The five words to never say to a paranoid.

The five words to never say to a paranoid.

The five words to never say to a paranoid.

A mostly political Weblog.
Jan. 10 2005 7:13 AM

'Storytelling' and Torture

Plus anti-gerrymandering.

Lost Remote on the genius of Jonathan Klein's "on track" CNN strategy. ... I know when I sit down at my computer for five minutes with a cup of coffee what I really want is to click on some great storytellin'! How about you? ... P.S.: True, I can't make it through more than two paragraphs of a printed piece even on a subject I'm interested in. But, hey, I could stare at Wolf Blitzer forever! ... 3:17 P.M.

Instapundit makes a good point about why a conversion to a paid subscription web model--always risky--would be especially risky for the New York Times:

 [T]he Times would lose a lot of influence if it made this move, since it would only be talking to the true believers.


Right. Now the NYT has broad influence even among people who detest it (e.g., Republicans) because it's sort of lying around everywhere. But if Sulzberger makes readers stop, think, and maybe choose another news outlet, the Times could become as cocooned as Fox (an "oversized," as Reynolds puts it). ... 2:33 P.M.

A venerable institution in crisis: The WSJ documents the Chris Bangle Disaster at BMW. You can always sell lots of cars if you cut the price! But in fact sales of key models redesigned by Bangle seem to be falling:

The brand-new 5 Series suffered a 3% drop. That's a jarring reception for a car that rivals routinely admit to using as a benchmark when designing their own luxury models. Sales of the Bangle-designed 7 Series and Z4 roadster fell 21%, and 33%, respectively.

If the new, Daewoo-like 3-series also flops, can Helmut Panke--the MBA-style CEO who orchestrated these changes--survive? [Isn't Panke on the board of directors of the company that currently owns Slate?--ed Yes. But maybe he doesn't know it!] ... P.S.: Panke's transformation seems to have been based on consumer lifestyle research that categorized people as "yuppies," "upper liberals" and "post-moderns." Sounds right to me! But the researchers presumably didn't say the cars offered to these groups should be flamboyantly awkward-looking. ... P.P.S.: Bangle responds with characteristic grace and humility: "Sometimes you leave people behind." Maybe Dan Rather should have tried that one. ... 2:22 P.M.


Here's the best defense of the administration's record on torture that I've read. Heather Mac Donald pretty much destroys the easy, win-win idea that harsher methods don't yield useful information, and she documents the high-level imposition of sometimes absurdly strict rules to protect even prisoners like Mohamed al-Kahtani, the alleged 20th hijacker. Sample:

 "It was ridiculous the things we couldn't do," recalls an army interrogator. "One guy said he would talk if he could see the ocean. It wasn't approved, because it would be a change of scenery"—a privilege that discriminated in favor of a cooperating detainee, as opposed to being available to all, regardless of their behavior.

Even Mac Donald doesn't defend the notorious "Bybee memo," or (of course) the abuses at Abu Ghraib, which she attributes to a near-total breakdown of discipline:

As the avalanche of prisoners taken in the street fighting overwhelmed the inadequate contingent of guards and officers at Abu Ghraib, order within the ranks broke down as thoroughly as order in the operation of the prison itself. Soldiers talked back to their superiors, refused to wear uniforms, operated prostitution and bootlegging rings, engaged in rampant and public sexual misbehavior, covered the facilities with graffiti, and indulged in drinking binges while on duty. No one knew who was in command. The guards' sadistic and sexualized treatment of prisoners was just an extension of the chaos they were already wallowing in with no restraint from above.


In how many other instances did actual military practice diverge from the often absurdly civilized restrictions the lawyers were debating back in Washington? Mac Donald doesn't adequately address that question. But she undermines the "torture narrative" that traces all abuses back to President Bush's exclusion of al-Qaeda prisoners from formal Geneva treatment, and plausibly warns that the pendulum may have swung back too far. Even the old "Mutt and Jeff" technique is now proscribed, she reports:

Reeling under the PR disaster of Abu Ghraib, the Pentagon shut down every stress technique but one—isolation—and that can be used only after extensive review. An interrogator who so much as requests permission to question a detainee into the night could be putting his career in jeopardy. Even the traditional army psychological approaches have fallen under a deep cloud of suspicion: deflating a detainee's ego, aggressive but non-physical histrionics, and good cop–bad cop have been banished along with sleep deprivation.

