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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 5, 2007 7:24 AM

Rudy Giuliani, who is now the Republican presidential front-runner (according to absurdly early polls), has a problem. And it's not just that he may be too liberal on social issues for GOP primary voters.

The former mayor's earliest adversary is the New York press corps, and its depiction of what has come to be dubbed the 9/10 Rudy.

Every White House contender must deal with a home-state media contingent that knows his or her flaws and foibles. But Giuliani came to power in the nation's biggest media echo chamber, where hordes of journalists remember his personal and political difficulties before the Sept. 11 attacks gave him a heroic aura.

"Anyone who lived here at the time remembers the 9/10 Rudy: strong on crime and the economy, yes, but arrogant, bullying, and terrible on race and civil rights. . . . The rest of America sees a far different Rudy," says a New York Magazine cover story.

In Newsweek, columnist Jonathan Alter says: "His ridiculously thin skin and mile-wide mean streak were not allegations made by whiners and political opponents. They were traits widely known to his supporters."

Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg writes: "Giuliani was a frustrated and not very popular mayor on Sept. 10, 2001. Today, most New Yorkers do see him as a hero, but also as a self-sabotaging, thin-skinned bully. To put it more bluntly, we know he's a bit of a dictator."

Tony Carbonetti, a senior political adviser to Giuliani, says some New York journalists have been "writing . . . forever" that the ex-mayor has no national future and are trying "to make sure it comes true. Sometimes people you did battle with for eight years want to go out and make names for themselves."

But their arguments are a "farce," says Carbonetti: "What was wrong with the 9/10 Rudy? The New York success story all took place before September 11th."

Such media broadsides are nothing new. When Bill Clinton ran in 1992, the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat had already branded him "Slick Willie," and the managing editor called him a "dirty rotten scoundrel." In 2000, John McCain's feud with the Arizona Republic -- which questioned whether his "volcanic" temper rendered him unfit to be president -- led the candidate to ban the paper's reporter from his bus. In 2004, when the Boston Globe reported that John Kerry had Jewish grandparents and suggested he may have falsely implied that he was of Irish ancestry, then-campaign manager Jim Jordan called the paper's coverage "distorted, insignificant, irrelevant and vindictive."

When a presidential candidate surges in the polls, reporters generally parachute into places such as Little Rock, Austin or Boston to dig into his record. But in Giuliani's case, journalists at the top news organizations simply have to search their memories.

"I can't write a story about Mitt Romney's term without doing a lot of research," Weisberg says in an interview. "But the Giuliani story was very top of mind for me. The argument was already in my head."

A Newsweek cover story out today says Giuliani -- who once appeared in fishnet stockings with the Rockettes and dressed up for a press dinner as Marilyn Monroe -- may have a tough time selling himself to conservatives.

Some of the media critics, like Weisberg, are liberal columnists. National Review Editor Rich Lowry, another New Yorker, says commentators on the right have more than offset the criticism. "Most of the conservatives who are enthusiastic about Giuliani live east of the Hudson River, and they love what he did in the city because they saw it up close," he says. "It's accounted for a lot of his conservative buzz."

The Big Apple critics generally credit Giuliani with cracking down on crime and rallying the city after 9/11. But they cite plenty of unflattering incidents, from Giuliani's public war against his second wife, Donna Hanover, during their divorce to his close relationship with his former top cop, Bernard Kerik, who was eventually convicted of taking $165,000 in gifts from a company seeking city business.

The journalistic detractors also say Giuliani drove out an earlier police commissioner, William Bratton, after he was hailed as a crimebuster on the cover of Time. Giuliani even went to court to stop New York Magazine from touting itself in bus ads as "possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for."

There is a sense of disbelief among some writers and columnists that their Rudy -- a man of great strengths and equally great flaws -- could become president. The New York Magazine headline reads: "Him?"

Surprise Trip

After a secret trip that was weeks in the making, Brian Williams has become the first broadcast network anchor to visit Iraq since Bob Woodruff was wounded there 13 months ago.

"This is something he wanted to do," NBC News President Steve Capus said yesterday. "He felt very strongly that he wanted to go." While he is apprehensive about the trip, Capus said, he takes comfort from the fact that Williams is "not a cowboy."

