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16 February 2000

Our current howler (part III): Nose job

Synopsis: Standards are low for calling certain folks liars. Matt Rees gives a current example.

Gore's Nose Grows
Matthew Rees, The Weekly Standard, 2/14/00

Bradley Attacks Gore's Environmental Record
Mike Allen and Charles Babington, The Washington Post, 2/15/00

Gore having trouble with the truth
Walter Shapiro, USA Today, 1/31/00

Stretching the Fabric
Margaret Carlson, Time, 2/14/00

Do attacks on disfavored hopefuls have to make any sense? Not in the Weekly Standard. This week, Matthew Rees pens a lead piece about what a big liar Gore is. (Title: "Gore's Nose Grows.") It's a fun, stock piece that many scribes are now writing; in Margaret Carlson's 2/14 version, she's still promoting the Love Story fable! But our analysts really came out of their chairs when they got to this point reading Rees:

REES: This mindset also seems to be what's driving Gore to misrepresent recklessly Bradley's ambitious health care proposal. Regardless of one's opinion of the proposal, it is contemptible race-baiting for Gore to tar it as insensitive to the needs of blacks and Hispanics. What's more, Gore huffs that Bradley's proposal "wipes out" and "dismantles" Medicaid, while only occasionally mentioning that Bradley wants to provide the poor with refundable tax credits to pay for their health care.

Rees here makes a familiar claim—Gore has distorted Bradley's health plan. And he piggy-backs onto current spin—Gore has engaged in race-baiting. It makes an exciting, familiar charge, although Rees doesn't address what Gore has actually said. Gore has said that Bradley's plan would reduce health care for many low-income blacks and Hispanics. Is that true? Like the rest of the celebrity press corps, Rees is too lazy to 'splain it.

But our analysts really came out of their chairs reading the second part of this passage. Rees offers a version of a familiar charge—according to Rees, Gore likes to say Bradley would eliminate Medicaid, while "only occasionally" mentioning Bradley's replacement proposal. How familiar has this claim become? Yesterday, even Mike Allen, once our great hope, recited it right in the Post. In San Francisco, Gore had said that Bradley's Medicaid plan would present significant problems for Medicaid recipients with AIDS. (Fifty percent of AIDS victims are on Medicaid, Gore said.) In the course of discussing Gore's remarks, Allen and Charles Babington wrote this:

ALLEN AND BABINGTON: The remarks fit the template of Gore's assertion earlier in the campaign that Bradley's plan would disproportionately hurt African American and Hispanic people. At the time, he criticized Bradley's intention to eliminate Medicaid, but did not mention that Bradley plans to replace it with something he considers better.

Gore didn't "mention" that Bradley would replace it with something that Bradley considers better! Imagine! In the minds of the increasingly daft Manners Police, Gore should promote Bradley's plan! When Kennedy slammed Nixon on Quemoy and Matsu, did he mention that Dick thought his views were the best? As we've told you before—when the pundits agree they'll all tell the same tale, they only compete to see who among them can tell it in the silliest fashion.

Rees and Allen seem to agree on a familiar proposition. Gore has been saying that Bradley eliminates Medicaid, but doesn't tell about Bradley's replacement plan. (Neither writer quotes a Gore statement, of course, or names a specific time and place when Gore actually did this.) But do character attacks have to make any sense? Apparently not, if they're aimed at Vile Gore. In fact, Bradley's Medicaid replacement has been Gore's leading sound-bite since some time in early November. Far from "occasionally mentioning" Bradley's proposal, Gore mentions it every chance that he gets! Example? Both writers cited Gore remarks about blacks and Hispanics. On January 17, Gore and Bradley appeared at the Democratic "black-brown forum" in Des Moines. After Bradley explicitly said that Gore's comments did not constitute "race-baiting," Gore began his own presentation:

GORE: I appreciate the support of Senator Ted Kennedy, Mr. Health Care in the Senate, in endorsing the health care plan I have recommended as the best way to get to universal health insurance by providing affordable high-quality health care for every child in America. One way not to get there is by eliminating Medicaid and providing an inadequate $150-a-month voucher in its place...

Gore "mentioned" Bradley's replacement plan as soon as he said the word "Medicaid." But this has been the norm—repeated again and again—all throughout the Gore-Bradley debates, excluding only the first debate (10/27) where Gore focussed on the overall cost of the Bradley plan and Bradley's lack of new Medicare funding. Is Gore's assessment of Bradley's proposal on target? Here at THE HOWLER, we don't have a clue, because neither the Weekly Standard nor the Post has made any effort at all to find out. You can scour the work of Allen and Rees looking for substantive analysis of this. Like their colleagues in the celebrity press, they have made no effort to fully examine the four-month debate between Bradley and Gore. That stops neither one from making the claims against Gore that we have quoted above.

