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SPIN SEARCH! A pundit was fooled by Bush’s spin. But where did the slick spin-point come from?


MISSION STATEMENT—A REINVENTION: The DAILY HOWLER is changing its focus. When TDH began in early 1998, the press corps’ ongoing War Against Clinton was the key story in American politics. But with Al Gore driven from public life, that story has largely reached its end. We will still report on the work of the press. But with the War Against Clinton and Gore in the can, it seems to us that our insider press corps is no longer the straw that is stirring the drink. We’ll continue to limn the press corps’ crucial work, but we’re also expanding our focus. More on this incomparable reinvention in the days ahead.

Our current howler:

CASE STUDY—WHERE DOES SPIN COMES FROM? You always get spin in its rankest form on the egregious morning show, Fox & Friends. And sure enough, there was Jim Pinkerton on Saturday morning, spinning the UM case blue:

PINKERTON: Well look, any time you have an admissions policy that awards more points for your skin color than for your academic achievement, you know you’ve got something fishy here. If you get 20 points on the University of Michigan scale for being black or, I think, Hispanic, and 12 points for getting perfect double-800 SATs, then you know something is fishy.
This statement helps show how spin works. As you know, Pinkerton’s central claim is blatantly false; UM’s admissions policy does not “award more points for your skin color than for your academic achievement” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/17/03). In point of fact, it’s not even close; the UM policy awards 110 points for academic achievement compared to 20 points for race (or for socioeconomic disadvantage among white students). UM applicants can get 80 points for their grade point average; 12 more points for their SATs; 10 points if they went to a rigorous high school; and 8 points if they took advanced courses. Should Michigan dish that 20 for race? That remains a matter of judgment. But Pinkerton’s statement was howlingly false. And needless to say, neither of his hapless hosts corrected his blatant misstatement.

Assuming that Pinkerton’s statement was made in good faith, where did he get his gross misconception? As we noted last Friday, spinners had peddled the “20/12” spin-point for a week by the time Pinkerton spoke. Indeed, in his Wednesday speech on the UM matter, President Bush himself compared the 20 points for an applicant’s race to the 12 points for SAT scores. This comparison uses accurate facts but is meant to mislead—and plainly, it paid off with Pinkerton. When Pinkerton said “I think” (see above), he let us know that he hadn’t studied the UM matter especially closely. But what had he done? He had heard the “20/12” spin-point all week—and had been tricked into thinking that Michigan’s admission procedure “awards more points for skin color than for academic achievement.” But of course, that’s how spin is intended to work. Spinners make statements which are technically accurate—but which are carefully designed to mislead.

When Pinkerton spoke, we saw spin win—and the “20/12” spin won big last week, all across America. Without question, the spin-point has led many people to think that UM gives more points for race than for academics. Whoever set this spin-point in motion clearly came up with a major winner. And that raises an obvious question: Where did this slick spin-point come from?

According to a Nexis search, “20/12” made its network debut on that “liberal” net, CBS. Charles Osgood kicked things off; he recited the point on CBS radio back in December 2001. A year later, the Supreme Court said it would hear the Michigan case; Sharyl Attkisson, reporting to Rather, recited the “20/12” spin-point too. The next network appearance came just eight days ago, on January 12. Tim Russert stated the point on Meet the Press (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/17/03). So did George Will on This Week:

WILL: The University of Michigan has a huge 14th amendment equal protection problem. An African-American, a Native American, or a Hispanic American applying to the undergraduate school gets 20 points just for the color of the skin or ethnicity, 20 points added out of the possible 150. If you get a perfect 1600 on your SATs you only get 12 points.
After Tim and George, the deluge. The point was recited all week long, rarely accompanied by a full set of facts. Result? The spinning clearly fooled Jim Pinkerton—and many other Americans as well.

But the spin wasn’t authored by CBS. Who crafted the spin-point which misled Pinkerton? On that, the documentary record is clear; it began at the Center for Individual Rights, the conservative group which has led the fight against the Michigan system. Academic journals source “20/12” to the CIR as early as 2/27/98. Indeed, months before Osgood recited the point, here was CIR’s Curt Levey on The McLaughlin Group:

LEVEY (4/8/01): The University of Michigan, for example, the college gives 20 points for having the right skin color. You only get 12 points for having the best versus worse possible SAT score. That’s not one of many factors, race, when you get 20 points for that…That is an overwhelming preference based on a very superficial characteristic—skin color.
CIR invented “20/12;” last week, every pundit was mouthing it. Pundits all over our “liberal” news media were reciting a misleading spin-point crafted by a conservative group. In the process, many Americans—Pinkerton among them—found themselves quite slickly fooled.

Where does spin come from? This episode helps show you. “20/12” was designed to mislead—and that “liberal” press corps loves to recite it. Readers, are you surprised that Bush used the point to deceive, when he has so many high-level helpers?

