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SPECIAL CONNOISSEUR EDITION! Clark just isn’t like Ike, pundits say. Four years back, one hopeful was:


BY THEIR SILENCE YE SHALL KNOW THEM: After conducting his own internal probe, George Tenet has asked the Justice Department to investigate a possible crime—the revelation that Joe Wilson’s wife was an undercover CIA officer. But don’t miss the remarkable back-story here—the amazing silence of the Washington press corps over the past three months. This story broke in Robert Novak’s July 14 column, in which Novak said that “two senior administration officials” had called him to out Wilson’s wife. Because this startling report came from Novak, it plainly wasn’t a case of the heinous “Bush-hating” that has Americans so deeply troubled. And it was obvious that these “senior officials” may have committed a serious crime. But over the course of the past three months, have you seen a word—have you seen one word—from Washington’s pundits about this story? Of course not! Instead, pundits did what they do best—they hid beneath their mahogany desks, pretending not to have heard this report. Did any pundit ask for a probe? Did any major Washington pundit try to keep this story alive? Your pundit corps was quite expert at gimmicking up Clinton-era pseudo-scandals. But when this highly credible report appeared, bearing Novak’s imprimatur, all of Washington’s brave, brave scribes knew they should head for the hills. By the way: Even in this morning’s New York Times, this story is given secondary status, folded into another story. It doesn’t even rate its own headline. The Times was brilliant at ginning up Clinton “scandals,” including Whitewater, the mother of all fake and phony flaps. Now it fiddles, diddles and blathers in the face of acknowledged White House crime. (In yesterday’s Post—linked to above—another “senior official” says that White House officials did make the phone calls in question.)

Final question: Should President Bush’s Justice Department be investigating President Bush’s “senior officials?” We’re waiting to hear the press corps’ calls for an independent investigation. And of course, pundits will know that this special counsel should be a lifelong insider Democrat. Scribes made this a point of principle at the time of Ken Starr’s appointment. We’re sure that they’ll yell loudly now. You know just how moral they are. Meanwhile:

THERE THEY SEEM TO HAVE GONE AGAIN: If you get cable, you’ve seen the spin—Iraqis are thrilled with the recent war. In the past week, this has been Grade-A Admin Spin; assertions were based on two recent polls of Iraqis, conducted by Gallup and Zogby. But there they seem to have gone again, readers! In today’s Post, Walter Pincus reports that, for roughly the ten millionth time, the Bush Admin was faking and dissembling, this time in its treatment of those polls. According to Pincus, the Admin was cherry-picking (and inventing) data that misrepresented what the polls really said. But where does the story run in the Post? Keep digging—you’ll find it on page 14! As usual, you have to read inside the paper to learn that what you’ve been told is false—and to find out that the Bush Admin has been faking and fudging again. But then, if the Post put this story on page one, almost the entire page would concern Admin dissembling. (There would barely be room for the Redskins photo!) Today’s paper already has two front-page stories about the Bush Admin’s endless fakery. (Click here; after that, click here.) This report—number 3 on the list—had to be banished inside. Meanwhile:

FIVE-YEAR-OLD DATA, THREE-MONTH-OLD REPORT: Your “press corps” ignores real news like the plague. On July 4, we delayed our annual trip to the pool to link to an important Post story (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/4/03). According to an official CIA report, the U.S. received no first-hand intelligence about Iraqi weapons after 1998, the Post report said. Here was Walter Pincus’ opening paragraph: “U.S. intelligence analysts lacked new, hard information about Saddam Hussein’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons after United Nations inspectors left Iraq in 1998, and so had to rely on data from the early and mid-1990s when they concluded in months leading up to the war that those programs continued into 2003, according to preliminary findings of a CIA internal review panel.” Weirdly, the Post put a cheerful headline on the story: “Basis for Arms Claims Affirmed.”

