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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday February 8, 2000 (Vol. 2; No. 6)

McCain’s Triple Crowning; Newsweek Rediscovers Gore and Pot; Hillary, the Anonymous Activist

1. John McCain’s wooing of the press paid off in New Hampshire and in the magazines. Newsweek praised McCain’s media politicking. U.S. News proclaimed McCain’s victory shows Reaganism is "hopelessly outdated." Time declared tax-cut politics are dead.

2. Newsweek published its delayed second excerpt of its own reporter Bill Turque’s book, including testimony from Gore friends John Warnecke and Andy Schlesinger that Gore’s post-Vietnam toking was more than "once or twice."

3. Newsweek’s Debra Rosenberg claimed Hillary Clinton’s advocacy for "the children" was "largely ignored by the press." But she never mentioned the ‘activist’ role Hillary took in firing the White House Travel Staff.

All three news magazines predictably placed big New Hampshire victor John McCain on their covers, a second time for Newsweek and U.S. News (both previously paired him with Bill Bradley) and a third occasion for Time (after recently placing the "Final Four" candidates up front). U.S. News asked: "Can He Win It All?" Newsweek touted "McCain’s Big Mo." And Time (as well as Newsweek inside) stole Slate’s headline "The McCain Mutiny" -- but with little explanation of what McCain was betraying.


John McCain’s wooing of the press paid off in New Hampshire and in the magazines.

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman turned McCain’s relentless wooing of reporters into a whole new method of politics: "Like Jimmy Carter, McCain invented a new route to stardom. In 1976, Carter turned the Iowa caucuses, until then obscure events, into his launching pad. McCain's version of Iowa: the media. He's worked the precincts of the press corps like an Irish pol in Southie on St. Patrick's Day, offering his near-obsessive candor and availability to reporters reared in an era of antagonism between the media and the politicians. ‘You guys sold out for a box of doughnuts and a bus ride,’ groused one Bush insider in Austin. The governor of Texas is friendly enough, but wary of the press -- a trait he inherited from his parents." Fineman went so far as to compare the former POW to, of all people, Ho Chi Minh: "As surprising as it seems, McCain's Mutiny is no accident. It's the work of a driven and indefatigable campaigner with a knack for appearing far less calculating than he really is. He had a game plan, but a nothing-to-lose attitude to hide it. McCain is a third-generation Annapolis man, the son and grandson of admirals. His strategic model, though, isn't Admiral Mahan, it's Ho Chi Minh -- with the Bush Team in the role of the beleaguered U.S. Army."

Jonathan Alter also revealed how McCain garnered favorable press: " For years McCain has been exceptionally open to the national press corps. But now the campaign has created an unprecedented -- and for the press, perilously intoxicating -- level of access. Each day a rotating group of a half dozen or so reporters talk endlessly on the record with a cheerful McCain aboard his bus (or plane) between stops....When McCain runs into trouble, he can't hide behind aides or push the press behind rope lines, as other candidates do. He has to answer any question the reporters ask for the rest of the day."

Alter continued: "But overall, the political payoff has been huge -- the most positive press coverage of any Republican presidential contender since Dwight Eisenhower."

But in the midst of Alter’s adulation of McCain he did find time to take a slam at Ken Starr: "More important, McCain's life story can be told to their children, an important selling point for women voters too. The whole ‘straight talk’ campaign is predicated on McCain's being the ultimate anti-Clinton. Instead of the blue dress, there's the tattered wash rag that for years was prisoner McCain's only possession. Instead of Ken Starr, there's ‘The Cat,’ McCain's wily and vicious North Vietnamese interrogator."

U.S. News and World Report’s Kenneth T. Walsh saw McCain’s victory as a chance to re-shape the GOP into a less strident anti-government party. "Even if he loses the nomination, McCain has opened a historic debate on the future. What he could represent, GOP strategists say, is the next phase of the so-called Reagan revolution of the 1980s, which was based on cutting taxes, reducing the power of the federal government, and standing up to the ‘evil empire’ of communism. Americans remain deeply skeptical of Washington on many levels, as Reagan urged, but his overall mantra seems hopelessly outdated. Voters, for example, say they are more interested in shoring up Social Security than getting a big tax cut; they say they want a limited but activist government, and the Soviet Union no longer exists."

McCain’s victory had reporters comparing him to Jimmy Carter, with Bill Clinton playing the role of Richard Nixon. U.S. News columnist Gloria Borger exemplified the trend: "If Richard Nixon gave us President Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton could give us President John McCain. So far, at least, it's working. McCain is the Republican anti-Clinton, the candidate who appeals to voters tired of verbal manipulation and financial sleaze. His straight-talking, nonstop, no-frills, no-special-interests campaign has made McCain an appealing cross between Jimmy Stewart and Jimmy Carter." Borger concluded: "In a way, Clinton has trumped the poor GOP establishment once again, handing them McCain. One Bush ally, in a plea for a return to substance, asks, ‘Can you remember any policy proposals that Jimmy Carter ran on?’ The answer is no. What's memorable about Carter is that he won."

