Saturday, February 28, 2004

Censorship, plainly defined. Need any more proof that the Bush administration has utter contempt for the First Amendment? The New York Times reports today that the Treasury Department "has warned publishers that they may face grave legal consequences for editing manuscripts from Iran and other disfavored nations, on the ground that such tinkering amounts to trading with the enemy."

The story, by Adam Liptak, continues:

Adding illustrations is prohibited, too. To the baffled dismay of publishers, editors and translators who have been briefed about the policy, only publication of "camera-ready copies of manuscripts" is allowed.

The Treasury letters concerned Iran. But the logic, experts said, would seem to extend to Cuba, Libya, North Korea and other nations with which most trade is banned without a government license.

Nahid Mozaffari, an expert on Iranian literature, tells Liptak: "A story, a poem, an article on history, archaeology, linguistics, engineering, physics, mathematics, or any other area of knowledge cannot be translated, and even if submitted in English, cannot be edited in the US. This means that the publication of the PEN Anthology of Contemporary Persian Literature that I have been editing for the last three years would constitute aiding and abetting the enemy."

Democracy Now did a segment on this last Tuesday.

"It does not reflect the facts of his service." Even after all that's been reported, the Boston Globe's Walter Robinson finds that the White House is still puffing George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.

Bush flack Dan Bartlett says it will be corrected. But it hasn't been as of this morning. The State Department site that Robinson points to contains the same language that he reports in his article:

George W. graduated from Yale in May of 1968 with a major in history. Two weeks before graduation, he went to the offices of the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington Air Force Base outside Houston to sign up for pilot training. One motivation, he said, was to learn to fly, as his father had done during World War II. George W. was commissioned as a second lieutenant and spent two years on active duty, flying F-102 fighter interceptors. For almost four years after that [uh, no] he was on a part-time status, flying occasional missions to help the Air National Guard keep two of its F-102s on round-the-clock alert.

A disgrace.

Friday, February 27, 2004

An interesting wrinkle on gay marriage. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I thought John Edwards said something surprising and significant about gay marriage at last night's debate. Like John Kerry, Edwards opposes same-sex marriage and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a stance that places both of them squarely in the middle. (Kerry voted against DOMA; Edwards was not a senator at the time.)

Here is the relevant exchange:

EDWARDS: Here is my belief. I believe that this is an issue that ought to be decided in the states. I think the federal government should honor whatever decision is made by the states.

I want to say a word in answer to the question you asked very directly. I would not support the Defense of Marriage Act today, if there were a vote today, which is the question you just asked Senator Kerry. I'm not sure what he said about that.

LARRY KING: You would not vote for it?

EDWARDS: I would not. I would not for a very simple reason. There's a part of it - there's a part of it that I agree with, and there's a part of it I disagree with.

The Defense of Marriage Act specifically said that the federal government is not required to recognize gay marriage even if a state chooses to do so. I disagree with that.

I think states should be allowed to make that decision. And the federal government shouldn't do it.

And can I say just one other word about -

RON BROWNSTEIN: The part that you agree with is what?

EDWARDS: Well, the part I agree with is the states should not be required to recognize marriages from other states. That's already in the law, by the way, without DOMA.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that Kerry has never given a reason for voting against DOMA beyond his concern that it was a form of "gay-bashing." Edwards, by contrast, is saying something very specific: that marriage should be left entirely to the states, and - here's the crucial part - if a state decides that gay marriage is okay, then the federal government should honor that, and allow married same-sex couples from that state to collect Social Security, receive married-couple tax breaks, and all of the 1000-plus federal benefits that equal-rights advocates cite.

Not to give Edwards a pass. As this April 2003 Boston Globe story makes clear, Kerry explicitly advocates civil-union rights for gay and lesbian couples, whereas Edwards has shown some reluctance. But Edwards's willingness to defer to states that let gays and lesbians marry is interesting nevertheless.

Edwards also doesn't have the political problem of coming from a state that is wrestling with the issue. Still, Kerry has tied himself into knots. His current position - for an amendment to the state constitution that would ban marriage but guarantee civil unions, and against an anti-marriage amendment to the US Constitution - is almost a parody of Kerry's congenital need to have it both ways on every issue.

Yes, there is a certain logic to his seemingly contradictory stands (Mitt's pandering as usual, in other words), but politics is about passion and symbols as much as it is about logic and legislation. George W. Bush is going to paint Kerry as a gay-marriage supporter anyway. Would that Kerry were bold enough to make it so.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Kerry's not-so-gay moment. If an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage passes the legislature on March 11, Senator John Kerry will have had a lot to do with it. Perhaps it's not fair to be too critical, since the position he takes in today's Boston Globe - for a marriage ban, but also for civil unions - is exactly the one he's taken throughout the presidential campaign.

Still, it's disheartening that the man who would be president is now helping to enshrine discrimination in the Massachusetts Constitution. What would John Adams say?

The defeat of three amendments earlier this month was cause for celebration, but it obscured a fundamental fact: an overwhelming majority of legislators is in favor of a gay-marriage ban. The only disagreement is over civil unions - whether to guarantee them in the constitution, or to leave them to the whims of the legislature.

Kerry's statement will likely hasten the process of the moderates and conservatives finding language they can all agree on - leaving progressives out in the cold. It's a shame.

Certainly Kerry knows that whatever he does, the gay and lesbian community will find him infinitely preferable to George W. Bush. By siding with the right-wing extremists in his own party (read Howard Kurtz's round-up of media reaction), Bush has left the middle wide open to Kerry.

But Kerry shouldn't be allowed to skate on this, either.

New in this week's Phoenix. Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, is racking up negative headlines every day. But here's a Halliburton story you rarely hear about: an accusation being investigated in three countries that the company, while Cheney was CEO, was involved in an alleged $180 million bribe to the former Nigerian government.

Also, talk-radio legend David Brudnoy plots his latest comeback.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Shake-up at the Herald. Ken Chandler is up and Andy Costello is down. But apparently no one is leaving. The Boston Herald just sent out an announcement that former editor Chandler, who returned last spring after several years as publisher of the New York Post, has been named editorial director of the Herald and its Community Newspaper chain of papers in Greater Boston and on Cape Cod. Costello is out as editor after nearly 10 years at the top of the masthead, but he's staying with the company.

Here's the full announcement:

Patrick J. Purcell, president of Herald Media, Inc. announced today the appointment of Kenneth A. Chandler as Editorial Director of all Herald Media publications. Chandler will be responsible for the overall editorial operations of the Boston Herald and the Community Newspaper Company's five daily, 89 weekly and 21 specialty publications.

Andrew F. Costello announced his resignation as Editor-in-Chief, effective today. Costello has been with the newspaper in various editorial capacities since 1983, and was named Editor in April of 1994. He is exploring other opportunities within the company.

