By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2004; 8:53 AM
Is the press trying to get Dick Cheney dumped?
Consider: There appears to be no tangible evidence that Cheney is in any jeopardy as the president's running mate. Bush, who prizes loyalty above all, has said Cheney is definitely running again, and the veep has said he's definitely running again.
But that hasn't stopped journalists who can no longer harass Kerry about his choice of vice presidential candidate from flogging the notion that the Bush-Cheney ticket would be a whole lot stronger without the Cheney part.
This reminds me of the Hillary's-running-in-2004 speculation, and the McCain-might-be-Kerry's-veep speculation. In both cases, repeated denials did little to stop the headlines and the punditry. Reporters just kind of willed the stories into existence.
I wonder if the same sort of thing is happening now. Democrats may be talking about what a drag on the ticket Cheney is -- in which case why don't they leave well enough alone? -- but only a couple of Republicans are. Meanwhile, news organizations commission polls showing that Colin Powell or Condi Rice or someone else would give Bush a boost -- leaving aside how desperate it would seem to recruit a new No. 2 at this stage of the game, especially given Cheney's central role on Iraq and other major White House issues.
So what was a self-described "rumor" about Cheney finding a way to step down doing on the front page of the New York Times, as this column noted yesterday?
Elisabeth Bumiller's piece had all the right caveats, including describing the whispering campaign as "far-fetched." It might have been fine as an inside column. But by giving it such huge display, the Times is helping to put the story in play and suggesting that where there's political smoke there might just be some fire.
This gave Kerry the opportunity to say on Imus that if Cheney is thrown overboard, "it'll mean that the president's word, once again, doesn't mean anything, . . . that he himself is the flip-flopper of all flip-floppers, because he's been touting how important Dick Cheney is." In other word, the Democrat gets to take a shot at an idea pushed by the media that hasn't happened and is extremely unlikely to happen.
It would be one thing if there was an active GOP campaign to replace Cheney, as there was a dump-Quayle movement in '92 (which got about as far with Bush's dad). But all this for a rumor? Aren't rumors the sort of thing that major newspapers tut-tut when tabloids or Web sites tout them and thus force the rest of us to pay attention?
The Times story unleashed a flood of TV coverage. "Rumors abound about whether he'll stay on the Republican ticket," said CBS's John Roberts.
"Speculation persists over whether Vice President Cheney will bow out," said Fox's Jim Angle.
Everyone got to chew it over even while dissing the rumor.
"What do you make of all this talk of dumping Cheney?" asked CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
"I make it that it's the week before the convention and there are too many political journalists with a lot of time on their hands," replied Jeff Greenfield.
Joe Klein, with Paula Zahn, called it "an incredibly stupid story that's being spread by the media."
Jonah Goldberg declared he will "eat the front page of the New York Times" if the story, barring an unexpected heart attack, proves true.
That'd be good television.
If this rumor somehow becomes reality, the Times will have far better bragging rights than the New York Post with its permanent exclusive on Dick Gephardt. If not, the story may, in retrospect, seem a slightly silly byproduct of too much July humidity.
The Note is practically aghast:
"How the talented Ms. Bumiller gets just above the front-page fold of her paper with a story that includes the word 'rumor' in the headline is really beyond us.
"Look -- the only reason to replace Mr. Cheney is if the calculus is made that doing so would increase the chances of Bush re-election.
"And that calculation could NEVER be made precisely, since removing him would bring on at least some amount of base unhappiness (particularly if he were replaced by a moderate); some accusations of implicit concession of error on Iraq and other policies; and some charges of political craveness.
"Bumiller's story has some clever suggestions that Republicans are a part of a three-way conversation on this, but for the most part, this is a Democrat-and-media dialogue."
USA Today tracks Kerry's appearance before the group stiffed by Bush (who has dropped the "scheduling difficulties" excuse):
"Racial politics dominated the presidential campaign Thursday when Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry got an enthusiastic welcome from the NAACP and the group criticized President Bush's decision not to address its 95th annual convention.
"Throughout the day, supporters of Kerry and Bush tried to use Bush's absence to score points for their candidates. Kerry's supporters portrayed him as inclusive and Bush as divisive. Bush allies painted the president as a leader who has tried to reach out to all Americans but has found a stone wall of opposition at the NAACP.
