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PUNDITS ARE GOOD AT RECITING GREAT THEMES! Gore is bitter, the Fox all-stars said. So Fineman recited it too:


MUST-READ TV: As we told you yesterday, the battle for the soul of the press corps is on as Target One comes back center stage. With that in mind, be sure to read the transcript to last night’s Hardball, in which former congressman Joe Scarborough (R-FL) made this remarkable statement:

SCARBOROUGH: I think, in the 2000 election, I think [the press corps] was fairly brutal to Al Gore. I think they hit him hard on a lot of things like inventing the Internet and some of those other things, and I think there was a generalization they bought into that, if they had done that to a Republican candidate, I’d be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased.
Amazing. It’s only been clear since April 1999. But has any pundit ever made such a statement on Matthews’ program?

One other point: As you read Joe Scarborough’s statement, notice the other, timid pundit who knew that she had to sit silently by. You could have waited a hundred years before she would have made these remarks.

Much more on this remarkable session tomorrow. But it had to come from a former pol—and it had to come from a Republican, didn’t it? “Good guy” pundits would have sat there for years before they would have stated the obvious. Readers, these pundits are paid to sit and be silent. Their careers depend on their refusal to speak. Last night, one “good gal” pundit knew her place. A fight is on for the soul of this corps. Which side will such pundits be on? It’s time that you wrote them and asked.

Andrea Mitchell knows how to recite. On last Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show, Michelle Cottle described Gore’s recent approach:

COTTLE: He’s trying to be kind of a jollier, better communicator. You know, he really does think that this time around he can be kind of a looser, friendlier, happier guy.
Mitchell wasn’t buying that crap. She knows her key spin-points, and she knows when to use them. Sadly, your discourse lies in the hands of these people. Here’s what the crabby one said:
MITCHELL: It’s just another reinvention.
Ah yes! Al Gore is constantly reinventing himself! It was one of the great and mighty spin-points of the press corps’ 2000 campaign.

In Campaign 2000, just how hard did pundits work to assert that great spin-point? Consider Howard Fineman’s influential piece in the June 5, 2000 Newsweek. The piece was headlined “Al Gore’s Next Makeover.” By now, just how easy had it become to accuse the veep of conducting a makeover? Here is the entire passage explaining the use of that term:

FINEMAN: Gore’s handlers are plotting yet another rollout of their candidate, this one a massive ad campaign based on the notion that he’s not so much an alpha male as a thinking man with a heart: a former journalist who used his time in Congress to educate himself, and the nation, on over-the-horizon issues; a man of profound, restless intellectual curiosity—unlike a certain governor of Texas. In the meantime, even Democrats think Bush won the spring, and they worry about signs of drift in the Gore campaign.
“Not so much an alpha male?” Fineman pulled another dim-witted spin-point from the pundit corps’ endless supply. But what actual news was the great scribe reporting? Gore would air a set of ads stressing aspects of his life story. According to Fineman’s slender text, this new ad campaign—and this alone—comprised the veep’s “Next Makeover.”

Readers, was there something odd about these ads? Surely, the question answers itself. Obviously, candidates “roll out” new ads all the time. And just how “new” would these “new ads” be? In fact, the first of the ads wasn’t new at all; it had widely aired in New Hampshire during the primary. But Newsweek knew the corps’ approved points. The ads were described as “Gore’s next makeover;” this touched off a week of press corps spinning. Three nights later, David Gergen was counting up Gore’s reinventions (see below).

But let’s get back to the Chris Matthews Show. On Sunday’s program, Mitchell and Cottle were sharing space with the aforementioned Fineman. And this week, The Scripted One had a new spin-point to sell—the one that says Al Gore is bitter. Fox all-stars had been peddling the tale (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/02), and Fineman was hot to recite the tale too. So here’s the first thing the Newsweek ace said when Chris asked for comments on Albert:

FINEMAN: You have to listen very carefully to Al Gore. He’s so bitter. He believes he won. He’s nursing his bitterness. The bitterness is the well from which the energy will come for him to run again, and he is running again.
Howard liked the point so well, he figured he’d voice it three times. And remember—when your pundit corps picks out a great theme, all pundits will run to recite it:
MITCHELL: How about [Gore] telling, telling in the interview with Barbara Walters that he’s not bitter and that he and Bill Clinton have made it up and they’re, are great friends again.

MATTHEWS: Is that true, they’re best buddies those two guys?

MITCHELL: I don’t think so.

MATTHEWS: Howard, you don’t think—

FINEMAN: Neither of those things—neither of those things is true.

COTTLE: The interview seemed so clearly bitter.

Pitiful, isn’t it? The press corps is often compared to high school. But as we’ve often said, that comparison is a vicious slander against fourteen-year-old kids nationwide. By the way, who should really be bitter in this? The American people ought to be bitter—bitter about the power exerted by this deeply dysfunctional cohort.

Vacuous, empty, scripted and mindless, this fatuous crew has control of your discourse. Their reign is an ongoing problem for democracy. But at least we’re hip to a New Approved Tale: Al Gore is bitter, the boys and girls plan to say. Playing the shrink—and acting the fool—your pundit corps will recite this great tale. All the pundits will want to express it—as they did, in June 2000, when Howard Fineman led the way in the case of those troubling ads.

