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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 27 September 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Ohio: Blackwell the Magician

Ford Fessenden in the Sunday New York Times (September 26, 2004) reports this -
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A sweeping voter-registration campaign in heavily Democratic areas has added tens of thousands of new voters to the rolls in the swing states of Ohio and Florida, a surge that has far exceeded Republican efforts in both states, a review of registration data shows.

The analysis of county-by-county data shows that in Democratic areas of Ohio -- primarily low-income and minority neighborhoods -- new registrations since January have increased 250 percent over the same period in 2000. In comparison, new registrations have increased 25 percent in Republican areas.
So what are the Republicans to do?

Jim Bebbington and Laura Bischoff report this in the Dayton Daily News -
Blackwell rulings rile voting advocates

Voters-rights advocates are criticizing two recent decisions by Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell that they say will unfairly limit some people's ability to vote Nov. 2.

Blackwell's office has told county boards of elections to follow strictly two provisions in Ohio election law:

* One requires Ohio voter registration cards be printed on thick, 80-pound stock paper.

* The other ordered boards to strictly interpret the rules regarding provisional ballots, the ones cast by voters who move before the election but are still registered in Ohio.

The paper-stock issue is frustrating Montgomery County Board of Elections officials, who have a backlog of registrations to complete. If they get an Ohio voter registration card on paper thinner than required, they are mailing a new card out to the voter. But if they still have the backlog by the registration deadline, Oct. 4, voters will not have another chance to get their correct paperwork in, said Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County board.

"There is just no reason to use 80-pound paper," Harsman said.

In Montgomery County there is a backlog of around 4,000 registrations, Harsman said. A few hundred could be affected by this provision, he said.

Cuyahoga County board of elections officials are ignoring the edict because they have already had an avalanche of new registrations submitted on forms printed on newsprint in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

"We don't have a micrometer at each desk to check the weight of the paper," said Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga County Board. ...
And here is a quick summary -
In the final days before the registration deadline Ken Blackwell, Ohio Secretary of State, has ordered the local election boards to send out new applications to applicants who have submitted registrations on the wrong paper. The ostensible reason for this order is to insure that the applications can make it through the postal system without being damaged. The Secretary didn't point to any examples of voters who were stupid enough to mail regular weight paper as a postcard, nor did he cite examples of complaints from the Postal Service that this has been a problem. Never mind also that the applications he wants thrown out have already been delivered to the election boards safely.

The phone number of the Ohio Sec. of State is 614-466-2585
I wonder if anyone called.

You might want to look at the controlling federal election law for a giggle - as almost everyone on the web links to it. And note what is in bold here -
Sec. 1971. - Voting rights

(a) Race, color, or previous condition not to affect right to vote; uniform standards for voting qualifications; errors or omissions from papers; literacy tests; agreements between Attorney General and State or local authorities; definitions

All citizens of the United States who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election by the people in any State, Territory, district, county, city, parish, township, school district, municipality, or other territorial subdivision, shall be entitled and allowed to vote at all such elections, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; any constitution, law, custom, usage, or regulation of any State or Territory, or by or under its authority, to the contrary notwithstanding.

No person acting under color of law shall -

in determining whether any individual is qualified under State law or laws to vote in any election, apply any standard, practice, or procedure different from the standards, practices, or procedures applied under such law or laws to other individuals within the same county, parish, or similar political subdivision who have been found by State officials to be qualified to vote;


deny the right of any individual to vote in any election because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting, if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under State law to vote in such election; ...
Does the Ohio law that specifies paper weights supercede the Federal Code? Probably not.

Florida is a mess from the hurricanes and no one is thinking about how to suppress the vote of those who would vote the wrong way. Down there right now they're busy clearing the streets and stringing up new power lines. No time for that. So Ohio is the new Florida.

Or maybe it's not. By mid-week Blackwell did something Kathleen Harris would never do. He changed his mind.

See Blackwell ends paper chase
Some could be unable to vote because of flap over registration forms
Wednesday, September 29, 2004, Catherine Candisky, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Under fire from voting-rights advocates, Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell retreated yesterday from a directive that critics said would slow voter-registration efforts and even block some people from casting a ballot Nov. 2.

... Last night, a spokesman for Blackwell denied that the GOP officeholder was trying to prevent people from voting and said county boards should accept voter registration forms on paper of any weight as long as they are otherwise valid.

