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SIX YEARS LATER! The Post’s Peter Baker is very upset—about a long-standing practice: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, AUGUST 15, 2006

SIX YEARS LATER: On Saturday, the Post’s Peter Baker got quite upset about George Bush’s new procedure. In this front-page piece, Baker reported a troubling new way the president has been doing business:
BAKER: [I]ncreasingly in recent months, Bush has left town without a chartered press plane, often to receptions where he talks to donors chipping in hundreds of thousands of dollars with no cameras or tapes to record his words for the public. Barred from such events, most news organizations will not pay to travel with him. And so a White House policy inclined to secrecy has combined with escalating costs for the strapped news media to let Bush fly under the radar in a way his predecessors could not.
To Baker, it was quite shocking. “The idea that Bush could travel across the country without a full contingent of reporters, especially in the middle of a war, highlights a major cultural shift in the presidency and the news media,” he intoned. “In the four decades since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, presidents traditionally have taken journalists with them wherever they traveled on the theory that when it comes to the most powerful leader on the planet, anything can happen at any time.”

Baker’s reaction was a bit overwrought. In fact, Bush had “taken journalists with him” on all the trips in question. Bush may not be flying with “a full contingent of reporters” on the trips which Baker describes. But as Baker notes in paragraph 8, “Bush still always travels with a small media pool that includes wire services, television cameras and a single newspaper reporter who files a report to others left behind.”

Poor Baker! As he waved his fist in the air, the scribe was conflating two situations. Yes, the White House has failed to provide charter planes for the press on some recent trips—but as Baker notes, that’s because the press corps hasn’t wanted to accompany Bush on these trips. Why didn’t news orgs want to travel with Bush? Because he was flying to fund-raising dinners—and the press ain’t allowed to attend them! But there’s nothing new about this procedure; indeed, it dates all the way back to Campaign 2000. Baker complains about it now—six years after the practice began. But his colleagues kept their traps shut during Campaign 2000—and some scribes even used this situation to fuel their long War Against Gore.

Here at THE HOWLER, we chuckled at Baker’s new-found religion. In fact, reporters weren’t allowed inside Bush’s fund-raising dinners even back in Campaign 2000! But in those days, they knew the rules—and some even used the situation as another way to go after Gore. Especially at the New York Times, the coverage of the candidates’ fund-raising dinners was deeply clownish—and deeply unfair. Reporters trashed Gore for his swish events—and almost never told Times readers that they weren’t allowed to attend Bush’s.

Bush has barred the press from his fund-raising dinners ever since Campaign 2K! To see how the New York Times treated this matter, settle in for some crack HOWLER HISTORY.

HOWLER HISTORY—CLOSED EVEN THEN: How laughably did the New York Times cover Bush and Gore during Campaign 2K? For a clownish example of the disparate treatment, consider the two hopefuls’ fund-raising dinners. Yes, this was a minor part of the coverage. But it neatly shows the disparate treatment as the Times puffed Bush and flogged Gore.

In the weeks after Super Tuesday (March 7, 2000), the New York Times’ fiendish “Kit” Seelye unveiled a new approach to Gore. On March 9, Gore said he would make campaign finance reform a priority in the general election; on March 26, he released a proposal for federal funding of congressional elections. And uh-oh! Pundits feared that Old-Willing-To-Do-And-Say-Anything might inherit the mantle of their darling, Saint McCain. So how did the Times handle Gore’s troubling conduct? Simple! Seelye began to punish Gore for daring to make the proposal.

What was Seelye’s specific complaint? Gore had said he’d forgo “soft money” if Bush was willing to do the same. But Candidate Bush had rejected the offer, and Gore was now out raising money, just as Bush was doing. In fact, Bush had already raised twice as much money as Gore—but to Seelye, it was Gore’s fund-raising which was deeply disturbing. She seemed to think that, since Gore had proposed campaign finance reform, he shouldn’t be raising any money at all. Yes, that was a crackpot notion—but it drove the Times’ reporting through March. The paper pushed this ludicrous theme on March 9, 12, 16, 22, 23, 24 and 25. For a review of that hapless body of work, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/20/02.

This brings us back to Baker’s new-found problem—the fact that Bush has barred the press from attending his fund-raising dinners. During Campaign 2000, Gore’s events were open to scribes—but at Bush’s soirees, the doors were closed. How did the New York Times handle this matter? The way it handled everything else—in a ludicrous, clowning way designed to wage War Against Gore.

