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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

The McGreevey Affair

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 13, 2004; 8:59 AM

It was a jaw-dropping moment.

It was clear that Jim McGreevey was getting ready to resign as governor, probably over some kind of corruption (hey, it's New Jersey, and his top fundraiser had been arrested for hiring prostitutes to entrap a witness). But why was he talking about his identity? Where was he going with this?

What followed was an elected governor, with his wife at his side, saying he was quitting his job because he had had an affair with another man.

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But even as I tried to get my mind around the news, the questions surfaced: Why was he telling us this now? What had forced his hand? Why was he quitting over this? It was like walking into the middle of a movie. You knew, you sensed, there was more to the story than the Democrat was letting on.

The other question--he's dramatically resigning, but not until November 15?--was quickly answered (an attempt to avoid a special election and keep the office in Democratic hands for another two years).

As commentators fumbled for something to say, I was thinking: I don't care that he had an affair. I don't care that he's a "gay American." Why was McGreevey bailing? Was someone about to publish the news? Was it about to come out some other way? Did he lie about it? Was this a Clintonian mess? And what must his poor wife and kids be thinking? You knew you'd have to wait for a better media account to get a fuller picture.

Not until New York's WABC reported that the affair was with a former, marginally qualified aide planning to sue McGreevey for sexual harassment did it become clear that the governor wasn't voluntarily walking the plank. A database search revealed that his Israeli ex-pal had quit his $110,000 homeland security post after being deemed totally unqualified.

One other thought: Some of the early chatter was along the lines of, Can't-a-47-year-old-man-admit-he's-gay-and-remain-in-office? This isn't about McGreevey being gay. It's about him cheating on his wife with a state official he had hired, and facing a lawsuit. Which would be a big deal even if the Other Man had been a woman.

The Newark Star-Ledger fills in the blanks:

"Although McGreevey did not name his lover, top administration officials identified him as Golan Cipel, an Israeli citizen who resigned two years ago as the governor's homeland security adviser amid questions about his qualifications for the position.

"Officials said they expected Cipel to file a lawsuit today in Superior Court in Mercer County, alleging sexual harassment. Cipel, a 35-year-old former public relations professional, could not be reached for comment.

"Three administration sources said that a lawyer representing McGreevey, William Lawler, called the FBI in Newark yesterday morning to say Cipel was attempting to extort money from the governor. It was unclear why Lawler chose to file the complaint yesterday, or if the bureau had launched an investigation."

Boy, McGreevey really skirted the issue.

The rumors had been swirling, reports the New York Times:

"In early 2002, when he was facing criticism for appointing an unknown Israeli citizen named Golan Cipel as his special assistant on homeland security without so much as a routine background check, Gov. James E. McGreevey was asked by a reporter about rumors that he and the man were involved in a sexual relationship.

"Mr. McGreevey responded, 'Don't be ridiculous!'

"But yesterday, in a short announcement in which he said he would resign the governorship, he acknowledged that he was gay and had had an affair with a man. The man, his aides acknowledged, was Mr. Cipel, 35, who, they added, had threatened a sexual harassment suit naming the governor, in effect 'outing' him."

Guess we can now add "don't be ridiculous" to the list of non-denial denials.

"In a long list of appointments that have come back to haunt Mr. McGreevey, Golan Cipel was the first. On Jan. 24, 2002, with great fanfare, Mr. McGreevey announced the creation of an office of counterterrorism and appointed Kathryn Flicker, a respected assistant attorney general, to the post.

"But in late February, reporters discovered that there were two homeland security officials, raising a question not only of jurisdiction and overlapping duties, but of whether Mr. McGreevey had meant his campaign promise to change the way politics is practiced in Trenton."

McGreevey's contrition speech played well with one part of the electorate, says the New York Daily News:

"It didn't take long after New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey came out on national TV for gays everywhere to hail him as their newfound hero.

"Friends called and E-mailed friends, heralding the news and repeating the line, 'I am a gay American' as if it was a war cry.

"'Listen, people, it's okay to be gay,' said Dion James, 28, who was shopping in Chelsea. 'Gov. McGreevey just turned this into a great day for every gay man and woman in this country.'"

Not a great day for the guv, I'd hasten to add.

"At the same time, though, many gays were disappointed with the governor's decision to resign, saying McGreevey should have stayed put and weathered the storm."

