Whistling past the libel graveyard.

A mostly political Weblog.
July 17 2004 1:49 PM

No Caterpillar, No Cocoon?

Plus--Whistling past the libel graveyard.

John Edwards, opiate of the Dems: Rare Rasmussen bounce (for Kerry)  nearly all gone. ... But the Edwards pick may have had one more durable effect--ending, or at least postponing, widespread Dem pessimism, a.k.a. Panic. The percentage of Democrats who now think Kerry will win is way up. ... Is Edwards like a narcotic--calming the Dems during the convention period, only to have them wake up later, when it's too late, to the grim pain of the unappealing personality who heads the ticket? Just a thought! ... P.S.: Alert reader Bob S. notes that while everyone was focused on Edwards' bounciness, the Republicans made a giant gain in  Rasmussen's generic Congressional preference poll, completely wiping out in one week what had been a nine-point Democratic advantage. Maybe the debate on the constitutional anti-gay-marriage amendment wasn't such a political loser for the GOPs after all. ... 11:15 A.M.

Guess It Really Was A Nagourney Problem: Richard Stevenson appears instead of Adam "Caterpillar" Nagourney in the NYT writing credits for the latest Times/CBS Poll. Have Nagourney's superiors realized how awful his last effort was? ... Whatever the reason for his absence, it's not the same without him. There's no cocooning pro-Democratic spin! Just a sensible account of a poll with some good news and not-so-good news for the Dems. Even the headline ("No Poll Boost From Edwards") is unspun--at least not in a pro-Dem direction. This can't go on. ...It didn't. The Web headline has now been changed to "Public Likes Edwards, But Race is Still Close." The hed in the print edition is the even more morale-boosting "Public Warms to Edwards; Race Still Close." Shift change at the copy desk? Or orders from Moscow? You make the call. ...  2:13 A.M.

Friday,  July 16, 2004

The Wall Street Journal quotes amedia lawyer, Jack M. Weiss, saying that Dr. Steven Hatfill, who is suing New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, will

have a "hard time" proving that the columns said or even implied that Mr. Hatfill was guilty [in the 2001 anthrax attacks].

Weiss must not have been reading the same Kristof columns I read. ... Weiss also says Hatfill has to show

the Times published the columns knowing or suspecting that they falsely accused him of being guilty.

Maybe there's been some new development in libel law* [see Update], but doesn't Hatfill only have to show that the Times acted with "reckless disregard" for the truth or falsity of the charge? ... I think the Journal--and Editor & Publisher--are helping the Times whistle past the graveyard on this one. ... P.S.: Is Hatfill even a "public figure," the trigger for these more permissive libel rules?

*Update: Jack M. Weiss emails to say I am indeed wrong about current libel law:

Although the literal formulation of the actual malice standard encompasses either knowing falsity or "reckless disregard" of the truth, the Supreme Court, and numerous other federal and state courts, over the course of nearly forty years repeatedly have interpreted "reckless disregard" to require that plaintiff show, by clear and convincing evidence, that "the defendant in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of his publication." St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727, 730 (1968). This is a subjective standard, not an objective standard of "recklessness" or gross negligence, as might be suggested by a quick reading of the term "reckless disregard", and by your published comment. Contrary to your comment, I am therefore entirely correct in stating that, if Hatfill is a public figure, he will have to show--by clear and convincing evidence, no less-- that the Times and/or Mr. Kristof published knowing of or "suspecting" (my shorthand for "in fact entertaining serious doubts as to") the falsity of what Mr. Kristof wrote.

If Hatfill does have to show "serious" subjective doubts on Kristof's part, than Weiss was in fact right and I was under a misapprehension. (If any First Amendment types out there disagree with Weiss, please let me know at Mickey_Kaus@msn.com.)

But a) If Hatfill can use as evidence of Kristof's subjective doubts the objective circumstances of what he did--i.e. whether an ordinary man would have surely had doubts, given the reporter's (reckless? diligent?) behavior--then the two rules (actual subjective doubts vs. reckless behavior) might amount to the same thing; b) If Hatfill can't use the objective circumstances as evidence, then a "serious doubts" requirement would seem wacky, even if as Weiss says it's the law of the land. It would reward reporters for being so zealous or stupid that they do not entertain doubts even if they are hurling what reasonable people would think are reckless charges; and c) Given that it's at least unclear if Hatfill is a "public figure" who qualifies for this protection, I still think the Times is massively exposed here. ... 10:31 A.M. link

Petrelis Files has an interesting list of journalists who've contributed to political candidates. ... Jann Wenner gave $2,000 to Al Sharpton! ... David Talbot of Salon is only down for $500 to Dean. Cheapskate. ... Manohla Dargis, new NYT movie critic, gave Dean just as much. But Vanity Fair'sElise O'Shaughnessy maxed out! ... And Rupert Murdoch maxed out ... for Kerry. That must be how he got that big Gephardt scoop! ...  P.S.: Also, Petrelis says

President George Bush didn't receive a single donation from any outlet or reporter in my search. 

