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 title Graphic
Caveat lector

15 June 2000

Our current howler (part I): Bor-ring

Synopsis: Al discussed issues instead of George. Maureen Dowd had a word for it: Bor-ring.

Excerpts From Gore's Remarks on Bush, the Presidential Race and the Issues
Partial transcript, The New York Times, 6/14/00

Belaboring, Not Bedazzling
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 6/14/00

In Search of Maureen Dowd
Gay Jervey, Brill's Content, 6/99

Finally! A room of hard-nosed Gotham Times types had Candidate Gore in for questions. The public interest could only be served by the confab which would ensue. The hopeful walked in, and stiffly sat down. And here came the opening question:

QUESTION: Your opponent, not so much on his vulnerability on the issues, but just as a candidate, is he—do you find that he has strengths you didn't anticipate or is he competitive down to the wire?

We believe that the question was delivered in English, although the transcript left us somewhat unsure. At any rate, the New York Times, in its opening question, directed Gore not to talk about issues. What did they actually want to know? They wanted to know what Al thinks about George. But Gore—saying "I don't know him very well"—proceeded to talk about substance instead. And when he did, one well-known scribe found her attention beginning to wander. "He propounded and expounded for more than 15 minutes," she later wrote, "touching on such topics as the human genome, the ice-free future of the Arctic Ocean," and many, many others besides. Gore spoke too slowly, the scribe complained. Her chin began to bob on her chest. "But when I snapped back to attention," she sighed, "I found I hadn't missed a thing."

That bored attendant was Maureen Dowd, inexplicable winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and it seems that Dowd had missed a few things—the transcript which the Times provided matched up poorly with Dowd's detailed description. Gore had principally talked about fiscal questions, if the edited script can be believed. For example, here's what he said on that hateful genome:

GORE: I want to establish three new national trusts...A health care trust to position us to take advantage of one of the most important events in the history of humankind, which will occur this summer, perhaps sooner rather than later, and that is the completion of the first rough draft of the human genome...

For the record, it was "one of the most important events in the history of humankind" which Dowd has found so boring. Gore droned on, insufferable:

GORE (continuing directly): We will be able to unlock the secret codes that diseases use to transmit messages from cell to cell. It is a perfect time to taker advantage of this fantastic new era to find cures for diseases and to expand the access of the health care... [Times' ellipsis]

And that is where the transcript cut off, right in the middle of a sentence. Dowd may not have been the only scribe bored by the hopeful's dull chatter. Indeed, Dowd's column itself seemed to make it clear that others shared her general malaise. One passage described an editor's effort to lead Gore back into trivia:

DOWD: One editor tried to get past the filibuster by asking: "Well, is campaigning going to be about ideas or is it going to be about mostly personality and character?"

Ironic, given the Q and A that had seemed to provoke the complaining. Gore's reply nearly made poor Dowd tear her hair and run out of the boardroom:

DOWD (continuing directly): Mr. Gore replied with a treatise on post-World-War-II America and another plug for his plans for clean air, clean energy and health care.

"Clean air, clean energy and health care"—oh, them! A satirist couldn't produce a parody like the ones Dowd tends to sketch of herself. "And that's the problem with this race," she said, continuing directly. "One guy says a lot but never says anything," she griped, in a ball-fisted rage.

Is it true, that Gore "never said anything?" In her column, Dowd largely avoided the things which Gore said. She did complain that he "never did get around to answering" that first question, the one about Bush. Declining to waste his time on that, Gore spoke about ways to save peoples' lives. Dowd—the picture of the modern press age—dismissed it as "he never says anything."

Did Gore give good answers, that hold up to review? Did he have good ideas? Does he know his stuff? You can't assess that from reading Dowd, because Dowd says only one thing: Gore was boring. The notion that this kind of work drives our discourse is one that should make a citizen cringe. But then, it's hardly news that Maureen Dowd couldn't care less about things that affect people. We still recall, from that Brill's Content piece, when Joe Klein, limning Dowd, recounted this:

JERVEY: "Maureen is very talented," observes Joe Klein of The New Yorker. "But she is ground zero of what the press has come to be about in the nineties...I remember having a discussion with her in which I said, 'Maureen, why don't you go out and report about something significant, go out and see poor people, do something real?' And she said, 'You mean I should write about welfare reform?'"

See the problem? Why would Maureen Dowd discuss that? She isn't on welfare herself.

Here at THE HOWLER, we're very tired of beating up on the hopeless Times. We'd like to move on to a cycle of stories which outline press coverage of certain issues. But recent stories have shone a light into the heart of our troubled corps. Next week, we'll return to Dowd's dark hour of the soul. But tomorrow: Who's fun on the airplane?


Tomorrow: Howard Kurtz offered a blast from the past, updating those McCain bus-ride stories. (Page one of today's Post. Just click here.)

2 stories 2: For the record, we filed two reports on Wednesday, June 14. First, we filed an epilog to our "makeover" cycle. You know what to do. Just click here. And we did a sequel on Hill and the Yanks. Take yourself out to the yard.


The Daily update (6/15/00)

Brit Hume's sleeping journalists: We don't know when we've seen a less edifying panel than Special Report's effort on Monday. Over the weekend, several studies had described the remarkable practices of Texas courts in death penalty cases. On Sunday, we were especially struck by the Chicago Tribune's description of the "forensics expert" released from the mental hospital to offer bogus naked-eye "hair analysis." But none of this was especially new. On May 12, for example, Paul Duggan had offered this account in a hair-raising Washington Post profile:

DUGGAN: Another appointed lawyer with a disciplinary record—whose client, Anthony Ray Westley, was executed under Bush's watch—was arrested in the courtroom during jury selection in Westley's trial, charged with contempt of court for failing to file legal papers in the death penalty appeal of an earlier client. The lawyer's subsequent performance in Westley's case was so poor, according to a judicial report, that it resulted in a "breakdown of the adversarial process."

But Texas's highest criminal court, the conservative Court of Appeals, rejected the report's recommendation that Westley be given a new trial. The court...also rejected requests for new trials in the sleeping lawyer cases, saying an attorney who slumbers at the defense table in not necessarily ineffective.

"Sleeping lawyer cases?" In one such case, Duggan quoted a Texas bailiff explaining how long he kept kicking one barrister's chair before he gave up and let the poor fellow slumber.

But it isn't just lawyers who sleep at the switch. On Monday, Bill Sammon and Jeff Birnbaum seemed to have no idea of the issues involved in this discussion. We reviewed the segment again last night, and were again amazed at the incomprehension displayed by the pair of scribes. Birnbaum kicked things off by questioning the motives of those who wrote the reports (no evidence offered). He then pointed out that some bad cases get thrown out in the appeals process. He twice said that Clinton and Gore can't really complain because they support use of the death penalty also. It was suggested several times that use of DNA technology was the only matter at hand. A viewer of the six-minute segment would have no idea—none at all—of the range of issues raised by these studies. Why do Birnbaum and Sammon give sleeping lawyers a pass? It may be "professional courtesy."

Postscript—Hopeless argument watch: To Birnbaum, Clinton and Gore can't criticize Bush because they also support use of the death penalty. This is like saying that people who favor having police can't criticize a case of brutality. The argument was hopeless even by Birnbaum's recent standards, but no one on the four-member panel said "Boo." Our conclusion? When sleeping journalists do awake, sometimes they've dreamed up bad arguments.

Attorneys' Ineptitude Doesn't Halt Executions
Paul Duggan, The Washington Post, 5/12/00