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by Bob Somerby
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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 S. Dukakis.)

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 context.

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 race.

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 forum.

I hope all is well.

Yours truly,

 

Bob Somerby

cc. Howard Kurtz
   Maralee Schwartz
David Broder
Richard Cohen
E. J. Dionne Jr.
Jim Hoagland
David Ignatius
Charles Krauthammer
Mary McGrory
William Raspberry
George Will