P.S.: I gave to Kerry at least partly in the hope that I'd be attacked for this gross violation of journalistic ethics. No such luck. ... Yoo hoo, Poynter people. Over here. ... Update:  Murdoch maxed out for Kerry in 2001, not in the current presidential cycle (in which Murdoch gave to Bush). ... 3:09 A.M.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Kerry Fever Update:  Still time for Dems to panic ...

June WaPo poll:  Bush down four.

July WaPo poll: Tied.

That's with the alleged Edwards Bounce. ... Note: The July poll was a WaPo poll, not (as indicated in an earlier version of this item) a WaPo/ABC poll. Are the two polls comparable? The Post's story itself compares them--albeit in paragraph #7. ... 4:38 P.M.

There's a bit of Reich in every Ehrenreich!  Barbara Ehrenreich writes:

... I have been endeavoring to calculate just how many blue-collar men a T.A.N.F. [welfare] recipient needs to marry to lift her family out of poverty.

The answer turns out to be approximately 2.3, which is, strangely enough, illegal.

I can't tell if Ehrenreich is joking about the "2.3" or if she's up to her old tricks (as when she wrote in 1986, with Frances Fox Piven, that long-term recipients were only a "tiny minority" of welfare mothers, when in fact they were nearly two-thirds of those on the rolls at any one time). If she's serious, how exactly did she calculate that 2.3 figure? ....Some numbers: The 2004 government poverty line for a family of four is about $18,850. For a family of three it's about $15,500. (The exact amount depends on whether you're using the Census or HHS  line.) ... Even at the current minimum wage, a full-time worker earns $10,700 a year and an Earned Income Tax Credit of $2,500 (three person family) to $4,200 (four person family).  Add in $3,000-4,000 of food stamps and subsidized Medicaid or CHIP health care for the children, and you're well above the poverty line even with a single breadwinner and a stay-at-home mom. ... Is Ehrenreich saying the poverty threshold is set too low? Fine--I'd have trouble living on it even without a family--but then she should tell us what idiosyncratic definition of "poverty" she's using. Is she assuming the "blue collar" man can't find even minimum-wage work? If so, again, why not make this assumption clear? ... Or is Ehrenreich, in the fashion of some left-wing organizers, simply ignoring the programs (especially the Earned Income Tax Credit) liberals have struggled to put in place to help low-income earners? ... P.S.: I doubt it's intuitively obvious to most Americans that the families of women married to typical blue-collar workers live in poverty. (Most blue collar workers make more than the minimum wage, and most wives work too.) The burden would seem to be on Ehrenreich to explain her startling stat. ... 2:35 P.M.

"...what a waste the year had been": The unexpectedly entertaining Eduwonk praises Samuel Freedman's Page 21 NYT coverage of Brooklyn Latino parents opposing the bilingual programs imposed on their children, which Mayor Bloomberg campaigned against but then preserved:

The grievances of Bushwick's parents point at an overlooked truth. The foes of bilingual education, at least as practiced in New York, are not Eurocentric nativists but Spanish-speaking immigrants who struggled to reach the United States and struggle still at low-wage jobs to stay here so that their children can acquire and rise with an American education, very much including fluency in English.

