ABC's John Berman on Thursday continued his habit of trying to force stale, anti-conservative jokes into his reporting, mocking the pronunciation habits of former President George W. Bush. In a segment on subliminal ads that "mess with your brain," the correspondent rehashed Bush's 2000 "rats" ad.
While playing the 11-year-old spot, which featured the word fragment "rats" on-screen for 1/30th of a second, Berman narrated, "You may have missed it, but this Republican ad for George W Bush in 2000 seemed to label Al Gore a rat. Now, that's subliminal, even if George Bush wouldn't admit it." Offering a not-at-all fresh joke, the ABC reporter added that Bush "couldn't pronounce [subliminal]."
Aside from the inappropriateness of this comment in a supposedly straight news report, how original are "Bush-is-dumb" jokes at this point?
Berman seems to enjoy inserting snark into his reports, but reaching back 11 years? This is the same network that ignored Barack Obama's recent gaffe of confusing Kansas and Texas. Wouldn't that warrant some comedy?
Instead, ABC's Jake Tapper on Wednesday made a vulgar "Mitt happens" joke and on Thursday referred to Mitt Romney as "Elmer Fudd."
In September of 2000, the New York Times actually offered a front-page story on the "rats" ad. ABC, CNN and MSNBC all led with it, hyping the non-story into a controversy.
On September 12, 2000, then-World News Tonight host Peter Jennings marveled, "If the word ‘rat’ was intentionally meant to appear in that political ad, one wonders what the Republican Party thought it might accomplish."
The word fragment (part of "bureaucrats") was almost impossible to catch, but at the time, network journalists jumped all over it to denounce the nefarious Bush campaign:
"By their very nature campaign ads are biased efforts to sell someone a point of view, but one Republican television ad attacking Al Gore now seems to have struck a new low. It carries hints of a hidden message and some would say they smell a rat."
– Bryant Gumbel on CBS’s The Early Show about an ad with the letters "RATS" for 1/30th of a second, Sept. 12, 2000.
On Thursday, Berman warned of subliminal ads, "...There are two campaigns going on here. The one in happy world, where all the smiley cheery candidates are trying to win your vote, and the one in tricky world, were all the smiley cheery candidates are trying to mess with your brain."
He did cite a supposed subliminal ad by a Democrat: Then-New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's 2009 commercial showing shots of Chris Christie "throwing his weight around."
Berman even noted that Corzine was now testifying "to a congressional investigation." Yet, ABC shouldn't get much credit for briefly mentioning the $1.2 billion that appears to be missing from MF Global. They and other networks have mostly ignored this story.
A transcript of the December 8 segment, which aired at 11:45pm EST, follows:
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN: "Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so," so said Gore Vidal. But like it or not, there are often running and some of what they're saying might seem perfectly nice until you really listen. Here's ABC's John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN: Don't look now, but there are two campaigns going on here. The one in happy world, where all the smiley cheery candidates are trying to win your vote, and the one in tricky world, were all the smiley cheery candidates are trying to mess with your brain.
MITT ROMNEY: I think people understand that I'm a man of steadiness and constancy.
JOHN BERMAN: This ad more Mitt Romney like it lives in happy world. But-
MITT ROMNEY: I've been married to the same woman for 25 - excuse me, I'll get in trouble - for 42 years.
JOHN BERMAN: You know who hasn't been married to the same woman for 42 years? Twice divorced Newt Gingrich. That's tricky world. In happy world, it's nice that Mitt Romney can say-
MITT ROMNEY: I've been in the same church my entire life.
BERMAN: But you know who hasn't been in the entire church his whole life? Lutheran turned Southern Baptist turned Catholic.
ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message.
BERMAN: You can bet he does. Because the subliminal messages that dominate the landscape of tricky world are a campaign staple. Nothing says don't vote for this guy like grainy photos and dark music. But tricky world can be in focus and even divine. Rick Perry's been running ads in Iowa touting his faith.
RICK PERRY: I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian.
BERMAN: Happy world, but uh-oh.
PERRY: When you run for president, you get a bunch of questions about your faith.
BERMAN: You know who gets a lot of questions about his faith? Mitt Romney's Mormon beliefs are seen as a turn off for some evangelical voters. Tricky world comes in all shapes and sizes. Right down to the size of a rat. Perhaps the most famous subliminal ad of all time-
BUSH AD: The Gore prescription plan? Bureaucrats decide.
BERMAN: You may have missed it, but this Republican ad for George W Bush in 2000 seemed to label Al Gore a rat. Now, that's subliminal, even if George Bush wouldn't admit it.
GEORGE W BUSH (FORMER US PRESIDENT): I didn't see rats when I saw it, no.
BERMAN: Or couldn't pronounce it.
GEORGE W BUSH: You thought you did. You talk about subliminable [sic].
BERMAN: And there was little subliminable [sic] about the ads Jon Corzine ran against Chris Christie in 2009 that showcased his girth, which prompted Christie to famously respond to Don Imus-
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: At least man up and say I'm fat.
BERMAN: In our latest poll, 79 percent of Iowans say Newt's marital past is not a major factor. Rick Perry's ad on faith has registered hundreds of thousands of dislikes on YouTube.
PERRY: I know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.
JOHN BERMAN: And the big-boned Chris Christie was elected governor, while Jon Corzine was testifying to a congressional investigation today, not a great track record for tricky. Maybe subliminal is not sublime. I'm John Berman for "Nightline" in New York.