TUESDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2002
OLD HABITS: When the incomparable HOWLER says to jump, the press corps says, How high? Yesterday, we noted the press corps general failure to follow up on Bush misstatements (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/21/02). Today, the Posts Dana Milbank tries to make some amends. Krugmans piece only adds to the picture.
But why do Bush and the Bushies tend to dissemble? Because they know that its long been allowed. The trembling boys and girls of the Washington press corps have long turned a very blind eye to this practice. Their conduct ran all through Campaign 2000. Given the narrow way that election was decided, their conduct most likely decided the race.
For example, consider the first Bush-Gore debate. This was part of Bushs first statement. He was describing his basic budget plan:
BUSH (10/3/00): I want to take one-half of the surplus and dedicate it to Social Security, one-quarter of the surplus for important projects, and I want to send one-quarter of the surplus back to the people who pay the bills. I want everybody who pays taxes to have their tax rates cut.
This statement was baldly inaccurate. In it, Bush says that he wants to devote one-quarter of the projected federal surplus to tax cuts, and one-quarter of the surplus to important projects. In fact, Bushs budget plan called for $1.3 trillion in tax cuts over ten yearsand $474 billion in new spending. In fact, his tax cuts outstripped his new spending three-to-one. Nor was it any special secret that his statement was bogus. In the weeks before this debate, Paul Krugman had devoted three separate columns to this subject (Bush was routinely making this presentation in his TV appearances and on the stump). Krugman published these pieces in the New York Times, a well-known daily American newspaper. In short, every reporter in the country surely knew that Bushs statement was false.
Why was Bush serving this disinformation? Surely, every scribe understood that point too. Gore was arguing that Bushs tax cuts used too much of the projected surplus. The tax cuts didnt leave enough for important new spending, Gore said. Bushs standard budget pitch served to reassure the voters. He pretended that his new spending and his tax cuts were equal in size. Theres a word for such presentations. That words lying.
So what happened in the wake of this crucial debate? Surely, the profoundly professional Washington press corps rose up and challenged what Bush had said. After all, this was the first debate of a White House electiona time when democracy buffs its great shrine. And the corps had made it clear, all through this campaign, that they simply hated embellishing, embroidery, and exaggeration of all kinds. Surely the press corps raced to see that Bushs misstatements were correctedand to see that the public had a chance to ask why he would stoop to mislead them this way!
Of course, nothing like that ever happened. In fact, Bushs performance in this debate can be described in one wordembarrassing. It was perhaps the most incompetent performance in a presidential debate since President Ford drove the Soviets out of Poland. Bush completely misstated his own budget plan; completely misstated his prescription drug plan (in a long, dramatic confrontation with Gore, in which Gore advised him to check his own web site); and he repeatedly accused Gore of using phony numbers when Gores numbers were perfectly accurate. Weirdly, Bush also said that Gore had outspent him in the campaigna statement which went beyond fantasy. But what did the medias pundits say, in the aftermath of the debate? The next morning, Howard Kurtz assembled the comments for his Washington Post Media Notes:
Bob Schieffer, CBS: Clearly tonight, if anyone gained from this debate it was George Bush. He seemed to have as much of a grasp of the issues [as Gore].
Those statements were complete, total fantasy. But as readers will remember, the press corps took a massive pass on Bushs groaning misstatements. Instead, they flogged trivial errors byyou guessed itAl Gore! Reading from an article in a Florida newspaper, Gore said that a high school student lacked a desk in her crowded school. As it turned out, the student had received a desk since the articles publication, although the school was still overcrowded. But to the hapless gang of losers and phonies whom we oddly agree to describe as a press corps, Gores trivial error went well past the pale. Gores misstatement was flogged by the press. The corps astounding conduct after this debate almost surely decided the election.
R. W. Apple, New York Times: Neither man committed an obvious gaffe; Mr. Bush avoided stumbling over his own syntax or comically mispronouncing words as he had in the past.
Larry Sabato, University of Virginia: The surprise for many people was that Bush was perfectly competent.
John Zogby, Zogby Research: Mr. Bush showed he was fully in command of the facts, avoided any of the occasional flubs on which the news media has dwelled.
We cant link you to our real-time work on this matter; that work was done for SpeakOut.com, whose links are no longer active. But why are people in the Bush Admin inclined to make statements which arehow to say thisuntrue? They feel free because theyve long been allowed. Pols will lie, if theyre permitted. In Campaign 2000, the trembling boys and girls of the press corps had some big Clinton payback to do. Bush was allowed to make gonzo misstatements. Milbank starts to clear his throat now.
Its long since time that the boys and girls began to behave like real journalists do. Milbank performs like a real scribe today. If others follow him in this conduct, the Bush Admin will be inclined to act more like real servants do.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: How much were you spun by the Washington press corps in the aftermath of that debate? Frank Brunis book helped reveal his remarkable spinning. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/18/02. By the waywhy is this man still employed?
HARLEQUINS ROMANCE: Our circus clown continues his tricks. See him links Bushs boners to Gore. Surely, someone is paying this sad little man. You know what to do. Just click here.