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7 July 1999

Our current howler: A silly spin will do ya

Synopsis: Is there any spin the press won’t repeat? Here’s one that we thought took the cake.

Commentary by Fred Barnes, John Zogby
The Beltway Boys, Fox News Channel, 6/26/99

Bush pulls far ahead of rivals
Richard Benedetto, USA Today, 6/29/99

No bounce for Gore (“Inside Politics” column)
Greg Pierce, The Washington Times, 6/22/99

Announcement Bounce (“Spotlight” column)
Unattributed, The Hotline, 6/29/99

We've told you again and again, dearest readers: this press corps just loves getting spun. There's nothing they love more than typing up spin, no matter how patently silly. In the current climate, it especially helps if the spin was faxed by RNC head Jim Nicholson. No one sends out sillier stuff than the man we now call "Tricky Nick."

And we know exactly what you think: you think we overstate this case, right here at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters. So today we thought we'd give you a look at how silly the spinning can get. Here was that "Beltway Boy," Fred Barnes, on a poll in which Gore trailed The Dub:

BARNES: What's interesting about it is, not only is the Bush lead huge but it's remained that way for months and it comes after-this poll, I think, was done June 23-after Gore's widely acclaimed announcement speech and his very noisy separation of himself from Bill Clinton. Those things didn't seem to work.

That Gore just couldn't make anything happen! Later, Barnes posed the problem to John Zogby:

BARNES: Why hasn't Al Gore gotten a bump in the polls from his announcement and his separation or his attempt to separate himself from President Clinton?

Yep, that's right, it was the "no bump" spin-the claim that Gore failed to get any "bounce" in the polls after his June 16 kick-off. We heard the spin all over town. Richard Benedetto, in USA Today:

BENEDETTO: On the Democratic side, while Gore remains the favorite for the nomination, he got no bounce from his formal campaign kickoff June 16.

We'd heard it first one week before, from a real spin enthusiast, Greg Pierce:

PIERCE: Texas Gov. George W. Bush holds an 18 percentage point lead over Al Gore in the race for the presidency in a new Reuters poll released yesterday, suggesting the vice president received no boost from his formal campaign kickoff last week.

But the obvious problem with this "analysis" was lodged in the pundit's next sentence:

PIERCE: The poll of 1,006 likely voters was conducted for Reuters by Zogby International Thursday through Saturday at the end of a week in which Mr. Bush made his first campaign swing and Mr. Gore formally announced he was running for the presidency.

How hard was this to figure out? For polling purposes, Gore's announcement speech had coincided with Gov. Bush's Big W Launch, which received massive media coverage. Gore hadn't gotten a bounce versus Bush-but then, Bush hadn't gotten a bump versus Gore. To all appearances, the two launch events had cancelled each other right out.

Readers, how simple was the hoohah to see through? Even our pals at the Hotline got it! For all their funnin' and playing around, here was a recent "Spotlight:"

THE HOTLINE: Much has been made of Gore getting no post-announcement bounce in Bush matchup polls after his mid-June kickoff. (Less was made of Bush also getting no bounce-even thought NBC/WSJ showed Gore netting a 3pt gain.)

As it turned out, Gore had modestly gained versus Bush in one poll after the kick-off events (although there was no way to determine causation). But the eagle-eyed Hotline pointed out something else: both Bush and Gore did get a "bump" in their party nomination contests. Gore's lead over Bradley went from 39 points to 48; Bush gained on all other GOP hopefuls. The two held pace against each other, but gained points on everyone else.

In our view, the spin that Gore-didn't-get-a-bump is so silly it could have come from only one source-in its fatuous play on the simplest facts, it bears the mark of the RNC's Nicholson. And the fact that it debuted in Pierce's column only reinforces our sense of its origin. But whatever the source of the silly spin, we pass it on to help you see: at this point, there's simply no spin-if it denigrates Gore-that you can't get this press corps to peddle.

And by the way, what did Zogby have to say, when Barnes mentioned Gore's lack of bounce? We had interviewed the master pollster ourselves, on a radio program June 22; we mentioned the problem with the no-bounce theory which Zogby himself was propounding. But even our incomparable arguments couldn't turn the master sampler. Here's what Zog said to ol' Fred:

BARNES: Why hasn't Al Gore gotten a bump in the polls from his announcement and his separation or his attempt to separate himself from President Clinton?

ZOGBY: Well you know one thing clearly is the presentation. George W got a five day rolling love letter from all the news media and poor Al Gore-one network was touting an exclusive interview with Gore the day of his announcement forty-eight hours prior to it, and then you got to see six seconds of Gore and two and a half minutes of descriptions of his being boring and stiff and poorly laid out. So not surprisingly, he just did not get a honeymoon, while George W did.

The cohort king still didn't see the problem with saying that Gore got no bounce. But as Zogby engaged in that rarest of colloquies-trashing the media for its coverage of Gore-we couldn't help thinking that the margin maven may have gained from our confab after all.