Thursday, September 30, 2004

KERRY WON. But Bush wasn't bad. Thus the first debate between the two major-party presidential candidates ended essentially in a draw. John Kerry was far more crisp and articulate than George W. Bush, but Bush got his points across, and made the best case he could for the war in Iraq.

My first impression was that Kerry was considerably better than Al Gore four years ago - but that Bush was also much better than he was in 2000. Yes, Bush fumbled and paused and looked down, and got a little peevish somewhere around the 30-minute mark. But if we've learned anything in the past four years, it's that no one but us Bush-bashers cares.

So it comes down, essentially, to what those elusive undecided voters are looking for. Polls still show a great deal of discontent with Bush's presidency. If voters were looking for a reason to switch to Kerry, then it doesn't matter how Bush fared tonight. All that matters is that Kerry came across as presidential and in control. But Bush, Dick Cheney, and company have succeeded in making this election as much about Kerry as Bush, which means that it's become almost a two-incumbent race. That would tend to negate any big boost Kerry might have otherwise gotten tonight.

Debate moderator Jim Lehrer, whose passivity was such a great help to Bush four years ago, was so-so tonight. For the most part, he asked the right questions, although in such a bland, nonconfrontational way that it was easy for both candidates to avoid danger zones and stick to their talking points. Lehrer was so narrowly focused on Iraq that Kerry's and Bush's answers began to get repetitious. By my reckoning, it wasn't until after 10 p.m. when Lehrer finally asked about something other than Iraq or homeland security, changing the topic to Iran's and North Korea's nuclear problems. And even then, Kerry had already brought up those topics on his own a couple of times.

I'll try to say something about the spin tomorrow. Until then, a few random observations:

- The cutaways were hilarious. Kerry kept looking around, taking notes, and at one point mouthing silently but intently to someone who was apparently in his field of vision. Bush stood stone-faced, his lips pursed as though he were pissed off that he had to be there. Kudos to C-SPAN for sticking with the double-podium view for the entire debate.

- Bush built his message on two wildly disingenuous themes: that Kerry is somehow unpatriotic for criticizing the war effort, and that the war in Iraq is part of the war against terrorism. Fairly early in the debate, for instance, Bush asked for a chance to respond to a Kerry charge and came back with this:

BUSH: I don't see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send our troops? What message does that send to our allies? What message does that send the Iraqis?

Bush returned to that theme on several occasions during the course of the debate. Needless to say, you can't run for president if you don't offer a critique of the incumbent's foreign policy, but Bush espouses a Zell Miller Lite philosophy that the president simply should be above criticism. Bush would like to return to the 1940s and '50s, when politics "stopped at the water's edge," as the old cliché used to go, and no one would openly challenge the president's conduct of international affairs. Having almost single-handedly created a foreign-policy disaster, Bush now wants to win re-election by impugning the patriotism of anyone who calls attention to that disaster.

As for the Iraq-terror connection, Kerry repeatedly referred to the war in Iraq as a distraction from the war on terror, observing correctly that Bush has far fewer troops in Afghanistan, where there might actually be some hope of capturing Osama bin Laden, than in Iraq. Bush's strategy, not surprisingly, was to cast the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism - frequently in starkly dishonest terms. For instance:

BUSH: I understand how hard it is to commit troops. Never wanted to commit troops. When I was running - when we had the debate in 2000, never dreamt I'd be doing that. But the enemy attacked us, Jim, and I have a solemn duty to protect the American people, to do everything I can to protect us. I think that by speaking clearly and doing what we say and not sending mixed messages, it is less likely we'll ever have to use troops....

KERRY: Jim, the president just said something extraordinarily revealing and frankly very important in this debate. In answer to your question about Iraq and sending people into Iraq, he just said, "The enemy attacked us." Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaeda attacked us. And when we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, 1000 of his cohorts with him in those mountains. With the American military forces nearby and in the field, we didn't use the best trained troops in the world to go kill the world's number one criminal and terrorist. They outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, who only a week earlier had been on the other side fighting against us, neither of whom trusted each other....

BUSH: First of all, of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that....

- Finally, somebody ought to stick a cattle prod up CNN reporter David Ensor's rear end and make sure he's paying attention the next time. In the post-debate analysis, he accused Kerry of making a false statement - that weapons of mass destruction are crossing the border into Iraq every day. Ensor sourly intoned that he had no idea what Kerry was talking about, and that he couldn't find anyone who did.

Okay, David. Pay attention. Read this as slowly as you need to. Here is what Kerry said:

KERRY: This president just - I don't know if he sees what's really happened on there. But it's getting worse by the day. More soldiers killed in June than before. More in July than June. More in August than July. More in September than in August. And now we see beheadings. And we got weapons of mass destruction crossing the border every single day, and they're blowing people up. And we don't have enough troops there.

In other words, the weapons of mass destruction are people - the suicide bombers and other terrorists who are crossing into Iraq and transforming the country into a place of violence and chaos. Was Kerry even a little difficult to understand? I don't think so. Yet Ensor all but accused him of lying.

GLADDENING THE WINGNUTS' HEARTS. I've got a piece in the new Phoenix on the meltdown of CBS News, and of how Dan Rather and company have fulfulled every paranoid conspiracy theory of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.

Not long after the story was posted, I received a long, thought-provoking e-mail from Media Log reader T.F. I've removed a few bits to protect his identity:

Writing as a veteran of more than 25 years in TV, ... I think you have largely nailed the Dan Rather memo mischagass. I, too, suspect that he did little more than front the story. Perhaps he is too much of a team player to point the finger at a colleague.

Either way, the saga illustrates the law of unintended consequences. My conservative friends insist that Rather is biased. They chortled over his misfortune.... Rather and CBS handed them the gun to shoot him.

Perhaps Rather is anti-Bush. I suspect that if he is, it may have more to do with some obscure nonsense among Texans than with deeply held political convictions. I suspect that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were motivated more by a personal score to settle with John Kerry over his immediate post-Vietnam utterances than with anything having to do with presidential politics. It is amazing what personal animosity can do....

The most salient part of your argument, I think, is that the forged memos did nothing to advance the story that young Bush was an irresponsible young man and a party animal who had connections and used them. This was all known in advance of the 2000 election. Given his background, it would have been a story if he had NOT used connections. And the public have had three and one half years of him as president on which to base an opinion regarding his re-election.

Granted, for argument's sake at least, that Rather is not biased, or at least that he does not let his opinions color straight news reporting. All this begs the question, "Why?"

