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IT’S SO EASY! Once again, a scribe finds it “easy to imagine” the heroics of Saint John McCain: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 30, 2006

CHARLIE SAILS OVER THE BAR: Oh. Our. God. Just last week, we’d been exchanging e-mails with him about Cuban high jumpers, with whom we have a family connection. But we had no idea that Charlie Pierce was about to clear this height. And at Tapped!
MCCAINIACS. On behalf of the rest of American journalism, I'd like to apologize for this. The profession lost its mind in 2000, with very unfortunate consequences. There was the War on Gore, which I witnessed first-hand when the vice president got heckled and booed by some of the people watching him on TV in the press room at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Iowa. (Oh, yes, you did, kids, just the way you did in Hanover later on.) I remember telling a veteran reporter who was as agog as I was that this was the kind of behavior that literally would get you ejected from any press box in any American stadium. Then there was the ongoing novelization of that trust-fund cowboy, George W. Bush. The only galloping hallucination remaining from that year seems to be John McCain, Centrist Hero, and its giggling acolytes apparently have it primed for another lap around the country.
We’ll only note, as we always do, that the profession actually “lost its mind” for the better part of two years during Campaign 2000, not just one; the heckling and booing to which Chaz refers actually happened in the fall of 1999, when that “War On Gore” was still building steam. For what it’s worth, we reported the Hanover booing in real time—someone telephoned from the site to tattle—and Charlie becomes the fourth major scribe, by our count, to describe these remarkable events. (Others: Mortman, Pooley, Tapper. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/14/99 and 12/18/02.)

We agree. The profession really did “lose its mind” during the twenty months of its war against Gore. We’ve been back to work on our book on the topic, and we think the story is shaping up nicely. (The story is truly remarkable.) As you know, we’ve long been amazed by the way the “liberal” press corps works to keep this matter under the rug. Fairly clearly, that War Against Gore changed U.S. history. It’s time it got fully discussed. Charlie Pierce clears a high bar with his rhetoric—and his recollections.

Postscript: In his post, Charlie says precisely what another big scribe told us, years ago, about the Gore-booing incidents: A freakin’ sport writer could never do that. He’d be banished from the press room for sure. A freakin’ sports writer couldn’t act like that. But our brilliant political press corps did, setting some members agog.

One more note: One more note, about Charlie’s suggestion that some scribes now claim that the booing didn’t happen: Well actually, no—we’ll have to pass. That story, while amusing, remains private.

FINAL QUESTIONS, TO LIBS, PROGS AND DEMS: Does it bother you to read Pierce’s post? To read about your White House candidate “getting heckled and booed” by those fools in those press rooms? To read that, knowing about the crackpot reporting and punditry which accompanied their ludicrous conduct? (The “analyses” of the Hanover event simply defy belief.) Knowing how closely that election was decided? Thinking about the way world history has been changed by that narrow outcome? If it bothers you, do you wonder why, seven years later, we libs and Dems still refuse to discuss that twenty-month “War Against Gore?” Do you wonder why we work so hard to avoid discussing this subject?

Voters can’t understand the world if we refuse to report it to them. More specifically: Voters who don’t understand the trashing of Gore will be suckers for the sanctification of McCain. Charlie mentions both these matters—and notes that they’re connected.

Special report: Imagining McCain!


PART 1—IT’S SO EASY: Al Eisele is a thoroughly decent guy—and he seemed to be sticking the shiv in McCain! This Monday, at the Huffington Post, Eisele honored the solon’s seventieth birthday. In doing so, he reminded the world that McCain will be quite old if he makes another run for the White House.

But we had to chuckle when Eisele described the ways of his Washington press corps. He addressed McCain as he wrote:
EISELE (8/28/06): [Y]our age, and your health, will inevitably be factors as voters ponder their choices in the year and a half before the 2008 presidential campaign actually gets underway.

The good news is that you have good genes....

The bad news is that political reporters, and undoubtedly your rivals, will never let voters forget that you were diagnosed with a deadly form of skin cancer six years ago and had malignant tumors removed from your face and arm after an earlier encounter with skin cancer in 1993.
Say what? The nation’s reporters “will never let voters forget that [McCain] was diagnosed with a deadly form of skin cancer?” That didn’t sound like the Washington press corps we have studied for the past eight years. And it didn’t sound like the profile of McCain we’d just read in the Washington Post!

The profile was written by Glenn Frankel, for the Sunday Post magazine. At one point, Frankel did mention McCain’s skin cancer from six years ago. But we chuckled at the way he presented it:
FRANKEL (8/27/06): McCain turns 70 on Tuesday, and his thinning hair is snowy white. The angular baby face of his Vietnam-era photos is now a full moon with a smooth, doughy chin the color of Pillsbury flour. Two angry red scars plunge down the left side of his cheek in front of his ear, mementos of melanoma surgery in 2000. While they are striking, they seem to fit the biography and the aura. It's easy to imagine that they were inflicted by his North Vietnamese captors, not by a cancer surgeon.
Now that’s the Washington press corps we know! Yes, Frankel did mention the 2000 health incident (though not the incident from 1993; Eisele is already wrong about that one). But how exactly did Frankel present it? Exactly! Just like that, he began “to imagine” that McCain’s facial scars were really inflicted by his Vietnamese captors! Yes, Frankel mentioned McCain’s health problem. But lord, did he know how to frame it!

But then, Washington journalists have long found it “easy to imagine” all sorts of things when they profile McCain. (We think of McCain as a decent person. This is about the press, not the pol.) We’ll offer more detail on this at some point, drawing from past work on the comical coverage of McCain’s 2000 campaign. But scribes have always found it “easy to imagine” that every single part of McCain reflects his heroic service in Nam. They tend to “imagine” his heroism at the drop of a hat—even when they observe a few scars. The scars really came from a recent health problem. But when it comes to the press and McCain, it’s always “easy to imagine” something finer.

Often, McCain seems willing to help. During Campaign 2000, McCain profiles typically included an admiring statement, by the reporter, about how much McCain hates discussing Vietnam. But if you actually plow through all those profiles, you just may notice a comical fact: McCain seems to have ways of bringing up Nam in every conceivable circumstance. Scribes would say that he hates to discuss it—even as he kept forcing it into the chatter. We’ll give examples in future posts. But we thought we might be seeing that skill again in this part of Frankel’s profile:
FRANKEL (continuing directly from above): His shoulders are stiff, and he takes aspirin for the pain. He boasts that he's been written up in orthopedic medical journals because his arms, broken when he ejected from his crippled fighter jet over Hanoi in 1967, were left to heal on their own without proper treatment, making him something of a medical phenomenon.

He leaves on his crisp blue blazer even in the privacy of the small plane, and he doesn't loosen his tie. Later, when it's finally time for the coat to come off, he turns to [long-time aide John] Weaver, who gently pulls the jacket from his shoulders. "Easy, Johnny," McCain hums softly. "Easy does it.”
We’ll admit it. Because we’ve read so many past profiles of McCain, we thought we might be seeing a minor ruse here. Surely, Weaver has helped McCain with his jacket countless times. Did McCain really have say, “Easy, Johnny?” Or was that just a con on Frankel? Trust us—a similar pattern plays out all through those 2000 profiles.

Whatever. Before long, though, Frankel was at his desk, where he found it “easy to imagine” McCain back in Nam. We’re not sure what press corps Al Eisele inhabits—but it isn’t the one we’ve been watching.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Why does the press like McCain, the host asked. As usual, the press wasn’t sure.