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7 September 2000

Our current howler (part IV): Old pose

Synopsis: To Mnookin, the reporters in question are grizzled old pros. We’ve found things to be somewhat different.

Labor Day's Double Overtime
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 9/5/00

Some not pleased to meet sleepless Gore on the stump
Dave Boyer, The Washington Times, 9/5/00

Spice Girls on the Bus
Seth Mnookin, Brill's Content, 10/00

Evoking Memories of Reagan
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 5/7/00

It's rarely dull with Connolly. Tuesday morning, she was Telling All about Al and Joe's Excellent Labor Day. One episode just made us wince:

TAMPA, Sept. 4, 8:30 a.m.

Not every stop goes as planned. At La Teresita's diner in a Cuban neighborhood, Gore receives a tepid reception.

"I'm Al Gore," he says to one man.

"When Clinton leaves," the man replies, "why don't you go with him?"

Iris Williams, peering up from her newspaper, is polite with Gore but grumbles later: "I can't honestly vote for a person that has been involved in some of the controversy over illegal matters."

Phew! It got ugly at La Teresita's! But over at the Washington Times, Dave Boyer had "the rest of the story:"

BOYER: [Williams] said she "cannot honestly vote for a person that has been involved in some of the controversy over illegal matters."

She described herself as "a lifelong Democrat" and "senior citizen" who is just as unimpressed with Texas Gov. George W. Bush as she is with Mr. Gore.

Say what? Oh yeah. And there was more:

BOYER: Retiree Larry Pflager, who sat a few stools to the right of Mrs. Williams, was more supportive.

"I've been a Republican all my life, but to tell you the truth, for the last eight years I've changed now to a Democrat," said Mr. Pflager, 59, who added that he "definitely" will vote for Mr. Gore.

Say what? Maybe La Teresita's wasn't so bad after all. Again, we saw something we've noticed before—people who have nice things to say sometimes seem to steer clear of Connolly. At a New Mexico town hall meeting last May, we saw the very same thing occur. Everyone Connolly spoke to slammed Gore. But it was weird—other journalists seemed to find that people had liked him, a lot! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/4/00).

Do items like that mean that Connolly's "biased?" In our book, that's a tough thing to measure. We would never have mentioned the Tuesday item if we weren't stuck with this Mnookin retrospective. And by the way, Mnookin says there's a very good reason why "Kit" and Ceci can seem tough on Gore:

MNOOKIN: The rest of their sins have to do with purportedly "disliking" their subject and being harder on Gore than their colleagues are on Texas Governor George W. Bush. Indeed, Seelye's hard-nosed style differs from that of Frank Bruni, the New York Times reporter and former film critic (and onetime Pulitzer Prize finalist for feature reporting) covering the Bush campaign.

According to Mnookin, Seelye and Connolly are two tough old birds who just don't put up with no mess. "Connolly and Seelye are Washington pros," he writes, "and their coverage...does not rise to the level of biased reporting."

But do the scribes really have the thick, grizzled hide that Mnookin so colorfully suggests? Last May, Connolly didn't seem like such a "hard-nosed" old "pro" when she briefly covered Bush in California. Bush "evoked memories" of Ronald Reagan, she wrote. He was a "cheerful patriot" with a "sunny disposition" who offered "tough talk for criminals," she said. "There's just a bit of swagger for the party faithful." And with scribes, the Great Man could be chummy:

CONNOLLY (5/7): When one television network accidentally missed his comments on the death of Cardinal John O'Connor, Bush sportingly delivered his lines again. (Only later, in the confines of his chartered airplane, does he draw back the theater curtain, handicapping each performance with his band of travelling reporters.)

Right there, with his hardy little "band!" What a guy! That "Washington pro" about whom Mnookin wrote was now displaying a whole new demeanor (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/8/00). If we wrote like a couple of scribes we know, we might have said she had "reinvented" herself—that she maybe doesn't know who she is. Seelye also seemed transformed when she covered Bush briefly in June (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/7/00).

Sorry, friends. We've seen these scribes through a number of changes, and Mnookin's fleeting account of what we've written is simply too silly to credit. In fact, Mnookin's piece is dumbfoundingly lazy. For the record, we haven't much written about these two scribes of late, except for Connolly's recent, fumbling efforts to state the size of Bush's tax cuts (she had plenty of company from other confused scribes). Nor have we singled out The Two in overviews of campaign coverage. On July 11, for example, we published a lengthy review of the coverage so far, looking ahead to the fall campaign (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/11/00). But in that lengthy report, we didn't mention Connolly and Seelye at all; we did mention Bruni at length (he's a man). And we did single out the Post's E. R. Shipp (a woman); we singled her out for praise. Sorry: We have never identified Seelye and Connolly as the key players in the overall coverage. And the notion that we've picked them out because they're women is the work of a small, withered mind.

