Tuesday, August 31, 2004

NOT BAD FOR A CYBORG. But the nets missed a chance to cut to Dick Cheney when Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "And when Nelson Mandela smiled in election victory after all those years in prison, America celebrated, too."

Cheney, when he was a Wyoming congressman, voted against a 1986 resolution calling for Mandela to be freed from a South African prison.

SEE YOU IN COURT. John Dean writes that John Kerry should sue the Swifties for libel. He makes an interesting case - and cites Barry Goldwater as a precedent.

BUSH ON THE COUCH. Newsweek's cover piece on George W. Bush contains some mighty telling details about his relationship with his father. Let's cut right to the chase:

Many of Bush's friends, as well as his critics, wonder why Bush failed to consult one particularly experienced and able expert in the field of foreign affairs: his father. "41" often calls "43," but usually to say, "I love you, son," President Bush told NEWSWEEK. "My dad understands that I am so better informed on many issues than he could possibly be that his advice is minimal." That is a pity, say some old advisers to 41, because 43 badly needed to be rescued from the clutches of the neocons, the Defense Department ideologues who, in the view of the moderate internationalists who served in 41's administration, have hijacked American foreign policy.

But the fact is that President Bush did not want to be rescued. To say he has a complicated relationship with his father is an understatement. Bush clearly admires, even worships, his father, says a friend who notes that Bush wept when his father lost political races. But he doesn't want his father's help. To some degree, he is following a Bush family code. According to family lore, Bush's grandfather Prescott refused an inheritance from his father, while W's dad refused Prescott's plea to put off joining the Navy in World War II before going to college. "No, sir, I'm going in," said the 19-year-old George H.W. Bush. In the Bushes' world, real men are supposed to make it on their own, without Dad's looking over their shoulders. After the 1988 presidential campaign, W was eager to shed the nickname "Junior."

But George W. hasn't just been independent, he's been defiant. The degree to which Bush defines himself in opposition to his father is striking. While 41 raised taxes, 43 cut them, twice. Forty-one is a multilateralist; 43 is a unilateralist. Forty-one "didn't finish the job" in Iraq, so 43 finished it for him. Much was made of 43's religiosity when he told Bob Woodward that "when it comes to strength," he turns not to 41, but rather to "a higher father." But what was the president saying about his own father?


You don't have to be Freud or Sophocles to conjure up some rivalrous or rebellious feelings of the son toward the father. George W. spend much of his early years, and a good deal of his adulthood, trying and failing to catch up to his father as a student, athlete, aviator, businessman and politician. When Bush, in a drunken rage at the age of 26, challenged his father to go "mano a mano" with him, all his father could say was how "disappointed" he was. What could be more wounding?

But that was many years ago. Bush without question bears scars, possibly serious ones, that affect his behavior today. But unlike so many other sons of the powerful, he pulled his life together and made some kind of peace, or at least truce, with his demons.

Written by Evan Thomas, Tamara Lipper, and Rebecca Sinderbrand, the piece - "The Road to Resolve" - is striking in its willingness to plumb the president's psychology. It seems unlikely that a vanilla publication such as Newsweek would have been willing to publish something that would be so likely to piss off the notoriously touchy Bush clan a year ago, when the president was still riding high.

Also, check out this Jonathan Alter column on Bush's nasty campaign style, epitomized by his reluctance to dissociate himself from the lying Swifties. Writes Alter: "So much for any sense of decency. The man who was once an inept right-wing president but a nice guy is now just an inept right-wing president."

RUSH SAVES BUSH FROM TRUTH. George W. Bush told the truth on Saturday. But don't worry. He's not going to let it happen again. He made sure of that earlier this afternoon in a characteristically fawning interview conducted by Rush Limbaugh.

As you may recall, the president was asked by Matt Lauer, in an interview for NBC's Today show, whether the US could win the war on terrorism. (The interview was broadcast yesterday.) Bush replied: "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world - let's put it that way."

It was a good, honest answer. Unfortunately, it was also at odds with the triumphalism of his past remarks. As Elisabeth Bumiller reported in today's New York Times, Bush said as recently as July 14, "I have a clear vision and a strategy to win the war on terror." Bumiller went on to write, "It was unclear if Mr. Bush had meant to make the remark to Mr. Lauer, or if he misspoke." Misspoke? Re-read what he said. Rarely has he been so honest and coherent.

Of course, Bush's candor was immediately labeled a mistake. It would have been nice if John Kerry or John Edwards had jokingly welcomed Bush to the real world. But no. Edwards made a stiff statement insisting, "This is no time to declare defeat. It won't be easy and it won't be quick, but we have a comprehensive plan to make America safer." (Note that Edwards didn't say that Bush was wrong.) Even Bush's sycophants on the Fox News Channel said Bush had stepped in it, though they tried to explain it away.

So today ... El Rushbo to the rescue! "Well, I appreciate you bringing that up," Bush - calling in from Des Moines, where he was campaigning - told Limbaugh, adding that he should have been "more clear." Bush explained: "What I meant was that this is not a conventional war. It is a different kind of war. We're fighting people who have got a dark ideology who use terrorists, terrorism, as a tool." And: "In a conventional war there would be a peace treaty or there would be a moment where somebody would sit on the side and say, 'We quit.' That's not the kind of war we're in, and that's what I was saying."

After talking a bit about his confidence that Iraq and Afghanistan will become "free nations," Bush said, "I probably needed to be a little more articulate," then followed up with this: "I know we'll win it, but we have to be resolved and firm, and we can't doubt what we stand for."

Still more: "We're making great progress. Today at the [American] Legion I said we're winning the war on terror, and we'll win the war on terror. There's no doubt in my mind."

Look, optimism has its place. But terrorism is clearly a problem to be contained and controlled. To say that it will be defeated entirely is unrealistic to the point of foolishness. Just ask the Israelis and the British. Bush could have followed up his remarks to Lauer by expanding on them in order to educate the public. Instead, he went right back to pandering. No surprise there.

