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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Friday, April 1, 2005; 11:00 AM

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions and comments on politics, politicians and his latest columns.

The transcript follows

Terry Neal (post.com)

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Terry Neal: Good morning everyone. Thank you for joining me for my regular weekly chat. As always, I look forward to taking your questions. So let's hop right to it.



Canton, Ohio: The so-called Republican Memo, quoted during the Schiavo debate, now turns out to be a dirty trick. Will there be an investigation? Any repercussions?

Terry Neal: While questions have been raised about the memo, there is no proof--at least yet--that it was a dirty trick. The genesis of the memo is still in question. But multiple news organizations, including this one, reported that it was distributed widely among GOP officials in Congress.
Will there be an investigation? By whom? I'm sure journalists and bloggers will continue to look into the issue, and I don't want to presume the outcome. We'll see.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: The Terri Shiavo issue is essentially about her right to die, not her husband's or her parents' rights to choose whether she lives or dies, which is how the politicians and the media by and large have framed it. Doesn't the responsible media have an obligation to properly frame the issue? Wouldn't some of the hysterical rhetoric be tamed if the responsible media did so?

Terry Neal: I have no idea what you mean. Yes, it's about her right to die, but because she can't speak for herself, and has been judged by her doctors to be in a permanent and irreversible vegetative state, then yes, the issue is about whether family members have the right to choose what happens to her. That's what the courts have been considering for all of these years. I'm not sure how differently the media could have, or should have, framed it.


Arlington, Va.: Morning Terry,

Two observations today:

1. Lot of whining about how the Bush Administration excludes dissent from thier town hall meetings, ect. Thought I'd ask for you to explain how that's different from say the Congressional Black Caucus excluding Congession Watts and/or other black Republicans from their meetings?

2. Headline this morning on Post.com "March Job Growth Plummets" oh, how scary sounding. Read the story or even the headline over at the New York Times and the economy added over 100K jobs and the unemployment rate dropped. How proud you must be of that choice to go "scary negative" on how to report that story.

Have a great weekend....

Terry Neal: Thank you for your questions.

First of all, the CBC never excluded J.C. Watts from its meetings. Watts made a decision not to be a member of the organization. So that question is based on a false assumption.

As for your second question, a couple things: The story suggests that growth has slowed, which is true. Second, yes, while the economy created 100,000 some odd jobs, you have to factor in the growth in the overall job market. The economy needs to create many more jobs than that just to keep pace with the new people entering the job market. The story on our site now is an Associated Press story, which will probably be replaced by a staff written story later in the day. But the time the fully fleshed out story hits the papers tomorrow, it will do a far more comprehensive job than this first, quick hit story, in explaining all of this.


Arlington, Va.: Both the Post and ABC incorrectly reported that the memo was distributed by Republican leaders, and described it as a GOP memo. When will we see a correction?

washingtonpost.com: Doubts Raised On Schiavo Memo (Post, March 30)

Terry Neal: This is what Mike Allen, who wrote the story, told Howie Kurtz about the memo earlier this week:

"The Post's Allen said "the blog interest has been stoked by secondhand accounts" that the paper's story referred to Republican talking points. "We simply reported that the sheet of paper was distributed to Republican senators and told our readers explicitly that the document was unsigned, making clear it was unofficial," he said. "We stuck to what we knew to be true and did not call them talking points or a Republican memo. The document was provided by an official who has a long record of trustworthiness, and this official gave a precise account of the document's provenance, satisfying us that it was authentic and that it had been used in an attempt to influence Republican senators." Allen said that under the journalistic ground rules, he could not say whether the source was a Democrat or a Republican."

So I can't speak for ABC, but at this point, there's no reason for a correction, based on what the Post reported.


Philadelphia, Pa.: In the past I've noticed that certain chat participants have accused the Washington Post and other news organizations of being liberal or conservative, depending on the questioner. I sometimes wonder why you in the press feel a need to defend yourselves from that. Don't you feel that comments of ideological bias say more about the accuser than the media? Isn't it what they really want is for the press to reflect their agenda as opposed to impartiality?

Terry Neal: Yes, I very much agree and have said the same thing in the past.
I'd say most journalists believe they don't have to defend themselves from these charges. But I think one of the reasons these sorts of impressions have settled in is because journalists refuse to defend themselves. If there's one thing "the media" can be accused of sometimes is haughtiness. The attitude is, "It's beneath me to even need to respond to these things."
But I think journalists should stand up for their profession.
Now, having said that, it doesn't mean that bias in the media is non-existent. And yes it's true that some reporters occasionally let their bias shine through. Journalists are human beings after all. The other thing to remember is that there are parts of the media--the opinion pages--where it's a journalists job to give opinions.
But what I reject is that there is some sort of easy, ideological categorization of "the media."


Manhattan, N.Y.:

I sense the Democrats are becoming more cohesive and more willing to hammer the Republicans on a range of issues. The Dems seem less equivocating and more surefooted. Do you share this view?

