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ONLY DEMS! Only Dems can have character problems. Reaction to Saint Rudy proves it: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2007

VINTAGE HEALY: It’s simply amazing to gaze on the work produced at the top of our upper-end press corps. Consider Patrick Healy’s vintage floundering at the top of page one in Sunday’s Times. Just for the record, the headline said this: “To Keep Foot Clear of Mouth, Debaters Plot Each Tiny Step.” And trust us: When you let these people examine what’s “tiny,” you are in for a long, silly ride.

How perfectly dumb was Healy’s work? Consider the (predictable) way the Times’ young savant got started:
HEALY (8/19/07): When John Edwards went into a debate recently, his aides were determined to move away from the news media's fixation on the candidate's $400 haircut. So when Mr. Edwards saw an opportunity to lampoon interest in such skin-deep matters, he needled Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton during the debate about not liking her coral-colored jacket.

But it fell flat, sounding more like a swipe at his rival. Mr. Edwards had been trying to be less scripted than he was during the 2004 presidential race, but this time he went too far; some of his advisers believed that he should have taken a more scripted poke at the news media.
It’s hard to imagine work which makes less sense—except, of course, as an illustration of the way these people write politics.

According to Healy, the Edwards campaign was “determined to move away from the news media's fixation on the candidate's $400 haircut.” (It isn’t clear what that jumble of words really means, but you do pretty much get the gist.) And so, when Edwards was asked, at a Dem debate, to say something bad about the person next to him (text of Q-and-A below), he “saw an opportunity to lampoon interest in such skin-deep matters.” According to Healy, that’s why Edwards made his comment about not liking Clinton’s jacket. Mind-reading brilliantly, Healy “explains” why Edwards made this (month-old) remark.

Of course, there isn’t a word in Healy’s report to explain why he thinks he knows this—how he knows what Edwards was thinking when he made his split-second judgment. But darlings! Healy’s decision allowed the scribe to fulfill the laws of his puzzling class. Let’s run down the Journo Checklist and tick off Healy’s accomplishments:
Mention Edwards’ haircut in first sentence: Check
Recite tired script about major candidate: Check
Mind-read major candidate’s motives: Check
Focus on trivial, month-old event: Check
Once again, Healy found a way to work that haircut into a front-page, opening sentence. By now, monkeys would have tired of this. But upper-end journos never do.

But readers: At the very top of your upper-end press corps, one piece of nonsense is never enough. In paragraph 3, Healy wasted everyone’s time with the question of where Clinton stands on the stage in debates—even though, as he notes in parentheses, her campaign “has no say in where she stands.” And then, he chose to tell a long groaner, about the way Giuliani prepares for debates. It makes no sense—but it kills five grafs. This is pluperfect Times “journalism:”
HEALY: Each candidate has a personal way of preparing, with an eye toward gaining an edge in the debates and, by extension, with the voters...

Mitt Romney and Mrs. Clinton read up on policy and talk tactics with advisers; Mr. Romney also comes armed with sayings that will make sound bites in news accounts. Mr. Giuliani's lack of preparation stands out among the major candidates, and it was underscored this month when his jet landed in Des Moines at 7:10 a.m. for an 8 a.m. debate.

Bill Paxon, a former congressman backing Mr. Giuliani, recalled that the debate preparation that morning consisted of this: One aide described the venue and told Mr. Giuliani that there would be a water glass to the right of the lectern and that there would be a five-minute break. Then Anthony V. Carbonetti, Mr. Giuliani's chief political adviser, reminded him of the price of corn (it was Iowa, after all) and Mr. Giuliani strode out to the televised debate.
''That was the entire debate prep, on about an hour's sleep,'' Mr. Paxon said.

An aide to Mr. Giuliani said he holds sessions to prepare for debates, and had done so the day before that debate.
See that? Giuliani's lack of preparation “stands out among the major candidates, Healy said. Indeed, this lack of preparation “was underscored” in the case of that recent debate. Healy then took us through a long story, making it sound like Rudy didn’t prepare. But then, we’re told by an aide that he did! So what was the point of the story?

(Earth to Healy: When a debate begins at 8 o’clock in the morning, debate prep will happen the day before.)

But Healy’s inanity wasn’t yet spent—and yes, this was still happening on the front page. As he continued, he rewrote a recent, high-profile episode. Can this guy get anything right?
HEALY (continuing directly): All the candidates try to anticipate questions and plot their answers. So when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama clashed over foreign policy at a recent event—with a comment from him that he would be willing to hold diplomatic talks with the leaders of hostile nations, and one from her that it would be a mistake to do so without preconditions—the dustup was a product of preparation and strategic decisions on both sides.
Can this guy get anything right? In that passage, Healy misstated that (relatively pointless) recent “clash” between those two hopefuls. Here’s the way a professional editor would have rewritten Healy’s prose. The rewritten prose would still be pointless—but at least it would be accurate:
HEALY REWRITTEN: All the candidates try to anticipate questions and plot their answers. So when Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama clashed over foreign policy at a recent event—with a comment from him that he would be willing to hold diplomatic talks with the leaders of hostile nations without preconditions, and one from her that it would be a mistake to do so—the dustup was a product of preparation and strategic decisions on both sides.
Duh! “Without preconditions” had been part of the question posed to Obama. Healy—devoted to error in all things—made it sound like Clinton had offered that qualifier after Obama’s answer.

God bless Healy! He managed to find another way to get that haircut to the top of page one. But just in his opening dozen grafs, he offered one bungled tale after another. If you couldn’t actually read the press corps, you might not know there were people this dumb. No, wait—let’s edit that. If you couldn’t read the upper-end press corps, you might not understand that.

