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18 May 1999

The Howler postscript: Slick like thee

Synopsis: Maureen Dowd took liberties with a few basic facts to show what a mess Gore is in.

Bill Says Chill
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 5/16/99

Clinton Admits to Concerns As Gore Campaign Stumbles
Richard L. Berke, The New York Times, 5/14/99

Bush Is Hardly a Passive Fund-Raiser
Don Van Atta Jr., The New York Times, 5/16/99

Finally! It never took so long for a Sunday to come, but at last we heard the reassuring “Clunk!” as the paperboy reached DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, and dumped the Times near our Press Intake Center. We had agreed, with the analysts, to conduct a test of their headstrong assessment of Times tyro Maureen Dowd. Together, we’d read her Sunday column, in search of her bruited clairvoyance.

But when the analysts started to scan Dowd’s piece, the smirking began almost instantly. Dowd reviewed Clinton’s critique of the Gore campaign, but her remarks were all stale on arrival. We searched--in vain--for a hint of a view we hadn’t heard voiced a hundred times before.

It didn’t take long for Dowd to retype every silly current tale about Gore. She’d hit Love Story, the Internet, and those crucial farm chores by the end of her dreary fourth paragraph. Then she typed obvious points about Clinton’s remarks, points made in Richard Berke’s May 14 piece--along with stale comments, made often before, in a succession of talking head fora.

It’s “embarrassing” that Gore is behind in the woman’s vote, even though he’s been loyal to Tipper. It’s “embarrassing” that Bush has raised big dough just sitting on his porch down in Austin. It’s “embarrassing,” too, that Gore hired Coelho to supervise his White House campaign. Gore got in trouble fund-raising; so did Coelho, Dowd said. Man! In all the reading we’d done last week, we’d never heard anything like that!

Yep. Dowd’s column was filled with keen observations--if you’ve been unconscious in Luray Caverns all week.

But remember--in the infantile world of the Times’ Queen of Heathers, everything Daddy does is embarrassing. And sometimes Dowd will spin the truth to show just how embarrassing Daddy is. In this case, the analysts flagged Dowd’s remarks on Gore fund-raising, and we had to agree that they had a strong point. Sure enough, there was Dowd, spinning her readers, doing exactly what she hates in Bill Clinton:

DOWD: Embarrassingly, W. has already raised $13 million sitting on his porch in Austin, while the Vice President has endured a cross-country marathon and reported only $8.9 million.

Dowd, of course, has no idea if this is “embarrassing” to Gore. But what is “embarrassing” is Dowd’s slick way of spinning the facts on fund-raising. Determined to prove how embarrassed Gore is, Dowd played fast and loose with simple facts.

Dowd’s figure of $13 million for Bush comes from Don Van Atta’s May 16 article:

VAN ATTA: On the frontiers of presidential fund-raising, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas has shattered previous Republican records by raising $13 million with help from “the Pioneers.”

But that is the amount Bush has raised to date. The Gore figure, reported again and again in the press, is the amount raised by March 31:

VAN ATTA: On the Democratic side, both Vice President Gore and former senator Bill Bradley have piled up impressive numbers. Mr. Gore raised $8.9 million in the first three months of this year.

It isn’t possible that Dowd doesn’t know this. Indeed, Van Atta’s article, like many others, specifically mentions that Bush raised $7.6 million by March 31, the campaign’s first formal reporting date.

Dowd badly wanted, in her gloomy Goth way, to say things were “embarrassing” for Gore. But she couldn’t do that by saying that Gore outraised Bush at the first reporting. So she reported Bush’s total for the middle of May--and compared it to Gore’s for the end of March! She then told her readers how “embarrassing” it was that Bush had raised so much more money.

But of course, she didn’t quite tell readers that. Like the politicians whose slickness she claims to despise, Dowd frequently treats herself to deniability. Dowd wrote that Bush had “raised” $13 million, and that Gore had “reported” 8.9. And why did she make that choice of words? Because that way, kids, everything Dowd stated can be defended as literally accurate.

That’s right, readers. It’s exactly the kind of slippery construction Dowd hates in that naughty Bill Clinton. You have to parse every word this gal says!

So, while we’re still on the topic of what’s embarrassing, we’d have to start out with Dowd’s writing. And then we’d move on to the remarkable fact that this writing just won a big prize. No--nothing will turn on the minor deception Dowd worked into her latest column. But the idea that this prattle is the best we can do? “Embarrassing” is too kind for that.

Stress points: We want to stress what we’ve said before--nothing we’ve said should be taken to suggest that there is anything wrong with Gov. Bush’s fund-raising. To date, no reporting has suggested that Bush or Gore has done anything but play by the rules.

And yes, we know Van Atta’s article was published on the same day as Dowd’s column. But we hadn’t seen the $13 million figure in print before, and it isn’t unusual for Times columnists to have access to info from Times news sources before the information is published. Wherever Dowd got the $13 million figure, her presentation is spun to deceive.