Wednesday, December 31, 2003

"CBS News doesn't pay for interviews." No, but CBS's entertainment division does. And that distinction is behind a sickening media revelation.

Sharon Waxman reports in today's New York Times that Michael Jackson and/or his business managers talked CBS into paying him $1 million - on top of the $5 million he had already received - for an entertainment program that he's headlining this Friday and for his appearance on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.

As Waxman describes it, the payment was handled just delicately enough for CBS News executives to have deniability - although that old Nixonian phrase "plausible deniability" is certainly not what comes to mind. Absolutely no one is going to buy this load of garbage.

Here's the killer, admittedly dependent on an unnamed source:

"Michael was in his room," the associate said. "Ed Bradley had set up. Basically Michael wanted to see the rest of the money. Bradley kept saying, 'Don't worry, we'll take care of it.' Michael said he wouldn't do the interview unless they paid. It came to a stalemate. But they didn't want to put anything in writing."

Bradley ended up walking away from the interview then, but he did it later.

The best quote is from Orville Schell, dean of the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, who tells the Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten:

[CBS] has gone from one humiliating event to another in recent years. But it's particularly demeaning to compromise your integrity so fundamentally over something as worthless as Michael Jackson. I suppose you could make a case for getting a story that laid bare the terrorist networks operating inside Iraq by paying for it. But to lose your reputation, as CBS now has done, to get more Michael Jackson? That's really sad.

As Schell notes, CBS News has been a pathetic joke for years. But 60 Minutes, while by no means perfect, has managed to maintain its basic integrity. Not now. It's gone.

And since there are zero indications that there will be any firings, resignations, or heartfelt promises not to do it again, then it's fairly safe to say that it's gone for good.

Nomar, Mr. Nice Guy. Gordon Edes has a fascinating inside look in today's Boston Globe at what went wrong with the Alex Rodriguez trade.

But there's another angle to this, too. Edes gives free rein to the Red Sox ownership to do damage control with Nomar Garciaparra, who almost certainly would have been traded if Rodriguez had come to town.

(Edes does not disclose that the Globe's corporate owner, the New York Times Company, is part of the Red Sox' ownership group. Since this is mainly a baseball story, I'm agnostic on whether he should have.)

What really stands out is that Sox principal owner John Henry really, really wants Garciaparra to know is that the only reason he considered this deal in the first place was that he was convinced his star shortstop didn't want to stay in Boston.

Here are some excerpts from an e-mail that Henry sent to Edes:

I am not sure of the exact date, but almost immediately after this meeting, I heard from [general manager] Theo [Epstein] that the gulf between [Garciaparra's agent] Arn Tellem's demand and the club's view of the right number for Nomar was so wide that he felt we were not going to be able to re-sign our shortstop....

I had a hard time imagining finally winning a World Series in Boston without Nomar being there at that great moment. Nevertheless, we faced the realities such as they were and determined to move forward.

Former Globe baseball reporter Peter Gammons, writing for, has a rather different take on the breakdown. According to Gammons, the principal bad guy in this was Sox president Larry Lucchino, who pissed off Rodriguez by grandstanding against the Players Association for nixing the proposed downward restructuring of Rodriguez's $252 million contract.

Lucchino doesn't come off all that well in Edes's telling, either. But the Edes version is that the man Lucchino really infuriated was Rodriguez's current employer, Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks.

The Edes version leaves the Sox with the best of both worlds: the possibility that the trade will still take place, along with indications that if it doesn't, Garciaparra could be signed to a new, long-term contract.

Two Dans, no waiting. Secret Agent Cathy is upset that I went after Dan Savage yesterday for suggesting that Americans deserve to die because the US propped up Saddam Hussein for many years.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

How the American Prospect saves money. Based on this, I'd say by recycling an old Bill Bradley drawing and claiming that it's Howard Dean. (For a closer view, click here.)

Savage war. Dan Savage, the editor of Seattle's The Stranger and a noted sex columnist, caused a stir earlier this year when he came out in favor of the war in Iraq. He hasn't changed his mind, but this week he offers some regrets:

I regret that the president of the United States is a lying sack of shit. And I regret the first piece I wrote about Iraq. I was taken in by the Bushies' attempts to link Saddam and Osama, and conflate Baathism with Islamo-fascism, and the first piece I wrote is so credulous that I can't read it without cringing. I put too much stock in Condoleezza and her mushroom clouds, Colin and his mobile weapons labs, and Cheney and his alternate reality.

Savage hangs his hat on Christopher Hitchens's coat hook, arguing that the United States had a responsibility to remove Saddam Hussein's lunatic homicidal regime, especially since we had so much to do with propping him up over the years. It's an eminently respectable argument, even if I don't agree with it.

Unfortunately, Savage goes insane at the end. Here is his last paragraph:

Saddam Hussein was our man in Baghdad for years, our creation, our problem. And that it's costing American lives and money to remove Saddam Hussein from power is, in a sense, only right.

Money? Okay, fine. But lives? Is Savage serious? Is he really sitting up there in the Pacific Northwest, somehow satisfied or even pleased that American soldiers are making the moral equation even by doing us the favor of getting killed in a war that Savage himself doesn't have to fight? This is repulsive.

Remedial reading for Savage: today's New York Times front-pager on Army Sergeant Jeremy Feldbusch, who, while serving in Iraq, was hit by a piece of shrapnel that blinded him and damaged a part of his brain that controls emotions.

Savage may believe it's "only right" that Feldbusch's life has been ruined, and that Donald Rumsfeld's long-ago handshake with Saddam has thus been somehow negated. What Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman really shows us, though, is the true horror of war - and why it is a moral obscenity that the Bush White House lied about weapons of mass destruction.

Savage should stick to what he's good at. Like licking doorknobs.

The Dissector's year in review. Danny Schechter, the executive editor of, blogs some of the lowlights of 2003 here. And check out his new personal website, Dissectorville.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Why technology won't kill spam. A remarkable thing happened when I downloaded my e-mail a few moments ago. Forty-six messages flooded into Microsoft Entourage. Three - all of them legitimate - stayed in my in box. The rest were transferred to a folder labeled "Spam" before I could even look at them.

I began paging through the spam folder and found the usual foolishness. Come-ons for Viagra substitutes. A get-rich-quick scheme from Nigeria. Pornography. And lest you think that's a fairly light load of garbage, be advised that this was only since 10 p.m. yesterday.

Yet I also found one message that shouldn't have been there. It was an e-mail I had sent out last night that for some reason bounced back. If I hadn't inspected my spam message-by-message, I never would have seen it. And that's why - despite an impressive error rate of just under 2.2 percent - I'm going to remove the spam-filtering software I've been playing with for the past week.

