Vitter Speaks--But Only Briefly

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 17, 2007 7:42 AM

There came a point in David Vitter's take-no-questions press appearance last night that I had to suppress a chuckle.

After a week in seclusion, the tense-looking senator apologized, said his wife had forgiven him for being in touch with the D.C. Madam, denied messing around with any New Orleans prostitutes, and then declared he would not keep answering questions about this (actually, he's answered zero) and intended to resume work on the water resources bill.

The water resources bill?

I feel hosed. Doesn't a senator who preaches the sanctity of marriage and then breaches it have a responsibility to do more than read a statement? Does Vitter think reporters aren't going to dog him about this at every subsequent public appearance?

More impressive was his wife, Wendy (yes, the one who once threatened to pull a Lorena Bobbitt on him if he strayed but now says she forgives her man). She told the media to stop camping outside her house and stop following her and her children to church. She sounded properly emotional and reasonable, and did not gaze lovingly at her husband, toward whom she did not look all that loving.

I'm not in favor of these stakeouts -- especially when kids are involved, have a heart -- but I doubt the senator can successfully run against the media here. The reason the camera crews were chasing him is that he went into hiding for a week. He says he's not going to help sell newspapers by talking about the scandal, but he has built his career on a platform of moral values and sanctity of marriage. Now, having used that spotlight to boost his political career, he wants his privacy? He wants the reporters to go away? It doesn't work that way.

Salon Editor Joan Walsh is unmoved:

"What a performance. Such hypocrites. Praise the Lord, and come out swinging. Say you're sorry -- but blame your political enemies and the media for your suffering." Vitter, she says, is "part of a generation of hateful, divisive right-wing leaders who've demonized gay people to build political support. And he's one of a growing number of hard-right, gay-demonizing guys who've been revealed to have their own sexual issues."

It's been apparent for weeks that Rupert Murdoch was on the verge of gaining control of the Wall Street Journal, even as many media types wrung their hands over whether he would tarnish one of the world's great newspaper assets. It's now all but a done deal, according to the WSJ itself:

"News Corp. reached a tentative agreement for the purchase of Dow Jones & Co. at its original $5 billion offer price. The deal will be put to the full Dow Jones board this evening for its approval, said people familiar with the situation.

"In what could be the final round of talks, yesterday negotiators from News Corp. and Dow Jones -- including Chief Executive Richard F. Zannino, company advisers and two independent directors -- reached an agreement in principle on a deal first proposed by News Corp. in mid-April. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch resisted pressure from Dow Jones to raise his initial $60-a-share offer, which represented a 67% premium to where the Dow Jones stock was trading before news of the offer became public. But Mr. Murdoch suggested the possibility of nominating former Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger to the board of News Corp., according to a person who was there.

"The deal still faces its biggest hurdle -- getting approval from the Bancroft family, which controls 64% of Dow Jones's voting power. Mr. Zannino has indicated to News Corp. that the family's position on the deal is too close to call, according to a person who spoke to him."

This LAT piece says the value of Dow Jones stock could drop by as much as two-thirds if dissident family members block the sale because it's already built into the share price.

Meanwhile, I guess I can stop sitting around waiting for George Bush's new message on Iraq.

Rhetorically, at least, it's stay the course.

Last week, I got the impression from this WashPost piece that the president was about to engage in some repositioning. The story said that Bush, "facing a growing Republican revolt against his Iraq policy, has rejected calls to change course but will launch a campaign emphasizing his intent to draw down U.S. forces next year and move toward a more limited mission if security conditions improve, senior officials said yesterday."

And then: nada.

The reason I can be reasonably sure of this is not based on any senior officials but on the ultimate Senior Official. Bush summoned 10 conservative journalists to the White House on Friday, and he made clear that Lugar and Warner notwithstanding, he's not contemplating any withdrawal, pullback, redeployment or reshuffling of the Iraq deck.

