19 July 1999
Our current howler (part II): Sheer deception
Synopsis: On Saturday, Connolly and Glassers follow-up piece was a work of outright deception.
Bradleys Campaign Bankroll Nearly Equals Gores
Ceci Connolly and Susan B. Glasser, The Washington Post, 7/16/99 (Friday)
From Peanuts to Posh: A Tale of 2 Campaigns
Ceci Connolly and Susan B. Glasser, The Washington Post, 7/17/99 (Saturday)
Sheer deception. There's no other way to describe Saturday's
piece, in which Ceci Connolly and Susan Glasser report on Gore's
campaign spending. Their article elaborates on a point they made
the day before, in an article detailing how much money the hopefuls
have raised and spent (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/99).
Here's how they put it on Friday:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER (7/16): Gore has spent far more than
Bradley or Bush, waging a consultant-laden campaign that spent
heavily to raise the money it took in.
But has Gore spent "far more" than Bush? As
we pointed out Friday, the Gore campaign has spent $8.2 million,
compared to $7.2 million for Bush--although the reader was never
given those figures in Connolly and Glasser's Friday piece. Bush's
total spending was reported, but Gore's total spending never was,
giving readers no simple way to assess the two writers' "analysis."
On Saturday, the writers penned a follow-up piece--and it was
completely devoted to telling readers how profligate the Gore
camp has been. The sub-headline of the story told the tale: "Bush
Hoards Cash; Gore Spends Heavily." From the start, the writers
presented images allegedly showing the contrast between the campaigns'
But once again, for the second straight day, one small detail
is missing. Once again, Connolly and Glasser never tell readers
how much money the two camps have spent! In two full days of reporting
this topic, the writers never give their readers the most basic
data--data which would let readers see how tendentious the writers'
interpretation really is.
On Saturday, the two get right to it. Their opening paragraph
crafts an image of that Gore's campaign's free-spending ways:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER (7/17): (Paragraph 1) In the opening week
of his presidential campaign, Texas Gov. George W. Bush served
peanuts and potato chips to the high-rollers pouring millions
into his treasury. Vice President Gore's announcement featured
an open bar at New York's lavish Pierre Hotel.
Of course, Bush served his peanuts at "lavish hotels"
too, but characteristically, the writers don't say it. They quickly
move on to another image of the contrast between the two camps:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER (7/17): (2) Bush made his maiden voyage
to Iowa and New Hampshire with a single paid advance man leading
the way. Gore's traveling entourage included about 32 advance
staff, half a dozen White House aides, his pollsters, speech coach
and media adviser.
From there we go to the pair's central argument--the theme of
their Saturday piece:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER (7/17): (3) New campaign finance reports
filed Thursday show Gore spending at a far faster clip
than either the Republican front-runner or his sole Democratic
rival, former senator Bill Bradley. From big-ticket costs like
the size of his payroll to single line items such as polling,
Gore's massive money report shows he has spared
no expense in a campaign that is still attempting to find
But is Gore spending at "a far faster clip?"
The assertion is hard to sustain. Again, Gore has spent only $1
million more than Bush to date. But the dollar figures that would
let readers see that are never mentioned in this long,
page one article. For the second straight day, readers are kept
from the primary data--and treated to unfettered spin.
And it's spin we get, all through the piece, in repeated anecdotal
examples. In some cases, the anecdotes are offered absent real
evidence; the Bush campaign wouldn't give Connolly and Glasser
hard data, and wasn't required to do a detailed FEC filing because
the campaign doesn't seek matching funds. No matter--the writers
just take the Bush campaign's "estimates," and use them
in their string of comparisons. Example: Gore has spent $228,000
on polling, Bush only $53,000. And how do they know this? Bush
This reporting, by the way, was being done just two weeks after
the Bush campaign badly misstated its total fund-raising, in an
incident that got a good deal of press attention. But no matter.
It's just too much fun creating pictures that make the scribes'
spin come out right:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER (7/17): (21) Bush is almost ostentatiously
cheap. When Bush hosted a thank-you party last month for Texas
contributors, they were greeted with a simple note card: "Enjoy
your peanuts and snacks! Texas money will be saved for Iowa and
New Hampshire." His inaugural tour cost less than $200,000--half
the cost of Gore's, according to estimates from the two campaigns.
