King-Sized Mistake

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 9, 2006 11:09 AM

Much of the MSM missed the boat.

Too many wrote predictable leads about the Coretta Scott King funeral, all but ignoring, or at least burying, the Bush-bashing that was going on.

Whether you think it was appropriate or galling for Jimmy Carter and Rev. Joseph Lowery to use a funeral to take partisan shots at a president who was sitting behind them, this was news.

Sometimes I think reporters come to a set-piece event like this with the lead in their heads and even if the place is set on fire, they don't deviate from their path.

Conservative bloggers and cable talkers are furious about what went down at the funeral, as I mentioned yesterday.

Here are a few of the print leads, starting with the AP :

"When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson did not attend his funeral, choosing instead to meet with his cabinet about the Vietnam War. But at services yesterday for Coretta Scott King, four U.S. presidents took turns saluting "the first lady of the civil rights movement" for her efforts over 40 years to realize her husband's dream of racial equality."

The Washington Post

"Coretta Scott King was bid a final farewell Tuesday in a stirring church service that was equal parts funeral, family reunion, and national commemoration of the woman who embodied the soul and ideals of the modern civil rights movement."

The New York Times did mention in its second graf "some overt political gibes about the war in Iraq and the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina."

The Chicago Tribune had a good third graf on the Bush criticism after this lead: "Coretta Scott King, who earned the title 'first lady of the civil rights movement' for her tireless efforts to carry on the work of her slain husband, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., was given her final honor Tuesday with a funeral that was as much about politics as tributes."

But the Los Angeles Times really nailed it: "A day of eulogizing Coretta Scott King turned into a rare, in-person rebuke of President Bush, with a succession of civil rights and political leaders assailing White House policies as evidence that the dream of social and racial equality pursued by King and her slain husband was far from reality."

Now for some blogger reaction, starting with Pompous Windbag (how do you insult a guy with that moniker?):

"It is disgusting to listen to these two ...  take shots at Pres. Bush at Coretta Scott King's funeral. Rev. Joe Lowery railing against the war in Iraq and making remarks about wmd's was idiotic and Pres. Jimmy Carter popping off about secret government wiretaps is just as silly. Gentlemen . . . you are at a funeral. You are there to honor the deceased. Coretta Scott King, I am sure, would be embarrassed to have you saying these things. I am no Bush apologist, mind you. He has botched the war in Iraq, turns a blind eye to our southern border and spends money like a drunken sailor.

"You should respect the office of the President, respect the fact he was at the funeral and leave it at that."

Radio talk show host Neal Boortz isn't leaving it at that:

"This repugnant behavior was to be expected out of Joseph Lowery. He chose the occasion of the funeral of the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. to announce that we found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Never mind that Lowery is wrong. He's often wrong. For Lowery, the race baiting and liberal dogma always comes before fact and logic. He didn't measure up as President of King's SCLC, and he didn't measure up to the task of being a gentleman and honoring Coretta Scott King.

"Then there was Jimmy Carter. Some people refer to Carter as "America's best ex-president." Well, if you want to consider his empowerment of people like Kim Jong Ill and Hugo Chavez as good for America, then you may have a point. If measuring the worth of a former president consists of measuring his affection for the world's dictators, then Carter is indeed one of the best. . . . Carter brought up the fact that the FBI wiretapped Martin Luther King. He didn't mention that this happened under Democratic administrations...

"President Bush knew that this would happen when he went to the funeral. He knew that Democrats and liberals would use an overwhelmingly friendly audience to take their shots. He showed great dignity in sitting there and taking it all in stride. Bush stood tall, Lowery and Carter stooped low."