"We're not the paper police. We're not going to go to county election boards and review voter registration forms," said Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo. "We want them to process the forms." ...
But, but, but... ? Is not the test of a true leader whether he or she is steadfast and resolute no matter what popular opinion is, and no matter what changes on the ground, not matter what the advice of experts is, and no matter what the rigid and unresponsive law demands? This is, frankly, a flip-flop, and the single leadership sin no American can ever forgive.

Blackwell can never run for office anywhere as a Republican now.


Oh, and the Ohio Democratic Party has filed a federal lawsuit about these matters. But not about disqualifying voters registering using the wrong paper stock. It's that other edict - ordering election boards to strictly interpret the rules regarding provisional ballots, the ones cast by voters who move before the election but are still registered in Ohio.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 27, 2004

COLUMBUS - Ohio Democrats filed a federal lawsuit today to protect the voting rights of Ohio citizens that are threatened by Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's recent decision.

Blackwell recently directed Ohio election officials not to issue provisional ballots except in very narrow circumstances. Unlike many other state election officials, Blackwell is specifically refusing to issue these ballots to voters who find themselves at a polling place other than the one for the precinct where they live. The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), passed by Congress after the 2000 Florida recount, makes provisional ballots widely available to voters who are denied the right to vote on election day.

"As Democrats, we will fight hard to count every vote," said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Dennis L. White. "Blackwell's decision will deny the right to vote to thousands of Ohioans. We don't need another Florida to happen right here in Ohio this year."

The Ohio Democratic Party and the Sandusky County Democratic Party filed the lawsuit against Blackwell today in United States District Court in Toledo. Sandusky County Democrats are
particularly concerned about the voting rights of farm workers and other minority citizens in northwest Ohio. The lawsuit asks the court to declare that Blackwell's decision violates HAVA, and to order him to issue a new directive that complies with federal law.

"Ken Blackwell is becoming the Katherine Harris of 2004. He is trying to place new obstacles in the way of Ohio voters, and we will not let him do it," said State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo). "He's trying to cook the vote with directives to county boards of elections that are discriminatory and move our voting rights backwards."

The lawsuit was assigned to Judge James G. Carr and seeks a preliminary injunction in order to receive an expeditious ruling on the matter.
Will they get an injunction? Judge Carr's bio is here - born in Boston, BA from Kenyon, and a law degree from Harvard, a lot of work in Chicago (Cook County) and nominated to the bench, in 1994, by Clinton.

Roy Cohn did once say, "I don't care what the law is, just tell me who the judge is." In September of 2002 Carr joined in a panel opinion that declared that it was unlawful for the Bush administration to conduct deportation hearings in secret whenever the government asserted that the people involved might be linked to terrorism. (See this from the New York Times.)

A good guy?

But note this about Carr -
"He's a little goofy. He gets things wrong sometimes, though. Sometimes he'll make correct statements but really lose sight of the big picture. Lawyers need to help him get to the right place. He doesn't always have the best judgment." "He's not very good at recalling proceedings and remembering what's happened from appearance to appearance." " . . . I have to say that I think he is very biased in favor of law enforcement. He just won't allow for the fact that sometimes these guys inaccurately convey what happened, which is bothersome. Also, he's sensitive to due process - so long as no one is going to get acquitted." "He has a very distinct pro-law enforcement bent." "I think he tries to be fair, but he favors the government."

- "Lawyers' Evaluation" in Almanac of the Federal Judiciary 48. 6th Circuit (1998).
The full item runs down Carr's decisions and concludes - "The public has lost enough confidence in the federal judiciary as it is. Judge Carr is so unprincipled, biased and incompetent he should be impeached, not promoted."

This is going to be fun!

Posted by Alan at 17:10 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 29 September 2004 09:55 PDT home

Sunday, 26 September 2004

Topic: Photos

The weekly virtual magazine in now on line!

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 2, Number 38 (Sunday, September 26, 2004) has just been posted. What appeared here first is extended, and below you will find links to the items peculiar, so to speak, to the parent magazine of this web log.

This week? Who is better at playing the victim - the conservative right or the progressive left? And notes on changes in the political narratives we are being fed, and some thoughts on scolding others as a diplomatic tool, and the odd hurricane map. And follow-ups on CBS and on the "we've lost it" meme.