One report comes from National Review's Kate O'Beirne and Rich Lowry:

"Forget the leaks and the speculation, President George W. Bush is not looking for a way out of the surge and the Iraq war. In a session with about ten conservative journalists Friday afternoon, a confident and determined president made it clear that he is going to see the surge through, and will rely on General David Petraeus's advice on how to proceed come September, regardless of the political climate in Washington.

"He scoffed at reports to the contrary in the press. When specifically asked about a Washington Post article this week reporting that his administration is looking for a way to draw down, President Bush said dismissively, 'I didn't read it,' and then, 'there are a lot of talkers in Washington.' When it was pointed out that the sources were people in his administration, he repeated, just as dismissively, 'That's what I said, there are a lot of talkers.' He said that not everyone gets to talk to him: 'I'm not on the phone chatting up with these people writing these articles, ascribing motives to me.' "

Now this is an interesting analysis of the media. Peter Baker, the lead author on that piece, and most other White House reporters don't have the ability to just ring up the prez for his take on things. Nor do they get invited to the equivalent of these little soirees with conservative soulmates. So they must rely to a significant extent on the people who work for Bush (who, of course, may have their own agendas). If said senior officials represent to a journalist that Bush plans to do something, it is reasonable to publish that (though we can always be played by sources who dish only on background). For Bush to then grumble about that is to suggest that reporters shouldn't believe members of his own staff, including folks who are paid to deal with the press.

Another veteran conservative pundit, the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes offers his own take:

"White House officials were pushing the line last week that President Bush would soon take a positive new tack in defending the war in Iraq. He'd talk about what Iraq would look like after the 'surge' of American troops in Baghdad had succeeded and the soldiers were beginning to come home. Peter Baker of the Washington Post was told Bush 'will launch a campaign emphasizing his intent to draw down U.S. forces next year.' The president would deliver his 'vision for the post-surge,' an aide told Baker. Indeed, I talked to two White House officials who mentioned the plan for Bush to stress the bright future in Iraq rather than the dimmer present.

"This clever scheme lacked one important ingredient, the participation of Bush himself. He was supposed to play up the post-surge in a 77-minute speech in Cleveland. He failed to, except to note in passing that, with enough troops to secure Iraq, 'we can be in a different position in a while.' This was the same day that Baker's story ran. A White House official said the president might have dropped emphasis on the post-surge era from his speech out of annoyance over the leak to Baker. Or, since he was speaking from scribbled notes, he might just have forgotten.

"Two days later, Bush had a prepared text for his opening remarks at a press conference. Once more, the aftermath of the surge got short shrift. The closest he came was this comment: 'When we start drawing down our forces in Iraq, it will be because our military commanders say the conditions on the ground are right, not because pollsters say it will be good politics.'

"I recount this episode because it makes a simple point: Bush's aides may be eager to soften his message on Iraq, but the president isn't. Another way to put it--exaggerating a bit--is that his aides were fearful of political repercussions and he wasn't."

Maybe those reliable sources, whoever they are, will now be considered a little less reliable.

Speaking of the Weekly Standard, its editor, Bill Kristol, has stirred up quite a reaction with this Washington Post opinion piece saying that Bush will be viewed as having had a successful presidency. Kristol writes of "a war in Iraq that has been very difficult, but where -- despite some confusion engendered by an almost meaningless 'benchmark' report last week -- we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome . . .

"In late 2006, I didn't think we would win, as Bush stuck with the failed Rumsfeld-Abizaid-Casey strategy of 'standing down' as the Iraqis were able to 'stand up,' based on the mistaken theory that if we had a 'small footprint' in Iraq, we'd be more successful. With the new counterinsurgency strategy announced on Jan. 10, backed up by the troop 'surge,' I think the odds are finally better than 50-50 that we will prevail. We are routing al-Qaeda in Iraq, we are beginning to curb the Iranian-backed sectarian Shiite militias and we are increasingly able to protect more of the Iraqi population."

Well, I think we can safely say he's not part of the cut-and-run crowd.

Time's Jay Carney begs to differ:

"Blowing past years of disastrous mismanagement of the war, Kristol says that Bush will ultimately be viewed a winner because 'we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome' in Iraq. Now, even if you believed from the beginning that invading Iraq and toppling Saddam was the right thing to do. And even if you've never wavered from those convictions. And even if you argued last winter that more troops were necessary and that 'surging' was the right thing to do.

