May 15, 2000
E. R. Shipp
The Washington Post
Dear Ms. Shipp:
I'm writing today in utter bewilderment at the continuing work
of Ceci Connolly. Yesterday's article is a striking case in point.
In it, Connolly and Terry Neal discuss the "attack politics"
of the Bush-Gore race. They say that Gore has engaged in "almost
daily frontal assaults" on Bush; Bush, by contrast ("their
approaches could not be more different," the writers say),
"plays the bemused victim" and "laughs off Gore's
attacks," while "getting in a few digs of his own."
Midway through their article, the writers describe Bush's approach
to Gore's "frontal assaults:"
Bush says he is ready to "quickly and effectively"
respond to the Gore fusillade-and in the process portray Gore
as an integrity-challenged, negative politician. "One of
our jobs in this campaign is to make clear what the facts are,"
he said recently.
This is surprising, because in the next paragraph, Connolly
describes the Bush campaign making a serious charge against Gore
that is impossible to square with the facts:
Two senior Bush officials said last week that the campaign
studied Gore's 1988 presidential bid and closely tracked this
year's Democratic primary fight...Gore, they argue, was the first
candidate to raise the specter of Willie Horton in the 1988 primary
(although it was supporters of Bush's father who used pictures
of the furloughed black convict in television ads against Michael
If Gore could employ such a slash-and-burn style against fellow
Democrats, imagine what he would do to Bush, the argument went...
There is an obvious problem with this presentation. As Connolly
knows well-as she has reported in the past-Gore never mentioned
Horton's name in the 1988 primaries. In one debate (out of 42
total), he criticized the Massachusetts furlough program which
had given Horton a weekend pass. But he never mentioned anyone's
name; never mentioned anyone's race; never ran an ad on the subject;
and never used any photos at all. The claim that Gore engaged
in "slash-and-burn politics against fellow Democrats"
by "raising the specter of Willie Horton" seems impossible
to square with the facts.
But these facts are never mentioned in this article-an article
in which Gore is repeatedly accused by Bush and Bush officials
of being "integrity-challenged," "negative,"
"a man who feels like he can say what he wants," and
someone who feels "free and comfortable about saying things
that simply aren't true." "Voters are tired of slash-and-burn
politics," Bush's advisers are quoted saying in a large presentation
above the article's headline. But in the midst of these accusations
and pious claims, Bush's team makes a serious and baldly false
claim about Gore. And Connolly-though she knows the facts-never
challenges or corrects their assertions, or places them in a full
Does Connolly know the facts in question? She has explained
them in the Post in the past. Here is her account of this matter
in a January 24 article:
But one week later, Bradley was digging up a 15-year-old vote
Gore cast on tobacco while in Congress. He then revived the debate
over Gore's role in raising the prison furlough of murderer Willie
Horton against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign.
Although Gore was in fact the first to tar Dukakis with that
criticism, Gore studiously avoided mentioning Horton's name or
These same facts were clearly explained in David Maraniss and
Ellen Nakashima's recent Post magazine cover story. These facts
are well known to knowledgeable observers (though not to the public).
They are clearly well known to Connolly.
In my view, Connolly's work is an endless source of negative
spin about Gore. I think the Post abuses the public's trust by
continuing to publish her work. But today I'd like to ask you
for your comment on this one particular article. Specifically:
1) Are you satisfied with the treatment of the Horton matter?
2) Do you think the Post's readers should be offered a substantial
factual amplification? 3) Especially given this article's remarkable
context, does it seem appropriate when Post writers report the
Bush campaign's serious charge without describing the actual facts
of this case?
I am publishing the text of this letter on my web site. I hope
you'll allow me to share your answer to these questions in that
I hope all is well.
cc. Howard Kurtz
E. J. Dionne Jr.