2 November 1999
Our current howler (part IV): Highly programmed
Synopsis: By Friday, the pundits all said the same thing about Gore. It was different right after the forum.
Commentary by David Brooks
The NewsHour, PBS, 10/29/99
Commentary by Elizabeth Arnold
Washington Week in Review, PBS, 10/29/99
No Cheap Shots
Mary McGrory, The Washington Post, 10/31/99
Commentary by Tony Blankley
Hardball, CNBC, 10/28/99
Bradleys Gestalt Therapy
Gail Collins, The New York Times, 10/29/99
Commentary by Margaret Carlson
Capital Gang, CNN, 10/30/99
Commentary by Gloria Borger
Larry King Live, CNN, 10/27/99
Commentary by Brian Williams, Lisa Myers
The News with Brian Williams, MSNBC, 10/27/99
Democrats Echo Themes in Face-Off
Ceci Connolly and Dan Balz, The Washington Post, 10/28/99
Gore again chides Clinton for affair during N.H. debate
Bill Sammon, The Washington Times, 10/28/99
Yep. By Friday, the pundits all knew how Gore and Bradley "came
across." Gore had been programmed, hyperactive and phony;
Bradley came across as authentic. It didn't much matter where
you turned. Let's start with David Brooks on the NewsHour:
BROOKS: I thought Bradley wiped the floor with [Gore]. I think
Bradley came out and said I'm a grown-up guy, I'm sitting here
telling you what I believe. Al Gore struck mehe took the focus
group viagra...Somebody compared him to an animal that has been chained
up and they let him loose and he came out oozing compassion.
Elizabeth Arnold saw Gore pretty much the same way:
ARNOLD: I would say that Vice President Al Gore was so determined
to appear relaxed and connect with the people that he was
practically leaping off the stage for personal details of
the questioners' lives.
Mary McGrory had noticed that too:
MCGRORY: Gore has been programmed to relax, which is
still a reach for him...He demonstrated hyper-animation, quizzing
the questioners, asking them about their children, walking to
the front of the stage.
Even that! Walking to the front of the stage! Imagine! Tony
Blankley, in his vulgar way, said he thought Gore was all programmed
BLANKLEY: Gore looked like he was the kind of person who's
doing sex after reading a book about how to do it.
In the Times, Gail Collins didn't think Gore was "hyper-animated;"
she thought he was "overstimulated:"
COLLINS: Al Gore has a personality without a thermostat, and
when he tries to look animated he practically crashes into the
wallboard...He bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the kid who asks
the teacher for more homework.
Brooks enjoyed the line about homework so much, he quoted it
on the NewsHour. Speaking of homework, we presume we don't
have to name all the pundits who pretty much copied off each others'
papers, all of them straining to say the same thing about what
they had seen at the forum. The savants all noticed the very same
thingGore had seemed staged, rehearsed, and programmed. He was
"sweaty," said Margaret Carlson on Capital Gang,
who had many spin points right in place:
CARLSON: In this forum, Bradley came across as more authentic
than Gore does because [Gore's] been told to adopt some of the
Clinton, the Clinton personality ticsgetting off the stool,
asking the [questioners'] namesand that worked
in the last election.
Almost everyone saw that, when Gore asked folks questions,
the technique was plain old "Clintonesque."
Yep. If there's one thing the celebrity press corps just loves,
it just loves to all voice the same judgments. The June Taylor
Dancers look like atoms in space compared with this synchronized
crew. Determined to speak on subjective matters, the corps is
also determined to speak with one voicehappily mouthing
a single story, a tale which begins who knows where. By Friday,
the pundits were happily scripted, uniformly stunned by Gore's
sorry outing. Gore had been programmed, rehearsed, and Clintonesque.
Bradley had been more authentic.
So it's odd to note that this is not what was said immediately
after the forum. Strangely, several major scribes who immediately
went on TV hadn't seen the event this way at all! Nopebefore
the gang could get its story straight, the forum had seemed very
different indeed. Weird! First scribe out was Gloria Borger, reporting
on Larry King Live:
KING: Was this, Gloria, in your opinion, a good night for the
former senator [Bradley]?
BORGER: I think it was a good night for both of them.
I hate to be so mooshy about this, but I think that both did what
they wanted to do. I think Bill Bradley got a chance to present
himself as the outsider candidate...And I think Al Gore got an opportunity
to show off his expertise, to talk about his experience and he
also took a couple of whacks at Bill Bradley...
