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Daily Howler: The man who will run tomorrow's debate is a bosom old pal of George Bush
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WHO IS BOB SCHIEFFER (PART 1)! The man who will run tomorrow’s debate is a bosom old pal of George Bush: // link // print //

WHY WAIT: Why wait? In this morning’s New York Times, Paul Krugman pre-debunks misstatements and distortions from tomorrow’s debate. And he presents an obvious point of logic—a point that many major scribes have side-stepped in the past week. (For example, see Gloria Borger avoid this question on Saturday’s Reliable Sources.) As noted in that memo from ABC’s Mark Halperin: If one hopeful dissembles more than the other, the two shouldn’t get “equal time” in fact-check features. Put it another way: If Candidate Jones robs a bank and Candidate Smith gets a parking ticket, journalists shouldn’t feel obliged to give the two stories equal billing.

We’ll note, however, that Krugman omits one possible coming misstatement. It’s clear that Bush is now moving to paint Kerry as a Big Frightening Liberal. Will Bush dare to say, one more time, that the National Journal named Kerry the senate’s top liberal? Again, for those who care to know, here is the Journal’s list of the most liberal senators, based on lifetime voting:

National Journal: Most liberal senators, lifetime voting
1. Mark Dayton, D-Minn.
2. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.
3. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
4. Jon Corzine, D-N.J.
5. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
6. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
7. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
8. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
9. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
10. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt
In Debate II, Bush stated, two separate times, that the Journal named Kerry “the most liberal senator of all.” Will he make this tortured claim again? For a fuller discussion of the Journal’s list, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/6/04.

WHO IS BOB SCHIEFFER (PART 1): “Liberal bias!” It’s been the most potent propaganda-point in American politics for roughly the past forty years. And yes, such bias is easy to spot—if you’re actively seeking it. Indeed, Jim Pinkerton thinks he found liberal bias in ABC’s coverage of Bush-Kerry Debate II. One day after the Great Debate, he described what he saw on Fox News Watch:

PINKERTON (10/9/04): [Peter] Jennings goes out of his way to say, Hey, there's no spin on our network...And, in fact, they don't have the usual Republican-Democrat back-and-forth, which I think actually is, to coin a phrase, “fair and balanced” to do it that way and have one and one so the viewer can decide. He said, No, we don't do that. So they had Jake Tapper get up and do three fact-checks.

ERIC BURNS: Jake Tapper is?

PINKERTON: An ABC correspondent. And two of them were against Bush, and one of them was against Kerry.

Uh-oh! To “Big Pink” (he’s 6-foot-9), that had the smell of liberal bias! But you’ll never guess what clinched the point. Incredibly, ABC showed its liberal bias by allowing George Will on the air!
PINKERTON (continuing directly): They had—George Stephanopoulos said that Kerry was helped more overall by the debate than was Bush, and then—

BURNS: Can't that be an honest opinion, Jim?

PINKERTON: Well, sure it could. But then they had George Will, who's with, theoretically, the other side who, just as he is wont to do these days, just put a plague on both of their houses. So I think ABC clearly achieved what Halperin wanted them to.

Halperin, of course, is Mark Halperin, the ABC news director who said, in a recent memo, that he thought Bush’s campaign has been dissembling more than Kerry’s. So let’s get clear on what Pinkerton said. To Pinkerton, when Halperin put George Will on the air, he was betraying his liberal bias! Amazing, isn’t it? ABC showed its liberal bias by allowing George Will on the air!

Yes, liberal bias is easy to spot—if you’re determined to find it. And ever since Nixon helped establish the concept, Republicans have used the iconic complaint as a way to explain away every bad story. Result? When Pinkerton saw Stephanopoulos matched with Will, something told him it was “liberal bias.” But uh-oh! Eric Burns, host of Fox News Watch, raised an awkward point:

BURNS (10/9/04): But they, ABC, did say that—When was the vice presidential debate, Monday or Tuesday?


JANE HALL: Tuesday night.

BURNS: Tuesday, they said, Jane, that Cheney won. That was ABC's consensus there. So it’s not a clear-cut case.

No one disputed Burns’ assessment. Still, it felt good to yell “liberal bias.” But isn’t the claim getting slightly absurd when George Will’s presence on the air is the proof of the troubling bias?

No matter! Conservatives love to make the claim—love to boo-hoo-hoo in their beer about the raw deal they keep getting. Which brings us to Wednesday’s Bush-Kerry Debate III. Will the moderator, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, showcase his rank liberal bias?

