The California Recall's "Partisan Poison" - October 8, 2003

Times Watch for October 8, 2003

The California Recall's "Partisan Poison"

Dean Murphy's front-page report Wednesday on the results of the California recall warns there'll be no honeymoon for the governor-elect: "Mr. Schwarzenegger, an actor with no political experience, must find a way to balance the budget, reined in by his own suggestions that he will not raise taxes and facing a Democratic-controlled legislature resistant to spending cuts."

After quoting a former Clinton pollster saying "The recall further divides the electorate, certainly in California and perhaps nationally, and is a harbinger of ill in our system," Murphy agrees: "Indeed, the low-road finish to the recall election campaign, with charges of dirty tricks flying between the camps of Mr. Davis and Mr. Schwarzenegger, threatened only to make matters worse." What Murphy doesn't say: That the "dirty tricks" were flying in only one direction, toward the Republican Schwarzenegger.

Murphy bemoans the Republican origin of the recall: "The partisan poison of the recall permeated its very formation. Democrats argued that the movement would never have gone beyond the wishful thinking of a small group of Republican consultants and antitax crusaders had a millionaire Republican, Representative Darrell Issa of San Diego, not provided a huge infusion of money to hire professional signature gatherers."

(Note: This story marks at least the third recall article in which the Times characterizes Rep. Issa as a "millionaire Republican." A Nexis search finds no instances over the last 20 years of the Times using the term "millionaire Democrat.")

For the rest of Murphy's piece on Schwarzenegger's victory, click here.

California | Dean Murphy | Recall | Arnold Schwarzenegger | Voting

"Upbeat" Gray Davis

Don't bet the ranch based on John Broder's tips. The conclusion of Broder's Sunday article on Gov. Gray Davis and the California recall reads: "Mr. Davis appeared exhausted by the frenzied pace of the past several days. But he also seemed surprisingly upbeat for someone who recent polls say may be close to political oblivion, delivering a forceful defense of his administration in several appearances on Saturday. Part of the reason may be his campaign's internal polls, which indicated that the revelations about Mr. Schwarzenegger had significantly damaged him and improved Mr. Davis's chances. An aide said that an overnight poll taken Friday showed the vote on whether to recall the governor was within the margin of sampling error."

So much for the power of positive thinking: As of Wednesday morning, the recall's margin of victory was estimated at 55%-45%. As Broder writes for Wednesday's Times: "In an emphatic end to an extraordinary campaign, Californians voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to recall Gov. Gray Davis."

Broder's Sunday piece didn't question just how those conveniently timed anti-Schwarzenegger "revelations" got into the media in the first place, though Bill Bradley of the L.A. Weekly notes the Davis camp at the very least knew they were coming: "Senior Democratic strategists knew the particulars of last Thursdays L.A. Times expos on Arnold Schwarzenegger well in advance of the storys publication, the Weekly has learned from well-informed sources."

For more on Broder's coverage of the last days of the Gray Davis campaign, click here.

John Broder | California | Arnold Schwarzenegger

Bush's "Brilliant Fabulists"

Frank Rich's Sunday column, "Where's Larry Kramer When We Need Him?" takes on the "brilliant fabulists" of the Bush administration.

After an entertainingly scathing run-down of the new play "Omnium Gatherum," described by Rich as a "farce about a surreal post-9/11 dinner party," Rich makes yet another strained attempt to hook his area of expertise (he was the Times theatre critic for a dozen years) to his own liberal politics: "The paradox is that the Bush administration has all the creative fire that the creative world lacks. In two years it has changed the meaning of 'the day that changed everything' beyond recognition. In place of the old 9/11 it erected a new one, a work of art in its way, ingeniously created by the brilliant Bush team of makeover artists. Their attention to wicked detail puts them firmly in the school of Hieronymus Bosch. They allowed the country to believe in a plot line in which the villain is Saddam Hussein, not bin Laden, and the 9/11 hijackers were predominantly Iraqi rather than Saudi. The White House even manipulated press releases to launder the foul post-9/11 air in lower Manhattan into ersatz cleanliness. This is fiction on so epic a scale that were it published as a novel it would be a candidate for a Laura Bush literary salon."

Later Rich drags out the tired trope of Bush as deceptive moviemaker: "No remake of 'The Manchurian Candidate'-and Hollywood has one in the works-could top the news that White House hands may have publicly and illegally outed a C.I.A. operative to get revenge on her husband, Joseph Wilson, the diplomat who blew the whistle on Mr. Bush's State of the Union lie about Saddam's nuclear ambitions. Government officials are supposed to deal in facts, not fiction. Artists are supposed to invent fictions that illuminate the truth. Where are those with the courage and imagination to challenge a government of brilliant fabulists at what should be the artists' own game?"

As a political analyst, Rich remains an excellent theatre critic.

For the rest of Frank Rich's column, click here.

Arts | George W. Bush | Iraq War | Movies | Frank Rich | Theatre

An Anti-Bush Sr. Urban Legend Rises Again

Rick Lyman pens an entertaining piece for Sunday's Week in Review section ("Every Four Years, Blue Bloods Put on a Blue Collar") on how blue-blood politicians struggle to redefine themselves as "men of the masses." But the piece is marred by the reprinting of an urban legend (started on the front page of the Times) about the first President Bush's encounter with a supermarket checkout scanner.

Lyman writes: "And as recently as 1992, Democrats mercilessly lampooned the first President Bush as an out-of-touch patrician. His crime? During a visit to a national grocers' convention in Orlando, Fla., he appeared almost giddy about the wondrous technology of supermarket scanners, apparently unaware that they had been quite familiar to American shoppers for more than a decade.while the first President Bush's grocery-scanner faux pas was followed by his loss to President Clinton, few regard it as anything more than a link in the chain that toppled him."

Those are references to a February 1992 front-page Times story that characterized President Bush Sr. as amazed by the concept of a grocery scanner during a factory tour. But as Brit Hume, then with ABC News, revealed in the January 1993 American Spectator, the story was "almost wholly untrue."

Hume's take, as recounted in a Media Research Center CyberAlert from April 2000: "Jennings was alluding to a February 1992 front page story in the New York Times which portrayed then-President Bush as amazed during a factory tour by the concept of a grocery scanner. But as Brit Hume, then still with ABC News, revealed in the January 1993 American Spectator, that story was 'almost wholly untrue.' Hume explained: 'Bush's wonder was mostly politeness and the scanner, far from being ordinary, was a new and different device of which the company was especially proud.' In fact, the New York Times reporter who wrote the story had not even accompanied Bush on the factory tour and drew his anecdote from the pool reporters, an extraordinary insight Hume thought: 'Only the Times drew from that pool report the picture of Bush as a man awed by a supermarket scanner. It may be the only time on record where anybody got an exclusive story out of a pool report. Such is the Timess influence, however, that the story became part of the legend of a President who just didnt know how things were out there in the real world.'"

For the rest of Rick Lyman's story on blue-blooded "blue-collar" politicians, click here.

George Bush Sr. | Campaign 2004 | Gaffes | Rick Lyman