One presidential campaign. But so much journalism, and thus so many choices: What to read? Whom to believe?
A survey of 12 weekly and bi-weekly national magazines published during the week that ended Saturday may provide the answer, or at least a guide to a week of the campaign.
Here, culled from the glossy and not-so-glossy pages of periodicals from the several sides of the political spectrum, are five apparent truths about the 1996 presidential contest.
1. The campaign is over.
According to the magazines and their polls, President Clinton led GOP challenger Bob Dole last week -- by 23 percentage points (the New Republic), by 16 points (Newsweek) or by double digits left unspecified (Time). He led by 115 electoral votes in the New Republic's weekly electoral vote estimate, and he had a 60 percent approval rating, according to the National Review.
Dole was so far behind that practically the only thing left for some magazines to do was compete for the most creative descriptions.
The National Review: "In Washington, you can already hear the splashes as rats jump off the ship."
Time: "The Dole campaign continues to self-destruct."
The New Republic: "Saving Bob Dole might be even more difficult than diverting a force of nature."
Fortune: "That sound you'll hear will be the fat lady warming up."
Further evidence that the campaign is finished: The main campaign story in Time magazine wasn't even about the presidential campaign, per se. It was about aspiring House speaker Richard A. Gephardt. And the New Yorker's "Campaign Trail" feature passed up the presidential candidates in favor of a story on their running mates.
"It is not unreasonable to think that in the year 2000 Gore and Kemp will be the presidential nominees of their parties," writes Michael Kelly. "The voters may finally get a campaign they approve of."
And, just maybe, one that isn't over before it's over.
2. It's over, unless
With the right combination of wizardry and good fortune, Dole could turn it around.
"What Dole Needs to Catch Up," advises a Fortune headline. "Not necessarily in this order: a strong debate showing, a Perot flameout -- and a whole lotta luck."
Among last week's other come-from-behind strategies:
Dole should "label Bill Clinton as 'the best at what we hate most -- playing politics,' " say Republican strategists in U.S. News & World Report. Dole should tag Clinton as a liberal and emphasize the candidates' differences (Time). Dole needs to ace the debates while waiting for the economy to falter (Fortune).
Dole must talk more about his 15-percent tax cut plan. Then, says the National Review, "the compelling argument of the Dole campaign -- that people spend their money more wisely than government does -- can begin to bite."
Meanwhile, Dole needs to stop talking so much about drugs -- voters don't seem to believe a president can affect drug use anyway -- and polarize voters with issues such as partial-birth abortions and illegitimacy.
Then there's always the strategy espoused by Pat Robertson at the recent Christian Coalition convention. "In my personal opinion," Robertson is quoted as saying in the New Republic, "there's got to be a miracle from almighty God to pull it out, and that could happen."
3. You can't believe anyone. The campaign is all hypocrisy, double-talk and distortion.
"Both candidates are laying claim to the crime issue and neither is playing it straight," says the cover of U.S. News & World Report.
Yes, "rhetorical combat reached a recent zenith last week," with Dole blaming Clinton for slashing the size of the White House drug czar's office; Clinton saying drug use among young people began rising under President George Bush; Dole running ads featuring an MTV moment in which Clinton joked about trying marijuana; and Clinton counterattacking with ads in which Dole is accused of voting to cut the president's school anti-drug efforts.
Actually, says U.S. News & World Report, "Neither Clinton nor Dole can claim much more than erratic anti-drug records."
Nothing is what it seems. The Republicans say Clinton is a Democrat using Republican ideas. The Democrats say Republican lawmakers are embracing the Democrats' ideas. The Democratic convention was a "family-values fun-fest" with ultra-liberals hidden in the wings (National Review). The Republicans have a 103-page communications strategy that advises telling gun control advocates that Nicole Brown Simpson was killed with a knife. (the Nation).
Dole surrounds himself with "unscrupulous" Beltway lobbyists and operatives (New York), while Clinton "openly promises to break his promises, reassuring liberals in Chicago that he would 'fix' the welfare legislation he has signed beforehand to win over conservatives." (National Review).
4. What campaign?
According to the magazines, a week on the campaign trail looks something like this: