They did it to Dan Quayle and now they’re trying to do it to George W. Bush you know, the stricken deer staring helplessly into hi-beam headlights on some dark road to nowhere. Or as New York Times columnist, Gail Collins, in an attempt at originality, put it, no longer the startled deer but a possum caught in a garage. One problem with this anti-Bush campaign: Gov. Bush is no Dan Quayle.
With the help of fellow-Republicans, always glad to shiv the front-runner, we’re learning that Mr. Bush rarely opens a book, and for all we know probably hasn’t a clue about who’s the prime minister of Tonga or Andorra; that he merely mouths sentences, phrases, unpronounceable words prepared for him by Beltway brainstormers. In other words, fellow-Americans, George W. Bush is not holy mackerel! an intellectual.
In one two-day period last week, the New York Times had three articles with these headlines: “Jabs by Opponents of Bush Subtly Poke at His Intellect,” “Some Unease in G.O.P. Over Bush in Debates: Is it enough not to have made any humiliating blunders?” and “The Book on George W.”
You wouldn’t think to read these stories that Mr. Bush has been elected and re-elected as chief executive of the second largest state in the union, a state where a 21st century melting pot is happily bubbling away. So Mr. Bush doesn’t know all there is to know about Dean Acheson? Off with his head.
You can’t lay a glove on Mr. Bush on issues like racism? So instead ask him heh-heh what’s his favorite comic book or tell us, please, in one sentence what you think of the “Brothers Karamazov” if you ever heard of the book. Mr. Bush comes up with a detailed tax reform package? Shred it, dump it, mock it but don’t, for heaven’s sake, discuss it seriously.
The newspaper stories have been quoting named and unnamed Republicans as deeply concerned over the low level of Mr. Bush’s cultural achievements or his lack of super-charisma. Any minute I expect there will be a New York Times exclusive a transcript of Mr. Bush’s grades at Yale University showing that gasp! he never made the Dean’s List.
One of the curious paragraphs in the Times story by Richard L. Berke quoted two unnamed advisers to Mr. Bush on foreign affairs as saying that “the candidate is not at his best in debates.” Mr. Bush’s foreign affairs advisers include former Secretary of State George Shultz, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. So everybody is under suspicion. Clever.
This form of newspaper reporting can really be defined as a form of character assassination. There’s nothing awful to be uncovered in Mr. Bush’s past despite months and months of digging? So go after his I.Q. Or turn him into the “idiot savant” type like Peter Sellers in “Being There” or Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” or Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump.”
What the media forgets is that the public which is watching the presidential debates is the same public which turns into heroes the presidential candidates the media ridicules.
I recall an event which occurred 16 years ago in which the American public was delighted, overjoyed that the government under President Reagan had excluded the press from an historic event: the U.S. invasion of Grenada Oct. 25, 1983. The land and sea invasion went off without a hitch and without a single representative of print or electronic media as witness. Reporters were invited for a look-see after it was all over.
A hurricane protest by the media blew up in the invasion aftermath with a lot of huffing and puffing about the public’s “right to know.” Five hundred letters and phone-calls to NBC came in right after the broadcast: they were 5-to-1 in favor of the ban against media surveillance of the Grenada invasion.
Time Magazine reported that mail in favor of the Grenada ban ran 8-to-1. Peter Jennings was astonished to find that 99 percent of his viewer mail supported Mr. Reagan. (He was equally astonished when the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, whose victory at the polls he had predicted, lost the presidential election.)
Max Frankel, then editorial page editor of the New York Times, wrote: “The most astounding thing about the Grenada situation was the quick, facile assumption by some of the public that the press wanted to get in, not to witness the invasion on behalf of the people but to sabotage it.”
If the media as a pack goes after someone like Mr. Bush as they once did against the four-term Franklin D. Roosevelt, the surprising Harry Truman who beat Thomas E. Dewey in 1948, Richard M. Nixon who beat George McGovern in 1972, the two-term Ronald Reagan or the George Bush who beat Michael Dukakis in 1988 the media will find that the voting public supports the man the pundits oppose.