washingtonpost.com
Morning Spew

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 12:52 PM

DENVER, Aug. 26--Joe Scarborough and David Shuster didn't quite come to blows Tuesday morning, but their anger really boiled over.

Scarborough is the former Republican congressman who has broken with the GOP over the war and now hosts MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Shuster is a feisty MSNBC correspondent who often appears on the program.

They were talking here at the convention about a report that the Iraqi prime minister wants a specific deadline for a U.S. withdrawal, and man, it turned ugly.

When Scarborough said he'd be happy with a pullout right now, Shuster seized the offensive, saying: "Tell that to the McCain campaign. Tell that to the White House, which mocks anybody who comes up with the idea, 'Oh, maybe we should have a timetable.' "

"Hey Shuster, are you Rip Van Shuster?" Scarborough countered, suggesting he had slept through recent events. Growing madder by the minute, he said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would probably be killed if American forces withdrew and that he, Scarborough, didn't care.

"Why are you so hateful?" Scarborough demanded. "Why do you want to keep American troops in Iraq even longer, David Shuster?"

Shuster began to respond: "Your party, the Repubican Party--"

That boosted Scarborough's blood pressure further. "Just stop right now," he demanded. The host said the Repubicans loathe him "much more than your party, the Democratic Party, loathes me."

When the reporter protested that he was an independent and had no party, the host's voice dripped with sarcasm. "I feel so comforted by the fact you're an independent," Scarborough said. "I bet everybody at MSNBC has independent on their voting cards--'oh, we're down the middle now.' " He accused Shuster of a "cheap shot."

They weren't done, even as the other guests looked on mutely. When Shuster said Scarborough should tell the McCain campaign to stop criticizing the war's opponents, the former Florida lawmaker dropped any pretense of cordiality.

"Do you ever watch this show? We attack [John] McCain all the time . . . Oh, that's right. You usually sleep through this show, because you didn't show up three times in a row." He was not smiling.

They ended their exchanges without the usual fence-mending that often follows a heated debate. There have been angrier arguments on television, I suppose, but it was only 5 a.m. here in Denver.

Michelle's Moment

9:11 a.m.

DENVER, Aug. 26--Michelle Obama did a skillful job of weaving her talk of the American dream from her ailing father, who went to work each day even as his multiple sclerosis deteriorated, to her husband's single mother and to her own life climbing the ladder from Chicago's South Side.

She did a skillful job in announcing: "That is why I love this country," obviously trying to erase her primary-season comment about being really proud of her country for the first time.

But from the point of view of nearly half the delegates here, the biggest grace note came when she mentioned Hillary Clinton, applauded, and praised the former first lady for putting 18 million cracks in the ultimate glass ceiling.

Michelle knew what her job was as the big-name opening night speaker on Monday: not just to humanize her husband, but to make the skeptics and doubters more comfortable with him. And, frankly, to make the country comfortable with someone who would be the first African American first lady. To turn her family into the Huxtables, as MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell put it. She ran the risk of sounding too melodramatic, but her tone -- well, let's just say it was far more successful than Teresa Heinz Kerry's speech four years ago.

And it was a brilliant bit of stagecraft to trot out the cute daughters to greet their father by video link from Kansas City, from the home of an ordinary family, not some huge rally. And while it wasn't exactly the Al-Tipper kiss, Barack Obama struck a humorous note by saying, "Now you know why I asked her out so many times even though she said no."

Michelle seemed warmly received in the Pepsi Center and drew praise from the pundits.

The challenge, according to Atlantic's Marc Ambinder:

"Hate to say it, but she has to appear normal, average and exceptional. . . . Many white Americans still have stereotyped impressions about black women and black families, and have very [little] hook to hang their minds on about the millions of middle class black families. Michelle Obama will help them fill in this perceptual gap."

The response:

"A relative newcomer to campaigning and the first black woman with a serious shot at first ladyhood, Mrs. Obama is a softer, smoother presence on the trail than she was at the start of the race," says the New York Times.