Features? A long, extended item how we think about work, and how others think about it - with two readers in France explaining things there. And the usual funny quotes (test your Latin skills).

Bob Patterson is back with a piece on how to do reporting, and on our adventures at an excruciatingly hip Hollywood literary party. And his Book Wrangler column has some suggestions for you.

The photos? Phillip Marlow's old haunts on Hollywood Boulevard, of course.

A new feature added during the week - a search page. Click on SEARCH from the top menu and, with the first option, you can do a key word or topic search on any issue this year. The second option allows you to perform the same sort of search on issues prior to this year and the complete contents of this daily web log As seen from Just Above Sunset.

But this is not me...

Posted by Alan at 17:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 25 September 2004

Topic: Oddities

Odds and Ends: A Curious Map Reveals God's Politics

This has been going around the net for a week or so. One Bob Morris created it - and that might be Bob Morris, President, Leica Geosystems GIS & Mapping / Technological Advancements Imagery Processing and Distribution - or not. It has moved into de facto public domain with his copyright release at the bottom.

And Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, where the effects of such things are felt, comments on it - "This is wonderful! It's like I keep saying, but nobody will listen: Jesus was a liberal!" (See August 8, 2004: Rehabilitating the word LIBERAL - and Elvis? in Just Above Sunset for that discussion.)

Rick adds - "I wonder how accurate this map really is? Of course, those lines would in theory be tracking the eye of the storm, which means Gore counties would in some cases get hit pretty hard, too. But still...."

The Map:


God punishes Republicans, it seems. Over at Snopes: Urban Legends Reference Pages, one of the many sites that debunks internet hoaxes, you will find this:

Claim: Three hurricanes that hit Florida in the summer of 2004 touched only counties that voted for George Bush in the 2000 presidential election.

Status: False.

The discussion that follows there parallels Rick's comment - "The map shown above presents the hurricanes as if they traversed neat, narrow paths, hitting only counties that voted for George Bush in 2000 (colored pink) and avoiding all counties that voted for Al Gore (colored blue). It took some finagling with the actual storm data to produce those results, however." And a complete discussion follows.

But still....


The final word from Rick in Atlanta -
All well and good, but if you read that Snopes analysis closely, you will note that all mentions of wind speeds in the hurricane range of over 75 mph in Gore counties were "gusts," while all the "sustained winds" were below hurricane strength! As you know, hurricanes are measured by "sustained wind" speeds, not "gusts"! So it seems that this Morris guy may be onto something after all.

Also, who of us was not already aware that the damn storms would have to take a huge leap into outer space in order to land on some state that voted for Gore in 2000? The point here is that God knew the Deep South was just an irresistible target of opportunity, since all those segregationist Dixiecrats had switched over and became Republicans! (Except for Zell Miller, of course, but for all we know, God was aiming for him anyway!)

Okay, okay, okay! Of course those Snopes people are right when they call this map just a "clever case of political humor"! But you have to admit, it sure is funnier than all those Republican hoaxes that, on a routine basis, rate Snopes Urban Legend exposes!

So yes, I confess, I can keep this feeble attempt at "suspension of disbelief" going for only so long. Then again, I would imagine the only people able to maintain "suspension of disbelief" indefinitely will all be voting Republican this year.

And Rick adds this - "I'm enjoying we Democrats finally getting a chance to have our own urban legend, just as long as we don't betray our souls by actually believing it."

Posted by Alan at 20:00 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 26 September 2004 10:43 PDT home

Friday, 24 September 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Rhetoric: The campaigns settle on their preferred devices for the final weeks, building the necessary narratives....

Device One: The Democrats Will Outlaw Christianity and Confiscate Your Bible

A bit comical, but it will be effective, and discussed here:

Republicans Admit Mailing Campaign Literature Saying Liberals Will Ban the Bible
David D. Kirkpatrick, The New York Times, September 24, 2004

In short?
The Republican Party acknowledged yesterday sending mass mailings to residents of two states warning that "liberals" seek to ban the Bible. It said the mailings were part of its effort to mobilize religious voters for President Bush.

The mailings include images of the Bible labeled "banned" and of a gay marriage proposal labeled "allowed." A mailing to Arkansas residents warns: "This will be Arkansas if you don't vote." A similar mailing was sent to West Virginians.

