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Snowed Under By Praise

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009 9:31 AM

Saint Olympia is getting the full media treatment.

By providing the only Republican vote for Obamacare, she is being hailed as a courageous statesman (stateswoman?). Charlie Gibson interviewed her live on "World News." She made the morning TV rounds, mapped strategy in the Situation Room, played Hardball. Dana Milbank's tribute to her political skill (and gibes at her studied indecision) landed atop The Washington Post's front page.

Check out this AP piece: "Forget Sarah Palin. The female maverick of the Republican Party is Sen. Olympia Snowe. . . . 'When history calls, history calls,' Snowe told her colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee, several hours into the debate."

I don't want to be too snarky here. Snowe is a diligent senator, she's not a grandstander, and she was clearly struggling to do what she sees as the right thing. But Republican defectors tend to get good press, especially, as in this case, if they're helping salvage a Democratic president's top domestic priority.

Imagine the coverage a Democratic senator would have gotten by breaking with his party to help George Bush pass his Social Security plan. No one hailed Joe Lieberman (yes, he's an independent, but he caucuses with the Dems) for turning against Obama on the Baucus bill.

Maybe it comes down to this: It seems like this health care debate has lasted longer than the Afghan war. Snowe may have brought the legislation one step closer to passing. I suspect most journalists want something to pass so it feels like we spent all that time on something momentous. If health reform goes down in flames, then we've expended all this energy on a mere footnote.

And besides, there aren't many flinty Yankees like Snowe left on the Hill.

Hot Air's Allahpundit takes issue with the AP report:

"They acknowledge that her Senate seat is entirely safe, in which case what's so 'mavericky' about casting a vote that (a) ensures a degree of input into the final bill that other Republicans can only envy and (b) earns her the sort of fawning media coverage of which this very piece is a sterling example?

"The Palin comparison is useful, though. If Sarahcuda had said something as comically insipid as 'When history calls, history calls,' Tina Fey would have an entire skit built around it on SNL this week. As it is, our moronic media's treating it as some sort of faux-profound rendezvous with destiny."

How angry are some on the right? Red State's Erick Erickson provides a clue:

"Olympia Snowe has sold out the country. . . . So we should melt her.

"What melts snow? Rock salt.

"I'm going to ship this 5 pound bag of rock salt to her office in Maine. It's only $3.00. You should join me. It is a visible demonstration of our contempt for her. First she votes for the stimulus. Now this."

I hope no one hits her over the head with those bags.

Paul Begala hails the Maine lady by slamming the rest of her party:

"So this is what passes for bipartisanship these days. In 1994, three Republicans on the Finance Committee supported Pres. Clinton's reforms: Sens. John Chafee of Rhode Island, John Danforth of Missouri, and Dave Durenberger of Minnesota. Now we're down to one. One last rational, reasonable, moderate Republican. But that one may just be enough to make history. And when Sen. Snowe retires, we ought to ask Madame Toussoud to make a wax model of her that we can put in the Smithsonian. I will want my grandchildren to know that there was once such a creature: at first numerous, then endangered, and then hunted to extinction. . . .

"By breaking with the party of Beck & Limbaugh. . . . Snowe has made herself a target. If strategic thinkers in the GOP have their way, they will treat Snowe with kid gloves. But I'm guessing that the radical right is in charge, and they will savage Snowe, further driving her toward her more rational colleagues in the Democratic Party."

Was Snowe's effort worth it? The Nation's John Nichols says Max Baucus "produced a bill that satisfies no one and should infuriate everyone.

"Even Snowe, in announcing she would vote for the measure, said: 'Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. . . . '

"The ranking Republican on the committee, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, said that 'What this mark up has shown is that there is a clear and significant philosophical difference between the two sides.'

"Grassley's right, up to a point. The point that the Iowan misses is that neither side -- Republicans who oppose real reform and Democrats who favor it -- look kindly on the Baucus bill. There's been every bit as much criticism of it from the Congressional Progressive Caucus members as from Grassley's 'party of no' colleagues."

He's right on one point: Lots of people hate this bill.

Rich Lowry waxes about the politics of demonization:

"If there are two things we've learned in the health-care debate, it's that the special interests oppose Obamacare and the insurers are uniquely evil.

