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Jewish World Review Feb. 4, 2000/ 31 Shevat, 5760


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Gore's very strange and scary performances -- IT MAKES SENSE that The New York Times is so energetic in promoting Al Gore's presidential campaign: the paper's editors and reporters are virtual clones of the Vice President. In its "news" columns and editorials, the Times treats its readers like Gore does the nation, like fifth-graders in the bottom third of the class.

If a newspaper could talk, the Times would deafen ears from here to Berkeley, CA. Although the Democratic race is the only one of importance to publisher Artie Sulzberger, "maverick" John McCain, on the Republican side, has also been the recipient of obscene puff pieces in the New York propaganda sheet.

Examples abound of this arrogance, but let's examine one day's coverage (last Saturday) of the New Hampshire primary, in comparison to The Washington Post and The Boston Globe-also dailies with liberal slants-to see just how naked the Times' bias is. Reporters James Dao and Katharine Seelye, on the Gore-Bradley beat, wrote that the former New Jersey senator had amped up his rhetoric against the Vice President but "held back his toughest punches." The story was headlined "Bradley Attacks Gore, But Not on Campaign Finance Issue" and portrayed Bradley as indecisive in his strategy and described "disagreements" within the campaign.

Ceci Connolly and Mike Allen, in The Washington Post, saw Friday's events differently, with this lead sentence: "Bill Bradley, in his most direct attack on the ethics of Vice President Gore, said tonight the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign fund-raising scandal was 'disgraceful' and if it was not dealt with now, Republicans would win back the White House in November." And in the Globe, Jill Zuckman and Bob Hohler described Bradley as "slashing and attacking" Gore as he campaigned on Friday. In fact, the Globe reporters gave the impression that Bradley, far from "holding his punches," was in full-battle mode, writing "Bradley all but called Gore a liar, and invited comparisons between the vice president and former president Richard M. Nixon."

Both the Globe and Post recorded this quote from Bradley on Friday, likening, at least to this reader, Gore to Clinton: "When you listen to Al Gore speak, you have to listen very carefully, because old politics uses words in a very tricky manner. You have to look at every word and every clause." The message is obvious: Gore is following the Clinton style of legalistic phrasing: it depends on what the meaning of invent is. And the Associated Press released an article quoting Bradley as follows: "I can tell you right now I am no longer going to accept misrepresentations of my positions by Al Gore... How you run a campaign is how you govern. That was the point I was making and I waited a long time to make it."

Also in the Post on Saturday was Thomas Edsall and Dan Morgan's piece about Gore's uneven record on abortion. While the Vice President has long been in favor of Roe v. Wade, as a congressman he voted pro-life on numerous occasions. The Times barely acknowledged this discrepancy, but the Post report is fairly damning to Gore. In Wednesday's very strange debate, Gore, looking and acting like an amphetamine-fueled Gordon Gekko sparring with the reincarnation of Adlai Stevenson, said: "I have always supported Roe v. Wade. I have always supported a woman's right to choose." That's an outright lie. As Edsall and Morgan write, "But as a congressman from Tennessee in the 1980s, Gore displayed a different attitude about abortion. He voted for a law that described a fetus as a person and wrote one Nashville voter in 1983, 'It is my deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong.'"

In fact, during Gore's House tenure, he earned an 84 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee. Whether the Times is simply behind the curve on events up north, or withholding damaging information, is open to debate, I suppose, but there's no doubt the paper's agenda is to protect Gore.

(The following day, the Times acknowledged that Gore hasn't been truthful on his statements about abortion.)

In that final New Hampshire debate Gore simply dismissed the facts, and repeatedly accused Bradley of running a negative race. It was a very strange and scary performance by Gore: what was going on with his face? Listening to him speak was insufferable; he was thoroughly evasive, dishonest and tedious beyond belief. Bradley clearly won the hourlong match, especially if you simply read the transcript. But as I've said before he's aged 15 years in the past six months. Even with Gore's rapid wardrobe changes, weight losses and hair gains, Bradley is s-l-o-w, even when on the attack. >I think that Paul Wellstone, the ultraliberal senator from Minnesota who backs Bradley, would've creamed Gore in the debate. Wellstone had briefly considered entering the race, and at this point he would've fared better against Gore, but he never would've made it to that New Hampshire setting since he didn't have the money-raising prowess of Bradley.

