Thursdays debate is a test for the hopefuls, Clymer says—[b]ut its also a test for journalists. And Clymer explains why the test is so crucial—because research has shown that the public's views [of presidential debates] are influenced by what the news media emphasize. Thats right—it isnt so much what actually occurs; its what your press corps pimps later on. And as he continues, Clymer slams the press corps recent attempts to review these crucial forums:
CLYMER (9/27/04): The immediate judgments of television watchers can be changed by analysts citing a moment as a blunder or an overall presentation as strong or weak, commanding or uninformed, human or condescending. Often that impression has not even been conveyed by a seriously developed journalistic case, but by the trivia of television sound bites or reports in newspapers, like Al Gore's sighs or his flawed recollection of just who accompanied him on a trip to a disaster in Texas. Or when George H.W. Bush glanced at his watch, a movement interpreted to prove that he was uncomfortable debating Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.Ah yes, the trivia which the Washington press corps so loves! The press in recent years has spilled a lot more important ink over debate style than substance, Clymer continues, with dutiful fact-checking relegated to inside pages, and descriptions of candidates' manners and costumes—and above all, strategy—accompanying the front-page accounts of what was actually said.According to Clymer, this fatuous coverage got its start in recent decades:
CLYMER: Sometime in the 1980's political coverage began to confuse itself with drama criticism. The word ''performance'' started showing up frequently in debate analyses, and reporters started citing Samuel Beckett in their front-page articles.So youll know, thats the Washington Posts David Von Drehle whom Clymer is so openly dissing. Von Drehle gave readers a whiff of that distilled ether on October 18, 2000, after the final Bush-Gore debate.
By 2000, front-page articles were saying the language that mattered was ''body language,'' and that the candidates offered ''the distilled ether of two very different personalities,'' while reporters' efforts to correct the debaters' claims on tax plans and patients' rights were buried inside the newspaper.
Well flesh out this column in the next few days as the big debate approaches. But Clymers piece today is sterling. Dick Cheney first called the scribe major league, and this morning, Clymer proves it. Incomparably slashing his cohorts past conduct, the Times Adam Clymer gets it right!
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Long ago, we were forced to abandoned our popular X gets it right series. But why not visit our incomparable archives? For Shipp gets it right (with links to previous editions), see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/00. For our classic Leno gets it right, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/10/98.
BRODER COVERS HIS ASSETS: David Broder is very upset with his colleagues in the media. We don't yet know who will win the 2004 election, but we know who has lost it, he writes. But surprise! As it turns out, the major media are the big losers in the current White House campaign! How badly have they failed to serve? Here! Let The Dean count the ways:
BRODER (9/26/04): In a year when war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism and looming problems with the federal budget and the nation's health care system cry out for serious debate, the news organizations on which people should be able to depend have been diverted into chasing sham events: a scurrilous and largely inaccurate attack on the Vietnam service of John Kerry and a forged document charging President Bush with disobeying an order for an Air National Guard physical.Of course, the federal budget and the nation's health care system cried out for debate during Campaign 2000 as well. But what did Broder do, four years ago, when Al Gore gave a detailed speech on such topics at the Dem convention? Of course! The Dean mocked Gore for wasting our time by listing all his swell ideas! Indeed, he said Gores deeply boring speech had almost put him right to sleep! Four years ago, the Dean was busy typing a script: Candidate Gore is just so-o-o-o boring! Today, he laments his worthless colleagues inattention to such swell ideas. (To review that classic Broder column, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/7/04, with links to prior reports.)
So yes, we emitted dark, mordant chuckles as Broder lamented the lack of attention to matters of substance. But we were even more struck by The Deans assessment of those Swift Boat Veteran complaints. What happened this summer, according to Broder? According to Broder, John ONeill and his Swift Boat Veterans launched a scurrilous and largely inaccurate attack on the Vietnam service of John Kerry. But then, The Dean displays some strange reasoning. For reasons only The Dean can explain, he slams his colleagues for having been diverted into chasing this sham event.
What a strange bit of reasoning! Broder doesnt say who is at fault for chasing this sham event. But surely, if Broders assessment of the Swift Vets is accurate, the major media should have done more in taking apart their fake claims! Its hard to measure such matters, of course. But the scurrilous claims of those Swift Boat Veterans may have transformed this White House campaign! If the claims in these ads were scurrilous and inaccurate, why shouldnt news orgs have taken them on? Indeed, shouldnt the nations big news orgs have gone after these claims that much harder?
No, Broder doesnt flesh out his reasoning. But good news! By way of contrast, his real-time conduct is there for all to see. According to Broder, John ONeill launched a scurrilous attack on a White House front-runner—a scurrilous attack which was largely inaccurate. So heres our question: Did Broder ever tell readers this, as these scurrilous attacks gained traction? Did Broder ever warn his readers about these bogus charges? Did Broder ever inform his readers that John ONeill was a vile, nasty man? In short, did Broder ever get off his ass and try to defend his democracy?
