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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

DeLaying the Story

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 17, 2005; 7:26 AM

An important development in the Tom DeLay saga took place Wednesday night.

The story was actually covered by two of the nightly newscasts.

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Until Bob Schieffer's "CBS Evening News" and Brian Williams's "NBC Nightly News" belatedly decided to weigh in, the various investigations of the House majority leader were strictly a print and, to a lesser degree, cable story, which meant that, for millions of Americans, it didn't really exist.

Why have the networks shied away from the hammering the Hammer until now? The allegations, of questionable fundraising and lobbyist-financed trips, are complicated. No great visuals, either.

In fact, DeLay has contributed to the lack of visuals by refusing to address the allegations on camera. When he met with reporters the other day, it was pen and pad only. When Lesley Stahl did a "60 Minutes" piece on DeLay's problems, he walked away from her as she surprised him with a camera crew.

Some of the stories have emanated from a Texas prosecutor's probe of three DeLay associates. The Hammer, you may recall, was admonished three times last year by the House ethics committee, but the panel is currently paralyzed by Democratic objections to GOP rule changes.

At his session with scribes this week, DeLay accused his critics of using "fiction" against him and ripped The Washington Post. Said DeLay: "'Through implication and innuendo, not facts, The Post attempted to lead readers to the conclusion that, one, I was somehow aware of how the National Center for Public Policy Research funded a trip they invited me on, organized and paid for." He said that the article "implied that because of that trip, I cast a vote against a particular bill."

The story that drew the Texas congressman's ire began: "An Indian tribe and a gambling services company made donations to a Washington public policy group that covered most of the cost of a $70,000 trip to Britain by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), his wife, two aides and two lobbyists in mid-2000, two months before DeLay helped kill legislation opposed by the tribe and the company."

The Post has also reported that "a delegation of Republican House members including Majority Leader Tom DeLay accepted an expense-paid trip to South Korea in 2001 from a registered foreign agent despite House rules that bar the acceptance of travel expenses from foreign agents."

The Los Angeles Times reported on DeLay's ties to lobbyist-under-investigation Jack Abramoff and a trip to Scotland: "A group of congressional figures has joined House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) under an ethics cloud stemming from foreign golf junkets arranged by a lobbyist facing influence-peddling investigations."

What's been the impact? The New York Times says "the lawmakers who are the underpinning of Mr. DeLay's power show no public sign of backing away from a man who has been a chief architect of their political and policy successes." The L.A. Times says "he has been forced, most recently on Tuesday, to reassure jittery Republicans that he remains more of a political asset to them than a liability." The Post observed that "revelations last week about his overseas travel and ties to lobbyists under investigation have emboldened Democrats and provoked worry among Republicans."

So how did the networks play the story?

"If Tom DeLay is indicted here, he'd would be required under House Republican rules to step down as majority leader," Chip Reid reported from Texas on NBC.

"My bet is that DeLay will survive this unless, of course, that Texas prosecutor decides to indict him," John Roberts said on CBS. And again last night: "He is not out of the woods yet."

The subject came up at Bush's news conference yesterday. "President Bush expressed crucial support on Wednesday for Representative Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, who is facing growing inquiries here and his home state, Texas, over accusations of illegal fund-raising and improper ties to lobbyists," says the New York Times. 'I have confidence in Tom DeLay's leadership and I have confidence in Tom DeLay,' Mr. Bush said."

Some leads from the morning papers:

USA Today: "President Bush said Wednesday that he's confident he'll succeed in overhauling Social Security despite polls showing that most Americans don't agree with his ideas."

Los Angeles Times: "President Bush said today that neither the United States nor its dwindling allies in Iraq would withdraw troops there before Iraqis can defend themselves."

Wall Street Journal: "President Bush declared he is 'making progress' in selling Americans on revamping Social Security, though there is no legislative movement evident in Congress nearly two months after he proposed it."