We are eager to stop wasting time on this silly-Brill article. Real things are going on in the world—things which we have reluctantly skipped to respond to this hopeless presentation. Sorry, Brill's. This article should not have been published. At THE HOWLER, we have covered The Two in detail—and we haven't yet assigned them motives. Mnookin—too lazy to explain what other reporters have said; too lazy to talk about what we have written—is so completely lacking in wisdom and discipline that he starts dishing motives in paragraph 7. Mnookin seems to be telling a story he likes. But Brill's: If reporters want to write thrilling novels, why don't you unload them, so they can go start?

Visit our incomparable archives: In our view, Connolly's April report on why Gore entered the army was a breath-taking piece of false reporting. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/25/00.

Also: On March 2, Seelye was peeved with Gore's lack of access. So she punished him, quoting like this:

SEELYE: [Gore] then was asked what message he had for Mr. Bradley.
"Uh, well, I don't, uh, have any, uh, message, uh, for, uh, for Senator Bradley," he responded slowly. "Uh, I, I, my message is for the, the voters of the country. Uh, I ask for their support. I'm not taking a single vote for, for granted."

And no, dear readers, we aren't making this up. That actually did appear in the Times. Was that the work of a "Washington pro?" See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/00.


Smile-a-while (9/7/00)

Could happen to anyone: Richard Cohen was on a roll. He started by quoting Joe Lieberman:

COHEN (9/6): "Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world," Lieberman told the annual convention of B'nai B'rith late last month.

Cohen thought Joe was all wet. Here are his next two paragraphs:

COHEN: Is that so? Did God choose slavery, which persisted in this country long after it was outlawed elsewhere? Did God choose to nearly eradicate the American Indian? Did God choose to incarcerate the Japanese during World War II? Where was God when blacks were being lynched and bigots planted bombs in southern churches, killing innocent little girls? Are these the models God wanted for the rest of the world?

Lieberman's statement is preposterously false and lacks humility. In these and other statements, he and like-minded politicians not only have had God virtually raising a hand at a naturalization ceremony, but they have imbued religion with a power it does not have. They suggest that if only more people were religious and allowed to pray before football games or whatever, we would be a far better nation—and, surely, all games would end in a tie.

The discussion went on from there. Except, one of our readers wrote to say that Bush has been quoted making that statement. He said he had seen it in a whole bunch of places. Our verification team swung into action. Sure enough, they soon found this:

ROSIN AND CONNOLLY (8/29): The difference in style between Lieberman and Bush yesterday was instructive. Lieberman spoke about religion in soaring terms, describing America at the prayer breakfast not as the inspiration of "a bunch of lawyers," but as an "endowment from our creator."

Bush, too, spoke to a religious group, B'nai B'rith International, the world's largest Jewish organization. "Our nation is chosen by God," he told the 200 or so delegates.

But for the most part, he wrapped his references to God in policy prescriptions, praising religious service organizations as part of a list that included tax relief, better schools, welfare reform and support for Israel. [Rosin and Connolly had earlier noted, "Lieberman is defining himself as the champion of religion in the public square, without actually committing to any policies that might promote it."]

Oops. It was Bush who said that to the B'nai B'rith. It wasn't Lieberman at all. The New York Times gave a longer quote on September 3: "Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world of justice and inclusion and diversity without division. Jews and Muslims and Christians speak as one in the commitment to a kind, just, tolerant society." We'll have to admit, the entire quote reads better than the piece Cohen clipped. And it seems to speak to Cohen's question about whether God chose slavery. But oh, yeah? Who made the statement? Easy: "George W. Bush, at the annual convention of B'nai B'rith International in Washington on Monday." Lieberman is off the hook, or loses the credit, depending on your point of view. At any rate, Cohen clipped the quote and messed up the speaker, putting in Joe for The Dub.

We'd guess that Cohen stands by his column, if you just substitute "Bush" for "Lieberman." Bush's statement is "preposterously false and lacking humility," is how we think he'd say it. Though in a way, Cohen was right all along. When he attributed the quote to Joe, he said there were many "like-minded politicians." You can now see how right that comment was.

Meanwhile, in the "familiar story" department, our writer says he e-mailed the Post yesterday urging correction. He writes, "I have not received any response from the Post, and there is no correction in today's paper."

God's Country?
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, 9/6/00

Lieberman's Mix of Faith, Policy Tests Tolerance
Hanna Rosin and Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 8/29/00

Invoking an Even Higher Authority
Week in Review Desk, The New York Times, 9/3/00