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LONG OVERDUE! Finally, Milbank asked the obvious question–what’s up with Bush’s misstatements?


LONG OVERDUE: The analysis was long overdue. In yesterday’s Post, Dana Milbank took a detailed look at a subject we’ve been pimping for months–the amazing extent of the Bush campaign’s bogus claims about Kerry. Early on, still on page one, Milbank offered an overview:

MILBANK (pgh 7): Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented–both in speeches and in advertising.
According to Milbank’s scholars and strategists, Bush’s negativity has been “extraordinary.” But Bush’s dissembling has been extraordinary, too–“the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts.” “[S]tretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign,” Milbank notes. But his scholars and strategists seem to say that Bush has been setting new records.

But readers, you know the way your press corps works! Yes, Milbank and the Post deserve major credit for putting this topic on the table. (As we have noted, the New York Times has been far too inept and timid to do such a frightening thing.) But we couldn’t help chuckling at a few points Milbank injected into his piece. Readers, they do love their Scripted Stories–and they never seem to give them up! So let’s go ahead and share a few laughs at the howlers Milbank included–even as he finally put this topic out on the table.

First, of course, it’s Hard Pundit Law–you simply can’t write a piece of this kind without taking a well-scripted shot at Al Gore. According to Milbank, Kerry has made misstatements too–but Bush’s misstatements have been far more numerous. Go ahead and enjoy a good laugh as Milbank “explains” why this is:

MILBANK (pghs 13-14): Kerry, too, has made his own misleading statements and exaggerations...But Bush has outdone Kerry in the number of untruths, in part because Bush has leveled so many specific charges (and Kerry has such a lengthy voting record), but also because Kerry has learned from the troubles caused by Al Gore’s misstatements in 2000. “The balance of misleading claims tips to Bush,” [Kathleen Hall] Jamieson said, “in part because the Kerry team has been more careful.”
Just try to unpack the logic of that! Why has Bush “outdone Kerry in the number of untruths?” In part, Milbank says, it’s because “Bush has leveled so many charges!” But the fact that Bush keeps “leveling charges” doesn’t mean they have to be false, and most misstatements which Milbank cites are willful to the point of blatant deception. Meanwhile, Kerry’s “lengthy voting record” also seems to give Bush some sort of excuse. But Bush has a lengthy record too, first as a governor, then as president; Kerry could make a string of phony claims about his record, too. And then, of course, we get the Standard Tautology from Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Readers, we’ve tried to warn you in the past–when Jamieson turns up in a piece like this, you should check your wallets for faulty logic. What’s her contribution this time? According to Jamieson, Bush has made more phony charges because Kerry has been more careful not to! For offering fatuous statements like this, she mounts the throne of her Annenberg duchy, fawned to by pundits one and all. Whenever scribes want a meaningless bromide, they know on which regent they must call. (It’s the law: David Halbfinger quotes this ballyhooed “expert on political messages” in today’s New York Times.)

But the saddest part of Milbank’s passage is the way he drags Gore back through the mud. Without offering a bit of explanation, Milbank says that Candidate Kerry has avoided misstatements because he “learned from the troubles caused by Al Gore’s misstatements in 2000.” But to what “misstatements” by Gore does Milbank refer? The scribe makes no attempt to say. Meanwhile, is there any evidence–any at all–that Kerry has somehow learned from Gore’s experience? Milbank offers none whatsoever. Beyond that, why has Kerry learned from Gore’s sad example, but the other candidate, Bush, has not? Milbank leaves that unexplained too. This whole attempt at “explanation” should have been left on the cutting-room floor. But as you know, it’s Hard Pundit Law–Washington scribes must keep pretending that Gore dissembled disturbingly during Campaign 2000. They devoted several years to concocting this tale, and don’t plan to abandon it now.