Philadelphia Inquirer: "President Bush shrugged off Italy's decision to draw down its forces in Iraq, saying yesterday that he wanted U.S. troops to come home as soon as Iraqis could take over but setting no deadline."

Washington Times: "President Bush yesterday said the Iraq elections already are inspiring reform throughout the broader region, but declined to claim vindication for signs of democratization in the Middle East." (Its reporter asked the question.)

Are the Dems still the Big Spender Party? Jonathan Cohn challenges that perception in the New Republic:

"Even though it's George W. Bush and the Republicans who have been running up all the red ink lately, pundits continue to bash Democrats as pathological big spenders unwilling to confront the exploding costs of entitlement programs benefiting the elderly. Last month, when New York Times columnist David Brooks decided to chastise Republicans for excessive spending on the Medicare prescription-drug bill, he also made sure to indict Democrats 'who loudly jeer at Republican deficits but whose own entitlement proposals would make the situation twice as bad.' And, on last Sunday's edition of NBC's 'Meet the Press,' when the discussion turned to Bush's Social Security privatization proposal, Joe Klein of Time derided Democratic opposition to it as just another example of the party's shortsighted obstructionism. 'The Democrats have, for the last 10 or 15 years, blatantly, shamelessly demagogued this issue,' Klein said. 'They've offered nothing positive on Social Security or on Medicare or on Medicaid.'

"You can expect to read and hear many more quotes like these in the next few weeks. For the advocates of privatization, it's an effective way of shaming Democrats into breaking ranks with the party leadership and embracing a compromise. For pundits and news reporters, it's a quick and easy way to maintain the appearance of evenhandedness on the most politicized debate of the day.

"But have Democrats really been as fiscally reckless as the Republicans? Recent history would seem to suggest otherwise."

At the Weekly Standard, Duncan Currie decodes the Democratic desire for a Clintonesque figure to save the party:

"If you judged Clinton solely on his 1992 presidential campaign, you might well deem him a born-again conservative: a watered-down Joe Lieberman with panache. Which is why, when Democrats and liberal pundits yearn for 'another Bill Clinton' to lead their party out of its doldrums, they're only being half-serious.

"What they want, one assumes, is a charming, charismatic, good-looking, and eloquent partisan who appeals at once to both blue-state Deaniacs and red-state moderates. That sure sounds like Clinton, the Democrat who twice carried Ohio, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Arkansas (his home state), Tennessee (Al Gore's home state), Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Nevada, and New Mexico. (Admittedly, Clinton benefited greatly from Ross Perot's independent insurgency.)

"But it's necessary to separate Clinton's political personality from his political message. That is, take away Clinton's charm, charisma, looks, and dazzling rhetorical skills. (And, for that matter, take away his philandering, perjuring, and general moral opprobrium.) Then appraise his 1992 White House bid. Could any Democrat today run such a conservative-friendly campaign and still win his party's nomination?

"The answer, in all likelihood, is no."

What can we expect from today's Hill hearing on steroids? Not much, says the Wall Street Journal:

"When Congress takes up baseball's steroids issue, fans can likely expect the equivalent of a lot of dugout chatter but not many runs scored.

"The House Government Reform Committee is scheduled to grill a dozen Major League Baseball executives and former and current players. . . .

"Baseball and congressional experts said that while the House panel is certain to scold the witnesses and prod the sport to investigate its recent past, the likelihood of legislative action growing from these hearings is slim. Since the early 1990s, Congress has held some two dozen hearings on baseball, from labor to franchise relocation, with little follow-up."

You mean they're--just trying to get publicity?

Lloyd Grove turns media critic in his New York Daily News gossip column:

"Does Court TV reporter Diane Dimond owe Tom Sneddon big time?. . . .

"The Santa Barbara district attorney - whose prosecution of Michael Jackson is Dimond's beat - played a key role in killing a slander suit that Jackson filed against her a decade ago.