That's the problem with trying to eliminate spam. Losing one good message is worse than having to sort through scores of bad ones. The program I installed a little more than a week ago - SpamSieve - is highly rated, and it does seem to do an excellent job. But no program is perfect, as the SpamSieve manual itself acknowledges: it promises "to catch nearly every spam message yet produce very few false positives."

Well, if there are any false positives, or even the possibility of one, then I have to go through my spam folder with exactly the same attentiveness as I did with my inbox before I installed SpamSieve, don't I?

This isn't the software designer's fault, of course. (And, in fact, it would work a little better if I were more diligent: I keep getting warning messages that I've programmed SpamSieve to be oversensitive by showing it too many bad messages and not enough good ones.)

But the false-positive problem shows the limits of technology, and demonstrates further why computer users are dependent on Congress to deal with spam in an intelligent way. Will a new law called CAN-SPAM - whose implementation is described in today's Boston Globe by Chris Gaither - make a difference?

I hope so, but I'm skeptical. As this recent piece at makes clear, CAN-SPAM may make so small a difference as to be nearly worthless.

One of the best overviews is this article by Christopher Caldwell that was published in the Weekly Standard last June. Since spammers depend on sending out millions upon millions of e-mails - a practice that now costs them virtually nothing - Caldwell proposed taxing e-mails - a very un-Standard-like approach, but one that might actually work. He wrote:

A penny-per-e-mail charge would drive most spammers out of business, subject them to jail time for tax evasion if they hid their operations, and cost the average three-letter-a-day Internet user just ten bucks a year. If even that seems too hard on the small user, then an exemption could be made for up to 5,000 e-mails per annum.

Sounds good to me. In the meantime, CAN-SPAM takes effect on New Year's Day. Perhaps when people see how ineffective it is, they'll demand something more toothsome. Caldwell's article would be a good place to start.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Yes, Senator, freedom from religion, too. Religion is starting to sneak into the presidential campaign in a fairly rancid way. The latest example is Joe Lieberman, who, according to this article in the New York Times, is going after Howard Dean for being too secular.

In what Times reporter Diane Cardwell calls a "veiled swipe" at Dean, Lieberman reportedly said:

I know that some people believe that faith has no place in the so-called public square. They forget that the constitutional separation of church and state, which I strongly support, promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Some people forget that faith was central to our founding and remains central to our national purpose and our individual lives.

The good senator, of all people, should know that religion is treacherous territory in public life - and that if religiosity is a good, old-fashioned American value, so too is anti-Semitism. If Lieberman were actually in a position to win, his Orthodox Judaism might prove to be a problem with some of the very people he's trying to win over. It's unseemly of him to go after a fellow Democrat on religious grounds.

Still, Lieberman's outburst is not without context. This week's New Republic features a cover story (sub. req.) by Franklin Foer arguing that Dean simply isn't religious enough to get elected in November. Foer notes a survey showing that "70 percent of Americans want their president to be a person of faith."

"Howard Dean is one of the most secular candidates to run for president in modern history," writes Foer, citing Dean's switch from the Episcopal to the Congregational church over his anger at the Episcopal diocese's opposition to a bike path he was championing; his admission that he rarely goes to church; his marriage to a Jewish woman, Judith Steinberg, whose religious views also appear to lean secular; and his frequent attacks on religious fundamentalists. (Representative Dean soundbite: "I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore.")

But is it the religion of the politician that matters, or the politics of the religious? Earlier this week, the Boston Globe published a column by its former Washington-bureau chief, David Shribman, on a well-known phenomenon: the overwhelming preference that Christian fundamentalists have for Republicans. (You can find it here, on the website of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where Shribman is the executive editor.)

Shribman notes:

In the 2000 election, Bush swept more religiously observant voters by large percentages - and, in the case of white evangelical Protestants, by a margin of more than five to one.

Shribman doesn't quite connect the dots, so I will: this wide split took place despite such Gore-ian ick as his wearing a WWJD ("What would Jesus do?") bracelet. For the fundamentalists, it's not whether you were born again; it's where you stand on such cultural issues as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

It doesn't matter to me whether a candidate is a secular Protestant, such as Dean; a Catholic, such as John Kerry; or someone like Wesley Clark, whose father was Jewish and who apparently switches to a different Christian denomination every couple of years.

Then again, I suppose I'm one of those secularists who Joe Lieberman's mother warned him about.

A close encounter with mad-cow disease. News that a downer cow in Washington State has been diagnosed with mad-cow disease has brought this low-simmering story back to a boil. Here is the story from the hometown Seattle Times.

Two years ago I identified mad cow as a shamefully undercovered story and urged the media to get off their butts and start reporting. You can read it here.

The best - and most horrifying - overview remains Ellen Ruppel Shell's piece in the Atlantic Monthly of September 1998, "Could Mad-Cow Disease Happen Here?"

So put down that burger and start reading.

And have a Merry Beef-free Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Interview Ben Affleck? Go directly to jail! Not that anyone should be surprised, but now comes evidence that the administration's thuggishness toward foreign visitors extends to journalists as well.

According to this December 13 editorial in the Toledo Blade, of all places, "immigration and customs people are arresting, detaining, and deporting journalists arriving here without special visas. This is so even when they come from nations whose citizens can stay for up to 90 days without a visa if they are arriving as tourists or on business."

The Blade recounts the story of Peter Krobath, of an Austrian entertainment magazine called Skip, who was jailed overnight like a common criminal after he arrived in the US to interview Ben Affleck and attend a screening of the movie Paycheck. His crime: showing up without a visa.

There are other horror stories as well. Read the whole thing.

More information is available on the website of the International Press Institute, based in Austria. Be sure to check out this letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, which includes more details on Krobath's detention. This is outrageous:

When Mr. Krobath landed at Los Angeles Airport (LAX) on 2 December 2003 to cover the above-mentioned junket, he was questioned about the purpose of his visit and further interrogated for almost five hours. After he was body-searched, and his photograph and fingerprints were taken, two security officers led him handcuffed to an isolation room. Later on he was transferred to a downtown prison where he spent the night together with about 45 persons (some of whom were convicted criminals) in a room with iron benches and two open toilet facilities but without blankets despite the low temperature. His luggage and his personal belongings were kept separately.

The letter urges Powell to support a resolution by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which has asked Congress to include journalists in the US Visa Waiver Program for Visitors from Friendly Countries.

Unfortunately, ASNE's website does not appear to have anything on it about this grotesque assault on the civil liberties of international visitors.

This story bears watching.

