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PLANET OF THE POST! Evelyn Nieves ponders Dean’s ropy veins—and Kurtz atones for his great errors:


SIMON SAID: Evelyn Nieves has a promising future. As Howard Kurtz explained last week, the inside Washington press elite has decided it just doesn’t like Howard Dean. So here’s how Nieves described the Vermonter in yesterday’s Post. This passage begins her profile of Dean, which ran on page one of the paper:

NIEVES: Howard Dean was angry. Ropy veins popped out of his neck, blood rushed to his cheeks, and his eyes, normally blue-gray, flashed black, all dilated pupils.
Just the guy you’d want for your president! Here at THE HOWLER, we were incomparably reminded of the way Roger Simon did Al Gore back in June 1999. On June 16, Gore had formally announced his run for the White House. So Simon got busy making him seem icky. Yes, this is how he began his report in the next week’s U.S. News:
SIMON: Al Gore stands in the sheltering shadow of a giant maple in the square of his boyhood hometown, two thirds of the way through one of the best speeches of his life. He’s belting it out, bringing it home, when he feels . . . a tickle.

Which turns into a trickle, a trickle of sweat, which he cannot avoid wiping away from his upper lip. This happens during nearly every speech, inside or outside, air-conditioned or not, and he just can’t help it, reaching out quickly with his left hand and executing a backhand swipe. It can happen four or five times in a 20-minute speech, but he has been trying so hard to avoid it during this speech, the speech in which he announces that he wants to be president of the United States. To no avail. Al Gore may have the heart and soul of a moderate Democrat, but his sweat glands are positively Nixonian.

Yes, that’s how Simon described a vice president announcing his run for the White House. But here’s the intriguing part: In an article in the Washington Post that same week, Howard Kurtz asked why Gore was getting such horrible press coverage. And Roger Simon came right out and told him! “We want to hear [Gore] say what a terrible reprobate the president was,” Simon said. “We’re going to make him jump through the hoops. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

We’re going to make him jump through the hoops! Amazing, isn’t it? According to Simon, the press wanted Gore to trash Bill Clinton, and until he was willing to do what they said, they’d make him “jump through the hoops.” So Gore delivered his kick-off speech—and Simon reported how sweaty he was. And that’s why Nieves began yesterday’s profile with her description of Dean’s ropy veins. As Kurtz reported just last week, the press elite doesn’t like Howard Dean. Dean will “jump through the hoops,” too.

You can find the rest of the foolishness larded through Nieves’ page-one piece. (Twice, she says that Dean is sweaty.) Nieves knows the scripts—and she does want a future. If she makes your democracy “jump through the hoops,” you can’t call her the first one to do it.

HISTORICAL HOOP-LA: Simon wasn’t the only Big Scribe putting Gore “through the hoops.” In New York Times, Gail Collins offered her reaction to a June 17 speech in New York:

COLLINS (6/21/99): The new Al Gore yells quite a lot. Caught between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, two natural campaigners, the Vice President is trying to make up in decibels what he lacks in spontaneity…

This is our fault. We have been carping about how boring Al Gore is, and the poor man is all but howling at the moon in an effort to sound more compelling. We are being forced to watch him go through an enormous effort to look effortless, and it is as discomfiting as looking at the underside of a swan swimming on the lake. Voters are not going to elect a President who makes them feel like nervous parents at the second-grade class play.

See the difference? Simon focussed on Gore’s sweaty body. By contrast, Collins compared Gore to “the underside of a swan.” Kurtz also cited Collins’ strange piece in his report about all the Gore-trashing.

By the time Collins wrote this piece, by the way, the notion that Gore had “yelled quite a lot” in his kick-off speech had become a Standard Press Spin-Point. In fact, anyone who watches the tape of Gore’s speech will marvel to think that this was said. But the genesis of this spin is fairly clear. No one said that Gore had shouted when he actually gave his speech. But in the next day’s Houston Chronicle, Bush flack Mindy Tucker floated the line. Soon, the whole press corps was saying it.