Even The Washington Post, which no doubt favors Gore, was critical of the Vice President in a Jan. 28 editorial about the debate. It read: "Mr. Bradley's assault was prompted by his opponent's numerous attacks on him, which collectively do amount to dishonesty. Mr. Gore has decried the Bradley campaign's proposed extension of health coverage to uninsured Americans as overly ambitious, a charge that is at least plausible. But he also has attacked Mr. Bradley from the opposite direction, accusing him of indifference to the health care of precisely the lower-income families the Bradley program seeks to help, as well as minorities. While slurring Mr. Bradley's ideas and motives, Mr. Gore preaches that he has never attacked his opponent personally. Then, when Mr. Bradley hits back at him, Mr. Gore scolds his opponent for going negative."

The Times has no real interest in the Republican race-except to excoriate the eventual nominee-but for the sake of filling column inches the editors have anointed McCain as the candidate most worthy to oppose Gore in the fall. Reporter Richard Berke, in a Saturday story headlined "Bush Makes Effort Outside New Hampshire," gives the impression that the Texas Governor's campaign team has all but conceded the primary to McCain and has now been forced to redouble efforts in other states. In contrast, the Post's Terry M. Neal and David Von Drehle led their Bush story that day with the news that the candidate had been endorsed by former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (who'd been backing Dan Quayle), somewhat of a coup since the younger Bush had been instrumental in Sununu's firing during the elder Bush's administration. In addition, the reporters wrote: "The Bush campaign was ebullient today over polls showing him closing the gap with McCain, and he held four campaign events around the state, urging people to turn out at the polls."

The Post's story also included criticisms by Bush and McCain of Clinton's State of the Union address last Thursday, the Gore-for-President infomercial that lasted 89 minutes. Bush said, in noting that he didn't listen to the entire speech, "I was tired and he got a little long-winded there." But the Governor did use Clinton's feel-good remarks as a vehicle to take a dig at McCain: "The President has spent all of the money he can possibly spend, then he had a little bit left over for tax cuts... [Clinton] and John McCain agree on the size of the tax cut."

McCain traded barbs with Bush, after saying that he "fell asleep" during Clinton's speech. He added: "Nobody is more anti-Clinton than me. I think a lot of people wonder whether he [Bush] is ready for prime time when he says that." So much for the Bush-McCain nice-guy pact, which is all for the good. It was getting nauseating watching those two refer to each other as "my good friend" when obviously there's a lot of tension and hard feelings between them.

The Times also ran a stupid story by Peter Marks-leading with the following cliche: "These days, the candidates see nabobs of negativism everywhere"-which claimed that the contest in New Hampshire this year has been tame in comparison to past presidential battles. That's obviously not true, given Bradley's continued attacks on Gore and the back-and-forth of insults between Bush and McCain. (Steve Forbes is the paradigm of negative campaigning, but his vanity campaign is likely to stall here, so for now I'll ignore him.)

Plus, in the same edition of the Times, there was an article headlined "Sununu Joins Bush Team" that quoted a testy McCain on his reaction to the endorsement. He said it was a sign of "a real kind of
desperation in the establishment," because Republicans were afraid of his promise to overhaul campaign finance laws. Never mind that McCain is as guilty as any candidate in cozying up and granting favors to contributors. He continued, "I wouldn't be surprised if every lobbyist in Washington endorsed Bush." Except those who need McCain for their own concerns.

