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WHERE ARE STANDARDS (PART 3)! Russert lobbed softballs to Candidate Bush. Readers! Where were standards?


SPINNING WOLF: Washington pundits have raced to say that Dean wouldn’t answer Tim’s questions. How silly were the examples they gave? Let’s return to Katharine Seelye’s critique in the New York Times:

SEELYE: Dr. Dean, a Democrat who prides himself on his straightforwardness, equivocated on several issues. He sidestepped answering whether he would support the prescription drug plan backed by the Bush administration and some Democrats.

Asked whether he would support a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, he said, “I go back and forth on that.”

We’ve seen how silly that second example is (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/03). But how about prescription drugs? Did Dean really “sidestep” Russert on that? In fact, Dean engaged in a detailed discussion, in which he dished some very plain talk about the emerging proposals. At one point, he flatly said, “The plan won’t work,” citing similar legislation in Nevada. But he also cited Ted Kennedy’s theory—the theory that some version of the plan should be passed, then improved in the future:
DEAN: So the bill won’t work. It’s clearly an election-year sop, but what Senator Kennedy says, and he has probably the most extraordinary record on health care of any United States senator, what he says is, This is the opportunity to get this in the door. We know it may not work. But let’s do the best we can. And we’ll try to fix it later once the entitlement is established. So I think the bill is not a particularly good bill but I—out of respect for Senator Kennedy, it’s hard to really completely trash his position.
“Would you vote for the Kennedy proposal?” Russert asked. Dean gave the kind of reply which leaves modern pundits deeply puzzled:
DEAN: I’d want to see what is in the bill. There are more amendments. And one of the critical amendments is what’s going to happen to Iowa and New Hampshire and Vermont and so forth, Medicare assessments…There’s talk about Senator Grassley putting some money in—Senator Harkin—for Iowa and to fix Medicare reimbursement. That makes it more attractive. So I don’t know how I’d vote on this bill right now, and I’d want to see the last amendments before it goes out the door.
“I’d want to see what is in the bill,” Dean said. Within your press corps, of course, this meant one thing; it meant that Dean was evading! After all, why would anyone want to see a bill before saying how he would vote on it? By the way, none of what Dean actually said on this subject was actually quoted in Seelye’s report. Instead, New York Times readers were simply handed her latest rank dollop of spin.

But readers, it’s become a Hard Press Corps Script—when major Dems do Meet the Press, they simply won’t answer Tim’s questions! In part, the problem lies with spinners like Seelye—but partly, the problem is Russert himself. Does Russert have a single standard, applied to Dems and Reps alike? Many Dems believe he does not. A look at his 1999 session with Bush helps show why so many Dems think that.

Candidate Bush did Meet the Press on November 21, 1999, shortly after a pair of flaps had roiled the Washington press corps. On October 31, Time had reported that Naomi Wolf was advising Candidate Gore, and this led to a series of foolish flaps that continued throughout the election. But three days later, on November 3, Boston TV reporter Andy Hiller ambushed Candidate Bush with a fiendish foreign relations “pop quiz.” Bush was stumped by Hiller’s questions, and looked a bit shaky in the process. Each of these episodes had received wide attention in the weeks before Bush did Meet the Press.

How did Russert handle these matters? He never mentioned Bush’s “pop quiz,” directly or indirectly. Indeed, in the next day’s New York Times, Frank Bruni puzzled a bit over Russert’s milquetoast performance:

BRUNI: Because Mr. Bush had not done a live television interview of this length since he announced his candidacy in June, the appearance was widely anticipated as a chance to see how nimbly he could negotiate an array of policy questions…

Although Mr. Bush had just given a foreign policy speech on Friday and had previously drawn criticism for several gaffes when talking about international affairs, Mr. Russert did not dwell long on global matters.

That was a bit of an overstatement by Bruni, but Russert was no bulldog this day. In particular, he didn’t allude to the “pop quiz,” or to other alleged gaffes which had drawn attention. But man, how he hit on Naomi Wolf! In what can only be viewed as a world-class pander, Russert tossed several softballs to Bush midway through the hour. His Wolf-spinning started with this:
RUSSERT: One out of every three kids born in this country, born to a single mom.

BUSH: Yeah.