"Worried that Mr. Obama's far-flung upbringing and his lack of deep roots leave some voters unsure and untrusting, the campaign is essentially substituting Mrs. Obama's family background for his own."

Boston Globe: "Even with an emotion-filled appearance by an ailing Senator Edward M. Kennedy, last night's spotlight was trained firmly on Michelle Obama, an accomplished hospital executive, lawyer, and mother of two who has been an outspoken advocate for her husband. She began quietly and tentatively, but drew the crowd in -- and some to tears -- with her personal testament to her character and that of her husband."

And you can't buy the kind of lead that the night produced from the Obama-skeptical New York Post:

"It was a family affair for the Obamas last night -- Michelle delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, Barack appeared via satellite video, and their youngest daughter, Sasha, stole the show in the end."

Chicago Tribune's Dawn Trice:

"I watched Michelle Obama's speech from a press table behind the all-white South Dakota delegation. I watched members leaning forward as if listening to good, engaging gossip. They were engaged. I got the feeling that perhaps many of them hadn't heard stories like this before."

Roger Simon offers the ultimate praise:

"Could the Democrats be about to nominate the wrong Obama?

"Well, probably not. But Michelle Obama, Barack's wife, gave an awfully good speech at the Democratic National Convention here Monday night. While Barack can sometimes soar off into the clouds, Michelle tends to keep things down to earth."

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick also gives it a rave:

"What I loved best about Michelle Obama's speech was that it was fearless, but in a very different way from the fearlessness modeled by Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. Here is a woman with a degree from Harvard Law School, who could have talked about law and policy and poverty, and yet she talked about her kids, her husband, and her family. And she didn't do that merely to show us that smart women are soft and cuddly on the inside. She did what everyone else in this campaign is terrified to do: She risked looking sappy and credulous and optimistic when almost everyone has abandoned 'hope' and 'change' for coughing up hairballs of outrage. . . . Good for her for speaking from the heart when everyone else seems to be speaking from the root cellar."

But National Review's Byron York contrasts last night's address with a Michelle speech a few months ago in Charlotte:

"In Denver, Michelle Obama described America as a place of hope, a place where people find success during the course of 'improbable journeys.' In Charlotte, her America was a dark and ugly place, where people who work hard are knocked down by sinister forces -- a place where even young children burst into tears when they realize the deck is stacked against them."

Citing a recent Rasmussen poll showing Michelle with a 43 percent unfavorable rating, York says: "So here in Denver Mrs. Obama had a job to do. It wasn't just to introduce Americans to the Obama family or show another side of her husband's personality. It was to rehabilitate herself, to take the edge of anger and resentment from her public pronouncements and embrace a wholesome, country-loving, American-Dream-living image."

Ted Kennedy, battling a brain tumor, stirred the hall--and so many memories--and drew this response from a non-fan, Andrew Sullivan:

"Well, even I found myself choking up a little. This was the last roar of a rumpled lion, made through the obvious pain of sickness, and clearly rousing for the base. The speech was a little abstract and a little reminiscent of previous Kennedy orations. But there was no mistaking this moment: the Kennedy mystique passed on to this young senator. And when you recall the Kennedy legacy on race, you cannot help but be moved by this week and this moment. He was much more on point than I expected; and much more composed."

Civil War Watch

10:04 p.m.

DENVER, Aug. 25 -- The Obama operation wanted Monday to be all about Michelle Obama.

Instead, much of the day was about Hillary Clinton, at least in the media narrative that seemed to gain velocity in the thin Rocky Mountain air.

Let's face it: There's only one story line that offers journalists a chance to stir things up at No Drama Obama's convention. That is a knockout battle between the Hillary and Barack forces. So I ask: is there any temptation, perhaps, to play up that story line?

