Special accusations edition

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 2009; 10:04 AM

Everyone seems to be firing at everyone else right now, so as a public service, we'll offer a quick guided tour.

Let's start with an ostensible White House threat against a key senator on health care.

In the Weekly Standard, former McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb hurls this grenade:

"While the Democrats appease Senator Lieberman, they still have to worry about other recalcitrant Democrats including Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson. . . . According to a Senate aide, the White House is now threatening to put Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base on the BRAC list if Nelson doesn't fall into line."

Pretty strong charge. But in this update, Goldfarb says that "both Nelson and the White House strenuously deny the allegation. A statement from White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer asserts 'This rumor is absolutely false, as the people spreading it well know. This is nothing but a cynical, crass political game that is designed to maintain the status quo.' " Oh, and Nelson called the tale "yellow journalism" and "misinformation."

Still, 20 GOP senators have now asked that the allegation be investigated, and Glenn Beck said it borders on "treason."

Conclusion: An ex-McCainiac tosses out this charge, based on one unnamed aide, and both sides deny it? Couldn't be flimsier.

Next: Visergate

"Declaring that she 'was honored and proud to run with him,' former Alaska governor Sarah Palin pushed back hard Wednesday against a report that she had disrespected Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by blacking out his name on a sun visor she wore on vacation.

"The website TMZ accused Palin of 'a frontal attack on Sen. John McCain' during a Hawaii vacation this week: 'Sarah chose to wear a visor from her campaign -- a visor that was emblazoned with the former presidential candidate's name. . . . that is, until Palin redacted McCain's name with a black marker.'

"But Palin said in a statement to Politico that she was just trying to 'be incognito' -- to go unrecognized and shield her children and husband, Todd, from paparazzi."

Conclusion: Much ado about nothing.

Next: Monica vs. Bill

According to a forthcoming book by law professor Ken Gormley, Politico reports, "Lewinsky now believes Bill Clinton lied about their relationship during his grand jury testimony. 'There was no leeway [there] on the veracity of his statements because they asked him detailed and specific questions to which he answered untruthfully,' she wrote to Gormley earlier this year." Gormley also paints "a harsh portrait of [Ken] Starr as a man out of his depth and who lost all sense of proportion."

The author makes news on Susan McDougal: "Confirmation of a long-rumored romantic affair between Clinton and McDougal, an Arkansas woman who spent 18 months in jail for refusing to answer questions from Starr's prosecutors before a grand jury, and later received a presidential pardon from Clinton. Gormley writes he is now certain 'some intimate involvement did occur,' though he will not say precisely how he knows it to be true."

Conclusion: Fascinating if true. Lewinsky's comments are hardly surprising. And yet the whole thing must seem like ancient history to lots of folks, although not those of us who followed every twist and turn.

Next: The NYT-WSJ feud.

It began with this Times column by David Carr, saying that top Wall Street Journal editors under Rupert Murdoch are nudging the Washington news coverage to the right. Carr used a number of unnamed sources, and his report was anecdotal. Best example: that the pejorative phrase "death tax" was repeatedly used in an article about the estate tax, and not in quotes.

The Journal's top editor, Robert Thomson, responded with a blistering statement, calling the column "yet more evidence that the New York Times is uncomfortable about the rise of an increasingly successful rival while its own circulation and credibility are in retreat. The usual practice of quoting ex-employees was supplemented by a succession of anonymous quotes and unsubstantiated assertions. The attack follows the extraordinary actions of Mr. Bill Keller, the executive editor, who, among other things, last year wrote personally and at length to a prize committee casting aspersions on Journal journalists and journalism."

Casting aspersions? How did we miss this?

Turns out Keller wrote a letter to the Polk Committee, challenging a press release saying that after the Journal's award-winning series on the Three Gorges dam, "China acknowledged that it must relocate as many as 4 million people." This was wildly overstated, the letter said. Keller noted in closing: "We acknowledge that we call attention to it in part because it involves an entry that competed with one of ours. We don't know what action it might require on your part."