RUSSERT: Millions of them teen-age moms. Let me show you what Naomi Wolf, an advisor to Vice President Gore, has to say about this issue and put it on the screen: “We should address the teen abortion and unwanted pregnancy rate by doing what Dr. Elders lost her job as surgeon general simply for mentioning: we should teach petting—‘sexual gradualism’—and let our kids know that there are many ways of having pleasure and intimacy that don’t involve intercourse. This is an agenda both the Left and the center can agree on, for it’s hardly a radical notion. Mutual masturbation: history shows it’s the old-fashioned, Main Street, American way. If we teach kids about other kinds of sexual exploration that help them wait for intercourse until they are really ready, we let girls find out about their desire, give them back power in erotic negotiation, and let kids have an option not to go immediately ‘from zero to sixty.’ Teaching sexual gradualism is as sensible as teaching kids to drive.”

Journalism textbooks should present this moment as the ultimate Sunday pander. Russert quoted—at interminable length—the most controversial part of Wolf’s 1997 book, Promiscuities. Of course, no one had ever said that Wolf was counseling Gore on this topic, and Gore, of course, had never espoused anything like this position. But there it was, on Meet the Press, offered up as a softball to Bush. “It’s pathetic,” Bush replied, and he and Russert went back and forth on “sexual gradualism,” with Russert pretending to speak for Wolf. (“Naomi Wolf said she’s being realistic. She’s treating teen-agers as they are.”) Softballs seldom get mooshier. And incredibly, after taking a commercial break, Russert brought Wolf up again! Incredibly, here was his opening question:
RUSSERT: And we’re back, talking to Governor George W. Bush. We’re live from Austin, Texas. Let me ask you, Governor, about the issue of abortion—

BUSH: Yes.

RUSSERT: —because Ms. Wolf and others suggest that perhaps sometimes abortion may be an alternative, although not an appropriate one.

But what could possibly have been the reason for mentioning Wolf in that context? In fact, Candidate Gore had “suggested that perhaps sometimes abortion may be an alternative” (so had Candidate Bush, by the way); there was no imaginable reason for bringing up Wolf—except to serve another softball. Mentioning Wolf two separate times—but failing to mention Bush’s own recent problems—Russert sketched a textbook example of how to stage a Sunday pander. But what did he do, some four years later, when a major Dem hopeful appeared on his program? He staged a silly “pop quiz” of his own, then scolded the Dem for his lack of knowledge. Is it any wonder that many Dems think Russert has two sets of standards?

Campaign 2000 was a sick press corps joke, driven by endless, absurd press corps spinning. Russert’s “gotcha” moment—and his lectures to Dean—suggest that Act II has begun.

TOMORROW: Russert took it to Candidate Gore. But readers! Where were standards?

THE LAKE WASHINGTON POST: At Slate, Fred Kaplan becomes the latest scribe to offer a version of the pleasing construction: The Bushies weren’t lying, they were only exaggerating. (Kaplan’s precise construction: Bush officials “probably weren’t lying…Clearly, they stretched the evidence they found right up to, and in some cases beyond, the logical limits.”) As such, Kaplan becomes the latest scribe to misstate what’s at issue. “It’s a fair bet that they genuinely believed that Saddam had [WMD],” Kaplan says. But as we spent last week explaining, that isn’t the question the critics have raised! In fact, almost everyone did believe that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. And no one is saying that we’ll somehow learn that the Bushies just made that part up.

As we repeatedly noted last week, Ackerman and Judis lay out the real questions in their New Republic piece. Why did the Bush Admin peddle that crap about uranium from Niger? Why did the Admin keep flogging those aluminum tubes? Why did the Admin pretend that Saddam was hard-linked to al Qaeda? Why did they keep talking—and talking; and talking—about Saddam having nukes? And now, another intriguing mini-question, in the aftermath of the Cranberg piece: Why did Powell seem to misstate the contents of that telephone transcript? There may be answers to those questions, and to the other real questions which critics have asked. But these are the actual questions which actual critics have actually raised about Bush Admin conduct. Kaplan, by contrast, is off in the weeds. Kaplan is asking a pseudo-question—a question that’s easily parried.

Of course they believed that Saddam had WMD. Everyone believed that Saddam had those weapons. The real question is, Why did they pretend that Saddam had nukes, and why did they pretend he was hooked with al Qaeda? Sadly, Slate has once again shown the world that it’s really the Washington Post’s western annex. Guess what, readers? The Washington press corps would rather eat live worms in Hell than pursue those actual Ackerman questions. Leave it Slate to do it again—to publish yet another piece which dumbs down what the fuss is about.