Time’s Nancy Gibbs, James Carney and John Dickerson claimed McCain’s victory served as a wake-up call to the GOP that tax cuts are not popular. "To the extent that either of the two contenders had a message, McCain's was working better. Bush took it as gospel that He Who Promises the Bigger Tax Cut Wins. His $483 billion plan was supposed to trump the cautious McCain, who talked more about paying down the debt than paying off the voters. But he hadn't bargained on pinch-fisted Yankees like the man at the Nashua Chamber of Commerce breakfast who stood up and punctured the theory. ‘I'm tired of all this tax-cut nonsense,’ the questioner told the Governor. "Can we stop it, please?’ To which Bush replied, ‘I don't believe it's nonsense. I'm not gonna drop my plan. If the heat gets on, I'm gonna keep to it. If you like it, I'm gonna take it to Congress. If you don't like it, you can send me home to Texas.’"

Gibbs, Carney and Dickerson ridiculed the establishment’s attempt to coronate Governor George W. Bush, even as they attempt some kingmaking of their own: "So, suddenly, the waltz to the nomination had become a rumble, not with an unelectable nuisance like Steve Forbes but with an unpredictable and utterly viable Republican named John McCain."


Newsweek finally published its delayed second excerpt of its own reporter Bill Turque’s book, including Al Gore’s high times. Turque reported: "As [John] Warnecke tells it, he and Gore would gather to talk politics late into the night, fueled by Grateful Dead albums and the high-grade marijuana that Warnecke imported from the West Coast. ‘We'd get stoned and talk about what we'd do if we were president,’ he says. Warnecke and two other close friends from Gore's Nashville days say Gore was an enthusiastic recreational user, smoking sometimes as often as three or four times a week: afterhours at Warnecke's house, on weekends at the Gore farm or canoeing on the Caney Fork River. Andy Schlesinger, a former Tennessean reporter who remains close to the Gores (he celebrated with them last week in New Hampshire), says that in the first few months after Gore returned from South Vietnam in 1971, he smoked with him ‘at least a dozen times’ at the Warneckes'. The partying continued, according to Warnecke and a Gore friend who declined to be named, until Gore ran his first House race in 1976."

He continued: "Al Gore stoned was a mix of expansiveness, melancholy and paranoia, friends recall. ‘These were low times,’ Schlesinger says. ‘Al was upset and disgusted by Vietnam and what it was doing to America.’ He could also be reflective about his lot as heir apparent in a political family. Listening one evening to Gore discuss the novel ‘The Godfather,’ which he touted as ‘the true American story,’ Schlesinger said he couldn't help but think that the saga of a son having to take over the family business had struck an intimate chord with Gore. But young Al also worried about a drug bust sending his future up in smoke. ‘He'd go around the room and close all the curtains and turn the lights out so no one could see,’ says Warnecke."

Turque also explained Gore’s efforts to pressure Warnecke out of talking to reporters in 1987, but he made stonewalling sound like acceptable politics as usual: "Gore's years with Bill Clinton only deepened the basic lessons Gore had already learned about political survival. If you want to govern, first you have to win. And that means stay on the attack and try to control the story."


While New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was criticizing Hillary Clinton’s lack of experience on the Sunday talk shows, Newsweek’s Debra Rosenberg came to the First Lady’s defense.

While Rosenberg noted Hillary’s most famous failure, her health care plan, she never mentioned the ‘activist’ role Hillary took in firing the White House Travel Staff. Rosenberg trumpted her success at advancing the rest of her left-leaning agenda: "Yet behind the scenes, Mrs. Clinton was anything but a retiring First Lady. Largely ignored by the press, she quietly continued working on the wide range of child and family issues she had long cared deeply about." How can anyone outside the White House argue that Hillary’s constant exhibition of her conscience in the last five years has gone "largely ingored by the press"?

Rosenberg sought to give voters a record to admire: "Over the past seven years, she has forced through major initiatives on adoption, child care, welfare reform and foreign aid --and has even managed to salvage provisions from her health-care plan. Her public-approval ratings also have improved -- slowly, at first, then rapidly when she played the loyal wife during the Lewinsky scandal. Hillary can often get bureaucratic wheels moving -- or stop them dead -- with a simple phone call, making her a critical resource for frustrated policy warriors."

And to think Hillary got all this help from Rosenberg without the media-politicking genius of John McCain.

-- Geoff Dickens





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