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