Here at THE HOWLER, we assume that Schieffer will do a reasonably good job. But just for the sake of the record, Schieffer may not be a liberal. And he surely isn’t a Bush-hater, as we first noted last year (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/13/03). In January 2003, Howard Kurtz penned a profile of the CBS anchor—who happens to hail from Bush’s own Texas. Kurtz included this bit of family history—history that is rarely discussed by a press corps which looks out for its own:

KURTZ (1/13/03): During the ’90s, Schieffer also struck up a friendship with George W. Bush when his brother Tom—now the U.S. ambassador to Australia—became partners with the future president in the Texas Rangers. Bob and W. went to ball games together, played golf, attended spring training. “He’s a great guy—that doesn’t mean I agree with him,” says Schieffer, adding that the situation became “a little awkward” when Bush ran for the White House but that he’s never gotten favorable treatment.
But Bush has gotten favorable treatment from Schieffer, during Campaign 2000 and later. We’ve discussed that obvious fact in the past, and we’ll discuss it again tomorrow. We’ll also go into more detail about how close Bush and Tom Schieffer were when it came to running the Rangers.

Again, we assume that Bob Schieffer will do a good job running Wednesday’s debate. But let’s not continue to kid ourselves about the lineage of our millionaire press corps. They are not a gaggle of East Coast liberal weenies; indeed, Schieffer made that clear on Larry King Live one month after Kurtz wrote that profile. Who is Bob Schieffer? For ourselves, we assume that he’s a superlative guy. But when he was asked to assess Bill Clinton, Schieffer told a few more family secrets. Who is Schieffer inclined to vote for? Let him start the story himself:

KING (2/16/03): Let's hear an assessment of Mr. Clinton.

SCHIEFFER: Well, you know, he is I think, Larry, the most disappointing president that I covered. People always ask me, Are you a Democratic or are you a Republican? I mean, the fact is, I am a registered independent. My family were all conservative Democrats back in Texas. But I don't claim any allegiance. I've voted for as many Republicans as I have Democrats over the years.

Schieffer has voted for Dems and for Reps. But here’s where the conversation got interesting. He does tend to root for one group:
SCHIEFFER (continuing directly): But where I am kind of prejudiced is I always pull for people, in a funny kind of way, from my part of the country. I am not one of those who believes that every bit of wisdom somehow originates in the northeastern part of the United States. So when somebody comes out of the South, I'm always kind of secretly pulling for them. I want to see them show up those guys who went to all of those fancy schools in the north. I mean, of course, [Clinton] did go to Yale. But, I mean, he grew up in Arkansas.
Yikes! Schieffer, mouthing standard Sun Belt conservative self-pity, says he doesn’t believe “that every bit of wisdom somehow originates in the northeastern part of the United States.” (Is there someone alive who does believe that?) And he says he tends to root for pols from his part of the country! So let’s see. The person running tomorrow’s debate comes from Texas, just like Bush. In the past, he and Bush went to ball games together. He and Bush played golf together. He and Bush even took in spring training together! And not only that—his brother was Bush’s close business partner; later, Bush named him ambassador to Australia. And not only that—the moderator roots for people from his part of the country, and roots against those northeastern snobs! It’s hard to believe that a man as accomplished as Schieffer would say some of these silly things in public. But this is a partial profile of the “liberal journalist” who will be hosting Wednesday’s crucial debate. Would you want to be John Kerry faced with this boo-hooing Sun Belter? Poor Schieffer! He had to go to Texas Christian! Forty years later, he still cries in his beer, humiliated by the cruel slight.

Schieffer is old, close friends with Bush. And yes, despite what he said to Kurtz, he has given “favorable treatment” to Bush. At times, he’s given very favorable treatment, a point we’ll incomparably revisit tomorrow. Is your press corps driven by liberal bias? Who knows? In a world where George Will represents liberal bias, we suppose that Bob Schieffer does too.

TOMORROW: Shilling for Bush—and trashing Gore. It’s a clear part of Bob Schieffer’s record.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: When the claim of “liberal bias,” began, it may have been closer to the truth. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/03, for a thoughtful discussion.

