 1/31/00
Ceci Connolly and John Harris, The Washington Post, 2/3/00
Ah, Manchester! Manchester, New Hampshire! Queen City by the
Merrimack! One sometimes forgets how much fun it can be to visit
Manchester this time of the year. Add in exciting primary voting
and you have an unmatchable vacation experience. So we took the
analysts to New Hampshire this week to see the miracle of democracy
unfold. Every four years, the magic happens. Someone tells Granite
State voters he won't raise their taxes. They believe him. Four
years later, they're pissed.
Well, it doesn't happen that way every year; when it
comes to deriding the New Hampshire electorate, we're still living
off 1988. But New Hampshire voters sent a message this week which
the scribes are now trying to limn. Flying home on a crowded aircraftJack
Germond got a window seat, by the waythe analysts excitedly
thumbed to the column of their favorite, USA Today's Walter Shapiro.
Last Friday night, we engaged in a comedy show with the jesting
scribe at Manchester's sprawling Holiday Inn. But the analyststhey
call him "Uncle Walter"now railed at what the sagacious
SHAPIRO: But despite Gore's razor's-edge finish in New Hampshire,
it turned out that it was the vice president whom was out of
step with the electorate. Even as he cloaked himself in the
colors of the Clinton administration prosperity, Gore never got
over the perception that he was a synthetic candidate who believed
he deserved the Democratic nomination solely because he wanted
it so badly.
The analysts were a bit surprised by what their uncle had said.
How could Gore, who won the Democratic race, be "out
of step with the electorate," they asked us. Looking up with
eyes like saucers, they even complained at what Uncle Walter said
SHAPIRO (continuing directly): At a time when voters were searching
for inspiration, Gore may have paid the price for his attack-dogs
tactics in running on the platform: "The other guy's worse."
One of the analysts pointed it out: Gore had been falling substantially
behind in New Hampshire polls when he began his critique
of Bradley's health plan last fall. Luckily, the plane's "food
service" began just then, and we distracted them with bags
of free peanuts.
How can it be that the guy who wins is shown to be "out
of step" with the voters? The truth is, we were a trifle
surprised, in our Granite State rounds, at the animus we discovered
toward Gore. As you know, we think that the story of election
reporting to date has been the negative coverage of the Gore campaign,
and our Manchester ramblings put some meat on the bones of that
tired old theory. In particular, we were surprised by a conversation
we had with one of the press corps' very best commentators, in
which we heard a real tone of disgust toward the perceived dishonesty
of the Gore campaign. The theme that you-can't-believe-what-that-trickster-Gore-says
was pushed by Bradley in the campaign's closing days, and we think
it created the most interesting press issues in the whole Granite
Had Gore lied about or distorted his abortion record? Had Gore
lied about or distorted the Bradley health plan? The Bradley campaign
began saying he had, and it presented a challenge to reporters.
As we noted in our comments on the McCain FCC letters, when public
figures are accused of wrong-doing they are owed a careful critique
of what they have said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/19/00). How did
the press corps meet this latest challenge? Tomorrow, we start
our incomparable analysis, adding the coverage of the regional
powerhouse Boston Globe to our usual mix.
What a week! We had no news channels in our hotel, and you
couldn't get the Washington papers. Our media access was cut to
the bone. Even then, the problems with coverage piled up as deep
as the Queen City's wind-whipped snowbanks. Alas! There is no
plow yet invented to sweep away error like the plows that swept
those streets clear of snow. Luckily, we do have THE DAILY HOWLER.
Tomorrow, an incomparable first report.
Tomorrow: The power to paraphrase is the power to spin.
Press coverage of Gore-on-abortion.
What's in a word: When the analysts returned to their
study carrels, they hungrily fell on last week's Weekly Standard,
and soon the cheers were ringing out over a piece by Andrew Ferguson.
Ferguson was scoring this year's endless complaints about hopefuls'
"negative campaigning." Ferguson approvingly cited Alan
Keyes' statement at the Grand Rapids GOP debate; Keyes defended
our "adversarial political system," in which hopefuls
critique other hopefuls' proposals. Fergy even went so far as
to voice one of our pet complaints:
FERGUSON: In fact, by ideological inclination, most reporters
are goo-goos in the classic, League of Women Voters mold. "Partisan"
is their favorite epithet. When one candidate makes unfavorable
mention of an opponent's record, however mildly, the news story
will jump with verbs like "slam" and "attack"
and nouns like "blast" and metaphors like "slash
The silly use of the word "attack" is our pet peeve
with today's press corps. (We rarely use the loaded term.) As
such, the analysts were surprised and extremely impressed
when they read this in the Post just this morning:
CECI CONNOLLY AND JOHN HARRIS: Instead, members of Gore's team
said in recent days, his New Hampshire revival showed that their
man thrives, personally and politically, when he is doggedly drawing
contrasts and "defining the opposition." The implications
of this...are a general election strategy based heavily on exhaustive
opposition research and unceasing critiques of his opponent's
record and proposals.
There! We think that's a grown-up word. Readers can
decide for themselves if they think a candidate's remarks constitute
an "attack." But let's be grown-ups, boys and girls.
Every time Candidate A criticizes Candidate B, it doesn't mean
World War III has just started.
By the way: human nature being what it is, scribes sometimes
use the word "attack" to describe the critiques of
the guy they don't like. In one of the columns we have cited
above, the columnist uses "attack" to describe what
Gore said about Bradley, then uses "critique" to describe
what Bradley said about Gore. That's why journalistsespecially
reportersshould try to avoid such insinuative language.
Visit our incomparable archives: Ranesh Ponnuru got
it right on the topic of "negative campaigning." See
THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/21/99.