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Caveat lector

23 August 2000

The Daily update: Clairvoyants of the world, unite!

Synopsis: While the Post floundered with basic facts, the Times did some basic mind-reading.

Me, Myself, and Why
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 8/23/00

A Look Behind Al Gore's Punchy Language
Howell Raines, The New York Times, 8/23/00

Ceci Connolly is having quite a time limning the campaign's basic facts. (See "Howlings," today and tomorrow, at Just click here.) But over at today's New York Times, the mind-readers and savants hold sway. Maureen Dowd serves up the latest effort in the series she sub-titles "Inside Al Gore's Head." And, while telling us what the veep is thinking, she keeps her basic spin-points in place. At one point, Dowd has Gore saying: "The truth is, I love polls more than anything—even my Palm Pilot." Hay-yo! Check off "PP!" She also manages to get in "earth tones," "alpha male," St. Albans, and focus groups. And it wouldn't be Dowd without talk about bald spots. There it was, at the end of her piece.

That's right, folks. Just shuffle the soundbites and you too can be Dowd! There's nothing quite as hopeless as Dowd in full blather. But over at the "Editor's Observer," Howell Raines also holds forth today. And uh-oh! Readers, lock up the kids! Raines is also busy inside poor Gore's head:

RAINES: But even when it is tactically selected, the language that candidates choose tells us something about their inner lives, personal histories and psychological comfort zones.

Uh-oh! Lock up the kids! We're always suspicious when scribes describe the "inner lives" and "psychological zones" of the pols. Things can get pretty nebulous there. We can end up with writing like this:

RAINES (full passage): But even when it is tactically selected, the language that candidates choose tells us something about their inner lives, personal histories and psychological comfort zones. Mr. Bush, for example, really does come from a three-generation family political tradition that believes that conservatism should be leavened with a paternalistic kind of caring. That is why George Bush the elder had to wriggle so hard to get into Ronald Reagan's ideological suit, and may also provide a clue as to why Governor Bush is always insisting that he will not enter the White House wearing "borrowed clothes."

We understand the part about George Bush the elder. But Governor Bush mentions "borrowed clothes" to maintain standard spin about Gore. According to Raines' star clairvoyant, Gore paid Naomi Wolf 15 grand per month to tell him what clothes he should wear. What does that have to do with "a paternalistic kind of caring?" Alas! When you talk high-falutin' talk like this, pretty much any comment makes sense.

Because we note the evidentiary standard. Bush's family tradition "may provide a clue" to his comment about borrowed clothing. By that standard, of course, any statement is right—and Raines maintains this soggy standard right to the end of his piece. We are told what "one suspects," and we're told what "perhaps" is true. And we're told what thoughts "figured in Mr. Gore's observation that 'the presidency isn't a popularity contest.'" We had thought that Gore said that to make fun of spin-driven newspapers much like the Times. But Raines says something else is true. He just doesn't say how he knows it.

Mind-reading is standard fare in the press corps. Meanwhile, over at the Post, scribes strain to explain basic numbers. Don't miss "Howlings" today and tomorrow as the Post struggles to explain the campaign's most basic facts. Before the corps reads the poor pols' minds, maybe they should read up on a few basic issues.

Things to come: Our entire staff will be spending three nights near some lake. Next week, we resume normal schedules.