Taking the Heat

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 25, 2005 9:06 AM

The press, it is clear from the filibuster coverage, loves moderates.

The same can't be said of the blogosphere.

In the Old Media portrayal, McCain and the Gang of 14 (how did new members slip in there after we'd all decided on the Gang of 12?) are principled mavericks who care deeply about the institution of the Senate and are willing to risk their careers and buck their parties to preserve it.

But to bloggers on the left and right, the Mod Squad is comprised of finks, scoundrels and sellouts.

The talk in Washington had been that it would be hard for the two sides to cut a deal because both Democrats and Republicans are under strong pressure from their interest groups. And some of those strong feelings are being vented online in the wake of Monday night's squishy compromise.

Being denounced by right-wingers and left-wingers, respectively, does tend to burnish one's reputation as a thoughtful man (or woman) of the middle. But does that reputation mean anything in an age of polarized politics?

"The fate of the agreement defusing the Capitol Hill confrontation over judicial nominations now rests as much in the hands of President Bush as the senators who crafted it," says the Los Angeles Times. "The dramatic deal reached Monday night by a bipartisan group of 14 senators forestalled a showdown over a GOP effort to ban the filibuster for judicial nominations. It produced immediate results today when the Senate swept away a filibuster preventing a final vote on Priscilla R. Owen, a long-stalled Bush nominee to the federal court of appeals now expected to win confirmation Wednesday...

"But the deal, in which seven Republicans agreed to oppose the filibuster ban while seven Democrats agreed to use the procedural tool against judges only in 'extraordinary circumstances,' could prove short-lived if future court nominations provoke the same partisan conflicts as the judges now under dispute."

In other words, this could wind up being a classic Senate fudge that buys time.

National Review's Andrew McCarthy says the Republicans got squat:

"Let's say the signatory senators had not bothered to write up the kumbaya agreement with all those pretty phrases about 'mutual trust and confidence' and 'good faith' and 'spirit and continuing commitments' (gossamer, if ever there was, rivaled only by 'should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances' in the depth of its meaninglessness).

"Let's say, instead, that they simply gave us the bottom line: (a) three of the president's nominees get an up-or-down vote (i.e., exactly three of the pending seven left standing after the Democrats -- in that spirit of compromise -- whittled down from the original ten); (b) the Democrats remain free to filibuster (but only on the strict condition that, uh, well, that the Democrats feel like filibustering); and (c) the Republicans, on the brink of breaking four years of obstruction, decide instead to punt (and on the eve of a likely battle over a Supreme Court vacancy, no less).

"Sound familiar? Yes it does: It's the deal that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid offered a week ago -- and that was flatly rejected as paltry and unprincipled. . . .

"One has to wonder if the Republicans realize how badly they have been rolled here."

Liberal Oasis isn't celebrating, either:

"Some Dems and liberals seem to be taking solace in that the filibuster was saved, the fringe fundamentalists are livid and Bill Frist looks weak.

"All those sentiments are misguided. Yes, we saved the filibuster. But what good is saving it if Dems never have the spine to use it when it's needed to protect the public?

"Seven Dems have now proclaimed that it will only be used in 'extraordinary circumstances.' And those same seven have in effect said that Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor -- nominees as radical as they come -- are not extraordinary."

Brian Griffiths writes under the head "Senate Republicans Got Nuked":

"It is a good thing that Judges Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor are going to be confirmed with an up-or-down vote in a short period of time. But I do not understand the point of making such a deal with Senate Democrats. The only person that benefits is Senator McCain if he plans on making another run for the White House in 2008."

Andrei Cherny is a bit more pleased with the Democrats:

"Though three far-right judges will make it on the bench, this is nothing more than the compromise Senator Harry Reid offered the Republicans weeks ago. At the 11th hour, the Republican leadership simply did not have the votes in the face of an American public that had seen through their power-hungry abuse of basic principles.

