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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

Curses, This Is Rough

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2004; 8:48 AM

Tough choice this morning: Do I lead with my chat with Howard Stern or critique the comedy stylings of Dick Cheney?

After all, the King of All Media never gives interviews, except when signing a $500-million satellite radio deal. And Cheney is just vice president. Besides, Cheney could be out of a job in January, while we now know Stern will be around for five more years, at least for those with specially equipped radios.

_____More Media Notes_____
The Press Sees a Slugfest (washingtonpost.com, Oct 6, 2004)
The Veep Showdown (washingtonpost.com, Oct 5, 2004)
A Changing Political Landscape (The Washington Post, Oct 4, 2004)
Press Gives Kerry the Nod (washingtonpost.com, Oct 1, 2004)
The Future Is Now (washingtonpost.com, Sep 30, 2004)
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Okay, so I'd have to delete a number of expletives from my Howard conversation. But judging by his Senate scolding of Pat Leahy, Cheney knows those words. Words like $$#!!** and the ever-popular !!@@&&!

And it's not like Stern spends all his time chatting up porn stars and has nothing to do with the presidential campaign. He's been kicking the %%%*** out of Bush every day since the FCC started messing with him, urging his fans to vote against the Bush-Cheney ticket.

Well, I'll just link to the Stern story so we can get back to politics.

Listening to talk radio, I heard a lot of joking about Dick (I Never Saw You Before) Cheney needing flash cards to ID Edwards. Apparently, you can go on and on about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and tenuous al Qaeda links, but falsely claim to have never met your opponent and . . . people get their knickers in a twist.

Plus, it's simpler to explain. And Edwards had photographs.

Roger Simon nails it:

"Of course Dick Cheney didn't remember meeting John Edwards. John Edwards is not a major Republican contributor. So why would Cheney remember him?

"Cheney's gaffe in the vice presidential debate Tuesday - - that he was meeting Edwards for the first time - - is likely to be remembered when other gaffes by both candidates are long forgotten.

"That is the nature of politics. You can give a speech and talk about a hundred great issues, but if you fall into the orchestra pit at the end, guess what's going to be remembered."

The debate is still going on, according to the Los Angeles Times:

"A day after their contentious debate, Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards Wednesday replayed their squabbling at long distance, each suggesting they got the better of the other...

"Edwards said the president and Cheney 'struggle with the truth' and refuse to 'level with the American people' about troubles in Iraq and economic hardship at home...

"Cheney, campaigning in the state capital of Tallahassee, echoed Bush's stinging new stump speech by reiterating his assertions that the Democrats' tough talk on terrorism obscures their past performance in office. . . .

"The Democratic National Committee produced a 60-second video on its Web site that featured contradictory statements Cheney made, including his erroneous assertion he and Edwards had never met before Tuesday night. 'Someone who lies about the little things will lie about the big things too,' Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe told reporters."

Sounds like the '00 Bush campaign beating up on Gore!

"The Bush campaign countered by releasing a 'fact sheet' enumerating "at least 15 inaccurate statements" from Edwards on Tuesday night, including his exaggeration of the budgetary cost so far of the Iraq war."

Oh, and by the way:

"Iraq had destroyed its illicit weapons stockpiles within months after the Persian Gulf war of 1991," say the New York Times, "and its ability to produce such weapons had significantly eroded by the time of the American invasion in 2003, the top American inspector for Iraq said in a report made public Wednesday."

Never mind.

Bush is really taking off the gloves, reports the Wall Street Journal:

"Facing a near dead-even race and a reinvigorated challenger less than a month before Election Day, President Bush unleashed an attack on Democrat John Kerry designed to recast the campaign along more sharply ideological lines.

"The president, in one of his most confrontational speeches to date, broadly accused his rival of failing to appreciate the dangers that the country faces abroad and of being out of touch with the economy at home.

"The combative approach is part of a broader effort by the Bush campaign to regain momentum, after Mr. Bush's performance in the first debate produced a dramatic tightening in national polls. In that debate, Sen. Kerry sowed doubts about the president's judgment, contending that the Iraq war undermined the broader U.S. war on terrorism and diverted resources that could have been used to boost the U.S. economy."

