Friday, January 30, 2004

The Great Kerry Debate, Round 3. Jon Keller and I continue to slog it out over John Kerry at the New Republic website. I've weighed in twice, and Keller once; he's supposed to come back at me this afternoon.

Quote of the day. "Other presidents would have liked to bully the C.I.A., stonewall investigations and give huge contracts to their friends without oversight. They knew, however, that they couldn't. What has gone wrong with our country that allows this president to get away with such things?" - Paul Krugman, in today's New York Times.

So old it's new again. John Ellis was way too quick to award his "Dean as Dot.Com" metaphor prize to political consultant Craig Crawford. Logically, shouldn't the award go to the last person to use what has become a mindless cliché? If so, how about Andrés Martinez in today's Times? "Howard Dean's implosion calls to mind the fate of too many high-flying dot-com companies in the wake of the 2000-2001 crash," Martinez "informs" us.

Actually, not only is the metaphor lame, but it's wrong. I recall seeing an exit poll from Iowa (Media Log is too lazy to look it up) showing that, of caucus-goers who made up their minds by researching the candidates' websites, Kerry won. It's as though Jeff Bezos's nightmare finally came true: that Barnes & Noble had come up with a website that kicked's ass.

The Dean campaign isn't a dot-com that went bust. It's a dot-com that fell asleep while its biggest bricks-and-mortar rival figured out a way to beat it at its own game. It's - no! enough! I don't want Ellis to make fun of me, too.

Tuning in., running on fumes not all that many months ago, is doing all kinds of cool stuff these days that Media Log has not had time to keep up with. Anyway, pay a visit. And read this piece by Timothy Karr on the media's obsession with the horse race over substance.

And now, for an opposing view. In theory, we should all be rapturously in favor of a focus on "the issues." In fact, it's not quite that simple. Yes, we should know that Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, and Al Sharpton opposed the war and that John Kerry, John Edwards, and Joe Lieberman were in favor. (God only knows what Wesley Clark really thinks. And by all means, insert your own 500 words' worth of Kerry caveats here.)

But let's take one of the more nebulous issues Karr cites: health care. The media could, I imagine, dwell at great length and in great detail on how Kerry's plan differs from Dean's, and how Dean's, in turn, differs from the single-payer system favored by Kucinich and Sharpton. But is that really what the media ought to be focusing on?

The fact is that all of the Democratic candidates have serious plans to do something significant about the 43 million Americans who are uninsured. I have no doubt that some plans are better than others. I also have no doubt that, if one of them is fortunate enough to become president, he will start rewriting his plan as soon as he moves into the White House. I don't care. I just want to be assured that the person I vote for is serious about solving the problem.

Where the media fall down is in giving a pass to candidates who aren't serious. In the 2000 debates, for example, the wretched moderator, Jim Lehrer, cut off a discussion of prescription-drug benefits by telling Al Gore and George W. Bush that, since each had a plan to deal with the issue, it was time to move on. As Jack Beatty observed on the Atlantic Monthly's website (sorry; can't find the link), Lehrer completely missed the fact that Gore had an actual plan, whereas Bush had nothing but a few patched-together talking points so that he could bluff his way through. We saw that last year, when Bush finally put together a bill that had more to do with further enriching Big Pharma than with helping any actual elderly people. Lehrer gave Bush exactly the pass he was looking for.

But does anyone seriously doubt that the Democratic presidential candidates intend to address the health-care crisis? Of course they do. The eye-glazing details can wait.

New in this week's Phoenix. John Kerry has staged one of the most impressive comebacks in modern politics. Can he sustain the momentum through the South? (Yes! More horse-race coverage!)

Also, CBS caves - again - to its benefactors in the White House over its refusal to air the ad.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

James Taranto, scientific know-nothing. I usually enjoy James Taranto, who compiles "Best of the Web" for the Wall Street Journal's site. Yeah, he's a right-winger, but he's got a sense of humor.

Which is why I was surprised to see him rolling around in the muck of anti-intellectualism. Earlier today I linked to a New York Times op-ed by Paul Epstein explaining some of the paradoxical facts about global warming. Among them: though the equatorial regions are likely to keep heating up, changes in ocean currents and the balance between salt water and fresh water caused by the melting of the polar ice caps could actually make the temperate zones cooler. Epstein's was a model of sophisticated, understandable scientific explication, told in an astoundingly concise 455 words.

Well, Taranto saw it, too. And here is Professor Taranto's summation:

When the weather gets warmer, that's because of global warming. When the weather gets colder, that's because of global warming too. "Global warming" thus is unfalsifiable; adherents insist all contrary evidence actually supports the theory. This isn't a scientific hypothesis; it's a conspiracy theory.

The notion of global warming is not holy writ, and it certainly may be subjected to intelligent questioning. But Taranto's not being critical, or clever, or counterintuitive. Rather, this is just simple-minded know-nothingism, knee-jerk stupidity intended as cheap entertainment for the laziest 10 percent of his audience.

The Great Kerry Debate. The New Republic has asked me and my former Phoenix colleague Jon Keller, of WLVI-TV (Channel 56) and Boston magazine, to debate the merits of John Kerry's candidacy. I get to go first, so have a look.

It's warmer, so we're colder. This ungodly cold winter has provided plenty of smirking material for those inclined to dispute the reality of global warming, and of the likelihood that human activity is making it worse.

So by all means read this New York Times op-ed by Harvard Medical School's Paul Epstein. Epstein observes that worldwide warming, paradoxically, will make the earth colder in some places - like Boston, for instance, or New York, where Al Gore was recently mocked for delivering a speech on global warming in the midst of a cold snap.

If you want to go deeper, this indispensable article was published six years ago in the Atlantic Monthly. According to the piece, by scientist William Calvin, the localized effects of global warming could be catastrophic. For instance, warming could halt the northward flow of the Gulf Stream, making Northern Europe as cold as Labrador.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Kick 'em when they're down. John Ellis, no fan of John Kerry, nevertheless has some sound advice for the senator at Tech Central Station.

Exchange just witnessed on CNN:

Larry King: "Do you have to win two or three states next week, logically?"

Howard Dean: "No, all we have to do is keep the grassroots support behind us."

Huh? What does that mean? Does Dean think he ever has to win a state? Is he running for president or what?

