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FOER, FROM A DARK PLANET! Foer’s account of Campaign 2000 comes from the dark side of Neptune: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2005

FOER, FROM A FAR PLANET: Egad! We agree with Franklin Foer when he says that elements of the liberal web have begun to sound like the kooky-conosphere, especially in their “adolescent” critiques of the mainstream press corps. But Foer goes on to describe the way the mainstream press covered Campaign 2000—and he himself now seems to be reporting in from Neptune. According to Foer, here’s how the mainstream press reported that history-changing campaign:
FOER (12/19/05): For starters, there was the 2000 campaign, in which the press presented Bush as essentially the heir to Clintonian centrism, even though most of his policy prescriptions should have led reporters to a very different conclusion. The Bushies pulled off this legerdemain—and repeated the trick many times—by taking advantage of the news media's disinterested style, which obliges it to give a hearing to both sides of a debate, even if one side has uttered a total falsehood. My colleague Jonathan Chait has argued, "[The press is] evenhanded to a fault, presenting every side of an argument as equally valid, even if one side uses demonstrably false information and the other doesn't. Bush has exploited this tendency ruthlessly, most memorably in 2000, when he described his tax cut as consuming a mere quarter of the projected budget surplus.”
In our view, the mainstream press misbehaved grievously in its coverage of Campaign 2000. Its coverage of Bush’s tax cuts was part of the problem. But does Foer really think that this passage describes the press corps’ general approach? According to Foer, the press corps felt “obliged to give a hearing to both sides of a debate,” leading to soft treatment of Bush’s misstatements. Granted, Bush routinely got soft treatment. But was this same treatment extended to Gore? On Neptune, perhaps. Not on Earth.

For one example, consider the way the mainstream press corps handled the issue of Social Security. In May 2000, Bush formally proposed his “private accounts”—making arguments that would be left for dead five years later, when Bush was president. But did the mainstream press corps feel “obliged to give a hearing to both sides” of this debate? To the contrary. As we have discussed in detail, mainstream pundits heaped praise on Bush’s “bold leadership” in proposing these accounts—and savaged Gore for daring to oppose such a far-seeing plan. How absurd did the punditry get? Here was Tim Russert, with Joe Klein, showing how obliged he felt to give both sides a fair hearing:

KLEIN (5/6/00): You know, the Gore campaign has been pretty distressing in that—in that way. I haven't seen—aside from trade, where he will talk about free trade to labor audiences, I haven't seen him say anything difficult to his core constituencies. But, you know, one of the reasons why I [cover campaigns], why I've been doing it for 30 years, it isn't to tear them down or to watch them stumble, but it's for the moments when they act courageously and in, in an inspirational way...The—the concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he's kind of becoming a one-trick pony.

RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.

KLEIN: Attack. Attack.

Ah yes—“attack attack attack!” Al Gore was being nasty and negative! As we have shown (links below), this was the standard RNC line of the spring of 2000, and it was faithfully recited by various pundits, of the right and the mainstream. In this case, Russert and Klein were discussing the way Gore was “attack attack attacking” on Social Security. As they continued, how obliged did the gentlemen feel to present both sides of this debate? With apologies, we quote at some length:
RUSSERT (continuing directly): Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and [Gore] attacks, saying that is risky. The fact is, President Clinton proposed taking parts of the Social Security trust fund and putting them in the stock market in his State of the Union message just—just a year ago. [Note: This presentation was baldly misleading. Clinton had briefly proposed investment by the government, with attendant risks to be shared by all.] Yesterday, you had Pat Moynihan and—and Bob Kerrey and John McCain all coming out, saying, “Let's have a commission and this is an idea worth looking at.” Why, why—why does Gore just auto—almost knee-jerk attack, attack, attack?

KLEIN: Well, because it's—it's, you know, scaring people about Social Security. Medicare has worked for the Democrats since time immemorial. In this case, you know, it's really interesting, Gore is in a—you know, for someone who is so wedded to the information age, he really is being reactionary, I think, on—You know, the three big things government does domestically are old-age pensions, health insurance and education. And on all three of those areas, we have the potential this year for a really interesting debate about whether we move those programs from the industrial age, these bureaucratic, top-down, controlled programs, to much more information style—information age-style programs where you give people, like with Bush's Social Security idea. I guess it's actually Kerrey and Moynihan's Social Security idea that Bush has bought into where you give people some control over their future. I mean, this is the information age. People know a lot more, they demand a lot more interactivity, and I think that those three basic systems—education, parents are gonna demand a lot more choice; health insurance, I think that—that consumers are gonna demand choice; and pensions, same thing. And on all three of those—well, two out of the three, I'd say, Bush has—has taken a more progressive position, I believe, than Gore has.

Bush was being “more progressive.” And now, as they continued, these pillars of the mainstream press discussed “the facts” of the SS debate—facts which were simple, they both insisted. As you read, ask yourselves this: On what planet did the 2000 press corps feel “obliged to give a hearing to both sides of a debate?”
RUSSERT (continuing directly): But the role of media becomes critical here, Joe Klein. If— The facts are simple: When Social Security began, Franklin Roosevelt, genius, he—the life expectancy at that point was 63. He made eligibility for Social Security 65.

KLEIN: Right.

