THERE ONCE WAS A SHILL FROM NANTUCKET! Russert knows the issue is fake. He also knows that he cant say so:
MONDAY, AUGUST 2, 2004
THERE ONCE WAS A SHILL FROM NANTUCKET: Tim Russert had just flown in from Nantucket, where he likes to tell the NBC elite how great they are and how tough they once had it. What followed was a toothless exchange with the king of all fakers, Zell Miller. But where had the press corps Top Cop gone—the man who is feared for his follow-up questions? No ones as phony as Mountain Man Miller; no one is better suited to the famed-and-feared Russert Treatment. But ocean breezes still played in Tims ears. His follow-up queries were paltry (see below).
But then Joe Biden came on the show, and the old Russert was back. In particular, he was back with the point that is now, in Joe Kleins words, the emotional heart of the presidents attack on John Kerry. Why did Kerry vote against that $87 billion to fund the troops? Russert asked Biden again and again. Soon he was reading Kerrys mind, telling us how it all seems:
RUSSERT: But it seems as if [Kerrys] vote for the war in 2002 was a general election vote, thinking, I voted against the first Persian Gulf War, I better be for this one. And then when it came to the second vote of supplying money to the troops, he was in the midst of a Democratic primary where Howard Dean was hitting him hard for his support for Iraq, and he voted the other way. Doesn't this re-enforce the notion of flip-flopping and inconsistency on a serious issue like war?Good boy! Tim even managed to work in the claim that this was another very bad Kerry flip-flop. And yes, follow-up questions were now back in vogue. This was the fourth of six aggressive questions devoted to this single topic.
Russert started by quoting Zell Miller. Here was the Top Cops first question:
RUSSERT: Zell Miller was just on. Let me show you what he had to say about your candidate, John Kerry. I think John Kerry made the right decision when he voted to authorize the war in Iraq. But then he went out on the campaign trail and started spending too much time with Howard Dean. And he came back to Washington and voted against the $87 billion the troops need for protective armor, combat pay, and better health care. That's the worst kind of indecisiveness, and the wrong leadership at this critical moment in history.Bidens response was self-serving and weak, as well see. But he did begin to sketch the history of Kerrys much-ballyhooed vote—a vote they love to spin on Nantucket. No, this isnt a very good answer. But it does lay out some basic facts:
BIDEN (continuing directly): Well, the irony is that what Zell may not have remembered, but I'm sure he'll remember when he hears me say it, is that there was an attempt to break out that $87 billion. I voted for the $87 billion. I got in trouble with the Democrats immediately saying I would support it. But I understood their point. They said, Look, lets take the $67 billion for the troops, the body and armor, etc....We said, John Kerry said and a number of others said, Lets take the $67 billion and have two votes. Vote immediately for the $67 billion for the troops. The remaining $20 billion roughly, because we dont trust these guys that theyre going to be able to manage it very well, let's attach conditions to it. They had $30,000 for pickup trucks, for example, in this thing. And so that was the big debate.Bidens narration laid out some key facts. Kerry wanted to vote immediately for the $67 billion that would go to the troops. But he wanted a separate vote on the extra $20 billion—the money for reconstruction projects. Later, Biden returned to that unspent money—the $18 billion for reconstruction that ended up getting passed. The bottom line was, I happen to disagree with the vote. But the irony of all ironies is that [Kerry] was more right about their ineptitude in how to deal with it than I was. Throughout this session, Biden seemed more eager to cover his own kiester than to speak on behalf of Kerry. But even Biden noted the irony: as it turns out, Kerry was right in his concern about that extra 20 billion. Kerry was more right than I was, Biden finally said of that vote.