What was the actual lesson of Campaign 2000? It was this: If the press decides to wage war on a hopeful, it will sometimes pretend he has made a string of false statements. Starting in March 1999, the press waged a 20-month war against Gore. They kept inventing phony statements and pretending that Candidate Gore had made them. They waged this war for twenty months–and their war put Bush in the White House.
As a group, the press waged war on Candidate Gore–but they don’t intend to tell you. On the brighter side, with yesterday’s long overdue piece, the Post–and Milbank–provide a great service. They finally take a front-page look at some real fake statements..

THIS TOO HAS BEEN SET IN STONE: Candidate Gore told many false stories? This favorite fable been Set In Stone. But one current tale has been set in stone, too. Even in a piece about Bush’s dissembling, Milbank bows to the silly claim that Kerry flip-flopped about that $87 billion. Here is the passage in question:

MILBANK (pghs 16-17): [T]he Bush campaign relentlessly portrays Kerry as elitist, untrustworthy, liberal and a flip-flopper on major issues...Sometimes the charges ring true. Last week, Kerry told NBC: “I’m for the Patriot Act, but I’m not for the Patriot Act the way they abuse the Constitution.” That brought to mind Kerry’s much-mocked contention in March on Iraq spending: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”
It’s true–Kerry’s statement has been “much-mocked.” But does this statement support the Bush campaign’s claim that Kerry has flip-flopped on major issues? As we’ve noted, this is a grossly misleading charge too (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/28/04). But even in this ground-breaking piece, Milbank credits this silly Bush spin-point.

Meanwhile, what about Kerry’s comment to NBC about the Patriot Act? Does this remark support the claim that Kerry flips on major issues? Simply put, there’s no way to say. The quote comes from a typically worthless report by NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell. Here’s what she said on Nightly News:

O’DONNELL (5/26/04): The Bush campaign openly points to the war on terror as a central election issue and draws a line right to the Patriot Act to attack Kerry on TV.

(videotape from Bush TV ad) John Kerry, he voted for the Patriot Act, but pressured by fellow liberals, he’s changed his position.

O'DONNELL: The Patriot Act was made law after 9/11, giving the federal government broader law enforcement power.

BUSH (videotape): Good morning, everybody.

O'DONNELL: Bush campaign officials say it is fair to challenge Kerry's view, claiming he has straddled the issue. The senator’s own statements often pour fuel on that fire.

KERRY (videotape): I’m for the Patriot Act, but I’m not for the Patriot Act the way they abuse the Constitution.

O'DONNELL: While both sides say the other has politicized national security, each has something to gain by keeping the debate alive: President Bush trying to shore up his wartime image, Senator Kerry looking for an opening to say he has a better way. Kelly O’Donnell, NBC News, Seattle.

But was Kerry “straddling” when he made that comment? Did his statement really “pour fuel on the fire?” Absent Kerry’s fuller statement, only a fool would make such a judgment–and O’Donnell only gives us this meaningless excerpt. Alas! Your national press corps spills with fools, and in his comment on the Patriot Act, Milbank bowed to their fatuous folkways.

CREDIT HERE TOO: In this morning “White House Notebook,” Milbank extends Monday’s discussion, chuckling over Bush’s use of silly straw men out on the trail. Enjoy a good laugh as Milbank quotes Bush at the recent LSU graduation. Until now, your national press corps has hid beneath desks, too frightened to discuss such topics. There are flaws in both of Milbank’s discussions. But the Post and its scribe deserve public thanks for exploring these long-ignored topics.

STARTING TOMORROW: (Recent) HOWLER HISTORY! Gore’s 9/02 speech seems prophetic now. At the time, it just showed he was nuts.

From the annals of lapsed, fallen “journalists”

WHY DOES TIM RUSSERT HATE DEMOCRACY: We were amazed by Tim Russert’s interview with Nancy Pelosi this weekend. The Dem House leader had recently said that Bush is “an incompetent leader.” When she appeared on Meet the Press, Russert began with that statement:

RUSSERT: Let me show you and our viewers something that you said on May 20 and give you a chance to talk about it: “Bush is an incompetent leader. In fact, he’s not a leader. ...He’s a person who has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge of the subjects that he has to decide upon. ...He has on his shoulders the deaths of many more troops...” That’s pretty strong. [deletions by Russert]
Pelosi agreed that her statement was strong. For the record, her full response:
PELOSI (continuing directly): It is, and I said that with great reluctance and after a long period of time of asking the administration where their plan was. You be the judge. Here we have a situation where we put our young men and women in harm’s way. And believe me, I said this for the troops. I said this for the troops, a cry for help for the troops. We put them in harm’s way. We should–this was a war of choice that the administration went into, and we should have at least known the ground truth of what we were getting into. We send our troops in and we say that they’re going to be greeted with rose petals; instead it’s rocket-propelled grenades. We say this is a country that can easily finance its own reconstruction, and here it is a year later; we’re $200 billion in the hole and growing. It’ll be approaching a quarter of a trillion dollars.

We did not adequately prepare for the post-Saddam situation in Iraq. Don’t take it from me. General Zinni himself said the level of sacrifice was not matched by the level of planning. And he also said that–and this was very–in the lead-up to the Iraq War–I’ll just quote him here: “In the lead-up to the Iraq War and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum true dereliction, negligence and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence and corruption.”

So we’re on a course of action that is dangerous to our troops. We did not equip them well. A Department of Defense report said that a quarter of the troops would not have lost their lives or been injured if they were better equipped. This is just absolutely an unacceptable situation. And for over a year, it has existed. And so, as I say, with reluctance, I said I have to–I’ve been criticizing the administration over and over again. It had to get to who is responsible for this.

So far, a perfectly normal Q-and-A. But you can be the judge of what followed. Here’s the next question from Russert:
RUSSERT: What message does this send to the troops in Iraq when the ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives says that the commander in chief is not a leader, has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge? How does that make the troops feel?
After wondering how the exercise of democracy might make the troops feel in Iraq, Russert stooped even lower:
RUSSERT: What do you think the people leading the resistance in Iraq or al-Qaeda think when they hear the ranking Democrat in the House say that President Bush has no knowledge, no experience, no judgment?
Amazing! What does al Qaeda think of your comments! Instead of challenging the merits of Pelosi’s remarks, Russert kept scolding her for having dared say them. Soon he was quoting Tom Delay, who had also slimed Pelosi for daring to question Dear Leader:
RUSSERT: Your counterpart in the House on the Republican side, Tom DeLay, said this: “Nancy Pelosi should apologize for her irresponsible, dangerous rhetoric. She apparently is so caught up in partisan hatred for President Bush that her words are putting American lives at risk.”
Next, Russeert played the total fool, asking Pelosi this:
RUSSERT: Do you think that President Bush does anything well?

PELOSI: Of course I do.


PELOSI: And this is not about a partisan--this isn't about politics. It's not even about personalities. It's about policy. It's a situation where the clear and present danger facing our country is terrorism, and we're in this abyss in...

RUSSERT: But where does he show judgment, experience and knowledge?

Somehow, Russert has come to think it’s his job to make Democrats say nice things about Bush. This was an embarrassing “journalistic” performance by a man who has lost his professional way. We have postponed our series on Russert, the one we previewed in THE HOWLER last week. But we’re reading his self-glorifying new book, and we’re reviewing his endless promotions for same. Russert is so important a figure that his outlook should be examined in detail. We expect to start next week.

ONLY HIM: As Pelosi noted, Zinni’s remarks about Iraq have been even more scathing than her own comments. Meanwhile, Zinni has appeared on a string of TV shows in connection with the publication of the book in which his views are expressed. But have you seen anyone–anyone–ask General Zinni if his comments will affect the troops’ feelings? How you seen anyone stoop to the point of asking what al Qaeda will think of his views? This is the lowest form of questioning–questioning which seems to fly in the face of American democracy itself.

No, no one but Russert is asking such questions. Zinni, of course, was commander of the U.S. Central Command from 1997 to 2000–commander of every one of the troops whose feelings Pelosi may have hurt. By the way, let us express our own faith in those troops. Surely, our troops understand democracy well enough to buck up through this essential debate. Why is it that young soldiers understand our way of life–but a burgher like Tim Russert doesn’t?