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13 February 2002

Our current howler (part IV): Time to act

Synopsis: It’s long past time for the press corps to act. But will they have enough courage to do it?

Back to Deficit Spending
David Broder, The Washington Post, 2/10/02

Gore Tells All…
David Broder, The Washington Post, 8/10/00

The Raging Democrats
E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post, 2/11/02

This past Sunday, David Broder assessed the Bush budget. As he did, he lamented a troubling fact; "the $5.6 trillion surplus projected a year ago has shrunk by $4 trillion in less than a year:"

BRODER (2/10/02): The wild inaccuracy of that 10-year estimate—and similar guesses in previous budgets—leads one "to conclude that the recent experiment with 10-year budget projections has been a failure," the [Bush budget] says in measured tones.

Now they tell us! A year ago, when the president was lobbying his $1.3 trillion tax cut through Congress, we were assured that there would be plenty of bucks to pay for it, while at the same time safeguarding Social Security and Medicare funds and reducing the national debt.

Broder thus starts to poke at Bush’s dissembling—dissembling in which Candidate Bush was deeply engaged in August 2000. Candidate Gore had mentioned that fact. And so had Paul Krugman, of course. The Timesman had had written a string of columns on the problems with Bush’s budget proposals (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/11/02).

But the immature press corps was punishing Gore because his buddy, Bill Clinton, dared to have oral sex. And so, when Gore made his speech at the Democratic Convention, Broder made a point of rolling his eyes and showing off his big-time boredom:

BRODER (8/20/00): On some of the headline proposals—for Medicare prescription drug benefits or a patient’s bill of rights—Gore humanized his presentation by pointing to specially invited families in the audience who would have benefited directly from the programs he is promoting. But I have to confess, my attention wandered as he went on through page after page of other swell ideas, and somewhere between hate crimes legislation and a crime victim’s constitutional amendment, I almost nodded off.

It’s amazing to think that a major pundit could ever have put such a passage in print.

At any rate, Broder is now troubled by the other guy’s "swell ideas," to borrow a smarty-pants phrase from his column. (The column’s smarty-pants headline: "Gore Tells All.") The dissembling about which he now complains had of course been there to see all along. But Broder took a pass in real time. Now he laments the result:

BRODER (2/10/02): The additional tax cuts the president is seeking in this budget will cost $591 billion. When Ronald Reagan signed the across-the-board tax cuts on which Bush has built his model, Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that the unstated goal was to shrink the federal government by starving it of revenues. Instead, spending grew and deficits exploded.

That is even more certain to be the consequence now. When Reagan did his tax cuts in 1981, we were a full generation away from the baby-boom retirements, which will drain Social Security and vastly increase the costs of Medicare.

Now we are only six years away from the first boomers reaching retirement age. For four years, starting with fiscal 1998, we were able to break the habit of using Social Security and Medicare taxes to help finance the rest of the government. Now we are going back to that wicked practice.

When Broder was yawning up in his sky-box, Gore, of course, was discussing this problem. The reaction of Broder and his cohort? They made up stories about doggy pills; they made up stories about union lullabies; they feigned concern about Gore’s naughty sighs; and, of course—more than anything else—they failed to tell the American people than Bush was lying right in their faces about where his budget would take them. Krugman wrote the column four separate times. Broder knew enough to ignore it.

By the way, how condescending was David Broder when his active interest might have mattered? "One more paragraph and he would have been onto the budget of the Bureau of Indian Affairs," Broder wrote about Gore’s speech (a speech which blew Gore’s polls through the roof, of course). "If you want a wonk, Al Gore is best." One part of Broder’s condescending review now seems comical after last Sunday’s column. "For all his Washington experience," Broder wrote, "Gore does not seem to have grasped Bush’s point that a chief executive is smart to focus on a few key reforms, rather than dissipating his leadership on a crammed agenda." In Sunday’s column, The Dean finally had a chance to admire Bush’s work as a focussed executive.

On Sunday, Broder suggested what is now fairly clear—Bush’s approach to the budget is designed to force a crisis in Social Security. On Tuesday, E. J. Dionne had the courage to say what Broder only dared to imply:

DIONNE: Bush’s budget includes large, long-term increases in military spending combined with proposals to increase the cost of his tax cut by making it permanent. While most presidents who declare war ask taxpayers to bear its costs through tax increases, Bush proposed more tax cuts, primarily for the wealthy. A decade from now, the Treasury will be so strapped when the baby boomers start to retire that a Social Security crisis is inevitable. No wonder this budget skipped the customary long-term projections.

A nasty deception always lay at the heart of the lies and deceptions Candidate Bush was out peddling. Again, only Krugman seemed prepared to say this sort of thing in real time.

Trust us—certain elements are now trying to consolidate power, and that’s why Krugman is under attack. Andrew Sullivan’s soul-mate, the disturbed Ann Coulter, is now suggesting that "liberals" be cowed with death—and being invited on Hannity & Colmes as an instant reward for her conduct. The nastiest people you’ll ever know are trying hard to close the deal; as such, it’s long past time for the press corps to act. We’re glad to see David Broder sign on. But wouldn’t things have been much better if he’d dropped the ’tude and spoken up when he yawned in his big fancy sky-box.

