21 December 1999
Our current howler (part III): Down with negativity!
Synopsis: Blankley said Gore was playing real dirty. But he didnt give any examples.
Bradley the Loner: A Campaign Liability?
Mike Allen, The Washington Post, 12/11/99
A Campaign On Big Issues
E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post, 12/21/99
Accentuating the Negative
Ramesh Ponnuru, The New York Times, 12/4/99
Adieu, Bill Bradley
Tony Blankley, The Washington Times, 12/15/99
Commentary by Chris Matthews, Ben Jones
Hardball, CNBC, 12/9/99
Press corps Deportment Czar Eric Pooley scolded Vile Gore for
his manners. But he seemed to say that Gore's critiques of Bradley's
health plan actually did have merit (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/99).
Indeed, Pooley wasn't the only scribe who suggested Gore's critiques
were on target. In a review of Bradley's decision-making style,
Mike Allen said Bradley tends to consult too few experts, and
"has been burned in the process." His first example?
The "apparent omissions" in Bradley's health plan. Allen
explained how the plan was assembled:
ALLEN: [M]ore than 100 professors, doctors and others were
shown Bradley's health insurance plan before its release, according
to the campaign. But the lack of a single authoritative adviser
quickly showed. Gore began arguing, based partly on details that
were omitted from the plan, that Bradley's plan would knock the
federal budget out of balance and disproportionately hurt blacks
Kenneth E. Thorpe, a professor of health policy at Emory University...said
Bradley's staff sent him "a whole host of clarifications."
"They said, 'No, no, nothat's not what we meant,'"
Like Pooley, Allen seemed to think there were flaws in the
plan. And here's E.J. Dionne, just this morning:
DIONNE: Even some Bradley sympathizers concede that Gore asked
legitimate questions. Many who respect Bradley's reach for universal
coverage worry that his repeal of Medicaid could leave some among
the poor worse off. And Bradley's claim in Friday's debate that
little need be done about Medicare's finances in the short term
will give Gore a new opening.
How sound are the two hopefuls' competing health plans? At
THE HOWLER, we really aren't sure. But Pooley seemed to suggest
that, even if a rival's plan has flaws, it's just not good manners
to say so. Pooleycomplaining that Gore just won't behave while
seeming to say that his comments have meritevokes first-grade
elections for student council, when polite hopefuls meekly vote
for each other.
Should hopefuls keep on the sunny side? Writing about the Republican
race, Ramesh Ponnuru, of The National Review, wrote an
instructive New York Times column. The Forbes and Bush camps were
accusing one another of that old bugaboo, negative campaigning:
PONNURU: All this indignation is more than hypocritical. It
assumes there's something wrong with negative campaigning. But
criticism of other candidates and their ideas is a politician's
duty...One could easily make the case that negative campaigning (if
truthful) is more informative than positive campaigning. Voters
need to know that a candidate tried to raise their taxes more
than they need to know that he is "working to make a difference
for you," as his own ads would say.
Ponnuru, drawing an obvious distinction, says we should criticize
negative ads that are "misleading or demagogic," and
take instruction from those that are not.
But CelebCorps, chasing its latest silly fad, is off on a "good
manners" kick. Like Pooley, many have accused Vile Gore of
"low blows" without providing any useful examples. We
turn to a favorite, Tony Blankley, complaining of Gore's naughty
ways in a recent column. The imbalance between Blankley's rhetoric
and Blankley's evidence paints an instructive tableau.
Early on, the pious pundit describes Gore's gruesome conduct:
BLANKLEY: Mr. Gore is like an experienced club boxer who could
never defeat a true champion, but will beat the local boy every
day of the week. He knows all the dirty moves. He positions himself
between the referee and his opponent to hide the illegal rabbit
punch to the kidneys...Between rounds he'll sneak an irritant
on his gloves and rub the chemicals into his opponents eyes. It's
ugly, but against a palooka, it works.
"Mr. Gore is running a more disreputable version of Father
Bush's 1988 general election campaign," Blankley writes.
