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SPINNING WOLF (PART 4)! A “speculation” was turned into fact when the press corps began to spin earth tones:


A WEEK OF HOWLER HISTORY: Enjoy each episode in our week-long report:

SPINNING WOLF (PART 1): The press discovered Wolf in plain sight—then conducted a smut-laden trashing. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/03.

SPINNING WOLF (PART 2): Weeks before the Wolf flap began, boots-and-suits made a strange earth tones prequel. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/03.

SPINNING WOLF (PART 3): Duffy’s report made a fleeting remark—and the pundits were soon spinning alpha. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/6/03.

Howler history: Spinning Wolf

Naomi Wolf told the New York Times that she had only mentioned “alphas” once—and that her remark had simply expressed a “truism” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/5/03). And Gore media honcho Carter Eskew said much the same thing. Eskew “said he had not heard about the Alpha male before this week,” Melinda Henneberger wrote in the Times. And guess what? No one ever contradicted Wolf or Eskew, on or off the public record. But no matter. Your pundits enjoyed their halfwit jibes about Gore’s attempt to become “top dog,” and that booing, jeering, laughing press corps continued its bizarre campaign coverage.

Wolf rolled her eyes at the “alpha male” flap. But as we’ve seen, Gore’s “mad genius” was even more dismissive about the earth tones foofaw. According to Henneberger, Wolf flatly denied that she’d ever offered any advice about wardrobe:

HENNEBERGER: Contradicting reports from within the Gore camp, [Wolf] also said she had not been telling [Gore] how to dress, either: not a single fashion tip, or even so much as a “Nice tie, Mr. Vice President.”
She offered a similar denial on This Week. Gore also denied the point, saying his wife picked out his clothing. According to Wolf, the pleasing tale about those “earth tones” had—alas!—simply been false.

But Wolf’s denial had no effect on the spreading story. The tale that Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones was being flogged throughout the press. Pundits simply loved the tale, which let them recite a favorite point—Al Gore doesn’t know who he is. One pundit after another recited the highly pleasing point. As we’ll see, Wolf’s denial was almost never mentioned as one “reporter” after another recited the earth tones as fact.

Indeed, the “earth tones” tale is a brilliant example of the way the modern press creates spin. In fact, there was never any real evidence that Wolf advised Gore to wear earth tones. The story started with a single “speculation”—a “speculation” which never seems to have been confirmed. But so what? Instantly, the “speculation” was accepted as fact, and pundits raced to recite the story, adding pseudo-psychiatric claims about what the unproven “fact” meant. When Wolf denied the pleasing “fact,” her denial was almost never noted. And one more comic element obtained; pundits who wanted to ground the story began to source the tale to Time. In fact, Michael Duffy’s report in Time didn’t say a word about earth tones—but by Day 2, major reporters were already sourcing the “earth tones” tale to his piece, given it surface respectability. These reporters were doing what your “press corps” does best. They were lying, to serve preferred tales.

Let’s go back and review the way this iconic claim unfolded.

As noted, Michael Duffy’s story in Time didn’t mention “earth tones” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/4/03). According to Duffy, one unnamed Gore adviser had “downplayed” Wolf as a “wardrobe consultant.” But Duffy stressed the fact that most Gore advisers didn’t know what Wolf was doing for the campaign. (Wolf lived in New York, where she worked with Gore’s daughter; the Gore camp was based in DC and then Nashville.) Simply put, there was no way to tell from Duffy’s piece if Wolf had ever consulted on wardrobe. But Duffy didn’t say a word about “earth tones.” There’s no sign that anyone ever told Duffy that Wolf told Gore to wear tones.

But earth tones popped up one day later, offered as a “speculation” in a piece by—who else?—Ceci Connolly. One day after Duffy’s piece appeared, the Gore-bashing spinner wrote a page-one piece about Wolf in the Washington Post. She spoke with former Clinton aide Dick Morris, who had worked with Wolf in the’96 campaign (later praising Wolf for her mainstream advice). Here’s the sentence in which “earth tones” got its start:

CONNOLLY (11/1/99): Morris speculated that Wolf, who has long contended that earth tones are more “reassuring” to audiences, is the person behind Gore’s recent wardrobe change.
That’s the sentence in which Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones was born.? It was born in a “speculation” by Morris, offered to the egregious Ceci Connolly.

