By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2007 7:46 AM
Charlie Gibson, for one, doesn't think much of these early debates.
How do I know? I was in New York yesterday, and I asked him. He didn't report on the Republican faceoff last night, but Brian Williams, Katie Couric and just about everyone else did. You can check out my interview with the "World News" anchor here.
Gibson is right that the debates are absurdly early, but they are, undeniably in my view, making news, and shaping initial impressions -- even if it's just among the politically attuned -- of the candidates.
The biggest moment by far, even bigger than McCain essentially calling Mitt a flip-flopper, was Rudy smacking down Ron Paul.
The good news: Giuliani went on the offensive on his signature issue, 9/11, and got everyone buzzing.
The bad news: He was beating up a guy no one had ever heard of.
In fact, Congressman Paul may get more of a bump out of this than America's mayor. The exchange must have lifted him to at least 1 percent name recognition.
In our soundbite-driven, YouTube world, what may matter most is that Giuliani seized the moment with a Reaganesque "I paid for this microphone, Mr. Breen!" What also matters is that he was cogent on the abortion question, even though many GOP primary voters are certain to disagree with him.
But who knows, maybe Charlie's right and it's too early to matter.
"Team Rudy should send a hundred roses to Ron Paul -- yellow roses, of course -- after the congressman essentially tossed the debate to Giuliani," says Captain Ed. "Rudy had a pretty good night going anyway, but when Paul as much as said that the terrorists had a point in killing 3,000 Americans, Rudy let fly with the righteous indignation that an entire nation was busily hurling at their television screens . . .
"The Buffoon Of The Year award goes to Ron Paul. His contention that America deserved the 9/11 attack should end his political career. Hopefully it will convince the next forum to exclude him from the proceedings."
Marty Kaplan at HuffPost wasn't exactly wowed:
"Giuliani's outrage at Ron Paul is the kind of Republican indignation usually reserved for straw men, for caricatures of the Democratic view that US national security interests are best served not just by a strong military deterrent, but also through multilateralism, political engagement, public diplomacy, a commitment to human rights and economic development, and the rest of what used to be known, before the sainted Gipper, as the bipartisan consensus on American foreign policy. What Giuliani did, in effect, was to borrow Falwell's attack on liberals and aim it at Ron Paul."
Coming to Paul's defense, however, is Andrew Sullivan:
"The conservative pundits are now referring to Ron Paul as a 'crackpot.' Hannity predictably savaged him. The Hewitt site has an image of a man in a tin-foil hat; Dean Barnett and Hugh Hewitt both call for removing Paul from the debates, when he has been the best thing about them so far. Bill Benett wants him out. I'm getting the usual ridicule for taking him seriously from the usual GOP apparatchiks. They're scared, aren't they?
"The Internet polls show real support for him. Fox News' own internet poll placed him a close second, with 25 percent of the votes from Fox News viewers. We have a real phenomenon here - because someone has to stand up for what conservatism once stood for. Whether you agree with him or not ( and I know few outside doctrinaire libertarians who agree with everything he says), he has already elevated the debates by injecting into them a legitimate, if now suppressed, strain of conservatism that is actually deeper in this country than the neoconservative aggression that now captures the party elite and has trapped the U.S. in the Iraq nightmare.
"Tuesday night, Fox News tried to destroy him. Today the right-wing blogs will. My view is that the Beltway has this wrong again."
New York Sun columnist Ryan Sager is not exactly a Paul fan:
"For all those getting really excited about anti-war, libertarian Republican Ron Paul, it's worth noting that he's pretty racist and also an anti-Semite.
"The Houston Chronicle story linked above contains quotes from a newsletter Mr. Paul put out in the 1980s and 1990s. It includes quotes referring to blacks as crime-prone and 'fleet-footed.'
"Mr. Paul also wrote that 'By far the most powerful lobby in Washington of the bad sort is the Israeli government' and that the goal of the Zionist movement is to stifle criticism."
That's mild copared to this posting by Eric Dondero, who declares his candidacy against Paul:
"I am making this announcement on my favorite website RedState.com. Many of you here have urged me to take this course. And now, after last night's GOP Presidential debate, I've decided to move ahead with my plans.