Monday, December 22, 2003

The overweening arrogance of George Will. George Will's buckraking ways have landed him in some trouble today. And what's not to love about that?

In this morning's New York Times, Jacques Steinberg and Geraldine Fabrikant report that Will was one of several conservative deep thinkers - along with National Review founder William Buckley, geriatric war criminal Henry Kissinger, Carter-era hawk Zbigniew Brzezinski, Margaret Thatcher, and others - who were paid to lend intellectual legitimacy to Conrad Black, a newspaper baron who is himself in quite a bit of hot water over his alleged corrupt business practices.

It seems that not only did Will provide a fawning blurb for Black's new biography of Franklin Roosevelt - the recipient of an unusually harsh assessment in the current New York Times Book Review by former Boston Globe editor Michael Janeway - but he has also sucked up to his secret benefactor in his column as well.

Here are the (literal) money paragraphs:

In a column syndicated by The Washington Post Writers Group in March, Mr. Will recounted observations Mr. Black had made in a London speech defending the Bush administration's stance on Iraq.

In a rebuttal to Mr. Bush's critics, Mr. Will wrote, "Into this welter of foolishness has waded Conrad Black, a British citizen and member of the House of Lords who is a proprietor of many newspapers."

Asked in the interview if he should have told his readers of the payments he had received from Hollinger, Mr. Will said he saw no reason to do so.

"My business is my business," he said. "Got it?"

Alan Shearer, editorial director and general manager of The Washington Post Writers Group, said he was unaware of Mr. Will's affiliation with Hollinger or the money he received. "I think I would have liked to have known," Mr. Shearer said.

Buckley comes in for some criticism, too, but in the main his response is that of an old-fashioned gentleman: he has often disclosed his friendship with Black, but not his financial arrangement. Will, by contrast, looks like a money-grubbing worm.

Of course, Will has made a career out of using his column to advance his own interests, political, financial, and otherwise. Most memorably, in 1980 Will secretly prepped Ronald Reagan for his debate against Jimmy Carter - a coaching session made all the easier because the Reagan campaign had improperly obtained a copy of Carter's briefing book. Will later went on television and pronounced Reagan's performance to be that of a "thoroughbred." Norman Solomon has a good synopsis here, on the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting website.

FAIR's Steve Rendall recounts a bit of unpleasantness that descended on Will in 1996, when he continually tore into Bill Clinton at a time when Will's wife, Mari Maseng, was working for Clinton's opponent, Bob Dole. Will, naturally, didn't disclose.

George Will is an elegant writer, and he sure knows how to wear a bowtie. But he has always subordinated the interests of his readers to his own, narrower causes.

I'm glad to see that his editor is pissed off. Editorial-page editors across the country might consider whether Will has now proven himself to be a repeat offender with no possibility of rehabilitation.

Convention-al wisdom. The contracts, as they say, have already been signed. But are Mayor Tom Menino and planners for the Democratic National Convention really going to walk into a full-blown catastrophe now that a viable alternative has been identified?

Last Friday, the Boston Herald's Cosmo Macero wrote (sub. req.) that the new convention center in South Boston would be ready by next July if the go-ahead to move the DNC were given.

It is a brilliant idea. The FleetCenter is a disaster waiting to happen. There is no place to put the media (and the modern convention is, above all else, a media show). And security in such a crowded neighborhood is bound to be so odious that it will leave a bad taste for years to come.

Check this out from Macero's column:

"If we got the call from the mayor or the committee ... I believe we could do it," says Jim Rooney, chief executive of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and Menino's one-time chief of staff. "It would look different. But it could and would be made to look like a good media event, which is by and large what conventions are."

The analogous situation is Philadelphia, which hosted the Republican National Convention in 2000. Most of the events took place in the downtown, all within a few blocks. But the convention itself was held far from the downtown, in a facility surrounded by acres of unused land - plenty of room for tents to house the media, security, and the like.

It was an ideal set-up, and one Boston would do well to emulate. Now that it appears this could really be done, the only intelligent response is to make it happen.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

How stupid can you get? This past January, Charles Pierce wrote a profile of Ted Kennedy for the Boston Globe Magazine that included a passage so mean it took my breath away. It still does. Here it is:

That's how you survive what he's survived. That's how you move forward, one step after another, even though your name is Edward Moore Kennedy. You work, always, as though your name were Edward Moore. If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.

Yet, as I wrote at the time, some people - especially conservatives - just didn't get it. James Taranto, who writes the "Best of the Web" column for the Wall Street Journal's, correctly called it "pure poison." But others, including the stunningly overrated Mark Steyn, actually thought Pierce was absolving Kennedy for his criminally negligent conduct in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

And so it goes. A little while ago I learned that the Media Research Center, an organization that documents so-called liberal bias, had awarded Pierce its "Quote of the Year." First place! No explanation is offered, but, for connoisseurs of the MRC, none is needed. Obviously Pierce is being singled out for an extreme act of liberal woolly-headedness - for daring to suggest something so stupid and offensive as the notion that Kennedy's liberal deeds somehow offset what he failed to do that day at Chappaquiddick.

Gah! As if!

The MRC no doubt got that idea from idiot boy Bernard Goldberg's new book, Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite. I haven't seen it (lest you think that means I'm not entitled to insult him, be assured I've read his first comic book); but Pierce recently wrote during a guest turn on Altercation (no direct link available) that Goldberg, too, thought Pierce was trying to say something nice about Ted Kennedy.

Good grief. Conservatives love to complain about the state of public education. Yet, clearly, it is they who can't read.

New in this week's Phoenix. George W. Bush has a new running mate: Saddam Hussein. And that's going to cause a whole heap of trouble for the Democrats.

(Note to Bernie Goldberg and the Media Research Center: I'm not actually trying to make people think that Saddam is going to replace Dick Cheney on the Republican ticket, or that Bush secretly likes Saddam, or anything like that. Okay?)

Also, who was Robert Bartley?

The judge sure is funky. Federal appeals-court judge Richard Posner has a problem. It is the same problem experienced by such great minds as the Reverend Pat Robertson and Nixon-era born-again Chuck Colson: he cannot conceive of two men or two women having sex with each other without animals somehow being involved.

To be fair, Posner's concern is also shared by US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who really does possess a first-class legal mind, even though the other parts of Scalia's brain are apparently still mired somewhere in the eighth grade.

But Posner, though a conservative, has never previously revealed himself to be a raving nutcase. So I was stunned to read his barnyard epithets in the latest issue of the New Republic.

Posner - who is himself a major-league cat fancier - reviews (sub. req.) a pro-gay-marriage book called Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution, by Evan Gerstmann. Whether deliberately or not, he ends up telling us far more about himself than he does about Gerstmann's book.