Kerry was right in his concern, Biden said. And Biden noted the obvious fact—Kerry was never against the money that would have gone to the troops. But before we return to Russerts performance, lets note what was wrong with Bidens answer. Biden gave some basic facts, but totally missed the larger picture. If he wanted to speak for his man, heres what he should have said:
BIDEN (AMENDED ANSWER): Look, Tim, this whole thing is a phony. The troops were always going to be funded. No one was ever against doing that. But there were fights and legitimate questions about the way we were going to do it. Look, at one point, George Bush said he would veto the $87 billion if it contained a provision he didnt approve of! Nothing wrong with that—thats how bills get shaped. But Kerry had legitimate objections to the form of the bill that we passed—and heres what those objections were. By the way, he turned out to be right...But uh-oh! This amended statement would have forced Joe to be a bit tough on Russerts position—and major pols dont like to go there. So viewers never heard Biden say how fake and phony this whole issue is. Biden—covering his ass with two open hands—kept reminding Meet the Press viewers that he had voted for the bill that passed. And oh yeah—he also mentioned that Kerry was right. But what a mensch! He just said it in passing.
No, it isnt Russerts fault that Democrats cover their asses this way—that Biden promoted his own interests first, and then, as an afterthought, spoke up for Kerry. But Russert can be blamed for the questions he asks, and for the issues he fails to bring up. To state the obvious, Russert knows what Biden knows—that this issue is a Big Total Phony. After all, we know from his book, Big Russ & Me, that Russert is always prepared:
RUSSERT (page 147): [T]he key to success is preparation. In journalism, its absolutely critical. Like everyone else, I have days when things go well, and days when they dont. But one mistake I have never made is to show up unprepared for an interview.So yes—Russert knows that Bush said he would veto the $87 billion. And he knows that Kerry had valid reasons for opposing the form of the bill that passed. But theres something else the great bulldog knows—he knows that he shouldnt mention these facts. Back on the island, his rich, inane colleagues had fallen in love with this dumb, inane story. Why should Russert oppose all the squires? Why should he work for the people?
ZELLS BELLS: Yep, Russert can really be a bulldog when handed a story his cohort approves of. He pummeled Biden with six straight questions about Kerrys deeply troubling vote. But when Miller attacked Kerrys vote—two times—the bulldog crawled under his desk and died. According to Russert, his job on Meet the Press is to learn everything you can about the guests and their positions and then take the other side on the air (page 308). But somehow, Russert forgot to take the other side when Miller slammed Kerrys troubling vote. Voters are hearing this position from every steeple. But Russert forgot to challenge it.
But then, we make the following challenge: Read yesterdays Meet the Press transcript, and try to find any sustained questioning of anything Zell Miller said. No politician has ever flip-flopped more clownishly, but Russert couldnt seem to think of follow-up questions for anything! We especially chuckled when the old mountain fake voiced this praise of Ronald Reagan:
MILLER: If [Kerry] had had his policies adopted in the Senate instead of the Ronald Reagan policies being adopted, we would still be in the Cold War. We'd still have a Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall would still be up.Why was this comment just a bit comical? Earlier in the program, Russert had quoted Miller trashing Reagan, back in 1992, the way the old mountain fake used to do when he was pretending to believe that position. But the Great Bulldog didnt follow up when Miller praised Reagan as a way to trash Kerry. Nor did Russert say a word when Miller tossed off this fake-but-familiar spin-point:
MILLER: This is a man who voted to cut every single one of the weapons systems that won the Cold War. This is a man that voted against the weapons system that we're using to fight the war on terror. This is a man who voted against increases in intelligence funding. He wanted to cut intelligence funding.As readers of the HOWLER will know, these charges are complete, utter horsedrop. But heres the best the mighty bulldog managed as a follow-up:
MILLER: This is a man who voted to cut every single one of the weapons systems that won the Cold War. This is a man that voted against the weapons system that we're using to fight the war on terror. This is a man who voted against increases in intelligence funding. He wanted to cut intelligence funding.This is the best the bulldog could do? John McCain—a Republican and a Bush supporter—destroyed this nonsense on Hannity & Colmes. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/13/04. Also see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/19/04.) But you know Tim! Confronted with this Official Iconic RNC Slander, a docile bulldog crawled back in his house. For the record, Miller has only been in the Senate since July 2000. Kerrys disputed votes were cast in earlier years. Millers record has nothing to do with it. The bulldog squeaked, much like a mouse.