Tighter, ever tighter. Michael Goldman, who I don't think has ever missed a sunrise, sends along the last New Hampshire tracking poll from the American Research Group. It's now Kerry, 35 percent, Dean, 25 percent - an eight-point drop for Kerry since yesterday. Combined with yesterday's Zogby poll, showing a three-point spread, and it's pretty clear that predictions are futile.

Although Mickey Kaus says that the latest Zogby numbers - not up on the Web as I write this - show Kerry holding a larger lead than he did yesterday. Read down and you'll see that Zogby changed his methodology to come up with Kerry's narrow three-point lead. Is the Z-man now getting cold feet?

Caught a Dean town meeting from Phillips Exeter Academy on C-SPAN last night. He came across as relaxed and much more articulate in explaining his program than he had during the past month or so. If he loses, it may turn out that his decision to embrace the party establishment in the form of Al Gore, Bill Bradley, Tom Harkin, and the like was his undoing. The Dean on display last night could have won. Perhaps he still will, although it certainly seems like Kerry's to lose.

Have barely seen the morning papers, and now it's off to New Hampshire, for a Kerry meet-and-greet at a polling station, and perhaps for Lieberman and Clark events as well. Pat Whitley of WRKO Radio (AM 680) is broadcasting from the Manchester Union Leader today, and I'm supposed to pop up there sometime between 10 and 11 a.m.

Monday, January 26, 2004

You can bet on it: someone will win! Media Log bravely predicts that many people will vote in the New Hampshire primary tomorrow, that there will be a winner, and that there will be losers.

The tracking polls are all over the place.

The American Research Group this morning has John Kerry ahead of Howard Dean by 18 points, which seems to match up with what most other pollsters are reporting. Yet Zogby is showing a last-minute surge by Dean, who's supposedly closed within three. Zogby's reputation is for being either spectacularly right or dreadfully wrong, which doesn't exactly help in figuring out what's going on. Regardless of the final tally, Dean does seem to have recovered somewhat from his third-place finish in Iowa and The Scream, which, idiotic though it was, struck me as more of a media obsession than anything real.

Given such volatility, the best analysis you can read today is this, by David Rosenbaum in the New York Times, who shows why polls in New Hampshire are worthless.

No surprise, but it's nevertheless impressive the way Kerry was thrown on the defensive the moment he regained his long-lost front-runner status. The attacks have been flying since last week. Can we look forward to a revival of last summer's Great Cheez Whiz scandal? For my money, the Times' Todd Purdum does the best job of explaining what Kerry can look forward to if he holds his lead. The problem is that Kerry has been a senator for 19 years. It's hardly a shock that he would have cast some votes that he might wish he hadn't, and cast others that seem contradictory.

I think his votes against the Gulf War of 1991 and in favor of the war in Iraq in 2002 are going to be particularly difficult to explain in a sound bite. I mean, it can be done: the 1991 resolution was for war, right then, with no further negotiations or peace-seeking efforts; the 2002 resolution laid out a series of steps that George W. Bush was supposed to take before invading Iraq. But try making a good case for consistency when you've got Tim Russert yapping in your face. (Here is how Kerry tried to explain it in Nashua yesterday.)

For instance, at the Weekly Standard you can already read Fred Barnes's gloss on Purdum. A better headline: "Anti-Kerry Talking Points for Idiots."

Anyway, Media Log is currently in NH overload. Too much to read! Too little time! Former Boston Globe columnist John Ellis is back to blogging regularly. His anti-Kerry stuff is well worth reading, not only because he's smart, but because it may reflect what The Cousins are thinking.

And if you didn't catch it, you can watch Kerry's interview on 60 Minutes here. My verdict: presidential but cold, even with the show of emotion over Vietnam and with the presence of his wife, Teresa Heinz. Is Oprah Nation ready for a president who doesn't double as First Pal?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

"Stealing" public documents. The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage today has a huge story on Republican staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who exploited a computer-security hole to steal documents from the Democratic minority. The Daily Kos is all over it. So is Josh Marshall.

This is stunningly sleazy behavior. But is it theft? Savage identifies someone named Manuel Miranda as a likely suspect. And one of the things Miranda tells Savage is this: "Stealing assumes a property right and there is no property right to a government document."

Whoa! That's pretty good. After all, you and I paid for those documents, Mr. Green.

In other words, it's still a scandal, but it may not be a crime.

Does the Globe hate John Kerry? Timothy Noah's latest "Chatterbox" piece in Slate is on "Kerry's Globe problem." The nut: Kerry's presidential campaign has been hurt by the fact that New England's dominant daily newspaper is out to get him.

Noah is definitely tapping into a real undercurrent, at least in terms of what the national media perceive. ABC's online political tip sheet, "The Note," isn't archived; but last fall I recall reading an observation that the Globe's coverage of Kerry was the meanest any presidential candidate had ever received from his hometown paper. Noah also notes that Kerry's former campaign manager, Jim Jordan, has called the Globe's Kerry coverage "distorted, insignificant, irrelevant, and vindictive."

But as I told Noah yesterday, I don't quite buy it. By far the nastiest local commentator on all things Kerry, for instance, is Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr. It is Carr who tagged Kerry with his most enduring nickname - "Liveshot," for his camera-seeking-missile act - and who bashes Kerry every afternoon on WRKO Radio (AM 680), where Carr hosts the afternoon drive-time talk show.

Nor can anyone at the Globe hold a candle - or perhaps I should say a flaming torch - to my former Phoenix colleague Jon Keller, the political analyst for WLVI-TV (Channel 56), who last fall hosted an entire half-hour special devoted to Kerry-bashing. Keller's column in the current issue of Boston magazine - obviously overtaken by events - examines in loving detail how it all fell apart for Kerry on the presidential campaign trail.

To be sure, Noah's Slate piece is full of "to be sures" - so many, in fact, that his Globe theory begins to fall apart. (Among the inconvenient facts Noah is forced to acknowledge is that today's Globe endorses Kerry's presidential campaign. So, for that matter, does the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Herald.) Out-of-town journalists such as Noah take far more notice of the Globe than they do of the Herald or Boston's local TV news stations. But in this case that has led Noah to commit a fundamental error of logic: he correctly observes that there has been a lot of mean commentary about Kerry in the Globe; therefore, he decides, it must have something to do with the Globe.

Yes, over the years the Globe has run tough pieces on Kerry - some fair, some not - by what Noah properly observes is an astonishingly large stable of columnists.