Why would Rather, this late in a distinguished career risk it all on a non-story? Admittedly, he is a "hot" personality in a job where the best in the business tend to be "cool." Think of Cronkite, Chancellor, Smith, Severeid, and even Brokaw and Jennings. Until long after Cronkie retired, no one knew what his political opinions were. The mystery did a lot for his credibility.

Simply put, it makes no sense, despite what the right-wingers say, for Rather to broadcast a misleading story knowingly. Even broadcast suits are smart enough to know when it is too easy to get caught.

It is one thing to suggest that Rather is bonkers. I doubt it. Jayson Blair, whom you correctly cite as having no discernible political agenda when he blew himself up at The Times, was suffering from untreated manic-depressive disorder during the months where he fabricated and plagarized. If The Times failed at anything, it was in giving a guy in the midst of a breakdown high profile assignments. That is not the fault of liberal bias. Rather, quirky as he may be, does not appear to suffer from a mental disorder.

So the mystery remains as to why so many experienced people, Rather and Mary Mapes included, went with so weak a story with so many flaws. Perhaps, like many journalists in a highly competitive situation, they let themselves believe too much in the "scoop" they were working and put skepticism aside. It is a dangerous trap, but I have seen folks fall into it more than once.

It is very CBS to draw the wagons in a circle when something like this happens. There is a kind of disbelief at CBS that people at the pinnacle of broadcast news are fallible in any way. It is terrible public relations. Winchell dealt with unreliable sources by saying, "the source has committed suicide." CBS would have been better advised to follow his example. The public, even the right wing, will forgive a mistake if it is owned up to in a hurry. Instead, Rather has made himself a punchline in Leno's monologue.

If you get the impression from this note that I have no particular political point of view on Rathergate, you are correct. I think that CBS and Rather have, through their snafu, handed us the mirror, and I am not thrilled with what I see.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

MISTER SPEAKER'S SHORT GOODBYE. The official Media Log iBook is back in the shop for the second time in less than three months. (Hey, Steve: What happened to Apple's quality control?) So, like our only president, I will take responsibility - but not the blame! - for any formatting problems, sketchiness, incoherence, or other problems that arise in the course of this adventure in blogland.

It seems like it was only a little more than a year ago that I was writing that Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran's power might have peaked. (That's because it was.) Now he's gone, off to be perhaps the only biotech lobbyist on earth who's opposed to embryonic-stem-cell research. For the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, clout obviously counts more than conviction.

Finneran's rapid departure was marked by that rarest of all things: an old-fashioned Beacon Hill newspaper battle. Time was when a few dozen reporters would scrap over the smallest of news items. Sadly, for the most part, the State House has gradually become the Place That Media Forgot, resulting in a concomitant lack of interest on the part of the public. Yes, I realize that there is a chicken-and-egg argument to be made here. I place myself firmly on the side of the chickens: if the State House were covered in an engaging way, readers would follow.

On the Finneran story it was the Herald that drew first blood, which is also increasingly rare, unless the subject happens to be hermaphrodite horse trainers or some such thing. But this is not a day to poke fun at the tabloid, because last Friday's paper was an example of tabloid journalism at its best. Reporter Ann Donlan somehow learned that Finneran had written on his disclosure to the State Ethics Commission that he was looking for a job in the private sector, and that a likely employer was the Mass Biotech Council. The front featured a smiling Finneran with the XXL headline, "WOULD YOU HIRE THIS MAN?"

After that, it was all over but the leaving. The Herald and the Globe both reported over the weekend that Finneran's departure was imminent, and that state representative Sal DiMasi, of the North End, had lined up the support he needed to become the next Speaker. Today, both papers go with big post-Finneran packages.

Today's must-read: Globe columnist Joan Vennochi on where it started to go wrong for Finneran, as talented and charming a pol as there is, but one who lost some of his effectiveness because of the familiar sins of hubris and arrogance.

The must-avoid: Mike Barnicle's suck-up piece (sub. req.) in the Herald. What's the deal, Mike? Finneran got playoff tickets and you don't?

Monday, September 27, 2004

POSITIVELY NEWSWEEK. The number-two newsmagazine opens Debate Week with something of far more consequence than politics: a cover story on Bob Dylan, who's written a memoir called Chronicles, Volume I.

David Gates opens his interview with Dylan this way: "When I tell Bob Dylan he's the last person I'd have expected to turn autobiographer, he laughs and says, 'Yeah, me too.'" No kidding. Since the beginning of the television age, no major cultural figure has lived as public and yet as inscrutable a life as Dylan. Judging from the candid, straightforward tone of the excerpt - a meditation/rant on the hell of living with the Dylan legend - that inscrutability is about to get a whole lot more, well, scrutable.

It was Gates who interviewed Dylan in 1997 on the occasion of his late-blooming masterpiece Time Out of Mind. Gates observes that Dylan is weirdly dismissive of the work he did between the late '60s and Time. But there's no question that Time signaled that Dylan had found a way of living with himself and his legend, and of recapturing the inspiration he'd once had, if not quite all of the gifts of youthful genius. In the new interview, Dylan - and Gates - explain it like this:

"The difference between me now and then [Dylan says] is that back then, I could see visions. The me now can dream dreams." His early songs, he says, were visionary, however much they drew on his meticulous observation of the real world around him. "What you see in 'Chronicles' is a dream," he says. "It's already happened."

You would have to be Bob Dylan ... to grasp fully what he's trying to tell you. But it must have to do with his having to accept the loss of his original mode of creation, in which the songs seemed to come to him without his knowing what he was doing. Does he still have that same access to - I don't know how to put the question. He helps me out. "No, not in the same way," he says. "Not in the same way at all. But I can get there, by following certain forms and structures. It's not luck. Luck's in the early years. In the early years, I was trying to write and perform the sun and the moon. At a certain point, you just realize that nobody can do that."

Dylan is also said to have written six to eight songs for a new album, which will be his first since 2001's "Love and Theft."

Sunday, September 26, 2004

HOW LAME IS THIS? An alert Media Log reader sends along a Mark Steyn column that was published in London's Telegraph on October 21, 2001. Here are some lowlights:

At Thursday's press conference, Dan was in his braces with his tie loosened, his shirt button undone, and his sleeves rolled up. It's the look that says you're a grizzled working reporter or that you're appearing in a cheesy dinner-theatre revival of The Front Page....

