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A BRILLIANT EXAMPLE! With apologies, we spend a bit more time on that “sensitive war” pseudo-flap: // link //

MUST-READ WP: No, this morning’s report in the Washington Post doesn’t settle the facts about Kerry’s Bronze Star. (It’s almost impossible to prove what occurred in events that are almost four decades old.) But it is a must-read piece. More on the topic below.

A BRILLIANT EXAMPLE: With apologies, we’re going to spend more time on last week’s “sensitive war” pseudo-flap. We do so because this is such a brilliant example of what has gone wrong with your “press corps.”

What occurred in this pseudo-debate? Let’s go back to beginnings. On August 5, John Kerry spoke to a group of journalists about “the heart and soul of my plan for a stronger America,” a plan he had “just released two days ago in book form.” (The book is called, Our Plan for America: Stronger at Home, Respected in the World.) Kerry discussed the first part of the plan. It “focuses on security,” he said:

KERRY (8/5/04): The plan has three basic parts. The first part focuses on security.

I will fight this war on terror with the lessons I learned in war. I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president of the United States.

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.

I lay out a strategy to strengthen our military, to build and lead strong alliances and reform our intelligence system. I set out a path to win the peace in Iraq and to get the terrorists, wherever they may be, before they get us.

Yes, those are the things Kerry actually said. He said he was going to “fight this war on terror with the lessons I learned in war.” He said he was going to “strengthen the military.” He said he was going to “build and lead strong alliances.” And he said he was going to “get the terrorists, wherever they may be, before they get us.”

No, it didn’t sound like the work of a sissy-boy Democrat—so over at the RNC, Oppo Research swung into action. They know your “press corps” like the back of their hands. In particular, they know they can get your Washington “press corps” to recite any story, no matter how fatuous. So they zeroed in on a single word—“sensitive”—and tried to obscure what Kerry had said. And they sent the vice president, a man named Dick Cheney, out to lie in the face of the public.

How did Cheney play it last week? He focused on that single word, “sensitive.” And he pretended to believe certain things—things every scribe knew were bogus:

First, he pretended that Kerry had said we need to be more sensitive to terrorists (text below). If you can read Kerry’s text, you know that is false. Every pundit knew it was false. But they also knew not to discuss it.

Second, Cheney made a ludicrous statement—a statement every scribe knew was bogus. “America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes,” he said, “but not a one of them was ever won by being ‘sensitive.’” That statement, of course, is utterly laughable. Every war the U.S. has fought involved “sensitivity” to the interests of allies. But the voters who saw Cheney didn’t know that—and the “press corps” all knew to keep quiet.

Finally, Cheney’s fakery became comically obvious. He went on a talk show and battered Kerry with his new scripted slanders about the word “sensitive.” And then, as if determined to prove his own fakery, he contradicted himself moments later, discussing the war in Iraq:

HUGH HEWITT (8/12/04): Will the Najaf offensive continue until that city is subdued even if that means a siege of the Imam Ali shrine?

CHENEY: Well, from the standpoint of the shrine, obviously it is a sensitive area, and we are very much aware of its sensitivity.

Good God! Has anyone ever lied so stupidly? The total fakery of Cheney’s posture was laid out for all to see. Cheney was talking “sensitivity,” too—the very sin he had spotted in Kerry! Of course, it had been obvious, right from the start, that Cheney was playing the voters for fools. But now, the veep made it laughably clear. Has anyone ever faked quite so dumbly?

But readers, it doesn’t make a bit of difference what this fake, phony man does or says. Nor does it matter what Kerry said in the speech the VP was burlesquing. Kerry had said he would “strengthen our military.” He had said he would “build and lead strong alliances.” He’d even said that he would “get the terrorists before they get us.” But none of that made a bit of difference! Cheney wanted you to think something else—that Kerry was planning to kiss up to terrorists. So he went out and lied to the rubes. And the “press corps” was willing to help him.

Yes, everyone knew that Cheney was lying when he went on the trail last week. And by now, everyone knows about his laughable gaffe, in which he revealed his deep fakery. But so what? Your press corps continues to play a game, a game they perfected four years ago. They micro-nitpick Kerry’s remarks—and avert their gaze from Cheney’s lying. This is why we’ve told you, for years, that you no longer have a real “press corps.”