Bush and Limbaugh went back and forth for about 20 minutes, justifying the war in Iraq, engaging in a some light Kerry-bashing, and previewing his Thursday-night convention speech, although only a bit. "I'm going to save some of it for the speech if you don't mind," Bush said. "You're a good friend, and I hate to let you down." Replied the groveling Rush: "I understand, I understand completely."

As they were closing, Bush asked the longtime OxyContin abuser, "How you feeling?" Limbaugh replied, "I've never been happier," no doubt grateful every day that he never received the sort of "justice" that the Bush family is famous for dishing out to drug abusers, and that Limbaugh himself has supported in the past. Limbaugh also told Bush that people are "praying" for him.

"That's the most important thing people can do, is pray. And I appreciate that," Bush said.

"I can't speak for everybody," Limbaugh said in closing, "but I can speak for quite a few. They love you out there, Mr. President, and they only wish you the best."

Gee, how come Matt Lauer didn't speak to Bush that way?

No sooner had Bush gotten off the phone than Limbaugh got weird. "I want to make a prediction. I hope I'm wrong, but I want to make a prediction," he said, noting that he expected mainstream news organizations would cover the interview. "I wouldn't be surprised - I would not be surprised if somewhere early on in their stories ... don't be surprised if they find a way to work in the Abu Ghraib prison stuff."

Huh? Well, there's no arguing with Rush. After all, as he said of the mainstream media, "I know these people like every square inch of my glorious naked body." Got that?

WONDERFUL OR MARVELOUS? MSNBC.com's "Question of the Day" is up on the home page right now. Have a look. The question: "Did Rudy Giuliani's speech reassure you or move you to support the Bush-Cheney ticket?" The choices: "Reassure" and "Move you to support." Really.

I chose "Reassure" so that I could see the results. It looks like I voted with the majority, 75 percent to 25 percent. Of course, we'll never know how "Turn you off" or "Drive you to support the Kerry-Edwards ticket" might have fared. (Thanks to John Doherty.) [Update: Well, that didn't take long. The question now reads "Did Rudy Giuliani's speech move you to support the Bush-Cheney ticket?" The new options are "Yes" and "No."]

McCAIN THROWS BUSH A LIFE-PRESERVER. Rudy Giuliani spoke to the delegates. John McCain spoke to the country. That's why - despite the gushing you hear over Giuliani's funny, serious, nasty, and at times eloquent speech last night - McCain actually did Bush more good, and got a leg up on his New York rival in (God help us) the 2008 presidential campaign.

I can't find it online this morning, but I'm pretty sure it was Fox News nitwit Morton Kondracke who called McCain's speech "self-serving" in comparison to Giuliani's. What Kondracke liked about Rudy was the way he slashed at Kerry. Later, Kondracke amended his remarks to allow that, well, McCain did offer a rationale with the war in Iraq, and that was useful to Bush.

Well, duh. In fact, McCain - who'd wanted to go to war with Iraq for years - put forth a far more effective argument than George W. Bush has ever managed to muster. If Bush can figure out a way to incorporate McCain's case into his own stump speech, he'll be a lot better off. McCain was wrong, but he was wrong in a way that was so much more palatable than Bush. Here's the heart of what McCain said:

The years of keeping Saddam in a box were coming to a close. The international consensus that he be kept isolated and unarmed had eroded to the point that many critics of military action had decided the time had come again to do business with Saddam, despite his near daily attacks on our pilots, and his refusal, until his last day in power, to allow the unrestricted inspection of his arsenal. Our choice wasn't between a benign status quo and the bloodshed of war.

It was between war and a graver threat. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Not our critics abroad. Not our political opponents.

He followed that immediately with his memorable attack on Michael Moore.

Now, of course, there is much in McCain's assessment with which to disagree. He failed to mention that Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had already concluded that Saddam Hussein did not have nukes. McCain also left out the fact that UN weapons inspectors were swarming around Iraq, and that they actually had to leave so that Bush could commence bombing. And, of course, there is the matter of Bush's giving the finger to the world rather than building a genuine international coalition - a tragic mistake given the horrors that are taking place in Iraq today.

Still, McCain was right when he argued that sanctions had pretty much run their course, and that something had to be done. (After all, that's why John Kerry voted to grant war-authorization powers to Bush.) It's just that the "something" Bush chose has turned out to be a widely predicted disaster.

As for McCain's failure to rip into Kerry, a failure that Kondracke found so distasteful - well, everyone who follows politics knows that McCain likes and respects Kerry on a personal level and detests Bush. (The depth of McCain's distaste for the lying Swiftie ads is revealed in this R.W. Apple piece today.) Would anyone have found it even remotely credible if McCain had suddenly gone after Kerry as a flip-flopping weasel?

Rather than coming off as a Republican partisan, McCain projected an image as a truly independent politician who's chosen a man he dislikes over one he likes strictly as a matter of principle. Just as Giuliani thanked God for Bush, Bush ought to thank God for McCain. If McCain managed to help himself in the process, well, what of it?

THE REST OF THE STORY. It's not online, unfortunately, but there's a hilarious omission in today's Boston Globe. The "Names" column includes a photo of Vanessa and Alexandra Kerry with this caption:

POP AND POLITICS - Vanessa (left) and Alexandra Kerry ask for quiet while urging the crowd to vote this fall at the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday in Miami.

The discerning will note that the reason they were asking quiet was that they were getting booed (and cheered) by the crowd.

"HOPE NOT FEAR." You can watch the Log Cabin Republicans' 30-second commercial here. Pretty slick move, drafting Ronald Reagan: I'm not sure he'd agree, but he's not going to complain. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain appear in a positive context, too.

I also like the narrator talking about "the politics of intolerance and fear that only lead to hate" while images of Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, and Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum flash by on the screen.

JUST ANOTHER WORKING HACK. Here is Michael Moore's debut column on the RNC for USA Today.

Monday, August 30, 2004

THERE GOES SWIFTY! This week's New Republic has so much good stuff on the lying Swifties that it's hard to know where to begin.