"I have spent the early morning scanning the major political blogs, and news sites. It's unanimous. Ron Paul got slammed by Rudy Giuliani Tuesday night for suggesting that we - the United States of America - are to blame for the attacks on 9/11. He even had the audacity to cite Osama bin Laden.
"While everyone is hailing this as a 'Great moment' for Rudy Giuliani, I think just as importantly, it was a horrible moment for Ron Paul. My former boss looked like a complete nutcase. He looked frail. His hands shaked. He showed his age. He was completely unprepared for Giuliani's romping response.
"Is this the man that should be representing South Texas Congressional District 14 in the US Congress? I think not. I am calling on Ron Paul to resign his seat, sooner rather than later."
Roger Simon provides a reality check:
"Debates are about theater, and the Fox News debate in Columbia, S.C. was certainly theatrical, even including one show-stopping moment when Rudy Giuliani, who sits atop all national polls for the Republican nomination, sharply upbraided Ron Paul, who sits so far at the bottom his support is not really measurable.
"Paul, a 10-term congressman from Texas, is a political exotic, a Libertarian who believes in a form of 18th century isolationism for America. In terms of the presidency, nobody cares what Ron Paul says, perhaps not even Ron Paul . . .The Republican pack doesn't really have a second tier. It has a top tier -- Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney -- and then you fall off a cliff."
Ana Marie Cox briefly reverts to Wonkette:
"Why do I have the feeling that all those pundits who swooned over Giuliani's ferret moment Tuesday night (with Ron Paul, fittingly, in the role of the ferret) will wake up sometime this afternoon and hurriedly search for their high heels and party dress, hoping to slink unnoticed past the RA's room before someone catches them? Sure, it was an immensely satisfying smackdown, but it was largely substance-free, fueled by vitriol and personality. And you're gonna go home with that guy? If that's the standard that the Republicans want to hold their leader too, dude, the terrorists have won."
McJoan at Daily Kos saw a "frightening display" at the debate:
"Bad enough that Giuliani and Tancredo are such enthusiastic proponents of torture, but the really frightening part was the bloodlust in the audience, who went wild after these statements. In contrast, the one candidate who could speak with true authority on the issue, John McCain, was met with stony silence when he expressed his opposition to torture."
While most of the punditry focuses on how GOP voters will swallow Rudy's pro-choice stance, at American Prospect, Ann Friedman is appalled by a Planned Parenthood statement cheering him on:
" Clearly Giuliani is staking his campaign on his deep, unwavering commitment to women's health... He repeats that he's personally opposed to abortion, that he would support further restrictions, that he would appoint an anti-choice Supreme Court justice, and that overturning Roe would 'be OK.'
"Apparently $900 in donations buys a lifetime endorsement from Planned Parenthood, no matter how weak your position on choice."
On the money front: "GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani brought in nearly $16.8 million from speaking fees, consulting, legal work, book royalties and other employment last year, according to his financial disclosure report made public Wednesday.
"Democratic candidate John Edwards earned nearly $1.3 million last year, according to his report. That included a salary of $479,512 as an adviser to a New York-based hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group. Meanwhile, Democratic rival Barack Obama earned more than $570,000 in book royalties on top of his Senate salary."
So being a hedge fund "adviser" pays more than being president.
So how did Chris Wallace, Wendell Goler and Brit Hume do?
"One winner: Fox News itself," says David Frum. "The probing and incisive questions - and the willingness to follow up loose ends - meant that the 1-minute limit did not feel unduly constrained. Even more impressive: the questioners' solid grip on their egos. No weird 'look at me' questions. Always a keen awareness that the candidates are the people the audience has tuned in to see.
"Makes me think the Democrats did themselves an injury by denying themselves access not only to Fox's audience but to its - yes - fair & balanced questioners."
