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FRIDAY, JULY 12, 2002

ANN COULTER, WITH HELP FROM HER FRIENDS: No doubt about it. According to Coulter, life is tough if you’re a conservative, constantly targeted by “the left.” How tough is it? Here’s the question Katie Couric asked when she “berated” poor Arlen Specter (see yesterday’s HOWLER for background):

COURIC: You know, you angered a lot of feminists when you accused Anita Hill. In fact, you detail how she changed her testimony during questioning, during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. And you accused her of publicly, quote, “flat out perjury.” Any regrets?
“Any regrets!” What a zinger! Somehow, Specter soldiered on. “I think it was an impolitic thing to say,” he replied. “But I think that it was warranted on the facts. And in this book, I go into great detail as to how I came to that conclusion and why, and how another key member of the Judiciary Committee agreed with me.” According to the NBC transcript, Couric berated him further:
COURIC: Uh-huh.

SPECTER: And it was necessary in my view to find out what happened as best we could. There was a very late challenge to Clarence Thomas, and I thought that as a matter of fairness, we had to try to find out the facts.

Couric asked no follow-up question, asking next about Marc Rich—a topic “the left” will always raise whenever it wants to score points.

Amazing, isn’t it? Couric asked a single, mild question about a subject which Specter had brought up himself. She posed no follow-up question. But this is one of Coulter’s first examples—on page two of her book—of the way “the public square is wall-to-wall liberal propaganda.” Of course, her misused readers have no way of knowing how mild Couric’s questioning actually was. Coulter—dissembling, as she does through her book—provides a phantasmagoric account of this exchange. How did Coulter describe the session? Let’s review. We’re not making this up:

COULTER (page two): In this universe, the public square is wall-to-wall liberal propaganda. Americans wake up in the morning to “America’s Sweetheart,” Katie Couric, berating Arlen Specter about Anita Hill ten years after the hearings…
As a description of Couric’s exchange with Specter, that is pure pathology. But then, Coulter baldly misleads her readers on virtually every page of this laughable, corrupt book.

But Coulter is appearing on TV shows now to peddle her book, and her hosts are too lazy, too incompetent, too bought-off and scared to challenge her crackpot dissembling. Last night, Bill O’Reilly’s worthless performance qualified him for a spot down the row from Ted Williams. At Slate, meanwhile, Mickey Kaus—too lazy and indifferent to the public interest to dirty his hands with actual research—says that a certain part of Coulter’s book “appears to be completely accurate.” In fact, the part of the book to which Kaus refers is also absurdly misleading and bogus. We’ll look at the topic in question next week (sneak preview offered below).

We’re reminded of the hoary old joke about Moses playing golf. (Easily offended people, stop reading.) In Heaven, the Holy Trinity invites Moses to fill out a foursome. Needless to say, God the Father has the honors; Jesus and the Holy Spirit tee off next. Moses watches as they hit a succession of Biblically-themed, perfect hole-in-one trick-shots. After the Dove of Peace takes the Holy Spirit’s ball in his mouth and drops it neatly into the hole, Moses can’t hold it in any longer. “Are we here to play golf,” Moses asks, “or are we really just here to f*ck around?”

Coulter is a crackpot, a clown—and a balls-out dissembler. Her procedures are an insult to the American public interest. And so we have a simple question for lazy O’Reilly and worthless Kaus. Nobody made you host a TV show. Nobody forced you to go on the web. But boys, are you here to perform your actual duties? Or are you really just here to f*ck around?

SNEAK PREVIEW: Did Couric call Reagan an “airhead?” (No.) Did she attribute that claim to biographer Edmund Morris? (Yes.) As you probably know, Coulter is currently riding this topic as she angrily tours the country. It’s the topic O’Reilly snored through last night. Kaus pretended to review this same topic.