SMILE-A-WHILE! HOWLER HISTORY: In his 6/5/00 Newsweek piece (released on 5/28/00), Fineman reported a set of new ads—and, in accordance with a mighty press script, the ads were called “Al Gore’s next makeover.” Newsweek was stretching absurdly, but its silly claim fit the corps’ preferred script. Result? In the wake of Newsweek’s headline, the copycat press corps stood in line to rail at Gore’s latest misconduct.

The fun began with Fineman himself on the May 30 News with Brian Williams. Williams opened predictably. “Gore has already changed both his clothing and his speaking style,” the handsome host groused, returning to his year-long obsession with wardrobe. “And now comes word in this week’s Newsweek to expect another image makeover.” Yep—he was referring to that Fineman piece which only cited those “new” TV ads. But no matter. Thus prodded, the Newsweek natterer drifted back twelve years as he totaled all the different Al Gores:

FINEMAN (5/30/00): By my count, we’re on about the fifth or sixth Al Gore now. I covered his first presidential campaign [in 1988]—that was Bible Belt Al, followed by Environmental Al, followed by Good Soldier Al, followed by Attack Dog Al, and now comes the Intellectually Questing, Soulful Al who uses his brain to look over the horizon to see issues that are going to face us in the 21st century.
Fineman was spinning wildly. Was “Environmental Al” (presumably, the guy who wrote Earth in the Balance) different from “Intellectually Questing Al?” And why was “Good Soldier Al” (presumably, Clinton’s defender during impeachment) a different person from “Attack Dog Al” (presumably, the guy who defeated Bradley in the primaries)? None of this made a lick of sense, except as a tribute to the corps’ great god, Spin. But no matter—the press corps had a story it liked, and its tribunes were ready to flog it.

How well do your pundits recite Approved Scripts? They ran to echo Fineman’s comments. Allow yourself to be amused by the sameness of Pundit Remarks:

HOWARD FINEMAN, The News, 5/30/00: By my count, we’re on about the fifth or sixth Al Gore now.

NELSON WARFIELD, The News, 5/31/00: Al Gore has gone through so many revisions I think we’re on Al Gore Version 6.0 now, with 6.1 coming down the pike pretty soon.

DAVID GERGEN, Hardball, 6/2/00: Al Gore—he does have wonderful advisers…But we’re into, what, the seventh reinvention, the eighth reinvention of Al Gore?

STEVE ROBERTS, Late Editon, 6/4/00: What is this, the third new Gore, the fourth new Gore? I’ve lost count in this campaign.
What was that, the ninety-ninth, the hundredth time they’d said it? The script-reading pundits were off to the races, reciting a story they liked. Remember—this all started with Fineman’s piece reporting a new TV ad.

This week, pundits have turned up a mighty new theme. The script now says that Al Gore is bitter. Pundits are racing to state the new spin. Expect to hear no contradictions.

AN OLD OLD SCRIPT: Al Gore is reinventing himself? It’s one of the pundit corps’ mightiest themes. It’s the theme Kondracke recited last Friday when he held forth on Special Report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/02):

KONDRACKE: Al Gore has announced the new, new, new, new, new, new, new Al Gore is going to let it rip and say what he really, really, truly feels.
Pundits are good at reciting great themes! Sure enough, on Fox News Sunday, Brother Snow voiced the mighty theme too:
SNOW: Let’s switch to Al Gore. Al Gore now is—he and his wife have a couple of books out. And he’s been giving interviews around. It’s interesting, because we have—I don’t know if it’s a new version of Al Gore, but it’s certainly one who’s taking more political risks. Let’s take a look at some of the changes of position that the former vice president has taken recently in trying to harden the differences between himself and the Republican Party.

Number one, opposed to the war with Iraq. Maybe the first Democrat to come out strongly against it.

Number two, he supports repealing the tax cuts.

And most interestingly this week, Brit Hume, he now supports a single-payer health care system, something nobody else in the Democratic field, including Howard Dean of Vermont, previously thought the most liberal of the bunch, supports.

Because Al Gore is constantly reinventing himself, it’s important to rattle off shifts of position and to wonder about his “new versions.” But where did Tony get his list? If Gore comes out for single-payer, that will be a new position. But what about points one and two? “He supports repealing the tax cuts?” Where is the change in position in that? He is “opposed to the war with Iraq?” Gore says the current focus should stay on al Qaeda. But where is the change in position?

When Mort discussed the new new Gore, he was rattling off some old old spin. What a shame that such stale stale hacks are in charge of our precious public discourse.

A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS: Where did Tony get his great list? He seems to have cadged it from Eleanor Clift! In the current Newsweek, Clift presents the very same list of Gore stands. But she doesn’t describe them as shifts in position. Tony tossed in that great spin-point.

At Newsweek, though, one theme is secure. At Newsweek, Gore is always retooling, reinventing, or making things over. The current headline: “Retooling Gore.” Clift refers to “Gore’s latest makeover.”