I talked to a senior Barack Obama aide who said, of course there are tensions. We're not denying that, he said, we have work to do here in Denver. But he said some of the media reports seemed overblown.

Still, the buzz on the Web and on cable was sufficiently loud that Obama operatives tried to tamp it down in a conference call with reporters.

The war scenario got a major boost from this Politico piece by John Harris and Mike Allen, before the convention even started:

"Mistrust and resentments continued to boil among top associates of presumptive nominee Barack Obama and his defeated rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"One flashpoint is the assigned speech topic for former president Bill Clinton, who is scheduled to speak Wednesday night, when the convention theme is 'Securing America's Future.' The night's speakers will argue that Obama would be a more effective commander in chief than his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

"The former president is disappointed, associates said, because he is eager to speak about the economy and more broadly about Democratic ideas -- emphasizing the contrast between the Bush years and his own record in the 1990s.

"This is an especially sore point for Bill Clinton, people close to him say, because among many grievances he has about the campaign Obama waged against his wife is a belief that the candidate poor-mouthed the political and policy successes of his two terms.

"Some senior Democrats close to Obama, meanwhile, made clear in not-for-attribution comments that they were equally irked at the Clinton operation. Nearly three months after Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the nomination contest, these Obama partisans complained, her team continues to act like she and Bill Clinton hold leverage."

Sounds like a bad marriage. Which maybe it is.

The New Republic's Eve Fairbanks says hey, there are some dead-enders:

"I had long assumed the legend of the legions of diehard, I-won't-get-over-it Hillary supporters was a figment of the media's drama-hungry (and the Clinton strategists' self-serving) imagination. Lots of her supporters must still be disappointed, sure, but embittered, furious she's not on the ticket, even willing to chuck pragmatism out the window and vote for John McCain? Really? But the tiny plane I took from Des Moines to Denver carried several such angry Iowa Hillary fans, including the elegantly-dressed delegate squeezed into the seat next to me. A bright blue button on her tasteful beige lapel shouted 'Hillary.' 'I'm really upset,' she said, about Obama's Joe Biden pick, not looking at me, but gazing at the seat back in front of her. 'Maybe Hillary didn't want it,' I offered.

"The Iowa delegate shook her head. 'She did, she did,' she said mournfully. The only part of the convention she was really looking forward to, she added, was the opportunity to vote for Hillary on the first nomination ballot. That would be a moment of 'catharsis.'

"Get used to 'catharsis': It's a key Hillary-supporter catchword. You'll hear it, along with its psychotherapeutic pair-word 'closure,' endlessly until this Wednesday, when the nomination vote happens."

The political convention as therapy.

Conservatives are the oppo party this week, of course, as Bill Kristol lays out the case in the Weekly Standard:

"This week, the least qualified man to receive a major party nomination for the presidency of the United States in modern times will be anointed by his party. He could well win the general election . . .

"Here is Obama's résumé: an Ivy League law degree, a few years of community organizing, seven years in the Illinois senate, three and a half years as a U.S. senator. Kind of modest. What has he accomplished in any of those jobs? Not much, not much at all.

"Has he shown great courage in his political career? Has he shunned the easy path or broken with the conventional liberal pieties of those around him? Has he taken on his own party on a major issue? Nope."

Kristol also all but endorses Joe Lieberman in his NYT column as John McCain's running mate. Interesting.

Former newspaper reporter and Democratic spokesman Phil Trounstein slams some of the media critiques on Biden's selection:

"The most idiotic punditbabble we're heard in the wake of Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden -- advanced by the AP's Ron Fournier, NBC's David Gregory and others as if they were channeling John McCain's talking points -- is the notion that Biden undercuts Obama's message that it's time for a change.

"Exhibit A, in this silly argument, is Biden's 35 years in the United States Senate. The simplistic formulation argues that because Biden is an old hand in Washington, he undermines Obama as a standard-bearer for change.