To wit:

And I have not even tasked him with explaining what the state's compelling interest is in forbidding a man to marry his beloved dachshund.


But I suspect that more object for the same reason they would object to incestuous or polygamous marriages, or allowing people to marry their pets or their SUVs - that it would impair the sanctity, degrade the institution, of marriage (their marriage) to associate marriage with homosexuality.

Posner also appears to accept Scalia's dissenting argument in Lawrence v. Texas that, by overturning state anti-sodomy laws, "the majority had written finis to any law based on moral disapproval with no accompanying proof of tangible harm, such as laws forbidding sex with animals." (I'm quoting Posner, not Scalia.)

What is going on here? Earlier this year I quoted 12 years' worth of bizarre outbursts equating homosexuality with bestiality. Now a respected federal judge writing for a liberal, pro-gay-rights magazine is getting into the act.

Are the critters really that much at risk?

And by the way, for a magazine that has generally been supportive of same-sex marriage, TNR's cover package this week is heavily tilted the other way. Jeffrey Rosen is against it, and purports to show flaws in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's reasoning in the Goodridge decision. Cass Sunstein is for it, but only because he thinks it's a good idea that states such as Massachusetts experiment with it before trying to impose it at the federal level.

I actually found myself pining for Andrew Sullivan.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Why red and blue doesn't work. The problem with dividing the country into blue states and red states, argues Robert David Sullivan, is that more than 40 percent of voters in the red states voted for Al Gore four years ago and more than 40 percent of voters in the blue states voted for George W. Bush.

In other words, not only is the country divided right down the middle; so are the states themselves.

Sullivan - an associate editor at CommonWealth magazine and a former Boston Phoenix editor - has attempted to figure out what's really going on by dividing the country into 10 regions whose voting patterns have been similar since the 1970s. The result - "Beyond Red and Blue" - is a model of detailed analysis, based on county-by-county election results and various demographic measurements such as ethnicity, education, and income.

Many states are split under Sullivan's model, but not Massachusetts. We - along with much of the rest of New England, parts of New York, and the West Coast from San Francisco to the Canadian border - are part of the Upper Coasts, whose politics are both liberal and quirky. In 2000, for instance, the Upper Coasts were Gore's second-strongest of the 10 regions, but also Ralph Nader's strongest.

New Hampshire and Maine, oddly enough, are split between the Upper Coasts and the Sagebrush region. There's a lot more snow than sagebrush in northern New England, but Sullivan groups them with the West for their libertarianism. The Sagebrush counties are anti-regulation and not at all taken with the religious-conservative base of the Republican Party - which explains why they were only Bush's third-strongest region in 2000, behind Southern Comfort (the deepest of the Deep South) and Appalachia (a band stretching from central Pennsylvania through northern Alabama and Mississippi).

Among Sullivan's most interesting findings is that though the Bush-Gore race was extremely close, fewer regions were up for grabs than was the case in 1976, when Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford. Voters have become more set in their ways, and despite the decline of formal party politics, many people are actually more likely to cast a straight party ballot than they were a generation ago.

As for why the 2000 election was so close, Sullivan notes that Gore and Bush each won five of the 10 regions. If either Bush or his Democratic challenger can capture six regions in 2004, he will just about be assured of victory. Sullivan shows exactly how the campaigns ought to go about doing just that. (Don't let Karl Rove see this.)

"Beyond Red and Blue" has already attracted the attention of the Daily Kos. Check out this wonderfully obscure take by DHinMI.

Sullivan's map is a political junkie's dream. And it will change the way you think about presidential politics.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Adam Nagourney responds. New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney, who yesterday exposed Stephanie Cutter of the John Kerry campaign as the author of an anti-Dean e-mail despite Cutter's demand that the contents of her message be reported as "background," has responded to Media Log's item on the flap.

Nagourney writes:

The Kerry people e-mailed me a copy of your item about my story.

Feel free to call or e-mail any time. I would have told you what I told Stephanie: I'm more than happy to let a campaign aide go off the record, or on background. But it's a two-way street: we've got to negotiate the rules in advance. This is pretty basic: I do this a dozen times a day with campaign officials.

But in my book, you can't fire off an e-mail and demand preemptively that it be taken on background and attributed to a "dem campaign," which is what Stephanie did. That is particularly true in a case where one campaign is ATTACKING the other. If other reporters want to agree to that, fine. But I don't think it's fair, and I'm not going to agree to those terms.

What made this case particularly striking was that this was an e-mail sent out to a BUNCH of reporters. And Stephanie was asking us to provide the Kerry campaign cover while she attacked the Dean campaign for the same thing that many of her colleagues were attacking Dean for on record. That doesn't strike me as right.

A couple of observations:

1. The scenario Nagourney describes is something I identified yesterday as one of the possible explanations. His e-mail to me confirms it, and I think he was justified in not going along with Cutter's request.

2. Readers increasingly are demanding transparency. I would have liked to see him stick in a sentence yesterday explaining this to everyone rather than leaving the average Times subscriber scratching her head.

Little People: the Salon interview. Salon has posted a long Q&A (sub. req.) with me on my book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes. The interviewer is Lisa Hedley, a documentarian and the mother of a girl with dwarfism.

Monday, December 15, 2003

How Murdoch, GE, and Microsoft stood up to Big Media. Really! Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds makes a heartwarming observation about how the little guys are making big corporate media look foolish.

Except it seems to escape him that in this case the little guys are Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Weekly Standard, and General Electric and Microsoft, co-owners of, where Reynolds is, you know, fighting the power.

There's so much echo I'm getting feedback. Al Giordano, whom I quote in my current Boston Phoenix piece on plans to start a liberal radio network, has responded on his weblog, Big, Left, Outside. How could I resist completing the circle?

Al disagrees with my analysis, which is that the network is going to have to get at least some of National Public Radio's 22 million weekly listeners to tune in. He writes:

Do the young folks who hang out at the Daily Kos, or the Democratic Underground, or the hundred-plus local Indymedia sites turn to NPR on the dial? I doubt that they do in great numbers: It's almost never cited as a credible news source at those places. What about the 400,000 members of Howard Dean's "MeetUp" groups, and all the others in the ones for Kucinich, Clark, Kerry and the others? And the people they talk to who don't attend meetings but who are radio listeners. Most of my readers don't consider NPR a credible, or interesting, source. All the progressive juice from the youth that is making this current presidential election more interesting every day comes from a demographic very distinct from the NPR crowd.

Does the all-important base of the progressive majority to come - young blacks and Latinos &endash; listen to NPR? Are you kidding? Most of them feel as I do: NPR is a bad, white, joke.

