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 dont.
In Race for 2000, a Tortoise and Hare Start
Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post, 6/25/99
Bradleys New Gains
E. J. Dionne, The Washington Post, 9/24/99
Commentary by Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, Peter Beinart
Hardball, CNBC, 10/12/99
Gores 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 scribeswho 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 describedand 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
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). Sorrywhen 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 hopefulas 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 waythink 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 clearCelebCorps 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
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 Democratthe guy
who grew up on Wisconsin Avenue.
Oops. Fineman should re-check his Hardball spin-noteshe's
supposed to say that the pampered Gore grew up on Massachusetts
Avenue. At any rate, the plain meaning of Fineman's text was clearpursuing
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
itdarn these irregular guestsBen 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
irregularPeter Beinart, fresh-faced new TNR chiefand
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
BEINART: Well, because everything he's been doing over the
last six months has led to people like you saying he's in free
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 certainlyhis whole new thrust plays into
Bradley's strategy trying to cast [Gore] as the insider
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.
MATTHEWS: Well that's right. It's a better of two, a better
of twoit'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
Tomorrow: We close with this topicfor now.
Latest mots from your Pulitzer prize-winner: On the
subject of danged if you do and danged if you don't, Maureen Dowdthe
regent; the best of us allhad this penseé in her column
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 cautiousand 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.