THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2004
IN GREECE: Even from the shores of the wine-dark sea, where the breakers crash and drag, even from the birthplace of bungled logic, our readers keep writing to tell us:
E-MAIL: Reading your column today reminded me that I wanted to also thank you for talking about In America. Because I live in Greece I couldnt see it in the theater but when I found it in one of our local DVD stores, I checked it outbecause of your high praise.Tomorrow will be the end of this thread. But were glad to hear of the pleasing encounters our readers have had with this movie.
Our current series: They surf during ads!
ENJOY EACH EXCITING INSTALLMENT: Spending records are being shattered as Candidate Bush airs slashing TV ads. But the national press has made little effort to examine the contents of these commercials. Maybe our pundits just surf during ads! Enjoy each exciting installment:
PART 1: The Times says Bushs ad is unfairbut reporters doesnt care to find out. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/11/04And now, for todays installment:
THEY SURF DURING ADS (PART 3): Is Bushs new ad particularly cynical? To all appearances, the press doesnt care. Yes, Bush is shattering spending records as he airs his slashing commercial. And everyone knows that the heavy ad buy seems to be driving up John Kerrys negatives. But even after the New York Times said the ad was particularly cynical, very few of our major news orgs have examined what this commercial says. Voters are having their views affected by this ads aggressive charges. And your national press corps burbles and snores. Or maybe they surf during ads.
Tomorrow, well take one more look at the way the press has treated this important ad. But maybe its really just as well when the nations reporters sleep on the job. After all, what happens when our biggest scribes attempt to critique the campaigns key ads? Consider Jodi Wilgorens long report on another of Bushs commercials.
Last Saturday, Wilgoren reviewed the Bush campaigns use of a now-famous statement by Kerry. According to Wilgoren, Bushs campaign scour[ed] Senator John Kerrys three decades in public life in search of material to use against him. But they turned up nothing as potent as 13 words that spilled from Mr. Kerrys mouth shortly after he effectively secured the Democratic presidential nomination. Wow! That must have been some statement by Kerry! Wilgoren quoted the potent remark which spilled from the Democrats mouth:
WILGOREN (pgh 2): I actually did vote for the $87 billionbefore I voted against it, Mr. Kerry said on a March afternoon in Huntington, W.Va.According to Wilgoren, this potent remark is the greatest find of Bushs opposition research. Early on, she let us know how comical Kerrys statement really was:
WILGOREN (5): Ken Goldstein, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, said the quotation just sounds ridiculous.Say it to yourselfits funny! According to Wilgorens expert, Kerrys statement just sounds ridiculouslike something youd hear on Comedy Central! And Wilgoren continued the imagery herself, saying the Bush camp had turned the statement into a devastating punch line. They were using to ridicule Kerry.
Yep! Wilgoren pulled no punchesno pun intended as she told us how foolish the comment had been. But after engaging in so much fun, youd think that she would be very careful to examine the merits of Bushs ad. After all, Kerrys statement shows that he is indecisive and weak on defense, the Bush camp has said. Just in case we missed these points, Wilgoren states them again:
WILGOREN (8): Mr. Bushs team contends it is emblematic of the larger case they are making against Mr. Kerry: that he is a flip-flopping Washington insider unqualified to lead the nation in wartime.Kerrys statement shows that hes a flip-flopper. And it shows that hes weak on defense! These are surely serious charges. Sadly, Wilgoren isnt up to critiquing them. Maybe were all better off when they just surf during ads.
Does Kerrys statement show hes a flipper? Rather plainly, no, it does not. After all, the solon voted on two different $87 billion billsone of which was paid for through a tax increase, and one of which was not. Indeed, how transparently fake is the Bush camps charge that these two different votes make Kerry a flipper? As Kerry himself has often noted, Bush said, during debate on the bills, that he would veto the first of these billsthe one for which Kerry voted. In other words, Bush supported one bill and opposed the otherjust exactly like Kerry did. Not only is Kerry not a flipper, Bushs campaign is slamming him for supporting one bill and not the otherexactly the thing their guy did!
