Some of you still dont understand why weve 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 its 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 wont be held in 2015; its being held two weeks from next Tuesday! And many voters share the general outlook of Foxs Jeff Birnbaum, who opined about this matter on last nights 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], its not—I mean, why do that about someones 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 thats utterly silly. But your views dont matter here. Unless you dont care who wins the election, its 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 Posts 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 womans 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 Kerrys 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 wasnt worried about bin Laden. What made this statement a double howler? First, Bush made a groaning factual misstatement—and yes, theres 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 isnt 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 dont 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 SCHIEFFERS SCREAM: An e-mailer asked us if anyone talked about Bob Schieffers brother this week. We searched, and, as far as we can tell, two American newspapers—two!—mentioned the fact that Schieffers 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.In the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Maria Recio also mentioned the Schieffer-Bush tie, although she did so quite obliquely:
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.
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 Scheiffers 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—Schieffers possible liberal bias! Here is a longer passage from higher up in Recios piece:
RECIO (10/13/04): Schieffers 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.Amazing, isnt it? Republicans ought to scream when Bushs buddy is chosen to host this crucial debate! Honest to God, if you didnt see it, you just couldnt make this stuff up.
"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.
But there you have it! All over America, newspapers knew they shouldnt 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 Schieffers lame, inane questions. In this mornings Times, Brooks pens a parody of Wednesdays debate. Here is his hilarious take on Schieffers penultimate softball to Bush:
BROOKS (10/16/04):For the record: In Brooks hilarious parody, Schieffers three questions all go to Kerry. Its Kerry who gives the long, stupid answers. On two questions, Bush throws in a few final comments. On the third question, Bush doesnt speak.
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.
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 hed 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.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 Schieffers golf buddy a soft landing at debates end. (Earlier, of course, Schieffer asked Kerry if voting for someone like him was a sin! To Brooks and Dowd, this made good sense.)
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.''
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 Thursdays Nightline program, the one about Kerrys Silver Star incident. The episode deserves full discussion, and so we postpone it till Monday. In the meantime, to read ABCs report on this matter, you know what to do. Just click here.
A few quick comments before Mondays report:
First, ABC sent reporters to Vietnam to try to learn the facts of Kerrys Silver Star incident. And guess what? Their findings support Kerrys account of this event, not the account of John ONeills Swift Boat Veterans. But as we said yesterday, Koppel didnt have to journey to Nam to learn the facts he presented in Thursdays 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 Kerrys fellow officers on the Silver Star mission, and his account completely supported Kerry; in fact, Rood virtually called ONeill 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, Roods name has never been mentioned on Nightline! Koppels Thursday report was long on drama, but its 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 neighbors 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 Thursdays show, in ways well detail on Monday. Result? His guest, John ONeill, dissembled freely, as he does whenever hes allowed. Most strikingly, Koppel didnt know what John F. Kerry, the Boston Globes biography, says about the Silver Star incident, so ONeill 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 Koppels sole topic. But Koppel didnt seem to have read the Globes account. Nor did he seem familiar with Douglas Brinkleys account in Tour of Duty. Nor did Roods 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, doesnt this get people sued?