Gore was caught completely off guard-the less charitable might say he "did a Quayle"-and offered an evasive answer. The following are excerpts from the exchange:
Prudhomme: "When Juanita Broaddrick made the claim, which I found to be quite credible, that she was raped by Bill Clinton, did that change your opinion about him being one of the best presidents in history? And do you believe Juanita Broaddrick's claim? And what did you tell your son about this?"
Gore: (laughs) "Well, I didn't know what to make of her claim, because I don't know how to evaluate that story, I really don't."
KP: "Did you see the interview?"
AG: "No, I didn't see the interview. No."
KP: "I'm very surprised that you didn't watch the interview."
AG: "Well, uh, which, what show was it on? I didn't see it. There have been so many personal allegations and such a nonstop series of attacks, I guess I'm like a lot of people, uh, in that I think that, uh, enough is enough. I do not know how to evaluate each one of these individual stories. I just don't know, uh, I would never violate the privacy of my communications with uh, uh, one of my, my children, a member of my family, as for that part of your question...
"Uh, I think that, uh, I think that whatever mistakes he made in his personal life are in the minds of most Americans balanced against what he has done in his personal life as president."
If you can figure out that last sentence, you win the Rob Brezsny Award for Non-Communication in the English Language. More importantly, though, it's clear that Gore is an incredible liar. How can he-and with a straight face-feign ignorance of the Broaddrick story, which ran on the front page of The Washington Post? And how could he possibly be so unprepared for tough, and not especially surprising, questions? Bill Bradley would never challenge the Vice President with such a question, but come the fall, should Gore win the nomination, a lot of Republicans will.
Last Friday, The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reported that Republican National Committee press secretary Mike Collins had transcribed the q&a and "blast-fax[ed] the exchange around the media world." RNC communications chief Clifford May said, "Matt Drudge, Rush Limbaugh and Fox were all interested in it. Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw were not." What a surprise. May told Kurtz that the "charitable" explanation for the lack of interest among the major networks was "Clinton fatigue"; the "uncharitable explanation would be Clinton protection."
Last week, on Dec. 15, The Wall Street Journal published one of the most important statements of the 2000 campaigns, saying: "The New Hampshire primary may be six weeks away, but tomorrow in Claremont, N.H., the media are holding their own early election. In effect they're voting for themselves by staging a huge media campaign-finance celebration for John McCain and Bill Bradley." Never mind that according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, only one percent of the nation's voters view campaign finance reform as a critical issue.
In the spirit of the above observations, here're a few media elite heroes and villains:
ABC's Peter Jennings, for instance, who continues his Clinton sycophancy with a White House interview with the First Crook.
And there's conservative pundit Bob Novak, who's made a strong case for Elian Gonzalez to stay in the United States, writing that the administration would never send back a refugee from Iraq or Serbia. I love how most liberals are bleating in harmony for the government to send Elian back to Fidel Castro and his father (the boy's mother lost her life trying to escape Cuba). Seems like an easy call and, just as I wrote a few weeks back, the next president would be wise to open full diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba and see how fast Castro either fades into the background or flees to exile in another country. There's a lot of money to be made on the island, not to mention a lot of enslaved Cubans who deserve better shots in life.
Next up is Al Hunt, The Wall Street Journal's token left-wing insider and DC cocktail host, who never finds anything bad to say about anybody who belongs to his little club. Hunt's partisanship is fairly nauseating, especially when he so vitriolically disagrees on so many issues with the likes of Novak, Paul Gigot, George Will and almost anyone at The Weekly Standard. I do give Hunt credit, however, for castigating Hillary Clinton's finagling to get Jonathan Pollard pardoned, a maneuver that's clearly a ploy to win back Jewish voters in New York. His examination of Clinton's hustling amounted to his best Capital Gang "Outrage of the Week" bit in the eight or so years I've watched the Saturday night show.
Then there are Paul Gigot and Jack Germond, veteran DC pundits who usually disagree on the issues. I've praised the Journal's Gigot enough this year, so let's just say Merry Christmas and call it quits. I don't want to get too gooey. Germond is another story. On the one hand, he's a throwback to the "good old days" of reporting, when journalists didn't make much money or appear on television, and when they hung around with politicians and colleagues it was because they liked to. In Germond's mildly interesting book Fat Man in a Middle Seat-which I doubt is selling any copies except to the people listed in its index-he shares some fascinating anecdotes about a craft that's no longer practiced quite the same way. He tells, for instance, of the time he and Bobby Kennedy went on a bender on a late-night cross-country flight and talked about children, which is interesting to know, given that Kennedy's image (at least if you ignore the Marilyn Monroe rumors) was that of a self-righteous, abstemious, churchgoing man.
Then, though, Germond starts bashing Republicans, going after President Bush in a particularly nasty and gratuitous way. And he doesn't abuse Bill Clinton enough, although it's clear he has little respect for the Arkansan. Germond is the kind of guy who drinks all night, eats fat steaks, then takes a cold shower and files his story. He's a relic, and his column these days, which is written with the equally ancient Jules Witcover, tells you nothing new. But at least he's better than the yuppie journalists who think they're saving the world and developing a real relationship with John McCain by sharing a beer-but just one!-with him.
Next comes Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press. I have no beef with Russert, except for his creepy smile (I guess it bugs me the same way George W. Bush's "smirk" annoys others) and his tendency to mention the Buffalo Bills all the time. A liberal, Russert manages to be fair with his guests, although NBC as a whole is so fully in bed with the Democrats that it's difficult even for an honest employee of the network to be unswayed by prejudice. And Russert's prejudice occasionally, despite his efforts, shows through.
