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The Heart of the Matter

"Titillating possibilities flitted through my head: grainy footage of John Kerry flip-flopping late at night in his hotel room. Strategist Bob Shrum controlling the candidate's every move from behind a glowing orb. Modern campaigns are so freeze-dried and antiseptic that one longs for unscripted moments, even after the fact. Plus, the film arrives as Democrats are still mulling the lessons of their loss. Should leaders of the party be cautious and calibrated to appeal to moderates and independents-- or should they roar and stomp in an attempt to rally the base and captivate voters with authenticity?

"Unfortunately, 'Inside the Bubble,' which premiered at the New York Television Festival Thursday, doesn't do much to answer those questions. The movie overpromises the way sham politicians do. There are some amusing and entertaining moments, but there is little in it to explain why Kerry lost--no inside scoop from his senior advisers or much insight into the man himself. The strategists who may have botched the effort are either not seen or pass through in a blink. Instead, we spend a lot of time with secondary and tertiary players . . .

"As for the candidate himself, we don't see much of him that we haven't seen already. But there are a few surprises. Kerry the candidate seems tantalizingly less stiff than we remember. As he waits in a locker room for a satellite interview, he pretends to interview himself. It's a goofy, amusing moment. I've watched presidential candidates in this familiar, tense setting and seen them anxious that time's wasting, irritated by a local anchor's gooey snap, bark at their staffs, or even, in one case, bolt from a Marriot ballroom. Off-camera, Kerry is surprisingly at ease. 'I don't know who exercised in this locker room last,' he jokes with his aides, 'but they left a lot of themselves here.' Alas, when the interview starts, he snaps back into that familiar wooden image."

Judith Miller did her first television interview last night, with CNN's Lou Dobbs, who championed her cause and denounced Plamegate prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. "I will not forgive Fitzgerald for what he did to you," said Dobbs, accusing him of "a disgusting abuse of government power."

Miller was more circumspect, saying that if Fitzgerald brings indictments, "perhaps I will have to say his zealousness with respect to this mission is justified," but if not she'll wonder why she was the only one who wound up behind bars. She called jail "the most soulless place" and said her experience there was "demeaning" and "degrading."

Dobbs didn't really press her on why she accepted a waiver of confidentiality from Scooter Libby now as opposed to three months ago. Miller said that "I didn't want Mr. Fitzgerald to pressure my source into giving me the waiver because then it wouldn't be a voluntary waiver{lcub}hellip{rcub}I didn't want to participate in a fishing expedition." Until she spoke directly to Libby, Miller said, "I was willing to sit in jail."

Bill Keller says the Times plans a definitive piece on all this, perhaps by the weekend.

Jay Rosen is losing confidence in the NYT:

"The New York Times is not any longer-- in my mind-- the greatest newspaper in the land. Nor is it the base line for the public narrative that it once was. Some time in the least year or so I moved the Washington Post into that position . . .

"The Post, I believe, is our great national newspaper now; the Times is number two, with the Wall Street Journal close behind. Still a strong fleet. With a new ship in the lead perhaps it will sail to unexpected places.

"It was a long time in the making, this change in my half-conscious rankings of the great players in news. The Web has a lot to do with it, for the Post has been bolder, more willing to experiment online, less hung up . . . TimesSelect has something to do with it, too, for the reasons I explored in an earlier post. The breakdown in controls in reporting Weapons of Mass Destruction is, of course a factor-- along with earlier episodes: Jayson Blair, Wen Ho Lee, Paul Krugman's correction trauma.

"The switch happened a while ago, but I only realized it Monday night, as I was about to read Katharine Seelye's account of Judith Miller's return to the newsroom of the New York Times. When I clicked on the story about 1:00 am I thought to myself . . . They're not up to it . And while it may seem strange to some PressThink readers, I had never really felt that way before in reading a news story in the New York Times.

"On plenty of occasions since I began reading the paper I would say to myself after finishing a Times article, 'nah, I don't trust it.' Often I have waved an imaginary hand at what I had just read, as if to say: get out of here with that! There were columnists whose way of arriving at opinions I didn't trust, and periods when I lost trust in the editorial pages entirely. But I held to a half-conscious assumption as a news reader (and paying subscriber) that the New York Times would always try to tell me what it knew when it covered a story, and it would always try to cover the stories it knew were news."


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