P.S.: Mac Donald is no pro-Bush apparatchik. In a pre-invasion survey, she told Slate, "The war on Iraq is a dangerous diversion from the war on al-Qaida. Indeed, an Iraq invasion is likely to inspire retaliatory terrorism from Islamists everywhere." 3:41 A.M.

I'm not alone in thinking that the potential  Staudt libel angle may be playing a big part in CBS's Danron/"Memogate" response. My guess (which may be disproved within hours!) is that CBS would want to settle any disputes with Col. Staudt before releasing any report that could provide him with evidentiary ammunition. Settlement negotiations have been known to occasionally drag on. ... 2:21 A.M.


Getting on the antigerrymanderwagon: The Houston Chronicle's Cragg Hines, like me, used to think only naively apolitical goo-goo twits believed politicians shouldn't draw district lines. But Hines has busted these mental blocks and  concludes that this is one big new task  the judges or non-partisan commissions should take on. (I'd even be for the courts intervening, Baker v. Carr-style, but agree with Hines that the change is better accomplished democratically.) Now, thanks to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the issue is on the front burner. Even Schwarzenegger's old friends at the L.A. Times agree with him! (In his state of the state speech, Schwarzenegger argued, "153 of California's congressional and legislative seats were up in the last election and not one -- I repeat -- not one changed parties. What kind of democracy is that?") ... P.S.: Note, as did the LAT, the familiar, pathetic, whistling-past-the-graveyard reaction of Democratic Assembly speaker Fabian Nunez, which will be familiar to students of the heroic Gray Davis Retention Campaign. The issue, Nunez said, "is of no concern to the public and only to political insiders." But it's a much more valid and significant issue than term-limits, a procedural nostrum that was a huge popular cause only a few years ago. ... [Link via RCP] 12:54 P.M..

Saturday, January 8, 2005

OK, That's Enough Storytelling! The results from Thursday:

CNN's"Saving The Children" tsunami special: 717,000 viewers

Fox ("a series of chat shows linked by snippets of fragmentary information"): 1, 438,000 viewers.


P.S.: Is that Jeff Jarvis half-backing-off his defense of CNN chief Jonathan Klein? I think it is! Jarvis' previous defense was "Oh, come on. It's show biz!" Now he's talking like a J-school professor about whether Crossfire is good for "the public [Klein] serves"! But of course there was a way to cancel Crossfire and explain the decision without dissing Tucker Carlson (the one Crossfire host who had actually served notice that he was quitting the show because he, too, was uncomfortable with its format). ... CNN won't be a better network because people will be reluctant to go work for a guy who'll not only end your contract one day but then badmouth you in the press. ... Tonight at 9:00--"Schmucks of the Tsunami" But I confess I have a simpler perspective: Klein comes to his leadership position with a reputation as an executive, the same way Howell Raines had a reputation as an executive. It's not a good reputation. Do we give Klein a fair chance to make his mark at CNN and then judge him by the results? Duh! Of course not. This is the blogosphere, where we can jump on the first bit of evidence that he really is what he's reputed to be! This impulse is independent of any desire to better journalism or see CNN's audience more adequately served. It comes from a lower-order desire to not, if you can help it, let schmucks get away with being schmucks just because they are, you know, powerful schmucks. It's storytelling! ... P.P.S.: If I thought Jonathan Klein was going to be a schmuck in the cause of better journalism, I'd have second thoughts. But I see no evidence of that. ... 6:39 P.M.

Friday, January 7, 2005

Twilight of the Schmucks, Part XVIII: Boy, people at CNN do not like Jonathan Klein! Doesn't he realize it's hard to be a highly unpopular boss in the Web era, especially at a big media enterprise the press will pay inordinate attention to? Ask Howell Raines. ... Expect lots of anti-Klein anecdotes to be leaked to the obvious outlets in the weeks ahead. The zone will be flooded! ... 11:26 A.M.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

General Discontent: Aren't General James Helmly's dramatically-worded complaints being distorted by press reports in the Baltimore Sun and especially the Washington Post? If you read the stories quickly, you get the impression that Helmly is blaming the excessive demands of the Iraq war--WaPo prominently quotes Democratic Sen. Jack Reed** pinning blame on the administration for "consistently underestimating the number of troops necessary for the successful occupation of Iraq." It's only when you get further down in the stories that you discover Helmly isn't complaining about troop levels in Iraq. He's criticizing more specific Reserve policies--he wants the Army to order more reservists to Iraq against their wishes, for example, and decries the overuse of volunteers (who he thinks are people who tend to "enjoy lesser responsible positions in civilian life"). He also wants more Reservists who aren't fulfilling their obligations called to active duty or discharged. I'm not sure this jibes with the Democrats' agenda. Or the press's. ... Update: The NYT report is much better, making it clear that 

The general is not arguing that he needs more than 200,000 part-time soldiers now in the Reserve. Rather, he said, he needs greater bureaucratic flexibility to manage and mobilize the force.