"Kerry entered the room to a five-minute ovation and the disco strains of We Are Family, hugging and shaking hands on the way to the podium. 'The president may be too busy to speak with you now, but I've got news for you -- he's going to have plenty of time after Nov. 2,' Election Day, he told about 4,000 delegates."
Bush will be heading to more friendly climes, says the Washington Times:
"The White House yesterday called the Urban League a more constructive civil rights organization than the NAACP, which is why President Bush will visit the former after snubbing the latter.
"White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday reiterated that the vehemence of the NAACP's attacks on the president, which include likening him and his party to racist murderers, 'snake-oil salesmen' and the Taliban, make any meeting pointless. . . .
"He added that the Urban League, by contrast, is interested in 'having a constructive dialogue.' So Thursday in Detroit, Mr. Bush will address the organization's convention for the second consecutive year and the third time overall."
The Hillary uproar, fueled by the press, is over, according to the New York Post:
"John Kerry, in an about-face, has invited Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to address the Democratic convention in Boston -- by introducing her husband, officials said.
"Kerry personally called Sen. Clinton to make the offer yesterday in a bid to calm the storm of fury among Hillary fans infuriated that the party's most popular woman was getting shut out of the spotlight, sources said."
Now hear this: Edwards has passed the milk test.
"Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards may not know how much milk costs in New Mexico, but he has a handle on prices at his local grocery," says the Associated Press.
"Edwards has promoted himself as a down-to-earth candidate who can relate to the struggles of working families.
"Broadcaster Don Imus put Edwards to the test yesterday, quizzing the North Carolina senator on the costs of a gallon of milk and six-pack of beer in Albuquerque. 'You were just in Albuquerque; do you know?' Imus asked.
"Edwards sidestepped the ale question, saying: 'I haven't bought a six-pack of beer in years, so I don't know.'
"He was more confident about milk. 'I know about what it costs,' he said. 'I think a half-gallon of milk costs about $2.30, $2.40. Is that right?' A half gallon of whole milk, not name-brand, is $2.29 at the Safeway grocery store in Edwards's upscale Georgetown neighborhood in Washington. It is $2.09 at Smith's Food & Drug Centers in Albuquerque."
That Newsweek item on an obscure administration official's suggestion that the election might have to be put off in case of a terrorist attack has roused the blogosphere.
"My inbox is full of messages from people telling me I'm not nearly scared enough about the possibility of Bush ginning up an excuse to cancel elections in November," says Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum. "Well, maybe I'm not. But before you start seeing black helicopters circling your house, at least consider the mechanics of the whole thing:
"The only body that can change the date of federal elections is Congress.
"Assuming the Supreme Court agreed, Congress could delegate this power to a federal commission if it so desired.
"However, in a couple of weeks everyone goes home for the summer. They come back on September 3rd.
"The current target for adjournment of the current congressional session is October 1st.
"In other words, supposing that the Justice Department actually decided (suicidally, in my opinion) to propose legislation to create an election commission with the power to reschedule elections, Congress would have a grand total of four weeks to debate and pass it.
"This is impossible, of course, unless the bill had essentially unanimous bipartisan support. Which it wouldn't."
Progressive Editor Matthew Rothschild is not so sanguine:
"I'm not a paranoid progressive.
"I shun conspiracy theories, and I usually give the benefit of the doubt to those I disagree with politically.
"But this Bush crowd has shaken my faith in fair play.
"I have yet to find the low that they will not stoop to.
"And while I remain naïve enough to think that Bush will leave office if he loses the election, I'm not so sure anymore.
"First off, he might steal the election like he did last time, by illegally disenfranchising thousands upon thousands of voters who are phantom felons. Brother Jeb is already in the process of crudely purging voters from the rolls in Florida."
Joe Wilson is taking a pounding on the right, such as in this Hugh Hewitt piece in the Weekly Standard:
"Four Crucial Facts came into the public's view these past few days:
"First, Valerie Plame recommended her husband Joe Wilson for the mission to Niger to investigate claims that Saddam was attempting to purchase uranium there.
"Second, Joe Wilson lied about that, and about other things as well.
"Third, Saddam did try to buy uranium from Niger.
