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23 June 1999

Epilogue: Framing Lamar (and gettin’ jiggy)

Synopsis: The New York Times had page one fun with another unloved White House hopeful.

Backstage at the opening
Roger Simon, U.S. News & World Report, 6/28/99

Al Gore Gets Jiggy [sic]
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 6/23/99

A Flagging Campaign (Photo, photo caption)
Unattributed, The New York Times, 6/9/99

Editor’s Note
Unattributed, The New York Times, 6/10/99

Commentary by Charles Grodin
Charles Grodin, MSNBC, 6/12/99

We know you can't believe you eyes when we tell you CelebCorps has picked out a hopeful-and when we say the corps is after Gore, as we told you in yesterday's HOWLER (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/22/99). In fact, the negative coverage of the Gore campaign is too voluminous by far to keep up with. In this week's U.S. News, for example, Roger Simon pens the lead story, covering the kick-off to the Bush/Gore campaigns. And what does he cover in the first four paragraphs? What else? The way the vice president's upper lip tends to sweat when he gives formal speeches. Of course! There's simply no setting in which this gloomy Goth crew can't find a way to tear down Gore-and to degrade the caliber of the American public discourse, which sadly now rests in their hands. Look also, for fun, at this morning's Post, in which Ceci Connolly "covers" the Gores' "Family Re-Union," an annual symposium held in Tennessee. Connolly's theme is-what else-how boring Gore is (as if people so able to obsess on one theme could possibly be bored by somebody else). In the course of her discussion, Connolly calls Gore a "wonk;" says he is "best known for his statue imitation;" describes him addressing the forum "in his best talk-show host baritone;" describes Mrs. Gore as "his blond co-host;" says Gore has "a steel-trap mind and a steel rear end;" says he "temporarily displayed a long-rumored but rarely seen human side;" says he's "programmed to the point of seeming robotic;" and describes him at one point as "giggling like a girl." And then, deep in her article-you knew it was coming-Connolly said this, with no hint of irony:

CONNOLLY: One week into his presidential campaign, Gore is battling a serious image problem.

We don't want to say it, but say it we must: there's simply no way to convey the sheer dumbness of this sad-sack celebrity press corps.

But if you want to see how bad it can get, take a look at page one of the New York Times on June 9. You will find a large picture of Lamar Alexander, speaking from a platform in a Tennessee town square, addressing a handful of on-lookers. One can't help but be struck by the sorry sight-there appear to be sixteen people present, about half of whom are manning press cameras. The bold head on the caption is "A Flagging Campaign;" the caption goes on to say this:

NEW YORK TIMES (6/9): Lamar Alexander's campaign has yet to arouse many voters, and his fund-raising has fallen below what he hoped. Mr. Alexander, a Republican candidate for President, spoke recently in Tennessee. Page A16.

The article on page A16 wasn't too cheerful, either. But that page one picture spoke thousands of words.

The correction was brief-and hidden. Tucked inside page A2 the next day was this remarkable "Editor's Note:"

NEW YORK TIMES (6/10): A front-page picture yesterday showed Lamar Alexander, a Republican presidential candidate, speaking to a small group of people in Elizabethton, Tenn. In fact, Mr. Alexander was addressing a larger audience-about 200 people, most standing in a shady area just outside camera range. The group had gathered for a town celebration at which Mr. Alexander was invited to speak, and most chose to stand out of the sun, about 20 feet from him. The caption should not have suggested that the scene reflected on his support.

Incredibly, the editors seem to think the problem rests with the caption, rather than with the publication of the picture itself.

We'll strain credulity and assume that no one deliberately pushed this picture forward--that no one deliberately gimmicked this picture as a way to crack wise on Lamar. And we'll hope this episode makes future journalism texts, to show the bad faith of many press corps "corrections." Presenting a grotesquely false image on page one, the Times corrected itself in a small note on page two. And why should the Times have made more effort? Because two days later, Charles Grodin put the doctored photo on national TV, and could plainly be heard saying this:

GRODIN: Then there was Lamar Alexander, a photograph of him on the front page of the New York Times recently that I find fascinating. There he is, he's making a speech, now look: what do you have there, one, two, three, eight people, like four of them are working for the media. I mean, come on! You put up a microphone in a town square and I don't care who you are, you just get on a corner somewhere, you put up a microphone, you've got to be able to do better than that.

The Times should be able to do better than that too. But we've told the analysts: don't hold your breath.

Oh yeah: By the way, what did the Gore symposium discuss? What might it show us about the vice president? We don't know-Connolly doesn't discuss it. She does hint that the sessions were dull.