"Why, then, the outrage and shock that the insurance industry would commission a study that casts Obamacare's current iteration, the Baucus bill, in a poor light?

"Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, sounded betrayed. She told NBC News, 'I'd spent a couple of hours with insurance industry folks last week, and yes I did feel blindsided. I did feel we were working constructively.'

"It's almost as if she wasn't listening while Obama spent most of the summer instructing us on the odiousness of the insurance companies. Americans have been 'held hostage' by insurance companies, Obama said in August. They have 'reaped windfall profits from a broken system,' Obama thundered in July.

"Compared to holding people hostage and profiteering from their misfortune isn't commissioning a study from PricewaterhouseCoopers relatively mild? Even if it is not methodologically air tight? Considering that they are some of the worst people on earth, their releasing a study is the merest peccadillo. It's like Idi Amin getting a parking ticket or Slobodan Milosevic confusing his salad and dinner forks."

I hardly think the industry's effort to sink this thing is going to end with a single audit.

Never Mind

After threatening to close the Boston Globe, demanding deep union cutbacks, deciding to sell it and soliciting bids, the New York Times Co. now says it will hang on to the paper after all. Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and CEO Janet Robinson told the paper in a memo that "the Globe has significantly improved its financial footing by following the strategic plan it set out at the beginning of this year."

"The decision appeared be a relief to many people inside the Globe, six months after the Times Co. had threatened to shut down the 137-year-old paper unless its unions made dramatic concessions on wages and benefits." Turns out bidders had offered about $35 million for the Globe and a paper in Worcester, plus assuming about $59 million in liabilities. That's practically a giveaway, considering that the Times Co. paid $1.1 billion for the Globe back in 1993.

The death of Wall Street banker Bruce Wasserstein, meanwhile, leaves the future of New York magazine up in the air.

Lashing Out at Liz

Liz Cheney has become a television star, and potential candidate, in her own right, no longer seen merely as the ex-veep's daughter. And she is drawing plenty of liberal flak. The New Republic's Michelle Cottle:

"I hope the libs, moderates, and journalists who find themselves face-to-face with Liz in the coming months won't be tempted to let her off easy just because she's a sweet looking blonde chick out there defending dear ol' dad.

"My concern about Liz may sound absurd, seeing as how we're talking about the hyperhawkish offspring of one of the most reviled figures in contemporary American politics. But I was alerted to this possibility several months back while watching a Liz appearance on 'Morning Joe,' in which she ran through her usual song and dance about what a caring, devoted patriot her daddy is. For the entire segment (and it was a long one), Mike Barnicle (standing in for Joe Scarborough in studio), Mika Brzezinski, and Scarborough himself (phoning in) fawned shamelessly over Liz, asking her oh-so-probing questions about how Daddy, with his obviously great and abiding love for this country, must feel about this, that, and the other. Then, following a spirited debate between Liz and WaPo columnist Gene Robinson, Barnicle bid Liz adieu by gushing: 'I'll tell you one thing. Your father's gotta be proud of you!' To which Liz gave a cute little head bob, smiled demurely, and offered shy 'thank yous' as Brzezinski perkily chimed in: 'I would say so!'

"Gag."

Maureen Dowd doesn't like the company that Cheney keeps:

"On Fox News last Sunday, Liz Cheney -- who still talks about having 'liberated' Iraq -- called Obama's Nobel Peace Prize a 'farce' and suggested that he 'send the mother of a fallen American soldier to accept the prize on behalf of the U.S. military.'

"The blonde 43-year-old lawyer, a mother of five hailed by her fans as 'a red state rock star,' teamed up this week with Bill Kristol to start a new group called 'Keep America Safe.' Kristol, of course, was the chief proponent of the wacky notion that Dan Quayle, and later Sarah Palin, could Keep America Safe, which somewhat undermines the urgency and gravity of the group's moniker."

All of which prompts this rejoinder from Commentary's Jennifer Rubin:

"There is no better temperature gauge of the Left's derangement syndrome -- the object of the hatred is irrelevant---- than the New York Times's liberal op-ed columnists. So when Maureen Dowd goes into full-rant mode over Liz Cheney (and her political-consultant sister), you pretty much know the object of the next spasm of liberal venomous paranoia. And as it usually is, the rant is more revealing of the ranter than the intended victim. . . .

