Smirkgate and Dana Milbank’s fervent wish

Dana Milbank, the Washington Post’s most notorious anti-Bush reporter, hopes beyond hope that the President’s smirking will be the equivalent of the Gore sighs from 2000 (note the headline):

Reaction Shots May Tell Tale of Debate
Bush’s Scowls Compared to Gore’s Sighs

As Democratic nominee John F. Kerry criticized President Bush in Thursday night’s presidential debate, Bush scowled, squinted, clenched his jaw and appeared disgusted as he hunched over his lectern — images that were beamed into millions of American homes.

The episode was reminiscent of the first debate of the 2000 presidential campaign, when Al Gore’s loud and pained sighs made the Democrat appear contemptuous and condescending, turning what could have been a victory for Gore into a political debacle for him. On Thursday night, it was Bush’s aggravated demeanor that contributed to the impression that Kerry won the debate.

Body language can be more descriptive than actual language in presidential debates. No line from the 1960 debate was as memorable as Richard M. Nixon’s perspiration. And President George H.W. Bush’s glance at his wristwatch during the 1992 debate has endured beyond that night’s words.

For the current president, the performance could be particularly damaging, because part of his advantage over Kerry is voters’ perception that he is likable while Kerry lacks the common touch. Democrats on Friday moved quickly to maximize the damage. The Democratic National Committee posted on the Web a video titled “Faces of Frustration,” showing Bush in various stages of consternation as he listened to Kerry. “He was defensive, annoyed, arrogant, even angry, and showed it,” said DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Of course Milbank doesn’t mention the fact that the video on the DNC website is a very likely a violation of the debate rules:

Section 5 of the memo [of understanding] defines the “rules applicable to all debates.” Part e of that section, on page 5 of the memo, says:

Neither film footage nor video footage nor any audio excerpts from the debates may be used publicly by either candidate’s campaign through any means, including but not limited to, radio, television, internet, or videotapes, whether broadcast or distributed in any other manner.

I’m sure Milbank just ‘overlooked’ that little tidbit. I mean, afterall, this is the same crowd that threatened to break the rules regarding some lighting disagreement they had with the debating committee — so why should it raise flags to Milbank that they’re not concerned with holding up their end of the bargain on the rules about using debate materials after the debate for campaign purposes?