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TED AND COLIN, SITTIN’ IN A TREE! Koppel makes a joke of your interests when he pals with the people he “covers.” // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2004

SANGER GETS IT RIGHT: Standing forlorn on his Malibu hilltop, Michael Kinsley stares out to sea, hemmed in by his order’s “conventions.” But in the morning’s New York Times, David Sanger moves those conventions ahead. In his report on Bush’s speech in New Jersey, Sanger tells you, in almost-simple English, that parts of the speech “ignored elements of Mr. Kerry's record and stated positions in a way that paints an incomplete or distorted portrait of his approach.” As bad as the coverage of this election has been, reports like Sanger’s and those of Jim Vandehei have moved the press corps’ “conventions” forward. When candidates make misleading statements, reporters have simply started to say so. This is a vast improvement in journalistic method. This morning, Kinsley still weeps bitter tears into his wine. But at the Times, David Sanger gets it right.

TED AND COLIN, SITTIN’ IN A TREE: Ted Koppel had purchased his latest fast car. And he wanted to show this new “baby” off. And then he had it! He knew what he’d do! He’d show it off to one of the world’s most powerful men—one of the men he allegedly “covers.” Indeed, we’ll let Colin Powell take the story from there. Powell was speaking at a roast Thursday night. His remarks were transcribed and presented in Saturday’s Post. Every American should read them and ponder their meaning:

POWELL (10/14/04): Every couple of years, Ted will come by my house on the spur of the moment and we'll sit in the back yard and have a cup of coffee. And he's usually driving one of his hot cars. He always has a fast car of some kind. And so about, oh, four or five years ago, he came by the house and he had this real muscle car, and after we had a cup of coffee and chatted for a while, he says, “You've got to take it out and drive it, Colin. You've just got to drive this thing. I want you to feel that power.”

I said, “Okay, Ted. You want to go with me?”

“No, you go. I'll just wait right here in front of the house.”

And so I go out and up 123 in McLean. I will not tell anyone how fast I was going by the time I hit the CIA turnoff, but it didn't take me long to get there. And I came back around, pulled up in front of my driveway, and felt something go boom. And I got out of the car and the right rear tire was flat. There must have been about two inches of air left in it.

I said, “Oh, my gosh, Ted. I'm so sorry. I messed up your car.”

And he comes back, “Oh, it's okay, it's okay. I've got to go now.”

So I went to the back of the car and I looked at the tire. There was no tread on it. The wires were coming through. This guy had sent me out to speed up and down 123 with this car that had no tires on it. And I said, “Ted, how much are they paying you at ABC, man? Surely you can do better than this.”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Everyone laughed at the fatuous story, because the tale had been told by a powerful man. And by the way, in answer to Powell’s question, how much are they paying Koppel at ABC? They’re paying him millions of dollars—and he makes a joke of his responsibilities by driving around in his fast muscle cars, playing best buddy with the powerful people whom he allegedly “covers.”

Leave aside the embarrassing spectacle of Ted Koppel, alleged grown man, showing off his latest fast car. Some little people just never grow up, and Koppel may be one of their number. But couldn’t Koppel have had the decency—sorry, let’s say it; the personal integrity—to drive around and show off his car for someone who isn’t a Bush Admin honcho? Someone he doesn’t allegedly “cover?” For example, would it have killed poor Ted to show off his car for some other vacuous press corps member? To drive it over to Russert’s house and make him pretend to be interested?

Good God! What makes it amazing is the way these people discuss this conduct right out in public! We don’t make a point of collecting these items; for example, we didn’t bother discussing that McCain birthday party which compromised member of your “press corps” attended during the GOP convention (more below). But people like Koppel are so blatant about their conflicts that they do become a bit hard to ignore. Examples? Over the course of the past few years, we’ve discussed Bob Schieffer playing golf with George Bush; Gwen Ifill giving home-cooked meals to Condi Rice; and Tim Russert off at Don Rumsfeld’s Christmas party, loudly telling all in attendance about his dreams of the previous night (links below). All of these people then go on the air and pretend to “cover” the people they pal with. Are you really surprised when a flunkee like Ifill goes on the air and rolls over for Condi? Or when all the rest of her compromised cohort pretend that the session was boffo?

Marie Antionette had a gang like this—besotted fools drunk with their income and power. And oh by the way: What else did Koppel do Thursday night, after he left the Powell roast? When Powell stood to speak, he explained: “Ted had to leave. He's got to do this late-night show that nobody watches.” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Everyone laughed at the fatuous quip because a plupotent fellow had told it. But yes, that’s right—Koppel left the roast to do Nightline. And maybe that’s why he was so unprepared when the show went on the air—when John O’Neill lied in his face that night. Earlier that day, Koppel had found plenty of time to pal around with the people he “covers”—and no time for some simple background reading. Maybe that’s why he didn’t know jack when John O’Neill lied in his face.

Marie Antoinette surrounded herself with Ted Koppels; today, we suffer under his reign. He has plenty of time to drive around in fast cars. He has plenty of tiome to roast his pal Powell. But he doesn’t have time to prepare himself to talk about your White House election! That’s right, kids: Ifill rolled over when she interviewed Rice, and Koppel failed to prepare for O’Neill. At ABC, they pay him millions of dollars—and we get the result that largesse always brings. We get insolence, ineptitude, conflict and compromise—we get the fruits of Koppel unprepared. When will this silly man leave us alone and drive around in his fast cars all day?

THANK GOD IT’S THURSDAY: A few of our readers wrote to say that O’Neill looked stupid with Koppel last Thursday. That may be true, but Koppel was vastly unprepared, and O’Neill persistently made false statements that his host left uncorrected. And yes, we pay a price for such incompetence. For example, here’s part of an e-mail we got about Thursday’s show:

E-MAIL (10/15/04): ABC is claiming that by interviewing some Vietnamese they are able to debunk the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Now, I know you disagree with these guys, but I think that it is important to note that ABC is actually debunking John Kerry! The Swifties have been making the point that Kerry's own interview with the Boston Globe contradicts the citation he received for his Silver Star. Shall I repeat that? The Swifties point out that the Boston Globe story differs from the citation account. So ABC has been able to debunk the Boston Globe story, NOT the Swifties. Additionally, ABC has been able to debunk the David Brinkley biography of Kerry, which also contradicts the citation account.

Andrew Sullivan was at one time was an astute critic of media bias. Today he gives a huge thumbs-up to the ABC Nightline report which attempted to debunk the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on the matter of Kerry's Silver Star...Does anyone have the heart to tell Andrew that the Swift Boat version that ABC rebutted was based almost entirely on the description of the incident given by Kerry and his crew to the Boston Globe in 2003? Does Andrew know that the Boston Globe version is quite similar to the account presented in Brinkley's Tour of Duty?

Our e-mailer drew an obvious conclusion from Koppel’s session with O’Neill. Repeatedly, he saw O’Neill make a striking claim: The Boston Globe and Douglas Brinkley agree with O’Neill on the Silver Star matter! That claim by O’Neill was blatantly false, but Koppel, unprepared, never challenged it. Why wouldn’t a reasonable observer assume that this claim was correct?

So let’s review Ted Koppel’s big day. He wasted time at a fatuous dinner haw-hawing with the people he “covers.” He left, and drove his fast car to the studio—and was vastly unprepared when he got there! He hadn’t done his background reading, and O’Neill was able to play him for a fool. Result? All over the country, reasonable people drew a reasonable—but bogus—conclusion.

Marie Antoinette was surrounded by Koppels. Ted’s values? He doesn’t want his neighbors’ McMansions to get bigger than his, and he wants to show off his fast muscle cars to the powerful—to the people he allegedly “covers.” The French got rid of Antoinette’s friends. The Koppels, being deeply entrenched, will be a bit harder to move.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In the midst of a deeply controversial war, Russert showed off his brilliance at Rummy’s big party (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/16/03 and 12/17/03). Ifill gave home-cooked meals to Rice, then rolls over for Rice on the NewsHour (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/03). Schieffer played golf with his best buddy Bush—then threw him a softball about his religion (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/14/04). And Koppel was disturbed by the size of his neighbors’ McMansions (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03). Who are the people who steward your discourse? Read that HOWLER about Koppel’s real values. Then make a tough choice. Laugh or cry.