Apple of Their Eye

A new video on Apple's Web site featuresinterviews with top executives of washingtonpost.com, who talk about their work -- and their fondness for Macs.

"We've been able to do laptop editing in the field with Apple products," says Tom Kennedy. "Our team has been using Apple for a long time. . . . It's just second nature," says Rob Curley.

The video, produced by an Apple team as part of a series of corporate profiles, sounds very much like a product endorsement for a company that is covered by The Washington Post. But Jim Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com, says that was not the intent. He says he agreed to the Apple video as a way of touting The Post's Web site, and that the Apple team chose to highlight brief comments about Apple products that his staffers made during long interviews. Brady calls the video "out of whack" but did not say he regrets doing the interviews.

Bloody Metaphor

John Harris, editor-in-chief of Politico.com, has admitted authoring the latest Republican talking point. Quite inadvertently, of course.

While editing a story on Democratic strategy for Iraq, he junked the lead as "too bland" and wrote a "snappier" one: "Top House Democrats, working in concert with anti-war groups, have decided against using congressional power to force a quick end to U.S. involvement in Iraq, and instead will pursue a slow-bleed strategy designed to gradually limit the administration's options."

Republicans, and several news outlets, seized on Harris's "slow-bleed" phrase, using it to brand a plan by Democratic Rep. John Murtha to place restrictions on President Bush's ability to send additional troops to Iraq.

Naked Truth

Talk about not protecting your sources! Women's Wear Daily reports: "Jane editor in chief Brandon Holley said the magazine has apologized to 53 young women who volunteered to be in an anonymous photo shoot of their breasts for inadvertently exposing their identities in an e-mail."

All right, let's get right to Ann Coulter's F-bomb. Calling John Edwards a "faggot" at a conservative conference--is that supposed to be funny?

What's really bothersome about Coulter's latest slur is not just the fact that she made it. After all, what else have we come to expect from this lawyer turned bomb thrower? This is a woman who, in order to sell copies of her last book, said that the 9/11 widows were enjoying their husbands' deaths because of all the attention they had received. The media world briefly went crazy, which is exactly what she wanted, because it brings more attention to her.

No, what I find hard to fathom is how the media initially ignored her F-word crack. Here is the scorecard for the first 24 hours: No mention on the nightly newscasts. No mention in the New York Times. No mention on the AP. No mention in the Washington Post news story, and one mention (without the offensive word) in a Dana Milbank column. Only the Los Angeles Times made an issue out of the slur and printed it.

What explains this? A collective shrug that, well, you know, it's Coulter, there she goes again, what do you expect? And it's that attitude that lets her off the hook. For her to do this at the CPAC conference, right after she'd been mentioned by Mitt Romney, shows that she'll stick her finger in the public's eye anytime, anyplace. Probably figures it will help her sell more copies of her next book.

It was only after Democrats and bloggers raised an uproar--and Republican candidates were forced to chide Coulter--that the New York Times carried a story yesterday:

"Ms. Coulter, asked for a reaction to the Republican criticism, said in an e-mail message: 'C'mon, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean.'"

Edwards has the video up on his site: "Friday afternoon, Republican mouthpiece Ann Coulter brought hate-speech politics to a new low." He says he wants to raise $100,000 in "Coulter Cash."

Speaking of attacks, the Boston Globe finds something of a GOP backlash:

"One advertisement accused the rival candidate of billing taxpayers for a call to a phone-sex line. One alleged that a candidate 'fixed' his daughter's speeding tickets. Still others stated that a candidate endorsed a "coffee talk with the Taliban," and that another was supported by the Communist Party.

"Each charge was misleading at best, demonstrably false at worst. Yet the National Republican Congressional Committee paid for each of those ads last year, and its leaders said they could do nothing to pull them, even after some of the Republicans whom the ads were designed to help demanded that they come down.

"Now, four months after Republicans lost control of Congress, many of their former candidates are calling for major changes at the NRCC. They depict the committee as a rogue attack-ad shop that shielded party leaders from having to account for the claims in their ads -- encouraging over-the-top accusations that often hurt GOP candidates.

