Monthly Archives: June 2006


Not likely to post until weekend.

Wanted: Editor

Jim Webb’s campaign manager needs an editor. From the latest campaign email:

And [Sen. Allen] hired Dick Wadhams, a man whose last race featured the despicable intimidation of Native American voters and campaign workers breaking the law.

Let’s overlook for the moment that it’s not a complete sentence. Read without the first half of the prepositional object may make the other problem clearer.

And [Sen. Allen] hired Dick Wadhams, a man whose last race featured the despicable intimidation of campaign workers breaking the law.

So what’s wrong with intimidating people who are breaking the law? Ah, what a comma would do.

And [Sen. Allen] hired Dick Wadhams, a man whose last race featured the despicable intimidation of Native American voters and campaign workers, breaking the law. “Thereby” is then implied.

I figured with my check I get to give them a grammar lesson.

And as others have pointed out, this sentence leaves us a little cold:

The fact is Allen and his campaign have not earned the right to challenge Jim Webb’s position on free speech and flag burning.

You don’t really “earn” free speech, even if Allen is a draft dodger like so many other right-wing, arm chair soldiers.

One Side of the Story

Jim Webb must be a little pissed about the way Charles Babbington ends his story on the flag burning amendment.

Hours before the votes were taken, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) thrust the issue into his reelection campaign. Noting that Democratic challenger James Webb had said he opposed the amendment, Allen’s campaign issued a press release linking Webb to Sens. John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who voted against the amendment. The release said Webb is “totally beholden to the liberal Washington senators” who backed him in this month’s primary.

Babbington offers Webb no chance to respond. Has the Webb campaign made a call to Babbington this morning?

So What’s the Problem?

Media Matters and this blog have regularly criticized Washington Post media writer and CNN TV host Howard Kurtz for his conservative bias in his reporting. Whether his being an administration mouthpiece has anything to do with his wife being a GOP consultant is unclear. (It is interesting to note that in her bio on her website she makes no mention that Kurtz is her husband.)

But certainly one has to question not only his bias but his journalistic credentials with his piece this morning. The story does nothing more than provide critics of the New York Times about 40 column inches to criticize the paper for its reporting of the banking records search initiative by Bush & Co. and put both the NY and the LA Times editors on the defensive, right from the lede.

President Bush calls the conduct of the New York Times “disgraceful.” Vice President Cheney objects to the paper having won a Pulitzer Prize. A Republican congressman wants the Times prosecuted. National Review says its press credentials should be yanked. Radio commentator Tammy Bruce likens the paper to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

… Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, yesterday asked John Negroponte, the national intelligence director, for a damage assessment following the Times story. Three other GOP senators joined Roberts at a news conference, with John Ensign of Nevada saying the paper “should have worked in cooperation with those authorities in our government to make sure that those who leaked were prosecuted.” Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth circulated a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert calling for the paper’s congressional credentials to be withdrawn. And New York Rep. Peter King continues to call for the Times — which, he told Fox News, has an “arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda” — to be prosecuted for violating the 1917 Espionage Act.

… Heather MacDonald, writing in the Weekly Standard, called the Times “a national security threat” that is “drunk” on its own power.

William Bennett, the former Reagan administration official and conservative radio host, said the “cumulative impact” of both Times stories, and The Post’s disclosure of secret CIA prisons overseas, had brought the situation to a “critical mass.” Conservatives, he said, now wonder: “Gosh, is there a secret operation we’re running that won’t be disclosed by the press?”

But here’s the journalistic flaw, one that many reporters have when it comes to reporting the latest PR flack coming from the GOP: They rarely cut to the chaste and ask why this is a problem.

[Republicans] contend that exposing the classified banking program has badly undermined the administration’s efforts to investigate and capture terrorists.

The obvious question is How? Never once in the piece does Kurtz bother to ascertain whether the criticism is legitimate. If searching bank records is not on nearly the thin ice as the eavesdropping efforts are, as some contend, then critics of the Times at the very least need to tell us why the story is a threat to the administration’s efforts to thwart terrorists. Does anyone think that the terrorists would be surprised by this effort? The administration said from early on that they would try to disrupt the flow of money among Islamic terrorists. So why is the story so destructive to those efforts?

“Cut-and-Run” Vs. “Occupation”

Tonight on “All Things Considered” there’s a short interview with GOP messaging guru Frank Luntz and George Lakoff, a Democratic consultant best know for his book Don’t Think of an Elephant.

