12 November 1999
Our current howler (part I): Wheres the rest of them?
Synopsis: We waited for more silly columns on Bush. Six months later, THE HOWLERs still waiting.
George W. Bushs Secret of Success
Gwendolyn Parker, The New York Times, 5/28/99
Letter to THE DAILY HOWLER
The Pals and Palettes of Al
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 11/10/99
Ah yes! It's well we remember the days of spring, when we came
on an op-ed by Gwendolyn Parker, brought to us by the angry analysts
shaking their fists in the air. Parker had a great big complaint
about Republican hopeful George Bush:
PARKER (paragraph 1): George W. Bush recently revealed that
though he believes his name and family may have afforded him opportunities,
he thinks his successes in business are the result of "results
and performance." To me, it's a telling admission. For in
this one instance, George Bush, the son, is telling us we should
disbelieve the obvious.
To Parker, it was simply obvious that Bush had been helped
by the substantial luck of his birth. After all, Parker knew that
despite her own great qualitiesand she listed them for usshe
too had been helped out in life. She'd been helped along by her
Harvard degree, which she also remembered to mention:
PARKER: So I painfully marvel: How can George W. Bush, born
into a family whose wealth and power and privilege far outstrip
my own, not similarly see the truth about his own life?
Psychiatrizing followed next, as Parker tried to figure why
Bush couldn't just tell the truth. After all, look how understanding
PARKER: I wouldn't think less of Governor Bush, if he just
admitted that he'd been lucky, certainly very lucky, and left
it at that.
Parker isn't just big-hearted, though. She's also deeply thoughtful:
PARKER: But I worry about a Presidential candidate who feels
compelled to reform luck and privilege into primarily the sweat
of his own brow. I worry particularly about how many American
lives he'll need to misinterpret so that he can continue to tell
the story he likes top tell about himself.
We thought the column was foolish, and absurdly self-servingall
that was missing was Parker's resumé, she was so busy walking
us through her own virtues. But one of those virtues didn't seem
to be common sense, we did feel fairly certain of that. We do
think there are elements of Gov. Bush's business biography that
the press corps has pretty much tended to gloss. But the idea
that a hopeful should traipse about describing the head start
Daddy gave himsorry. Too silly. It would have been better if
Parker had used her great smarts to write about Bush's life on
The column appeared shortly before the formal kick-off to Gov.
Bush's campaign; at the time, the press corps had had great sport
with the Gore farm chores flap for two months. We instructed the
analysts to start a Bush file, assuming we'd have other columns
to critique, along with Parker's. We waited to gather the first
sorry batch of silly critiques slamming The Dub. Silly uswe assumed
that the gruesome, ongoing coverage of Gore would soon be repeated
in the case of Bush.
But surprise of surprises, the Bush file still sits, waiting
for other submissions. In truth, the treatment of Bush when he
kicked off his campaign was little short of glowing. In early
July, we did step forward; the Los Angeles Times published an
account of Bush's National Guard service that we thought was a
textbook of insinuation and spin. We published four articles criticizing
that coverage, arguing that the Times had offered no evidence
at all that anything inappropriate had occurred (see THE DAILY
HOWLER, 7/12/99 through 7/15/99).
We also spoke up in August, during the Bush cocaine flap; we
argued that we're all better off, on balance, when the press stays
away from such topics. And when Dana Milbank penned a treatment
of Bush that we simply thought smutty, we wrote a column criticizing
that (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/17/99; more on that column to come).
But all in all, the press coverage of Bush has beenas it should
berespectful. Indeed, the New York Times has at times been laugh-out-loud
funny in its fawning treatment of Bush. We've been trying to clear
space in our schedule to do a series on the Times, especially
on the laughable coverage it provided this summer. But as you
know, we think the old "double standard" argument is
the hardest to make; it's virtually impossible to prove that coverage
is unfair. It's easier to demonstrate that coverage is
false; we try to stick to that standard in our treatment,
and so we've generally stayed away from claims that Bush coverage
has been inappropriately positive.
