3 November 1999
Our current howler (part II): Your press corps in action
Synopsis: A phone call from the Dem town hall forum shed some light on CelebCorps strange conduct.
Commentary by Judy Woodruff, Gail Collins
Inside Politics, CNN, 11/2/99
Bradleys Gestalt Therapy
Gail Collins, The New York Times, 10/29/99
Commentary by Elizabeth Arnold
Washington Week in Review, PBS, 10/29/99
Commentary by Jeff Greenfield, Gloria Borger
Larry King Live, CNN, 10/27/99
Commentary by Howard Mortman, Bob Somerby
The Hotline, Americas Voice, 11/1/99
Commentary by Christina Hoff Sommers
Hardball, CNBC, 11/2/99
You know, HOWLER readers, it really is true. No scribe can
say something so flat-out foolish that another scribe ever will
notice. Yesterday, on Inside Politics, the following exchange
JUDY WOODRUFF: When you look back at last week's town meeting
with Gore and Bradley, how did they come across?
GAIL COLLINS (11/2): You know, I thought, I actually did
tend to think Gore did better than a lot of people did at the
time. He seemed really energetic, he seemed to really care,
he seemed to really want people to like him and people like that
sense that a politician is really trying to please them.
Collins then said how Bradley came across. Of course, we already
knew she thought Gore had done well. She'd said so, in her New
York Times column:
COLLINS (10/29): Al Gore has a personality without a thermostat,
and when he tries to look animated he practically crashes into
the wallboard. On Wednesday he hijacked the auditorium early on,
begging for a chance to do a pre-debate Q-and-A. ("This person
has a question! Do we have time for his question?") He tossed
in a little Spanish and a long joke, and made endless attempts
to create Clintonesque mind-melds with the audience. ("How
old in your child, Corey? Are you unionized, Earl?") At the
end, he refused to be dragged off-stage. ("Can I say one
more word? I would like to stay!") He bore an uncomfortable
resemblance to the kid who asks the teacher for more homework.
Mr. Bradley, lounging on his stool, arms folded across his chest,
looked like the high school athlete watching the class nerd volunteering
to stay and clap erasers.
Woodruff politely went on to the next topic. It's the lawscribes
simply never tell other scribes that their remarks make no sense
on this earth.
Yep. We really think we've seen it all in the wake of last
Wednesday's Dem town hall forumwe've seen the press corps come
out of the shadows, and show off their full-blown dysfunction.
Let's tick off the highlights. We've seen them engage in a kind
of uniform thinking that is simply impossible to attain when folks
think on their own. (Gore was programmed, inauthentic, Clintonesque.
They fought over how best to say it.) In support of this spin,
we've seen them make comments that make no sense on this earth.
(It was "Clintonesque" when Gore got off his chair!)
And we've seen one other embarrassing factmany scribes said something
different on Wednesday night, when they had to give their flash
reactions. Comments made right after the forum didn't match up
with the spin that would comethe uniform spin that the scribes
would all offer by the time Collins typed up her column.
So where in the world did the press corps' spin come fromspin
so absurd that it lets scribes complain that programmed Gore even
got off his chair? (And he'd called people by name! Call
the cops!) Why are folks willing to do this? On Friday, two days
after the forum, Elizabeth Arnold reported in from New Hampshire
to Washington Week in Review. How had folks responded to
Bradley and Gore? Arnold's reply was surprising:
ARNOLD: I would say in terms of the undecideds, of which
there were many[pause] we in the press obviously are very
cynical about the vice president and his attempts to appear relaxed,
but it actually worked. A lot of people as I said were pleasantly
surprised by the vice president, and sort of liked the factthe
word "feisty" was usedliked the fact that he was actually
Really! According to Arnold, it was "obvious" that
the press corps was "very cynical" about Gore, but we
don't recall when that fact was announced. When was that?
We had supposed the press was just doing its job, trying to report
things that happen. (Why would scribes resent an "attempt
to appear relaxed?" Arnold wasn't asked, and didn't answer.)
But Arnold wasn't the only scribe who briefly discussed the corps'
attitude toward Gore. Immediately after the Wednesday forum, Jeff
Greenfield appeared on Larry King Live. Inevitably,
King asked about those "light-colored suits." Greenfield
gave this tactful answer:
GREENFIELD: You know, Al Gore's biggest problem is that, particularly
among journalists, there's a feeling that it's like a guy who
learned to dance at Arthur Murray's. Like you can almost see him
trying to figure out where the steps are on the floor, and where
those dotted lines are. And I think, fairly or not, there's this
notion that if Al Gore is wearing a light-colored suit, he's focus-grouped
ithe's done a poll...I think that we journalists put these people
under such a microscope that every time they change their clothes,
we figure there's a deliberate political reason. There might well
By the way, why would scribes care if a hopeful had focus-grouped
suits? It was another question not asked and not answered.
