17 December 1999
Our current howler (part I): The boys off the bus
Synopsis: Whats happenin out there in Gore-Bradley land? On Meet the Press, viewers heard a stale story.
Commentary by Tim Russert, Paul Gigot, Jack Germond
Meet the Press, NBC, 12/12/99
Commentary by Wolf Blitzer
Late Edition, CNN, 12/12/99
Bradleys Pledge Of Chivalry Wilts In Campaign Heat
Mike Allen, The Washington Post, 11/21/99
Bradley Accuses Gore Of Distorting Record
Mike Allen, The Washington Post, 12/3/99
Bradley Launches Pointed Rebuttal at Gore
David Broder, The Washington Post, 12/1/99
Commentary by Gwen Ifill, David Shribman
Washington Week in Review, PBS, 12/10/99
What's happenin' out there in Gore-Bradley land? Last Sunday,
Meet the Press viewers heard an old story. Tim Russert
hosted Paul Gigot and Jack Germond, who at one time were among
"the boys on the bus." Russert asked Gigot how the race
looked to him:
GIGOT: I see it as Bradley in many ways taking the McCain role,
the outsider, the character candidate, and Gore has been going
back at him with I think a remarkably negative appeal to the party's
base, using entitlements, using race, and so far it's working
because I don't think Bill Bradley is fighting back. Bill Bradley
seems to be staying above it all, says voters don't care about
this any more. I think he's wrong about that and he's got to decide
is this a street fight, which I think he's in, or is this a Quaker
Gigot's presentation was a bit selective. Bradley is proposing
a more far-reaching health plan than Gore, costing substantially
more. Gore has said Bradley lacks devotion to balanced budgets,
hardly a sop to the traditional Dem "base." But Gigot's
general themeBradley just won't fight backwas surely familiar
to viewers. Indeed, the theme first appeared after the October
27 town hall forum, in which Gore criticized the cost of Bradley's
health plan three times. Bradley didn't answer Gore forcefully
enough, pundits saidand some pundits still enjoy saying it.
The idea that Bradley won't fight back was heard throughout
this segment. Germond said that Bradley is trying to "appeal
to our better angelsasking us to be a little better than we've
been." Germond and Gigot listed areas in which Bradley could
attack Gore, but hasn't. Russert, citing a hand-out by the Bradley
campaign which accused Gore of "habitual lying," asked
if Bradley was now going to start to throw a few elbows. Our analysts
leaned forward when Germond said this:
GERMOND: The danger for Gore, Tim, is that some of the stuff
that his people have done is clumsy, is heavy-handed. And you
have to be careful about that. You know you don't want this really
dark stuff, the whole approach of sending stooges out to do things
Russert was intrigued by this also. "Like what, Jack?"
he interrupted. Germond simply shocked the senses with this, his
GERMOND: He sent a flip-flop duck, a quacking duck, into one
of the, some Bradley event. That is a kind of cheap politics,
you don't want to do that within the party I don't think.
Germond seemed to be referring to Bradley's Madison Square
Garden fund-raiser, at which someone in a chicken suit appeared.
This was his example of the "the really dark stuff"
done by "stooges" on behalf of Gore. For the record,
Germond seems a bit confused on the meaning of this disturbing
event. Over the past few election cycles, "Chicken George"
appearances have generally been staged to highlight a candidate's
refusal to debatea stance on the part of the authentic Bradley
which commentators tend not to mention.
The picture drawn by the boys-off-the-bus was echoed in some
ways on CNN's Late Edition. Wolf Blitzer questioned Tucker
BLITZER: All right, Tucker, we've also seen another development
this week, Al Gore coming out big-time, taking off the gloves,
going after Bill Bradley and in fact in almost every speech he
rips Bradley's policies.
After playing a remarkably mild clip of Gore criticizing the
cost of Bradley's health plan, Blitzer asked Carlson, "What
do you think of this new strategy from Al Gore?"
New strategy? Another development? At times like these, one
can only wonder what planet the pundits are broadcasting from;
again, Gore's direct criticisms of Bradley's proposals have been
widely discussed since their October debate. And the Meet the
Press panel was presenting a picture that was equally difficult
to square with reality. Although Bradley had been criticized back
in October for lack of response to Gore's critiques, reporters
on the trail had been writing for weeks about Bradley's criticisms
of Gore. On November 21, for example, a page one headline in the
Washington Post had read, "Bradley's Pledge of Chivalry Wilts
In Campaign Heat." Mike Allen's article started like this:
ALLEN (11/21) (paragraph 1): Bill Bradley's first television
ad promises "a different campaign," one free of bickering
and backbiting that he believes is the real root of voters' weariness
(2) So who was that tall, pensive fellow who over the last
two weeks accused Vice President Gore of using poor people "as
political footballs," of being "too timid" on gun
control, of failing to stand and fight for health care for all,
of abandoning fundamental Democratic principles, and of being
either inefficient or insincere in his opposition to new oil drilling
off California's coast?