A liberal religious group, the Interfaith Alliance, circulated a copy of the Arkansas mailing to reporters yesterday to publicize it. "What they are doing is despicable,'' said Don Parker, a spokesman for the alliance. "They are playing on people's fears and emotions."
No kidding. Yeah, well, it will get out the evangelical zealots. They'll vote now. One can explain to them that gay marriage would not be mandatory, only optional for those so inclined, and that they can keep their Bibles if they'd like, but the seed has been planted. This, actually, is pretty effective politics. It may be absurd, and easily dismissed as a prank, but it gets the job done.

Kirkpatrick in the Times report quotes an editorial on September 22 in The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia: "Holy Moley! Who concocts this gibberish? ... Most Americans see morality more complexly. Many think a higher morality is found in Christ's command to help the needy, prevent war and pursue other humanitarian goals. Churchgoers of this sort aren't likely to believe childish allegations that Democrats want to ban the Bible."

But some will, and vote appropriately. Score one for the Bush team - a very effective move.

Note this exchange on CSPAN - on a recent call-in show:
PETER SLEN, HOST: Kenner, Louisiana, good morning.

CALLER (in a very airy voice): Good morning. I'm going to vote for President Bush because, after all, you know, God made us there, you know, in His image, free from any black color and all [Host looks up, surprised]. The only church that Kerry can go to is where they say the Black Mass, and that is in the Merriam-Webster Pocket Book dictionary, where it says that that is the devil worshippers. [Host looks uncomfortably off-camera, at producer?] I would never vote for, you know, Senator Kerry...
And there is more at the link. The Times piece also has much more detail.

This works.

Two: Raising questions about the president's policies and actions give aid and comfort to the enemy, and giving aid and comfort to the enemy is treason.

The first, or at least the most powerful example of this, was Zell Miller's keynote address to the Republican convention some weeks ago in New York - see September 5, 2004: The defining moment of the Republican National Convention in these pages for a discussion of that. The short form - Miller inveighed against those who want to "bring down this president." The underlying idea was that opposing Bush, or even having an election, was opposing America. This is not the time for that.

That message is being refined.

See Tying Kerry to Terror Tests Rhetorical Limits
Dana Milbank, The Washington Post, Friday, September 24, 2004; Page A01

The idea has now been modified in this: support of John Kerry is support of terrorism.

Milbank opens with this -
President Bush and leading Republicans are increasingly charging that Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and others in his party are giving comfort to terrorists and undermining the war in Iraq -- a line of attack that tests the conventional bounds of political rhetoric.

Appearing in the Rose Garden yesterday with Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, Bush said Kerry's statements about Iraq "can embolden an enemy." After Kerry criticized Allawi's speech to Congress, Vice President Cheney tore into the Democratic nominee, calling him "destructive" to the effort in Iraq and the struggle against terrorism.
Does this really test the conventional bounds of political rhetoric? Raise questions and you do commit treason. Milbank admits uch accusations have been a component of American politics since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and surfaced in the modern era during the McCarthy communist hunt and the Vietnam War protests.

This is not unusual.

Milbank does cite how this is becoming the new theme of Republican rhetorical with these examples -
On Tuesday, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said terrorists "are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry." On Fox News, Hatch said Democrats are "consistently saying things that I think undermine our young men and women who are serving over there."

On Sunday, GOP Senate candidate John Thune of South Dakota said of his opponent, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle: "His words embolden the enemy." Thune, on NBC's "Meet the Press," declined to disavow a statement by the Republican Party chairman in his state saying Daschle had brought "comfort to America's enemies."

On Saturday, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.) said at a GOP fundraiser: "I don't have data or intelligence to tell me one thing or another, [but] I would think they would be more apt to go [for] somebody who would file a lawsuit with the World Court or something rather than respond with troops." Asked whether he believed al Qaeda would be more successful under a Kerry presidency, Hastert said: "That's my opinion, yes."

The previous day in Warsaw, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said terrorists in Iraq "are trying to influence the election against President Bush."
This too is effective, and earlier this month Vice President Cheney said that on Election Day, "if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating" and that the United States would not respond vigorously. Milbank points out Cheney later said that he was not suggesting the country would be attacked if Kerry were elected. But a few days later Cheney did say, "We've gone on the offense in the war on terror -- and the president's opponent, Senator Kerry, doesn't seem to approve."