"Andy has been a tremendous asset to the newspaper, and we were fortunate to have him at the helm for the last ten years. His competitiveness, dedication and work ethic are unparalleled. Andy is the consummate news professional," said Purcell.

Costello said, "It has been an honor to serve as editor for the past ten years. My heartfelt thanks to a very dedicated and talented staff. I know they will continue to produce one of the finest newspapers in the country."

Chandler was editor of the Boston Herald from 1986 to 1992. After that, he became Editor-in-Chief and later Publisher of the New York Post. He has since served as a consultant to Patrick Purcell.

Chandler is married to Erika Schwartz, M.D., a nationally-known women's health expert and author. They have five children.

Costello's possible departure has been a matter of internal and external gossip since last spring, when Purcell brought Chandler back to the paper and went with a tarted-up product featuring more gossip and lots of cleavage. Costello - a hard-news guy who used to work for the New Bedford Standard-Times - couldn't have liked the changes. It's to Purcell's credit that he is apparently going to take care of Costello, who is a good guy.

It's been a rough year for the Herald, which has been beset by declining circulation and sliding ad revenues. The move toward flash and trash was not well received in the newsroom, yet staff members have said that they recognize the survival of the paper is at stake (see "Tabzilla Returns," June 20, 2003).

In November, the paper eliminated 19 positions. Well-known columnists such as Wayne Woodlief and Monica Collins were cut from the payroll, although they continue to write on a freelance basis (see "Media," This Just In, November 21, 2003).

The next big question: who will replace Costello as editor? Presumably Chandler doesn't want the job himself, yet it's equally safe to assume that Purcell doesn't want to pay the money that would be necessary to bring in a heavy hitter.

Which leaves the folks at One Herald Square pretty much where they've been for the past year: waiting for another shoe to drop.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Buchanan and Nader: a contrarian view. Anthony Schinella wrote recently that exit polling in New Hampshire and Florida in 2000 showed Ralph Nader pulled just as many votes from Republicans as he did from Democrats. Schinella - a diehard Nader supporter - concludes that Nader did not cost Al Gore the presidency.

I don't doubt Schinella's numbers, but sorry, I'm not buying his overall thesis. For instance, here is David Rosenbaum in today's New York Times:

Mr. Nader said at the Press Club that surveys of voters leaving the polls showed he had received more Republican votes than Democratic votes in New Hampshire in 2000.

That is true. New Hampshire has 30 percent more registered Republicans than registered Democrats.

But people there did not vote a straight party line for president in 2000. On the question of whom they would have voted for with only two candidates on the ballot, 3 percent of those who said they would have voted for Mr. Gore voted for Mr. Nader, and only 2 percent of voters who said they would have voted for Mr. Bush voted for Mr. Nader.

Nationally, Rosenbaum adds, Nader voters preferred Gore over Bush by a margin of 45 percent to 27 percent. Nader voters also supported Democratic congressional candidates over Republicans by 58 percent to 27 percent. I mean, come on. Is this clear enough?

Schinella corrects me on the number of electoral votes that New Hampshire casts: four, not three.

Declaration of independence. Erstwhile Bush supporter Andrew Sullivan writes, "The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families."

The text of Bush's message today in support of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is astonishing. This borders on hate speech. I may wind up eating my words, but my first reaction is that Bush is in full panic mode, and that he's going to end up alienating middle-of-the-road voters this fall.

Measuring the Buchanan effect. Boston Globe columnist (and Nader voter) Alex Beam writes today that Pat Buchanan may have hurt George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election at least as much as Ralph Nader hurt Al Gore.

Writes Beam: "Big Media, with its hopelessly liberal tilt, doesn't yammer on about Patrick Buchanan's candidacy, which siphoned off 17,000 votes in the disputed 2000 Florida election. Why not? Because in the view of liberal editorialists, Buchanan siphoned off votes from the right candidate, i.e. George Bush. Dandy for him!"

It's an argument I've heard before. In its most fully developed form, the theory goes so far as to assert that Buchanan actually cost Bush more electoral votes than Nader did Gore, even though, nationally, Nader beat Buchanan by a margin of about 2.78 million to 450,000.

Well, based on Media Log's quickie analysis, it's just not true. As David Rosenbaum reports in today's New York Times, Nader voters favored Gore over Bush by a wide margin. Thus, it can confidently be said that Nader cost Gore two states, Florida and New Hampshire. And in states where Buchanan would appear to have been a factor, that's only because Nader was on the ballot as well.

Let's look at Florida, which, as we all know, Bush won by just 537 votes. Buchanan received 17,356 votes. Even if you adjust for the infamous butterfly ballots, it's reasonable to assume that most of those votes would have gone to Bush. So Buchanan helped Gore, right? Well, yes. But Nader got 96,837 votes. Remove Nader and Buchanan from the ballot, and Gore would have won Florida handily. Same with New Hampshire. Bush won by 7282 votes, far less than the 22,156 that Nader received, thus costing Gore the state's three electoral votes. Factor in Buchanan's 2603, and nothing changes.

But what about states that Gore won by fewer votes than Buchanan received? There were three: Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico. But the same logic holds. In Wisconsin, Gore beat Bush by 5396 votes, fewer than the 11,379 that Buchanan received. But Nader won 93,553 votes. Again, remove both Nader and Buchanan, and Gore would have won by an even greater margin. In New Mexico, which Gore won by just 366 votes, Nader beat Buchanan by 21,251 to 1392. In Iowa, which Gore won by 4130 votes, Nader beat Buchanan by 29,352 to 5731.

The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that Nader absolutely croaked Gore, whereas Buchanan had only a mild negative effect on Bush.

A few caveats: I'm oversimplifying. I did this quickly, and relied on Election Night numbers from The final tally was slightly different, although it should not affect my findings. Also, I'm not counting other third-party candidates. In particular, Libertarian Party nominee Harry Browne did better than Buchanan in some states, including New Hampshire. But even if you assign all of Browne's votes to Bush - no sure thing, given such Libertarian stands as an end to drug prohibition - Gore still would have carried New Hampshire had Nader not run. (That said, it's possible that Browne and Buchanan together carried Gore to victory in Oregon.)

In Salon, Eric Boehlert reports that progressives are deserting Nader in droves. They should. The Buchanan theorists are just plain wrong. Nader really did cost Gore the presidency in 2000, and he could do so again.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Civil unions for everyone. The results of the latest Boston Globe poll on gay marriage are disheartening, since they suggest that narrow support has turned into fairly strong antipathy simply because the idea is being debated in public. What had once been a margin in favor of 48 percent to 43 percent is now a pretty substantial 53 percent to 35 percent opposed.

You can be sure wavering legislators are studying those numbers as they ponder what to do when the state constitutional convention resumes on March 11. Unfortunately, it seems likely that the convention will support an amendment restricting marriage to one man and one woman; the only real doubt is whether the amendment will specifically require civil unions.

