FRIDAY, JANUARY 23, 2004
PLEASE COME TO MANCHESTER: When the Old Man of the Mountain literally falls off the hill, does that suggest a bad year for incumbents? The jests and the jibes start to fly Sunday night. Incomparably, we return Tuesday morning.
THE FACTS, GENERALJUST FAKE THE FACTS: What a performance by Peter Jennings! At last nights Democratic debate, the handsome anchor jumped on a high horse and he just rode, baby, rode. Jennings was peeved because Michael Moore called Bush a deserter at a rally for Clark. And so he asked Clark to denounce him:
JENNINGS: At one point, Mr. Moore said, in front of you, that President Bushhes saying hed like to see you, the general, and President Bush, who he called a deserter. Now, thats a reckless charge not supported by the facts. And I was curious to know why you didnt contradict him, and whether or not you think it wouldve been a better example of ethical behavior to have done so.Wow! Jennings felt he knew the facts. Clark said he wasnt so sure:
CLARK: Well, I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about this. I dont know whether this is supported by the facts or not. Ive never looked at it. Ive seen this charge bandied about a lot. But to me it wasnt material. This election is going to be about the future, Peter. And what we have to do is pull this country togetherBut Clarks high-minded host wasnt buying such smack. Once again, he referred to the facts:
JENNINGS: Let me ask you something you mentioned, then, because since this question and answer in which you and Mr. Moore was involved in, youve had a chance to look at the facts. Do you still feel comfortable with the fact that someone should be standing up in your presence and calling the president of the United States a deserter?Here at THE HOWLER, wed love to know what Jennings is talking about. Deserter, of course, is a term of art. But is it true, what Jennings said? Is it true that the facts dont support Michael Moores reckless charge? And has Clark had a chance to review the facts? Indeed, what exactly are these facts? At THE HOWLER, we arent really sure.
But Jennings doesnt seem to know the facts either. As near as we can tell from a Nexis search, Jennings has never reported on the charge that the young George Bush skipped a large chunk of his National Guard service. The Boston Globe reported the charge in a detailed report on May 23, 2000. And from that day to this, ABCs World News Tonight doesnt seem to have mentioned the allegation, let alone laid out the facts. Thats rightaccording to Nexis, Peter Jennings has never discussed Bushs missing year on World News Tonight. In September 2000, Jennings did narrate a pair of biographical programs looking at Candidates Bush and Gore. And in the course of the programs four hours, here is the total time devoted to Bush and the Guard:
JENNINGS (9/14/00): George W. had a plan. He arranged to join the Air National Guard in Texas, which meant he would not be sent to Vietnam. The Vietnam War posed the first big crisis in Al Gores adult life. His draft board was in Tennessee.End of discussion! In the course of his four-hour broadcast, Jennings never mentioned the questions about Bushs Guard service. Indeed, the program completely skipped the part of Bushs life where he was enrolled in the Guard. Our question: Where exactly could Wesley Clark go to look at the facts of this matter?
For ourselves, we dont much care about this part of Bushs life. But many other people do care, and Jennings performance in last nights debate perfectly captured the corps endless avoidance of this topic. Our news orgs have avoided this topic like a plague; as a result, the facts are completely unclear. By the end of Campaign 2000, the Boston Globe was still insisting that Bush almost surely failed to serve. But after November 2000, the press corps dropped this topic like a rock. In reality, there is virtually nowhere Clark could have gone to look at the facts about Bush and the Guard. Sadly, Jennings was willing to go on TV and scold him as if this were possible.
Indeed, we emitted low chuckles at Jennings performance. Last weekend, the Associated Press butchered the facts of this case, and so did the Dean of all pundits, David Broder (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/20/04). Is there any chance that ABCs handsome anchor skimmed his way through those bogus reports, gaining the misguided impression that he knew the real facts of this case? The AP and Broder both bungled the facts. Any chance that Peter Jennings doesnt know that?