"First of all, consider the absurdity of the suggestion that a brilliant, young, black president wouldn't represent an historic, transforming leap forward in American politics. On its face, this is nothing more than Rovian hyperspin.

"Barack Obama personifies change -- no matter who his running-mate is.

"But there's a further point (and thanks to Newsweek's Howard Fineman for picking up on it): That what Biden represents is a guy -- perhaps uniquely qualified -- to implement the change that Obama represents."

Biden obviously brings strengths to the ticket, and a newcomer just as obviously needs an insider to help work the system. But is acknowledging Biden's drawback as a Beltway insider really "Rovian hyperspin"?

The Wall Street Journal has a great tidbit about how Biden got the nod:

"Team Biden also showed some sharp elbows against rivals for the No. 2 slot. When news surfaced that the wife of another leading vice-presidential contender, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, made nearly $1 million a year on corporate boards, Biden backers quickly pointed out to friends and former colleagues in the Obama camp that Jill Biden made far less working as a teacher."

On the WSJ opinion page, Fred Barnes examines the journalistic approval of Biden:

"Brit Hume, the Fox News anchor, tells the story of having been asked by Mr. Biden why he put the Delaware senator in his TV reports from Capitol Hill so infrequently. 'Senator, you're a windbag,' Mr. Hume told him. Several years later, Mr. Biden approached Mr. Hume again and said he'd been right in his assessment. It's hard not to like a major politician who admits a fault, sincerely or not.

"Mr. Biden's popularity in the Washington political community -- home to most of the pundit class -- helps explain why his selection by Mr. Obama received such favorable reviews. True, some Republicans declared Mr. Biden a bad choice because he's verbose, bombastic and gaffe-prone. And indeed those are flaws, but hardly fatal ones. The Obama-leaning media is quite capable of ignoring them . . .

"What Mr. Obama has done is create an all-liberal ticket -- a very, very liberal one, at that -- in a nation whose electorate is still center-right."

Was there any running mate that Fred would have liked this side of Joe Lieberman?

Cable Funnyman Rips Cable News

6:56 p.m.

DENVER, Aug. 25 -- Jon Stewart ripped the cable news networks Monday as a "brutish, slow-witted beast" and castigated Fox News as "an appendage of the Republican Party."

Wearing a gray T-shirt and a healthy stubble, the "Daily Show" host told reporters that Fox's fair-and-balanced slogan is "a (expletive) you to people with brains" and that only "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace "saves that network from slapping on a bumper sticker . . . Barack Obama could cure cancer and they'd figure out a way to frame it as an economic disaster."

"I'm stunned to see Karl Rove on a news network as an analyst," he said of the Bush White House aide-turned Fox commentator.

A Fox News spokesman replied that "Jon's clearly out of touch," citing a Pew study showing the network has the most balanced audience in cable news, 39 percent Repubicans and 33 percent Democrats. "But being out of touch with mainstream America is nothing new to Jon as evidenced by the crash and burn ratings of this year's Oscars telecast."

In his remarks, Stewart also included CNN and MSNBC in a far-ranging indictment of what he called "that false sense of urgency they create, the sense that everything is breaking news. . . . The 24-hour networks are now driving the narratives and everyone else is playing catch-up."

Stewart declared his love for newspapers as a better source of political coverage, but said they are fighting "a losing battle because they're getting overshadowed." He pronounced the network evening newscasts "obsolete" because of the growing speed of news, and he predicted they will die.

The TV funnyman also tackled the tricky and sensitive question of whether an African American presidential nominee can be appropriately ridiculed.

Comedians are "shying away" from Barack Obama because of "liberal bias and not wanting to be racist," he said. "They want him to win badly and yet don't like black people." It's just like with Bill Clinton, when "we desperately tried to defuse the Monica Lewinsky situation."

News flash: He's joking.

Stewart does make fun of Obama as a messiah-like figure, but he warned that comedy has a short shelf life. "An age joke about McCain is at this point somewhat meaningless -- because it's already trite."

