Turn out the Lights
Gore’s breaking media hearts.
Op-ed by Tim Graham, director of media analysis, MRC,
as printed in the November 6, 2000 edition of National Review Online
By Tim Graham
Network morning shows were trying to keep hope alive today for Al Gore as time runs out, but their hearts weren't quite in it. They want to portray the race as "tick-tight" in Dan Rather lingo, but they sound like they don't really believe it. You could dub it "Don't Demoralize Democrat Turnout Day."
On NBC's Today, co-host Matt Lauer interviewed Al and Tipper, and worried about Al's post-election mental state: "Tomorrow's the day you've been working toward your whole life, without sounding too dramatic. In terms of sheer butterflies and nerves how are you feeling today?" Gore protested, and Lauer responded: "But the race has come down to a razor thin margin. I mean you have to be feeling some butterflies on this day before Election Day." Then he asked Tipper: "Mrs. Gore, is it possible that this is more nerve-wracking for you than it is for your husband?" These are not the questions you ask the couple you feel is moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
On CBS's The Early Show, co-host Bryant Gumbel began with Gore: "I saw where you said yesterday you are feeling confident about tomorrow. On what evidence are you basing that confidence?" Gumbel added: "You've seen the poll numbers, the New York Times-CBS poll actually showed the Governor widening his lead over the weekend. Why aren't you more troubled?
But the real highlight of the interview came when Gumbel asked Gore: "When you campaigned in Tennessee this weekend, I'm confused about something. You told people that, I'm using your words here, 'I need your help to take this country back.' Back from what?" Gumbel concluded with the softball, "Any final words this morning for those Nader supporters?"
On ABC's Good Morning America, co-host Charles Gibson sounded similar:
Mr. Vice President, 24 hours from now, people are going to be voting, so what one thing can you say at this point that will totally change the political landscape?" That question sounds like Gibson's taken a good look at the Bush's leaked internal polls, but he followed up: "This is breathtakingly close election. Can you give me three states you're going to closely watch tomorrow night?
Gore evaded that trap.
But the next question really summed up the media heartbreak at the end of the campaign:
Let me ask you both, and I'll start with you, Mr. Vice President, why is this election so close? When you look at this objectively and as people looked at it six months ago, the incumbent party dealt a very strong hand here. We have full employment in the United States, we have unparalleled prosperity in terms of wealth created, we have low interest rates, we have low inflation, we have few perils to our nation overseas. So you were dealt a very strong hand coming into this election, and yet it's still close. Why?" He put the same befuddled question to Tipper.
Always cue the laugh track when a network-news star begins a sentence "When you look at this objectively…"
This was not the formula for the presidential election of 1988, when there was also unprecedented prosperity, low interest rates, low inflation, and the impending crumble of foreign perils. ABC stars would have needed thumb screws to use the term "full employment" to describe the economy. Unlike in 2000, when high interest rates and high inflation seem like bad '70s TV movies, the Reagan administration vanquished the dragon of inflation and high interest rates, but the media maidens could only babble on about budget and trade deficits and the homeless.
Take ABC on October 26, 1988. Then-ABC reporter Brit Hume reflected on the state of partisan play then as George Bush campaigned in the Midwest: "Bush said lower tax rates were the key to the U.S. economic expansion., in which Michigan, by the way, has not yet fully shared." Not only that, but "Bush did not address the criticism that the current prosperity is built on a mountain of deficit spending." Prosperity then was a joke and an illusion, and whatever prosperity Americans witnessed for themselves was not due to Reagan, who was presumably too busy trying to throw poor people out on the streets to have any macroeconomic influence.
Gibson did earn extra credit for asking about Gore's evaporating civility on the stump: "You have used very strong rhetoric in the last weekend of this campaign. You said in a Memphis church on Saturday, and I'm quoting you now, 'I am taught that good overcomes evil if we choose that outcome.' Is this election about good versus evil in your mind?" You'll notice Gore didn't get a more pointed question: "Are the Republicans evil in your mind?" Or: "People hate personal attacks. How can this help you?"
Matt Lauer was more direct on NBC: "You spoke at a prayer breakfast recently and you talked about that you'd been taught that good can overcome evil, if we choose that outcome. And you had the feeling that we were about to choose that outcome. Were you suggesting that you're good and, and Governor Bush is the evil?"
But Gibson was the only one to question Gore's other malevolent whopper of the weekend: "Also on the subject of civil rights, in that same address, you said that your opponent had shown indifference to the dragging death of James Byrd, the black man who was dragged to death in the state of Texas, and you said that your opponent would appoint Supreme Court justices who would take us back to a time reminiscent of when blacks were only three-fifths of a human being, going back to the original language of the Constitution. Do you really honestly think that Governor Bush would take us back in civil rights 225 years?"
Lauer didn't get around to that one. Bryant Gumbel no doubt thought that line was right as rain. At least ABC and NBC arrived on this story this morning, when their evening newscasts avoided those blasts last night. Can you imagine these outlets letting up on George H.W. Bush when he was kvetching about "Ozone Man" leaving us "up to our necks in owls" and his dog knowing more about foreign policy than "these bozos"? Those remarks aren't in the same category as Bush appointing judges who believe blacks are three-fifths human.
As a sign of their impending sour mood upon Gore's loss, Katie Couric implied to Bush strategist Karl Rove this morning that Bush was rubbing his victory in the faces of the losers: "I know that Governor Bush this morning will be in Tennessee, the home state of Vice President Gore, and tonight he's going to be in Arkansas, the home state of President Clinton. I mean these states are not that important from an electoral perspective. So is this, a bit of an in-your-face poke at the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?"
With apologies to Apocalypse Now, conservatives could have watched TV over the Special K today and announced, "I love the sound of depressed network stars in the morning."
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