Thursday, September 30, 2004

All the President's Men ... Also Turn Their Backs on Homeland Security

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said earlier this month that "our highest responsibility is to the safety and security of the American people.

Frist -- who President Bush praised recently for helping get his agenda passed in the Senate -- apparently was only referring to the $145 billion and counting the Congress has spent in Iraq. When given a chance to fund Homeland Security issues, Frist and his fellow conservatives suddenly discovered fiscal responsibility.

To be sure, the FY 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill passed the Senate by a 93-0 vote. But let's be clear -- in an election year, it would be politically stupid for any Senator to vote against Homeland Security.

But the story behind the story is the number of amendments killed by the GOP majority. And these were not effort to stick random pork on the tail end of a bill. The proposals offered by Democrats dealt with emergency personnel, and air, rail, maritime and chemical security.

Here's the list of amendments that Frist and company killed:

Amendment 3580: $150 million for port security research and development.

Amendment 3596: $300 million for port security.

Amendment 3597: $665 million for high-threat urban areas and port security, $146 million for firefighters, $50 million for the Federal Air Marshals program, $100 million for aviation security, $350 million for rail security.

Amendment 3609: $70 million for systems that allow real-time communication between State and local first responders.

Amendment 3615: $70 million for identification and tracking of shipments of hazardous materials.

Amendment 3617: $100 million for the Coast Guard operations.

Amendment 3619: $70 million for security at chemical plants.

Amendment 3632: $625 million for discretionary grants for high-threat, high-density urban areas.

Amendment 3655: $350 million to improve security at points of entry into the United States.


Frist calls security our "highest responsibility." President Bush says "We're safer," but on issue after issue, the Bush administration has taken steps that are being described as inert.

Consider the seemingly obvious need addressed in Amendment 3609 -- money for systems that allow real-time communication between responders to the scene of a terrorist attack or other similar crisis.

Christian Science Monitor offered this example of the need during a crisis: "When the NYPD helicopter pilot circling the World Trade Center warned that "large pieces" of the South Tower looked about to topple, the report never got to the firemen inside: Their radios couldn't communicate with those of the police."

But, as the Monitor reported on Sept. 15, three years after 9/11, "the goal of compatible and adequate communications among the nation's first responders is nearly as remote as ever."

The 9/11 Commission "recommends that Congress expedite the increased assignment of radio spectrum for public safety purposes." But the Federal Communications Commission proposes setting that date at Jan. 1, 2009 - three years later than legislation now pending in Congress.

According to the Monitor: "In addition, the FCC is opting for a hands-off approach by encouraging the private sector to take the initiative in ensuring preparedness in an emergency. Critics say it's a case of political inertia where action is needed."

And, of course, Frist and his conservative friends killed the first responder amendment, like so many other necessary provisions for Homeland Security.


Democrats talk about how the Bush administration has woefully underfunded Homeland Security -- such as having $46 million in the FY 2005 budget for port and border security, when a 2002 provision suggests $730 million annually should be spent for this need.

But such talk is often marginalized as "partisan" or "politicizing the war on terror." Folks like Chris Matthews or Judy Woodruff are all too willing to have Democrats and Republicans squabble and bluster, unable to relate to their viewers black-and-white budget statistics.

You can count on President Bush, during tonight's debate, telling viewers that We're safer -- and watch Chris and Judy tell viewers afterward that the president was strong and decisive, facts be damned.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Rating Success Suggests U.S. Can Handle Post-9/11 Dramas

According to the Nielsen Ratings, the ABC drama "Lost" won its time slot, with nearly 20 million viewers. Meanwhile, the FX drama "Rescue Me," continues to draw solid ratings -- along with critical acclaim.

I reference these two seemingly different shows because, in their own ways, each I believe can be labeled a "post 9/11" drama.

"Rescue Me," starring Dennis Leary, is an obvious post-9/11 show. The plot revolves around a New York City Fire Department unit that lost several of its crew in the World Trade Center attack. Leary is haunted by his cousin, a firefighter who died in the attack, and its clear that the events of 9/11 have left him a shell of a man, an alocholic returning to the bottle, and with a soon-to-be ex-wife. It's a compelling story, well worth watching.

"Lost" centers around the survivors of a plane crash. It's been described as "Survivor" meets "The Twilight Zone." Where's the 9/11 connection? My take on the show is that the plane crash is a metaphor for the 9/11 attacks -- but presented in a way that's easier for the masses to swallow.

Once on the island, the survivors can hear -- but never see -- that one or more killer beasts also live on the island. Three of the survivors see that the beast has killed the plane's pilot by pulling him through a cockpit window and ultimately placing his bloodied body high up in a tree.

What do those beasts represent? If the metaphor holds true, they may represent terrorism -- a constant threat on the viewers' lives. Terrorism is something to fear, even if viewers can do little to stop it. Or -- and this would be giving ABC too much credit, given when the show was written and taped -- it represents the insurgents attacking our troops at an alarming rate in Iraq.


If Nielsen ratings are any indicator -- and to be fair, "Lost" has only had once showing -- Americans are willing to watch a post-9/11 drama. They can embrace this fiction, three years after the fact.

Americans are a hearty, independent people. We bounce back from tragedy, sometimes wary, hopefully wiser.


It would be easy to say that the "fiction" coming from the White House -- about how well things are going in Iraq, about how safe we are from the war on terror -- suggests that the administration doesn't trust its audience as much as Hollywood.

But the bigger question is, "why?" Why can't President Bush hold a press conference and admit that, although his conviction to bring democracy to Iraq remains strong, we have a tough road to hoe? Why can't he level with the American peoplel about the number of attacks on our troops -- 2,700 in August, compared with an average of 700 per month earlier this year, instead of simply saying he's "pleased with the progress" in Iraq?

Why must we instead hear him say, at least initially, that the National Intelligence Estimate -- with its pessimistic view of the near-future in Iraq -- was just "guessing." Why must we hear him and Iraqi President Allawi say that 15 of the 18 Iraqi provinces are free of insurgency, and capable of having elections tomorrow, when other government reports say that each of the 18 provinces has been home to violent attacks from insurgents?

What war is President Bush watching on his television?

Maybe someday, the "West Wing" will dramatize Martin Sheen as a war-time president facing these questions.

No doubt, the American people can handle the truth. The beast we can't see may scare us, but that's not going to stop us from admitting it's there.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

If Chris Matthews is a Liberal, then Ann Coulter is a Journalist

Talk about television talking heads shilling for the conservative agenda, and the first name to come to mind might be Sean Hannity, Joe Scarborough or Robert Novak.

But that's not a surprise. All three of those men, and others like Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes and other "Fox All-Stars" are openly conservative. There's no hidden agenda. They want President Bush re-elected, and they are openly promoting the conservative agenda.

But there's a second group of television talking heads -- people that conservatives call "liberal" because of their personal background or network affiliation -- who are helping President Bush win re-election through their laziness, inability to research or promote basic facts, and perhaps fear in the face of conservative spin. These people have cushy jobs, paying them seven figures, and they aren't about to rock the boat.

And heading that list is Chris Matthews, of MSNBC's "Hardball."

Wait a second, the conservatives say. Matthews used to work for Tip O'Neill. Matthews is a Democrat. Matthews is openly against the war in Iraq. No way is he advancing the conservative agenda.

My response to that is that Chris Matthews, instead of living up to the ideals of "Hardball," plays softball with conservative guests -- with the exception of a handful of issues, such as the war. He may personally hold liberal beliefs, but on his show, he overcompensates, to the benefit of conservatives. If Matthews truly wants Kerry to win, he's doing a horrible job of advocating a "liberal bias."

What's worse, Matthews is less prepared for interviews than (pick your most insipid local news broadcaster), and as a result, lets conservative guests throw out half-truths, distortions and even lies -- unchecked.

