Monthly Archives: June 2004

Howard Kurtz Bashes Moore, Helps Wife?

Fahrenheit 9/11” has received overwhelmingly positive reviews. But to read Howard Kurtz online this morning, you wouldn’t know it. He allows critics of the film more than 2,000 words on his Washington Post blog to bash the film.

OK, you say, that’s fine to hear the other side, as minuscule as it might be in terms of critics. But read Kurtz regularly and you detect a conservative bias in his columns, both online and in print, and in his weekly online chats.

Does his wife make him do it?

But before we look at why, let’s look at just the recent record.

Calling his piece this morning “Moore: Genius or Liar?”, Kurtz makes it sound as if most critics are panning the movie.

What’s most fascinating about the Michael Moore coverage is that while conservatives are shredding his film, even many liberals say that it’s a heavy-handed piece of propaganda filled with exaggerations, if not outright falsehoods.

The other day on his online chat he was asked to comment about possible bias against Bush in the Iraq War coverage.

Well, [reporters] certainly deserve respect. That doesn’t mean their coverage should be above criticism. It’s certainly true that the murders, bombings and attacks have gotten a huge amount of coverage, understandably, and that this has overshadowed some of the quieter signs of progress, such as building schools or extending electricity. It’s hard to strike the right balance when people are being killed every day and when journalists themselves have become targets.

In other words, he suggests that reporters are covering the violence only because they are subject to it.

In his column Monday, he devoted one of the items to a media group that is trying to prove there is a liberal bias and quotes from the group’s web site, citing “[c]omplaints that some journalists were too hard on Ronald Reagan, too easy on Bill Clinton and too critical of Ken Starr.” Too easy on Clinton? That’s laughable enough to question the seriousness of the group.

The very next piece is designed to cast doubt on the credibility and objectivity of Jackie Bensen, a reporter for the local NBC affiliate in Washington who lives with a police officer. You can tell the agenda of the reporter when at the top of the piece he writes, “She sees no problem with the fact that she lives with an assistant D.C. police chief, Peter Newsham, who oversees ethics investigations and disciplinary reviews as head of the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility.”

Meaning, of course, that he does see a problem with it.

sheri_annis_kurtz_wife“It’s ironic that Kurtz would suggest a conflict of interest between a couple. Kurtz is married to Sheri Annis, who is a GOP public relations strategist supporting the re-election of George W. Bush. Annis also was part of Arnold Schwartzneggar’s brain trust in his recall election. She also worked on a California voter proposition that would force immigrant children to speak English in school. She appears regularly on Chris Matthews’s “Hardball” program as a conservative pundit and writes for the National Review. She also worked on a campaign to stop “living wage” laws. She even calls her company Fourth Estate Strategies.

Not a bad idea, of course, when your husband is a prominent member of the Fourth Estate as a Washington Post columnist whose work is seen daily and, in another bit of irony, hosts CNN’s Reliable Sources, which is a program that is supposed to look critically at the media, his Post being one of the 800 lbs. gorillas of the industry.

I wonder if Kurtz minds if I infer that he “sees no problem with” that.

Editors’s Note: This article was edited for punctuation and grammar after it was originally posted.

Sports News

cheneyAnd now for today’s sports news, we turn to Biff Brokaw, reporting for ESPN:

[Vice President Dick] Cheney, who visited both clubhouses after batting practice [at the Yankees game last night], watched part of the game from the box of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and part from a first-row seat next to the Yankees dugout, where he sat between New York Gov. George Pataki and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Cheney was booed when he was shown on the right-field videoboard during the seventh-inning stretch.

Sources tell us that Cheney wanted to say “Go fuck yourself,” but the Secret Service said they couldn’t protect him if the Yankees fans attacked – and they were not sure they wanted to.

National Republicans Follow Virginia GOP’s Lead

A deep rift in the Republican Party has left Congress unable to pass a budget this year, raising the probability that, for the third time in three decades, lawmakers will not agree on a detailed blueprint for government spending and tax policy.

The budget meltdown was triggered by a feud between conservative Republicans who favor continuing to cut taxes in the face of record budget deficits and GOP moderates who are pushing for curbs on tax cuts and are reluctant to slash spending. Even a face-saving effort in the House to impose federal spending curbs blew up just after midnight Friday when 72 Republicans joined a united Democratic Party to torpedo the leadership-backed bill.

Substitute “Assembly” for “Congress” and this could be a lead in the Richmond Times Dispatch last March. It seems what happened in the this past session of the Commonwealth’s General Assembly is being replayed at the national level, where moderate Republicans are pushing back against the rabid tax-cutters who have hijacked the party. The Washington Post reports.

