Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

GORE ON WAR (PART 3)! Gore discussed the rush to war. But Sean was disturbed by Gore’s hairdo:

FRIDAY, JUNE 4, 2004

READ EACH EXCITING INSTALLMENT: Howler history! Gore spoke on Iraq–and the press corps clowned. Read each exciting installment:

PART 1: Two years ago, Gore nailed Iraq. Guess how your pundits reacted? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/04.

PART 2: Gore discussed the rush to war, giving some good sound advice. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/3/04.

And now, for today’s installment:

GORE ON WAR (PART 3): No, Gore’s September 2002 speech didn’t prophesy all future developments. Most specifically, he didn’t say that Saddam would be caught without any stores of chemical or biological weapons. On the other hand, he didn’t even waste his time referring to any nuclear program. And he said Saddam posed no immediate threat, even if he did have chem and bio.

But alas! Even as Gore warned about the rush to judgment, our “heroes in error” had their thumbs on the scale, ratcheting up the nation’s fears about Saddam’s deadly arsenals. On TV, Condi Rice was misstating sweetly about those famous aluminum tubes–the ones she said were “only suited for nuclear weapons programs.” Judith Miller was writing the pieces that an “editor’s note” rejected last week. And three days after Gore gave his speech, William Safire opined in the Times:

SAFIRE (9/26/02): The day after Gore’s self-contradictory pushmipullyu of a speech, Blair presented a 50-page dossier from British intelligence detailing the dangers to the world from Saddam, including evidence of his present possession of "mobile biological weapons facilities."
Oh boy! There they were, the mobile labs that Colin Powell would tout five months later. “Heroes in error” were spreading this tale, and the New York Times was buying. Yes, it would have been even better if Gore had discussed these reports. (Warning: That would have made his speech even longer.) But surely, many pundits will now agree that we suffered from a “foreshortened debate” as we hurried toward war in September 02. With that in mind, you might say that Gore gave some good sound advice when he suggested a fuller debate–and when he said that the Bush Admin had no plans for post-war Iraq. But then, such debate almost never occurs in this country. As usual, pundits raced into action after Gore’s address, making a joke of your discourse.

Foolishly, Gore had tried to raise “the question of what our country needs to do to defend itself from the kind of focused, intense and evil attack that we suffered a year ago, September 11.” But many pundits had a better idea. That evening, Sean Hannity discussed Gore’s speech with Dick Morris. Here’s how the thoughtful discussion began. We use the Nexis transcript:

HANNITY (9/23/02): Hey, Dick.

MORRIS: Hey, Sean. Good evening.

HANNITY: How are you, Dick? One thing that really stood out–first of all, look at Gore. Look at his hair. It’s a mess.


HANNITY: He’s sweating profusely, right? He seems very angry at different points in the speech. He didn’t look presidential. I didn’t see any gravitas, any leadership.

And no, we aren’t making that up! To Hannity, the thing that “really stood out” was Gore’s messy hair–and the laughing pundit then complained that Gore had displayed no gravitas! But then, this is the setting in which the nation was struggling to make its decision on war. Morris went on to make pointless remarks about the “load of malarkey” Gore had offered.

For the record, some scribes did show some gravitas. On Fox’s On the Record, David Gergen and William Kristol offered serious reviews of Gore’s speech (although they focused on the politics). Gore was taking a gamble, Gergen said:

GERGEN (9/23/02): I was shocked by the speech because it was so uncharacteristic for Gore. It is so clearly against the current thinking in the country that he’s–he’s obviously ready to take the risk. This is somewhat uncharacteristic of Gore.

I think he’s going to be pounded by the opposition, by the Republicans, and he'll probably hurt himself in the short run, but he’s gambling, I think, Greta, that, in the long run, he’ll be proven right.

Kristol agreed that Gore was taking a risk–and he said that Gore’s address had set up “an honest difference of understanding as to the best way to shape a more peaceful world.” But Gergen’s view this night was prophetic. Already, Gore was being “pounded by the opposition” for the deeply troubling things he had said. But the problem didn’t lie with “the Republicans.” As Hannity had already shown one hour before, the problem lay with the vacuous conduct being put on display by the “press.”