How little research does Matthews do? He even fails to research his own transcripts.

Matthews had John O'Neill, the leader of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, on his show last Friday. It's not the first time O'Neill has been on the show.

And while in earlier interviews, Matthews has tried to play "Hardball" with O'Neill and other Swifties, his failure to read O'Neill's book Unfit for Command, or to have a researcher cross-check facts the way, say, has, allows various Swifties to lie in Matthews' face. Matthews, either unaware or too timid to do anything, lets these lies go by the wayside.

On Friday, long after other journalists have reported that nearly all of the Swifties' claims are false, or at best unprovable, after other journalists have reported that O'Neill coached various Swifties to phrase things in the most negative way, after other journalists have reported that the Swifties have contradicted Navy reports and in some cases their own previous statements, Matthews felt it was necessary to bring O'Neill back on one more time.

MATTHEWS: You have an amazing pulpit now, sir. Can you summarize, based upon your firsthand experience, and those of your fellows, with John Kerry, what the voters should know from that experience?

But as other reporters have shown, there is no "first-hand experience" to recount. None of the Swifties were on John Kerry's boat.

O'NEILL: Based on my investigation, and, much less importance, John Kerry exaggerated his role in Vietnam. Much more important, and firsthand experience, when John Kerry came back, it wasn't clear who he was for any more...

MATTHEWS: Do you think he believed that the North Vietnamese and the V.C. were the good guys and we were the bad guys? Did he go that far?

O'NEILL: He really did. That's the sad thing, Chris. When you read his speech where he says Ho Chi Minh is like George Washington and he wants to impose a constitution that will be like our Constitution, that's a speech he gave that's in the book. That's what he actually said. I don't know how he could believe that. We saw them, Chris. They were killing people.

As pointed out by, this last statement by O'Neill contains two lies: That speech by Kerry is not in his book, nor has O’Neill ever read it. All O’Neill has is a 30-word report by an unnamed FBI informer—a type of report which is highly unreliable. In the May 23 Los Angeles Times, for example, historian Gerald Nicosia described other such reports on the VVAW:

NICOSIA (5/23/04): Curiously, those two undercover reports don't jibe...with newspaper accounts also saved by the FBI. They indicate the conference was well organized, and that Kerry was well-received. Lemmer, who was exposed two years later as the principal agent provocateur at the trial of the Gainesville Eight (eight VVAW members indicted for conspiracy), was often known to invent reports of VVAW's violent intentions, and his reports were later found quite unreliable.

According to Nicosia, Bill Lemmer was a “paid (FBI) informer from Arkansas, a crazy, violence-prone, washed-out Green Beret vet.”

But Matthews is paid to bluster, not to research basic facts. A college intern with access to Lexis/Nexis could provide Matthews with all he needed to do a probing, "Hardball" interview. That same intern could even read Unfit for Command and provide handy index cards for Matthews -- showing all the half-truths and contradictions.

Instead, Matthews ended the interview with this:

MATTHEWS: Well, it's great having you on. Congratulations, John O'Neill! We may disagree, but all in good civility.


Why did Matthews lob such softballs to O'Neill?

As I've suggested before, Matthews overcompensates. He appeared tough a few weeks back, and he nailed conservative pundit Michelle Malkin when she pushed the Swifties' agenda (actually, she went beyond what Unfit for Command says).

Matthews doesn't want to be seen as having a "liberal bias," especially in the wake of the Dan Rather fiasco. So he throws a bone to his conservative viewers and makes nice with O'Neill.

Could you imagine if Matthews were on the air in earlier eras:

MATTHEWS: Well, it's great having you on. Congratulations, Senator Joseph McCarthy! We may disagree, but all in good civility.

It's not so far-fetched. McCarthy, like O'Neill, made a lot of unfounded accusations. McCarthy, like O'Neill, had an obvious agenda. McCarthy, like O'Neill, was supported by the government (at least briefly).

Are the Swifties newsworthy? They were, because their advertisements and Unfit for Command shaped the fall presidential campaign. But if you host "Hardball," you should cover this story:

a) By tearing apart Unfit for Command, as other journalists ultimately did.
b) By exposing contradictions in statements by O'Neill and other Swifites.
c) By advancing the ball on ties between the Swifties and Karl Rove, and demanding that the Bush administration answer questions regarding Ben Ginsberg and the Swiftie who served on Bush's veterans committee.

That's not advocating for the Kerry campaign -- it's just doing what "Hardball" claims its goal is, to ask tough questions other journalists don't ask, and to provide viewers with a "little more truth" and a "little less spin" about the issues of the day.

The problem with television talking heads like Matthews is that they feel that if they get both sides of an argument on the air, they've done their job.

In theory, one could use this logic to justify putting former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and Kweisi Mfume, the leader of the NAACP, on the air, side by side. Or maybe Centcom General John Abezaid and insurgency leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

But at some point, the television talking heads have to recognize that not everyone deserves equal time. Proven liars like John O'Neill should fall into that category.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Dick Cheney's Alternate Universe, Part II

(Second in an occasional series)

Vice President Cheney, on the campaign trail last week, cited an "independent study" that said that Sen. John Kerry's various proposals would cost upward of $1.5 trillion.

However, the "independent study" was actually completed by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that employs Cheney's wife, Lynne, and daughter, Liz.


And now, we take a closer look at:

Unidentified Ohio Home
Sept. 22, 2004

Dick: Did you read this, honey?

Lynne: What's that, dear?

Dick: It says in the paper that Kerry wants to spend $1.5 trillion on all those liberal causes of his.

Lynne: Well, that's ridiculous!

Dick: Yep, it's right here. Vice President Cheney was at a rally, talking about Kerry's plans to bring back liberal 'big government.'

Lynne: Dick Cheney sure looks out for the little guy!

Dick: Yep, seems the American Enterprise Institute, "which employs Cheney's wife and daughter ..." Huh. Well, I guess that's all the more reason to trust it.

Lynne: Sure, Mrs. Cheney tells the truth. She and her daughter understand family values.

Dick: Right, honey.

Lynne: What's that little box say, Dick?

Dick: Hmmm. Says that President Bush has proposed programs that could cost $3 trillion.

Lynne: Huh.

Dick: But, at least those aren't liberal programs. It's probably things we need to make us safer, honey. Missiles and big electronic thingamajigs at the airport. That sort of thing. Not any of that liberal stuff, with the 'big government' health care for everyone and the 'big government' research into using stem cells to make electric cars. You won't see President Bush using our money for any environment stuff some liberal Harvard egghead thinks is important.

Lynne: I can't wait to re-elect Bush and Cheney!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Be All You Can Be ... Or Else?

According to a story in the Sept. 16 Rocky Mountain News, soldiers from a Fort Carson, Colo., combat unit are saying they have been issued an ultimatum -- re-enlist for three more years or be transferred to other units expected to deploy to Iraq.

Two soldiers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that "hundreds of soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team were presented with that message and a re-enlistment form" on Sept. 9. One of the soldiers supplied the form to the newspaper.

A Fort Carson spokesman confirmed a re-enlistment drive is under way, but both he and an Army spokesman denied that the brigade was threatened.

A signed form binds a solider to the 3rd Brigade through yearend 2007. The two soldiers said they were told that those who didn't sign would be transferred out of the brigade.

"They said if you refuse to re-enlist with the 3rd Brigade, we'll send you down to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, which is going to Iraq for a year, and you can stay with them, or we'll send you to Korea, or to Fort Riley (in Kansas) where they're going to Iraq," said one of the soldiers, a sergeant.

The second soldier, an enlisted man who was interviewed separately, essentially echoed that view. "They told us if we don't re-enlist, then we'd have to be reassigned. And where we're most needed is in units that are going back to Iraq in the next couple of months. So if you think you're getting out, you're not," he said.

