TUESDAY, JULY 1, 2003
SPINNING WOLF: Washington pundits have raced to say that Dean wouldnt answer Tims questions. How silly were the examples they gave? Lets return to Katharine Seelyes 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.Weve 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 wont work, citing similar legislation in Nevada. But he also cited Ted Kennedys theorythe theory that some version of the plan should be passed, then improved in the future:
DEAN: So the bill wont work. Its 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 lets do the best we can. And well try to fix it later once the entitlement is established. So I think the bill is not a particularly good bill but Iout of respect for Senator Kennedy, its 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: Id want to see what is in the bill. There are more amendments. And one of the critical amendments is whats going to happen to Iowa and New Hampshire and Vermont and so forth, Medicare assessments Theres talk about Senator Grassley putting some money inSenator Harkinfor Iowa and to fix Medicare reimbursement. That makes it more attractive. So I dont know how Id vote on this bill right now, and Id want to see the last amendments before it goes out the door.Id 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 Seelyes report. Instead, New York Times readers were simply handed her latest rank dollop of spin.
But readers, its become a Hard Press Corps Scriptwhen major Dems do Meet the Press, they simply wont answer Tims questions! In part, the problem lies with spinners like Seelyebut 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 Hillers 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 Bushs pop quiz, directly or indirectly. Indeed, in the next days New York Times, Frank Bruni puzzled a bit over Russerts 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 questionsThat was a bit of an overstatement by Bruni, but Russert was no bulldog this day. In particular, he didnt 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.Journalism textbooks should present this moment as the ultimate Sunday pander. Russert quotedat interminable lengththe most controversial part of Wolfs 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. Its pathetic, Bush replied, and he and Russert went back and forth on sexual gradualism, with Russert pretending to speak for Wolf. (Naomi Wolf said shes being realistic. Shes 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 were back, talking to Governor George W. Bush. Were live from Austin, Texas. Let me ask you, Governor, about the issue of abortionBut 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 Wolfexcept to serve another softball. Mentioning Wolf two separate timesbut failing to mention Bushs own recent problemsRussert 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. Russerts gotcha momentand his lectures to Deansuggest that Act II has begun.
TOMORROW: Russert took it to Candidate Gore. But readers! Where were standards?
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 talkingand talking; and talkingabout 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-questiona question thats 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 its really the Washington Posts 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 againto publish yet another piece which dumbs down what the fuss is about.
On the other hand, the Washington Times irate Michelle Malkin only teaches this issue one way. Malkin was appalled by the Courts decision. She sees those who favored the Michigan affirmative action efforts aswell actually, she sees them as apes:
MALKIN: There was only one thing that disturbed me more than President Bushs mushy comments praising socially engineered campus diversity this week.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 thats what makes her piece so strange. To all appearances, Malkin simply cant imagine that those who disagree with her might have decent motives. For example, heres 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 Courts racial preference rulings, which can be summed up thusly: Its 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 thats 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 schools stealthier scheme of ensuring a critical mass of racial and ethnic minorities.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 dont count. If you read her column and didnt know better, youd 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 dont 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 Michigans race-based admissions policiesone 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 doesnt 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 neutralitydespite all the bald evidence that racial preferences are harming their very own constituents.To Malkin, those kids should worry about other Asians. Its inexplicable that they would support a policy designed to help blacks.
Weird, isnt it? And readers: Where are traditional values? Malkin finds it inexplicable that Asian-American kids would seek to be their brothers keeper. But in the aftermath of last weeks Court decisions, our kooky conskooky cons like Malkinare letting us see their world-views quite well. They think that allowing sex between consenting gays will quickly lead to bestiality. Its inexplicable when Asian students want to help out black kids. And those who disagree? Theyre not simply wrong, theyre gibbonstheyre bigoted, smug, disingenuous, Sumatran. Where do we get these kooky cons? Were not sure how to answer that question, but ancient wars are playing out in their heads. Well be fighting their kooky culture wars for many long years to come.
TOMORROW: Ann Coulter, appearing on last nights Hardball, tells us what turns on her readers!