Asked if John McCain, a frequent guest, ever complained about his treatment, Stewart said the Arizona senator understands his role: "He knows we're there to introduce him to 20-year-olds smoking out of apple bongs."

He also took a swipe at the Democrats' choice of Denver, saying it hardly helps a party accused of elitism. "They chose a place that is literally one mile above the American people," he said. "I guess Mount Olympus was booked."

Scrambled Breakfast

11:25 a.m.

DENVER, Aug. 25 -- Okay, this is getting too weird.

I'm at a scrambled eggs breakfast at the University of Denver, with a great view of the Rockies, awaiting the comedy stylings of Jon Stewart. (This must be a hot ticket. Time Managing Editor Rick Stengel and NYT columnist David Brooks are here.)

Suddenly, I'm accosted by Mark Halperin and his MacBook Air, which has some kind of camera gizmo inside. Which is taking my picture as he quizzes me on the convention, awkwardly holding up his laptop.

How would I assess the media coverage? (Dunno. The convention hasn't even started yet.) What about the Joe Biden rollout? Why does Barack Obama get a network skycam and not John McCain?

Hey, it's only 8 a.m. out here. And I look terrible without my makeup.

Halperin's probably already posted the video to The Page, his political potpourri at Time.com. And that, folks, is how the media sausage is made in Denver.

It's too early in the week for such desperation.

Media Horde Hunts for News

DENVER, Aug. 24 -- Inthe end, reporters were finally able to crack the wall of silence surrounding Barack Obama's running mate, but only by staying up mighty late.

It was 12:52 a.m. Saturday when CNN's John King reached a fourth source and reported that the senator from Illinois had chosen Joe Biden. That capped a week-long wallow in which journalists kept reporting and speculating that Obama might announce a decision at any moment -- "perhaps as soon as Wednesday morning," the New York Times said -- while the candidate refused to provide even a hint of his timing. "That's all you're gonna get," he teased reporters Thursday, meaning nada.

Perhaps the veepstakes vertigo was a fitting warm-up for a Democratic National Convention that has drawn 15,000 journalists to this mountain-ringed city, all hungry for news and yet resigned to what the Obama operation intends to make a tightly choreographed four days.

The chorus of criticism from media analysts, and even some journalists, swells every four years: Why are news outlets sending a small army to cover these highly scripted conventions? We all know that there will be little real news, that there hasn't been a contested convention since Jerry Ford edged Ronald Reagan in 1976. Is it all about "ego," as blogger Jeff Jarvis says? How many journalists does it take to cover an infomercial?

The conventions have become a partisan TV show, produced mainly for the total of four precious hours of broadcast network time and the endless loop of cable coverage. At the arena, you can often see newspaper and magazine reporters wandering around, scrounging for scraps -- a process all the more relentless now that most all of them are expected to blog around the clock. When you ask journalists about joining the mob here and in St. Paul next week, the answer often boils down to the mega-nature of the event.

"The thing about conventions is, everybody is there," says National Review's Byron York. "Everybody working on the campaigns, for the parties, for the state parties. You can run into them, talk to them, learn from them, get their cards, and it's quite useful."

New Republic writer Michael Crowley says the best intelligence is often gleaned over a beer. "The very fact of the hype attracts so many moths to the flame, and there's a ton of information you pick up that is valuable in the longer term," he says.

"It's pretty absurd that there are 15,000 media people going. There's not enough news and information to feed all those journalists. You have to be careful not to spend too much time trading conventional wisdom with other reporters."

There you have it: The convention isn't that important, but it becomes important because so many people show up, and no one wants to seem unimportant by staying home.

Of course, some media outfits engage in branding as much as in journalism. The Huffington Post is sponsoring an "oasis" near the arena featuring yoga, Thai massages, mini-facials and snacks. Google and Digg.com are sponsoring an 8,000-square-foot tent where bloggers can file or just hang out. And, just as at Oscar time, no one wants to miss the Vanity Fair party late Thursday night.