But when it come to truly inspired anti-Kerry pieces of recent vintage, the Globe's not even on the radar.

I could go through a laundry list (if you'd like to compile your own, search these incomparable archives), but I'll close with this. Without question, the meanest, most vicious Kerry-basher working in the media today is someone whose name pops up on Noah's screen every time he clicks to the Slate home page.

That would, of course, be Mickey Kaus, who actually ran a Kerry Loathsomeness Contest last year, and who recently had to suspend his Kerry Withdrawal Contest.

Actual Kaus lead-in for an item on John Edwards on Tuesday: "I'd rather be trashing Kerry ..."

The fact is that Kerry is an ambiguous figure on the Massachusetts political landscape. He's long labored in the shadows of the state's senior senator, Ted Kennedy. He is reserved and formal, which is another way of saying that he's aloof. He doesn't stroke reporters, and reporters love nothing better than to be stroked. He has a reputation for being inattentive to the needs of local officials. He is, for better or worse, a big thinker who's always had his eye on national politics.

Such a person is going to get cuffed around. It would be pretty strange if the Globe ignored that.

New in this week's Phoenix. Speaking of Kerry ... I spent Tuesday tromping around New Hampshire, chasing after Kerry and the other Democratic presidential candidates. Here's what I found.

Also, what did former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill really tell journalist Ron Suskind?

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

In defense of polls. There's been a lot of talk since Iowa about how the polls were supposedly all wrong. In fact, they got it exactly right. How they're used is another matter.

Six weeks ago, as we all know, John Kerry's presidential campaign was dead in the water. As Dan Aykroyd's Bob Dole would say, he knew it, we knew it, and the American people knew it. Fundraising dried up. He poured his personal money into the campaign in a desperate attempt to stave off collapse. It got so bad that in New Hampshire, which is close to a must-win state for him, the alternative to Howard Dean increasingly came to be seen not as Kerry but as Wesley Clark.

Now, what if Kerry had ignored the polls? Guess what: he'd be limping into the final week of his campaign. Instead, he shook up his campaign staff. He sharpened his stump speech. And - most important - he pulled up stakes in New Hampshire in favor of running full-time in Iowa during the last few weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

As we now know, Kerry's all-or-nothing gamble on Iowa paid off. But it's not as if no one saw it coming. Several weeks ago the media - including national papers such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times - reported that Kerry appeared to be doing a much better job of connecting with ordinary voters in Iowa.

Then, about a week and a half before the caucuses, the Zogby daily tracking polls began to show movement: Kerry and John Edwards up; Dean and Dick Gephardt down. By last Wednesday, with a week to go, Kerry had taken a narrow lead. The last Zogby poll, as well as the Des Moines Register's weekend poll, foresaw the exact order of finish, although not the dramatic margin of Kerry's and Edwards's final tallies.

In other words, it appears that the polls were an accurate reflection of what was happening on any given day. The polls were immensely useful to the Kerry campaign. Where the pundits blew it was in taking those polls and using them to predict what would happen two or more months out. But even here I think it would be wrong to be too harsh. No one has ever come back from the kind of hole Kerry had dug himself into. His conflicted stance on Iraq, and his rococo speaking style, hardly seemed like the tools needed to stage one of the great political comebacks.

And by the way: according to the American Research Group's daily tracking polls in New Hampshire, Kerry's Iowa bounce is for real. The latest numbers show Dean still leading, with 26 percent; Kerry with 24 percent; and Clark at 18 percent, dropping out of the virtual tie he had been in with Kerry. Zogby has it Dean, 25; Kerry, 23; and Clark, 16.

I'm willing to bet if the primary were held today, the results would reflect those numbers. But next Tuesday? Well, we'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Michael Dukakis, prophet of Iowa. Not much to say this morning - I'll be driving around New Hampshire all day, stalking the wily Democratic presidential candidates.

Like practically everyone, I had all but written off John Kerry as recently as two weeks ago, reporting on the "nearly impossible position" of being the former front-runner. So I'm glad I included this very smart quote from former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democrats' 1988 nominee and a Kerry backer:

The race has just begun. I don't know - and I love you all dearly - you guys in the media get so mesmerized by the polls.... John has always been a slow starter and a strong finisher. We'll see. We'll only know what's going on after we've had a series of primaries and things begin to sort themselves out. That's one grizzled veteran's take on all this.

Slate's William Saletan, per usual, has a smart take on why Kerry won. Slate's Kerry-loathing blogger, Mickey Kaus, has put his "Kerry Withdrawal Contest" on hold.

And I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought Howard Dean did himself no favors when he spoke to his supporters Monday night.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Kerry-Clark '04? Why not? It makes sense, so it probably won't happen. But here's why it should. Although it may still turn out that Howard Dean's and Dick Gephardt's field organizations are too much to overcome, there is a pretty good chance that the story coming out of Iowa tonight will be John Kerry. The final Zogby Iowa tracking poll: Kerry, 25 percent; Dean, 22 percent; John Edwards, 21 percent; Gephardt, 18 percent.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Kerry's campaign - dead as recently as a week ago - has sprung to life; he's essentially tied for second with Wesley Clark (Clark, 20 percent; Kerry, 19 percent) in the American Research Group daily tracking polls. Dean still holds the lead with 28 percent. (The Boston Globe/WBZ-TV tracking poll isn't quite as good for Kerry: he's lagging with 14 percent, behind Dean's 30 percent and Clark's 23 percent).

To finish setting the table: on Sunday, the Concord Monitor endorsed Kerry, writing, "Only Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has well-reasoned and rock-solid answers to every question, foreign or domestic. Kerry is prepared to take office tomorrow." So did the Nashua Telegraph. The Boston Globe and possibly the Boston Herald (even though it will be with George W. Bush in November) can be expected to follow suit in the next few days.

Now, then. I can't dig up the citation, but I know I saw a comment from Clark recently saying that he wouldn't have jumped into the race if Kerry had caught fire. And Kerry, after being all but written off, is finally on the move. But if Kerry and Clark split the anti-Dean vote in New Hampshire next Tuesday, then Dean could win, regain the momentum, and roll to the nomination.

Clark has run an interesting campaign, and he's a very smart guy, but huge questions remain about his lack of experience in anything other than the military. If he were to drop out, and Kerry were to take the unprecedented step of naming his fellow war hero as his running mate, the combination might be too much for Dean to overcome. And if Dean can't win in New Hampshire, he likely can't win anywhere.