But this obvious pointoften voiced by Kerryisnt found in Wilgorens report. She says that Kerry is being slammed at a flipperbut fails to say that Bush took separate stands on the bills, just as Kerry did. Of course, as soon as we remember that Bush made a veto threat, we realize how phony that other charge isthe charge that Kerrys vote against the second bill means that he is weak on defense. This was not an emergency appropriation, which explains why Bush was prepared to veto. Had the Senate nixed the second bill (joining Kerry), they would have had to negotiate further. But then, thats exactly what would have occurred had Bush vetoed the bill he opposed. Would that have meant that Bush was soft on defense? No, it would have meant the obvious. It would have meant that Bush was involved in a spending negotiation.
As she closes, Wilgoren quotes another academic. Readers, tell us once again: How much do kids pay for tuition?
WILGOREN: Rather than saying, Hes a flip-flopper, look at his record, they now say something much stronger, which is, Hes a flip-flopper, look at his words, observed Kathleen Kendall, a political scientist at the University of Maryland. You dont expect the damaging evidence to come from the candidate himself.Yes, thats exactly what the Bush camp is sayingbut what theyre saying just aint really true, a point which escapes Wilgorens analysis (and her chosen academics). Like Kerry, Bush took separate stands on the billsbut Wilgorens readers wont get to know that. Readers, when it comes to critiquing ads, your press corps skills are often quite weak. Well recall this fact as we turn, once again, to the press corps hapless treatment of that particularly cynical commercial.
TOMORROW: No way to tell
WILGOREN GETS IT RIGHT: In todays Times, Wilgoren does tackle some silly spin about Kerry. Were here to tell you when shes wrong. Today, were happy to report some good news: Wilgoren (pretty much) gets it right!
SEAN HANNITYS RUBIFICATION PROGRAM: Does anyone play his viewers for fools quite the way Sean Hannity does? Last night, the knuckle-dragging nightly host repeated a Fake Standard Claim:
HANNITY: [Kerry] has voted against just about every major weapons system we now have.How can Hannity make such a claim? Because in 3 of his 19 years in the Senate, Kerry voted against the annual defense appropriations bill. Why did he do so? More tomorrow. But if you vote against the omnibus bill, then technically youve voted against every weapon system it includes. And knuckle-draggers have been very technical when they make this claim against Kerry. Why, you might even say that theyve been Clintonesque. Except that is unfair to Bill Clinton.
But last night, a humorous element was involved in Hannitys fake, phony charge. John McCain was the cave mans guest. First, he said Kerry isnt soft on defense. A bit later, he noted the obvious:
MCCAIN: I would be accused of voting against numerous weapon systems, because I voted against defense appropriations bills, because theyre loaded down with pork. And theyre obscene today with all of the pork-barrel spending and multi-trillion dollar deficits. Ill probably vote against the defense appropriations bill this year.Oops! Just like Kerry, McCain has voted against just about every major weapons system we now have. Note to self! Sean will have to avoid this fake, phony charge when people like McCain are around.
Meanwhile, how fake, how phony is the Fox host? Drink in the amusing exchange which followed McCains rejoinder:
MCCAIN: I would be accused of voting against numerous weapon systems, because I voted against defense appropriations bills because theyre loaded down with pork. And theyre obscene today with all of the pork-barrel spending and multi-trillion dollar deficits. Ill probably vote against the defense appropriations bill this year. I was accused of voting against breast cancer research because that was on a defense appropriations bill that I voted against, soWhy did McCain keep bringing up that fake, phony claimthe claim that he voted against breast research? Perhaps because his beetle-browed host was one of the people who made the fake charge! The charge was first madewhere else?in a Bush 2000 campaign ad. And you know Sean! He pimped the fake charge on the March 6, 2000 Hannity & Colmes, just to cite one sad example.
He made the fake claim against McCain then. He makes the fake claim against Kerry now. Tomorrow well ask our key question again: Why does the press corps sit on its hands while fake charges are widely peddled?
RESEARCH REQUEST: Watching H&C last night, we thought we heard Hannity say, That wasnt fair, when McCain mentioned the breast cancer charge. The official Fox transcript says something different. Out of curiosity, does anyone have a tape of the show so we can sort this one out?