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HOW TO SPREAD RUMORS! Huckabee writes a classic textbook--and the Post chimes in: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2007

TOMORROW, OUR SERIES CONTINUES: Howard Kurtz does Brian Williams! Tomorrow, Part 3: No respect.

SPINNING BIO: You’re dying to know: How does John McCain dress? This morning, the Washington Post profiles its fourth “Front-Runner”—and Robin Givhan is sad to say that the solon simply will not “dress his age.” “John McCain dresses like Mr. Rogers,” she writes—and before she’s done, she also compares McCain to Captain Kangaroo, Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh. Since you asked us, no—humans can’t get dumber. Here is a key bit of wisdom:

GIVHAN (12/13/07): Privately, McCain very well may be sweet and fuzzy. But that is not the impression he gives in public. During a recent debate, his head looked as though it just might explode in anger during a brawl with Mitt Romney over waterboarding. Cranial eruptions and crew-neck sweaters don't go together.

But then too, “McCain has a dress-shirt problem compounding the sweater conundrum.”

Let us repeat a basic point: These beyond-inane presentations by Givhan are one part of her paper’s four-part report on each of the leading hopefuls. Each morning, we get a fashion analysis of one of the candidates. And nothing about his proposals!

This morning, we also call your attention to the Post’s biographical profile of McCain, penned by Michael Ruane. Please note: This isn’t biography—it’s a novel. Journalists have shaped McCain’s story this way many times, and they’ll do so many times again. (The boxed account of his divorce is especially cleaned up for public consumption.) This is a criticism of the Post, not of McCain, and none of this is dimly relevant to the choices voters must make. But beware! When journalists hand you a hopeful’s life story, most often they’re just spinning bio.

FRANKLY, COLLINS FLIPS: Joining her colleague Frank Rich, Gail Collins has also flipped on Mike Huckabee. This morning, she opens her column with standard disdain for those idiot voters—the ones supporting Huck. When will these idiots get it right? What could they see in Mike Huckabee?

COLLINS (12/13/07): Huckabee! Huckabee! The man of the hour! What is it that voters love so much about this guy? Is it a hitherto inchoate yearning for a president who knows less about international affairs than they do? Hope that a man who can lose 100 pounds could also get rid of the federal deficit?

Mike is soaring ahead in the early polls, in a surge to the front of the pack that suggests Republicans cannot come to grips with the idea that they are supposed to nominate either Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani for president. There has to be a way out! What about Huckabee? He has a good heart! True, his brain doesn't seem to have a single thought about foreign policy or know much about domestic policy, for that matter. But one well-functioning body part is better than nothing.

As always, Collins expresses disdain for two despised groups—the politicians and the public. (That is to say, for everyone who isn’t herself.) Sadly, she forgets to say that she herself was praising Huckabee’s manifest virtues only a few weeks ago:

COLLINS (10/25/07): Like Bill Clinton, Huckabee was born in a town called Hope and became a pretty good governor of a state that doesn't make it all that easy. (Plus, you have to love the fact that he lived for a while in a mobile home on the Arkansas Statehouse grounds.) He's extremely inclusive, defending minorities who are illegal immigrants as well as the ones registered to vote. He can be both funny and convincing on the stump.

In fairness, Collins also gave “the downside” that day. “On the downside, I think he'd be a terrible president,” she wrote. “He doesn't know beans about foreign affairs, he wants to replace the income tax with a national sales tax, and his positions on social issues are far to the right of the general populace.” But she focused on Huckabee’s massive decency—as displayed in the Wayne DuMond case! “Why do the leaders of the religious right keep sidling away from a Baptist minister whose greatest political sin seems to have been showing compassion to a prisoner who appeared to deserve it?” she tearfully asked. If we may paraphrase her remarks, Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo.

Back then, way back in late October, Huckabee had been a pretty good governor—in a tough situation. He was extremely inclusive, had a good sense of humor, and his one great sin was his massive compassion. But today, it all seems so different to Collins! “What is it that voters love so much about this guy?” she mockingly asks.

