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9 February 2000

Our current howler (part IV): Motor mouth

Synopsis: When Jack Kemp encountered some engine trouble, we blamed the whole thing on the press.

Commentary by Jack Kemp
The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News Channel, 2/2/00

The Guff Stops Here
David Broder, The Washington Post, 1/28/00

Commentary by Tim Russert, John McCain
Meet the Press, NBC, 1/30/00

Rebel flags in the McCain camp
Jim Drinkard, USA Today, 2/8/00

How many distortions about Vile Gore has the press corps somehow put up with? One old chestnut went on display when Jack Kemp did The Factor last week. We've long admired Kemp because he's refused to engage in modern personality politics; he's always said it's about the ideas, and he's argued his ideas all the way. This night, Kemp took a different approach. Here was his take on Gore's character:

KEMP: It's starting to come out via Bill Bradley, who began to identify the exaggerations, the fabrications, the disingenuousness of Al Gore. And it's coming out, and it's going to be big-time.

Need proof? Kemp said Michael Kelly had written about this, which brought the analysts right out of their chairs (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/8/00). According to Kemp, Gore is "less than candid," "strays from the truth," and "prevaricates," among other known qualities. No examples were given, but the conversation moved on to this account of Gore-as-economist:

KEMP: He's ideologically, organically left of Clinton, and he's a Malthusian—in other words, he does not believe in growth...Al Gore said the other day he wants to eliminate the internal combustion engine. Now let me ask you—we've got 162 million internal combustion engines on the earth. Do we want 162 million horse-drawn carriages?

O'REILLY: Gore just says stuff. Do you really believe that he's a died-in-the-wool liberal?

KEMP: I believe he's a died-in-the-wool greenie...

Kemp's story about internal combustion was straight from a long-standing RNC playbook—another enjoyable tale about Gore that the press corps has winked at for years. In fact, it was eight years ago, in Earth in the Balance, when Gore said we should be able to phase out the IC engine—but it was clear that he envisioned replacing the IC with advanced technology, not with hay and horse-power. But it's not enough that Kemp didn't know what Gore had said in his best-selling book—there was something else that Kemp didn't know (he thoroughly misinformed Factor viewers). On January 5, 1998—more than two years ago—Rebecca Blumenstein filed a page-one, lead story in the Journal. Direct from the floor of the Detroit auto show, the article started like this:

BLUMENSTEIN (paragraph 1): Time is starting to run out for the internal combustion engine...[A]uto-makers from Tokyo to Stuttgart to Detroit have reached a surprising consensus on an idea deemed heretical not long ago. A fundamental shift in engine technology is needed.

Huh! Meanwhile, in a page-one lead story in the same day's New York Times, Keith Bradsher quoted a well-known Malthusian. It was Jack Smith, General Motors CEO:

BRADSHER: "No car company will be able to thrive in the 21st century if it relies solely on the internal combustion engine," said John F. Smith, Jr., GM's chairman and chief executive, adding that the company was stepping up its research spending...

Blumenstein had spoken with the GM head too:

BLUMENSTEIN: [Smith] predicted a "slow phase-off" of the internal combustion engine in 20 to 30 years...Any auto-maker that doesn't do so risks being left in the dust.

In short, Kemp wasn't just ignorant of what Gore had said. He also was clueless about the state of the industry—didn't know that every world car company now agrees that internal combustion is on the way out. And why do TV viewers keep hearing spin that says something different and ridicules Gore? Because this has been treasured RNC lore since Earth in the Balance first appeared! Crackpot Jim Nicholson and his gang of dissemblers are constantly faxing out tales of Crazy Gore, and the notion that Gore has weird thoughts about cars has long been an RNC staple. And what do they rely on, when they send out these tales—tales which totally misinform voters? They rely on the hapless celebrity press corps—on its inability to establish simple facts! They know that no one in the press corps will ever stand up and correct their treasured howlers. Viewers hear that Gore is a nut on internal combustion. That the issue is settled—and that Gore was right—is something scribes know not to say.

The fact that this silly story is still going strong—two years after these page-one lead stories—is our reply to Al Hunt's belief that the press is upset by distortions. There is absolutely no sign on earth that the press corps holds any such values. The same sorry bunch that spins Gore-is-a-liar-because-of-Love-Story has also played along with Gore-is-a-nut-because-of-internal-combustion, and they also got three good solid months out of Gore-never-spent-a-day-on-the-farm. Vast numbers of them knew that was false (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/8/00). They have recently favored Gore-is-a-demagogue-on-the-Bradley-health-plan—though they tend not to waste our time with examples. Here, once again, was David Broder, with a story he does seem to enjoy:

BRODER: If [John McCain's] putdown [of Alan Keyes] was overdue, so was Bill Bradley's finally reacting with anger to the campaign Vice President Gore has been running against him. Gore has hammered relentlessly at the New Jersey senator's health care plan, suggesting many times that Bradley would end Medicaid and endanger Medicare, placing millions of elderly and needy—especially minorities—at risk...After weeks of protesting feebly against these distortions, Bradley, in the Wednesday debate, finally put the question into the right context: "If you're running a campaign that says untrue things, I wonder if you can be a president who gets people's trust."

