Boo Birds

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 13, 2006 8:06 AM

Did The Washington Post strike out?

Wind up in foul territory?

Boot one in the dirt?

That is the hot issue as the journalistic umpires question yet again the newspaper's commitment to the core principles of truth, accuracy and the American way.

I'm not talking about the front page piece on whether President Bush misrepresented the nature of Iraq's biolabs, which is being assailed by Ed Morrissey, among others. I'm talking about something much more important: the coverage of the Washington Nationals.

More specifically, what happened when Dick Cheney donned a red Nats jacket and walked out to the mound on Monday, and to what extent the crowd expressed its displeasure with the vice president of the United States. Maybe this calls for an investigation!

Editor &  Publisher has conducted an exhaustive investigation and The Post winds up with a goose egg:

"The veteran Associated Press reporter Terence Hunt heard them. Reuters heard them. In fact, virtually every press account of opening day for the Washington Nationals baseball team at RFK Stadium this afternoon mentioned that when Vice President Dick Cheney was introduced to throw out the first pitch he was loudly booed or at the minimum received more jeers than cheers. A video of the event proves it.

"But here's how David Nakumura of the hometown Washington Post described it:

"The first pitch of the Washington Nationals' second season at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium was low and away, bouncing in the dirt before being scooped up by catcher Brian Schneider.

For that, Vice President Cheney received a round of boos from the home crowd this afternoon. But the catcalls didn't last long before the fans cheered for the Nationals, who took the field in their white uniforms with red trim against the New York Mets .

"No one else suggested that it was the quality of the pitch that set off the booing.

"AP: Greeted with loud boos and some cheers, Vice President Dick Cheney threw out the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday at the Washington Nationals' home opener .

"Reuters: The vice president, whose popularity is slumping along with that of President George W. Bush, walked out on the field to cheering and booing from the near-sellout crowd. The boos appeared to be little louder than the cheers.

"The New York Times: (Pedro) Martínez, who proceeded to wave to the crowd, received a slightly warmer reception than Vice President Dick Cheney, who was jeered before and after short-hopping the ceremonial first pitch.

"The White House correspondents' pool report noted that Cheney stepped out onto field dressed in khakis and a Nats bomber jacket to the sound of thunderous boos and catcalls ."

Not only that, but The Post's own Reliable Source columnists say Cheney "drew boisterous boos from the moment he stepped on the field until he jogged off."

Time for an instant replay? Here's the video. I had a hard time hearing how much of the crowd noise was booing, but it's clear that the roar began from the moment Cheney stepped onto the field, and sort of ended when he threw his lame pitch.

I asked David Nakamura about all this, and here's his response:

"When Cheney was announced to the crowd, the booing began. I was there and heard that. When he threw poorly, the boos intensified. I was trying to make the point that he got more boos after the bad throw -- but did not mean to imply that's the only time he was booed. For my quick online story, I mistakenly left out the broader context, assuming people knew Cheney was a controversial figure. After hearing from online readers, I then added more context for my story in [Tuesday's] actual newspaper. But since Cheney's appearance was no longer the lede of my story [Tuesday] -- which dealt with fans angry that the Nats have no team owner yet -- I dealt with his boos only in one paragraph in the newspaper story."

All right, not everyone is focused on baseball. Josh Marshall is alarmed about Iran:

"President Bush's dimwit megalomania seems to have survived the disaster of his Iraq adventure wholly intact.

"Consider this passage [from Sy Hersh's New Yorker piece]. . . .

"A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was 'absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb' if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do 'what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,' and 'that saving Iran is going to be his legacy. '

"Takes your breath away, doesn't it?

"I have to say, I can totally imagine the crackpots and sycophants around the president (many of them, no doubt, 'consultants' and 'contractors') stoking up his grandiosity along these lines. . . .

"Here's the graf that comes after that one.

"One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that 'a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.' He added, 'I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, 'What are they smoking ?''

"This is what I was getting at. If this is an even remotely accurate reflection of what these clowns are thinking . . . well, you can finish the sentence."

But the prospect of a military strike against Iran isn't dismissed by as much of the public as I would have thought, reports the LAT :

"Americans are divided over the prospect of U.S. military action against Iran if the government in Tehran continues to pursue nuclear technology -- and a majority do not trust him to make the 'right decision' on that issue, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

"Asked whether they would support military action if Iran continued to produce material that could be used to develop nuclear weapons, 48% of the poll's respondents, or almost half, said yes; 40% said no."

I wrote yesterday about the number of retired military commanders belatedly questioning the war. Apparently it's becoming big news:

"A recent surge in public criticism of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by retired military leaders is the culmination of months of intense but largely private debate among active duty officers about how best to voice dissent over Bush administration policies, according to officers involved in the discussions," says another L.A. Times story. "A number of officers have been critical of Iraq policy -- mostly anonymously -- since the administration's early days. But the calls for Rumsfeld's resignation are an unusual step for members of the military, who are acutely sensitive to the appearance of challenging civilian leadership of the armed forces."

Slate's Fred Kaplan has more on the insurrection:

"The revolt is a reluctant one, aimed specifically at the personage of Donald Rumsfeld and the way he is conducting the war in Iraq.

"It is startling to hear, in private conversations, how widely and deeply the U.S. officer corps despises this secretary of defense. The joke in some Pentagon circles is that if Rumsfeld were meeting with the service chiefs and commanders and a group of terrorists barged into the room and kidnapped him, not a single general would lift a finger to help him. . . .

"Some of the most respected retired generals are publicly criticizing Rumsfeld and his policies in a manner that's nearly unprecedented in the United States, where civilian control of the military is accepted as a hallowed principle. . . .