Some soldiers presented with the re-enlistment message last week believe they've already done their duty and should not be penalized for choosing to leave. They deployed to Iraq for a year with the 3rd Brigade last April.

"I don't want to go back to Iraq," said the sergeant. "I went through a lot of things for the Army that weren't necessary and were risky. Iraq has changed a lot of people.''

A June 16 Rocky Mountain News report said that since soldiers returned to Fort Carson in April, only 57 percent had re-enlisted. "More disturbing, recruiters say, is they're re-enlisting only 46 percent of the quota for "mid-career" noncommissioned officers. These are the young sergeants with four to 10 years of experience who are the backbone of the Army - its skilled soldiers, mentors and future senior NCOs."


Here's what the form said: "Elect not to extend or re-enlist and understand that the soldier will be reassigned IAW (in accordance with) the needs of the Army by Department of the Army HRC (Human Resources Command) . . . or Fort Carson G1 (Personnel Office).''


The Denver Post picked up the story. So did Matt Drudge. And if you do a Google search, you'll find quite a compilation of blogs that have picked up the story in the last few days.

But the national media hasn't paid attention.

Doesn't this seem like the sort of thing the American people should know about -- on the eve of an election that may very well become a referendum on how we are conducting the war in Iraq and the greater war on terror?

You have a president who has linked protesting the war, or the subsequent handling of the war, as not "supporting the troops." How many times have we heard someone in the Bush administration question a given Democrat's patriotism, or wrap themselves in the American flag as they twisted criticisms of the administration into condemnation of our "brave men and women overseas"?

Here's your chance to end the conservative stranglehold on the media. Pick up the telephone, and call your favorite news network's comment line, and ask that they investigate this issue. Air it out. They report, and Americans can decide -- just like Fox News pretends to do.

Here's the telephone numbers:

ABC: 212-456-7777
CBS: 212-975-4321
CNBC: 201-585-2622
CNN: 404-827-1500
Fox News: 212-301-3000
MSNBC: 201-583-5000
NBC: 212-664-4444
NPR: 202-513-2000
PBS: 703-739-5000

Polls Fluctuate Wildly. Does Our National Media Explain Why? Of Course Not.

What happens when three national polls show Kerry and Bush separated by one percentage point or less, and two polls show Bush leading by eight percentage points or more?

Well, if you're a television talking head or a millionaire pundit, you do nothing.

Oh sure, they report the obvious. Poll A shows this and Poll B shows that. Maybe they offer their own take on things, suggesting that the truth may fall between the wildly disparate polls -- maybe Bush is actually leading by six or eight percentage points. But then they yawn and move on to the rest of the news day.

At the newsletter I work for, Real Estate Alert, about half of our stories each week regard an effort to sell a major commercial property, such as an office high-rise or a regional mall. To do my job, I might talk to a half-dozen sources for a particular story, fetching background information on a property, with a top concern being how much the property may sell for.

Now, let's say hypothetically I spoke with three sources, and two of them speculated that such-and-such office tower in New York was worth $200 million, and the third guesstimated it was worth $300 million, I would have a decision to make. I could a) ignore the disparate price and go with the majority opinion, b) split the difference and say the building was worth $250 million, or c) go back to the source saying $300 million, and find out why they came to that conclusion.

Obviously, I'd try to find out why the third source's opinion differed so greatly from the other two. Even if I thought the third source shed new light on the building's value, I might go to a fourth or fifth source, as well as going back to the sources speculating $200 million. Ultimately, I would try to get everyone on the same page, so that I could form a consensus opinion.

But that's me writing about an office building. Can the media actually determine which of the disparate polls -- the three showing a close race, or the two show a hefty Bush lead -- are accurate?

Of course they can, if they were willing to do some homework.

Polling is a science, of course. And every science is studied.

Just as quickly as the media was able to find knowledgeable sources who could provide reasons why the Killian documents were fakes, they should have been able to find knowledgeable sources who could provide reasons why the two polls showing hefty Bush leads -- from USA Today/CNN/Gallup and CBS News/New York Times -- were inaccurate gauges of voter opinions.

Several knowledgeable sources -- some partisan, some not -- found that those two polls oversampled Republicans.

What does that mean? Nonpartisan pollster John Zogby points out that in 1996, 39% of voters identified themselves as Democrats. Meanwhile, 34% identified themselves as Republicans, and 27% said they were independents. In 2000, the results were similar: 39% Democrats, 35% Republicans, 26% independents.

Most polls, therefore, shoot for those percentages when they conduct national polls. But the Center for American Progress reports that the CBS/NYT poll included 4% more Republicans than Democrats. And Gallup told blogger Steve Soto, of, that it surveyed 7% more Republicans than Democrats.

When the data conforms to the party alignment in 2000, the CBS/NYT poll would have given Bush a one-point lead, 47-46, and the Gallup poll would have resulted in a tie, 48-48.


Now, I'm not suggesting that Bill O'Reilly or Bob Schieffer should understand the intracacies of polling science. That wouldn't be reasonable. But before they go offer their opinions on the Gallup and CBS/NYT polls, shouldn't they have bothered to do their homework? Find someone who understands polling and can explain it to them before they go on the air?

Hey, this isn't some liberal fantasy. Even the Wall Street Journal, in its issue Monday, reported that Gallup and CBS/NYT surveyed more Republicans than other polls showing the race to be a dead heat.

But you know those television talking heads and millionaire pundits. They aren't paid to do their homework. They're paid to state the obvious (if they are a television talking head) and offer a snap judgment (if they are a millionaire pundit). Why should they actually be responsible when discussing some major issue with the American people?

Listen to your media:

-- Fox News' Bill O'Reilly: "Gallup is pretty reliable."
-- Fox News' John Gibson said of Gallup: "That is a very steady poll over the years; it's not given to wild fluctuations. And it's considered pretty reliable."
-- CBS' Bob Schieffer: "George Bush has now opened a nine-point lead over John Kerry. You don't have to be an expert to figure that out. Voters may be less than enamored with President Bush but they are even more uneasy about John Kerry, whose plans for the country remain a mystery to them, according to this poll."
-- MSNBC's Pat Buchanan, who offered that while he didn't believe the Gallup or CBS/NYT numbers, opined that Bush's real lead was probably "six, seven, eight points."

... and on an on.

Maybe it's not coincidental that the ones trumpeting the faulty polls the loudest were conservatives.

Still, at some point the television big-shots -- not the Buchanans and Gingriches of the world, but rather folks like Chris Matthews and Judy Woodruff -- have to earn their money, don't they? If they are going to report on polls, don't they have to do a little homework first?

Monday, September 20, 2004

Bush's New Advertisement: Up is Down, Black is White, All is Good, etc.

Bush-Cheney '04 released a new advertisement today, which follows the recent campaign theme of We're safer.

As points out, the advertisement omits any reference to Iraq. You can draw your own conclusions about that decision. I'm thinking that the campaign had trouble finding video in which things weren't blowing up -- a problem when you are trying to say how safe everyone is.

The script is typical Bush-Cheney spin. It follows the unwritten rule that Bush's words speak louder than actions.

For example, the advertisement says Bush has "a plan: Enhance border and port security ..." But wait, there's an existing plan for border and port security. And Bush is woefully underfunding it. Bush's FY 2005 budget calls for about 6.3% of the funding Congress had proposed for such security.

The ad says Bush wants to "renew the Patriot Act, giving law enforcement tools against terrorists." This sounds good enough, but Newsweek reported earlier this year that nearly 70% of the arrests made under the Patriot Act have nothing to do with terrorism. More often, they have to do with things like drugs and gambling.

And, as several recent news stories have pointed out, the John Ashcroft-led Justice Department has had a hard time making charges stick against the "terror" suspects the department trots out. And then there's the uncanny trend of Ashcroft press conferences announcing suspects with Arab names -- suspects who have been in custody, in some cases, for several months. Press conferences that come within a single day's news cycle of some item deemed negative for Bush's re-election, such as the aforementioned things being blown up in Iraq.

