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Gore's Press Problem

Plus: How he blew his chance for a New Hampshire knockout.


Posted Tuesday, February 1, 2000

        [Note: This item was posted on Slate on Monday, January 31, the day before the New Hampshire primary. It holds up!]

        Kausfiles' previous item charged that the press was boosting Bradley because reporters didn't want the primary race to end. But that item was written from Washington, D.C. Kausfiles is now on the spot, in New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary and press gangbang. By pursuing a strategy of "investigative drinking" at the bar of the Wayfarer Inn in Bedford, our crack team of reporters is now able to add context and perspective to our earlier reports, and to the seeming Bradley surge over the primary's final weekend.

        Executive summary: The previous item was only half the story.

        What I underestimated--what, indeed, has startled me--is the extent to which reporters aren't simply boosting Bradley for their own sake (or Bradley's). It's also something else: They hate Gore. They really do think he's a liar. And a phony. They dislike the controlled, canned nature of his campaign events, and hate covering them. They do not admire Gore's transformation from bad wooden politician to newly-energized attack machine as much as their stories about it may suggest. Rather, they see Gore as a bully, and a hypocritical one at that, bellowing about Bradley's negativity when the New Jersey senator finally brings up some fairly obvious Gore vulnerabilities.

        It may be true, as Joe Battenfeld writes in today's Boston Herald, that "Bradley's new attacks questioning Gore's truthfulness on abortion are really designed to raise the ghosts of Monica Lewinsky, Buddhist fund-raising and other White House scandals to taint the vice president." But for the press, Bradley's attacks questioning Gore's truthfulness are less clever. They raise mainly the question of Gore's truthfulness. And reporters eat them up ...

        All this makes Newsweek writer Bill Turque's allegations regarding Gore's youthful marijuana experimentation much more relevant. The issue isn't Gore's drug use (an area where reporters are generationally inclined to cut Gore a lot of slack) but whether Gore told the truth, or used bullying tactics to cover up the truth. ... (So far, with Turque's story being held by Newsweek, evidence of real bullying is fairly weak. Gore's ex-stoner buddy, John Warnecke, says the vice president and Tipper called him and asked him not to blab to the press. When he refused, they hung up! How mafia-like can you get! Clinton would at least have gotten the guy a job in Hollywood ... See Matthew Rees' Warnecke story in this week's Weekly Standard.)

        Memo to Bob Shrum: You didn't take kausfiles' advice, you fool! Instead of using TV ads in New Hampshire to draw a contrast between your candidate (Gore) and Bradley on an issue of substance in which Gore has the upper hand (welfare reform), your campaign sat in its lead. In the final weekend before the New Hampshire primary, you can't sit on a lead!

        I suppose the idea was to carry out the strategy of trapping Bradley in the much-ballyhooed "box"--if he didn't respond to your attacks, the theory went, he'd lose; if he responded to your attacks with attacks of his own, he'd contradict his self-proclaimed image of being above such things, and look desperate to boot.

        Well, egged on by the press, Bradley's now attacking you--and, guess what, he seems to be getting some traction. Gore has been noisily denouncing Bradley's "manipulative, negative" tactics, as planned. But the box ain't closing, at least from where I sit. Instead, it's Gore who looks desperate and hypocritical, while Bradley looks like the John Wayne character who has established his essential goodness in the first reel but finally can't take it anymore and in the second reel socks the bad guy in the jaw.

        Maybe Bradley's comeback is too little, too late [insert Super Bowl analogy here]. Only time will tell! But it wasn't necessary to let him come back at all.

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Gore's Secret Weapon

posted 08.03.99

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Copyright 2000 Mickey Kaus.

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