On the Gore front, Seelye never seemed to tire of implying that something was wrong with Gore’s fund-raising. She hammered the topic right through September, finding ways to roll her eyes whenever Gore dared to raise money. The snide aside became her hallmark, even in her “news reporting.” For example, when Gore attended a fund-raising dinner on June 6, Seelye began her report with this gem: "Vice President Al Gore, ever on the prowl for money, has found a new source." Hiss! Hiss-spit! Mee-oowww!! On June 24, she was at it again: "Vice President Al Gore was back to business as usual today—trolling for money." On September 10, she outlined Gore’s schedule: "This coming week, the vice president will…comb the Northeast corridor for cash." Earlier, though, on April 17, she had let her demons run free. The fiendish scribe penned this ludicrous opening as she described yet another Gore fund-raiser:
SEELYE (4/17/00): The sweet scent of jasmine wafted up the leafy hillsides, the lights of Los Angeles twinkled below, and the cash register ca-CHINGed until it was stuffed with $2.8 million.
Incredible. You couldn’t make the snark more plain—and the Times just kept on printing it. Indeed, the ridiculous license granted to Seelye helped make the Times our sloppiest paper—a cesspool of spin and high attitude. Allowed to observe Gore’s fund-raising dinners, Seelye and other Times correspondents knew just how to take advantage. Routinely, they described the fancy-pants menus at these events—a way for reporters to tell their readers that the candidate isn’t a regular guy, like you and your Uncle Fred are:
SEELYE (3/22/00): About 30 people ("solicitors" in campaign finance jargon) brought $5,000 each and lunched on sesame-seared salmon and pistachio mousse with the vice president at small tables set up in the Wallachs' living room.
“Solicitor” had a snarky feel, so Seelye threw that in too. Three days later, the Times’ Richard Oppel reported another swish menu at another super-swish Gore event:
OPPEL (3/25/00): At a later dinner...33 people expected to donate $15,000 each were to dine on crabmeat parfait, quail stuffed with squash, and pecan pie.
Reporters print fancy menus like these to punish pols they don’t like. But then, Seelye found every possible way to spin Gore’s ongoing fund-raisers. When she didn’t tell you what the guests ate, she described the "Miros and Chagalls" on the walls (6/24/00). When Gore and Clinton appeared together, she rarely forgot to mention the fact that Bill had been much more dynamic. And quite literally, the Times never published any such comments about Bush’s equally lavish fund-raisers—events at which the Republican hopeful was raising vastly more money than Gore. Why didn’t the Times do Bush like Gore? Ca-CHING! On July 2, hapless Frank Bruni did something unusual—he gave readers real information:
BRUNI (7/2/00): Unlike Mr. Gore’s fund-raisers, Mr. Bush’s were closed to reporters, a strategic decision by Republicans, who said they worried that any discussion of the Texas governor and money served to reinforce their reputation as the party of the rich and to remind voters that Mr. Bush’s candidacy has been fueled by an unprecedented sum of contributions.
Oh! In part, Bush’s menus had never been published because Bush’s events had been closed to the Times! After all, any discussion of such swish events might “reinforce [the GOP’s] reputation as the party of the rich.” The problem here would be obvious to anyone, but the Times—showing its endless bad judgment—kept printing the menus from Gore’s shi-shi dinners while barely mentioning Bush’s events. Indeed, what follows is the only occasion when Bruni discussed these events in any detail. To state the obvious, the gentleman’s tone differed vastly from Seelye’s:
BRUNI (6/20/00): At a dinner tonight at the home of John T. Chambers, the chief executive of Cisco Systems, Mr. Bush collected what campaign officials estimated to be more than $3.5 million from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs…"I don’t relish these big fund-raising events," Mr. Bush said beforehand, as his campaign plane flew west from Austin, Tex. But he was set to grin and bear several of them in a campaign week expected to be among his most lucrative.
Good God! As usual, Bruni rolled over and peed on his tummy. In this passage, he first reported Bush’s spin—then politely repeated it for him. Poor Bush! He’d just have to grin and bear the events, so much did he hate those big fund-raising dinners! Bruni didn’t report what Bush’s guests ate, and he didn’t report what was found on the walls. Nor did he note that this dinner was closed—that the Times was forced to stand on the sidewalk. But ca-CHING! All spring and summer, a different tone held sway in the Times as Gore “trolled for” and “scooped up” his dough.

Let’s say it again—this was a minor part of the coverage of Campaign 2000. But this utter nonsense helps define the grisly work of the great Gotham Times.

On Saturday, Baker threw a minor fit over the fact that Bush’s find-raisers are closed. But duh! Such events have been closed to the press all the way back to Campaign 2000! At the Times, though, they knew how to handle rejection; they used it to help send Bush to the White House. And we think you know the rest of the story: Once Bush got there, he wisely decided to send the U.S. to Iraq.