Ann Coulter
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In a mark of how insanely tendentious the media have become, George W. Bush called Al Gore's bluff on the debate question, and somehow that makes Bush the idiot. For months and months and months, Gore has been boasting he would debate Bush "anytime, anyplace, anywhere." It got so you couldn't take Gore out without him demanding that Bush show up and debate.

Back in March, Gore said to Larry King: "Would you be willing to host one of the first debates, Larry?" When King assented, Gore blurted out, "Well I accept, I accept." Then in July, Gore said to Tim Russert on "Meet the Press": "I've accepted for two or three months now your invitation to debate on this program. Have you gotten a yes from Governor Bush yet?"

Somehow all this schoolyard bravado left George W. Bush with the impression that: 1) Gore was willing to debate "anytime, anyplace, anywhere"; and 2) Gore considered "Meet the Press" and "Larry King Live" appropriate forums for debate.

Bush proposed a debate on "Meet the Press," "Larry King Live," and one of those ninny "bipartisan presidential debate commission" debates, where earnest local reporters ask the candidates if they support the current funding formulas for Title X programs.

Gore backed down and refused to debate Bush on "Meet the Press" or "Larry King Live." The media consensus is Bush made an ass of himself.

After the Senate debate earlier this week between Rep. Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton, I think we at least know why Gore might want to steer clear of Tim Russert. (Though his apprehension about Larry King remains a baffler.) It's not that Russert would be politically biased against Gore: Russert is a Democrat; he got his start in politics working for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

But Russert is a trenchant interrogator, particularly when it comes to exposing mendacity, double-dealing and fraud. Consequently, this year's Democratic candidates react to Russert like Linda Blair in "The Exorcist" facing a crucifix. Hillary Clinton has refused repeated requests to go on "Meet the Press," and Gore backed out of his phony offer to debate "anytime, anyplace, anywhere" the moment Bush proposed "Meet the Press" as a forum.

Now we know why. In the Lazio-Clinton debate, Russert reminded Hillary of what she had said about the Lewinsky scandal, playing a segment of her routine on the "Today" show, with Hillary somberly telling host Matt Lauer of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" that had concocted the whole story. Then Russert asked her: "Do you regret misleading the American people? And secondly ... would you now apologize for branding people as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy?"

The Manchurian candidate responded with a convincing performance as the put-upon little woman. With downcast eyes, she sadly proclaimed her earlier (also convincing) performance on the "Today" show "a -- a very -- a very painful time for me." The pitiful-me act fooled no one -- save the editors and reporters of every major newspaper in the country. (On behalf of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, I'd like to thank Mr. Russert for trying.)

Still, the concept of playing highlight reels of "the most ethical administration" for candidate Hillary is a great one.

First and clearly tops for humor value is Hillary's famous "60 Minutes" performance method-acting a Southern cornpone defending her man against the treacherous, lying wench Gennifer Flowers. In a heavy Southern twang, Hillary says: "You know, Ah'm not sittin' here (like) some little woman standin' by mah man like Tammy Wynette. Ah'm sittin' here because Ah love him and Ah respect him and Ah honor what he's been through and what we've been through together. And, you know, if that's not enough for people, then, heck, don't vote for him."

I think New Yorkers have a right to know if that's her real accent.

Also we've never gotten Hillary's reaction to the "Dateline NBC" interview with Juanita Broaddrick in which Broaddrick claimed that Bill Clinton raped her. Her story was investigated for months by NBC News and eventually found credible enough to broadcast. Broaddrick's rape claim was promptly deemed true by 62 percent of Americans, possible by 22 percent, and not true by only 20 percent in polls. President Clinton has never denied the rape charge, and Vice President Gore dismisses the alleged rape as a "mistake" Clinton "made in his personal life." What does Hillary say?

A tape of Hillary's "f-ing Jew bastard" outburst as described in Jerry Oppenheimer's "State of a Union" would be nice, too. Unluckily there's no live footage, but there were enough witnesses to patch together an accurate video re-enactment.

It's not as if there is any question under the sun that could possibly pose a risk for Hillary. Even if she completely humiliates herself, the media will declare her splendidly triumphant.

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