Monthly Archives: May 2004

Surprise, Surprise

The Washington Post’s Jim VandeHei, teaming in this report with Dana Milbank [Correction: In the original post, I incorrectly identified the co-writer as Dana Priest, another Post writer and of another gender], presents a truly objective account of the Bush ad campaign without being slave to what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently called “the tyranny of evenhandedness.”

In a story headlined “From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity,” the reporters described “a typical week in the life of the Bush reelection machine,” recounting several charges leveled by Vice President Dick Cheney, several broadcast and cable TV ads and campaign HQ memos to reporters. Then, in the sixth paragraph, they write:

The charges were all tough, serious — and wrong, or at least highly misleading.

…Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented — both in speeches and in advertising.
Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush’s campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads — or 27 percent of his total. The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate.

…Bush has outdone Kerry in the number of untruths, in part because Bush has leveled so many specific charges (and Kerry has such a lengthy voting record), but also because Kerry has learned from the troubles caused by Al Gore’s misstatements in 2000. “The balance of misleading claims tips to Bush,” Jamieson said, “in part because the Kerry team has been more careful.”

The journalists report on some of the distortions emanating from the Kerry campaign, but as the figures cited above suggest, they are less frequent. Moreover, when the Bush operatives are challenged, they simply ignore reporters.

One constant theme of the Bush campaign is that Kerry is “playing politics” with Iraq, terrorism and national security. Earlier this month, Bush-Cheney Chairman Marc Racicot told reporters in a conference call that Kerry suggested in a speech that 150,000 U.S. troops are “universally responsible” for the misdeeds of a few soldiers at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison — a statement the candidate never made. In that one call, Racicot made at least three variations of this claim and the campaign cut off a reporter who challenged him on it.

VandeHei and Milbank describe charges that they say are rooted in truth but bent nearly 180 degrees.

On March 30, the Bush team released an ad noting that Kerry “supported a 50-cent-a-gallon gas tax” and saying, “If Kerry’s tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year.” But Kerry opposes an increase in the gasoline tax. The ad is based on a 10-year-old newspaper quotation of Kerry but implies that the proposal is current.
Other Bush claims, though misleading, are rooted in facts. For example, Cheney’s claim in almost every speech that Kerry “has voted some 350 times for higher taxes” includes any vote in which Kerry voted to leave taxes unchanged or supported a smaller tax cut than some favored.

…The strategy was in full operation last week, beginning Monday in Arkansas. “Senator Kerry,” Cheney said, “has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all. He said, quote, ‘I don’t want to use that terminology.’ In his view, opposing terrorism is far less of a military operation and more of a law enforcement operation.”

But Kerry did not say what Cheney attributes to him. The quote Cheney used came from a March interview with the New York Times, in which Kerry used the phrase “war on terror.” When he said “I don’t want to use that terminology,” he was discussing the “economic transformation” of the Middle East — not the war on terrorism.

The reporters also document cases where quotes used in Bush’s campaign ads are “from editorials, sometimes from opinion pages hostile toward Kerry, such as that of the Wall Street Journal.”

It is doubtful that this report on the front page above the fold of one of the nation’s leading newspapers will change the Bush strategy. With the advertising and PR strategies of the Bush campaign, it’s hard to draw any conclusion other than our political discourse has deteriorated to the point where politicians will unabashedly lie, knowing that the truth – or humiliation in the press – cannot reverse the impressions such lies make.

If Special Counsel for the Army Joseph N. Welch, were he instead of directing his question to Sen. Joe McCarthy more than 50 years ago, be asking of the Bush ad campaign, “Have you know sense of decency,” it’s doubtful we would remember it as a seminal moment in political history.

O Really O’Reilly

Washington Post columnist and Brookings Institution fellow E. J. Dionne is considered by many liberals to be moderate, yet he is often paired with conservatives in point/counterpoint type discussions. He regularly appears with David Brooks, a moderate conservative, who writes op-eds for the New York Times.

Dionne has written a new book Stand Up and Fight Back (not to be confused with James Carville’s book Had Enough? : A Handbook for Fighting Back. In an excerpt, Dionne takes on the myth of the liberal media.

One of the most successful conservative tactics in the media war has been to compare conservative media institutions with neutral media institutions and declare that because the neutral institutions are not conservative, they must be liberal.

…Though one could wish that [the] Fox [News Network] would not try to claim that it is “fair and balanced,” there is nothing wrong with having a conservative network. But it would be better for democracy if Fox were balanced by a comparably liberal network. Conservatives claim that there is a “liberal” alternative and that it’s CNN. This claim is silly. There is not a single program on CNN that can be seen as liberal in the way that, for example, Bill O’Reilly’s program is conservative.

Dionne goes on to provide some useful history of how the whole myth of a liberal media started, how it was nurtured by conservatives, and how it was cowardly accepted by major media outlets.

Four Reasons for a Cowardly Press

Paul Krugman at the New York Times provides reasons for the pass Bush has had from the press for most of his tenure:

*Misplaced patriotism
*Tyranny of evenhandedness
*Incredulity that Bush would really be so dishonest

The GOP, Brought to You By…

This note from ABC’s The Note:

On to that Republican convention: the ink is still drying, but the deal is done. Time Warner (parent company of CNN, TIME Magazine, and other fine media outlets) is set to become one of the official sponsors of the Republican National Convention.