Yep. In all the hoop-la surrounding the forum, small signs
emerged of some sort of a problem in the press corps' attitude
toward Gore. After the forum, Gloria Borger reported to King's
show, live from New Hampshire. King asked for general reaction:
KING: Gloria, what was your read, you were therewhat was the
mood in the hall, what did it feel like, what was your approach?
Borger's reply struck us as odd:
BORGER: First of all, Larry, there's 300-plus journalists here
and I should tell you we were not in the hall, we were kind of
in a room down the hall watching this on a large screen. And every
time Bill Bradley said something of note the Al Gore rapid-response
folks would come in with a printed page and distribute it, which
was the rapid response from Al Gore. You may recall this from
the Clinton-Gore campaigns, those things seemed to work pretty
well. At this point, they almost seem to be a self-parody.
We thought it odd that Borger would bother with this, offering
this as her first observationodd that she thought the
public would care that Gore's team dared distribute such slanders.
We've reviewed the four Gore "reality checks," supplied
by a scribe on the scene that night, and though they seem to be
of uneven quality, we're not sure why such work would offend.
Here's the text of the "Reality Check" on campaign finance,
REALITY CHECK: Bradley is a newcomer to the campaign
finance debate. In the Senate, Bradley set a prodigal example
for campaign finance reform. He outspent his 1990 opponent 15-1
and refused to abide by voluntary spending caps; he declined to
refuse PAC money and accepted more in PAC money than his opponent
raised overall. In addition, Bradley did not author his own campaign
finance reform bill until January of 1996, nearly five months
after he announced he was retiring from the Senate. In contrast,
Gore first cosponsored a campaign finance reform bill in 1979
and authored his own bill in 1986.
Do you think that's important? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it's
hard to see why such a note is a "parody"unless, perhaps,
one had already decided that Bradley is authentic, not a pol.
Does the press corps have an attitude about Gore? We might
as well tell you that we got a phone call Wednesday night, right
from the room where the press had been watching; our interlocutor
said that, to his surprise, the various pundits had laughed and
groaned at Gore's remarks all throughout the forum. And this Monday
night, on the Hotline show (America's Voice), Howard Mortman,
the Hotline's national editor, seemed to say pretty much
the same thing. He spoke with a visiting press-watcher:
MORTMAN: I phoned in to Bob, to be fair to Bob, I do stick
to the story that the media groaned, howled and laughed almost
every time Al Gore said something
BOB SOMERBY: I think that's amazing. I think that's amazing
OTHER VOICE FROM PANEL: What happened with Bradley?
MORTMAN: Stone silence. Really.
And do you know what we think? We might as well say it. We
think it's amazingsimply astounding, that the press would engage
in that conduct.
But you'll remember, dear readers, we've warned for some time
of the attitude lurking behind stray remarksbehind the remarks
of Roger Simon, for example, that the corps would make Gore "jump
through hoops (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/99). And we suggested
last spring, with the farm chores debacle, that an attitude simply
had to lay behind the press corps' egregious dissembling. But
then, does anything surprise you from a celebrity press
corps which will put up with nonsense like that remark from Gail
Collins? Does anything surprise you from a celebrity press
corps that has abandoned all known earthly standards?
Tomorrow: Where does the press corps' spin come from?
Sometimes, it comes from Bob Novak.
Wolf watch: Are you seeking amusement from the Naomi
Wolf claptrap? If so, keep an eye on pundit use of "apparently"
and its various surrogates. None of them have the slightest idea
what Wolf has done for the Gore campaign. But they're eager to
get their spin underway. So they've been leaning on various qualifiers.
Last night on Hardball, two minutes in, Christina Hoff
Sommers got her first chance:
SOMMERS: Apparently Naomi Wolf has been hired by the
campaignby Al Goreto help him assert his masculinity.
In other words, she doesn't know. Two minutes later, Sommers
SOMMERS: You can imagine the serious people on this
campaign must be mortified that he's listening to this
And that's rightyou can always "imagine"
what "must be" the case. (Wolf, by the way, is 37.)
Two minutes later, it happened again. A talker got Sommers to
cite Wolf's "inner slut" comment. Then this exchange
MATTHEWS: And how does that relate to what [Gore's] trying
to achieve in the campaign?...
SOMMERS: Well, apparently he's felt that he needed a
She was interrupted by the talker at that point. Darn it! We
never were able to really get straight on what is apparently true.
Early on, Sommers said, "This is pathetic." At THE
HOWLER, we agree with that view.