According to Milbank the White House and the Bush campaign said they would neither endorse nor disavow the remarks by Hastert, Armitage and all these others. It's all just the opinion of concerned citizens.

Milbank also reminds us that a few months after the 9/11 attacks Attorney General Ashcroft said tactics used by critics of the USA Patriot Act "only aid terrorists" and "give ammunition to America's enemies." And that in 2002, President Bush charged that opponents of his version of homeland security legislation are "not interested in the security of the American people." And that in 2003, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said that if terrorists think Bush's opponents might prevail, "they take heart in that, and that leads to more money going into these activities or that leads to more recruits or that leads to more encouragement."

Milbank has a long memory. The message has been clear all along - Shut up. Don't ask questions. This is not the time. Questions get our troops killed. Asking questions means the terrorists have won, and your questions helped them win. What is needed now is silence, and obedience. Bush and the Republicans will keep you safe, and you don't want to die, do you?

Milbank also quotes Ann Coulter on Fox News - "It's unquestionable that Republicans are more likely to prevent the next attack." Kerry, she said, "will improve the economy in the emergency services and body bag industry."

And that's that.

Three: One could argue that the president is pretending things are fine when everyone knows things are not fine - he is not in touch with reality

This is Kerry's counter, hammered hard all this week, to the "shut up and don't ask questions" Bush rhetoric that is rising rapidly.

Kevin Drum in The Washington Monthly lays it all out here -
Is George Bush in "fantasyland" regarding Iraq, as John Kerry says? I realize that's the fashionable position among lefty partisans, but it's honestly hard to come to any other conclusion these days. ...
A long history of the Iraq war over the last two years is then presented, and it's is clear things are a mess, and Drum ends with this -
... It's no longer clear if George Bush is merely a cynical, calculating politician -- which would be bad enough -- or if he actually believes all the happy talk about Iraq that his speechwriters produce for him. Increasingly, though, it seems like the latter: he genuinely doesn't have a clue about what's going on. What's more, his staff is keeping him in a sort of Nixonian bubble, afraid to tell him the truth and afraid to take any positive action for fear that it might affect the election.
So things will just get worse, since no one is willing to admit the truth and no one is willing to propose serious action to keep things from deteriorating further -- at least not until after November 2nd. But by then it will be too late. And when the Iraqi elections fail, what happens then?
Thus the counter device, rhetorically, is that Bush is too stubborn, or dumb, or isolated, or proud, or power-mad, to even acknowledge much less fix an obvious problem that he himself created, and he shouldn't be reelected.

Digby over at Hullabaloo piles on with an item he titles Shameless. Digby makes the mistake of watching the news.
Joie Chen on CNN just interviewed Brigadier General David Grange who basically said that John Kerry is causing the insurgency in Iraq because he is criticizing the president and "emboldening" the bad guys. ... It looks as if their plan is to say that the increased violence is John Kerry's responsibility in the hopes that Kerry will ratchet down his effective attack. ...

This is just the latest chapter in the classic post 9/11 playbook in which they virtually shut down dissent and paralyzed the country with accusations of 5th columns and treason for speaking out against two-faced Junior Bush. More and more it looks to me as if Rove is simply running a 2002 replay, which depended on keeping the dems off balance on national security and ginning up turnout.

... I've noticed that the wingnuts always vociferously deny impugning the patriotism of their rivals even though they constantly do it. So, I'm hoping the Dems run straight at their accusers with this latest nonsense. I suspect this patented fratboy "don't blame me" strategy is not ringing true with the swing voters. It's just kool-aid for the faithful in a turn-out street fight.
Well, it is a street fight. Of course the weapons are only words, so far.

But the rhetorical devices have been chosen - memes at dawn. Opposing Bush causes terrorism and is treason that aids the enemy, and besides that, you want to take away our Bibles and force us to marry gay folks. On the other side? This Bush guy has no clue about what he did, or is doing, and he's dangerous - so let's get someone to lead us who is at least attached to reality. This mess may be hard to fix, but it might be nice to start with accepting the facts of the matter.

So we've settled how this will play out.

Posted by Alan at 20:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 23 September 2004

Topic: The Media

Follow-Up: Who do you trust? What happened to CBS?