**Correction: This item originally, erroneously had the Post quoting Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) instead of Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.). 5:23 P.M.

Now he's flooded the zone: The worst 5 words you can say to a paranoid person are "Relax, I'm your biggest defender." (Trust me on that.) Like a good paranoid, CNN's new chief Jonathan Klein has a lot of people out to get him--but I'm through being his biggest defender! Why? Yesterday, in the course of killing Crossfire and not renewing Crossfire co-host Tucker Carlson's contract--two decisions that may be perfectly defensible--Klein told the Associated Press, "I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp."   ... So let me get this straight. Carlson soldiers on as Crossfire interviewer while the show gets worse and worse. It's expanded, it's contracted, it's moved around the schedule. He has CNN people yelling in his ear to "get mad" or to interrupt his guests. He does what he's told. (You think he necessarily likes doing that? Then why is his own show, Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, a model of civil discourse?) Then Carlson has a guest on Crossfire, a popular liberal comedian who doesn't like CNN-style shoutfests and when challenged  calls Carlson a "dick" on the air. Everybody talks about it for a week. Most of the chatterers favor the comedian. Carlson takes a PR hit for the team. So when Klein gets to choose between backing his organization's employee up or associating himself with the popular comedian, Klein ... tells the press he sides with the guy who called his employee a "dick"? ... Why would anyone want to go to work for this man? ... Update: Klein tells walking-conflict-of-interest Howie Kurtz--who works for him but also reports on him for the Washington Post!--that Carlson is "best suited to host a head-butting talkfest," something that's manifestly untrue given a) Carlson's excellent PBS show and b) his dissent from GOP orthodoxy on issues like Iraq. ... P.S.: Somehow I don't think that Klein's idea for what will replace "head-butting" on CNN--namely "storytelling"--will prove to be what Jon Stewart had in mind either. ... 4:41 P.M.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

"The only ones confused were the leakers and the bloggers." Chief exit pollster Warren Mitofsky responds (via email) to yesterday's  "smoking gun" item:

The so-called smoking gun you wrote about was in the hands of every subscriber to our national election poll throughout election day. What took you and the others two months to locate it? At least a dozen news organizations have had this smoking gun since 11/2.

Second, the complex displays you ridicule, which were the source used by the leakers for the numbers that got posted by bloggers on election day, are not the tables you and others discovered. I stand by my original statement. Had you asked me I would have told you as much.

Third, if you doubt that we warned the NEP members on election day why don't you ask one of them? Or is ridicule with your eyes closed your preferred method of sounding smart?

And lastly, if my clients were as misinformed as you seem to think how come none of them announced an incorrect winner from the 120 races we covered that day? It seems that the only ones confused were the leakers and the bloggers. I guess I should include you in that list, but I'll bet you don't make mistakes. We have never claimed that all the exit polls were accurate.

Then again, neither is your reporting.
warren mitofsky

Boy, am I feeling less guilty that I didn't call Mitofsky before I posted that item (which was a bloggy thing to do, I admit). There doesn't seem to be any significant factual dispute at all. Mitofsky doesn't deny that his organization sent out erroneous data as late as 7:30 on election day showing Kerry winning nationally--indeed, he confirms it, saying it "was in the hands of every subscriber to our national election poll." 

To the extent it's more than a macho taunt, Mitofsky's Paragraph #1 suggests the "smoking gun" couldn't have been all that important or else it would have leaked earlier. Not a powerful argument! The number of people clamoring for hot exit poll docs is pretty small, and Mitofsky's been barking loudly about "stolen" information. Maybe his loyal subscribers decided not to leak. And I'm not Bob Woodward. But Steve Coll of the Washington Post did complain about the bogus info in public.

[T]he exit polls were badly flawed. This was a real problem in our newsroom last night. The last wave of national exit polls we received, along with many other subscribers, showed Kerry winning the popular vote by 51 percent to 48 percent --

It doesn't sound to me like "the only ones confused were the leakers and the bloggers." Mitofsky's argument to that effect is laughable. Numerous press organizations that subscribed to his service wasted hours and hours preparing stories on the new Democratic president.