What might voters like about Huckabee? To state the obvious, some of those voters don’t share Collins views on those social issues. They may not agree with her take on Huckabee’s knowledge of domestic policy. (We’ll promise you this: He knows more about many such matters than Collins.) They may think that national sales tax is a good idea; it’s not like newspapers like the Times waste any time discussing it. Why wouldn’t they vote for the great decent man she herself praised only six weeks ago? But today, Collins forgets to mention that piece—forgets to explain why she’s flip-flopped.

No, this isn’t as absurd as Rich’s 48-hour cure, achieved in the wake of Sunday’s column (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/12/07). But today, Collins flips on Huckabee too. As is her wont, she ridicules the stupid rubes who see the gentleman just as she did, way back when—in October.

HOW TO SPREAD RUMORS: The Washington Post is still spreading rumors. Today, the papers pimps a rumor for Huck.

A bit of background: In the aftermath of the flap about the “Obama rumors,” it’s hard to believe that the Post would do something like this again. But in Michael Shear’s news report on yesterday’s debate, the Post shows us how to spread rumors:

SHEAR (12/13/07): Huckabee said he had apologized to Romney after the debate for having asked a reporter whether Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers. "I went to Mitt Romney and apologized to him, because I said, I would never try, ever, to try to somehow pick out some point of your faith and make it, you know, an issue, and I wouldn't," Huckabee told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Huckabee has been criticized for the comment, which was posted on the New York Times' Web site and will appear in the paper's magazine Sunday. Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said his candidate had accepted the apology.

Absolutely incredible. In this passage, Shear repeats the question about Jesus and Satan—the question Huckabee apologized for asking. He then quotes Huckabee calling this a “point of faith” for Romney. But is this a point of faith for Romney? Do Mormons believe what Huckabee said? Shear forgets to speak to that question. In doing so, he writes a textbook—a textbook called How To Spread Rumors.

For the record, Wolf Blitzer did much the same thing in the interview Shear cites. Here is the original Q-and-A about the governor’s “apology:”

BLITZER (12/12/07): All right. The New York Times Sunday magazine has a long profile of you, and one line has jumped out and is causing a lot of commotion right now.

When you asked this question to the interviewer, the reporter who wrote the story, you said this: "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" Now, as you know, Mormons say that's a canard, they don't believe that, that's been a canard spread by people who don't like Mormonism.

I want you to explain what you were doing by even raising that question.

HUCKABEE: Actually if you will talk to the reporter, because he was shocked that that was characterized out of an 8,100-word story, as we were, we thought, good heavens. We were having a conversation. It was over several hours, and the conversation was about religion, and he was trying to press me on my thoughts of Mitt Romney's religion.

And I said I don't want to go there. I don't know that much about it. I barely know enough about being a Baptist. And I really didn't know.

Well, he was telling me things about the Mormon faith, because he frankly is fairly well-schooled on comparative religions. And so as a part of that conversation, I asked the question, because I had heard that, and I asked it not to create something—I never thought it would make the story.

After the debate today I went to Mitt Romney and apologized to him, because I said, I would never try, ever, to try to somehow pick out some point of your faith and make it, you know, an issue, and I wouldn't. I have stayed away from talking about Mitt Romney's faith. And I told him face to face, I said, "I don't think your being a Mormon ought to make you more or less qualified for being a president." That has been my position.

To Blitzer’s credit, he did evaluate the matter which Huckabee raised: “Now, as you know, Mormons say that's a canard, they don't believe that.” But Huckabee went on to call it a “point of [Romney’s] faith,” and Blitzer didn’t challenge him or try to clarify further. (Fuller text below.) This morning, the “point of faith” characterization appears in the Post, without any attempt at evaluation. This shows us how a pol can throw out a rumor, then watch the rumor spread.

