Death Wish

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 1, 2007 11:00 AM

This is really sick.

I know we're living in a polarized time. I know there are people who absolutely detest George Bush and Dick Cheney. I know they like to vent their spleen online, sometimes in vulgar terms, and hey, that's life in a democracy.

But some of the comments posted after a suicide bomber blew himself up at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Force Base, while Cheney was there--killing as many as 23 people--are nothing short of vile.

The comments appeared on the Huffington Post, which, to its credit, took them down. But some were preserved by Michelle Malkin, and I reproduce them here:

"You can't kill pure evil. Like an exorcism you have to drive a stake through it."

"If at first you don't succeed . . . "

"Better luck next time!"

"Dr. Evil escapes again . . . damn."

Says Malkin: "Whatever your partisan leanings, an attack planned on the Vice President of the United States is an attack on America. Some of our fellow Americans, however, can't put their sneering hatred of the White House aside."

Says me: Don't people realize that openly rooting for the death of an American official says way more about them than their intended target?

Arianna Huffington says the right wing is making entirely too much of this:

"Let me be absolutely clear: No one at HuffPost is defending these comments -- they are unacceptable and were treated as such by being removed. They were not made by me, by our editors, or by our bloggers. They were made by anonymous visitors to the site -- visitors that make up a very, very small unrepresentative portion of our readers.

"Trying to balance the freedom and openness of the Internet with the desire to be responsible and avoid these kinds of outrageous comments can sometimes be challenging. But the fact remains: only a fraction of Huffington Post readers comment on news stories, and only a tiny fraction of those responded to the Cheney story in such an offensive manner . . .

"This tactic of digging through open comment threads to find outrageous comments that can then be cited as evidence of 'the angry left' has become a favorite of the swiftboat set."

I would agree that it's absurd to view these assassination fantasies as anything other than the rantings of the fringe, and that they shouldn't be used to tar an entire ideology. All I'm saying is that it's really sad that some loons feel this way, and that the Internet culture, however briefly, gives them a megaphone.

Speaking of VPOTUS, here's what I have to say in today's paper:

The reporters traveling with Vice President Cheney as he flew from Afghanistan to Oman yesterday were granted an interview with someone who would be identified only as a "senior administration official." But the official's identity would not remain a state secret for long.

"Let me just make one editorial comment here," the SAO said about the vice president's talks with Pakistan's leader. "I've seen some press reporting says, 'Cheney went in to beat up on them, threaten them.' That's not the way I work. I don't know who writes that, or maybe somebody gets it from some source who doesn't know what I'm doing, or isn't involved in it. But the idea that I'd go in and threaten someone is an invalid misreading of the way I do business."

The SAO also said that "I was very careful" in choosing words to criticize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Iraq strategy.

The first-person pronoun gave away the game. But it also raised the question: Why did Cheney feel the need to speak on a not-for-attribution basis, and why did the seven journalists on the trip go along?

Lee Anne McBride, Cheney's press secretary, could not, under the ground rules, confirm the obvious. But, she said, "it was important to provide the press and public with briefings on these meetings, and it was determined that a more comprehensive readout could be provided on a background basis."

Administration officials concluded that, for diplomatic reasons, Cheney could not publicly discuss private conversations with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Mark Silva, a Chicago Tribune reporter who made the trip, was among those pressing Cheney's staff for an on-the-record briefing, saying the vice president has been elected twice.

"At the start of our meeting with a senior administration official, in which he advised us that he insisted this talk be on background, we asked him, too, to go on the record," Silva said. Cheney agreed to be identified only while discussing the suicide bombing at Bagram air base in Afghanistan that occurred while he was there.

Silva credited the White House with releasing an accurate transcript despite numerous "I" references. "But it's also a measure of how absurd the entire business of speaking as an SAO is."

Holly Bailey, a Newsweek correspondent, said she was "very surprised at how quickly the SAO laid out the ground rules," adding that "it was done so quickly that we didn't have a lot of chance to object." She said the trip was frustrating because reporters had no more than 20 minutes' access to the vice president on the nine-day trip.

