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Daily Howler: By rule of law, it's the candidate's fault when journalists bollix abortion
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UNSTOPPABLY SEARCHING FOR FLIP-FLOPS! By rule of law, it’s the candidate’s fault when journalists bollix abortion: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 14, 2007

WHEN OBAMA MET SALLY: Good lord, what a brilliant answer! Here we see it once again—Barack Obama’s sheer brilliance:
STEPHANOPOULOS (5/13/07): Valerie Jared, a good friend of the family, says you told her in your Senate race, “I just think I have some special qualities and wouldn't it be a shame to waste them?”

OBAMA: That—I think I probably did say that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are they?

OBAMA: I think that I have the capacity to get people to recognize themselves in each other.
You can be fairly sure of one thing, if you care about this—no consultant devised that answer. We recalled Obama’s statement at the 2004 Dem Convention: People in red states do blue-state things, and people in blue states do things which are red. At the time, we marveled at the fact that he had said it. And at the fact that other pols don’t.

That brilliance is Obama’s upside. But his downside includes his youth and inexperience—and the chance that the RNC could Dukakis-ize him, make him seem alien. That said, the Obama campaign has given Sally Quinn what she sought in that much-maligned column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/11/07). As becomes clear in this report by Lynn Sweet, they accepted Quinn’s good sound advice and began to brag and boast about his veteran advisers.

This was a smart thing to do. (They should do it again.) It’s smart when we take good advice.

FRANKLY, THAT’S RICH: Ugh! Yesterday’s column helps explain why we don’t think a lot of Frank Rich around here. Here’s the way he started that column. Frankly, to us, this is Rich:
RICH (5/13/07): Of course you didn't watch the first Republican presidential debate on MSNBC. Even the party's most loyal base didn't abandon Fox News, where Bill O'Reilly, interviewing the already overexposed George Tenet, drew far more viewers. Yet the few telling video scraps that entered the 24/7 mediasphere did turn the event into an instant ''Saturday Night Live'' parody without ''SNL'' having to lift a finger. The row of 10 middle-aged white candidates, David Letterman said, looked like ''guys waiting to tee off at a restricted country club.''

Since then, panicked Republicans have been either blaming the ''Let's Make a Deal'' debate format or praying for salvation-by-celebrity in the form of another middle-aged white guy who might enter the race, Fred Thompson. They don't seem to get that there is not another major brand in the country—not Wal-Mart, not G.E., not even Denny's nowadays—that would try to sell a mass product with such a demographically homogeneous sales force.
Pandering hard to liberal readers, Rich complained about the ten white guys on the GOP stage. According to Rich, “there is not another major brand in the country...that would try to sell a mass product with such a demographically homogeneous sales force.”

Really? How about the Democrats? Have you seen a lot of diversity in the Democrats’ recent White House promenades? Hillary Clinton (wife of a white male president) and Barack Obama are the first Dem female/black candidates with an actual shot at the nomination. On the female side, the Republicans arguably beat the Dems to it; Elizabeth Dole (wife of a white male presidential nominee) was briefly a semi-serious candidate during Campaign 2000. And an African-American male, Alan Keyes, made it through all the Republican debates that year. That same year, we Dems ran two “white guys.”

Let’s face it; on the presidential level, there hasn’t been a lot of diversity in either of the major parties. But Rich was willing to play us rubes hard with his pleasing comment about those white males—a comment we’d heard a thousand times before he snoringly opened with it. By the way, what did The Pompous One write in May 2006, in that truly astonishing column about all the problems with Gore’s phony film? We rarely use the R-word here, but this disgraceful comment by Rich did bring the word to mind:
RICH (5/28/06): Though many of the rave reviews don't mention it, there are also considerable chunks of ''An Inconvenient Truth'' that are more about hawking Mr. Gore's image than his cause. They also bring back unflattering memories of him as a politician. The movie contains no other voices that might upstage him, not even those of scientists supporting his argument. It is instead larded with sycophantic audiences, as meticulously multicultural as any Benetton ad, who dote on every word and laugh at every joke, like the studio audience at ''Live With Regis and Kelly.''
When it came to Gore’s momentous film, this dainty fellow was horrified by those “meticulously multicultural” audiences. They made him think, with open derision, of a Benetton ad. Since that time, we’ve never seen An Inconvenient Truth without wondering what Rich could have possibly meant by that derisive comment. Since one of the audiences seen in the film is a Chinese audience watching Gore speak in China, Rich presumably referred to the American audience which appears briefly as Gore is shown giving his “slide show” in this country. As near as we could ever make out, you can see one black guy in that audience. For unknown reasons, this made our dainty liberal pundit stop and scream, “Eek—a mouse!”

When it came to his endless denigration of Gore, one black guy made him jump on his chair. Today, though, the gentleman longs for such action. Why can’t the Republicans be more like a Benetton ad? this phoniest scrivener asks us.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: It was astounding to see how hard Rich worked to denigrate Gore, even after the debut of An Inconvenient Truth. (Imus, of course, knew just what Rich meant as he listed his endless, absurd complaints.) But then, Rich told Times readers, all through Campaign 2000, that Bush and Gore were just alike. And he baldly lied about Gore in 2002, after Gore gave his speech warning against the war in Iraq. In short, nothing will stop this pandering fellow from his long, destructive jihad against all things Clinton-and-Gore. But then, we liberals tend to be easy; speaking completely Frankly here, it’s very easy to win our affections. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/9/06, for all five parts of our report on Rich’s long, damaging war.