A few weeks ago here - September 12, 2004 - Bush's Bad Day at Black Rock (CBS) - Just Above Sunset covered the September 8 CBS broadcast which presented memos on "60 Minutes II" allegedly written by a colonel concerning how George Bush behaved in the Texas Air National Guard. The reporter was Dan Rather, the managing editor of the CBS evening news.

According to the memorandums, Bush refused to obey orders and had a "bad attitude." One Lieutenant Coronal Jerry Killian, now dead and gone, also said the future president could not qualify to fly jet planes because he did not show up for his physical, disobeying a direct order. But the memos have been questioned and appear to be forgeries. Killian's secretary, who did all his typing and is still with us, said she didn't type the memos - though she told CBS they were the colonel's thoughts. Weak stuff.

It seems handwriting experts hired by CBS said they warned that the documents might not be authentic. And there was a lot of this and that on whether the memos were typed in the seventies on an IBM Selectric typewriter, or created with word-processing software at a Kinko's in Abilene, Texas. (A good discussion of that matter is here.)

On the 14th Dan Rather in his evening news broadcast finally acknowledged that there are serious questions about the authenticity of the documents he use on the initial broadcast. (A summary of that is here.)

If you follow the news you've seen the reaction. Rather should resign and there should be a congressional investigation. Joe Scarborough on MSNBC on the 23rd devotes his entire show to a discussion of whether Rather and CBS have committed some crime - something like trying to unlawfully influence an election through the use of forged documents. The liberal media is evil, and so on and so forth.

From the Democrats we got this on the 21st -
Washington, D.C. - In response to false Republican accusations regarding the CBS documents, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe issued this statement:

"In today's New York Post, Roger Stone, who became associated with political `dirty tricks' while working for Nixon, refused to deny that he was the source the CBS documents.

"Will Ed Gillespie or the White House admit today what they know about Mr. Stone's relationship with these forged documents? Will they unequivocally rule out Mr. Stone's involvement? Or for that matter, others with a known history of dirty tricks, such as Karl Rove or Ralph Reed?"
Stone won't comment - so no denial. (More background on Stone, a prot?g? and long-time friend of Karl Rove is here - years ago Bob Dole fired the guy after this business about Stone and his wife and the sex clubs hit the news. Juicy stuff.)

Did Dan Rather and CBS try to subvert democracy by presenting, as news, documents they knew were false, and slander a sitting president in an attempt to get him voted out of office? Or did Karl Rove and his crew from the White House set up CBS to make them look like either fools or devils, and thus drive everyone to trust only Fox News - those patriots who back the president no matter what and say those who oppose Bush in any way hate America and are committing treason?

Stay tuned, or don't.

Well, Dan Rather is the one taking the hit. And there is an obvious irony here. As Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, Comedy Central's faux news program, pointed out as he opened his show recently - "We begin tonight with a simple, indisputable fact: as a young man, President George W. Bush benefited from family connections to get a place in the Texas Air National Guard, thus avoiding service in Vietnam. As you would guess, this has led to calls for the resignation of Dan Rather."

Ah, yep. These were additional supporting documents of something fairly obvious.

So what happened with CBS?

I've never much liked Tina Brown - when she ran the New Yorker for those few years she turned it into a magazine of style, sex and gossip and it's only now recovering - but lots of commentators are saying her column this week may be the definitive one on this CBS, Dan Rather business. Brown talks about the pressure in news these days. "Every editor, producer and reporter knows that the warp speed of the news cycle means we are all only one step ahead of some career-ending debacle." And that may be true. Rather lost a gamble.

See Breaking the News, Then Becoming It
Tina Brown - The Washington Post - Thursday, September 23, 2004; Page C01

Fleshing out her contention we get this -
... For Rather and CBS, all the conflicting tensions that torture journalists and producers day and night came together. The broiling partisan heat, the pressure to get out of third place with a scoop, the hot breath of cable news, the race to beat all the hacks and scribes who keep nibbling away at the story (your story, the story you've spent five years trying to get right), the baying of the bloggers, the sick sense of always being news-managed by the White House's black arts, the longing to show the Web charlatans and cable-heads that rumpled-trenchcoat news is still where the action is, the pounding inner soundtrack that asks: Am I a watchdog or a poodle? A journalist or an entertainer? A tough newsman or a mouse with mousse?

