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THEIR OWN LATEST RANTS! Pundits were troubled by Gore’s troubling speech. Their concern? He had spoken too loud:

FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2004

THEIR OWN LATEST RANTS: “It has always been easy to make fun of Al Gore,” Bob Herbert says in this morning’s column. Why has it been so easy? Herbert doesn’t try to say. But after praising Gore’s “extraordinary” speech about Iraq–the one in which he showed so much “passion”–Herbert did a bit of dreaming. “Those who disagree with Mr. Gore should challenge him on his facts,” the scribe says. But no such challenge will ever occur. Indeed, many who “disagree” with Gore have decided to clown once again. For example, here was hopeless Soledad O’Brien, hosting CNN’s American Morning:

O’BRIEN (5/27/04): All right, Mark [Pfeifle], let’s talk about Al Gore. Did you see this?


O’BRIEN: I think it’s fair to use the word “rant” in this speech that he gave yesterday. And he said “utter incompetence upon the part of the president has made the world a far more dangerous place.” Here’s what else he had to say. Let’s watch it:

GORE (videotape): He planted the seeds of war, he harvested a whirlwind, and now the corrupt tree of a war waged on false premises has brought us the evil fruit of Americans torturing and sexually humiliating prisoners who are helpless in their care.

O’BRIEN: He went on and on. He talked–he called for the immediate resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, other people as well. So do you think that that kind of rant–and he got a little more animated as he went along, that part was kind of calm–does it make an impact?

“I think it’s fair to use the word ‘rant,’” the hapless CNN anchor said. “He went on and on,” she further complained. Comically, the actual clip which CNN played “was kind of calm,” she was forced to admit. Indeed, as anyone who watches Gore’s speech can see, the lengthy address was quite “calm” throughout, except for the fleeting portion in which Gore called for resignations. So what did many pundits do? Of course! They played the part where Gore raised his voice, then complained about his “rant.” Like many pundits of her vacuous class, O’Brien seemed most disturbed that Gore spoke for so long. In the press, there’s a word for such addresses. Such lengthy addresses are boring.

Of course, there’s little chance that O’Brien had actually watched the 64-minute speech she critiqued. Since early March 1999, “it has been easy to make fun of Al Gore,” and vacuous pundits are eager to do it. Beyond that, we were struck by the clueless comments pundits made about Gore’s speech. Consider Alan Murray on Capitol Report. After saying Gore’s speech “was very much like Howard Dean” (i.e., a scream), Murray wondered why Gore would have made it:

MURRAY (5/26/04): Barbara [Comstock] raises a good point though. What is the point at this point in a presidential election of Al Gore doing this? This is not John Kerry’s position. What he was saying today is not what John Kerry says at all.
Imagine! Gore said something that Kerry hadn’t! Murray puzzled about this phenomenon all through his segment on Gore.

For ourselves, we don’t know why Gore gave his speech. (One obvious possibility: because he believed it.) But Alan Murray’s odd befuddlement was extended last night by Nina Easton, the Boston Globe’s ace Kerry reporter. Easton did NewsNight with Aaron Brown. As per Pundit Union Requirement, she started with the pleasing point about Gore-seeming-just-like-Howard-Dean:

EASTON (5/27/04): People are scared. They want a stable, secure leader. They want somebody who they feel comfortable with. Al Gore, who gave a speech that made him looking like a bit like Howard Dean in the howl speech that came after the Iowa Caucuses–it’s out of the comfort zone for a lot of people.
Having recited this Standard Point, Easton responded to a question. Could Gore’s lusty attacks on Bush help Kerry? We were struck by the clueless response:
BROWN: Let me ask this slightly differently, hopefully. Is it in some ways helpful to [Kerry] to have the Naders and the Gores out there clearly to the left of him?

EASTON: Right. I think it absolutely helps him. At the end of the day, the vote I think is going to be yes or no–particularly in Iraq, it’s going to be yes or no on George Bush. So, does he risk losing–does Kerry risk losing some of that Nader-Gore vote? Yes, maybe, not a lot, I think, but what he does have to do is make people feel comfortable, people in the middle feel comfortable at the end of the day and it doesn’t–it does not hurt to have Al Gore to your left.

It’s amazing that people who memorize so well are so clueless in all other areas. Like Easton, we don’t know if Gore’s attacks on Bush will affect the White House race. But readers, when he gave his speech for, Gore was addressing a group of young antiwar voters–voters who might be inclined to abandon Kerry in favor of Nader. The fact that a famous Democrat is attacking Bush (while praising Kerry) might tend to keep such voters in the Dem camp. Easton, referring to the “Nader-Gore vote,” couldn’t have been much more clueless. In his speech, Gore explicitly aligned himself with Kerry. He spoke up for Big John, not for Ralph.