Paragraph 2 says that bloggers thought Kerry was going to win because they misinterpreted "complex displays" other than the ones, highlighted by Mystery Pollster, that I linked to. But if they'd correctly interpreted the less-complex displays that Mitofsky sent out at 7:30 they ... would still have thought Kerry was going to win. The point is that Mitofsky and his partner Lenski reacted to their own organization's screwup by somehow blaming bloggers rather than their own faulty poll.

Paragraphs three and four essentially claim that Mitofsky's "members" are happy with his performance. That's not what I hear, though they are unlikely to tell me so directly. (The two I called clammed up.) Presumably Mitofsky issued some sort of warning to his core "members" in "mid-afternoon," though not to "subscriber" clients like WaPoBut why, then, was his organization still sending out bad info at 7:30? It's probably best to wait for the NEP's long-awaited internal Rathergate-style report to see how happy the "members" are. Still, Fox's John Gorman didn't sound too happy on TV Nov. 3 when he noted that he had been unable to call heavily pro-Bush South Carolina due to bad exit poll data showing the state "too close"! (Bush won South Carolina 58-41.) ** And WaPo'sColl--admittedly a mere "subscriber," not a "member"--was clearly pissed. ("The exit poll numbers we have paid for and been provided simply do not add up.") I don't think Mitofsky's defense will make clients like Gorman and Coll feel much better. 

** The purpose of exit polls is obviously not simply to prevent the announcement of an "incorrect winner." It's also to allow the earlier announcement of the correct winner--a performance measure Mitofsky understandably doesn't mention. If avoiding incorrect calls were the only function of exit polls we wouldn't need exit polls. The networks could end them and just wait for the actual results like everyone else. That's probably what they should do--though then Mitofsky would be out a chunk of business.

Update: Another Happy Customer! Here's what a 12/19 article in Broadcasting & Cable  reported:

An executive from one NEP-member organization is still fuming over the exit polling, and is alarmed by how few repercussions there have been for what amounted to a journalistic near-disaster.
He thinks bloggers were scapegoated and the problem really lies with exit pollers Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research. He points out that early projections for 11 states were off by as much as 20%, a mistake that had news outfits misallocating resources to report a Kerry win.

More:Mystery Pollster referees. ... 3:04 A.M.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Paging Dean Lemann! The prestigious Columbia Graduate School of Journalism could use this  meandering, weak piece--which fails to deliver the goods in support of whatever its vaguely delineated thesis is--as a case study of an article that desperately needs editing before it's published. ... Oh, wait. The piece was published. By the prestigious Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. ... 5:40 P.M.

Recycling Raines: I'm as willing to jump on new CNN chief Jonathan Klein as the next blogger--he seems way too slick. (And he won't be forgiven for the "pajamas.") But isn't  Klein's controversial "flood the zone" comment--about CNN's intensive tsunami coverage--the sort of highly unfortunate word mistake almost anyone could make? ... He was just going with the cliche! ... 3:10 P.M.

The smoking gun indicting the official Big Media Mitofsky/Lenskiexit poll appears to have surfaced--in New Zealand! Mystery Pollster points the way to this file  posted on the Scoop website. It is one of several that "appear to be actual internal Election Day reports generated by Edison/Mitofsky," according to MP. ... What it shows: As late as 7:33 P.M. on Election Day, Mitofsky and Lenski were apparently telling their clients (NBC, CBS, CNN, AP, etc.) that after "weighting" Kerry was beating Bush by 9 points among women and losing by only 4 among men. By 1:24 P.M. the next day (see this file) revised results revealed that, in fact, Kerry won women by only 3 points while Bush won men by 11 points. Whoops! ... It wasn't the dumb bloggers who didn't understand on Nov. 2 that they were being prematurely leaked "complex displays intended for trained statisticians," as Mitofsky would have it--or the dumb Kerry aides and dumb Bush aides who believed the same leaked numbers. It was that the weighted results Mitofsky's statisticians put out were full of it! ...

P.S.: The documents would also seem to contradict Mitofsky's argument that "we recognized the overstatement in the exit polls in mid-afternoon, and we told the members of NEP about the suspicions we had"--but mistakenly did not tell the mere "subscribers" like WaPo. If the errors were recognized in mid-afternoon, why was bogus 'weighted' data being compiled in neat official tables well into the evening?

