15 November 1999
Our current howler (part II): Been searchin
Synopsis: Are hopefuls other than Gore getting trashed? Our analysts have lookedbut in vain.
Honest John, on the loose
Roger Simon, U.S. News, 9/27/99
Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard, 10/4/99
Commentary by Walter Shapiro
Washington Journal, C-SPAN, 11/12/99
Commentary by Eric Burns, Cal Thomas, James Pinkerton, Jeff Cohen
Fox News Watch, Fox News Channel, 11/13/99
Commentary by Tim Russert, Jerry Lucas
Meet the Press, NBC, 11/14/99
Commentary by Sam Donaldson
This Week, ABC, 11/14/99
Is it true, what our letter writer implied last week? (See
THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/12/99.) Are there major hopefuls other than
Gore who "I'm sure receive their share of unfair coverage?"
This would certainly be one of the obvious possibilitiescommon
sense would suggest that it may be the casebut it's simply
not what our team of analysts have found as they've sifted the
coverage. As we said on Friday, our file of silly op-eds on Bush
has lay virtually empty since the Parker column last May; in that
time, we have strained to find unfair coverage of other hopefuls
to complement our reporting on Gore. Indeed, we thrilled at the
Buchanan flap last month, in which the usual stream of pundits
and scribes raced to misstate what Buchanan's new book had actually
said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/5/99, 10/6/99, 10/8/99). Talk about
a bunch of beta males! (And females.) As we would see them do
after the Dem town hall forum, the pundits hurried to get into
line, each one eager to go on TV and say the same things as everyone
But the truth is, we simply have not found much unfair
coverage of the other major hopefuls. We're open to suggestions
of specific coverage we've missed. But each of the letters we
received last week suggested there simply must be such
coverage, without offering specific examples. In fact, a different
consensus seems to exist concerning press coverage of a few major
hopefuls. Read, for example, this comment by Roger Simon concerning
press coverage of John McCain:
SIMON: So far, McCain has gotten terrific pressthe praise
has been so lavish, it has been dubbed the "McCain Swoon"and
he is so open, it is easy for reporters to start feeling protective
Simon discussed Sen. McCain's willingness to "schmooze"
and joke with reporters, the same point Fred Barnes discussed
in The Weekly Standard:
BARNES: I'll cite a couple of people who've gotten along famously
with the press largely because reporters like them...At the moment,
the likability award is shared by George W. Bush and John McCain,
rivals for the Republican presidential nomination.
Barnes noted that Bush is "fun to be around" and
"gives everyone, including reporters, a nickname," while
McCain "is legendarily accessible to the media and spins
reporters so cleverly that he seems candid and often actually
is." Can it possibly be truethat reporters are so unprofessional,
and so immature, that they grant favorable coverage to hopefuls
who give them nicknames? We don't know. But listen to something
Simon wrote about McCain in the same article where he mentions
SIMON: At 63, one of the oldest candidates in the race, [McCain]
is a bundle of energy...Except when he sleeps, he is virtually never
silent and when you say a lot of things, some strike gold"There
is no reason a good teacher should be paid less than a bad senator"and
some strike out, as when he seemed to be changing his position
on repealing Roe v. Wade and got weeks of angry commentary from
In fact, the remark about teacher pay is one of the oddest
things McCain regularly says. Can he really think that teachers
should be paid well into six figures? Can he really think of "no
reason" why that would be a bad idea? It's a comment that
screams for clarification. To Simon, it's gold, nothing else.
Last Friday morning, Walter Shapiro of USA Today appeared on
C-SPAN's Washington Journal; at one point, Shapiro voiced
another common view of the press corps' campaign coverage to date.
He answered a caller who complained at lengthperfectly accurately,
we'd have to saythat the press corps is constantly doggin' Gore,
often about things that are hopelessly trivial. The caller went
on to a larger claimthat the press corps trashes Democrats in
SHAPIRO: First of all, what the caller forgot to mention is
that the press has been exceedingly kind to Bill Bradley. And
I think there is bias in the press. The bias in the press
is that we have tremendous weakness for underdogspeople who don't
fit the mold, who don't look like they're reading from cue cards
written by their aides.
Shapiro's claim about underdogs could hardly speak to one part
of the caller's complainther claim that the press has been inappropriately
friendly to Gov. Bush. (For the record, that is a general claim
which we have not made at THE DAILY HOWLER.) But Shapiro's view
is frequently stated when pundits explain the press. On this Saturday's
Fox News Watch, for example, host Eric Burns questioned
the November 15 Newsweek cover story. He quoted
language from the magazine's cover:
BURNS: This past week's issue of Newsweek calls Bill
Bradley and John McCain "Straight shooters" who are
"scoring with the politics of authenticity." Cal [Thomas],
is that an editorial in the form of a cover and if so, is there
anything wrong with it?