Both conservative and moderate Republicans say the fight is over the future of their party. Neither side has given an inch. So, two months after the House and Senate passed budget blueprints for the fiscal year that begins in October, Republican negotiators have hit a brick wall in trying to reconcile the two plans.

… At issue is the future of tax cutting in the face of budget deficits that will swell well above $400 billion this year. Senate Democrats, joined by Republicans John McCain (Ariz.), Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), secured an amendment to the Senate budget that would force any future tax cuts to be offset by equivalent spending cuts or tax increases. House Republicans, pushed hard by the White House, refused to go along, demanding instead that such rules apply only to spending increases for Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements.

If it continues, the fight could eventually have significant practical implications. Since President Bush came to office, Congress has passed tax cuts worth $1.7 trillion over 10 years, but all will expire by 2011, many before then. If the Senate’s “pay-as-you-go” — or “paygo” — budget rules are in place then, lawmakers will be faced with allowing tax levels to abruptly return to the higher levels of Bill Clinton’s presidency or cutting federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars a year to preserve the Bush tax cuts.

Congress is different than the Virginia House of Delegates, of course. (Hell, Congress is often different from a lot, including reality.) At the federal level, there can be budget deficits; Virginia must pass a balanced budget.

Just like in Virginia, however, conservative Congressional Republicans have managed to be their own worst enemies.

Without a budget, the Senate will lack parliamentary language that would allow senators to extend three expiring tax cuts with a simple majority vote in the 100-member body. Instead, Senate leaders will have to gather at least 60 votes to ensure that taxes do not rise at the end of the year.

House Republican leaders had also hoped to use the budget to quietly raise the $7.4 trillion federal debt limit, which the government could hit before the end of the summer. Without a budget, that limit may have to be raised by a separate vote on the House floor, which is political castor oil for Republicans in an election year.

And just like in Virginia, the national GOP leaders live in la-la land.

There are limits to the effectiveness of spending cuts. Even if Congress had eliminated every penny of the $438 billion in domestic discretionary spending this year, every education and health program, every homeland security effort, national park, interstate highway and federal prison, the government would still find itself in the red.

When House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called the budget fiasco “Republican Budget Failure Redux,” he might have been referring to this year’s Virginia General Assembly.

You might want to drop an email, especially if you’re a Republican, thanking Snowe, McCain, Chaffee and Collins for standing up for prudent, responsible budgeting.

Moore Takes On CBS

Thanks to Alan Bennett for point us to the interview between Michael Moore and CBS’s Hanna Storm. The link is here. (Scroll down and a little to the right for the video link.)

The interview brushes upon some issues of what journalists should be doing. Certainly, there’s no question that even the mainstream media was cheerleading during the invasion and did little to question beforehand the administration’s arguments for the war. The New York Times editors and the ombudsman for The Washington Post have issued mea culpas, as have some columnists.

Storm makes the point that journalists try to present both sides of the issue. That is lazy journalism, and it’s practiced by those supposedly at the top of their profession. Regurgitating a lie is not fair, balanced or objective journalism. Fair doesn’t means misrepresenting or stretching a truth to conform to one’s ideology. Fair means being fair to the viewer or reader that the journalist is presenting an accurate portrayal of the facts. Balanced means presenting both sides of the truth, as best as can be determined. It isn’t balanced to present the truth on one side and outright falsehoods from the other. And objective means an objective review of the facts. It doesn’t mean allowing one side to misrepresent the truth.

Moore admits Fahrenheit 9/11 isn’t a news story; it’s an opinion column for the eyes and ears. Storm’s demanding F 9/11 conform to breaking news standards isn’t just disingenuous, but given the performance of CBS News during the invasion, it’s hypocritical.

F 9/11 Update

Now that Fahrenheit 9/11 is a box office hit — it has garnered greater receipts this weekend than originally estimated — its DVD release is uncertain. Is it before the election or after?

Meanwhile, the quote by Richard Roeper, of Ebert & Roeper, “Everyone in the Country should see this film!” is being banned in movie ads by the MPAA because it encourages underage kids to see the movie.

By the time they become of age, they’ll be drafted.

And in the consider the source department, it’s being reported that “[t]he Carlyle Group, one company that is the subject of intense scrutiny in Michael Moore’s anti-Bush documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11″ is one of three investment firms that now own movie theater chain Loews Cineplex Entertainment.”

Maybe the doubling of theatres showing the film that was scheduled for this week won’t happen after all.

MoveOn Meet-ups

I went to a local “meet-up” (though it wasn’t organized through Meet-Up but rather by in central Fairfax, Va. Good group of folks who generally sounded the “angry” theme. We get criticized for that by conservatives who suggest its evidence of a psychological failing. I feel that not getting angry is really screwed up.