How should Clark have handled Moores comment? Here at the HOWLER, we arent really sure. But during his exchange with Jennings, Clark was faithful to the record. Because of scribes like Peter Jennings, the facts on this matter are wholly unclear. Jennings and the rest of the corps have made a point of avoiding this topic. Now, Jennings wants Clark to fake the facts too. Look on his work and despair.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Links to previous work on this topic are available in Tuesdays HOWLER, linked above. And no, theres no news org that can give you the facts. Peter Jennings own missing year has now been extended to four.
SPANNING THE GLOBE: Finally! Finally, someone was going to settle the question about the Boston Globe and John Kerry. Its true, the Globe has sometimes battered Kerry, Tim Noah was saying in his Chatterbox column for Slate. He gave famous examples of the Globe ripping John. But mostly, it was Kerrys own fault:
NOAH: As these examples demonstrate, the Globes swipes at Kerry are sometimes cheap shots or outright wrong, and sometimes dead-on. By Chatterboxs rough estimate, at least three-quarters of Kerrys Globe problem is attributable to his own behavior.Finally! Three-fourths of the problem comes from Kerry! Noah continued, making the case: Hes a stiff and a phony, Globe columnist Alex Beam told Chatterbox. Stuff sticks to him because its true. And according to Noah, Beam isnt wrong. The rap against Kerry that hes a snob, that hes an opportunist, that he approaches facts with a Clintonesque slipperiness is grounded in persuasive evidence.
Finally! Finally, someone was going to sort out this war! And wed finally get persuasive evidenceevidence proving the problem was Kerrys! Our analysts leaned forward, alert and expectant. And then, dear readers, it happened again. Noah provided an inside look at the soul of the insider press corps:
NOAH: The Globe is hardly the only Boston media outlet to harp on these themes; the Boston Herald, a conservative tabloid, is less influential but much meaner. But it was the Globe that introduced Boston readers to what Chatterbox considers the most damning anecdote about Kerry.Finally! Finally, we would hear the true tale! And what is the most damning tale about Kerry? Heres whats so bad about John:
NOAH (continuing directly): As a sitting senator, Kerry once tried to recruit Jacob Weisberg then a teenage Yalie intern for the New Republic, now editor of Slate for Skull & Bones. (Weisberg declined the offer and razzed Kerry about Bones refusal at the time to admit women.) Not even Dubya, Chatterbox will wager, maintained this much loyalty to Bones elitist and infantile mumbo-jumbo after assuming elective office.Say what? This is the most damning anecdote about John Kerry? This is supposed to explain a history of coverage in which (among other episodes cited by Noah) the Globe falsely accused Kerry of committing war crimes? Did so on the verge of his closely-contested 1996 re-election? Yes, that seemed to be what was said. The Globe had falsely accused a solon of crimes. But it turned out to be the senators faultbecause he recruited Weisberg, when Jake was at Yale!
We always assume that they cant top themselves, but this one really does take a blue ribbon. Noah never quite explains what was so hideous about Kerrys come-onalthough the recitation gives Noah a chance to convey his editors great social importance. Indeed, Weisberg seems to have ridden this pointless incident for all it could possibly be worth. For example, when Alexandra Robbins wrote her recent history of Skull and Bones, she quoted Weisberg about this encounter. And she even provided the tales happy ending. The good news? Weeks after his troubling encounter with Kerry, Weisberg was recruited by another big star to join another big club at Yale:
ROBBINS (page 112): Weisberg called Kerry backhis call went straight throughand told him he was rejecting his offer. Kerry, Weisberg recalled, said he was disappointed. Soon afterward, the Washington Posts Robert Kaiser took Weisberg out to lunch and persuaded him to accept membership in Elihu instead. Weisberg lasted about two weeks before quitting, after someone suggested we all stand in a circle and hold hands, he told me.Can you see the thread in Weisbergs stories? In Weisbergs stories, important people keep pursuing Jake Weisberg. But Jake Weisberg is better by far.
This week, Weisberg glissades down trails and lounges in tubs, considering the length of Wesley Clarks troubling lashes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/22/04). Naomi Wolf still troubles his sleep; he frets about Liebermans food and pastels. How inane is your insider press corps? If youve read Slate this week and still feel you dont know, give it up: Revelation has escaped down a trail.