Terry Neal: Um, no.


Washington, D.C.: Terry,

Tom DeLay was quoted on NPR this morning as saying that the Schiavo matter proves that the "arrogant, out-of-control" judiciary is causing a crisis, with judges ignoring the will of Congress and the president. I believe the real crisis is this sort of overheated, irresponsible disrespect for the law displayed by "leaders" in Congress. How can those of us who can't vote for DeLay's opponent in Texas deal with such outrageous behavior?

Terry Neal: Well, you could contribute to his opponent in his next Congressional race, for one thing. I mean, that's the way Democracy, works, right?
I think the funny thing about Delay's statement is that was mostly conservative judges who rejected the appeals of Schiavo's parents.

Here's what Post reporter Dana Milbank wrote on this subject this morning:

"It is, of course, difficult to argue that the Schiavo case would have turned out differently if more of Bush's conservative judicial nominees had been confirmed. Conservative judges were at least as likely as liberals to oppose federal intervention. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, rejected the Schiavo appeal, and William H. Pryor Jr., whom Bush has seated temporarily on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in hopes of winning his confirmation to that court, did not object publicly from the decision not to hear the case. Key opinions relevant to the case were written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia.

It was, in fact, an appellate judge appointed by President George H.W. Bush who wrote a ruling Wednesday criticizing the president and Congress for acting "in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people -- our Constitution."

Perhaps Delay wants even more conservative judges. This battle will be fought out in Congress, which confirms federal judges. And both sides can make their cases publicly and let the chips fall where they may.


Washington, D.C.: If Senate Republicans do go with the "nuclear option" to block Democrats from fillibustering judicial nominees, is there anything -- other than public perception -- that would stop them from reinstating it later on, if it looks like the Democrats might regain the majority?

Terry Neal: I'm no scholar on parlimentary procedure, but rule changes occur by a vote of the majority and I don't think proposed rule changes can be filibustered. So I think the Republicans could reinstate it if they thought Democrats were going to retake the majority. And of course, if Democrats retook the majority, they could reinstate the nuclear option if they have a majority of votes to do so.
I cold be wrong on this, and if I am, I'm sure someone out there will let me know.
The bigger problem right now is that Republicans don't appear to have a majority of votes to do this. Some GOP senators are aware that in a Democracy, power is not owned, only leased. If they enact the nuclear option, they set a powerful principle that could come back to haunt them one day when/if they're in the minority again.


Provo, Utah: Terry,

I think the Dems are missing a golden opportunity by not hammering the Republican extremists who have come out of hiding this week. In particular, I was struck by the fact that not a single Democrat attacked the protesters who called for the govenment to declare martial law and rescue Terri Schiavo.

The Democrats were thrown a fastball -- they could have shown themselves to a skeptical public to be a party that will defend the Constitution. But far from hitting it out of the ball out of the park, they chose not even to swing at the pitch.

To me, that suggests this party still doesn't get it.

Any thoughts?

Terry Neal: There have been a handful of Democrats who have been vocal from the beginning--Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mel Watt, to name a few.
But certainly the party as a hole has not unified around this issue. And that is in part, because it is split on it. In the House, 49 Dems voted for the bill, while 53 voted against it (of course, another 100 didn't bother to show up at all for the vote).
There are some Democrats who argue that the the party has adopted the right strategy by simply allowing the Republicans to commit political suicide.
So there is more than one opinion on this.


Asheville, N.C.: What is your sense of the backlash potential over Congressional intervention in the Schiavo case?

Terry Neal: It's difficult to say. The next round of Congressional elections is still, what 19 or 20 months away? The public has a pretty short memory for controversy these days. Some on the left are arguing that Dems can use the short-term backlash over the Schiavo case to make the larger case that GOP are captive of the extremist right wing in fights over judicial nominees and stem cell research. If you get a chance, check out my interview with David Corn, the Washington editor of the Nation Magazine, on the homepage of washingtonpost.com today.


Terry Neal: All righty folks, I've got to run. It's been lots of fun. Thanks for your great questions. If I missed you today, try me again next week, same time, same place.
Have a great weekend,



Springfield, Va: Lets try again. From WashingtonPost.com:
This article, published by the Post with A Reuters byline, clearly states that the memo was distributed by Republican Senators.
I think Arlington was right -- the Post needs to publish a correction.

Terry Neal: OK...I've got to take this one, then I'm out. The Reuters story did not run in the Washington Post. The Washington Post would not run a wire story on something like this. The story was apparently up on the webstite for a minute, but it was written by Reuters. If there is proof that the Republican leadership did NOT distribute this memo, then yes, Reuters should issue a correction. And yes, washingtonpost.com, I would think, would note in the corrections area that Reuters incorrectly reported that fact. But I still don't think there's proof that some in the GOP leadership did not pass the memo around.


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