Yes, your “press corps” micro-nitpicks Kerry, searching for single words to examine. But Cheney? He commits the world’s most laughable blunder and all of them know that it mustn’t be mentioned! Why does Cheney play voters for fools? One reason: He knows that he can. Last week provided a brilliant example. Just re-read what John Kerry said.

WHAT YOUR PRESS CORPS WILL TOLERATE: Again, here’s what John Kerry said:

KERRY (8/5/04): I lay out a strategy to strengthen our military, to build and lead strong alliances and reform our intelligence system. I set out a path to win the peace in Iraq and to get the terrorists, wherever they may be, before they get us.
And here’s what Cheney told the rubes one week later:
CHENEY (8/14/04): President Abraham Lincoln and General Grant did not wage sensitive wars. President Roosevelt and Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur did not wage a sensitive war. A “sensitive war" will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans on the morning of 9/11, and who now seek chemical, nuclear and biological weapons to kill hundreds of thousands more. The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity. (Applause.)

As our opponents see it, the problem isn't the thugs and the murderers we face, but it is somehow our attitude. Well, the American people know better. They know that we are in a fight to preserve our freedom and our way of life, and that we are on the side of right and justice in this battle. Those who threaten us and kill innocents around the world do not need to be treated more sensitively. They need to be destroyed. (Applause.)

Vice President Cheney? Totally fake. The Washington press? Non-existent.

LARRY AND GEORGE, DUCKING FIRE: No, this morning’s Post can’t really settle the matter of Kerry’s disputed Bronze Star. (It’s almost impossible to “prove” what occurred in events that are four decades old.) But we couldn’t help chuckling as we read today about prime Kerry-trasher Larry Thurlow. The Post had to file an independent request to inspect Thurlow’s Vietnam records—records which seem to contradict his account of those Bronze Star events. Why didn’t Thurlow release his records? Tuesday, he told Michael Dobbs:

DOBBS (8/19/04): In a telephone interview Tuesday evening after he attended a Swift Boat Veterans strategy session in an Arlington hotel, Thurlow said he lost his Bronze Star citation more than 20 years ago. He said he was unwilling to authorize release of his military records because he feared attempts by the Kerry campaign to discredit him and other anti-Kerry veterans.
Poor baby! Thurlow—trashing Kerry for all he is worth—was afraid that someone might criticize him! Meanwhile, another brave warrior—Kerry-trasher George Elliott—is hiding beneath his desk too:
DOBBS: The Bronze Star recommendations for both Kerry and Thurlow were signed by Lt. Cmdr. George M. Elliott, who received reports on the incident from his base in the Gulf of Thailand. Elliott is a supporter of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and has questioned Kerry's actions in Vietnam. But he has refused repeated requests for an interview after issuing conflicting statements to the Boston Globe about whether Kerry deserved a Silver Star. He was unreachable last night.
Poor baby! Of course, Elliott is really a prime piece of work. In real time, he gave Kerry glowing recommendations in Nam. And in 1996, he flew to Boston to defend Kerry when the Boston Globe slimed his Silver Star conduct. But this year, the scatter-brained skipper has pulled three big flips. First, he signed up with the Swift Boat Veterans, saying that Kerry didn’t deserve the Silver Star. Then, in early August, he took it all back. “It was a terrible mistake probably for me to sign the affidavit with those words. I'm the one in trouble here,” he told the Globe’s Michael Kranish. “I knew it was wrong” to sign, Elliott said. “ In a hurry I signed it and faxed it back. That was a mistake.” But the next day, the vacillating veteran changed course again, saying he had been misquoted. Now, he is simply “unreachable.”

Thurlow didn’t want to be criticized. Elliott won’t explain his reversals. Brave back then—but girlie-men now. Now, they prefer to give fire.

SLATE IS PATHETIC: On this same general subject, many readers will lustily cheer the Saletan-Weisberg exchange in Slate. We’re inclined to think this report is just sad. Incomparable ruminations on the morrow.

DAHLIA’S PLAINT: We agree with Dahlia Lithwick’s trivial point. We’ve never thought that Bush is stupid, and we think it’s dumb for libs to think otherwise. For the record, Bush’s SATs were substantially better than Bill Bradley’s. And Dollar Bill is every liberal Dem’s pin-up.