Captain Ed says any estrangement between the prez and African-American leaders isn't Bush's fault:

"In 2000, when Bush ran for president, he made a point to speak at an NAACP meeting in order to 'reach out' to the leadership. He was rewarded for his effort by an NAACP ad campaign that attempted to pin the James Byrd lynching on Bush, who had resisted hate-crime legislation in Texas. The despicable ads never mentioned that Texas had captured, tried, and convicted the men responsible and sentenced them to death -- underscoring Bush's point about the superfluousness of hate-crime laws. The NAACP just wanted to tar Bush with the lynching to smear him as a closet bigot.

"After that ad came out, Bush garnered 9% of the African-American vote, but won office anyway. The NAACP then spent the next five years whining about Bush refusing to visit them. Why should he? They proved to have no appreciation for his earlier appearance, his first attempt to 'reach out', and they effectively marginalized themselves with an insulting, degrading, and unfair smear campaign. Bush decided to 'reach out' in other directions, bypassing old-line organizations like the NAACP and leaders like Jesse Jackson and instead appeal directly to the communities themselves, through the churches and other organizations. . . .

"Bush went to King's funeral because of the stature of her life and the work she accomplished during it. Again, he 'reached out' -- and what happened? The political leaders on the left turned the funeral into an embarrassing recapitulation of the Wellstone funeral, using the corpse of King as a soapbox to harangue a President who had simply come to pay his respects. Instead of focusing on a moment of unity, when people from all walks of life and political persuasions could meet and agree that Coretta Scott King had made a positive difference for America, they turned it into a partisan sniping show, with the ever-bitter Jimmy Carter making himself the center of attention, as always."

But folks on the left are pushing back, such as Bloodless Coup :

"If you are interested in a vapid and insulting Republican response - which ran along the lines of 'oh those mean, evil, Democrats are politicizing a great woman's funeral' (to which one might note - uh, she was a political activist who opposed pretty much everything the president stands for and was the subject of a host of big-government abuses including wiretaps you dumbasses . . . so, what? people aren't supposed to honor her work and her interests at her funeral?)"

SusanG at Kos is fightin' mad:

"Not only do these hypocritical conservatives want to step in and tell me and my family that I can be kept alive for years against my wishes, a petri dish harboring their precious 'culture of life,' now they want to control the 'message' at my funeral. Well ... I've got news for them. It's time they shut their yaps, this GOP party of control freaks extraordinaire.

"Not that I plan on departing anytime soon, but the hyped-up, hand-wringing caterwauling about the 'politicizing' of Coretta Scott King's funeral makes me inclined to officially endorse any political use that can be made of my death. Just to [tick] them off, you know."

The liberal group Think Progress is trumpeting an e-mail from Jack Abramoff, sent to Washingtonian editor Kim Eisler, who says the convicted lobbyist told him he's met Bush almost a dozen times and talked about details of Abramoff's family:


John Dickerson reveals his tangential involvement in the Plame leak when he was at Time (in a Slate piece titled "Hey Pat, Where's My Subpoena"):

On a trip to Africa, a "senior administration official spoke to me on background about Wilson and the president's amazing decision to blame the CIA. Other reporters wandered in and out of the conversation, but there were stretches where it was just the two of us (my tedious newsmagazine questions always had a tendency to drive other deadline-oriented reporters away). The official walked me through all the many problems with Wilson's report: His work was sloppy, contradictory, and hadn't been sanctioned by Tenet or any senior person. Some low-level person at the CIA was responsible for the mission. I was told I should go ask the CIA who sent Wilson. . . .

"An hour later, as Bush spoke at an AIDS treatment center, I chatted with a different senior administration official, also on background. We talked about many different aspects of the story--the fight with the CIA, the political implications for the president, and the administration's shoddy damage control. This official also pointed out a few times that Wilson had been sent by a low-level CIA employee and encouraged me to follow that angle. I thought I got the point: He'd been sent by someone around the rank of deputy assistant undersecretary or janitor."

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake questions why we're hearing this now: "It grows ever more apparent that Time Magazine's hands are exceptionally dirty here, joining NBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post in the Plame Hall of Shame."