In contrast to the bald formulations of BBC intros - "Kate Adie reports from Kabul" - Dan prefers to provide his own running commentary on his colleagues: "Bob Schieffer, one of the best hard-nosed reporters in the business, has been working his sources. What have you managed to uncover, Bob?" Bob then reads out a Congressional press release.

So not only did Steyn apparently make up a quote and stick it in Dan Rather's mouth last week, but he's done it before, complete with the exact same reference to the "cheesy dinner-theater revival" and Bob Schieffer's reading a press release. This time, Steyn merely substituted "DNC" for "Congressional."

Nice work if you can get it.

BETTER THAN REALITY. Mark Steyn is at it again. In a recent syndicated column, published September 19 in the Chicago Sun-Times, the right-wing columnist goes after CBS News anchor Dan Rather. It is typical Steyn: funny, with a few genuine insights - and a quote that he attributes to Rather for which there is zero evidence. For Steyn, this is standard operating procedure. He writes:

Dan's been play-acting at being a reporter for so many years now - the suspenders, the loosened tie, and all the other stuff that would look great if he were auditioning for a cheesy dinner-theater revival of "The Front Page"; the over-the-top intros: "Bob Schieffer, one of the best hard-nosed reporters in the business, has been working his sources. What have you managed to uncover for us, Bob?", after which Bob reads out a DNC press release. Dan's been doing all this so long he doesn't seem to realize the news isn't just a show.

Did Rather ever actually say those words? When I read it, it struck me as the sort of thing Rather might have said in one of his nuttier moments, of which there have been many. So I checked 10 years' worth of CBS News transcripts on Lexis-Nexis. I began by searching for "working his sources" and "Schieffer."

It turns out that on January 23, 1998, Rather introduced a piece on the then-novel Monica Lewinsky story with this: "CBS' chief Washington correspondent, Bob Schieffer, has been digging and working his sources all day. Bob, what's the latest?" Clichéd and just a tad embarrassing? Well, sure. This is, after all, Dan Rather talking.

But there's nothing here about Schieffer's being "one of the best hard-nosed reporters in the business" or having "managed to uncover something for us." If Rather had said such a thing, it would have moved his utterance far above the mundane, into the sort of classic Ratherism that would be remembered and cherished for years to come. But unless Steyn's got evidence that this particular gem somehow didn't make it into Lexis-Nexis, I can only conclude that Rather never said it. That's kind of important in the business that Steyn claims to be in, though his fans don't seem to care.

Just to make sure, I also combined "Schieffer" with "hard-nosed reporter" (with and without the hyphen) and also with "managed to uncover." Zippo.

Now, then - were we supposed to believe that Rather actually said it, or was Steyn obviously using hyperbole to make a larger point, and I'm just too dense to get the joke? I'm sure that will be the defense he and/or the Steyniacs out there will offer. But Steyn's methodology is such that you can't quite be sure unless you've got the secret decoder ring. (I don't have a ring; just my suspicions.)

For instance, right up front he includes an actual quote from Rather, regarding the phonied-up Jerry Killian memos, that's only slightly less loopy than the Schieffer bit: "If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story." By combining a nutty real Rather quote with what appears to be a fictitious one, Steyn manages to add to the impression that the fictitious quote isn't. Fictitious, that is.

There's also nothing in the fictitious quote that completely gives away the game. Steyn uses quotation marks; he could have used italics or some other device. He describes the Schieffer quote as one of Rather's typical "over-the-top intros." This isn't parody. It's bad faith masquerading as honest opinion-mongering. So what else is new?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

THE PROJO STRIKES AGAIN. The Providence Journal's David McPherson has another exclusive today on the mess at WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). McPherson got a look at the records that WBUR has to file with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and found that 'BUR ran up a deficit of $4.7 million between fiscal years 1999 and 2003.

Combined with the $9.4 million deficit over the same period by the 'BUR-owned WRNI Radio (AM 1290), in Providence, that's a total of $14.1 million. The Boston University-owned WBUR is planning to sell WRNI and a sister station, although Rhode Island attorney general Patrick Lynch and community activists want the sale put on hold.

There's also a useful disclosure in McPherson's piece: "The Providence Journal Charitable Foundation has been a major supporter of the WRNI Foundation, contributing $300,000 from 2000 to 2002."

Thursday, September 23, 2004

RHODE ISLAND RED. The Providence Journal's David McPherson has a terrific story today on the finances of WRNI Radio (AM 1290), which Boston University's WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) purchased six years ago and is now trying to sell. (For the story that Ian Donnis and I wrote for the Phoenix this week, click here.)

It turns out that WRNI is operated by a foundation separate from WBUR, and is thus subject to reporting requirements considerably more strict than those that govern WBUR - which, since it's part of Boston University, really doesn't have to report much of anything. Among the Journal's revelations:

- WRNI ran more than $9 million in deficits during its first five years of WBUR management. Yet WBUR spokesman Will Keyser continues to insist - as he did to Donnis and me - that money has nothing to do with 'BUR's decision to sell.

- Tom Ashbrook, the host of WBUR's On Point, drew his $135,000 salary from WRNI during fiscal year 2002. The reason: the show started at WRNI, then moved and morphed into its current form after 9/11. But how much in Rhode Island donations migrated to Boston, unbeknownst to the contributors? (Of course, there's no reason to think that Ashbrook knew about this arrangement, either.)

Keyser told McPherson, "The plan all along from WBUR's perspective was that this was not a long-term strategy to run and operate a public radio station in Rhode Island. The long-term strategy was in essence a five- to six-year plan to build from zero to viability, with the community, a public radio station."

But if that's the case, why wasn't 'BUR and its general manager, Jane Christo, up front about that right from the start? Why did the station announce layoffs a month ago, with no indication that it was looking to sell until last Friday? And why had no one ever even heard of this we'll get it up and running and then turn it over to the community plan until last week?

Questions, questions, questions.

Here is the page for the WRNI Foundation.

WHY THE KILLIAN STORY MATTERS. It's not that I'm rooting for Dan Rather. But I do think he deserves better than to be investigated by Dick Thornburgh, a former attorney general and Republican partisan with whom CBS has clashed in the past, as the New York Times reports. And why, Howard Kurtz's inside sources ask, is CBS News chief Andrew Heyward involved in setting up the investigation? Shouldn't he be one of the people being investigated?