From Peter Beinart's "TRB" column (sub. req.):

The medals and the Cambodia charges are partisan hack stuff, cynically repeated in service of the greater Republican good. What genuinely upsets conservatives - including conservative veterans - is something different. First, conservatives think it's hypocritical for Kerry, who denounced the war, to now take credit for having fought in it. As The Wall Street Journal editorialized this week, Kerry has "managed the oxymoronic feat of celebrating both his own war-fighting valor and his antiwar activities when he returned home." But what's oxymoronic about that? What Kerry "celebrates" is that he volunteered for Vietnam - and served heroically - when elites (including Bill Clinton, Dan Quayle, and George W. Bush) were finding ways not to go. That's noble, even if Kerry thinks the war itself was not. And, if Kerry is a hypocrite for having served in a war he opposed, what about Dick Cheney - who avoided serving in a war he supported?

From the editorial (sub. req.):

Journalists, in short, became accomplices to fraud. And they should have known better. In 2000, Bush and his right-wing allies learned that the way to win political arguments is to launch rhetorical attacks based only loosely - if at all - on the facts and then depend on reporters to spread them as credible perspectives on the truth. And, ever since, this White House has conducted its business the very same way, shamelessly peddling lies about everything from budget projections to weapons of mass destruction without the slightest fear of retribution.

From Ryan Lizza's "Campaign Journal" (sub. req.):

Never in a campaign has a more disreputable group of people, whose accusations have been repeatedly contradicted by official records and reliable eyewitness accounts, had their claims taken so seriously.

Is the New Republic partisan? Well, sure. It's nominally Democratic in a centrist, hawkish kind of way. But it also supported the war in Iraq, even going so far as to endorse Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primaries. It also ran opposing views in favor of other Democrats - and couldn't find a single person willing to write on Kerry's behalf.

In other words, TNR is far from being the house organ for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, and at one time it was even sympathetic to Bush. [Update: I originally referred to the "Bush-Edwards campaign." D'oh!] So its judgment on the Swifties bears paying attention to.

MAYBE I SHOULDN'T HAVE STAYED HOME AFTER ALL. Editor & Publisher has some eye-opening details on the luxuries awaiting reporters assigned to the Republican National Convention. Hey - who's got time to do any real reporting when you're getting a facial and sucking down a few bottles of complimentary beer?

PRAGUE SPRING? Earlier today I took part in a media conference call with some of the founding members of Mainstream 2004, a group of self-described moderate Republicans who are seething over the right-wing extremism that has come to dominate their party. The organization debuted with a splash today, taking out a full-page ad in the New York Times.

"We're seeing a Republican Party that's being taken over by some pretty hardcore activists at the grassroots level who are often way out of the mainstream of the communities they are from," said former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods. He went on to call the right-wingers folks who "don't have anything better to do" than to engage in political activism, while the people who should be the heart and soul of the Republican Party are engaged in more-normal endeavors - like working.

Like the others who spoke, Woods was particularly exercised over the modern Republican Party's sorry record on the environment and on outreach to African-Americans and other minority communities.

The organization's agenda sounds like that espoused by most Democrats: environmental protection; fiscal responsibility; ending barriers to stem-cell research; appointing "mainstream federal judges"; enhancing domestic security at chemical and nuclear plants and in shipping; and rebuilding alliances to "restore America's standing in the world."

Yet these Republicans, at least as a group, will not go so far as to renounce George W. Bush's re-election campaign. Woods allowed only that he's backing a hoped-for presidential run by his home-state senator John McCain in 2008. Former Michigan governor William Milliken declined to say who he plans to vote for, saying he has "severe misgivings" about Bush but adding, "I don't see in John Kerry at this stage the answer to all the problems that confront us inside the country and internationally."

The exception was Rick Russman, a former member of the New Hampshire Senate, who said he's decided to support Kerry if only "because I think the party needs to lose a few elections" to find its bearings again.

In some ways, the group - rounded out by former New Mexico governor David Cargo - sounded like New England Republicans. For some years now, the region's moderate Republican senators have been a thorn in the side of the national Republican Party, standing for an old-fashioned mix of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. This movement is epitomized by Maine's two GOP senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, as well as by Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee. Vermont senator Jim Jeffords even went so far to change his affiliation from Republican to independent a few years ago to protest his party's march to the right.

Given that background, I asked Russman whether he thought the New England Republican Party had anything to teach the national party. "I'd like to see some of our leaders, like these senators from Maine and others, take the lead in that and try to take the party back to the mainstream," he responded. "There's got to be a critical mass that says the pendulum's gone too far. We're starting to lose a great number of people."

That's probably an exaggeration. But there's no question that the hard-right extremists are out-of-touch with mainstream, independent voters, and Karl Rove knows it. That's why this week's speakers are heavy on moderates such as New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, and McCain. As Woods said, if party leaders wanted to show their true face, "they should have Tom DeLay deliver the principal speech."

Still, though the Mainstream 2004 folks may be in touch with the electorate-at-large, there's not much evidence that they're in touch with modern Republicanism. Everyone who spoke during the conference call today was a former officeholder. Cargo shone the best possible light on that, saying, "We can really tell it like it is." But their status only served to underscore the sense that there is no place for them in today's GOP.

Milliken praised this New York Times op-ed piece by former US senator Ed Brooke, a Massachusetts Republican, an African-American, and a liberal. Brooke warned that the 2004 convention may be shaping up, in its "extremism," like the one that nominated Barry Goldwater 40 years ago. Yet what neither Milliken nor Brooke want to admit is that today's GOP - which is far to the right of what Goldwater could even have imagined, or wanted - is thriving and winning elections.

I was unable to get an immediate reaction from the Republican National Committee; if I receive one, I'll post it. What I was hearing from the dissident moderates, though, sounded like the Republican version of 1968's Prague Spring. The difference is that the Rove gang won't have to roll in the tanks - certainly not this year, and maybe not ever. Woods himself said that the focus is on the long-term. Yet both major parties are becoming more ideological, not less. It's hard to see how Mainstream 2004 is going to change that.

