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 Magazine Watch

Tuesday October 5, 1999 (Vol. One; No. 19)

Margaret Carlson’s Vietnam; Ventura’s "Courageous Observations"; DeLay’s"Willie Hortonesque" Campaign

1. Time columnist Margaret Carlson became the first obvious media hypocrite in bashing "indulged baby boomer"George W. Bush for avoiding combat in Vietnam, seven years after she dismissed Clinton’s draft dodging. Newsweek’s Evan Thomas pondered the Bush family’s relationship with "overly dedicated" conservatives.

2. Time and Newsweek both touched briefly on Gore campaign chief Tony Coelho’s expense-account abuse abroad. U.S. News noted that Gore loosened up by making fun of Fox News Channel’s perceived bias to the right.

3. Jesse Ventura’s Playboy interview obscured his more "courageous observations" on the draft and gays in the military, Matt Bai argued in Newsweek, while NPR cash cow Garrison Keillor excoriated Ventura as "shallow and tedious" in Time.

4. As the budget battle heats up, U.S. News reported that Tom DeLay is preparing to unveil a "Willie Hortonesque ad campaign" against Democrats on the issue of Social Security.

5. On the Brooklyn Virgin Mary dung-painting controversy, U.S. News saw Giuliani’s political savvy, Time called him "dictatorial," and Newsweek toed the exhibitionist line.

6. Dubbed the "most fearless governor in America," California’s left-leaning chief executive Gray Davis was praised for his "moderate" accomplishments by Time’s Steve Lopez.

On the covers of October 11 issues: Newsweek led with "The Wild Bunch," a look at the Reform Party’s unusual cast of characters. Time featured laser eye surgery and U.S. News & World Report addressed experimental cancer treatments and the associated risks. A week after a Time TV critic praised the political passion behind anti-conservative speeches in the new TV show The West Wing, Newsweek’s Yahlin Chang hailed the show as "one of the most dramatic, intelligent new shows of the season," full of "effusive, high-speed eloquence."


Time columnist Margaret Carlson discovered the issue of character in "In the Name of their Fathers," a Public Eye column on the character of George W. Bush and John McCain. Carlson wrote that McCain’s "biography is a bayonet aimed straight at the candidacy of George W. Bush, who resembles more closely at times the indulged baby boomer who occupies the Oval Office than the restorative repository of moral authority he purports to be."

Carlson declared: "The difference between McCain and Bush is evident in how they have handled being the sons of accomplished men. Last Monday a powerful Republican former Speaker of the House in Texas testified in an obscure lawsuit that he had pulled strings to get the young bush into the state’s Air National Guard, though he had not been directly pressured to do so by Bush’s father. However he did it, like so many sons of the well-connected, while McCain became a POW, having his teeth and head and broken bones smashed in until, fevered and racked by dysentery, he considered suicide. Imagine all that this could all be made to stop by your father, the commander of the Pacific fleet, and that your captors were insisting you take early release. But McCain refused special treatment and spent another 4 1/2 years in prison."

Bush was even singled out by Carlson for his pre game speech to the U.S. Ryder Cup golf team: "To spur the American team on to its jingoistic, fist-pumping victory, Bush gave pep talk in which he compared the brave golfers fighting to win a noisome corporate-infested sporting event to the brave men who fought to save the Alamo -- the use of the profound in service of the mundane."

What’s with Carlson calling the Ryder Cup "noisome," which according to Webster’s Dictionary, means "noxious, harmful, unwholesome, destructive"?

Beware of liberal journalists who probably spent the Vietnam era at anti-war protests now touting their favorite candidate McCain’s imprisonment (which they probably helped prolong). In case you thought Carlson was a consistent defender of veterans instead of a liberal hypocrite, here’s Margaret’s statement from the talk show "Inside Washington" on February 15, 1992: "I think the more people who read the letter, the actual draft letter, the more people will come back to Clinton....One of the sentences in the letter he gets blasted for is that he wanted to keep his political viability. Well, he was what, in his early twenties? He was running for Congress when he was 25. What happened to the notion ‘I want to grow up to be President’? That's a good thing."

In Newsweek, Evan Thomas’s "Trouble to the Right" addressed the Bush family’s "long and complicated relationship with the right wing."

For the Bush family, the right has almost always proved vexing: "To accommodate the right wing of the Republican Party -- or denounce it? That question has long bedeviled the Bushes. In 1964 George Bush Sr. was drubbed in his first election campaign, for the U.S. Senate from Texas. Bush blamed the extremism within the GOP ranks for the Democratic landslide. After the election he wrote former vice president Richard Nixon, griping that in Texas, Barry Goldwater's campaign ‘got taken over by a bunch of "nuts".’ Bush declared that the first job of the GOP in Texas was ‘to get rid of some of the people... who through their overly dedicated conservatism are going always to keep the Party small.’"

