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SPINNING KERRY (PART 3)! Is Kerry a flipper? Inquiring minds want to know. But the Times typed a lightweight report:


WE HAVE A WINNER: And it’s Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Alabama), crowned as Washington’s Funniest Celebrity at last night’s “annual” charity event. Former contestant Norah O’Donnell hosted; Boston’s most buoyant favorite son, Jimmy Tingle, provided a bit of professional entertainment. For ourselves, we tiptoed nimbly about the hall, avoiding unpleasant interactions. When Joe Lieberman won this prize five years ago—leaving Howard Mortman for dead in the process—he parlayed it into a run for vice president. And Bachus? We chatted with the starry-eyed solon just before he wandered off into the night. No word on what he plans to do next, but in his acceptance speech, he showered praise on Dana and Joel Wood, who created the Foundation to Eradicate Duchenne, beneficiary of last night’s proceeds. (Duchenne is a form of Muscular Dystrophy.) We wish we could quote the solon’s remarks, but no official transcript was kept. In this, his first official act, we thought the Alabamian’s well-chosen words brought credit on a venerable contest.

SPINNING KERRY (PART 3): Does John Kerry flip-flop? Inquiring minds want to know. “Win One for the Flipper,” read the headline on Marjorie Williams’ column last Saturday. Williams favors Anybody But Bush, but the Post scribe is quite concerned about Kerry. “I’ve labored hard to turn my eyes from his career-long opportunism,” she writes, “the knowledge that Bay State political junkies trade their favorite Kerry flip-flops like baseball cards.” And then the Post scribe noted the obvious—President Bush is playing the flip-flop card against Kerry. “Bush is already having fun with Kerry’s zig-zags of the past three years alone,” she wrote. But is Bush’s indictment of Kerry on target? American voters should know.

But voters won’t be able to sort this one out if David Halbfinger’s piece sets the standard. On page one of last Saturday’s New York Times, the ace reporter swung into action, examining Kerry’s alleged flips. Two weeks earlier, the scribe had indulged himself in some lightweight fare; he wrote an insipid profile of Kerry’s troubling wife, being so bold as to ask the lady how many times she’d done Botox (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/23/04). To us, he seemed like The Emptiest Man. Now he would limn Kerry’s flip-flops.

Does Kerry flip? Inquiring minds want to know. But Halbfinger doesn’t seem up to the task of sorting out such a question. Yes, his piece provoked dry, mordant chuckles. But it also showed how thin is the gruel on which misused voters must feed.

Is Kerry a flipper? Quickly, Halbfinger seemed to say yes. “Throughout his campaign, Mr. Kerry has shown a knack for espousing both sides of divisive issues,” he wrote in paragraph 3. But alas! Before exploring any key examples, he did what modern “reporters” do best. He mentioned an RNC e-mail which claimed that Kerry had flipped on some thirty issues. But before he tried to evaluate this claim, the Timesman became a psychiatrist:

HALBFINGER (pgh 6): In fact, this trait, perhaps a natural one for a diplomat’s son, seems to have been ingrained in Mr. Kerry’s personality as far back as when he volunteered for duty in Vietnam after expressing doubts about the war as a college student—and then returned home and helped lead the opposition to the war.
What makes John flip? He’s a diplomat’s son! The mind-reading doctor was clearly IN as Halbfinger started explaining what he hadn’t yet proven. And by the way, how willing was the scribe to yell “flip-flop?” In this passage, Kerry’s willingness to serve in a war about which he had doubts was offered as proof of his problem! And yes, in case you aren’t real strong at math, Halbfinger had journeyed back thirty-six years to find this troubling example. Does Kerry flip now? We still didn’t know. But in the 60s, Dude had a Bad Problem!

