Pin the Tail on the Donkey

Here we go again.

Earlier this week, we wrote about the regrettable practice that producers of CNN’s “American Morning” have of regularly inviting partisan public relations professionals onto their show to engage in little more than bluster and spin. Today the situation might have reached a new low. It happened around 8:30 this morning, when Mark Pfeifle, communications director for the Republican convention, appeared as part of a panel discussing Al Gore’s recent speech critical of President Bush. Here’s what Pfeifle said:

During Al Gore’s time as Vice President, we had war declared over the U.S. five different times. We had American citizens killed four different times. And for Al Gore now to make these comments that are so over the top, so irresponsible, in front of, an organization that has run ads that compare the president to Hitler, shows how out of touch and how angry the Democrats are these days.

We’re not surprised Pfeifle is pushing the “angry Democrat” angle — it seems to be at the top of the list of Republican talking points of late. (Though we suspect that happy Democrats would displease Republicans even more.) But Pfeifle’s assertion that “has run ads that compare the president to Hitler” is stunningly false. Two ads submitted to MoveOn’s anti-Bush ad contest last year did make that comparison, and at least one was posted briefly on the organization’s website. But MoveOn quickly removed it and disassociated itself from the offending ads — and, contrary to Pfeifle’s implication, they never appeared on the air or in print.

Pfeifle almost certainly knows this. But he also knows his job: to spin whomever he is talking to until they’re dizzy. It’s not the flack who is falling down on the job here; it’s CNN, which brings gasbags from both sides on the air to offer up partisan spin under the guise of discussing the issues. As long as the networks are willing to play that game, political operatives have every reason to step up to the plate.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.