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HOW TO LOSE AN ELECTION (PART 3)! Fresh-faced Bill Hemmer called Kerry “most liberal” Why did Tom Vilsack just stare?

WHO’S FLIPPING NOW: This morning, the Post editorial board does a big flip about Tom Ridge’s statement on Sunday. On Tuesday, the paper praised Ridge for having “stayed away from politics” in his magisterial statement (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/4/04). But as we (and many others) noted, Ridge did play politics in his statement, telling us all what we “must understand.” (“We must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror,” the pious terror chief intoned.) So today, the Post board simply pulls a flip-flop. The paper explains why there’s been so much “confusion” about the things Ridge said:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (8/5/04): Part of the problem is also Mr. Ridge's inability to resist boosterism in his public pronouncements, whether through references to the president's "leadership" or to his own department's achievements.
That, of course, is the very statement to which we (and so many others) referred. So let’s see. On Tuesday, the Post editorial said this wasn’t “politics.” Today, they say it was troubling “boosterism.” Does Fred Hiatt even know who he is? And of course, though journalists love bashing pols for their flips, Hiatt doesn’t even note his own change of view, let alone explain why he’s changed. There’s a term for this, and it comes from the French. You know that term—droit de scribbleur.

HOW TO LOSE AN ELECTION (PART 3): Are Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards the “first and fourth most liberal senators?” Please! At best, the claim is grossly misleading; more reasonably judged, it’s an outright deception. But so what! RNC shills hawk the claim through the night, knowing that snoring mainstream “journalists” will let it pass without challenge or comment (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/4/04). And it gets worse! Many scrub-cheeked, fresh-faced “journalists” openly push the claim themselves—doing the work of the RNC for it. Take CNN’s Bill Hemmer, for instance. Last Friday morning, the bright-eyed scribe interviewed Tom Vilsack about Kerry’s convention speech:

VILSACK (7/30/04): This was a great speech. And I think America wakes up knowing, confident that this man is prepared to lead from day one.

HEMMER: Critics would come back and say it lacks specifics. Critics would also come back and say this is still a senator who has the most liberal record in the Senate and still this is a man who flip-flops on a number of issues.

Readers, when children read their civics texts, they’re told that journalists challenge misleading statements. Not Hemmer! The fresh-faced scribe just couldn’t wait to parrot the claim he had heard.

The moral to this story is clear; if Dems want these bogus attacks refuted, they’ll have to do the refuting themselves. For example, did Senator Kerry really try to “gut the intelligence services,” as President Bush laughably said back in March? (Links below.) Did Kerry “vote against just about every major weapons system we now have,” the claim Sean Hannity (and every RNC shill) has clownishly made in the past several months? If Dems want to see these fake charges clarified, they’ll have to take charge of the process themselves, because the American “press corps” has walked off its posts. Imagine! Our civics textbooks still tell kids that journalists try to refute bogus charges! In fact, they slumber, sleep, burble and snore—or, as with scribes like the eager young Hemmer, they repeat bogus charges themselves.

How lazy has the press become when faced with important bogus claims? As a quick aside, let’s recall how this worked during Campaign 2000. In particular, let’s examine the way the moguls at Time responded to the Love Story slander. How deep is the press corps’ indifference to truth? We’d call this a perfect example.

As readers will remember, Candidate Gore was slashed, for twenty straight months, about a long string of disturbing misstatements. He said he invented the Internet, voters were told (and told; and told); he crazily said that he and his wife had inspired the movie Love Story. These claims were repeated again and again. And let’s state the obvious: The repetition of these bogus claims decided the 2000 White House campaign. You can put all your fancy foofaw away. This is how our elections get decided.

But did Gore really say he inspired Love Story? In fact, Candidate Gore’s deeply troubling comment had occurred in November 1997, during a late-night plane ride to Washington, and only two journalists were present to hear it. One of the two was Time’s Karen Tumulty, who always told us—always on the record—how silly and bogus this flap really was. In September 2000, the scribe expressed her view of the matter in a press forum broadcast on C-SPAN:

TUMULTY (9/7/00): I am the reporter to whom Al Gore claimed that Love Story was based on him and Tipper...I was sort of appalled to see the way it played in the media. I mean, it was an offhand comment made during a two-and-a-half hour conversation that was mostly about other things and it was a comment that was, you know, true in most respects. I mean, he was a model, Erich Segal said, for the preppy character in Love Story, and it had been reported in Tennessee newspapers that it was modeled on both of them. But all of that got lost in, again, this kind of snowball—I think that there was probably something there worth gigging him about, but the degree to which it became a symbol of the man’s integrity I thought was very unfair. And I say that as the person to whom he made the comment and who wrote it.
At this point, we’ll offer a minor quibble; as far as we know, Tumulty never identified anything Gore said on this topic that was actually wrong. In his “offhand,” fleeting remark, (“two or three sentences, tops,” Tumulty told us, “in a two-and-a-half hour conversation”) Gore said that he had once seen a newspaper article attributing certain claims to Segal, Love Story’s author. Segal quickly agreed with Gore, saying he had been partly misquoted by the ancient article’s author. But leaving such minor quibbles aside, note the heart of what Tumulty said. She said she thought the press corps’ treatment of this story had been “very unfair;” she was “sort of appalled” at the way the press corps had played it. But so what? As a candidate, Gore was hammered and mocked about this “offhand comment,” over the course of almost two years. And here’s what’s so amazing about this: Time magazine never had Tumulty express her views in a first-person piece! Let’s say it again: Only two scribes had actually been present, and Tumulty thought the scandal was “very unfair.” If you believe what those civics books say—if you think the press corps challenges claims that are “very unfair”—then Tumulty’s editors let you know different. The magazine never asked their scribe to tell the voters what she knew. Her editors let this scandal go on—and they let the fake scandal decide an election. And that’s the way your modern “press” works. All our civics textbooks can’t change it.

But in Campaign 2000—and now in this race—the DNC has been slumbering too. It isn’t just Janeane Garofalo who wanders out onto major shows and stages embarrassing, appalling performances—performances crafted to lose elections. During Campaign 2000, DNC spokesmen never knew how to reply to the various slanders of Gore. They knew how to lose an election then—and their skills don’t seem to have dissipated. Last Friday, what did Vilsack say to Hemmer when that RNC spin was recited? He wasn’t as flagrantly hapless as Garofalo was. But Vilsack didn’t say a word about the RNC’s favorite claim either:

HEMMER (7/30/04): Critics would also come back and say this is still a senator who has the most liberal record in the Senate and still this is a man who flip-flops on a number of issues. Before you answer it, here's how he addressed that last night:

KERRY (videotape): Now I know there are those who criticize me for seeing complexities and I do, because some issues just aren't all that simple.

HEMMER: Was that effective?

VILSACK: Absolutely. Absolutely. These are complicated, very complicated issues. But, you know, he did provide specifics last night, Bill. He talked about his plan to get this economy rolling. He talked about renewable energy. He talked about expanding access to health care with very specific proposals. He has a very specific plan and to prove it he suggested that everybody check out his Web site,, with all of the specifics.

We’re not going to lack for specifics on the Kerry side. The question is what is the Bush plan for the next four years? And why isn't President Bush running on a record for the last four years?

Voters got to hear it again—Kerry is the most liberal senator. Vilsack let it pass without comment. But then, have you ever seen a DNC type challenge the “most liberal senator” claim? This is how to lose an election. It’s a skill at which Dem types are expert.

Everyone knows what the current scripts are—but DNC types are unable to meet them. Jon Stewart, a comedian, can deal with these scripts, but Vilsack, a governor, lets the claims pass. Every Dem should be furious—outraged—by Garofalo’s gruesome performance last week. But the DNC has staged such work for years. Tomorrow, we ask the obvious question: Why is this clownistry tolerated?

TOMORROW: Everyone knows what the current scripts are. Why aren’t your spokesmen prepared?

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Did Kerry try to “gut the intelligence services?” Bush’s charge is stunningly bogus. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/12/04. Did Kerry “oppose every weapon system?” John McCain—a Republican—knew what to say. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/13/04.

A VERY FRANKS DISCUSSION: Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve dreamed of the day when we could help our occasional pal, Mickey Kaus. And now, with the author of the new-improved Kausfiles rejoining the ranks of the sentient peoples, we’re more than happy to help Mickey out. We refer, of course, to Tommy Franks’ important discussion with Sean Hannity. The session aired Tuesday on Fox.

And yes, this session was very important, as every DNC talker should be told. It’s the kind of discussion such talkers can use when they want to refute the coming attacks—the attacks that will now be made (again) against Kerry’s post-Vietnam record. General Franks, of course, just finished a stint as CentCom Commander. And since Franks has known Laura Bush since school days—and since he’s partial to the president too—Hannity knew that this was a chance to trash Kerry’s post-Nam public record. You know—a chance to say that he slandered the troops when he described appalling misconduct in Nam? A chance to call Kerry a very bad man—a man you can’t possibly vote for?

