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Style and Substance

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 6, 2005; 11:21 AM

Okay, Hillary's running. That's the only thing I can conclude now that she has discovered the grave dangers of American flag-burning.

All right, DeLay had a point. A judge's split decision may be a setback politically--he can't reclaim his old job while remaining under indictment--but it does back his contention that the original indictment wouldn't hold up. Now there's just that little money-laundering charge.

Yes, Saddam is crazy. Look at the way his rants are disrupting his trial. Unless he wants to highlight the fact that the infidel invaders are behind it all and he's crazy like a fox?

Sure, the White House insists it's made progress on the terror front, but the 9/11 commission--still making headlines even though it's "officially" out of business--is handing out failing grades.

No question, the administration is frustrated by the Iraq coverage. Check out Rumsfeld's carefully crafted speech that the war is going better than news organizations would have you believe.

Without a doubt, youth matters. The new anchors of ABC's "World News Tonight" are 43 and 44, respectively. Charlie Gibson is 62.

In differing ways, these stories are all about public image. The sort of thing that even a Louisiana governor worries about when people are dying from a killer hurricane ("The governor needs to stay on message . . . The governor must look like the leader at all times," her chief of staff wrote in one of those newly released e-mails).

It's not that style and substance are separate entities, of course. But politics and media are as much about sending public signals as they are about the details.

The people of New York state may deeply desire a law against flag-burning, but I'd have a hard time arguing with those who say HRC is bolting to the center for '08.

The Tom DeLay indictment is serious business, and the Texan has gotten some crowing rights against Ronnie Earle. But the case will also drag on, increasing the odds that the Republicans will elect a new majority leader.

The stakes could hardly be higher in the Saddam Hussein trial, but it's clear that the imprisoned ex-dictator is playing to an audience beyond the courtroom. And someday someone will explain to me what Ramsey Clark is doing on the defense team.

Rumsfeld on news organizations: "I understand there may be great pressure on them to tell a dramatic story. And while it is easy to use a bombing or terrorist attack to support a belief that Iraq is a failure, that is not the accurate picture. And further, it is not good journalism." Is the secretary saying that journalists are deliberately trying to "support a belief" that Iraq is a failure, as opposed to giving greater emphasis to the daily attacks than he would like?


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