The New York Host Committee is set to announce today that Time Warner will host the welcoming party for the thousands of journalists descending upon Gotham to cover the GOP bash. Get out your blackberries and palm pilots — Saturday Aug. 28, 2004 at the swanky new Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle (with Per Se back up and running).

A major news organization sponsoring a political convention? What liberal media indeed. (Thanks to a reader for passing this one.)

Franken Beats Limbaugh

My headline may turn out to be as bad as “Dewey Beats Truman,” but the numbers, though only preliminary and “extrapolations,” indicate Al Franken’s liberal talk show is competing effectively with Rush Limbaugh and might be beating him in the demographic advertisers most covet.

Post from the Middle East

A friend has been in the Middle East theatre for nearly a year and occasionally sends letters to us “Amigos” back home. With specific identifying information removed, here’s his latest post.

Is Virginia In Play?

Gov. Mark Warner may have accomplished more than raised a few bucks for services for Virginians. He might have also made their vote count.

Sen. John Kerry’s campaign announced it is buying TV ads in the Old Dominion. No word on how much he’ll spend, but that he is spending a dime is a surprise to some. Bush won the state by 8 points in 2000.

But since then Warner, a Democrat, has not only passed a major tax increase, he’s done it with a 2-1 Republican majority in both houses of the General Assembly. A grassroots campaign that saw hundreds of people at each of dozens of public meetings throughout the state plead for more funding for education and social and medical services helped turn the tide – or at least 17 Republican House delegates to vote for a sales tax increase and other taxes that will raise $1.6 billion in new revenue over the next biennium. Indeed, his major ally was the Republican Senate Majority Leader John Chichester.

But there have been other changes since 2000. Fairfax County is home to one of every seven voters in Virginia, a candidate for statewide office told me today. The county elected a solid Democratic county board of supervisors in 2003. Every candidate who had signed a no-tax pledge in the county lost.

Fairfax, widely recognized as one of the most attractive places to live in the county due in part to its school system, also enjoys low unemployment because of the plethora of government business. Neighboring Loudoun County, the fastest growing county in the nation, is more of a mix bag politically, voting for county officials who sought to control growth four years ago only to see most of them lose to Republicans in the ’03 elections. The inner suburbs of Alexandria and Arlington are solidly Democratic.

Richmond and the coastal Tidewater areas are also experiencing “big city” issues and have been sympathetic to some Democratic candidates. The presumptive Democratic candidate for governor in the ’05 election is Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, a former Richmond mayor. And word is moderate Republicans in the Tidewater area are contemplating primary challenges to the conservatives that fought the tax increases. The Republican treasurer of Virginia Beach even went so far as to put an ad in the local paper seeking moderate Republicans to run.

Kerry may also have put the Southern portions of the state in play by favoring a tobacco quota buyout sought by many tobacco farmers. Bush has said he’s not in favor of it. Also rural Virginians are feeling the effects of the recession. Many of their jobs are the kind that are going overseas (textiles) or dying a slow death (tobacco).

Meanwhile, of course, Bush has screwed up most everything he’s touched, so there is more fertile ground than once thought.

Kerry has also run ads in Colorado and Louisiana, two states in which he wasn’t expected to compete. But he must know something — or perhaps just have some Commonwealth Commonsense. The Bush campaign immediately bought ads in those states to counter Kerry’s. No word on whether Bush plans to run ads in Virginia.

Overall, money is not the unbalanced issue it once was.

Separately, the Media Fund, a Democratic interest group that has spent more than $20 million on anti-Bush ads this year, announced a $1.5 million donation to the New Democratic Network, which represents party centrists, for its ads. The network has spent more than $1 million of TV ads in those four states touting the Democratic agenda and criticizing Bush.
By the end of June, Kerry will have spent at least $60 million on TV ads since March.

Bush’s latest buys — $3.5 million over 12 days to run a new ad assailing Kerry in 18 states and $2.5 million to advertise on national cable networks in June — means the president will have spent at least $75 million during the same period.

Old Fashioned Politics Work

Now that Kerry has decided to accept the nomination at the convention, he’ll have to live with the monetary disadvantage of having to spend the same amount of funds as Bush (only Federal money can be spent by candidates during the general election campaign), but over a month longer time.

I’ve maintained before that money is becoming overrated in these national campaigns. There’s a law of diminishing returns. You can’t expect to flood the airwaves with ads without decreasing their effectiveness. People become jaded, bored and downright irritated by the ads. If Kerry spends wisely up to the convention and then focuses on getting out the vote, he can win – and win big.

Just today at breakfast with a statewide candidate here in Virginia, the candidate told me mailers in even local races are often counterproductive. As taught to us by Chap Petersen, Steve Shannon and others, an emphasis on old fashion retail politics of walking the district can mean victory.

Now comes a report from Harvard University’s JFK School of Government that retail politics may be more effective even for national campaigns. You can’t expect to knock on every door in the nation, of course, but local campaign stops and local earned media can be more effective than TV ads, according to the study that looked at the movement in Al Gore’s numbers as they related to campaign stops.

Thanks to the Daily Kos for pointing this out.

Now we just must make sure we get out the vote. If you know of anyone who may not vote this year, please take the time to convince them to get to the polls. That may be the best service anyone can donate to the cause.