6 December 1999
A Howler extra: This weak
Synopsis: We dont think weve ever run an EXTRA before. Thats how bad This Week was this Sunday.
Commentary by Cokie Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, William Kristol
This Week, ABC, 12/5/99
Bush to Offer $483 Billion Tax-Cut Plan
Eric Pianin and Terry Neal, The Washington Post, 12/1/99
Commentary by Cokie Roberts
This Week, ABC, 11/7/99
We don't think we've ever run an EXTRA before. But that's how
bad it got, dear friends, on Sunday's This Week program.
Cokie Roberts had committed her usual howlerthis week, it dealt
with the Bush tax plan (see below)when George Stephanopoulos
was asked to say what sort of week Al Gore had had:
STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he had a bad week as well, and he probably
dodged a bullet
ROBERTS: Love Canal!
STEPHANOPOULOS: YeahBradley this week showed that he's a little
prickly. Gore again revived his Pinocchio problem. Says he
ROBERTS: Pinocchio problem [laughter]!
STEPHANOPOULOS: Says he was the model for Love Story,
created the Internet, and this time he sort of discovered Love
Canal. It was sort of a senator's slip, they fixed it quickly
the next day, but reporters are going to be watching him like
a hawk on his exaggerations.
We haven't yet discussed Gore's Love Canal statement, but there
you have it, friends and neighborsanother pundit citing Love
Story. Again, Melinda Henneberger's reportingnow two years
oldshowed Gore did not make the claim Stephanopoulos describes
(see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/6/99). And for what it's worth, author
Erich Segal says Gore was one of two models for the Ryan
Please noteStephanopoulos is not a political opponent
of Gore. His statement demonstrates an unsurprising factsurely,
very few Washington pundits know the facts in the Love Story
nonsense. The silly Love Story tale is so deeply
entrenched that they actually believe what Ceci Connolly saidthat
Gore "mistakenly claims to have inspired" the book/movie.
At any rate, one part of Stephanopoulos' statement was
correctreporters surely will be watching Gore like a hawk.
This week, two of them watched the VP so closely that they
finally found a way to invent a false quote. The "quote"
appeared in their papers on Wednesday. And sure enoughmisinformation
being This Week's lingua francawe didn't have to wait
very long to hear someone repeat it on Sunday:
ROBERTS (continuing directly): This is him saying that he discovered
Love Canal when he had hearings on it after 250 people had been
WILLIAM KRISTOL: Yeah. [Reading] "I found a little
place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I was the one
that started it all." Two months after 250 people were
Kristol read the "quote" with a triumphant air. Sam
Donaldson asked if the statement showed a "character flaw."
George Will quickly said that it did.
Of course, if it's character flaws that the viewer is after,
they aren't real hard to find on This Week. Kristol, for
example, read this false quote four days after Chris Matthews
corrected it. That's right, folks. Four days after this
quote is corrected, it's still being read on This Week.
And why does Kristol apparently not know, to this day, that Gore
never made the statement he read? Because the New York Times and
the Washington Post have refused to correct their errors.
We called the Post ourselves on Friday, asking why there had been
no correction, and we were told that they'd run one on Saturday.
Saturday and Sunday came and went, and neither paper corrected
their error. Result? On Sunday morning, the two papers' "mistake"
was recitedthis time, for a national audience.
But this is just par for the course on This Week. Just
how bad can the program get? Listen to Roberts, five minutes
earlier, in a discussion of Governor Bush's new tax plan:
STEPHANOPOULOS: ...One of the things that surprised me the most,
even though he does weight it down toward lower income people,
he made a bigger tax plan than the House Republicans. That's
ROBERTS: No he didn't
ROBERTS: 483 billion dollars?
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's over five years. Over ten years it goes
about a trillion dollars, bigger than the House Republican tax
It is simply astounding that Roberts didn't know this basic
fact about the Bush tax proposal. And it seems to show where Roberts
gets her infofrom scanning headlines on page one of the Post.