If Latino parents don't want bilingual ed, and it doesn't work, who keeps it in place? A Brooklyn activist (quoted by Freedman) says "And it's intensively guarded by the local politicians and the teachers' union." ... No doubt the 2004 Democratic party platform will take a strong stand against this powerful interest that stands in the wayof the working-class Latino parents Freedman describes ... P.S.: Just off the top of your head, which education system would you think helps build "One America"--a system that teaches different students in different languages or a system that teaches all students in a common language? ... 11:08 A.M.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I'll try to respond to Austin Bay's criticisms  at greater length. But I should say quickly that (as Glenn Reynolds suspects) when I wrote about  a "break from Bush's strident public global terror war," I wasn't arguing for a halt or pause in our soldiers' efforts in Iraq. The idea is to win in Iraq and Afghanistan but stop and think calmly when it comes to what the next step should be--without automatically declaring both conflicts mere parts of a titanic lifetime global conflict, an announcement that carries the risk of self-fulfillment. If this is a war unlike other wars, the World War II analogies don't apply in every respect. It might be a war we win by being less grandiose, righteous and excited for a period--especially if we're already accomplishing what we want to accomplish in Iraq (i.e., giving democracy root in the Arab Middle East). ...  P.S.: I undoubtedly gave the wrong impression by initially using the phrase "time out." I removed it as soon as I realized the connotation, but that was too late to stop it from getting around. (I was thinking that you often call a "time out," even when you're winning a game, in order to rejigger your strategy--but it's still a lousy metaphor. Peggy Noonan, I should note, did not use this bad metaphor when discerning the longing for a "return to normalcy.") ... 2:34 A.M.

Let K Street Be K Street Again! I never understood what was so scary about of Grover Norquist's "K Street Project," as denounced by the Washington Monthly's Nicholas Confessore  and public radio's "Marketplace."   Confessore says this is what has been happening:

The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer, are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the GOP.

a)  Didn't The Washington Monthly used to be a magazine that praised partisan machines and denounced activists who became lobbyists to serve the "parochial interests of their employer"? Oh, for the glory days of K Street! When influence-peddling was an open-minded and bipartisan enterprise. When civility reigned as Republican and Democratic sellouts cooperated to betray their parties' ideals. ... b) The main flaw in setting up the K Street Project as a bogeyman is this: Won't K Street go back to being Democratic if the Democrats manage to win some elections? Why would self-interested corporations keep Republican lobbyists if Republicans stop being elected to controlling positions in Congress and the White House? The answer, we now know, is they won't. The Motion Picture Association and several other lobbying groups have started to hire Democrats in prominent positions, in part because they anticipate a resurgence of Democratic power. (That was one not-so-hidden message of Glickman's ascendancy: Hollywood studio heads actually think Kerry will win. I am not completely without inside sources on this.) ... Worrying about the K Street Project, then, is worrying that Republicans will have power when they are in power. That's not as big a worry as the worry that Republicans will have power when they aren't in power. ... P.S.: Kinsley's funny piece on Glickman points to a more disturbing possibility--that the K Street Project isn't about making lobbyists subordinate to politicians. Rather, it's a reflection of the new reality that politicians are now subordinate to lobbyists in status. Maybe the Republicans want those jobs because they're good jobs and that's why they're in the business. If only they were ideologically-driven party activists.  ... Confessore and the K Street Project's critics, to the extent they hold up lobbying as some sort of honorable pursuit sullied by Norquist's partisanship, actually reflect and reinforce the nefarious status inversion Kinsley describes. ...

Update: Confessore responds.12:57 A.M.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Last Wednesday, California Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally called on the state's Education Secretary, Richard Riordan, to resign after Riordan joked at a reading event that a 6-year old's name--Isis--meant "stupid, dirty girl." "Would he have done that to a white girl?'' asked Dymally. After learning that Isis was, in fact, white, Dymally cancelled a press conference scheduled for the next day. ... Dymally explained the cancellation by citing Riordan's apology--although he'd earlier declared that Riordan "needed to do more than just apologize." ... P.S.: Perhaps aware that he'd made an utter fool of himself, Dymally then dramatically suspended his staff director, claiming the aide had scheduled the press conference without his permission. ... 10:46 P.M.

My candidate: Did John Kerry really say, in answer to the simple question of whether Bush's Iraq policy had increased the chance of a terrorist attack on America, that he'd have to wait for "the briefing that I'm waiting to get this weekend"? I think he did!  Pathetic. ... P.S.: At least he didn't get testy! ... O.K., O.K., at least he didn't throw anything. .. P.P.S.: Two weeks left for Dems to Panic. Imagine if Kerry does something like that in the debates. ... [Link via Maguire via Instapundit9:56 P.M.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Roger L. Simon doesn't "despise Bush personally" yet he's voting for him. Curious behavior ... 12:42 A.M. 

Friday, July 9, 2004

Caterpillar's Tricks: Fellow Kerry-basher  John Ellis says  the "talk of the political community" is that there has been "almost no" Edwards Bounce--and the NYT's Adam Nagourney (with his carefully crafted 'comes-at-a-time' hype sentence *) is spinning the Dem's cocoon again. ...