Before we look at Connolly’s attempt to “confirm” this speculation, one comical point should be noted. Was it true? Had Gore made a “recent change” in which he began wearing earth tones? As a matter of fact, he had not. It is perfectly clear from the campaign reporting that Gore had worn earth tones on the trail ever since he began to stump. (Duh. Many people wear “earth tones.”) Indeed, in April 1999, the Daily News Record, a fashion publication, reviewed the wardrobes of all the new hopefuls. Susan Watters quoted fashion mavens on the candidates’ duds. At one point, Watters quoted Fred Davis, “the head of [Dan] Quayle’s image team:”

WATTERS (4/16/99): “[Clinton] got elected sloppy. But those days are over. That’s one of the great advantages George W. Bush has. He’s a sharp dresser. He looks presidential. Al Gore should take a hint from Bill Clinton, who used custom tailoring and great fit to help build a presidential image. Gore needs to move from earth tones to black and dark grays.”
Oops! All the way back in April 1999, Davis said that Gore had to dump all those earth tones. But seven months after the Watters report, Morris was discussing Gore’s “recent change” to the troubling tones, and “speculating” that Wolf was behind it. It is true that Gore had recently begun to wear a brown/olive suit to some public events—a suit that was starting to drive the press corps crazy. But had Gore made a “sudden change” to earth tones? At best the claim was a wild exaggeration, and at worst the claim was simply false. But so what? Connolly and friends had spent the entire month of October making up tales about Gore’s boots-and-suits. There was little chance that your “press corps” would let a few facts wreck a treasured tale now.

In short, it didn’t seem that Candidate Gore had made a “recent change” to earth tones. But no matter. Morris offered the “speculation” that Wolf might be behind this troubling change, and Connolly prowled the garbage cans of her mind, hoping to prove it had happened. Please be careful—be very, very careful—when you read her attempt at “confirmation:”

CONNOLLY: Morris speculated that Wolf, who has long contended that earth tones are more “reassuring” to audiences, is the person behind Gore’s recent wardrobe change. Others confirmed that she has supported the vice president’s shift to brown, olive green and tan shades.
Say what? Those familiar with “weasel words” will note that Connolly was up to old tricks, pretending that someone had “confirmed” the Morris speculation without quite saying so. Had someone actually confirmed the notion that Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones? As you’ll note, that isn’t what Connolly said. According to Connolly, people had confirmed that Wolf “supported Gore’s shift to brown and tan tones,” whatever that was supposed to mean. To state the obvious, supporting a shift is a different thing from actually telling someone to do it, and spinners like Connolly do make their living playing such “Clintonesque” games. Of one thing you can be perfectly certain: If someone had confirmed the pleasing claim that Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones, Connolly—a professional writer—would have typed it up nice and plain. Her weasel words make the truth fairly clear: No one did confirm the “speculation” on which this pointless tale would turn. For the record, we know of no reporter who ever provided other evidence that the earth tones “speculation” was accurate. It is fairly clear that this one shaky passage in Connolly’s story was the sole basis for the pleasing report.

But so what? Connolly’s piece, however shaky, was good enough for the press corps. It was Connolly’s piece that established the tale—Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones. That afternoon, Jonathan Karl recited the story as fact on CNN’s Inside Politics—apparently relying on Connolly’s story (no one else had done any reporting). Here is the first report in which Wolf-and-earth-tones is stated as fact:

KARL: Soon, Naomi Wolf’s advice, including encouraging him to ditch his blue suits in favor of earth tones, was costing the Gore campaign $15,000 a month, making her one of his highest-paid consultants. Most recently, Wolf helped prep Gore for his joint appearance in New Hampshire with Bill Bradley.
Karl stated it as a fact—Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones. From that point on, the tale was a fact. And the “fact” was based on the Connolly story—a story in which Dick Morris offered a “speculation,” and no one seems to have confirmed it as fact.

For those who want to understand the way the press corps peddled this tale, two other features should be noted. One is the way pundits pretended that the “earth tones” tale was reported by Time. The other is the way Wolf’s flat denial was sent down the memory hole.

To all appearances, no one wanted to say that the tones had come from a “speculation” by Morris (who was now building a career as a provocative pundit). Result? Major scribes began to pretend that the story had come from Time. Howell Raines began the foofaw with this editorial in the 11/2 New York Times:

NEW YORK TIMES: Life would be simple for presidential candidates if they did not have advisers. Vice President Gore is the latest to discover this, thanks to the amusing report in Time magazine that he is being urged to quit behaving like a “beta male,” to wear earth-toned suits and to look for opportunities to bash President Clinton, whose alpha maleness Mr. Gore has to conquer.
Time had said nothing about earth tones. The next day, Maureen Dowd also misstated the point, writing that “Time magazine revealed that Al Gore hired Ms. Wolf…to help him with everything from his shift to earth tones to his efforts to break with Bill Clinton.” Clarence Page asserted the bogus fact too, in his syndicated Chicago Tribune column. “It was Wolf, Time reported, who persuaded the president to wear more ‘earth tones,’” Page erroneously said. Indeed, Morris went down the memory hole as journalists ran with the “earth tones” report. According to a NEXIS search, no one ever cited Morris as the source of the pleasing claim, while a wide range of writers falsely attributed the story to Time. Meanwhile, many scribes found an all-purpose way to avoid citing Morris’ “speculation.” They said that Wolf “reportedly” told Gore to wear earth tones, using an all-purpose word that lets a writer repeat any tale that has ever been said.

