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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

Web of Deception

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2004; 11:15 AM

There was a time when Gary Webb was at the center of a huge, racially charged national controversy.

That was eight years ago, and it turned out badly for him. Now the California journalist is dead from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, according to this Sacramento Bee story and other news reports.

_____More Media Notes_____
The Kerik Conundrum (washingtonpost.com, Dec 13, 2004)
Pulling the Strings (washingtonpost.com, Dec 10, 2004)
Snow Job (washingtonpost.com, Dec 9, 2004)
A Beltway Solution (washingtonpost.com, Dec 8, 2004)
Belated Candor (washingtonpost.com, Dec 7, 2004)
_____Live Online_____
Media Backtalk (Live Online, Dec 13, 2004)
Media Backtalk (Live Online, Dec 6, 2004)
Media Backtalk (Live Online, Nov 29, 2004)
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The sad news got me thinking about the first time I called Webb, in September 1996, to ask about his explosive series in the San Jose Mercury News. It was called "Dark Alliance," with a logo of the CIA's insignia superimposed over a man smoking crack.

Internet and talk radio types (particularly on black stations) were angry that the mainstream media were refusing to cover the allegations that supposedly linked the CIA to cocaine trafficking in America. The problem, in my view, was that the series never said that. Webb reported that two supporters of the Nicaraguan contras were convicted of selling drugs in L.A., one of them saying it was on "orders . . . from other people."

Webb acknowledged to me that he had no proof the CIA knew about this and that others were going beyond what he had written. But what he had written had serious problems, as subsequent investigations by The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times found. Webb, meanwhile, began making the talk-show rounds with wilder charges. "The evidence is growing stronger day by day that there was some CIA involvement," he told Montel Williams. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) declared that "people in high places were winking and blinking, and our children were dying." Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson wrote: "The only conclusion is that Ronald Reagan said yes to crack and the destruction of black lives at home to fund the killing of commies abroad."

Waters certainly hasn't forgotten. In a statement, she called Webb "one of the finest investigative journalists that our country has ever seen" and, naming the WP, NYT and LAT, said "the major newspapers attempted to silence him by undermining his personal character and his professional integrity." Left unmentioned is that Webb's own paper, the Mercury News, walked away from his charges.

The Mercury News, after defending the series, wound up backing off, with then-editor Jerry Ceppos saying Webb's articles were "oversimplified," left out contradictory evidence and "fell short of my standards." When I called Webb, he called his boss's reaction "bizarre," "misleading" and "nauseating." He was transferred to a suburban bureau, left the paper and turned his charges into a book before joining the staff of the California legislature.

The lesson, which has been proven many times since then, is that just because a news outlet makes sensational charges doesn't make them true, and just because the rest of the media challenge the charges doesn't make them part of some cover-up.

Gary Webb was 49.

The Kerik story, meanwhile, has gotten so interesting that you have to wonder: What was he thinking by allowing the nomination to go forward? Just look at this

New York Daily News cover story:"Former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik conducted two extramarital affairs simultaneously, using a secret Battery Park City apartment for the passionate liaisons, the Daily News has learned.

"The first relationship, spanning nearly a decade, was with city Correction Officer Jeanette Pinero; the second, and more startling, was with famed publishing titan Judith Regan.

"His affair with Regan, the stunningly attractive head of her own book publishing company, lasted for almost a year.

"Dramatically, each woman learned of the existence of the other after Pinero discovered a love note left by Regan in the apartment."

I would love the movie rights.

Kerik "all but admits" the affairs in today's followup.

The big question in the Big Apple is, how was this guy allowed to serve there with so many red flags in his background? The New York Times frames it this way:

"In June 2000, two months before Bernard B. Kerik was appointed police commissioner, New York City's top investigative agency learned that he had a social relationship with the owner of a New Jersey construction company suspected of having business ties to organized crime figures, city documents show.

"The city's Department of Investigation took two days of testimony from Frank DiTommaso, the owner of the company, Interstate Industrial Corporation. It also formally interviewed Mr. Kerik himself. Though it is not clear what he told the investigators, there is no indication that Mr. Kerik did anything illegal or improper.

"A spokesman for the Department of Investigation declined to comment yesterday when asked whether any of the information concerning Mr. Kerik and Interstate Industrial had been shared at the time with any other city officials.

"But Rudolph W. Giuliani said in an interview yesterday that none of those facts were brought to his attention in August 2000 when, as mayor, he appointed Mr. Kerik as New York's top police official. And there was no indication that the White House was aware of the findings before it nominated Mr. Kerik to take over the Department of Homeland Security on Dec. 3, a nomination that has now been withdrawn."