In the next round (you still with me?), the Journal released a letter to Polk, defending its work, by Marcus Brauchli, then the paper's top editor. Brauchli, now The Washington Post's executive editor, told Politico: "I have to say I wondered, since when do newspaper editors take it upon themselves to correct what they in their righteousness perceive as factual errors in other peoples' press releases? That must keep them very busy."

Conclusion: Journalists love to feud. Keller's letter had a respectful tone. The Journal is entitled to defend its work. And none of this proves that Carr was carrying out any kind of agenda.

Obama and the Left

Is the president inadvertently energizing the liberals? The Daily Beast's Reihan Salam thinks so:

"Of all the kooky conspiracies you've heard about President Obama, from the fanciful notion that he was born in Kenya to Glenn Beck's deeply-held belief that he is a closet Marxist, I can guarantee that you've never heard my own pet theory, which is that Barack Obama is a sleeper agent dedicated to destroying the American left. This isn't literally true, of course. But the president's extraordinary ability to get liberals to abandon their convictions in exchange for symbolic gestures puts Bill Clinton to shame. It took the Republican drive for impeachment to convince the left that Clinton, a neoliberal who pursued a deregulating, decentralizing, and frankly conservative-friendly agenda, deserved their allegiance. Obama, in contrast, has pulled off the same feat by offering essentially neoconservative arguments with gentle caveats and uplifting historical homilies. . . .

"I am increasingly convinced that liberals are repeating the mistakes made by credulous Bush-era conservatives. When grassroots ideologues, whether they're on the right or the left, roll over and play dead, we get policies written by powerful corporate interests for powerful corporate interests. . . .

"Only a handful of netroots progressives fully grasped the central importance of a strong public option in achieving the left's real goals. Most other liberals marched in lockstep behind the president and Wall Street Democrats in the House and Senate."

Award season

Time's man may be Ben Bernanke, but Joe Klein hands out some Teddy awards, named for T.R.:

"Well, Barack Hussein Obama sure passed the Teddy Roosevelt test in the first year of his presidency. We don't know yet if the results will be triumph or failure, but he has dared greatly at a moment of multiple crises for the U.S. Even his critics must acknowledge that. He has not sidled up to the issues facing the country but has confronted them directly -- pumping billions into an economy in free fall, putting 50,000 more troops in Afghanistan, pushing toward a universal system of health insurance, beginning the fight against climate change, reactivating government regulatory agencies, transforming America's image abroad from arrogant bellicosity to comity. . . .

"Vice President Joe Biden deserves one as well, for disagreement with the boss above and beyond the call of duty. Biden may have lost the Afghanistan argument, but he surely shaped it -- for the better."

Today's Tiger

Is the world's top golfer headed for the 19th hole of divorce?

"Tiger Woods' wife has the dean of Tinseltown's divorce lawyers on her side as she and the golfing great head for Splitsville," says New York's Daily News.

"Nobody has more experience at tearing celebrity marriages asunder than Sorrell Trope, who hung his shingle in 1949 and whose star clients span the generations from Cary Grant and Rod Steiger to Nicole Kidman, Nicolas Cage, Hugh Grant and Britney Spears."

So is this confirmed? The piece later refers to "his reported entry into the Woods saga."

What gives the Woods mess its staying power? Tina Brown says it touches a deep gender chord:

"Tiger Woods has broken another record. I'm not talking about his new accolade for being athlete of the decade. I am talking about the fact that your typical celebrity sex scandal will produce, at most, a 10-day sustained media barrage before the cool down begins. Yet here we are at the end of Week Two with the inexhaustible angles on Tiger's troubles still derailing dinner-party conversations with no signs of abating. . . .