The ad says Bush's plan is to "give the military all it needs." A cynic would say this must refer only to the actually full-time military, and not the National Guard. It's ironic that Bush appears to have gotten a better reception than Kerry at the Guard's convention last week, as it is Bush who had tried to cut wages for reservists, to prevent reservists from receiving full military health care benefits, and to keep reservists in Iraq for upward of two years.

The ad says that Bush's plan is to "find terrorists where they train and hide.” That's tough to do when the bulk of your intelligence effort is centered in Iraq, and not on the heels of Al Qaeda.

It was Al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11, right? It's threats from Al Qaeda that lead to all those press conferences from Tom Ridge and Ashcroft saying how an attack is imminent -- in spite of Bush's claim that We're safer. I just want to make sure, because Al Qaeda was only mentioned once at the Republican National Convention -- even though the "War on Terror" is crucial to this presidency.

Will the media tear Bush's ad apart? Recent history suggests that they'll say the obvious, that the message is Bush is fighting the war on terror, and that recent polls suggest voters think Bush is more capable of waging that fight. Actually analyzing the claims made in the ads -- that's another story.

Remember, the television talking heads are more concerned with Bush's strength and decisivness, rather than whether he's being forthcoming with voters.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Olbermann, Part II

It took Keith Olbermann all of three days to find the real "most recent polls," and (without saying so) correct Countdown's ridiculous coverage Monday.

So as of tonight's show, Bush and Kerry are tied. Huzzah!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Olbermann Wonders If Kerry Should Panic, But Maybe It's His Research Staff That Should Worry

Last night's "Countdown" on MSNBC offered a stunning portrait of what's wrong with the media.

Host Keith Olbermann, amid the smirks and jovialities, tried to offer a serious discussion of recent presidential poll data. But alas, Keith (or his research staff) didn't do much homework, and in the quest to have a "new angle," Olbermann misled his viewers.

A little background: There are lots of polls available for any newsperson or pundit. Consider that there are presidential polls that include Nader, and ones that don't. There are polls of adults, of registered voters and of likely voters. There are polls conducted by nonpartisan organizations, and ones conducted by Republican and Democratic pollsters.

To smush all those polls together is kind of silly. What a lot of fair-minded people have done, as a result, is two-fold:

1) Consider only polls comparing Bush and Kerry, because Nader is not on enough state ballots to merit national consideration.
2) Consider only polls of likely voters -- a more accurate measure than registered voters (who may not vote) or adults (who may not be registered). And only consider polls from nonpartisan organizations.

Let's turn back to Keith, as he shows a complete lack of understanding of the polling world:

OLBERMANN: Four new polls out. One almost wishes they had followed Roper, Crossly and Gallup, and just stopped. “TIME” magazine, the president enjoys an 11 point lead, rendering the statistical margin of error of 3 percent moot. Not in the “Newsweek” poll. The margin is 6 points, error is 4. The latest AP poll continues the trend with the president at 51/46, but half of that can be counterbalanced by a margin of error of 2.5. Finally, the presidents message seeming to play in the heartland, leading Zogby poll of rural voters by 15 percent. The margin of error there, 3.1.

So let's look at the smush:

-- The TIME poll actually was taken from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, on the heels of the Republican National Convention. While it is among likely voters, it is not the most recent. In fact, there are five other national polls of likely voters that have been taken since the Time poll wac conducted.

-- The most recent Newsweek poll, which samples registered voters, actually shows Bush up by 5 in a two-person race. Olbermann was citing the Bush and Kerry numbers in a three-way race.

-- The AP poll, from last weekend, was among likely voters, but the 51-46 spread was in fact the Bush and Kerry numbers if Nader was included.

-- The fourth poll is not a national poll, but rather a poll of rural voters only.

So, Olbermann tried to smush together polls of likely and registered voters, and ones that included Nader and ones that didn't. And he didn't even use the four most recent polls.

What happens when you look at the four most recent polls of likely voters, only comparing Bush and Kerry? Why, the race appears to be a dead heat:

Rassmussen (9/11-9/13): Bush 47, Kerry 47.
IBD/Christian Science Monitor (9/7-9/13): Bush 47, Kerry 47.
Zogby (9/8-9/9): Bush 47, Kerry 45.
Fox/Opinion Dynamics (9/7-9/8): Bush 47, Kerry 45.

So, four polls, which average out to a 1% lead for Bush -- and given the margin of error, that's a statistical dead heat.

But look at it another way. If you look at the most recent polls of likely voters state-by-state, you'll never guess what the electoral college vote would be:

Bush 233, Kerry 233, too close to call (or conflicting recent poll results) 72.


But all those polls numbers -- all those most recent, apples-to-apples polls -- weren't going to get in the way of Olbermann's "story" last night.

Interviewing Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, Olbermann uncorked this gem:

OLBERMANN: In the old days, back to the general picture, when conventions actually chose the candidates, and this week after Labor Day would have been considered week two, maybe week three of the campaign. If somebody said to me, an intelligent man said to me today, if John Kerry doesn‘t turn this around right now, he is Michael Dukakis. Is it panic time yet in the Kerry camp? Do they think it‘s panic time?

Now, Page knows why she's been invited to be on the show. Heck, every journalist knows how this works. You call a source, explain the story you're doing, and ask if they agree and are willing to go on the record.

Given that premise, is it any surprise that Page responded to Olbermann's question with standard pundit spew:

PAGE: Yes. I think there‘s a lot of concern in the Kerry camp. But it is certainly not—the election is certainly over. At this point, Gore was ahead of George Bush in 2000. And Bush, of course, now in the White House. So there‘s—it‘s not an insurmountable lead.

But the momentum is not in John Kerry‘s direction. He has had a very tough August. With the swift boat veterans damaged his reputation. The Republican convention got people focused very much on the issue of terrorism. That‘s the issue on which is President Bush has his greatest advantage.

Not in his direction? But we know that the TIME poll, taken on the heels of the Republican National convention, showed a double-digit lead for Bush. And if anyone had done their homework, they would have realized that the polls from this week show that the race is virtually a dead heat.

Yes, Kerry had a bad August. But look at the calendar, Keith and Susan. The interview you are conducting occurred on Sept. 13. A world of events -- deaths in Iraq, Cheney's blunder about making the "wrong choice" on election day, the assault weapons ban ending -- all have come and gone since the Republican convention ended. And as anyone covering national politics knows, voters have short-term memories!

Olbermann later summed up the situation perfectly:

OLBERMANN: Seven weeks from tonight, numbers like that could encourage both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry to sleep late on election morning. The only people assuming (the poll numbers) will stay like that are some of us in the media. The same ones who, if the margins next week are half of these, will say there‘s been a stunning rehearsal in the polls.

How much do you want to bet that Olbermann comes back with another story next week showing a resurgent Kerry?

I only hope he does his homework first.


Bush's "Pass the Buck" Tax Plan Has Tricked Conservatives (and Hurt Almost All of Us)

I have long held the belief that if Americans really had all the facts -- minus GOP spin and the media's indifference to such half-truths -- Kerry would win in a landslide. And among the top issues that is misrepresented by Bush-Cheney 04, and rarely clarified by the media, is how the Bush "tax relief" plan affected most Americans.

To illustrate how the average Bush supporter is more than willing to vote against his or her economic interests, I offer a conversation I had with a Bush supporter. The four posts below -- two from me, two from the Bush supporter -- were made earlier this week on another political website.*

JD: In re. taxes : sure, that 350 times thing appears to be spin. Like with the defense systems, his record is consistent with one that is not interested in lowering taxes, which seems to be what you would have us believe. ...

