"How He Got There"
Chapter 1: A search for bias: Bush and Gore hit the trail
It was early June, 1999, and the Washington press corps was ready to rumble. Within days, the governor of Texas, George W. Bush, would fly to Iowa, then on to New Hampshire. And everyone knew what would happen next:
When he arrived in the Hawkeye State, Governor Bush was going to enter the 2000 race for the White House.
Other candidates had been stumping since March. But Bush had stayed in Austin, taking part in the Texas legislature’s biennial session. Legislative business concluded in May. Bush announced he’d be heading for Iowa.
Within the nation’s political press corps, anticipation began running high as the governor’s launch date drew near.
Few pundits had explicitly said so, but one fact was already clear. The front-runner for the Democratic nomination had taken a series of punishing hits in the early campaign coverage. Vice President Al Gore was odds-on favorite for the Democratic nod; he’d begun informal campaigning in March. Instantly, he’d absorbed a string of nasty attacks from the nation’s reporters and pundits. Gore is a liar, many pundits had said, often comparing him to Bill Clinton. They’d flogged a trio of tortured claims, attempting to “prove” their assertion.
Candidate Gore had been trashed for three months. And now, as Bush’s launch drew near, the press corps began to beat its chest about the tough treatment he too could expect. Bragging and boasting and growling like bears, reporters swore that the fur would be flyin’. As the June 12 launch date approached, journalists postured about the bad whipping they’d soon have to lay on poor Bush.
It began in earnest with a June 7 piece by Howard Kurtz, an influential media reporter for the Washington Post. “Who is George W. Bush?” Kurtz asked. “The media are about to deliver the answer.” And the process wouldn’t be pretty, Kurtz rather plainly implied. “The governor’s problem, like Gov. Bill Clinton’s in 1992, is that the great hunt is on for negative material–and that the scrutiny is coming so early in the game,” he wrote. The Post scribe listed a series of questions Bush would face in “the coming flood of profiles”–questions about his personal history and his past business dealings.
“The inquisition has begun,” Kurtz darkly warned at one point.
Kurtz was hardly alone in his threats. The next day, the Post’s David Von Drehle offered a similar view of the upcoming launch. “The Great Bush Unveiling will take place under the withering gaze of some 200 reporters,” he boasted. “How can any candidate be relaxed when, his very first day out, every step, word and bead of sweat is being studied by scores of writers?” In the Boston Globe, Michael Kranish churned the same message. “The press will try to pin Bush down on everything from farm policy to foreign policy,” he predicted.
Conservative pundits–supporters of Bush–offered similar assessments. In his June 11 Wall Street Journal column, Paul Gigot lauded Bush’s achievements in Texas. But he too warned of “the tidal wave about to hit” the new candidate.
“Every candidate makes mistakes,” Gigot wrote. “But his will be broadcast in tongues.” …