But then, that’s the shape of your post-affluence press corps. Overpaid, pampered, perfumed and powdered, they’re good at one thing–reciting spin. There seems to be little in which they believe, and they seem to get nervous someone shows “passion.” They know they’re supposed to “make fun of Gore,” and it bothers them when a speech gets too loud. Empty, vacuous, dumb to the core, they rise up in righteous fury when a speech gets too loud–or too lengthy.

THE DOCTOR WAS IN: Then, of course, you had Charles Krauthammer on Special Report. The doctor was IN as the brilliant shrink unwrapped his latest diagnoses:

KRAUTHAMMER (5/26/04): Well, it looks as if Al Gore has gone off his lithium again, but the real issue here is he speaks for the Democrats, who are sort of energized by the difficulties that we’re having in Iraq. And as you mentioned, by a lot of supporters of the war who are now defecting, who are now believing that the objectives are not attainable.
And I don't quite understand that–the basis. I understand psychologically. Largely it’s a reaction to the prison scandal. But that makes no sense at all because the prison scandal does not invalidate the purpose of the war, and it also doesn't change the facts on the ground. We will win or lose in Iraq on the basis of what happens on the ground.
The doctor offered a twofer this night. He said that Gore was off his meds. And he even explained the psychiatric state of “a lot of supporters of the war who are now defecting.”

Meanwhile, one more part of the pundit reaction to Gore was played out on Special Report. As the “all-stars” began their discussion, Jeff Birnbaum’s Gore-bashing was so far off base that Brit Hume even had to dispute it:

BIRNBAUM: Well, I think the tone of this and the direction of this is reason enough for John Kerry not to go in this direction. Kerry cannot–it is not presidential to say that what the U.S. is doing in, what its 130,000-some troops are doing in Iraq is–

HUME: Well, he says “they.” He’s not talking about the troops now. He’s talking about the leaders.

BIRNBAUM: I know, but it comes very, very close to saying that all the people who are serving over there are doing it for reasons that don’t give honor to the United States, but rather, dishonor the United States. And that, I think, is not something that a presidential candidate can ever possibly say.

Had Birnbaum actually watched Gore’s speech? As Hume knew, Gore went to considerable lengths to blame the leadership, not the troops (who he praised). But the notion that Gore “dishonored all the troops” was standard RNC cant this day, and the simpering Birnbaum recited so well that even Hume stepped in to stop it.

FINAL NOTE: We’re not sure why Brown and Easton think that Gore went “to the left” of Kerry. In this past week, General Anthony Zinni also called for Bush to fire all his high-ranking aides–and Zinni said that he’s a Republican who will vote for Bush if he does so. Alas! Even Brown–one of cable’s most professional anchors–seems prepared to restrict himself to the most simplistic analytical categories. For the record, Nexis records only one pundit–Paul Begala on Crossfire–noting that Zinni made the same proposal as Gore. Other pundits knew where to focus. They focused on how loud Gore was–and on the fact that he spoke much too long.

From the annals of misleading ads

MORE ON THOSE ADS: We’re sure that we’ll return to the question of Bush-and-Kerry’s campaign ads. In the meantime, we recommend Paul Waldman’s excellent post from Wednesday’s Gadflyer. We share Waldman’s sense that Bush’s ads have been unusually misleading. And we share his sense that the mainstream press has shown little interest in policing these ads.

Have Bush’s ad been worse than Kerry’s? That would be our strong impression. Presumably, that’s why Jim Rutenberg zeroed in on such a trivial Kerry claim in his overview in Tuesday’s Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/04). In the text of his piece, and then in the graphic, Rutenberg worried about this:

RUTENBERG: [O]ne of Mr. Kerry’s new commercials boasts that he provided “a decisive vote” for President Bill Clinton’s 1993 economic plan, which, it maintains, “created 20 million new jobs.” The bill passed by a single vote in the Senate, giving anybody who voted for it a claim to have provided a decisive vote. But at the time, it was the last-minute support of Senator Bob Kerrey, Democrat of Nebraska, that was considered decisive. And even economists who credit the plan with playing a significant role in the 1990's boom say Mr. Kerry's spot goes too far.
Ignore the waste-of-time passage on Kerry v. Kerrey. Did Clinton’s plan “create 20 million new jobs?” Of course, such claims are hard to assess and overblown. But such claims suffuse our political discourse (note recent claims that the Bush tax cuts are now creating jobs). If this were the worst thing we met in our ads, we’d have little reason for griping.

Yes, Kerry’s “boast” is very standard. But so what? Rutenberg examined this claim two separate times–but ignored the serial claims in Bush’s ads that might really mislead the voters.

As we’ve noted, it isn’t easy to unpack the claims made by this year’s campaign ads. Modern spin is slick and devious; misleading ads are flying thick and fast as Campaign 04 unfolds. So far, though, as Waldman suggests, no news org has really tried to unpack their slippery charges.