*--The hype sentence:

The Democrats' emerging plan for Mr. Edwards comes at a time when Democratic and even some Republican officials suggest that Mr. Kerry's vice-presidential selection has the potential of being the most politically significant choice since another Massachusetts Democrat, John F. Kennedy, turned to another Southerner, Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1960. [Emphasis added.]

[What's wrong w/ 'comes at a time'?-ed. It's a hack formula that allows the reporter to make any speculative connection he wants to propel the story in the direction he deeply wishes it to go. As in "The controversy over Nagourney's credibility comes at a time when even some Democrats suggest he has the potential to be the most embarrassingly wrong Times correspondent since Judith Miller." That wasn't so long ago.-ed. And which way does that cut?] ... Update: RCP's poll survey does show a small but discernable Edwards Bounce. Even Rasmussen's bouncin' a bit. This does not make Edwards the most politically significant choice since LBJ. ... That was fast: MSNBC reports  "the bounce for the Kerry campaign was small." And it appears to be dissipating rapidly: Princeton Survey Research's poll for NBC on July 6 showed an 8 point Kerry-Edwards lead. The same outfit conducted Newsweek's poll on July 8 and 9 and found only a 3 point K-E advantage. ....  11:47 P.M.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Kerry 'Opt-out' Scenario-fest: He's broken campaign spending promises before ...  It turns out  Prof. Rick Hasen askedkf's question--why can't Kerry pre-buy fall campaign ads with his pre-convention money?--over a month ago. Hasen's post drew a response from everybody's favorite D.C. campaign finance source, attorney Trevor Potter, who wrote:

The Agreement the party nominee signs with the FEC in order to receive general election public funding commits the nominee to using only the public funds for activity during the general election period (defined as the date of nomination to the election). Therefore, the nominee may NOT "pre-fund" general election activity with primary funds. The FEC audits all publicly funded Presidential campaigns, and this issue has come up in those audits with some frequency, with a repayment of public funds required where such prepayment has occurred. [Emphasis added]

OK, I get it now. The campaign finance laws treat the pre-convention period as a single, (primary) election, which ends at the convention. If you pay for anything that happens after that date, it can't possibly be spending for the primary. It's a general election expenditure and has to be made with public funds (assuming Kerry doesn't 'opt out'). ... Two problems with this answer, though. Problem #1: One of Hasen's readers notes that if, as Potter suggests, the penalty for post-convention spending is simply that the money has to be repaid, isn't that still a good deal for a campaign?

[F]or all practical purposes you can LOAN your campaign the money from the funds raised before the convention? After all, that's what a loan is, money given to you when you need it, that you have to pay back later.

Is there some additional penalty that gets tacked on to make the loan not free? ... Also, if the FEC orders repayment only after the expenditure has won election, isn't that a bit too late? Problem #2: I still think Potter's rule must be very hard to police. Suppose for purposes of argument that Kerry consultant Tad Devine's normal fee is about $20,000 a month (I insult him). Now suppose Kerry instead pays Devine $30,000 for the three primary election months leading up to the convention, but Devine then agrees to a "pay cut" to $10,000 a month for the three months after the convention (perhaps justified as necessary in order to conserve limited 'public' funds). Devine makes the same amount of money in the end--but arguably the Kerry campaign will have subsidized 50% of his post-convention activity with pre-convention cash. Yet how would the Republicans (or, if the situation were reversed, the Democrats) ever prove it?...  Plus, if the only penalty for getting caught is that the money has to be paid back after the election--well, see Problem #1. ...

Sum-up:

a) It wouldn't make any sense for Kerry to blatantly pre-pay expenses. That would maximize the chances of the expenses being quickly caught in the FEC audit. He'd clearly have to pay the money back. But I'm now not convinced that means Kerry in practice needs to spend all his primary money by the end of the convention. Why can't he do this: Keep the pre-convention money in the bank. Take the $75 million in free federal funds. Then, if in late October, say, he thinks he needs to spend more in a close race, he can bust his agreement with the FEC and spend some of his leftover primary stash. He'd have to pay it back to the government later, and the famously toothless F.E.C. might try penalize him in an "enforcement" action. But meanwhile, he gets to be President. ... Think Kerry wouldn't break an agreed-to spending cap just because it's in his interest to do so?  Tell it to Bill Weld!  ... Update: Prof. Hasen thinks any spending over and above the agreed-to cap might be caught quickly, causing instant, prohibitively damaging negative publicity. ...

b) If Kerry simply opts out of public financing, then he won't have to agree to use only public money, so he could presumably spend his primary dollars in the fall. The main reason to think Kerry won't opt-out of public financing is that his spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, has flatly promised he won't.

