Mark Halperin and John F. Harris, authors of The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008, represent the pinnacle of America’s insider journalistic elite. As the political director of ABC News and national political editor of the Washington Post, respectively, they are the go-to guys not only for the latest skinny on who’s up and who’s down but also on the more significant question of What It All Means. As the driving intellectual force behind ABC News’s blog The Note, Halperin may be insiderdom’s most influential commissar. Karl Rove has remarked that in Bush’s White House, Halperin is thought of as “some kind of minor deity.” By virtue of both his position and his smarts, Harris, too, exercises considerable power over the collective mind of the so-called Gang of 500. So it is no surprise that their book offers the equivalent of a psychological X-ray of power in Washington.
Sometimes inadvertently, The Way to Win provides a unique window on the perpetual spin machine we call “news.” Judging by the evidence presented here, the notion that the function of the journalist is to explain “the truth” about politics to American citizens is about as quaint as America’s participation in the Geneva Conventions. Insider journalists are barely less politicians than the politicians themselves. Hardly anyone leaves the party without a metaphorical goody bag. Rove’s is so stacked with illustrations of his superhuman genius, I doubt he can lift it.
Al Gore, on the other hand, goes home pretty much empty- handed. This, too, is revealing. When recounting their “Trade Secrets” of the 2000 campaign, for instance, the authors, regarding the “Al Gore is a liar” motif, admit that “nearly every one of these controversies was overplayed or mischaracterized by the Old and New Media” and that it “might be unfair, but that does not alter the fact that Gore violated numerous Trade Secrets by neglecting to confront the stories.” In fact, as the Daily Howler website never tired of pointing out, it was the authors’ own news organizations that led the dishonest pack, consistently producing coverage that ignored Gore’s actual words, contextually reported, and instead repeated the malicious misinformation provided by RNC press releases. When, for instance, Gore accurately described his role in bringing attention to the pollution problems of Love Canal–maintaining that he said he “discovered” them in the sense that you discover something you were searching for–the Post‘s astonishingly hostile reporter Ceci Connolly wrote, “Add Love Canal to the list of verbal missteps by Vice President Gore…. The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie ‘Love Story’ and to have invented the Internet says he didn’t quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site.” Never mind that Gore was right about his role in Love Canal–he also accurately recounted the reporting of his role in inspiring Love Story. Ha-ha-ha, who cares? Over at ABC, Cokie Roberts asked, “Isn’t he saying that he discovered Love Canal when he had hearings on it after people had been evacuated?” And William Kristol jumped in with the phony Washington Post/RNC version of Gore’s quote: “I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I was the one that started it all.” Gore was right and these reporters were wrong. And yet, according to our authors’ Trade Secrets, this is all somehow Gore’s fault.