What's weird is that the battle for marriage rights is moving backward and forward at the same time. Massachusetts may be on the brink of retreat, but the fight has already moved to San Francisco and New Mexico. Chicago mayor Richard Daley has said some supportive things as well.

It's clear, though, that the biggest stumbling block is the word "marriage." And I'm beginning to wonder whether Michael Kinsley has been right all along. Last July, Kinsley wrote a piece for Slate arguing that the government should get out of the marriage business. He wrote:

Let churches and other religious institutions continue to offer marriage ceremonies. Let department stores and casinos get into the act if they want. Let each organization decide for itself what kinds of couples it wants to offer marriage to. Let couples celebrate their union in any way they choose and consider themselves married whenever they want. Let others be free to consider them not married, under rules these others may prefer. And, yes, if three people want to get married, or one person wants to marry herself, and someone else wants to conduct a ceremony and declare them married, let 'em. If you and your government aren't implicated, what do you care?

Now, some of this is too flip. As the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court makes clear in the Goodridge decision, same-sex marriage should be considered a social good precisely because it advances the notion of stable, two-person relationships. But maybe the term we ought to use for any such relationship that receives government sanction is "civil union."

That way, a man and a woman, two men, or two women could register for spousal benefits such as joint health insurance, inheritance rights, Social Security benefits - in short, everything that now comes with marriage. And if they wished to get married, they could seek out an institution that would perform a ceremony and call it marriage.

One of the odder aspects of the current battle is that Catholics, fundamentalist Protestants, and others who hold religious views in opposition to gay marriage wind up dictating to those with completely different religious views. If marriage were entirely a private matter, then a same-sex couple could get married by whichever Unitarian Universalist minister, Reform rabbi, or liberal-minded yacht captain they could find.

No one could order the Catholic Church to perform same-sex marriages, of course. But neither could the Catholic Church order Unitarians not to, which is, in effect, what is happening now. Thus the solution may be a wider separation of church and state.

Globe reviews Little People. The Boston Globe today publishes a favorable review of Little People. The reviewer is Mary Mulkerin Donius, who is herself the mother of a dwarf child.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Tom Oliphant responds. The Boston Globe columnist e-mails Media Log on the question of whether Wesley Clark smeared John Kerry, and/or whether Matt Drudge smeared Wesley Clark:

I could not have written anything about Gen. Clark's bus discussion had I been there. Contrary to Mr. Lizza's unclear description about it being off-the-record "sort of", I was told by others who were there that the ground rule was off-the-record. Most of these reporters told colleagues, friends, and other campaigns about it. This is why it is so weird to me that a candidate would talk about a sensitive subject with a group of reporters on that basis.

They also told their home offices, which raises a factual point about all this absurdity that I think has been overlooked. In studying how a germ got into the system, the narrative is not simply Clark and then Drudge. There had been chatter in the political world about "something" coming on Kerry for weeks before that, dating roughly from the end of January. It had no specific basis I was aware of, but the chatter was fairly constant.

Despite the absence of anything specific, I recall thinking and remarking to pals at the time that given contemporary standards there was no way this wasn't going to lead sooner or later to an ugly incident. I can't help you on Chris Lehane as described in your account of Craig Crawford's situation, but from personal experience it was my direct observation that the chatter extended across the campaign and press worlds. I saw it more as inappropriate gossip than sinister plot.

I used quotes only around "intern", obviously not to quote Drudge but to use the one word everyone I talked to used. From the accounts I heard from reporters there and people in their home offices to whom they talked, the verb implode fits the various accounts, though self-destruct and blow up were other examples.

In addition to summarizing the background to Clark's behavior, I also wrote that his comments directed attention [to] (some said specifically mentioned) the piece in The National Enquirer before it was published. The piece was transparently a clip job, but the effect was to increase the level of chatter by a lot. Drudge took it down to the next level, which I described as a frenzy about a story that hadn't been written concerning an allegation that hadn't been made. Clark's role - and by now I would suppose that one of the reporters there will consider writing the whole thing up - was not isolated; its context was weeks of unfocused gossip-mongering behind the scenes. It is not true that one consultant or one campaign was responsible; as usually happens this was much more generic, and as is usually the case the origin of the chatter about "something" is obscured.

In a subsequent phone conversation, Oliphant told me, "There are at least six or seven accounts of this thing. They don't differ in basic thrust, but they differ enough that you know you can't possibly get a handle on it as if it were a transcript of a White House press briefing."

He added: "I was just trying to make the judgment, did Clark play a role in this? And my answer is, yes, but it's not clear-cut-and-dried except in context." Clark's remarks, he explained, would have amounted to no more than "idle chatter" if they hadn't occurred in the context of the buzz that had been making the political and media rounds for at least several weeks previously - buzz that put everyone in "precisely the wrong frame of mind to handle a virus like Drudge."

I asked: But didn't the mainstream media, with very few exceptions, act responsibly by failing to take Drudge's bait? Oliphant answered: "The fact that nobody of any consequence committed any really flagrant foul is certainly encouraging, I guess. But not entirely so, because so much was going on behind the scenes." He called Drudge's non-sex non-story "a tremendous amount of distraction for several days," adding: "It could happen all over again tomorrow. And this one came very close to getting completely out of hand."

A few observations.

First, now we know that Oliphant wasn't there. His observation that he couldn't have broken off-the-record ground rules is well taken. But Oliphant is a columnist who travels, and his paragraph on Clark's alleged outburst had all the appearance of an on-the-scene report, written by someone who was no longer bound by confidentiality since the information had already been reported elsewhere. I'm sure Oliphant wasn't trying to deceive anyone, but he could have been clearer.

Second, Oliphant appears to have done enough checking around to make a convincing case that Clark played some role in spreading the rumor that Drudge would eventually blast across the world. Oliphant's account can't be reconciled with those of the New Republic's Ryan Lizza or the Washington Post's Ceci Connolly. But Lizza, who was there, offers a tantalizing suggestion that Clark really did make a horse's ass of himself. And Connolly, who apparently wasn't there, relies - like Oliphant - on the word of others. Clark's staunchest defenders will probably be unconvinced, but I think Oliphant's account passes the smell test.

Finally, Oliphant's account of the context surrounding the Kerry rumor is fascinating. Given the level of chatter that was apparently taking place, it's a miracle that the media showed as much restraint as they did when Drudge finally published his sleazy, unfounded story. And Oliphant is absolutely right when he says, "It could happen all over again tomorrow."

Friday, February 20, 2004

Did Drudge smear Wesley Clark, too? When Matt Drudge smeared John Kerry with his non-sex non-story, he also dragged Wesley Clark into it, claiming that Clark, "in an off-the-record conversation with a dozen reporters earlier this week, plainly stated: 'Kerry will implode over an intern issue.'"

In my piece this week on "Sex, Lies, and Republicans," I write that "it appears that the rumor either originated with or was spread by the now-expired Wesley Clark campaign." This has caused some consternation among those who think that Drudge unfairly implicated Clark.

