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1 July 1999

Our current howler (part III): And we call it puppy love

Synopsis: ONE DAY ONLY! The analysts told us to drop ancient history and report on that Money Man Bush.

Commentary by Brian Williams, Richard Berke, Gwen Ifill
The News with Brian Williams, MSNBC, 6/30/99

Commentary by Brian Williams
The News with Brian Williams, MSNBC, 6/28/99

“Inside Politics”
Greg Pierce, The Washington Times, 6/3/99

Bush taps D.C. for Iowa help
Jim Drinkard, USA Today, 6/24/99

All right. All right! We'll do what they say! The analysts were shouting "Herodotus" at us, as we plodded along with our Diane Sawyer coverage; they accused us of doting on ancient tales while the speedy campaign passed us by. And the truth is, yesterday's release of Bush dollar figures produced so much comical conduct from the press corps that we simply had to tear up our plans and adjust to events on the hustings. Puppy love has been deepening for Brian Williams each night, as he's watched a certain governor chat on tarmacs so comfortably (see below). Last night, we couldn't help chuckling as we heard an old theme emerge from his report on Bush's dough:

WILLIAMS: Rick [Berke], money can't buy insurance against foot-in-mouth disease with candidates. The news media, this $36 million figure is like raw meat. It raises the stakes now that mistakes will be highlighted even further.

Highlighted even further? To our jaundiced eye-for better or worse-the gov's occasional foibles have barely been mentioned. Last week, for example, after Bush explained how much he despised D.C. ways, a purloined memo revealed an odd fact: those Washington lobbyists the governor hated were being asked to go to Iowa, to work on Dub's straw poll effort. But only Jim Drinkard dared to hint it: Darling Bush seemed to be saying one thing, and doing exactly the other (see text below).

Anyway, Berke heard what Williams was saying. Two could play this familiar old game, in which scribes pretend that the gang can't wait for a chance to just tear that Bush up:

BERKE: Right. The expectations are just through the roof. Everyone's going to be watching him even more closely. Watching him almost the way we would watch a president or a presidential nominee. Every comment will be sifted and examined and scrutinized, so he's got to watch out.

They'll be watching him even more closely, poor guy! We don't know how the man takes it! Not since the days of The Dub Kick-Off Weekend had we heard such palaver from the press corps, as pundits patted themselves on the back and claimed to be spoiling for war. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/17/99, for our report on the Launch Weekend posing.)

And what about Gore's fund-raising efforts? Gwen Ifill was prepared to spin that. Williams introduced her next, to report on Dem hopeful Bill Bradley:

IFILL: Bradley's nearly $12 million, raised without benefit of White House trappings, aggressively closes the money gap with Vice President Gore.

Say what? Gore raised nine million in the second quarter, Bradley raised just seven. Though Bradley has clearly done well in fund-raising, the gap with Gore has widened. Anyway, in case anyone missed her first spin, Ifill aggressively topped it:

IFILL: Gore's nearly $19 million [overall] falls embarrassingly short of his $20 million goal, establishing Bradley as a real challenger.

We swear to you, folks. She really said it! Nineteen million is "embarrassingly short"-when it's stacked up next to 20!

But then, it was exactly that kind of embarrassing attitude that had found its full flower in the farm chores debate-in which the press corps embarked on an orgy of spin, pushing a story it must have known was just false. Twelve years worth of their own Gore profiles? Gone, because Nicholson said so. Jim Nicholson wanted an embarrassing tale to tell the world about crazy-boy Gore, and the celebrity press corps was even prepared to spread this dim tale around town. It led to Diane Sawyer, on the night that Gore launched, accosting the veep with her silly pop quiz. It was one of the dimmest moments in recent press history-and who better than Sawyer to provide it?

You did have to hand it to Sawyer. Even Greg Pierce had abandoned this tale, by the time the Gore Launch was on us. Even Pierce, of the Times' "Inside Politics," had announced the Gore Kick-Off like this:

PIERCE: Vice President Al Gore, derided as a Washington insider by political foes, will formally launch his presidential bid June 16 in Carthage, Tenn., where he spent his summers growing up and where he still owns a farm.

That might strike some as a niggling effort-Pierce couldn't bring himself to say "home town," and he pictured Gore in Tennessee only on summer vacations. But all along, Pierce had slavishly typed up Nicholson's faxes, endlessly spinning the farm chores nonsense, and for Pierce to have printed so decorous a statement really seemed like a total surrender. The last gruesome effort to spin the chores had been Ceci Connolly's, on May 18 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/25/99). We really thought the nonsense had ended. But you know the rest. Then Came Sawyer.

Yep. Once this press corps buys a spin, there's no end to the ways that they can play it. Tomorrow we'll take a last look at the chores-and at what the silly tale may have wrought.


Tomorrow: Gore's approvals have fallen badly this year. Did farm chores and Love Story do it?

The Howler recommends: We now recommend The News with Brian Williams as among the best entertainment on television. The anchor's visible puppy love has been providing the analysts real amusement. They simply roared, in our viewing chambers, as the anchor gushed over Bush Monday night. The governor had walked across a California tarmac and chatted briefly with Williams and Berke. Oh my God, people! It was heaven on earth! Meanwhile, poor Steve Forbes was standing by in a studio, waiting to be Williams' next on-air guest, and here's what the magnate was forced to endure as the still-glowing anchor introduced him:

WILLIAMS: And Mr. Forbes, let's start with the mechanics of what we just saw play out here on live television. What you just saw was a very much at-ease governor of a big state in this country, jacket slung over his shoulder, going on over to a camera position and doing what some find absolutely impossible without paper in front of them and a briefing within five minutes of the appearance. Is that appearance-and we're talking, you know, as much physical appearance as anything-making no judgments or comparisons-the people say has made the difference with this person-on-person contact?

We'll bet Forbes felt Williams was making comparisons! Indeed, poor Forbes was stuck with his jacket on. We'd have to call it a non-GQ moment.

Drinkard! Off the tarmac! We've said it before. We don't think the corps needs to highlight each fumble, especially in June '99. But we'd like some sense of even treatment-and they shouldn't say they're spoiling for Bush, when it's perfectly clear that they aren't. The release of the memo directing lobbyists to Iowa? It was what they swear they've been waiting to nail. But only Drinkard, in the papers we cover, suggested what was obvious here, that Bush was publicly saying one thing, while secretly doing another:

DRINKARD (paragraphs one and two): George W. Bush has criticized Al Gore as a captive of Washington establishment and presented him as an outsider not beholden to special interests. But to generate support for his presidential candidacy on an Iowa test ballot this fall, the Texas governor is turning to Washington's biggest insiders of all, lobbyists, for help.

Yep. The press corps swears it will jump on this stuff. But we thought only Drinkard chose to "highlight" the apparent hypocrisy here.

Money-changers: When Gore was leading in the fund-raising race, it was a sign of his grim, fallen state. Both the Post and the Times published magazine articles-gruesome efforts, larded with spin-in which they ran to make Fred Wertheimer say how dangerous these huge amounts are.

Now that Bush is shattering records, we haven't seen ol' Fred around. We're sure he'd be happy to warn us again. Looks to us like his phone ain't been ringin'.