There to discuss Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” and hear Moore and Move-On folks talk about how to turn anger into action, the group of 25-20 people represented the spectrum from dogged, experienced organizers to the neophytes. One of the latter is an acquaintance of mine who said she was very aware of the issues but not sure what she could do to help.

I suspect there are a lot of folks like that who don’t realize that winning elections is less about understanding the issues and more about dragging someone by the collar to the voting booth. Sure enough, Moore, who shared some of the reactions he’s gotten from movie goers, also offered advice.

First, take off election day. Not a bad idea. We need help Nov. 2 seeing that people who should and probably do care make it to the polls.

Another of Moore’s suggestions was to adopt five non-voters and convince them to vote for Kerry, then bring them to the polls and party hardy afterwards. Hey, the party alone has me sold.

MoveOn had its own suggestions. One was to organize a phone bank on July 11 to register new voters. One or two folks at the Fairfax meeting offered to host one and about half the crowd said they’d show up and make the calls.

Commonwealth Commonsense will be happy to post information about this effort for Virginians. I’ll be out of the country July 11 but can probably post until then.

At our meeting was one vocal Republican, brought there at the urging of a friend. He took umbrage at a wisecrack, saying that we shouldn’t paint all Republicans as right wing nuts. And he’s absolutely right. Even I on this blog am guilty of imprecise monikers. Many Republicans are moderates who are as appalled as Democrats about the direction Bush is taking us. Indeed, if we can each convince one Republican to vote for Kerry, the race is a done deal. That’s more likely to happen if we don’t accuse them all of being wingers.

Most of the folks in the F9/11 theatres are in the choir. But not all. If each of us can get even one moderate Republican to take a look at Fahrenheit 9/11, we may have a chance to defeat Bush. And that’s what the meetings last night – more than 4,000 of them with 55,000 people attending according to MoveOn – was all about.

Virginia News: What A Webb We Weave

“Let’s face it if a member of the legislature had done what Ms. Webb did you would be calling for their resignation. Apparently your publication promotes double standards. Wrong is wrong, and what Ms. Webb did was unethical, and possibly illegal. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, but honesty in government issue.”

So commented Del. Steve Landes (R-Augusta) on Commonwealth Commonsense in response to one of my posts on the matter.

When asked by several of the Republican lawmakers for campaign donations, Katie Webb, lobbyist for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, refused their requests and stated the reason why: They voted against sale tax increases VHHA felt were needed to fund Medicare reimbursements to hospitals.

The letter was unusual in its bluntness, but what it said was obvious: If you don’t vote our way, don’t expect contributions. Somehow, Landes, who did not receive one of the letters, thinks that’s unethical and suggests this is an “honesty in government issue.”

I can’t understand the complaint. Webb was being honest. What would be dishonest is to make up some tortured reason that wouldn’t offend the lawmakers, which is what often is done, or to simply ignore the request. Lawmakers know they get contributions from people and organizations that want them to vote certain ways. Many folks don’t like that idea, thinking it provides too much power to the rich and corporations, but that’s the way the game is played. And unlike many liberals, I really have no problem with campaign contributions buying access because on election day, my vote counts just the same as a rich woman’s or a CEO’s vote.

Landes tried to get Attorney General Jerry Kilgore to weigh in on the matter, but his office declined, saying the AG doesn’t rule on the facts of a case. Landes wants Webb charged with bribery. The Washington Post reports the AG’s definition of bribery as “the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of anything of value with intent to influence the recipient’s action as a public official.” Boy, if that were followed to the letter, politicians wouldn’t receive enough to pay for a cup of coffee.

“There’s nothing shocking in this,” said Mark Rozell, chairman of the Politics Department at Catholic University. “It was just that the PAC’s response was so candid in admitting that they do what everyone else does.”

In fact, last week, Kilgore’s campaign solicited a donation from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association as part of a broad mailing, a campaign spokesman said.
In his request, was Kilgore saying if you contribute to my campaign, “I’ll be sure to consider your point of view and the bigger the contribution the larger the consideration”?

Landes, who probably wouldn’t have any standing in a lawsuit, said he’ll leave it up to the lawmakers who received the letter to decide whether to pursue the matter in court. But that tact is losing its appeal.

“The truth is, we all have bigger fish to fry,” said Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William). “I thought the letter was inappropriate. But having said that, I don’t think Ms. Webb got up in the morning intending to break the law. She overstated her point.”

Similarly, Sen. James K. “Jay” O’Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax) said he was ready to let things rest. “I thought it was in awfully poor taste,” he said. “She crossed the line, I thought. But it just shows you the nature of things in Richmond these days.”

At lease one of those who received the letter said he saw nothing unusual in it.