"In 1995, when Dimond was working for 'Hard Copy,' she reported that Sneddon was searching for an explicit 27-minute videotape showing Jackson molesting a boy. Sneddon soon concluded that no such video existed, but not before Dimond appeared on L.A.'s KABC radio and her Paramount-produced tabloid show to trumpet the imagined X-rated details. . . .

"Sneddon, in an unusual instance of a prosecutor involving himself in a civil suit, signed a declaration supporting Dimond's version of events. The trial judge dismissed the suit, saying Jackson couldn't prove malice or false reporting. Jackson appealed the judge's ruling, and Sneddon's declaration was cited extensively in the November 1998 California Court of Appeal's decision affirming the summary judgment.

"Neither Jackson's lawsuit nor Sneddon's role in snuffing it is disclosed in Dimond's official bio on the CourtTV.com Web site or in the detailed history of her Jackson coverage, which includes her exclusive November 2003 interview with Sneddon.

"'The lawsuit was a public event, and it need not be disclosed every time Diane reports on Jackson, nor will it be,' Court TV officials said in a statement.

"Doesn't Dimond have a conflict of interest?"

I'll bet most viewers have no idea that Jacko once sued her.

Media people have been stunned by Walter Cronkite's 11th-hour slap at Dan Rather on CNN, in which he said he's surprised that CBS stuck with Gunga Dan for so long rather than giving the job to Schieffer. Now, according to the Buffalo News CBS senior vice president Marcy McGinnis has something to say in response:

"Walter Cronkite, another CBS icon, lashed out with public criticism about Rather, the man who succeeded Cronkite 24 years ago until stepping down as nightly anchor last week.

"'Cronkite comes out after 24 years of pent-up anger and spews all this vitriolic hatred of Dan Rather out and I'm thinking to myself: What is that all about?,' McGinnis said. 'I hope when I'm 89 years old, I don't do that.'"

The creatively named Blogenlust scoffs at the recent Condi speculation:

"Despite the anticipatory exuberance of Matt Drudge, et. al., the talk about Rice's political career is not only premature, but also fantasy. Leaving aside for a moment the numerous examples of her incompetence , the cold, hard fact of the matter is that Rice is unmarried, and in today's political climate, that will not fly for a Republican candidate for President. I can already hear the whisper campaign coming out of her more conservative primary opponents: 'Psst . . . you know why Rice is unmarried, right?' Should it matter that Rice has never married? Of course not. Would it matter? You bet.

"However, this does bring up a more important point about the early reality of the 2008 campaign: The Republicans do not have an heir apparent to run. This could be a big vulnerability for the Democrats to exploit since the Republicans will have to spend a lot of money and energy beating each other up, particularly if the conservative wing goes to war with the moderate wing (which I suspect it will).

"For better or for worse, the Democrats have two or three 'heir apparents' in Kerry, Edwards, and Clinton."

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann tells the Hartford Courant he doesn't think much of blogs such as Olbermann Watch that are dedicated to bashing him:

"There is a whole army of bloggers, radio hosts and TV people who have decided that any deviation from their political view is to be persecuted - and the "Olbermann Watch" and [Brent] Bozell jokers [of Media Research Center and Parents Television Council] are foremost among them. We made just as much sport of Kerry as Bush during the campaign, but neutrality is not what they want. They want conformity and a deliberate, institutionalized, pro-Republican slant. Guess what? They're never going to get it."

Finally, I've checked out this Wonkette item and it is true:

"A disgruntled Wonkette reader vents: 'After being FIRED at the end of January for having pictures taken of her simulating sex in the local NYNY Fox affiliate's truck with a married colleague, this ho (Julie Banderas) has been hired by Fox News (as of March 9th) to be a reporter! Unbefrigginlievable."

"Unbefrigginlievable is right! Because apparently, a hearty appetite for fake truck-sex is not Banderas' only attribute. In January, the Daily News, bragging that it had the pix to prove it, reported: 'There's one of Banderas (beer in one hand, cigarette in the other) straddling a man in the front seat, their crotches pressed together and--'"

Well, there's more, but this is a family-friendly column. We link, you decide.


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