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GOODWIN’S CHOICE! Goodwin chose to watch the Sox—then chose to insult your intelligence: // link // print //

DRUM ROLLS: Phew! Kevin Drum is Dr. Pangloss compared to his pals at THE HOWLER! Here’s how he introduces a new Nightline report on one of the Swift Boat slanders:
DRUM (10/15/04): Like most bloggers, I have my beefs with the mainstream media. But you know what? They produce an awful lot of damn fine original reporting.
Actually, no—they don’t. Given their resources and their societal charge, the mainstream media don’t produce “an awful lot of damn fine original reporting.” And in the current election, few things have made this more clear than the coverage of the Swift Boat matter. Tomorrow, we’ll review Nightline’s report (we had already planned to do a piece on a recent appearance by John O’Neill). But frankly, it makes our skin crawl to see career writers type up words of praise like this—words of praise to a mainstream media that almost completely hid from this story as it transformed this campaign.

How thoroughly did the press corps dodge this story, even as it was changing the race? We’ll continue our exploration once events permit. But just reread this Tuesday’s HOWLER to see the way the press dodged this story (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/12/04). Did Nightline have to journey to Nam to find a couple of Kerry-defenders? In fact, unaffiliated Kerry-defenders began coming forward in July and August as the Swift Vet charges began to gain traction. But what did the mainstream media do? Did they produce the “damn fine reporting” to which Drum refers? No—instead, they ran and hid beneath desks. Kerry’s accusers were all over cable, and anyone who read their book could see that, over and over again, its presentations made no earthly sense. But when Kerry defenders began to appear, they were routinely led to the memory hole. At the Washington Post, for example, William Rood pretty much got deep-sixed, along with several other unaffiliated defenders (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/04 and 8/28/04). And elsewhere? On October 3, the Post’s Hanna Rosin finally reported what Bill Means was saying about Swift Boat honcho Roy Hoffmann (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/12/04). It was the first time the Post had cited Means since he told his story on September 4—and as our Nexis search revealed, no other newspaper in the country seems to have mentioned his story at all! But that’s precisely the way the “mainstream media” responded to the Swift Boat story. It’s very strange to use this topic as a platform for praising the press.

We’ll be frank. Although we’re big fans (and daily readers) of Drum, it bothers us—and makes us suspicious—when paid writers praise the press corps this way. Liberal paid writers completely failed you during the debacle of Campaign 2000. Do mainstream media “produce an awful lot of fine original reporting?” As a general matter, no, they do not. Meanwhile, their treatment of the Swift Boat matter was a stunning Profile in Cowardice—a Profile in Cowardice that may yet end up costing Kerry the current race. We find this matter a very strange platform from which to praise our great press.

MCGARVEY GETS IT RIGHT: How routinely does the press corps wallow in conflicts of interest? The moderator of Wednesday’s debate was a long-time, personal friend of George Bush. Earlier, the moderator of the VP debate was a dinner pal of Condi Rice. But did you see a single word about these matters in the mainstream press? This press corps is sick with conflict and compromise—and all scribes know they mustn’t discuss it! All of them know to look away from the disaster their gang has devised.

But on Wednesday night, Ayelish McGarvey got it right for the American Prospect! In this case, it was Andrea Mitchell who pontificated in the face of a groaning conflict—and it was Chris Matthews’ Hardball panel who knew they should keep their traps shut. To read McGarvey’s fine report, just click here. Meanwhile, here are the names of those who kept quiet: Chris Matthews; Jon Meacham; Pat Buchanan; Ron Reagan. Yep! All of them knew to sit and stare while Mitchell defended her unnamed husband against cruel Kerry’s outrageous attack. But time out! Rejecting cant and press corps conventions, Ayelish McGarvey nailed Mitchell cold. Alan Greenspan can take a long hike. Ayelish McGarvey got it right!

BUT WHO WILL QUESTION THE QUESTIONS: Did Bob Schieffer pimp for his golf buddy, Bush, when he hosted Wednesday’s debate? Most citizens won’t even ask, because all your pundits knew not to mention Schieffer’s groaning personal conflict. But Schieffer’s questions are well worth study, and we’ve continued to scan them.

Let’s re-establish a crude distinction, between “open-ended” and “accusatory” questions. An “accusatory” question directly challenges something a hopeful has done or said. For example, Schieffer popped this question to Kerry:

QUESTION 3 (of 20): Senator Kerry, a new question. Let's talk about economic security. You pledged during the last debate that you would not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 a year. But the price of everything is going up, and we all know it. Health-care costs, as you are talking about, is skyrocketing, the cost of the war. My question is, how can you or any president, whoever is elected next time, keep that pledge without running this country deeper into debt and passing on more of the bills that we're running up to our children?
That question was perfectly valid, but “accusatory;” it directly challenges Kerry’s pledge. On the other hand, Schieffer had already lobbed this “open-ender” to Kerry:
QUESTION 1 (of 20): Senator, I want to set the stage for this discussion by asking the question that I think hangs over all of our politics today and is probably on the minds of many people watching this debate tonight. And that is, will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?
That question was perfectly valid, too. But it was an “open-ended” invitation for Kerry to grandly opine.