UNSTOPPABLY SEARCHING FOR FLIP-FLOPS: What is Rudy Giuliani’s history concerning abortion rights? In Saturday’s Post, Dan Balz penned a long report on the subject, and some of his work was clear and informative. But as we’ve told you, the press corps has an amazingly difficult time explaining various aspects of abortion policy. That became clear, again and again, in this mis-headlined Balz report.

“The arc of Giuliani's positions on abortion reflects conflicts that many Americans have felt on one of the most personal issues in politics,” Balz writes early on. “Still, his record...suggests that the issue will continue to follow him on the campaign trail.” But in part, Giuliani will be dogged by this issue because reporters are constantly bollixed by it. Consider what happened when Balz tried to explain where Giuliani stood on abortion rights back in 1989.

Where was Giuliani in 1989, when he staged his first run for mayor? To explain, Balz quoted a passage from a 7/89 report in the New York Times. But the passage Balz quoted was barely coherent—and the Times report became even less clear when we looked it up and read it in full. Meanwhile, Balz seemed to have quoted it somewhat selectively, in a way which helped obscure how bad that old report really was.

How poorly does the press corps report abortion? In 1989, Giuliani was making his first run for mayor; in the wake of a major Supreme Court decision, Josh Barbanel penned a Times report which described his stance on abortion. Even then, reporters (and editors) at the highest level were clearly overmatched by this puzzling subject. Here was Barbanel’s three-paragraph nugget. Balz quoted the first two-thirds of this passage on Saturday:
BARBANEL (7/4/89): In an interview yesterday, Mr. Giuliani said he was personally opposed to abortion, did not favor government financing for abortion and had believed that the Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned.

At the same time, he said he would ''preserve, protect and defend all constitutional and legal rights, including a woman's right of choice,'' as long as the state law remained unchanged. But he did not say a woman should have a fundamental right to an abortion.

He added that as long as the abortion law remained unchanged, he would seek to continue financing for all abortion-referral services and all other discretionary financing for abortion.
Even then, that passage was clear as mud. It became no less unclear when Balz chose to quote it on Saturday.

What’s wrong with that historic prose? Three points:

Government funding: Barbanel said that Giuliani “did not favor government financing for abortion.” As we have noted before, that construction is severely vague. Did Giuliani oppose all such funding—state and federal? Did he even oppose the limited federal funding permitted under the Hyde Amendment? The confusion peaked two paragraphs later, when Barbanel went on to say that “as long as the abortion law remained unchanged, [Giuliani] would seek to continue financing for all abortion-referral services.” How did that jibe with the previous statement? It was hugely unclear in 1989. And it isn’t any clearer today. Balz maintained the illusion of clarity by leaving out that third paragraph.

Overturning Roe v. Wade: According to Barbanel, Giuliani “said he...had believed that the Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned.” He had believed it? Had believed it when? Did he still believe it should be overturned? This was completely unclear in 1989. It was still completely unclear in Balz’s report this weekend.

What Giuliani didn’t say: In a completely unhelpful construction, Barbanel mentioned something Giuliani didn’t say during the interview: “[H]e did not say a woman should have a fundamental right to an abortion.” This construction begged an obvious question—had Giuliani been asked about this? And what exactly did Barbanel mean by the phrase “fundamental right?” This was exceptionally murky writing. It was unclear then—and was still unclear when Balz decided to quote it.

On Saturday, Balz chose to quote this murky old report—apparently without seeing how murky it was. But Balz quoted Barbanel somewhat selectively—and he went on to make a complaint about Giuliani that seems a bit hard to sustain. Here’s the way Balz presented Barbanel’s work:
BALZ (5/12/07): The distance Giuliani has traveled over his political career is underscored by where he stood as he was beginning his first bid for mayor of New York. The July 4, 1989, edition of the New York Times reported it this way:

"In an interview yesterday, Mr. Giuliani said he was personally opposed to abortion, did not favor government financing for abortion and had believed that the Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned. At the same time, he said he would 'preserve, protect and defend all constitutional and legal rights, including a woman's right of choice,' as long as the state law remained unchanged. But he did not say a woman should have a fundamental right to an abortion."

Today he is in a different place, although one in which his emphasis continues to shift. In an interview in April with The Post, he said, “This is a constitutional right that has to be accepted.” At the recent Republican debate, Giuliani said it would be "okay" if the court overturned Roe, but also okay if the court upheld it.
Balz’s framework is unflattering to Giuliani. Giuliani has traveled a distance over his career, Balz says in introducing this passage. And in the final paragraph we’ve quoted, Balz suggests that Giuliani is still “shifting his emphasis,” even today. Giuliani said one thing in April, Balz seems to say—and something else at that debate.