Yesterday, we saw many broadcasters do this same thing, principally on MSNBC. They first repeated what Huckabee had said, then reported that he’d apologized for saying it—without making any attempt to say if his statement was accurate. Mormons think x, y and z. It was repeated all over the air.

We’ve seen various accounts of Mormon belief on the point which Huckabee raised. But yesterday, Huckabee wrote a new textbook: How To Spread Rumors. Today, Shear became a co-author. (For fuller Huckabee-Blitzer exchange, see below.)

NOT FROM THE PARISH: Immediately after yesterday’s debate, Chris Matthews was back on one of his cuckoo’s nest themes: Will the public elect a guy with a funny (southern) name like “Huckabee?” Yes, he has raised this point before. Yesterday, it formed his first post-debate reaction. (Like her tribal mate, the late Mary McGrory was never slow to show her disdain for those people.)

We Irish! Sometimes Chris is so much like our sainted close relatives (back in the 1950s, of course) that fleeting Proustian moments occur. Of course, only Chris could be so comically dim: In a race where one major front-runner is named “Barack Obama,” Chris is wondering if the public will ever go for a guy with a weird name like “Mike.”

We Irish! Sometimes we could be a bit parochial—way back when, in the 1950s (and 60s). About eight of us still walk around that way. They’re all giant stars in the “press corps!”

FULLER EXCHANGE: Here’s the fuller exchange with Blitzer. Note Blitzer’s failure to clarify when Huckabee referred to the point he had raised as a “point of [Mormon] faith.” In this passage, you see a pol who is being exceptionally slick:

BLITZER (12/12/07): All right. The New York Times Sunday magazine has a long profile of you, and one line has jumped out and is causing a lot of commotion right now.

When you asked this question to the interviewer, the reporter who wrote the story, you said this: "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" Now, as you know, Mormons say that's a canard, they don't believe that, that's been a canard spread by people who don't like Mormonism.

I want you to explain what you were doing by even raising that question.

HUCKABEE: Actually if you will talk to the reporter, because he was shocked that that was characterized out of an 8,100-word story, as we were, we thought, good heavens. We were having a conversation. It was over several hours, and the conversation was about religion, and he was trying to press me on my thoughts of Mitt Romney's religion.

And I said I don't want to go there. I don't know that much about it. I barely know enough about being a Baptist. And I really didn't know.

Well, he was telling me things about the Mormon faith, because he frankly is fairly well-schooled on comparative religions. And so as a part of that conversation, I asked the question, because I had heard that, and I asked it not to create something—I never thought it would make the story.

After the debate today I went to Mitt Romney and apologized to him, because I said, I would never try, ever, to try to somehow pick out some point of your faith and make it, you know, an issue, and I wouldn't. I have stayed away from talking about Mitt Romney's faith. And I told him face to face, I said, "I don't think your being a Mormon ought to make you more or less qualified for being a president." That has been my position. Wolf, everybody I have talked to just about wants me to come out and say something about Mitt Romney's faith. I have not taken the bait, but if I don't say something, they say that my avoiding it is really an underlying statement. If I do say anything, then I'm attacking him.

So I'm not sure how to deal with that, but I certainly am not in any way getting into that. And as I said to him, I say to you, I don't think his particular religion is a factor in whether or not people should vote for him or against him.

I would like to think that my being a Baptist isn't a factor in people voting for or against me, although in Arkansas, when people say, “Are the Baptists active in your campaign?” I always say they're all active, half for me and half of them against me, but it certainly didn't mean that they automatically voted for me.

BLITZER: So how did he react, Mitt Romney, when you went up to him and you said—you apologized, I guess, for that one quote?

HUCKABEE: Well, he was gracious. You know, I hope he knows it was sincere. But, you know, I'm trying to stay away from everything I can say. I'm being much more cautious now, because everything is being parsed.

Blitzer let Huck slip one in. This morning, the Post made things worse.