P.P.S.: How much did Mitofsky's clients pay to be misinformed at 7:30 in the evening on Election Day? Are they happy about it?

Update: Mystery Pollster seems to think  the New Zealish documents are less of a smoking gun than I do, but that's because he feels already knew the story--in part from WaPo managing editor  Steve Coll's comments in a postelection chat. But it's one thing to take Coll at his word. It's another thing to see the bad Edison/Mitofsky data in black and white on an official NEP document. MP notes:

The continuing stonewall of secrecy that the networks have erected around the exit polls does not help. It is that secrecy, as much as anything else, that continues to fuel the more bizarre conspiracy theories floating around the blogosphere. I remain a skeptic of widespread fraud, but I cannot understand the continuing secrecy: Why did these documents have to be leaked by a left-wing web site in New Zealand? Why did NEP not release them in early November? Why did it take until late December for NEP to make the basic methodology statements the networks had on Election Day available online? And why so much reluctance to discuss, openly, what went wrong and why?

Gee, maybe because the truth is really, really embarrassing? Just a guess! ... 2:26 P.M.

Monday, January 3, 2005

Google search of the day: "Brad Grey" and "Pellicano" ... 8:55 P.M.

Hip-hop not so hip: Stanley Crouch with a bit of good news. But this is a movement that will be more effective when large numbers of men, and not just Essence, take the lead. [Via Drudge] 3:55 P.M.

The estimable T. Bevan of RealClear Politics argues that when it comes to national security:

The real problem for Democrats is rooted almost entirely in the their continuing inability to move beyond the experience of Vietnam.

The anti-military, peace-at-all-costs mentality which infiltrated the party in the late 1960's and early 1970's has finally grown to maturity and solidified to the point where not even an event as dramatic as September 11, 2001 causes much more than a ripple among the party elite and the activist base.

But this is way too crude. Most Democrats had no problem with Bush's military action in Afghanistan. (Bevan argues that "part of the Democratic base doesn't believe military action in Afghanistan was justified." But it is a tiny part.) The argument is over Iraq--an argument in which many Pentagon heavyweights, and many Republicans, take the antiwar side. ... When smart Republicans are content with flabby, cartoonish assessments of the opposition, it suggests to me that they are ready to be beaten by a Democrat who can break out of the cartoonish image (as Clinton did in 1992). ... P.S.: But Democrats seemingly would at least have to admit that a vote against the first Gulf War was wrong. I don't know why Kerry found this demonstration of humility impossible to perform. [He's a jerk--a vain, insecure egomaniac who needs to pretend he makes no mistakes?--ed. That's one theory.] ... 3:28 P.M. 

Rep. Robert Matsui, who died Saturday, had a reputation as a civil, intelligent and honest pol. He was a gentleman with me the one time I interviewed him. He was less of a gentleman with Clinton aide David Ellwood  when the latter tried to reform the welfare system (although even Matsui's way-too-incremental alternative proposal was at least a smart too-incremental proposal). Michael Oates Palmer e-mails to break the tie:

In 2000, I was working in the sweatshop known as the speechwriters' room at the Democratic Convention -- a cinderblock walled room with no windows --usually used as a visiting hockey team's dressing room, if memory serves --with about eight computers and a laser printer all piled in, and a group of speechwriters volunteering their services for the hundreds of speeches made in the four days of the convention.

We didn't receive many visitors down there in that little room, and when one of the elected officials would come down to visit, it was usually to correct or berate us -- I remember a Pennsylvania congressman who came down to explain to me that his speech couldn't have him taking a plane to his home district, because he took the train every weekend. My bad.

But at one point, Congressman Bob Matsui came into the room.

"I want to know who wrote my speech," he said sternly. He had given it a few minutes before, a speech mentioning his having been in the same freshman congressional class as Al Gore (the same congressional class as Dick Gephardt, too).

We all looked a little nervous, given that then-Denver Mayor Wellington Webb had only an hour or two ago given one of us a Rocky Mountain talking-to. But I reluctantly raised my hand. I was the writer.

Matsui instantly smiled walked over and shook my hand. "I want to thank you so much." he said. It made my week.

Anyone who has worked as a speechwriter in politics knows how rare it is for an elected official to take the time to find someone and thank them. After giving his speech, Matsui went back downstairs into the bowels of the Staples Center to find the speechwriting office. I wish this said something about my speechwriting, but my hunch is that it said a lot about Matsui.

