Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

WHY GOOD GUYS SLEPT (PART 3)! When pundits describe the 2000 race, there’s something they know to leave out:


THIS MORNING’S HIGHLIGHT FROM FOX & FRIENDS: Trust us—we watched for roughly three minutes to get this. In his daily appearance, talk host Mancow was briefed on a recent news report. Hillary Clinton and Rush Limbaugh had chatted pleasantly at a wedding. “Would you be just as kind as Rush?” Brian Kilmeade asked his friend:

MANCOW: You know what, let me tell you something. First of all, did Hillary get to dance with the bride? [GROUP LAUGHTER]

KILMEADE: I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s the next quote we’ll see in the New York Times.

MANCOW: Oh! Oh! Donna Shalala, Janet Reno. Ask Dick Morris some time about, ask Dick Morris—

E. D. HILL: No, let’s go on.

MANCOW: Ask him about Lesbian Night at the White House—

HILL: Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!

MANCOW: No, ask him! Ask Dick Morris, he’s a friend of you guys.

HILL: It’s breakfast and that’s just nasty. Go on.

The friends reported, and we decided. Do you see why they don’t provide transcripts?

READ EACH EXCITING INSTALLMENT: This week, we offer a four-part series, “Why Good Guys Slept,” discussing the failure of liberal pundits to discuss the press coverage of Candidate Gore. Democrats need to understand this important part of the last election. Read each exciting installment:

Why Good Guys Slept, Part 1: Liberal pundits agree—THE HOWLER was right. But almost nothing was said in real time.

Why Good Guys Slept, Part 2:
The press corps booed and jeered at Gore. Your pundits corps knew not to tell you.
WHY GOOD GUYS SLEPT (PART 3): When Gore was booed and jeered by the press corps, the press corps knew enough not to tell you (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/18/02). Four weeks after that Dartmouth debacle, Howard Kurtz gathered a panel of reporters on Reliable Sources; he asked them why Gore was getting such negative coverage and Bradley was being treated so favorably. Co-host Bernard Kalb directly asked: Was it “a pro-Bradley press?” And needless to say, the panel of pundits was completely kerflubbled by the puzzling question. “I don’t know if it’s a pro-Bradley media,” Melinda Henneberger said, scratching her head as reporters do when asked about their cohort’s own conduct. “I think many reporters are charmed by his history as a basketball hero,” she added. Other innocuous explanations were offered. But no one mentioned that, just four weeks before, the press corps booed and jeered Gore for an hour as he debated Bradley. Remember: Your press corps never tells you the truth about its own behavior and attitudes. Simply put, there is no professional sector so reflexively disingenuous as the men and women who make up your press.

In fact, there were a lot of things you weren’t ever told as the twenty-month War Against Gore rumbled on. On Hardball, Joe Scarborough finally had to tell you. Scarborough is a former Florida congressman—a Republican. But somehow, it finally fell to Joe to tell viewers what had gone on:

SCARBOROUGH (11/18/02): I think, in the 2000 election, I think [the media] were 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.
The media “were fairly brutal to Gore.” Indeed, this was not unlike the account which Josh Marshall offered in August:
MARSHALL (8/10/02): I think deep down most reporters just have contempt for Al Gore. I don’t even think it’s dislike. It’s more like a disdain and contempt…And this was, you know, a year-and-a-half before the election, I think you could say this. This wasn’t something that happened because he ran a bad campaign. If he did, it was something that predated it.
Scarborough said that the press had been brutal. And Marshall said their “disdain and contempt” could be seen by May 1999.

The odd thing is, no one remembered to say this in 1999, when saying it would have been relevant. Pundits sat on two Kurtz panels and pretended to be completely puzzled by the negative coverage of Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/17/02). And other pundits said next to nothing about the battering Gore was taking. In particular, it wasn’t discussed in The New Republic; even the magazine known to luuvvv Gore failed to give readers a clue.

For example, when Gore began campaigning in March 1999, he was instantly hit with a string of attacks—attacks which began at the RNC and then became hard press corps dogma (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/3/02). One such attack was the “farm chores” flap—a simple, unvarnished press hoax. Gore’s “farm chores” remarks were perfectly accurate; the press corps was full of reporters who knew it. But Gore was called “deeply dishonest” and “delusional” for the next three months; no pundit challenged the treatment. And The New Republic was quiet too. Its high-minded savants typed policy tales—and absent-mindedly failed to tell readers about the trashing being handed to Gore.