"Fourth, President Bush did not lie about Saddam's attempt to purchase uranium and the intelligence he was provided by the CIA showed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. . . .
"Whoever leaked the name of Victoria Plame to Robert Novak has a pretty good whistleblower defense. The CIA shouldn't be allowing spouses to recommend spouses for anything, much less missions leading to book contracts."
This Wall Street Journal editorial also pounces, citing an official British inquiry:
"Like the Senate Intelligence findings, the Butler report vindicates President Bush on the allegedly misleading '16 words' regarding uranium from Africa: 'We conclude also that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" was well-founded.'
"We're awaiting apologies from former Ambassador Joe Wilson, and all those who championed him, after his July 2003 New York Times op-ed alleging that Mr. Bush had 'twisted' intelligence 'to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.' The news is also relevant to the question of whether any crime was committed when a still unknown Administration official told columnist Robert Novak that Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA employee and that's why he had been recommended for a sensitive mission to Niger. A Justice Department special prosecutor is investigating the case, with especially paralyzing effect on the office of the Vice President. . . .
"All of this matters because Mr. Wilson's disinformation became the vanguard of a year-long assault on Mr. Bush's credibility. The political goal was to portray the President as a 'liar,' regardless of the facts. Now that we know those facts, Americans can decide who the real liars are."
Josh Marshall remains skeptical:
"The truth is that we simply don't know whether the Iraqis ever 'sought' uranium in Niger or Africa in the years leading up to the war, though all the evidence we thought we had for such a claim has turned out to be baseless. (There remains the Brits' evidence which they stand by yet won't disclose, and we'll address that later.) And part of the uncertainty is based on the capaciousness of the term. 'Sought' can mean a lot of things -- everything from purchases and active negotiations to vague feelers which might have been intended to lay the groundwork for later attempted purchases."
Nothing on all this over at Joe Wilson's Web site.
A study in bounce-ology, from the New Republic's Noam Scheiber:
"Question: If it's true that the bounce either candidate receives from significant campaign developments is likely to be smaller this year than in elections past (because of the much smaller number of undecided voters), doesn't that pose a much bigger problem for John Kerry than George W. Bush? Kerry, after all, is supposed to be getting his bounces sooner -- the Edwards selection, followed by the Democratic convention a few weeks later. If the bounces don't materialize (and this Washington Post poll suggests Edwards didn't provide much of one; this Post story says Democrats are pretty anxious about the convention bounce), then that's a huge disappointment, which then drives down poll numbers by way of negative media coverage, even though Bush probably wouldn't have gotten much of a bounce had he held his convention first. Having to go first in a low-bounce environment seems like a huge disadvantage."
Salon's Mary Jacoby reports on the politics of outing:
"Michael Rogers, a Washington political activist, decided several weeks ago to launch an Internet campaign to publicize the sexual orientation of gay and lesbian members of Congress and their staffs, if they favored the federal marriage amendment. . . .
"Rogers said, he will not be dropping what's become known around Washington as his 'outing' campaign (although Rogers insists he is merely highlighting the sexual orientation of congressional aides who are already 'out'). Now, Rogers said, he plans to turn his effort against hypocrisy on a new target: married heterosexual members of Congress who rail about the need to protect the institution of marriage while engaging in extramarital affairs. . . .
"The Log Cabin Republicans have condemned the outing campaign. 'The fact that there were members of our community who instead of working to defeat the constitutional amendment were instead working to destroy the personal lives of individual congressional staffers played right into the hands of the evangelical right,' said Chris Barron, Log Cabin's political director. 'Jerry Falwell and company couldn't have asked for a better gift than a community divided against itself in the weeks leading up to the critical vote.'"
I thought cartoonists were supposed to skewer both sides, but Hotline has a quote from "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau (some of whose Rolling Stone interview can be read here) that makes clear he's decided otherwise:
"Asked why he hasn't 'taken on' Kerry, Trudeau: 'Long ago, I did some strips about Kerry as he was emerging as an anti-war leader, tweaking him for the narcissism that seemed part of the package. . . . I'll do Kerry eventually, but I'm not going to parrot the Bush ads and unfairly portray him as a panderer. Like most Americans, I've been forced to unambiguously take sides, and I'm not particularly happy about it.'"
© 2004 washingtonpost.com