After Bode Miller's Downhill Turn, Two Weeks on the Lift

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 23, 2006

Bad-boy behavior pays off, big time.

Skiing star Bode Miller goes on "60 Minutes," shoots off his mouth about getting drunk before a big competition, rips the CBS program for airing his remarks, holds a news conference to apologize and winds up on the cover of Time and Newsweek. Not exactly a downhill trajectory.

Journalists can't resist a troublemaking athlete who produces a blizzard of controversy instead of the usual sports cliches. And in the media world, doing bad things only fuels your celebrity, as Martha Stewart's post-jail television and radio gigs make clear.

"Skiing's Wild Child," declared Time. "Fast, loose and seemingly out of control," with "a smirking disrespect for the media," gushed Newsweek. In the run-up to the Olympics, it was Miller Time.

The storm began days before the Jan. 8 edition of "60 Minutes," with a CBS press release headlined "Bode Miller on Skiing Drunk." Miller told Bob Simon about his Saturday night drinking, saying: "There's been times when I've been in really tough shape at the top of the course" and that it's hard to ski "when you're wasted." It was presented as a light moment, but there was no missing the potential for a media avalanche.

While some sportswriters dismissed this as less than shocking, Ron Judd wrote in the Seattle Times: "Miller's confession to skiing drunk was highly uncouth, and it makes you want to slap the guy upside the head." Ray Grass wondered in Salt Lake City's Deseret Morning News: "Tell me, please, why anyone would go before millions of viewers and brag about being 'wasted' in the starting gate?"

Maybe because all publicity is good publicity?

Miller's agent, Lowell Taub, complained about an "out-of-context and salacious headline involving drunkenness." Miller, in his Denver Post blog, called "60 Minutes" "probably the most reputable and prestigious news program in the U.S., and I told them the story to test their integrity. . . . If they were interested in doing the right thing, or doing what they should be doing in terms of painting a role model for kids, they would have left that stuff out."

Say wha' ? Miller says on camera that he skis impaired to see whether television's oldest newsmagazine would protect him by cutting it out?

In any event, the head of U.S. skiing was not amused, calling Miller's comments "unacceptable" and "irresponsible." Under pressure, Miller summoned journalists in Switzerland and apologized to his friends, family and supporters.

"I don't need the media," Miller boasted to Newsweek, but he's too smart to believe that he could have amassed millions of dollars without all the journalistic adulation.

There was a time when an athlete's reputation might have been marred by such frank talk about drinking and hangovers, but that now seems very 20th century. Miller already has a Sirius satellite radio show and the kind of swaggering image that money can't buy. If he misbehaves at the Olympics, he'll probably get his own cable show.

Thumbs Down

Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard, is pretty conservative. And his forthcoming book, "Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush," sounds like it would appeal to the right. But the Conservative Book Club has not only declined to offer the Barnes volume, it has also attacked the book.

"Rebel-in-Chief" is filled with "empty puffery," writes book club Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Rubin. Barnes is too favorable toward "all those things that Bush does to drive traditional conservatives to despair" in a way that "call[s] into question his own understanding of conservatism. . . . Fred Barnes isn't doing the president -- or the country -- any favors by celebrating his worst political tendencies."

Barnes says he doesn't believe that an unsuccessful bid for his book by Regnery Publishing, owned by the book club's parent company, was a factor in the slam. "I guess they don't like Bush, or me, either," he says of the club. "But going out of the way to say 'don't read this book' is a bit unusual."

Explosive Story

In reporting last week that the FBI was making progress in identifying the origins of homemade bombs used against Americans in Iraq, CBS News agreed to withhold some details at the bureau's request.

Rome Hartman, executive producer of the "CBS Evening News," says CBS News President Sean McManus and correspondent Jim Stewart spoke with FBI officials who "made the case that putting in certain details might in their view jeopardize American lives. They felt very strongly about it."

During a "very spirited" internal debate, Hartman says, the FBI's case "felt to me, and to Sean and Jim in the end, to be a pretty persuasive argument. You ought to err on the side of discretion and caution." Stewart's report mentioned that CBS was withholding part of the story.

Blogging Manifestos

The lightning-quick online pundits known as bloggers are turning to a far older and slower technology: book publishing.

In his forthcoming "An Army of Davids," Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds casts bloggers as an increasingly influential check on the mainstream media: "Where before journalists and pundits could bloviate at leisure, offering illogical analysis or citing 'facts' that were in fact false, now the Sunday morning op-eds have already been dissected on Saturday night, within hours of their appearing on newspapers' Web sites." He also predicts a backlash from "Old Media guys" who resent the scrutiny.

Reynolds praises "flash media" -- bloggers who spontaneously organize around a sudden event -- and says that "even when Big Media snubs such coverage, bloggers let hundreds of thousands of people read about, see and sometimes even experience via video a story that they would otherwise miss."

Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, who speaks regularly with Democratic leaders, will soon publish "Crashing the Gate," his indictment of "a progressive movement that is failing to keep up with the times," including "issue groups that don't realize it's no longer 1975 or even 1995" and "an incestuous relationship between the party committees and consultants that serve themselves more than our candidates."

Urging people to pre-order the book online, Moulitsas writes: "Help us debut on the best seller list. Wingers like [Ann] Coulter get an automatic berth on the best seller list thanks to TWO conservative book clubs (our first doesn't launch until March or so) and bulk purchases from organizations. We don't have those advantages. But we've got you guys."

Andrew Sullivan, one of the blogging pioneers, is finishing "The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It; How to Get It Back." He calls it "an attempt to grapple with the way in which American conservatism has shifted in recent years from an emphasis on small government, individual freedom and a 'leave-us-alone' coalition into a big-spending, big-government force for correcting human immorality and delivering us from foreign evil."

Why do folks with instant access to an audience labor over manuscripts? Sullivan puts it this way: "The blog is a short form. It's provisional and meandering. A book is a longer project, it requires sustained concentration on one line of argument or one central topic. I find it really hard to flip from one mode of writing to another. . . . So right now, I try not to blog at all until I have spent a few hours on the book."

If Only the Democrats Had Known

The Exponent, the student paper at Purdue University, carried a routine wire-service item that began: "Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito told senators Monday that good judges don't have an agenda." The final sentence said: "His motive for shooting John Paul in the abdomen on May 13, 1981, remains unclear."

A subsequent correction, as noted by the Web site Regret the Error, said nothing about the charge of attempted assassination. The item, the paper said, merely "contained a sentence that was not intended to be part of the brief."

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