" 'They weren't just attacking my opponent -- they were, bit by bit, destroying a reputation that I had spent years and years building,' said Ray Meier, a Republican candidate in upstate New York whose Democratic opponent was wrongly accused of making adult fantasy calls."

Could this be the start of a trend?

That tale about the fired U.S. attorneys is really gaining steam, and Pete Domenici, after claiming that he didn't know what reporters were talking about, has suddenly admitted trying to oust one of the prosecutors:

"Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, said today that he had urged the Justice Department to dismiss the state's top federal prosecutor, who in December was one of eight United States attorneys ousted from their jobs," says the New York Times.

"In addition, Mr. Domenici said in a statement that last year he called the prosecutor, David C. Iglesias, to ask about the status of a federal inquiry in New Mexico. The case centered on accusations of kickbacks in a statehouse construction project in which a former Democratic state official was said to be involved.

"'I asked Mr. Iglesias if he could tell me what was going in that investigation and give me an idea of what time frame we were looking at,' Mr. Domenici said. 'It was a very brief conversation which concluded when I was told that the courthouse investigation would be continuing for a lengthy period.'"

Geez: Members of Congress aren't supposed to contact prosecutors about ongoing investigations, period.

"Mr. Domenici apologized in the statement and said he regretted making the call, but insisted that he did not urge any course of action in any investigation. 'I have never pressured him nor threatened him in any way,' he said."

No, just the phone call was pressure enough.

Why does McCain appear to be struggling? Peggy Noonan tackles the question:

"No one in modern national-level politics has a better life story than his. In retrospect it is almost amazing that it didn't beat that of George W. Bush, who wryly admitted to friends and supporters in 2000 that he was 'a little light on the résumé.'

"But Americans don't elect résumés, they elect men. Here some aspects of Mr. McCain's highly individualistic nature hurt him. He is funny, quick, brave, colorful. He is emotional, has a temper, carries grudges, harbors resentments. If the latter set of traits were not true, the former set would have won the Washington political establishment. As it is he has a portion of it, but many were hired, for money, as political advisers. This is a traditional, but at this point old-fashioned, way to spend money. All the advisers disagree; all of them gossip to reporters; most of them can define a problem but not a solution."

Amid the post-Oscar buzz for Al Gore, Salon's Joe Conason wonders what got into the media:

"The sudden fashion for favorable comment won't influence any thoughtful American's opinion of Gore, but it should remind us of the dismal media performance that did such a terrible disservice to him and to the nation. Although Gore himself certainly deserves a measure of blame for the catastrophic conclusion of the 2000 presidential election and the events that led up to it, his hateful treatment by the press slanted the campaign against him from the beginning. (Perhaps only Ralph Nader is more culpable for the irreparable harms of the Bush era, but that is an arguable proposition.)

"Had the recent adoration of Gore been accompanied by any sign of healthy introspection among those who once savaged him, there might be reason to hope that they've learned something from this extraordinarily costly lesson. But as usual, mainstream commentators prefer to write as if they suffer from severe amnesia (as well as database deprivation) -- and to pretend that everyone else does, too.

"Consider Maureen Dowd, a perceptive and often witty columnist who understands very well how destructive the Bush presidency has been to her beloved country. Just the other day Dowd acknowledged in the New York Times that we and the world would be in considerably better shape today had Gore -- whom she described as 'prescient on climate change, the Internet, terrorism and Iraq'--ascended to the Oval Office instead of the current occupant. But she neither noted the guilt of the media in that travesty nor recalled her own starring role."

An important footnote to a story I excerpted last week on Rudy's judicial appointments in New York, courtesy of Ed Morrissey, who talks to Giuliani adviser (and former California gubernatorial candidate) Bill Simon:

"The Politico posted an article on Rudy's track record on judicial nominations, and reported that Giuliani appointed more Democrats than Republicans to the bench as Mayor. Hower, Simon called this misleading. The mayor does not have a free hand in judicial appointments in New York City. An independent panel gives the mayor a choice of three candidates for each open seat, and the mayor has to select from those three. Rudy did not choose the candidates; he had to select one of three locked-in choices."

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