Predictably, the background to the silly story can’t be gleaned from Coulter’s book. Details to follow next week. But as a sneak preview, let’s recall what was going on in the final week of September 1999, as Morris’ book was about to appear. During that period, many people were saying that Morris had called Ronald Reagan an “airhead.” (They weren’t exactly wrong, by the way.) Coulter savages Couric’s work on September 27 and 29, 1999. But during this period, many others were saying that Edmund Morris called Reagan an airhead. Here’s someone Coulter forgot to cite. No, he’s not on “the left:”

SEAN HANNITY, 9/27/99: Welcome back to Hannity & Colmes. I’m Sean Hannity. Coming up, the authorized biography of Ronald Reagan calls him, quote, an airhead. And it is upsetting a lot of the former president’s supporters. That debate, that controversy, is straight ahead.

SEAN HANNITY, 9/30/99: Still to come, former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese. He sounds off on that controversial book that calls President Reagan an airhead. That debate straight ahead as Hannity & Colmes continues.

Last night on O’Reilly, Coulter condemned Couric for making the same sorts of statements. She said the statements showed that Katie Couric is “a pleasant morning television host who hides behind her charm and beauty to engage in systematic propaganda of all sorts of left-wing ideas.” But Hannity—and many other talkers—were saying the very same things at the time. Coulter, dissembling, left that part out. Needless to say, Bill was clueless.

WALL-TO-WALL PROPAGANDA: Two quotes from September 27, 1999. Included is one of the very remarks for which Ann has been trashing poor Katie:

KATIE COURIC, 9/27/99: Good morning. The Gipper was an airhead. That’s one of the conclusions of a new biography of Ronald Reagan that’s drawing a tremendous amount of interest and fire today, Monday, September the 27th, 1999.

SEAN HANNITY, 9/27/99: Welcome back to Hannity & Colmes. I’m Sean Hannity. Coming up, the authorized biography of Ronald Reagan calls him, quote, an airhead. And it is upsetting a lot of the former president’s supporters.

According to Coulter, Couric was pushing the left’s propaganda. Hannity? He’s been disappeared.

NEXT: Why were journalists saying these things? More notes on Ann Coulter’s bad problem.


WRONG FROM THE START: Unsurprisingly, Ann Coulter’s bald-faced dissembling starts on page one, with the very first claim in her book. She complains about the way “the left” calls Tom DeLay naughty names like “the Hammer.” (The Washington Times archive is full of examples of conservatives calling DeLay “The Hammer.” The Washington Post article which Coulter cites quotes Christian conservative Marshall Wittman calling DeLay “Dirty Harry.”) But Coulter’s quintessential, trademark dissembling is found in her follow-up claim. How badly does “the left” treat DeLay? Just because he believes in God, they even compare him to Hitler:

COULTER (page 1): For his evident belief in a higher being, DeLay is compared to savage murderers and genocidal lunatics on the pages of the New York Times. (“History teaches that when religion is injected into politics—the Crusades, Henry VIII, Salem, Father Coughlin, Hitler, Kosovo—disaster follows.”)
As usual, Coulter is baldly deceiving her readers. Because we’re familiar with the lady’s bad problem, we looked up that quote from the New York Times. It comes from a column by Maureen Dowd, “The God Squad,” written on June 20, 1999.

In fairness, Dowd does spend five paragraphs on DeLay. She slams him for killing gun control legislation after the Columbine shootings. She criticizes him for statements he made at a rally of ministers. “This is the season of cheap virtue,” Dowd writes. “Politicians are rushing to take God’s name in vain.”

But that’s the end of the day for DeLay. Guess which “politicians” she’s directly discussing by the time she gets to that turrible quote? She isn’t discussing DeLay any more. She’s discussing George Bush—and Al Gore:

DOWD: The season of sanctimony isn’t confined to the legislative branch. According to Time, George W. Bush decided to run for President at a private prayer service with his family last January: “Pastor Mark Craig started preaching about duty, about how Moses tried to resist God’s call, and the sacrifice that leadership requires. And as they sat there, Barbara Bush leaned over to the son who has always been most like her and said, ‘He’s talking to you, George.’”

You’d think W. would be aware of the perils of religiosity after he had to spend all that time clarifying his 1993 comment that people who do not accept Jesus Christ as a personal Saviour cannot go to Heaven.