"Does President Bush know this is going on? If he does, he would do the nation -- and the Constitution -- a big favor if he launched a different sort of pre-emptive attack and got rid of Rumsfeld now."

Philly blogger Dick Polman captures in a nutshell the political dilemma of the immigration uproar:

"It's no surprise that the Republican Senate failed last week to figure out a way to deal with illegal immigrants. The whole issue is a political nightmare for the governing party. If the Republicans had cracked down too much on the illegals -- as suggested by the House GOP -- then they would have risked alienating the fastest-growing electorate in American politics, one that Karl Rove has been coveting for years. Illegals can't vote, of course, but legal Hispanic voters have already demonstrated, most notably in California, that they view GOP attacks on illegals as a blanket insult on their ethnicity.

"Yet if the Senate Republicans had managed to pass a program that would've paved a road to citizenship, they would have risked infuriating their core conservative followers -- who have been agitating for the GOP to show some guts on border enforcement. In terms of short-term politics, it's probably just as well that the Senate's compromise bill collapsed last Friday, because any plan that looks remotely like 'amnesty' would be an invitation for the GOP conservative base to boycott the 2006 congressional elections. In other words, Republicans risked alienating either the voters they want to have in the future, or the voters they have right now. Hence their paralysis. But the problem now is that, by doing nothing, they risk alienating both groups."

I've heard of staffers babysitting a congressman, but now comes a case of underlings having tobaby-sit the congressman's kids.

Former ABC correspondent Bob Zelnick is stepping down as head of Boston University's journalism department, and Mark Jurkowitz has his statement:

"The new arrangement should give me more time to think, write, put my face in front of cameras and generally to fight liberals wherever I find them."

Do some producers only want guests who will toe a particular line? The latest dispatch from a blogger who's spent time reporting from Iraq catches the eye of Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum :

" Michael Yon reports from the UAE on the facts of life in conservative talk radio:

"Last week, in America, a radio producer for a large syndicated program in the United States called me requesting that I go on the show, a show that has hosted me many times and where I've been referred to as, 'Our man in Iraq.' But when I said Iraq is in a civil war, that same producer slammed down the phone and, in so doing, demonstrated how much he reveres truth. . . . When the receiver slammed into the phone, the producer revealed himself naked; he was not supporting the troops, nor the Iraqis, but the president. . . .

"So whose opinions should we respect on matters Iraq? Smart combat veterans who have graduated from top schools in the United States and who have faced bombs and bullets and bled in Iraq, or a radio producer who has never been there and who cannot control his temper in the face of words? It's time we listened to our combat leaders ."

Liberal bloggers are not huge fans of all Democrats, as Josephine Hearn reports in The Hill

"House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has taken some beatings recently in the liberal blogosphere.

"An online poll at the leading blog Daily Kos put her approval rating at 19 percent. By comparison, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean garnered 84 percent.

"When she posted to the blog last Wednesday, describing her resolution calling for ethics investigations, readers offered excoriating reviews: 'She is out of touch and dragging down the party,' wrote one. 'Pelosi has zero credibility with me,' averred another.

"But even as blog readers were pressing the submit button on their most withering opprobrium, Pelosi was preparing to take her House Democrats a few steps farther into the blogosphere.

"Last week, her office launched three new blog-friendly efforts. It established an RSS feed for the House Democrats, a kind of clearinghouse for distributing press releases, floor speeches and even sound and video to Internet surfers. It started sending out a daily e-mail to Democratic members summarizing the day's prominent blog posts. And Pelosi began making weekly guest posts at Daily Kos.

"Her overtures to the blogs, even ones like Daily Kos where the largely liberal crowd finds the San Francisco representative too accommodating to centrists, exemplify the love-hate relationship politicians have with leading blogs. On the one hand, the blogs offer an eager audience and echo chamber for Democratic messages, and a pool of potential volunteers and campaign contributions.

"But on the other hand, blogs are impossible to control. They carry the potential of commentary turning nasty, as it did with Pelosi last week."

I thought the appeal of blogs was that they were impossible to control. If they were easy to control, they'd be about as interesting as a DNC press release.

Who do readers of Kos and My DD favor in 2008?

Overall (First Choice + Second Choice = Total)

Feingold: 48% + 20% = 68%

Clark: 15% + 22% = 37%

Warner: 12% + 14% = 26%

Edwards: 7% + 16% = 23%

Other: 3% + 10% = 13%

Unsure: 4% + 3% = 7%

Clinton: 2% + 4% = 6%

Richardson: 2% + 4% = 6%

Kerry 1% + 3% = 4%

Biden: 1% + 2% = 3%

Bayh: 1% + 2% = 3%

So Russ has 24 times as much support as Hillary?

Some papers have trouble doing gossip. Hence, this sad announcement, via Romenesko, from NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller:

"Boldface Names, begun five years ago, turned out to be a great adventure for the NYT. Since 2001, in the hands of several very talented reporters, the column proved to be entertaining, daring, and laugh-out-loud funny.

"You know how sometimes White House photographers grow weary of photo ops showing the President in intimate conversation with some lucky citizen, so they back up a few steps and shoot the whole forest of boom mikes and TV cameras? Conventional gossip columns are the photo ops. Boldface Names is that wide-angled shot that shows you the stage managers of the gossip world.

"But even the most entertaining of adventures have a natural end, and so Boldface will cease after a final riff this Friday. The Times is proud of its run, and grateful for its loyal readers. And we are already devising new adventures. By the way, conspiracy theorists will undoubtedly connect this with the bonfire at Page Six. For the record, Joe Sexton suggested, and we agreed, that Boldface had run its course several weeks ago, when the current author of the column, Campbell Robertson, began a romance with the Culture Department."

But if the column was "entertaining, daring and laugh-out-loud funny," why not find someone too continue it?

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