Did Naomi Wolf tell Gore to wear earth tones? No one ever seems to have offered an actual source for the pleasing claim. But so what? Because the tale was so deeply enjoyable, scribes let nothing keep them from telling it. Even when Wolf made a flat denial, scribes continued repeating the story, almost never mentioning what Wolf had said. On November 7, for example, Clarence Page failed to mention Wolf’s denial when he wrote his Sunday column—though he did find space to falsely state that Time had reported the earth tones. Over the weekend of November 7, the “earth tones” and the “alpha male” were discussed on many pundit shows; the standard joking was widely enjoyed, but almost no one ever mentioned Wolf’s flat denials. The story was pleasing, and your pundits enjoyed it. But there is no real evidence that it was true. For the record, no Gore staffer, on or off the record, ever challenged Wolf’s denial.

Had Wolf told Gore to behave like an alpha? Had Wolf told Gore that he ought to wear earth tones? The questions involved were absurdly stupid and trivial, and there was no real evidence to show they were true. But so what? How clown-like was your “press corps” willing to be? The story that Naomi Wolf told Gore to wear earth tones became the fourth separate story the press had now told. Why had Gore “ditched the blue suits” for casual clothes? Story One: In April and May, a string of pundits explained that Gore had ditched the blue suits to be more approachable (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/5/03). Story Two: In June, pundits came up with a mocking explanation; Al Gore had ditched the blue suits because Bill Clinton told him to do it. Story Three: In October, a blatantly false explanation appeared; Al Gore had ditched the blue suits because Bill Bradley had surged in the polls. And now we had the most pleasing explanation. Story Four: Al Gore had ditched the blue suits because Naomi Wolf made him do it. That meant that Al Gore didn’t know who he is, and had hired a woman to teach him how to be a man. As we’ll see, those dimwitted spin-points flew all through the “press,” often expressed in the smutty ways your thigh-rubbing pundits most love.

Did the Washington “press corps” know who they were? Whoever they were, they didn’t seem to be journalists. Watching as pundits type more smutty tales, our next HOWLER will finish the story.

TOMORROW (OR MONDAY): Wolf was “Al Gore’s viagra,” the pundit said. But so what? He was just playing hardball.

Connolly really had quite a season in the fall of 1999. On October 7, she pretended that Al Gore had just ditched the blue suits due to the surge by Bill Bradley. The story, of course, was blatantly false, but it quickly spread all through the press, as pundits stamped Gore as a phony (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/5/03). On November 1, she scored again, creating an iconic spin—Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones. On November 30 and December 1, Connolly completed the hat trick. With the month-long Wolf flap nearing its end, she “misquoted” Gore about Love Canal, setting off the press corps’ next major flap. In the Love Canal matter, it was instantly clear that Connolly had misquoted Gore, but the Post refused to correct its mistake for a week while the bogus tale made its way round the world. When the Post at long last filed a “correction,” it included a new groaning error.

Of course, Connolly’s attempts to destroy Gore’s campaign didn’t start in the fall of the year. On 4/4/99, she wrote an astoundingly disingenuous cover story for the Sunday Post magazine, pretending that Gore was raising “dangerous,” “staggering” and “unprecedented” sums for his White House effort. But why was Gore hoping to raise an “unprecedented sum?” Duh. Because every four years, the FEC adjusts its permitted spending limit to keep pace with inflation! (If you read Connolly’s 8000-word piece very carefully, you might have been able to glean that.) Meanwhile, it was already clear that Candidate Bush would likely eschew federal matching funds; he would thereby free himself to raise much more money than Gore. (There are no fund-raising limits unless you accept matching funds.) Connolly herself had reported this fact two months earlier, but now it was hidden deep in her piece—as she flogged the “dangerous” sums which Gore was said to be raising! Gore appeared on the cover in a Superman suit—with a giant dollar sign stamped his chest. This nonsense went on at a major paper which knew that Bush would almost surely raise more money than Gore. In fact, Bush wound up raising more than twice as much, with barely a peep from the Post.

