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Daily Howler: Cokie Roberts gives us a taste of our recent and outrageous history
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HOWLER HISTORY! Cokie Roberts gives us a taste of our recent and outrageous history: // link // print // previous // next //

TEETH CAN ACHE: Teeth can ache—and today, we’re locked in a vast dental struggle. For that reason, we’ll plan to wrap our current series tomorrow. We’ll focus on medication today.

However, since some have asked, we’ll post a bit of HOWLER HISTORY. As Campaign 2000 was being decided, all good pundits knew to mock Gore for the way he said the funny words “Dingell-Norwood” during his third debate with Bush (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/7/06). Yesterday, we showed you the actual transcript, in which Gore challenged Bush to say what sort of “patients bill of rights” he favored. In a more rational world, journalists would have examined the exchange, explaining where the two men stood on this important issue. But in the world of the modern press corps, the following exchange occurred, on ABC’s This Week. At the time, Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts were co-hosts of the program. They were joined this day by the dueling Georges—Will and Stephanopoulos.

In this segment, Cokie starts by reciting the Standard Press Theme: Al Gore doesn’t know who he is. The requisite mockery about Dingell-Norwood followed close behind:

DONALDSON (10/22/00): Cokie, who's the real Gore?

ROBERTS: Well, who knows? And I'm not sure he does, and that's the other problem is that not only is he—was he—did he come across as unlikable in the debates, which was a problem—you say, a messenger problem, it's that his message can't get through because of the messenger. But it's also that he did come across as sort of changeable and all of that so that people couldn't—couldn't figure out who he was. And—and I think that—that in the long run, it's clear that they heard him, even though everybody says he won them, that—that in the long run, that he was heard. But George is right. Bush sits at our poll, for instance, right at 48. Every day he's at 48 percent.


ROBERTS: And Gore's numbers go up and down, up and down, up and down. Now maybe at some point, he goes over that 48 and wins.

DONALDSON: Well, you talk about the message. I mean, remember during the last debate, Gore kept talking about “the Dingell/Norwood bill, the Dingell/Norwood bill?” And we thought, as a public service, we'd just show you who Dingell and Norwood are. Let us tell you about them.

Representatives Dingell and Norwood introduced the Patients' Bill of Rights favored by Gore in the House of Representatives. John Dingell, from Michigan, is the longest-serving Democrat in the House. His father, who was a House member before him, was a sponsor of Social Security in the '30s, and pioneered the idea of national health insurance back in 1943. Charlie Norwood from Georgia, a Republican, is a dentist. He served in Vietnam and was first elected to the House in 1994 as part of the Republican revolution. So that's who Dingell and Norwood are. Now I'll tell you—

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the important—

ROBERTS: Yeah, but—

DONALDSON: But there's a guy named Greg Ganske who's also on the bill. It's actually the Dingell/Norwood/Ganske bill.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the important—the important point—

DONALDSON: But I don't have time to start telling you about him.

ROBERTS: He's from Iowa.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The important point there is that George Bush didn't answer the question about the Dingell/Norwood bill, which is a Patients' Bill of Rights that allows people to—the right to sue.

ROBERTS: Actually, I don't think that is the important point there.


ROBERTS: Because that's not what comes across when you're watching the debate. What comes across when you're watching the debate is this guy from Washington doing Washington-speak.


ROBERTS: And you know, it's having an effect not just at the presidential level, but at the congressional level as well. Because the Republicans did a very smart thing, which is that they voted for their version of a Patients' Bill of Rights, and they voted for their version of prescription drug coverage. So they get to go out and tout all these issues, and then the Democrats are left saying, “But you didn't do Dingell and Norwood.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, then they—but what gets lost there—wait a second, what gets lost there is that George Bush did oppose a Patients' Bill of Rights in the state of Texas. And he did—and he's not for the Dingell/Norwood bill.

ROBERTS: It was lost, because Al Gore didn't say it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, well, he did say it, actually, in the course of the debate.

DONALDSON: This is very cerebral. George Will, you are, but it doesn't be—helping Gore.

WILL: It's not helping Gore in part because people find him overbearing and off-putting and all the rest. But also the fact—I think the issues are beginning to break, finally, for George W. Bush...

Would the issues have been “begun to break for Bush” if pundits like these had explained those issues, instead of clowning in this manner? Donaldson wasted everyone’s time with a pointless digression about the two House members—a pointless bit of semi-clowning which replaced discussion of the issues involved here. To his credit, Stephanopoulos kept trying to correct and redirect his colleagues. But Donaldson and Roberts were all about mockery—and they were all about misstatement. To Roberts, the facts here weren’t “the important point,” “the important point” was the way Gore had “come across” in the debate. She never explained how she knew that Gore had “come across” in the unflattering way she described. (Indeed, as she had earlier suggested, viewer polls showed that Gore had won this debate in the judgment of those who had watched it). Meanwhile, Gore had explained, quite clearly, the basic difference between the two bills in question—between the bill which he supported, and the alternate bill favored by Bush. When Roberts suggested that Gore hadn’t explained this, she was simply misstating.

This Week viewers heard Gore get mocked—and no real attempt at clarification. A few weeks later, Frank Rich mocked Gore for saying “Dingell-Norwood” too; he complained that Gore had been “hyperventilating” about “details we don't want to bone up on.” But then, discussions like this went on for two years—and they finally sent George Bush to the White House.

Tomorrow, we’ll finish our discussion of Rich—and we’ll discuss the fiery young “liberals” who simply refuse to tell you the truth about this part of your recent history. (Here you see a perfect example of what we’ve been talking about.) These people would eat live worms in hell before they’d ever tell you what happened. They are the Cokies of the future—and they have no apparent plan to blow it. We wish we could judge this some other way. But at some point, the obvious intrudes.

Antibiotics willing, of course. Antibiotics willing, we’ll wrap this up on the morrow.