In his announcement speech in Carthage, Al Gore joined the God Squad, intoning that “most Americans are hungry for a deeper connection between politics and moral values; many would say ‘spiritual values.’ Without values of conscience, our political life degenerates.”

Faith is an intensely personal matter. It should not be treated as a credential or reduced to a sound bite. History teaches that when religion is injected into politics—the Crusades, Henry VIII, Salem, Father Coughlin, Hitler, Kosovo—disaster follows.

Was “the Times” comparing DeLay to Hitler? More directly, it was comparing Al Gore.

But so it goes on every page, all through Coulter’s pathological book. Meanwhile, Mickey Kaus thinks this is just fine. We have a strange question: Why is that?

A REAL PAGE-TURNER: Coulter keeps it up on page two. To cite just one example of several, she starts in on favorite mark Katie Couric:

COULTER (page two): Americans wake up to “America’s Sweetheart,” Katie Couric, berating Arlen Specter about Anita Hill ten years after the hearings.
The implication is clear; Couric won’t stop flogging Anita Hill. And she won’t stop “berating” Republicans. And so we looked up Coulter’s reference, a Specter appearance on the March 6, 2001 Today. The solon was there to promote a new book. “Nice to have you,” Couric said. “What motivated you to write this book?” And you guessed it; Specter cited his desire to discuss the Anita Hill matter:
SPECTER: Because I wanted to tell what is happening behind the scenes. I have been criticized for more than three decades for my work as one of the young staff lawyers on the Warren Commission where I came up with the single bullet theory, and I thought it was important to write it all down just exactly why I came to that conclusion and why the commission accepted it. I go into some of the background on the Professor Anita Hill/Justice Clarence Thomas controversy, take up some questions which never got to the public, such as why we never called Angela Wright, who was a young woman who had a story very similar to Anita Hill’s. I go into the background of what happened on Judge Bork’s confirmation hearing and one of the big concerns that I had about Judge Bork on his technical approach and lack of humanitarianism, when he upheld the decision which said that women who worked for a lead company either had to consent to be sterilized or to lose their jobs, which I thought was exactly wrong.
After one question on the Warren Commission and two more questions about the Bork hearings, Couric asked exactly one question about the Anita Hill case.

As we’ll see, this gong-show dissembling litters this book. Why does Mickey Kaus seem to like it?

IN SIMPLE ENGLISH, THEY DID CLEAR BUSH: Some pundits are insisting that the SEC never cleared Bush of insider trading. Sorry, that’s just Kafkaesque. It is true that, in 1993, the SEC told the Bush campaign that it shouldn’t say that Bush was “exonerated” by its probe. But seven years later, the SEC’s internal documents emerged. Reviewing those documents, it is perfectly clear that, if we’re still speaking English, the agency’s gumshoes did clear Bush. (You can review the docs yourself. Go to

Why was Bush investigated? According to the charge, Bush sold his Harken stock in June 1990 because he had insider knowledge that Harken was going to report unexpectedly large second-quarter losses. Unambiguously, the SEC found that Bush had no such knowledge at the time of his sale. In fact, the agency’s gumshoes found that no one at Harken knew, at that time, about the size of the impending losses. “[B]y June 22 (the date when Bush sold), no actual revenue or loss information was available for the second two months of the quarter ended June 30,” one of the SEC summaries noted. “The staff’s investigation indicates that, at most, Bush was aware that Harken was forecasted to lose approximately $4.2 million in the second quarter.” The actual loss turned out to be $23.2 million. The SEC docs assert, again and again, that neither Bush nor anyone else at Harken knew about these impending losses at the time of his sale.

So let’s see. Bush is accused of selling due to insider info. The SEC finds that he didn’t have that info. Go ahead and say they were wrong if you like. But we’re living in a Kafkaesque world if that means that they “didn’t clear” Bush. (For the record, none of this has a thing to do with that 1989 Aloha transaction.)

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Al Hunt lowers the bar for accusers. “Whether [Bush] violated the spirit of the securities law in his 1990 Harken Energy transaction obscures a larger point,” Hunt writes (emphasis added). So let’s see. If you’re accused of trading due to insider info, and it turns out that you didn’t have that info, you haven’t violated the letter of the law, but somehow you’ve trampled its spirit. The last time we saw scribes playing this game, it involved a small spot known as Whitewater.