Josh Marshall goes through the sordid catalogue:

"Clearly the White House is trying to walk back the quickly congealing sense that they were sloppy and impulsive in selecting someone to run the department that covers the issue that President Bush has made the defining issue of his presidency. But look what that means.

"They seem to be stipulating to their knowing about and being untroubled by a) Kerik's long-standing ties to an allegedly mobbed-up Jersey construction company . . . sub a) that Kerik received numerous unreported cash gifts from Lawrence Ray, an executive at said Jersey construction company (Ray was later indicted along with Edward Garafola, Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano's brother-in-law, and Daniel Persico, nephew of Colombo Family Godfather Carmine 'The Snake' Persico and others on unrelated federal charges tied to what the Daily News called a '$40 million, mob-run, pump-and-dump stock swindle.'

"b) that Riker's Island prison became a hotbed of political corruption and cronyism on his watch, c) that he is accused by nine employees of the hospital he worked at providing security in Saudi Arabia of using his policing powers to pursue the personal agenda of his immediate boss, d) that a warrant for his arrest (albeit in a civil case) was issued in New Jersey as recently as six years ago, e) that as recently as last week he was forced to testify in a civil suit in a case covering the period in which he was New York City correction commissioner, in which the plaintiff, 'former deputy warden Eric DeRavin III contends Kerik kept him from getting promoted because he had reprimanded the woman [Kerik was allegedly having an affair with], Correction Officer Jeanette Pinero,' or f) his rapid and unexplained departure from Baghdad.

"None of this stuff gave the White House or Al Gonzales second thoughts?"

I sure hope Gonzales conducts better investigations as attorney general.

And in some campaign '04 news, the Associated Press reports:

"The Ohio delegation to the electoral college cast its votes for President Bush on Monday, hours after dissident groups asked the state Supreme Court to review the outcome of the state's presidential balloting. . . .

"The Rev. Jesse Jackson and attorney Clifford Arnebeck of the Massachusetts-based Alliance for Democracy accused Bush's campaign of 'high-tech vote stealing.' Jackson said the challengers noticed Bush generally received more votes in counties that used optical-scan voting machines and questioned whether the machines were calibrated to record votes for Bush."

McCain doesn't get a vote, but if he did, this is how he'd vote, according to this AP account:

"Sen. John McCain said Monday that he has 'no confidence' in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, citing Rumsfeld's handling of the war in Iraq and the failure to send more troops.

"McCain (R-Ariz.) said his comments are not a call for Rumsfeld's resignation, explaining that President Bush 'can have the team that he wants around him.' Asked about his confidence in the secretary's leadership, McCain recalled fielding a similar question a couple weeks ago. 'I said no. My answer is still no. No confidence,' McCain said in an interview.

"He estimated that an additional 80,000 Army personnel and 20,000 to 30,000 more Marines would be needed to secure Iraq."

Salon's Joe Conason doesn't have much confidence either, reporting that last week's question about inadequate armor by a soldier in Kuwait wasn't the first time Rummy was asked about it:

"Perhaps Rumsfeld recalled (as the reporters accompanying him on last week's trip apparently did not) that he had heard precisely the same complaint at a similar town hall meeting in Baghdad -- seven months ago. . . .

The soldier stumbled and mumbled in his question but the meaning was plain enough: 'Sir, my unit, the 2nd Brigade -- (inaudible) -- Cav[alry], we have five out of the six red zones in this country. And with the up-armored Humvees, the new -- (off mike) -- Humvees they're bringing over with the -- (inaudible) -- those doors are not as good as the ones on the up-armored Humvees (inaudible). We even lost quite -- we lost some soldiers due to them, and we're trying to make a change -- (inaudible). The question is, are we going to get more up-armored Humvees?'

"In other words, his cavalry unit was going into dangerous places, he had seen his comrades die when their unarmored vehicles were blasted, and he was hoping that more of the better-protected Humvees would be arriving soon. He also asked about vests with protective ceramic plates, which were in similar short supply.

"Rumsfeld remained silent, while Gen. Richard Myers replied with the kind of uplifting rhetoric that has made enlisted men distrust general officers from the dawn of armed conflict . . . 'Good points. Excellent points . . . You do not have all the up-armored Humvees you need. You got about -- around 3,000 out of the 4,400 roughly that they want over here, that your leaders want. Production is ramping up this month. I think it's around 220, 225 per month. . . . We're trying to get them to you as fast as we can. We understand the difference they can make, and for that matter we're shipping some armor over as well.'

"That was all well and good -- except that seven months later, of course, American troops in Iraq still don't have the armored transportation they need."