ROMNEY BEHAVES HIMSELF. Give Mitt Romney this much: at least you can take him out in public. Our silky-smooth governor always says exactly what he wants to say, and no more. And he would never say anything that would call into question his nice-guy reputation. Of course, there are those of us who happen to think that waging war on poor families and gay couples isn't something that a nice guy would do, but I'm talking about manners here, not substance.

Anyway, I was watching this morning's Fox & Friends a little while ago - yes, I am spending a great deal of time with the Fox News Channel, for reasons that will become evident later this week - when on came Romney for some chit-chat. It wasn't long before E.D. Hill and boys were baiting Romney with their favorite subject: the phony Swifties, whose lies about John Kerry's military service are being kept alive at this point solely by right-wing talk radio, the Internet, and the Fox News Channel. (That is to say, by no one who has actually done any reporting on the matter.)

Romney started off shakily, saying that the whole thing was a "mistake ... on both sides of the aisle," adding that Kerry "really brought on a lot of this on himself" by basing so much of his campaign on his record as a Vietnam War veteran.

Really, Governor? Has Kerry made too much of his military service? Probably, at least so far as it has kept him from talking more specifically about what kind of a president he would be. Does that mean it's his fault that he's been subjected to weeks of lies about the medals he won and circumstances under which he won them? Er, isn't the answer to that obvious?

But then Romney settled down and said:

But fundamentally John Kerry served his country with honor and pride. He's heroic for having fought there. Anybody who found themselves under enemy fire, in harm's way, is someone whom I respect. And I think the people who are attacking him for his Vietnam service are making a mistake. I think it's wrong. I wish they wouldn't do so. I don't know what it's going to do politically.

Not bad - similar to the position that George W. Bush has taken, only a bit more fleshed-out and coherent.

Naturally, Romney also attacked Kerry for having "not followed the example of Bob Dole" in resigning from the Senate (Kerry instead appears to have followed the example of Bush, who did not resign as governor of Texas in 2000), and for wanting to "go back to the politics of weakness and uncertainty and vacillation." But obviously that's well within the bounds of proper political discourse.

What's interesting about this - and my apologies for taking so long to get to the point - is how the Republicans are reaping the benefit of having it both ways with regard to the lying Swifties. Their vicious accusations - which have been almost entirely discredited - have presumably had a lot to do with Kerry's recent drop in the polls. Meanwhile, Republicans such as Bush and Romney take the high road.

You could give credit to Romney for good manners. In fact, though, whether he knows it or not, he's playing a role that only helps to further the Swifties' ongoing assault on Kerry. After all, sliming is a lot less effective if it ends up hitting the intended beneficiaries in the face. By denouncing that which is helping them, Bush and Romney are playing a very old game.

HASTERT SLANDERS SOROS. WILL ANYONE NOTICE? Welcome to the official kickoff of Media Log's coverage of the Republican National Convention. I'm taking a radically different approach from the way I covered the Democrats - rather than traveling to New York, I'm embedded at Media Log Central, where I have non-stop access to cable TV, radio, and the Internet. Modern political conventions are TV shows, so why not cover them that way?

I posted some pre-convention items on Saturday and Sunday, so by all means scroll down and have a look. Meanwhile, I want to call your attention to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's astonishing remarks on Fox News Sunday yesterday, in which he said he doesn't know whether billionaire financier George Soros gets any of his money from the international drug cartels.

Think I'm kidding? Well, the transcript is available. The occasion was a joint appearance by Hastert and Senate majority leader Bill Frist - their "first joint TV interview ever," said host Chris Wallace, who unctuously added, "So thank you for honoring us with that."

Within a few minutes, Hastert was honoring Wallace and his viewers with slander against Soros so mind-boggling that Wallace appeared stricken. Let's roll the tape:

WALLACE: Let me switch subjects. You both had very deep reservations about McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform before it was passed. In fact, I think you say in your book, Mr. Speaker, that you thought it was the worst piece of legislation that had been passed by a Republican Congress since you've come to Washington.

Now that everyone seems upset with these so-called independent 527 groups, whether it's MoveOn.org on the liberal side of the spectrum or Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on the conservative side, do you feel like saying, "I told you so"?

HASTERT: Well, you know, that doesn't do any good. You know, but look behind us at this convention. I remember when I was a kid watching my first convention in 1992, when both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party laid out their platform, laid out their philosophy, and that's what they followed.

Here in this campaign, quote, unquote, "reform," you take party power away from the party, you take the philosophical ideas away from the party, and give them to these independent groups.

You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where - if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from. And I ...

WALLACE: Excuse me?

HASTERT: Well, that's what he's been for a number years - George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there.

WALLACE: You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?

HASTERT: I'm saying I don't know where groups - could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know. The fact is we don't know where this money comes from.

Of course, it's true that "we don't know" whether George Soros gets his money from international narco-terrorists. It's also true that we don't know whether Dennis Hastert supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in order to conceal his own longtime relationship with a man back in his district. I mean, Hastert is probably straight, and his marriage probably isn't just an elaborate ruse. But hey ... we just don't know, do we?

And by the way, mega-kudos to Wallace. If he hadn't pressed Hastert on whether he might be referring to "the drug cartel," Hastert could have claimed later that he meant the Drug Policy Alliance, an anti-prohibition group that Soros supports. Not that that would have made any sense - after all, Hastert was clearly talking about groups that give to Soros, not get money from him. But Wallace forced Hastert to make his ugly insinuation explicit.

So are the mainstream media going to take note of Hastert's slanderous aside? Or will it be allowed simply to fade to nothingness? [Update: The New York Daily News nails Hastert here.]

GUERRIERO'S MOMENT. This could be a big week for Patrick Guerriero, the former Melrose mayor who's now executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. The Bush-Cheney campaign is trying mightily to toe the line between hard-right anti-gay politics and happy-face image-making. Guerriero is making it clear that no compromise is possible: if you embrace hate politics, you're a hater, period.