That’s right, kids. Here was Alan Bernstein’s report in the 6/17 Houston Chronicle:

BERNSTEIN: “It’s going to be a long campaign if Al Gore is going to be yelling at us,” said Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker.
If you watch the tape of the speech, you’ll puzzle over Tucker’s comment. But soon, everyone had the point down cold. On that weekend’s Capital Gang, for example, “liberal” pundit Margaret Carlson called Gore a “flailing, shouting person.” Bob Novak said that Gore had “shouted” too. “The shouting is terrible,” Novak said.

But so it went as the Washington press enacted its wrath against Clinton/Gore. Why did they say that Gore had shouted? They were making him “jump through the hoops!” This month’s hoop-la is aimed at Dean, whose veins have become the new problem.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: If you missed our July 4 HOWLER, it now seems to be official—there was no new intel on WMD after 1998. This is significant information. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/4/03.

The Daily update

PUNDAL INFALLIBILITY: Howard Kurtz made a mistake last week. In the Washington Post and on CNN, he implied that Tim Russert may have overstepped in his interview with Howard Dean. In the July 1 Post, Kurtz said this: “Russert seemed offended when [Dean] could not name the number of people on active duty in the armed forces.” Trust us—“seemed offended” was implied criticism. Meanwhile, on the June 29 Reliable Sources, the scribe stepped out even further. First, he played tape of Russert scolding Dean. Then, he asked this ill-advised question:

KURTZ: Did it seem to you, Terry Neal, that that was getting a little prosecutorial, a little personal? Tim Russert hammered on that for quite a bit.
Neal wasn’t going to fall for that trick. “No, I think it was legitimate,” he said.

Readers, of course it was legitimate! Within the press corps, Russert is Pope—potentate, prime mover, poobah. His work is not subject to error. For that reason, the Post presents Kurtz in full grovel this morning, pandering hard to his paramour. As usual, Russert describes his own lack of error: “I’m never rude to people,” he says. On July 1, he made the same point: “I never personalize my interviews.”

No, Russert isn’t subject to error. But this morning, Howard Kurtz is. We emitted wry chuckles when we read this account of Russert’s work during Campaign 2000:

KURTZ: Russert also played a role in the 2000 campaign, pressing Bush about whether he had ever used drugs (the candidate wouldn’t answer) and whether he would meet with a gay Republican group (he said no).
That is pure propaganda. In fact, Russert’s interview with Candidate Bush played almost no role in the campaign. It was mentioned by almost no pundit—except for those who wondered why Russert had been such a poodle. But his July 2000 interview with Candidate Gore did provoke wide pundit comment. And in that interview, Russert made an endless string of factual “errors,” even announcing to the world—quite falsely—that four Justice officials thought that Gore may have committed a crime! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/2/03. Three months earlier, Russert had been told precisely the opposite right there on Meet the Press.) But that error-strewn session goes unmentioned today, because Kurtz predictably says, early on, that Russert is always brilliantly prepared when he sits down for an interview. By the way, is it even true? Did Russert “press Bush about whether he would meet with a gay Republican group?” Sorry. Kurtz must have felt he had to say it. Here was the total exchange:
RUSSERT: John McCain, your opponent, met with Log Cabin Republicans, gay Republicans. Would you meet with them?

BUSH: Oh, probably not.

RUSSERT: Why not?

BUSH: Well, because it creates a huge political scene, I mean, that this is all—I am someone who is a uniter, not a divider. I don’t believe in group thought, pitting one group of people against another. And all that does is create kind of a huge political, you know, nightmare for people. I mean, it’s as if an individual doesn’t count, but the group that the individual belongs in is more important.

Yes, that was the total exchange. How in the world did Bush hold up? But that’s how far Kurtz has to go to pretend that Tim hammered Bush, too.

There are other comical parts to this morning’s grovel. But make no mistake—Howard Kurtz overstepped last week. Head pushed down like a Chinese convict, he tries to atone for his error.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Just as Russert lectured Dean about Social Security, so he lectured Republican candidates during a January 2000 debate. Finally, Alan Keyes told him to stuff it. We cheered; the statement was overdue. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/17/00. Final note: Infallible Russert was simply wrong in his lecture to Dean about Social Security. But you know these imams—they’re always right. “No, no, no, no, no,” Russert said. Kurtz quotes the great statement this morning.