But then, major pundits from The New Republic still act like this slander campaign didn’t happen. Consider Michelle Cottle on the December 5 Hardball. The pundit was asked why certain Dems didn’t want Gore in 04:

COTTLE: Well, I think people are burned. I mean he had this great situation handed to him. The economy was great, the Clinton years, except for a few unfortunate personal scandals, were fine and Gore blew it. I mean, he was a terrible candidate and he really ticked off the kind of New Democrats with that whole people versus the powerful populist rhetoric.
Flawlessly, Cottle recited the Official Press Corps Account—the Standard Story that has the effect of pretending that the “brutal” press coverage never happened. By the way, enjoy a good laugh at Cottle’s account of the second impeachment in American history. To help Cottle say that Gore had it great, the second impeachment in American history becomes “a few unfortunate personal scandals.” “The Clinton years were fine,” Cottle said.

Cottle wished the storm clouds away. But ever since Campaign 2000 ended, your pundits have recited this Official Press Tale. Once again they’ve been scratching their heads, this time over the puzzling matter of How Al Gore Could Have Blown It. The fact that they trashed Gore from beginning to end is, of course, never mentioned. Back in 1999, pundits weren’t about to tell Howard Kurtz that they had jeered Gore at that first Dem debate. Now, they don’t intend to tell you about their “brutal” performance. Only Joe Scarborough mentions what happened! On the November 17 Chris Matthews Show, Cottle rattled off the Standard Press Tale again:

COTTLE: You know, [Gore] really does think that this time around he can be kind of a looser, friendlier, happier guy. But, you know, he said he could have been a better candidate—could he have been a worse candidate? I mean, this guy was so terrible on the trail. The Democrats do not want him back out there…They’re just dreading it.
“It’s just another reinvention,” Andrea Mitchell immediately said, reciting another Required Spin-Point.

Could Gore have been a worse candidate? The Standard Question is at least a bit odd. Running in the aftermath of a few unfortunate personal scandals which had the press in a thigh-rubbing frenzy, Gore began the campaign twenty points behind, and, despite running the worst campaign which Cottle can imagine, ended up winning the popular vote! Remember: In the Official Press Story, Gore—who gained twenty points in the polls—ran a worse campaign than Bush, who lost them! And this all occurred despite the “brutal” treatment limned by Scarborough, and despite the “disdain and contempt” which Marshall cited. But Cottle isn’t the only scribe handing you the Official Tale, from which the press corps’ conduct is airbrushed. You’ve heard it recited a hundred times. It pleases the press for an obvious reason—it takes their misconduct out of the stew. To hear them tell it, they didn’t boo and jeer Gore in that hall, and they didn’t engage in the “harsh coverage and punditry” which Kurtz questioned, either. Why did Gore lose? Because he was a terrible candidate, not because the press corps showed their “disdain and contempt” for his candidacy.

Indeed, the Standard Press Story has become so official, even Josh Marshall has been telling it. On the August 10 Reliable Sources, he described the “disdain and contempt” aimed at Gore. But a few days later, a new piece appeared in the Washington Monthly. The article started like this:

MARSHALL (9/02): Let’s be honest. As upset as you may have been in January 2001 that George W. Bush was going to be president, you had to admit he had a pretty impressive team. They had beaten a sitting vice president with seemingly every advantage; they outmuscled and outmaneuvered the Gore camp during the Florida recount; and despite the abbreviated transition, they quickly and smoothly assembled a seasoned White House staff.
“Let’s be honest,” Marshall began—and then he told the Standard Story, saying that Gore ran “with seemingly every advantage!” That “disdain and contempt” had been airbrushed away. Nor had Marshall remembered the corps’ D&C when he limned the campaign for Salon:
MARSHALL (4/11/02): When Al Gore kicked off his presidential campaign in 1999, he enjoyed near-unanimous support from his own party, including the Democrats’ chief officeholders, political operatives and the most deep-pocketed fundraisers. The only problem appeared to be the voters, who didn’t seem to have particularly strong feelings about Gore one way or another.
Again, the Standard Story. One doesn’t want to land too hard on Josh, whose policy work is quite superior; the Standard Press Story is so much in the air that pundits can rattle it off as they sleep. But it’s odd, ain’t it? Even liberal pundits who know what happened seem to prefer to pretend that they don’t. Why is that? Why is it that Scarborough speaks so frankly, but Cottle and Marshall don’t seem to?

Tomorrow: Why is that? (Our grand finale.)