The Globe's Yvonne Abraham profiles Guerriero today, and he has an op-ed piece in the paper as well.

SEEING RED, SPENDING GREEN. If nothing else, the Republican convention is an opportunity for the New York Times to rake in big bucks from anti-Bush organizations.

Its 20-page special section on the convention today has no less than five full-page ads from groups critical of the Republicans: the MoveOn PAC (nine former Bush voters who are supporting Kerry); the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (an anti-privatization lobbying group); the Center for American Progress ("Cost of Iraq War: $144,400,000,000"); Sojourners, a religious-left organization ("God Is Not a Republican"); and Mainstream 2004, moderate Republicans who feel alienated by Bush's right-wing policies on foreign policy, tax cuts, and the environment, among other issues.

Yoko Ono also has a full-page "Imagine Peace" ad in the "A" section.

DEPT. OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION. Slate's Jack Shafer was extraordinarily kind to me in his piece last week on the legendary press critic A.J. Liebling. Read it here.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

FOUR YEARS AGO, HE DIDN'T HAVE A JOB? From today's New York Times:

"I'm constantly in touch with Karl, Karen, Dan Bartlett, people who are involved with the campaign," Mr. Bush said in the interview last week. "I don't limit my conversation to a particular time of the day.'' But, he added, "if the question is, 'Is it different running this time now that you're the president?' the answer is yes. I've got a job to do."

In 2000, you may recall, Bush was governor of Texas. I guess that doesn't count. But of course, it's very, very bad that Kerry's missed a lot of votes. Just one more example of how your intelligence is being insulted every day.

BLOGGER STRIKES BACK. For those of you who receive Media Log by e-mail, mucho apologies for the multiple copies of the David Brooks item. It was caused by a momentary problem with Blogger.com, the software that I use to publish Media Log, combined with my own lack of patience.

BROOKS'S FAVORITE REPUBLICANS. They're all dead! For just one day, at least, David Brooks the newly minted, hardcore conservative pundit has gone back to being David Brooks the thoughtful, slightly right-of-center moderate. In a long piece for today's New York Times Magazine, "How to Reinvent the G.O.P.," Brooks lays out the specifics of an overarching Brooksian political philosophy. It is a fine essay, yet it is also unintentionally hilarious.

Brooks harks back to 2000, when he and William Kristol made the case in the Weekly Standard for what they called "national-greatness conservatism" and hitched their wagon to the presidential campaign of John McCain. It was a courageous move, given the long odds facing McCain. The Standard, founded by Rupert Murdoch as a house organ for the newly ascendant Republican Party of the Gingrich era, found itself frozen out, at least until after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when the GOP's interventionist McCain wing and the isolationist Bush wing came together. (There's a decent explanation of national-greatness conservatism - and of the roles played by Brooks, Kristol, and McCain - in this 2002 American Prospect article by Richard Just.)

What cracks me up about Brooks's piece are two things: the only Republicans and proto-Republicans he can find to say much nice about are Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt; and the program Brooks lays out sounds a whole lot more New Democrat than Bush Republican: entitlement reform, social mobility, an end to corporate welfare, energy independence, and mandatory national service.

The most important Brooksian priority - what he calls "the war on Islamic extremism" - is, of course, something that George W. Bush has attempted to transform into a trademarked slogan of the Republican Party. But I've seen no evidence that real-world Democrats (that is, John Kerry, not Howard Dean) aren't just as committed to combating Islamist terrorists as Bush is. Perhaps rather more so, since Kerry presumably wouldn't have more than 100,000 troops tied up in Iraq while Osama bin Laden and company run free on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Brooks isn't calling his philosophy national-greatness conservatism anymore, and his attempts to come up with a new name are painful. He tries out "strong-government progressive conservatism," but though it does have the merit of actually describing his ideas to some extent, it doesn't exactly roll trippingly off the tongue.

Brooks's politics come across as a meld of the best of Bill Clinton and John McCain - a slightly more conservative version of the New Democrat agenda, which itself was quite a bit more conservative than the Democratic Party of George McGovern and Walter Mondale. Kerry ought to take a good, hard look at some of the ideas that Brooks is proposing. Why not? It's pretty clear that Bush won't.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

THE SECRET LIBRARY POLICE. Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young, in picking apart a slightly daft piece by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., writes:

I assume Vonnegut is referring to claims that under the Patriot Act, John Ashcroft's goons have been terrorizing libraries and monitoring Americans' reading habits. In fact, law enforcement agencies have always had the power to request library records as part of a criminal investigation; a provision of the Patriot Act gave them the power to do so in counterterrorism investigations without notifying the suspect. (Remember, we're talking about materials related to terrorist acts and not, say, the wit and wisdom of Michael Moore.) Whether or not such powers are appropriate, in the two years after the passage of the Patriot Act this provision was used exactly ... zero times. [Young's ellipses.]

No doubt Young was relying on stories like this. But here's an excerpt from the results of a study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

In the year after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Federal and local law enforcement officials visited at least 545 (10.7%) libraries to ask for these records. Of these, 178 libraries (3.5%) received visits from the FBI. The number of libraries queried fell significantly below the 703 libraries reporting such requests the year before the terrorist events. The actual number questioned in the past year may, however, be larger, because the USA Patriot Act makes it illegal for persons or institutions to disclose that a search warrant has been served. A warning about these secrecy provisions on the LRC questionnaire may have served, in some cases, as a deterrent to candid answers. Fifteen libraries acknowledged there were questions they did not answer because they were legally prohibited from doing so.

In other words, the answer to the question of whether and how the Patriot Act is being used to snoop on library patrons is inherently unknowable, since the act also makes it a crime for librarians to disclose whether they've been visited or not. The very fact that the number of reported library visits by law-enforcement officials fell in the year after 9/11 is telling, wouldn't you say?

PLYING THE MEDIA WITH LIES. Media Log is still technically on vacation. But I've been catching up on the news following a three-day backpacking trip last week, and I continue to be astounded at what's happening to John Kerry's presidential campaign.