And contained in Saturday's Times was yet another editorial hammering New York's GOP establishment for its primary rules. I agree that the system is absurd: it is embarrassing that one of the most important states in the country has a contest that is highly exclusionary. The process, in the interest of fairness, must be corrected. But it's not coincidental that the Times, which could've begun its series of repetitive editorials on the subject last year, is now belittling Gov. George Pataki and his favored candidate, frontrunner Bush. After all, last summer, McCain wasn't considered a serious contender.

Now, in addition to ridiculing Bush for "ducking the issue" by saying it's up to each state to decide the rules, the Jan. 29 editorial indulged in hyperbole when it accused Pataki and Republican chairman William Powers of conducting "a shameful display of Soviet-style politics." Given the paper's animus toward former President George Bush and his sons, I wonder, if it'd been McCain who'd amassed a record-shattering amount in campaign contributions, and had been endorsed by an overwhelming number of elected officials, if the New York primary would smack of "Soviet" politics.

McCain can talk about the lobbyist establishment all he wants; it's arguable which is more powerful, that or the media, which is still squarely in his corner.

Finally, in Saturday's Times, Frank Rich, the paper's most repugnant op-ed columnist and its least-qualified political analyst, declares that Americans are "bored" with this presidential election. That's news. The United States, at least in the last generation, has never achieved the voter participation of other First-World countries. Rich is typically lazy in his piece, citing a Harvard study that the public is particularly disengaged from the political races this year, saying that it's because of the robust economy that citizens would rather watch Regis Philbin or some dopey entertainment awards show than the presidential debates. Obviously, that's been the case for years, and there's a reason, regardless of the economy, that the quadrennial Republican and Democratic conventions are allotted so little airtime on the major stations: they don't attract high ratings.

Rich attempts sarcasm in describing this year's election: "Boring... There were the sagas of George W. Bush's smirks (and alleged snorts), Al Gore's sighs (and alleged tokes), John McCain's tantrums, Bill Bradley's heart flips, Warren Beatty's mind games and, of course, Donald Trump's sex life." And no Rich column would be complete without an anti-Christian slur: "Not to mention the touching spiritual pageant of candidates publicly embracing Jesus."

But the former theater critic shows his profound lack of political smarts when he turns serious. In claiming that there's no difference between the four major candidates, Rich writes this preposterous sentence: "Given four contenders so eager to hug the center,
conventional wisdom has it that this election is a battle over character-hence the endless dissection of smirks and sighs and the constant lookout for this year's magic balm, authenticity."

I fully believe that Rich has been holed up in his apartment listening to Cole Porter tunes for the past four months (perhaps with John Podhoretz), for he certainly hasn't been paying attention to politics. As any legitimate political observer could tell him-even the Times' Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd-there are profound differences between the Republicans and Democrats in this year's election. Tax cuts? Bush is in favor of a big one (although it's not large enough). Gore and Bradley, on the other hand, would raid the Treasury for entitlements and other handouts. Does Rich think Bush and Gore would have similar Supreme Court nominations? Do they agree on school vouchers? Or military expenditures?

Bush is "hugging the center." Odd coming from Rich, who's written about 218 columns about the desperate need for hate-crimes legislation, which Bush opposes. Gays in the military? Don't tell Rich the Texas Governor's position. Or McCain's. Bush and McCain are pro-life; Gore and Bradley, pro-choice. Do the statements that Bush and McCain have released on the Second Amendment square with Rich's idea of the political center?

It's almost certain that Bush will face Gore in the fall, but even if events take a weird turn and it winds up with McCain and Bradley as the candidates, the election won't be a battle for the "center." As a Wall Street Journal editorial put it on Jan. 10, summing up the Democratic primaries: "Dick Morris and Clintonian 'triangulation' are out; full-throated appeals to liberal interest groups are back. From health care to education to gay rights to taxes to foreign affairs, this year's two leading Democrats want to party like it's 1969."

Rich must have crafted a sordid sinecure at the Times. Maybe he possesses some kind of J. Edgar Hoover dirt on the Sulzberger family. There's no way even young Artie would countenance the theater critic's drivel otherwise.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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