"We are not going to opt out of the system," Ms. Cutter said.

But don't you think that Kerry aides, even as we speak, are figuring out scenarios in which they could get away with breaking this promise? The break would be billed as a response to some alleged misbehavior by the Bush campaign, of course (as Kerry's 1996 Weld reneging was billed as a response to a bogus alleged violation by Weld). Maybe it would be a response to Bush's failure to promise that he wouldn't opt out of public financing after his convention in late August. ...

c)And here's another Explainer candidate: Why couldn't Kerry take the $75 million public money, promise not to spend private money--and then, if Bush opts out in late August, Kerry could announce that he was returning the $75 million to the government and would raise his own. Rationale: Because Bush wouldn't promise to abide by the spending cap he considered his earlier promise null and void, had to level the playing field, etc.  This promise-in-July/renounce-in-September approach would preserve Kerry's ability to opt out if Bush does--while allowing Kerry enough time to raise a lot of post-convention private money to add to the primary stash discussed in (a). Do you really think the FEC would go after him for committing to use public funds and then changing his mind?... All he'd lose, compared with opting-out right away--would be the money he could have raised in August.

Correct me if I'm wrong! 11:15 P.M.

The LAT issues a defensive and un-mensch-like correctionof its false anti-Bremer report (that he didn't give a farewell speech "as if he were afraid to look in the eye the people he had ruled"). Patterico notes that it's hardly an excuse that the speech was "not publicized to the Western news media." If something's not publicized does that mean it didn't happen. Are LAT reporters totally dependent on handouts from Bremer's office? Iraqis knew about the speech.  ... Update: It's actually not that bad. It's worse! Bremer's speech was on CNN. ...12:55 P.M.

Roll Over Howell (and tell Nina Bernstein the news): The NYT now says that renewing the 1996 welfare reform ("one of the acclaimed sucessess of the past decade") is a "no brainer." Who could ever have thought anything different? Stuart Buck goes to town. ... 2:51 A.M.

Mickey's Assignment Desk: Explainer, Please! We're told that once John Kerry and George Bush accept public funds to run their campaigns after their respective nominating conventions, they will

be banned from raising funds or spending funds contributed prior to the nomination. [Emph. added]

That presumably means Kerry must somehow spend all the record-breaking millions he's raised so far before the convention. But what can he spend it on? Can he pay for October ad time in advance? (How do you stop him?) Can he pay Bob Shrum and his other consultants their full-year fees? Can he pay for his plane in advance? If so, the restriction might not be so hobbling. But it was hobbling enough that Kerry considered delaying his formal acceptance of the nomination to postpone the cutoff date. So how, exactly, does it hobble? ... Do we have a post-9/11 blood transfusion situation here, with a spontaneous outpouring of aid for Kerry that's so large he can't possibly profitably use it all?  Is it a scenario in which he might as well spend it on luxury hotels for his posse? The NYT recently reported

They have begun chartering a 757, packed with first-class seats, good food, sleeping accommodations -- even a stand-up bar. They hardly shy away from top hotels, like the Four Seasons in Palm Beach and the St. Regis in Los Angeles.

Hmmm. I gave Kerry $300 and don't particularly want it to go to the Four Seasons! ... Explain this too: Kerry's being urged to opt out of public financing for the general election--that means refusing federal money and relying on private donations, as he did in the primaries. But would this allow him to spend in September and October the millions he now has in the bank? Or would it merely enable him to raise more money after the convention than the feds will provide? ...P.S.: Isn't it kind of obvious,when you think about it,  that Kerry will opt out? ....[Wait a minute. Y ou gave money to Kerry?-ed. Yes. Doesn't that violate journalistic ethics?--ed. Not mine, as long as I disclose it, which I just did. The danger is that having invested in him, I'll now go soft on him. Don't worry! You think he'll be a failed, Carter-like President--ed. True. But we survived Carter and we'd survive Kerry (though it will be a long, hard slog!). I plan to vote for him because I think a) we need a break* from Bush's strident public global terror war in order to prevent it from becoming a damaging, lifelong West vs. Islam clash--in order to "rebrand" America and digest the hard-won gains we've made in Iraq and Afghanistan (if they even remain gains by next January). Plus, b) it would be nice to make some progress on national health care, even if it's only dialectical "try a solution and find out it doesn't work" progress. I could change my mind--if, for example, I thought Kerry would actually sell out an incipient Iraqi democracy in a fit of "realistic" Scowcroftian stability-seeking (an issue Josh Marshall's recent Atlantic piece doesn't resolve).  But I don't intend to agonize like last time.] ... *Note: The first version of this post said we needed a "time out" from Bush's strident global terror war. Several e-mailers point out, correctly, that this is a bad phrase to use, in that it seems to imply a pause in attempts to get at al Qaeda and similar groups. I mean a period of consolidation and lowered swagger and apocalypticism, not a halt in rooting out terror cells, etc. ... 1:51 A.M.

