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BELLING ZELL! Kessler nails Zell in the Washington Post—but Matthews rolls over on Hardball: // link //

KESSLER BELLS ZELL: How fake were those speeches by Miller and Cheney? Hallelujah! On the front page of the Washington Post, resurgent Glenn Kessler lays out the facts. Near the end of Kessler’s piece, in fact, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett is forced to lie to the voters:
KESSLER (9/3/04): Asked why the campaign was attacking Kerry for having similar positions as Cheney, White House communications director Dan Bartlett responded: "I don't have the specifics of [when] then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney was in charge of the Pentagon, but I think we'd be more than willing to have a debate on whether Dick Cheney or John Kerry was stronger on defense.”
Bartlett “doesn’t have the specifics!” That, of course, is a laughable lie, designed to cover the deep dissembling displayed in those Wednesday addresses.

Ol’ Zell, of course, took the cake. As noted yesterday, the old mountain fake listed weapon systems that Traitor Kerry opposed in the Senate. Kerry “opposed the very weapons system that won the Cold War and that are now winning the war on terror,” Miller said. Disgracefully, the mountain phony compared the Dem nominee to “an auctioneer selling off our national security.” But as we noted, many of those weapon systems were also opposed by Defense Sec Dick Cheney! This morning, Kessler presents embarrassing facts—facts you’d be hearing from every news outlet if you still had an actual “press corps:”

KESSLER: Cheney, at the time defense secretary, had scolded Congress for keeping alive such programs as the F-14 and F-16 jet fighters that he wanted to eliminate. Miller said in his speech that Kerry had foolishly opposed both the weapons systems and would have left the military armed with "spitballs." During that same debate, President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, proposed shutting down production of the B-2 bomber—another weapons system cited by Miller—and pledged to cut defense spending by 30 percent in eight years.
Pitiful, isn’t it? Miller slandered Kerry for opposing the same weapon systems that Cheney and Bush I both did! For the record, these are the matters which forced poor Bartlett to claim that he “didn’t have the specifics.” But then, Terry Holt also declined to go where the rubber meets the road. “Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt defended the statements made by convention speakers,” Kessler writes, “athough he declined to address details beyond supplying the campaign's citations of votes.” In short, Miller and Cheney misled the public. And Holt refuses to talk.

So yes, we have Glenn Kessler back—and you can read his full report from this morning’s Post. And yes, if you actually had a “press corps,” every news org would be discussing the facts in Kessler’s piece. But you don’t have a press corps, and other news orgs are slumbering sweetly about Miller’s speech, just as they have slumbered all year. After all, the fake claims found in Miller’s speech have formed the basis of Bush ads all year, slashing ads which started running in April. Reaction? The national “press corps” made almost no effort to critique the slashing claims in these claims. They made little effort to fact-check those ads. And they won’t dare to fact-check those speeches.

Case in point? Kessler lays out the facts in the Post. But in this morning’s New York Times, there is no “fact check” of the Miller-Cheney speeches, just as the Times performed no “fact check” of Giuliani’s appalling speech Tuesday night. The Times is full of convention stories . But the paper-of-record’s hapless editors couldn’t find space for a fact-checking piece. Why did Miller deceive you so grossly? Simple—he knew that he could.

And then, of course, there’s pitiful cable. On MSNBC, Chris Matthews rolled over and died last night. No, democracy can’t function when people like this serve as stewards of the national discourse. Was Matthews unprepared? Was he simply afraid? As usual, we can’t really tell. But GOP spokesmen abused him all night—and the weak little millionaire, slayer of Gore, politely rolled over and let them.

BUT MATTHEWS ROLLS OVER: Was Matthews unprepared? Was he simply afraid? It’s almost always hard to tell. But how did Matthews perform last night after his Tuesday night battle with Miller? Republicans made him a dish rag all night. In the six o’clock hour, he interviewed Maine senator Susan Collins. Collins was introduced as a moderate—and the moderate ate Matthews for lunch:

MATTHEWS (9/3/04): Let me ask you about the speech last night. Did you think Zell Miller was a little too rip-snorting? Rip-snorting? It's a cowboy term.

COLLINS: It was certainly a tough and forceful speech. I thought the part of the speech that was most effective was when he went through all of the weapon systems that John Kerry had voted against and talked about how important they had been to our troops. That part of the speech I thought was a devastating indictment of Senator Kerry's record on defense issues.

