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Daily Howler: Hundt got mad--but wouldn't name names! We Dems just don't seem to care
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WHEN DEMS (DON’T) ATTACK! Hundt got mad—but wouldn’t name names! We Dems just don’t seem to care: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2007

REINVENTING AGAIN: They seem to live for one thing—to make shit up. Case in point: The Post’s Matthew Mosk, who reinvented a “Week That Was” in yesterday’s “news report.”

Mosk was discussing Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama. Carried away with his narrative power, Mosk began to reinvent the way our nation got in the
mess it currently finds itself in:
MOSK (9/5/07): How powerful can an association with Winfrey be? On Sept. 19, 2000, George W. Bush trailed Gore in the Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll by 10 percentage points, and struggled particularly with women voters. Then he sat down on Winfrey's couch. They talked about his decision to quit drinking, his love for his wife and daughters, his religious faith and the legacy of being a president's son.

The following week, the same poll showed Bush with a two-point advantage—a statistical tie. News reports called it the "Oprah bounce."
News reports called it the “Oprah bounce?” We’d studied Campaign 2000—obsessively. And frankly, we couldn’t remember anyone using that phrase in any reports. (We did recall the varied events of the week in question. More below.) And so, we fired up the Nexis, hoping to learn why we couldn’t remember those alleged “news reports.”

It turned out there was a very good reason. Mosk’s exuberance to the side, those “news reports” don’t seem to exist.

Mosk did get one basic fact right; Bush did Oprah, for the full hour, on Tuesday, September 19, 2000. (Gore had done the show one week earlier.) But Bush wasn’t trailing Gore by ten in the Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll. Here’s what USA Today’s Judy Keen had reported that very morning: “The Bush campaign got some good news on polls: The latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup Tracking Poll put Gore ahead 48%-43%, a narrowing from 49%-41% the previous day.” Everyone else was reporting the same thing—Gallup had Gore ahead by five. (Technical point: In the three-day Gallup polling which closed on September 19, Gore was ahead by six.) But by the next week, Bush was leading Gore by two. Which brings us back to the central question—that alleged “Oprah bounce.”

Mosk’s claim notwithstanding, Nexis records no news reports attributing Bush’s lead in the polls to an “Oprah bounce.” On September 22, a little-known columnist at the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot had predicted an “Oprah bounce” for the Texan. But there is no record of anyone employing this phrase when Bush did get his bump in the polls. (According to Nexis, the phrase wasn’t used again until 2002.) And by the way, Bush’s appearance on Oprah wasn’t the only significant event during that fateful week. On September 27, Ron Brownstein described Bush’s sudden rise in the national polls—and he mentioned another event, one we’ve often cited:
BROWNSTEIN (9/27/00): Bush has rebounded in the latest round of polls. Three other surveys released Tuesday showed Bush regaining the lead over Gore...

All of these surveys followed a week in which many analysts said Bush had his best stretch since the GOP convention, which included appearances on daytime television shows hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Regis Philbin. Gore, meanwhile, was entangled in questions about his disputed assertion that an identical arthritis drug cost his mother-in-law far more than it did for his dog.
O-o-oh! Yes, Bush did Oprah on September 19. But the week of September 18-22 was notable for two other events. On Monday, September 18, the Boston Globe broke its kooky, quote-free story about Gore’s deeply troubling remarks about the cost of doggy pills. And on September 20, USA Today’s Walter Shapiro told the world that Gore had made a “claim that must be labeled untrue” about that union lullaby! (Headline: ‘Untruthful’ label could dog Al Gore. Ha ha ha ha ha!) Suddenly, Gore was a Great Big Liar again—and the pundit world buzzed with its pleasing new tales. Quite typically, this is all disappeared from Mosk’s report, which pretends that the Oprah spot was the week’s key event. (Indeed, he even disappears Bush’s appearance on Regis, giving his fable a tighter focus.) Quite typically, Mosk forgets to say that the national press, in this Week That Was, started calling Gore a Big Liar again.

Gee! Do you think—when they called him a liar all week—that might have affected those polls?

And oh, the endless wonders of Nexis! According to the tireless service, one other newsman said “Oprah bounce” during the week in question. It was MSNBC’s Brian Williams, on September 21, two days after the Bush appearance. Williams wasn’t discussing any change in the polls—he merely said, “George W., on the kind of Oprah bounce, appeared today on the Regis broadcast.” But as the handsome, hand-picked anchor spoke with Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, Fineman made one of the most fateful remarks in modern press corps history. Williams had raised an important question: Gore had been rolling in the polls since the late-August Democratic convention. Why did the press corps suddenly seem to be beating up Gore once again?
FINEMAN (9/21/00): The media pendulum swings, as you were pointing out before, Brian. Bill Clinton can resurface in this campaign in a way that might not necessarily help Al Gore.