Luntz of course thinks cut-and-run is quite snappy and effective. Lakoff says Dems should say we accomplished the mission of defeating Iraq in May 2003 but are bogged down in an occupation.

But then Luntz says something to the effect of “George keeps hoping if you say occupation over and over again, people will believe it.” The ATC host, to her credit, says, to the effect, “Isn’t that what the Republicans do all the time with cut-and-run?” Luntz essentially says, “Yes but that’s what the Dem want.” He’s clueless to the hypocrisy.

The interview should be up by 7:30. Here’s the link to the story. It should get you to the audio.

In sum, I’m not sure if Lakoff has the right idea, but it’s worth a shot.

MSM Myopia

The greatest challenge facing Democrats is pack mentality in the press.

Yes, the Dems bring some of it on themselves by being weak-kneed in the face of MSM criticism and by repeating the right’s attacks. In one recent case, a CBS News reporter started her story about Gen. Casey’s planned withdrawal by saying, “It’s not a cut-and-run strategy….”

But even when polls are showing that a majority of Americans are coming around to calling for a withdrawal, the MSM genuflects at the Karl Rove altar. Even when criticizing his dishonest smash-mouth politics they can’t help calling him “brilliant.”

Eric Boehlert, author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, makes a sums it up.

On the same day at least 40 Iraqis were killed by insurgent bombings, USA Today reported a strong majority of Americans (57-39) want a timetable set for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Iraq. Which, of course, means a strong majority of Americans back the Democratic timetable initiative, the same initiative that the mainstream media—across the board—last week labeled a political loser for Dems, while cheering the GOP for winning the war over the war with its ‘cut-and-run’ rhetoric. Now we find out that 57 percent of Americans want to cut-and-run.

The newest findings only add to the insult of last week’s incredibly dishonest news coverage of the Senate debate regarding Iraq, where RNC talking points were billboarded again and again. “GOP leaders took obvious pleasure in the Democrats’ disarray” on Iraq, wrote the Washington Post. CNN reported Republicans were “having a field day” watching Democrats debate resolutions to establish a withdrawal timetable, while conveniently ignoring the fact a majority of Americans supported the Democratic plan (even last week). And Newsweek obediently announced, “Democrats lost the week in the war over the war.”

Folks, we need to pause here and really examine just how derelict the MSM has become, and just how entrenched the entire corporate media enterprise is in terms of allowing the Republican party to dictate coverage on key political issues. The fact that the lapdog press allows it to happen on behalf of a historically unpopular president just boggles the mind. (And yes, the USA Today poll confirmed Bush’s much-anticipated June bounce was non-existent.)

As I noted last week, “Apparently if Karl Rove signs off on a political strategy (hit the Dems hard over Iraq), the press assumes it’s a work of genius and shows little interest in dwelling on the pertinent questions, such as isn’t there an obvious risk Republicans run in making the hugely unpopular war in Iraq, and specifically the notion that U.S. troops should pretty much stay there indefinitely, the centerpiece for their 2006 campaign?” Instead, journalists purposefully ignored clear polling data which obliterated the narrative that the Republicans had the winning had in the Iraq troop debate.

Why can MSNBC talk show host and former GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough easily analyze the American domestic politics of Iraq, but entire bureaus within the Beltway cannot, or more specifically will not? Because let’s not kid ourselves, journalists at this pay grade are not dumb. They can read the polling data just like anyone else and could instantly grasp the political barriers the Republicans were erecting by going all in with Iraq during an election year. But they chose, as a group, to focus on the perils facing Democrats instead. And that’s what makes the media’s complete failure on the issue all the more distressing; it’s being done intentionally. Journalists are afraid of the facts and the consequences of reporting them. My book is filled with the examples —entire chapters— and last week’s Iraq debate is just the latest instance. Reporters and pundits obviously chose to allow their coverage be dictated by the RNC and White House aides. There’s no other explanation.

Indeed, it seems the “Dems are feckless” is such an overwhelming bit of conventional wisdom that even when they show guts, they’re not given any credit.

And I know many think this is all carping, but when you come across examples such as this, you have to question the basic fairness of the MSM press.