STILL SPINNING: “20/12” was recited all weekend. Starting on Friday night, “20/12” or a near variant was recited by Joel Mowbray on Donahue; Armstrong Williams on Nachman; David Brooks on The NewsHour; Tony Snow on Special Report; Jim Pinkerton on Fox & Friends; and Kate O’Beirne on Capital Gang. On Sunday morning, it was recited by Russert on Meet the Press (quoting the Weekly Standard) and by Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday. (This Week’s transcript still isn’t posted.) And oh yes, it was voiced by another spinner—Ari Fleischer, at his briefing on Friday.

Should UM spot that twenty for race? You can’t decide without accurate info. But, as Pinkerton’s blunder helped show, Americans were persistently misled last week. The White House played a key role in the process. So did your “liberal” press corps.

Howler history:

DRUDGE TELLS US TRUE: Last Friday night, Matt Drudge guested on Hannity & Colmes, observing the fifth anniversary of Monica Lewinsky. Matt and Sean relived old times. Try to believe that your public discourse is now driven by men of this caliber:

HANNITY: Basically, look, you broke the intern, the sex, the investigation, the tape, the dress, the cigar. Way ahead of the curve.

DRUDGE: It was always hot to the touch. We broke the cigar right here on Fox News on one lonely Saturday night—

HANNITY: I remember.

DRUDGE: —right there on Sixth Avenue. And I remember asking Roger Ailes, How in the world do I report something like that? And we decided I should just hold a cigar. And by Monday, it was Stern, Limbaugh, Letterman. It had been a complete sweep, a media 10 strike.

Ah yes, the way we were! Of course, while Fox was urging the country to chase down cigars, Osama was planning his own little “10 strike.” Rudman and Hart put out their warnings—but others had bigger concerns.

But sometimes, Drudge tells it true. Continuing directly, he contradicted a prevailing, treasured Standard Press Corps Account:

DRUDGE: Yes, it wasn’t good. It was demoralizing. We were the laughingstock of the world for many reasons during those months that turned into, frankly, years. And ask Al Gore if it was a good thing for the country. I do believe W. was elected president based on Lewinsky and the impeachment. The vote was so close, the states were so close. It would have been clear sailing for Al Gore if he hadn’t had a tarnished running co-partner there.
The Standard Press Corps Account is quite different. Again, here was Michelle Cottle’s comical rendering on the December 5 Hardball:
COTTLE: I mean, [Gore] had this great situation handed to him. The economy was great, the Clinton years, except for a few unfortunate personal scandals, were fine, and Gore blew it.
Insider pundits of the left, right and center will keep reciting this Standard Account—although few will ever spin the Clinton impeachment as comically as Cottle did on Hardball. In Cottle’s rendering, the second impeachment in American history became “a few unfortunate personal scandals.” Truly, insider pundits will do and say anything to adhere to their group’s preferred tales.

Why do pundits insist on saying that Al Gore Blew A Perfect Situation? It continues their requisite trashing of Gore—and it takes their own conduct right out of the picture. Principally, the press corps likes to say that Al Gore Blew A Sure Election in order to hide its own key role in the 2000 triumph by Bush.

Remember—the insider press corps never tells you the truth about its own misconduct. This point was illustrated in a puzzling segment on yesterday’s Late Edition. For reasons that are completely unclear, Wolf Blitzer also played Memory Man during his roundtable segment. Inexplicably, he brought up Gore’s Internet statement:

BLITZER: Welcome back. The former vice president, Al Gore, on this program in March of 1999, had some important comments that may have cost him the election. I want our listeners to listen to that comment right now.

GORE (on tape): During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth.

BLITZER: Those words, Donna, were quite controversial. They became the butt of a lot of late night talk show jokes. You know, he obviously misspoke, and he paid a huge price for it.

Blitzer is right about one thing; Gore’s comment—endlessly spun—probably cost the election. But remember, the press corps never tells you the truth about its own behavior. In this segment, Blitzer pretends that it was “late night comedians” who made a big deal out of Gore’s remarks. In fact, it was plainly the press corps which created this story. And is it true—did Gore “obviously misspeak” about the Net? In fact, Blitzer didn’t say a word when Gore made his Internet comment. In real time, Blitzer showed absolutely so sign of thinking that Gore’s comment was worthy of note. In fact, for two solid days after Gore’s remark, no one in the national press corps said even one word about what he had said. The press corps only flogged the comment when the RNC began to spin it. For a full discussion of this crucial event, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/3/02.

“Late night comedians” played no role in creating this crucial spin campaign. In reality, it was a lapdog press corps—starting its twenty-month War Against Gore—which drove this ridiculous story. And even today, Blitzer simply won’t tell you truth about this all-important matter. But that’s the way this press corps works. Steer clear of their self-serving stories.

HELPING SULLY FIGURE IT OUT: Why does the White House honor Jeff Davis, Andrew Sullivan asks this day. Duh. “To cater to the “neo-confederate yahoo vote,” Josh Marshall explains. Sully just couldn’t figure it out. But you know what to do. Just click here.

MUST-READ TV: Yikes! CNN took a real beating on Reliable Sources. You know what to do. Just click here.