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19 November 1999

Our current howler (part II): Hidden ball trick

Synopsis: A tabloid talker has helped show why we spent so much time on the Dem town hall forum.

Commentary by Judy Woodruff Inside Politics, CNN, 11/17/99


Sometimes, when the big boys play hardball, they indulge in the hidden ball trick. And so it's been on the inventive show Hardball. It has now been nine straight nights since polls began showing Gore back ahead in New Hampshire. This Wednesday, that softball gang on Inside Politics reported another such poll:

WOODRUFF: The Quinnipiac College poll shows Gore now is three points ahead of Bill Bradley in the lead-off primary state, within the margin of error. Last month, Bradley was ahead by eight points.

A graphic showed Gore leading, 44-41. Last month, according to the graphic, Quinnipiac's numbers showed Bradley up, 47-39.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea who will win the New Hampshire primary. But we recall how a talker tortured the numbers as Bradley pulled ahead six weeks back. But now, with three new polls showing Gore ahead, not a word has been mentioned on Hardball. Indeed, last week Newsweek's Howard Fineman came on to discuss a new article; the article included Newsweek's new poll, showing Gore now ten points ahead (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/16/99). But neither Fineman nor a talker ever mentioned that fact; instead, they talked about how the primary was now "getting close." Hardball viewers can just go buy the mag if they want to see data like that.

Dear readers: do you now see why we spent so much time on the aftermath of the Dem town hall forum? We have never covered any event which showed the press corps' gruesome conduct so clearly. Forty-eight hours after the forum, the press corps, en masse, had all memorized a story. Gore had seemed programmed, rehearsed, and manic; Bradley came off as authentic. The scribes then competed with one another to see who could tell the tale in the silliest way; eventually, Juan Williams told viewers on Fox News Sunday that you'd have to be stoned to believe Gore had "won" (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/9/99). As we pointed out, almost no one had offered this now-uniform view immediately after the Democrats' forum. And a Gallup poll of New Hampshire Dems who watched the forum made it close—39-38 said Bradley did better. Dem viewers called the forum a draw.

Do you understand why a tabloid talker (and others) haven't mentioned the three new polls? The press corps put in a lot of work, telling you Gore was a clown at the forum. In fact, both Bradley and Gore made impressive, smart showings, in a forum that was especially sharp because journalists played a quite minor role. (Translation: no disgraceful questions from Bernie Shaw about what you'd do if your wife was murdered.) It is now quite clear that New Hampshire voters have responded favorably to Gore in recent weeks. The press corps doesn't want you to know that. It's a form of the hidden ball trick.

Nope—we don't know who will win this primary. We thought both hopefuls did well at the forum. But all the trashing of Gore for his manner and clothes doesn't seem to have taken with Granite State voters. The pundits, as usual, were groaningly wrong. They don't seem to have a spin for it yet.