EXTRA CREDIT: Jim Lehrer spends his time writing novels and attending chic parties—then says he “wasn’t smart enough” to ask the most obvious pre-war questions. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/17/04.

THUS COMMENCED CAMPAIGN 2008: The night before the GOP convention in New York, John McCain threw himself a big party. All the usuals knew what to do. Richard Leiby told all in Reliable Sources:

LEIBY (8/31/04): Sen. John McCain tended to his political base Sunday night: the entire national media. The maverick Arizona Republican, once (and future?) presidential aspirant and press secretary's dream, hosted a hyper-exclusive 68th birthday party for himself at La Goulue on Madison Avenue, leaving no media icon behind. Guests included NBC's Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert, ABC's Peter Jennings, Barbara Walters, Ted Koppel and George Stephanopoulos, CBS's Mike Wallace, Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer, CBS News President Andrew Heyward, ABC News chief David Westin, Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons, CNN's Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenfield, MSNBC's Chris Matthews, CNBC's Gloria Borger, PBS's Charlie Rose—pause here to exhale—and U.S. News & World Report publisher Mort Zuckerman, Washington Post Chairman Don Graham, New York Times columnists William Safire and David Brooks, author Michael Lewis and USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro. They and others dined on lobster salad, loin of lamb, assorted wines, creme brulee, lemon souffle and French tarts...

One guest, who asked not to be identified, described invitees as "the Journalistic Committee for a Government of National Unity." After singing "Happy Birthday" to McCain, many of the guests—Russert, Borger and Shapiro, among others—cabbed to Elaine's...Thus commenced Campaign 2008 (we think).

All the usuals inhaled McCain’s wine. But then, if you’ve followed their work, you won’t be surprised by their groaning state of conflict. “Thus commenced Campaign 2008,” the Post’s Leiby mordantly said.

ERIC BURNS SHOULD RETRACT IT: As usual, we said what would happen. Bob Schieffer, host of the third debate, is a long-time personal friend of George Bush. Despite that, we told you what would surely occur; we told you that conservative hacks would yell “liberal bias” about Scheiffer’s performance! So now, let’s cue the latest such hack. Three days after the Scheiffer debate, Cal Thomas fulfilled our prophecy on Fox News Watch. Neal Gabler said the rise of the Internet made it harder for the media to “spin the winner” of such debates. Thomas offered a quick reply—and his statement was utterly bogus:

THOMAS (1/16/04): Well, that doesn't keep them from trying. CBS declared that the presidency was slipping from George W. Bush. Some of the questions—

ERIC BURNS: When did they do this, Cal? Not during the debate, you mean?

THOMAS: No, no. After—

BURNS: On the analysis?

THOMAS: Yes, on the analysis. And Bob Schieffer's questions, I felt, were highly ideologically loaded. He would ask, for example, Senator Kerry, will we ever—will your children and grandchildren, will we ever be at peace and security again? And then to Bush, he asked this unbelievable question about the draft, which nobody believes is coming back. It was defeated by 400-and-something to two vote in the House.

Of course, Schieffer also asked Kerry if it’s a sin to vote for someone like him, while tossing Bush a big squishy softball about his own religious outlook. But never mind! It was just as we so sagely foretold! Bush was being questioned by his best golfing buddy—but Thomas was eager to tell the world that Schieffer’s questions had betrayed liberal bias! (Note: None of the panelists mentioned the fact that Bob Scheiffer and his brother Tom are long-time Bush friends and associates.)

But let’s ignore Thomas’ view about those questions; let’s consider what he said about the CBS analysis. “CBS declared that the presidency was slipping from George W. Bush,” he told Eric Burns—and his statement was blatantly false. Burns does an excellent job on this program; that said, we defy him to go through the CBS transcript and find anything that even dimly resembles the comment Thomas alleges. Who knows? Maybe Cal was just having a vision. Or maybe he lied in Burns’ face.

