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YOU TOO CAN BE A NATIONAL PUNDIT! You too can type a Standard Press Story. Just stick to these three simple rules:


YOU TOO CAN WRITE A STANDARD ACCOUNT: As we’ve seen, the press corps offers a Standard Account of the 2000 election. Scripted pundits all tell it the One Standard Way. Let’s go with the Peggy Noonan version:

NOONAN (Wall Street Journal, 8/9/02): Mr. Gore is damaged goods, a bad campaigner who wasted the precious patrimony of peace and prosperity, a charm-free zone who took a weird turn in his acceptance speech two years ago this week, abandoning centrist sophistication and embracing Huey Long populism.
In reciting the Standard Press Corps Account, pundits must follow three rules:
  1. Always mention the fact that Gore was handed peace and prosperity.
  2. Never mention the fact that Gore was handed the Clinton impeachment.
  3. Most important: Never mention the slander war the press corps ran against Gore.
If you can keep those rules in your head, you’re ready to limn the last election for one of our national news orgs.

The most laughable version of the Standard Account comes from—who else?—Chris Matthews. He was already offering the Standard Account in real time. Here he was, on the Today show, three weeks before the election:

MATTHEWS (10/18/00): I’ve been studying this election for about a year now, and the economy should get the incumbent elected. Gore should win. The issue agenda, prescription drugs, and those kinds of issues are all working for the incumbent administration. So what’s stopping the American people? There’s some tissue rejection there about Al Gore, something that stops them from saying, “OK, Gore.” And I think the American people have a problem with him. And I’m not sure—
At this point, Mathews was interrupted. But, having “studied the election” for a full year, the thoughtful scribe was deeply puzzled by the “tissue rejection” with Gore.

Matthews, of course, hadn’t “studied” the election; he had spent twenty months spinning it. Among major pundits, he was almost surely the most enthusiastic trasher of Gore. He liked to combine smutty sexual jibes with moronic observations about Gore’s movements and clothing. Late in the race, this produced an amusing session of Hardball as Chris tried to get right with Gore.

In September 2000, Gore shot ahead in the national polls. Smart Washington money was 100 percent sure that Gore had the White House race won. And some scribes, seeing the walls closing in, began trying to get right with Gore. In mid-September, Matthews apologized on the air for a phrase he had used all year. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that Gore “would lick the bathroom floor” to be president, Matthews said (see below). But once Gore lost, Matthews’ scruples went missing. Shortly after the attacks of September 11, the pundit trashed Gore on the Imus show. “He doesn’t look like one of us,” Matthews said. “He doesn’t seem very American, even.” Incredibly, yes, he did say it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/01.

The humor of the Standard Account is heightened when Matthews presents it. Chris trashed Gore all through the campaign. Routinely, he dissembled on hot-button topics, as we’ll see in future weeks. But on Today, with Election Day drawing near, Chris just couldn’t figure out why “the American people have a problem with [Gore].” We Americans must have done something bad wrong to be afflicted by God with Chris Matthews.

Readers, the Standard Account is a sanitized tale. What actually happened in Campaign 2000? Clinton’s impeachment trial ended in February 1999. Gore hit the trail the next month, and the press corps—reacting with startling speed—started a poisonous slander campaign. As Josh Marshall said on Reliable Sources, the press corps’ remarkable “contempt” for Gore was apparent from March 1999 on. The slander campaign lasted twenty full months. Half the press took part in the carnage; the other half knew not to notice.

We’ll review their work in the weeks to come. But you’ll be reading the Standard Account almost every day in the press—and many Dems have bought the story. We think that Dems need to understand the way their party lost the White House. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at a Florida Dem who is reciting the corps’ Standard Tale.

GETTING RIGHT WITH GORE: Here is Matthews, on September 11, 2000, walking back some nasty language. What did we do to deserve him?

MATTHEWS (9/11/00, to Bob Woodward): The Washington Post poll—here it is, your poll. When voters were asked if they thought Al Gore will say or do anything to get elected—I’ve said this many times on this show and, and have been accused of being too rough on him—60 percent of the American people say that Al Gore will say or do anything—“lick the floor” is a phrase I’ve, unfortunately, used over time—to win the election. That doesn’t bother them, though, because the same people say that when they were asked if they thought Al Gore was honest and trustworthy, the man they said would basically lick the floor, 63 percent said, yes, he’s honest and trustworthy.
Maybe you had to be there. We can only say that, in real time, that struck us as a halting apology. For the record, Matthews called Gore “the bathtub ring” more than forty times in 1999 alone. But as Election Day finally drew near, he went on Today and racked his brains. Why did the public have problems with Gore? He just couldn’t figure it out.

All through Campaign 2000, Matthews trashed the public interest. But did you ever see an insider pundit challenge or question his stupid, rank conduct? The press corps took its standard pass as Matthews played games about Gore.

HERE’S WHAT HE REALLY THINKS ABOUT: By the fall of 1999, how common were men’s three-button suits? So common that conservative clothier Brooks Brothers was running display ads for such suits—in the Wall Street Journal! But when Gore began to wear three-button suits, your scripted pundits began pretending that this was the latest weird thing. Always prepared to improve a daft tale, some pundits even said that Gore was wearing four-button suits. (Arianna, we know what you did that autumn!) In one of the truly inane moments of the campaign, the Washington Post’s overwrought Marc Fisher said that Gore had been wearing “a brown suit of a sort that is alien to virtually every American.” Strangely, Gore got fifty million votes from those same Americans, alien buttons and all.

But no one pushed those three buttons like Matthews. Here he was on the November 12 Hardball, with consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius:

MATTHEWS: You know, there’s been a lot of talk about the new costuming of Al Gore. You know, he used to wear blue suits like I do, or gray suits. Now he’s wearing these new olive suits. He’s taking up something rather unconventional, the three-button male suit jacket. I always—my joke is, “I’m Albert, I’ll—I’ll be your waiter tonight.” I mean, I don’t know anybody who buttons all three buttons, even if they have them. What could that possibly be saying to women voters, three buttons?

DIMITRIUS: Well, I, I think that—

MATTHEWS: Is there some hidden Freudian deal here or what? I don’t know, I mean, Navy guys used to have buttons on their pants. I don’t know what it means. Go ahead.

Chris’ mind would go to bad places. At any rate, these inane discussions lasted for weeks. He didn’t always tell his waiter “joke,” but Hardball viewers got to enjoy it on November 2, 4, 10,12 and 24. One year later, the pundit was stumped: Why wouldn’t folks warm to Gore?