Little People news. Yesterday's Providence Journal reviewed Little People. Reviewer Jeanne Nicholson writes:

He weighs the risks and rewards of bone-stretching surgery; he seeks out and interviews adult dwarfs on their home turf for insights into how Becky might attain a life of quality in spite of her difference; he attends and writes about the meetings of Little People of America, knowing his daughter will have to build a life for herself in a world with people of average height.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

The field's turned upside-down. Here it is: the Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll.

  1. John Kerry, 26 percent
  2. John Edwards, 23 percent
  3. Howard Dean, 20 percent
  4. Richard Gephardt, 18 percent

It's close, and Dean and Gephardt are still thought to have the superior organizations heading into Monday's caucuses. But this is quite a turnabout, no? And organization might be offset by passion. Check out this paragraph:

In another sign of strength for Kerry, he is supported by 33 percent of those definitely planning to attend the caucuses. Dean comes in second in this group with 21 percent. Edwards and Gephardt follow with 19 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Of course, this raises many, many questions. If Kerry doesn't finish first now, is it worse than if he had never held the lead? If he does finish first, do New Hampshire Democrats care? Those are just for starters.

But he's still John Kerry. And he's still capable of whacking his fellow candidates for supporting the Iraq-war resolution even though he, too, supported it. Anne Kornblut and Patrick Healy report in today's Boston Globe:

Kerry yesterday launched a new attack against Gephardt and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut over their support for the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Kerry accused the two of siding with President Bush on the resolution, ultimately approved by Congress, instead of an earlier one that would have limited Bush's ability to go to war quickly.

"When Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt wound up down at the Rose Garden with the president signing off on some deal, they pulled the rug out from the rest of us in the United States Senate who were fighting for a different resolution," Kerry told voters in Guttenberg, Iowa. Kerry ended up voting for the resolution that passed.

For what it's worth, Kerry has also slipped backwards in Zogby's Iowa tracking polls for the first time in a while.

Friday, January 16, 2004

More on the Kerry surge. The New Republic's Michael Crowley - like Al Giordano, a former Phoenix colleague - gives the credit to Michael Whouley, who actually lives a few blocks from me. Not that he's ever home.

The Kerry surge explained. If John Kerry really has revived his campaign - and we'll know by Monday night - then Al Giordano's analysis will stand as a pretty good explanation.

More stuff reporters could learn if they would read Howard Dean's book. Today's Boston Herald has a news flash:

Howard Dean, in a revealing new magazine interview, candidly recalled suffering an anxiety attack and "hyperventilating" when he unexpectedly learned he was to become governor of Vermont in 1991.

"To suddenly get told that you have responsibility for 600,000 people - it provokes a little anxiety," Dean told People magazine.

The sudden death of then-Gov. Richard Snelling came as a bolt from the blue for Dean, who was thrust into the governorship literally overnight after having served as lieutenant governor under Snelling.

The right-wing website is extremely excited about this development. Here's the top of the "story behind the story" that it posted yesterday:

Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean offered more details this week on psychological counseling he underwent for anxiety attacks suffered in the 1980s - and revealed that he had a panic attack the day he took over as governor of Vermont 13 years ago.

Reacting to news of Gov. Richard Snelling's death in August 1991, Dean told People magazine, "I hyperventilated and I started hyperventilating and I thought, You better stop that or you won't be much good to anybody."

And here's an excerpt from pages 55-56 of Dean's book, Winning Back America, which has been available for a good month and a half:

The call was from Bruce Yost, one of Governor Snelling's staffers. "I'm terribly sorry to inform you the governor's passed away," Bruce said. My first split-second reaction was that he was kidding, but I knew immediately by his tone of voice he wasn't. I then started to hyperventilate, which was something I'd never done in my entire life. I told myself to breathe normally because I wouldn't be of use to anyone if I kept that up.

Here is the entire People interview with Dean and his wife, Judith Steinberg.

There are some interesting new details in here about the anxiety attacks he suffered in the 1980s, when his brother, Charles, was being held captive in Laos, and was later killed.

You should read it now, so you'll have the context when the right-wingers begin attacking Dean for being psychologically unstable or some damn thing. In fact, as you will see from the piece, it's already started.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

New in this week's Phoenix. Taking a look at the Democratic presidential candidates' campaign books. Also, what reporters could have learned by reading Howard Dean's book.

Kerry's big move. John Kerry's decision to spend nearly all of his time in Iowa appears to be paying off in a major way. The Zogby tracking polls, which have been the talk of the political world the last few days, now actually show Kerry to be in the lead in Iowa. The numbers: Kerry, 22 percent; Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt, 21 percent each; and John Edwards, 17 percent. How dramatic is this? Well, barely a week ago Dean was leading with 25 percent, Gephardt was running second at 23 percent, and Kerry was third at 15 percent.

What does any of this mean? Who knows? All the experts argue that tracking polls are notoriously unreliable. Still, it seems that Kerry is, all of a sudden, the hot candidate, at least in Iowa.

But with Dean, Gephardt, and Kerry essentially tied, and with Iowa's convoluted caucus system requiring more than the usual amount of devotion from one's supporters, the results of Monday's caucuses are going to depend heavily on organization. This Todd Purdum piece in today's New York Times suggests that Dean and Gephardt have the strongest organizations - although Kerry, who's been reaching out to his fellow veterans, will be no slouch.

Of course, the very real possibility exists that Kerry's roll-of-the-dice gamble on Iowa will fail. He could still come in third, giving him zero bounce going into New Hampshire, where Dean and Wesley Clark (who's skipping Iowa) are the leading candidates. The latest Boston Herald poll - reflecting other polls - shows Dean at 29 percent, Clark at 20 percent, and Kerry at just 15 percent.

As I learned recently, Kerry's New Hampshire campaign has been all but moribund for quite a while. What Kerry is banking on is that an unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa - say, second place (especially if Dean falls to third) or, even better, first - will give New Hampshire Democrats a reason to look at him again.

A side note: one thing I've noticed is that whenever I write about polls, I get e-mails from angry partisans of one candidate or another lambasting me for focusing on the horse race rather than "the issues." Well, of course, the issues are important. But differences on Iraq (not so great as one might suppose), health care, and tax cuts aside, the fact is that Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, and Clark are all from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. (I'm not so sure about Joe Lieberman.) The most important issue is which candidate will give George W. Bush the toughest fight. And that starts with which Democrat is able to win the nomination.

