15 October 1999
Our current howler: It never stops
Synopsis: Ceci Connolly lambasted poor Bradley and Gorefor something The Dub does too.
Democratic Duels Costly Promises
George Hager and Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 10/9/99
Commentary by James Carville
Meet the Press, NBC, 9/12/99
Here on the sprawling campus of DAILY HOWLER World Headquartersgently
nestled in the rolling foothills of Baltimore County's horse countrySaturday
morning is quiet time, given over to rest and reflection. We normally
take in some Washington Journal, occasionally enjoying
both shows. So it was with real surprise, last Saturday morning,
that we heard a timorous knock on our door. What could possibly
have led the analysts to interrupt at so private a time?
But then, of course! What else could it be? Ceci Connolly was
at it, again! The analysts deftly directed our gaze to the first
paragraph of her page one Post story:
CONNOLLY (paragraph 1): Vice President Gore and Democratic
rival Bill Bradley have already made campaign promises that would
spend every penny of the available federal budget surplus for
the next 10 years, and possibly more, calculations show.
We've never doubted that Connolly is calculating. But we were
a bit surprised by the lead, and by the headline, for reasons
that all surely see.
The headline spoke of the "costly promises" of the
Democrat Duelists (see above); the subhead said "Gore, Bradley
Plans Projected To Erase $1 Trillion Surplus." The opening
paragraph said the hopefuls' promises would use up the ten-year
projected surplus. Connolly quickly elaborated:
CONNOLLY (2): ...[E]ven with an estimated $1 trillion pot of money
to spend...the leading candidates are having trouble
making their spending proposals match the available money.
(3) Far more than the Republicans in the race, the two Democrats
have both proposed ambitious spending initiatives that they say
offer the best opportunity for capitalizing on America's prosperity.
The headline on the page A6 jump? "Gore, Bradley campaign
promises would exhaust budget surplus."
We were a little surprised by that page A6 headthough it perfectly
captured the sense of the piecebecause someone else's "campaign
promises" would exhaust the projected surplus too. That hopeful,
of course, is Gov. Bush, who also has made a set of proposals
that would more than offset the projected surplus. Our eyes scanned
down the Connolly piece, looking for some sort of mention of that.
Normally, Connolly omits information that gets in the way
(see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/99 and 7/19/99). But this time, by
gorry, there it was, a little-bitty mention in paragraph 14:
CONNOLLY (14): Democrats aren't the only ones with potential
budget problems. Simply by endorsing the GOP-controlled Congress's
$792 billion, 10-year tax cut, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Arizona
Sen. John McCain and the other Republican candidates effectively
spend most of the non-Social Security surplus as well.
So why are Gore and Bradley singled out for big headlines?
Here's whyget your parsing caps on:
CONNOLLY (15): It is the Democratic candidates, though, who
have relied most heavily on new government programs to bolster
Oh-h-h. After that, Connolly returned to her principal mission,
thrashing those big-spending Dems.
We thought we'd seen it all from Connolly, but her capacity
for invention seems endless. Go back and reread paragraph one
of her pieceit applies to Bush as well (see below). The page
one headline, and the A6 headline, also apply to The Dub. And
why are Gore and Bradley subjected to a scolding piece, which
seeks to demonstrate that they can't meet a budget? Because, we're
told in a tiny aside, their use of the projected surplus is achieved
primarily through "new government programs." Bush's
use of the projected surplus can be described in a different way.
On the basis of this tiny dodge, a bit of page one propaganda
Go back over the basics, folks. Page one headline: "Gore,
Bradley plans projected to erase surplus." Also true of Bush's
plans. Inside headline: "Gore, Bradley campaign promises
would exhaust budget surplus." Also true of Bush. First
paragraph: Gore and Bradley "have already made campaign
promises that would spend every penny of the available federal
surplus." True of Bush as well. Everything asserted of Bradley
and Gore is also true of Gov. Bush. But readers are told that
(barely) in a passing comment, while Gore and Bradley are thrashed
throughout, in language that is directly drawn from GOP big-spending
boilerplate of the 1980s.
By the way, as the editorial page of Connolly's paper has pointed
out, that $1 trillion surplus almost surely doesn't exist; it's
based on improbable spending caps that no one thinks future budgets
will meet. But then, it isn't just Post eds who have sketched
this outalmost every major publication in America has said this
in the past six months. Connolly's article is not only striking
for its remarkable selectivity, but also for its fiscal ignorance.
Would any of these three potential presidents submit budgets that
stuck to the spending caps (excluding new proposals)? Almost surely
not. So the $1 trillion surplus Connolly refers to would not exist
in their budgets to start with. If it's fiscal discipline that
alarmed troubled Connolly, surely she'd want to look into that
too. But that, of course, would mean rocking the boat in ways
that are journalistically incorrect.
By the way, no one mentioned this article on Washington
Journal. Why does Connolly keep doing this gruesome work?
That's simple. Because she can.
Omitted from our coverage: According to the Post, this
article was written by Connolly and by George Hager. But
Hager is a charming guy whom we like, so we dropped his name right
out of our coverage. Dropping out facts we don't much like is
a practice we first learned from Connolly.
Carville speaks: If there were going to be a $1 trillion
surplus, there would be three things we could do with it. We could
spend it on programs; return it in tax cuts; or apply it to the
federal debt. There's nothing wrong with any of those three ideas;
if we had a $3 trillion surplus, we might use a trillion on each.
But for the record, Bush's suggested ways of using the money have
been discussed by one naughty nabob:
CARVILLE: You know what Bush needs? A calculator! Bush so far
has come out for this, Mr. Russert, correct me when I'm wrong.
An $890 [sic] billion Republican tax cut. He said he wants to
repeal the Clinton tax increases of which no Republican, not even
Dick Armey, said he wants to repeal the Clinton tax increases.
And then he talked about expanding the EITC up. By my calculation,
that's somewhere between $1.5 and $1.6 trillion that he wants
to blow this budget deficit...This man has promised more than any
candidate in history.
Bush has also spoken of increased defense spending. Campaign
2000 has a long way to go; hopefuls never have budget proposals
firmed up this early (Sen. Dole's budget plan appeared in August
1996, less than three months before the election). But our question
is simple. Does this latest gruesome work from Connolly show how
the Post plans to cover this area? The groaning selectivity of
this article was astoundingand it massively misled the Post's
beat-up readers. But then, that minor problem has been on display
in Connolly's work all this year.
Coming Monday (through Thursday): David Maraniss limns
Gore in a biographical piece (from last Sunday's Washington Post).
We like David Maraniss even more than George Hager. But as we
read through the Maraniss piece last Sunday, dark, mordant chuckles
emerged from our throat. The analysts insist that we move ahead
with a look at this striking profile.