Conventional Wisdom

Conventional Wisdom

Conventional Wisdom

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 26 2004 6:51 AM

Conventional Wisdom

The Washington Post leads with the White House's plan to move quickly on some of the the 9/11 commission's recommendations, in what the paper calls a "realization by Bush's aides that he is now vulnerable to charges that he could be doing more to protect the nation against terrorism." USA Today, the Los Angeles Times (online), and the Wall Street Journal's worldwide news box lead with preconvention coverage, with USAT bannering its own battleground poll, which shows the presidential race tightening as the Democratic faithful flock to Boston. The WP and New York Times also front a couple pieces of their own conventional wisdom (including the second half of the Post's epic Kerry profile), but the NYT leads instead with a trend piece on Iraqi militants' embrace of kidnapping as their insurgent tactic of choice. The paper reports that two Pakistani civilians were reported missing yesterday and presumed taken. Militants also seized an Egyptian diplomat as he left a mosque on Friday.

Facing pressure from the 9/11 commission's endless run on Sunday talk shows, White House officials tell the WP, LAT, and USAT that President Bush will begin to make decisions on restructuring the nation's intelligence services within days. Meanwhile congressional leaders say they'll start holding hearings on the recommendations in August, rather than October as they'd initially planned. The NYT reefersrumors that Bush isn't the only one playing hurry-up defense: The chairmen of the 9/11 commission are already jockeying for the as-yet nonexistent intelligence czar job that they have proposed creating.

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As the Democratic National Convention begins to unfold in an area the WP likens to an "armed encampment" (NYT: "armed camp"; USAT: "[f]ortress"), the papers devote dozens of column inches to the CW that the highly orchestrated event will reflect the Dems' pursuit of a positive, pro-Kerry image. Overviews in USAT, the WP, and the NYT paint a picture of a party so united by the desire to win that it will do anything: even play nice (a page that Slate's Chris Suellentrop argues is torn from the GOP playbook). "You're going to see positive themes, not bashing the president," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the convention chairman, said. The much-touted unity has almost everybody sticking to his talking points. "I think it's important that people understand that we are as pro-Kerry as we are anti-Bush," none other than Bush-basher Al Sharpton tells the NYT in a story on the speechwriting shop that campaign officials have set up inside a converted FleetCenter locker room to keep everyone on message.

But not everyone thinks that a happy-face atmosphere will actually sway voters. "It takes negative and positive to make electricity," Jesse Jackson orated in the NYT. And the LAT's top convention story goes high with a broadside John Kerry himself delivered in response to protesters at an Ohio campaign stop: "When I see people on the other side of the fence say, 'Four more years,' I sometimes say to myself, 'Four more years of what? Four more years of jobs being lost? Four more years of the deficit growing bigger and bigger? Four more years of losing our allies around the world?' "

Inside, a worthwhile LAT analysis says that, given the polarized nature of the electorate, the Democrats' goal for this convention (apart from the Kabuki of nominating a candidate and adopting a platform) is to "lock-in" voters rather than generating the traditional bounce in the polls. Of course, the Bush campaign sets the bar a little higher, saying Kerry's more or less a wimp if he can't jump at least 15 points.

The NYT serves up a story on back-biting among the big three network anchors (Rather: "I want to win, whatever win is. It's pretty hard to figure out these days"), in which the paper notes that this convention will be even more stage-managed than those in past cycles. The Kerry campaign is insisting, for example, that the networks follow a "booking procedure" when planning on-site interviews, and it even tried to limit questions the anchors could ask. "There is a politburo running this convention," Tom Brokaw said. (Wonk alert: C-SPAN's gavel-to-gavel coverage begins at 3 p.m. today.)

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The NYT also reports on the "traveling street fight" among four Washington political papers— National Journal, Roll Call, The Hill, and Congressional Quarterly—all of which have decamped to Boston to report on the convention as dailies. In a grand gesture of magnanimity, the Times describes them as "covering the conventions from the vantage point of neighborhood children perched in a tree house."

Yet more linkage for those who want to get blogged down in the meta-meta-meta convention: latimes.com has a TP-like feature on blogs that are aggregating links from bloggers who are themselves blogging the convention.

The WP reports that Bill Clinton has been trying to keep a low profile before his prime-time speech tonight by hiding across the river in Cambridge. Good luck with that. The former president has, of course, become "the life of the party," attracting Madeleine Albright, Ben Affleck, and Danny Glover to his hotel and finding his book-signing mobbed with admirers. "[T]he sure sign that you're at the center of cool," the Post opines, "is if Jesse Jackson magically appears at your side at the most opportune moments," which the good reverend did yesterday.

USAT and the NYT also run predictable "transformation" stories on Al Gore, who's scheduled to give a speech tonight as well. But wait! There's more! The NYT fronts a little bit of stage fright from Tuesday's keynote speaker, Barack Obama, a favorite to win a Senate seat from Illinois in November.

But the speakers must all beware the stage manager, an Oscar veteran who's also been tapped to conduct this year's Republican convention in New York. According to a small item inside the NYT, his arsenal includes a red button that can literally lower the podium into the stage, forcing a long-winded orator to stop—or stand around like a podium-free idiot. "Only had to do it once. Bill Clinton. Atlanta," he said, referring to Clinton's famously yawn-inducing introduction to Michael Dukakis in 1988. "He went on for quite some time. We kept flashing the lights, telling him his time was up, putting in the prompter his time was up, and in the end, Speaker Wright, who was chairman of the convention, asked me to lower the podium. … He finally wrapped it up and stopped."