So what do we know?

For my money, the most striking and credible description of Clark's alleged outburst was reported on Sunday by Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant. He wrote:

The sin of commission occurred during an astonishing, even for a rookie, judgment lapse with the gaggle of reporters covering his campaign on its final day last week. Bantering with them at length under supposedly off-the-record ground rules, Clark actually said he was still in the race because he thought Kerry's campaign was going to implode over what he inelegantly called an "intern" scandal.

No matter what you think of Oliphant as a columnist, he's a pretty good reporter, and he travels extensively during presidential campaigns. I don't know about you, but I took his description to mean that he, personally, had witnessed Clark when he supposedly went off about Kerry - especially since he added such I-was-there details as "gaggle of reporters" and "[b]antering with them at length." If Oliphant wasn't there, I'd say his description is at least a little bit deceptive.

The New Republic's Ryan Lizza, who definitely was there, writes this:

Just in case anybody was still wondering whether anything in the original Drudge item about John Kerry was accurate, I can confirm that Wesley Clark did not say what Drudge says he said at that off-the-record conversation with reporters in Nashville one week ago.

I was there when Clark spoke, and just to make sure I didn't miss anything, I've also checked with other reporters who were there. Since it was off the record (sort of), I can't get into what Clark actually said (let's just say it was not his finest moment on the campaign trail), but I can report that the quote Drudge attributes to him - "Kerry will implode over an intern issue" - is not accurate. He never said that.

What is Lizza trying to tell us? I don't know. The most likely interpretation is that Lizza heard Clark slime Kerry, but not in precisely the same way that Drudge claimed. Clark may not have even used the word "intern." Beyond that, though, this isn't particularly helpful.

Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly has also denied Drudge's claim about Clark. The Incomparable One recounts this exchange on Fox News Sunday:

JUAN WILLIAMS: Now, let me just say that Democrats, including the man who endorsed [Kerry] this week, General Wesley Clark, was overheard saying, "Oh, you know, Kerry's campaign is going to implode over an intern," that kind of thing. That adds to it. And I think-

CONNOLLY: You know, what, though? That's not accurate. That's not accurate. That's the way that Drudge reported that supposed off-the-record conversation. But I've spoken to reporters who were there, and that's not even what General Clark accused. It was something far more peripheral, and it was pinned to a tabloid.

Getting warmer? Perhaps. But Connolly apparently wasn't there, either, based on her description.

Now, in some tellings of this tale, Drudge has the rumor being spread by one of Clark's top campaign aides, Chris Lehane. Joe Conason offered some insight into that on Salon last week:

The Drudge item blaming Lehane quoted Craig Crawford, a former Democratic operative who now works as a consultant and columnist for MSNBC. Within 10 minutes after Drudge posted the Kerry intern item, Crawford sent a memo to his superiors that said the story was "something Chris Lehane (clark press secy) has shopped around for a long time." According to Crawford, someone at MSNBC promptly leaked his memo to Drudge. But when Lehane called Crawford with a loudly indignant denial, the MSNBC columnist quickly issued a public retraction. He said:

"The comments attributed to me are from a private email to television news associates based on conversations with Democratic campaign operatives. I did not consider any of it confirmed enough to report or publish. I can only verify that Chris Lehane's rivals in other Democratic campaigns made these claims and I have found no independent source to confirm it. Which is why we did not go with the story. But then someone sent my email to others, which is the only reason it got into the public domain." In other words, there is no proof that Lehane circulated the rumor, let alone that the rumor has any basis in reality.

Lehane also denied it directly to Conason. No disrespect to Lehane, but that's not quite dispositive, since clearly someone is lying - either Lehane or his "rivals in other Democratic campaigns."

Still, I'd say that it all comes down to Tom Oliphant. If he says he was there, and that he heard Clark smear Kerry, then that's good enough for me. For that matter, if he was relying on an eyewitness account by one or more of his colleagues, then that works, too.

But short of that, I'd say Clark is off the hook - and Drudge only looks that much worse.

What about it, Tom? Inquiring minds want to know.

On John Edwards's qualifications for office. From today's New York Times:

"I believe he is the one who can beat George Bush," Ms. Wells said. "He's got that Southern thing going for him. He will hand you your guts on a platter, and you will thank him for it before you even feel the knife."

Thursday, February 19, 2004

New in this week's Phoenix. "Sex, Lies, and Republicans." Drudge shoots and misses. But Bush's allies are attacking Kerry with everything from a phony Jane Fonda photo to a sickening attack on triple amputee Max Cleland.

Unoriginal sin

"Howard's End" - New York Times, 2/19/04

"Howard's End" - San Francisco Chronicle, 2/19/04

"Howard's End" - Salon, 2/19/04

"Howard's End" -, 2/9/04

"Howard's End?" - Time, 2/9/04


Broadcast Bruds. The great David Brudnoy popped up on the airwaves last night, in preparation for what he hopes will be his full-time return to WBZ Radio (AM 1030) on March 15 following months of cancer treatment.

I missed it - I didn't know until I read about it in the Boston Herald this morning (the story, by Dean Johnson, appears to have been victimized by website glitches) - but look forward to Brudnoy's latest comeback.

Here's an AP story on Brudnoy.

Back to sleep. If John Kerry can only get it going when his back's to the wall and the sharks are closing in, doesn't that sort of bode ill for a Kerry presidency? Just wondering. Read Patrick Healy's report in today's Boston Globe.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Rule number four. John Doherty, co-creator of the excellent "Bush House of Cards," suggests one more rule for reporting on sex:

I think you need to add a rule, specifically naming Republican pols (the Henry Hyde rule?) that "when a politician makes judgments on the morality of other people's sex lives, his own should be ripe for inspection to see if he himself observes the standards he promotes for others."

Right you are, John. And thus there are four.

Media Log's three rules for reporting on extramarital affairs. After the Kerry sex-scandal non-story imploded, Matt Drudge hit what might have been a new low even for him. On Monday, the Drudge Report alleged that the young woman who did not have sex with Kerry may have had sex with a veteran Kerry-campaign operative.

Thus we have a new sex story that may or may not be true - complete with names! - about two entirely private figures. Other than the vicarious thrill Drudge apparently receives from destroying two families, it is impossible to imagine why anyone would do such a thing. As my late father liked to say, it's enough to gag a maggot.

Garbage like this is going to come up again. So with that in mind, I would like to offer Media Log's rules for reporting on the sex lives of presidential candidates. Conveniently enough, I learned them from eight years of watching Bill Clinton, who, unfortunately for him, ran afoul of all three rules. To wit:

The Gennifer Flowers Rule. If an ex-paramour calls a news conference in order to talk about her affair with The Candidate, it's okay to cover it, provided - in the absence of proof - that the allegations are treated with suitable skepticism. Public events are public events, and it would be an abuse of the media's gatekeeper role to pretend they didn't occur. Nor should the entertainment factor be overlooked.