He then details the "snake oil" used by Dad-of-Dub in
dispatching Governor Dukakis.
Man! We don't have to tell you how angry the analysts were,
to think that this could be happening again! They leaned
forward, expectant, in their chairs, waiting for Blankley's examples.
Finally! A chance to really get the dope on all the things Vile
Gore has said. You can imagine how faces began to fall as they
scanned the pious pundit's first examples:
BLANKLEY: When Al Gore started accusing Mr. Bradley of planning
to destroy Medicaid and Social Security, Mr. Bradley let days
go by without responding.
Faces fell as the analysts noted the lack of direct quotation.
The incomparable young scholars have been trained to know it:
the power to paraphrase is the power to spin. The Bradley plan
would repeal Medicaid; according to Dionne, it's one of
the aspects of the Bradley plan that has even worried some Bradley
supporters. And did Gore say that Bradley was "planning to
destroy Social Security?" Blankley provided no quotes. So
what exactly had Gore said, and in what way were his comments
"dirty?" Absent-mindedly, Tony Blankley had forgotten
to say. According to Blankley, "The most Mr. Bradley could
ever muster was the charge that Mr. Gore was not speaking the
whole truth." Might this suggest that Gore was on point?
The possibility had escaped Blankley's gaze.
But Gore has been attacked in the most aggressive ways on this
kind of basis. For example, here is a tabloid talker, with a guest,
on a recent creative program:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: I've been in many campaigns where smears work...Here's
a direct shotlet's take cases here. Al Gore accuses Bill Bradley
of wanting to get rid of Medicaid. Now Medicaid's the health care
program for the poor people in the country. A lot of Democrats
BEN JONES: Bill Bradley does not want to get rid
MATTHEWS: Right! That's right! But the fact he keeps
saying itall Bradley wants to do is change the name of the program
or something, or the structure. Jennifer [Donahue], is that one
cutting up there?
But Bradley does propose repealing Medicaid, replacing
it with another program which Gore has said is inadequate. Is
Gore right in that judgment? We don't know, but these talkers
are grossly misstating the facts, while accusing Gore of engaging
in smears (never showing footage or text of any alleged misstatement).
The next night, a talker said Gore was "ruthless" for
saying that Bradley wants to get rid of Medicaid. On the basis
of hapless characterizations like these, the hopeful is slammed
for his negative comments.
Alasscanning the rest of Blankley's column, the analysts found
no direct quotes. Not a single direct example of all the vile
things Gore was alleged to have said! Blankley only cited one
other area where Gore had criticized Bradley (raising taxes);
there again we were handed a paraphrase. A pundit who screamed
about Negative Gore had written such a column himself. Gore was
"nasty," "dirty," "illegal," and
"ugly." He had told a whole bunch of "whoppers,"
And wouldn't you know it? In all the excitement, Blankley had
forgotten to lay out his case.
Tomorrow: (We advise you: Don't miss this column.) Pundits
attacked Al, and said Bill won't fight. Then we learned where
their attacks had first come from.
Note: We've asked the Post about that 12/18 report (see
THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/18/99). We'll let you know what we are told.
It's not that we don't love jazz: We salute the Wall
Street Journal's incomparable Phil Kuntz for his report on John
McCain's "Keating Five" history. To read most of CelebCorps'
loving coverage, one would think the Keating Five was some sort
of jazz group the hopeful had once performed in. The scribes have
repeated McCain's bawdy jokes, and have told how he fell through
his girl friend's screen door. Most accounts of The Keating Five
have been sketchy. They have stressed how repentant the hopeful
is for having done nothing at all that is wrong.
Kuntz's account of the actual episode is more detailed and
more instructive. Does it disqualify McCain from serving as prez?
Absolutely not. But it does provide an interested reader with
real information about the hopeful. Celebrity pundits have boasted
and bragged about how they don't report McCain's foibles.
Apparently, some of the details in Kuntz's report are among the
things they've agreed to leave out.
("McCain's Financing Stance Recalls Keating-Five Role."
Phil Kuntz, The Wall Street Journal, 12/17/99)