RUSSERT: It was a, was a very popular program. There were 45 workers for every retiree and life expectancy was exactly that age. Now we're approaching two workers for every retiree. Life expectancy is 78 going to 85. You're going to have 80 million people on Social Security and Medicare for about a fourth of their life, for three to 20 years. Everyone knows that, and yet when you present it to Al Gore, he'll say, “No problem. I'll take the surplus and it'll pay for it.” Even his own Secretary Treasury has written volumes of reports—trustees reports, will say, “No, it doesn't work that way.”

KLEIN: No, it doesn't.

RUSSERT: What is our job? Can we call time out and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Vice President, it doesn't add up?”

“The facts are simple,” Russert stupidly said. He then gave a highly selective recitation of those facts—and said that Gore’s facts didn’t “add up.” Which part of this resembles a world in which a mainstream press corps somehow feels “obliged to give a hearing to both sides of a debate,” even to the point where they are willing to cover up for a candidate’s lying? Which part resembles the world with Foer and Chait (and their career colleagues) just keep representing?

Simply put, this exchange does represent the way the press corps covered Campaign 2000. When Gore made perfectly accurate recitations—recitations which decisively won the day five years later—they were denounced for “not adding up.” When Bush made absurdly inaccurate statements—as Foer puts it, when he lied—the press corps pretended they didn’t notice. This is clearly not a case of a press corps feeling obliged to present both sides of a debate—so obliged that they won’t even tell you when someone’s statements are factually wrong. In fact, the press corps repeatedly said that facts were wrong. They repeatedly said that Gore’s facts were wrong—even when they plainly were not.

Yes, this exchange represents the way this press corps covered Campaign 2000. But to this day, young mainstream pundits feel obliged to tell you that something different occurred. Reporting from the dark side of Neptune, Foer (and Chait) describe a campaign that simply never took place on this planet. As usual, the reporting obscures what really happened in Campaign 2000—when the mainstream press conducted a “wilding” of Gore (Dan Kennedy), sending George Bush to the White House.

The wilding went on for twenty straight months. The outlines of it are perfectly clear. But career liberal writers won’t tell you what happened. The public is deceived in the process.

ALL SANG FROM ONE HYMNAL: The fakers and frauds all knew what to tell you. Russert/Klein’s amazing discussion continued; for more excerpts from their one-sided trashing, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/11/05. But then, everyone knew what the talking-points were. Al Gore was being too nasty and negative! With Gore, it was just “attack attack attack!” How scripted were the press corps’ magpies? In the spring of 2000, as Social Security came under discussion, all the pious fakers and frauds sang from one sweet hymnal:

The Beltway Boys, Fox News Channel, April 30, 2000:
MORT KONDRACKE (4/30/00): Look, the dynamic here is perfectly obvious. Gore is behind in all the polls, so he's doing what worked with Bill Bradley, attack attack attack, and, you know, and he's hoping that it'll work on George W. Bush. The difference is that George W. Bush is not going to take it forever. I mean, George W. knows how to counterpunch, and I predict soon that he'll start doing it.
FRED BARNES: Yes, he's not going to be the guy on the ropes just getting punched. No rope-a-dope for him. But look, Gore was attack attack attacking, and he's—in the beginning, and now he's been going down as a result of that attack attack attacking. He doesn't—I don't think he knows how to deal with Bush, who doesn't want to really get—engage him in a back-and-forth, wisely.

Hardball, MSNBC, May 5, 2000:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Norah, let’s start in talking about this amazing campaign. Who would have believed that George W. Bush would have looked so clean and so good right now after that bruising fight with John McCain? He’s up five points in a number of polls this week, and yet you see Al Gore picking away at him with these left jabs of his…It’s the same thing he did to Bill Bradley—attack, attack, attack.

Russert, CNBC, May 6, 2000:
KLEIN: The concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he’s kind of becoming a one-trick pony.
RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.
KLEIN: Attack. Attack.
RUSSERT: Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and he attacks, saying that is risky…Why, why—why does Gore just, almost knee-jerk, attack, attack, attack?

Inside Politics, CNN, May 17, 2000:
CHARLES COOK: For Governor Bush, it’s a chance to show sort of bold leadership…But at the same time, getting into that area is certainly a risky thing and it’s going to test all of George Bush’s abilities of persuasion to sell this, because Al Gore is very good at the attack, just look at what he did to Bill Bradley on health care…
BERNARD SHAW: What comes to mind, Stu?
STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, in general, he has been attacking for months now and there’s been a lot of criticism that he’s been overly negative. Once again, here, attack, attack.

Does this slobbering nonsense make you think, in any way, of a group which felt “obliged to give a hearing to both sides of a debate”—so obliged that they were willing to cover up for a candidate’s outright lying? As we’ve described in endless detail (links below), Bush’s presentation was endlessly praised; Gore’s presentation was trashed to the core. During Campaign 2000, the mainstream press covered up for lying when it was done by Candidate Bush. But to this day, gentle fellows like Foer pretend that they never have heard this.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Social Security was a major issue during Campaign 2000. And the press corps’ coverage was remarkably uniform. George Bush was a bold leader for proposing private accounts. And Al Gore? His facts didn’t add up! Al Gore was being nasty and negative. He was engaged in attack attack attack.

The coverage was remarkably uniform. Pundits of the left and right agreed that the coverage was favoring Bush. For unknown reasons, we discussed this topic in a four-part report starting on May 14, 2002 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/14/02). Read all four parts of this report. Ask yourself if any of this sounds like Foer’s description.