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Caveat lector

PRESS CORPSE! Pundits mocked a zombified prez. But we spied a zombified press corps:


DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL: Many have noted President Bush’s zombified performance in Thursday night’s press conference. But how about that zombified press corps? At times, they asked the types of questions sixth-graders would ask if they had to produce a make-believe conference. NBC News got to ask one question. So David Gregory (“Stretch”) asked Bush this:

GREGORY: If you order war, can any military operation be considered a success if the United States does not capture Saddam Hussein, as you once said, dead or alive?
Does anyone know where that question came from? Out here in the real world, we’ve heard many people ask many questions about the coming war with Iraq. But have you ever heard any real person—given one question—tell you they want to know that?

But Stretch came off like a genius compared to the honchos from the other two nets. When Bill Plante (CBS) got his turn, he asked a question so jumbled, so confused and so self-contradictory that even Bush got to snort as he answered:

PLANTE: Mr. President, to a lot of people, it seems that war is probably inevitable because many people doubt—most people I would guess—that Saddam Hussein will ever do what we are demanding that he do, which is disarm. And if war is inevitable, there are a lot of people in this country, as much as half by polling standards, who agree that he should be disarmed, who listen to you say that you have the evidence, but who feel they haven’t seen it, and who still wonder why blood has to be shed if he hasn’t attacked us.
Huh? Can anyone unpack that meandering presentation? Most people “doubt that Saddam will ever disarm.” Half the people “agree that Saddam should be disarmed.” But they “still wonder why blood has to be shed if he hasn’t attacked us.” There may have been a real question in there. (Was he trying to ask if inspections could work?) But Plante’s confused presentation was such a snap that even Bush got to roll his eyes as he whipped off an airtight syllogism:
BUSH: Well, Bill, if they believe he should be disarmed; and he’s not going to disarm; there’s only one way to disarm him. And that happens to be my last choice—the use of force.
As Chris Matthews might say, “Let’s play softball.” By the time Plante asked his wandering question, by the way, Bush had already given his standard answer about Saddam five times. Plante’s softball took the count up to six.

But Ann Compton (ABC) really brought up the rear among network honchos. Scenario: Compton gets to ask a sequestered president one single question on any topic. She can ask about any topic in the world. So here is the question she poses:

COMPTON: Mr. President, if you decide to go ahead with military action, there are inspectors on the ground in Baghdad. Will you give them time to leave the country, or the humanitarian workers on the ground or the journalists? Will you be able to do that and still mount an effective attack on Iraq?
Allowed to ask any question she wants, Compton wants to know this! We even heard the genial guy who runs our bagel joint mocking that question the next day.

Truly, this was the press conference of the living dead. One scribe asked, “What should America do?…Should it pray?” Was she troubled by the answers Bush was giving, or by the queries that emerged from her “press corps?”

WHAT, THEM WORRY: It ain’t like there’s nothing to ask about. The news has been full of boondoggles, screw-ups, problems and concerns which might have been tossed at the president. For example, what will happen when all those bombs are dropped on a city of five million people? Presumably, “Shock and Awe” was floated weeks back so the press could ask about civilian deaths. But is there any chance that this gang will do so? On Thursday night, they just wanted to be assured that their buddies and friends would get out.

Then there was Jonathan Chait’s TNR piece about Bush and homeland security. “Bush’s record on homeland security ought to be considered a scandal,” Chait writes in his 5800-word report. “Yet, not only is it not a scandal, it’s not even a story, having largely failed to register with the public, the media, or even the political elite.” Chait runs down the long list of areas in which Bush has shortchanged homeland sec. “[I]t’s simply hard to believe that something as essential as protecting Americans from terrorism would be resisted by any serious person in Washington,” Chait says. But he reviews one area after another, and it turns out that George W. Bush is that person. After all, spending dough on basic security would get in the way of those tax cuts.

Chait’s article is stunning, and it came out on Monday, March 3. But as we’ve noted, the piece is long, and to your press corps, reading is hard and reading is boring. As Chait mentioned—in passing, we note—the press corps has taken a pass on this topic. So Bush wasn’t questioned about this key issue. But here’s the good news. Indirectly, Chait does answer that one scribe’s question. Yes, we should pray—very hard.

