COMMENTS: Hardly a Holiday

The Presidents Day holiday was no day off for news. White House correspondents followed President George Bush on his trip to Africa. Former President George Bush endorsed John McCain for President. Both ABC and NBC led their newscasts from the campaign trail. Yet the Story of the Day was no network's lead--it was the recall of millions of pounds of meat from the school lunch program because of slaughterhouse violations. Of the three anchors, only Katie Couric at CBS took the holiday off. Inexplicably, her substitute Harry Smith chose to lead with celebrity trivia from baseball's spring training instead of hard news.

This was the final day of campaigning before the Wisconsin primary. CBS' Jim Axelrod called the Democratic race close enough for Hillary Rodham Clinton "to junk her plans to give up and leave the state." Many Wisconsin Democrats are "the kind of voter she has relied on," Axelrod explained--older, less well educated, economically downscale. "It is a state that demographically tends to favor her," NBC's Lee Cowan concurred.

Rodham Clinton's recent campaign theme has been that "words do not matter," as ABC's David Wright reminded us. Her slogan has been Speeches do not put food on the table. CBS' Axelrod described her line of attack against Barack Obama as "all rhetoric and no record." Obama sarcastically replied that famous rallying cries in American history--"All men are created equal""We have nothing to fear but fear itself"--could not be dismissed as "just words." As NBC's Cowan put it, "it was a good line, delivered well, meant to slap down criticism that Obama is all talk and no action. The problem? The words defending his use of words were not his own words." The "just words" refrain was lifted without attribution from a 2006 speech by Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts, an "old friend" of Obama, according to ABC's Wright.

So an opportunistic Rodham Clinton campaign decided that words do matter after all, calling the figure of speech "proof that Obama's inspiring rhetoric cannot be trusted," according to ABC's Wright. "They accused him of plagiarism." In turn, Wright heard Obama "reluctantly" admit that he should have given Patrick "proper credit." For his part, Patrick said "he and Obama often share ideas about politics, policy and language." Observed Wright: "Politicians steal slogans more often than comedians steal jokes."


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