Thomas summed up: "W has done better than his father at anesthetizing the right. Last week his speech to the Christian Coalition managed to win plaudits without pandering on hot-button issues like abortion or school prayer. More Texas than Yale, W is in some ways more comfortable with grass-roots conservatives than his father was. But with his big silver belt buckle and cowboy boots, he is also quicker to shoot from the hip. Last week the GOP front runner let a hint of macho edge aside his scripted caution. He wanted Buchanan to stay in the GOP, he told reporters, so he could ‘beat him bad’ in the primaries. The grudge match goes on."


In "Why Al’s Going South," Bill Turque and Martha Brant seemed unconvinced Gore’s return to Tennessee would do much to ditch the doldrums: "In private conversation last week, Gore seemed bursting to take on Bradley and break out of his old, cautious mode. But out in public, talking up his plan to improve health care, he regressed. In an unfortunate bit of scheduling, he was sent on a photo op to an emergency room. A press aide had pushed reporters to ask Gore about George W. Bush's attempt to distance himself from congressional Republicans on the budget. Here was a chance to bash Bush and the GOP with something pithy or clever. An accommodating TV producer popped the question -- and Gore muffed it. Stiff as ever in his suit, he rambled on like a lawmaker in the well of the Senate, talking about the ‘earned- income tax credit’ instead of helping the working poor. It may take more than new clothes, a new address and even a new attitude to create a new Gore."

As for Gore’s campaign manager, the question of financial irregularities had arisen once again: "Washington may be hard for Gore to escape: last weekend AP reported that [Tony] Coelho is under investigation for abusing his expense account, giving his niece a federal job and accepting a $300,000 personal loan from a Portuguese bank while he was on a government assignment in 1998. Gore, who depends heavily on Coelho, is likely to be drawn into another Beltway mess." Time also touched briefly upon the Coelho controversy in a brief piece by Michael Duffy.

Since it closes on Friday, U.S. News missed the weekend Coelho scoop, but Roger Simon documented Gore’s attempts to loosen up on the campaign trail: " During six back-to-back TV interviews in Chicago, Gore remains standing, like a fighter refusing to sit down between rounds. He shakes hands with all the cameramen and then goofs on the reporters while they're setting up. ‘Is there any difference in the culture of Fox with the other networks?’ Gore coyly asks a Fox reporter. ‘I don't think so,’ the reporter replies warily. ‘Are you sure?’ Gore asks with a smile on his face. The reporter says: ‘Uh, you think it's more conservative?’ ‘Tell me with a straight face there is no difference!’ Gore says, laughing along with the smiling reporter. ‘Keep a straight face!’"

Simon asked Gore about his campaign troubles in an interview: "Your friends say you will blossom only when your private persona becomes your public persona. Do you agree?" Gore got the same approach in Newsweek, where Jonathan helpfully assisted Gore in trying to shed his image problem: "Everyone who knows you agrees that you seem so much looser, funny and more human in private than in public. Are you going to close that gap?" Then Alter tossed this softball: "But you're a very aggressive campaigner. Politics ain't beanbag, right?"

You never heard reporters touting the more likable private persona of Dan Quayle. They underlined the caricature. Time acknowledged Quayle’s aborted campaign as a "sad day for comedians," and asked comedians for "one last favorite Quayle joke."


Matt Bai covered Ventura’s week of controversy for Newsweek, and argued Ventura’s incendiary comments on religion (a "sham and a crutch of weak-minded people") obscured his appeal: "And yet, as is typical with Ventura, his antics overshadowed the interview's more courageous observations, which are the essence of his maverick political appeal. A former Navy Seal, Ventura articulately decried the draft as discriminatory and said he'd be glad to fight next to a gay man. He criticized politicians for making promises about crime." (Bai later called it an "odd mix of lucidity and volatility.")

In Time, liberal NPR cash cow and Minnesota native Garrison Keillor attacked Ventura’s most recent shenanigans: "His success has been discouraging to people in politics, much as the success of The Blair Witch Project is discouraging to filmmakers: if the public embraces something so shallow and tedious, what future is there for the professionals?" Keillor concluded, "He’s just loud and arrogant. He’s a guy wearing a 38-double-D bra on his head, and all we needed was someone to run the government."

Keillor doesn’t want some breast-obsessed yahoo to run the government. He likes Clinton.

As part of their Reform Party package, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman positioned Bush, Bill Bradley and Gore as centrists: " Inside the Beltway, and in the calibrated world of mainstream politics, campaigning has become an exercise in ideological caution and the accumulation of cash. Two-party politics seems a joyless and unresponsive industry of scripted speeches, spreadsheets and centrist calculation. In this world, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas is lapping the Republican field, while Al Gore and Bill Bradley are locked in a hairsplitting death match of small differences as they fight for the Democratic presidential nomination."