Questions about coverage are particularly acute this year as newspapers are cutting costs, space and staff. In an era of dwindling resources, it becomes harder to justify spending thousands of dollars for each staffer to join this quadrennial ritual. (The Washington Post has 38 staffers here and more from the paper's Web site, although the conditions are hardly glamorous: makeshift desks in an air-conditioned tent with ill-fitting floorboards.)

Of course, some of the assembled journalists are covering their local delegations. Others -- producers, bookers, camera operators -- are part of the contingent required to get television coverage on the air. Top news executives are here to command the troops, or simply show the flag.

The media hordes will pronounce the convention a success or a flop, much as they gave a resounding thumbs-up to Obama's selection of Biden. "A lovable guy," said MSNBC's Joe Scarborough. "A real pro," said CNN's Bill Schneider. NBC's Brian Williams said that "I've been on Amtrak with Joe Biden. He goes car to car greeting employees by name." Since the senator from Delaware has longstanding relationships with so many journalists, he is being spared the kind of skepticism that most outsider candidates would have drawn.

Now that the week's only real surprise has passed, will that take all the fizz out of the Pepsi Center pageantry? Maybe, just maybe, the no-news assumption is wrong. A major question looming over the convention is whether Hillary Clinton's most ardent supporters will swing behind Obama with any enthusiasm. That can best be gauged, it seems, by interviewing as many of them as possible.

In fact, given the enormous interest in the first African American about to claim a major-party nomination -- as the gusher of media coverage during the primary campaign showed -- you could argue that this convention is both journalistically intriguing and historically unprecedented. Obama is that rare figure who is both a politician and a celebrity, whether the latter is defined as a plus (People and Us Weekly covers) or a minus (John McCain's charge of Paris Hilton-style fame).

Perhaps the definition of news is changing. From the opening gavel to the balloon drop, the Denver extravaganza isn't likely to exhibit much spontaneity. But that doesn't mean journalists, in between the schmoozing and socializing, can't shed a little light on the state of the Democratic campaign.

Sometimes news organizations miss the story right under their noses. The broadcast networks are again limiting themselves to just one hour a night. Four years ago in Boston, a young state senator named Barack Obama took the convention by storm with a rousing speech about unity and hope, an oration without which it is hard to imagine that he would be accepting the nomination this week. Neither ABC, NBC nor CBS carried it.

View From the Top

CNN struck an exclusive deal with the Democrats for what will undoubtedly be the money shot of the convention -- a skycam atop Invesco Field, where Barack Obama will deliver his acceptance speech.

A similar request by Fox News had been turned down, and angry executives at Fox and the other networks complained at a meeting that one outfit was getting preferential treatment. On Saturday, CNN agreed to share the feed in exchange for splitting the roughly $75,000 cost. CNN Washington Bureau Chief David Bohrman says that his network showed "great initiative and persistence" in pursuing the idea but that he agreed to compromise when his rivals got "incredibly upset" because "the whole country should see it."

Chiding His Colleagues

Tom Brokaw said Sunday that MSNBC's premier anchors, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, have not always been fair in covering the campaign.

"I think Keith has gone too far. I think Chris has gone too far," the veteran NBC newsman said at a forum sponsored by Harvard's Shorenstein press center. But Brokaw said that they are "commentators" and "not the only voices" on MSNBC and that viewers could sort it out.

He was responding to criticism from Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Hillary Clinton supporter, who declared at the forum that "MSNBC was the official network of the Obama campaign."

CBS's Bob Schieffer defended the media's reluctance to cover John Edwards's extramarital affair, saying Edwards's candidacy was over and "I don't see that we have time to be fooling with this."

But ABC's George Stephanopoulos noted that "the level of the coverup here was kind of astonishing," and Brokaw expressed concern about this question: "What if it had been Mitt Romney? Would the press have gone after that story more aggressively?"