But Lithwick’s op-ed in today’s New York Times is a classic of milquetoast media “liberalism.” What has Lithwick concerned and upset? “Maybe it's just that I'm having too many long talks with my 16-month-old,” she begins. Indeed, Lithwick has her shorts in a wad because certain proles—anonymous people she can’t even name—have been too darn tough on poor George:

LITHWICK: A glance at the top 150 ads selected by for its recent political advertising contest, ''Bush in 30 Seconds,'' similarly reveals the extent to which childishness is woven into the current Bush-bashing. While children have long been used in political ads to represent the future, many of the MoveOn entries use them to satirize the actual candidate. Several of the proposed anti-Bush commercials use kids to condemn the president for unsophisticated thinking, for an infantile worldview, for the fact that his daddy purchased his every big break and for the fact that he is desperately beholden to the wealthy and powerful grown-ups surrounding him. The clear message is that Mr. Bush is more a child than an adult.
Poor Lithwick! There’s all this “Bush-bashing” going on, and some of it may upset swing voters! Incredibly, she devotes her inaugural New York Times column to worries about this dark theme.

But how much of this “bashing” is really occurring? The volume can’t be all that great if she has to attack the anonymous people who submitted those ads to—submitted them more than eight months ago! These people are amateurs—unknown average citizens—and their submissions were totally inconsequential. Lithwick may as well write about what people are saying in the nation’s assorted corner bars.

But you know those mainstream media “liberals!” They get upset with complaints from below—with complaints that come up from the proles. By contrast, other things don’t rock their worlds. Consider the pundit’s recollection of that troubling Campaign 2000.

Lithwick is upset with anonymous proles—the ones who are saying bad things about Bush. But the last campaign was troubling, too! In that race, she was troubled by Gore:

LITHWICK: One of the most enduring memories from the Bush-Gore debates in 2000 was Al Gore, all sighs and eye-rolls, trapped in what must have felt like the middle-school playground fight from hell instead of a presidential debate. Everything about Mr. Gore's demeanor signaled that he felt he was giving a punk kid a much-needed scolding. Which missed the point: a lot of very smart people voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 because to them, he represented a return to honesty and morality. Dismissing him as a stupid child, and these voters as stupid-children-by-association, is no way to win them back.
Lithwick’s remark about eye-rolling Gore calls for a bit of review.

For Lithwick, Gore’s eye-rolling, sighing demeanor is “[o]ne of the most enduring memories from the Bush-Gore debates.” But why is this memory so deep in the brain? For most people, because the press corps planted it there! After that first Bush-Gore debate, news orgs assembled tape of Gore’s occasional sighs—jacking the volume up nice and high—and played the tape on TV for a week. Suggestible folk got it into their heads. It lies there, disturbing them still.

Lithwick has an “enduring memory.” But how did debate-watchers react in real time, before the press corps crafted this theme? Were voters disturbed by Gore’s demeanor? In vast numbers, no, they were not. On the actual night of the session, five different networks took instant polls to see which hopeful had won the debate. Result? Gore was the victor on all five polls, by an average margin of ten percent. Meanwhile, what were viewers complaining about when interviewed on TV that night? A couple of people mentioned Gore’s sighs. But a larger number mentioned Bush’s rude attacks against Gore—the memory that isn’t in people’s brains because the press corps refused to implant it.

Why did Gore sigh that night? In part, because Bush kept misstating his own proposals—and calling Gore a liar in the process. Early in the debate, for example, Bush and Gore went on and on about their respective prescription drug plans. Bush kept misstating his own proposal—and Gore kept correcting him on his misstatements. Here’s one iconic example:

GORE (10/3/00): Let me just give you one quick example. There's a man here tonight named George McKinney from Milwaukee. He's 70 years old, he has high blood pressure, his wife has heart trouble. They have income of $25,000 a year. They cannot pay for their prescription drugs. And so they're some of the ones that go to Canada regularly in order to get their prescription drugs.

Under my plan, half of their costs would be paid right away. Under Governor Bush's plan, they would get not one penny for four to five years, and then they would be forced to go into an HMO or to an insurance company and ask them for coverage, but there would be no limit on the premiums or the deductibles or any other terms and conditions.

