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WAR OVER GORE! Will Gore be tagged as a reinventer? The answer lies with Nagourney—and with Balz:


NOTES ON THAT FIGHT FOR THE SOUL OF THE PRESS CORPS: How will the press corps treat Al Gore? Clearly, some new orgs are trying to be more fair than they were in Campaign 2000, when the press corps’ egregious War Against Gore almost surely decided the race. Take the Washington Post magazine, for example. Last Sunday, the mag’s Liza Mundy did a profile of Gore that was abundantly fair and respectful. By contrast, when Gore kicked off his 2000 race, the magazine ran a cover piece by Ceci Connolly, the paper’s Gore reporter (links below; the piece was published 4/4/99). The cover showed Candidate Gore dressed as Superman—with a large dollar sign on his chest. Other illustrations stressed Connolly’s theme—Al Gore was in love with Big Money. And Connolly’s report? It was deeply disingenuous, absurdly misleading, and should have filled the Post newsroom with shame. But it set the tone for twenty months of heinous coverage by the Post ace, whose relentless spinning of Gore made her what she is today—a universally-admired Fox “all-star.” As the Financial Times would say in the summer of 2000, Connolly was “hostile to the [Gore] campaign, doing little to hide her contempt for the candidate.” Her April 1999 cover story was egregious—inexcusable. To their credit, someone at the Post magazine is trying to be more fair.

In some ways, Adam Nagourney followed suit in Friday’s New York Times. Will Gore be accused of reinventing himself? As Nagourney pondered that tired old question, he clearly attempted to be more fair than most scribes were last time around:

NAGOURNEY (pgh 4): Mr. Gore would like to present himself as the spontaneous and unscripted candidate when politics has put a high premium on programming and caution. Yet when he last ran for president, Mr. Gore was known, fairly or unfairly, as the very symbol of the poll-driven candidate and was regularly portrayed as reinventing himself with every swing of public opinion.

(5) Mr. Gore would hardly be the first politician who has tried to undo a public perception, particularly one that, like this, is open to debate. But the very act of trying only invites Mr. Gore’s opponents to portray him as reinventing himself again.

Nagourney is certainly right on one point; in Campaign 2000, Gore was indeed “regularly portrayed as reinventing himself with every swing of public opinion.” But get this—Nagourney flatly says that Gore’s image as the “poll-driven candidate” may, in fact, be unfair! He also says that the familiar image is “one that is open to debate.” Amazing! During Campaign 2000, by contrast, Nagourney’s press corps struggled and strained to pin the “makeover” image on Gore. In this forum, we can’t review all the ways the corps pinned this tag on Gore. But for one small taste of the corps’ gruesome spinning, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/19/02 (“HOWLER HISTORY”). Your press corps engaged in egregious misconduct all through Campaign 2000. In Nagourney’s piece, he shows clear signs of an attempt to be more fair.

But the scribe still has a ways to go. For example, if this “reinvention” claim may be unfair and is open to debate, why does it form the basis of Nagourney’s first piece about his possible run? On that point, the scribe is a bit disingenuous—as many more scribes are going to be if Gore gets in the race. Nagourney can’t tell you What Scarborough Said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/20/02)—that the press corps was “brutal” to Gore last time out, aggressively ginning up attacks on his character. Republican pols are free to note that obvious fact, but Nagourney and his colleagues are not. And to the extent that they simply can’t tell you the truth, they will be involved in more spinning.

Why is Nagourney discussing reinvention? Light spinning starts in paragraph 5. According to Nagourney, Gore’s very act of trying to undo his public image—a public image that may be unfair—only invites “Gore’s opponents” to accuse him of more reinvention. But was it “Gore’s opponents” who pushed this theme the last time? No— “reinvention” was principally pushed by the Washington press corps itself! And as we’ve already seen this week, scripted hacks within the press corps are trotting this tired old turkey again. Nagourney, of course, by the rules of his guild, simply can’t tell you what happened last time. Nor can he hammer those “all-stars” at Fox. So he does what our journalists so often do. He implies that charges of “reinvention” will come from Gore’s rivals instead of from the press itself. But that wasn’t the problem in Campaign 2000—and it won’t be Gore’s real problem if he gets in this new race. See our note on Dan Balz, below.