Good God! Collins praised the part of the speech which everyone knows was fake and false! But Chris behaved like a timid, small man. Here was his hapless rejoinder:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Well, you served with Senator Kerry as well as with Senator Miller. Do you believe John Kerry—when you look up to vote, every time you vote on an authorization or appropriations bill or on defense, do you see him as a predictable opponent of weapons systems?
Good God! Matthews had lobbed a softball to Collins. And Collins hit it out of the park:
COLLINS (continuing directly): I see him as someone who has a history of voting against weapons systems, but I'm more concerned about his recent vote against the $87 billion that our troops really needed in Iraq. Regardless of what your position is on the war in Iraq, surely everyone should be united in making sure that our troops have the protective gear and other equipment that they need to be safe.
Now we were off on that second topic, where Matthews made another weak effort.

Yes, Matthews was hopeless with Collins last night. She was allowed to praise Miller—for deceiving the voters! But this was just a warm-up act for the Hardball host’s pitiful session with Giuliani. Matthews asked about Miller’s speech. And yes, this exchange really happened:

GIULIANI (9/3/04): I thought it was an appropriate speech. It was tough—a tough speech. But an appropriate speech. And I think his point is all based on the record. John Kerry has voted against defense spending so often that you have to have the sense that he really doesn’t appreciate the need for a very strong national defense. And you can that raise that issue—nobody’s talking about his Vietnam service. We respect him for it!

MATTHEWS: Do you believe he would disarm America if he were president?


MATTHEWS: Do you believe he would do it?

GIULIANI: He did it!

MATTHEWS: How did he do it?

GIULIANI: By voting for it! He voted for the peace dividend. He voted for many, many things that would have taken weapon systems away from it. Now when I say he did it, he didn’t succeed very often because members of his own party voted against himn.

MATTHEWS: And these weren’t decisive votes he cast.

GIULIANI: Right. So we shouldn’t say he did it. But he indicated on the record that he would do it. And all we have to go by—you know, what’s the best indication of what kind of commander-in-chief he’s going to be?


That conversation is simply disgraceful. In this exchange, Giuliani is just what he’s always been—a smarmy dissembler, a low, nasty man. And Matthews completely rolls over and dies, appearing to agree with Giuliani’s nasty characterizations. Did Cheney and Bush do the same thing as Kerry? No one would learn that from Matthews this night! But then, how bad did this interview get? Yes, this was actually said:
GIULIANI: He voted against defense spending so often that he was on the outer fringe. Look, this is not meant again to use the L-word as a bad word—liberal or conservative. But he was the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate!


GIULIANI: One of the reasons he was was, he probably voted against defense spending more than any other members of the Senate, including Teddy Kennedy and other liberals.

Good God! Saying what Kerry “probably” did, Giuliani continued to slime him. There’s a term for that interview—it’s political porn. We brings us to our closing question.

Question: Why did Matthews fight Miller and defer to Giuliani? This, of course, is pure speculation. But Giuliani is now a cable icon; on cable, he’s now “America’s mayor,” a man all pundits know to praise. And Matthews is weak—a cheap self-dealer. He went to war (ineffectively) with kooky old Zell. But for Rudy, he rolled and he died.

That conversation was an utter disgrace. Again, the man who puts Matthews on the air is Rick Kaplan. Every American should despise the Rick Kaplans—men who are willing to line their deep pockets by destroying their nation’s public life.

NO RELATION: Once again, Fred Kaplan explains Kerry’s record for Slate. Remember—these bogus claims about Kerry’s defense votes have been the basis of Bush TV ads since April. Kaplan first explained these issues in February; everyone knows the facts of this case. But most news orgs—including the Times—know that they must never print them.

TOMORROW: Ol’ Zell’s clownish book.

Our current series:
Profiles in cowardice (part 4)

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Enjoy each part of our current report:

PART 1: Three Swift vets defended Kerry. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/04.

PART 2: William Raspberry has no thoughts about those rough Swift Boat men. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/31/04.

PART 3: Chris Matthews is afraid of those rough Swift Boat men. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/2/04.

And now, for our thoughtful conclusion:

WHAT DEMS MUST DO: We’ve finally read Unfit for Command, the John O’Neill book that savages Kerry; the book hadn’t been in stores in this city, and we finally had to order from Amazon. But now that we’ve seen it, let’s state the obvious—it’s hard to believe that such an odd book has changed an American White House election. We’ll discuss it in detail at a later time, but its charges are based on feats of memory that ought to intrigue the medical world, and its crackpot anti-Communism makes it sound like a document from a past era. “Looking at John Kerry’s record in the U.S. Senate since 1984, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find any position he took regarding Vietnam that the Communists would not favor,” O’Neill writes. Again, the book deserves a more through critique than we’re able to give it today. But it’s hard to believe that a mainstream observer could review this book without concern.

