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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday January 11, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 2)

Dangerous Tax Cuts?; Brazile the "Believer"; Bad Sports on GOP Candidates

1. Newsweek and U.S. News suggested George W. Bush was endangering his political future by "walking on the wild side" and endorsing tax cuts and supply-side economics.

2. U.S. News and Time seem ideologically confused about who's on the extremes and who's in the center. McCain's a "hard-edged conservative," Gore and Bradley "trundle down the center."

3. Only Newsweek gives a paragraph to Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile's gaffe that Republicans would rather "take pictures with black children than feed them."

4. While the AOL Time Warner merger may create a seeming capitalist behemoth, Sports Illustrated couldn't help but step in (and step on) Republican dark horses in Campaign 2000.

On the covers for the January 17 issues: U.S. News & World Report featured a cartoon caricature of McCain and Bradley as the underdogs in the 2000 race. Newsweek drew attention to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Time focused on six-year-old Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez. U.S. News owner Mortimer Zuckerman indulged his "fantasy about what some famous folks might have said last year," including his wishful quote from Hillary about Ken Starr: "He is the crash dummy for the right wing of the Republican Party. He's depriving a village somewhere of an idiot."


In Newsweek, Howard Fineman compared how Al Gore and George W. Bush handle the challenges posed from their primary rivals Bradley and McCain. He cited Gore's leftward lurch on gays in the military and Bush's recent debate statement where he emphasized he would not raise taxes short of war. Fineman wrote these statements could haunt them:

"Back to back, the front runners gave sound bites that could bite them later. Gore marched into the quagmire that trapped his own boss, Bill Clinton, in the bleak first year of his presidency. The veep picked a fight with Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, both of whom oppose openly gay service, and undercut his claim, as a Vietnam vet, to a better understanding of military culture than his boss or Bradley. Bush was drawn to the flame of his own father's broken promise at the GOP convention of 1988. Bush the Elder's 'read my lips' pledge helped him win the presidency, and then helped him lose it. Critics may play the promises side by side and ask: what kind of family tradition are we looking at here? 'He may have gotten a little carried away the other night,' conceded a top adviser in Austin, Texas…..But it's risky for candidates to assume that they can walk on the wild side of their party, and then tiptoe back to the middle to appeal to the mainstream later on. Now they have to be multitaskers, simultaneously appealing to the extremists and the centrists even in the early primaries." 

(Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom Watch" continues this line of criticism in its item about Bush to whom it gives a sideways arrow, "Sharper in debates, but CW sez: watch those tax-cut promises, so help you God.")

Gore's position on gays in the military, considering the overwhelming opposition by U. S. military leaders and the collateral damage the issue caused the Democrats in 1994, can accurately be described as extreme. But tax cuts? The "wild side" of the Republican party? Fineman is apparently unaware of how much public support tax cuts garner when the public is informed of the specific proposals rather than in media polls where a voter is asked to pick between tax cuts or more health insurance for children.

U.S. News also emphasized this theme in a piece by Franklin Foer. "Bush has tried to affirm his ideological bona fides by talking tough on taxes. Listen to the change in tune. When Bush unveiled his $483 billion tax plan last December, he argued that he wasn't espousing the usual GOP fare. His calls for helping the poor sounded like Walter Mondale. Now that McCain seems poised to upset him in New Hampshire, Bush has been expending great energy trying to sound more like Jack Kemp, embracing the usual GOP fare. Last week, he proudly labeled himself a believer in supply-side economics, and he took a pledge: 'This is not only 'No new taxes.' This is tax cuts-so help me God.'…Cuddling with the conservatives could hurt Bush in a race against a Democrat. Big talk about tax cuts has fallen flat recently. And Bush has framed the debate in ways that leave him open to old criticism: He's just another fiscally irresponsible Republican helping the rich."

There are few better ways to generate media criticism and outrage than coming out in favor of supply-side economics.


Who's on the extremes and who's in the center? Roger Simon's U.S. News article on McCain's challenge to Bush probably fits the media's idea of "balanced" reporting. Simon focuses a great deal of his article on McCain's Vietnam experience and how it plays well with voters. However, he gives the impression he thought he may be too fulsome in his praise of McCain, so something critical had to be thrown in to give the story an illusion of balance: "And because McCain appeared to be such a maverick, he attracted the support of independents and Democrats, many of whom assume that he is some kind of moderate, when, in fact, his voting record is that of a hard-edged conservative."

Let's get this straight; McCain lobbies and votes for campaign finance reform that would severely affect the Republican party, lobbies and votes to raise tobacco taxes, and this is a "hard edged" conservative?

Here's another example of the media's aversion to the "liberal" label. Time's Eric Pooley offered a profile of Gore and Bradley in a piece designed to show how little their differences are. Despite detailing how they support core liberal positions such as abortion rights, gun control, minimum wage increase, and campaign finance reform, he cannot bring himself to use the word liberal. Pooley wrote, "With a few exceptions, their policy differences tend to be minor--a nuance here, an incremental step there, with Bradley generally wanting to go a bit further to the left than Gore and calling himself 'bold' and his rival 'timid' because of it...In his campaign for President, Bradley seems to be continuing that pattern. He stakes out positions slightly more progressive than Gore's."

But Pooley wasn't as silly as his Time colleague Nancy Gibbs, who claimed "all four leading candidates have a way of sounding a lot like Clinton as they leave the ideological purity to Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes and trundle down the center of the field."


One of the major campaign 2000 controversies that emerged this past week was the flap involving Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile and her remarks concerning Republicans and African Americans. She mentioned Gen. Colin Powell and Republicans Rep. J.C. Watts in her remarks who promptly sent back angry responses to her comments.

Newsweek's Debra Rosenberg was the only magazine reporter to mention the Brazile controversy and the response it generated. She wrote, "But all hasn't been smooth. Brazile recently suggested that the GOP uses prominent African-Americans as political props. 'The Republicans bring out [Gen.] Colin Powell and [Oklahoma Rep.] J. C. Watts because they have no program, no policy,' she told a reporter. 'They'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them.' Last week both men fired off angry letters to Gore. Powell accused Brazile of 'playing the polarizing 'race card',' and said he was 'disappointed and offended.' Watts called the remarks 'racist' and 'appalling.' Gore tried to calm the waters by calling Powell a 'great hero,' but he stuck by Brazile. 'She's doing a great job,' he said."

Time only mentioned Brazile as a "loser" in their "Winners & Losers" feature ("Gaffe-prone Gore aide says GOP doesn't care about blacks, gets rebuke from Colin Powell") and Eric Pooley's mention that Gore has "learned…lessons anew" by "promoting believers like campaign manager Donna Brazile." U.S. News only mentioned the controversy by pointing out in "Washington Whispers" that Watts goofed in his protest letter to Brazile by stating his congressional career as seven years instead of five.


And finally, not even a seemingly apolitical publication as Sports Illustrated can keep out of campaign 2000. Frank Deford, in an article posted on titled "NFL Playoffs: Unusually Suspect", offers this unique comparison. "And so the NFL playoffs begin, with Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, Orrin Hatch and Alan Keyes all qualifying. Yes, although lacking any discernible qualifications, you too can make the presidential primaries-and you too can make the NFL postseason." 

I had no idea that these candidates qualified for the NFL playoffs. This shows two things. First, the talent pool in the NFL really has thinned. And second, now we know why Bauer, Forbes, Hatch and Keyes are doing so poorly in the polls. If you had to run a presidential campaign and figure out the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive scheme as well as the multifaceted Indianapolis Colts offense, it could only hurt your efforts to reach out to the American people.

-- Paul Smith





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