TOMORROW: More on Ann Coulter’s bad problem.


ANN COULTER'S PROBLEM WITH THE TRUTH: At Fox, on-air personalities enjoy a good laugh when fiery Ann Coulter comes calling. Monday morning, she regaled the gang at Fox and Friends with her tale of a grand NEXIS search. Coulter was complaining about the way the press pretends that those Dems are so brainy:

COULTER: “Cerebral Bill Bradley,” for example, I mean that’s the most striking example. You run a Lexis-Nexis search—as I did—on Bill Bradley and you would think his first name was “Cerebral.” His name never got mentioned [inaudible] “Cerebral Bill Bradley.”
The whole thing sounded like so much fun, we decided to run the same search. So we sent the phrase “cerebral Bill Bradley” through the NEXIS file for the period from 1/1/99 through 4/1/00—the fifteen months when Bradley was running for president. Bradley was, without any question, a press favorite during the bulk of his run. The cerebral solon got oodles of coverage during the period in question.

Our finding? According to current NEXIS files, the phrase “cerebral Bill Bradley” appeared in American newspapers exactly six times in that fifteen-month period. The phrase didn’t appear in any magazine. Here are the six lonely cites in the file. Note the big papers involved here:

  1. Sandy Grady, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 3/18/99
  2. Sandy Grady, Bergen County Record, 3/23/99
  3. Robert Jordan, Boston Globe, 4/23/99
  4. Sandy Grady, Raleigh News and Observer, 11/10/99
  5. Sandy Grady, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 11/6/99
  6. Editorial, Albany Times-Union, 3/10/00
That’s right, folks. If it weren’t for Sandy Grady, there would hardly have been a “Cerebral Bill Bradley” at all. According to NEXIS, the only major rag in which the phrase appeared was the Bradley-loving Boston Globe, where the phrase appeared exactly once. The phrase never appeared in the Washington Post or the New York Times. And, of course, the phrase never appeared in Time, U.S. News, or Newsweek. Not even the National Review.

Again, this isn’t meant to suggest that “Dollar Bill” got bad coverage from the press. This is meant as a commentary on dissembling Ann Coulter and the problem she has with the truth. Let’s face it—Coulter never ran any such search as the one she described to her simpering pals. But making it up is the norm for Ann Coulter—and her friends in the media choose not to notice, willing to put up with her “hackwork” and her clowning.

By the way, wasn’t it only a few years back when pundits were troubled by this sort of thing? In October 2000, for example, a certain columnist was very disturbed by the way Al Gore just kept making things up. “It’s as if every time Clinton drops his pants, Gore tells a lie,” she slanderously said. This same scribe complained about “Gore’s endless boasts,” and she said, “[m]aking stuff up is surely one of Gore’s leading negatives in this campaign.”

That outraged columnist was, of course, Ann Coulter. And guess what? Coulter exaggerates, embellishes, embroiders and misstates on virtually every page of her new oddball book. (She also embellished almost all of Gore’s “boasts.”) She misrepresents the things people say; she invents NEXIS searches that back up her tales. At Fox and Friends, they think it’s smart. But when will serious folks in the press corps take notice of Ann Coulter’s problem?

MAYBE SHE REALLY MEANT…: In our usual excess of fairness, we decided to go the extra mile; we ran “cerebral Bradley” through NEXIS, too, looking for extra citations. Result? Five cites in American papers and magazines, two of them openly mocking. Here’s an example of the way the press kept trying to build up those Dems:

SUSAN ISAACS, Newsday, 1/20/00: He’s not just accessible. He’s a boon companion. Vital. Real, albeit larger than life. John McCain is so dynamic the other candidates—stilted Gore, cerebral Bradley, careful-of-everything-you-say-so-you-don’t-screw-up Bush, pompous Hatch, goofy Forbes—are zombies in comparison.
That’s right. Isaacs was saying how great McCain was compared to “cerebral [Bill] Bradley.”