On balance, what kind of questions did Schieffer ask? Overall, he asked a load of “open-enders.” But it seems to us that he posed far fewer “accusatory” questions to his old buddy, George Bush. Again, this is at best a crude measure. But in our view, Schieffer posed five “accusatory” questions to Kerry—questions 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. But he only posed two such questions to Bush—questions 10 and 16. (How will you fund private Social Security accounts? Why didn’t you act RE the assault weapon ban?) Meanwhile, how soft were the softballs lobbed to Bush? Consider this melon on immigration:

QUESTION 12 (of 20): Let's go to a new question, Mr. President. I got more e-mail this week on this question than any other question. And it is about immigration.

I'm told that at least 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. Some people believe this is a security issue, as you know. Some believe it's an economic issue. Some see it as a human-rights issue. How do you see it? And what do we need to do about it?

Did Schieffer got mucho e-mail on this? If so, much of it surely came from conservatives angry at Bush for weak border control and lax law enforcement. But Schieffer’s question was pure Tejano milquetoast. You’d never know that his pal has been harshly criticized for his work in this area.

Did Schieffer take it easy on Bush? We don’t think a pattern is clear. But we probably wouldn’t be asking the question if Schieffer didn’t have such a rank conflict. Back in the 90s, Schieffer shouldn’t have formed a close friendship with the son of a powerful political family. But your press corps is simply sunk in such conflict. Why do they do it? They know that they can! They know their colleagues will never tattle, as was shown again this week. The press corps’ view is cynical but clear: What the public doesn’t know can’t possibly hurt our great colleagues.

TIMES HAVE CHANGED: It’s our impression that the pundit corps is letting Kerry walk from his “lesbian” comment. Yes, times have changed since Campaign 2000, when the pundits corps searched high and low for outrages with which to slay Gore.

By the way, we got e-mails from many readers who were eager to share their impressive correctness. But this wasn’t about the merits of Kerry’s comment—it was about the chance that the press corps would take his comment and ride, baby, ride. But as you may recall from past episodes, HOWLER readers are always most happy when they get to recite pleasing orthodox tales. We know it’s OK to be gay and lesbian. That isn’t what this concern was about. But thanks for providing the scripts.

Goodwin’s choice

THE CONSCIENCE OF A CABLE DEMOCRAT: Doris Kearns Goodwin is a good cable Democrat. Result? Speaking on Imus Thursday morning, she said she was appalled—at John Kerry! Imus had opened by trashing Kerry for calling Mary Cheney a lesbian. And Goodwin found this appalling, too. Indeed, the solon’s conduct had been so gruesome that it made Goodwin think of Al Gore:

GOODWIN (10/14/04): I’ll tell you, when the personal becomes political, you really do begin to think that there’s nothing sacred left in what anybody’s willing to say, nothing private. I remember one time when I heard Gore talking about his sister dying for about half his speech, and his son’s accident. You had this feeling that somehow they’ll do anything to win and there’s nothing left inside. So I think it’s a much more serious thing than the statement itself.
Goodwin had been on the air 90 seconds. But you know how those cable Democrats are! We had already heard how bad Kerry is, and that Gore, even worse, would do anything to win. No Republican had ever so offended; indeed, Goodwin went all the way back to 1992 to find a suitable precedent. And it had to be by a Democrat, of course. That’s how good cable Democrats play the game—and Goodwin does know how to play it.

Indeed, we soon were learning how cable Democrats watch presidential debates. The night before, Goodwin had invited ten friends to watch Bush-Kerry III, all or most of them Democrats, she said. But isn’t it weird? When Goodwin’s friends watched Wednesday’s debate, all of them thought that Bush had won! Indeed, Goodwin’s passel of Democrat friends were puzzled when the public thought different:

GOODWIN (10/14/04): I thought Bush was pretty animated last night. He spoke naturally. The group that was here—as I say, mostly Democrats—was saying, “Oh no! Bush is doing well!”But Kerry seems to have won in the polls, in terms of what you were saying earlier. And the only answer to that I can have is that, somehow, just standing up to the president as the challenger makes Kerry seem presidential and he doesn’t appear to be the person he was made out to be in all those ads.
Goodwin—an upstanding cable Democrat—struggled to imagine why the public thought Kerry won. Soon, she revised and extended:
GOODWIN (10/14/04): If you had been here with us last night—and as I say, there were ten Democrats—I think to a person they thought Bush won on style. As I say, he spoke more naturally—

IMUS: Connected far better with people—

GOODWIN: Yes. One of our friends here was saying, you know, they just didn’t think Kerry was connecting with Joe Six-pack, he was just speaking too fast, speaking over the heads of most people and not talking straight. And then she said [laughter], “Well, maybe it’s because I’ve had two wines, but he’s not connecting to me. I can’t follow!”

