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THE BUTLER DOES IT! Wilgoren profiles Kerry’s “valet.” Any chance that she’s really this clueless?


THE BUTLER DOES IT: Readers, sometimes you have to throw back your head and enjoy a good laugh! On the front page of today’s New York Times, Jodi Wilgoren pens a profile of Marvin Nicholson, a campaign assistant to Candidate Kerry. How absurd is Wilgoren’s piece? Let’s use a standard we’ve used before: If such work appeared in the Washington Times, observers would laugh at the way the conservative rag was pimping those RNC spin-points.

Who is John Kerry in the RNC spin-book? As we all know, he’s a man with “a proclivity to fall on both sides of every issue”—a man who can’t give a straight answer. But he’s also a man who has too much money—a man who attended a fancy school among the troubling, French-speaking Swiss. That’s why we see RNC shills like Katharine Seelye and Nedra Pickler working such images into their stories (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/27/04). When Seelye reviewed Kerry’s military records, she managed to cite the young soldier’s “patrician manner”—a point which only she, among living humans, could find in the documents under review. Meanwhile, Pickler used her first paragraph to remind AP readers that soldier Kerry “spoke fluent French…the fruits of a privileged upbringing.” Anyone with an ounce of sense will know where these oddball spin-points come from. They come straight from the RNC; propagandists cram them into “news reports” in service to Karl Rove’s machine. Of course, Seelye performed this service for over a year in her coverage of Candidate Gore. She “made no attempt to hide her contempt for the candidate,” the Financial Times eventually observed.

And so you really have to laugh at Wilgoren’s profile this morning. In the headline, we see the first spin-point—Nicholson is described as Kerry’s “butler!” And as we read the report, the image develops. In paragraph two, we learn that Nicholson is “the man literally behind the man, ready with an uncapped bottle of water whenever Mr. Kerry’s throat runs dry.” In short order, we learn why Kerry has this “butler”—this “former caddy”—at his beck and call:

WILGOREN (pgh 6): Mr. Kerry is comfortable being catered to. He has his moods and his myriad personal needs. A social loner, he is happy with an aide half his age.
The strange suggestion in that last sentence is explored throughout Wilgoren’s piece. Kerry’s butler “orders, delivers and usually lays out Mr. Kerry’s meals,” she writes. And that isn’t all; he “keeps little black books filled with the names and numbers of people Mr. Kerry meets.” (He also “dials many of [Kerry’s] telephone calls,” and “helps select his neckties.”) Homoerotic imagery abounds. At night, Nicholson—Kerry’s “glorified valet”—“often stays by his side until he is ready to go to sleep.” Indeed, “[w]hen Mr. Kerry stays overnight at supporters’ homes, it is Mr. Nicholson who accompanies him; in Iowa once, they shared a bathroom.” (Yes, she actually wrote that.) Indeed, “When Mr. Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, joins him on the road, Mr. Nicholson’s routine hardly changes.” But then, “it is the 6-foot-8 Mr. Nicholson who anticipates Mr. Kerry’s needs as they make eye contact across the crowds. It is Mr. Nicholson ready with a fresh shirt after a rally in 100 degrees.” Somehow, Wilgoren forgot to ask how often this “butler” does Botox.

Is Jodi Wilgoren an RNC shill? Here at THE HOWLER, we really don’t know. (With Seelye, the answer has become obvious, although we remained agnostic for years.) But as Wilgoren notes in passing, every presidential campaign has a person who plays the role described in this piece. But isn’t it strange? Only Kerry’s campaign assistant gets described in the way we see here. Only Kerry has a “butler”—a “glorified valet”—in headlines adorning page one.

Did Wilgoren insert these images by design? Here at THE HOWLER, we really can’t say. But we can say one thing for certain. Karl Rove perked up when he saw the word “butler.” And he loved it when he saw “valet,” and when he saw “Kerry is comfortable being catered to.” Last week, “patrician manner” was pure RNC spin—but so are the images driving this piece. Do Wilgoren (and her editors) know this? If not, we can only throw our heads back and roar at the New York Times’ endless buffoonism.