To which I say: fine, but if Central Air, as the new network is called, is going to succeed, it's going to have to put up some big numbers. Central Air claims to be on the verge of acquiring radio stations in five major markets, including Boston. That could cost somewhere between $100 million and $150 million. They're not going to pay off the note just by bringing in folks who hang out at Indymedia websites.

For the record, I'm an NPR listener who'd gladly give Central Air 20 minutes a day, as long as it doesn't suck.

But if Al and I disagree, it really doesn't matter, because Central Air seems to be on the right track. Rather than bringing in a liberal blowhard to counter Rush Limbaugh, the network is aiming for fast and funny (without necessarily giving up substance), bringing in people like the great ex-Boston humorist Barry Crimmins and, though the final details haven't been worked out, Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo.

They ought to consider putting Giordano on the air, too.

"... for some reason you expected him to bite that soldier's finger a la Hanibal Lecter." The celebrated Baghdad blogger Salam Pax on the arrest and upcoming trial of Saddam Hussein:

Why do all the interesting things happen when I am not in baghdad?

at first I couldn't believe it when I heard it, I got too excited when they reported that the vice president Izat Ibrahim was arrested and then it turned out to be nothing, so my reaction was "yeah right". but the images on TV left no chance to doubt. He looked like a tramp getting a physical and for some reason you expected him to bite that soldier's finger a la Hanibal Lecter. But he just sat there. There was another moment when the GC members were describing their meeting with Saddam and told the journalists about the deriding remarks he made when they asked him about the Sadir's assasination and the mass graves, he sounded like he has totally lost it.

I want a fully functioning Saddam who will sit on a chair in front of a TV camera for 10 hours everyday and tells us what exactly happened the last 30 years. I do not care about the fair trial thing Amnesty Int. is worried about and I don'r really care much about the fact that the Iraqi judges might not be fullt qualified, we all know he should rot in hell. but what I do care about is that he gets a public trial because I want to hear all the untold stories.

UPDATE:'s Danny Schechter points to this commentary by Salam Pax in the Guardian.

Adam Nagourney screws Kerry campaign. But why? This is the sidebar to the sidebar to the sidebar. Adam Nagourney reports in the New York Times today on how the capture of Saddam Hussein might affect the Democratic presidential campaign. Toward the end appear two highly unusual paragraphs:

The strains this created were evident on Sunday. Mr. Kerry's press secretary, Stephanie Cutter, sent an e-mail message to news organizations listing remarks Dr. Dean had made over the past six months that she said demonstrated that his opposition to the war was "politically driven."

But Ms. Cutter, reflecting the concern among the campaigns that they not be viewed as turning a foreign policy victory to political advantage, put a note on the top of the statement demanding that it be reported as "background" and attributed only to a Democratic campaign.

On the face of it, this seems like Nagourney committed a gross breach of protocol. As best as I can tell, neither the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, nor the Washington Post exposed the Kerry campaign's role in putting out the poison e-mail. (Nor did any of them actually use it.) A search of Google News shows that apparently no one else did, either.

Did Nagourney have a justifiable excuse to out Stephanie Cutter? Should she have known better than to send out an e-mail demanding background treatment in advance, rather than receiving assurances before she sent out the e-mail?

Or did Nagourney just decide to screw the Kerry campaign?

This demands further explanation. I suggest that the Times' new public editor, Daniel Okrent, address it in his first real column this coming Sunday.

UPDATE: Nagourney has responded to this item.

The trial of the century. No, not Michael Jackson's - Saddam Hussein's! In today's Boston Globe, Vivienne Walt and Charlie Savage have a good overview of what is likely to be "the biggest human-rights case since Nuremberg."

Along the same lines, the New York Times' William Safire may be the only pundit so far to depart from the conventional wisdom - the C.W. being that Saddam showed cowardice by surrendering without firing a shot. Safire writes:

I think Saddam is still Saddam - a meretricious, malevolent megalomaniac. He knows he is going to die, either by death sentence or in jail at the hands of a rape victim's family. Why did he not use his pistol to shoot it out with his captors or to kill himself? Because he is looking forward to the mother of all genocide trials, rivaling Nuremberg's and topping those of Eichmann and Milosevic. There, in the global spotlight, he can pose as the great Arab hero saving Islam from the Bushes and the Jews.

Besides, those who are surprised that Saddam didn't come out shooting obviously didn't see NBC's Today show this morning.

In a surreal bit of play-acting, Matt Lauer had Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona (I think that was his name; I couldn't read it with a "7 News Stormforce" logo taking up the bottom quarter of the screen) lead him through a plywood model of the "spider hole" that had been whipped together overnight.

Surrounded by Christmas decorations, Francona crawled in and showed how difficult it would have been for Saddam - prone and looking up the barrels of a few M-16s - even to pull his pistol.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam captured. Wow. This is the big one. We didn't even have the radio on this morning, so I didn't know until about 10 minutes ago that Saddam Hussein had been taken into custody by US forces.

This is incredibly good news, and it gives the US a second chance at this entire misbegotten war and occupation. The early reports are that thousands of Iraqis are celebrating the capture of this evil bastard.

It may not end the insurgency, but it should certainly help lift the fears of those who've worried that Saddam might be coming back. Even though we never should have gone in there, now that we're there we've got an obligation to get it right.

Too bad Saddam's going to be executed - from the photos, it looks like he could have starred in Bad Santa II.

Worse than Porter, Geoghan, and Shanley? It's going to get overlooked amid Saddam Mania, but Kevin Cullen has a long piece in today's Boston Globe on a priest who may actually have murdered one of his young sex-abuse victims.

Cullen's story about Danny Croteau, who died at the age of 13, is a gripping, horrifying read. And Cullen's reporting on the only suspect - Father Richard Lavigne - is even more horrifying.

What's most striking is that, nearly two years after the Globe began its Pulitzer-winning coverage of pedophile priests, there are still stories of this magnitude waiting to be told.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Koppel's disgraceful performance. Ted Koppel decided that Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate was about him and his fellow members of the elite media. I've got a piece in today's Boston Phoenix about Koppel's sneering, dismissive focus on the Al Gore endorsement, polls, and fundraising.

Koppel bloviated for a half-hour asking every candidate but Howard Dean questions that were variations on the same theme: Why don't you get out of the race right now?

You should read William Saletan's analysis in Slate. Here's his best line:

These were the last 90 debating minutes of the year - a crucial opportunity for every candidate other than Dean - and Koppel wasted 30 of those minutes on questions barely worthy of aides in bars.

Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler promises to weigh in on Koppel's disgraceful performance later today.

Incredibly, there is at least one reporter out there who thinks the real problem was that the candidates were rude to Koppel. You can't make this stuff up. Sam Pfeifle, the managing editor of the Portland Phoenix, directed me to this exchange at yesterday's White House press briefing, conducted by press secretary Scott McClellan:

Q: Do you remember any incident where the President has ever treated any member of the media as insultingly as those Democrat presidential candidates did to Ted Koppel last night?

McClellan: Didn't see the debate, Les, so -

Q: You didn't see the debate? You read about it. You certainly saw what those people did to Ted Koppel. Now, has the President ever done anything -

McClellan: I'm focused on our business here at the White House at the direction of the President.

Dear Les: Koppel is seriously lucky that none of the candidates walked over and pinched off his inflated head.

Other than Dennis Kucinich's excellent eruption (read the Phoenix piece for details), perhaps the most telling exchange was between Koppel and John Kerry. Remember, I'm not making this up.

Koppel: Senator Kerry, at the risk of exposing myself to yet another lecture - not from you, from Congressman Kucinich and the others down here ...


... what is it that Governor Dean has done right? Whether or not people want to acknowledge it, he does have more money than anybody else in this campaign; he is doing better in the polls than any of the rest of you. He's got to be doing something right. Is there anything to be learned from his campaign?

Kerry: Well, Ted, I'll tell you, there's something to be learned from your question. And if I were an impolite person, I'd tell you where you could take your polls.



You know, this has got to stop.

Kerry then went on to talk about a New Hampshire family whose water supply has been ruined by corporate polluters.

Afterward, as the C-SPAN camera panned the spin room, it caught Kerry schmoozing up CNN's Tucker Carlson and another guy. Kerry was telling them that the most important difference between him and Dean is that Dean wants to repeal the middle-class tax cuts of the Bush years.

Why didn't you talk about that? chirped Carlson.

"We spent all our time talking about polls," Kerry responded with a weary smile. He gave the other guy a playful pat on the cheek and walked away.

And now we learn that ABC News - Koppel's network, if you'd forgotten - has decided to stop having producers (off-camera reporters) travel with Kucinich, Al Sharpton, and Carol Moseley Braun.

Kucinich is outraged, of course. I'm put off more by the timing than by the decision itself. The media have a right to make some judgments; they are not obligated to spend money to cover every candidate. And the next president is not going to be Kucinich, Moseley Braun, or Sharpton.

But for ABC to do this the day after Kucinich's one shining moment in the campaign shows a sickening disregard for appearances and propriety. Besides, having covered the three for this long, why not just keep doing it for a few more weeks, until the New Hampshire primary is over and a few actual people have had a chance to vote?

This has been a depressing week for anyone who worries about the media's willingness to play their crucial role in a democratic society.

New in this week's Phoenix. In addition to the debate piece, I take a look at the prospects for a liberal radio network to compete with the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Driving to work with Christopher Lydon. Howard Dean has showed how technology can change the way we choose a president -- or at least a Democratic presidential nominee.

Christopher Lydon may be changing how we learn about such things.

I've been aware of Lydon's weblog for a few months. Last week, while I was talking with him about something else, he mentioned an interview he'd done with Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, as something he was particularly proud of.

Lydon has written up the highlights, but I wanted to hear the whole thing. The interview consists of three MP3 files, totaling about an hour -- just about the length of his old Connection show on WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). I saved them on my hard drive, burned them onto a CD, and popped it into my car stereo.

It was a terrific interview, with Lydon prodding Trippi to talk about this odd marriage between the Dean campaign and the Internet. I don't have any direct quotes -- hey, I was driving! -- but Trippi offered considerable insight, comparing the Dean online campaign to Linux, which is an open-source alternative to Windows and the Mac OS to which anyone can contribute.

Trippi also disdained the "command and control" orientation of traditional candidates, including Wesley Clark, who smothered the Internet enthusiasm that had originally fueled his entry into the race by seeking to replace it with a top-down hierarchy.

Trippi was especially good on fundraising, observing that if the Dean campaign can achieve its goal of getting two million supporters to contribute $100 each, it will have managed the unthinkable feat of matching George W. Bush's $200 million campaign stash. Dean has taken a lot of grief for opting out of the voluntary public-financing system. But it strikes me that what he's trying to accomplish is actually a much more profound reform than sticking to an outmoded patchwork of special-interest contributions, Byzantine spending limits, and matching federal funds.

As you will see, there's a lot of good stuff on Lydon's blog. Lydon -- whose daytime home these days is the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, at Harvard Law School -- sounds just as sharp as he did on the radio.

Of course, Internet audio is nothing new. But I wouldn't have listened to the Trippi interview if I'd had to be chained to my computer. What's great about what Lydon is doing is that he's taking advantage of the fact that technology has continued to improve.

When Lydon left WBUR in 2001 in the midst of an incredibly nasty contract dispute, most Internet users were still stuck with dial-up connections, and CD burners were rare. These days, broadband is widely available, and many users can easily transfer audio files to CDs or to portable MP3 players.

The fundamental problem with the Internet, of course, is that no one knows how to make any money from it. Money's not the key to everything, but people have to eat. Lydon's online interviews are generating no money -- they're free, and there are no ads. That's great for you and me, but not so good for anyone looking to follow his path.

If you miss hearing Chris Lydon -- and you know you do -- check this out.

The Queen of Sheba smears Howard Dean. I'm a day late, but I didn't want to pass up the chance to comment on New York Times columnist David Brooks's deeply stupid piece. Here's his Tuesday lead:

My moment of illumination about Howard Dean came one day in Iowa when I saw him lean into a crowd and begin a sentence with, "Us rural people...."

Dean grew up on Park Avenue and in East Hampton. If he's a rural person, I'm the Queen of Sheba. Yet he said it with conviction. He said it uninhibited by any fear that someone might laugh at or contradict him.

It was then that I saw how Dean had liberated himself from his past, liberated himself from his record and liberated himself from the restraints that bind conventional politicians. He has freed himself to say anything, to be anybody.

Well, my moment of illumination about how the right is going to try to destroy Dean came yesterday, when I read this tripe by someone who normally comes off as a conservative of the sensible, non-mouth-foaming variety.

Dean moved to Vermont -- one of the most rural states in the country, if you don't count the big empty ones out West -- in the late 1970s, shortly after graduating from medical school. He served as a Vermont legislator and lieutenant governor for most of the '80s, and became governor in 1991.