2:58 P.M.

Bush cousin John Ellis calls Mass. governor Mitt Romney "the GOP's best hope in 2008." Does this reflect "a serious nod of approval from deep within the Bush clan," as one of my alert emailers argues? I tend to think it reflects more Ellis' Massachusetts-oriented viewpoint (plus, you know, his actual, sincere, individual assessment of Romney's abilities).  ... P.S.: But you can join the Mitt Madness early over at CafePress. (What, no Romney '08 infant creeper?) ... Update: Ellis says, "I do not speak for the "Bush family." I think he's enormously talented and capable and smart." ...  2:38 P.M.

By the side of the road yesterday in the non-rich Palms neighborhood of Los Angeles, earnest teenagers in the pouring rain covering themselves with plastic sheeting while they held up signs trying to flag down cars and raise donations to benefit the Asian tsunami survivors. ... The effort seemed futile on several levels, but also touching--and something new. I've never seen this sort of thing in L.A. before.  ... 3:32 A.M.

Move over, Greg Packer? It was a big week for "Amanda Tree, a Brooklyn actress and singer-songwriter" who was quoted as a woman-on-the-street twice in two days by the New York Times--first in a story on bystanders watching red-tailed hawks Lola and Pale Male return to their old nesting place on Fifth Avenue, the second in a story about how nobody stayed around in New York City over the holiday. ... Both stories featured the byline of innovative Web researcher Jennifer 8 Lee. ... Guess there really was nobody around! ... [Thanks to reader R.] Update: Taranto had the Amanda Tree story last week. And his Greg Packer joke was classier. ... And Gawker has been  all over Tree. Or maybe it's the other way around. ... 3:05 A.M.

Tick, Tick, Tick: Yes, isn't it about time for that big report on the late-career screw-up that tarnished the reputation of a CBS News legend? I'm referring of course to the long-awaited final report that's supposed to explain ex-CBS pollster Warren Mitofsky's botched 2004 exit-poll. ... My guess is that the following sentence in Mystery Pollster's own-the-story coverage has the key to the answer:

This year's NEP exit poll interviewers were trained via telephone and most worked for just one day without supervision.

In other words, as with CBS's "multiple layers of checks and balances" on the Texas National Guard documents story, it will turn out that there was a lot less going on behind the curtain of Mitofsky's exit poll operation than you might imagine. ... P.S.: I forgot-- it's the bloggers fault! [Can't this be Shrum's fault too?-ed But he was the victim!] 2:49 A.M.

Sunday, January 2, 2005

"May I be the first to say 'Mr. President'?" Tick-tock of the year. Brutal. [via Drudge ] ... P.S.: You knew it would come to this--

Though Kerry did not directly criticize his friend Shrum, it's clear he did not feel well served by his message makers and speechwriters. 

What do you know--it turns out it's Kerry's aides fault again! ("I don't fall down."). ... Who keeps hiring these people anyway? ... 9:13 P.M.

Friday, December 31, 2004

The Case for Paper Ballots, XXVIII: Electronic voting has turned North Carolina into Ukraine!  ... Because a malfunctioning electronic voting machine in one county lost 4,438 votes, the whole state plans a Ukraine-style re-vote for the office of Agriculture Commissioner (which was won, in the areas where the voting machines worked, by only 2,287 votes). ... Except that the do-over vote will be highly unfair--turnout will be minuscule (unlike in the Ukraine). ... Is this the future of U.S. elections--every cycle will produce lost electronic votes and do-over balloting somewhere? Isn't it harder to lose paper ballots than an electronic record? Why not stick with the former? ... 2:12 P.M.

Ready for Primary Time, not for Prime Time: Alert kf reader T.A. points out that TV ads--the ones the Dem 527s failed to run--weren't the only way for Kerry could have effectively rebutted the Swift Boat Veterans' charges:

What was called for was something along the lines of the Checkers speech or the Pink Press Conference. Even if the campaign didn't have any money, Kerry could have done an interview with Chris Wallace or someone and gotten his side out. ...

Instead, Kerry went into a "media shell."

Right. If Kerry or his aides didn't trust him enough to let him hold a press conference--either because the truth wasn't completely on his side or they were worried he wouldn't hit the right rhetorical notes--how "electable" was Kerry, in the end? ... Does anyone doubt Bill Clinton could have handled it (and handled it even if the truth wasn't completely on his side)? ... 2:54 A.M.