In the [Time magazine] issue of December 10, 2005, Joe Klein quoted Howard Dean as follows: “The idea that we are going to win this war … is just plain wrong.” Klein added: “Dean — as always — seemed downright gleeful about the bad news. He seemed to be rooting for defeat.” Wonder what Klein dropped from the Dean quotation in favor of those three little dots? The word was “unfortunately.”

That’s simply irresponsible. I liked Klein’s recent book, but he owes us an explanation. So do a lot of other journalists.

In my media relations work, even though most of it was in the business press, I rarely let a reporter get away with what I thought was unfair reporting. I would call them, ask them how they came to the conclusion they did, and if unsatisfied, I’d tell them exactly what I thought. I tried to be outraged, but I made myself clear. And to the best of my knowledge, there were never any retaliations. In fact, it often had the effect I wanted–fairer coverage.

I’m sure the Democratic press operatives do the same. I know James Carville was famous for it during the Clinton campaigns. But then again, without a Karl Rove coordinating things for the Democrats, are there press folks constantly calling the press when the coverage is unfair? Sometimes I wonder.

Karl Rove Channels Lee Atwater, Again

Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter provided some keen insight and encouragement for Democrats by describing FDR’s path to the New Deal. Alter was a panelist at the NDN Conference last week. He said FDR’s victory over Hoover didn’t depend on a neatly laid out plan to get us out of the depression. The entire New Deal was ad hoc or as Alter put it, “bold, persistent experimentation.” And so with the Iraq War, Dems should demand accountability and new initiatives to end it because what’s being done isn’t working. That’s not a weakness, it’s a strength.

So Democrats need to remind themselves that they can’t play Karl Rove’s game.

For more than a quarter century, Karl Rove has employed a simple, brilliant, counterintuitive campaign tactic: instead of attacking his opponents at their weakest point, the conventional approach, he attacks their strength. He neutralizes that strength to the point that it begins to look like weakness. When John McCain was winning in 2000 because of his character, Rove attacked his character. When John Kerry was nominated in 2004 because of his Vietnam combat experience, the Republicans Swift-Boated him. This year’s midterm elections will turn on whether Rove can somehow transform the Democrats’ greatest political asset—the Iraq fiasco—into a liability.

That was always Lee Atwater’s game: attack your opponent’s strength.

…some Senate Democrats got smart for a change. They recognized that the party out of the White House doesn’t need a detailed strategy for ending a war, just a general sense of direction. When Dwight Eisenhower ran for president in 1952, his plan wasn’t any more specific than “I will go to Korea.” When Richard Nixon was asked how he would end the Vietnam War in 1968, he said he had a “secret plan”—and got away with it. So now 80 percent of Senate Democrats are united behind something called the “Levin-Reed Amendment.” The details of it (begin withdrawal without a firm timetable for getting out completely; diplomacy with the Sunnis; purging the Iraqi military and police of bad guys) are less important than that they finally came up with something.

Of course parrying “cut and run” with “Levin-Reed” won’t suffice. But Sen. Joe Biden’s riposte to the GOP’s symbolic roll-call votes—”The Republicans are now totally united in a failed policy”—is a start. This isn’t rocket science. Unless things improve dramatically on the ground in Iraq, Democrats have a powerful argument: If you believe the Iraq war is a success, vote Republican. If you believe it is a failure, vote Democratic.

Alter is spot on. Democrats are not in power, therefore it is not their responsibility to come up with a specific alternate plan absent the critical intelligence they are not privy to. For all its talk of accountability for welfare moms, teenage girls, future retirees, etc. to take responsibility for their actions, this administration does not want to be held accountable for its decisions. And since its strategy is “stay the course,” or “keep going what’s been failing all these years,” it seems the Dems have a right to ask the tough questions Republicans on the Hill won’t.

Newt Gingrich engineered the ’94 takeover of Congress by criticizing Democrats in Congress. It was a “throw the bums out” campaign. The Contract with America didn’t come until six weeks before the election and after polls predicted the Republican take over. SO why should the Dems come up with alternative plans?

“United in a failed strategy” is a good mantra. Don’t let Rove throw us off the message. His strategy counts on weak-kneed Dems afraid of the cut-and-run charge. The percentage of Americans wanting a timetable is increasing, with nearly a majority demanding it. Time is on our side. If the Dems stick to their guns, they will get the same credit Bush has gotten for sticking with his, thereby at least neutralizing the Iraq issue. And if you look at The Post poll, there is little else Bush has to grasp. But to avoid the Iraq War will play into Rove’s strategy.