DAVID: I don't know your economic status, JD, but if you are making less than $200,000/year, the Bush tax cuts have probably left you worse off than before. A recent GAO study found that every tax dollar cut by Bush has produced 64 cents of economic stimulus. If Bush had instead fully funded state mandates -- and that would have still left money for tax cuts -- the economic stimulus would have been an estimated $1.24.

Why are people making less than $200,000/year worse off? Here in NJ, my property taxes have risen by $1,100/year since Bush took over -- because of unfunded mandates. Because of the huge annual deficits, the dollar has been weak for three years. That affects things like gas prices -- which are up about 30 cents a gallon since Bush took over (although down from the 55 cents a gallon peak rise earlier this year), and home heating costs. Here in NJ, my monthly gas bill is up about $200/month since the beginning of 2003. Now, if you earn a ton, the higher prices are probably offset by your tax break. Someone who's rich, like Cheney, got something like a $171,000 tax cut. I think Bush got something like a $35,000 tax cut. That's a lot of gasoline. My family is considered on the upper end of middlle class, when compared to the national average. We got a $304 tax cut. So $304 vs. $3,300 in property taxes and another $1,800 in home heating costs, plus let's say another $500 to fill up our cars with gas over the past 18 months or so. Wow -- what a tax break!

JD: Your defense of Kerry's position, a fiscal conservative, is that Bush's position has made people worse, hardly a glowing endorsement. Raising taxes in order to balance a budget is simply not most people's idea of fiscal conservatism, not that the Bush admin is either. I like the non sequitor throwing in state and local spending and taxes in order to show how you believe that Bush's tax policy are bad. Nifty little rhetoical maneuver, were it to be the case that the federal government controlled state or local spending, state and local taxes, property taxes, etc ...

DAVID: Let me go over this slowly. Bush's FY 2004 budget proposes a 3% decrease to federal grants to states, a $16 billion decrease in state tax revenues -- all while proposing between $23-$82 billion in unfunded mandates. Since President Bush took office, states have raised taxes by a total of $14.5 billion, after 7 consecutive years of cutting taxes. The total 2003 net tax increase was $6.9 billion for the 42 reporting states – following a 2002 net tax increase of $9.1 billion. Seventeen states raised taxes by more than 1% with four states raising taxes by at least 5%. Why? Because states have to balance their budgets each year, even though the federal government does not. The Wall Street Journal reported, "worried about declines in schools and basic services, many Republican leaders in the states say they have little choice" but to raise taxes. So that's why my property taxes have risen $1,100/year since Bush came into office, and all for the joy of getting $304 on my 2002 return.

How about those gas prices? I don't know about you, but I don't like spending $1.83 when I spent 40 cents less under Clinton. ... But is Bush to blame? Here's my argument: In 2000, Bush said that if president, he would "persuade OPEC to keep oil supplies plentiful." Bush promised he would "'jawbone' OPEC members by calling them and saying 'we expect you to open your spigots.'" But in April, Knight-Ridder reported that Bush refused to "personally lobby" oil cartel leaders to change their minds about OPEC's production cut. But maybe that doesn't persuade you. How about this economics argument. Because of our huge deficits under Bush, the dollar has weakened. And because our dollar is so weak, gas prices in the U.S. rose 51% in two years (from mid-2002 to mid-2004), while in Europe, gas prices rose just 4%. ...


Can Kerry win the debates, and thus the election? I think so, but he has to bring these issues home. Simply saying that Bush is wrong on taxes or gas prices (or jobs or Iraq or the assault weapons ban, etc.) is not enough. All it does is make Kerry sound like a whiner, and it opens the door for Bush to say, "I'm an optimist, and he's a pessimist."

But bring those issues home, and you have the beginnings of meaningful debate. Kerry would score points to say that he would reduce the deficit, which would strengthen the dollar and help the economy in numerous ways, including lower gas prices. He would score points by telling people that be rolling back the tax break for the top 2%, the burden will be less for the rest of us because state and local governments won't be forced into hiking taxes.

Similarly, he would score points by not just saying that he wants to create jobs, but explaining how. For example, if the U.S. were to fully fund the $7.3 billion Congress approved for port security (vs. the less than $500 million Bush has spent in three-plus years), that would create jobs in a slew of states in both Red State America (Louisiana, Florida, etc.) and Blue State America (New York, New Jersey, etc.). If the U.S. were to invest in creating fuel-efficient cars for the future, as Kerry has planned, that would create jobs in a handful of states, including Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

But each of us who want to end Bush's reign has the responsibility to bring those issues home, too. We all know "Bush Democrats" -- those who support Bush post-9/11, for example -- as well as voters who haven't made up their minds or who are soft in their support of Kerry. You may live in a swing state, or know people who do.

Arm yourself with the facts. Don't wait for Chris Matthews or Wolf Blitzer or Bill O'Reilly to set the record straight -- because millionaire journalists don't think that way.


* I eliminated parts of posts unrelated to Bush's tax policy, which leads to the occasional elipsis in the transcript.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Dick Cheney's Alternate Universe, Part I

(This is the first of an occasional series)

Wages have fallen 0.6% since President Bush took office, and while he's out on the stump telling Americans how the economy has "turned the corner," wage growth in July was the slowest in 20 months.

But this doesn't bother Vice President Dick Cheney.

Speaking Thursday in Cincinnati, Cheney said that indicators measuring economic milestones doesn't take into consideration those who make money selling goods on eBay.

"That’s a source that didn’t even exist 10 years ago,” Cheney said. “Four hundred thousand people make some money trading on eBay.”


And now, we take a closer look inside ...


Unidentified Ohio Home
Sept. 9, 2004

Dick: Honey, I have good news and bad news.

Lynne: What's the good news?

Dick: I spent the morning on eBay ...

Lynne: eBay?

Dick: You know, the auction website? Anyway, I've done the math, and if we sell the car, the kids' bedroom furniture, our wedding china, and all those baseball cards I collected when I was a kid, we could make $10,000, maybe more -- all on eBay.

Lynne: But Dick, I don't understand. The car? Our china? Why?

Dick: Well, that's the bad news. Honey, the factory outsourced my job to Bombay. And with you no longer getting any overtime, we have to cut some corners. You know how much Bobby's asthma medicine costs. ... But honey, I applied for a part-time job at Wal-Mart, and if that doesn't come through, there's always Burger King.

Lynne: Oh my God! Oh, honey!

Dick: No, it's ok. I was listening to the vice president driving back from Wal-Mart, and he said that the economy is better than some people say, because so many people are making money on eBay. That'll teach those liberal Harvard eggheads, huh?

Lynne: I can't wait to re-elect Vice President Cheney!

The End

Saturday, September 11, 2004

On Homeland Security, Bush's Words Speak Louder Than Actions

Today marks the third anniversary of 9/11, and several of the news channels have decided to offer progress reports, generally with titles like "How Safe Are We?"

My question to the various reporters: Where have you been throughout this campaign?

President Bush repeats We're safer, over and over -- Jon Stewart counted 23 references in one day's worth of campaign speeches -- as if saying something enough will make it come true. The administration has offered the illogical argument that we're safer because we've taken the battle overseas, but that we should be aware that Al Qaeda could strike us at any moment this campaign season.

But of course, there's always been a lack of logic in our "war on terror." We struck Iraq, which the Bush administration knew had no ties to 9/11, even though it had not finished the job against Al Qaeda. We're safer, Bush says, even though Osama Bin Laden remains at large, and Al Qaeda has committed some 25 terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens on foreign soil, NATO allies such as Spain and Turkey, and other nations.

In spite of this apparent lack of logic, the media has passively reported Bush's rallying cry, acting more like stenographers than journalists. We're safer, he says, and the media moves on, to discuss whether John Kerry really deserved his Purple Hearts. The media takes Dennis Miller's mantra -- he said he'd give Bush "a pass" -- perhaps because of his "strength" and "decisivenss," or maybe because he just poses as strong and decisive because he repeats himself so often.