"Rollout" Readout: Thanks to ABC's highly-useful Evening News Wrap, here are some results on the Kerry campaign's attempt to "own" the week by torturously drawing out the naming and getting-together and hand-raising of the full Democratic ticket--what The Note called "a slow-motion, multi-day dog and pony show": Just one network (CBS) led its evening newscast with the Kerry-Edwards hand-clasp money-shot story. It was only the #4 story on NBC (layered in some Carl Quintanilla meta-reporting about "media manipulation") and the #3 story on ABC. ... Maybe the evening newscasts aren't that important anymore, but I'd say this isn't exactly wall-to-wall hype. The slow-mo dog-and-pony show is headed for a smaller theater, fast (albeit with a late stop at 60 Minutes). ... Wouldn't it have been better to just have had Edwards jump onstage from behind a curtain on Tuesday, get the big publicity pop, and then hit the trail? ... I expect this pattern--with the "ace" Kerry PR operation overestimating how riveted the nation will be by their man--to be repeated throughout the Democratic convention. ... P.S.: Not that the press isn't excited by Edwards. In all the talk about how the Edwards pick pleased key Democratic constituencies. only a few pundits  mentioned the extremely pleased key (and mainly Dem) constituency of the media. But news shows aren't going to play up Kerry-Edwards day after day absent evidence that the public is as excited as the press is. ... 1:07 A.M.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Exciting Edwards "Rollout":  Robots not impressed  (so far).... But 4-point bounce on CBS--which will probably become a tidal wave in the Nagourney/Elder spinterpretation. ...P.S.: I forgot, it's only a CBS poll, not a CBS/NYT poll, so it doesn't count, according to Nagourney.  ... 3:01 P.M

Yesterday's Front-Page Fiasco--It's Not the N.Y. Post:

1) Ten days ago theLos Angeles Times printed a front-page lead story ("Iraq Insurgency Showing Signs of Momentum") asserting, without backup, that "some U.S. commanders say it could be too late to reverse the wave of violence." ...

2) On July 4, an LAT front page piece reported that our civilian administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer

left without even giving a final speech to the country — almost as if he were afraid to look in the eye the people he had ruled for more than a year

when in fact Bremer did give a farewell speech, which was well-received by at least some Iraqis. ...

3) Yesterday, the Times ran another dramatically downbeat Iraq story as its front-page lead. This one--"U.S. Response to Insurgency Called a Failure"--said "some top Bush administration officials" were criticizing the Pentagon for "failing to develop a coherent, winning strategy against the insurgency." Again, there are no quotes--even blind quotes, even blind paraphrased opinions--from "top Bush administration officials" backing up the story's dramatic initial assertion. The only administration official whose sentiments might conceivably be interpreted to fit the bill is a "senior official of the now-dissolved Coalition Provisional Authority" who says:

It's disappointing that we haven't been able to have better insight into the command and control of the insurgents ...And you've got to have that if you're going to have effective military operations.

That's it!  Is this person (who hardly sounds like a top Bush official) saying the Pentagon's response to the insurgency was "a failure"--or is he or she saying we should have much better intelligence, something the Bush administration clearly hopes the new Iraqi government will now be able to obtain? ...

Maybe the U.S. response to the Iraq insurgency is a failure, and maybe "top Bush officials" are tearing their hair out over it, but yesterday's Times story does nothing to convince its readers that this is the case.

There's a pattern here! It seems like an institutional pattern (each of these three embarrrassing front-page LAT stories was written by a different reporter). Someone might call it pseudojournalism. ... [Link for example #2 via Instapundit3:27 A.M.

The downside: Doctrinaire Shrumian populism is back. Those powerful interests are standing in your way  again in the first Kerry-Edwards ads. ... Click here  and here  for why I think this is a deeply flawed approach. Two caveats: a) Paul Glastris argues that some powerful interests do stand in the way of developing two new job-producing sectors  of the economy--broadband and biotech; b) If HMOs really are now effectively insulated against lawsuits  over their failure to pay for needed services, that gives Edwards a profusely-bleeding, slow-moving "powerful interest" target. ...2:14 A.M.