Hynes City Hall? I love an idea put forth by Boston city councilors Paul Scapicchio and John Tobin to move City Hall to the Hynes Center, and sell off the current City Hall - and the disastrous sea of brick that surrounds it - to private developers. Ellen Silberman has the story in today's Boston Herald.

No doubt the idea is impractical: a logistical nightmare combined with a one-time financial bonanza that might not even cover the cost of the move. But, given that city and state officials seem determined to kill the Hynes in order to boost the dead-on-arrival South Boston convention center, the Scapicchio-Tobin idea would at least keep the Back Bay alive and vital.

LaPierre on the loose. I'm not sure which is more ridiculous: the fact that WBZ Radio (AM 1030) lets Gary LaPierre anchor the "local" news from Florida or the fact that LaPierre sees nothing wrong with it. Suzanne Ryan reports in today's Boston Globe.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Powell panders over F-word. Not to intrude on your day with F-bombs, but it was the Federal Communications Commission that ruled last October on the fine distinctions between the adjectival and verb forms of that fine old Anglo-Saxon word.

I don't find this quite as personally exciting as quoting from the footnotes of the Starr Report. Nevertheless, here is the excerpt from the FCC report (PDF file) exonerating the broadcast media for putting Bono on the air while he used the phrase "fucking brilliant" at an awards show:

As a threshold matter, the material aired during the "Golden Globe Awards" program does not describe or depict sexual and excretory activities and organs. The word "fucking" may be crude and offensive, but, in the context presented here, did not describe sexual or excretory organs or activities. Rather, the performer used the word "fucking" as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation. Indeed, in similar circumstances, we have found that offensive language used as an insult rather than as a description of sexual or excretory activity or organs is not within the scope of the Commission's prohibition of indecent program content.

God, I love it when the FCC talks dirty to me!

Anyway, the decision, arrived at by the FCC's enforcement division, is now being challenged by the head of the agency, Michael Powell, who, according to this report on, "is actively campaigning inside the agency to get that ruling overturned by the full commission."

Powell also wants fines for broadcasters who let the naughty bits slip through to be raised from $27,500 to $275,000. At an appearance at the National Press Club today, Powell reportedly said, "Some of these fines are peanuts. They're just a cost of doing business. That has to change."

The pandering, puffy-faced offspring of Secretary of State Colin Powell is better known for trying to convince us that corporate media concentration is good for us. Edging into James Dobson territory is new for him, and somewhat at odds with his image as a libertarian technocrat. But, of course, it is an election year.

The MediaDrome notes that "given the fact that Bono's outburst was broadcast live, it's difficult to imagine how stations are to be expected to exert control." Worth reading.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Canellos calls Dean a liar - and gets it wrong. The Boston Globe's Washington-bureau chief, Peter Canellos, has hit the Iowa campaign trail to find out what it is that makes Howard Dean tick. Canellos's answer: anger. Grrr! Where have we heard that before?

But Media Log was especially struck by this Canellos passage, since it suggests that he simply hasn't been paying attention:

Now, Dean's tendency to shoot from the hip has become an issue unto itself, as the other candidates contend, reasonably, that Dean's arguments don't always square with the facts. Take his oft-repeated insistence that "there was no middle-class tax cut." There was. It just wasn't nearly as big as the cut for the wealthy.

Did Canellos accurately portray what Dean has been saying? Not even close. Here's Dean at the Des Moines Register debate of January 4:

Well, we've got to look at the big picture. If you make over $1 million, you've got a $112,000 tax cut. Sixty percent of us got a $304 tax cut.

And the question I have for Americans is, did your college tuition go up more than $304 because the president cut Pell Grants in order to finance his tax cuts for his millionaire friends? How about your property taxes, did they go up more than $304 because the president wouldn't fund special ed, wouldn't fund No Child Left Behind, wouldn't fund COPS and - how about your health care payments? Did they go up more than $304 because the president cut thousands of people all over America off health care because he wouldn't fund the states' share that they needed to continue to insure people, and that was shifted to insurance and the health care premiums?

Middle-class people did not see a tax cut. There was no middle-class tax cut. There was a Bush tax increase with tuitions, with property taxes, with health care premiums, and most middle-class people in this country are worse off because of President Bush's so- called tax cut than they are better off.

Now, I have no idea whether Dean's $304 figure is a fair representation of the middle-class tax cut. Some of his critics - like John Kerry - have argued that it was actually quite a bit more than that, and that it was pushed through by Democrats over Republican objections.

But Dean's rhetorical intent is absolutely clear: to disparage the Bush-era middle-class tax cut as piddling, and to argue that it was more than offset by increases in property taxes, college tuition, and health care caused by Bush's ridiculous tax cuts for the rich - tax cuts that we now know, thanks to Paul O'Neill and Ron Suskind, even Bush thought were absurd.

It's very simple. Canellos mischaracterized Dean, and then used that mischaracterization to build his case that Dean is an angry guy who has a "tendency to paint complex issues in very stark terms."

The truth is that it's Canellos who is shooting from the hip here.

Monday, January 12, 2004

O'Neill speaks. The principal revelations by former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill - that the Bush administration began planning to go to war against Iraq almost from the moment it took office, and that even George W. Bush questioned huge tax cuts for the rich before gutlessly signing on - are staggering.

It is an incredible indictment of the state in which we find ourselves these days that it probably won't make any difference.

Here is the transcript of O'Neill's appearance last night on CBS's 60 Minutes. The section on Iraq is appalling beyond description:

And what happened at President Bush's very first National Security Council meeting is one of O'Neill's most startling revelations.

"From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," says O'Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11.

"From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime," says Suskind. "Day one, these things were laid and sealed."

As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.

"It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this,'" says O'Neill. "For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap."

O'Neill's account of Bush and the second tax cut comes from a "nearly verbatim transcript" that an administration official gave O'Neill following a meeting in November 2002. Ron Suskind - author of the forthcoming The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill - describes it like this:

He says everyone expected Mr. Bush to rubber stamp the plan under discussion: a big new tax cut. But, according to Suskind, the president was perhaps having second thoughts about cutting taxes again, and was uncharacteristically engaged.

"He asks, 'Haven't we already given money to rich people? This second tax cut's gonna do it again,'" says Suskind.