And what if that "estimate" from the Bush camp is
wrong? We're too busy spinning to wonder:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER (7/17): (24) Aside from a candidate himself
who is notoriously tight-fisted, Bush campaign officials said
the designated "Dr. No" on spending is campaign manager
Joe Allbaugh, an imposing man with the head of a football linebacker.
The scribes go on to offer an amusing anecdote about Allbaugh's
tight-fisted ways--an amusing anecdote which, it goes without saying,
they can't possibly know to be true.
This article, in short, is a string of examples displaying
the VP's lack of thrift. He has spent more--much more, the writers
tell us, in every imaginable category. He has spent more on food;
more on ballrooms; more on polling; more on staff. He has spent
more on travel; more on "filming;" more on mailing;
more on booze. And usually, according to the writers' anecdotes,
he has spent much more than Bush has done (32 staffers
to one on a trip). All of which creates an obvious puzzle for
anyone who has seen the hard facts.
Here's the puzzle--if Gore has spent so much more in every area,
why are the spending totals so close? The Post's readers, of
course, won't ask themselves that, since they are never given
the actual totals. But we do know that total spending is
fairly close--and we can answer the question fairly easily. Quite
clearly, the overall spending is surprisingly close because
the writers' anecdotes are not representative. The writers
present a dizzying list of these anecdotes--some of them based
on Bush campaign "estimates"--all of which seem to suggest
that Gore is massively outspending Bush. And, in the best tradition
of anecdotes everywhere, the picture these anecdotes craft is
misleading. That 32-to-one ratio the writers typed up misleads
us about the real facts.
But don't let a trifle like that spoil the fun--the spinning
is going too well now. In their most outrageous paragraph, Connolly
and Glasser say this:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER (7/17): (13) Gore, a product of Washington
politics from the day he was born, has spent $228,000 on polling,
all but $5,000 of it going to Penn, Schoen and Berland--the same
team that polls for the president, first lady Hillary Clinton's
Senate campaign, the Democratic National Committee and Microsoft.
In this passage, the writers stick their noses into the birth
chamber to promote their irrelevant, rude spin. The image highlighted
has absolutely nothing to do with the subject that is being examined.
It is nothing other than sheer image-pushing; the RNC couldn't
have written this better. They tie Gore here to both Clintons
(and to Microsoft!), although that is also completely irrelevant
to the theme they pretend to explore.
What would have been relevant is what is missing in
action--the facts that did not bark. Again, here are the spending
totals of the two campaigns, 1/1-6/30:
Gore campaign: $8.2 million
Bush campaign: $7.2 million
Has Gore spent "far more" than Bush? Has
Gore actually "spared no expense?" Do the writers' anecdotes
give an accurate picture? Readers could have answered those
questions themselves--except Connolly and Glasser withheld the
hard data. In doing so, they engaged in an act of deception and
spin--and offended against our public discourse.
Spin over facts: The writers refuse to give readers
the facts, but load them like pack mules with "analysis."
They again return to a type of statistic they used in their Friday
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER (7/17): (5) More broadly, an analysis
of the data shows that while Gore has spent about 47 percent of
the $17.5 million he has raised in the first half of 1999, Bush's
spending has amounted to just 19 percent of the $37 million he
has raised. Bradley has spent 37 percent of his $11.7 million
The writers present this statistic as a measure of frugality,
but that's clearly not what it measures. More directly, it measures
success in fund-raising, a totally different thing. At
one point, for example, the writers say this:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER (7/17): (22) Overall, Bush spent about
$1 million on fund-raising parties and meetings to help bring
in the $37 million, according to [Bush aide Karen] Hughes. Based
on the computer analysis, Gore appears to have spent more--$1.4
million on hotels, catering, and other event-related costs--and
raised less than half Bush's take.
The campaign spending here has not been hugely different; what
is different is the intake. This shows something good about Bush--he
is popular with donors--but it isn't a measure of frugality. A
campaign which has more people say "yes" will always
spend less as a percentage.
By the way, the writers to whom this fact does not occur were
busy telling us, just weeks ago, how easy it was for Bush to raise
money because people would send in checks unasked. And note again,
in the passage quoted: the writers are accepting Hughes' word
for how much Bush has spent. As a matter of fact, the writers
don't know how much the two camps have spent in this area.
But we return to our basic point. The writers' analysis, while
hugely wrong-headed, would be tolerable if they also provided
the basic facts. It is not OK to peddle contentious
interpretations while concealing the relevant data.