For anyone wanting to assess pre-war intelligence, this was clearly an important story. Presumably, the CIA released the info on July 3 hoping that it would get lost in the shuffle of a holiday weekend. And that, of course, is just what happened; we’re not sure that we’ve ever seen this report cited in subsequent months. Now, almost three months later, the story turns up again in this morning’s Post—on page 15—due to last week’s bipartisan report from the House intelligence committee. According to Kessler and Priest, Rice and Powell “disputed assertions by the leaders of the House intelligence committee that the administration waged war against Iraq based largely on information about Iraq’s weapons programs that was five years old.” In fact, Powell did not dispute the committee’s claim; clearly, he mush-mouthed his way around the assertion (see his statement in the Post article), and Rice’s statement was typically incoherent. At any rate, this was significant info when it appeared—which is why it appeared on July 3. The Bush Admin hoped the “press” would ignore it. As Bush once said: Mission accomplished.

CONNOISSEUR REPORT: Where does spin come from?

JUST LIKE IKE: Everyone knew it—Wes Clark was no Ike. “Comparisons of Clark to Dwight Eisenhower are ludicrous,” George Will wrote in the August 31 Washington Post. The Weekly Standard knew how stupid the notion was, too. “While few people outside politics have heard of Clark,” the journal opined, “Eisenhower was one of the most popular figures in American history.” And the all-stars knew how foolish it was. Here were Charles and Mara:

KRAUTHAMMER: We’ve only elected one general as president since Ulysses S. Grant, and that was Eisenhower. And Eisenhower got there by beating Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. Clark knocked off Serbia. It’s not quite the same league and it didn’t quite have the same effect on the national consciousness. So he has got a real tough road.

LIASSON: Yes. And I think what I’m interested in seeing is the name I.D. polls to see how many people actually know who Wes Clark is. I mean, he’s certainly not a national hero.

Just in case the Chablis set missed the point, Mara also made it on All Things Considered. She even played tape of Brookings egghead Stephen Hess. “You just can’t compare Kosovo to World War II,” the grumbling know-it-all scolded.

Phew! Let’s just come out and say it: When it comes to rejecting dumb comparisons, that Washington press corps is plenty tough. Tough as nails—but fair to a fault—the lords and ladies of the Washington press insisted that Wes was no Ike. But surprisingly, one recent, first-time hopeful did remind the corps of Ike. When this hopeful announced his run for the White House, a string of journalists did see the link. Profiles proffered the pleasing comparison. This hopeful was a good deal like Ike.

No, it wasn’t the lackluster Clark. And you might be surprised to learn who it was. Which recent hopeful reminded of Ike? George W. Bush evoked the comparison. Let’s roll back the clock four years—and continue to see where spin comes from.

On June 13, 1999, Texas governor George W. Bush flew from Austin to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. When he reached the Hawkeye State, he made it official—he would enter the race for the White House. Glowing accounts filled our major newspapers. For example, here’s how David Von Drehle’s front-page report began in the Washington Post:

VON DREHLE (6/14/00): Looking relaxed and sounding eager, Texas Gov. George W. Bush barnstormed across Iowa today with his heart on his sleeve, hoping to show that he can touch voters as effectively as he has tapped the checkbooks of the Republican elite.

His pitch: a sunny mixture of economic and political conservatism with a neighborly dose of love. Bush drew his greatest cheers when he defended the idea that conservatives can be compassionate, and when he promised to lead from principle, not from the polls.

Yikes! Speaking of those “sunny mixtures,” Von Drehle seemed to brew one himself. Bush was neighborly, sunny, compassionate, relaxed—just in the scribe’s first two paragraphs! Indeed, after quoting a bit of Bush’s speech, Von Drehle even went on to praise the weather and the local corn yield. “Things continued to break well for the man whose political career has been a brief but vertical blur,” he enthused. “The day was warm, the sky wide and blue with picture-book puffy clouds. Young corn sprouted emerald in the rolling fields. It was a perfect day to promise, as Bush did, ‘a fresh start after a season of cynicism.’”