An interesting side note to the matter of the fake Killian memos is why CBS News is falling apart over this when Fox, and to a lesser extent MSNBC, pay absolutely no price for pimping the false claims of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. (I'm not going to repeat the case against the Swiftees except to note that their claims are contradicted by the official record, by the men with whom Kerry directly served, and, in several instances, by what the Swiftees themselves have said in the past. If you want more, go to the Daily Howler, which is in the midst of a lengthy, utterly convincing takedown of their book, Unfit for Command. And by the way, kudos to Fox's Bill O'Reilly.)

A good part of the answer, I think, is that the credibility of CBS matters and Fox's doesn't. Simple as that. Sorry, Roger, but Fox is little more than Republican-flavored infotainment, and it surprises absolutely no one when Sean Hannity - or, for that matter, a more respectable figure, like Brit Hume - keeps repeating stories that have already been proved false.

CBS News doesn't deserve to have the serious reputation it had in the days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Maybe what happened with the Killian story is all too emblematic of the low standards that the former Tiffany network now embraces.

But obviously its reputation does matter. There's still an expectation of truth-telling on the part of CBS, and the fact that Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, and company now appear to be on the ropes is all the evidence you need to understand that.

BRUDNOY AND MEDIA LOG. I'll be appearing tonight at 8 on The David Brudnoy Show, on WBZ Radio (AM 1030), to talk about my book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes. I imagine we'll chew over the media and political scene, too.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) has long been one of the most respected public stations in the country. But recent downsizing moves, including a sudden announcement that it intends to sell its Rhode Island affiliates, raise serious questions about what's going on at the station. It's time for license-holder Boston University to start demanding some answers.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

SNOOZING SAFIRE GETS A WAKE-UP CALL. William Safire today advocates shackles and leg irons for whoever was responsible for the fake Jerry Killian memos. He writes in today's New York Times:

That was no mere "dirty trick"; it could be a violation of the U.S. criminal code. If the artifice had not been revealed by sharp-eyed bloggers, a national election could have been swung by a blatant falsehood.

Who was the forger? Did others conspire with him or her to present a seeming government document - with knowledge of its falsity and with intent to defraud, which is a felony in Texas? Who was to benefit and how?

CBS News belatedly apologized and agreed to appoint independent examiners. That's a start.

Wow! Look out Democratic dirty-tricksters: Safire is in da house.

But you might be interested to learn that I did a quick check this morning on how the extremely even-handed former Nixon operative has dealt with other shocking scandals during the past year. For instance, I learned that the word "Plame" came up in a Safire column precisely once, on July 14.

Actually, it didn't even appear in Safire's column per se - it was, rather, cross-indexed by Lexis-Nexis. The column itself was an attack on Valerie Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, of the infamous Niger mission. Wrote Safire:

Wilson testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had assured U.S. officials back in 2002 that "there was nothing to the story." When columnist Robert Novak raised the question of nepotism by reporting that he got the assignment at the urging of his C.I.A. wife, Wilson denied that heatedly and denounced her "outing," triggering an investigation. The skilled self-promoter was then embraced as an antiwar martyr, sold a book with "truth" in its title, appeared on the cover of Time and every TV talk show denouncing Bush.

Now let's see ... any mention of the fact that identifying Plame, an undercover CIA employee, may have been a federal crime, and that the "senior administration officials" who leaked her name to Novak might be eligible for shackles and leg irons? Or that some of Safire's fellow journalists have been threatened with prison if they don't tell a special prosecutor who those "senior administration officials" are? In a word: no.

Even more hilarious is that the only time Safire has used the words "Kerry" and "swift" together during the past year was this past Sunday, in his "On Language" column in the New York Times Magazine. Never mind that, for weeks, Kerry was hammered by smears put forth by the lying Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, funded and supported by some of the same Texas Republicans who support George W. Bush. What was interesting to Safire was where the term "Swift boat" came from:

Larry Wasikowski, of Omaha, Neb., who styles himself "the unofficial historian of the Swift Boat Sailors Association," recalls, "We believe it came from Sewart Seacraft, the manufacturer," but he claims no certainty about the origin. Another association member, Jim Schneider, of Rapid City, S.D., says that the owner of Sewart Seacraft, F.W. Sewart, who died in 1995, told him ...


Meanwhile, fellow Times columnist Nicholas Kristof today goes on sensibly for a bit, blasting the swift-boat attacks as the disgusting untruths that they are. But then he wigs out, more or less equating them with Kerry's criticism of outsourcing. You can't make this stuff up:

If they're intellectually consistent, Democrats will speak out not only against the Swift Boat Veterans but also against Mr. Kerry's demagoguery on trade, like his suggestion that outsourcing is the result of Mr. Bush's economic policies. Trade demagoguery may not be as felonious as an assault on a war hero's character, but it harms America by undermining support for free trade.

And so goes this depressing campaign - and the even more depressing media coverage of it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

THE LAST REFUGE. The idea that anyone not on his side isn't patriotic has been a consistent, ugly theme of George W. Bush and his presidency. So I was struck by these words, which Bush spoke during a campaign rally yesterday in Derry, New Hampshire:

Our work in Iraq is hard work. There are people there who want to stop the march to democracy, that's what they're trying to do. They want us to leave. They want us to quit. Our work in Iraq is absolutely essential - Iraq - essential for our country's security. For our children and grandchildren to grow up in a safer world, we must defeat the terrorists and the insurgents, and complete our mission in rebuilding Iraq as a stable democracy.

I'm going to New York after this, and in the next couple of days I'll be meeting with Prime Minister Allawi, the prime minister of Iraq.

He is a strong and determined leader. He understands the stakes in this battle. I hope the American people will listen carefully to his assessment of the situation in his country. We must show resolve and determination. Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to the enemy. Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to the people in Iraq. Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our allies. And mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our troops in combat.

Obviously the president is talking about John Kerry. But what does he mean? I'll grant that one way to read this is as criticism of Kerry's own tortuous rhetoric on Iraq, which Bush has managed to characterize neatly and inaccurately as "flip-flopping." (Kerry went a long way toward untangling his views yesterday.)

For instance, a few paragraphs before this Bush said, "He [Kerry] also changed his mind and decided that our efforts in Iraq are now a distraction from the war on terror, when he earlier acknowledged that confronting Saddam Hussein was critical to the war on terror. And he's criticizing our reconstruction efforts, when he voted against the money to pay for the reconstruction."

But I would argue that Bush intended a darker meaning as well. Look at what he said again. "Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to the enemy ... to our troops in combat." This is harsh stuff - Zell Miller with a human face. This is close to denying that anyone has a right to criticize Bush's war policies because, after all, Bush is a wartime president, and the country is at war.

