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30 October 2001

Our current howler (part II): Sounder

Synopsis: Jim Moran didn’t say he was glad that Gore lost. But to Rick Berke, it sounded just like it.

Bush Winning Gore Backers’ High Praises
Richard Berke, The New York Times, 10/20/01


So anyway, Richard Berke interviewed six thousand Democrats. Or maybe it was really sixteen; when the press corps’ spinners write front-runnin’ tales, their claims sometimes get a bit hazy. In a moment of utterly laughable imprecision, Berke said he had interviewed "more than 15 prominent Gore loyalists" in the course of assembling his masterful piece (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/29/01). Alas! In the course of our years at the incomparable HOWLER, we’ve learned how to read our press corps’ slick claims. In the pages which follow, we’ll assume the worst—we’ll assume Berke’s "N" was roughly sixteen. To all appearances, Berke didn’t speak to a whole lot of Dems before making his big bold assertions.

And make no mistake—Berke soon made some sweeping claims about what "many Dems" are now saying. Or did he? Read his key second graf with some care:

BERKE (pgh 2): Many Democrats who once dismissed Mr. Bush as too naive and too dependent on advisers to steer the United States through an international crisis are now praising his and his advisers’ performance. Some are even privately expressing satisfaction that Mr. Gore, who tried to make his foreign affairs expertise an issue in the campaign, did not win.

As you know, our press corps’ spinners can be quite slick. In his first sentence, Berke does make a sweeping statement, but his sweeping statement is true on its face; as roughly everyone on earth must know, many Dems have voiced support and praise for Bush since September 11. They have done so saying that we need to speak with one voice in the trials ahead. In fact, it’s Berke’s second sentence which makes his real claim—and in that sentence, Berke only reports what some Dems are saying. According to Berke, some Dems have gone beyond mere praise for Bush. According to Berke, some Dems are "privately" saying they’re glad that Bush won and Gore lost.

To many Dems, those are nagging words as we ballyhoo national unity. Therefore, it’s intriguing to note how little evidence Berke supplies in support of his thesis. Berke, as we’ve noted, was quite assiduous, speaking to "more than 15" Dems. But only one of his Gang Of More Than Fifteen seems to have made the statements Berke describes; indeed, only one even seems to have possibly said he is glad that Bush won and Gore lost. Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue what "prominent Democrats" now think about Gore. But we do know this—there is little sign in Berke’s slippery piece that they’re bruiting the things Rick Berke said.

Readers, can you find "prominent Democrats" in this piece saying they’re glad that Bush won? Weirdly, it’s hard to find anyone saying it. For example, the first Dem quoted is Rep. Jim Moran. And here are the words which Berke quoted:

MORAN: "I feel comfortable with President Bush. I never thought I would utter those words."

"Even though I’m a Democrat and think the Supreme Court selected our president, I don’t think it’s to our disadvantage to have George Bush as president. Sometimes, you need a certain amount of braggadocio in your leaders."

What does Moran now think about Gore? At THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But even Berke couldn’t offer a quote in which Moran says he’s glad that Bush won and Gore lost. Moran says something much weaker than that; he says that it isn’t to our disadvantage to have Bush in office. Indeed, if a writer were pushing a different agenda, he could almost spin that as a grudging remark. Is "braggadocio" really the finest trait Moran could spot in Bush? Is "I feel comfortable" now a ringing endorsement?

No, Moran didn’t say he was glad that Gore lost. But note the laughable way Berke spins when he presents Moran’s words in his piece:

BERKE (2): Many Democrats who once dismissed Mr. Bush…are now praising his and his advisers’ performance. Some are even privately expressing satisfaction that Mr. Gore, who tried to make his foreign affairs expertise an issue in the campaign, did not win.

(3) Sounding relieved that Mr. Gore is not president, Representative Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, said: "I feel comfortable with President Bush. I never thought I would utter those words."

(4) He continued: "Even though I’m a Democrat and think the Supreme Court selected our president, I don’t think it’s to our disadvantage to have George Bush as president. Sometimes, you need a certain amount of braggadocio in your leaders."

Hay-yo! Moran sounds relieved that Gore lost, Berke judges—even though he didn’t say it. Before Berke reveals what Moran really said, he reports how it sounded to him.

Of course, if that’s the way we decide what’s been said, then anyone can be said to say anything. Indeed, do words matter at all when our press corps starts spinning? Berke also quotes Rep. Norm Dicks. And here’s how that passage kicks off:

BERKE (10): Representative Norm Dicks, a Washington Democrat who was one of Mr. Gore’s most ardent supporters, said his candidate might have handled the crisis as well as Mr. Bush—but not necessarily any better.

Huh? Say what? Could we hear that again? Was that really composed by a professional writer? This is Berke at his laughable best, trying to spin a preferred story. In this wonderfully jumbled paraphrase, Dicks says that Gore might have done as well as Bush (which also means that he might have done worse) but that he wouldn’t necessarily have done any better (which also means he might have done better). In short, if you actually untangle this risible mess, Dicks apparently said that Gore might have done as well as Bush, or he might have done better, or he might have done worse! Oh! And then, after assembling this horrible mess, Berke finally quotes what Dicks said. It’s clear why Berke had to build such a jumble. Alas! Dicks didn’t make Berke’s case, either:

BERKE (11): "People were wondering if Bush was up to it," Mr. Dicks said. "I think he’s answered that. The guy has really impressed people. One of the real strengths of this administration is that people do feel comfortable about Colin Powell and Dick Cheney in particular."

Of course, many people do feel good about Cheney and Powell (another left-handed compliment, by the way), and Dicks clearly said some nice things about Bush (as many, many Dems have done). But did Dicks even say so much as a word about being glad that Bush won and Gore didn’t? How weird—if Dicks said any such thing to Berke, Berke absent-mindedly forgot to include it.

Remember, Berke claimed—right at the top of his piece—that "some prominent Dems" are now "privately" saying they’re glad that Bush won and Gore lost. Without that kicker, Berke has no piece; if he simply reports that Dems are praising Bush, he is writing what everyone knows. But, despite some suspiciously slippery pre-packaging, it’s clear that neither Moran nor Dicks made the statement which Berke describes. Indeed, did any Dem say the thing Berke reports? It may be easier to find Osama himself than to find a Dem in this piece who did say it. Tomorrow, we continue our hunt for such "prominent Dems"—and our simpler search for a prominent spinner.

Next: Did anyone say they were glad that Gore lost? If they said it, Richard Berke didn’t quote them.