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KOPPEL, UNPREPARED! In a word, Koppel was unprepared. A full report follows on Monday: // link // print //
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2004

THE MORE THINGS STAY THE SAME: Thursday evening, we got (then conveyed) a false impression; we got the impression that the pundit corps was giving Kerry a pass on his “lesbian” comment. Plainly, we were wrong in that judgment. Last night, cable was banging Kerry hard. No, the punishment isn’t uniform cable-wide, as the Gore-trashing was during Campaign 2000. But Kerry, too. And yes—undecided mainstream voters are influenced by cable and radio.

Some of you still don’t understand why we’ve said that this comment was stupid. It was stupid because John Kerry is running for president, and has to get people to vote for him. And, however enlightened you may be about this, the American electorate does not share your outlook. Almost surely, Kerry is losing votes because of this ill-advised comment.

Readers, you may think it’s no big deal to be gay or lesbian. Here at THE HOWLER, we agree with that; in the year 2015, almost everyone will agree. But this election won’t be held in 2015; it’s being held two weeks from next Tuesday! And many voters share the general outlook of Fox’s Jeff Birnbaum, who opined about this matter on last night’s Special Report:

BIRNBAUM (10/15/04): I thought it was probably a mistake for Kerry to have raised it and I was shocked to hear the word “lesbian” used in the debate. I agree with Charles [Krauthammer], it’s not—I mean, why do that about someone’s child?
Yes, we think that outlook is benighted, too. But many undecided voters share those general feelings; for that reason, many of them will think that Kerry “went over the line” in what he said. You may think that’s utterly silly. But your views don’t matter here. Unless you don’t care who wins the election, it’s the views of those voters that count.

Add in the fact that the press corps loves to reduce debates to exciting Magic Moments. (See the Washington Post’s semi-skeptical editorial this morning.) Ronald Reagan told that great joke! Dukakis failed to punch Bernie Shaw! George Bush the Elder looked at this watch! Clinton understood that woman’s question! The press corps loves to push this pap, then pretend that these Magic Moments were what these debates were all about. Kerry gave them their latest chance, and yes, large elements of the press seem to be taking advantage.


What made Kerry’s comment especially stupid? Bush had already committed the gaffe of the evening. In his remarks on Question 1, Bush committed a double howler in response to an accurate statement by Kerry:

BUSH (10/13/04): Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations.
But Bush did say, in 2002, that he wasn’t worried about bin Laden. What made this statement a double howler? First, Bush made a groaning factual misstatement—and yes, there’s tape which shows he was wrong. Then he attacked Kerry for an accurate statement. This would have been the gaffe of the night. But Kerry gave the press something juicier. Readers, have you heard this? Sex sells.

On Thursday morning, we were giving even money that Kerry blew the election with this very dumb comment. Thursday night, we got the impression the press corps was letting it go. But the press corps isn’t letting it go—and when the corps recites its lists in the future, one more Magic Moment may be there. Reagan told that wonderful joke! Bush the Elder looked at his watch! Al Gore sighed (and we jacked up the volume)! And Kerry made that lesbian comment! The press corps loves these silly tales. This tale may go on their list.

Please don’t say: But Kerry was right. If you want to be right, go back to college. Theoretically, Kerry is trying to get elected. With cable and talk radio banging away, that comment may have screwed the whole deal.

BOB SCHIEFFER’S SCREAM: An e-mailer asked us if anyone talked about Bob Schieffer’s brother this week. We searched, and, as far as we can tell, two American newspapers—two!—mentioned the fact that Schieffer’s brother is a close associate of George Bush. And both were home-state Texas papers. In the Dallas Morning News, Ed Bark wrote this:

BARK (10/13/04): A graduate of Texas Christian University, Mr. Schieffer, 67, is best known of late as the anchor of CBS' Face the Nation, where he's presided since 1991. He just released a book and companion DVD for the 50th anniversary of the program.

Mr. Schieffer's younger brother, Tom Schieffer, is a former president of the Texas Rangers baseball team and is now President Bush's ambassador to Australia.

In the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Maria Recio also mentioned the Schieffer-Bush tie, although she did so quite obliquely:
RECIO (10/13/04): [Bob] Schieffer maintains strong ties to North Texas. His brother Tom was the president of the Texas Rangers baseball team and is now the U.S. ambassador to Australia.
Readers had to fill in the blanks. They had to realize, on their own, that these facts mean that Scheiffer’s brother has close ties to Candidate Bush. Using Nexis, we can find no mention of the fact that Bob Schieffer and Bush used to golf. According to the Nexis record, no paper mentioned this fact.

But you know the way our discourse works! The Star-Telegram suggested a possible problem—Schieffer’s possible liberal bias! Here is a longer passage from higher up in Recio’s piece:

RECIO (10/13/04): Schieffer’s selection drew criticism in some quarters because of the controversy surrounding CBS News and the discredited "60 Minutes" report about Bush's service record during the Vietnam War.

"National Review," in its online edition, said, "Republicans in particular ought to scream about this choice, given the evident disregard CBS has for fairness and accuracy." The editors said it has nothing to do with Schieffer personally, but with CBS.

Amazing, isn’t it? Republicans ought to scream when Bush’s buddy is chosen to host this crucial debate! Honest to God, if you didn’t see it, you just couldn’t make this stuff up.

But there you have it! All over America, newspapers knew they shouldn’t say that Scheiffer has close personal ties to Bush. But the troubling issue of liberal bias was bruited. So it goes as your scripted “press corps” makes a vast joke of your lives.

