Welcome back. Now that you know what we’ve suspected all along — that Campaign Desk is at least as interesting as the Super Bowl — let’s turn to a press fumble that you might have missed yesterday.
For many followers of the Sabbath Gasbags who infest Sunday morning television, the day began with “Meet the Press,” where Tim Russert, who ought to know better, fell for an old trick pulled by a Kerry campaign funtionary on an unsuspecting public. Worse, Russert used the stunt to try to sandbag Howard Dean.
During an hour-long interview, Russert read Dean the following letter, which he described only as, “a letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register, which caught my attention.” Russert quoted the letter: “Now I know how Howard Dean gets his exercise while he’s on the campaign trail. He drops to his knees to beg `Washington insiders’ to endorse him, and then he jumps up to insult them. I’m guessing he does about 20 repetitions of that a day.”
Russert didn’t tell viewers a tell-tale detail; that the letter came from one Jim Bootz, the Minnesota state director for … the John Kerry campaign.
Campaigns frequently ask supporters to send letters-to-the-editor to newspapers. But Russert gave the impression that the letter came from an ordinary Iowa voter, not from someone affiliated with a rival campaign. That was surely a detail that viewers deserved to know.
—Z.R.Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.