But readers, this is exactly what they do—this gang of boys who bat around Botox then try to play shrink with our nation’s great issues. Once they’ve adopted a Great Mighty Theme, everything on earth will be seen to support it! Is Kerry a flipper? Times readers should know. But will they ever find out from the Times’ lightweight staff? Halbfinger hadn’t yet explored any real issue. But once more, the Timesman digressed:

HALBFINGER (12): Sometimes, Mr. Kerry’s stances seem to be well-thought political strategy. At no time was this more evident than the day when he spoke against opponents of gun control in an Iowa barn, then strode out to his car, unwrapped an old shotgun, and went off to shoot pheasant. The message was that hunters could be for gun control.
But of course, hunters can be “for gun control!” Even a school child could figure that out. It’s not clear why such pointless diversion would clutter up this front-page piece. But Halbfinger was quickly distracted again. This time, he noted how Kerry had once been perceived. It had happened thirty-two years ago:
HALBFINGER (14): Sometimes Mr. Kerry seems to embody contradictions. When he lost for Congress in 1972, went to law school and became a prosecutor, he stunned some of his colleagues in the antiwar movement who thought he shared their anti-authority sentiment, sharpened by Vietnam and Watergate.

(15) “A lot of liberal Democrats in Massachusetts thought, What is this about?” said Ron Rosenblith, who met Mr. Kerry in the antiwar movement and has worked for him over the years as an aide, campaign manager and consultant. “They didn’t see it as consistent.”

When Kerry became a prosecutor, some people thought it seemed inconsistent. It makes for a nice bit of 70s nostalgia. But what did this silly trivia have to do with the question: Is Kerry a flipper?

Readers, our Botox-free brows were beginning to furrow. After all, we were now 15 paragraphs into Halbfinger’s piece, and the fuzzy-cheeked scribe—Reigning King of All Botox—still hadn’t examined a single issue on which John Kerry is said to have flipped. Here at THE HOWLER, concern set in. Indeed, we glanced ahead and saw that the scribe was already halfway through his piece. Is Kerry a flipper? We wanted to know. But the scribe was still playing around. .

So let’s see: In 1968, Kerry volunteered to serve his country in a war about which he had some doubts. When he became a prosecutor a few years later, some unnamed “liberals” were troubled. And oh yeah! During the recent Iowa race, Kerry went hunting on a day when he also said he endorsed gun control. We were halfway through a front-page piece. But this was the best we had seen.

Let them eat Botox, he had recently said. Now he was trying to dissect a real issue. Is Kerry a flipper? Times readers should know. But when Halbfinger finally tackled some actual topics, we saw again that our public discourse is—yes, it’s true—lighter than air.

TOMORROW: David does No Child Left Behind. And Williams limns John on gay marriage.

LET THEM EAT BOTOX, CONTINUED: This morning, sad to say, it’s Maureen Dowd who is back on the Times Botox beat. Read her column and marvel again at the lightness of pundit corps being. What’s the word on the Times op-ed page? David Brooks is troubled by Kerry’s shirts; Dowd is back on the Botox again. (At least Dowd is funnin’; David was “serious.”) Meanwhile, four years ago, it was earth tones that grabbed them! Are you really surprised that, out on page one, David Halbfinger flounders with flips?

LESS WAS MORE: Let’s examine one of those recommended pieces from yesterday’s HOWLER—that “news report” by Katharine “Kit” Seelye (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/10/04). How big was Democratic primary turn-out this year, compared to Dem primaries of the past? For various reasons, meaningful comparisons are hard to make, although Seelye showed no sign of knowing. But low, mordant chuckles echoed through our great halls when she indulged in her trademark editorializing:

SEELYE (pgh 3): John Kerry’s victories in all but three states and his relatively early claim to the nomination have given the impression that he has broad support throughout the country.

(4) But viewed another way, as a percentage of all 200 million potential voters nationwide, his support looks much smaller. Only 5 percent voted in the 20 Democratic primaries that produced the presumptive nominee; an even smaller percentage, which Mr. Gans did not calculate, voted for Mr. Kerry.

Don’t ask us to lay out all the clowning. But that highlighted passage is an instant “Kit” Classic. Do you see what she’s saying? Kerry’s percentage of the primary vote was actually less than the total vote cast! Only Seelye could dream up such clowning, and only the Times (and perhaps the Post) would put such perfect nonsense into print.