On Fox and Friends, Coulter was making it up. But then, she makes it up on all through her daft book. Oh, by the way—we just ran “Dollar Bill Bradley” through the same NEXIS base. Fifteen months gave us 32 cites—and a few hundred more if you take “Dollar Bill” on its own. Coulter knew not to say it on Fox. But Bill Bradley already has a first name, and that pet name is “Dollar,” not “Cerebral.”

TOMORROW: More notes on Ann Coulter’s bad problem.


SOMETIMES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE READING A NUT: To his credit, Christopher Caldwell didn’t play nice in his review of Ann Coulter’s new Slander. “[S]he has produced a piece of political hackwork,” he says, writing in Sunday’s Washington Post. “The deeper into her subject she gets, the more she resorts to the tools of calumny and propaganda she professes to critique.” Caldwell hails from the Weekly Standard, but he’s willing to play it straight about Coulter’s pathologically inaccurate book. How hard-hitting is Caldwell’s critique? He finally turns to the type of language a person must use to describe Coulter’s work. At one point in Slander, according to Caldwell, Coulter “enter[s] the territory of those leftist nuts who say we’re living in a dictatorship because Noam Chomsky isn’t on the front page of the New York Times every single day”

No, he doesn’t quite say that Coulter’s a “nut”—but he comes admirably close. Indeed, there is no polite way to describe the nonsense found throughout Coulter’s book. Simply put, Coulter’s accounts of all matters, large and small, are almost pathologically bogus. Unfortunately, cable producers—always pleased to make a joke of our discourse—have no present plans to take notice.

Consider just one of the ludicrous moments in Slander. In Chapter 9, Coulter complains about the press corps’ use of the terms “Christian conservative” and “religious right.” According to Coulter, “[t]he point of the phrase ‘religious right’ or ‘Christian conservative’ is not to define but to belittle.” And lefties, of course, get a pass:

COULTER (page 166): Despite the constant threat of the “religious right” in America, there is evidently no such thing as the “atheist left.” In a typical year, the New York Times refers to either “Christian conservatives” or the “religious right” almost two hundred times. But in a Lexis/Nexis search of the entire New York Times archives, the phrases “atheist liberals” or “the atheist left” do not appear once. Only deviations from the left-wing norm merit labels.
In a footnote, Coulter extends her complaint. “In a one year period (roughly corresponding to calendar year 2000), the New York Times found occasion to mention either ‘Christian conservatives’ or the ‘religious right’ 187 times. Not once did the paper refer to ‘atheist liberals’ or ‘the atheist left.’” To Coulter, of course, this is all a sign of gruesome bias. She goes on to claim that the terms “religious right” and “Christian conservative” are now used “[j]ust as some people once spat out the term ‘Jew’ as an insult.”

It certainly makes for high excitement, but does it make any sense? Do newspapers use “Christian conservative” as an emblem of hatred, and avoid “atheist left” due to liberal bias? If so, we have big news to share. If Coulter’s NEXIS search has proven these things, then the once-conservative Washington Times is spilling with lib bias, too.

In the calendar year 2000, how often did the New York Times refer to “Christian conservatives” or the “religious right?” A NEXIS search of that year presents 182 references. But the Washington Times—a much slimmer paper—had 151 such cites that same year. And how about those other terms—“atheist liberals” or “the atheist left?” Incredibly, Coulter was right in one of her claims; the New York Times never used either term. But guess what? The Washington Times never used the terms, either. If Coulter has sniffed out a vast left-wing plot, Wes Pruden is in on it too.

Why do newspapers write about “Christian conservatives?” Because they exist, and because they’re important. And why don’t we read about the “atheist left?” Because the group doesn’t exist. That’s why the New York Times doesn’t mention the group; that’s why the Washington Times doesn’t mention it, either. Everyone in America knows this is true—until they read Coulter’s cracked book.

But then, such nonsense fills every page of this book. There is no other pundit—of the left, right or center—who engages in such pathological foolishness. Caldwell, a conservative, was prepared to say “Nut.” Why won’t Mickey Kaus say it also?