"He says, 'Didn't we already, why are we doing it again?' Now, his advisers, they say, 'Well Mr. President, the upper class, they're the entrepreneurs. That's the standard response.' And the president kind of goes, 'OK.' That's their response. And then, he comes back to it again. 'Well, shouldn't we be giving money to the middle, won't people be able to say, 'You did it once, and then you did it twice, and what was it good for?'"

But according to the transcript, White House political advisor Karl Rove jumped in.

"Karl Rove is saying to the president, a kind of mantra. 'Stick to principle. Stick to principle.' He says it over and over again," says Suskind. "Don't waver."

In the end, the president didn't. And nine days after that meeting in which O'Neill made it clear he could not publicly support another tax cut, the vice president called and asked him to resign.

If O'Neill is telling the truth - and there is no reason to think he isn't - then this is an absolutely devastating portrayal.

The Time magazine piece is, if anything, even more frightening in its picture of Bush and, especially, of the machinations of the Dark Lord, Dick Cheney. Check out the account of the "gang of three beleaguered souls" - O'Neill, former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Who elected this guy, anyway? Oh, yeah ... right.

His bowtie is twirling. Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler slapped buckraking columnist George Will yesterday for Will's non-disclosure of the $25,000 payment he'd received from corrupt press lord Conrad Black.

The ex factor. Right below a column by Boston Globe Christine Chinlund today on the number of corrections the paper ran last year (1223) is a piece by syndicated columnist William Pfaff (not online at the Globe's website) that refers to "ex-US Senator Charles Schumer."

Here is the Pfaff column - first published last Friday - at the website of the International Herald Tribune. As you'll see, Schumer is properly identified as a current senator. But, of course, this could have been corrected after it came in.

So did a Globe editor introduce the mistake or simply fail to fix it? Media Log will be watching the corrections column.

Clipping service. Bruce Allen wants to know: how much leeway does that disclaimer at the bottom of the Globe's sports-notes columns give? Is it okay for a writer - like football columnist Ron Borges - simply to cut-and-paste from

Saturday, January 10, 2004

The Democrats and the war (a semi-correction). Media Log reader F.C. thinks a correction is in order for my item on the New Republic's endorsement of Joe Lieberman, whom I called "the only one of the nine Democratic presidential candidates" to support the war in Iraq.

"In fact," writes F.C., "Gephardt, Edwards and Kerry all voted to authorize Bush to use military force, and Gephardt was among the first Democrats to do so publicly."

I semi-agree. John Kerry, depending on how things are going on any particular moment, can sound as antiwar as Howard Dean these days, so I will definitely stick with leaving him out of the prowar mix.

As for Gephardt, he said at the time of the vote that he thought it represented the best chance for peace. Here's a postwar Gephardt statement:

I said to President Bush in the Oval Office, a number of times early last year, that he had to get the UN, he had to get NATO, he had to start the inspections, he had to weld together an alliance to do whatever needed to be done. He failed at that. We're now seven months into the event, or eight months, and he still hasn't gotten it done!

That said, Gephardt did vote "yes" on the Bush administration's request for $87 billion to help reconstruct Iraq. So did Lieberman.

On the other hand, Kerry and Edwards voted "no." And though Edwards has not sought to distance himself from his prowar vote with quite the vigor that Gephardt has, his statement about the $87 billion were pointed:

The policy this administration was pursuing in Iraq was not working. It needed to be changed. And I wanted to say absolutely clearly that it needed to be changed.

What's beyond dispute is that no one other than Lieberman has made this kind of statement:

Look, long before George Bush became president, I reached a conclusion that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the US and to the world, and particularly to his own people who he was brutally suppressing. I believe that the war against Saddam was right, and that the world is safer with him gone.

Which is why I called Lieberman the only one of the nine to support the war. If I had added the word "unreservedly," I suppose that would have gotten it exactly right.

More on the Herald's unlabeled front-page ad. WBUR Radio weighed in on Friday. Click here to see the fake front. You can also listen to a commentary by Boston University journalism-department chairman Bob Zelnick.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Ben Bradlee departs Globe. Veteran Boston Globe staff member Ben Bradlee Jr. - on leave to write a book about Ted Williams - has decided not to return. Globe editor Marty Baron's memo to the staff has been posted on Romenesko. A copy was sent to Media Log as well. It reads:

To the staff:

I am sorry to report that we are saying farewell to a colleague whose 25 years of dedicated service to The Boston Globe has brought some of its finest journalistic achievements.

Ben Bradlee Jr. has served this paper in a wide range of capacities - as investigative reporter, state government reporter, national correspondent, foreign correspondent, the editor overseeing State House and City Hall bureaus, the Assistant Managing Editor for local news, and Deputy Managing Editor for Projects and Investigations.

To each of those jobs, he brought passion, fierce competitiveness, and a drive to get at the truth. Ben has held us to high standards and high ambitions, and he has become a dear friend to so many here.

Over the past year and a half, Ben has been on a leave of absence while researching and writing a book on Ted Williams. He will continue to work on that book, his fourth. A few weeks ago, Ben said he had concluded that now would be a good time to move on to another phase of his life, and in that I know he has our best wishes.

He also has our thanks for his many contributions to the Globe's success. I am particularly grateful for his invaluable leadership on the investigation of the priest sex-abuse scandal, where he always pressed forward and never settled for less than the full story. The book that emerged from that investigation, "Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church," would never have been published without Ben, who conceived the project, oversaw the reporting, and personally edited it.

Ben won't be far away, and I'm sure he'll be available for good advice, journalistic inspiration, or maybe just a drink among friends.


Bradlee, 55, had been at the Globe for 25 years. Among his books is Guts and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Oliver North, published in 1988, in the midst of the Iran-contra scandal.

And yes, his father is the retired executive editor of the Washington Post, the legendary Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee.

Where's Marty? Perhaps the only surprising thing about the New Republic's endorsement of Joe Lieberman is that boy wonder editor Peter Beinart is taking pretty much sole credit for it.

Lieberman's politics - moderate on social and economic issues, hawkish on national security - are perfectly in alignment with those of Martin Peretz, the magazine's principal owner and editor-in-chief.

Yet Peretz's name didn't even come up last night when Beinart appeared on CNN's Paula Zahn Now to discuss the endorsement.

BEINART: It was a vigorous internal debate within the magazine. In fact, in this issue of the magazine we're publishing, four dissents in favor of other candidates. At the end of the day, as the editor in consultation, I made this decision feeling it was our responsibility to take a side.

