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THEY’RE WITH STUPID! Brit Hume assembled a panel of stars. And all of them said The Same Thing!


THEY’RE WITH STUPID: Brit Hume had assembled a panel of “all-stars” for last evening’s Special Report. And he asked them for their views on former Treasury Sec Paul O’Neill. Eager to hear a lively debate, we leaned forward in our chairs. But when the “stars” began to chat, all of them said the same thing!

Increasingly, that’s the norm on Fox. Morton Kondracke went first:

KONDRACKE: I think he was the Treasury secretary at the wrong administration. I mean this was a tax-cutting administration, and he should have resigned by himself when he, when he couldn’t support policy any longer, and when he saw the drift of things. What comes across from this 60 Minutes interview is what a naif he is. I mean he doesn’t understand that the Suskind book is—

HUME: The book that he has—

KONDRACKE: He has contributed to—

HUME: And it’s about him really.

KONDRACKE: —was negative toward Bush. I mean how could he think that when he is saying that Bush is a blind man in a room full of deaf people? I mean stuff like that, “disengaged,” all that kind stuff? I mean it’s breath-taking that the guy, that the guy would not understand the effect of what he is doing.

Yikes! Morton was deeply down on O’Neill! But now Hume turned to his second star. And darned if Fred didn’t say the same thing!
BARNES: Well, he seemed to be shocked and miffed that there’s politics going on in Washington. Even at the White House there’s politics! I mean, it’s shocking to think that would be tolerated by anybody at the White House, that they actually committed politics there! And he didn’t like that because he said it wasn’t that way in the Ford and Nixon administrations. You know, what in the world he is talking about? You know, Richard Nixon had a decision-making process that didn’t involve politics? Gerald Ford didn’t? Of course they did.

Basically, I think he is a guy who is unhappy because he lacked influence with President Bush, and he says that’s Bush’s fault, not his fault. He had great ideas. I mean he was—unfortunately, they were just not the ones that Bush agreed with or other people in the administration did, as Mort said.

Fred was right—it was just “as Mort said.” And when Brit turned to Star 3—a famous shrink—he also rattled off what Mort said:
KRAUTHAMMER: The O’Neill story falls in the category of disgruntled employee returns to the workplace. This is the Wall Street version of going postal. Look, you know, the usual critique of presidency is either they’re a blind man, disengaged, out of it, George W., Reagan, and if you go back long enough, Eisenhower. Or they’re hyper-involved, obsessive, Lyndon Johnson picking the targets in the war.

HUME: Jimmy Carter setting the time at the tennis court.

KRAUTHAMMER: You know, Nixon fulminating against everybody. And this stuff about Iraq is really quite astonishing. We have plans to invade everybody: Libya, south—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea. Look, we’ve got plans to invade France, or at least I hope we do.


…But the idea that this is somehow astonishing: He says early on in the administration there was the notion that Saddam was a bad guy and we had to replace him. Well, that doesn’t have a pedigree to 2001. That’s 1998; that’s a bill passed by the Congress, signed by the president of the United States called Clinton. It was at policy of this nation to change that regime. There’s nothing new here. This is a dog bites man story.

Does O’Neill know what he’s talking about on Iraq? Here at THE HOWLER, we aren’t really sure. But we were quite struck by Hume’s panel last night, because its “all-stars” captured the way the Fox Channel is going. The “all-stars” displayed perfect sameness of thought (and they all fudged the things which O’Neill really said). It was all just “as Mort said.” So why bother having three “all-stars?”

We often chuckle at Fox’s morning Show, Fox & Friends, the place where this unfortunate pattern emerged. The show provides a trio of hosts, creating the illusion of diverse thought. And every morning, all three hosts recite the same talking points perfectly! Often, Brian Kilmeade goes first. And the other two say, “We’re with Stupid.”

Last night, Hume’s three stars all said The Same Thing. Couldn’t the channel save a few bucks and appoint one Official Fox Oracle?

SHRUNKEN RAP: Meanwhile, congratulations to “all-star” Charles Krauthammer. Yes, Chuck said that O’Neill had “gone postal.” But progress is measured in small steps with Charles. Showing off a new iron will, he didn’t declare himself a licensed shrink before he made his pronouncement.

SLOWLY HE TURNS: Ever so slowly—ever so slowly—your press corps amends its Official Stories. Richard Cohen does so this morning. Almost exactly four years too late, he mentions the trashing of Gore:

COHEN: After a while, it seemed anything [Gore] said in the 2000 campaign got vetted by a standard not applied to other politicians—from his role in exposing the pollution of Love Canal to his role in developing the Internet to his role as being a fictitious character in the book and movie “Love Story.” Gore adhered to virtual truth in all these matters, but somehow his every claim became a tall story. Much of the time, he was right.
In this passage, Cohen is explicitly slamming “the press,” as you’ll see if you read his whole column.