The answer is obvious—no, he did not. This tired old man was dozing again as these scurrilous, largely inaccurate claims transformed your White House campaign. And its not as if he simply said nothing. Six weeks ago, when the press should have acted, Broder wrote a pair of columns which focused on the Swift Boat ads. But neither column says a word about the Swift Vet claims being bogus. Quite the contrary—Broder almost implied that Kerry deserved his butt-whuppin from the riled Vets.
Broders first column, on August 24, lamented the way those baby boomers keep talking about Vietnam. Will we ever recover from the 1960s? he asked. Broder decried the way the Swift Boat dispute was driving real issues out of the discourse. But Kerry and ONeill seemed equally guilty. When would these boomers relent?
BRODER (8/24/04): The United States is at war. It is threatened with terrorist attacks. The economy is under stress. And the presidential campaign has been usurped—by what? An argument among aging boomers about who did what in Vietnam and in the protests against that war.The talk-show right calls that moral equivalence. Whatever collusion may or may not exist between the Bush campaign and the Swift Boaters, Broder wrote, these veterans' disdain for Kerry is as genuine and deeply felt as his resentment of them. No, Broder didnt say that the Swift Vet claims were inaccurate—though he did say the feeling behind them was genuine. Nor did he express a view when he wrote again on August 29. On this occasion, he mused about independent ads in general—and, as Nicholas Kristof would do a month later, he ended up with a slightly odd notion:
The ferocity of the dispute over John Kerry's Vietnam wounds and decorations—and about his testimony when he decried U.S. atrocities in that war—is explainable only as the latest outburst of a battle that has been going on now for more than three decades. Neither Kerry nor his critics in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth will yield an inch. On both sides, the unending culture war is as searing as it was when it first burst into flames.
BRODER (8/29/04): [T]he flow of money from the private sector into the political world will be almost impossible to control.Broder never said which ads had distorted or lied. He merely said that, when they do, the candidate who benefits ought to police them. There we see that slightly strange notion again—the candidates ought to do the policing! In fairness, Broder said the media should police fake ads too. But alas! He himself failed to do so.
What can be disciplined is the tendency of these ads to exaggerate, distort or flat-out lie. And the candidates who benefit from the ads are the ones who have the first responsibility—along with the media—to police them. The candidates ought to be judged by their willingness to tell their supporters when they have crossed the line.
Yesterday, Broder told us, if only in passing, that the Swift Boat Vets launched a scurrilous attack—a scurrilous attack that was largely inaccurate. But guess what? Back when those attacks were transforming the race, David Broder slept and snored loudly. He never spoke up to express these views—or to warn his legion of readers. Journalists should police these ads, he said—even as he himself dodged the bullet.
Broder was right about that one point; clearly, major scribes should be judged by the way they react to false, lying ads. So today, well report an unfortunate fact. The Dean of All Pundits napped and hid while John ONeill spread his scurrilous charges. Six weeks after these ads changed the race, Broder says the ads were bogus. Broder, like Kristof, has covered his assets, long after these ads work was done.
WHILE THE POST SLEPT: If influential ads are scurrilous and largely inaccurate, shouldnt a major newspaper tell you? Sadly, the Washington Post sat on its hands while the Swift Boat ads did their work. The Post made very little attempt to examine the accuracy of the Vets claims. Lets review the papers snoring treatment of the Kerry Bronze Star event.
Was there enemy fire on the Bay Hap River when Kerry pulled Jim Rassmann out of the drink? The Swift Boat Vets were all over the media, saying that there was no such fire, and saying that Kerry had faked the report which led to his Bronze Star award. Presumably, this is one of the scurrilous and largely inaccurate claims to which the outraged Broder now refers. But when three eye-witness veterans came forward in August and said there had been enemy fire, the Post made almost no effort to tell you. (We reported this in real time; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/04.) If the Swift Boat claims were so scurrilous, shouldnt readers have been informed when unaffiliated vets disputed them? Yes, but the Post simply burbled and snored. Broder starts throwing bombs now.
Lets review what we told you in August. Three unaffiliated veterans had come forward to contradict the Swift Boat Vets claim. But how much coverage did they get? Wayne Langhofer contradicted the Swift Boat Vets claim about enemy fire—and to this day, his name has appeared in the Post just once, in paragraphs 49 and 50 of a 4100-word story! Robert Lambert contradicted the Swift Vets claim too—and according to the Nexis record, his statement has never been mentioned! David Broder is shaking with rage at the Swift Vets scurrilous charges. But he and his newspaper sat and snored as these charges had their effects. Only now, six weeks too late, does he get himself on the record, lazily covering his assets.
Is Broder right? Were the Swift claims largely inaccurate? That, of course, is a matter of judgment. But if Broder thought these claims were so scurrilous, he found a very odd way to show it. But as weve told you again and again—your major pundits simply dont care. They dont care about the charges you hear. They dont care about your elections integrity. Weve told you this many times before. Once again, Broder helps show it.
TOMORROW: We return to Unfit for Command!