Was there something wrong with Von Drehle’s account? That is a matter of judgment. For the record, no other scribe quite matched his high spirits, but one part of his upbeat account did turn up in a string of stories. Early in his cheerful report, Von Drehle compared Bush to Ike. “He may be the most anticipated untested candidate since Dwight D. Eisenhower,” the scribe gushed. “For months he has tended the Texas legislature and soared in the polls as other candidates churned out the miles in search of support.” There it was, the pleasing Bush-as-Ike spin, right on page one of the Post.

But Von Drehle wasn’t the only scribe saying that Bush was like Ike. Oddly, other scribes had the very same thought—Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe, for example:

JACOBY (6/14/99): The closest parallel to the Bush hysteria is Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vast popularity after World War II. But not even Eisenhower, a five-star war hero, had the Republican establishment kneeling at his feet this far in advance of the election.
On NPR, it occurred to Elizabeth Arnold too:
ARNOLD (6/14/99): Bush has every reason to feel comfortable, and uncomfortable. He is the most anticipated, and yet most untested candidate since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.
Let’s not leave out Michael Tackett, in the Chicago Tribune:
TACKETT (6/13/99): In recent years, only the fervor surrounding the possible candidacy of Colin Powell in 1996 has come close to the excitement surrounding Bush…Many are comparing the rush to Bush to the draft of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.
Or John C. Henry, the Houston Chronicle:
HENRY (6/14/99): The excitement generated by Bush among Republicans is rivaled in recent memory only by the prospective candidacy of Colin Powell in 1996…The GOP hierarchy’s early rush to Bush is likened to the party’s drafting of Dwight Eisenhower, the last Republican presidential nominee who was untested in a national election. And that was in 1952.
The St. Petersburg Times’ Tim Nickens:
NICKENS (6/13/99): Long-time Iowa political observers could not recall another instance where a candidate arrived in their state with such an entourage and momentum in mid-summer. Others reach back to 1952 and Dwight Eisenhower for a presidential candidate with so much support and so little experience in national politics.
Even the Times of London had it. Ben McIntire: “Not since Eisenhower in 1952 has a candidate come forward so untested and so beloved.” Again, the men and women of the modern press are happiest when they all say the same thing. But when Bush announced, many said this one thing: Bush is a good deal like Ike.

But what was the source of the upbeat image? Surely, the Bush campaign was very pleased to see their man compared to Ike. But why had so many scribes all said it? On June 11, the New York Times had provided a clue. Francis X. Clines, writing from Washington, reported a chat with GOP honcho Ralph Reed. And Reed had made the comparison:

CLINES (6/11/99): The nation would have to go back to a war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, to find someone this untested emerging this far ahead of his party’s pack without being Vice President or having run for national office before, said Ralph Reed, the Republican campaign strategist.
Oh! The link had been made by Ralph Reed! Meanwhile, several other GOP spinners had made the same point in recent weeks. Back on May 31, for example, Roll Call’s John Bresnahan profiled Senator Paul Coverdell. “An intimate of the Bush family for 20 years, Coverdell has been working on presidential campaigns for men named Bush since 1980,” the scribe wrote. “These days he’s in weekly contact with Gov. Bush’s camp while serving on the exploratory committee of the man he affectionately calls ‘G.W.’” Later, Bresnahan quoted Coverdell as he gushed about the Texan:
BRESNAHAN (5/31/99): [E]ven Coverdell himself is blown away by the support for Bush, who, until last year, was not a national political figure.

“I don’t know that anybody has fully explained the depth of the phenomenon,” he said. “I don’t understand it. Most of the people I’ve been around have been sort of taken aback by how rapidly this has grown. I heard somebody say there’s not been anything like this since former President Dwight Eisenhower.

Coverdell—pretending not to be spinning himself—said that he heard someone else voice the thought. Soon, a string of reporters were saying it too, often in their own voice. Only the Times attributed the pleasing comparison to a Republican spokesman.

