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

13 October 1999

Our current howler (part III): Either way

Synopsis: According to a talker, Gore is danged if he do. And oh yes--Gore is danged if he don’t.

In Race for 2000, a Tortoise and Hare Start
Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post, 6/25/99

Bradley’s New Gains
E. J. Dionne, The Washington Post, 9/24/99

Commentary by Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, Peter Beinart
Hardball, CNBC, 10/12/99

Gore’s Gawky Phase
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 10/10/99

Is it true, what Katrina vanden Heuvel said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/12/99)—is it true that the press corps is whuppin' on Gore as a way to get back at Vile Clinton? We might as well say it: that has been our guess (among others), as we first suggested back in July. At that time, we cited a piece in which Howard Kurtz implied that Gore was getting oddly negative press. And then Kurtz quoted a pair of scribes—who seemed to have major agendas.

"We're sort of bored with Clinton, and many of us think Clinton's a moral scum," said James Warren of the Chicago Tribune, "and probably subconsciously, at a minimum, we taint Gore by virtue of his association." Warren didn't seem too concerned at the process he described—and his plain text said scribes were probably "tainting" Gore in ways that went beyond the subconscious. Discussing the questioning of Gore about Monica Lewinsky, Roger Simon of U.S. News went farther:

KURTZ: Roger Simon...defended the focus on Lewinsky. "It's still the story that has shaped our time. We want to hear [Gore] say what a terrible reprobate the president was, while defending his record. We're going to make him jump through hoops. I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

At THE HOWLER, we did find something wrong with that (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/99). Sorry—when journalists make candidates "jump through hoops" until they say what the scribes want to hear, we think that something has gone badly wrong with the entire news process. The hubris expressed in Simon's remark might invite a scribe to punish a hopeful—as Simon did at the time of Gore's kick-off speech, when he introduced the public to Candidate Gore by describing the way that Gore sweats (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/29/99). Do other scribes see their role in this way—think they should make public figures "jump through hoops" unless they conform to pre-scripted lines? If they do, it's no wonder we're seeing the gruesome "reporting" we've been describing just this past week. No one can do the work Brian Williams has done unless he has an attitude problem. It's impossible to look at work like his and not search for some source of the problem.

Is the press corps whuppin' up on Gore? It's difficult to prove double standards. But if pundits plan to make hopefuls "jump through hoops" until they say the things scribes like, it won't be long before scribes are taking all sorts of liberties in their reporting. Why, they might even act out the syndrome E. J. Dionne described in his recent Washington Post column. You recall what he said. He said that, with this corps, Gore is danged if he do. And he said Gore is danged if he don't:

DIONNE: If he wears a suit, he's a stiff guy in a suit. If he wears an open shirt, he's a stiff guy in a suit faking it...

Though he didn't say it in so many words, Dionne's text was perfectly clear—CelebCorps will attack Gore either way on an issue. He's danged if he do or he don't.

A comical example of this familiar syndrome was played out last night on the inventive show Hardball. The inventive program's creative host was dealing with Gore's pending labor endorsement. How to spin the good news down? He asked a creative question:

MATTHEWS: Why would a guy who wants to win the presidency go inside the Democratic Party? Why would you want to look like an old Democrat, like a street-corner guy, when your chances depend on how well you do in the suburbs and in the country?

The answer, of course, is that every Democrat seeks the labor endorsement in every election. It was an obvious answer, one the host would soon hear. But polite guest Howard Fineman played along:

FINEMAN: ...He's going inside because that's what Bill Bradley has left on the table. Bill Bradley is running as the outsider, he's running as the reformer...That's why he's going hard after that labor endorsement which he's got to get...

Of course, Bradley had sought the endorsement too. But Fineman knew enough not to say it:

FINEMAN (continuing directly): ...which he's got to get, and he's sort of turning himself into a combination of Walter Mondale and Dick Gephardt, the lunch-bucket street-corner Democrat—the guy who grew up on Wisconsin Avenue.

Oops. Fineman should re-check his Hardball spin-notes—he's supposed to say that the pampered Gore grew up on Massachusetts Avenue. At any rate, the plain meaning of Fineman's text was clear—pursuing the AFL-CIO nod makes a Democrat become Walter Mondale. An inventive host knew that sweet song:

MATTHEWS: This guy is morphing into Mondale! Why would anybody running in 1999, running for the presidency in 2000, want to be Walter Mondale? Why would you want to be the regular of all times?

Fineman noted that Walter Mondale did at least get the nomination. But a restless host, still searching for answers, posed the same question to former congressman Ben Jones. And wouldn't you know it—darn these irregular guests—Ben Jones made an obvious observation:

JONES: I think Gore deserves the union endorsement. You dance with who brung ya, he's been a strong supporter, and he's been there for them. And don't think that Bill Bradley wasn't trying to get it. Anybody running for the Democratic nomination wants the labor support.

If was approximately the most obvious point in the world, but Matthews and Fineman would never have said it (see postscript), because it ruins a thoroughly enjoyable tale, that Bradley is the noble outsider. A tabloid talker moved quickly on, completely ignoring the point Jones had made. But soon he confronted another irregular—Peter Beinart, fresh-faced new TNR chief—and he got a few answers that had lusty cheers ringing out through DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters:

MATTHEWS: What do you think of the new Al Gore?...Why does he need to put on a new costume and to come out there with this sort of aggressive, sort of kinetic, bionic kind of performance that is so much out of character with his public performances of the last twenty or thirty years?

Asked the world's dumbest possible question, Beinart gave the obvious answer:

BEINART: Well, because everything he's been doing over the last six months has led to people like you saying he's in free fall.

Polite guests don't say things like that. But our analysts were already lustily cheering because of the previous exchange with the rookie. We couldn't help chuckling as a tabloid talker gave an involuntary, brief discourse on method:

BEINART: You're right that the labor endorsement holds some problems as well. It certainly—his whole new thrust plays into Bradley's strategy trying to cast [Gore] as the insider—

MATTHEWS: Mondale—

BEINART: On the other hand, think what we'd be saying if they hadn't endorsed. Then we'd be saying it was an apocalypse. So—

MATTHEWS: Well that's right. It's a better of two, a better of two—it's a lesser of two evils.

Of course! If he gets the endorsement, that's a bad thing. But if he doesn't get it, that's real bad too! In the studied buffoonism of the inventive show Hardball, Gore is danged if he does, and he's danged if he don't. We quoted Dionne's telling comment on Monday, and Tuesday, a talker explained the whole thing. Is it surprising that wrestlers are running for office when our discourse is conducted like this?

But granting that Hardball is a form of pro wrestling, does that mean that Gore is being treated unfairly? Proving double standards is virtually impossible. Some closing thoughts on the question tomorrow.


Tomorrow: We close with this topic—for now.

Latest mots from your Pulitzer prize-winner: On the subject of danged if you do and danged if you don't, Maureen Dowd—the regent; the best of us all—had this penseé in her column on Sunday:

DOWD: The cautious Gore's choice of the incautious Brazile is strange, and like so many of the Vice President's moves, it has caused a lot of people to shake their heads and say, "Why is he doing that?" [Dowd's emphasis]

See? Gore is too cautious—and not cautious enough! It's amazing to think that the Pulitzer crowd could think this is the best that we offer.

Visit our incomparable archives: Would a polite guest like Fineman ever have mentioned that Bradley went after the labor nod too? It slipped his mind last evening. We were reminded of another recent performance, in which Fineman failed to mention an unhelpful fact. Courtesy counts inside Washington, folks. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/8/99.