As Samuel Johnson once observed, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. For Bush to insinuate that Kerry, by making the case for what he would do differently, is helping our enemies and harming our troops is reprehensible. It's also, sadly, business as usual.

I'D RATHER NOT. I'm getting tired of the story surrounding the inauthentic Jerry Killian memos. Media Log readers know I'd concluded they were probably fakes within a couple of days of the original broadcast on 60 Minutes, nearly two weeks ago.

This will be devastating to CBS's credibility, but no worse than what the New York Times went through with Jayson Blair, or USA Today with Jack Kelley.

With that, two observations:

- I thought Dan Rather's apology last night was complete and sincere. I was impressed that he said, "I want to say, personally and directly, I'm sorry." His concession came many days later than it should have, but not too late, if you define "too late" as meaning that he's going to have to resign. But it certainly wouldn't surprise me if, at some decent interval after the election, the 72-year-old anchor retires.

- Since Rather took personal responsibility last night, I hope that CBS stands by that and doesn't try to whack anyone below him. John Ellis has some hilarious - and chilling - advice for Mary Mapes, who produced the story that made use of the Killian memos: "Call your lawyer immediately. DO NOT, under any circumstances, allow CBS counsel to represent your interests." There's lots of other good stuff, so start here and scroll down.

Monday, September 20, 2004

ACCURATE BUT FAKE. I think the description applies to this item (scroll down) in John Tierney's "Political Points" column in yesterday's New York Times:

Web's Most Popular New Slogan for CBS News: "Fake but Accurate." (As determined on Google, which gives priority billing to

Where oh where would Mickey Kaus and other bloggers come up with such an odd formulation? Hmmm ... maybe from this headline, from last Wednesday: "Memos on Bush Are Fake but Accurate, Typist Says." Who would have published such a headline? Would you believe the New York Times? Click here and see for yourself.

In fact, when Kaus first used the phrase last Wednesday, he was linking to the Times story.

For those of you who've been following this story, "fake but accurate" isn't a bad description: the late Jerry Killian, the alleged author of the four memos cited by CBS to support its case that George W. Bush blew off some of his National Guard obligations, did indeed write memos similar to the ones CBS obtained, according to Killian's former secretary, Marian Carr Knox. However, she says, the actual documents used by CBS are fake.

As for Tierney, it's accurate to say that "Fake but Accurate" has become a popular Web catchphrase - but fake to omit the fact that it was coined by his own newspaper, and that many sites are making fun of that formulation.

WHAT COMES AFTER THE LETTER "F"? Here's something I haven't seen before: a Boston Globe story that forthrightly refers to N.W.A's infamous song "Fuck Tha Police" without any hyphens, asterisks, or other censorious squibbles. Good job! Of course, they'd have had a little more street cred if they'd gotten the same of the song right - it's not "Fuck the Police."

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Campaign mail with a return address of the Republican National Committee warns West Virginia voters that the Bible will be prohibited and men will marry men if liberals win in November.

The literature shows a Bible with the word "BANNED" across it and a photo of a man, on his knees, placing a ring on the hand of another man with the word "ALLOWED." The mailing tells West Virginians to "vote Republican to protect our families" and defeat the "liberal agenda."

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Friday that he wasn't aware of the mailing, but said it could be the work of the RNC. "It wouldn't surprise me if we were mailing voters on the issue of same-sex marriage," Gillespie said.

This story moved on Friday. Why isn't it national news? (Thanks to Media Log reader D.H.)

Saturday, September 18, 2004

HEY, JEB: ASK YOUR BROTHER! The Washington Post today includes a woe-is-us quote from Florida governor Jeb Bush about the recent run of devasating hurricanes that have hit his state. "It's sad," Jeb said. "I don't know quite why we've had this run of storms. You just have to accept that."

But rather than embracing the fifth and final stage of grief, Jeb ought to think about what could be done to prevent such calamities. Because most scientists say that global warming has resulted in an increase of all kinds of extreme weather, including hurricanes. And though Jeb's brother can't be held responsible for the global warming that has taken place up until now, he has been unusually aggressive about making sure that it gets worse - much worse - in the future.

This story, from London's Guardian, shows that scientists are not unanimous on the link between global warming and hurricanes. However, you will see that there is no question that the ocean has warmed up a lot in recent years. That can't be good, can it?

Just another world-threatening issue that has somehow not managed to work its way into the presidential campaign. But hey, did you see that Poppy once wrote a letter guaranteeing that George W. was "gung ho"?

Reuters reports that global warming is accelerating to such an extent that mussels are growing near the North Pole. So here's an idea. After both Bush brothers are mercifully out of public office, they can open up a business taking tourists to the North Pole, so they can go clamming beneath what will then be called the Polar Slush Cap.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will all be living in oceanfront refugee camps - just outside of Denver.

LOSING HEARTS, MINDS, AND LIVES. The New York Times' Sabrina Tavernise reports today on the targeting of Iraqi civilians who work on American military bases. The bad guys here are clearly the murderous thugs who are killing their fellow citizens. Still, this passage near the end really grabbed me:

Layla said she begged administrators at the American-run hospital in central Baghdad to admit her brother, who was alive after being shot but whose condition was rapidly deteriorating because he was being treated in an ill-equipped Iraqi hospital.

She said she was told that she had to collect her brother's documents before he could be admitted. But there was not enough time, Layla said, and her brother died a short time later.

"I've been working for them for about a year and a half," she said. "I wasn't asking for a house, for a visa, for a trip abroad. I was just asking them to save a life.

"He works for the Army washing soldiers' clothes, and they can't save a life."

Elsewhere, a new Times/CBS News poll shows that John Kerry continues to lag behind Bush, in large measure because poll respondents say that Kerry "has not laid out a case for why he wants to be president." Respondents also express "strong concern about his [Kerry's] ability to manage an international crisis."

Sadly, it's hard to disagree - although I can't imagine why anyone would think Bush would do better at managing an international crisis, unless the theory is that he who creates the crisis is the best qualified to manage it.

Kerry's better than this. But it's time to show it, don't you think?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

TAKING CREDIT WHERE IT'S NOT DUE. I was working during 60 Minutes last night, and a transcript isn't available yet. But if past experience is any indication, this article at is a good reflection of what happened on the broadcast. (If nothing else, it's obviously a good reflection of what the network chose to put on its website.) And I have to say that I have a real problem with this.