ABC "reporter" George Stephanopoulos critiqued a possible Beatty campaign and labeled the actor’s political beliefs as ‘liberal’: "But the Beatty buzz is more an expression of political belief than personal vanity. An unabashed liberal, Beatty's been at the edges of presidential politics for three decades. His counsel has often been outlandish: at a Hollywood skull session in the spring of 1992, he told Bill Clinton to shake up his third-place campaign by salting his stump speech with a shouted swear word. (It rhymes with ‘duck.’)"

Jonathan Alter also praised Beatty though he lamented he was too "predictably liberal" to be a winner: "But sometimes celebrities can help hoist real content into our tower of babble. Warren Beatty is too old-fashioned (no Web site yet, except the unauthorized, too predictably liberal, and he has never put himself on the line with public service. But he gave one of the best political speeches of the year last week. Because his real goal isn't the presidency but shaming the Democratic Party into a greater social conscience, Beatty doesn't have to worry about raising money."


Major Garrett previewed the coming budget showdown in U.S. News, and analyzed the role of Tom DeLay in "Let the Endgames Begin": "To those who recognize his name, Tom DeLay is more caricature than character. ‘The Hammer’ embodies all of the cold, ruthless, utilitarian qualities the moniker implies. But in the budget saga yet to unfold, DeLay will emerge as a more compelling figure, for he now stands alone–all alone–as chief legislative and political strategist in the GOP's last showdown with President Clinton."

Garrett found Republicans have learned a lesson after years of being burned by Social Security and are preparing to attack Democrats Willie Horton style: "Stepping into the gaping policy vacuum, DeLay cajoled House and Senate leaders to back a high-risk strategy in which Republicans would contend they were defending Social Security against profligate Democratic spending. DeLay then saw to it that focus groups were convened to evaluate a brutal, Willie Hortonesque TV ad campaign that compares Democrats with thieves and accuses them of trying to ‘raid’ Social Security."

That’s funny. It was never "Willie Hortonesque" the hundreds of times Democrats have exploited Social Security as an issue since 1988.


All three news magazines covered the controversial exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. In U.S. News writer Franklin Foer weighed in: "Impeccable political logic undergirds his attack. Roman Catholics constitute 44 percent of the state electorate. Cranking up the rhetoric also draws cheers from another constituency: conservative activists who question Giuliani's right-wing bona fides."

Time’s "Notebook" section carped: "When New York City’s dictatorial mayor and Senator wannabe, Rudy Giuliani, took on the Brooklyn Museum show over a dung daubed painting of the Virgin Mary, the fight got dirty. This must be Hillary’s fault." Critic Steven Henry Madoff liked the exhibit, while panning some parts, and he suggested Chris Ofili’s Virgin Mary portrait is "surely a calculated come-on."

In Newsweek, Cathleen McGuigan toed the exhibitionist line, that the culture war ought to have a ceasefire in cosmopolitan New York: "To the world beyond the Hudson River, the escalating flap may have seemed like just the latest chapter in the culture wars that began in 1989 over the work of Robert Mapplethorpe and a photograph by Andres Serrano called "Piss Christ." But this was New York, the company town of the of the avant-garde: to the art world, it was as if the mayor of Detroit decided to ban cars inside the city limits."

McGuigan worried the curators weren’t outspoken enough, touted polls showing the people opposed shutting down the museum, refuted charges that the exhibit will result in a quick cash-in, and complained that "all the noise surrounding the exhibit has distracted from the art itself...’The Holy Virgin Mary’ has been referred to in the press as ‘smeared’ with dung when in fact, one small mound of dung is deliberately placed on the painting. (Such small dung heaps are a hallmark in all his work, a connection to his African roots.)"


Dubbed the "most fearless governor in America," California’s left-leaning chief executive was portrayed as a moderate by Time writer Steve Lopez: "California has the highest and lowest elevations in the Lower 48, more rich people than anywhere else and more poor people too. Physically and cosmically, it is the fringe. So it was only natural that some natives were skeptical down to their thongs about a plodding career politician who claimed to be a moderate. But nine months into his first term, it appears that the New York City native wasn’t lying." Lopez praised Davis’s new HMO-regulation package as establishing "what could become a national standard by which to judge reform in this area."Time printed a graphic pitting "A Busy Governor" vs. "Do-Nothing Congress," praising Davis for passing "HMO reform" and gun control while Congress hasn’t. 

This is "moderate"? Not bad spin from the press for a guy who has banned "Saturday-night specials" and served as chief of staff for that other notable California centrist Governor, Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown.

-- Mark Drake


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