Next: Why not? We present an incomparable liberal bias report! We compare Broder’s columns on 8/6/00 and 8/20/00; they followed the two parties’ convention.

Sean Hannity, anti-American: You weren’t told what Daschle actually said, because Sean Hannity was too clever to quote him. This morning, the Washington Times editorial at least did that. Appearing on the Monday night NewsHour, Daschle voiced concern about Bush’s "axis of evil" rhetoric. "I think we’ve got to be very careful with rhetoric of that kind," Daschle said. According to the Times, "he went on to suggest that Iranian ‘moderates’ were seeking to distance themselves from the United States because of Mr. Bush’s statement, and warned that Washington has ‘got to be very careful’ in the way it talks about these regimes." That wasn’t a perfect paraphrase by the Times, but it came reasonably close.

Most people would take remarks like those in stride, which is why Hannity knew enough not to quote them. But he did spend two full segments with Oliver North last night trashing Daschle for his comments—and suggesting that what Daschle said had bordered on something like treason.

"I think he crossed the line here," Hannity said, in his first assessment of the unquoted remarks. "But here’s what’s more interesting," Hannity continued. "He clearly did it for political purposes." After one of Hannity’s typical, knuckle-dragging "demonstrations" of motive, North piped up with this:

NORTH: Now here’s what’s important. Tom Daschle has now joined Ted Turner and the Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin, who are people who don’t like the term "axis of evil."

Oh. And the session spun downhill from there. "Did he cross the line in a time of war to make such criticisms of the president?" the host asked. An example of Hannity’s rhetoric:

HANNITY: You know, Colonel, here it is. We’re in the middle of a war against those people that murdered 3,000 of our fellow citizens in New York City, your friend and my friend, Barbara Olson, the Pentagon. We had another plane go down in Pennsylvania.

Here’s the president—he’s trying to rally public support, the nation’s resolve, and he’s making decisions, you know, day to day about how to conduct this war and how to battle these people. And here’s Tom Daschle. He goes out there criticizing him at a time we’re at war.

Never before that I can think of in history has that happened, even an opposition party. I thought we united at times like this.

I thought we united at times like this! Has the world ever seen such a pandering phony? Predictably, North’s remarks were even more irresponsible—and even more blatantly un-American. "What this guy is doing is he’s setting the ground works for our adversaries to take on American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines," North said. When asked if Daschle should simply refrain from stating his views, North said, "Quite frankly, I think the job is—according to the Constitution, I believe—I’ve read, I believe it’s the job of the president of the United States." The stupidity of that remark must be obvious.

We’ll offer some advice for Sean and Ollie. If they are uncomfortable with the traditions and procedures of this country, maybe they should shop the world for another. Hannity might feel more at home in North Korea, for example, where his instinctive deference to Supreme Leaders would be more culturally apt. Iraq would be a nice fit too; his belief that Only One Person Should Ever Speak would fit that country’s present political culture. (Iran might be an awkward fit; more than one viewpoint is now being expressed there.)

But don’t be fooled, readers. The Sean Hannitys have stalked democracy from Day One, and they will stalk democracy as long as it survives. At this time, Hannity is trying to use the public’s fears to smear his opponents and consolidate power. To us, people who use the insecurities of war to drive their advantage always bring one word to mind. It’s a fancy word, but it’s really quite apt. Sean Hannity? Anti-American.

The Daily update (2/13/02)

Always get your permits: Broder’s column from the Democratic convention is little short of amazing. He managed to work in invented the Internet and inspired Love Story, and he even managed to work in the fact that Gore has often been accused of attack-dog tactics. How did he work those spin-points in? By indulging in some passive aggression; generously, he noted that Gore didn’t attack Bush in his speech and didn’t do any exaggerating. Of course, eager to hit every RNC spin-point, he even found a way to say this:

BRODER: All the polling and focus group data support the belief that little information about his family, his early career or the work in Congress that commended him to Clinton has penetrated the public consciousness.

And so he told about the values he had learned from his hard-working father and mother, about his youth (though nothing much about living in the swank Fairfax Hotel or attending elite private schools), about his forays into the Army and journalism and the decision to make politics his career.

In that passage, he crammed in two key spin-points—Gore is scripted by focus groups, and Gore grew up in a fancy hotel. Broder was working his way down the list, ticking them off as he went.

Background: In 1999 and 2000, the notion that Gore grew up in a fancy hotel was a prime RNC spin-point. The record shows how hard RNC chairman Jim Nicholson worked to get the bogus claim into print, and it shows how compliant the press corps was in spreading the spin-point around.