But Cohen is telling the truth very slowly—and he still isn’t telling it right. Gore was trashed for these statements after a while? In fact, Gore’s unremarkable Internet comment was made on March 9, 1999, in his very first interview as a candidate. Two days later, the RNC began trashing the statement—and it became an instant press pseudo-scandal. Simultaneously, the RNC re-dredged Gore’s accurate statement about Love Story (from 1997), and it became an instant press scandal too. “After a while?” In fact, Gore was instantly trashed for these unremarkable comments—as soon as the RNC began to spread its ridiculous take on the matter.

Cohen’s history here is intriguing. To his credit, he wrote a vigorous column in August 2000 saying that Gore had been endlessly trashed for accurate comments. “Gore did not say he had discovered the Love Canal toxic waste debacle,” Cohen wrote, citing one example (he also cited the Internet and Love Story). Despite this, “a brace of commentators has called Gore a liar,” Cohen groused. Unfortunately, Cohen himself had been one of those commentators, a fact he forgot to mention this day. He himself had trashed Gore for the Internet comment, and as late as February 2000, he was writing, “If candor were grafted onto [Gore], his body would reject it.” Cohen’s evidence on that occasion? The bogus claim that Gore had been pro-life in his early career, and was now lying about it.

And no one loved wardrobe like Cohen. He endlessly clowned about Gore’s troubling clothes, reciting Ceci Connolly’s most recent misstatements. Here he was in November 1999, to cite one embarrassing example:

COHEN (11/23/99): This is not your father’s Al Gore.

This is the new model. It is leaner and sleeker, buffed by weightlifting and trimmed by diet. It comes in new colors, too—not a somber Beltway gray but a bold black shirt and khaki pants and, on occasion, cowboy boots. The vice president of the United States is no more. He is now your pal Al.

Cohen flogged these themes again and again. In fact, Gore had been campaigning in casual clothing all year, and had worn boots throughout his career. But this is what Cohen discussed—again and again—as the trashing of Gore rumbled onward.

When you read Cohen’s column today, you’re supposed to think that he’s being candid about Gore’s mistreatment by the press. But Cohen’s column still tells the truth slowly. After a while? In fact, the corps’ trashing of Candidate Gore started instantly, plainly driven by the RNC’s spin-points. The history here is really quite clear. Why won’t this pundit just tell it?

THEY NEVER STOP TELLING THESE STORIES: Many readers complained about Cokie Roberts’ appearance on yesterday’s Morning Edition. She had said it again, we were told—she had said that Al Gore was the first person to bring up Willie Horton, during the 1988 primaries. It’s been RNC cant since 1992, as we’ve incomparably explained in the past (links below). And, of course, it’s blatantly bogus: Though Gore criticized the Massachusetts furlough program at one Dem debate in 1988, he never mentioned Horton (or anyone else) by name; he never mentioned Horton’s crime; he never ran any ads on the subject; and he never said anything at all about race. The racializing of the issue—and the introduction of Horton—occurred in the general election.

But readers, you know how those pundits can be! We checked to see what Cokie had said—and Cokie had been very slick. She spoke with Renee Montaigne:

MONTAIGNE (1/12/04): How bad is it for the Democrats to participate in all these debates where quite often they attack each other as we just heard?

ROBERTS: Well, there are two problems with it. One is, as you say, the attacks on each other really do provide sound-bites for ads in the general election. Now remember, it was Al Gore in primary debates who was the first person to bring up the issue of Willie Horton, that released criminal against Michael Dukakis, which then the first George Bush used so effectively in the general election.

We thought we’d explained this in the past, but now it seems that we haven’t. Readers, spinners like Roberts never say that Gore brought up Willie Horton himself. Instead, they refer to “the Horton issue,” just as Cokie did with Montaigne. This way, they get to slime Gore with Horton’s name—and they get to say that their comment is technically accurate. Gore did bring up “the Horton issue” (the furlough program). He just didn’t mention Horton when he did so, as Candidate Bush endlessly did.

Some of you will shake your heads and insist that we just can’t be right about this. But pundits routinely slime Gore with “the Horton issue” (check those links); the pattern really is quite striking. Maybe it’s all just a crazy coincidence. And maybe the Easter Bunny is living on Mars, where he’s directing our latest space mission.

One last point: Roberts’ overall comment to Montaigne was completely bogus. In fact, Gore’s reference to the furlough program had nothing to do with what occurred in the general election. Yes, Dukakis was badly damaged by the Bush campaign’s use of Horton and his violent crimes. But the Bush camp hardly needed Gore to clue them in on this well-known matter. Gore’s fleeting remark quite plainly did not “provide sound-bites for ads in the general election.” But then, NPR listeners are almost always misled when phony fakers like Roberts hit the air.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For most of the skinny on the Horton Canard, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02. (Note how many pundits refer to the “issue.”) For a bit of incomparable follow-up, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/4/02.