As everyone except Dan Rather has acknowledged, CBS lost control of this story because of its own shoddy reporting. On Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News broke what to my mind is the most significant story yet in figuring out the truth behind the fake Killian memos. Every account I saw yesterday credited the Morning News for its exclusive.

Yet the article makes absolutely no mention of the Morning News. Instead, 60 Minutes interviewed the same woman whom the News interviewed several days ago - Marian Carr Knox, former secretary to the late lieutenant colonel Jerry Killian - and made it look almost as though it were CBS that was getting to the bottom of this whole mess.

I also saw two CBS transcripts on Lexis-Nexis from earlier in the day Wednesday, hyping the 60 Minutes story. Neither of them mentioned the role of the Morning News, either.

Now, giving credit to competitors is a sometime thing. Television news orgs tend to be worse about it than print, although newspapers often don't give credit when they should, either. But this isn't a matter of giving credit. This is a matter of a major new witness, Knox, providing further evidence that the memos CBS presented as genuine could not possibly have been produced in the early 1970s. The Morning News report was the most significant to date in proving that the memos were not what CBS claimed they were. Last night, CBS pretended as though Knox were its own witness.

It just so happens that CBS may be able to prevent what's already a major scandal from turning into a cataclysmic one, given that Knox also says the memos appear to be based on actual documents that existed at one time. But CBS should stop pretending that it's even in the game. Instead, it's sitting in the bleachers, hoping that other news orgs will dig up enough to let them salvage just a tiny bit of pride.

At least the CBS report comes with a warning: "60 Minutes will continue to aggressively investigate the story of President Bush's service in the National Guard - and the story of the documents and memos in Col. Killian's file." Look out!

As for who provided the memos to CBS, the finger is pointing closer and closer to this guy. Sorry, Rush - it wasn't Bob Shrum!

NET PRESSURE. Ross Kerber has a terrific story in today's Boston Globe about how bicyclists have been using the Internet to get out the word that Kryptonite's bike locks can easily be picked. They got action, too.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Those looking for the tide to turn against George W. Bush shouldn't put too much hope in Kitty Kelley's gossip-fest or in CBS's dubious report.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

REAL AND FAKE? Maybe Stirling Newberry was on to something after all. Last week, he raised the possibility that the contents of the Killian memos were genuine, but that the printed documents themselves were generated some years later - through retyping on a computer, through optical scanning, whatever.

Newberry also wondered whether CBS might be unable to explain this without breaking a pledge of confidentiality. That still strikes me as unlikely, given CBS's continued insistence that the documents are photocopies of the originals. In fact, if you follow this line of thinking through to its logical conclusion, then Dan Rather's defense would have to be considered a knowing lie. I doubt that.

Now the Dallas Morning News is reporting that the late Jerry Killian's 86-year-old former secretary believes the documents are fake, but that the contents accurately reflect real memos that existed at one time. Because I don't feel like registering at the News' website, I'm linking to this USA Today account. Some highlights:

Marian Carr Knox told the Dallas Morning News after viewing copies of the disputed memos, "These are not real," and that "the information in here was correct, but it was picked up from the real ones." She declined to be interviewed late Tuesday, but her son, Pat Carr, confirmed her comments.

The newspaper said that Knox, 86, had precise recollection about dates, people and events. She was critical of Bush, whom she called "unfit for office."

The memos, first reported last week by CBS' 60 Minutes and obtained independently by USA TODAY, were critical of Bush's performance as a pilot. They say he sought special treatment to get out of required drills and failed to get a required physical exam, and that there was pressure from his commander's superiors to "sugar coat" his personnel evaluation. Document experts have challenged their authenticity.

Knox told the Morning News that she did all of the typing for Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, Bush's commander, and she did not type the memos in question. The typewriters she used, a manual Olympia and later an IBM Selectric, could not have produced the documents, she said.

Another former Texas National Guard officer, Richard Via, also said that the documents were fakes but that their content reflected questions about Bush that were discussed at the time in the hangar at Ellington Air Force Base, where he had a desk next to Killian's.

Via said he and others he worked with "remember the physical, and him going to Alabama was an issue." He said Killian "made notes and put them in his files about things like that."

Killian kept the files because "he was trying to cover his ass," Via said. "He was always worried something would come back on him."

He said Killian's secretary "would type them up, and he'd put it in his desk drawer and lock it."

I think we're getting very close now. This is clearly the best news CBS has had in a week, although unless the network itself can shed further light on this, it looks kind of pathetic. It will still be in the position of having put phony documents out there and then insisting they were authentic in the face of much evidence to the contrary.

If it turns out that these are retyped versions of real memos, that helps. But it doesn't reflect well on CBS's investigative-reporting capabilities. In fact, the latest from Howard Kurtz, in the Washington Post, only make it look that much worse for Dan Rather and company. Drudge says CBS News is working on some sort of statement, and perhaps it is.

In other Killian-related matters, the Boston Globe today runs a correction for the headline on its Saturday story, "Authenticity Backed on Bush Documents." The paper says that head "did not accurately reflect the content of the story."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

BOUFFARD DENIES GLOBE ARTICLE MISREPRESENTED HIM. Last Saturday's e-mail exchange between forgery expert Philip Bouffard and a Web site called INDC Journal was one of the weekend's sensations. Linked by everyone from Slate's Mickey Kaus to Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds, the exchange was cited by many on blogging's right wing as evidence that the Globe was hopelessly biased in John Kerry's favor.

Bouffard had been quoted in the New York Times and the Washington Post last Friday as saying that it appeared the Killian memos had most likely been produced on a computer - pretty clear evidence of forgery if true. But on Saturday, the Boston Globe quoted him as saying he had since learned there was a possibility such memos could have been typed on an IBM typewriter of early-1970s vintage.

A scoop! But in a subsequent e-mail to INDC Journal, Bouffard said, "What the Boston Globe did now sort of pisses me off, because now I have people calling me and e-mailing me, and calling me names, saying that I changed my mind. I did not change my mind at all!"

Now, though, Dr. Bouffard says his only objection was to the Globe's headline, "Authenticity Backed on Bush Documents." In an e-mail to Media Log, Bouffard says:

As far as the Boston Globe article, I never saw it until recently, and was only made aware of anything by the hate mail that I received. I also had one sender who later called back to apologize after reading the story, and he e-mailed me the story. My position at the time that I talked to the Boston Globe was that I was checking out some new information sent to me that the [Killian] Memos were (or could have been) created on a Selectric Composer. Further research indicates that it could not be, but it needed to be looked into. It appears that the headline for the Globe story was misleading, otherwise this person would not have called back to apologize after reading the article. INDC called for clarification before any of this occurred, asking if I had changed my mind about the authenticity, which I hadn't because, in my mind, I was not certain from the beginning. INDC evidently wrote their story based upon my reaction to what turned out to be the headline for the story.