Sorry, readers—we can’t link you to the CBS transcript. Someone has to pay Schieffer’s salary, so CBS wants you to pay for its transcripts. (We will give you excerpts; see below.) But we told you last week what would happen. “Liberal bias” is the most potent political propaganda point of America’s past half-century. Hacks like Thomas yell it always—even when the moderator is a friend of Bush! But Thomas’ claim about CBS was simply, plainly, blatantly false. So we plan to do something we rarely do. We plan to e-mail Burns (not his fault!) and insist he retract this fake comment.

EXCERPTS: During the CBS post-debate broadcast, Dan Rather asked two correspondents for their opinion. Here was his first exchange, with Jim Axelrod:

RATHER (10/13/04): Let's go now to Arizona and CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod. Jim, high point, low point of this joint appearance?

AXELROD: Well, Dan, I thought both men were in command of the facts, in command of their philosophies. They support very different world views, but particularly in areas like health care and taxes, Social Security—Social Security in particular, where the president was talking about the need to privatize part of the Social Security system and Senator Kerry answered with, quote, "That's an invitation to disaster." Dan, look, there were plenty of zingers tonight. Senator Kerry at one point said being lectured by President Bush on fiscal responsibility was like being lectured by Tony Soprano on law and order. President Bush also called Senator Kerry on the far left bank of American politics, Senator Kerry makes Senator Kennedy look like the conservative senator from Massachusetts. But this wasn't about one-liners. At the end of the day, this was about the critical impact on undecided voters, and because so much familiar ground was plowed, because this was more or less ninety minutes of greatest hits from both men's stump speeches, I'm not sure very much was done by way of moving the undecideds.

No, Axelrod didn’t “declare that the presidency was slipping from George Bush.” In fact, he displayed the type of defiant balance we have commented on before. Rather then threw to correspondent John Roberts. For once in his life, Roberts guessed at a winner. But he didn’t make Cal’s fake claim either:
RATHER: Now, John Roberts, high point and low point of the debate so far as you could see it here.

ROBERTS: Well, Dan, certainly there were lots of highs and lots of lows, as Jim Axelrod just illuminated. This one's a really tough one to call in terms of who might have come out the winner. I would probably have to give it to John Kerry. He seemed a little bit more poised. Don't forget he's got a lot more experience in this type of—podium type of debate. But the two of them, as Jim said, were very conversant in the issues. I think what you saw up there tonight really was two people who could be president. There were two presidents up on the stage and, for undecided voters, I think really now it's just a matter of which one you like better. I mean, they both obviously have their own positions, different as they may be. They both have quite a comprehensive command of the facts, so really an undecided voter has to take a look at the measure of the man and say, “Who do I want to have coming into my living room for the next four years,” and make up their mind that way.

In terms of actually moving what happens in the next two weeks or so, as Jim said, probably whole not—not a whole lot to be had there. Probably won't even really move too much what happens in the next few days, as they begin that flat-out twenty-day run into November 2nd.

Interesting to note, though, that in terms of the strategy tonight, they both tried to beat each other over the head with each other's respective records, and tried to say that either one of them was misrepresenting the facts; President Bush, when he talks about John Kerry, John Kerry when President Bush talks about him. I think that, for me, one of the more interesting lines of the night came at the very end when President Bush was asked by our colleague, Bob Schieffer, what have you learned from women. And he says I've learned to listen to them. I've learned to stand up straight and not to scowl, which, of course, was a reference to his performance during the first debate.

John Kerry pulled a strategy from John Edwards at the vice presidential debate when asked about homosexuality. He brought up Mary Cheney, Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian. That was something that a very senior Bush campaign official, when Edwards did it, said was smart but cheesy. Dan.

Roberts said he would “probably” say that Kerry won (a judgment that was validated by the overnight polls) “although it was a really tough one to call.” But he quickly said that “probably not a whole lot” would change as a result of the evening.

Sorry, readers—it just didn’t happen. In the half-hour CBS program, no one “declared that the presidency was slipping from George W. Bush.” In fact, no one said anything dimly like that. Cal was just making up stories again. He yelled “liberal bias,” just the way we predicted—and Eric Burns needs to retract it.