This was an early line of attack on Kerry, and it’s about to be ginned up again. So Hannity threw raw meat to Franks, assuming that Tommy would take it and run. But uh-oh! Franks vouched for the accuracy of Kerry’s remarks. We hope DNC types will notice.

You know Sean—he has all the moves. Always eager to stir the rubes, he started by asking Franks this:

HANNITY (8/3/04): I want to play a tape of John Kerry, and I want to get your reaction to this tape.

KERRY (videotape, Dick Cavett Show, 1971): I personally didn't see personal atrocities in the sense that I saw somebody cut a head off or something like that. However, I did take part in free fire zones. I did take part in harassment interdiction fire. I did take part in search and destroy missions in which the houses of noncombatants were burned to the ground.
And all of these, I find out later on—these acts are contrary to The Hague and Geneva conventions and to the laws of warfare. So, in that sense, anybody who took part in those, if you carry out the application of the Nuremberg principles, is in fact guilty.

HANNITY: What does that mean to you?

Hannity seemed to assume that Franks would say Kerry shouldn’t have said that, or that such conduct never occurred, or that this dude is a very bad man. But Franks is a soldier, not a pundit—as such, he doesn’t mislead for a living. Quickly, Sean knew that things had gone wrong. Franks said Kerry’s statements were right:
FRANKS (continuing directly): I think we had a lot of problems in Vietnam. One was the lack of leadership of young people like in—in John Kerry's position. He was a young officer over there, and I'm not sure that, that activities like that didn't take place. In fact, quite the contrary. I'm sure that they did.
Say what? Just that quickly, Franks was off message. But Hannity gave him another chance. He played one more piece of old tape:
HANNITY: I want to play you another tape of his, where he talks about what other soldiers did when he was there.

FRANKS: Right.

HANNITY: And then, I'll get your reaction to this. Roll this tape.

KERRY (videotape, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 1971): I relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They told the stories of times that they had personally raped, cut off the ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in the fashion of Genghis Khan.

HANNITY: I mean, raped, murdered, all these things. But he never told names. Does that anger you? I mean, this is the guy now that is the leading candidate for the Democrats.

“But he never told names,” Hannity said, engaging in his trademark dissembling. (Sean misleads like other men breathe.) Duh! In this testimony, Kerry was describing statements made by former soldiers in the well-known “Winter Soldier” investigation. The names of these soldiers were public record; Kerry didn’t have to list them. But at any rate, Franks again passed on the bait. Hannity wanted the general to hammer Vile John. But once again, Franks told the truth:
FRANKS (continuing directly): I don't know. I think Vietnam was—I think Vietnam was a bad time. I think that what I've learned in my life, Sean, is that it's a heck of a lot easier to protest than it is to step up and take responsibility for the actions of a unit or for—or for your own actions. And so, I don't—I don't like what I saw. But at the same time, I wouldn't say that—the things that Senator Kerry said are undeniable about activities in Vietnam. I think that things didn't go right in, in Vietnam.
Franks did try to help Sean out, suggesting it was unworthy to protest. (In another answer, he seemed to say that he had refused to engage in activities that contravened the Geneva conventions.) But again, Franks stated the obvious truth: “The things that Senator Kerry said are undeniable about activities in Vietnam.” Sadly, everyone knows that such events did occur. But a gaggle of Manchurian anti-candidates are about to start saying otherwise. Sean hoped Franks was Manchurian too. But Franks said Kerry’s statements were accurate. In fact, he said something much stronger—undeniable.

Of course, nothing is “undeniable” now, in a world where your press corps has walked off its posts. In 1971, Kerry spoke to a Senate committee, made up of Dems and Reps alike. No one questioned the things he said, because everyone knew that his statements were accurate. But Manchurian mau-maus are about to deploy, and they will be pleased to deny the undeniable. Will the Bill Hemmers challenge them? Frankly, we doubt it. But Franks gave the Dems a key word—undeniable. Will someone tell Vilsack to use it?

POSTCRIPT: Oh yes—Kaus was puzzled by the Nexis transcript of that second statement by Franks. Yes, Franks did say “I wouldn’t say that,” just the way it appears in the transcript. But Nexis bungled the punctuation. Franks paused at that point, then started again—and called Kerry’s statements “undeniable.” Mickey didn’t have the tape, so he couldn’t confirm his impression. At THE HOWLER, of course, we did have the tape. So we rushed off to help Mickey out.