But so what? The Washington press is afraid of accusers, and it’s especially scared of rough, crude men who come to us from the crackpot right! Indeed, the mainstream press has rolled over for attacks on Dem White House hopefuls ever since the Bush camp slimed Dukakis in 1988. On last Friday’s Hardball, poor Roger Simon was wringing his hands, concerned that ’88 was occurring again. But it’s happening again because weak men like Simon are too afraid to stand and deliver. Simon’s too frightened and weak for his job. And those accusers do know how to fight.

Did the Swift Vets publish an odd-seeming book? Beyond that, did they self-contradict; sign phony affidavits; make blatant misstatements; contradict basic records? So what? It’s easier to do what William Raspberry did—roll over and wash one’s hands of the mess. And that’s just what the press has done over the course of past sixteen years. They ran with fake tales through the Whitewater hoax—fake tales which began in the ’92 race—and they ran with two years of absurdly fake tales about Candidate Gore during Campaign 2000. The odd Swift Boat charges are the latest chapter in a now-standard part of our White House campaigns. How do White House races now work? The House of Bush will gin up nasty charges—and a frightened press corps, pampered and powdered, will turn and walk right off its posts.

Yes, the Washington press corps is too scared to challenge accusers like the Swift Vets. Are the Swift Vets “liars,” as Ron Reagan said? We’re not sure how to answer that question. But the millionaire Matthews knew what to do when Reagan dared to make such a statement. He knew he had to change the subject. And that’s just what the frightened man did.

No, the Washington “press corps” will never step up and challenge accusers without being forced. It will never say that accusers have written a strange, improbable book. And when witnesses contradict those accusers, the press corps will know what to do with their tales—they’ll throw their tales right in the drink (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/04). The Washington press corp just doesn’t care—except about salaries and good party invites. “I don't know what to make of the controversy,” they’ll type. And they’ll go on the air unprepared.

So that leaves it up to our most hapless org—the inept and uncaring DNC. This is the fifth straight White House campaign in which they’ve been slimed by weird, puzzling charges. And this time, as always, the Dems are surprised. The Kerry campaign was shocked, just shocked, to think there were liars inside the Bush camp! Fool me twice, shame on me? Counting ahead from 1988, John Kerry got fooled the fifth time!

The Whitewater hoax? “Invented the Internet?” Kerry is really a secret Commie? These crackpot campaigns will occur every time until the Dems learn how to fight back. And what should the Democrats do about this? What must the DNC do to fight back? The DNC is so inert that we might as well offer these thoughts to a wall. But if the Democrat ever plan to get off their keisters and fight for the values they claim to respect, they’re going to have to take a page from the Republican camp.

Forty years ago, the GOP did something quite smart; it began to develop a meta-narrative to explain its place in the world. That meta-narrative is Liberal bias, a pleasing tale the GOP recites to explain all unpleasant events. (You saw Bush do it last night.) Voters have heard about “liberal bias” for decades. Any time an event occurs which puts the GOP on the defensive, hacks haul out this pleasing excuse. And they’ve learned to use this old script quite well.

The time has come when our uncaring Democrats have to start telling the truth to the people. But what meta-narrative should the Dems tell? They need to tell an accurate narrative: Every four years, Republican hacks make a joke of our lives, inventing strange stories about the Dem candidate. They distract; they deceive; they direct us to trivia; they make a joke of our public discussion. It’s perfectly clear that our Big Major Dems don’t really care if this costs them elections. But will these lazy, feckless pols ever defend the rights of the public? Will they ever show that they actually care when a joke is made of our White House elections? On Wednesday night, the Bush camp was lying in voters’ faces in those speeches by Miller and Cheney. And the DNC plainly doesn’t care—doesn’t bother debunking the charges, doesn’t bother explaining the process. As long as they get to sell us their cook books, the whole thing is just fine by them.

The DNC needs a meta-story—the Republicans keep making a joke of your discourse. But to tell a story, again and again, DNC honchos have to believe it—and care. We see no sign that they really do care, and that explains our quadrennial clowning. Clearly, the Washington press doesn’t care. Does the DNC care? Let them prove it.