Cheney's backgrounder took place as a federal jury is weighing perjury charges against his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, related to his role in telling reporters about covert CIA operative Valerie Plame without being identified. Libby testified that the vice president directed him to conduct the background discussions with Judith Miller, then a New York Times reporter.

Senior U.S. officials have been briefing reporters without their names attached since Henry A. Kissinger was engaged in Middle East shuttle diplomacy. Sometimes these officials appear in the White House briefing room. President Bush and several of his predecessors have conducted such background sessions with, for example, network anchors and friendly columnists.

Journalists have occasionally objected to the ground rules in these sessions, but for the most part they have become an accepted ritual.

Time magazine blogger Ana Marie Cox called the senior official's Air Force Two transcript "as blatant as birdshot in the face," adding: "The willingness of the press corps to go along with this not-even-trying level of deception is especially embarrassing."

Shades of 2000: The only Oscar winner to come out of the White House is not happy with his media coverage. Actually, not the coverage about him but about his issue, the Tennessean reports:

"'I believe that is one of the principal reasons why political leaders around the world have not yet taken action," Gore said. "There are many reasons, but one of the principal reasons in my view is more than half of the mainstream media have rejected the scientific consensus implicitly -- and I say 'rejected,' perhaps it's the wrong word. They have failed to report that it is the consensus and instead have chosen . . . balance as bias.

"I don't think that any of the editors or reporters responsible for one of these stories saying, 'It may be real, it may not be real,' is unethical. But I think they made the wrong choice, and I think the consequences are severe.

"I think if it is important to look at the pressures that made it more likely than not that mainstream journalists in the United States would convey a wholly inaccurate conclusion about the most important moral, ethical, spiritual and political issue humankind has ever faced."

And his contribution to greater journalistic understanding after delivering this speech?

"Gore would not answer any questions from the media after the event."

The Hillary-and-Obama-obsessed press has done little on Bill Richardson's record in New Mexico--I did notice a nice NYT piece last week--but the Weekly Standard finds something to like, in this piece by Jennifer Rubin:

"The former U.N. ambassador and secretary of energy stands out as the only Democratic presidential candidate who has successfully enacted tax cuts and other pro-growth economic policies. When asked about the importance of tax cuts, Richardson says: 'Cutting taxes and creating tax credits can be essential to creating jobs and a strong economy.' One of his first measures after he was elected governor in 2002 was to cut New Mexico's top income tax rate from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent over five years."

Responding to a critical letter on Maureen Dowd after her David Geffen column, Andrew Sullivan says:

"I've had my ups and downs with MoDo, but this must be said, I think. She was dead right about the Clintons, and was dead right about Bush and Cheney - long before I was. In the heat of the post-9/11 crisis, I couldn't forgive her for ridiculing the president in wartime. But she was much more perceptive than me. She is no shill for either side. She can grate, and she barely manages any coherent political philosophy. But as an observer of human nature and its centrality in politics, she's remarkably acute."

Has the military solved its PR problem at Walter Reed? The latest, from Army Times:

"Soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Medical Hold Unit say they have been told they will wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and have their rooms ready for inspection at 7 a.m., and that they must not speak to the media.

" 'Some soldiers believe this is a form of punishment for the trouble soldiers caused by talking to the media,' one Medical Hold Unit soldier said, speaking on the condition of anonymity . . .

"The Pentagon also clamped down on media coverage of any and all Defense Department medical facilities, to include suspending planned projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, saying in an e-mail to spokespeople: 'It will be in most cases not appropriate to engage the media while this review takes place,' referring to an investigation of the problems at Walter Reed."

At Talking Points, Greg Sargent has been taking on a longtime Lieberman adviser:

"Dan Gerstein has responded to my post -- he says there's no problem at all with the fact that The Politico published a piece by him attacking some of Joe Lieberman's high-profile foes at the same time that he was collecting money from Lieberman:

"[ W]hether I am a paid, unpaid, or former advisor to Lieberman was not relevant to my column. I was not writing in any Lieberman capacity or on his behalf -- I was expressing my own opinions. And the content of the column was not about Lieberman -- it barely mentioned him -- but about the blindness and irresponsibility of many liberal bloggers. (I will leave it to readers to decide whether Sargent's process point undercut my arguments or unwittingly reinforced them.)

