1 November 2001
Our current howler (part IV): ADVANTAGE: Berke
Synopsis: The rules of engagement all favored Berke. He still couldnt give what he promised.
Bush Winning Gore Backers High Praises
Richard Berke, The New York Times, 10/20/01
Lets face itit was "ADVANTAGE: Berke" when the front-running scribe plotted his Gore-bashin piece. Just think of the helpful rules of engagement under which his timeless study went forward.
First, in a city with thousands of "prominent Dems," he could pick out any sixteen he liked for his interviews. No random sampling need apply. And because he was allowed to quote anonymous Dems, there was no need to reveal their possible animus. Did a "former Dem senator" really tell Berke he was glad Bush won and Gore lost? Here at THE HOWLER, we dont have a clue. But we make the following observation just to highlight our basic pointNew Jerseys Bill Bradley is a "former Dem senator!" Did Berke interview someonelike the high-minded Bradleywho might have a lingering animus toward Gore? We dont know, and you dont know either. Thats the beauty of our press corps slippery methods.
But there are other procedures Berke got to follow which scream out "ADVANTAGE: Berke." Those advantages? Berke could paraphrase what his Dems said, and he could quote selectively. Lets return to that former Dem solon, examined in yesterdays piece (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/31/01):
BERKE (7): One former senator who was a staunch Gore backer said he was relieved that Mr. Bush was president because he feared that the former vice president would think he had all the answers.
(8) "He may know too much," the former senator said. "And he would have tried to micromanage everything."
Did this former Dem solon actually say "he was relieved that Mr. Bush was president?" As we noted yesterday, thats a paraphraseBerkes account of what this Dem said. The solon certainly may have said this, but Berke doesnt quote himand Berke works so hard to spin other statements that no, we dont automatically credit his account. Review, for example, the ludicrous way Berke tried to spin Carter Eskews remarks (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/31/01). Berkes paraphrase of this solon may be on point. But sorrybeing sane, our doubts linger.
Thats right, folksthe power to paraphrase is the power to spin, as we have long tried to tell you. In truth, Berke doesnt quote a single person who says he is glad that Gore lost. Berke got to pick any sixteen Demsand he still doesnt quote a single Dem saying it! The power to paraphrase is the power to spin, and it may be that Berke grabbed some power.
But something else is powerful toothe use of selective quotation. Look, for example, at what Berke does quote from the "former Dem senator." Gore "would have tried to micromanage everything," the solon says. And not only thatGore "may know too much." Surely those statementsquoted straight from the Dem Sens mouthshow he is glad that Gore lost.
Well actually, no, they dont show it. Lets imagine that something else may have happenedand by the way, this goes on all the time.
Lets imagine that this former Dem senator went took a walk through the pros and the cons. That is, lets imagine he was asked to compare and contrast, and helpfully listed the strengths and the weaknesses he sees in both Bush and Gore. Then lets suppose that Berke quotes him selectively, using only the bad things said about Gore. The quotes Berke gives are perfectly accuratebut they convey a completely false picture.
Did this occur with the former Dem Sen? At THE HOWLER, we dont have a clue. We dont know who this senator is, and we dont have a transcript of his remarks; were forced to trust Berkes intentions and judgment, and Berke engaged in laughable spin in "quoting" three major named Democrats. Jot it down, readersabsent a full transcript, anonymous quoting is utterly worthless unless you can put your full faith in the journalist. And sorryafter reading Berkes treatment of Eskews remarks, wed have to be crazy to do that.
So lets review the Berkean method. He got to pick the Dems he wanted. He didnt tell us who they were. He even got to pick and choose which of their comments he quoted. And with all that screaming "ADVANTAGE: Berke," Berke still didnt deliver the mail. He still didnt quote a single Dem who said he was glad that Gore lost.
Are there Dems who now are glad that Bush won? Without question, there certainly may be. And certainly, some may have said so to Berke, though theres no real way to be sure from this piece. But Berke picks a seemingly minuscule "N;" fails to say how large it is; fails to say who his subjects are; and tells us how one Democrat "sounded." He pretends to be completely shocked when Gores top aide wont trash Stupid Bush. In truth, this article should be presented in j-schools as a prime example of how not to function. So why would Berke pen such a piece? Tomorrow, we speculate freely.
Tomorrow: Incomparable musings.
Visit our incomparable archives: How big an advantage do spinners get when they pick-and-choose their interview subjects? Ceci Connolly wrote the book. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/4/00.