Kerry managed to choose John Edwards Tuesday without getting the traditional money shot of the both of them holding their hands aloft. NBC's Tim Russert told Brian Williams this was "very deliberate"--a carefully planned "rollout" designed to dominate the news for most of the week. They'll hold hands tomorrow! ... Aren't Kerry's strategists severely overestimating the excitement surrounding this ticket? They're also failing to take into account the public's increased ability to swiftly process  a less-than-shocking story which will be yesterday's news--an hour and a half ago, actually. Today, the Kerry-Edwards money shot would surely have led all the networks. Tomorrow it might well air after the commercial break in a quotidian campaign story covering both sides. ... When do they kiss? This isn't Friends, where the suspense can be dragged out as the nation wonders when Joey and Rachel will hook up! ... Update: There's another possibility of course, which is that the Stealth Strategy is alive, alive!  1:48 A.M.

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

It's not nice to scam Deborah Orin! Inspector Ellis is on the case  of how the N.Y. Post may have been misled into printing its now-famous cover of Kerry and Gephardt. ... P.S.: For a moment I thought it was the Weekly World News: "Kerry Picks Space Alien As Running Mate!" [Apologies to Rick Hertzberg ]... Update: Alert reader G. suggests that the story's lack of a byline means that neither Orin--nor anybody else at the paper--was comfortable putting their name on it. Maybe it wasn't a deliberate Kerry feint after all,  but just somebody running into a source (e.g., a Kerry fundraiser) who swears up and down that Gephardt's the man. ... 3:36 P.M.

Winning Kerry Message Revealed: Kerry has no message, it's commonly conceded (even, on occasion, by Kerry aides who nevertheless exude that  "eerie confidence"). But what would be a winning message--one that spoke to the subconscious mood of the moment? I think Peggy Noonan has done the Democrats a big favor  by coming up with it. The message is that America wants a respite from all the headstrong history-making of the past four years. Bush isn't responsible for 9/11, but he's still responsible for a lot of the sense that history's being forced. Even before 9/11, as a second-place vote-getter aided by a questionable court decision, he somehow leveraged his weak victory into an unexpectedly uncompromised Republican tax cut. Post 9/11, he leveraged the country into the Iraq War--a war in which we'll prevail, if we do, by the skin of our teeth. Next he'll try to abolish the estate tax, with potentially dramatic consequences for the social structure. It's all too morally complicated, strained, force-fed, disruptive, overheated.

We need a break--to steady ourselves at home and rebuild our standing abroad, to calm down the Islamic world's seething resentment, to prevent the "global war on terror" from becoming an all-consuming lifelong West/East conflagration. To digest the history we've just made.

As Noonan notes, you don't need to hate Bush or blame Bush to share in this desire for a respite. You can even applaud what he's done--and then take the ball from him (thanks, Pedro!) and bring in a reliever.

The American people may come to feel that George W. Bush did the job history sent him to do. He handled 9/11, turned the economy around, went into Afghanistan, captured and removed Saddam Hussein. And now let's hire someone who'll just by his presence function as an emollient. A big greasy one but an emollient nonetheless.

The idea that Kerry will be a do-nothing waffler, she notes, plays right into this approach. It's not a bug, it's a feature!

Noonan asks her readers to tell her how Bush could counter this Kerry appeal. As a Dem to whom the appeal appeals, I'd like to figure out the words that would capture the subliminal sense that we need a break. Maybe, um, "We Need a Break"--or "We Need a Break From Bush" ... Or the plural "A Break from the Bushes" to capture the anti-dynasty vote. ... Or "Time Out" ...

P.S.:  It can't be "Let's Calm Down"--"Calm down" being, it's often noted, the two most aggravating words in the language. It can't really be "Return to Normalcy"--even if that's what the Democrats would like to promise--and not just because of the Harding baggage. Voters know a real return to pre-9/11 normalcy is impossible. They just want some time off from all the radical post-9/11 paradigm-shifting.  ...

P.P.S.: I know that "Let America Be America Again" is an attempt by Kerry to tap into this same theme. But it's too pretentious and confrontational--as if Bush wasn't American. It doesn't capture the less hostile sense of "Nice job, thanks, that's enough world-shaking initiatives for a while, why don't you go sit on the bench while we bring in these other guys." ...