We don’t mean to say that Gore’s rivals won’t push this theme. Sadly, Nagourney says that “reinvention” cries have already come from the Gephardt camp. But look at the deference Nagourney extends to these charges. He says that “perceptions of candidates…can be hard to shake.” Then this:

NAGOURNEY: In Mr. Gephardt’s camp, Mr. Elmendorf made that abundantly clear, pointing out two areas where Mr. Gore had shifted in his re-emergence. The first is on Iraq, where Mr. Gore, who was known as something of a hawk, has become a chief critic of President Bush’s policy. The other area is his coming out in favor of single-payer health care insurance, a concept that he aggressively derided the last time he ran for office.
Nagourney says that Gephardt’s camp is alleging two “shifts” by Gore. But does Nagourney think these charges make sense? For example, does Nagourney think that Candidate Bradley really proposed “single-payer” insurance? He clearly says so, in his own voice; Gore “aggressively derided” Bradley for the concept, he says. But during all of Campaign 2000, no reporter at the New York Times ever called Bradley’s plan “single-payer” (it wasn’t). Gephardt’s camp may be spinning that helpful embellishment—it makes their charge against Gore sound better—but why is Nagourney pretending it’s accurate? In Campaign 2000, your press corps simply hated “embellishment”—when reporters could pretend it was coming from Gore. Here, Nagourney flogs an embellished tale, driving the new charges forward.

Meanwhile, how about Gore’s other alleged “shift?” Gore “was known as something as a hawk,” we are told, but now he opposes Bush’s stance on Iraq. Do we need to explain how stupid this is as a “shirt in position?” If you vote to support one war, you have to vote to support all the others? Please. But many pundits seem eager to push this as a Gore “shift.” For example, Judy Woodruff—butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth—was touting this turkey last week.

Readers, the fate of Gore’s candidacy lies with the press. But by the rules of his self-serving guild, Nagourney is forbidden to say so. Trust us: Reporters will never tell you what happened last time, the way Joe Scarborough easily did. But what will Nagourney’s crowd do this time? Will they embellish the facts about Gore’s shift on health care? Will they pretend that Gore has flipped on Iraq? If they’re willing to backslide to that sort of spinning, then Gore won’t shed that “unfair” image. But the answer, dear friends, doesn’t lie in the stars. It lies in the Washington press corps.

Last time, the press corps invented a string of tall tales, almost surely deciding the race. A war is now on for the soul of that corps. Will Gore be allowed to run a campaign? That’s up to Adam Nagourney.

BAD NEWS BALZ: Reinvention, anyone? In this morning’s Post, Dan Balz sets a new world record, managing to work the troubling trope into a single sentence two times:

BALZ (pgh 4): Although a formal decision is still weeks away, the outlines of a Gore 2004 campaign are clear, and they represent a sharp departure from the route he followed in 2000. Not only would Gore try to reinvent himself by being bolder, looser and less programmed, he also would reinvent his campaign style by shifting from a top-down to a bottom-up approach.
Did you follow that? Gore isn’t just reinventing himself—he’s also reinventing his style! Sometimes you just have to put down your Post and indulge in a low, mordant chuckle.

You need to know what they did last time. How did “reinvention” get peddled? On Tuesday, an appalling example.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In real time, we were far too kind about Connolly’s cover story. We didn’t know, for example, that Connolly had already reported, five weeks earlier, that Bush was quite likely going to raise more money than Gore. On February 28, she had written that Bush would likely refuse federal matching funds, allowing him to raise unlimited money. “By one Bush adviser’s estimate, the governor would need to raise an additional $17 million [over Gore] if he chooses not to take matching funds,” she had written. But five weeks later, there was Gore on the Post mag’s cover with the big dollar sign on his chest—and there was Connolly’s lengthy article about the “staggering sums,” “unprecedented sums” and “dangerous amounts” which Gore was going to try to raise! In other sectors, there’s a word for this: “fraud.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/20/99, 4/21/99, 4/22/99, and 4/23/99. Remember: Connolly’s editors knew, when they published that piece, that Bush would be raising more money.

Meanwhile, we think you know how the spinning does spread. Five weeks later, Jill Abramson ripped off Connolly’s piece for the New York Times Sunday magazine! In other sectors, there’s a word for this: “plagiarism.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/3/99.