The Paula Jones Rule. If a woman files a lawsuit that alleges The Candidate harassed her by soliciting a blowjob, it's okay to cover it - again with suitable skepticism. If said lawsuit makes it all the way to the Supreme Court, it's definitely okay to cover it. If said lawsuit further alleges that the plaintiff can identify "distinguishing characteristics" on the defendant's unit, then coverage is mandatory.

The Monica Lewinsky Rule. If a $40 million (at the time) government investigation reveals that The Candidate (or, in this case, the president) was carrying on with a woman other than his wife, and that his lies about said carrying-on may constitute perjury in the context of a sexual-harassment suit (see the Paula Jones Rule, above), then it's okay to cover it. It's not okay to go berserk for six months, leading to a stampede that resulted in the only presidential impeachment in the 20th century. (Note: Media Log confesses to breaking the don't-go-berserk rule on several occasions.)

There's a gray area here, too. Occasionally, there will be a candidate - like Gary Hart in 1988 - who essentially says, I've got nothing to hide. Please follow me around and report on what you find! Of course, someone did, and Hart's presidential ambitions went down on the Good Ship Monkey Business.

The answer: damned if I know what the media should have done. Hart was stupid, and stupidity is always worth reporting on. Still, affairs between two consenting adults should always be off limits unless one of the Clinton rules comes into play. My best answer is to hope that someone else reports it, then write a thumb-sucking think piece about the decline of media standards.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Joe Conason's non-hypocritical Spy piece. Media Log has obtained a copy of Joe Conason's 1992 article for Spy on the alleged infidelities of George H.W. Bush - the subject of much chortling over the weekend by Mickey Kaus, given Conason's outrage over the John Kerry sex rumors.

As I suspected, the so-called hypocrisy Kaus thought he had unmasked was anything but. Yes, Conason did indeed give a full - a very full - airing to longstanding rumors that the first President Bush liked to cat around. But Conason did it entirely in the context of the sexual witch hunt to which the media had subjected Bill Clinton and, earlier, Gary Hart. Conason wrote:

But the media deflowering of "Gennifer with a G," cabaret singer, former Arkansas state employee and self-proclaimed (and, for snitching about it, handsomely paid) Bill Clinton sex partner, again poses the problem that agitated the press during the 1988 election: If stories about womanizing could ruin Gary Hart and cripple Clinton (not to mention Senator Chuck Robb), then why isn't anybody looking into the stories about George Bush?

And this, in the windup toward the end:

Even more to the point is that the Republicans have not hesitated for an instant to employ such information against their opponents. They have been involved in the exposure of Bill Clinton, and the GOP is reported to have three dozen researchers working full-time to produce even more dirt. There is, or there ought to be, such a thing as a level playing field.

Certainly it's past time for American politics to grow up and reach a point where stories about our leaders' sex lives are treated as the titillating, perhaps largely irrelevant trivia they usually are. But that maturity will never be achieved as long as the public is permitted to see the messy human truth only about Democrats, while Republicans are displayed inside a bubble of happy, wholesome illusion.

Is that clear enough, Mickey? Of course, since he was relying on a USA Today description of Conason's article, it's likely that he hadn't even read it.

The sliming of Max Cleland, cont'd. As I noted on Sunday, alleged funnyman Mark Steyn has been channeling Ann Coulter in order to cast aspersions on the war record of triple amputee Max Cleland. You can't make this stuff up! I've gone back and read Coulter's original attack piece. Read the whole thing, but here is a particularly sickening highlight:

Moreover, if we're going to start delving into exactly who did what back then, maybe Max Cleland should stop allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero who lost his limbs taking enemy fire on the battlefields of Vietnam.

Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix. In fact, Cleland could have dropped a grenade on his foot as a National Guardsman - or what Cleland sneeringly calls "weekend warriors." Luckily for Cleland's political career and current pomposity about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam.

My first impulse was that Coulter had probably stopped sharpening her fangs just long enough to do some homework, and that her characterization of Cleland's service was factually accurate, though repulsive. After all, accidents happen in war zones, and it scarcely matters whether Cleland was injured in combat or in training - even if he was (cover the children's eyes) preparing to drink beer!

But as Lily Tomlin once said, "No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up." Because Media Log reader G.W. has sent along a link showing that Coulter didn't even come close to getting her facts straight. Not only did she describe the accident incorrectly, she missed perhaps the most pertinent fact of Cleland's service in Vietnam.

G.W. pointed me to the Progress Report, which exposed Coulter's lies on Friday. Some highlights:

But as the 8/1/99 Esquire Magazine notes, Cleland lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam when a grenade accidentally detonated after he and another soldier jumped off a helicopter in a combat zone.


Coulter said people "should stop allowing [Cleland to be] portrayed as a war hero" - despite the fact that, in a separate incident four days before he lost three limbs, Cleland won a Silver Star - one of the highest honors for combat courage the U.S. military gives out. The congressional citation which came with the medal specifically said that during a "heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack Captain Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions." The citation concluded, "Cleland's gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army."

The right wing is in full panic mode. Look at what's happened during the past week: the phony Drudge rumor about John Kerry's having an extramarital affair (not that Media Log much cares if he did); the phony photo of Kerry and Jane Fonda standing together at an antiwar rally; the doctoring of quotes from Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 to make it look like he was accusing US soldiers of committing atrocities in Vietnam, when in fact he was repeating what soldiers who had actually committed such atrocities had testified to earlier.

Words fail me, except to say that this is sickening, horrifying stuff. Kerry's got to do everything he can to make sure they don't get away with it.

Have a biscuit, Sam! From today's Boston Globe:

"Mr. President, we have to keep this tax cut," said Sam Leto, board chairman for Tampa Brass and Aluminum Corp.

"Thank you, sir," Bush said. "I agree. Good job, Sam."

Monday, February 16, 2004

Good job, Matt! The sliming that's going on right now is beyond belief, and I'll have more to say about it tomorrow. In the meantime, the "Mystery Woman" - Alexandra Polier, whom I will name, since she has now named herself - has issued a statement denying any relationship with Senator John Kerry. Her parents, far from calling Kerry a "sleazeball," say they're going to vote for him.

Drudge is backfilling by floating a new rumor, and it's sickening. I won't even link to his latest, but you can find it if you're interested.

If Bill Gates did this, people would be howling. A little more than a year ago, Apple unveiled Safari, a brand-new Web browser for its Macintosh computers. The move led Microsoft to stop further development of the Mac version of Internet Explorer. So - at least for those who like to use Officially Approved Software - Safari was suddenly the only game in town.

Now Apple has finally released an upgrade to Safari, version 1.2. And I can't use it. The new Safari only runs on OS X 10.3 (a/k/a Panther). I'm running OS X 10.2 (Jaguar). Panther is not a new operating system - it's a maintenance upgrade with a few new features. And it costs $129. I'm not buying.