Better nominations along these lines now being accepted. ...

Update: A well-informed e-mailer comes up with the more traditional name for the "Pedro Martinez" approach:

"Bush sucks" is a 46% strategy.  "Gold-watch" Bush is a winning strategy. ...The majority of voters like Bush.  If they're going to get rid of him, they don't want it to be a rejection so much as a mid-course correction. [Emph. added]

He (or she!) adds: "The interesting thing is whether the K campaign can imagine such a strategy, since they all believe--truly believe--that Bush sucks." 2:37 A.M.

John E., You May Already Have Won ...: It's Edwards, suggests NRO's Jim Geraghty, following a tip from this aviation chat board. ... P.S.: The Chamber of Commerce  will not be happy. ... Update: But the N.Y. Post certainly seems confident it's Gephardt. ... Maybe Gephardt gets the post and Edwards gets the plane! ... 12:26 A.M.

Monday, July 5, 2004

Wackily prolific  e-mailer AKB is back, and he makes what seems like a good point--which is that if Kerry picks Gephardt as his running mate, it could be seen by bitter Deaniacs as "paying back to the man who gave him the nomination" by taking down Dean in Iowa. In my experience, Dean supporters are very well-informed and have long memories. And there is always the threat that they will defect to Nader in non-trivial numbers. ... 3:58 P.M.

Milkflop! ... P.S.: According to the Globe's Glen Johnson, even Kerry's boyhood dairy farm was "straddling the Ipswich/Hamilton border"! ... P.P.S.: The presumed Democratic nominee's attempts to emote about the agricultural life sound almost pathetically stilted and phony:

He told the crowd that as he drove across the region's verdant fields amid his three-day Midwestern bus tour, he turned to the local Democratic congressman, former Harvard quarterback Ron Kind, who was accompanying him, and said, '' 'Look at the power of that land. You can just feel it, you see it.' I know what you love." [Emph. added.]

He's kicking into high gear!  Yikes. ... 2:11 A.M.

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Zinni, Winni! Where was the kf longshot veep fave  last Thursday night, anyway? 1:16 P.M.

I'm So Sorry, Sister Souljah: Kerry's televised opposition to driver's licenses for illegal immigrants--declared "the Sister Souljah moment  of the 2004 presidential campaign" by Michelle Malkin--was only hours old before Kerry aide David Wade started backtracking:

Kerry spokesman David Wade said Wednesday that Kerry thinks it is a state responsibility to decide who gets a driver's license. Wade said Kerry would not support any federal efforts to stop states from giving them to illegal immigrants.

That's not a complete, groveling panderflop of course--it leaves Kerry still expressing his consequence-free opinion against granting licenses. But the night is young. ...P.S.: Several e-mailers note that if Kerry is sufficiently generous in granting legal status to previously illegal resident immigrants, the license-for-illegals issue becomes moot. But a) it appears to have become a matter of principle for some Hispanic activists, and b) Kerry's speech before the Council of La Raza seemed extremely vague  on exactly how broad and permissive his proposed "path to equal citizenship" will be. ... 1:23 A.M.

More evidence contradicting the easy, goo-goo win-win argument about the Abu Ghraib abuses--that they were both wrong and inexplicably stupid, because harsh interrogation doesn't yield reliable information--can be found buried in Saturday's NYT piece:

In some instances, the team used harsh interrogation tactics like feeding prisoners only one meal a day, allowing them only four hours of sleep a day, placing them in isolation cells for 30 days and using military dogs during interrogations, several soldiers said in interviews.

"Just having the dog in the room worked pretty effectively," said one intelligence analyst.

[snip]

The new prisoners produced good leads, which resulted in more raids and arrests of other high-level prisoners, including former Iraqi generals, senior Baath Party officials and tribal leaders who were aligned with Mr. Hussein, a military officer said.

This might be spin by the "military officer," of course. But it might not be. ... P.S.: Please hold the e-mails. I'm not saying torture or intimidation or humiliation is justified, in principle or in this case. I'm not saying the practices at Abu Ghraib weren't stupid and damaging. I'm not saying that the techniques applied to high-value detainees should be routinely applied, assembly-line style, to run-of-the-mill detainees. I'm saying you can't understand why it happened while pretending that it never worked, any more than you can understand why people get addicted to drugs while pretending that drugs are never fun. ... [Hold the e-mails? It's Saturday night on a holiday weekend. There will be no e-mails--ed You've never met alert reader J.] ... 12:55 A.M.

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Links

Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk

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