Final note: In this morning’s Post, David Broder slams the “out of touch” corps for failing to ask about the budget. It’s a fine picture he paints:

BRODER: I was astonished and dismayed that in the first opportunity to quiz the president in four months, not one question was asked about the shaky economy or the out-of-control federal budget…An economically cushioned set of reporters seemingly couldn’t care less about this looming disaster. Talk about being out of touch!
But back in Campaign 2000, when such matters were being discussed, it was Broder who defiantly “couldn’t care less.” Tomorrow, we’ll revisit The Dean’s astonishing take on Gore’s speech at the Democratic Convention. “I almost fell asleep,” Broder said. Now, he complains about others.

The Daily update

NOT WITH STUPID: How stupid is the Boston Globe’s trashing of Kerry? So stupid that the conservative, tabloid Boston Herald is marveling at the paper’s dim conduct! In yesterday’s Herald, columnist Joe Sciacca mocks the Globe’s work, and notes how “creepy” the rag’s race-snooping has been. With thanks to Dan Kennedy for noting the column, here’s Sciacca’s take on the Globe’s racial foofaw:

SCIACCA: It’s not that Kerry actually pretended to be Irish. It’s that he may have left people with the impression that he was Irish, and never launched a media blitz to correct any such impression.

Not even one TV ad: “Hello, I’m Senator John Kerry. And in case you were thinking I’m Irish, I’m not. Thank you.”

Yes, the Globe’s bizarre conduct deserves to be mocked. But Sciacca is clearly wrong on one score. “It is, of course, a blip on the screen in the race for the White House,” he says, referring to the Globe’s pursuit of Kerry. But try telling that to President Gore. In March 1999, the press corps began inventing bizarro complaints about Gore. They kept it up for twenty straight months, putting George W. Bush in the White House. There is absolutely no reason—no reason on earth—to think this can’t happen again.

Democrats need to tell the Globe that they will not accept a repeat of this conduct. The Globe’s coverage of Gore was astounding; don’t doubt for a minute that they’ll do it to Kerry. Your Washington press corps is deeply disturbed—and they love to show off their dysfunction. Sciacca is right—the Globe has been clowning. He’s wrong when he says it won’t matter.

Meanwhile, can me make a final note about the race-snooping? The Globe, of course, is very upset because Kerry didn’t correct their past errors. In the handful of cases when they called him “part-Irish,” he was supposed to ring up and complain. But can we note a simple point? In fact, Kerry didn’t know that he wasn’t “part-Irish.” Once again, here is the solon’s televised exchange with John McLaughlin back in 1993:

MCLAUGHLIN: I remember—and maybe this is one of the bases for the “enigma” rap—and that is that you, your name is Kerry. You’re obviously Irish, your dad.
KERRY: No, I’m a mixture.
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, your father’s Irish. Right?
KERRY: No. My father came from Austria.
MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, did he?
KERRY: Yeah. And I actually came over, what—his grandfather came over originally in 19—gosh, ’10, ’12, somewhere around there. But my grandmother converted from Judaism somewhere in the—I don’t know. We’re still trying to find all the details of it.
MCLAUGHLIN: But the name “Kerry” is an Irish name.
KERRY: Oh, I presume. Irish, English—
MCLAUGHLIN: Does your father have some Irish in him?
KERRY: I don’t know the answer to that. We’re looking and I don’t know.
Kerry didn’t know his grandfather’s story. But he certainly didn’t know that he wasn’t “part-Irish.” Until the race snoops crawled around, Kerry believed that his grandfather had come from Austria and he believed that his grandfather had been named “Frederick Kerry.” Quite likely, such a man would have been “part-Irish.” As Kerry kept saying, he didn’t know. But was the name Irish? “Oh, I presume,” he said.

By the way: Read that transcript (from a major TV show), and try to believe that the man who kept saying that he just didn’t know—the man who said that no, his grandfather came from Austria and that by the way, his grandmother was Jewish—is now being chased as a liar on race. This is exactly what this gang did to Gore. It’s up to you—American citizens—to tell them flat-out: Time to quit.