"The question that I keep coming back to is what would have been gained by highlighting my current status as a paid adviser in this particular context. The reason for disclosing that kind of information is to avoid hiding conflicts of interest or presenting interested opinions as independent ones. As I noted above, that was not at issue here -- both the column itself and the tagline at the bottom made clear my Lieberman affiliation. So what would have been the point?"

The point is that liberal bloggers have been kicking the stuffing out of Lieberman, and readers ought to know who you're working for if you're kicking back.

TPM Muckraker finds new evidence of politically motivated U.S. attorney firings:

"As both The New York Times and The Washington Post have reported, a number of the federal prosecutors who were fired in December had initially decided to go quietly... until, that is, the Justice Department declared publicly that they had been fired for performance issues. They didn't like that one bit.

"One of those angry prosecutors, apparently, is David Iglesias, the U.S. Attorney for New Mexico. According to Joe Monohan, a political consultant and blogger, Iglesias wrote in an email to a friend that his firing was a "political fragging." From the email, excerpted on Monohan's blog:

"' This is a political fragging, pure and simple. I'm OK with being asked to move on for political reasons, I'm NOT OK with the Department of Justice wrongfully testifying under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee that I had performance issues...'"

Is the NYT carrying all the news that's fit to print? Nation Editor Katrina van den Heuvel notes that the paper "reports that it was 'asked to withhold any mention of [Cheney's] trip until he had left Pakistan.' What conceivable national security purpose was served by swearing the press pool to secrecy about this trip? And doesn't accepting these ground rules play into the hands of a hyper-secretive Vice-President whose signature contribution to our security has been misleading us into a disastrous war and carpet bombing our constitutional system? The secrecy does expose a national security problem: the 'war' on terror is a rank failure and Pakistan is not the stable country that White House talking points try to sell us."

I think the bombing underscored why that's not an unreasonable request.

"Here's another instance of White House pressure. A front page article in Monday's New York Times --providing conditional evidence of Iranian weapons in Iraq--acknowledges that the paper acceded to Bush Administration requests that it withhold specific details about the weapons. As the Times reported: 'In the course of the detailed briefing on the Hilla discovery, Maj. Marty Weber, an explosives expert, said that most of the E.F.P.s in Iraq use C-4 plastic explosive manufactured in Iran. At the request of the Bush administration, The Times is withholding some specific details about the weapons to protect intelligence sources and methods.'

"Hours after the story appeared, Congressman Dennis Kucinich issued a statement -- 'The New York Times Plays into Bush Administration's Hand.' 'The White House,' Kucinich says, 'is up to its old scams again: Providing information by anonymous sources ..... This time, however, they added another trick to their bag: providing the information and prohibiting the Times from publishing it.....The New York Times should not print unsourced, unattributed assertions and then voluntarily hide the details from the American public...'"

But shouldn't news organizations at least weigh the question of protecting intelligene sources and methods? Would Van den Heuvel and Kucinich have had the same reaction to such a story published during the Clinton administration?

Roger Simon blows the whistle on the great debate scam:

"Last week, I traveled from Washington, D.C., to Carson City, Nev., a distance of more than 2,600 miles, to watch a political debate on TV.

"I could have watched the debate live in Washington. There are TV sets in Washington -- I own one -- but watching the debate here would not have been the same.

"It would not have been the same as sitting in a gymnasium at a folding table watching the debate with 100 other reporters on a dim TV with bad color."

Among the reasons why reporters absolutely, positively must attend:

"If you don't go to the debate, you can't put a dateline on your story indicating you have traveled thousands of miles. And if you don't have a dateline, people will know you watched the debate on a TV at home or work instead of on a TV at the debate site. And that would be bad."

Oops. The Post just put out a memo about cracking down on story lengths, so I've got to end it h---

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