The media's take isn't to fact-check statements made by the president. It's to take polls asking whether people expect another terrorist attack, or to try to gauge how afraid the average American is. The only effort to fact-check comes in the famed panel discussion, where the designated liberal is allowed to get into a shouting match with the designated conservative -- and the viewers are left scratching their heads.


There are actual issues being discussed this campaign season, mostly by John Kerry and John Edwards. Listen to their speeches, and you'll hear that they've done their homework about what needs to be changed in order to make us truly safe.

They no doubt have read at least a few of the several dozen reports out there about how little the Bush administration has done since 9/11 to make us safer. How Bush -- who initially fought the creation of the Department of Homeland Security -- has subsequently underfunded it. How several of the administration's high-profile domestic anti-terror arrests have subsequently been released, or the charges against them reduced -- add fuel to the critics of John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge, who have claimed that those two champion high-profile press conferences, but have been miserable failures in their jobs.

Here are a few issues the media -- following the lead of the Bush administration -- has generally ignored:

-- According to a GAO report, the administration has underfunded maritime security, putting at risk hundreds of thousands who live near ports. A Coast Guard report projects the cost of implementing safety regulations laid out by Congress at $7.3 billion over the next 10 years. The Bush administration has funded $441 million and Bush's FY 2005 budget proposes spending $46 million.

The GAO also reports that the Bush administration has allocated just $100 million for train security -- significantly less than the amount needed to safeguard shipments of hazardous materials, let alone protect passengers. How much is $100 million? It's what we spend in eight hours in fighting the war in Iraq.

-- The Department of Homeland Security has not established a strategy for tracking down illegal immigrants, or deporting people who remain beyond the conditions of their stay. You may recall that the U.S. recently arrested a suspected terrorist who had come into the country illegally via Mexico. Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said, "We need secure borders with heightened and uniformed standards of identification for those entering and exiting the country, and an immigration system able to be efficient, allowing good people in while keeping the terrorists out."

-- In terms of law enforcement, the Bush administration's FY 2005 budget calls for a 31.9% decrease in funding. Foreign Affairs reports that on average, "U.S. fire departments have only enough radios to equip half their firefighters on a shift, and breathing apparatus for only a third. Police departments in cities across the country do not have the protective gear to safely secure a site following a WMD attack. And most emergency medical technicians lack the tools to determine which chemical or biological agent may have been used."

And of course, as has been widely reported this week, Bush is unlikely to pass an extension of the assault weapons ban, which was supported by Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Starting next week, a would-be terrorist can go into a gun show -- where there are no background checks -- and buy an assault weapon and ammunition. Police officers universally back extending the ban.

Officially, Bush says he'd sign the extension if it came to his desk. This is pure showmanship. He has done nothing to move it along. And the Republican leadership, led by Sen. Bill Frist and Rep. Tom DeLay, has made it clear that they have no plans to move forward. Somewhere, Wayne LaPierre is smiling.

-- How about loose nukes? A recent Harvard University report said that "less fissile materials were secured in the two years after 9/11 than in the two years before." The administration has spent $200 billion on Iraq, but just $2 billion securing nuclear bomb materials -- materials the administration has suggested Al Qaeda continues to seek.


We're safer, Bush says, and the partisan, hand-picked, swing-state crowds cheer. John Edwards talks about loose nukes in most of his campaign stops, and the media yawns. Where is John Edwards? Is he still campaigning? Watch the evening news, and you'd never know.

Although the administration would like us to forget this fact, 9/11 happened under Bush's watch. And although conservatives want to pin the blame on the Clinton administration, the 9/11 Commission found that the Bush team not only failed to make Al Qaeda a priority, but ignored multiple warning signs that an attack was being planned.

So three years later, we're fighting a costly war in Iraq, a county that did not attack us, had no ties to 9/11 and, pre-war, was less of a breeding ground for terrorists several other nations, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Al Qaeda still exists, and in many ways, thrives. Osama Bin Laden -- who Bush throughout 2001 said would be caught "dead or alive" -- was mentioned one time at the Republican National Convention (or one fewer time than Richard Nixon.)

But as long as Bush keeps saying We're safer instead of taking action -- and the media sits on its hands rather than growing a spine -- we're anything but.


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Conservatives Show Hypocrisy By Not Condemning "Hate" Speech

You may remember the thunderous GOP spin that came earlier this year, after John Kerry failed to condemn Whoopi Goldberg, who at a New York rally for Kerry made sexually-charged jokes at the expense of the president's last name.

A "hate fest," the Republicans and the conservative punditry cried out, even as they ignored jokes Dennis Miller used -- in introducing President Bush at a Wisconsin rally -- that implied Kerry and John Edwards were gay lovers.

Fast-forward to this month, and let's all wait and see if the various politicians and pundits condemn some of their own for making truly hateful statements regarding President Clinton's quadruple bypass surgery.

Let's see Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly tell their viewers that such "hate speech" is unacceptable. And among the broader media, let's see Chris Matthews or Tim Russert ask Ed Gillespie or Terry Holt whether they will condemn such hatred.


Here's what passes for "conservative" talk radio these days (with thanks to for providing transcripts).

From Rush Limbaugh's Tuesday show: I understand it was gonna be a triple bypass, but then Clinton figured out his sympathy rating would go up to 87 percent with a quadruple.

From Michael Savage's Tuesday show: We heard, of course, that hell was full and therefore Mr. Clinton will be with us for a while longer -- but we wish him the best nevertheless. But what's the sanctity all of a sudden? ... I think he was the worst skunk that ever invaded the White House, to be honest with you. I think he was pure evil. ... So what, I'm supposed to sit here because he's a former president and go, "We wish him well" -- why? Why? Tell me why. Tell me why. Anyone got an answer to that one?

Mark Simone, filling in for Mark Levin on Monday: You know that Clinton, both Bill and Hillary Clinton, have to make sure John Kerry loses. They don't want this guy to win. If Kerry wins, it screws up Hillary's plans for '08. She wouldn't be able to run until 2012, so they want him to lose, and if you go back and study the campaign, there were a few moments here and there where Bill or Hillary did something to mess up John Kerry. There's a few of these episodes. And I'm not saying they staged the heart problem, but it just works out perfectly that now they don't have to do anything for him [Kerry] for at least a month -- at the end of that month, he can be 15 points behind.


Such "hate" -- to use the conservative's word of choice -- is commonplace on conservative talk radio. But do you hear conservative politicians or pundits offer condemnations? Hardly. More likely, you hear such people legitimize conservative talk radio as part of the "news cycle."

You can imagine the thunderous GOP reaction that comes when a liberal (or Bush critic) gets out of line. Bill Maher lost a television show. Whoopi Goldberg is dropped as a commercial spokesperson. Michael Moore is labeled "unpatriotic," and points in his movie are distorted by people who readily admit they've never seen the film. Richard Clarke is smeared as an opportunist and a liar. Paul O'Neill is called a crackpot.

But what happens when The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto offers what he no doubt thought was an amusing anecdote -- at the expense of the son of late Missouri governor Mel Carnahan? Apparently nothing.

Here's what Taranto wrote Aug. 31, regarding Republican congressional candidate Bill Federer, who is running against Democrat Russ Carnahan, Mel's son:

Federer told us his opponent is Russ Carnahan, "the son of the governor who was killed in a plane crash."

"If he was killed in a plane crash, how can he be running for Congress?" we asked.

It turns out the subordinate clause referred to the governor; this son was not on board the plane when it crashed. But it occurred to us that we were silly to ask the question anyway. After all, if the son who did die in the plane crash were to be elected in Congress, he would only follow in the footsteps of his dad, who won his 2000 Senate race three weeks after his death. In fact, Missouri hasn't elected a live Democrat to the Senate since 1980, so a pulse may well be a political liability.