HOW CLUELESS IS JODI WILGOREN: How utterly clueless is Jodi Wilgoren? In a separate piece this morning, she reviews the mindless flap about Kerry’s troubling, 33-year old comment concerning his medals and/or ribbons. Try to believe that she wrote this:

WILGOREN: [Kerry’s] comments came a day after an article in The New York Times and a report on the ABC News program “Good Morning America” highlighted a 1971 interview with Mr. Kerry that raised questions about whether he threw away his war medals in a protest after his combat tour.
In any other professional sector, can top people be so uninformed? Wilgoren says that the newly-unearthed, 1971 interview “raised questions about whether [Kerry] threw away his war medals.” In fact, Kerry didn’t throw away his medals—and this has been perfectly clear at least since 1984. As Patrick Healy wrote in yesterday’s Boston Globe, “The senator has long said that he threw away his war ribbons but kept his medals at the rally on April 23, 1971.” The newly-released 1971 interview raises a different question—a question that is so inane that savvy scribes may not want to record it. (We’ll do so tomorrow.) But the interview raises no issues of fact about what Kerry did at that rally. Many scribes are trying to say that this interview has raised basic new questions. Wilgoren, from ignorance or from design, joins their number.

But isn’t that just like the New York Times? They can spot a “butler” or a “valet.” They can spot a “patrician manner” from almost 40 years away! But they can’t record the simplest facts about their latest pseudo-events. Tomorrow, we’ll look at that troubling, 33-year-old interview. And we’ll see the way your “press corps” is wed to pseudo-flaps driven by spin-points.

POINT OF INFORMATION: Why did Kerry attend school in Switzerland (for two years)? Because his father was serving his country in Europe. When Kerry was 11, his father was appointed legal adviser to James Conant, head of the U.S. High Commission for Germany. Kerry attended school in Switzerland while his father was stationed in Berlin. But as you know, RNC spin has promulgated some peculiar themes in recent years. In a repulsive twist on “family values,” the RNC loves to trash Democratic candidates for having lived with, or near, their parents as children. (Bill Bradley also trashed Gore for this conduct. All during 1999, Bradley trashed Gore for growing up in Washington—the place where Bradley had raised his own daughter.) And they love to make nasty, misleading spin out of Democrats’ service to country. We offer this bit of information because you’ll hear that Swiss school cited many time without ever hearing why Kerry, age 11, was out of the U.S. to begin with. Our own view? It takes a special person to trash a hopeful for where he lived when he was an 11-year-old child. We think Bill Bradley is special meat. So too a long string of RNC hacks who beat up on hopefuls-as-children.

From the annals of Dick-and-Jane stories

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Bob Woodward’s new thriller, Plan of Attack, is littered with puzzling Dick-and-Jane stories. Be sure to read each part of our review:

PART 1—See Bob spin! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/26/04
Tomorrow, we offer a thrilling Part 3, in which we see George rise above.

PART 2—SEE GEORGE FAIL TO ASK: How odd are Woodward’s Dick-and-Jane tales? Consider what happens in the summer of 2002, as the Bush Admin starts building support for the notion of war with Iraq.

First, Woodward shows us Bush on vacation. It’s August 16, 2002:

WOODWARD (page 161): Just before noon, the president appeared at the Crawford Community Center and answered several questions from reporters. He said that he was “aware that some very intelligent people are expressing their opinions about Saddam Hussein and Iraq. I listen carefully to what they have to say.” He also said carefully that Saddam “desires weapons of mass destruction,” making no suggestion that he possessed them.
At several points, Woodward stresses a central fact. In August 2002, Bush wasn’t claiming that Saddam had WMD, the author notes several times.

