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Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Friday, April 15, 2005; 11:00 AM

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

Read this week's column:Bush's Poll Position is Worst on Record.

Terry Neal (post.com)

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Terry Neal spoke with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). Watch the Video.

The transcript follows. 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.

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Terry Neal: Hello everyone. Thanks for joining me for my weekly chat on politics. I'm looking forward to taking your questions. So let's get right to it.

Terry

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College Park, Md.: With all the talk of the nepotism of Delay, the most I have seen the Post say is that Republicans have pointed out Democrats do the same thing. However, I haven't seen any of their allegations printed like Corzine's daughter being paid, Dean's kids being paid, Boxer's 130k to her son's Political Action Committee, etc. etc. Should we expect to see any investigative journalism into a whole scope of legislators across the aisle or will the limelight stay on Delay...even after he may be gone?

Terry Neal: Thanks for your question. I'm not really the person to ask about the editorial decisions of the paper. And even if I had knowledge of what the Post was planning in the future on a specific subject, I couldn't really discuss it in a live online chat.
Now having said that, I have some personal thoughts on this subject. I'd be interested to see how this story evolves. It is certainly true that other lawmakers have or have had family members on their payrolls. What stands out about the Delay case is the amount of money involved and relative lack of political experience of his daughter and wife. The question is, what did they do to earn the money. It's not enough in his case--or the case of any other lawmaker--to say this doesn't matter because it's not taxpayer money.
It does matter. Because it goes to the question of whether someone who is in charge of making laws was improperly awarded, or benefited inordinately, somehow because of his/her position.
I don't know all of the details of the Delay story, so I'm not going to comment on what I think about his culpability. The real problem here is that the House Ethics committee has been virtually ground to a halt as the two parties fight over changes that the GOP majority unilaterally imposed on it. Those changes came in direct response to the fact that the committee admonished Delay three times last year.
So unfortunately, the House's accountability mechanism is essentially disabled this point, meaning the questions about Delay could linger for some time. And I don't know if that's good for anyone--Delay, his party or the institution of Congress itself.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it just me, or does all this talk of DeLay being on his way out seem a little premature? It seems like a lot of these op-eds, even from the conservative pages, are trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. But he still seems strong to me, if on the defensive (I hear he eats puppies for breakfast).

Terry Neal: Haha...You're funny. Insider joke. We'll skip past the puppy thing.
My feeling on the Delay thing is that yes, he is in some trouble. But I have no idea whether he'll lose his majority leader job because of it. It could just be that his reputation takes a hit, and the Democrats try to use his troubles as an election issue next year.
My column on Monday will delve into this idea that there is some kind of liberal conspiracy to bring down Delay. Even Newt Gingrich seemed to sort of mock that idea in a recent interview. And I doubt seriously that the Wall Street Journal editorial page--which has been highly critical of Delay--could be considered a part of the grand liberal conspiracy.

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San Rafael, Calif.: Terry--I liked your editorial about why Bush's popularity is down and how the Democrats can't seem to capitalize on it. Reminds me of the Will Rogers quote--"I'm not a member of an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Because the Dems are in such a minority, I can't see that there anything they can do other than counterpunch. But they frustratingly can't get their people in line. Any hope on the horizon?

Terry Neal:
Thank you for your note. One clarification, it wasn't an "editorial." Editorials are unsigned and represent the position of the newspaper's editorial board. I'm not on the editorial. And what I write is a column. It reflects my perspective.
Now having said that, it does seem to me that the Democrats have been unable to capitalize on the GOP's recent troubles. But I don't think it's because Dems are "in such a minority." I think it's because there is a lack of cohesiveness in the party. Unlike the GOP, which even when it was in the minority was a more top down party, Democrats are not as easily led. That makes it more difficult to present an easily digestible, straightforward alternative to the Republican vision.
You see that just this week with the passage of the bankruptcy bill and death tax repeal, where many moderate Democrats defected to the GOP side. Same with the Schiavo bill...Nearly half of the Democrats who showed up voted with the Republican majority.
It's kind of difficult to present a unified vision of opposition if your folks are all over the place on the biggest issues of the day.
That's not a judgment on my part. There are some people who like the idea that there are more independent thinkers in the big tent Democratic party. There's an argument to be made that America could use a little less blind partisanship on both sides of the aisle.

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Kansas City, Mo.: "...eats puppies?" You can't leave us hanging out here. What's up?