The media have not necessarily done a horrible job of covering the claims of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Indeed, if it weren't for news orgs such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, it might not be as clear as it already is that the vets' claims consist of nothing but ugly lies.

Still, editors and news directors should consider that the way they practice journalism allowed the lies to circulate and propagate, putting John Kerry's presidential campaign on the defensive and costing him a few points in the polls heading into the Republican National Convention.

The outrageous claims of the Swiftvets - that one of Kerry's Purple Heart wounds was self-inflicted, that he and his crew weren't really under fire when he rescued James Rassmann and won the Bronze Star, that he executed a Vietnamese kid in a loincloth in winning the Silver Star (it was actually a Viet Cong soldier with a grenade-launcher) - should have been treated as presumptively untrue from Day One.

You didn't have to do any investigative reporting to know that the official military records backed up Kerry's version of events (no, military records aren't perfect, but they're not meaningless, either), and that Kerry's hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, had investigated his military record extensively on at least two separate occasions, in 1996 and again in 2003. Right-wing conspiracy theories aside, there is zero evidence that the Globe has ever tried to cut Kerry any slack. Plus there is the fact that all but one of the men with whom Kerry actually served support Kerry's version of events. (How deep is the lying? The very fact that the Swiftvets say they "served with Kerry" is itself a lie.)

The invaluable contribution that the Times and the Post made was to show that in many cases the Swiftvets had changed their stories over the years from pro-Kerry to anti-Kerry, and that some of them claimed to have witnessed events that they could not have.

But the Swiftvets and their shadowy backers understood something about the media: if you make an accusation, news orgs will cover it, get a response from the person or persons being accused, and run with it. Truth isn't the issue, at least not in day-to-day campaign coverage. Getting both sides is the name of the game, even if there isn't a single reason to believe one side and every reason to believe the other.

The only charge raised against Kerry that seems to be sticking at all is that he falsely claimed to have been in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 - a charge that has gained resonance because Kerry once mistakenly stated that Richard Nixon was president at that time. But as the historian Douglas Brinkley has said, Kerry was involved in extremely dangerous missions in and around the Cambodian border during that time period. It is curious, to say the least, that Kerry-haters are willing to overlook blatant lies by the Swiftvets about where they were and what they saw while pillorying Kerry for misremembering the timing of events that actually occurred.

Yesterday brought a brief flurry of new excitement in the form of a Robert Novak column reporting that retired rear admiral William Schachte - who's not a member of the Swiftvets group - was continuing to claim that he was present when Kerry "nicked" himself and therefore unjustly won his first Purple Heart. Yet we already have the testimony of others who were there that Schachte was not. As the Times recently reported, Patrick Runyon and Bill Zaladonis insist they were the only crew members with Kerry when the incident occurred. "Me and Bill aren't the smartest, but we can count to three," Runyon was quoted as saying. But you know the game: Novak reports, you decide, even if you don't have the background to make an informed analysis as to who's telling the truth.

As always, Bob Somerby has been invaluable in dissecting the lies of the Swiftvets, and of the pathetically poor preparation that cable-news hosts have brought to the table when they have interviewed them - even those who suspect that the vets are lying, like MSNBC's Chris Matthews. (If he'd do his homework, he'd know they're lying.)

Kerry, I think, is making one serious mistake. He has denounced the lies of the Swiftvets, as he should. But by going after the ties between the Swiftvets and the Bush-Cheney campaign - ties that became all too apparent with the resignation of Bush water-carrier Benjamin Ginsberg - Kerry is playing George W. Bush's game.

Rather than denounce his supporters' lies, Bush has attempted to turn the entire issue into one of the 527s, the independent political organizations running negative ads on both sides. Kerry won a victory with Ginsberg's self-immolation. But if it turns out that there are similar ties between the Kerry-Edwards campaign and some of the liberal 527s (a development that would hardly be a surprise), then the media will be able to pronounce this an "everyone does it" story and transform the entire Swiftvets campaign into a matter of moral equivalence with the anti-Bush ads being run by MoveOn.org and others.

It's not. What the Swiftvets are doing is as dirty and shocking and disgraceful as anything done in modern political history - far worse than the infamous Willie Horton ad that George H.W. Bush's supporters ran in going after Michael Dukakis. Kerry cannot let the lies of the Swiftvets be held up as somehow the same as entirely truthful ads questioning Bush's missing months in the Texas Air National Guard.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

THE REST OF THE STORY. Media Log is on vacation, and will not officially be back until August 30 ... maybe a little earlier, depending on what I want to say about the Republican National Convention.

But I can't resist asking why the Globe couldn't manage to report that state rep Paul Kujawski has been accused of staggering out of his car and taking a leak in front of state troopers after he was pulled over on the Mass Pike on suspicion of drunk driving.

For crying out loud, I heard this particular detail yesterday afternoon. (And no, I didn't get it from listening to Howie Carr.) The Herald's Ann Donlan has it today, writing that Kujawski "got even deeper in trouble after urinating in front of the troopers who stopped him." But the Globe's Elise Castelli, after reporting that Kujawski had been charged with drunk driving, disorderly conduct, and "open and gross lewdness," goes on to write: "The police declined to comment on what transpired after Kujawski's car was pulled over."

Far from doing Kujawski any favors, the Globe makes it sound like he exposed himself to a busload of kindergarten students or something.

Friday, August 20, 2004

COSMO RISING. There's never a dull moment at One Herald Square these days. Today the Boston Herald promoted its star business columnist, Cosmo Macero Jr., to business editor, replacing veteran Ted Bunker, who's leaving the paper. Longtime staff reporter Eric Convey will be the Herald's assistant business editor, replacing Cromwell Schubarth, who's also leaving.

"I'm thrilled with this opportunity. It's going to be a lot of fun, a lot of work. We are really going to pour high octane in the engine of this department, and just tear ass after all the exciting business news in Boston," Macero told me.