Pressure: I was just wondering what had happened to the promised  Ellisblog awards. ... Kf's on tenterhooks. ... 2:38 A.M.

Time for Re-Norming? Did you know that

Department of Transportation lawyers have extracted millions in settlements from four major [air] carriers for alleged discrimination after 9/11 ....

I didn't. ... The DOT accused the airlines of "discriminatory conduct"  (i.e. profiling) when, out of the millions who fly, they didn't allow a handful of people--about half of them Middle Eastern--to board planes. American Airlines had to pay $1.5 million. That'll make air travel safer! ... You don't have to agree with Heather Mac Donald's overall argument that the enemy is not terrorism but "Islamist terrorism" to think this is an idiotic policy. One day the main terrorist threat to the U.S. will come from some non-Islamist group--but if the enemy were South Moluccan terrorism you'd want to be extra careful with South Moluccans (and people who looked like South Moluccans), no? ... Backfill: Ann Coulter wrote a column about the DOT litigation  in April. Coulter and Mac Donald both support racial profiling--at least using race as a factor. The scariest thing about the DOT suits is that they seem designed to encourage the airlines to go out of their way to avoid searching and questioning Muslim men ('leave him alone, he might sue')--a perverse and seemingly semi-suicidal reverse-discrimination practice. ... 2:25 A.M.

Robert Novak, writing about Social Security private accounts, argues the "only alternative to [Senator] Graham's proposed higher payroll tax payments in the upper income brackets" is for the government to simply float bonds to cover the $1-2 trillion transitional shortfall. Not so! The government could also easily save the required trillions by means-testing current or near-future benefits--shaving or eliminating payments to retirees who are rich enough to not need them. That's what they do in Australia. ... P.S.: Novak's well on his way to becoming a blogger. Today he answers what seem to be the e-mails he got after a previous posting, although he dances around the issue by calling them "comments" from "critics" who "contacted" him. ...  Next: Use save-get commands to recycle ideas from previous months! [He already does that--ed] OK. Gratuitously anatagonize peers to gin up hits? [Check!--ed] ....2:04 A.M.

Raines Give-Back Watch: Alert Reader Y emails with an extremely slick career-saving idea for the semi-disgraced ex-Fannie Mae chief--instead of just giving his exorbidant retirement package back to his employer, which would be so boringly honorable, Raines could dedicate it to paying for the new stadium that will bring major league baseball to a run-down section of Washington, D.C.. .... Raines' retirement package is so lavish it could actually cover a good chunk of the interest on the bonds the city will have to issue. ... And here's the slick part: Raines is part of a group that's trying to get the baseball franchise for D.C.. If he writes the fine print cunningly enough, he might structure his generous donation so a) it makes it easier for his group to get the team and b) he gets repaid in full for his donation if and when the team is subsequently sold. ... 2:40 A.M.

Do Over? The Ukraine precedent may not be so good for U.S.politics. ... 2:17 A.M.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Did McCain-Feingold Actually Work? According to WaPo's Edsall and Grimaldi, the 527 groups--which supposedly reintroduced big money into presidential campaigns despite the strictures of the new McCain-Feingold law--didn't help Kerry. More important, they didn't help precisely because the law prevented them from coordinating their messages with the Kerry campaign:

[T]he campaign was hamstrung by legal restrictions on any cooperation between the campaign and the independent 527 organizations running ads and mobilizing voters on Kerry's behalf.

The 527 groups ... provided invaluable help in registering and turning out voters. ... But the 527s, fueled with money from billionaires such as George Soros, proved ineffective in helping Kerry deliver a consistent and timely message in his advertising. ...


At two junctures, when Kerry was either out of funds or under pressure to conserve resources for the close of the campaign, the absence of an overall strategy had damaging consequences: in March 2004, just when the Bush campaign began its first anti-Kerry offensive; and in August 2004, when the Swift Boat Veterans commercials raised questions about Kerry's service in the Vietnam War.

The Democratic media 527s "didn't do what we wanted done," Kerry media adviser Tad Devine said. "We would have run ads about Kerry, we would have had answers to the attacks in kind, saying they were false, disproved by newspapers."