Furthermore . . .

My favorite Denver experience so far: broadcasting from in front of the podium wearing one of those Britney Spears headsets.

Second favorite: free smoothies at the Google exhibit. I didn't stay for the massages.

If you watched Biden's speech Saturday, you saw a stemwinder delivered at a time when the pundits are questioning whether Obama is showing enough passion. Maybe he got the nod not just for his foreign policy cred but for his plainspoken oratory, the kind that connects with the lunch-bucket crowd that has been noticeably wary of Barack.

The Obama team hasn't said much about how Obama reached the decision that led to his calling Biden at his dentist's office. But the New York Times says Biden was originally back in the pack and his stock gradually rose:

"Mr. Obama reached the decision about 10 days ago while on a weeklong vacation to Hawaii. That week, Mr. Biden's strengths in foreign policy were highlighted by the conflict between Russia and Georgia, giving his prospects a further boost. Associates of the other main possibility on Mr. Obama's list, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, said Mr. Obama cited the situation in Georgia in breaking the news to Mr. Bayh late last week that he had chosen Mr. Biden.

"But people involved in the process said it was not just foreign policy that tilted the balance. They said Mr. Obama's decision had as much to do with Mr. Biden's appeal among white working-class voters and compelling personal story, and his conclusion that the Delaware senator was 'a worker.' "

National Review's Rich Lowry gives some credit to the Senate Foreign Relations chairman:

"I wonder if that will be one of the most disciplined performances we'll see from Biden this election season (besides his convention speech). What I was most struck by was how much they both emphasized middle-class and economic themes, and how hard Biden went after McCain as a clone of Bush. I assume this is a preview of the Democratic convention, and if so, it's exactly the right approach. None of Biden's foreign-policy experience is going to rub off on Obama."

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn likes the Delaware senator on the substance:

"Biden is not just qualified for the job. He is very qualified for the job. He can help Obama govern; should the unthinkable happen, he would make a capable and trustworthy commander-in-chief himself. But what does this tell us about Obama and how he makes decisions?

"Political considerations surely played a major role in Obama's thinking. If you believe what you read, he had higher regard for--and a closer relationship with--several other contenders, including Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed. But voters might have rejected a ticket with Kaine or Sebelius, concluding it lacked sufficient experience in national and international politics. Reed, an Army veteran and highly respected lawmaker, didn't have that problem. But he's notoriously dull.

"But it's unlikely politics were Obama primary motivation. If they had been, Obama might well have selected Evan Bayh, whose presence on the ticket would have put Indiana into play and--as a result--reshaped the electoral map.

"Obama has always said he didn't want a 'yes' man . . . By choosing Biden, Obama tells us he's serious about that change."

By the way, did you notice how McCain called Biden and was quite gracious about him, while his campaign denigrated Biden and put out an ad saying Hillary Clinton was passed over because she told the truth about Obama? (A video news release is more like it, since it was released at 3 a.m. and got all this free cable time.) The classic high road/low road approach.

Biden, for his part, took a shot at McCain having seven kitchen tables to choose from, and the Arizonan's multiple houses remain a hot topic. But Michael Crowley doubts the flap will get much traction:

"In politics memes tend to stick when they reinforce things that people already intuitively believe. Hence George H.W. Bush in the supermarket was a disaster because everyone already had the sense that Bush was a disconnected upper-class twit. I don't think many people feel that way about McCain, and even if they're exposed to lots of information about his wealth, he just doesn't come across as a pampered rich guy. By the same token McCain's current counterattack--to go after Obama's house and its connection to Tony Rezko--seems likely to be as ineffective as it was when Hillary tried it during the primaries. Obama doesn't seem the least bit shady or ethically compromised."