Pundit reaction was quite predictable. You can forget that “honest difference” about “the best way to shape a more peaceful world.” Your pundit class doesn’t bother with that–your pundit class talks politics. For example, when Tim Russert appeared on Today the next morning, every question seemed to come back to speculation about the 2004 White House race. And on Special Report, the pundits all knew why Gore said the things he had said:

BILL SAMMON (9/23/02): But, you know, for Gore to come out opposing action in Iraq–the public opinion polls are showing 67 percent of the public favors Bush’s plan for action against Iraq. Why would he line up on such a loser–for no other reason than politically?

BRIT HUME: The nomination.

JEFF BIRNBAUM: Yes, I think that’s why.

It couldn’t be that Gore believed what he said–no, it must be a plan to get nominated! But then, many pundits wasted their time speculating about Gore’s motives. When Russert did Today, he offered little comment about what Gore said–he just kept speculating about why he said it. And many scribes offered the hopeless analysis served up by Matt Lauer:.
LAUER (9/24/02): Tim, let’s just remember 1991. As a Democratic senator, Al Gore was in favor of going to war against Saddam Hussein to get him out of Kuwait. So why the big turnaround now?
Gore’s speech had listed a string of reasons. But in Lauer-think, if you have ever supported one war, it’s puzzling if you don’t vote for them all! On Special Report, Birnbaum also puzzled about this “big turnaround.” Gore was going “to the left,” he concluded.

No, that fuller debate really wasn’t occurring as Gore took his “pounding from the opposition.” Meanwhile, how inane would print pundits be? As always, Michael Kelly ranted and raved at the Washington Post:

KELLY (9/25/02): Gore’s speech was one no decent politician could have delivered. It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of facts–bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible. But I understate.
Wow! But what were Gore’s “embarrassingly obvious lies?” Kelly said that Gore had lied when he said that “those who attacked us on Sept. 11...have thus far gotten away with it:”
KELLY: [P]erhaps Gore was talking loosely. No. He made clear in the next sentence this was a considered indictment: “The vast majority of those who sponsored, planned and implemented the coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans are still at large, still neither located nor apprehended, much less punished and neutralized.”...[A]gain, this sentence is a lie. The men who “implemented” the “coldblooded murder of more than 3,000 Americans” are not at large. They are dead; they died in the act of murder, on Sept. 11. Gore can look this up.
Kelly, ranting long and hard, was playing a foolish word-game. But then, Charles Krauthammer also played silly games when he trashed Gore on Special Report:
KRAUTHAMMER (9/24/02): [Gore’s speech] offers no alternative. It essentially says–there’s a quote where he says, “We should be about the business of organizing an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction.” Not even eliminate the weapons themselves.
Good Lord! Nit-picking ninnies crawled on the speech, looking for commas to land on.

But as always, Hannity led the way. On the second night, he spoke with George Will. He was still haunted by Gore’s perspiration:

HANNITY (9/24/02): I assume, if you didn’t see Vice–former Vice President Gore’s speech, you read about it.

WILL: I read it.

HANNITY: I’ll tell you it was scarier watching it. He looked angry, he was sweating, he was not presidential, and he contradicted himself continually throughout the speech. “Yes, he’s a danger. Yes, he’s a threat. But we can’t act unilaterally. But maybe we need to act unilaterally.” I mean–

At least he didn’t mention Gore’s hair. (For the record, Hannity’s account of what Gore said is as clownish as his focus on sweat.) Sadly, Will stooped too:
WILL (continuing directly): He gave it–he gave it in San Francisco, which I thought was an unfortunate venue because–

HANNITY: The Commonwealth Club.

WILL: Well, it recalled the 1984 convention that they had out there when Jean Kirkpatrick coined the phrase “San Francisco Democrats.” This suggests something a little bit strange in that party.

Actually, it suggests something a little bit gay. Today, Will complains about the Bush Admin’s handling of the war. Two years back, he embarrassed himself when Gore called for fuller debate.

Gore had complained of “foreshortened debate.” In response, we heard about his funny hair, and about the troubling city he spoke in. And then, your pundits applied a prize theme. Gore was just a Big Liar, they now said.