TOMORROW: Mickey Kaus spent ten seconds, tops, researching Katie Couric’s recent “catfight.”

STRAWMEN OF THE WORLD, COLLAPSE: As we’ve often said, the power to paraphrase is the power to spin. Andrew Sullivan employs the tool in his eponymous website this morning. He improves what Nicholas Kristof says in today’s New York Times:

SULLIVAN: Nick Kristof, after yet another murder of Jews by a Muslim hater, worries about American religious bigotry. “If we want Saudi princes to confront their society’s hate-mongers, our own leaders should confront ours,” he preaches. Our bigotry is as bad as theirs, he opines. Excuse me? When conservative Christians start murdering thousands of Muslim and Jewish civilians in the Middle East, it will be. Until then, there is simply no equivalence between anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. and anti-Western and anti-Semitic terrorism in the Arab world.
Can you spot the inventive paraphrase? Just to help, we put it in bold. But where exactly in Kristof’s column does he say that “our bigotry is as bad as” that in the Arab world? The answer is simple—he doesn’t say it at all. Let’s face it: If Kristof actually said such a thing, Sully would rush you the quote.

By the way, inventive paraphrase dominates Slander. Coulter’s the reigning queen of the two-word quote, which she then surrounds with absurd accounts of what the person in question supposedly “said.” It’s a favored technique of dissemblers worldwide. Absurd examples from Coulter’s book will appear here as soon as tomorrow.

MONDAY, JULY 8, 2002

AND NOW FOR THE REST OF THE STORY: In 1990, George W. Bush sold 212,000 shares of stock in the Harken Energy Corporation. Soon thereafter, Harken announced a large second-quarter loss, and its stock price tumbled a bit. (It had already dropped, by a larger amount, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.) Because Bush sat on Harken’s audit committee, the timing of Bush’s stock sale was questioned. In 1991, the SEC investigated, concerned about insider trading.

Over the years, there has been good news and bad news for President Bush regarding his sale of that stock. First a bit of slightly bad news: In his 1994 gubernatorial debate with Ann Richards, Candidate Bush misstated the contents of an SEC letter about its probe of his sale. Bush’s campaign had asked the SEC to issue a statement about the matter. In a letter to Bush’s lawyer, the SEC said, “the investigation has been terminated as to the conduct of Mr. Bush, and…at this time, no enforcement action is contemplated with respect to him.” But the letter also said that this “must in no way be construed as indicating that the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result.” Despite this, Bush explicitly said, during the Richards debate, that he had been “exonerated” by the SEC’s probe. Why, you could almost say he embellished the facts! Richards corrected his error.

On the other hand, there was good news for Bush in September 2000, which some scribes now seem to be glossing. Responding to a Freedom of Information request by the Associated Press and the Dallas Morning News, the SEC released a boatload of documents about its probe of Bush. On September 6, 2000, the AP’s Pete Yost quoted a summary by investigators. “It appears that Bush did not engage in illegal insider trading,” the gumshoes had written in 1992, “because it does not appear that he possessed material nonpublic information or that he acted with [intent to defraud] when he sold the Harken stock.” According to Yost, “[t]he investigators noted that Bush did not initiate the sale of his stock, that he was approached by a broker and checked with the company’s general counsel about the propriety of the sale before carrying it out.” Additionally, the AP asked NYU law prof Stephen Gillers to review the SEC docs. According to Yost, Gillers “said the agency made a sound judgment legally and ethically to close the insider trading probe without interviewing Bush.” On September 7, the Dallas Morning News drew similar conclusions from its own review of the SEC documents. (Headline: “Records show what Bush knew before stock sale; Regulators concluded in 1992 that he did nothing improper.”) Had the SEC taken a dive for Bush, whose pappy was prez at the time of the probe? “We’re dealing with investigators here who are not political appointees,” Gillers told the AP’s Yost. More from Yost: “Gillers said the evidence contained in the SEC documents was ‘fairly persuasive against proceeding’ against Bush.”