THE DEBRA SAUNDERS OF THE EAST: Well, maybe that’s a bit off-point; Michael Kelly is a cat unto himself. But his Wednesday column on liberal bias is “wack” even by Kelly standards. According to Kelly, liberal bias is with us still, despite recent claims by Gore/Daschle/Clinton. “In 17 years of news content analysis, especially of network evening news broadcasts, [Robert] Lichter’s Center for Media and Public Affairs has consistently found evidence of liberal bias,” Kelly claims, “and this has not changed in the past few years.” But then Kelly gives “[s]ome recent findings from content analyses of the nightly network newscasts”—and the evidence doesn’t support his claim in any way, shape or form. Why on earth does the Washington Post keep putting such work into print?

Do Lichter’s studies show “liberal bias…in the past few years?” Simply put, the claim is fiction. Kelly cites data from four recent studies. But three of the studies don’t even begin to support his much-ballyhooed thesis. Here is Kelly’s first example, concerning the 2000 White House race:

KELLY: In the 2000 presidential election, both candidates received mostly negative press, and largely to the same degree: George W. Bush received only 37 percent positive coverage; Al Gore, only 40 percent.
More on that study a bit later. Here is Kelly’s second example, concerning Bush and Clinton’s first 100 days (he quotes a Lichter study):
KELLY: “Only 43 percent of all on-air evaluations of George W. Bush were favorable” in Bush’s first 100 days in office (compared with a similarly negative 40 percent for Clinton in his first 100).
According to these data, Bush got slightly better coverage than Clinton during his first 100 days in office. And Gore got slightly better coverage than Bush during the 2000 campaign. In each case, the numbers are so close that it would be absurd to claim a significant difference; Kelly himself says that Bush and Clinton got “similarly negative” coverage. So how are these studies supposed to show continuing “liberal bias?” We leave that to the reader’s imagination—the only organ equipped to interpret Kelly’s work. And believe it or not, here’s example 3. Try to believe that he wrote it:
KELLY: Bush did get a terrific bounce from the rallying effect of Sept. 11. From that day through Nov. 19, 2001, Bush “received the most positive coverage ever measured for a president over an extended period of time”—64 percent positive to 36 percent negative. But Bush’s high of 77 percent positive that September was down to 59 percent within two months.
Only in the world of Kelly! Only there is 59 percent positive coverage for Bush a sign of continuing liberal bias! Only there does “the most positive coverage ever measured for a president” seem to show that the press won’t play fair.

But this, of course, is vintage Kelly—ballyhooed evidence which in no way supports the claim being loudly brayed. Can anyone answer the obvious question: Why in the world does the Washington Post keep putting such work into print? Regarding this latest column, were editors really unable to see the ludicrous nature of the evidence? Or is this work in the Post for political correctness, as a servile bow to conservative power—put there so the Post can defend itself against claims of “liberal bias?” Whatever the answer, we’ve long told you this: Your press corps is fundamentally lacking in purpose. They don’t seem to care about their work. It would be odd to see a high school paper put work so inept into print.

Meanwhile, a few remarks about the CMPA study on Campaign 2000. The study only covers evening network news broadcasts—one of the most pared-down parts of American news—and it only covers the period from 9/4/00 to 11/7/00. This includes the single period in the twenty-month race when the press corps clearly turned on Bush—the (roughly) three-week period after Gore jumped ahead in the polls in the aftermath of the Democratic Convention. This was the period of the subliminal RATS ad and the major-league asshole—the single period in the two-year campaign when Gore got better treatment than Bush.

At other points, the coverage was different. For example, Lichter’s study of the primary season shows Gore getting substantially worse coverage. According to the study, which Kelly ignored, the primaries broke down like this:

Bush: 53 percent positive coverage
Gore: 40 percent positive coverage
Lichter’s studies can only provide a crude measure. But those numbers tend to reflect a basic fact. Except for that three-week period through mid-September, Bush got better coverage than Gore at every point in the twenty-month race. (In June 1999, for example, Paul Gigot called Bush’s coverage “adoring.”) And remember: Lichter’s studies only involve nightly newscasts by the three nets—a small slice of the media pie. Another Lichter study shows that election coverage on these broadcasts fell almost 40 percent as compared to the ’92 race.

More tomorrow on another study of the 2000 coverage—a study which included newspaper and magazine stories and cable broadcasts. Like Lichter’s reports, this study was a serious attempt to examine the coverage of Campaign 2000. By contrast, Kelly provides the usual clowning. Do Americans deserve a serious discourse? Why in the world do Kelly’s editors keep putting his work into print?