TOMORROW: What do you do when Gore gives a speech? Of course! You invent a new “lie.”

SWEAT HOGS: Hannity was troubled by Gore’s alleged sweating. For the record, the notion that Gore sweats too much was an established theme in dimwit press commentary. (It showed that Gore is like Nixon.) It hit its comedic high point after the first Gore-Bradley debate when CNN’s William Schneider said that Gore “even perspired, perhaps that was planned, to make himself look like a fighter.” To Schneider, Gore had planned to perspire! But remember: There is nothing so foolish that your “press corps” won’t say it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/7/02.

From the annals of pseudo-analysis

MR. SMITH SNORES IN WASHINGTON: In Monday’s Post, Dana Milbank reviewed Bush and Kerry’s ads–and he judged that Bush has dissembled more than Kerry (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/1/04). But alas! A gruesome example of “Ad Watch” reporting was offered on Wednesday night’s NewsHour. Terence Smith did the honors, hosting Brooks Jackson of During the session, Smith presented a familiar type of “balanced” report, the type that pretends both hopefuls are really the same, whatever the facts really are.

Determined to present the illusion of fairness, Smith analyzed three ads by Kerry and three ads by Bush. But Bush’s ads were teeming with deceptions–so many that Smith had to skip giant howlers. By contrast, Kerry’s ads were so innocuous that Smith had to focus on trivial claims–in one case, on a claim that was perfectly accurate. Yes, Kerry was criticized for accurate statements. Here’s the way Smith critiqued a Kerry ad called “Lifetime:”

KERRY AD (videotape): For more than 30 years, John Kerry has served America. As a tough prosecutor, he fought for victims’ rights. In the Senate, he was a leader in the fight for health care for children. He joined with John McCain to find the truth about POW’s and MIA’s in Vietnam. He broke with his own party to support a balanced budget; then, in the 1990s, cast the decisive vote that created 20 million new jobs. A lifetime of service and strength. John Kerry for president.

SMITH: A “decisive” vote to create 20 million new jobs?

JACKSON: Of course, this is one of those classic biographical ads to make John Kerry look good, and he just couldn't resist going a little over the line. What he's talking about there is a vote for Bill Clinton's 1993 deficit reduction package, mostly tax increases. It did pass by a single vote, so every senator who voted for it, I suppose, cast a decisive vote. But not even Bill Clinton claimed that that package was the sole thing that created the jobs that followed. Even Clinton gave a little credit to businessmen and workers and people in the economy.

SMITH: So every vote that was for it was “decisive.”

JACKSON: Exactly, and it wasn't just John Kerry or that package that created 20 million new jobs.

Twice, Smith belabored the claim that Kerry’s vote was “decisive”–a fleeting claim that is utterly trivial and is also perfectly accurate. But when he played a corresponding Bush ad, Smith was forced to skip at least one giant howler. Heroically, Jackson fought his way through the string of misstatements found in the ad called “Troubling.” But check the transcript, and note that Smith and Jackson never discussed one of the ad’s most problematic claims–the claim that “Kerry’s plan will raise taxes by at least $900 billion in his first 100 days.” No, Kerry doesn’t seem to have such a plan; indeed, it’s not entirely clear what Bush’s claim means. But Smith was eager to hurry on to another innocuous Kerry ad–another ad in which Jackson had to strain to come up with a misstatement. According to Jackson, this ad should say that “the Bush Admin” made a certain statement. It shouldn’t just say that “Bush” said it.

It would be hard to find a better example of hopeless “Ad Watch” reporting. Instead of following the facts where they lead, Smith insisted on “balanced” treatment. He wasted time on utter trivia–and skipped right over major problems. But there’s one great advantage to this approach. The Bush campaign won’t call you up and yell at you for your misconduct.

News orgs could do a lot with this year’s ads. (Yes, Kerry’s actual budget plans, whatever they are, would be well worth examining, as would Bush’s.) But Smith slumbered, snoozed and snored this day. No, you can’t review the claims from six ads in the amount of time the NewsHour allotted–especially if you plan to spend your time scolding accurate statements to present the illusion of “fairness.”