In fact, Giuliani’s two statements—in April and May—seem to have been very similar. As such, the bungling of abortion—by the press corps—continues right up to this day.

Has Giuliani’s emphasis been shifting in the past two months? You could hardly prove it by Balz’s examples. Here’s how Balz reported Giuliani’s interview with the Post at the time it was given:
BALZ (4/5/07): Giuliani reiterated his support for abortion rights but said: "I don't know that I'd do anything as president to try to preserve that. That's a decision for the court."
According to Balz, Giuliani “reiterated his support for abortion rights”—but he also said it was up to the Court to preserve abortion’s status. As president, he said he wouldn’t do anything to preserve the constitutional right to abortion. But that’s almost exactly what he said at the GOP debate in May. In our view, only a journalist could torture a “shift in emphasis” out of these two presentations:
Giuliani in April: "I don't know that I'd do anything as president to try to preserve [Roe]. That's a decision for the [C]ourt."

Giuliani in May: “It would be OK” if the Supreme Court overturned Roe. “Or it would be OK also” if they didn’t.
In all fairness, you have to work hard to make that a “shift.” On Saturday, Balz rose to the challenge.

Giuliani said the same thing both times. But the press corps is constantly bollixed by the logic of abortion—and at times, the press corps seems to love to pretend that (certain) candidates have contradicted themselves on this issue. In January 2000, they shamelessly did this to Candidate Gore, in a way which damaged his long-range chances. Elements of the same impulse are being played out here again.

BY RULE OF LAW, IT’S THE CANDIDATE’S FAULT: By the timeless rules of this game, any confusion concerning this issue must always be the candidate’s fault. All the way back in 1989, here’s how Barbanel introduced his passage about Giuliani:
BARBANEL (7/4/89): Mr. Giuliani has sought to adopt a subtle position on the abortion issue, one that is so nuanced as to produce a spate of contradictory news reports in which he has variously been described as pro-abortion or as opposed to abortion except in cases of rape or incest.
As today, that “spate of contradictory news reports” just had to be Giuliani’s fault. His statements had been too nuanced! But reporters at Barbanel’s own New York Times had been producing hopelessly bungled reportsand this was their bungled writing, not Giuliani’s. For example, consider the puzzling effort by Frank Lynn in April 1989, when the Liberal Party endorsed Giuliani for mayor. Lynn refers to Liberal Party leader Frank Harding:
LYNN (4/6/89): His candidate, Mr. Giuliani, appears to be a classic conservative with a tough crime-fighting image. He is a Reagan Administration appointee, a supporter of the death penalty and is opposed to abortion and even the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Mr. Giuliani has tempered his abortion position so that it is similar to that of other prominent New York Catholic politicians, like Gov. Mario M. Cuomo. But Mr. Giuliani does not always shift like that, because he wants to appeal to Republicans as well as Democrats, conservatives as well as liberals.
Giuliani was “opposed to abortion,” Lynn wrote—but he had also “tempered his abortion position” so that it was like Cuomo’s! Sorry—the incoherence of that report wasn’t caused by Giuliani. Yes, you can figure out what Lynn may have meant in this pair of dueling statements. But his writing this day was absurdly unclear. And he was the writer of that report; the writer was not Giuliani. Nothing Giuliani said could have made Lynn craft such a groaner.

But the press corps always blames the candidate—after they themselves have bungled. In January 2000, they did the same thing to Candidate Gore regarding his statements about abortion. (They were beating the bushes in search of a flip.) Warning: They live to bollix this issue. And don’t worry—they’ll bollix again.

SCRIPT NEVER SLEEPS: The current script has been established: Giuliani has been flipping. Everything else will now bend to that script. For example, Dana Bash seemed to know her lines on yesterday’s Inside Edition. She singled out Giuliani’s statements about “taxpayer funding:
BASH (5/13/07): I can tell you, Wolf, I actually interviewed Rudy Giuliani about six weeks ago, and he started out about in this position when I talked to him. He was pretty consistent in terms of his views on abortion, making clear that, for example, he believed in taxpayer funding for abortion when he was mayor. He would still believe in that as president.

But then, as he started to get heat from the conservatives, he began to kind of change his tune a little bit. Now he's back to where he started, and they're hoping that this is going—at least consistency is going to play better for him than being a little bit perhaps wishy-washy, which is how he looked in last week's debate.
We have no ideas why Bash would say this. Giuliani’s views on funding were a bit unclear during that April interview—in part, because of Bash’s fuzzy questioning. But as soon as Bash’s taped interview ended, CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux added this:
MALVEAUX (4/4/07): And the Giuliani campaign noted that, after that interview, that the former mayor would not seek to make any changes to current law which restricts federal funding to cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.
That is, he supports the Hyde Amendment, which severely restricts federal funding. And that’s the same thing he said in May, at the Republican debate. When it comes to funding, Giuliani said the same things to Bash in April that he later said in this May debate. To the extent that his statements to Bash had been fuzzy, his campaign had instantly clarified.

In the past few months, Giuliani has pretty much said the same things about funding. But Bash seems to knows her current script. Giuliani has been flipping around on funding, she said. It felt good—but it just isn’t accurate.