The problem is that I'm not seeking cool breakthroughs in Safari, just basic functionality that was left out of version 1.0, like the ability to print stuff out with page numbers. Not being allowed to upgrade to Safari 1.2 without forking over more money strikes me as at least low-level customer abuse, given that my iBook is less than a year old.

Anyway, I'm experimenting with a new browser, Mozilla Firefox. It's still in beta (version 0.8), but it seems to be stable and at least as fast as Safari. You get page numbers when you print, and some sites that don't render properly with Safari - such as Cosmo Macero's weblog - now look just fine. It interacts better with, too.

Firefox is part of the Mozilla Project, which designs open-source Internet software. There's a Windows version, too, so give it a try.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Like Bush said about Adam Clymer, only minor-league. There are people - smart people - who think Mark Steyn is just terrific, a funny conservative truth-teller who deserves a wider audience.

I'm sure many of his fans cannot be convinced otherwise. But if you have an open mind, please read this repulsive recitation of half-truths. Check out, especially, how Steyn literally stoops to the Ann Coulter level.

Hey, Steyn: Max Cleland never could have made the "stupid mistake" that cost him three limbs if he hadn't gone to Vietnam in the first place. Too bad his daddy couldn't get him into the National Guard, eh?

Jesus. I think I need a shower.

There is less joy in Mudville. Some counterintuitive first thoughts on the Yankees' acquisition of Alex Rodriguez following the Red Sox' long, protracted efforts:

1. Remember, this wasn't about upgrading the team at shortstop. It was about getting rid of Manny Ramírez. Manny's still here, but guess what? He's still going to hit a ton. Rodriguez may be a better player than Nomar Garciaparra, but they're both going to the Hall of Fame. Ask yourself this: did you really want to see Nomar leave town?

2. Psychologically, this is good for the Sox. They've been the favorites all winter. Who needs that pressure? The Yankees are better today than they were yesterday, but not by so much that they look unbeatable. And now the focus is going to be on George Steinbrenner and his $200 million payroll.

3. Major League Baseball's sickness may be reaching its terminal phase. Two weeks ago, we all got to see a professional sports league that does it right (except for contracting out its halftime show). It's depressing to see how owner selfishness has ruined baseball. Does any team even matter other than the Yankees and the Red Sox? Every true fan - except those of us in Boston and New York - will be rooting against both teams.

Sex, context, and hypocrisy. Mickey Kaus has posted what, at first glance, appears to be a striking bit of hypocrisy on the part of Joe Conason. Conason - who is properly outraged at Matt Drudge's pathetic attempts to hang an apparently non-existent sex scandal on John Kerry - turns out to have been very interested in George H.W. Bush's sex life 12 years ago.

Context, please? I don't have Conason's 1992 Spy article in front of me, but I can guess. In 1992, the Republicans - then as ever - were obsessed with Bill Clinton's sex life, as though Republicans never carried on any extramarital affairs. As I recall, a lot of liberals were appalled at the single-minded focus on Clinton.

Allegations that Poppy Bush might have had an affair were irrelevant. The possibility that the media - spurred on by the Republican Attack Machine - were focusing entirely on the alleged dalliances of the Democratic candidate while ignoring evidence about the Republican candidate was important and worth looking into.

Friday, February 13, 2004

A non-sex non-scandal non-story. There is only one story that the media and political world is talking about right now: the allegations that Senator John Kerry had an extramarital affair with a young woman a few years ago. This "news" was broken yesterday by Matt Drudge, who is best known for revealing in 1998 that Newsweek was preparing a report on the relationship between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

What's perversely fascinating about this is the post-modern nature of the current media environment. Drudge's scoop obviously doesn't meet any sort of respectable news standard. Not only are the allegations completely unproven, but it's still unclear as to what the allegations even are.

Yet this is already getting picked up by papers in the UK and in Australia, which have rather different standards from those that prevail in the US (which are low enough as it is). So you've got a story that everyone is talking about, that has already broken the talk-radio barrier (Sean Hannity gushed over Drudge yesterday, and Kerry denied the rumors, whatever they are, on Imus this morning), but that is virtually absent from US newspapers today.

The most specific version of the story I've seen is this, in the London Sun, home of the Page Three Girl. Assuming it's accurate (a huge assumption!), the so-called scandal is even lamer than one might have imagined. A 24-year-old woman's parents believe that Kerry was coming on to their daughter. Reporter Brian Flynn writes:

There is no evidence the pair had an affair, but her father Terry, 56, said: "I think he's a sleazeball. I did kind of wonder if my daughter didn't get that kind of feeling herself.

"He's not the sort of guy I would choose to be with my daughter."

This is a sex scandal? Don't you need, you know, sex?

Joe Conason has the definitive (thus far) take. As for whether this grows, my guess is that we should know by the end of the weekend.

Gay marriage survives - for now. You can read my piece on yesterday's raucous session of the constitutional convention, as well as other Phoenix coverage, at And check out the QuickTime video I shot of pro-marriage demonstrators.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

ConCom continuing coverage at I'm heading back to Beacon Hill in a few minutes to catch the resumption of the constitutional convention, which is debating whether to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage.

Check out our continuing coverage at

New in this week's Phoenix. George W. Bush is going through a rough stretch, but get ready: the Republican Attack Machine is gearing up to go after John Kerry on everything from gay marriage to that fire hydrant that used to be in front of his house.

Also, Wesley Clark finally gets out, but the zombie candidates trudge on.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Finneran to the rescue? It looks like the best hope for gay activists and all supporters of marriage equality is House Speaker Tom Finneran. Really.

Senate president Bob Travaglini and Senate minority leader Brian Lees have crafted a compromise amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage, but would guarantee the right of civil unions. It is reasonable and well-intentioned, but would perpetuate the inequality that the Supreme Judicial Court so eloquently denounced in its Goodridge decision last fall. (Boston Globe coverage here; the Boston Herald's website seems to be messed up this morning.)

Because Finneran doesn't like the civil-unions provision, he may try to scuttle it, leaving an amendment that would be far harsher, and thus less likely to pass muster with a majority of the 199 legislators who will meet at today's constitutional convention. And remember: Finneran controls 160 of them, as compared to just 39 for Travaglini. (Ironically, Travaglini is short a member because Cheryl Jacques resigned to become head of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-and-lesbian-rights lobbying group.)

The constitutional convention will take place after the deadline for this week's Boston Phoenix. But Phoenicians will be swarming around Beacon Hill all day (and night) today to put together an in-depth report for, which will appear tomorrow. There may even be some updates posted today. So keep checking in.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The seductive appeal of mob rule. There is no more seductive or pernicious argument in the gay-marriage debate than that "the people" should get to decide the fate of an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage.