If any candidate has the right to describe himself as a "rural person" in this race, it is Howard Dean. Brooks's outburst is so plainly, obviously wrong that I can't believe he wrote it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

"F" is for "fundamentally flawed." The profoundly silly reaction to John Kerry's use of the F-word has done a quick fade, thanks to Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean.

But Kerry's invoking one of George W. Bush's favorite words shouldn't obscure the best quote he gave to Rolling Stone, in answer to a question about Bush's trustworthiness before the congressional vote on Iraq. Kerry said:

It seems to me that we had a right to expect the president of the United States to live up to his word. It was disgraceful, one of the most egregious, fundamentally flawed moments of foreign policy that I can think of in my lifetime.

Dean couldn't have put it any better.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Gore's revenge. As John Kerry might say, Al Gore's surprise endorsement of Howard Dean could be seen as a big F-you to Bill Clinton. Here's why: Kerry, sadly, has fizzled. Dean has all but wrapped it up.

Though it's possible to concoct a scenario by which Dick Gephardt might possibly win, the only plausible person standing between Dean and the Democratic nomination is the Clintons' candidate, Wesley Clark.

Endorsements don't mean much, but the fact that Dean's renegade campaign has been embraced by the ultimate Establishment Democrat surely counts for something.

Josh Marshall says it's an F-you, too: to Joe Lieberman. Well, yes, it's that too, but Lieberman wasn't going anywhere.

Kaus: "Maybe Democratic primary voters would like to, you know, vote. New Hampshirites, in particular, don't like to take orders." Mickey also wonders whether Clinton might weigh in.

Read TNR's Ryan Lizza on the split between the Clinton and Gore wings of the party.

Andrew Sullivan conveniently overlooks the fact that Gore beat Sully's boy Bush by a half-million votes.

John Ellis calls the Gore endorsement "a transformational event" for Dean.

Atrios: "Looking around the net I see the responses range from 'Brilliant!' to 'Al Gore has doomed the election!' with nothing in between. Can't we all just get along."

Should be quite a debate tomorrow night.

So what do we do about Nomar? The whole notion of trading Manny Ramirez for Alex Rodriguez is predicated on the belief that Nomar Garciaparra doesn't want to play in Boston. Presumably, even the Red Sox can't afford to pay both Rodriguez, a shortstop and the best player in baseball, and Garciaparra, a shortstop and one of the best players in baseball.

Now Nomar has broken his silence, making it clear that he wants to stay here and that he's upset the Sox have been talking with the Rodriguez camp behind his back.

The Herald's Tony Massarotti has Nomar on the record. The Globe's Shira Springer has Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem.

This is quite a dilemma, isn't it? It's unimaginable that the Red Sox would end their pursuit of Rodriguez just to keep Garciaparra happy. The sad thing is that this may be more about management's understandable urge to dump Ramirez than anything to do with Nomar.

Would it be possible to trade Ramirez for Rodriguez, get Nomar to sign in the $11 million-to-$12 million range, and move him to third? Who knows? And even if Garciaparra were willing to settle for less money in order to stay here, the Sox would still be paying more than $30 million for two players -- nearly $50 million for three if you throw in Pedro Martínez's $17.5 million.

On the other hand, if the Rodriguez trade doesn't happen, then Manny stays here -- and his salary next year will be almost as high as Rodriguez's. And, of course, Nomar will stay, too.

So maybe there is a way to get Rodriguez, dump Ramirez, and keep Nomar.

Wouldn't that be something?

Fat free. Daniel Akst has a good piece in the Boston Globe Magazine on the obesity wars.

The ostensible subject -- legal responsibility and whether lawyers might successfully sue McDonald's, KFC, et al. -- isn't all that interesting. But the background information on the changing thinking regarding carbohydrates (once good, now bad) and fat (once bad, now less bad) is excellent.

And though I'm unsympathetic to the idea of some enterprising Clarence Darrow bringing down the fast-food industry, we nevertheless find ourselves in an unusual societal dilemma.

People are eating more fast food than ever before because they don't have time to cook. And fast food is almost uniformly unhealthy. As Akst notes, drive down a suburban strip, or walk around the food court at your local mall. Is there anywhere you can go where you can eat a reasonably healthy meal?

Subway's sales have rocketed since it began stressing healthy alternatives to grease and fries. Maybe some of the other chains will take notice.

More on Okrent's introduction. A couple of Media Log readers took issue with my observation that New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent should have gotten down to business yesterday rather than introducing himself to readers.

Marjorie Arons-Barron, president of Barron Associates Worldwide and former editorialist for WCVB-TV (Channel 5), writes:

Part of the problem with the public's attitude toward newspapers, and especially toward newspaper editorialists, is their anonymity. Many wonder "who the heck is he/she to tell me what to think?" As a broadcast editorialist, I was a real person for the Greater Boston area for two decades. People stopped me in the supermarket or at the gas station to sound off and dispute something I had said. And still there were those who undoubtedly thought "who the heck is she ... etc."

Those who don't know Dan Okrent might legitimately ask the same question. And, while you might say that writers like Jurkowitz can explain who he is, a column such as today's is a good opportunity for Okrent to benchmark his principles and give us standards against which to measure him. Wouldn't it be nice if the Globe or Herald editorial board occasionally did that?

Score one for transparency. But I'd still rather not have to wait until December 21 to find out what Okrent thinks of his new colleagues' work.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

NY Times gets two-week reprieve. All things considered, I think New York Times readers would have been better served today if the new public editor, Daniel Okrent, had plunged right in rather than writing a gaseous self-introduction.

Mark Jurkowitz had a good profile of Okrent in the Boston Globe last Wednesday, noting, among other things, that Okrent is the father of Rotisserie Baseball.

"I now know how J. Robert Oppenheimer felt inventing the atomic bomb," Okrent told Jurkowitz. "It's not the thing I want to be remembered for, but I will be." Given Okrent's rueful tone, it's not surprising that he didn't even mention it in his Times piece.

So fine, now we know all about Okrent. "See you in two weeks," he concludes. Dan, we'll all look forward to it if you decide to start telling us about the Times and stop telling us about yourself.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Dean, Kerry, and McGovern. I was taken to task yesterday by a reader who thought I was too facile or Kaus-like or something to jump on the latest polls showing that John Kerry is behind Howard Dean in New Hampshire by something like 30 points. Fair enough. The news was familiar, and I didn't exactly add a lot of value by regurgitating the numbers.

Still, it's fascinating to see the hand-wringing going on now over the fact that Dean will -- barring a biblical-scale implosion -- win the Democratic nomination. Eric Alterman argues that Kerry, whom he likes much better than Dean, is also infinitely more electable against George W. Bush. Josh Marshall isn't quite so certain, but also worries that Dean is toast. The emerging wisdom is that it's McGovern all over again.