As for specifics, Macero was less clear, except that he obviously wants to find a way to appeal to younger readers. "It's time to move past some of the dinosaurs in this city and look at the next generation of business leaders," he said. "We want to focus on who is behind some of our most noteworthy companies as well as some of our most up-and-coming companies and the industries that make this city tick." He also talked about his desire to "have a little fun in doing it" and bring "a little more pizzazz and splash into our business coverage."

Macero plans to keep writing his column as well, although he said it might appear only once or twice a week instead of the current four.

Macero's rise is likely to be popular inside the newsroom. Says one staff member who asked not to be identified: "The amount of energy he brings to the room is extraordinary. I think he wants us really out there in the community a lot more than we really have been."

Adds managing editor Kevin Convey (who's not related to Eric Convey): "The idea was that we felt that the section needed new leadership and that it needs to go in a different direction." He says, "I think the section needs to be made more relevant to the business of business in Boston," and that it needs "a more lively presentation than had been the practice in the past," and to "select a few major industries and own them."

Both Convey and Macero said the right things about Bunker and Schubarth, with Convey saying they put out "a solid section" and Macero adding that they "set a really high standard." Sources also say that Schubarth was well-liked among the staff. But Macero is almost certain to prove more popular with the troops than Bunker, who'd been the Herald's business editor since 1997, and whose management style had long been the source of internal grumbling.

Macero may also help re-spark the paper's rivalry with the dominant Boston Globe for local business news. "We have a lot of respect for Cosmo," says the Globe's deputy business editor, Bennie DiNardo. "He's a very aggressive columnist, and we look forward to competing with him every day. If he's anything as an editor like he is as a columnist, it should be fun."

Though neither Macero nor Kevin Convey made the analogy, the formula that may be at work here is that of the New York Post. The Post's formula - outrageous sensationalism in its news coverage, a good sports section, and surprisingly smart business coverage - has made it a player in New York, even if it remains a chronic money-loser.

In recent months, the Herald has certainly embraced the outrageous aspects of the Post. In naming Macero to the top business job, the paper may be seeking to emulate some of the Post's better qualities as well.

THE END OF A SMEAR. The talk of the political world today is the New York Times' evisceration of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Clocking in at nearly 3500 words, the piece - by Kate Zernike and Jim Rutenberg - demonstrates definitively that these anti-John Kerry veterans are not only contradicting what they've said about Kerry in the past, but also what's in the official record.

For good measure, the Times also shows how the group and its financing grew out of the Bush-family/Karl Rove political machine in Texas, some of which had previously been reported by Salon and other outlets. But that wouldn't be especially important if there were anything to the vets' claims. There isn't, nor was there ever any reason to suppose there was. These are not the men who served directly with Kerry. The only reason they were ever taken seriously by anyone is that their tale fits into right-wing attempts to smear Kerry for his role as a leading anti-war activist.

It turns out that yesterday's Washington Post exposé of Larry Thurlow was just an appetizer. As "The Note" asks today, "Does the story peter out on its own over the weekend, or does the now opened-can of worms continue to bear ? well, worms?"

In the Globe, Patrick Healy and Michael Kranish have an account of Kerry's decision finally to take on George W. Bush directly over the vets' sleazy ads. Media Log wonders: did Kerry speak out yesterday knowing that, the next morning, the Times would destroy what little was left of his critics' credibility?

Meanwhile, Drudge - who has still not withdrawn his sliming of Kranish - is very excited about reports that the Kerry campaign has asked bookstores to consider withdrawing the vets' book, Unfit for Command. Well, what's wrong with that? As Eric Boehlert notes, it's hardly unusual for booksellers to disavow books that turn out to be a hoax. Which is precisely what this is.

NARRATIVE TRIUMPH. Like you, I scanned the Globe's four-part series "Best Men" earlier this week and told myself: Sorry, I don't have the time. Unlike you, I went back and read the entire series on the Web after the last installment had been published. I'm glad I did.

Written and reported by Thomas Farragher and Patricia Wen, and photographed by Michele McDonald, "Best Men" is well worth it. It tells the story of two brothers, one gay, one straight, and of their marriages - one of which, needless to say, would not have been possible until this past spring.

It is a first-rate example of narrative journalism, wonderfully written and photographed. Best of all, the subjects themselves are worthy of the thousands of words that have been lavished on them - not always the case when a newspaper trains its eye on ordinary people.

The Web version has more photos than were published in the print edition, as well as audio clips.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

KERRY UPDATE. Two good pieces of news today for John Kerry:

1. One of his leading tormenters on the swift-boat matter turns out to have been telling a tale that's completely contradicted by his own Bronze Star citation. The Washington Post FOIA'd the military records of Larry Thurlow and discovered, lo and behold, that the documents say his and Kerry's boats really were under fire on the day that they both won Bronze Stars. Thurlow has loudly claimed that Kerry made that up.

Thurlow splutters to the Post's Michael Dobbs: "It's like a Hollywood presentation here, which wasn't the case. My personal feeling was always that I got the award for coming to the rescue of the boat that was mined. This casts doubt on anybody's awards. It is sickening and disgusting." Thurlow even goes so far as to speculate that he received what he calls a "fraudulent" Bronze Star on the basis of Kerry's so-called lies.

Sorry, Mr. Thurlow. I'd say that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's 15 minutes is just about at the 14:55 mark right now.

2. The Boston Herald's "Inside Track" reveals a "steamy secret 20-month fling" that Kerry had that left his former paramour "heartbroken" - but she says she's going to vote for him, and she calls Teresa Heinz Kerry "awesome." She's even decided to hold off on publishing a roman à clef about their romance until after the election.

It really doesn't get much better than that, does it? The Kerry campaign ought to send out copies of the "Track" to every undecided voter in the country.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

MORE ON THE FBI'S INTIMIDATION TACTICS. The New York Times is getting a lot of bounce for its front-page story Monday on the FBI's attempts to intimidate political activists into not traveling to New York for the Republican National Convention. According to the Times, the bureau earlier engaged in similar tactics to keep protesters away from the Democratic convention in Boston.