Typical of the celebrity press corps, Borger apologized for
not being negative. But when King asked how the debate had struck
other scribes, Borger never said a wordnothing at allabout Gore
being programmed, or rehearsed, or unrelaxed. Which put her in
line with Lisa Myers, on air at the very same time:
MYERS (to Brian Williams): I think both men did very,
very well and probably accomplished what they set out to do.
The pressure was really on Al Gore tonight. He had to prove that
he isn't a stiff. And I think he came across as relaxedhe
told a joke, which a few people laughed...he did a good job. He had
a fact and a program for every answer without seeming too programmed...I
think that both men should be very happy with the way the evening
We swear it, folks, that's just what she saidGore "came
across as relaxed." It provoked even Williams, the handsome
anchor, to offer unscripted remarks:
WILLIAMS: Good points allGore was looser, and Bradley
Wow! Even the fashion man said it! And back in the press room,
as reporters typed stories, how had they perceived the
forum? Ceci Connolly and Dan Balz, in the next morning's Post:
CONNOLLY AND BALZ: For the most part, the hour-long event was
marked more by civility and general agreement on a wide range
of issues than by disagreement and rancor...Both men appeared
Really! Connolly said Gore was "relaxed," just like
Myers! Bill Sammon, in the Washington Times:
SAMMON: Mr. Gore seemed more animated than Mr. Bradley, who
took a professorial approach that sometimes neared detachment.
Really! So, to Sammon's eye, it was Bradley's demeanor
had almost seemed a little bit odd! A few of the major papers
we review did note, the next day, that Gore had asked more questions
of the audience. But none of them identified that as strange,
although most of the papers did offer some thoughts as to how
the two hopefuls "came across."
The power of the celebrity press corps to all-say-the-same-thing
is a power we've observed here before. It was perfectly enacted
in last week's forum, as these comments help make crystal clear.
On Wednesday night, only one punditHoward Finemanvoiced the
view that would soon Become Law; only Fineman went on TV and voiced
the essence of the spin-that-would-come:
FINEMAN: What I saw was a guy, namely Al Gore, trying very
hard to be relaxed, to connect, as Lisa said, and doing it, even
if in a mechanical, Al Gore way.
A number of pundits gave flash reactions on the King and Williams
shows (see postscript). Only Fineman gave a hint of the view all
scribes would soon, by law, avow.
But leave all that aside, dear friends, and answer this one
puzzling question. How embarrassing is it when McGrory and Carlson,
two major scribes, will stoop to the level they did this weekendwill
stoop to calling Gore inauthentic and programmed because he
got off his stool when it was his turn to speak! Incredible!
None of the seven candidates in the week's two forums ever
stayed on his stool while he spoke. And you're invited to imagine
what the corps would have said if the stiff, distant Gore had
done that. People who can say such remarkable thingswell,
we're going to be perfectly frank. They should go find a job they
are able to do, and stop debasing our priceless public
That's right. When a journalist can give an answer as inane
as the one Carlson gave (see above), her employer should relieve
her of further duties. But of course, Elizabeth Arnold cited Gore
for leaving his stool, too. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/99.
It's what we've told you many times. When this hapless press
corps gets on your case, your danged if you do and you're danged
if you don't. It's Lord of the Flies, as we've mentioned
beforethey'll say you're strange if you get off your chair
without asking permission! Straining and groaning to find
a new spin, there's no nonsense too silly for this crew to repeat.
Tomorrow we'll start a four-day look at where the corps' silly
spin comes from.
Tomorrow: Jeff Greenfield previewed the Dem town hall.
He predicted the spin, word for word.
Name game: That's right, folks. When CelebCorps gets
on you, everything's wrong. Gore has been criticized since
the forum for addressing questioners by their first names (see
Carlson, above). Our analysts immediately scrambled into action,
reviewing the tapes of the forums. Their finding: Gore addressed
questioners by name three times, out of thirteen questions asked
him. And in the GOP forum, guess what went on? Four of the first
seven questioners, completely appropriately, were addressed by
their first names, too! (After that, our bored analysts stopped
counting.) Four GOP hopefuls (McCain, Bauer, Forbes, Hatch) addressed
questioners by first names at some point.
On such mindless distinctions our celebrity press corps pretends
to conduct a good-faith analysis. We think the truth is something
quite different, as we will continue to explore all this week.
Flashers: Pundits who gave flash reactions Wednesday
night. Larry King Live: Bob Woodward, Jeff Greenfield,
Gloria Borger, Larry King. The News: Claire Shipman, Lisa
Myers, Howard Fineman, Brian Williams. Only Fineman expressed
any part of the view that would soon be full-blown Pundit Law.