And Al Gore himself has a tendency to begin—when he's ahead especially, I think—talking down to the country like he's the kindergarten teacher talking to the class.

And I think all those factors are at play right now as Bush has really had probably the best week he's had since his convention speech. And Gore has had his worst.

WILLIAMS: Howard, I don't know of any kind of conspiratorial Trilateral Commission-like council meetings in the news media. But you bring up an interesting point. And boy, it does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog. What's that about?

FINEMAN: Well, what it's about is the relentless search for news and the relentless search for friction in the story. I don't think the media was going to allow, just by its nature, the next seven weeks and the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency.

We want a race, I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it's that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that's partly the psychology at play here.
Since Labor Day, it had looked like Gore was slated the White House. Bob Novak had described the “Republican panic.” But this week, the coverage suddenly changed—and Gore was being called a Big Liar again. Why did “the media pendulum swing?” Why did the press corps suddenly seem to “like an underdog” (Bush)? According to Fineman, “I don't think the media was going to allow...the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency.” According to Fineman, Gore was suffering his worst week since the Dem Convention because the press corps was looking for ways to make the election close.

That was an astounding statement—and a truly fateful admission. For the record, Williams had begun his broadcast with a deeply troubled report about those disturbing doggy pills.

By complete happenstance, all this was AWOL from Mosk’s account—and other, more pleasing “facts” were inserted. No, Bush didn’t gain twelve points in the Gallup that week—although the seven or eight points he gained did change the shape of the race. And no, there were no “news reports” which attributed Bush’s gain to an “Oprah bounce.” Most important, Mosk forgot to mention the week’s key events—the press corps’ invention of two more “lies” by the deeply troubling Gore. In Mosk’s report, the press corps’ conduct was disappeared—and we got Oprah instead.

It’s amazing to watch the way this gang works. And yes, these are the folks who will make group decisions about who they should “build up and tear down” in the election we’ll be having next year.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Darn it! We see that we have never posted a full report on the press coverage of those Oprah sessions. Gore appeared on September 11; Bush appeared on September 19. And because the sessions were perfectly twinned, they provided the perfect chance to see a press double standard in action. Major newspapers gave front-page coverage to Bush’s appearance, with a photo—having played Gore’s appearance inside. For example, the Washington Post gave Bush’s appearance page-one, stand-alone treatment (1215 words)—having mentioned Gore’s appearance as a fleeting part of a page-one story on a larger topic. The New York Times put Bush’s appearance on page one—after Gore got page 22. The Chicago Tribune gave Bush 1016 words on page one. Gore had gotten 384 words, inside, on page 4.

But then, reduced coverage might have been better for Gore, given the way big journos worked to insert scripted, negative themes into their coverage. For one comic-book example, here’s part of Michael Kranish’s report in the Boston Globe:
KRANISH (9/12/00): Gore, who was mocked early in his campaign for his sudden shift to beige and earth-tone casual clothing, showed up in a serious, dark blue suit, white shirt and blue power tie. Winfrey wore a tan suit, turtleneck sweater and stiletto-heeled red boots. The two sat in over-sized chairs angled toward each other, in front of a large video screen that frequently showed images of an alternately stiff and smiling vice president.
To state the obvious, there was no imaginable reason to mention the “earth-tone clothing”—except for the fact that Kranish wanted to. (He mentioned Gore’s “stiffness” three separate times.) At the AP, Sandra Soberiaj also clowned exceptionally hard. “The oft-reinvented candidate commiserated with the oft-reinvented TV star,” she thoughtfully wrote.

This went on all over the press corps as “reporters” worked Standard Negative Spins into their accounts of Gore’s session. Eight days later, Bush was triumphant, out on page one. “I don't think the media was going to allow...the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency,” Fineman soon said.

For a brief, real-time post about Gore’s Oprah coverage, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/13/00.

THIS TOO: Also by Kranish. Just try to believe it:
KRANISH: Winfrey, unlike many other questioners, did not bring up Gore's assertion that he helped invent the Internet. Indeed, she stayed away from controversial questions, preferring instead to ask whether Gore agreed with some of her ideas.
No—we didn’t make that up! One week later, Gore’s coverage got worse, as Williams and Fineman both said.