Just when you thought you knew everything you cared to know about Kerry:

"Sen. John Kerry had a very senatorial response when his elementary school-aged daughter asked where babies come from. He drew a diagram," says this wire report in USA Today.

"She got so terrified, she ran out in tears," the Democratic presidential candidate said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on 'Dr. Phil,' a daytime television advice show. The interview was taped Sept. 18.

"Interviewed by host Phil McGraw, Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, discussed raising children through a divorce and politics and blending their families after entering what was a second marriage for both. . . .

"Kerry opened up some about the divorce in 1988 from his first wife, Julia Thorne. Kerry said together they reassured their daughters, then 9 and 6, that they would be there for them."

Can you imagine Harry Truman going through this?

The press, as I noted earlier, just loves this gaffe. Here's the Philadelphia Inquirer version:

"At first, it seemed as if it might go down in history as one of those killer debate moments: Vice President Cheney, who presides over the Senate, said he had never met Sen. John Edwards until their encounter Tuesday night in Cleveland. 'I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session,' said Cheney, turning to Edwards, the North Carolina Democrat, whom he faulted for skipping lots of votes. 'The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight.'

"But the bon mot backfired. Cheney was wrong.

"Within an hour, Democrats circulated photographs and video snippets showing Edwards and Cheney next to each other on the dais at the Feb. 1, 2001, National Prayer breakfast.

"'Thank you very much. Congressman Watts, Sen. Edwards, friends across the country, and distinguished visitors to our country from all over the world, Lynne and I are honored to be with you all this morning,' Cheney said, according to a transcript."

Hey, all those senators tend to look alike.

Fred Barnes says Cheney got the job done nonetheless:

"If it's possible for a vice presidential debate to matter, Tuesday night's duel between Dick Cheney and John Edwards did. Why? Because Vice President Cheney did two things that might help President Bush. He attacked Bush's presidential opponent John Kerry effectively on the war on terrorism and Iraq--something Bush failed to do in his first debate with Kerry. And Cheney put Kerry's dovish record on national security over two decades as a senator firmly on the table as a campaign issue. Edwards's effort to thwart Cheney was unavailing.

"Now it's up to Bush to follow through in his national security speech today and his second debate with Kerry in St. Louis on Friday. He'd better be ready this time. Last week, he wasn't, and he knows it. Bush was dissatisfied with his performance and with those who prepared him. A Bush aide likened the coaching of Bush with the arduous preparation of President Reagan in 1984 for his disastrous first debate with Walter Mondale. At the time, Reagan's vice president, the elder George Bush, didn't help much in his debate with Geraldine Ferraro. But this time, for Bush junior, help was on the way."

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait says Edwards drew blood where it counts:

"Dick Cheney and John Edwards seem to agree that, in the war on terror, the best defense is a good offense. And both adhered to that principle during their debate. Cheney and Edwards landed shot after shot on each other last night, while devoting little time to answering the other man's charges. The main difference was that Edwards's charges, in the end, were far more important.

"Edwards drew some blood citing Cheney's votes in Congress on popular social programs and the Martin Luther King holiday. Cheney meekly declined to defend his record at Halliburton, other than urging viewers to go to factcheck.com. (He probably meant to say 'factcheck.org,' given that the url 'factcheck.com' automatically redirects viewers to georgesoros.com, where the current headline reads, 'President Bush is endangering our safety, hurting our vital interests, and undermining American values.')

"Edwards blasted Bush for promoting a divisive constitutional amendment, and Cheney passed on a rebuttal. He also lambasted the administration's record on health care, and Cheney declined to offer any explanation for opposing the importation of drugs from Canada or prohibiting the government from bargaining for lower Medicare drug prices.

"Meanwhile, Cheney launched plenty of shots at both Kerry and Edwards's Senate records. Edwards answered a few, but let many of the criticisms go. Everybody who follows politics knows 'missed votes' is a vacuous charge, but Edwards didn't attempt to explain it. The senator attacked the administration for sending troops into combat without body armor, but he didn't mount much of a defense of his and Kerry's vote against the $87 billion to fight and rebuild in Iraq."

