HOWLER TO HOPEFUL! Cheney was lying to voters this week. But you—the Kerry camp—didnt care:
SATURDAY, AUGUST 14, 2004
THEYRE JUST TOO AFRAID TO ASK: No, it wasnt hard to explain the clownistry of Cheneys remarks. There was the VP, out on the trail, pretending that John Kerry had said hed be sensitive to our terrorist enemies. Plainly, that wasnt what Kerry had said; if youre able to read, you can see that (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/13/04). But all around the national press corps, trembling reporters were too afraid to confront Cheneys silly clowning. Can you say enablers, boys and girls? They simply refused to tell the public things that are as plain as day. Cheney was playing the voters for fools. And your reporters all knew not to notice.
How easy was it to lay out the truth? On Thursdays CBS Evening News, Jim Axelrod almost dared do it. He played a few of Cheneys comments, then flirted with telling the truth:
AXELROD (8/12/04): Cheney was referring to a comment Kerry made last week. Kerry said international coalitions were necessary to fight terror, and that he could build them.Axelrod flirted with stating the obvious—both the Cheneys, Dick and Lynne, were baldly misstating what Kerry had said. But even The Ax was too afraid to pursue the real news in this stupid story. Continuing directly, he ended with the weak rebuttals that came from the Kerry campaign:
KERRY (videotape): Oh, it's sad that they can only be negative. They have nothing to say about the future vision of America.Axelrod flirted with telling the truth. But why cant newsmen—newsmen like Axelrod—follow stories where stories lead? In the wake of Cheneys ludicrous spinning, why do they only ask Kerry to comment? Why arent they asking questions of Cheney? Why didnt Axelrod end his report with a statement like this:
WHAT AXELROD SHOULD HAVE SAID: We asked both Cheneys if, after reading Kerrys text, they thought the senator had really advised sensitivity toward terrorists. Neither camp supplied an answer. Jim Axelrod, CBS News, Los Angeles.Why didnt Axelrod ask those questions? The answer to that is very clear—asking such questions would be quite scary. Why werent questions directed at Cheney? You know why. The answer is fear.
GIVING BAD MESSAGE: Yes, its always tricky for a campaign to respond to bogus attacks of this type. But in part, Kerry gets ridiculous coverage because his campaign gives such empty rebuttals. In this instance, they said Cheney took Kerrys remarks out of context, and they attacked the VP for being negative. But those remarks are exceptionally vague; specifically, what was wrong with what Cheney said? The Kerry campaign made no effort to say, leaving timid reporters to fend for themselves in framing a helpful response.
Last night, Chris Matthews actually seemed to care about Cheneys clowning, unlike the Kerry campaign itself. Here was part of Matthews reaction on Hardball:
MATTHEWS (8/13/04): OK, let's get something straight. Dick Cheney is probably the man most responsible for the fact we've had troops in Saudi Arabia for ten years. That's what drove the terrorists to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They were angry that their own holy lands were besmirched—basically, dumped on by the United States for 10 years.No, that isnt the response a campaign would make. (Beyond that, Matthews correspondent, David Schuster, didnt seem to understand that Kerry had advocated sensitivity toward allies, not toward enemy terrorists.) But Matthews did something the Kerry camp never does—he acted as if he actually cares about the Bush/Cheney clowning. With that in mind, what would have been wrong with the campaign saying something like this:
POSSIBLE CAMPAIGN STATEMENT: There they go again! John Kerry believes we should be aggressive toward our enemies, and diplomatic toward our friends. John Kerry didnt say we should be sensitive to terrorists, and Dick Cheney plainly know it. Why cant we have a real discussion—not a discussion where the Vice President tries to mislead the American people? Why cant we have a real discussion about these dangerous times?Why cant the Kerry campaign show that it cares? And by the way: If it doesnt care about its own interests, why cant it stand up, just one time, and pretend that it actually cares about the interests of American voters?
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: Slowly, haltingly, even Dan Balz begins to suggest that Bush has been faking. In this mornings Post, the slumbering newsman finally notes the obvious:
BALZ: At the beginning of the week, Kerry said that, even if he had known then what is known now about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, he still would have voted to give Bush the authority to go to war. But he qualified that by criticizing Bush for going to war without more international support and for rushing to war without a plan to win the peace. I would have done this very differently from the way President Bush has, he said. Bush chose to ignore that qualifier.Duh! Days after this silly flap arose, Balz makes the most obvious statement on the face of the earth. It gets to Post readers four days late, in paragraph 9 of this story. But Balz can do nothing with the Kerry campaigns weak rejoinder to Cheneys comments. Heres the best that Balz could do, given the vagueness of their rebuttals:
BALZ: Cheney seized on a comment Kerry had made to the Unity convention of minority journalists about how he would differ from Bush on terrorism. "I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history," he said.At least Balz quotes Kerrys original comments—something he should have done when this flap arose. But note: Balz quotes the Kerry camps rejoinder—but the rejoinder is hopelessly vague. How much better would it have been if Balz could have written this:
ALTERNATE BALZ PASSAGE: Kerry allies accuse the vice president of taking the comment out of context. John Kerry didnt say we should be sensitive to terrorists, an aide said, and Dick Cheney plainly knows it.Thats what might have appeared in the Post if the Kerry campaign would stand up and fight. But the candidate left his fight back in Nam, and his advisers—hapless, inept—never seem to give a goldarn when their foes make a joke of our discourse.
Can we make a suggestion to the campaign? Plainly, you dont give a flying fig when Kerry gets lied about by rivals. Given that odd indifference to Kerrys interests, is there any way you could pretend to care about the interests of voters? Could you stand up, just one time, and fight for the interests of those misused Americans? Fight to keep them well-informed?
Cheney was lying to voters this week. But you—the Kerry camp—didnt care.