Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector

21 December 1999

Our current howler (part III): Down with negativity!

Synopsis: Blankley said Gore was playing real dirty. But he didn’t give any examples.

Bradley the Loner: A Campaign Liability?
Mike Allen, The Washington Post, 12/11/99

A Campaign On Big Issues
E.J. Dionne, The Washington Post, 12/21/99

Accentuating the Negative
Ramesh Ponnuru, The New York Times, 12/4/99

Adieu, Bill Bradley
Tony Blankley, The Washington Times, 12/15/99

Commentary by Chris Matthews, Ben Jones
Hardball, CNBC, 12/9/99

Press corps Deportment Czar Eric Pooley scolded Vile Gore for his manners. But he seemed to say that Gore's critiques of Bradley's health plan actually did have merit (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/99). Indeed, Pooley wasn't the only scribe who suggested Gore's critiques were on target. In a review of Bradley's decision-making style, Mike Allen said Bradley tends to consult too few experts, and "has been burned in the process." His first example? The "apparent omissions" in Bradley's health plan. Allen explained how the plan was assembled:

ALLEN: [M]ore than 100 professors, doctors and others were shown Bradley's health insurance plan before its release, according to the campaign. But the lack of a single authoritative adviser quickly showed. Gore began arguing, based partly on details that were omitted from the plan, that Bradley's plan would knock the federal budget out of balance and disproportionately hurt blacks and Latinos.

Kenneth E. Thorpe, a professor of health policy at Emory University...said Bradley's staff sent him "a whole host of clarifications."

"They said, 'No, no, no—that's not what we meant,'" Thorpe recalled.

Like Pooley, Allen seemed to think there were flaws in the plan. And here's E.J. Dionne, just this morning:

DIONNE: Even some Bradley sympathizers concede that Gore asked legitimate questions. Many who respect Bradley's reach for universal coverage worry that his repeal of Medicaid could leave some among the poor worse off. And Bradley's claim in Friday's debate that little need be done about Medicare's finances in the short term will give Gore a new opening.

How sound are the two hopefuls' competing health plans? At THE HOWLER, we really aren't sure. But Pooley seemed to suggest that, even if a rival's plan has flaws, it's just not good manners to say so. Pooley—complaining that Gore just won't behave while seeming to say that his comments have merit—evokes first-grade elections for student council, when polite hopefuls meekly vote for each other.

Should hopefuls keep on the sunny side? Writing about the Republican race, Ramesh Ponnuru, of The National Review, wrote an instructive New York Times column. The Forbes and Bush camps were accusing one another of that old bugaboo, negative campaigning:

PONNURU: All this indignation is more than hypocritical. It assumes there's something wrong with negative campaigning. But criticism of other candidates and their ideas is a politician's duty...One could easily make the case that negative campaigning (if truthful) is more informative than positive campaigning. Voters need to know that a candidate tried to raise their taxes more than they need to know that he is "working to make a difference for you," as his own ads would say.

Ponnuru, drawing an obvious distinction, says we should criticize negative ads that are "misleading or demagogic," and take instruction from those that are not.

But CelebCorps, chasing its latest silly fad, is off on a "good manners" kick. Like Pooley, many have accused Vile Gore of "low blows" without providing any useful examples. We turn to a favorite, Tony Blankley, complaining of Gore's naughty ways in a recent column. The imbalance between Blankley's rhetoric and Blankley's evidence paints an instructive tableau.

Early on, the pious pundit describes Gore's gruesome conduct:

BLANKLEY: Mr. Gore is like an experienced club boxer who could never defeat a true champion, but will beat the local boy every day of the week. He knows all the dirty moves. He positions himself between the referee and his opponent to hide the illegal rabbit punch to the kidneys...Between rounds he'll sneak an irritant on his gloves and rub the chemicals into his opponents eyes. It's ugly, but against a palooka, it works.