WHEN DEMS (DON’T) ATTACK: Reed Hundt has had an impressive career; we assume that he’s an excellent guy. Indeed, we were pleased and surprised when he posted this critique of Maureen Dowd at TPM, just last year. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/26/06.

But uh-oh! Yesterday, Hundt was TPM’s lead poster about Evgenia Peretz’s superlative piece in the current Vanity Fair (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/5/07). Our young analysts came to us crying—and tearing their hair—when they saw what Hundt had written.

To his vast credit, Hundt was outraged by what he read in Peretz’s superb report. He asked a question we’ve often asked—and offered an appropriate contrast:
HUNDT (9/5/07): Check out the Vanity Fair piece and ask yourself, why do these reporters, having committed this atrocity of coverage, still have jobs? If they were lawyers or doctors, the malpractice claims would have driven them out of the profession. If they were politicians they'd have more accountability than they have now, and that's saying something. And anyone would have more remorse than they show, even with the benefit of hindsight.
God bless people like Reed Hundt, who can still get mad about matters like this! Who can call that twenty-month War Against Gore what it was—an “atrocity.” Who can understand that people in other professions lose their jobs when they work this way. (They also get sued—and sent to jail.) Who understands that this journalistic atrocity sent George W. Bush to the White House.

Yep! The analysts were cheering hard at this point! But land-o-goshen! Just like that, the cheering stopped when Hundt proceeded:
HUNDT (continuing directly): There are a lot of reporters I know and respect, but I will never forget the one (not named in VFair, which listed only some of the perpetrators) who put down his pen after a long and cruel interview about my friend and high school classmate Al Gore, and explained that he was so hard on Al because "we expect more from Gore; he knows what to do but just won't show leadership. He just lacks courage to say what he believes."

What is a reporter doing expecting more from one candidate than from another? Why should he write negative articles about the one he expects more from and positive about the one who has created low expectations? And of course nothing could have been more wildly ignorant and unperceptive than the observation that Al Gore lacks leadership characteristics or personal courage. How could someone so unaware, inattentive and misinformed obtained the power to publish a biograph [sic] of Al Gore? Why would anyone ever publish a word that fellow wrote? And yet they still do, because his sentences flow, heedless of accuracy but easily for the reader to read.
Hundt seems to be talking about a reporter who wrote a biography of Gore. (If so, that likely means Zelnick, Turque or Maraniss.) He may be describing a television interview, or he may be describing an interview the scribe conducted with Hundt himself. Either way, we couldn’t help noting what some commenters noted. This reporter wasn’t named by Vanity Fair—but then, he isn’t named by Hundt either! And that is why the young analysts cried when they came to us, tearing their hair.

As we say, we salute the fact that Hundt got mad about an outrage like this. Much of Evgenia Peretz’s material is, in a word, disgusting. Some of it was even new to us; like Hundt, we found it repulsive. But doggone it! As we noted yesterday, the other side plays its politics (and its presspolitics) hard; they push and push and push until some larger force makes them stop. But over here, on our side, we tend to be much more polite. Even seven years later, discussing an “atrocity,” we still refuse to name the people who engaged in the conduct we hate! Even when we’re disgusted—dismayed—we still refuse to fight.

As we told you yesterday: The other aside pushes and pushes and pushes until some larger force makes them stop. But no one has to make us stop. We tend to put the brakes on ourselves.

And yes, this matters, because a new White House election is under way. And while it’s unlikely that anyone is going to get trashed in the way Candidate Gore got trashed (basically, it’s already too late for that), this press corps’ fondness for Big Major Reps is already weirdly clear in the was the personae are being presented. Meanwhile, the press corps plainly hates John Edwards, and Hillary Clinton ain’t far behind. But then, this has gone on for at least the past fifteen years, with the Clintons, then Gore, then Kerry getting savaged, in ways that have been bizarre and inventive. We’re glad that Hundt is the type of man who gets outraged by what’s in Vanity Fair. But eight years later, we still won’t name names! We’re furious—but we’re still polite. Nothing to look at! Keep moving along!

The liberal world reacted mildly to the atrocity Peretz described. She did a brilliant job with that piece. But uh-oh! Fifteen (or nineteen) years after this started, a troubling pattern emerged in the wake of her piece. Fifteen (or nineteen) years after this started, we Dems still don’t seem to care.