John Dickerson says in Slate that things are turning ugly, and he's right:

"So much for Obama's aspirations about lifting our politics out of the gutter. Those promises are easier to keep when you're ahead in the polls, and Obama's double-digit lead has disappeared. McCain has run a string of ads attacking Obama's record (often by misrepresenting it), and his good friend Joe Lieberman has questioned Obama's patriotism. We have officially reached the 'all's fair' stage of the campaign.

"And to be fair, Obama's ad was a legitimate shot, as these things go. Up till now, Obama has had to selectively edit McCain's comments on the economy to paint his rival as out of touch. Here, he didn't need to edit anything."

Is it fair for Dems to call attention to Cindy McCain's fortune? Salon's Glenn Greenwald cites some golden oldies from 2004:

Rush Limbaugh: "I mean, [Kerry]'s been there, but he's basically a skirt-chaser, folks. He's a gigolo. . . . Kerry is cheap. Most gigolos are. I mean -- I think it -- I think it goes with the, with the definition. . . . [W]hat do you consider a fair wage? John Kerry considers a fair wage a wife with 500 million."

Ann Coulter called Kerry "a kept man. He lives off the money made by other men and left to their daughters or wives . . . His specialty in life, I mean, if he has an economic plan, I think the one I'd like to hear about is how to snooker millionairesses into marrying me and living off them."

Still, what accounts for McCain's recent progress? Peggy Noonan reminds us that not everyone has been closely following the campaign:

"It's hard for our political class to remember that Mr. Obama has been famous in America only since the winter of '08. America met him barely six months ago! The political class first interviewed him, or read the interview, in 2003 or '04, when he was a rising star. They know him. Everyone else is still absorbing.

"This is what they see: An attractive, intelligent man, interesting, but -- he's hard to categorize. Is he Gen. Obama? No, no military background. Brilliant Businessman Obama? No, he never worked in business. Famous Name Obama? No, it's a new name, an unusual one. Longtime Southern Governor Obama? No. He's a community organizer (what's that?), then a lawyer (boo), then a state legislator (so what, so's my cousin), then U.S. senator (less than four years!).

"There is no pre-existing category for him. Add to that the wear and tear of Jeremiah Wright, secret Muslim rumors, media darling and, this week, abortion. It took a toll, which led to a readjustment. His uniqueness, once his great power, is now his great problem."

In December, after a long controversy, the New Republic refused to stand by dispatches from its Baghdad Diarist, soldier Scott Thomas Beauchamp. Now Beauchamp tells Radar that everything he wrote was true, except for placing an alleged incident involving a disfigured woman in Iraq instead of Kuwait:

"Beauchamp still seems tormented by his error. 'I was in Iraq a long time,' he explains. 'You go through something like that, a war, it makes it easier -- not to forget things, necessarily, but to make mistakes about certain things . . . Regardless, I am incredibly sorry.'

"But he insists the error doesn't indicate a tendency to fabricate. 'I didn't make anything up. I didn't exaggerate,' he says. 'Everything is true to my memory, and the Kuwait mistake was an honest one.' "

The tangled tale of an LAT editor, who also writes a column for washingtonpost.com who got caught in a conflict because of the woman he was dating has taken a bizarre turn:

"A former Los Angeles Times editorial page editor sued his ex-girlfriend Thursday, alleging that the public relations executive had cost him his job at the newspaper and tarnished his professional reputation.

"Andres Martinez resigned from The Times last year after revelations that his then-girlfriend was doing public relations work for Hollywood producer Brian Grazer at the same time that Martinez had tapped Grazer to be a 'guest editor' for the paper's opinion section.

"An attorney for Kelly Mullens, who was romantically involved with Martinez for about two years, called the lawsuit 'meritless and clearly frivolous.' She said it was filed in retaliation for a temporary restraining order Mullens obtained in April after Martinez stalked her and sent her threatening e-mails and text messages. 'This is part of a pattern of harassment by Mr. Martinez against Ms. Mullens which has gone on for a long time,' said Blair Berk, Mullens' attorney."

Not a pretty picture.

Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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