The New Republic's Noam Scheiber pops off on ZELL MILLER, MAN OF PRINCIPLE:

"Wondering why Zell Miller had to demean himself accepting a job as a Washington lobbyist--er, 'senior policy adviser'? Turns it out he'd dreamed of living out his days in the town of his birth, tiny Young Harris, Georgia, and teaching at his alma mater, tiny Young Harris College. But, before he could hang his hat in the faculty lounge, Miller found himself on the receiving end of a mean, mean letter from a professor at the college, who called Miller a 'disgrace to your city, your county, your state and your country.'

"The letter wound up running in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, according to this Miller supporter, was so offensive that Miller vowed never to teach at the campus, thus consigning himself to a life of K Street whoring. But, having told his alma mater where to go, at least it's a life of whoring Miller can lead with his dignity intact."

Fred Barnes sees GOP trouble ahead on Social Security:

"There's a worst case scenario for Social Security reform that haunts the White House. It goes like this. With great fanfare, President Bush announces his plan for overhauling Social Security, creating private investment accounts for every American worker, and making the system solvent. He touts his proposal in his inauguration speech, the State of the Union address, and his budget. But when Bush unveils an actual bill--probably in February, maybe later in 2005--congressional Democrats scream that it would cut Social Security benefits by 40 percent. Worse for Bush, a number of prominent Republicans agree and criticize the president's plan, especially the benefits change. The result: Social Security reform is dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

"Democrats are a problem. On modernizing Social Security, most of them are reactionary liberals, committed to preserving an antiquated system. But at the moment, Republicans are an even bigger problem for the White House. For a reform measure to win approval in Congress, Republicans must be united. True, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that entitlement reform requires bipartisanship. With only a handful of Democrats likely to sign on, however, that won't happen. So that leaves the matter with Republicans, and they are anything but together."

What would conservative pundits do without Hillary to write about for the next four years? OpinionJournal's Peggy Noonan is the latest:

"She is taking care of her liberal base while cherry-picking key issues on which she can get to the right of the Republican party. This is most astute and quite effective. For the liberals she produces a steady stream of base-friendly efforts (Special Committee on the Aging, education funding, help for the emotionally disturbed, extended unemployment insurance) and classic pork barrel. To get to the right of the president she talks homeland security and immigration. On homeland security she fights for increased funding, better controls at U.S. ports, tightened security for nuclear power plants and chemical plants. She issues warnings about the use of weapons of mass destruction on American soil . . . .

"She knows another attack on American soil is inevitable and wants to position herself politically as The Wise One Who Warned Us.

"Second, she knows that a woman perceived as a liberal has no chance at winning the presidency while a woman perceived as a tough, pragmatic moderate does. So she is tough where Mr. Compassionate Conservative is soft (immigration), or is vulnerable, after a coming attack, to charges that he was soft (homeland security). She can't lose on this one. Security can always be better, and after America is attacked again anger and finger pointing will be widespread. . . .

"She is inevitable as a candidate, but not as a president. There will be serious drawbacks and problems with her candidacy. When she speaks in a large hall she shouts and it is shrill; she sounds like some boomer wife from hell who's unpacking the grocery bags and telling you that you forgot not just the mayo but the mustard.

"That's fixable, to some degree. What may not be fixable is that many voters associate her with a time of scandal and bad behavior. I mean not Monica, which the Clintons always pretend is The Scandal, but every other scandal of the Clinton era: FBI files, illegal fund-raising, sleazy pardons, the whole ugly mess. There will be some who associate her with the cultural disaster that was the Clinton presidency. There will be those who remember she and he led the country down a path both dark and merry while Osama tapped out his plans on a laptop in a cave."

Bruce Stockler has a funny National Review piece about his looong campaign to get something, anything, published in The Washington Post.

Jack Shafer has some nominations for who might replace William Safire on the NYT op-ed page.

Wonkette and others have already discovered this guy, but the latest blogger out there calls himself Unemployed Kerry Staffer:

"Finally - some decent Kerry rapid response. Now if only we had done that with, oh say, Swift Boats.This, of course, is in reference to the fact that some people have discovered the identity of UnemployedKerryStaffer.com.To which I say this: That doesn't really change the fact that I'm unemployed. So, I'm not all that bothered by it. Look, boy-o, I started this because I worked pretty darn hard to get Bush out, and Kerry in and now instead of working out of the West Wing, I'm stuck watching re-runs of 'The West Wing' on Bravo.

"So kudos to you for exposing my not ready for prime-time web skills, but frankly, unless you got at least $5.15 an hour for me, I think I'll keep on doing this, whether exposed or not."

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