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READ THIS BOOK (PART 2 OF 2)! How effective was the trashing of Gore? Even Alterman still semi-believes it:


EASY TO BE HARD: In What Liberal Media?, Eric Alterman pulls few punches about the press corps’ trashing of Candidate Gore. He correctly cites “the hostile and journalistically irresponsible treatment endured by the Gore campaign.” He correctly notes that “coverage of the [Bush-Gore] debates was so egregious it shocked even journalists who were clearly on the Bush team.” He correctly says that “the media aided the Bush campaign by conducting what looks very much in retrospect to be a campaign of character assassination against Gore.” And as we noted in yesterday’s HOWLER, he correctly offers this nugget (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/24/03):

ALTERMAN (page 160): It’s weird how much the press corps hated Gore. Weirder still, however, given the strictures of journalistic objectivity, is how little compunction they felt about showing it.
In that vein, Alterman describes the astounding way the press jeered Gore at the first Gore-Bradley debate. He describes “moderator Judy Woodruff’s amazingly hostile opening question” at the last Gore-Bradley debate in New Hampshire. He describes the way the corps mocked Gore’s clothes, and the “dime store psychoanalysis” they conducted throughout. He lists the “indescribably silly” and “patently false” attacks they gimmicked against Gore’s character. As we’ve long noted, your press corps made a total joke out of your 2000 White House election. Alterman names all the relevant names as he describes the affair in some detail.

But Alterman does seem oddly unclear about why this conduct happened. In part, we salute his reticence; as we noted yesterday, he is slow to assert that the disparity in the Bush/Gore coverage reflects the press corps’ political preference. “I have no evidence, and do not believe, that reporters prefer a conservative Republican to a centrist Democrat in the White House,” he writes. But this leaves him offering a weak explanation for the remarkable conduct that occurred:

ALTERMAN (page 159): [E]ven the contempt that familiarity can breed does not explain the hostile and journalistically irresponsible treatment endured by the Gore campaign. The easiest explanation at hand is simply the fact that the vast majority of the reporters who covered Gore simply hated his guts. They thought him supercilious, superior, snotty, smug, and generally a pain in the ass—the kind of kid who would tell the teacher that the clock had been set forward and it was really not yet time for recess.
In this passage, Alterman is forced to fall back on the corps’ own account of its endless misconduct. Given the press corps’ almost pathological dishonesty—a pathology which Alterman lays out in detail—this strikes us as the least likely way to figure out what really happened.

Why did the press corps go after Gore? To us, the chronology is fairly clear. By the time of Clinton’s re-election, the press had had it with Vile Bill; they had somehow managed to convince themselves that the Whitewater “scandal” was really real, and the fund-raising problems in Campaign 96 set their picture of Clinton into stone. And by the end of 1996, they had begun to link Gore to the mess; the Buddhist temple “scandal” first boiled up in 10/96, followed by the “fund-raising phone calls” in 3/97, and by the spring of 1997, the first nasty portraits of Gore began to appear in the press. And then, in December 1997, Maureen Dowd and the egregious Frank Rich invented the ludicrous Love Story “scandal;” in his ridiculous column on the subject, Rich made it clear that he saw the affair as a symbol of the deeper “character problem” which he and his colleagues had brilliantly teased from the two other Big Gore Brouhahas. And then, a few weeks later, the deluge; Monica Lewinsky burst on the scene, and the press corps’ horror grew. Clinton’s impeachment trial ended in 2/99. When Gore began his campaign the next month, the corps began inventing the “indescribably silly” and “patently false” tales that eventually put Bush in the White House.

Why did the press corps go after Gore? It’s fairly clear that the War Against Gore was a seamless extension of the War Against Clinton. We think it’s fairly clear that the remarkable coverage of Campaign 2000 was largely an act of “Clinton payback,” as even a few of our normally disingenuous pundits managed to blurt on occasion. (Why did the press corps go after Clinton? That’s where the real question lies.)

