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Friday, January 16, 2004  

DRUDGE CLAIMS STIR CONTROVERSY

In just two short days since online gossip pol Matt Drudge quoted Democrats apparently flip-flopping on issues, a media storm has built as candidates and journalists have claimed no such record of the quotes exist. Mr. Drudge's first screamer headline appeared Wednesday morning: "Exclusive! Dean Supported War!" Following was a quote at odds with Democratic candidate Howard Dean's anti-war platform.

"I absolutely support this war. Saddam Hussein is a monster, [and] I want to commend the leadership of President Bush. Invading pre-emptively is the only solution."

Later in the morning, a second report appeared about Dean's main rival in Iowa, Representative Richard Gephardt. In that quote, the Missouri Congressman came out against labor unions. "Free markets are the only solution. While jobs should be considered in any calculation, in the end we must do the bidding of corporate interests. They are America's best hope."

And then yesterday, Mr. Drudge ran a remark he attributed to John Kerry, wherein the Senator was quoted as saying he supported the Bush strategy of cutting taxes to wealthy Americans. "Cutting taxes for the wealthy is [the] responsible way to govern. Lower income Americans don't matter. If you want to stimulate the economy, you must turn to the wealthy. If you want the economy to rebound, you must stimulate it. Therefore, as your next President, I would move to make the Bush tax cuts permanent."

Shortly after appearing, the Drudge attributions started appearing on FOX television, and in yesterday and today's paper, the Wall Street Journal also quoted them. But even while the candidates were being excoriated by the conservative media and GOP insiders, some were left scratching their heads. Searches on Lexis-Nexis turned up no evidence of the quotes, and outside of Mr. Drudge's reportage, no evidence could be found that the men had ever made such statements.

At first, Mr. Drudge said he would not reveal his sources. But as criticism mounted, he admitted that, for the sake of brevity, he may have omitted some elipses from the quotations. This may have accounted, he explained, for the difficulty in locating the quotes from database searches. Still, he maintained everything in them had been said by the candidates. He declined to reprint the quotations with elipses.

Republicans were quick to use the quotes. Ed Gillespie, head of the National GOP, sent out 16 million email alerts this afternoon with the Kerry quotation under the headline: Kerry backs Bush. In remarks to the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids today, President Bush thanked Dr. Dean for his support.

The closest journalists could come to identifying the quotes came when Roxanne Hayden of the Associated Press found this passage from a speech Howard Dean gave on March 14, 2003, just before the US invasion of Iraq. (Sections that are consistent with Mr. Drudge's quote have been highlighted.)

"I absolutely oppose the war. It is a huge mistake to put our service men and women in harm's way without further evidence of wrongdoing by the Iraqis. Until the President makes that evidence clear, I will not support this war. Saddam Hussein is a monster, but there's no evidence that he harbors WMD. However, if we must go to war, I want to commend the leadership of our forces in Iraq. We should be very proud of them. It is the leadership of President Bush I question. Again, invading pre-emptively should never be used unless an invasion is imminent and it is the only solution. Clearly that's not the case here."

When asked, Mr. Drudge would not confirm or deny that this was the source of his quote.

____________________________
Today's satire inspired by this news:

Oh how sad a day it is when even the Wall Street Journal's 'Review & Outlook' section cribs its material right from the RNC fax printout. Today one of the 'Review & Outlook's' pieces is entitled 'General Wesley Perle'.

They take the cherry-picked quotes Drudge ran yesterday -- the ones he seems to have gotten from Ed Gillespie, who also used them in a speech yesterday in Little Rock -- and use them to argue that Clark has flip-flopped on the war.

posted by Jeff | 3:36 PM |
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