On the cartoon front, some people have given up their jobs, reports the New York Observer :

"The editorial staff of the alternative weekly New York Press walked out Wednesday, en masse, after the paper's publishers backed down from printing the Danish cartoons that have become the center of a global free-speech fight.

"Editor-in-Chief Harry Siegel emails, on behalf of the editorial staff:

"New York Press, like so many other publications, has suborned its own professed principles. For all the talk of freedom of speech, only the New York Sun locally and two other papers nationally have mustered the minimal courage needed to print simple and not especially offensive editorial cartoons that have been used as a pretext for great and greatly menacing violence directed against journalists, cartoonists, humanitarian aid workers, diplomats and others who represent the basic values and obligations of Western civilization. Having been ordered at the 11th hour to pull the now-infamous Danish cartoons from an issue dedicated to them, the editorial group--consisting of myself, managing editor Tim Marchman, arts editor Jonathan Leaf and one-man city hall bureau Azi Paybarah, chose instead to resign our positions.

"We have no desire to be free speech martyrs, but it would have been nakedly hypocritical to avoid the same cartoons we'd criticized others for not running, cartoons that however absurdly have inspired arson, kidnapping and murder and forced cartoonists in at least two continents to go into hiding."

Shouldn't people who do the following be boiled in oil?

"It was not an announcement McDonald's Corp. wanted to make or fast food fans wanted to hear: French fries from the Golden Arches are actually less healthy than originally thought," says the Chicago Tribune . "Correcting a labeling error, the hamburger giant acknowledged Wednesday that the trans fat content of its large fries is one-third higher than previously stated - containing 8 grams of the heart-dangerous fat instead of the 6 grams listed on brochures and McDonald's Web site."

TV guests write letters of complaint all the time, but this one to Romenesko from Chicago Tribune Managing Editor James O'Shea , about his appearance on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show, is extraordinary:

"Who wants to deal with someone whose backbone is as flimsy as his bow tie.

"Your personal and derogatory comment about me after my taped appearance on your show to discuss why the Chicago Tribune decided not to publish cartoons offensive to Muslims was cowardly. . . .

"It is one thing to disagree with me about the decisions we make in what we run and don't run in the Chicago Tribune. You even had the gall to say 'I respectfully disagree but I appreciate your coming on (to the show) to explain it.' That was when I was being taped, or as close as you could come to looking me in the eye.

"After the tape ran on your live show later and I (and the hundreds of millions of other Americans who don't watch Tucker) were otherwise occupied, you referred to my newspaper as 'cowardly' and to me personally as a 'corporate worm.' You didn't even have the guts to say that to me on tape."

Ouch. There's more.

Laura Ingraham is blogging (and doing her radio show) from Iraq. She's impressed with the troops.

Nora Ephron says that "Hardball" goes softball with one particular guest:

"What is to be done about grown men and John McCain? If this question is not at the top of your list of puzzles, it's only because you were busy doing something worthwhile at five o'clock Tuesday. I on the other hand, was watching Hardball.

"And there was Senator John McCain.

"And more to the point, there was Chris Matthews.

"He was panting like a collie. He was grinning like a fool. He had a case of the Russerts that was practically terminal. He was talking to McCain about McCain's letter to Senator Obama, and they were having the most wonderful time, the two of them, just smirking and laughing and joking and chortling, and then Matthews told McCain what a 'brilliantly angry' letter it was and McCain smirked and laughed and joked and chortled some more.

"Then they went on to discuss Hillary, the NSA and the Coretta Scott King funeral, and at the end of their ten-minute interview, Chris Matthews was practically hyperventilating. . . .

"My point is that Matthews is a perfect example -- although obviously exaggerated -- of what happens to men in the presence of Senator McCain. They lose their minds. They suck up. They turn absolutely giddy. They ask questions they don't care about the answers to. It's Valentine's Day."

You don't think Chris is sending Johnny chocolates, do you?

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