Consider CNN's Tucker Carlson, reacting to a reference to a racist comment made by Limbaugh (from the Aug. 31 Anderson Cooper 360):

PAUL BEGALA: Rush Limbaugh famously once told an African-American caller, and I'm quoting him here, "Take that bone out of your nose." Not exactly a people-of-compassion kind of statement. You can't have it both ways ...

CARLSON: Hold on. Settle down. Lighten up. It's not a kook radio show. Look, you know the guy's telling jokes. I mean, I must say if there's one issue that divides the parties -- it's not a race issue, that's a pretty tired throwback, I think that stopped working in about 1984 -- Hold on, lemme just say one thing. If there's one issue that divides the parties, it's humor. You have on the one side this kind of relentless, harsh, grim, dour humorlessness, and on the other side, you know, I don't know Rush Limbaugh, whatever you think of him, he's pretty amusing.


Folks, these are comments from the last 10 days, from a host of highly regarded, highly rated, highly paid conservative talkers.

But where's the thunderous GOP reaction -- from the "mainstream" Republicans? Where's the reaction from those who think it's poor taste to joke about or politicize a quadruple bypass, a politician dying in a plane crash, or a blatantly racist comment?

You won't hear a reaction. Not from Ed Gillespie or Terry Holt or Matthew Dowd or Scott McLellan. Not from Lindsay Graham or Mitch McConnell or Trent Lott or Denny Hastert. Not from Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly or Brit Hume or his "Fox All-Stars."

And our media -- so quick to jump when the conservatives wag their fingers and "tsk, tsk" John Kerry, so eager to be taken advantage by those whose only purpose is to knock down John Kerry -- sits quietly. No need to point out the hypocrisy, lest they be charged with having a "liberal bias."

I guess that's what passes for "fair and balanced" these days, huh?


Sunday, September 05, 2004

Conservatives Return to "Know-Nothing" Roots

Watching the GOP convention, I was reminded of a great passage in Thomas Frank's book, What's the Matter with Kansas?

The Republicans today are the party of anti-intellectualism, of rough frontier contempt for sophisticated ideas and pantywaist book-learning. ... Today's Republicans are doing what the Whigs did in the 1840s: putting on backwoods accents, telling the world about their log-cabin upbringings, and raging against the over-educated elites.

The convention was a hate fest, unlike anything in recent memory. It was Pat Buchanan, circa 1992, multiplied many times over. There were so many half-truths, distortions, exaggerations and outright lies about John Kerry and his beliefs, and about the "successes" of the first Bush administration, that it would probably take several days to write them all out and provide the appropriate analysis.

The GOP made a calculated decision, and the early returns -- unfortunately for the Democrats -- is that they calculated correctly. That calculation? That raw passion was more important than raw data.

It's a policy that the administration has taken since its inception. It has put forth bold ideas, facts be damned. And while the media has on occasion debunked half-truths, exaggerations and lies for what they are, the GOP (and its pundit supporters) have been able to change a lot of minds along the way by repeating those same half-truths, exaggerations and lies over and over, facts be damned. And more often than not, the media has been too slow, or too weak, to stand in the way.

It allows conservatives to say with a straight face that:

-- We're turning the corner on (fill in the blank): George W. Bush boasted about 144,000 new jobs created in August, even though economists will tell you that you need 150,000 new jobs per month just to keep up with population growth. In the past year, jobs were created at about 155,000/month.

You can almost hear Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove snicker, because they know it's easier to boast about job creation than to explain economics. It's easier to point at a simple number -- 5.4% unemployment -- than to explain about lower wages for jobs found vs. jobs lost, or to speculate about that the unemployment rate has dropped in part because people have stopped looking for jobs, or stopped receiving unemployment benefits, or settled for part-time work. (Look how long it took me to write out those possibilities.)

As for economic growth, it slowed to 2.5% in the second quarter -- below the 3% you need for a growing and recovering economy. That marked the third consecutive dropoff in economic growth, following the one-quarter boom last fall. But Bush isn't saying that on the campaign trail, and Gillespie and Rove (snicker, snicker) know that our media isn't all that interested in repeating raw data over and over, lest they bore the masses. It's even harder when "GOP superstars" like Rudy Guiliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger can passionately say -- unchallenged -- that things are getting better (and that the recession started under President Clinton, another lie).

As for tax cuts, economists have shown that every tax dollar cut by this administration has provided some 64 cents of economic growth. Fully funding state programs would provide some $1.24 of growth, according to the economists. But that's very complicated to explain on Hardball or Larry King, right? It's much easier to allow Ed Gillespie or Terry Holt to tout Bush's "bold initiatives" and "decisiveness," unchallenged.

-- We're going to fund (fill in the blank): In his convention acceptance speech, Bush listed various programs for which he planned to increase funding. Watch Gillespie and Rove snicker, as the Chris Matthews of the world say the president was "strong" or even "compassionate" in his speech. It's easier to say such things than to fact check -- remember, the speech was available to journalists and even John Kerry earlier in the day -- and discover that most of the programs the president was touting were ones he cut (or tried to cut) since coming to president.

This is nothing new. On the campaign trail, the president had the chutzpah to tout to a Native American audience a federal housing assistance program that his 2005 budget plans to cut. And we all know that Bush fought the formation of such things as the Department of Homeland Security and the 9/11 commission, then touted and took credit for them.

-- John Kerry was wrong on (fill in the blank): Before Sen. Zell Miller challenged Chris Matthews to a duel, he repeated a series of half-truths about John Kerry, wondering whether Kerry would arm our troops with "spitballs" to fight the war on terror. But many of the weapons programs he cited were ones cut in a bipartisan effort under George H.W. Bush, and his defense secretary, Dick Cheney.

This is not news. But our media focused first and foremost on Miller's anger, seemingly unaware of the half-truths, even though he has been saying them for several months on the various pundit shows. The conservatives in the media -- Hannity, etc. -- praised Miller's passion, even as others in the GOP, like John McCain, steered clear, and GOP spokesman like Terry Holt had "no comment" on Miller's factual inaccuracies.

Cheney, with incredible hypocrisy, has made similar charges. He also has thrown out the "Kerry wants to be sensitive to terrorists" line, even though he has used the word sensitive the same way -- as in sensitive to our allies, or sensitive to the conditions in Iraq. But even when the media challenged this hypocrisy, folks like Gillespie and Holt (snicker, snicker) were out in force to throw the kitchen sink against Kerry, and hope to confuse voters into forgetting who originally lied about whom.

We also heard about how Kerry wanted to gut intelligence, even though it is well documented that he proposed cutting 1% of our intelligence budget to cut waste and fraud. Why didn't his bill pass? Because it was superseded by a similar bill proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), which did pass with bipartisan support. (And, by the way, Bush's proposed new CIA Chief, Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), proposed even bigger cuts, in a bill that did not pass). Different charge, same results -- the media generally snored.

We're fighting a war on terror, and yet Osama Bin Laden's name was mentioned once at the GOP convention (or one fewer time than Richard Nixon's name was brought up, according to Mo Rocca, a guest correspondent on Larry King.) Amazing, isn't it? You'd have thought that Saddam was behind 9/11 -- just like (snicker, snicker) Karl Rove wants you to.


In the course of my work, I probably speak to a core of about 200 sources. Over the years, I have come across the occasional lie or half-truth. Some sources, upon being pressed, will provide the entire story. Others, however, will continue to lie, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

And because I have so many sources to choose from -- in theory, I have over 1,000 at my disposal, and nearly all of the 200 could be replaced -- I have on occasion dropped a key source because I could no longer trust them. And it didn't take repeated embarrassments to make those decisions.

But, sadly, our major media personalities don't work that way. They are either too stupid or too weak to stand up to those who tell them half-truths and lies.

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, asked Chris Matthews on Friday whether he feared being "blackballed." It's a great question, and Matthews clumsily suggested he was indeed afraid of that happening.

