11 November 1999
Our current howler (part IV): Heathers
Synopsis: Good-bye, Hanover! Whistle-blowin Eric Pooley coolly supported what our phone caller said.
Commentary by Henry Aaron
The NewsHour, PBS, 11/11/99
Commentary by Howard Mortman
The Hotline, Americas Voice, 11/1/99
Please Dont Leave Me, Dont You Go
Eric Pooley, Time, 11/8/99
Gore again chides Clinton for affair during N.H. debate
Bill Sammon, The Washington Times, 10/28/99
Bob Herbert, The New York Times, 11/11/99
Again, it's not as if the point just hasn't been made. Here's
economist Henry Aaron, uncontradicted on last night's NewsHour:
AARON: In 1997, both parties agreed to limit some discretionary
spending that no rational person in this town really thinks we
can live within. It's on this basis of these overly-optimistic
or overly-restrictive assumptions...that all the projections about
budget surpluses [aside from Social Security] rest. If one uses
more real projectionssay that spending on defense and domestic
spending outside Social Security grows no faster than inflation
and price just keeps up with inflationthere is no surplus to
be projected over the next ten years. The gap between the reality
of the budget situation and the rhetoric of the budget situation
has never been greater.
That's rightit's been explained again and again, in almost
every major publication. But the press corps happily keeps typing
stories about funding health plans from the projected surplus
(see postscript). Happy to chat about authenticity and clothes,
the press corps can't even get basics right. And, as we've seen
in the past two weeks, they really did showcase their group dysfunction
in the wake of the Dem town hall forum.
But as we leave our Hanover musings, one point must be revisited.
We must return to the mystery phone call we received on the night
of the forum. You remembera mystery caller, in the Hanover press
room, offered a striking description of CelebCorps' decorum (see
THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/3/99). It was not unlike remarks by the Hotline's
Howard Mortman which we heard just a few days later:
MORTMAN: I phoned in to Bob, to be fair to Bob, I do stick
by 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.
A note from a reader has asked us to explain why we have concentrated
on Democrats in our media critiques, and we will discuss the question
in the next several days. But Mortman's report did seem to confirm
a suspicion we've reported here for months. Has the press corps
perhaps made some group selectionschosen up sides in the hopefuls'
struggles? We don't know. But Mortman's description could hardly
raise confidence in the professionalism of this great press.
And then, it happened! Confirmation at last! A whistle-blower
coolly stepped forward and confirmed the things Mortman had said!
It was Eric Pooley, in the pages of Time, reporting on
the Hanover happenings. Pooley started out explaining how "cheesy"
the music is at Gore events. Then he compared the "sweating"
VP to a man begging with a woman for sex. The VP has had "a
near-death experience," Pooley said, which explains his recent
"frenzied attempt to connect." But the press corps ain't
buyin', Pooley relates. Here's his account of what went on inside
the corps' vaulted chambers:
POOLEY: Last week the ache was unmistakableand even touchingbut
the 300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were,
to use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out by
it. Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a collective
jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting down some helpless
Poor Gore. For months the press has been hammering him for
taking the nomination for granted and not showing emotion. Now
it's hammering him for trying too hard and showing too much...
Indeedit's just as we've told you with this sorry crew. Once
they've decided you're not part of the crowd, you're danged if
you doand you're danged if you don't. Pooley himself says the
press corps behaved like a bunch of teen-agers running in a pack.
But how does it feel, fellow lovers of discourse, to know the
press corps behaves this wayto know the scribes have so little
respect for their role in our all-important public discourse?
And make no mistake, this press corps knows not to tell us
about their strange conduct. Three hundred "media types"
in the room, and to our knowledge only Pooley, among correspondents,
came out and described these events! Do you really doubt that
it's news, dear readers, to know that the press corps behaved
this way? But 300 reporters, right there on the scene, knew enough
not to say what had happened.
Don't make us name their names, dear friends. But many major
scribes were on the sceneand knew enough not to say Word the
For the record, at least one next-day story did allude to the
press corps' weird conduct. But the story cleaned up that conduct
a tad; this appeared in the Washington Times:
BILL SAMMON: Mr. Gore was the first to attempt humor, telling
a joke about St. Peter informing the newly deceased operator of
an HMO that he could enter heaven, but could stay only three days.
The audience laughed politely while the press corps, crammed
in an adjacent room and watching on TV monitors, groaned because
Mr. Gore has told the joke so many times on the campaign trail.
Somehow, reporting from a room away, Sammon knew that the crowd
laughed "politely!" There's no end to this press corps'
strange powers! But this account significantly downplays the reports
made by Mortman and Pooley. Mortman (a former Republican campaign
worker) said the media groaned "almost every time Al Gore
said something." Pooley said the media jeered "whenever
Gore came on too strong." But the press corps' conduct has
been nicely scrubbed for spoon-fed readers of the Times, who are
only told that the press corps groaned when Gore told a joke they'd
There you see them, boys and girlsyour celebrity press corps
in action! How does it feel, to know they jeer hopefuls "like
a gang of 15-year-old Heathers?"
Tomorrow: Why so much about Dems? Why so much about Gore? Tomorrow we answer your questions.
First sighting: Here at THE HOWLER, we don't have a
view on Bradley's proposal for Medicaid. But this morning, Bob
Herbert becomes the first columnist in our five papers to critique
this significant matter. Gore criticized Bradley on this point
at the forum; if the press cared a fig about health care for poor
people, they'd have made some effort to evaluate Gore's claims.
But the pundits were busy critiquing Gore's clothes. As we've
told you beforethey couldn't care less what happens to Medicaid,
and have no current plans to discuss it.
But while we praise Herbert, he also says this, driving home
HERBERT: Mr. Bradley proposes to pay for his initiative with
money from the federal budget's non-Social Security surplus. Vice
President Al Gore, who is touting his own, more modest health
care proposaland who also plans to pay for it with the surplushas
said Mr. Bradley's plan will devour the entire surplus.
Not a word about Aaron's point (see above). Note the last point
Aaron makes, about the current gap between reality and rhetoric.