DISAPPEARING SCHIEFFER: Meanwhile, note the way Maureen Dowd and David Brooks have propped up Schieffer’s lame, inane questions. In this morning’s Times, Brooks pens a “parody” of Wednesday’s debate. Here is his hilarious take on Schieffer’s penultimate softball to Bush:

BROOKS (10/16/04):

SCHIEFFER—According to the prearranged rules of this debate, each candidate will now have two minutes to spew forth sentimental blather in order to connect with the American people.

KERRY—Thank you Bob. I'm a Catholic. I was an altar boy. In Nativity plays I was usually cast as one of the posts holding up the manger. I know that a lot of people are tired of politicians who just tell them what they want to hear. America, I want to look you in the eye and pledge I will never pander to you.

Spirituality is important to me. I've always felt that we humans are insignificant maggots scuttling across the muck of the universe, and that life itself is just a meaningless moment of agony between the suffocating stench of the womb and the foul decay of the grave.

SCHIEFFER—Thanks for that uplifting message. Mr. President?

BUSH—America, we've been through a lot together. Imagine how bad things would be if I'd made any mistakes. But we've come through it.

We haven't enforced the Dred Scott decision. And what about my timber company? Can you believe the networks? Oh, never mind. Do you want some wood? How late does this go, anyway? I'm losing it.

For the record: In Brooks’ hilarious parody, Schieffer’s three questions all go to Kerry. It’s Kerry who gives the long, stupid answers. On two questions, Bush throws in a few final comments. On the third question, Bush doesn’t speak.

But note how Brooks pimps for his rich-famous colleague at the expense of those two stupid candidates. In fact, there were no “prearranged rules” according to which Bush and Kerry could “spew sentimental blather” about religion. That softball question came from Schieffer, not from any prearranged rules—and once he’d asked it, Bush and Kerry had to give an answer. But Brooks makes it sound like this part of the debate was somehow the fault of the candidates. Predictably, Maureen Dowd did the same thing in her Friday column. In her piece, Kerry and Bush are a pair of big dopes. Schieffer has ceased to exist:

DOWD (10/15/04): John Kerry and George W. Bush remembered the ladies with bouquets of uxoriousness and spirituality.

It was a contest to see who was closer to his family and who was closer to God. Sounding like a New Age guru, Mr. Kerry burbled: ''I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet.'' Sounding like Moses, he intoned: ''We're all God's children, Bob.''

Dowd batters Kerry and Bush for remembering the ladies (remembering herself to batter Kerry first, as did Brooks). But it was Schieffer who asked the two questions to which Dowd refers. Despite this, she attacks the candidates for answering the questions, and wipes away the person who asked them. For the record, both these questions went to Bush. The high, arcing softballs gave Schieffer’s golf buddy a soft landing at debate’s end. (Earlier, of course, Schieffer asked Kerry if voting for “someone like him” was a sin! To Brooks and Dowd, this made good sense.)

In these columns, Brooks and Dowd display Standard Pundit Behavior. One of their famous colleagues asked a pair of dumb-ass questions. So Brooks and Dowd mock Bush and Kerry for answering the questions their rich colleague asked! Remember the hard and fast rule of your press corps: We are smarter, by far, than the hopefuls. In fact, Brooks and Dowd are routinely inane. But they and they colleagues control your discourse, and so readers never get told.

KOPPEL UNPREPARED: We have reviewed Thursday’s Nightline program, the one about Kerry’s Silver Star incident. The episode deserves full discussion, and so we postpone it till Monday. In the meantime, to read ABC’s report on this matter, you know what to do. Just click here.

A few quick comments before Monday’s report:

First, ABC sent reporters to Vietnam to try to learn the facts of Kerry’s Silver Star incident. And guess what? Their findings support Kerry’s account of this event, not the account of John O’Neill’s Swift Boat Veterans. But as we said yesterday, Koppel didn’t have to journey to Nam to learn the facts he presented in Thursday’s report. On Sunday, August 22, William Rood wrote a detailed piece in the Chicago Tribune describing what occurred in Vietnam that day. Rood was one of Kerry’s fellow officers on the Silver Star mission, and his account completely supported Kerry; in fact, Rood virtually called O’Neill a liar in the front-page piece. But so what? Rood is one of the many unaffiliated Kerry-defenders who were quickly shown to the memory hole. How completely was Rood deep-sixed? Rood was barely mentioned in the Washington Post, and, according to a Nexis search, Rood’s name has never been mentioned on Nightline! Koppel’s Thursday report was long on drama, but it’s much too little and it comes far too late. In real time, your press corps ran and hid from this story—and Koppel was hiding beneath his desk too. Or maybe he was slumped in his deck chair. Or maybe he was measuring his neighbor’s basement for his latest lawsuit. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03, for a review of those Millionaire Pundit Values.)

Second, Koppel was vastly unprepared for Thursday’s show, in ways we’ll detail on Monday. Result? His guest, John O’Neill, dissembled freely, as he does whenever he’s allowed. Most strikingly, Koppel didn’t know what John F. Kerry, the Boston Globe’s biography, says about the Silver Star incident, so O’Neill was free to dissemble, misstate, distort and mislead, falsely claiming that the Globe account contradicts the Nightline findings. The Globe bio covers the Silver Star incident in just seven pages, and this event was Koppel’s sole topic. But Koppel didn’t seem to have read the Globe’s account. Nor did he seem familiar with Douglas Brinkley’s account in Tour of Duty. Nor did Rood’s name pass his lips.

Is there any other occupation where major stars can be so unprepared? Where they can be paid millions of dollars per year for their services, and routinely show up for work without even the most basic knowledge? Where they can be showered with praise by Kevin Drum for their endless and grievous misconduct? In every other American occupation, doesn’t this get people sued?