All this pandemonium in his ears is what made a legendary news icon go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, as David Gergen put it on CNN. And when the barrel hit the rocks, he stuck to the line that always used to work before in this movie: I Stand by My Story! Rather may have been eerily calm when he finally went on the air to announce, "I no longer have the confidence in these documents that would allow us to continue vouching for them journalistically." But he looked as if his psyche had been through Hurricane Ivan.
Ah, conflict! And a bad decision made under pressure.

And news folks all know that pressure, from the competition and now from bloggers -
Journalists the length and breadth of the land publicly beat up on Dan, but privately -- even in the capital of schadenfreude -- they were not as gleeful as you might expect. Every editor, producer and reporter knows that the warp speed of the news cycle means we are all only one step ahead of some career-ending debacle. But still the panic to beat the competition trumps every other concern. Reports this month that Fox News had surpassed the other networks' ratings with its GOP convention coverage only inflamed the terror of mounting obsolescence.

Fear of missing the bandwagon is behind all the hype about the brilliance of bloggers who blew the whistle. You'd think "Buckhead," who first spotted the flaws in the documents, is the cyberworld's Woodward and Bernstein. Now the conventional wisdom is that the media will be kept honest and decent by an army of incorruptible amateur gumshoes. In fact, cyberspace is populated by a coalition of political obsessives and pundits on speed who get it wrong as much as they get it right. It's just that they type so much they are bound to nail a story from time to time.

The rapturing about the bloggers is the journalistic equivalent of the stock market's Internet bubble. You can see the news chiefs feeling as spooked as the old-style CEOs in the '90s who had built their companies over 20 years and then saw kids in backward baseball caps on the cover of Fortune. It finally drove them nuts. It was why we saw Time Warner's buttoned-down corporate dealmaker Gerald Levin tearing off his tie and swooning into the embrace of AOL's Steve Case.

The equivalent today is when news outfits that built their reputations on check-and-double-check pick up almost any kind of assertion and call it a "source." Or feel so chased by the new-media mujaheddin they start trusting tips garnered from God-knows-where by a partisan wack job in Texas.
Well, it's a tough business.

And Brown does say this really is pretty much "Karl Rove's wet dream: a living, breathing example of ostensible liberal media bias with which to bludgeon the rest of the press into an even deeper defensive crouch."

And echoing Stewart she adds this -
Documents or no documents, everyone knows Bush's dad got him out of Vietnam. Everyone knows he thought he had better, funner things to do than go to a bunch of boring National Guard drills. (Only a killjoy like John Kerry would spend his carefree youth racking up high-minded demonstrations of courage and conscience, right?) Like O.J. Simpson's infamous "struggle" to squeeze his big hand into the glove, the letter was just a lousy piece of evidence that should never have been produced in court. Now because CBS, like Marcia Clark, screwed up the prosecution, Bush is going to walk.
Is he? I fear she is right. The press will be good little girls and boys from now on out. It's a dramatic lesson in being extra, extra careful.

But Brown has an idea that the whole thing boils down to the "romance of news reporting," such as it is.
As for Dan and CBS, it wasn't really politics that drove them over the edge, was it? It was romance. That's the sad part. How good did it feel when they broke the Abu Ghraib story just a beat before Seymour Hersh at the New Yorker? How satisfying is it when a real news sensation takes hold instead of some tabloid trash moment (like Janet Jackson's flashing breast)? A veteran newsman is in the twilight of a long and distinguished career. He just wanted to taste that sweet medicine one more time.
Ah, bitter medicine.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, agrees with Brown -
My theory on why CBS rushed to air, by the way: Seymour Hersch was on Terry Gross "Fresh Air" [NPR] a week or so ago, and he mentioned that CBS had originally been the sole recipient of all the Abu Ghraib material, but was then asked by the government not to run with the story, and they sat on it. Meanwhile, the sources of the information got annoyed that CBS was doing nothing with it, so they took the stuff to Hersch. I guess CBS got wind that the New Yorker was about to run with it, so they came running in with it just ahead of them. I suspect that CBS, smarting from someone stealing much of their thunder, vowed to never let it happen again.
That makes sense too.

And Hersch has been on fire, and CBS sleeping, but this is one hell of a way to wake up.

Hersch on fire? Just Above Sunset has noted that.

