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Caveat lector

24 June 1999

The Howler follow-up: Creative accountings

Synopsis: The celebrity press corps keeps playing games with reports on the hopefuls’ fund-raising.

Wallets Open Wide For Bush in D.C.
Susan B. Glasser, The Washington Post, 6/22/99

Lobbyists Are a Lode for the Leading Presidential Campaigns
Don Van Natta, Jr., The New York Times, 6/22/99

As far as we know, White House hopefuls Bush and Gore have done nothing wrong in their campaign fund-raising. But Gov. Bush has charted a fund-raising course that is different from Vice President Gore's. As has been repeatedly stated by Bush officials, Bush hopes to raise enough money to be able to bypass the federal matching fund program. In so doing, he would avoid the limits on state-by-state spending that are part of the matching fund program. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Bush's desire to do so. But it does commit Bush to raising much more money than would be necessary were he to take matching funds.

But you'd never know it to read the press, including Tuesday's Washington Post. Bush was coming to town for a major fund-raiser, and Susan Glasser said this to her readers:

GLASSER: Overall, sources close to the Bush effort say they expect to reach the $20 million figure by the June 30 close of the second quarter, after posting $7.6 million in receipts at the end of March. They are hoping to outraise Vice President Gore, who beat them in the first quarter with $8.9 million raised and who leaves today on a nine-day fund-raising tour. Both Bush and Gore are aiming to raise more than $50 million.

In fact, for those who take matching funds, the FEC limits primary spending to around $48 million, with up to $16 million coming from matching funds. Thus, the Gore campaign is hoping to "raise" around $32 million for the primaries. The Bush camp hopes to raise at least $50 million, as Bush officials have repeatedly made clear.

There is nothing wrong with the Bush camp's plan. But the Bush campaign is, in fact, trying to raise substantially more money than Gore. If Glasser is going to compare the campaigns, she ought to give a more accurate account. Her construction continues Post finance reporting which has consistently obscured basic facts about funding-reporting in which the Post has painted Gore as the Big Money Guy, although Bush plans to raise much more dough (see links to past reporting below).

Don Van Natta was also involved in creations about Bush's fund-raiser. Early on in his Tuesday piece, he offered the following point:

VAN NATTA (paragraph 6): Like Vice President Al Gore Mr. Bush is relying on lobbyists and lawyers [in Washington] to help raise the vast sums of money needed to run for President. But the Vice President has much deeper ties to K Street, having dealt with and raised money from Washington lobbyists since his election to the Senate in 1984.

You remember 1984-a year when Bush's father, George Bush, was vice president of the United States, on his way to becoming the president? The notion that Bush is some sort of unconnected outsider is one of the silliest ideas one could possibly conjure. But the image is scattered all throughout Van Natta's Tuesday piece.

Let's walk through what Van Natta tells us. Paragraph five is a lengthy quote from a Washington lobbyist, telling how Bush is holding the establishment at bay (text below). In paragraph six, Van Natta explains that Gore is a K Street insider (with "much deeper ties" than Bush). It isn't until paragraph ten that Van Natta mentions that Bush has a few ties based on his father's old job. Then, after listing establishment figures helping Bush, he saves the day with a striking statement for which he offers no source whatsoever:

VAN NATTA (paragraph 15): Far more than Mr. Bush, Mr. Gore is perceived by the public as someone with very close ties to the Washington establishment.

Far more than Mr. Bush! Van Natta gives no source for this statement. There has been a considerable effort by the RNC to paint the vice president as a creature of Washington. When Gov. Bush is portrayed as Van Natta portrays him, the effort has begun to pay off.

(Note: Not connected? At least 11% of respondents in John Zogby's current poll believe the "George Bush" they're discussing is the former U.S. president. Details in postscript below.)


Visit our incomparable archives: Already, the Post and the Times have offered fund-raising pieces that constitute campaign writing as bad as it gets. We offered four articles on Ceci Connolly's cover story in the Post Magazine (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/20/99 through 4/23). Five weeks after Connolly's piece, Jill Abramson offered a Times Magazine knock-off, in which the nugget statement was-word-for-word!-the same as Connolly's nugget statement. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/3/99, for our review of Abramson's piece.

The basic points remain. There is nothing wrong with the Bush campaign's plan. But Governor Bush does plan to raise much more money than Vice President Gore. Both the Post and the Times have published major articles portraying Gore as the Big Money Guy, while ignoring or obscuring this salient fact. Glasser's construction on Tuesday continues this problem. The facts involved here are groaningly simple. Why can't the Post simply state them?

Call for Philip Morris: Here is Van Natta's complete fifth paragraph, a virtual infomercial for Bush's campaign:

VAN NATTA (paragraph 5): "He has essentially given the signal to the establishment here: you can come on board, but you are not going to shape this candidacy," said Wayne L. Berman, a Republican fund-raiser and a lobbyist with Park Strategies, whose clients include PaineWebber and Philip Morris. "Bush has said: 'I'm shaping it from the outside.' The establishment here doesn't necessarily like it," Mr. Berman said, "but Bush has been able to persuade them."

This describes the campaign of a president's son, whose panel of top advisers is full of names from his father's administration (as is perfectly appropriate). By the way, apparently no one else has any view on Gov. Bush's connection to Washington. Only Berman was quoted on the subject, and the very next paragraph in Van Natta's piece tells what a major insider Gore is.

God watches over the public: In his polling, John Zogby asks respondents for a one-word, "top-of-the-head" reaction to the names of White House hopefuls. When asked about Bush in his latest polling (done last week), eleven percent offered this characterization: "Ex-president."

That is, at least 11% of respondents think they're discussing Bush's father when they're presented with "Bush-Gore" match-ups. (11% offered the view; there was no way to know how many others may hold it.) This compares, by the way, with 7% who used "dull, stiff, or boring" to describe Vice President Gore. But which perception have you been reading about, as you scan the celebrity press corps?