ZAHN: That's a nice way of saying, you're the big cheese. You ultimately sign off on the decision.

BEINART: After listening to a lot of people.

Of course, the phrase "editor in consultation" leaves a lot of room for the involvement of others, including Peretz. But clearly a judgment was made to portray this as the decision of the magazine collectively, led by Beinart. And it was easier to do that this time around, since Peretz isn't known to be personal friends with Lieberman or any of the other candidates, as he was and is with Al Gore.

The endorsement itself is freely available, so have a look. What it really comes down to is one thing: TNR supported the war in Iraq, and Lieberman is the only one of the nine Democratic presidential candidates to do the same. For instance, there is this:

Fundamentally, the Dean campaign equates Democratic support for the Iraq war with appeasement of President Bush. But the fight against Saddam Hussein falls within a hawkish liberal tradition that stretches through the Balkan wars, the Gulf war, and, indeed, the cold war itself. Lieberman is not the only candidate who stands in that tradition - Wesley Clark promoted it courageously in Kosovo, as did Richard Gephardt when he defied the polls to vote for $87 billion to rebuild Iraq. But Lieberman is its most steadfast advocate, not only in the current field but in the entire Democratic Party.

That's a fair assessment. And I'm reasonably sure that Lieberman would never have resorted to the duplicitous arguments about weapons of mass destruction that were used by the Bush White House to concoct its case for war.

But, short of the prospect of Iraqi nukes, how could Lieberman - or anyone else - have convinced the American public that waging war was the right thing to do? As horrible a dictator as Saddam Hussein was, the chaos in Iraq today shows that this war was a terrible idea. Now that we know there were no weapons, what do we tell the families of American soldiers (not to mention Iraqis) whose lives have been lost?

The editorial is accompanied by pieces from the TNR staff favoring John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark, and Howard Dean.

Nowhere in sight: Massachusetts senator John Kerry.

Ed Gillespie, lying liar. Even though Wes Boyd, head of the lefty political website, has clearly explained that he had nothing to do with the ad comparing George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler that had been posted by a contest participant; even though the ad was removed as soon as it was brought to his attention; Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie's disingenuous rant is still up on the party's website,

Here is's statement. And here's an analysis by Timothy Karr at, complete with the requisite link to an unhinged column in the right-wing New York Post.

New in this week's Phoenix: John Kerry battles to revive his moribund presidential campaign.

And the Narco News Bulletin is back.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Front page for sale. I couldn't find one while I was running around the Back Bay earlier today, but a colleague just handed it to me: a very, very special edition of today's Boston Herald, given to her free of charge at Downtown Crossing.

Free, but not without a cost. Because the front is a mock cover that looks like the Herald, but that is apparently a full-page ad for JetBlue, which today - according to the lead "story" - "launches its much-anticipated nonstop service from Logan Airport to Orlando, Tampa and Denver."

The splash reads "JetBlue Arrives, Promises a Free TV to All Who Fly." There's an asterisk next to "TV," and an explanation that the head refers merely to "the complimentary satellite TV on JetBlue, not an actual television set."

Other tidbits include "Flight Attendant Gives Passenger Entire Can of Soda," "Blue Potato Chip Discovered, Enjoyed by JetBlue Passenger," and weather reports from JetBlue's destination cities.

Something you won't find: any mention of the fact that this is an advertisement, not news.

Flip open the paper, and there is today's unadulterated Herald. So, yeah, it's a free newspaper once you get past the front-page ad.

But at the very least, the front should have been prominently labeled as an ad. This isn't just a violation of the traditional wall separating business and editorial - this is an out-and-out demolition.

Bush's mind: empty, closed, or both? Check this out from Elisabeth Bumiller's profile of national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice in today's New York Times:

Richard Haass, the former director of policy planning at the State Department who is now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recalls going to see Ms. Rice in July 2002, well before the president began making a public case for ousting Mr. Hussein, to discuss with Ms. Rice "the pros and cons" of making Iraq a priority.

"Basically she cut me off and said, 'Save your breath - the president has already decided what he's going to do on this,'" Mr. Haass said.

Not that you can blame Bush. After all, there were all of those dangerous aluminum tubes and stores of Niger yellowcake to be gotten rid of.

And as Bush recently explained to Diane Sawyer when she pointed out that the White House had actually accused Saddam Hussein of having weapons of mass destruction, "as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons":

"So what's the difference?"

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Hunting really stupid humans with David Brooks. Josh Marshall and Bob Somerby have already explained why David Brooks's column in today's New York Times - claiming that criticism of the neoconservatives is a form of anti-Semitism - is so deeply offensive.

But let me zero in on just one part. Brooks writes:

Theories about the tightly knit neocon cabal came in waves. One day you read that neocons were pushing plans to finish off Iraq and move into Syria. Web sites appeared detailing neocon conspiracies; my favorite described a neocon outing organized by Dick Cheney to hunt for humans.

Really? Is this what all of us liberal and lefty conspiracy theorists are buzzing about these days - that Dick Cheney likes to shoot humans when there aren't enough tame pheasants to blast out of the sky?

I fired up Google and got to work. First, I came across this post on the website of the Portland (Oregon) Independent Media Center titled "9-11 Director CHENEY RAPES CHILDREN and has a history of playing HUNT THE HUMAN in Wyoming." It begins:

This whole neocon monstrosity of America is a sick place. Its shallow media lets these type of people into power here. SUMMARY: Cheney is involved in 'testing,' hunting, and raping children who were Monarch Mind Control Slaves when he was the sole Representative for Wyoming in the 1970s. Below is some testimony from one of his child victims. Well, this certainly explains how he could have the composure or sang froid to be the Bush Administrations's 9-11 Director as he oversaw the deaths of thousands in the World Trade Center, told the military planes to standdown, and let the plane hit the Pentagon (without ordering the evacuation of it as he could have over 30 minutes earlier, and without ordering the evacuation of the fourth plane hit location, the Congress, either). Cheney ordered the fourth plane shot down as well, even according to nimrod Bush. Cheney is one sick asshole who deserves the electric chair.

Crazy? Well, yeah, of course. But to read Brooks, you'd think he'd learned of this nuttiness by paging through the Dean for America weblog.