Gay blogger Boi from Troy is upset:

"Why is it that when a straight politician is in an adulterous affair *ahem* Bill Clinton, for example . . . it is is just 'private matter'? If McGreevey thought plain old adultery (or even being sued for it) were grounds for resignation alone, he would have called for President Clinton's. Is Governor McGreevey trying to tell us that Gays are unfit to serve in public office? That is certainly the message he's sending!"

On a story with a wider-ranging impact, the Los Angeles Times reports:

"As quickly as life had changed for nearly 4,000 same-sex couples last winter when San Francisco began issuing them wedding certificates, it changed again Thursday when the California Supreme Court voided their unions.

"As before they wed, the couples still went to work Thursday, put their children down for naps and made dinner. Knowing they were part of a long-shot legal experiment, many couples said they had believed they were prepared for the court's ruling. But they weren't, many said afterward -- not quite."

This was always the shadow over those weddings that brought San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom all that great publicity.

My lengthy piece yesterday on The Washington Post's shortcomings in covering the runup to war in Iraq has attracted a bit of attention, including articles in the New York Times and Editor & Publisher. A number of reporters asked if it had been a management assignment. The answer is that I came up with the idea myself and got no interference from senior editors. Not many newspapers would have run such a self-critical piece on the front page.

The Iraq handover didn't change much on the ground, says Salon's Eric Boehlert. "But one thing did change: U.S. press coverage of Iraq. The hand-over marked a turning point in the level and intensity of media interest, which sharply decreased, particularly on the 24-hour cable news channels. 'Clearly the volume in press coverage has gone way down,' says Steven Cook, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. 'Sleepy is a good word to describe it. The coverage doesn't compare with anything we'd seen during the previous 12 months from Iraq. The drop-off has been noticeable. . . . '

"More recently, a week's worth of fierce fighting in Najaf between coalition forces and militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army has begun to bring Iraq back into focus. And if U.S. forces unleash a frontal assault there, Iraq will once again dominate the headlines, as it so often has in the past 18 months. . . .

"Following the ebb-and-flow theory, Iraq is likely to return to the media forefront, however temporarily, when the one thousandth U.S. soldier dies in Iraq. Based on the current fatality rate, that somber event could happen as soon as late September.

"Still, considered as a whole from July 1 to the present, coverage of Iraq seems to have diminished. . . .

"The physical danger reporters face inside Iraq has clearly curbed their efforts to report more. And for editors and producers back in America, trying to find a way to make the repetitive nature of the events in Iraq compelling remains a challenge."

Maybe I'm on a different planet, but I still think Iraq is getting a huge amount of coverage. Though the point about a few casualties a day becoming routine is undeniable.

When Kerry told reporters he would have voted for the Iraq war resolution even if he knew what he knows today, he opened the door for the Bushies to accuse him of another flip-flop.

"So my question is--oh, how to put this--WHY? WHY?!! WHY?!!!!" asks the New Republic's Josh Benson with, ah, emphasis.

"Kerry had an obvious alternative to either remaining silent or answering the question yes or no: He could have answered a different question, which is what politicians ALWAYS do when they get a question that makes them uncomfortable.

"In this case, instead of saying whether he would have voted for the war had he known there were no WMDs--which is the kind of hypothetical question politicians NEVER answer because it's the kind of decision they NEVER face (would we have even been debating an invasion of Iraq had we known there were no WMDs? of course not)--Kerry could simply have said: 'I do not regret my vote to authorize the war based on the information available at the time, which is the only decision that matters.' He could then have launched into his usual--and completely appropriate--screed about how what he really regrets is the administration's gross incompetence in waging the war.

"That said, Kerry has a very easy way out of this problem, one that perfectly tracks with voters' intuitions about the two presidential candidates: Any time he gets a question about Iraq from here on out, he should say, very simply, 'Look, if you like the way the war in Iraq turned out, vote for the other guy. If you don't like the way it turned out, vote for me.' End of story."

Slate's Tim Noah is exercised over an anti-Teresa spot:

"A new radio ad paid for by a nonprofit called People of Color United takes Teresa Heinz Kerry to task for playing up her African heritage. (She was born and raised in Mozambique.) As Thomas B. Edsall reports in the Aug. 12 Washington Post, the ad copy includes the following:

"'His wife says she's an African American. While technically true, I don't believe a white woman, raised in Africa, surrounded by servants, qualifies.'