"Then there are the rows that break out when wives catch their husbands sighing and exchanging looks with other guys at the table after one of the women present inevitably remarks, 'And his wife is such a beauty, too!' These conversations have a nervous subtext: that well-heeled women who spend so much time and money working out and going under the knife to ensure they're still alluring to their rich alpha husbands may as well throw in the 500-thread towel. It's an unsettling possibility to say the least. . . .

"I guess we take refuge in the Tiger story because it's so much more fun and less scary than the stuff we ought to be worrying about but can actually do nothing about. More than 15 million people out of work, 46.3 million people with no health insurance. The sickening conundrum of Afghanistan.

"In the face of all this, the Tiger story is full of the reassuring primal juice that's so lacking from our national politics. Everyone is tired of not understanding things: why the banks got away with it, why people still can't get a loan, how our Afghan troop 'surge' is suddenly going to make Karzai into George Washington. Even the Senate doesn't understand what's in the health care bill."

Ah. Everyone understands sex.

Defending 43

In the WSJ, it doesn't take Karl Rove long to get to his real beef:

"Mr. Obama has not governed as the centrist, deficit-fighting, bipartisan consensus builder he promised to be. And his promise to embody a new kind of politics -- free of finger-pointing, pettiness and spin -- was a mirage. He has cheapened his office with needless attacks on his predecessor. [italics mine]

"Consider Mr. Obama's comment in his interview this past Sunday on CBS's '60 Minutes' that the Bush administration made a mistake in speaking in 'a triumphant sense about war.' This was a slap at every president who rallied the nation in dark moments." Actually, it was a slap at George W. Bush and his "Mission Accomplished" moment.

Slapping Schumer

Melinda Henneberger takes on Schumer:

"You can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats the people who bring him coffee and little bags of pretzels, and make sure his belongings are stowed securely in the overhead bin. So when an important man, a U.S. senator, actually -- busy, busy, busy -- flouts federal regs by refusing to turn off his cellphone so the plane can pull away from the gate (oh, and to heck with his fellow passengers, who in their humble way also had lives to get on with while they instead tapped their toes and he kept on yakking), well, that was bad enough. 'It's Harry Reid calling,' the rudenik, a.k.a. Chuck Schumer, announced to his hostages. 'I guess health care will have to wait.''

"But when the senior senator from New York then called a flight attendant who was only doing her job the b-word under his breath, that told us even more. Like how much women must be willing to put up with from a self-described 'tireless advocate for women's rights' and how little . . . the 'advocate' has to do to keep the franchise."

Truthiness sells

A Vanity Fair investigation:

"What otherworldly power does Stephen Colbert wield over magazine editors? It was strange enough when he appeared on the cover of Newsweek back in June (an issue he guest edited) -- now he's on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In 2007 and 2008 he did the GQ-Esquire double-dip, a feat usually accomplished only by such icons of maleness as Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Brady. In the past few years Colbert has also been the cover boy for Rolling Stone, New York, and Wired.

"By comparison, Jon Stewart, Colbert's Obi-Wan and still a considerably bigger name, has appeared by himself on only three major magazine covers (Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Entertainment Weekly). . . . What gives? Is it possible that magazines with Colbert on the cover fly off the newsstands?

"Actually, yes, Colbert covers sell quite well, according to data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. He boosted Wired's newsstand sales by 38 percent, Esquire's by 17 percent, Newsweek's by 16 percent (according to unaudited numbers), and GQ's by 6 percent. . . .

"A solo Jon Stewart, on the other hand, hasn't been as much of a draw on the newsstand. His July 2001 turn on the cover of Esquire sold 15 percent fewer copies than the July 2000 issue. When Rolling Stone put him on its October 28, 2004 cover, sales were 10 percent lower than the average 2004 issue."

And to think Stephen was once a mere clueless correspondent for Jon.

Mistress message

Jamie Jungers, who blabbed about her relationship with Tiger on the "Today" show, does a video for an Internet site -- possibly the worst ad in recorded history.

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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