19 November 1999
Our current howler (part I): Lets play airball
Synopsis: A tabloid talkers powerful new alliance threw up a brick Wednesday night.
Commentary by Chris Matthews, Susan Glasser, Stuart Stevens
Hardball, CNBC, 11/17/99
My Daughter Is Alive
Howard Kurtz, The Washington Post, 11/17/99
Career Montage and Testimonials
James Dao, The New York Times, 11/17/99
Bradley biography emphasizes career in Senate over sports
Mimi Hall and Elizabeth Lipstock, USA Today, 11/17/99
A tabloid talker was just plain excited at the start of his
show Wednesday night:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well, here's a big-time media announcement.
Starting tonight, NBC has a new alliance with the Washington Post
and Newsweek. Joining me now from the Washington Post is
Susan Glasser. Thanks for joining us, Susan. This is going to
be a very powerful alliance here between us and the Post.
Wow! The analysts' eyes grew wide as saucers. A powerful new
alliance for their favorite talker! Imagine the learning
that was sure to take place!
And soon the talker and his hand-picked crew were examining
new ads from TV. A new ad running to support Bill Bradley had
captured a talker's attention. At its close, the ad praised a
Bradley legislative achievement, with a woman named Maureen Drumm
BRADLEY AD: [Maureen Drumm] When I was pregnant with my second
child, Bill Bradley proposed a law that women be allowed to stay
in the hospital for 48 hours. Thanks to Senator Bradley, my daughter
is alive today. That's the type of man that I want in the White
But the talker was having none of it. He turned to his new
MATTHEWS: Well, let's go to the heart of Bill Bradley.
We haven't been too hard on him around here. We're going to be
tough tonight. Bill Bradleywhere's the dishonesty in that ad?
Coolly, Glasser outlined the problem:
GLASSER: Well, I think the controversy that's already broken
out is the third part of the ad, which is the woman, Maureen Drumm,
saying that her daughter is alive today because of Bill Bradley,
which is a pretty sweeping claim. It's a little bit of a reach
to say that 48-hour hospital stays translate into life or death
A talker interrupted with the nugget:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Especially since the bill he
put in didn't pass till two years after the kid was born!
GLASSER: Well, not only that but
MATTHEWS: Well, that's enough, by the way. If the kid's alive
because of a long hospital stay by the mom and that little hospital
stay is something that occurred two years before the bill was
passed you have to say that the ad is BS. On that count.
Glasser agreed; she said the ad was especially problematic
because Bradley had promised "a higher standard." Matthews
said the ad called Bradley's "authenticity" into question,
and said Maureen Drumm had "made up a story." Glasser
and a talker both wryly remarked that Drumm was "sticking
to her story." No one, in the course of the discussion, ever
challenged the facts of the case as the two allies had laid them
Unfortunately, anyone who had read Glasser's paper that very
morning would have known that the facts here were being misstated.
Here is part of a Howard Kurtz "ad watch" in the Post
that very morning:
KURTZ (11/17): [Bradley] campaign spokesman Anita Dunn credits
Bradley for the birth of her third child because she would
have been afraid to have the baby without the 48-hour law. (Kurtz's
The third child had been born after Bradley's bill passed.
The facts had been explained in the New York Times, also:
DAO (11/17): Ms. Drumm's remarks are somewhat confusing because
the bill did not pass until after her second daughter was born.
But Ms. Drumm said in a interview that passage of Mr. Bradley's
bill gave her the confidence to have a third daughter in 1998.
Or maybe you read USA Today:
HALL AND LIPTOCK (11/17): Maureen Drumm's narrative makes it
seem as if Bradley's legislation literally saved her second child's
life. But that child was born before the bill became law. The
daughter she refers to is her third child. Drumm explained that
it was the passage of the law that gave her the courage to have
a third child.
In short, Drumm had a dangerous first pregnancy; the bill was
proposed during her second pregnancy; she credits the law with
giving her the courage to have a third child. Her testimonial
is a bit of a stretch, and her narrative has been poorly edited.
But the facts of this case are quite plainly not what the
tabloid talker and his new ally said. And there is no evidencenone
whatsoeverthat Drumm has "made up a story." Does a
talker ever know what he's talking about? Three different
papers explained these facts Wednesday morning, including Glasser's
own paper, which she seems not to have read. As for Glasser, and
NBC's new allianceour cheeks rouged when the powerful new allies
said this, toward the end of their embarrassing performance:
MATTHEWS: Susan, you guys broke this, in the Washington Post.
I get the idea from you [that] you did your homework on this.
Is this going to be part of the campaign wars, people like you
at the Post, studying each ad and understanding all the inconsistencies
GLASSER: Well absolutely. That's a part of our job.
The analysts roared. They knew it would be a campaign like
none other with the powerful new alliance on the job.
One stood apart: It's always sad when an adman is more
careful with facts than two journalists, but that's how it went
Wednesday night. Stuart Stevens, an ad guy from the Bush
campaign, said this about Bradley's ad:
STEVENS: I'll be honest, I don't know a thing in the world
about this. Those are smart people over there, I think that either
they just flat out made a mistake, which happens, or they have
some reason to argue that what they say is true.
Hurrah for Stevens, who admitted he didn't know. In fact, three
things happened with this ad. Its testimonial was a stretch to
begin with; the agency did make an error (editing Drumm's
story); and they do have reason to argue that Drumm's story
is true. But a tabloid talker chose this as a topic for his programand
was plainly unaware of the basic facts that were explained in
three papers that morning.
Could it be? Is it possible that this Wednesday show
was really taped Tuesday? At the outset, Matthews refers to a
Glasser story which ran "today." But Glasser's story
ran on Tuesday. Nothing in the program's broadcast told viewers
they were getting stale, day-old bread. But then, viewers never
really know what they're getting when they turn on this embarrassing
Visit our incomparable archives: When we last visited
Glasser, she was failing to mention absolutely basic data in back-to-back
page-one stories. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/99 and 7/19/99.