We’ll wait until you return from the sink. But now that you’re back, let’s review: Goodwin and hubby invited ten friends to watch the third Bush-Kerry debate. These friends were all or mostly Democrats. And guess what? According to Gallup, people who actually watched the debate said Kerry did better, by a fourteen-point margin (53-39). You’d almost think that Goodwin’s friends might have been pleased with him too.

But up in Boston, Goodwin’s friends were flummoxed by that Gallup result. Good Dems, they all thought Bush had won—on style. And they were also pretty sure that Kerry didn’t jibe with “Joe Six-pack.” Maybe it was just the wine, but they couldn’t figure it out. Why in the world would Kerry have won? They thought that Bush had spoken “naturally,” and that Kerry had spoken “too fast.”

But then, maybe Goodwin’s wine-lovin’ friends don’t connect with “Joe Six-pack” themselves! For ourselves, we thought Bush’s style was horrendous, especially his inappropriate laughter and inappropriate joking when he was asked two separate questions about ballooning health care costs. Of course, Goodwin’s buddies, gulping their wine, may not have huge concerns in that area. Is there any chance that they have good health care, and don’t give a sh*t if “Joe Six-pack” doesn’t? Maybe that’s why it failed to offend when a sitting president, asked to discuss this problem, offered inappropriate banter and cackle. No, they weren’t offended by this; somehow, they were mainly impressed to see that Bush was speaking “more naturally.” Who knows? Maybe cackling about Joe Six-pack’s problems comes “naturally” to these cable Dems too!

Why in the world had Kerry won? As she continued, the cable Democrat wracked her brain trying to explain her man’s win:

GOODWIN (continuing directly): But yet, if the polls are saying that Kerry won, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. It must be because the situation in the country now is benefitting Kerry. The war is a mess. I can’t bear watching the war. I mean, the names of those poor dead soldiers every day in that tiny box!
Oh! Eight minutes into a ten-minute session, Goodwin abandoned ruminations on style and began to consider matters of substance! As she continued, she even mentioned those health-care costs and the job loss that people were facing. “So Kerry’s got the fact that the country has not done that well in the past four years,” she said. That must be why her man won:
GOODWIN (10/14/04): So just standing there and saying these things and reminding people of what they’re already feeling, that must be the reason why he’s won, if he won that debate last night. That must be the reason—not style.
She spoke as if she were living on Neptune, trying to decipher an alien race. Soon, she and Imus were back to oohing and aaahing about Bush’s sweet style:
IMUS (10/14/04): The president probably—at least he’s easier to understand. That’s not addressing whether you agree with him or not.

GOODWIN: No, that’s right. No, we were just looking at it, trying to be objective—

IMUS: Yeah. Exactly.

GOODWIN: And he spoke simply and he spoke from the heart, I thought Bush did. And he had a more natural voice.

Just trying to be objective, Goodwin said Bush spoke right from the heart. Let’s just say it. Goodwin would have kept praising Bush’s “style” if she’d stayed on the air for ten hours.

So let’s see. All ten Democrats thought Bush had won. They were puzzled by Six-pack’s contrary judgment. And Goodwin couldn’t find a good word for Kerry; “if he won that debate last night,” it had to be because of external facts, not because of something he’d done. Indeed, how bad had he been? He’d been like Al Gore! So it goes when a cable Dem reveals her rank liberal bias.

But we haven’t even begun to arrive at the outrageous part of this session. Doris Kearns Goodwin was very free in her opinions about this debate. But what was the essential fact about her performance on Imus? Simple! She hadn’t actually watched the debate! As we noted in yesterday’s HOWLER, Goodwin spent a good chunk of the evening watching the Red Sox, not Bush-Kerry. Here’s her description, early on, of her fine garden party:

GOODWIN (10/14/04): But anyway, the debate went pretty well. I was able to watch both the debate and the game, mainly because, loving the Red Sox as I do, whenever the Yankees were up, I was too agitated to watch...So we had about ten friends here—mostly Democrats, actually, and Red Sox fans—and we had the game on in one room and the debate on in the other and sadly, I got to see a lot of the debate because of the way the Red Sox game went.
Sadly! Sadly, Goodwin got to see a lot of the debate—whenever the Yankees were up!

We find this disgusting, but sadly typical. Goodwin had been too lazy and too uncaring to sit and watch this crucial debate. But that didn’t stop her from coming on Imus and saying the things cable Democrats love! It didn’t stop her from trashing Kerry and Gore, and praising Bush for his pleasing style. It didn’t stop her from condescending to the people who watched the debate—the people who said Kerry won.

We think you know the rest of this tale. Your pundits corps is vacuous, empty, and Goodwin is a perfect example. She didn’t bother to watch the debate, but she knew what to say about it. And guess what? Next time she rips off a real scholar’s book, her cable pals will come to the rescue! Imus and Russert and Barnicle will be there, eager to help their fine pal survive; and Joe Six-pack can just go to hell when Goodwin throws her next garden party. Her friends will drink their wine and complain that some Democrat is going right over their heads. “At least he’s easier to understand,” they’ll affably say about Bush.