New York Times mocks Kerry quote ... again

By Eric Boehlert

Published May 10, 2004 2:41PM (EDT)

A year's worth of presidential campaign coverage is sure to produce all sort of head-scratching dispatches, as journalists scramble to produce copy from the trail regardless if much news is happening. But for suspicious Democrats still smarting over how the press treated Al Gore in 2000, and specifically how reporters from the New York Times routinely dealt with Gore in a caustic, nitpicking way, there are disturbing signs of déjà vu from Sen. John Kerry's campaign. A peculiar, wildly dated article in Saturday's Times served as the latest evidence.

Written by Jodi Wilgoren, the Political Memo piece, headlined "Kerry Words, and Bush's Use of Them, Offer Valuable Lessons in '04 Campaigning," detailed how when Kerry was asked about his vote last fall against President Bush's request for $87 billion to fight the battle in Iraq, Kerry famously said, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion -- before I voted against it." The article offered up the Bush campaign not one but two opportunities to recall how they rejoiced over the awkward sound bite: "You don't get gifts like that very often," said Bush's media man Mark McKinnon, then adding, "There was a clear ripple of excitement that rolled through the campaign -- not quite as big as the Dean scream, but it was a ripple." The Times phoned up a University of Wisconsin poli-sci prof who dutifully mocked Kerry's choice of words: "It's like something Comedy Central would do." And the piece detailed how the Bush campaign immediately dropped the dubious Kerry quote into an attack ad.

Does most of this sound familiar? It should; Kerry's quote was uttered 53 days prior to Saturday's left-field article, and was documented at the time by every news organization in the country, including the Times, which has now printed the infamous Kerry quote in 10 separate articles. So why return to the topic nearly two months later?

Wilgoren tried, at the very end of the article, to give the piece a larger context by suggesting Kerry's not the first candidate to be stung by his own words, and then reached back 12 years to the Republican primaries when Pat Buchanan ran ads featuring the first president Bush's "Read my lips, no new taxes" pledge. Yet, incredibly, the Times failed to mention the fact that just three weeks ago, the current President Bush served up his own sound bite gift for Democrats when, during an April 13 press conference he stumbled badly when asked, looking back on Iraq, what his biggest mistake was. Flummoxed, Bush responded haltingly, "I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer."

Three days later the DNC used Bush's own words against him and turned his non-response into a devilish 30-second ad of its own. The only difference is, according to a Nexis search, the Times has never reported on that campaign ad.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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