"What if the Republicans come up with a conservative standard bearer who is smart, attractive, and dedicated to debunking Obama's weakling foreign policy -- and female? It's enough to send Dowd running for her smelling salts."

Biden's Choice

The vice president got through nine whole months in office before being asked to resign:

"It's been known for a while that Biden has been on the other side of McChrystal's desire for a big escalation of our forces there -- the New York Times reported last month that he has "deep reservations" about it," says Arianna Huffington. "So if the president does decide to escalate, Biden, for the good of the country, should escalate his willingness to act on those reservations. . . .

"Though it would be a crowning moment in a distinguished career, such an act of courage would likely be only the beginning. Biden would then become the natural leader of the movement to wind down this disastrous war and focus on the real dangers in Pakistan."

By the way, this tidbit on HuffPost from the Nieman Lab is fascinating:

"So here's something devilishly brilliant: The Huffington Post applies A/B testing to some of its headlines. Readers are randomly shown one of two headlines for the same story. After five minutes, which is enough time for such a high-traffic site, the version with the most clicks becomes the wood that everyone sees."

Wonder if I should try that.

Rush and Racism

Rush Limbaugh has been blocked in his bid to buy the St. Louis Rams, with ESPN the first to report that his partners have dropped him as a "distraction." But a troubling media issue is whether news organizations failed to tackle their fact-checking responsibilities. A number have attributed the following quote to him: "We didn't have slavery in this country for over 100 years because it was a bad thing. Quite the opposite: slavery built the South. I'm not saying we should bring it back; I'm just saying it had its merits."

Limbaugh says journalists "are embarrassing themselves" by repeating something he never said, and which apparently began with a blogger. National Review's Mark Steyn throws a penalty flag:

"Rush Limbaugh's mooted purchase of a sports franchise has prompted CNN and others to distribute far and wide what appear to be entirely fabricated racist quotes by Rush. As Tim Blair points out: 'Bizarrely, nobody running these career-killing 'quotes' seems to question why they weren't of previous interest.'

"Just so. What's the theory here? He said these things on the air in 2006 and nobody noticed? 2001? Maybe 1995, back when Clinton was blaming him for Oklahoma City? Hey, let's not get hung up on details."

Say what you want about Rush, the Donovan McNabb comments and so on. But let's stick to the facts.

Obama vs. Fox

The debate is still raging over Anita Dunn's interview with me, calling Fox News a "wing of the Republican Party." The Orlando Sentinel's Hal Boedeker:

"I find the White House's decision to critique and dismiss Fox News Channel, where both men work, to be misguided and foolish. . . .

"Big news organizations are sprawling entities with people who have different duties. Fox News has risen to success with such stars as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, but they hardly represent all of what Fox News does. Do you think Maureen Dowd represents all that is The New York Times?. . . .

"Dunn explained why Obama had avoided Fox News when appearing recently on Sunday morning chat shows to discuss health care. 'Fox News Sunday' moderator Chris Wallace had 'fact-checked' an administration guest -- something the White House didn't like.

"Poor babies.

"The Sunday morning shows would be better if moderators did more fact-checking and held their guests to what they've said. . . . Maybe the White House should get out of the press-critiquing business. It's never been a wise move for any White House. The complaints come off as whining."

The Daily Beast's John Batchelor says that "the White House has not had a chance, in its custard pie-throwing glee, to pause and consider why this is a stupid idea -- not only unfair to all other networks that will become suspect, but also guaranteed to give comedy skits about Fox an attention around the globe not achieved since Walter Cronkite's moon-landing moment.

"What's worse than stupid about the conspiracy theory that Fox News is a pachyderm is that it is wrong. . . .

"If Fox News is a Republican research and communication 'arm,' as remarked by Dunn, then the results for the last four years are shocking -- with a deeply Democratic majority Congress, a Democratic president, and worshipful reception of all Obama administration gestures by the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Arab League, in addition to the choir-singing on the BBC, Reuters, Al-Jazeera and Xinhua, not to forget the Norwegians of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. . . .

"Fox News is not in the news business; it's in show business. The Republican Party, like its blood kin the Democratic Party, is in the campaign business. The White House is in the government business, though, from the evidence so far, it doesn't know how to break out of the campaign business."

Uh, hasn't he heard of the permanent campaign?

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