Pathetic. Gore hasn't suggested that Bradley's plan would end Medicaid; he has said that it would, because that's what it says. And he has said over and over-starting more than three months ago—that Bradley's replacement for Medicaid is inadequate. Broder makes no effort to refute this assertion—makes no effort whatever to establish what's true. He merely does what the press corps does best—he picks a team, and starts yelling "distortion." (Note on Medicare: Bradley's plan doesn't provide extra funding for Medicare. Gore's and McCain's plans both do. Broder doesn't make the slightest effort to examine the merits of that either.)

Let us make one point about this—we don't believe, not for a minute, that Kemp was deliberately misstating on combustion. And yes, we also have total confidence in Kemp's free-thinking host, Bill O'Reilly. But how can it be? How can it be that a man as accomplished as Sec. Kemp doesn't know the facts about this topic? It's largely because of Al Hunt's hapless press corps, the one that's so upset by distortions. Surely, many individual pundits don't know the facts on the future status of internal combustion. But many pundits know perfectly well, and they don't so much as utter a peep when they hear silly RNC spin. Why is someone like Kemp misinformed? Because Nicholson has run a disinformation campaign—and Washington pundits, ears to the ground, have never contradicted his dissembling.

Sorry, readers—we don't believe for a minute that the pundits are crying about the Gore campaign's horrid distortions. As a group, they're quick to grab a distortion and run—when it serves a prevailing press notion.


Tomorrow: Finally—we take a look at those nursing home standards! A final look at the way the press corps determines what's actually true.

Visit our incomparable archives: Washington journalists read THE DAILY HOWLER, and we have long itemized Nicholson's transmission problems. For past reporting on IC dissembling, see THE DAILY HOWLER 3/24/99, 4/29/99, 5/24/99, 7/2/99.

Smile-a-while! Who's on first: We couldn't help shaking our head in wonder as we watched John McCain on 1/30 Meet the Press. It was just two days before Granite State voting, but the straight talk from McCain wouldn't stop. Tim Russert asked about a TV ad the maverick outsider straight-shooter was running. It was refreshing to see just how simple it is when hopefuls don't dodge, weave or spin:

TAPE OF MCCAIN COMMERCIAL: There's only one man who knows the military and understands the world. John McCain.

RUSSERT: "Only one man"..."Only one man" who knows the military or understands the world.

MCCAIN: Uh-huh.

RUSSERT: That suggests nobody else running for president knows the military or understands the world.

That was what we almost thought, too. Until Mr. Straight began shooting:

MCCAIN: As I say, I believe that George Bush is a fine man and a good man. I believe that I am fully prepared. And that's the message that I'm trying to give in New Hampshire and around the country, and I'm convinced that that is the case, otherwise I wouldn't be running.

RUSSERT: But you're saying that George W. Bush does not know the military or understand the world.

MCCAIN: No, I'm not saying that.

RUSSERT: Well, you say "only one man."

MCCAIN: Well, there is only one man that is fully prepared. I am fully prepared. If I wasn't more prepared, then I wouldn't be running for president.

For some reason, Russert was still confused. He asked for a clarification:

RUSSERT: Well then, why run the ad saying you're the only man?

MCCAIN: Because I think that it's a great ad. I think it's a great message. I think it's the whole theme—primarily the theme of the campaign, that these are all good people who are running, but I believe that I'm the person that can lead the country in this new millennium.

RUSSERT: And knows the military and understands the world.

MCCAIN: Yes, sir.

RUSSERT: And he doesn't?

MCCAIN: No. No, I believe that he does know that. But the fact is that I believe that I'm the most prepared.

We certainly think that John McCain is fully prepared to be president. But we also think the celebrity press can be excessive about McCain's candor. McCain has done a next-day 180 on the confederate flag; has done instant 180s at least twice on abortion; and when he said he had known that an army colleague was gay because of the colleague's manner, he then showed up the very next day and said he actually knew the man was gay because the man had later said so. His descriptions of his tax plan make absolutely no sense, and he ran a baldly false ad about the Bush budget plan. But he rides the boys around on the bus, and he tells them jokes about his stripper ex-girl friends. According to widely published reports, he frequently says he likes talking to scribes because the scribes are just so goddamn smart.

By the way, we couldn't help noting this intriguing point about McCain's controversial South Carolina adviser, Richard Quinn:

DRINKARD: [Quinn] publishes a quarterly magazine, Southern Partisan, that celebrates Southern history and Civil War heritage. McCain pays Quinn $20,000 a month for advice...

He does? Remember when the press corps learned that Gore was paying Naomi Wolf $15,000 a month? ($15,000 a month is one-quarter less than $20,000.) The celebrity pundits simply screamed about Gore's crazed, spendthrift ways. You know what we normally say about the old "double standard:" it's the easiest claim on earth to make, and the hardest claim on earth to prove. But the parallel here is rather direct. Let's see if the gang gets upset.