MONDAY, MAY 17, 2004
WHAT HANNITY SAID: Three cheers for David Brocks new site, which has run down last weeks Hannity story. Yesaccording to Media Matters, Hannity did commiserate with John McCain about those unfair attacks during Campaign 2000the unfair attacks about breast cancer research which damaged the senators primary race. Last week, Hannity called the attacks unfair. But as we showed you, Hannity was one of the scripted scribes who pimped these absurd attacks in real time! To see the Media Matters report, click here. For our own report, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/13/04. By the way: Remind us to show you what Bush said when his campaign aired those attacks on McCain. This is precisely why the Washington press should rouse itself from its months of slumber and critique those current campaign adsthe endless, slashing TV commercials that are shaping this White House race.
READ EACH EXCITING INSTALLMENT: Pundits snoozed on the road to Iraq. All week, we explore pre-war coverage.
DONT LOOK BACK (PART 1): We were struck by Jim Lehrers remarks when he played a bit of Hardball last Wednesday. The PBS host has been making the rounds promoting his latest novel, Flying Crowsone of the novels he finds time to write in spite of his broadcasting duties. But talk of fiction would have to wait; Lehrers host, Chris Matthews, was talking Iraq. Early on, he asked a good questionafter making an odd admission:
MATTHEWS (5/12/04): During course of the war, there was a lot of snap-to coverage. Were at war. We have to root for the country to some extent. Youre not supposed to be too aggressively critical of a country at combat, especially when its your own.Did the press fail to provide that critical analysis in the months before Iraq? Lehrer said the press had failed, then offered a novel explanation:
LEHRER (continuing directly): I do. The word occupation, keep in mind, Chris, was never mentioned in the run-up to the war. It was liberation. This was a war of liberation, not a war of occupation. So as a consequence, those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation.According to Lehrer, the nations scribes werent smart enough to foresee the problems of occupation. Soon, Lehrer expanded on his remarks. He gave an even more surprising explanation for the pre-war reporting:
LEHRER: You touched on something else when you asked the question. Lets say a group of journalists had gotten onto that. It would have been difficult to have had debates about that going in, when the president and the government of theits not talking about occupation. Theyre talking aboutit would have beenit would have taken someyoud have had to have gone against the grain.Could courage be the word Lehrer sought? Did he want to say: It would have taken some courage for the nations press to have gone against the grain pre-Iraq? We were surprised to hear Lehrer say how difficult those debates would have been. Inevitably, we thought of Elisabeth Bumiller, explaining why Bush got softball questions in his last pre-war press conference (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/25/04):
BUMILLER: I think we were very deferential because its very intense, its frightening to stand up there. Think about it, youre standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the countrys about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.According to Bumiller, it would have been frightening to ask real questions. Now, Lehrer seemed to say it would have been difficult to go against the grain at this time.
Lets give Lehrer credit for telling the truth, although his remarks struck us as odd. But Matthews took his guests comments in stride. Next, he asked about Lehrers brilliant lifestyleand we e thought the exchange might help you see why the press corps is often so docile:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Let me ask you about your brilliant lifestyle. I dont know how you do it, Jim, because you are very active socially. We bump into each other, my wife and you, you guys, and I just have to say, you write like a full-time novelist. And youve done it again! Do you get up at 4 in the morning and deny yourself a cup of coffee for three hours until youve written 500 words or what? How do you do this? Youve done another great novel!Might we be permitted a question? If Lehrer had gotten up each morning and studied the news (see below), is there a chance he would have been smart enough to anticipate the problems of occupation? And if Lehrer cut back on that brilliant lifestyleif he werent so active socially among D.C. swellsmight he have found it less difficult to conduct those debates we missed? Yes, Millionaire Pundit Values were in the air as Lehrer chatted with Matthews last week. Tomorrow, well show you one debate the NewsHour managed to miss.
TOMORROW: A major story the NewsHour skipped. Wednesday: Hamza does Hardball!
WHILE LEHRER SLEPT: Lets state the obvious. Its absurd to say that those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation in the months before Iraq. Pundits may have chosen to ignore these concerns, but some reporters did report them. For example, heres part of a front-page report by Vernon Loeb and Thomas Ricks in the 3/11/03 Washington Post. (It took us about twenty seconds to find it.) Headline: Iraqs Historic Factions May Severely Test a U.S. Occupying Force:
LOEB AND RICKS (pgh 1): The U.S. Army is bracing both for war in Iraq and a postwar occupation that could tie up two to three Army divisions in an open-ended mission that would strain the all-volunteer force and put soldiers in the midst of warring ethnic and religious factions, Army officers and other senior defense officials say.The Doomsday Duo continued apace. [T]he greatest source of concern among senior Army leaders is the uncertainty and complexity of the mission in postwar Iraq, which could require U.S. forces to protect Iraq's borders, referee clashes between ethnic and religious groups, ensure civilian security, provide humanitarian relief, secure possible chemical and biological weapons sites, and govern hundreds of towns and villages, they wrote. Maybe if Lehrer had put down his novels and picked up the Post, problems with post-war occupation might have occurred to the scribe.
From the annals of strange campaign coverage
WHY DID THIS HAPPEN: With incomparable persistence, weve said it for yearsDemocrats need to understand the way their party lost the White House. On our beat, that means that Democrats need to understand the press corps twenty-month War Against Gore. Last Friday, we received an e-mail on that subject, posing questions were often asked. Citizens should be asking these questions as they watch the Bush-Kerry coverage:
E-MAIL: I hope Im not wearing out my welcome by writing too often, but my number-one issue is the same as yours so Im so inclined..The failure of the main line media in 1999-2000 towards Al Gore is still what drives me...Our thoughtful e-mailer should be shocked, and he should be asking those questions. We get such questions from time to time. So here is a bit of an overview:
REPLY: For starters, lets address one point in the passage you sent from the Boehlert/Brock interview. The Gore campaign was well aware of what was going on in the press. I have the impression that they considered complaining publicly around May 2000, but then decided not to. Its a very dangerous thing to dothe press always gets the last word. [Please note: This is an impression.]Did the press corps really hate Gore? In January, Tucker Carlson offered an interesting anecdote; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/19/04. Meanwhile, the corps clowning about Gore never ends. For the sake of the historical record, more on that subject tomorrow.
AT SOME PAPERS, LIFE IS LIKE KINDERGARTEN: A number of e-mailers rolled their eyes at a passage from yesterdays New York Times. Todd Purdum offered a biographical profile of the young Kerry. Early on, the scribe said this:
PURDUM: If only because life is like high school, Mr. Kerry's adolescent experiences are worth examining in some detail.Say what? To their credit, many HOWLER readers have noticed that adult life really isnt like high school. But Purdum is looking for ways to pretend that Kerrys adolescence is worth discussing. Your press corps loves to write these tedious bios, and theyre expert at finding reasons to do so. Note the way Purdum continued:
PURDUM: If only because life is like high school, Mr. Kerry's adolescent experiences are worth examining in some detail. But for him, those years may loom even larger, since as the son of a diplomat, he grew up in various temporary quarters in America and Europe. From 1957 to 1962, his real home was St. Paul's, and it was here that enduring patterns were set.Does anyone know why a candidates adolescent experiences may loom even larger if he grew up in various temporary quarters (i.e., went to prep school, as Bush also did)? The modern presidential campaign biography has become a vehicle for endless spin. In the next few weeks, well take a look at biographical profiles from this raceand the last one.