That tall fellow, it turned out, was Senator Bradley, who had
made those perfectly ordinary critiques of Gore in the two weeks
of mid-Novemberand who told Allen in an interview "that
his different kind of campaign may get to look very conventional
very quickly, although he blamed Gore for pushing first."
Two days later, Allen reported an 11/22 Bradley speech in which
Bradley had "used the reelection of President Clinton and
the vice president as a symbol of all that is wrong with Washington;"
"Bradley Attacks Gore on Campaign Fund-Raising" was
the inside headline of the New York Times piece that day. The
headline in the December 3 Post read "Bradley Accuses Gore
Of Distorting Record." Allen's article opened like this:
ALLEN (12/3) (paragraph 1): Bill Bradley angrily accused Vice
President Gore yesterday of repeatedly lying about his record
and intentions, but said he did not believe he had been hurt by
their increasingly harsh debate over health care.
Allen was not the only scribe to notice these remarks; the
New York Times did a large article on Bradley's speech, and the
Washington Times headline on the day read "Bradley says Gore
is distorting record." Oh yestwo days before, a little-known
cub reporter named David Broder had reported an 11/30 Bradley
statement. "Bradley Launches Pointed Rebuttal at Gore,"
said the headline, and here was Broder's opener:
BRODER (paragraph 1): Bill Bradley struck back hard at Vice
President Gore's criticism of his health care plan today, saying
his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination simply proposes
to "take a broken system and throw more money at it."
Let's be clear: we offer no criticism of Senator Bradley for
any of these statements. We think these are perfectly ordinary
critiques, the kind found in most political campaigns. Our question
goes to the Meet the Press panel, who seemed to be reporting
from a campaign bus on Mars, so removed from reality was the picture
they drew. They told their viewers that Senator Bradley refused
to "fight back" against Gore's vile attacks. Beat reporters,
on the trail, had been reporting something different for a month.
Two nights before, on Washington Week in Review, a simple
reality-based question had been asked. Gwen Ifill addressed David Shribman:
IFILL: David, who can afford to lose in New Hampshire?
SHRIBMAN: I think the front-runners can afford to lose and
IFILL: Is that one of the reasons why we keep seeing Bill Bradley
on the attack?
SHRIBMAN: Yes, that is one of the reasons. He cannot afford
to lose the primary...
We state again: we imply no criticism of Bradley's campaigning.
And there was no suggestion by Ifill or Shribman that Bradley
had done anything wrong. But Shribman has been on the bus in recent
weeks, and Ifill is newer to star status than the Meet the
Press 3. Maybe that's why her program's viewers got a critique
that seemed current and informed.
Monday: Gore attacks, and Bradley won't. It's a story
the pundits love telling.
Astounding: There's no other word for today's top-of-page-one
story in the Washington Post. Headline? "McCain, Bradley
Gain in N.H. Poll." The article, describing a new Post-ABC
poll, quickly makes this assertion:
BALZ AND DEANE (paragraph 3): [Bush and Gore] maintain substantial
leads over McCain and Bradley in the national survey, but a separate
poll in New Hampshire, the state with the nation's first primary,
found McCain and Bradley now running even against the national
Now running even? Major polls had Bradley ahead in New
Hampshire in early October. The Post article never explains why
its headline says that Bradley is "gaining," or why
the writers say Bradley is "now" even (the new poll
actually shows Bradley leading, 38-35). But reading between the
lines of paragraph 28 (out of 30), it seems the Post is comparing
this poll to an earlier poll taken "[a]t the beginning of
September." We thought we'd seen it all with hapless reporting
of polls. But the Post here has managed to find a new way to confuse
and mislead its readers.
("McCain, Bradley Gain in N.H. Poll." Dan Balz and
Claudia Deane, The Washington Post, 12/17/99)
Close enough for Hardball: Dee Dee
Myers on Hardball last night, discussing the Bradley-McCain
pledge to forgo soft money:
MYERS: That raises the question, if either Bradley or McCain,
let's assume they're not running against each other, wins his
party's nomination, he's now pledged not to accept, not to allow
the party to use soft money on his behalf. What does that mean?
That means he's going to be facing what, 200, 250 million dollars
in spending by the other guy's party which will be unanswered
and that's going to put one of them at a disadvantage unless they're
running against each other, which is quite a long shot.
But Bradley, as is perfectly sensible, has said he will only
forgo soft money if his Republican opponent follows suit. (McCain
has said he will act unilaterally.) This position was restated
at yesterday's forum, which Myers had been booked to discuss.
Surely her error was immediately corrected, you say. Sorrydid
we mention that the program was Hardball?
TAMALA EDWARDS (continuing directly): But again, Chris, you
were talking about gimmicks and I think that's to a degree what
this is about. I mean, it's one thing to say they would be hurt
in a general election. These guys are doing their best just to
see clear to the primary...It's about trying to be the nominee.
Edwards, from Time, didn't know the facts either. In
fact, no one corrected what Myers had said. Edwards, of course,
did know what it meant. Surpriseit meant something unflattering.
(Hardball, CNBC, 12/16/99)