How did Russert handle Miller? Readers, Lets play softball! At one point, Russert asked him to respond to a press release by a no-name county org in Georgia. This would be like asking Biden to respond to trivial criticisms of Kerry written by Waco County Republicans. Tim hammered Biden with six straight questions on one single topic. With Miller, the bulldog wandered around, trying to find an old steak.
But Tim had just flown in from his home on Nantucket, and voices of the other squires still seemed to ring in his water-logged ears. Result? No one would ever have to hear that Bush threatened to veto the $87 billion himself. No one would have to hear that this gimmicked-up issue is phony and fake. They wouldnt hear it from self-protective Biden—or from self-protective Tim Russert. After all, The Squire would soon jet back to The Island, where hed have to explain what hed said.
COVER-UP IN DALLAS: Why does the Dallas Morning News hate America? On October 23, 2003, the paper made a perfectly reasonable recommendation. In an editorial, the paper said that Bush should veto that $87 billion:
DALLAS MORNING NEWS EDITORIAL: President Bush is right: The proposed $20.3 billion of U.S. reconstruction aid to Iraq should be in the form of grants. Congress should reverse its insistence that half of the aid be in the form of grants and half in loans. If Congress doesnt relent, then Mr. Bush should accept the recommendation of his senior advisers that he veto the entire appropriations bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.Two days before, the White House said that Bush would veto the Iraq spending bill if it passed in this form which he didnt support. The Morning News was saying that Bush should veto the bill if that happened.
Of course, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Bushs threat to veto the $87 billion. After all, if Bush had vetoed that form of the bill, that wouldnt have left the troops unfunded! No, it only meant that Congress would have to create another form of the bill. The troops were always going to be funded; Bushs veto wouldnt have changed that. And neither did the votes of senators, including Kerry, against the form of the bill that later passed.
So no, there was nothing wrong with Bushs threat to veto the $87 billion. And there was nothing wrong with Kerrys vote against a different form of the bill. But there was something wrong—something grossly wrong—when Bush spoke in Canton, Ohio this weekend. As usual, Bush was playing the voters for fools. He voiced a familiar complaint:
BUSH (7/31/04): We must make sure that the men and women who wear our uniform have the very best—the best training, the best equipment. (Applause.) And so last September, while our troops were in combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq, I proposed supplemental funding to support them in their missions. This legislation provided funding for body armor and other vital equipment for hazard pay, for health benefits and ammunition and fuel and spare parts. In the Senate, only a handful, only a small, out-of-the-mainstream minority voted against the legislation. And two of those 12 senators are on the ticket opposing us.Theres nothing complicated about supporting the troops? Bush was playing the voters for fools—and editors at the Morning News plainly know it. So isnt it time for the eds to stand up and have the courage of their prior proposal? At the time, the Morning News agreed with Bush—they said he should veto the $87 billion! They knew there would be nothing wrong with that conduct. They knew the troops would always be funded. So heres our question: When they see Bush playing voters for fools, why dont these brave little boys and girls stand up and say something about it?
MORE BACKGROUND: Stephen Dinans wrote the initial report in the Washington Times about Bushs threat to veto the $87 billion. Theres nothing complicated about funding the troops? Dinans report begs to differ:
DINANS (10/22/03): The Bush administration yesterday said the president should veto the Iraq spending bill unless senators drop their provision that would make half the reconstruction money a loan, rather than a grant, to Iraq...Nothing complicated about funding the troops? In a word, Bush is lying again. But when will the your terrified, Tim-orous press corps dare to stand up and give context?
HOW TO LOSE AN ELECTION: Isnt it great to have Air America brilliantly fighting for Kerrys interests? Be sure youre seated when you read this exchange from last Fridays Hannity & Colmes:
SEAN HANNITY (7/30/04): According to the National Journal, based on the voting records and they examined the voting records of every senator, they determined in 2003 John Kerry had the most liberal voting record. John Kerry is doing everything he can do at this convention to appear not to be a liberal. My question to you is, you want to be a proud liberal. Why wont John Kerry do the same thing?Its true—Kerry is not the number 1 liberal. And where do those other stats come from? Duh! From the non-partisan National Journal—the very publication Sean was pimping! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/29/04.) Readers, if you want to know how to lose an election, just read this exchange one more time.