"Two previous Presidents (Democrats, by the way) -- Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt -- became drunk with power at the beginning of their second terms and tried to pack the courts. Senators of their own parties turned on them and rejected their efforts. In both cases, their domestic agendas became stalled for much of the rest of their terms. Democrats need to make clear the historic proportions of George Bush's arrogance and willfulness.

"This is an important victory for Democrats, but all it does it stem the tide."

Attaboy vows to go after Gang ringleader McCain, who was making the rounds of the morning shows yesterday:

"Starting today, I will now do everything in my power to see that John McCain's chances at the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008 are non-existent. In fact, I'd like to help out if there's anyway we can get another Republican to run against him for his Senate seat.

"This man is not a Republican or a conservative. He is a curse on the party and the movement and he must be removed from the political landscape."

The Note knocks down the CW, sort of:

" Conventional wisdom winners : Harry Reid; the judges who get confirmed under the deal; the Democrats; the Gang of 14; the traditions of the Senate.

" Actual winners : 10 members of the Gang of 14; the judges who get confirmed under the deal; the people who devised the White House strategy of (disengagement; David Rogers; Dan Balz; Norm Ornstein; advertisers on A & E (the Fox News Channel broadcast McCain's pitch for his movie in its entirety!)

" Conventional wisdom losers : Sen./Leader/Dr. Frist; the nominees thrown from the sled; James Dobson, Nan Aron, and their allies.

"Actual losers: Some cable news producers; four members of the Gang of 14; public orgies of self-congratulation.

" Conventional wisdom too-soon-to-say-how-they-fared : the White House.

" Actual too-soon-to-say-how-they-fared : the White House; Dr. Frist; Sen. Reid; Sen. McCain."

Remember the Bolton nomination? It hasn't gone away:

"The Ohio Republican whose opposition to John R. Bolton nearly stalled his nomination in committee circulated a letter on Tuesday urging colleagues to vote against Mr. Bolton when his name reaches the Senate floor, possibly this week," says the New York Times.

"The renewed opposition from the senator, George V. Voinovich, was addressed to all his colleagues, but it was aimed particularly at fellow Republicans in a chamber in which the party holds a 55-to-44 majority. At least five Republicans would have to join Mr. Voinovich in opposing Mr. Bolton's nomination as United Nations ambassador in order to defeat it."

Of course, it was Voinovich, while standing up to his party, who agreed to let the nomination come to the floor.

Liberal bloggers, meanwhile, are upset with NARAL for endorsing Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee. Here's Kos's take:

"One of the key problems with the Democratic Party is that single issue groups have hijacked it for their pet causes. So suddenly, Democrats are the party of abortion, of gun control, of spotted owls, of labor, of trial lawyers, etc, etc.We don't stand for any ideals, we stand for specific causes. We don't have a core philosophy, we have a list with boxes to check off.

"So while Republicans focus on building an ideological foundation for their cause, we focus on checking off those boxes on the list. Check enough boxes, and you're a Democrat in good standing."

The new GOP inducement: Check out this blind quote in a NYT piece about the party urging Westchester prosecutor Jeanine Pirro to challenge Hillary for the Senate:

"'If she ran and lost against Hillary, she'd at least come away with her own show on Fox,' said one state Republican who is advising Ms. Pirro, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging her."

McClellan backtracks, according to Editor & Publisher:

"At a White House press briefing Monday, Press Secretary Scott McClellan, pressed by reporters and with Afghan President Karzai in disagreement, retreated on claims that Newsweek's retracted story on Koran abuse cost lives in Afghanistan.

"He also claimed that he had never said it did, even though a check of transcripts disputes that. On May 16, for example, he said, 'people have lost their lives.' On May 17, he said, 'People did lose their lives,' and, 'People lost their lives' due to the Newsweek report."