The April piece was simply astounding. But Connolly topped even herself with a pair of July front-page stories. It was now abundantly clear that Bush was raising more money than Gore. So Connolly—dropping her fears about “dangerous sums”—began pretending that Crazy Gore was spending absurd sums of money. What were the actual facts on the ground? At the time, the Gore campaign had spent $8 million; the Bush campaign had spent $7 million. This marginal difference was largely explained by the fact that Gore had begun his campaign travel in March, while Bush waited until the Texas legislature ended its session in June. But Connolly and co-writer Susan Glasser gimmicked a pair of punishing reports. In them, they offered absurd anecdotal examples—examples designed to make it look like Gore was crazily blowing his money. These same examples were used to praise Bush for his “famously frugal” ways. By the way—given the actual dollar figures, how did Connolly sustain this new fiction? Simple! Connolly and Glasser never reported the pair of numbers we gave you above. That’s right—in a pair of back-to-back, page-one reports about how Crazy Gore was blowing his money, Post readers were never told that Gore had spent eight million bucks while Bush had already spent seven. Eventually, of course, Bush went deep in the hole with his spending, creating an embarrassing problem for his campaign in January. (But not too embarrassing—the press corps barely mentioned the matter.) But back in July, when the spinnin’ was easy, Connolly once again had found a sweet story, telling Post readers how “frugal” Bush was—and thereby deceiving those misused Post readers, as she would deceive them throughout the campaign.

In Connolly’s “profession,” by the way, gross misconduct now gets you promoted. After the election, Connolly was rewarded for her brilliant work, rising to become—what else?—a “Fox All-Star.” She now appears on Special Report, helping keep things fair-and-balanced.

By the way, what did Connolly do in the year 2000? We don’t have time to list all the clowning, but for a taste of how awful her work could be, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/5/02. Readers, abandon your foolish dreams! This is the way your “press corps” worked as it made a joke out of your White House election.

The Daily update

GOOD GERMANS: When the Boston Globe printed its latest about Senator War Crimes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/6/03), Good Germans in the Washington press corps knew just what they should do. On last night’s Special Report, Brit Hume got busy dissembling:

HUME: Senator John Kerry, who was shown by the Boston Globe recently to be of Jewish ancestry, has insisted he’s always been, quote, “clear as a bell” in never claiming Irish ancestry despite his Irish-sounding last name. But the Globe has now uncovered a statement Kerry made on the Senate floor back in 1986 just after St. Patrick’s Day which began, quote, “for those of us who are fortunate enough to share an Irish ancestry, we take great pride in the contributions that Irish-American, have made, from the time of the Revolutionary War to the present.”

An aide explained that the Senator did not really make that statement—that it was written for him by staff, and entered into the Congressional Record without the senator ever reading it.

Amazing, ain’t it? In the first paragraph, Hume tells you that Kerry “made a statement on the Senate floor.” In the second paragraph, he notes that Kerry apparently didn’t make the statement. But so it goes as the spinners at Fox laugh in the face of their dittohead viewers. Predictably, Tucker Carlson engaged in the same sort of clowning on last evening’s Crossfire.

But then, the Globe had behaved the very same way in yesterday’s front-page report (as Media Whores pointed out). Frank Phillips and Brian Mooney put their names on the Globe’s latest puzzler:

PHILLIPS AND MOONEY: US Senator John F. Kerry’s insistence that he has been “clear as a bell” in never having claimed Irish ancestry is undercut by a statement introduced the day after St. Patrick’s Day 17 years ago in which he identified himself as Irish-American.

“For those of us who are fortunate to share an Irish ancestory, we take great pride in the contributions that Irish-Americans, from the time of the Revolutionary War to the present, have made to building a strong and vibrant nation,” Kerry told Senate colleagues in a March 18, 1986 statement.

Kerry’s remarks, recorded in the Congressional Record, were part of his introduction of a St. Patrick’s Day message by then-Boston mayor Raymond L. Flynn that the senator wanted printed in the publication.

Kelley Benander, a Kerry aide, said the senator did not make the statement in person, but rather his staff prepared a written statement that was submitted to the clerk for recording. She said Kerry never saw the statement.

“John Kerry did not deliver these remarks nor did he see this line,” Benander said. “Anyone familiar with Capitol Hill knows that it is common routine for statements to be inserted in the Congressional Record rather than being delivered on the Senate floor. These particular remarks were drafted by a staffer who made an understandable and common but erroneous assumption.”

In the first three paragraphs, the Globe writers assert that Kerry “identified himself as Irish-American,” “told his Senate colleagues” that he “shared Irish ancestry,” and “wanted [a statement to that effect] printed in the [Congressional Record].” But the Globe then quotes a Kerry aide saying that Kerry never saw the statement—and offers no evidence rebutting this claim. How then could the great paper say that Kerry “identified himself as Irish American?” Easy! It was a story the great paper liked, so the Globe went ahead and got typing.

Any sane person can grasp the shape of this latest bizarro work from the Globe. The fact that the paper has to go back seventeen years for this non-event proves that the Globe’s basic thesis is false. Duh! If Kerry goes around saying he’s Irish, the Globe wouldn’t haven’t to beat the bushes digging up such a foolish “example.” But the Globe is a deeply troubled paper, as has been clear for a good long time. The paper covered Candidate Gore in this very same way, as we’ll discuss here next week.

The Globe has behaved in this way for some time. When will major voices tell the Globe that it really must stop?