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GORING BUSH! The press corps hammers all hopefuls, Kurtz said. We offer a potent rebuttal:


ROEPERATIONS: We offer fair warning. One reader sent this hatchet-hearted e-mail about Jim Sheridan’s transplendent In America:

E-MAIL: I thought that was one of the worst films I’ve seen in years, and was astonished to see it on any “best of” lists. I haven’t seen a movie that sappy, manipulative, and also unpersuasive in years.

But, be that as it may, I still appreciate what you do.

Incomparably, he added that last, saving sentence. But you should know that one reader was less than pleased by Sheridan’s transplendent work.

So you’ll know, Richard Roeper was so impressed by In America that he offered to refund the ticket price of the first hundred readers who didn’t enjoy it. “Please go see it,” he wrote in his Sun-Times review. “If the film doesn’t work for you, send me your ticket stub along with a short explanation, and I’ll give you a refund.”

We feel as strongly about In America (“a fairy tale in Hell’s Kitchen”) as Roeper. So if you don’t like it, just drop us a line. We’ll send you his mailing address.

GORING BUSH: Is Howard Dean being “Gored” by the press? Our friend Eric Boehlert has said that he is, but we wouldn’t take things that far. On the one hand, the “Dean Angry” spin has been beaten to death, and the corps has engaged in its usual silly reporting. But Dean has made a wealth of unfortunate statements, and he has made so many inaccurate statements that we have sometimes seen him as the candidate the corps always hoped Gore would be. Frankly, we thought he got a bit of a pass for a fairly long time. Even now, the press examines utterly meaningless topics (Dean’s 1999 statement about the Iowa caucuses) while avoiding the campaign’s central issues. (Did Dean oppose the war from the start?) But by this stage in Campaign 2000, the corps had been selling fake tales about Gore for ten months. In our view, nothing resembling the 2000 coverage has developed this time around.

No, we wouldn’t say that Dean has been “Gored.” But in his Post report on this topic, Howard Kurtz went a bit far in defending the press (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/14/04). At one point, Kurtz seemed to echo a Standard Press Theme—we do this to all of the candidates:

KURTZ: Indeed, leading White House wannabes have long been subjected to months of media grilling. Bill Clinton was pummeled over Gennifer Flowers, averting the draft and not inhaling marijuana. George W. Bush was depicted as a dim bulb and interrogated on whether he had used drugs during his “young and irresponsible” days. John McCain, who beat Bush in New Hampshire, was portrayed as a tantrum-thrower with psychic scars from his POW years.

Now Dean has been pelted with stories questioning his failure to release his gubernatorial records; controversial comments about Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden; skiing after flunking a draft physical; his temperament; his hesitance to discuss religion; his all-white Vermont Cabinet; why his wife doesn’t campaign for him; and whether, all things considered, he is headed for a McGovern-like landslide defeat.

Kurtz seemed to affirm a Standard Defense—we do this to all of these guys.

Except, of course, they don’t. The reference to McCain is simply absurd; though the solon endured a brief stretch in the fall of 1999 when scribes examined his alleged bad temper, McCain was lionized by the press (and many pundits defended him against the “bad temper” badinage). Nor was Candidate Bush ever pummeled. Indeed, it’s important to remember just how soft the treatment of Bush really was.

Was Bush “interrogated on whether he had used drugs during his ‘young and irresponsible’ days?” Yes he was, fairly briefly, during 1999—but only because he refused to answer the questions all others had answered since the 1988 race. And was he “depicted as a dim bulb?” Yes he was—by Leno and Letterman—but Washington pundits were quite polite in their approach to this issue. For example, when Bush failed his “pop quiz” in November 1999, pundits raced to denounce such demonic “gotcha journalism.” Indeed, the corps recited a set of spin-points which came to it straight from the Bush camp itself (link below). The evidence here is abundant—and startling. Meanwhile, how were pundits treating Gore as they swore that the “quiz” was unfair? Even as they defended Bush, they were pummeling Gore for those troubling earth tones! No, Virginia: The press corps didn’t make Bush a “dim bulb.” George Bush got a very sweet ride.

The corps does not treat all hopefuls the same. Indeed, even a string of conservative pundits noted the “adoring” coverage Bush got (Paul Gigot, June 1999, Wall Street Journal). Is the coverage of Dean like the coverage of Bush? Quite plainly, no, it is not. To this very day, for example, the corps has avoided examination of Bush’s “missing year” in the National Guard (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/26/03), and they made no attempt during Campaign 2000 to examine his “young and irresponsible” conduct. How did a young Maine reporter finally learn about Bush’s Kennebunkport DUI? She went to the Kennebunkport police chief and asked! Plainly, no one else had bothered to do so, all through the two-year campaign.

Meanwhile, the corps avoided Bush’s record in Texas like the plague. In the spring of 2000, for example, academic reports began to suggest that the Texas “education miracle” was a myth. Studiously, the corps avoided the topic. (We have only now begun to learn about the problems involved in this area.) And how absurd was the coverage of Texas capital punishment? Let’s remember the high-profile case in which scribe gave Governor Bush a total pass.