The rank stupidity of the Washington press corps has seldom been put on such vivid display. Did Gore grow up in a "swank hotel?" When the Gores lived in the building in question, it was actually a residential hotel—the Fairfax Apartment Hotel—known as "Washington’s family hotel." Though it would later be sold to the Ritz Carlton (and renovated), it was neither "fancy" nor "elegant" at this time, according to a string of Gore biographers. In February 1998, for example, Marjorie Williams did a profile for Vanity Fair in which she examined Gore’s childhood years. "Although the Fairfax Hotel later became the Ritz-Carlton," she wrote, "it was not a posh place at the time Gore was growing up; in any case, the apartment was in their reach only because the hotel was owned by a cousin." Bill Turque agreed in his later biography. "[T]he Fairfax was a bit more modest in Gore’s day," he wrote. "[T]he bare linoleum floor and thick steel doors suggested transience and utility." And why did foreign-service families often live at the Fairfax? "The hotel apartments were the only ones with kitchens that were within the State Department’s stingy temporary-housing allowance," Sarah Booth Conroy reported in a 1998 Washington Post retrospective. Meanwhile, how luxurious was the Gores’ apartment? Turque surveyed the spread in his biography. "Until he graduated from high school in 1965, Gore’s home was Apartment 809, a smallish, two-bedroom suite," he wrote. And yes, you read that passage correctly—the Gores’ abode was so vast and so lavish that, until Gore’s older sister went to college, the pampered siblings shared a bedroom. Indeed, Williams had long debunked the notion that the Gores were wealthy when Gore was a youth (another treasured RNC/press corps spin-point). "[Gore’s father] would become rich after he left the Senate, in the employ of Armand Hammer," she wrote. "But the senior Gores’ correspondence is full of suggestions that, when Al was young, the family’s upper middle-class existence was a stretch." Gore’s biographers agree with this assessment. To state the obvious, none of this trivia should have any bearing on who gets elected to serve in the White House. But for those who want to deal in facts instead of invidious partisan spin-points, the Gores weren’t "rich" when Gore was a kid—and the Fairfax Apartment Hotel wasn’t "swank" at the time.

The Washington Post had no trouble explaining these facts—until the paper turned on Gore as payback for Clinton’s naughty behavior. Before that, it was straight just-the-facts. In 1992, for example, Guy Gugliotta and Barbara Vobejda profiled Gore as VP nominee. Clinton hadn’t had oral sex yet, so the scribes were allowed to be truthful:

GUGLIOTTA AND VOBEJDA: At times Gore boarded at St. Albans, but he usually lived with his parents in the Fairfax Hotel, a modest building with residential units that since has been refurbished and renamed the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The family lived in Apartment 809, on the top floor overlooking the entrance at 21st Street and Massachusetts Avenue.

In 1998, when the Ritz Carlton became the Fairfax Westin, Conroy penned her retrospective. She evoked the grandeur of the days when Gore lived in that fancy hotel:

CONROY: The hotel at 21st Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW that once more carries the historic name was the Fairfax Apartment Hotel when bought in 1932 by Grady Gore, father of 1974 Maryland gubernatorial candidate Louise Gore.

"It was called Washington’s ‘family hotel,’" Gore, [Republican] cousin of the vice president, remembers. "That’s because it had kitchens—a novelty back when hotels didn’t even have refrigerators filled with cheese and beverages as they do now."

While some found the family hotel an attraction, others found it a distraction. Gore said she once shared a ride from Union Station with a young man. When he heard she was going to the Fairfax, he complained about the noise, children playing baseball and strollers squeaking in the corridors and the playroom.

Boy, does it ever sound swank! Conroy’s piece was written back when the Post was still being frank. But by August 2000, a jihad had been born, and Broder was ticking off RNC spin-points. That’s why he was careful to say that Gore grew up in a fancy hotel.

By the way, how hard was Nicholson willing to work to get the fancy hotel into print? You’ll have to buy the book to read that, but suffice to say that he even conned the Associated Press and a string of big papers—Newsday, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Times—into saying that Gore grew up at the Ritz! Hay-yo, everybody! At the Post, Ceci Connolly was never allowed to lie about something like that. But she was permitted to cram the fancy hotel into as many irrelevant stories as she could manage. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/25/00, to chuckle at some of the highlights. (Note: Connolly’s blatant dissembling about Gore’s lottery number was especially rank on this day. This went on at the Washington Post for a period of twenty straight months.)

One last question: how far back did the fancy hotel concept go? All the way back to 1988; at that time, Gore was conducting his first White House campaign, and had received good reviews in some early debates. How would the GOP deal with Gore if he became the nominee? Gail Sheehy reviewed the campaign for Vanity Fair, and she quoted a big image-maker:

SHEEHY (3/88): The first hint of Republican nervousness over the young senator from Tennessee surfaced when G.O.P. strategist Kevin Phillips warned that his party had better begin to cut Gore down by "describing him as a spoiled rich kid from St. Albans who smoked marijuana and had a soft job in Vietnam."

By 1999, marijuana and prep school were dead as issues, but "spoiled" and "rich" still made for great spin. That’s why Nicholson worked so hard to get Gore into that fancy hotel—and that’s why Broder, angry and bored, typed it right into his column. And that’s why Dionne now writes columns about how SS will be swept down the drain.

Why do we review these past, great hits? We thought you might be amazed to see what Broder does when presidents don’t get his permission.