In fact, the standards for calling someone a "liar" have fallen quite low—if the hopeful is out of press favor. Take a January 31 column by our analysts' beloved Uncle Walter (Shapiro). The column was headlined "Gore having trouble with the truth," and in it Shapiro referred to Gore's "unabashed and unashamed mendacity" and his "relentless willingness to prevaricate," and he said that Gore is "stretching truth as if he were competing in a taffy pull." Pretty tough stuff, by any standard. But here is UW's first example:

SHAPIRO: The vice-president again savaged Bradley's health-care plan...because it would fold Medicaid into a new system. (The ill-fated 1994 Clinton health-care plan also proposed eliminating Medicaid.)...

The claim that Gore attacks Bradley for doing what the Clinton plan did has been made time and again. But Gore made the (obvious) point at the 12/19/99 Meet the Press set-to—he has never criticized eliminating Medicaid per se, if the replacement plan is better. Gore says that Bradley's plan isn't. Uncle Walt's second point was no stronger:

SHAPIRO (continuing directly): But then Gore claimed, "If the Republicans had proposed such a plan—if Newt Gingrich had proposed such a plan—every Democrat in America would stand fast against it."

Not so fast, Mr. Vice President. How can you ridicule Bradley for his risky, left-wing health-care scheme and also claim that he is an ideological soul mate of Newt Gingrich? A candidate's words, even in the closing hours of a campaign are supposed to have some nebulous connection to reality.

How can Gore make those two claims (which are highly paraphrased in this presentation)? It's easy. Gore has said that Bradley's expansive plan, which covers many more people than just Medicaid recipients, costs too much—spends all of the projected surplus. He says Bradley's Medicaid component—only one part of the plan—would cut back coverage for current recipients. Is Gore right in those claims? We don't have a clue—but they aren't in any way contradictory. Shapiro ties extremely strong language—a harsh character attack—to specific examples that simply don't measure up.

Our analysts love their Uncle Walter, and you know what we always tell them here—when even the Sagacious One slides into some sort of an error, it's really all over the press corps. But Rees' claim—that Gore only "occasionally mentions" Bradley's replacement for Medicaid—is an outstanding example of how easy it's gotten to tell readers that Gore's a big liar. Gore always mentions Bradley's replacement plan; it's been Talking Point One for more than three months. Rees tells readers exactly the opposite. We can't help wondering—just whose nose has grown?


Tomorrow! Revisiting howler history! Do notmiss! Fiery x-rated language! When the Weekly Standard calls Gore a liar, we always say, "Yo! Look who's talking!"

Friday: Valentine's Week has come to an end. So has one scribe's love for Bush.

Fabric-ations: Magnanimous Margaret Carlson says in her piece about Gore, "Unlike Bill Bradley, I'm not prepared to call the man dishonest." She ought to tell her headline writer—and she ought to try reading her own work. Her 2/14 column was headlined, "Stretching the Fabric," and right before the claim just quoted, Carlson somehow wrote this:

CARLSON: Since Gore linked up with that Clinton fellow, labeled "an unusually good liar" by Senator Bob Kerrey, the Veep's grip on reality has, small we say, loosened. You can see the wheels turning. Sure, honesty is the best policy. What's the second best policy?

Margaret! Yo! Listen up! You just called him dishonest!! But get a load of Carlson's examples:

CARLSON (continuing directly): He saw the potential of the Internet early, but invent it? He and Tipper the models for Love Story? A bit of a stretch. And even before signing up with Clinton, he could cut a corner. He did volunteer to go to Vietnam—admirable, since most sons of privilege got out of it—and he did get close to the action. But he went there as an army reporter, not the role suggested by the photo of the gun-toting Gore pictured in the 1988 campaign literature.

Twelve years ago, a photo "suggested" something to Carlson, which she now uses to prove Gore dishonest. Try to follow what comes next:

CARLSON (continuing directly): When two reporters caught him switching the ribbons on a pair of cattle at the Iowa State Fair for a photo op, a staff memo cited it as the kind of incident that could feed the perception that Gore "stretches the truth to suit a political moment."

Does anyone have the slightest idea what Carlson is talking about here? When incoherent examples like this are cited to prove that major public figures are dishonest, we see how easy it has gotten to make such claims about disfavored hopefuls. This is lazy, slipshod work, built around one great stretch of the truth—Carlson's claim that she isn't doing what her headline writer clearly knew that she was.

By the way, Carlson has had two and a half years now to read up on Love Story. Love Story is a wholly invented tale—invented to feed columns like this.