Is Clark just like Ike? No, he is not. Eisenhower was better known and had achieved more, just as kill-joy pundits have grumbled. But four years ago, many reporters rushed to say that George W. Bush was a good deal like Ike. The fleeting episode played little role in the unfolding of Campaign 2000. But in rushing Bush-is-like-Ike into print, reporters displayed a troubling trait which would be on display all through Campaign 2000. They showed how easy it would be for the RNC to get spin-points into print. Bush was like Ike, his campaign had said. And when Bush announced—“young corn spouting emerald”—the “liberal” Post made the point too.

WHERE DID SPIN COME FROM: Where did the Bush-is-like-Ike spin come from? In the weeks preceding Bush’s announcement, Bush insiders were pushing the notion. Here’s Senator Phil Gramm, in a June 6, 1999 Q-and-A with the Austin American-Statesman:

Q: What’s the historic parallel for this Bush candidacy?

A: I’ve never really seen it in my adult life before. Eisenhower was a very prominent national figure. He had led the crusade in Europe. My mother and my grandmother didn’t vote for Eisenhower, but my father voted for him because he had “served” under Eisenhower. The more I serve in government, the further we’ve gotten away from the Eisenhower era, the better he looks. Eisenhower was a great president in my opinion. I wouldn’t have said that 20 years ago. But anyway, I don’t know that there is a parallel, but I think George Bush sort of meets the profile that people are looking for.

Gramm’s statement made little apparent sense—except as an effort to link Bush to Ike. “I don’t know that there is a parallel,” the senator said, even as he dutifully offered it. (By the way: Where did that curious question come from?) At any rate, the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald’s Mary Rae Bragg quoted another Bush insider that day. And by total coincidence, Tommy Thompson, stumping Iowa, was engaged in the same rumination:
BRAGG (6/6/99): Bush’s Iowa campaign office held its grand opening Friday in the Des Moines suburb of Clive, with Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson as the guest speaker.

In a phone interview from Des Moines, Thompson was enthusiastic about Bush’s chances for taking the GOP nomination.

“In the 36 years I’ve been involved in Republican politics, I’ve never seen a campaign come together so quickly,” Thompson marveled. “Someone said you’d have to go all the way back to Ike Eisenhower’s.”

As with Coverdell, “someone” had said this to Thompson. At any rate, it’s abundantly clear that Bush-is-like-Ike was a talking-point of the nascent campaign. Soon, major press figures were reciting it too. Whose silly spins will the press corps repeat? That battle helps define the press coverage. By the way, does anyone want to bet that the “someone” who spoke with Thompson may have been close to Karl Rove?

APPLE COBBLER: They even got to Johnny Apple. Two months after the Bush announcement, the Ike spin strangely occurred to him, too. On August 21, 1999, Apple wrote a fawning profile of Bush in the “liberal” New York Times. His piece made Von Drehle look depressive—and he remembered to say that Bush was like Ike. “Not even Dwight D. Eisenhower, a victor in history’s greatest war just a few years before, had this kind of entourage this early in 1951,” Apple gushed. It was one of the pundit’s classic dumb comments; Eisenhower had no entourage in August 1951, not yet having begun to campaign. But so what? The point is getting spin into print, thereby pleasing a favored campaign.

For the record, Apple’s twin profiles of Bush and Gore showed what was coming from the Clinton/Gore-hating press. One hopeful was puffed—and the other was trashed. For excerpts from Apple’s laughable profile of Bush, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/17/99.

WHERE DID SPIN COME FROM, POP QUIZ EDITION: Where did spin come from in Campaign 2000? To see pundits reciting Bush spin word-for-word, review the coverage of the famous “pop quiz.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/6/02. Just scroll down to HOWLER HISTORY. Don’t miss this remarkable episode.

A TALE OF TWO HOPEFULS: Paul Gigot didn’t mince any words; Bush’s early coverage was “adoring,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal (6/11/99). But Gore was trashed when he announced five days later. In the Post, Howard Kurtz wondered about “the harsh coverage and punditry” which Gore was receiving. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/01.