FOR THE RECORD, THE Q-AND-A: Here’s the silly, childish question posed to Edwards and the other Dem candidates. In fact, this happened four weeks ago, during the YouTube debate:
ANDERSON COOPER (7/23/07): And this last question from a YouTube viewer will be asked to each of you.

QUESTIONER (videotape): My name is Jason Koop, and I'm from Colorado Springs, Colorado. And my question is for all the candidates and it is intended to lighten up the mood a little bit.

I would like for each of you to look at the candidate to your left and tell the audience one thing you like and one thing you dislike about that particular candidate. And remember, be honest.
“Remember, be honest,” the questioner said, trying to lighten the mood up a bit. Here’s what Edwards ended up saying, responding to this silly diktat:
EDWARDS: I admire what Senator Clinton has done for America, what her husband did for America. Not sure about that coat.
Four weeks later, at the top of page one, Healy explained that five-word comment. It let him showcase his mind-reading skills. And most important, it let him lead with that iconic haircut again.

Amazingly, this is the work that is constantly done at the very top of your “press corps.”

Special report: Only Dems!


PART 1—ONLY DEMS HAVE CHARACTER PROBLEMS: We didn’t say enough in yesterday’s post about that question from George Stephanopoulos. Will Americans ever get a serious discourse? Not when news orgs like ABC are willing to pander like this:
STEPHANOPOULOS (8/19/07): Let me move on now. We've got a question—we got an e-mail question from Seth Ford of South Jordan, Utah. And he said, “My question is to understand each candidate's view of a personal God. Do they believe that through the power of prayer disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could have been prevented or lessened? I'd like each of you to answer it.”

Let me start with you, Senator Clinton.
With that question, Stephanopoulos “moved on” from a brimming discussion about how the Dem hopefuls would deal with Iraq (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/07). He helped his news org pander and fawn to those “values voters.”

For the record, this question was dumb even by the standards of these God questions. Do the hopefuls believe that, through the power of prayer, the bridge collapse could have been prevented? How strange! At least we knew that Katrina was coming—but how are we supposed to know which bridges we should be praying for? Maybe George could ask this question the next time he hooks up with Reps:
STEPHANOPOULOS, PONDERING HARDER: We've got an e-mail question from a values voter. And he said, “My question is to understand each candidate's view of a personal God. Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, the Minnesota bridge could be made to re-assemble itself? I'd like each of you to answer it.”

Let me start with you, Senator McCain.
How stupid must these questions get before news orgs will refuse them?

In part, ABC was simply pandering to the voters they have to attract to boost their ratings (thereby increasing their ad revenues, permitting their massive salaries). But we thought we saw another pattern to this question’s inclusion. Increasingly, it’s a matter of Hard Pundit Law: Only Dems have character problems. For example, in the two recent debates which he hosted, Stephanopoulos aimed probing “character” questions at Dems. At Republicans? Sorry. Not so much.

Seth Ford wanted to understand each candidate's view of a personal God. But then, Stephanopoulos seemed to ask other questions designed to plumb the Democrats’ characters. Very few questions were asked this day, given the large number of candidates. But two other “character” questions littered this debate’s second half—after Stephanopoulos had pulled the plug on the brightest discussion we’re seen so far on Iraq. Good grief! After Stephanopoulos asked the Dems about that bridge, he soon was asking them this:
STEPHANOPOULOS (8/19/07): We're continuing this Democratic debate here in Iowa, and I want to go to a question that came in over e-mail. It was from Robert Melzaric of Montgomery, Alabama.

MELZARIC (videotape): This question is for all the candidates. Unlike many others, I think that candidates may tell the truth, just not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. For example, when advocating a position or action, candidates downplay or simply ignore the likely and negative side-effects. Can you name a major issue where you didn't tell the whole truth and describe what you left out?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Gravel?
Tell us when you didn’t tell us the truth! All the hopefuls got to reply. And then, at the end, this thumb-sucker:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final round, final question about 30 seconds each please. You know presidential biographers are always looking at the turning point in a life, the moment where an ordinary person went on the path to the presidency, the decisive moment. Congressman Kucinich, what's the decisive moment in your life?
In our view, that third question was less egregious, although we’d call it a major thumb-sucker. But the second half of the Dem debate was riddled with these “personal” questions. Candidates, tell us what you think about God! And: Tell us when you misled us!

Perhaps it was just our imagination, but we didn’t see the same focus on character when Stephanopoulos hosted the Republicans, just two weeks before. Only one question of this type was asked. It came very late in the session:
STEPHANOPOLOUS (8/5/07): I've got to move on right now. We've got an email question coming in, and I'm going to ask everyone of you to comment on this for 30 seconds.

It comes from Adam Waldren from Pocatello, Idaho, and it starts like this: “I have made several mistakes that have been defining moments in my life because of what I learned or was forced to realize.”

What is a defining mistake of your life, and why? Congressman Hunter?
All the solons got to say when they’d made a defining mistake. (My biggest mistake is that I’m too honest is, of course, the right answer.)

Perhaps this apparent disparity was accidental, but we’d have to say it fits a pattern. Democrats, the ungodly ones, had to discuss their views on prayer. And Democrats, the successors to Clinton, had to say when they hadn’t been truthful. But then, it has pretty much congealed into Hard Pundit Law: “Character problems” are for Democrats only. If you don’t believe that, consider what happened in the past few weeks when two major news reports showed the world that one of the hopefuls has been doing a whole lot of “misstating.” Might we drag out a famous old saying, lovingly pimped during Campaign 2000? This candidate even seems to lie when telling the truth would be good enough! At one time, the press corps screamed about such transgressions (whether they were real or imagined). But now, they don’t so much as say boo. We can’t help seeing a pattern.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Giuliani embellishes wildly. Why won’t the pundits say boo?