CONFIRMING THE OBVIOUS: Tomorrow, we’ll also take a bit of a look at U.S. ambassador to Australia Tom Schieffer. But we couldn’t help noting a certain irony as we read about his Senate confirmation. Maria Recio of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram took us inside the hearing—and guess who was sitting in judgment of Schieffer? That’s right—a certain haughty New Englander, and he looked rather French! Recio laid it out for her readers. “Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., praised ‘very capable and very skilled,’” she wrote. Then, she revealed Kerry’s hauteur:

RECIO (7/26/01): In a light moment at the beginning of the hearing, Schieffer left the hearing table to sit in the audience after [Senators] Gramm and Hutchison had introduced him. Kerry called him back, saying "It's not that easy.”
A light moment? The haughty Kerry wouldn’t even allow the Texan to sit where he pleased! And soon he was sculpting a conversation designed to mock Schieffer’s accent regionale:
RECIO (continuing directly): Kerry asked Schieffer whether he was practicing saying "G'Day."

"I'm from Texas," he replied, "and English is a second language for us. I'm more worried about them understanding me than me understanding them.”

Poor Schieffer! He was forced to abase himself in the face of ripostes from an arrogant Yankee! As usual, Kerry feigned bonhomie, but the solon was plainly musing on the inferiority of all things non-northeastern. He may have thought he was simply confirming Tom Schieffer. But for those can x-ray the snobbish Yankee soul, he was really confirming the obvious.

Yes, the Schieffers know how northern elitists think! But the thoughts of some Australians were hardly a secret when Schieffer was picked for his Down Under post. Bastards! Here’s what Peter Charlton wrote in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph when the gentleman’s appointment was announced:

CHARLTON (5/13/01): Tom Schieffer, likely to be the next US ambassador to Australia, is a man with absolutely no diplomatic experience and next to no knowledge of this country.

He does, however, have one outstanding quality for the appointment, yet to be formally announced and ratified: he's an old Texas buddy of George W. Bush.

Despite this friendship, and the access it will bring, Australians have a right to feel insulted by the choice.

So far, the Bush administration has made 25 ambassadorial appointments; 23 have been from outside the State Department, and all 23 have been either friends of, or contributors to, George W.

Even so, Tom Schieffer is a special buddy; it's a friendship underpinned by money—lots of money.

Say what? Schieffer “is a diplomatic amateur,” Charlton wrote, “just another in the long line of business nonentities sent to Australia as ambassadors by Republican administrations.”

More on the Brothers Schieffer tomorrow. Yes, we expect that Brother Bob will do a decent job tomorrow. But Americans deserve to learn a bit more, at long last, about the real culture of their millionaire press corps. Is the press corps composed of northeastern liberals? We’ll suggest it’s less simple than that.

Advances on the fact-check front

KESSLER GETS IT RIGHT: Michael Kinsley didn’t know what to do about all the lying. So you’ll remember, here’s the recent exchange for which the great scribe was praised:

QUESTION: What's the biggest problem with campaign journalism right now—particularly what appears on page A1?

KINSLEY: The biggest problem is—and I don't know what the solution is, so it's not a criticism, as much as it is a puzzle—is that the conventions of objectivity make it very difficult to say that something is a lie. And they require balance, which is often just not justified by reality. The classic thing is the Swift Boats. If you follow what all the papers say, they inch close to saying what they really think by saying, “it's controversial,” or “many have challenged it,” euphemisms like that. And then they always need to pair it with something else. “Candidate X murdered three people at a rally yesterday, and candidate Y sneezed without using a Kleenex. This is why many people are saying this is the roughest campaign ever.”

Kinsley didn’t know what to do about the lying. He also didn’t seem to know that it’s hard to tell if something is a “lie.” But it isn’t hard to ID a misstatement—and the Washington Post has started to do it. Consider Glenn Kessler’s superlative fact-check after Bush-Kerry Debate II.

Alleged “conventions of objectivity” didn’t stop Kessler from saying that spades had been spades. Early on, for example, he said this:

KESSLER (10/9/04): As in the previous debate and in his stump speech, Bush repeated a number of assertions about Kerry's voting record on taxes, intelligence spending and budgets that are out of context and misleading.
The assertions were misleading—and Kessler said so. As he continued, he pulled no punches about a specific Bush claim:
KESSLER (continuing directly): Bush, hitting Kerry for alleged inconsistency, also asserted: "He said he thought Saddam Hussein was a grave threat, and now he said it was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein from power."

Kerry has never said that.

Ouch! And then there was this:
KESSLER (10/9/04): On health care, Bush continued the specious accusation that Kerry is proposing a "government takeover" of the U.S. health system, saying Kerry's position is: "Let me incent you to go on the government." Kerry's plan builds on both private sector and government programs...
Kessler also said that the candidates “skipped over details,” “glossed over” matters, “stretched the truth” and “misspoke.” He never said that anyone “lied,” but that is a judgment that is quite hard to make. He did, however, speak freely throughout about the hopefuls’ errant statements.