BUSH: I cannot let this go by, the old-style Washington politics, of "We're going to scare you in the voting booth." Under my plan, the man gets immediate help with prescription drugs. It's called "Immediate Helping Hand." Instead of squabbling and finger-pointing, he gets immediate help. Let me say something. Now, I understand—excuse me—

LEHRER: All right, excuse me, gentlemen—

GORE: Jim, can I—

LEHRER: —minutes is up, but we'll finish that.

GORE: Can I make one other point? They get $25,000 a year income. That makes them ineligible.

BUSH: Look, this is the man who's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think, not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator.


It's fuzzy math. It's to scare them, trying to scare people in the voting booth.

Except it wasn’t fuzzy math—and Bush was totally wrong on the facts. No, McKinney wouldn’t get immediate help from Bush’s plan; Gore was right on the facts, Bush was wrong. Indeed, Bush was baldly misstating his own proposal—not from dumbness, Lithwick assures us—and was calling Gore a liar as he did. But then, this pattern extended throughout the first half of the debate. Here’s another iconic exchange, from earlier in the session:
GORE: [Bush’s] tax cut plan, for example, raises the question of whether it's the right choice for the country.

And let me give you an example of what I mean: Under Governor Bush’s tax cut proposal, he would spend more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent than all of the new spending that he proposes for education, health care, prescription drugs and national defense, all combined. Now, I think those are the wrong priorities.

Now, under my proposal, for every dollar that I propose in spending for things like education and health care, I will put another dollar into middle class tax cuts.

And for every dollar that I spend in those two categories, I’ll put two dollars toward paying down the national debt. I think it’s very important to keep the debt going down and completely eliminate it.

And I also think it’s very important to go to the next stage of welfare reform. Our country has cut the welfare rolls in half. I fought hard, from my days in the Senate and as vice president, to cut the welfare rolls, and we've moved millions of people in America into good jobs. But it's now time for the next stage of welfare reform and include fathers and not only mothers.

LEHRER: We’re going to get to a lot of those. Yes, go ahead, Governor.

BUSH: Well, let me just said that obviously tonight we're going to hear some phony numbers about what I think and what we ought to do. People need to know that, over the next 10 years, there’s going to be $25 trillion of revenue that comes into our Treasury, and we anticipate spending $21 trillion.

Except for one problem—Gore’s numbers’s weren’t phony. As all the analysts later agreed, Bush’s plan did “spend more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent than all of the new spending that he proposes for education, health care, prescription drugs and national defense.” But throughout the evening, perfectly accurate statements by Gore were met with false, name-calling rebuttals—“phony numbers,” “fuzzy math,” “the man must think he invented the calculator.” And in the hours after the debate, viewers complained about Bush’s rudeness—even before they knew he was wrong on the facts. But why are Gore’s sighs burned deep in the brain? Because that’s the way the press corps played it. For example, the brilliant paper for which Lithwick now types never so much as reported the fact that Bush was wrong about his prescription drug plan—that he was wrong on the facts when he made his slick joke about “Gore must think he invented the calculator.” In the wake of this debate, tapes of the sighs were played on TV—and the facts went straight to the memory-hole. Even today, Lithwick is haunted by the way Gore rolled his eyes at Bush’s false, name-calling comments.

Yes, isn’t it truly an education to see the things that make media “liberals” mad? Lithwick is upset when a bunch of anonymous proles submit ads to a web site contest. And she’s still upset because Gore rolled his eyes—when falsely insulted by Bush.

But other things don’t make this gang mad. A question: When did Lithwick complain about the trashing handed to Candidate Gore? She’s troubled now when anonymous people dare to say that Bush is a dummy. But Gore was called a liar for two solid years, almost always because of stories that Lithwick’s press corps simply made up. Did Lithwick find herself troubled by that? Where are the plaints that she offered?

And one more thing doesn’t trouble this scribe. Where are the plaints that Lithwick pens about the American vice president, Dick Cheney? Last week, Cheney paraded across the land, lying through his teeth about Kerry. Does Lithwick stand up to complain about that? Of course not! Lithwick, writing her first Times piece, voices concern about all the Bush-bashing! Cheney can lie to you all that he likes. Lithwick has deeper concerns.

Where do they find these delicate flowers, whose rebukes are aimed at uppity proles? Cheney can lie to these proles all he likes. Dahlia Lithwick, media liberal, is concerned when such no-names talk back.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: We reviewed viewer reaction to those debates back in May/June 2001. For the first installment of our five-parter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/29/01.