Oh, but readers! Hold on! And be fair! You do get occasional “Bushisms.”

The Daily update

MICHELLE MALKIN’S CAMPUS OF THE APES: Here at THE HOWLER, when it comes to the use of race in college admissions, we can teach it flat, or we can teach it round. If we were running a university, we’d prefer a racially diverse student body. On the other hand, there are obvious downsides to the use of race in admissions. For ourselves, we weren’t upset by the Michigan policies on which the Supreme Court ruled last week. But we think opponents of those policies have made invaluable arguments.

On the other hand, the Washington Times’ irate Michelle Malkin only teaches this issue one way. Malkin was appalled by the Court’s decision. She sees those who favored the Michigan affirmative action efforts as—well actually, she sees them as apes:

MALKIN: There was only one thing that disturbed me more than President Bush’s mushy comments praising socially engineered campus “diversity” this week.

It was the newspaper photos and television broadcasts of militant Asian activists joining other liberal minority students across the country in a Sumatran gibbonlike celebration ritual of chest-beating, fist-pumping and pro-affirmative action whooping calls.

In her next sentence, she describes those “liberal minority students” as a bunch of “zoo denizens.” She also calls them “clueless” and “traitorous.” Their outlook is “inexplicable,” she says.

Yep! Malkin can only see this one way, and that’s what makes her piece so strange. To all appearances, Malkin simply can’t imagine that those who disagree with her might have decent motives. For example, here’s her completely bizarre account of why the Court ruled as it did:

MALKIN: Both Mr. Bush and the college zoo denizens were responding to the Supreme Court’s racial preference rulings, which can be summed up thusly: It’s dandy to discriminate in public university admissions. Just cloak your bigotry under the disingenuous guise of promoting “cross-racial understanding.”
According to Malkin, the U of M has been acting on “bigotry.” The Court, of course, thinks that’s a good thing. Indeed, Malkin persistently seems to suggest that the U of M wants to get rid of Asians:
MALKIN: The noxious [undergraduate] point scheme was struck down, but the high court upheld the university law school’s stealthier scheme of ensuring a “critical mass” of racial and ethnic minorities.

Except, that is, for Asians.

According to Malkin, “Members of minority groups who have overcome barriers to success…are no longer viewed as people with valuable heritages, diverse life experiences, or raw memories of discrimination and prejudice. They are effectively ‘white’ and simply don’t count.” If you read her column and didn’t know better, you’d almost think that bigoted officials at U of M were purging the campus of Asians:
MALKIN: For liberal race-fixers, having “too many” Asian-American students winning admissions on their own merits is a bad, bad thing.
Malkin makes it sound like the Michigan plans were aimed at reducing the number of Asians. And she rails throughout at the bigoted, disingenuous, gibbon-like cultists who don’t see the matter as she does.

Quite literally, Malkin savages all who disagree. But she plainly retains her greatest scorn for those Asian kids who favored the Michigan policies. Malkin reveals an ancient world-view as she explains why those kids are so weird:

MALKIN: Nearly 30 Asian-American political and legal organizations inexplicably filed amicus briefs in support of the University of Michigan’s race-based admissions policies—one of which awarded bonus points to blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, but not to Asian-Americans.
What makes those Asian-American kids “inexplicable?” Inexplicably, they support an admission policy which doesn’t help their racial group:
MALKIN: With a great deal of moral smugness and zeal, these “Me, Too” members of the cult of victimization are echoing calls to defend campuses against the supposed “threat” of race neutrality—despite all the bald evidence that racial preferences are harming their very own constituents.
To Malkin, those kids should worry about other Asians. It’s “inexplicable” that they would support a policy designed to help blacks.

Weird, isn’t it? And readers: Where are traditional values? Malkin finds it “inexplicable” that Asian-American kids would seek to be their brother’s keeper. But in the aftermath of last week’s Court decisions, our kooky cons—kooky cons like Malkin—are letting us see their world-views quite well. They think that allowing sex between consenting gays will quickly lead to bestiality. It’s inexplicable when Asian students want to help out black kids. And those who disagree? They’re not simply wrong, they’re gibbons—they’re bigoted, smug, disingenuous, Sumatran. Where do we get these kooky cons? We’re not sure how to answer that question, but ancient wars are playing out in their heads. We’ll be fighting their kooky “culture wars” for many long years to come.

TOMORROW: Ann Coulter, appearing on last night’s Hardball, tells us what turns on her readers!