For the record, none of this speaks to a separate question, recently raised in two Paul Krugman columns. When Bush sat on Harken’s audit committee, did he know about a shaky 1989 deal involving Aloha Petroleum, a Harken subsidiary? On Saturday, Paul Kedrosky of the National Post wrote that “[w]hile it seems clear from SEC documents that Mr. Bush didn’t know about the problems with Aloha, it also seems clear he should have known.” Yesterday, Krugman seemed to suggest that Bush may have known. “If Mr. Bush didn’t know about the Aloha maneuver, he was a very negligent director,” Krugman wrote. Is there any evidence that Bush knew about the Aloha maneuver? The SEC documents suggest that he didn’t. Is it fair to say that he should have known? On that, we don’t have a clue. But Aloha is, at least on face, a separate matter from the charge concerning insider trading. When the SEC investigated Bush’s sale of stock, Aloha was not directly at issue.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’re not legal eagles. We can’t competently judge the docs for ourselves. But several matters have been conflated in recent reporting about Harken happenings. If the AP, the DMN, and Gillers were right, the SEC found strongly for Bush concerning the question of insider trading. Did Bush do something wrong at Harken? Here at the HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But those who want to suggest wrongdoing need to account for the SEC’s findings. Clinton was slimed by bad-faith business reporting. The press shouldn’t make it a habit.

WILLING TO DO AND SAY ANYTHING? On the other hand, Candidate Bush was stretchin’ and strainin’ in that debate with Ann Richards. First there was his overstatement about the SEC’s letter. At another point, he memorably said, “I proudly proclaim I’ve never held office. I have been in the business world all my adult life. I have met a payroll. I know what it means to risk capital.” What made this presentation so comical? Bush had “never held office” for one major reason; when he ran for office in 1978, the voters had (narrowly) turned his bid down. That was Bush’s race for Congress; he had also explored the possibility of running for the Texas state senate in 1972, and for governor in 1990. Meanwhile, Bush embellished his description of Richards, slamming her as a career politician. “If Texans want someone who has spent her entire adult life in politics, they should not vote for me,” he said. Hmmm. Richards first ran for office at age 43. Bush, by contrast, was 32 when he spent a year running for Congress.

Why do these otherwise unremarkable stretchers leap up off the page today? Because of the way the press corps covered the Bush-Gore race six years later. The script was known to one and all—Candidate Gore will do and say anything. Gore is inclined to embellish and lie. In order to “prove” that nasty charge, embellishing journalists made themselves useful, inventing “misstatements” by Gore. To cite one world-class example of press corps dissembling, the Boston Globe’s Walter Robinson sifted through decades of statements by Gore, searching for ways to call him a liar. Unable to find enough actual howlers, he stretched and strained and made a bunch up. How absurd was Robinson’s work? Baldly deceiving the Globe’s misused readers, he even pretended he didn’t know why Gore claimed “seven years of journalistic experience.” (Duh! Gore spent two years as an army reporter, then five more years at the Nashville Tennessean.) Bizarrely, Robinson even claimed that Gore was “creating myths” in praising his father’s civil rights record—and, of course, he strained to find troubling misstatements in Gore’s three dozen public debates. He played silly games in that area too; at one point, Robinson quoted Michael Dukakis in a 1988 debate, telling Gore, “Please get your facts straight. If you want to be president of the United States, you better start by being accurate.” But here’s what Robinson didn’t mention; examination of the exchange with Dukakis shows that what Gore had said was perfectly reasonable. In the debate in question, Gore criticized something The Duke had said; the same criticism was later made by Jack Kemp and Bob Dole, and was widely made by mainstream pundits. But Globe readers had no way to know this. Craftily, Robinson let his readers assume that Gore must have made something up.

But while Robinson was straining for all he was worth, trying to gimmick up groaners by Gore, did he mention those stretchers by Bush in debate? You’re dreaming if you have to ask. Robinson was typing a rigid press script; therefore, he didn’t examine past statements by Bush. That’s right, kids. Robinson examined twenty-three years worth of statements by Gore, and no years worth of statements by Bush. Then he marveled at the fact that Gore seemed to have more “misstatements.”