Dan Kennedy gives the nod to Johnny B. Good because "Edwards had more to prove. The North Carolina senator is not a well-known figure in national political circles. The undecided voters who tuned in probably barely knew who Edwards was. What they saw was not the grinning Ken doll of the Democratic primaries, but an engaging, engaged, smart, sharp person of sufficient gravitas and experience to make a plausible vice-president. For that matter, he came off as a far more plausible president than Bush did four years ago.

"Perceptions of Cheney remain unchanged. Public-opinion polls have showed Cheney to be the most unpopular member of the Bush administration. In this new ABC News/Washington Post poll, for instance, Cheney's favorability rating is 44 percent, and his unfavorability rating is 43 percent. Cheney did nothing to overcome his Dark Lord image last night, coming across as deeply negative, and often sneering at Edwards with such leering contempt that you almost expected to see blood dripping from his fangs. . . .

"Cheney lied - and got caught. Cheney lied about little things, and he lied about big things. We've become accustomed to that, of course, but this isn't September 2003, when he made a fool of Tim Russert by telling him he was no longer on Halliburton's payroll - a flat-out falsehood. This time, everyone is watching."

Washington Monthly's Amy Sullivan liked what Edwards did, sort of:

"Edwards, looking--if possible--even younger than usual, answered Democratic naysayers by perfectly filling the role of attack dog. This does two things. It's enormously effective because it makes the Kerry/Edwards case in a more clear and pointed way than we've heard before. The raves about the man's skills as a charming trial lawyer are not misplaced. It also leaves Kerry as the only man in this race who is above the fray, free to play offense. In both debates, the Republicans have consistently been defensive, which--as we've seen--makes them a bit testy. With Edwards taking the brunt of the blows, Kerry seems, well, presidential.

"As Kerry did last Thursday, Edwards did miss a couple of opportunities to hit questions out of the park. When asked about the divisions in the country, Edwards started off on the right track, pointing out that this didn't just happen. 'The reality is it is not an accident. It's the direct result of the choices they've made and their efforts that have created division in America.' But this would have been a perfect place to hammer home . . . how Republicans have taken political incivility and abuse of power to a whole different level. The issue should be a clear winner for Democrats and would have the added benefit of making the case for a change of power in Congress as well (the Kerry campaign has been surprisingly silent on that point). But Edwards made his short point and moved back to repeat some points about health care."

Edwards blew some big chances, says American Prospect's Garance Franke-Ruta:

"John Edwards rapidly placed Vice President Dick Cheney on the defensive on the administration's conduct of the war in Iraq and repeated attempts to link it to al-Qaeda. But then Edwards strangely flagged when the debate belatedly turned to domestic issues, failing, for example, to turn Cheney's admission about African-American women with AIDS that he was 'not aware that it was -- that they're in epidemic there,' into an argument that the administration doesn't know what's going on in this country any better than it does in Iraq.

"This suggests that the Rovian strategy of attacking your opponent on his own turf has become so ingrained in both campaigns that presumed natural advantage is no longer enough for the candidates to rely upon in a debate situation. Clearly, overcompensating for perceived weaknesses works, but under-preparing to explain or attack on strong suits can lead, unsurprisingly, to underperformance . . .

"Stylistically, Edwards won, hands down -- partly because he kept his hands down and his eyes and head up. Cheney often presented his face to the camera as 50 to 75 percent forehead, slumping deeply into his seat and covering his chin with his hands while gazing directly at the table, as if it held some deep secrets he wished to decipher. At times, he appeared as if he might cave in on himself, burying his microphone with folds of cloth; by the end of the debate I was reduced to lip-reading to figure out what he was saying because his natural mumble had faded into a muffled stream of indistinguishable sounds.

"Other times, Cheney appeared angry or, when attacking Edwards and Kerry in unflinching terms, downright rude."

Hey, it's a debate. Rudeness is allowed.

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