Thomas restated Shapiro's argument:
THOMAS: Absolutely. We're a year out from the elections, the
last thing the media wants to see is locked-up nominations several
months before the first primaries. They want the horserace. They
want to sell magazines, they want to have lots of subjects to
talk about on shows like this. So they're going to create something.
Burns asked others for comment:
BURNS: Great point. Is it true? Is this in part, Jim [Pinkerton],
the magazines trying to raise a couple of runners-up to make their
stories more interesting?
PINKERTON: Absolutely. The media is in love with McCain and
BradleyIt is incredible bias. The story is shot through with inaccuracies.
Jeff Cohen jumped in. He agreed too:
COHEN: I think that they are the darlings of the media...
Here at THE HOWLER, we don't express a view on overall motives
of the media. But our tireless analysts have simply not
found significant unfair coverage of the other leading hopefuls.
And the Newsweek article provided a comical example of
something we have found again and againa pattern in which
major pundits and scribes simply bury good news about Gore.
Tomorrow: Gore has pulled ahead in New Hampshireand
there's a very good chance you don't know it.
Hoop-la: On Sunday, Senator Bradley held a Garden party
with a collection of NBA stars. And there's no reason at all why
he shouldn't have. But there are many reasons why this utterly
silly exchange should not have occurred on Meet the
RUSSERT: Jerry Lucas, you were Bill Bradley's teammate on the
New York Knicks, helped win the 1973 NBA championship. It was
said to me the other day by a close friend of Bill Bradley's that
you taught him some memory tricks, some memory games. You are
known for memorizing telephone books. It is said that Bill Bradley
can walk into a room and remember names because of something that
Jerry Lucas taught him. True?
We're not sure if Lucas can memorize phone books. But he showed
he can get down a sound bite:
LUCAS: Well I did teach Bill a few things, but Bill taught
me a lot of things too. And you know Mr. Bradley has always been
a hit in my book and in many other people's as well. He's always
been a winner. And when I say "hit," Tim, since I'm
a memory expert I want to teach you and America to remember something.
He will be a "hit" as a president too and that word
"hit" is spelled H-I-T. And to me that stands for honesty,
integrity, and trust. And those are the qualities that I remember
most from Bill, being a memory expert.
Remember, folks, we don't make these things up, and this exchange
occurred on NBC's Meet the Press. You'd think a newsman
would fall through the floor in shame at broadcasting such utter
nonsense. But Russert, a sports fan, powered on. He returned to
this inane topic three minutes later:
RUSSERT: Jerry Lucas, you mentioned you being a memory expert
and you teaching Bill Bradley some things. How would you rate
his intellect, his memoryfor attention, for detail?
LUCAS: Super. Bill is one of the most intelligent people I've
ever known, I've had the opportunityBill and I did some unique
things when we played. We did a couple of little things that the
rest of our teammates didn't know about to communicate with one
another in some very unique ways
Trust us. This is cut-to-break boring on ESPN2. But not on
NBC's Meet the Press:
RUSSERT (continuing directly): Like what? Like what?
LUCAS: Well, we had codes that I taught him and we used them
and no one else on our team knew about them...
RUSSERT: Were they audio codes? Or finger signs? Or
LUCAS: Audio codes.
RUSSERT: Audio codes!
LUCAS: These were audio codes that no one else understood but
This remarkably pointless conversation went on for fifteen
minutes. It wasn't much better on ABC, where Sam Donaldson grilled
Willis Reed and Earl Monroe:
DONALDSON: I want to ask you something about the playing days
that may have told us then something about Bill Bradley's character
and his personality...He liked to pass the ball instead of being
I'm the star and shooting all the time. Willis and Earl, what
does that tell you about him?
After some prompting, Reed got the pointit showed us that
Bradley likes to get everyone involved, which is how he would
be as a president. Then this:
DONALDSON: What about the idea that he had this big contract
but someone told me he had frayed shirts and used to go around
in old clothes and stuff?
On CNN's Late Edition, Wolf Blitzer interviewed Bradleyand
actually asked him about his health plan! Viewers of This Week
and Meet the Press needn't worry about such distractions.
In particular, Russert's interview (of Bob Cousy, Dave DeBusschere,
Bill Russell and Lucas) was one of the worst segments we've ever
seen on a Sunday talk show. This is not a reflection on Sen. Bradley,
by the way; it's a reflection on Russert and his NBC producers.
It's a simple insult to the public discourse to put such utter
cant on the air.