See these:
May 2, 2004 - It is all a matter of having the right attitude...
May 16, 2004 - Responsibility - Military Style... and legal issues
May 23, 2004: Notes on the War Scandals
July 18, 2004 - Hollywood Feels Like Steamy Florida

This CBS scandal - be it an honest but stupid mistake, or a nefarious but incompetent plot to damage George Bush, or a sinister plot to undermine the mainstream press and make them all behave more like Fox News - is taking up much of the available air in the room; that is, a lot of column inches and broadcast and cable hours have been devoted to it. And with how things are going now in Iraq, that can only help the Bush campaign.

It is most curious. I have no theory. I report. You decide.

Tina Brown does say this all is "Karl Rove's wet dream: a living, breathing example of ostensible liberal media bias with which to bludgeon the rest of the press into an even deeper defensive crouch."

It works - as the Associated Press reports here (Saturday, September 25, 2004) -
CBS News has shelved a "60 Minutes" report on the rationale for war in Iraq because it would be "inappropriate" to air it so close to the presidential election, the network said on Saturday.

The report on weapons of mass destruction was set to air on Sept. 8 but was put off in favor of a story on President Bush's National Guard service. The Guard story was discredited because it relied on documents impugning Bush's service that were apparently fake.

CBS News spokeswoman Kelli Edwards would not elaborate on why the timing of the Iraq report was considered inappropriate.

... The CBS statement followed a report in the online edition of Newsweek that described the frustration of CBS News reporters and producers who said the network had concluded that it could not legitimately criticize the president because of the questions about the National Guard report.

According to the Newsweek report, the "60 Minutes" segment was to have detailed how the administration relied on false documents when it said Iraq had tried to buy a lightly processed form of uranium, known as yellowcake, from Niger. The administration later acknowledged that the information was incorrect and that the documents were most likely fake.

The Newsweek article said the segment was to have included the first on-camera interview with Elisabetta Burba, the Italian journalist who was given the fake documents and who provided them to a United States Embassy for verification. The documents were sent to Washington, where some officials embraced them as firm evidence that Iraq was aggressively trying to make nuclear weapons.
So CBS, sensing this would make it look like they were picking on Bush, will withhold the piece until after the election.

The expected liberal reaction from Kevin Drum here - "...the resulting debacle has now convinced CBS that they shouldn't air any negative stories about George Bush for the next six weeks -- even if they're true. That's some courageous journalism for you. If this is the liberal media, conservatives can have it."

Rove is giggling. The press is being rolled. The press will indeed be good little girls and boys from now on out. As least CBS has been taken care of.


Footnote on the New Yorker -

As I said above, when Tina Brown ran the New Yorker for those few years she turned it into a magazine of style, sex and gossip and it's only now recovering. I thought she did damage.

Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, said this -
There's something else you and I disagree on. Although I've never been crazy about her personally, I thought New Yorker was generally boring and inconsequential until she came along. Although I wasn't crazy about her preoccupation with sex, the articles on politics and foreign affairs were must-reads for me. Although it did seem to take a dip after she left, it's still my favorite magazine.
I will admit I always liked it too, but I was an English teacher and when Tina Brown cut back on the fiction and poetry and upped the trendy and the sexy, I missed my old read. But yes, she increased the geopolitical, and that was good. But those odd, long essays on the history of the orange or whatever were my intellectual comfort food for years.


Footnote on Fox News -

"All of the traditional media is against us. The traditional media in this country is in tune with the elite, not the people. That is why we're not liked by the traditional media. That's not us."

- Rupert Murdoch here

"Far be it for me to contradict the saintly Mr. Murdoch, but when his usually unnamed minions spend their days trumpeting their volume of viewers and readers (100 billion flies can't be wrong) and anonymously kicking the shins at every rival and every critic in a way that would embarrass Robert Novak, I'm afraid he's going to have to face the horrible truth: he is the "media elite."

- Keith Olbermann of MSNBC here

Tip of the hat to BartCop for the quotes ...


Footnote on Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta -

Rick finished working for CNN in 1985, although he did publish his TV News Journal after that, until 1988. We've known each other since the mid-sixties and I consider him an "old school" journalist sort - one of the guys who actually knows what fair and balanced really means. There are not many of them left.

Posted by Alan at 17:13 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 September 2004 11:13 PDT home

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