But within a few days, Dick Cheney gets restless. Brent Scowcroft has written a “provocative” Wall Street Journal column; its headline says, “Don’t Attack Saddam.” And Bush I Secretary of State James Baker has “urged that unilateral action should be avoided.” Henry Kissinger has even penned a “convoluted piece” in the Washington Post—and the New York Times has called the piece a “break with Bush” on Iraq. According to Woodward, Cheney feels that “everyone [is] offering an opinion except the administration,” and he wants to give a speech presenting the Bush Admin view. He proposes this to Bush—and something quite peculiar occurs, although Woodward is determined not to notice:

WOODWARD (page 163): Cheney decided that everyone was offering an opinion except the administration. There was no stated administration policy ands he wanted to put one out, to make a big speech if necessary. It was highly unusual for the vice president to speak on such a major issue before the president, who was going to address the U.N. on Iraq on September 12. But Cheney couldn’t wait. Nature and Washington policy debates abhor a vacuum. He was not going to cede the field…He spoke privately with the president, who gave his okay without reviewing the details of what Cheney might say.
Say what? Bush okayed this “highly unusual” speech without reviewing what Cheney would say? Cheney wanted to “put out administration policy” on Iraq—and Bush didn’t bother “reviewing the details?” If we still live on planet Earth, that seems rather hard to believe. And of course, it’s hard to see how Woodward could know this if Bush and Cheney “spoke privately.” But so what? Plan of Attack is chock-a-block full of puzzling, simplified Dick-and-Jane tales. We’re supposed to accept Woodward’s claim that various curious things occurred. See George fail to ask, Woodward says. We’re not supposed to find it strange that Bush would be so cavalier about such a crucial war policy.

Result? Cheney goes out and gives his speech—and baldly overstates U.S. intelligence! And while he’s at it, he also implies that war with Iraq will be necessary! So what did Bush think when Cheney gave his speech? This time, see Bob fail to ask:

WOODWARD (page 164): “Cheney Says Peril of a Nuclear Iraq Justifies Attack,” read the headline in the New York Times on Aug. 27. Powell was dumbfounded. The vice president had delivered a hard-line address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Nashville and basically called weapons inspections futile…

The vice president also issued his own personal National Intelligence Estimate of Hussein: “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction [and] there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.” Ten days earlier, the president himself had said only that Hussein “desires” these weapons. Neither Bush nor the CIA had made any assertion comparable to Cheney’s.

“Powell was dumbfounded,” Woodward reports. But what about that other guy? What did Bush think when he heard the news about Cheney’s surprising address? There is no way to tell from this book, since Woodward—despite spending four hours with Bush—doesn’t seem to have asked him. There isn’t a single word in this book about the president’s reaction. But within two weeks, Bush joins Cheney in overstating the intelligence (pages 178, 189); this takes Bush beyond his previous stance, which Woodward took care to note. Why did Bush join Cheney in stretching the intel? Readers of this book aren’t told. There is no sign that Woodward asked Bush to explain his flip on this matter. But so what? Three months later, we enjoy the heroic December scene where Bush tells Tenet not to stretch the intelligence! See Bush wisely lead, we’re now told (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/21/04). But Woodward never goes back to explain why Bush stretched the intel himself.

Do you believe that these things really happened? Do you believe that Cheney made a crucial speech, at a crucial time, and Bush didn’t ask what he planned to say? We find that very hard to believe, but for readers of Woodward’s puzzling book, it’s just another episode whose oddness they’re asked not to notice. See George fail to ask, we’re told. But then, Bob didn’t seem to ask either.

SEE DICK CAUSE TROUBLE: How casual was Bush about Cheney’s speech? Woodward describes an improbable scene where Cheney informs his boss that the speech will be happenin’:

WOODWARD (page 164): At an NSC meeting, Cheney said to the president, “Well, I’m going to give that speech.”

“Don’t get me in trouble,” Bush half-joked.

Trouble is what Cheney had in mind.

So what did Bush think after Cheney caused this “trouble?” Woodward never bothers to ask! Such episodes read like odd dream sequences. And they’re found all through Woodward’s fake book.

TOMORROW: See George rise above!

FRIDAY: See Colin be honest!