Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector

19 July 1999

Our current howler (part II): Sheer deception

Synopsis: On Saturday, Connolly and Glasser’s follow-up piece was a work of outright deception.

Bradley’s Campaign Bankroll Nearly Equals Gore’s
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' spending habits.

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 its footing.

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 said.

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 piece:

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 bankroll.

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.