The media, the schools and our man Bush


                    SAN RAFAEL, Calif. -- Watching George W. Bush's post-debate
                    strategy emerge was interesting. Watching it flower into perfection
                    within days was fascinating.

                    To go back a mere week, Veep Al Gore won the debate on points,
                    but the immediate spin was: Would it do him any good because he
                    was having such an Eddie Haskell night? The Bush camp complained
                    of Gore's sighing; the media promptly did out-takes of all sighs by
                    Gore, strung them together and -- `voila' -- he appears as a
                    petulant poseur rather than master of fact and issue.

                    (I mean, what are we to make of Bush's suggestion that we
                    encourage energy exploration in Mexico so we won't be dependent
                    on foreign oil? Bush actually said he had discussed this with Mexican
                    President-elect Vicente Fox. Shouldn't someone cable Fox and tell
                    him we're not considering annexation?)

                    OK, the media -- world champions of getting-off-the-point -- now
                    have us worrying about Gore's sighing, but the Bush camp is down
                    to no issues. Nothing works for them, and their only option is to
                    drive up Gore's negatives.

                    Their chosen vehicle for this purpose is "the credibility issue." Now,
                    this is interesting, because the problem is a media creation in the
                    first place -- with a memorable contribution from Gore in the "no
                    controlling legal authority" news conference.

                    As writer Lars-Erik Nelson recently pointed out, "Though he was
                    born and educated in Washington, Gore as a child did indeed work
                    cruelly hard on his father's Tennessee farm. He was in fact a model
                    for one of the characters in Erich Segal's `Love Story.' He really did
                    have an important part in creating the Internet. He did hold the first
                    congressional hearings into pollution at New York's Love Canal."

                    In fact, on that last item, the media-literacy class that Gore was
                    addressing at the time of the misreported "I discovered Love Canal"
                    allegation sent a letter of correction to `The New York Times' about
                    what Gore actually said. Don't you hate it when high school kids
                    show up the media?

                    Nevertheless, the media was high on the "Gore stretches the truth"
                    business and played it up mercilessly. Gore, a pro, knew it was
                    useless to argue the facts. Being the media means never having to
                    say you're sorry.

                    The Republican Amen Corner in the media -- that gaggle of flacks,
                    hacks, ex-Republican speech writers, flunkies and spear-carriers
                    now passing themselves off as journalists -- took up the cry to a
                    man and woman. Those Republicans-pretending-to-be-journalists
                    are so obedient. They sing in such perfect harmony off the same
                    page that the song rises to heaven and dominates all else. Plain
                    reporters, forever obliged to try to be even-handed, are no

                    Lest we all swoon in horror at the concept of a politician
                    exaggerating (could it be?!), let us take a look at some of the more
                    interesting claims made by the Bush camp.

                    I am particularly fond of the assertion that he was practically the
                    Father of the Texas Patients Bill of Rights. Of course, he did veto it
                    the first time and refuse to sign it the second, when it was passed
                    by a veto-proof majority; but when you point that out, the Bush
                    camp immediately whines that he signed `most' of the provisions in
                    that second package -- all the unimportant ones -- and only
                    refused to sign one.

                    That one, of course, is the only major bone of contention in any
                    Patients Bill of Rights -- whether patents can sue their HMOs. Bush
                    hates trial lawyers; Bush refused to sign; Bush's campaign now
                    brags that he signed "the strongest Patients Bill of Rights in the

                    My personal favorite among the Bush whoppers is Education Is His
                    Issue. The always-egregious `Wall Street Journal' editorial page
                    recently rhapsodized over an endorsement of Bush by a state rep in
                    Massachusetts. This citizen "hailed Dubya's track record on
                    education as `a model of what works in turning around troubled
                    school systems.' [He] decried the lack of reporting on that record,
                    complaining that `sometimes the most important stories, such as
                    Governor Bush's success with education reform, get lost in the
                    static of a campaign.' "

                    I'll say, and I'd like to see the `Journal' come down to Texas and try
                    to find that track record. Texas schools, as previously reported
                    here, have soared from abysmal to almost up to average. Our
                    minority students in particular have made terrific gains because we
                    finally started putting some money into their schools.

                    Almost all of this was accomplished in 1984, which is now 16 years
                    ago, and the bulk of the credit goes to Ross Perot, former Gov.
                    Mark White and former Lite Guv Bill Hobby. Thanks are also owed to
                    incredibly difficult work by a series of state legislatures on the
                    almost-impossible issue of how to fund schools fairly. Credit also
                    goes to Skip Meno, Ann Richards' education commissioner, for the
                    school accountability system about which Bush so often brags.

                    Find me one single education reform for which Bush deserves the
                    bulk, or even a substantial minority, of the credit (it's a weak
                    governor system) and that can be shown to have turned around a
                    troubled school system. Double dare ya.

                    Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Star-Telegram. You can reach her
                    at 1005 Congress Ave., Suite 920, Austin, TX 78701; (512)
                    476-8908; or

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