So yes—we think Alterman gives a weak account of why the Gore-trashing happened. And although that is a small weakness in this excellent book, we can’t really hold it against him. The trashing of Candidate Gore was endless—and the trashing of Candidate Gore was effective. As we’ve told you, many Dems still believe the tales that were told about Candidate Gore. The tales were told again and again, and the tales were almost never challenged (not even by scribes who knew they were bogus). In our experience, many Dems still believe the wild tales that put George W. Bush in the White House. And we’re not surprised to see that Alterman still seems to believe a few too.

Indeed, one of those effective tales lives on in What Liberal Media? Discussing the trashing of Gore’s clothes, Alterman makes a surprising comment:

ALTERMAN (page 161): Reporters did not like Gore sartorially, either. They mocked him, fairly, I suppose, for taking advice from the high-priced feminist writer/consultant Naomi Wolf about his earth-tone wardrobe. But even his choice of suits managed to piss reporters off…
Alterman goes on to trash Chris Matthews for his rants about Gore’s disturbing three-button suits. (Joan Walsh, of course, still treats Matthews as if he were a credible figure.) But was Gore mocked “fairly” over Wolf? We were surprised by Alterman’s comment. But then, this episode has never been fully explained, and many people still believe the silly tales that were told about Wolf. Indeed, we often get e-mails from angry Dems who criticize Gore in this area.

Some of you are tired of tales from Campaign 2000. But as we’ve told you many times: Democrats need to understand the way their party lost the White House. And American citizens need to know the way their “press corps” really functions. The trashing of Wolf was one of the most amazing episodes of Campaign 2000. We hate to spend our time in the past, but it’s time that this tale should be told…

FRANKLY, WE ADMIRE THE FRANKNESS: How easy was it to believe the press corps’ tales about Gore? We admire the following passage from What Liberal Media? In it, Alterman notes how easy it was to be swept up by all the foofaw:

ALTERMAN (page 157): [T]he media also aided the Bush campaign by conducting what looks very much in retrospect to be a campaign of character assassination against Gore…I say “in retrospect” because even though this topic was one of my “beats” during the election, and I wrote about it at some length, I really had no idea how extensive and irresponsible it had been until I looked back at it in a semi-systematic fashion.
We sympathize with Alterman. At THE HOWLER, we wrote about the War on Gore from March 1999 on. But as we get back to work on our book about the coverage of Campaign 2000, we continue to be surprised by the ubiquity of the corps’ misconduct. Many people still believe the tales that were told about Candidate Gore. In particular, may Dems still believe the nasty spinning done about Wolf. We’ve never laid out that case in detail—and it does make for startling reading.

The Daily update

MORE ON THAT TOUR DE FORCE PERFORMANCE: We only hope that a certain Post scribe is seated when he reads Gilbert Cranberg’s column. The piece appeared in yesterday’s Sarasota Herald-Tribune, even as the Post’s William Raspberry was admitting that he had begun to lose faith in Colin Powell’s U.N. presentation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/24/03). We hope The Razz is sitting down. Here is Cranberg’s headline:

HEADLINE: Powell’s U. N. report apparently contains false information.
D’oh! And no, this doesn’t concern the factual problems you’ve already seen discussed. Remember when Powell played the tapes of Iraqi officials conversing in Arabic? You don’t speak Arabic, do you, readers? You had to trust Powell’s translation:
CRANBERG: In the first cited conversation…Powell’s account of the conversation squared with the State Department’s translation. Powell’s version of the second conversation, however, departed significantly from it…

The State Department’s transcript of the actual conversation makes it evident that Powell had embellished [a] quote to make it appear much more incriminating.

You should read Cranberg’s column to get the full story. And who is Cranberg, by the way? As the Herald-Tribune’s ID line notes, he is “former editor of the Des Moines Register’s editorial pages and George H. Gallup Professor Emeritus at the University of Iowa.” For the record, his column also appeared in last Saturday’s Register.

Did Powell spin the taped conversation? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t really know. But Cranberg’s claim deserves full airing if we want to know how our democracy works. We only hope that our impressionable Post Three are seated when that airing occurs. They rushed to judgment, then backed off. Cranberg’s column may make for more pedaling.