Limbaugh versus Carville on hoping presidents fail

James Carville's remarks from a Monitor Breakfast in September, 2001, have created a firestorm of controversy across the web.

The blogosphere has been buzzing with comment about a story on quoting a Monitor breakfast from 2001 where Democratic political strategist James Carville said he hoped George Bush did not succeed.

Bill Sammon, vice president for news and Washington managing editor for Fox wrote that, “months and even years later, the mainstream media chose to never resurrect those controversial sentiments, voiced by the Democratic Party's top strategists, that Bush should fail.”

Unequal treatment?

Fox's charge is unequal treatment. “That omission stands in stark contrast to the feeding frenzy that ensued when radio host Rush Limbaugh recently said he wanted President Obama to fail. The press devoted wall-to-wall coverage to the remark, suggesting that Limbaugh and, by extension, conservative Republicans, were unpatriotic,” Sammon says.

Bill Sammon is a gentleman of the first order and a fine journalist. He has accurately transcribed an audio recording of the Monitor breakfast held on the morning of September 11, 2001 with Democratic strategists James Carville, Stanley Greenberg, and Robert Shrum. Sammon himself was not at the breakfast, but he was given a recording to help with a book he was writing. I did attend the breakfast.

There may be media bias. But the lower profile treatment of Carville’s breakfast comments compared to those by Limbaugh certainly does not prove it.

Lost in a flood of coverage

Carville started speaking at 8:00 a.m. on September 11, 2001. Word of the terrorist attacks that morning came right as the breakfast ended. Upon hearing the news, Carville said, “Disregard everything we just said. This changes everything.” Carville’s comments about the latest political polling obviously were lost in the flood of coverage of the first major attack on the US since Pearl Harbor.

Limbaugh spoke when there was not a competing news story of the magnitude of the September 11 attacks.

It pains me to say so, but comments made to a group of print reporters wolfing down scrambled eggs in a private hotel dining room never will get the coverage accorded the nation’s preeminent conservative broadcaster speaking to a packed Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in front of live TV cameras.

Two colorful talkers

While Carville is often animated in the extreme and given to fast, blunt talk, what he said at the 2001 breakfast was far less strong and colorful than comments Limbaugh has been making.

The former breakfast moderator, Godfrey Sperling Jr., was hosting on the day in question. He asked the three Democratic analysts if the Bush presidency was vulnerable. Here is what Carville said: "I don't care if people like him or not, just so they don’t vote for him and his party. That is all I care about. I hope he doesn't succeed, but I am a partisan Democrat. But the average person wants him to succeed. It is his country, his life or their lives. So he has that going for him."

Carville continued, "There is a lot that is going to happen between now and next November. It is not that people don’t like him. It is not that people don't want him to succeed, but it is also not that he doesn’t have some serious underlying problems."

At CPAC, Limbaugh said, "So what is so strange about being honest to say that I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation? Why would I want that to succeed?"

But his language grew more intense. As conservative author David Frum notes in the current edition of Newsweek, on Sean Hannity’s January 21 Fox News program Limbaugh said, "We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, whichever, because his father was black, because this is the first black president."

Old recordings anyone?

As the host of Monitor breakfasts, I think it would be great if journalists spent time poring over their notes from our early morning gatherings of long ago. But it is hard to believe that what was said over seven years ago would hold either a print or broadcast audience in today’s fast paced media environment. But if Fox wants to assign someone to listen to old breakfast recordings, we have them all on file and will make a comfy chair available for the listening chores.

An open invitation to Rush

One last note. Carville has spoken at 26 breakfasts. Rush has never appeared, and our efforts to reach him through intermediaries have been unsuccessful. But he has an open invitation to stop by for breakfast -- or lunch -- anytime.

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