"Mr. Gore is running a more disreputable version of Father Bush's 1988 general election campaign," Blankley writes. He then details the "snake oil" used by Dad-of-Dub in dispatching Governor Dukakis.

Man! We don't have to tell you how angry the analysts were, to think that this could be happening again! They leaned forward, expectant, in their chairs, waiting for Blankley's examples. Finally! A chance to really get the dope on all the things Vile Gore has said. You can imagine how faces began to fall as they scanned the pious pundit's first examples:

BLANKLEY: When Al Gore started accusing Mr. Bradley of planning to destroy Medicaid and Social Security, Mr. Bradley let days go by without responding.

Faces fell as the analysts noted the lack of direct quotation. The incomparable young scholars have been trained to know it: the power to paraphrase is the power to spin. The Bradley plan would repeal Medicaid; according to Dionne, it's one of the aspects of the Bradley plan that has even worried some Bradley supporters. And did Gore say that Bradley was "planning to destroy Social Security?" Blankley provided no quotes. So what exactly had Gore said, and in what way were his comments "dirty?" Absent-mindedly, Tony Blankley had forgotten to say. According to Blankley, "The most Mr. Bradley could ever muster was the charge that Mr. Gore was not speaking the whole truth." Might this suggest that Gore was on point? The possibility had escaped Blankley's gaze.

But Gore has been attacked in the most aggressive ways on this kind of basis. For example, here is a tabloid talker, with a guest, on a recent creative program:

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I've been in many campaigns where smears work...Here's a direct shot—let's take cases here. Al Gore accuses Bill Bradley of wanting to get rid of Medicaid. Now Medicaid's the health care program for the poor people in the country. A lot of Democrats—

BEN JONES: Bill Bradley does not want to get rid of Medicaid—

MATTHEWS: Right! That's right! But the fact he keeps saying it—all Bradley wants to do is change the name of the program or something, or the structure. Jennifer [Donahue], is that one cutting up there?

But Bradley does propose repealing Medicaid, replacing it with another program which Gore has said is inadequate. Is Gore right in that judgment? We don't know, but these talkers are grossly misstating the facts, while accusing Gore of engaging in smears (never showing footage or text of any alleged misstatement). The next night, a talker said Gore was "ruthless" for saying that Bradley wants to get rid of Medicaid. On the basis of hapless characterizations like these, the hopeful is slammed for his negative comments.

Alas—scanning the rest of Blankley's column, the analysts found no direct quotes. Not a single direct example of all the vile things Gore was alleged to have said! Blankley only cited one other area where Gore had criticized Bradley (raising taxes); there again we were handed a paraphrase. A pundit who screamed about Negative Gore had written such a column himself. Gore was "nasty," "dirty," "illegal," and "ugly." He had told a whole bunch of "whoppers," And wouldn't you know it? In all the excitement, Blankley had forgotten to lay out his case.


Tomorrow: (We advise you: Don't miss this column.) Pundits attacked Al, and said Bill won't fight. Then we learned where their attacks had first come from.

Note: We've asked the Post about that 12/18 report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/18/99). We'll let you know what we are told.

It's not that we don't love jazz: We salute the Wall Street Journal's incomparable Phil Kuntz for his report on John McCain's "Keating Five" history. To read most of CelebCorps' loving coverage, one would think the Keating Five was some sort of jazz group the hopeful had once performed in. The scribes have repeated McCain's bawdy jokes, and have told how he fell through his girl friend's screen door. Most accounts of The Keating Five have been sketchy. They have stressed how repentant the hopeful is for having done nothing at all that is wrong.

Kuntz's account of the actual episode is more detailed and more instructive. Does it disqualify McCain from serving as prez? Absolutely not. But it does provide an interested reader with real information about the hopeful. Celebrity pundits have boasted and bragged about how they don't report McCain's foibles. Apparently, some of the details in Kuntz's report are among the things they've agreed to leave out.

("McCain's Financing Stance Recalls Keating-Five Role." Phil Kuntz, The Wall Street Journal, 12/17/99)