Harold Ickes, who ran the Media Fund, a 527 organization that raised about $59 million in support of Kerry, said the federal election law prohibiting communication with the Kerry campaign created insurmountable obstacles in crafting effective, accurate responses to anti-Kerry ads. [Emph. added]

This is very good news, if true, because it means campaign finance laws don't have to suppress independent speech to be effective. Let the Soros' and the Wylys and MoveOn's finance and run their own ads. Chances are they won't help that much--which means a) candidates won't be beholden after the election to the rich people who paid for them, and b) it won't make much sense for candidates to figure out a way to tacitly shake down such rich people in order to get them to contribute to independent campaigns. ... Caveat:WaPo says one pro-Bush 527 ad-- "Ashley's Story"--did affect the race. It may also be true that independent campaigns more easily have a big impact during primaries, when there is less clutter and fewer alternative sources of information (meaning it takes less to drive a candidate's numbers down). The Wylys' famous primary attack on McCain, for example, probably hurt him--meaning that Bush owed the Wylys (though maybe no more than he owed the publishers of the National Review). But point b) might still apply--there's little reason to coerce industrialists and lobbyists into sponsoring independent ads if its still a crapshoot as to whether they'll help or hurt.  ...

P.S.: Like me, you may be wondering why it was so hard for Kerry or his aides to communicate that they wanted the 527s to "run ads about Kerry." Couldn't Kerry have said "I want to run a positive, responsive campaign that answers vicious attacks" and then winked at the camera? Or he could have told the NYT's color-starved Jodi Wilgoren "I always connect the positive terminal of my batteries first." Or simply screamed "Ositive-pay, Ools-fay!" ... This thought raises two possibilities: a) Devine and Ickes are simply pretending the coordination problem was insurmountable because it excuses their loss, proclaims their innocence and helps support a law they endorse, or b) Ickes is a Hillary guy who didn't really want Kerry to win after all. ...

P.P.S.: The other Edsall/Grimaldi buried mini-lede is the Bush campaign's use of

consumer data lists ... to determine "anger points" (late-term abortion, trial lawyer fees, estate taxes) that coincided with the Bush agenda for as many as 32 categories of voters, each identifiable by income, magazine subscriptions, favorite television shows and other "flags." [Emph. added]

Voters then got messages telling them if they didn't get out to vote their pet cause would be lost. ... kf readers, for example, got emails complaining about welfare reform loopholes and the decadent design of the BMW Z-4. ...

P.P.P.S.: Dem operative Harold Ickes apparently didn't share the respectable-press CW that the Swift Boat attacks on Kerry were 100% discredited. It was, Ickes says, "a matter so personal to Senator Kerry, so much within his knowledge. Who knew what the facts were?" ...

P.P.P.P.S.: I've obsessively sniped at ABC's The Note for its declaration on August 11 that it was "Kerry's contest to lose."  This might not seem fair--maybe it was Kerry's contest to lose and he lost it? Didn't The Note just guess wrong in a close election?  Answer: No! The whole point of ABC's Note is that its put out by the smartest, most knowledgeable and nuanced political insiders around, which it is. And the whole point of it being "Kerry's contest to lose" was that these experts were telling us that the underlying dynamic of the campaign favored Kerry because of Bush's "poisonous job approval, re-elect, and wrong track numbers." But we now know that this considered judgment of the smartest, most knowledgeable insiders was wrong--it was Dem wishful-thinking spin.  Kerry in fact did pretty well in the final months of the campaign. He won the debates. He didn't commit many gaffes. He raised tons of money and successfully turned out record numbers of Democratic voters. And he still lost. Why? Because the underlying dynamic of the campaign didn't actually favor him at all. It favored Bush, despite the supposedly tell-tale "wrong track numbers." The economy wasn't that bad, and voters knew it. Terrorism, and support for Bush on that issue, remained strong. And--we now learn from Edsall and Grimaldi--Bush had a far more sophisticated campaign organization. Democrats were, as an anonymous Dem source put it, "one election cycle behind.'" That's another underlying reality that made it Bush's "contest to lose"---exactly the sort of underlying reality political insiders are supposed to know about. ... How could brilliant genuine experts like Mark Halperin & Co. get it wrong? Because at some level they were conned by their peers and their Dem campaign sources (who were probably conning themselves) in a way I doubt they could be conned by Republican sources. ... And Halperin is known as a relatively non-partisan straight-shooter. What does this tell you about the rest of the press corps? ...

There--glad I got that out of my system. ... Update:Wonkette offers more evidence of the insidious Halperin/Nagourney nexis, which initially seems trivial but actually explains a lot!  ...1:06 A.M.



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. 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. 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. 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