On 12/1, the Post had driven our analysts wild with their explanation
of the size of the plan. They had run a dollar figure in their
page-one headline, without saying how many years the figure covered:
WASHINGTON POST HEADLINE (12/1): Bush to Offer $483 Billion
Since most recent tax plans have been pegged by their ten-year
cost, we assumed this headline would mislead readers. But even
we never dreamed, dear friends, that the Post would hook
a big fish like Roberts. After all, a reader who made it through
paragraph five found the Post's pair of writers saying this:
PIANIN AND NEAL (paragraph 5): But in crafting his new approach,
Bush has proposed a much bigger tax cut than even the GOP tax
legislation that was vetoed by president Clinton in September.
That plan would have cost $155 billion over five years or $792
billion over 10 years. Bush aides said his plan would cost $132
billion a year for the sixth through 10th year, or $1.14 trillion
over a decade...
In short, someone who simply scanned Post headlines would have
thought what Roberts thought. Someone who read through paragraph
five would have known what Stephanopoulos said. And by the wayon
Wednesday, every paper we review explained the fact which Roberts
didn't know. Every paper said that Bush's tax cut exceeds the
size of last year's House effort.
But incredibly, four days laterFOUR DAYS LATER!!Cokie
Roberts still didn't know this! Didn't know it!! You knowCokie
Roberts, paid millions of dollars to host one of the country's
most important news programs? In this remarkable gaffe, Roberts
continues a string of performances that have had our analysts
howling for weeks. The most striking? Go back with us to November
7, when Naomi Wolf appeared on this pitiful program. At the time,
Wolf was the hottest name in political news; this was her first
TV interview since the flap began about her role in the Gore campaign.
Early on, Roberts asked this:
ROBERTS: People keep referring to you as "controversial
feminist writer." And some of the controversy is your work,
most recentlyis it most recently? Promiscuities?
WOLF: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
Does Roberts do any preparation at all? The answer
is obvious here. Naomi Wolf has written three books. Three!
And Roberts, presenting an exclusive interview with an important
newsmaker, hadn't done enough background work to know which of
Wolf's books came lastdidn't know which book came last, even
though she was planning to ask about one of them! Does
anyone imagine, even for a minute, that Roberts had actually looked
at these books? Sorry, folksutter lack of preparation like this
is an insult to the American public interest. Clearly, Roberts
does no preparation at all before This Week
goes on the air. But then, who could possibly think anything else
following her comment on Governor Bush's tax program?
We're going to make a simple statement (and we hope to return
to this topic later on). In any other professional sector, work
like this could bring instant dismissal. If ABC were running an
engineering firm, and one of their engineers was this badly misinformed,
they would simply have to let her go, because it matters
when bridges fall down. Engineering firms get sued and
lose everything if their employees are completely unprepared.
(Resultthey never are.) And by the way, the performance of This
Week's entire cast was absolutely staggering this Sunday.
We have only begun to scrape the surface of the howlers committed
But note the point to which we'll return all week: William
Kristol cited a quote that is plainly and simply invented.
It was shown to be wrong on Wednesday nightfour days
later, Bill Kristol's still reading it! What kind
of a press corps is so lazy and hapless that a bogus quote
still airs four days later? You can provide your own descriptions,
friends. But you saw it here, on this great Sunday program.
For the record: Congratulations to Fox News Sunday
and CNN's Late Edition! Why? For having enough sense not
to mention the Love Canal pseudo-scandal in their panel discussions
this week. It also wasn't mentioned in the Meet the Press
panel, which principally covered the New York Senate race. (Our
analysts haven't reviewed Face the Nation.) No, if it's
hapless, yowling errors you're after, tune in to the prep-free
Final note: We hope this is obvious, but in case
it is notnothing we have said is meant as a judgment about Governor
Bush's tax plan. Roberts should know basic facts about this plan.
Her viewers could then judge its merits.