Terry Neal: The conservative columnist/blogger Michelle Malkin jumped on my case a few weeks back about a live chat I did in which I inartfully--to borrow a word from Tom DeLay--suggested that it had not been proven that Republican leaders had not distributed that controversial Schiavo memo.
It was part of a larger criticism of Post, which was being accused by many on the right of essentially making up the story about the memo.
Malkin said it was absurd for me to suggest that Republicans should have to prove a negative. She asked how would I like it if I she accused me of eating puppies for breakfast, or something like that.
I emailed her and told her she actually made a pretty good point. Hey, you've got to have some humility here in this business. The wording choice was poor on my part. So I got a lot of really hateful email that day about how I was a puppy eater. It was quite entertaining. Not.
But I also said the larger point was that I stood by my colleague Mike Allen's reporting about the memo--and obviously last week he was proven correct.
I should clarify something as well...In my chat of a couple weeks ago, I said that the Washington Post had not said in its story that "Republican leaders distributed the memo..." Malkin got all over me for that two. She pointed out that a story with that line in it had gone out over the Washington Post/LA Times news wire.
At the time I got my question, I did not know that. When I got the question, I looked at the version of the story that had appeared in the Post and it in fact did NOT have that line it.
Mike Allen later explained to me that an early version of the story did include that line about Republican leaders distributing the memo. But that line was taken out in the editing process and never appeared in the paper. Apparently, someone neglected to make sure that the line was also taken out in the version that went out over the wires.
Malkin's blog left people with the impression that I purposefully lied about the wire version of the story. In my email to her, I mentioned that there are some 600 editorial people at the Post and washingtonpost.com, and maybe a dozen who have any idea what's going out over the wires at any given time. And I'm not one of them.
So while it was a technically a mistake on my part, it was not an unreasonable one. In order to have answered that question 100 percent correctly, I would have to know everything that goes out over the news wires, its exact content, and how that content compares--line for line--with what goes in the newspaper.

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Arlington, Va.: Terry, how would you compare Tom DeLay's "crimes" with those of Kofi Annan? Why is the media treating one with kid gloves and ginning up a lynch mob for the other?

Terry Neal: First, I don't know that the media has accused DeLay of crimes, although the media has reported that he is being investigated by a Texas prosecutor who has already indicted three of Delay's associates. DeLay has not only been accused of, but been admonished unanimously by the House's bipartisan Ethics Committee (Five Republicans/Five Democrats) three times. And that followed a previous rebuke and a warning by the committee of DeLay for other issue ethics problems.
In a letter to DeLay, the committee seemed to suggest there was a pattern to the leader's behavior, noting "the number of instances to date in which the Committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged, and warning DeLay that "it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions."
This, and the fact that there are several more investigations underway by the Texas prosecutor, but several federal government agencies, I think is a big story. And I think a story about misdeeds, or alleged misdeeds by the second most powerful person in the House of Representatives is always going to be a bigger story than a story about corruption at the U.N., no matter who the leaders are in question.
For my research for my column next week, I went back and looked at the media coverage of House Speaker Jim Wright's (Democrat) ethics troubles in the late 1980s, and the media--including the Washington Post--were very aggressive in covering that.

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Washington, D.C.: Just to close the loop on the subject, is it in fact true that ""Republican leaders distributed the memo...," as the Post story claimed?

Terry Neal: The Post moved this clarification on the wires a couple weeks ago:

/A Washington Post article about congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo case (SCHIAVO-POST, moved March 19) included a description of a memo asserting that the action could benefit Republicans politically. The article moved by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, an early version of one that appeared in The Washington Post, said the memo was "distributed to Republican senators by party leaders." The version of the article published by the paper did not specify the authorship and noted that the memo was unsigned. The authorship remains unknown./

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Norfolk, Va.: Isn't the attack on Tom DeLay just payback for redistricting in Texas?

Terry Neal: Tom DeLay has his political enemies. There are people who would love to see him go down, for his role in the redistricting controversy and any other number of things. Does that mean there's some organized liberal conspiracy to get Tom DeLay? That's another question, altogether.
Look, people who amass power in Washington always have enemies. The Democrat Jim Wright had conservative enemies. Newt Gingrich rose to fame and made a name for himself by crusading against Wright. Because Jim Wright had enemies who wanted to see him go down, doesn't mean that Jim Wright didn't do what he was accused of doing.
I'd say the same thing with DeLay. Truth is the ultimate defense. Did you do what you were accused of doing? And does it rise to the level of gross abuse of power? Those are the things that we're talking about here. And I don't know the answers to those questions. But it is the media's job to ask, inquire and investigate. And that's what the media is trying to do, I think.

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Anonymous: The author of that memo was an aide to a Florida Republican Congressman. He admitted it. He has now resigned.