Remember, no one dissembles as much as the press corps. Thrilling details to come in the book.

WHY CHILDREN HAVE TURNED OFF TO BASEBALL: Have you noticed? Journalists won’t give Ted Williams credit for his work in TV newsreels. The place: Scottsdale, Arizona, February 1958. I was ten years old, in town from Boston, to see how the Red Sox were looking. On Ted’s first day in camp, I was alertly sitting behind the dugout when a TV producer signed me up for a spot. The ensuing shoot went much as planned. When Teddy ran out onto the field, I yelled, “How about an autograph, Mr. Williams?” Ted doubled back and signed my card. That evening, viewers in the Boston area thrilled at our easy interaction.

Don’t even ask about the time I saw Jim Bunning no-hit the Red Sox. Williams made the final out, flying deep to the track in Fenway. Adult fans applauded Bunning, but like other kids in the park, I was hurt. Since that day, I’ve always wondered what kind of a man would pitch his no-hit gems on the road. (Bunning’s second no-hitter, against the Mets, was pitched at Shea Stadium—on Father’s Day!) Years later, of course, Bunning’s cruel tendencies took final form. He reappeared as a heartless pol, supporting the Contract with America.

FRIDAY, JULY 5, 2002

THE LATEST BAD MEN IN BLACK SEQUEL: Could they really be of this earth? Where on this earth could you find such unintelligent life forms? In this morning’s Baltimore Sun, that tired old script-reading pundit, Jules Witcover, robotically mouths the same tired lines his colleagues have all mouthed before him:

WITCOVER: Al Gore, in a recent closed meeting in Memphis with key supporters, vowed that if he runs for president again in 2004, he’ll listen to his own counsel rather than that of consultants, of whom he had a small army in 2000.

“I’d just let it rip,” he said, and “let the chips fall where they may. ... To hell with the polls, tactics and all the rest.”

That’s a familiar refrain from losing candidates. They imply that it was bum advice from others that cost them the election in question.

Predictably, Witcover’s robotically scripted remarks ran beneath a scripted headline. “Al Gore seeks to reinvent himself,” the mandatory Gore headline said.

Note the dimness of Witcover’s “reasoning.” In a closed meeting, Gore is said to have said that he’ll ignore the polls if he runs for the White House again. To Witcover, this means that Gore has “impl[ied] that it was bum advice from others that cost [him] the election.” But of course, nothing in Gore’s quoted statement actually leads to that naughty conclusion. If the second-hand “quote” from Gore’s meeting is accurate—and Witcover, of course, doesn’t know if it is—then all Gore really said is this: I paid too much attention to polls. Why would that lead a sane human being to say Gore is blaming consultants?

The answer is perfectly obvious. No sane person reasons this way, but pundits like Witcover are there to type scripts, not to behave like real humans. And, according to the press corps’ well-rehearsed scripts, Gore must always be reinventing himself; any unattractive way you can restate his words is perfectly OK after that. In the last week, every pundit in the land has raced to type this new approved script. Where on this earth could our editors find such complete lackeys, such consummate copyists?

Are the Witcovers actually of this earth? Could any human be so dim and so scripted? Last evening at Arundel Mills mall, we were turned away from Men in Black. But with life forms like Witcover running around, do we really have to go to the mall to suspect that ETs now have landed?

PUNDITS SAY THE MOST SIMILAR THINGS: But then, here was Charlie Cook’s utterly hapless assessment. Cook types scripts for the National Journal:

COOK: Listening to former Vice President Al Gore’s graceless remarks over the weekend, when he effectively blamed his 2000 presidential campaign loss on “polls, tactics and all the rest,” one question kept coming back to me: “Does he really believe what he’s saying?”…[F]rom my vantage point it seems that Gore was the weakest link in the Gore/Lieberman campaign—not his pollsters, his strategists, his tacticians or his other consultants. To Cook, when Gore blames his loss on “polls and tactics,” he is actually blaming his pollsters and tacticians. Sometimes, work like this makes us flash to Men in Black. But sometimes, after a week of such efforts, we give up and we say, Dumb and Dumber.