Finally there's NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, who did an Oprah/Liddy Dole turn in supervising the GOP Iowa debate last week. Brokaw's no intellectual, but he's less insufferable than Peter Jennings and not as full of Texas cornpone as CBS' Dan Rather, who gets kookier over the years, even though of the three major network anchors he's by far the most accomplished journalist.
Now to discuss a few of the dimmest lights in journalism today. I've never met the man, but I'm told Slate's Jacob Weisberg is smart and engaging. You'd never know that from his jejune political reporting and behavior. As far as the former goes, Weisberg tapped out a review of the Iowa debate and praised McCain for demonstrating "the definition of political courage" because he came out against ethanol subsidies, an unpopular position in that agricultural state. He doesn't mention that McCain isn't even contesting the Iowa caucuses or that his appearances in debates there are strictly for the benefit of the press and national audiences, most of the members of which don't give a hoot about ethanol. In fact, by this faux-maverick stance-I'm going to tell you some things you don't want to hear-he was trying to engage the voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the two most crucial primary states for his campaign.
Why Weisberg left his post as political correspondent for the 400,000-plus circulation New York in favor of Slate, which is read only by other journalists and people involved in politics, is a mystery. I suppose Bill Gates opened up his wallet, and he does have the opportunity to pollute the political discussion with his naive liberal cant in other organs, such as The New York Times Magazine.
Other silly geese among today's crop: The New York Observer's Tish Durkin who wrote about "Her Serene First Ladyness"; and Salon's Jake Tapper, a prolific writer who seems to desire admission to Weisberg's club but who also litters his stories with 60s phrases like when that went down. I have little doubt that Tapper's reporting and writing will improve; the only clouds on his horizon are represented by the bad company he's keeping on the campaign trail. Howard Fineman, Jonathan Alter and Weisberg are frightful role models for any developing journalist.
Let's recall Al Gore at last year's impeachment party at the White House-the day when Gore famously opined that Bill Clinton would be remembered as one of America's greatest presidents. Gore was still wearing a dark suit there, instead of a polo shirt-he probably hadn't yet retained Naomi Wolf's services. If things get ugly, and I hope they do, Bill Bradley will use this spot in a tv commercial to counteract Gore's constant distortion of the former New Jersey Senator's campaign proposals. That's probably too aggressive a move for Bradley to make. But count on the Republicans to air a similar commercial over and over and over in every swing state in the country.
The holidays often get a little confused, and it was with much consternation that Mrs. M and I found out that Junior's and MUGGER III's school holiday celebrations were scheduled for the same day. Nonetheless, we loved the toy soldier that first-grader Junior displayed in his school's lobby-it made both Mrs. M and me bust some trouser buttons. I missed his and his classmates' singing at the church uptown, since I was downtown watching my younger son and his friends eat donuts and cookies, drink juice and then join together in a circle with the lovely guitarist Valerie to sing a bunch of songs. MUGGER III's favorite was the first, a Liberian tune called "Funga Alafia," and as he bounced up and down on my lap, shouting out the words with the enthusiasm only a five-year-old can know, I got misty-eyed. He's so innocent, more so even than when he was a baby, because even though he can now talk and comprehend things, he still doesn't have a mean bone in his body. I'll always remember that day as crystallizing a time when my boy didn't yet know about the nastiness of transit strikes; about the misery that plagues Cubans and indeed most of the world's populace; when he didn't have a song like "Piano Man" stuck in his head for five torturous hours; when he wasn't aware of the corrupt Clinton administration or of the ghastly Hillary Rodham, or of the natural disasters that kill thousands of people around the world but are relegated to The New York Times' back pages in favor of stories with titles like "Al Gore in His Own Words." MUGGER III has said for a year now that when he grows up he wants to own New York Press and write a column just like Dad. It's not often, but sometimes I'm ready to hand him the keys to my office and say, "It's all yours, son. Your mother and I will e-mail you from Trinidad."
I'm no longer a happening kind of guy, so when our friends Susan and John scored a reservation at Pastis, the restaurant of the moment in New York, we were delighted. After all, we've never even been to Balthazar. I remember the area where Pastis is housed very well. It's right across the street from Rio Mar, a charming and quite good little Spanish restaurant that I used to frequent often after dropping off production materials at Expedi Printing, when we printed New York Press there. Of course, the area's been spruced up quite a bit now, just as the whole west side below 28th St. has. Why, I'll bet in the summertime the smell of hot piss and rotting beef doesn't seem quite so rank anymore.
That said, for bistro food stick to Odeon. The steak frites at Pastis was fine-it was the same you can now get in 50 New York City restaurants in what's sort of a reverse process of McDonald'sization. My favorite part of Pastis, which is mobbed and cramped with night people, most of whom are talking loudly, was the half-goth waitress who seemed bitterly disappointed that no one tried her favorite item on the menu, the braised beef with glazed carrots. She made quite a plea, but had no takers. Oh, and the onion soup is tops.
Old Times goat Anthony Lewis-who no doubt will get the Abe Rosenthal treatment any month now, in favor of a perky op-ed writer, probably George Stephanopoulos-said in a Nov. 23 column that "Janet Reno has been an admirably independent attorney general." He's probably taking the payoff in bundles of fives and tens from some White House basement lackey. I'm sure Ken Starr and Linda Tripp (who, amazingly, is taking the brunt of the Oralgate punishment, instead of Clinton) would surely agree.
Finally, Gov. George W. Bush sealed the deal on his GOP nomination in the Iowa debates last week. First, he was combative, gently ridiculing Sen. McCain's I'm-a-Democrat-Sometimes campaign finance sham; second, by invoking Jesus Christ, thus energizing his base in Iowa. The mainstream media went nuts over this. But since when did reporters, especially the young ones today, have a clue about conservative politics?
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