Well, here's a story that should have gotten more attention at the time: a report by Jules Crittenden of the Boston Herald that was published on July 28. Crittenden's lead:

Peace activists say the FBI has been harassing and intimidating them with visits across the country, including an incident in Boston Saturday where federal agents, police and firefighters searched a "mobile kitchen" and seized five propane tanks.

Read the whole thing.

DICK CHENEY, "SENSITIVE" WARRIOR. You should read Bob Somerby every day. But you absolutely must read this. Unless you don't want further evidence of what a pathetic, lying, miserable vice-president we have. And Somerby's right about another thing: why isn't this the lead political story for every news org in the country?

EARLY TO VOTE. In the swing states of Iowa and Arizona, voters will be able to cast their ballots in the presidential campaign before George W. Bush and John Kerry have held their first debate.

In Wisconsin, Washington, New Mexico, and West Virginia they'll be able to vote before the third and possibly decisive debate.

People in five other swing states - North Carolina, Nevada, Arkansas, Colorado, and Florida - can vote as early as mid-October, with, of course, no possibility of changing their minds depending on what happens in the final two weeks of the campaign.

Is this good for democracy? I don't think so. Yet it's a central reality of the 2004 campaign, as John Harwood reports (sub. req.) in today's Wall Street Journal. Harwood writes that, according to some estimates, as many as one-third of voters will cast their ballots before the November 2 election. He adds:

The potential implications of such growth in early ballots are enormous, if unpredictable. In Iowa, for instance, voting kicks off a week before the first of three scheduled Bush-Kerry debates. Pre-debate voting could lift the incumbent in a contest that Democratic strategists like to compare with the 1980 contest between President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, which broke sharply toward Mr. Reagan after a debate assured wavering voters of his competence.

At the same time, early votes might precede the sort of late-breaking events that many Democrats believe could help Mr. Bush - such as the capture of Osama bin Laden, or a terror strike on U.S. soil.

The change has come about, according to Harwood, because it appeals to "time-pressed voters." But those same voters could be accommodated just as well through a long-overdue reform: holding elections for two or three days over a weekend. That would make voting much easier than it is now, while at the same time keeping the idea of the election as a singular event rather than something that is dragged out over several months.

In a recent interview, Joe Lenski, executive vice-president of Edison Media Research, told me that as many as 20 million people - 20 percent of the total - could vote by absentee ballot this year. He cited a reason that Harwood doesn't mention: fears raised by 2000's Florida fiasco that your vote may not count. Mailing in a paper ballot is just more reassuring than touching a screen on a voting machine, Lenski explained. (Edison has done exit polling for the television networks and the Associated Press. Its market-research clients include the Phoenix Media/Communications Group.)

Sadly, that's a different issue not solved by weekend voting. The breakdown of trust - documented just this week alone by New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert - is real and ongoing. In that sense, the rise of the absentee ballot is not a sign of disengagement, but rather of a burning desire to stay engaged even in the face of real doubts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

PREPAREDNESS FOR WHAT? What better time to educate the country about terrorist threats than September, right after the kids go back to school? After all, if you can get people thinking about gas masks or how fast they can drive out of the city if a dirty bomb goes off, they might have less time to contemplate other matters ... like, I don't know, the presidential election or something.

So you've got to wonder - or maybe not - about the Department of Homeland Security's plans to kick off National Preparedness Month on September 9. The timing alone sets off WMD sirens: the Republican National Convention will have just concluded, and the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks will follow two days later.

Not that any of this could possibly have anything to do with politics. After all, as Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge recently explained, "We don't do politics." Never mind that his earlier terror warning, right after the Democratic National Convention, amounted to little more than a free ad for Bush-Cheney 2004, with Ridge hailing "the president's leadership in the war against terror."

NPR's On the Media has a splendid segment on this fiasco, which you can listen to in RealAudio here. Brooke Gladstone interviews Bob Harris, the author of a withering post at This Modern World.

I do not necessarily subscribe to the theory that Dick Cheney's got Osama bin Laden's head in a freezer somewhere, ready for George W. Bush to pull out from beneath the podium about midway through the third debate. But there's no question that these people are willing to go a long way to keep power.

Look at the terrorist arrest sprung just before John Kerry's acceptance speech, a matter that the New Republic has reported on in great detail.

Here's a thought for National Preparedness Month: what are your family's plans for dealing with dubious political propaganda in the weeks leading up to the presidential election?

Monday, August 16, 2004

JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE PARANOID DOESN'T MEAN THEY'RE NOT OUT TO GET YOU. A truly chilling story on the front of today's New York Times. Eric Lichtblau reports that the FBI has been visiting dissidents across the country - and in some cases even issuing subpoenas - in an attempt to stop illegal activity before it starts at the Republican National Convention.

And that's the best interpretation of it. The tactics really seem aimed at scaring would-be protesters into staying away from New York.

But don't worry. It's all legal! The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel says so. Lichtblau explains:

In an internal complaint, an F.B.I. employee charged that the bulletins improperly blurred the line between lawfully protected speech and illegal activity. But the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, in a five-page internal analysis obtained by The New York Times, disagreed.

The office, which also made headlines in June in an opinion - since disavowed - that authorized the use of torture against terrorism suspects in some circumstances, said any First Amendment impact posed by the F.B.I.'s monitoring of the political protests was negligible and constitutional.

By the way, here is the "Denver antiwar group" that Lichtblau refers to near the top of his article - the American Friends Service Committee. According to the Times, 21-year-old intern Sarah Bardwell was visited by six agents. John Ashcroft knows that you just can't be too careful with those Quakers.

BUSH, SLIDING. Josh Marshall notes that Washington Post columnist David Broder, the ultimate establishmentarian, has embraced the slowly emerging consensus that George W. Bush is heading toward a decisive loss this November.

But Yale economist Ray C. Fair - a John Kerry supporter - tells the New York Times Magazine that his econometric model shows Bush coasting with nearly 58 percent of the vote.

Media Log's prediction: the event or events that will determine the outcome have yet to occur.