But wait: it gets better. Because it turns out that the only other entry I could find for Cheney and human-hunting involves - yes! - Bill Clinton! Check this out:

Another Clinton-Bush connection is their love of hunting mind controlled men, women and children, The Most Dangerous Game. Cathy describes one of experiences at Swiss Villa when Clinton and Bush went hunting with dogs for herself, her daughter, Kelly and two mind controlled "toy soldiers", one of whom had Italian-looking features:

Swiss Villa appeared deserted, except for Bill Clinton and George Bush who stood at the edge of the woods with their hunting dogs at the ready to embark on " The Most Dangerous Game of human hunting. (Clinton shared Bush's passion for traumatising and hunting humans)...Bush and Clinton alike in camouflage pants, army boots, and wind breakers. The two shared the trademark of sharing a cap with cryptic meaning. This time, Bush's camouflage cap had an orange insignia which said "Dear Hunter". Clinton's blue cap read, "Aim High" and had a picture of a rifle on it. Clinton appeared awkward with his hunting rifle, while Bush looked like an expert marksman with his black rifle and elaborate scope.

"The rules of the game are simple" Bush began, triggering me by using the same words that always preceded the most dangerous game.

Clinton interrupted; "You run, We hunt "

Bush continued: 'This will be called " Hunt for a Virgin"' ( Clinton chuckled) 'and she's it.  He pointed to Kelley who was still in my arms. "I catch you, she's mine"

Clinton spoke up: 'You'll have plenty of time to play with the dogs because they'll  have you pinned down while we... ' ( he slid a bullet in the chamber for emphasis)'... hunt down the bigger game.'  Clinton glared a the "toy soldier" with the waxy face. Toy soldier was a term I often heard referring to the mind-controlled robotic '"special forces'"young men who operated under the New World Order.

And on and on it goes.

So what's the point? Simple: why is David Brooks shoveling this garbage out there as though it were something that's actually being talked about by those who oppose the Bush-Cheney policy of pre-emptive war? And why is he portraying the human-hunting crap as though it were directed at Cheney and his neocon friends, when in fact a cursory examination reveals that Clinton - the original victim of the vast right-wing conspiracy - has been dragged into it as well?

When Brooks got an op-ed columnist's slot at the Times last year, my biggest question was whether the paper's right-wing critics would be appeased by hiring someone so moderate.

Well, it's increasingly looking like Brooks has decided to reinvent himself. And it ain't pretty.

Monday, January 05, 2004

A very bad day for Dick Gephardt. Even without Al Sharpton and Wesley Clark, yesterday's Democratic presidential debate in Iowa still felt too crowded.

Though Media Log was pleased that the bloviating Sharpton was MIA, Clark appears to be emerging as the consensus choice as Howard Dean's strongest challenger.

So you had the worst of both worlds: seven candidates, not much of an improvement over nine; and the most potentially interesting confrontation failing to take place.

For my money, then, the most interesting subplot in this lowered-stakes debate was John Edwards's absolute evisceration of Dick Gephardt. Gephardt, from neighboring Missouri, has to win the Iowa caucuses. Gephardt himself would surely tell you otherwise, but the plain truth is that if he can't win there, he can't win anywhere.

And Gephardt was having a pretty good day, appearing more animated than usual and seeming to get more face time than most of the other candidates.

But then he mistakenly said that all of his opponents had voted for NAFTA and for free trade with China except Dennis Kucinich.

"Can I respond first to what was just said?" interjected Edwards. "Because it was very skillfully done; he lumped everybody together."

Note the little trick Edwards pulls here: Gephardt not only wronged me, but did it in a way that shows he's a skilled politician.

According to the transcript, Edwards continued:

First of all, I didn't vote for NAFTA. I campaigned against NAFTA. NAFTA passed before I got to the Congress, to the United States Senate.

And I might add, you could pick out any one vote of anybody on this stage - you [Gephardt], for example, voted for fast-track authority for Bush I that led to the passage of NAFTA.

So the point is - and I don't believe you're not for American workers; I do. I absolutely believe that. But I think you could take any one vote from any candidate and distort it. And we ought to tell the truth about this.

This is first-rate political gamesmanship on Edwards's part.

First, he sets the record straight. Next, he points out that not all of Gephardt's votes have been in accord with his anti-NAFTA stance. Finally - and this is the best part - Edwards deconstructs the debate, explaining that plucking out single votes and beating people over the head with them is just wrong, y'all.

You can see how Edwards got to be a zillionaire as a trial lawyer. The wonder is that he hasn't done better in his presidential campaign.

Gephardt's response was as flat-footed as Edwards could have hoped for. Roll the transcript:

GEPHARDT: Well, John, you weren't in Congress when NAFTA came up, so you couldn't vote. But you voted for the China...

EDWARDS: But you just said I voted for it.

GEPHARDT: I understand.


EDWARDS: You understand?



EDWARDS: Does that mean you're wrong? You'll take it back now?

GEPHARDT: I'm quite willing to say that you weren't there and you didn't vote for it.

But you voted for the China agreement, and it's had a bad impact here in Iowa, and it's had a bad impact in your state of North Carolina.

Adam Nagourney reports in today's New York Times that Gephardt "appeared to redden a bit" during this exchange. The color on my TV set must be off, but I should think he would have.

Thanks to Edwards's deftness, it turned out to be a fairly good day for Dean, despite Joe Lieberman's effective attack on him for refusing to make public all of his records from his years as governor of Vermont.

Dean is in defensive mode, trying to protect a lead that, though substantial, may not be quite as big as it was a few weeks ago.

The Dean strategy: (1) eliminate Gephardt in Iowa; (2) eliminate John Kerry in New Hampshire; (3) try to withstand a post-New Hampshire surge from Clark or, less likely, from Lieberman.

Edwards certainly helped Dean with part one yesterday.

Friday, January 02, 2004

60 Minutes versus the New York Times. There may be a problem with Sharon Waxman's report that CBS paid $1 million to Michael Jackson partly in return for his agreeing to be interviewed by Ed Bradley. Roger Friedman has the details at

Waxman's story was devastating. But 60 Minutes is - along with Nightline - the last great TV news institution, and I'm willing to give Don Hewitt and company the benefit of the doubt. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out, given the Times' own troubles over the past year.

New in this week's Phoenix. 2004 is likely to be a very good year for George W. Bush and Capitol Hill Republicans - and, thus, a very bad one for progressive aspirations.

Also, what if everything we know about mad-cow disease is wrong?