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15 November 1999

Our current howler (part II): Been searchin’

Synopsis: Are hopefuls other than Gore getting trashed? Our analysts have looked—but in vain.

Honest John, on the loose
Roger Simon, U.S. News, 9/27/99

Puff Daddy
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 possibilities—common sense would suggest that it may be the case—but 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 else.

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 press—the 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 of him.

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 true—that 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 the "Swoon:"

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 some conservatives.

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 length—perfectly accurately, we'd have to say—that the press corps is constantly doggin' Gore, often about things that are hopelessly trivial. The caller went on to a larger claim—that the press corps trashes Democrats in general:

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 underdogs—people 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 complaint—her 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 again—a pattern in which major pundits and scribes simply bury good news about Gore.


Tomorrow: Gore has pulled ahead in New Hampshire—and 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 Press:

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 memory—for attention, for detail?

LUCAS: Super. Bill is one of the most intelligent people I've ever known, I've had the opportunity—Bill 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 us...

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 point—it 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 Bradley—and 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.