An e-mailer to INDC Journal had this to say: "I think it is time we designated the Globe as our secondary target in this effort. I hope you tell the good Doctor that he might want to consider each publication before he grants an interview, as there are leftist snakes laying in the grass."

Now Bouffard's clarifying remarks cast this in an entirely different light.

Bill Ardolino, the blogger behind INDC Journal, tells Media Log by e-mail:

Well, that's a bit surprising, as I presented his raw remarks without any alteration. I can somewhat understand why Bouffard would say that part of the story is ok, though, because the body of the Globe's story quoted him with complete accuracy, if possibly selectively (as I highlighted on my blog). Unfortunately, it was the headline that was an outright lie. In no way was the "authenticity backed" by Dr. Bouffard. The fact that that is deceptive is beyond question.

I understand that different tones and presentations can be subjective. That's why my communication with the Globe's [ombudsman] has stressed the outright mischaracterization in the headline, not the body of the article.

Mark Morrow, a deputy managing editor at the Globe, says that Bouffard also spoke with reporter Francie Latour (co-author of the Saturday piece) on Monday night. "He told her that having read the story now, that he has no problem with our story now, that he doesn't feel that he was misquoted in any way," he says. Morrow's remarks are consistent with what Bouffard told me.

As for the headline, which did in fact wrongly make it appear that Bouffard had changed his views, Morrow told me, "We might address the headline, which was more emphatic than the story was, and may have been the source of the tenor of the comment on the piece" - reference to the blizzard of criticism to which the Globe has been subjected since the weekend.

This doesn't change the fact that CBS News did an incredibly shoddy job of vetting the authenticity of the four Killian memos. This Washington Post story, by Michael Dobbs and Howard Kurtz, is absolutely devastating to CBS.

But the notion that the Globe did Dr. Bouffard wrong in order to throw a lifeline to Kerry can now be put to rest.

Monday, September 13, 2004

KITTY CORNERED. Approaching Kitty Kelley's accusations about the Bush family with tweezers and rubber gloves isn't a bad idea. Still, I was struck by the way that Matt Lauer hit her with almost nothing but Republican talking points on the Today show this morning - although Lauer also deserves credit for doing some legitimate damage.

Nor does NBC seem particularly happy to have made a three-day commitment to Kelley and her new book, The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty. If you go to the Today show home page right now, you'll see absolutely no mention of it, although it seems that just about every other story they're doing today gets a plug. CBS hangover? Perhaps.

Among other things, Kelley has written that George W. Bush snorted cocaine at Camp David, when his father was president; that he may have helped arrange an abortion for a girlfriend; and that his future wife, Laura Welch, both smoked and sold pot when she was a student at Southern Methodist University.

Lauer started ripping into Kelley's credibility in the show's introduction, right after 7 a.m. Then, in a short package before his interview, he called her "the author in the center of the firestorm ... a phenomenon, but her credibility has often been called into question." He did add: "Every libel lawsuit filed against Kelley has been dismissed."

Kelley commended Lauer for having her on despite the "great pressure" she knew that Republican forces had exerted to prevent her from appearing on national television. Lauer responded that her book is "an extremely, extremely unflattering look at the Bush family." Kelley: "I think it's realistic."

Lauer's next tack was to press Kelley on whom she plans to vote for this November, as if that has any relevance. Kelley refused to answer except to say that the last politician to whom she gave money was Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas. She then asked Lauer whom he planned to vote for, a question that he ignored.

Lauer: Why put your book out, just before the election? (Note: just in case there's any doubt, the lack of quotation marks means I don't have this word for word. I'll vouch for the gist of it, though.)

Kelley: Why not?

Lauer then noted that in all of her previous books - on the royal family, on the Reagans, on Frank Sinatra, and the like - the subjects were not in public office at the time of publication. He asked whether her standards "need to rise" when writing about a sitting president and his family.

At that, Kelley grew indignant. "My standards are my standards," she replied, saying she is always careful to follow the rules of libel and of invasion of privacy. Lauer came back by reading part of a Time-magazine review of one of her previous books, ripping her for relying on "third-hand gossip."

Lauer next asked Kelley about the coke-at-Camp David matter. Kelley made what struck me as an extraordinary statement: "George W. Bush has never denied using, buying, or selling cocaine." Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Bush has ever denied being abducted by aliens, either.

In any event, Lauer did trip her up. She initially said she had two sources. Lauer asked if Sharon Bush, the former wife of Neil Bush, was one of those sources. No, she replied; Sharon Bush's only purpose was to confirm the story.

Lauer: So you had two sources other than Sharon Bush?

Kelley: No, I had one confidential source plus Sharon Bush.

Hmmm ... not too good, given that Sharon Bush has vehemently denied telling Kelley any such thing. (In fact, Lauer had Bush on later in the morning, and she issued her denials again.)

Kelley: "I never said that she saw it, Matt, but she did confirm it over lunch."

Lauer: You tape-record interviews all the time. Why didn't you record this one?

Kelley: It was over lunch, and it was too difficult. But I did call her back, and other people at my publishing house heard her say it. "What better than witnesses?" Then: "I feel sorry for Sharon Bush.... We knew the next day that Sharon was going to be frightened over this." Kelley also compared herself to Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, and Joseph Wilson, all Bush critics who've been run through the wringer for speaking out.

So what did we learn? Not much, although I think we did learn something about how thin the coke story is. It sounds to me like Kelley has one unnamed source for this remarkable accusation. I happen to think that Kelley is telling the truth about what Sharon Bush said to her. I also happen to think that the reason Sharon Bush denies it so vehemently now is that she realizes she was in no position to confirm it in the first place. How would she even know?

Lauer noted that The Family is already #2 at No doubt it will sell well, but I can't see this having any impact on the presidential campaign. For one thing, I think the media are thoroughly cowed after CBS took its best shot on the National Guard story last week and blew it. For another, with sourcing like Kelley's, you just don't know whether to believe her tales or not.

NOT SO BAD FOR KERRY?, which keeps a running tally of the state-by-state polls, has Kerry leading Bush by a margin of 269 to 233. Bush was ahead in the immediate aftermath of the Republican National Convention. The latest Newsweek poll has Bush up by six - a significant drop from the 11-point lead he had last week. (Media Log caveat: who knows what any of this means?)