Betsy's Page is on the same page:
"Fox News showed MSNBC and Politico how to do a real debate. There weren't those screwy questions from Chris Matthews that just set your teeth on edge. This is why it's way too early to hold these debates. This is the period that I refer to in class as the 'Spiral of political death.' A candidate isn't well known and appears low in the polls. So they don't get media attention or campaign donations. Which means that they'll be even lower in the polls. Rinse and repeat. Some of these candidates who got into the race either to push a certain message like Tom Tancredo or Ron Paul have had their chance and they're not getting traction. Others just listened to the voices in their heads and their aides who tell them that they have what it takes to be president. But no one else seems to have heard those voices. For example, how many people even remembered that Jim Gilmore was in this race? . . .
"It's time to narrow down this field. Huckabee is also one of these wannabes for whom there is no logic as to why they should be in this race. But he deserves to stay in just for his line that we had a Congress that spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop. Did Rudy Giuliani pay off Ron Paul to set him up with that great opportunity to crack down on Paul's ideas that we brought 9/11 on ourselves by being over in Saudia Arabia? . . . John McCain has to come up with some new lines. Anyone who has followed politics at all (and face it, who else would be watching a debate in May, 2007) has heard his drunken soldier line. It just made him seem old to repeat the same jokes he's been making for years."
But the aforementioned Marty Kaplan says: "You didn't have to watch the Fox debate all the way to Rudy's Quayle moment to know something odd was afoot. Right at the beginning, as each candidate was introduced, a graphic appeared with the following data: Age. Religion. Family. Career. I suppose I shouldn't have found it breathtaking that Religion was the second identifying feature -- not from the network where Bill O'Reilly's synonym for Democrats, 'secular progressives,' is just another word for Satanists."
Is that the worst example he could find?
The Nation's John Nichols soured on McCain hours before the debate:
"Arizona Senator John McCain got things rolling with a statement released just minutes after the announcement that the man who for many years was the face of evangelical politics in America had died from an apparent heart attack at age 73.
" 'I join the students, faculty, and staff of Liberty University and Americans of all faiths in mourning the loss of Reverend Jerry Falwell,' said McCain. 'Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country.'
"Distinguished accomplishment? Would that be when Falwell regularly featured segregationists Lester Maddox and George Wallace on his Old Time Gospel Hour television program in the 1960s? When he condemned the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and referred to the civil rights movement as 'the civil wrongs movement'? When he opposed sanctions against South Africa's apartheid regime in the 1980s? When he produced an infomercial in the 1990s accusing President Clinton of orchestrating murders of journalists and political critics, even though he would eventually admit that 'I do not know the accuracy of the claims'? When he attacked Teletubbies character Tinky Winky as a gay recruitment tool? When he asserted that the Antichrist 'must be, of necessity, a Jewish male'?"
Yeah, he lost me with that Teletubbies thing.
Gonzo-gate continues to build, with this Washington Post report that the AG's team considered firing 26 U.S. attorneys. After all this time, they still haven't gotten out the full story?
Finally, you've all been reading reports and studies unveiled for slow-news Mondays for years. Slate's Jack Shafer says the Fourth Estate is being badly used:
"Newspaper journalists hate working weekends, so they keep a vigil all week for a special kind of crap that they can write up on Friday and bank for publication on Monday. The crap must be as nonperishable as a MoonPie, preferably linked to a 'study' or 'report' that won't be 'released' until Monday but one the press can get a sneak peek of by Friday.
"Serving a steaming heap of Monday crap (May 14) are many of the nation's top dailies. They report that for the first time since man dropped from the trees, scampered across the savannah, and started shopping for stuff online, clothing sales on the Web have eclipsed those of computer hardware and software. Aren't you glad you know?
"The source of this finding is a study prepared by Forrester Research at the behest of Shop.org--the Web wing of the National Retail Federation--and scheduled for release Monday. Shop.org's flacks obviously distributed a preview of the report to the press corps, otherwise newspapers couldn't have dressed up this industry handout as genuine news in Monday's editions. Papers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the St. Petersburg Times printed original pieces on the topic by staff reporters, and at least a dozen other publications ran the Associated Press or Reuters version of the story.
"How significant a business story was Shop.org's report? The Wall Street Journal ignored it."
He's right, of course, except that in this case, I found the study kind of interesting. Maybe that's because I'm so tired of going to stores and not finding what I want or in my size that I've vowed (as of this week) to do all future clothes shopping online. I suspect I'm not alone, especially in the guy world.