Well, I worry how Dean is going to fare against Bush, too. And I also think Kerry is the most experienced and best qualified of the Democrats. But, at some level, if Kerry is more electable than Bush, shouldn't he be beating Dean? Frankly, at this point it's easier to construct a scenario that Dick Gephardt or Wesley Clark will somehow emerge to give Dean a scare than to picture how Kerry can recover.

Not to push this too far. After all, if John McCain had somehow managed to defeat Bush in the Republican primaries four years ago, he probably would have beaten Al Gore by five or six points. But McCain, despite his conservative stands on many issues, was in the wrong party in 2000. Dean and Kerry are both real Democrats, and thus there's some reason to think that the one who is able to win the nomination is, by definition, the more electable of the two.

Of the nine Democrats, only three manage to talk like normal people: Wesley Clark, Carol Moseley Braun, and Dean. The rest, most definitely including Kerry, speechify, and it doesn't work in the modern television environment. Dean has managed to combine his plain speaking with a brilliant, Internet-based campaign that's bringing in tons of money. His early opposition to the war in Iraq continues to be his biggest selling point.

As for Kerry, it's not just that he voted for the war, which was a perfectly respectable if wrong-headed stance. (How could he not have figured out by the fall of 2002 that the Bush White House lies so promiscuously?) It's that he has such a hard time explaining it, and that he then turned around and voted against the $87 billion in reconstruction money, which, regardless of where you stand on Iraq, seems to be needed pretty desperately.

And yes, I realize that Dean has had the advantage of not having to vote on anything. But that's why governors get elected president and senators don't.

Ironically, Kerry is more liberal than Dean on the environment, social programs for the poor, Medicare, you name it. For the most part, he probably represents my political values better than Dean does. But Dean's won. As Marshall asks, how can anyone expect that Kerry, having blown a large lead in New Hampshire, will somehow persuade voters there to switch back to him?

Democrats shouldn't worry quite so much about Dean. If he's sharp enough to beat Kerry, Clark, Gephardt, Lieberman, et al., then he might be the best candidate the party can put up against Bush next November.

Friday, December 05, 2003

It's all over but the voting. Late to Blogland today, but didn't want to let the latest Dean-Kerry poll numbers slip by.

The Boston Herald's David Guarino plays it up big today: the latest Zogby poll of New Hampshire Democrats shows Howard Dean at 42 percent and John Kerry at 12 percent. The Manchester-based American Research Group has Dean 45, Kerry 13.

What this means is simple. It's over. It's so over that I realize I'm rather late in saying this.

Today's Washington Post has a big piece by Dan Balz on how Kerry plans to come back. The spin from the Kerry campaign is pretty unconvincing -- so much so that The Note calls Balz's article a "para-obit."

At this point, a Dean loss would qualify as the worst choke job since the 1978 Red Sox. Consider:

-- Dean has not only held a big lead since last summer, but it keeps growing.

-- He's got more money than anyone else.

-- Potential voters are going to tune out presidential politics until after New Year's. The New Hampshire primary takes place on January 27, just a few weeks later.

-- Though Dean has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth and for being slow to apologize, his supporters don't seem to care.

There are a few clouds on Dean's horizon. He's got to back down from his ridiculous refusal to release his gubernatorial papers, for which he got poked by Boston Globe and New York Times editorials today.

But short of the Mother of All Gaffes, it's hard to imagine how Dean could blow the enormous lead he now has in both poll numbers and money. Democrats, meet your nominee.

As for Kerry, how does secretary of state sound?

Of course, his nephew is a lot smarter than Sean Hannity.

Alan Colmes, the liberal co-host of the Fox News debate program Hannity & Colmes, lost an argument to his nephew Bryan while babysitting the 8-year-old Monday.

Read the whole item at The Onion ("News in Brief").

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Plame game. Media Log reader K.W. is very excited that Valerie Plame, the former undercover CIA operative outed by the White House last summer, has allowed herself to be photographed by Vanity Fair. (For my earlier take on the scandal, click here.)

The pertinent fact is that her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson of Nigerien-yellowcake fame, had claimed she would rather "chop off her right arm" than have her picture taken.

Writes K.W.: "Will you not concede that this was a bogus 'scandal' hatched by Mr. Wilson and spurred on by Democrats and a left leaning press (you included) who are just desperate to bring Bush down. Just wondering if you'll say 'my bad' on this one?"

Well, uh, no. And no.

K.W. directed me to this piece by Slate's Timothy Noah, who labels Wilson's previous insistence that his wife would remain invisible the "Whopper of the Week." Noah also predicts that this "will surely give the Bush Justice Department whatever slim justification it seeks in dropping its Plamegate investigation."

Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds is very excited, too:

No word on whether she's missing an arm.... Wilson says the pictures won't identify her. Sorry -- if you're really an undercover spy, and really worried about national security, you don't do this sort of thing. Unless, perhaps, you're a self-promoter first, and a spy second. Or your husband is.

Let's concede that this wasn't smart. Wilson was already hurting the cause with his aggressive media whoredom. By letting herself be photographed -- albeit unrecognizably -- Plame has harmed her image of being more serious, and thus more credible, than her husband.

But what has changed? Plame's career as an undercover agent was over last July, when syndicated columnist Robert Novak passed along that sleazy little tidbit from his pals at the White House. If Novak's act endangered the projects Plame was working on and the people she associated with, the fact that we now have some vague idea of what she looks like doesn't affect that.

As Noah suggests, seeming to enjoy this too much may destroy any hopes of getting to the bottom of this. But that doesn't mean there isn't a bottom to be gotten to.

New in this week's Phoenix. New England Cable News will air a nuanced documentary on the life and times of the notorious Father Paul Shanley, who faces numerous criminal and civil complaints alleging that he sexually abused children. (Click here for more information and video clips.)

Also, the Boston Globe is losing two key staffers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Ice, snow, no go. We got a half-inch of snow and a bit of ice this morning. So, naturally, no one can drive!

I just got back from an hour-and-a-half in my car. Not that I actually made it anywhere. No, I'm back home. I had to cancel my appearance on The Pat Whitley Show, on WRKO Radio (AM 680), even after he and his producer, Amy Hirshberg, were kind enough to move it off from 10 to 11 a.m.

I heard a radio report calling this maybe the worst traffic back-up in state history. Apparently drivers were pulling off Route 128 in the Burlington area this morning and sleeping after several hours of getting nowhere.

Even allowing for some exaggeration -- there were, after all, a few traffic problems in the Blizzard of 1978 -- it is pretty horrifying out there.