U.S. News columnist John Leo sees a much broader media problem than just the Newsweek screwup:

"Instead of trampling Newsweek -- the magazine made a mistake and corrected it quickly and honestly -- the focus ought to be on whether the news media are predisposed to make certain kinds of mistakes and, if so, what to do about it. The disdain that so many reporters have for the military (or for police, the FBI, conservative Christians, or right-to-lifers) frames the way that errors and bogus stories tend to occur. The antimilitary mentality makes atrocity stories easier to publish, even when they are untrue. The classic example is CNN's false 1998 story that the U.S. military knowingly dropped nerve gas on Americans during the Vietnam War.

"On the other hand, brutal treatment of dissenters by Fidel Castro tends to be softened or omitted in the American press because so many journalists still see him as the romanticized figure from their youth in the 1960s. Another example: It's possible to read newspapers and newsmagazines carefully and never see anything about the liberal indoctrination now taking place at major universities. This has something to do with the fact that the universities are mostly institutions of the left and that newsrooms tend to hire from the left and from the universities in question."

For the record, I recently wrote about a study on how liberal college faculty have become. But everyone else has been busy writing about Larry Summers.

Columbia Journalism Review does some math on the "O'Reilly Factor":

"For more than a year, Bill O'Reilly has been railing against the New York Times for what he believes is its excessive coverage of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Back on May 27, 2004, he said, 'some press people are using the terrible Abu Ghraib prison scandal as a political hammer. Some people don't see that as a bad thing, but I do. I think the story should be reported accurately and aggressively, but not used by the media to advance an agenda.'

"O'Reilly feels the Times, more than anyone else in the 'left-wing media,' has focused far too much on the military prison torture scandal. . . .

"But there's another common refrain of late on 'The O'Reilly Factor,' one that puts his criticism of the Times into a different light. Last January, University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill made news when students and faculty members at Hamilton College protested a scheduled speaking appearance by Churchill, who had written an incendiary essay that compared the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to Nazis. The night after the story broke, O'Reilly attacked Churchill, calling him an 'anti-American fanatic,' and invited onto his show a Hamilton faculty member and the family of a man who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.

"You might think that was ample coverage of a story concerning whether or not an obscure but controversial professor would or should speak at an equally-obscure small college. But O'Reilly covered the story for nine straight days -- and has barely slowed down since. . . .

"That's 25 instances of Churchill coverage on 'The O'Reilly Factor' since the story broke in January. Twenty-five separate shows during which O'Reilly covered the story of one misguided college professor as though it were the Watergate hearings. . . .

"O'Reilly's Churchill fetish is, of course, a classic example of agenda-driven journalism."

Something tells me CJR may be in for an O'Reilly bashing.

Editor & Publisher's Greg Mitchell wonders why the Tillman story has been overshadowed, especially since his parents are ripping the Army for not coming clean about his friendly-fire death in Afghanistan:

"Where, in the week after the Great Newsweek Error, is the comparable outrage in the press, in the blogosphere, and at the White House over the military's outright lying in the coverup of the death of former NFL star Pat Tillman? Where are the calls for apologies to the public and the firing of those responsible? Who is demanding that the Pentagon's word should never be trusted unless backed up by numerous named and credible sources? "Where is a Scott McClellan lecture on ethics and credibility?"

This item in INDC Journal caught my eye because it involves Monday's Media Notes column about the Newsweek debacle. Bill Ardolino points out that there was a photo of a protest sign--"Newsweek Deserves to be Banned"--in the print edition, with the caption: "The Koran story is a new wedge in the culture wars between left and right." Deniability clause: When I saw the photo in the paper, I assumed, probably like most people, that some conservatives were picketing Newsweek.

It turns out the photo was closely cropped so you couldn't tell that it was taken at a demonstration of Indian Islamists. Standing next to the protester with that sign was another Indian with a sign that read, "Bush Should Apologise for Desecration of Quran." Given the way the picture was cropped and the lack of an explanatory cutline, I'd agree the effect was misleading.

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