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THE PRESS CORPS’ NEW MANNER! They've actually started to act like a press corps. Will it last? We simply can’t say:

FRIDAY, JULY 11, 2003

NEW MORNING: How did that uranium deal get into the State of the Union? Here at THE HOWLER, we simply can’t say. Did Bush aides know that the dog wouldn’t hunt? That hasn’t been made clear, either. But amazingly, the press corps is beginning to show some due diligence as it pursues the truth of this matter. In response, the Bush Admin has shown a bit of that “culture of lying” we first talked about back in May.

How has the Administration responded to the press corps’ new manner? With its typical evasion and disdain. In Africa, President Bush failed to address direct questions about the uranium matter. Ari Fleischer did as always, offering ham-handed sophistries. And Donald Rumsfeld behaved so poorly before the Congress that even Don Imus expressed his concerns. (On Thursday morning, Imus said the uranium matter is more important than Clinton and Monica!) But then, why wouldn’t The Bush Admin be caught off guard by a functioning press corps? From fall 2000 right up to this day, the corps had gone big-time AWOL on Bush. If the Administration is befuddled by the press corps’ new manner, it ain’t all that hard to see why.

Will the press corps continue to function this way? At THE HOWLER, we simply can’t tell you. But the Niger story has interrupted a long press corps farce—a farce which began in the immediate wake of the Clinton impeachment and acquittal. Starting in March 1999, the press corps went after Clinton’s successor, saying Gore is a liar, just like Bill Clinton. (We’re going to make him “jump through the hoops,” Roger Simon told Howard Kurtz, three months later.) Gore is a liar, just like Clinton: To use E. R. Shipp’s terminology, that’s how they “typecast” the Campaign 2000 “drama,” and to make the story work that much better, they began to say that Bush, Gore’s opponent, was a straight-talking fellow who says what he thinks. Ever since, they have stuck to that script. And Bush has responded as many pols would have—by laughing right in the corps’ face.

For some reason, the uranium caper has awakened the press corps. We can’t tell you why that happened. We can’t tell you if it will last. But what a sight, to see your press corps behaving as a real press corps should! Will they continue to show this new manner? At present, there’s no way to say

WHAT CRANBERG SAID: Gilbert Cranberg writes to clarify our characterization of his recent Post article (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/9/03). Was Colin Powell reading from a bogus transcript of those phone calls between Iraqi officials? Cranberg notes that he has made no such claim. Powell “didn’t phony-up the transcript, so far as I know,” he writes. “It was his recounting of the transcribed conversation that misrepresented what was said. What Powell told the Security Council simply didn’t match the State Department’s transcript. The effect was to make an essentially benign exchange by Iraqis seem highly incriminating.” How and why did Powell’s rendering go beyond the official State transcript? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. It’s the sort of thing reporters might ask the next time they speak with the Sec.

NEXT WEEK: We’ll admit to a sick fascination with Walter Isaacson’s review of those memoirs…

The Daily update

MUST-READ NYT: Another story, on today’s page one, about “Enron accounting” in urban schools. Diane Jean Schemo seems to show that Houston high schools have gimmicked their drop-out figures to improve their public image. Schemo even asks if this matter puts the “Texas [education] miracle” into question. A booster in Houston fights back:

SCHEMO: “The Texas miracle was not about high school performance, it was about elementary school performance,” said Donald R. McAdams, an 11-year member of the Houston school board and author of the 2000 book “Fighting to Save Our Urban Schools. . .and Winning! Lessons from Houston.”
That’s right—and there are many ways to gimmick elementary test scores, too. School board members who get snookered by fake drop-our rates can get snookered by fake test scores too. During Campaign 2000, serious questions were raised about Texas test scores, questions the press corps should have explored. But the corps was busy with other key topics—with earth tones and Love Story, to cite two examples—and it ignored the latest manifestation of this important public policy problem.

Make no mistake: Public schools do gimmick their testing programs and drop-out figures to improve their public image. Given the current state of play, citizens should be appropriately skeptical of test scores from our “standardized” programs. And the press corps should try to pursue that key topic. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/01. For other articles on this general topic, enter “Rand,” Kipp” or “Cannell” into our whirring search engines.