“I didn’t take any offense at the letter to begin with,” said Sen. Bill Bolling (R-Hanover). “Different people could read the letter in different ways. They were saying that they were not going to be supportive and here’s why. I thought they were being very honest in their position, and you can’t ask for more than that. I frankly never understood the angst.”

I haven’t understood it either.

Virginia/Fairfax News

A showing of Fahrenheit 9/11 on Thursday, July 8, at the Cinema Arts Theatre in Fairfax will be followed by a discussion moderated by Rich Rubinstein, Professor of Conflict Resolution and Public Affairs at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Fairfax.

The Cinema Arts Theatre is in the Fairfax City Mall on Little River Road in Fairfax. The discussion will follow the 7:40 showing of the film. Panelists include Marc Raskin of the Institute for Policy Studies and (awaiting confirmation) Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute. Anyone interested in attending should buy tickets early; they expect to sell out.

Who Is Charismatic?

A common journalistic line in this campaign is that John Kerry lacks charisma. Backbone, maybe; charisma, I’m not sure because I’m not sure what charisma is. And I doubt many journalists can give us a clear definition or benchmarks we can touch that put push candidates off the charisma scale.

But that doesn’t stop them from writing about it ad nauseum. Let’s face it: It’s easier than trying to understand, interpret and report on policy matters.

But this morning, the “Campaign Desk” from the Columbia J-School has an interesting retrospective about what the press is saying now about Kerry and possible running mate Sen. John Edwards and what the press was saying four years ago when Kerry was being considered for the No. 2 slot by Al Gore. Seems like in the four years since, Kerry has gotten uglier, less charismatic, more wonkish and more “aloof, condescending and soporific.”

In a word, these stories aren’t worth the price of newsprint, but reporters will keep on reporting them.

Can You F***** Believe It?

The F-word continues to reverberate both on Capitol Hill and in the Washington Post newsroom.

VP Cheney, who uttered “Fuck Yourself” to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) late last week, refused to apologize or express any misgivings that he said it.

OK. Most of us have probably said this at some point, though probably not to a U.S. Senator. But here’s what Cheney said to Bush before they were elected, er I mean stole the election.

“I look forward to working with you, Governor, to change the tone in Washington, to restore a spirit of civility and respect and cooperation.…The days of the war room and the permanent campaign are over. . . . We take seriously the responsibility to be honest and civil.” So said Mr. Cheney in February 2001, in his first major speech as vice president.

But Friday he said,

“I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it,” Cheney told Neil Cavuto of Fox News. The vice president said those who heard the putdown agreed with him. “I think that a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue.”

Badly needed to be said? Did he think that Leahy would as a result change his position on the war become a Republican because the VP pointed out the senator’s inability to contort himself?

Evidently, the usually pompous and pious Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was OK with remark, too.

“With regard to the vice president’s comments, I did not hear the comments, did not witness the comments, but clearly they reflect a lot of that emotion,” he said. “Without taking one side or the other, a lot of personal feelings are being expressed, and that emotion came out by the vice president, and I’ll let the American people judge as to whether or not it was warranted.”

Pressed whether he condones the use of such language in the Senate, Frist pointed out that the chamber was not in session at the time, “so I am not going to condone, I am not going to overly criticize the language that people in the — the language that people use to express themselves.”

The “Wear-my-religion-on-my-sleeve” Dubya was also sanguine about it.

On Saturday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush had no problem with his vice president’s language. “It’s not an issue with the president,” McClellan said.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post, which set tongues a-wagging when it published the obscenity uncensored, felt the need to explain itself and address the lack of consistency that we highlighted last week.

“When the vice president of the United States says it to a senator in the way in which he said it on the Senate floor,” says Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., “readers need to judge for themselves what the word is because we don’t play games at The Washington Post and use dashes.” At the same time, the article recalled that in 2000 then-candidate George Bush made an off-mike comment about Adam Clymer, then a New York Times reporter, calling him a “major-league [expletive],” to which Cheney responded, “Big time.” Downie said the paper used the vulgar term for an orifice at the time and he saw no reason to repeat it in yesterday’s newspaper.

The Post also editorialized on the matter.

Whenever one of these angry moments comes along, someone points out that politics has always been rough-and-tumble, that attacks were pretty vicious in Thomas Jefferson’s day, and so on, all of which is true. It’s also true, though, as Mr. Cheney said in 2001, that there’s been less and less willingness in recent years to assume good faith on the other side, a trend that makes governing more difficult. Mr. Cheney indicated yesterday on Fox News that he has no regrets (“I felt better after I said it”), which in itself is another sad milepost.

The inability of this administration to admit fault continues to have deadly consequences, which are certainly more critical than an occasional “fuck.” But that the VP could not, as most had expected, simply say “I’m sorry I lost my temper” raises the question of whether that inability is seriously pathological.