My question is, why doesn't Chris Matthews (and others in his shoes) blackball those who lie to him (and the viewers)? Why bring these people back on again and again?

Case in point: Christine Todd Whitman, the former EPA chief, was on Hardball last week as one of their seemingly endless stream of panelists discussion the convention. But this is the same Christine Todd Whitman who, in the wake of 9/11, told television audiences that the air in Lower Manhattan was safe to breathe.

The exact dateline:

-- Sept. 13: EPA issues press release saying air samples are "very reassuring."
-- Sept. 17: Federal and New York City officials allow people to return to their homes.
-- Sept. 18: EPA declares: "their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe."
-- Oct. 3: EPA says Ground Zero data through Sept. 30 reveals "no significant health risks."

Significantly later, EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley admitted "the EPA had not gathered nearly enough data" to make such sweeping declarations. New Yorkers, as a result, were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos, lead, concrete, glass and other debris.

But Whitman is given a free pass on all of that, cancer be damned. And her former boss, George W. Bush, posed with firefighters last week, and there was nary a peep about what the EPA did (or even about Bush's budget cuts relating to police, firefighters and emergency medical workers).

Case in point: The key "facts" about John Kerry's purple hearts and other medals, as laid out by the Swift Boat Veterans, have been overwhelming debunked as at best hearsay and pointed speculation, and at worst, lies.

When John O'Neill goes talks with Chris Matthews or George Stephanapoulos or Wolf Blitzer, the charges being made had been documented. And significant research was available to debunk those charges. Web sites like easily showed how the various charges either were based on hearsay, or contained information that had been contradicted by earlier statements by the various Swifties.

Yet, Chris and George and Wolf gave these folks a chance, and allowed a lot of damaging information to be presented as a "point of view." And even if the mainstream "journalists" scored a point or two, the Swifties could turn around and spew with Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or Hugh Hewitt or Mark Levin, unchallenged.

Only 1 in 4 people find the Swifties' charges credible. When the Swifties strike again, will the media ignore them? Probably not. Because Hannity and Limbaugh and the rest of the conservatives will give them airtime, and the remainder will cower, lest they be accused of showing "liberal bias."


The GOP has shown a disinterest in egghead Harvard studies. It doesn't matter whether it economics, Ground Zero air quality ... heck, intelligence about Iraq. The administration has "strength" and "passion" and "decisiveness" about the issues of the day!

Our media, sadly, too often follows this "know nothing" route. Poorly prepared for interviews, unwilling or afraid to fact check on the air, they are accomplices to the Bush administration's strategy of keeping our populace uninformed.

And if that means your son or daughter has to die in Iraq, well, don't let some Harvard egghead tell you that there was a body of intelligence out there before we went to war that was ignored because it contradicted the administration. And if your loved one got sick because they returned to Lower Manhattan prematurely because of assurances from this administration, well, don't let some Sierra Club envirofreak tellyou that there was a body of intelligence out there before people returned to their homes that was ignored because it contradicted the administration.

And if we re-elect Bush because a majority of Americans believe the half-truths and lies shoved down their throats, well, don't let some New York Times liberal columnist tell you that there was a body of intelligence out there before the election that was ignored because it contradicted the administration.


Thursday, September 02, 2004

A Blue Stater Travels Through Red States, Conclusion

Our trip has finally wrapped up.

I wasn't able to post from Tennessee (no Internet access), but I did make a few notes that I'd like to share.

We visited the Smokey Mountains area of East Tennessee -- Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Gatlinburg. For those of you without an atlas handy, that's southeast of Knoxville, and due west of Asheville, N.C.

They call this area "The Beach without the ocean," a reference to Myrtle Beach, S.C. -- and in truth, the areas are remarkably similar. Another comparison is often made to Branson, Mo.

This is country music land. Nashville isn't far off. Pigeon Forge is home to Dollywood, and the main drag features various theaters with country "stars" like Louise Mandrell (Barbara's younger sister) as well as for various jamborees and "Dixieland" productions. Amid the theaters are Christian bookstores, all-you-can-eat chicken-and-catfish joints, and Nascar-themed mini-amusement parks.

This is red-state America.

My liberal cousins from Atlanta, who enjoyed seeing the various shirts the Marks had made, cautioned us from wearing them in Tennessee. "You don't want to mess with someone with a rifle," I was warned.

So Heather went with my aunt to a TJ Maxx in Roswell, Ga., and bought me three nondescript t-shirts to wear in Pigeon Forge. And, rather than get her upset, I dutifully said I would wear two of them, one for each day we planned to visit the area.


The funny thing is -- amid walking about Dollywood, touring the Ripley's Believe it Or Not Aquarium in Gatlinburg, feeding the exotic animals at the Deer Farm petting zoo in Sevierville, buying a Disney-themed book at a local warehouse, and scarfing down some delicious chicken and catfish at Huck Finn's -- we didn't see anyone with rifles.

What we did see was a lot of tourists, including at least three families from various parts of our home state of New Jersey. At Dollywood, we met (or overheard) people from Indiana and Virginia and Arkansas and North Carolina, but sporting fewer "W" buttons than we saw at Disney. A check of the parking lot there found a few Bush Cheney '04 bumper stickers, and the very occasional one supporting Kerry Edwards '04. Hardly the scary "redneck red state" environment I was worried we'd see.

Our one experience with one of our 12 shirts came at the Ripley museum in Gatlinburg. My three-year-old, Alexander, wore his "It's Time For a Real New England Patriot" shirt -- a "back-up," as he had dirtied his first shirt that day. It caught the eye of a Maine family, and prompted the mother to ask if we were from New England. When I said no, she looked confused, until Alexander turned to show off the shirt's back --"Vote Kerry/Edwards." She gave a disapproving "Oh," before moving on.

In other words, maybe the gap between Red State America and Blue State America isn't all that great.

Sure, you couldn't find Air America on the radio dial (although we could find Rush and the "Radio Factor," and plenty of regional conservative talk). And the local news coverage was "soft," to put it mildly, as the Republican National Convention got underway. (Although USA Today wasn't much better ...)

The question I've asked throughout this trip is, given a level playing field, how would America react to this President, and how would it vote this fall?

If the media nationwide offered context on such things as Kerry's voting record on weapons systems or the $87 billion funding for Iraq, and if Red State America newspapers were to relentlessly discuss locally lost jobs and wages, local factory closings, unfunded "No Child Left Behind" schools, unchecked corporate abuse of the local environment, etc., and connect the dots back to Bush Administration policy, how many voters in Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia would vote Republican, purely to fight gay marriage, abortion and assault weapon bans?

I traveled South with a basic theory -- that the GOP relies on an ignorant populace to gain power, and that as a result, Red State America votes against its own interests -- and came away more convinced than ever.

I don't think that Red Staters are all that different than Blue Staters. We saw big cities and rural areas. People of different races, religions and even sexual orientations (I saw an older lesbian couple when we stopped at a Wendy's in Martinsburg, W. Va.).

The one gap I found traveling in the various Red States was information. The radio dial offered no liberal voice, other than when I briefly found a Miami station broadcasting Air America. The local newspapers leaned conservative, and sometimes very conservative.

How is one to come to a "fair and balanced" perspective, given that environment?

Sure, the Southeast has produced Democratic candidates of national acclaim -- Clinton, Gore, Nunn, Carter, Graham, Edwards, etc. -- but those candidates had the advantage at the local level of having some say on the news cycle. Unless Kerry or Edwards is visiting Pigeon Forge or Richmond or Orlando or Wilmington or Savannah to drive the local news cycle, those in search of information on the radio dial, most of cable tv talk and local newspapers will be turned onto a conservative re-telling of the day's events.

And that's a shame, because in my Blue State eyes, the GOP has done as little for Red State America as it's done for Blue State America.


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