But while coverage of Bush has been largely respectful, such
has simply not been the case with Vice President Gore. Indeed,
as our Parker-Bush file kept gathering dust, our files on the
Gore coverage grew fatter and fatter, until we were finally driven
to the conclusion we've voiced beforethe press corps story of
the year has been the negative coverage of Gore. And we felt that
press corps reaction to the Dem town hall forum was the most striking
example of that coverage yet. Press reaction, which we've detailed
for two weeks, provided a virtual laboratory experiment in those
aspects of press culture which we have long critiqued.
But in the past few weeks, a pair of letters from HOWLER readers
have raised a point that was troubling us too. Here is one of
the letters, received this week, reprinted here in full:
LETTER: I've enjoyed reading your comments over the past few
months. Thank you for your observations which I often found to
be interesting and eye opening. In my opinion, Gore is fortunate
to have the negative press reports so early in the process rather
than later. I'm sorry to have to quit visiting your site, but
your rantings about how bad Gore is being treated is beginning
to sound like whining. There are other candidates than Gore (I
like Bradley at this time) who I'm sure receive their fair share
of unfair coverage. It just seems lately, you have focused solely
on the mistreatment of Gore which has resulted in my wondering
if you are biased in your rants. Sort of ironic.
Anyway, thank you again for providing insight on political
Good luck in the future.
The writer raises timely points about THE HOWLER's coverage.
Why so much recent focus on the coverage of Gore? Is it true that
other candidates are receiving similar "unfair coverage?"
Is it a reflection of "bias" to focus on the treatment
of one candidate? We'll take a look at all these questions in
our next group of reports.
We do make one immediate critique of our reader's letter, however.
No candidate is fortunate to receive unfair coverage, no matter
when that coverage occurs. As citizens, we should expect that
the press corps be, yes, respectful, and we should also expect
that the press corps be competent and professional. We'll offer
an overview of all the points this letter raised in our next three
Monday: Are other hopefuls receiving unfair coverage?
A note in Dana Milbank's current TNR column suggests that
Bush's day may soon come.
Note to our letter writer: We "like Bradley at
this time" tooalong with a number of candidates. We think
there are excellent candidates in both parties, as we have stated
before. At the time, for example, we said the Dem town hall forum
"featured two smart, experienced pols, responding to very
sharp questions." We're not surprised that Democrats watching
the forum scored it even (Bradley 39, Gore 38); we thought both
hopefuls were impressive. On the Republican side, we think Senator
McCain is running a remarkably challenging campaign, and was fabulous
at the Republican forum; that Gary Bauer couldn't give a dumb
answer if he tried (we don't agree with many of his views); that
Steve Forbes is correct to take credit for completely changing
GOP tax policy (we don't personally favor a flat tax); and that
Governor Bush's electoral success in Texas is astonishing, and
speaks for itself. But THE DAILY HOWLER isn't here to evaluate
hopefuls; THE DAILY HOWLER evaluates the press. It is not a reflection
on Candidate X if candidate Y gets unfair treatment. Indeed, it
isn't even a reflection on Candidate Y; the fact that the farm
chores flap was a press corps disgrace does not mean that
Gore should be president. We don't express a view on that score,
other than to say what we've said beforethere's a whole range
of qualified hopefuls to choose from. But don't tell that to the
scribe we limn next:
Not-deep dish: Maureen Dowdthere can be no more questionis
the dumbest person living on earth. She finally convinced us with
a few early paragraphs in her column of November 10. "So
Al and I are dishing about clothes," she begins. And then
she reveals a long-held fearthat eventually "a president
or vice president would want to hash over something I didn't know
much about, like the money supply."
One thing's certaina prez would have plenty of topics to choose
from. The dim scribe took our prize saying this:
DOWD (3): Nah. With this White House, I'm safe. The deeply
important issues are sex and clothes.
(4) I ask the vice president about his new color palette.
He's in his casual uniform, a blue shirt to bring out his eyes,
a heathery brown sweater, khakis and black cowboy boots.
In other words, Dowd asks Gore about his clothes,
which proves that clothes are what matters to Gore! The dumbness
simply never stops with the Times' tireless trivia-hound.