Terry Neal: Um, yes, we know. Thank you for writing.

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Iowa: Reading your explanation of the puppies comment makes me sorely vexed (!) at the speed and impunity of the conservative blogger to attribute misbehavior or nefarious intent to you without knowing the whole story. If there is anyone at all out there who has NEVER made a mistake, particularly in writing something on the web, I would love to know who they are and just what media outlet they represent.

Terry Neal: Exactly. Thanks for your note...But one caveat I would make is this: The same thing happens with some bloggers on the left.
Don't get me wrong, there are some great bloggers out there. I read certain folks on both the right and left virtually every day. But there are many people whose primary passion is headhunting and making the case for grand conspiracies.
But I'm not going to whine about it. It is what it is. And bloggers have dug up some really good stuff on important stories, from Rathergate to to the Trent Lott imbroglio. It's an imperfect world we live in. What can you do?
Just for your reading pleasure, here is the email I sent to Malkin:

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Dear Michelle,

A few points I'd like to make in response to your blog from last week. First, I'd like to point out that the comments you were referring to were made in a live discussion, done in real time. My comments about the Republican memo were not a part of a column that had been assiduously researched ahead of time. Had it been a column, I might have been aware of a few facts that I didn't know when I responded to the questions online. Also, I'd point out that I am one guy, who writes a column, simply expressing his opinion about a matter. It's not my job to give the official party line of the organization. I wasn't responsible for the original story in question. I don't know the sources of the original story. And I'm not responsible for decisions about running corrections. Someone asked me a question in a live chat, and I tried to answer it to the best of my ability in real time context.

The first question I answered on this subject asked whether the Post should run a correction for suggesting that Republican leaders had distributed the memo. Before answering the question, I did a quick check of the story that ran in the Post and found that it said no such thing. I found an explanation that Mike Allen had given on this subject to Howard Kurtz a couple days earlier and I copied that into my answer.

As I prepared to end my chat, I saw that another question had come in about a Reuters story that had run on washingtonpost.com. In my rush to answer the question, I did not read the entire Reuters story before I responded to the question. I assumed (I know, bad move) that the questioner was pointing out that Reuters reported in its article—based on its own original reporting—that Republican leaders had distributed the memo. And that is why I answered the way I did: That the Reuters story did not run in the Post newspaper, and that the Reuters had to answer for its own reporting. Had I actually read the Reuters piece before I answered the question, I would have seen that Reuters was noting that the Washington Post had reported that Republican leaders distributed the memo.

You pointed out something in your blog that you are absolutely correct about: I did not know that a story had gone out on the LA Times/Washington Post news wire that said Republican leaders had distributed the memo.

When I read this in your blog, I called Mike Allen for an explanation. Mike explained to me what happened: His original story was edited and moved with a line in it about Republican leaders distributing the memo. At some point, that line was removed before the story was published in the Washington Post. But apparently, someone neglected to follow up and alert the newswire that the line in question should be removed from the wire story. This is the sort of thing, regretfully, that happens from time to time in news organizations that are run by imperfect human beings. But if falls short of being part of the Global Conspiracy of Liberal Meanies to Hurt Republicans.

So when I suggested that the Washington Post never reported that Republican leaders distributed the memo I was correct, in terms of the newspaper. Again, it was a live chat, and I tried to do a quick bit of research before I answered the question by doing the obvious thing: Checking the story that ran in the Washington Post.

There are some 600 hundred people on the editorial staffs of the Washington Post and washingtonpost.com, and I doubt any more than half dozen to a dozen are responsible for what goes out on the LA Times/Washington Post newswire. And I'm not one of them.

Nonetheless, the Post acknowledged last week in a news alert that moved on the wires that the line about Republican leaders distributing the memo should not have been in the story:

/A Washington Post article about congressional intervention in the Terri Schiavo case (SCHIAVO-POST, moved March 19) included a description of a memo asserting that the action could benefit Republicans politically. The article moved by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, an early version of one that appeared in The Washington Post, said the memo was "distributed to Republican senators by party leaders." The version of the article published by the paper did not specify the authorship and noted that the memo was unsigned. The authorship remains unknown./

And finally, your point about disproving a negative is a probably a good one. However, thank you for telling your readers that I am nice. I think you're nice, too.

Now back to my puppy stew.

Take care,

Terry

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Terry Neal: Wow, it must be a slow work day for a lot of folks, because I'm getting lots of questions today and, unfortunately, leaving too many unanswered. But my time is up and I do need to run.
I had fun and hope you did too. Let's do it again next week, same time, same place.

Terry

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