"What's interesting about this blacker-than-thou statement is that it's underwritten by a white man. People of Color United, although run by a black woman named Virginia Walden-Ford, got nearly half the money for its media buy from a Caucasian insurance tycoon named J. Patrick Rooney. Walden-Ford confirmed to the Post that Rooney gave the group $30,000 for a series of ads that are running in swing-state urban areas, and that the total ad buy thus far cost $70,000. Rooney, she said, was the group's biggest donor. All its funding information will eventually be public, but the law does not require People of Color United to file with the IRS before the ads go on the air. It will be interesting to learn whether a single person of color has written a check to People of Color United.

"I don't know about you, but when I hear a statement meant to inflame gratuitous resentment of white people, I prefer that it come from a black person. A white man who puts on blackface to call John Kerry's wife a fraudulent African-American is committing so many kinds of bad faith that I scarcely know where to start."

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby has a different take on the recent convention of four minority journalists' groups:

"A media outlet with no minorities in its D.C. bureau is guilty of 'dishonest journalism,' fumed Unity's president, Ernest Sotomayor, 'because it . . . means the media company is satisfied with providing its readers or audience a skewed view of the news.'

"But the argument is entirely illogical. Why should the Washington press corps, or any other occupational subgroup, be expected to exactly match the racial composition of the nation? Surely the relevant comparison is not to the percentage of nonwhites in America, but to the percentage of nonwhites in journalism. According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, minorities account for 12.5 percent of journalists working for daily newspapers. So why is it 'abysmal' that a comparable proportion of journalists in those papers' Washington bureaus are minorities as well?

"And just how does the race of reporters and editors determine whether they produce 'a skewed view of the news?'

"Unity claims that 'journalists of color bring different and necessary perspectives to their work.' Where is the evidence to prove it? Would two graduates of journalism school, both of them the product of (say) a suburban, middle-class upbringing, report a Senate hearing or a presidential press conference differently just because one of them is Scandinavian-American and the other is Japanese-American?"

USA Today is inspired by the Kerry-Edwards body language to do a piece on hugs.

And just for kicks, GOP consultant Mike Murphy, in the Weekly Standard, responds to critics of an earlier piece blasting Illinois Republicans for choosing Marylander Alan Keyes as their Senate candidate:

"Dear Respect the One Former Office Alan Keyes Held, I thought the Keyes weakness is painfully obvious, but here goes: The job of a political candidate is to attract people to a party's political philosophy and bring victory to the party on Election Day. In two U.S. Senate races and two presidential campaigns, Alan Keyes has done the exact opposite: shown a great ability to stampede voters away from his candidacy like a herd of panicking animals fleeing a huge volcanic eruption. Even Keyes' cable TV chat show, with its unforgettably Orwellian title, Alan Keyes Is Making Sense was abruptly cancelled for low ratings.

"When voters listen to a successful candidate they get a strong feeling that this person can do the job and make life better. When voters listen to Alan Keyes, they get the perception, 'wow, this guy is stone cold nuts' and they run home to hide their children. We Republicans are the free market party, so look to Keyes's prior history in elections and trust the market.

"My larger point is this: the desperate Illinois GOP chose Keyes not because he is a serious or legitimate candidate, but because he is black. Watching my party debase a Senate nomination with such a cynical and stupid move embarrasses me as a proud Republican.

"The second category of email, like Keyes, has a spicy Old Testament flavor:

"'Dear Secular Satan, you and your godless pals at the NY Times don't get it. Alan Keyes is a beacon of moral clarity in a time when dark forces portend a holocaust upon the innocent unborn. Trash like your so-called article doesn't belong in The Weekly Standard. It is an honor and credit to the GOP that Amb. Keyes is running with such great courage and . . .'etc, etc.

"Dear Reverend, I agree, opposing abortion with great rhetorical clarity is indeed Keyes's keystone issue. The dilemma is Keyes hails from in the Victory Through Superior Decibels wing of the pro-life movement. Closely linked to the Victory Through Shocking Fetus Pictures faction, this view holds that you win the abortion argument by beating the other side, and all others, over their figurative heads until they finally submit. I think that approach only helps pro-abortion activists isolate and vilify pro-lifers. It moves the cause backwards, not forwards."

Not exactly a conciliatory response to critics.


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