Bring Out the Straitjacket

Gov. Howard Dean’s enthusiastic speech to his campaign workers after taking third place in the Iowa Caucus is the talk of the nation - or at least of the nation’s campaign press. The speech has served as the butt of late-night television jokes, as well as the focus of many a campaign article. The speech has also generated a lot of Internet buzz, even including comic techno remixes of Dean’s words. It’s fair to say the speech hurt Dean’s image, as expounded in today’s Chicago Tribune and USA Today.

But it’s a real stretch - and completely unfair — to say that Dean’s outburst on Monday night proves he is too insane to be president, which is the underlying theme in today’s Los Angeles Times piece covering the much-talked about speech.

The piece, written by Mark Z. Barabak and Faye Fiore, contends that backlash from the speech is “intensifying concerns that Vermont’s former governor is prone to outburst and fits of pique that make him unqualified to be president.” The rest of the article contains rhetoric, either Barabak’s and Fiore’s words or those who they interviewed, that paint Dean as a man struggling to stay out of a straightjacket. “Emotional meltdown,” “manic performance,” “border-line psychotic” sound more like the lyrics of a Ramones song than substantive news reporting.

The fourth paragraph states that “The damage was immediately quantifiable,” and then cites surveys which show a fall in Dean’s approval rating and the tightening race in New Hampshire. It’s true that Dean’s approval rating has fallen and it’s true the race has tightened - but it would have been nice for the Times to note that perhaps Dean’s actual showing in the Iowa caucuses had as much, if not more, to do with his flagging poll numbers than his post-caucus speech.

In the end, Barabak and Fiore’s support for their premise that Howard Dean is too manic to be President appears to boil down to an unnamed source in their lead, and a snappy comment from Don Sipple, a GOP media strategist to the effect that “He’ll melt and melt and melt until there is no more Howard Dean.”

Maybe it’s Barabak and Fiore who need their arms tied behind their backs, not Dean.

—Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.