For what it's worth, on the Today show this morning, Tim Russert said that both campaigns believe that Bush currently has a five- to six-point lead.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

BOUFFARD BLASTS GLOBE. Philip Bouffard, the forgery expert who is quoted in today's Boston Globe as saying that he now believes the Killian memos could have been produced on a 1972 typewriter, tells a website called INDC Journal that the Globe misrepresented him.

Bouffard is quoted as saying, "What the Boston Globe did now sort of pisses me off, because now I have people calling me and e-mailing me, and calling me names, saying that I changed my mind. I did not change my mind at all!"

Bouffard adds: "But the more information we get and the more my colleagues look at this, we're more convinced that there are significant differences between the type of the (IBM) Composer that was available and the questionable document."

Via InstaPundit.

Just thought you'd like to know. And note that what Bouffard tells INDC Journal is completely consistent with the indirect quote that the New York Times attributed to him this morning.

WE STILL DON'T KNOW. The bloggers triumphed, but not in the way they imagine. By yesterday afternoon, it was clear that the wildest claims put forth by the conservative bloggers were wrong. The liberal Daily Kos did a great job of proving this yesterday.

Contrary to Power Line, Little Green Footballs, and others, the Killian documents could have been produced on a good IBM typewriter in 1972 and '73. Rather than exposing CBS News for falling into a forgery trap, the bloggers succeeded only in muddying what had seemed to be some pretty clear waters. Yes, you can't help but be struck by how easily LGF was able to reproduce one of the Killian memos using Microsoft Word. Yes, it seems as though the Killian documents could have been forged. But proof? Not even close. For that, we will have to turn elsewhere.

Not that Bush supporters are waiting. Driving home yesterday, I heard a caller to Howie Carr, on WRKO Radio (AM 680), claim that he had sold IBM Selectrics for, oh, 700 years or something, and those machines never had the capabilities that have come under question in the Killian memos: the Times New Roman typeface; proportional spacing; a superscripted "th." Well, maybe not on the models he sold, but he'd already been proven wrong. But so what? By the time I got past the Saugus Iron Works, Carr was pronouncing the whole thing to be a Kerry "dirty-tricks operation." Evidence not required, apparently.

Anyway, here are a few recent developments.

- Francie Latour and Michael Rezendes report on the controversy in today's Boston Globe. Their most striking piece of new information is that Philip Bouffard, a forgery expert who questioned the Killian documents' authenticity in yesterday's New York Times, has now changed his mind. Latour and Rezendes write:

Philip D. Bouffard, a forensic document examiner in Ohio who has analyzed typewritten samples for 30 years, had expressed suspicions about the documents in an interview with the New York Times published Thursday, one in a wave of similar media reports. But Bouffard told the Globe yesterday that after further study, he now believes the documents could have been prepared on an IBM Selectric Composer typewriter available at the time.


In the Times interview, Bouffard had also questioned whether the military would have used the Composer, a large machine. But Bouffard yesterday provided a document indicating that as early as April 1969 - three years before the dates of the CBS memos - the Air Force had completed service testing for the Composer, possibly in preparation for purchasing the typewriters.

As for the raised "th" that appears in the Bush memos - to refer, for example, to units such as the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron - Bouffard said that custom characters on the Composer's metal typehead ball were available in the 1970s, and that the military could have ordered such custom balls from IBM.

"You can't just say that this is definitively the mark of a computer," Bouffard said.

- On the other hand, Bouffard doesn't sound quite so ready to back down in this New York Times follow-up, by Jim Rutenberg and Kate Zernicke:

Dr. Philip Bouffard, a forensic document specialist in Georgia who has compiled of database of more than 3,000 old fonts, said people who bought the I.B.M. Selectric Composer model could specially order keys with the superscripts in question. Dr. Bouffard said that font did bear many similarities to the one on the CBS documents, but not enough to dispel questions he had about their authenticity.

Huh? Why so different from what he told the Globe? Inquiring minds want to know.

- No mainstream news organization went as far in questioning the authenticity of the Killian memos as the Washington Post did yesterday. The Post consulted several experts, including Bouffard. Today, though, the Post fails to return to the scene, instead running this Howard Kurtz piece focusing mainly on Dan Rather's defense, with plenty of quotes from all sides. Kurtz does, though, reference a pretty important story published elsewhere.

- That would be this article, by Pete Slover, in today's Dallas Morning News. Slover's lead:

The man named in a disputed memo as exerting pressure to "sugarcoat" President Bush's military record left the Texas Air National Guard a year and a half before the memo was supposedly written, his own service record shows.

An order obtained by the Dallas Morning News shows that Col. Walter "Buck" Staudt was honorably discharged on March 1, 1972. CBS News reported this week that a memo in which Staudt was described as interfering with officers' negative evaluations of Bush's service was dated Aug. 18, 1973.

Oof. How damaging is this to CBS's defense? Slover writes farther down: "A CBS staffer stood by the story, suggesting that Staudt could have continued to exert influence over Guard officials." On a Lame-o-Tude Meter of 1 to 10, that comes in at about an 11. Slover adds that Staudt - who by the grace of God is, unlike Jerry Killian, among the living - has refused to comment. I assume a horde of reporters is now camped outside Staudt's home in New Braunfels, Texas.

- The press is filled with accounts reporting that Killian's wife and son don't believe he could possibly have written such memos. I don't care. We need proof. Either he did or he didn't.

To me, the most interesting aspect of this story is not how hesitant the mainstream media were to follow the lead of the bloggers, as the bloggers themselves claim, but, rather, how quickly the mainstream dove into this swamp.

The biggest question in my mind is how so-called experts like Bouffard could be so misguided in their initial statements. It seems to me that the very definition of being an expert in such matters is to know the history of typewriters, fonts, stuff like that. Bouffard obviously didn't know something he should have known: that Killian's memos could have been produced on a typewriter available at that time. Whether Killian did, or whether it's likely, is another matter, but that's not what Bouffard said. I think Bouffard and his ilk did far more to launch this story into the mainstream than, say, Little Green Footballs.

What we're going to have now are questions upon questions upon questions. The Dallas Morning News story obviously raises questions that need to be answered. There will be a feverish rush to discover whether the Kerry campaign had any involvement. Prediction: Look for some stories in the next few days that will later prove to be dead wrong.

And the larger issues in this campaign continue to be ignored.