In May 2000, Bush presided over the execution of convicted killer Gary Graham. The case was a Texas classic. There was essentially no evidence convicting Graham of the crime, and he had been “defended” by one of the sleeping, drunken, public-interest lawyers for which the Texas system was famous. But on the day of the execution, Bush said he was sure that Graham was guilty—and the press corps knew not to ask how he knew this. How did the press treat this high-profile case—a case which received world-wide attention? One day after Graham’s execution, Jim Lehrer asked Mark Shields about the case—and Shields praised Bush for the way he had acted. It was one of the most remarkable moments in recent press history, and it captured the way the corps behaved throughout this astounding campaign:

LEHRER (6/23/00): Okay. Now on to other matters. Governor Bush, the capital punishment issue—is that going to dog him from now on?

SHIELDS: Well, Jim, this is a perfect example. It’s an important issue, don't get me wrong. But a perfect example and sort of the quiet time of a campaign, when folks who have a cause, and the cause obviously being the abolition of capital punishment, a growing cause in the country, grab an opportunity to make this into a media event, which was done in Texas, put it on the spotlight, put him on the spotlight. That was intended. But I think the cause is to get this as a full-fledged debate. I think they did. I thought, as somebody who has mentioned on this broadcast, that George W. Bush—the doubts voters have about him is that he fills the chair, whether he’s big enough, whether he really has the heft to be president. I thought this was probably the finest moment of his campaign as he explained his position. He did it as, outside of a press conference in a suit and tie, with appropriately serious words and manner. And I thought ironically that it worked for him politically without being overly analytical.

According to Shields, Bush’s press event after the Graham execution “was probably the finest moment of his campaign.” And what made Bush’s performance so impressive? He had worn a suit and tie, Shields said, and he had displayed a serious manner. Of course, Bush had also failed to say how he knew that Graham was actually guilty as charged (failed to say because the press never asked). But so what? Wearing a suit was enough for Shields. That and the fact that Candidate Bush managed to smother all joking.

Kurtz recites a Standard Press Line: We tear into all the hopefuls! But the press corps does not treat all hopefuls the same, and the press corps did not tear into Bush. Obviously, the full story can’t be told in this space. But reread the story of the pop quiz—and read that amazing statement by Shields. Campaign 2K was a major press fraud. As we noted with Richard Cohen on Tuesday: Major pundits still work quite hard to pretend they don’t know this occurred.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Dim bulb? Amazingly, the press recited Bush campaign spin-points about the “pop quiz.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/6/02. To see the corps snore through the Graham execution, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/27/00 and 11/6/02. For real-time treatment of the “Texas miracle” problems, enter TASS or RAND in our whirring search engines. And how about the way the press ignored that “missing year” with the Guard? We provided one link above. But we did a four-part report on the topic last May. For Part I, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/5/03. Three more installments followed.

HER WIRES ARE SHOWING: In a million years, you couldn’t invent them. In this morning’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd casts a troubled eye on Howard Dean’s deeply troubling marriage. “Even by the transcendentally wacky standard for political unions set by Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Deans have an unusual relationship,” she says. But just what makes the Deans’ marriage so “wacky?” Dean’s wife “has never even been to Iowa,” Dowd grouses. Nor is she likely to show up there, the scribe says, “since she prefers examining patients to being cross-examined by voters and reporters.” Imagine! Dean’s wife would rather heal the sick than spend time with people like Dowd!

Wires beginning to poke through her skin, Dowd—inevitably—was soon talking wardrobe. She cites “a startling picture of [Dean’s] wife on the front page of Tuesday’s Times.” And what was so “startling” about that photo? The clothing! What else really matters?

DOWD: In worn jeans and old sneakers, the shy and retiring Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean looked like a crunchy Vermont hippie, blithely uncoiffed, unadorned, unstyled and unconcerned about not being at her husband’s side—the anti-Laura. You could easily imagine the din of Rush Limbaugh and Co. demonizing her as a counterculture fem-lib role model for the blue states.
For the record, why did Dean look “unconcerned about not being at her husband’s side?” Perhaps because she was at his side. Here’s the caption beneath that photo: “Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean, right, watching her husband, Howard Dean, at a debate on Nov. 4.” For Dowd, the photo of Dean’s disturbing old shoes spoke louder than all those dumb words.

Did Dean oppose the war from the start? Your Washington press corps is too bored to tell you. What was the history of that influential group, PNAC? In the lengthy prelude to the war in Iraq, your press corps made almost no effort to say. But they rush to talk about duck boots and sweaters, and they’re shocked to see Dr. Dean in old shoes. Vacuous, empty, inane, daft and dumb, their Millionaire Pundit Values make a joke of your interests. They’re rapidly moving past parody’s reach. Is there any way that Big Trouble won’t follow?

DOWD FAMILY VALUES: In June 1999, Gay Jervey profiled Dowd for Brill’s Content. Joe Klein, limning Dowd, told her this:

JERVEY: “Maureen is very talented,” observes Joe Klein of The New Yorker. “But she is ground zero of what the press has come to be about in the nineties...I remember having a discussion with her in which I said, ‘Maureen, why don’t you go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real?’ And she said, ‘You mean I should write about welfare reform?’”
Indeed, why would Dowd discuss welfare reform? Can’t you picture what they must be wearing?