Today's Boston Globe reports that a state rep has come under attack from something called the "Committee to Let the People Vote." On the op-ed page, a hateful little screed by Catholic activist William Hobbib concludes: "The final decision and its far-reaching implications should be decided by a democratic vote of the people of the state, with the appropriate level of study and public debate that a constitutional amendment vote would require."

Thus in the Hobbibsean view of the world, the legislature's role in amending the constitution should be limited to that of a debating society, with all power resting in the hands of the people.

State Senator Michael Morrissey put it this way in a Globe interview: "The question is, what's more democratic than putting a question on the ballot? Isn't that democratic?"

Well, of course, nothing could be more democratic than putting gay marriage to a vote. But we don't live in a pure democracy; we live in a republic, with constitutional rights for the minority counterbalancing the will of the majority. Among other things, that's why we don't see proposals on the ballot to bring back slavery.

The Massachusetts Constitution can be amended with stunning ease - far more than is the case with the US Constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority of both branches of Congress and three-fourths of the state legislatures. By contrast, an amendment here requires just a majority vote in two consecutive sessions of the legislature (or only one-fourth if the amendment is submitted by a petition of the voters), followed by a majority of voters on the state ballot.

The point is that the amendment process, though extremely easy, requires the involvement of the legislature. If, as Hobbib and Morrissey assert, the legislature's role is merely to wave the amendment through and let the voters decide, then they are arguing against any role at all. In the Hobbib-Morrissey model, the fact that the legislature has to vote twice is nothing more than impediment, an anachronism, something to be set aside for the greater good of pure democracy.

That has it exactly backwards. The legislature is there to protect the rights of the minority. The drafters of the state constitution - headed by John Adams - gave an explicit role to the legislature so that our elected officials could exercise their considered judgment as to whether a proposed amendment might do so much damage that it should not even be considered by the voters. Only after legislators have had a chance to reflect - twice - is an amendment to go before the public.

The amendment to ban gay marriage may be voted on as soon as tomorrow. Legislators owe us their wisdom, such as it may be, as well as the courage to act on that wisdom. Simply letting "the people" decide is an invitation to mob rule. It would send an ugly message that our elected officials see nothing wrong with oppression as long as it is "the people" who are doing the oppressing.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Winning by losing. Jay Rosen is among the more thoughtful observers of media today. A leading light in the fading "public journalism" movement and chairman of the journalism department at New York University, he writes a weblog - "Pressthink" - that is part of the online community "Blogging of the President."

Recently Rosen wrote this post on an encounter he'd witnessed between CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich. Rosen was repulsed by Blitzer's focus on horse-race questions, and on his repeated badgering of Kucinich as to why he's doing so badly in the presidential campaign and why he doesn't just get out of the race. Rosen writes:

When the press looks for its credibility problems today, it ought to look more at moments like these. To me, it's in-credible, Blitzer's question. The public service validity I assign it is zero. Most of the audience, most of the time, senses the bad faith in it, whether we "like" Kucinich or not. In a catalogue of low points for the campaign press (which, done well, is an idea for a kick-ass weblog... ) this was one.

Political man gives it his best shot. He runs in order to speak to the country, and to see if the country listens and responds. It is for others to say why he failed when he is still in the campaign to succeed. Intuitively we know this. Blitzer, in a boorish way, does not.

What I find fascinating about Rosen's post is that he gets an important point half-right. Yes, the media are generally dreadful to candidates who can't garner much support, alternately ignoring them or mocking them. Yet Kucinich has essentially invited the Blitzer's "boorish" behavior by playing the game of mainstream expectations rather than trying to rise above it.

As a presidential candidate, Kucinich has worn well, at least with me. At first, I saw him as little more than a Ralph Nader wanna-be - a fringe pain in the ass with nothing interesting to say and no record of accomplishment, unless you count throwing the city of Cleveland into default as its boy mayor a generation ago an accomplishment.

But he's shown that he's a serious candidate of ideas. He forced me to go back and look at his record in Cleveland. It turns out he sacrificed his mayoralty over a principled refusal to give in to the banks and sell the city's municipal power plant - not smart, perhaps, but certainly courageous.

Kucinich's plan to sit down with the UN and negotiate a transfer of power in Iraq - about which he straightened out Tom Brokaw at the January 29 debate - is reasonable and sensible, a far cry from the cut-and-run caricature it has usually been portrayed as.

As for a Department of Peace, well, why not?

Where Kucinich continues to annoy me is when he espouses his increasingly absurd scenarios for how he's going to win. For instance, here is Kucinich's response to Brokaw's why-don't-you-get-out question at the last debate:

Well, Tom, keep in mind, there's so much talent on this stage that I believe this race is going to go all the way to the convention. And what that means - no one's going to get 50 percent of the delegates going to the convention. And I expect to be able to pick up delegates, state by state. And I'll arrive at the convention right in the mix for the nomination, and I look forward to it.

He's still going to win! Contrast this with the Reverend Al Sharpton's response to the same question, the highlight of which was this: "They ought to want all of us to stay in and bring our constituency to the table rather than try to eliminate."

Sharpton is being realistic and truthful: he's running for a place at the table. Kucinich is in la-la land.

The problem here is that Kucinich knew he wasn't going to win the day he announced, and everyone - Wolf Blitzer and Tom Brokaw included - knows Kucinich knows he isn't going to win. So when Blitzer acts "boorish" and Brokaw is dismissive, they are, in at least some small way, reacting to the intellectual contempt that Kucinich is showing not just to them, but to their audiences as well.

Kucinich did pretty good in Maine yesterday, but he still has just two delegates.

A far more honest - and disarming - answer to Blitzer's question would have been this:

Wolf, I know I'm not going to win. I'm running to give a voice to people who are rarely heard from: the poor, the disenfranchised, the working-class families who've been hurt by our so-called free-trade policies. And I'm running to stand up against war. No one in this race, not even Howard Dean, is as committed to peace as I am. Like Al Sharpton, I want a place at the table. I want to help change my party, to make it a better, more principled vehicle for progressive aspirations. Four years ago we lost the presidency because too many voters saw Ralph Nader as a better alternative to Al Gore. We need to bring those people back inside the tent. And that's what I'm going to do.

What would Blitzer have said to that? "But you're still losing"? Perhaps. But at least viewers would have understood what Kucinich is really fighting for. And Blitzer would have been more fully exposed for asking a buffoonish, bullying question.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Kerry takes a stand (sort of). The great thing about being John Kerry is that you can always be consistent with something you've said. In today's Boston Globe, Susan Milligan reports that the Massachusetts senator may support an amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. Writes Milligan:

Asked if he would support a state constitutional amendment barring gay and lesbian marriages, Kerry didn't rule out the possibility. "I'll have to see what language there is," he said.

And, in fact, such a position is consistent with his oft-stated support for civil unions but opposition to gay marriage. But, as I pointed out yesterday, it's inconsistent with the strong pro-equality statements he made in 1996, when he was one of just a tiny handful of senators to vote against the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

This is probably the smart political stance for Kerry to take if he wants to have some chance of being elected president.