Did Kessler violate “conventions of objectivity” in describing these statements? Not in any meaningful sense. Kessler’s assessments may be right or wrong, but they are no more “subjective” than a wide range of claims which news reporters routinely make. While Kinsley wrings his hands and stares out to sea, the press corps’ “conventions” are moving ahead. In particular, the Post is dealing directly with groaning misstatements (see also THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/6/04). On Saturday, Kessler got his conventions just right. But was he right in his specific assessments? Read his fine fact-check and see.

ZILCH ON LATCH: Sinclair’s plan to air that anti-Kerry film gives the press corps a second chance to tackle the Swift Boat Vet story. In August, when Swift Vet claims transformed the race, the press corps hid beneath its desks. If Sinclair goes ahead and airs that film, the corps will have a chance to do better.

How thoroughly did the press corps hide back when this story was changing the race? Consider the challenging profile of Roy “Latch” Hoffmann which appeared in the Sunday, October 3 Washington Post. (In the Style section!) Hoffmann is the retired admiral who, according to standard recitations, founded Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But what kind of man is Roy Hoffmann? How credible should we take him to be? At one point, Hanna Rosin asked Kerry biographer Douglas Brinkley about Hoffmann. When Brinkley says that Hoffmann “waged a new war,” he is referring to Hoffmann’s “war” against Kerry:

ROSIN (10/3/04): Douglas Brinkley says he soft-pedaled Hoffmann's role in the book, but that he is "the most egregious example of blatant disregard for civilian casualties and for the lives of his men in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam."

"He infected the lives of a lot of Navy guys down there, and he has a lot of answering to do," Brinkley says about Hoffmann. "He can either recognize he has blood on his hands and deal with his own ghosts or go where it's safe and reach for the flag. He can see a therapist or wage a new war, and he did the latter.”

Rosin describes some of Hoffmann’s conduct in Vietnam. And she interviews a pair of unaffiliated veterans about one particular incident:
ROSIN (10/3/04): Bill Means is a private investigator in Bakersfield, Calif., and was at the helm of a Swift boat the same time Kerry was in Vietnam. Recently, he saw the groups' ads on TV, and they "made me want to reflect on my war experiences."

He took down a shoe box filled with 39 letters he'd written from Vietnam, and read them aloud to his wife in the kitchen. He read complaints about his commanders, wonder about the Vietnamese girls, dispatches from a kid trying to act "stupidly brave."

"It was this war crimes stuff that got me going," Means says. "I needed to resolve, did I do anything I wasn't too proud of? I wasn't worried, but you have to live with your conscience your whole life and I wanted to know."

To refresh his memory, he called up Thomas "Tad" McCall, the commanding officer on his boat, PCF 88. Eventually he got around to asking about the one incident that stuck in his mind.

"Remember that day, with that commander, who was he, and what was he wanting to do?" Means asked.

"Don't you remember, Bill? That was Latch, that was Roy Hoffmann,” replied McCall.

"You mean the guy who's criticizing Kerry for war crimes is the only one who ordered me to commit one?" Means said.

Rosin quotes Means and McCall describing the incident in question.

What is Roy Hoffmann really like? How credible are his complaints about Kerry? Those, of course, are matters of judgment. But Rosin’s profile came about two months too late to be of use in the Swift Vet debate. Back when Swift Vet claims were changing this race, we saw few efforts to interview Brinkley, who is inclined to take Kerry’s side but is also highly knowledgeable. And Bill Means? He told his story to the Bakersfield Californian’s Robert Price, who laid it out in a September 4 column. But the press corps showed little interest in examining Hoffmann et al. back when Hoffmann’s Swift Vet campaign was changing the race. According to a Nexis search, Rosin’s profile represents the press corps’ only reference to Means in the six weeks since his story appeared. (We searched on “Hoffmann OR Hoffman AND Bill Means OR William Means.” Remarkably, Rosin’s piece is the only cite found. We also searched on “Hoffmann OR Hoffman AND Robert Price,” and on “Hoffmann AND McCall.” Nada. Zilch on Latch.)

Who is Roy Hoffmann? Is Hoffmann credible? The press corps hid from questions like these when this story transformed the race. If Sinclair brings the Swift boats center stage once again, maybe the press will stop its slumbering, get off its keisters, and at long last start doing its job. More on this and related issues in the weeks ahead.