But it's still depressing as hell.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Jay Severin's rotten mouth. I can't imagine there are many Media Log readers who take Jay Severin seriously. But I've been thinking about how and when I wanted to give the trash-talking WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) host a whack for his frequent use of the racist - yes, racist - word "wetback." Today he gave me what I'd been looking for.

I was in my car. I wasn't rolling tape, and I wasn't taking notes, so pardon the lack of quotation marks. But, essentially, when I tuned in, he was berating a woman who'd called to complain about his offensive invocation of "wetback" and "wetback welcome wagon" in criticizing US immigration policy.

Severin's angry response (and he was angry; in 20 years of listening to talk radio, I have never heard a host get as hostile to those with whom he disagrees as Severin does) was mainly based on what he called her ignorance of the term. "Wetback" is simply a word for illegal immigrant, he told her. Look it up in the dictionary. It's got nothing to do with Hispanics or Hispanic-Americans, as she had claimed.

The poor woman. She didn't have a dictionary in front of her. Severin had his producer cut her off so that he could spout at length before letting her get back up off the floor. All she could do was mutter that he must know he was being offensive, and that he was relying on a "technicality." Smugly, he replied that the "technicality" she was referring to was the English language.

What arrogant bullshit. Here is the definition of "wetback" from the American Heritage Dictionary (fourth edition, 2000):

Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a Mexican, especially a laborer who crosses the U.S. border illegally.

This is what Merriam-Webster Online has to say:

usually offensive: a Mexican who enters the U.S. illegally

MSN Encarta - which threw up a warning screen telling me that I was about to access offensive material - says:

a taboo term for a Mexican person recently arrived in the United States, especially somebody who has entered the country illegally to work as a laborer

The Cambridge Dictionary of American English puts it this way:

a Mexican worker who illegally crosses the border to get work in the US. This is an offensive word.

"Offensive." "Taboo." Get the picture, Jay?

If you follow the links, you will note that virtually every entry for "wetback" traces the origins of the word back to the practice of Mexicans' swimming across the Rio Grande to get into the US. So much for "wetback" having nothing to do with Hispanics.

For a while, Severin got a lot of scrutiny. But it seems like in the past year or so, he's gotten a free pass. WEEI Radio (AM 850) suspended John Dennis and Gerry Callahan for a bit that compared black school children to an escaped gorilla. WRKO Radio (AM 680) fired John "Ozone" Osterlind for suggesting that Israel should "eradicate" the Palestinian people. (Osterlind has denied it, and I've never heard the tape.) Sadly, 'RKO (which pays me to blab about the media on Pat Whitley's show once a week) continues to let Howie Carr denigrate gays and welfare mothers.

But Severin goes about his merry way, making fun of "wetbacks" and "towelheads," and no one says a word. Well, it's offensive and degrading, and WTKK management shouldn't put up with it.

And, no, his knowledge of the English language is not nearly as impressive as he claims. In this one instance, at least, he's dead wrong. He should apologize to that woman.

Homework help for John Kerry. As a public service to the Democratic front-runner, Media Log has dug up some of his and his office's statements from 1996 on the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Kerry showed some backbone that year: of the 14 senators who were up for re-election, he was the only one to vote against it, according to USA Today. (Granted, he was also in the midst of a tough re-election fight against then-governor Bill Weld, a favorite of the gay community.)

Despite Kerry's opposition, DOMA passed and was signed into law by Bill Clinton. But Kerry's public statements are instructive as we wait to see if he'll weigh in on the current effort to amend the state constitution so that same-sex marriages will be banned.

On June 24, 1996, the Boston Globe reported that "Kerry intends to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act because it 'does not seem to address any realistic national legislative needs,' according to his campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Watson. Since no state currently recognizes gay marriage, 'this bill is premature at best; at worst, it is an attempt to divide and play to people's fears,' Watson said."

Hmm. Not too promising. Watson left her boss with far too much wiggle room, leaving open the possibility that Kerry would have supported DOMA if there were actually a state that recognized same-sex marriage.

But the senator himself was more emphatic on September 5, 1996, when he told the Boston Herald, "This bill is election-year pandering of the worst order, and I will not be a party to legislative gay-bashing." Go get 'em, John! Now, repeat after Media Log: The state constitutional amendment favored by Governor Mitt Romney and House Speaker Tom Finneran is election year pandering of the worst order, and I will not be a party to legislative gay-bashing.

DOMA finally passed the Senate on September 10. And Kerry was notably blunt in expressing his opposition. According to the next day's Globe, Kerry called DOMA "fundamentally ugly, fundamentally political, and fundamentally flawed," adding: "The results of this bill will not be to preserve anything, but will serve to attack a group of people out of various motives and rationales and certainly out of a lack of tolerance."

The Herald published this Kerry sound bite: "This is an unconstitutional, unprecedented, unnecessary, and mean-spirited bill."

Everything Kerry said in 1996 applies today. The amendment to the state constitution being pushed by Romney, Finneran, State Representative Philip Travis, and others is a nasty piece of work, designed to deny fundamental human rights to a minority of citizens while doing absolutely nothing for anyone else. I'm sure Kerry doesn't want to take a stand, but he's got to. It goes with being a senator, and it most certainly goes with showing the leadership expected of a presidential candidate.

If nothing else, Kerry could quote Jon Stewart, who had this to say when asked about it by Fox News's priggish bully-boy Sean Hannity: "The gay marriage thing scared me, but that's only because I thought at first it was mandatory. Now that I realize that it's only people that are gay, I'm much more comfortable."

(Point of personal privilege: the transcript quotes Stewart as saying, "I'm much more confident." But I saw Stewart that night, and I think he said "comfortable." So there.)

Not answering the real question. As the Boston Phoenix's Adam Reilly reports, Senator John Kerry's statement on the Supreme Judicial Court's most recent same-sex-marriage decision is consistent with his previous stand: yes on civil unions, no on marriage.

But Kerry avoids the real issue: whether he supports an amendment to the state constitution that would essentially overturn the SJC's Goodridge decision by defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Of course Kerry wants to take a pass on this. But can he? Should he?

This isn't so much about the fact that he's a presidential candidate as it is that he's one of the state's two elected senators. This is a landmark moment, and before the legislature convenes next Wednesday (assuming it doesn't get postponed), the public should demand that Kerry, Senator Ted Kennedy, and the state's 10 House members state their positions on the amendment.

The fact that they don't have to is all the more reason that they should do so anyway. This is the most crucial civil-rights battle of our time. Are we going to let Kerry - or any of them - take a pass?

New in this week's Phoenix. John Kerry's string of victories is becoming old news. Now he must define himself before the Republicans - and the media - do it for him.

Also, Fox News asks: are the media giving Kerry a free ride?