"And even if you insist that there have been some modest -- very modest -- signs of improvement in a few (not many!) areas of Iraq in the past few months, wouldn't you be deluding yourself, and testing the gullibility of your readers (given the cumulative experience of the past four-plus years, and all the mistaken predictions you and others had made about how well things were going in Iraq), if you suddenly decided that these few modest signs of improvement somehow proved that a) 'we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome', and b) Bush's presidency will therefore be judged a success?"

Arianna Huffington, who always seems to be at the right party--or on the right train--lets loose:

"I know it's a pretty high bar, but Bill Kristol, the founder of the Project for a New American Century that spawned the Iraq war, the man whose editorials often seem to be inserted directly into the president's speeches, and who once boasted that 'Dick Cheney does send over someone to pick up 30 copies of [The Weekly Standard] every Monday,' has now just written the single most deceptive piece of the entire war.

"The charitable view is that he's lost his mind. The less charitable view is that he's now officially surpassed Dick Cheney as the most intellectually dishonest member of the neocon establishment (the highest of all high bars). The truth-shattering piece appeared yesterday on the front page of the Washington Post Outlook section . . .

"I had a preview of this deluded triumphalist drivel a couple of days earlier -- on Thursday afternoon specifically. Even more specifically, I was on the 4:00 pm Amtrak Acela from New York to Washington.

"Kristol was sitting a row behind me, talking on his cell phone with someone who apparently shared his optimism. 'Precipitous withdrawal really worked,' I overheard him say, clearly referring to the president's use of the term in that morning's press conference. 'How many times did he use it? Three? Four?' he asked his interlocutor, and the conversation continued with a round of metaphorical back-slapping for the clever phrase they had 'come up with.'

"I, of course, have no idea who was on the other end. Tony Snow, perhaps?"

At American Prospect, Dana Goldstein does some fact-checking as well:

" Kristol: If the United States hadn't gone into Iraq, Saddam's ties to Al-Qaeda would today 'be intact or revived and even strengthened.'

" Reality: The September 11 Commission found no evidence of a 'collaborative relationship' between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But today, four years after the American invasion, one of the fiercest insurgent groups in Iraq, Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, models itself after the organization that attacked New York and Washington in 2001, yet is a whole cloth product of the war.

"Kristol spouts all this nonsense about success in Iraq in order to come to the conclusion that the United States should begin drawing down troops in 2008 (though no sooner). I agree with Brad Plumer: Saying this ill-conceived war is 'Won and Done' is more than inaccurate -- it's an invitation to make more catastrophically deadly foreign policy mistakes in the future. Iraq is Un-Won and No-Fun for anybody -- time to get out."

John McCain's communications staff quit yesterday, but Roger Simon (while landing an interview) gives the man his due:

"Although he was accused early on of pandering, in fact McCain's campaign has been much closer to political suicide than to political opportunism. He could have moved to more muted, nuanced positions on both Iraq and immigration. Other presidential candidates have managed that act. But McCain would not do it. It was, to him, a matter of principle."

I opined yesterday about Mirthala Salinas, who remains on paid suspension from Telemundo over her previously secret affair with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. LAT columnist Gregory Rodriguez is irked by the coverage:

"Last week, I got a phone call from a television news producer who asked me what Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's extramarital affair revealed about the nature of Latino political leadership. I told her I'd agree to be interviewed on air only if we could explore what Bill Clinton's dalliances said about white people or Jesse Jackson's fling with an aide told us about black activists. Dumbfounded, she asked if I could refer her to someone else . . .

"The media gratuitously injected ethnicity into the scandal. Maybe, it would have been different if she worked for CBS, but I don't think so. Reporters from a variety of newspapers, including The Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and the LA Weekly made lame comparisons between the mayor's affair and telenovelas, Spanish-language soap operas. Do you think they didn't write 'soap opera' because the English-language versions lack sufficient sex and intrigue? Or maybe it was a cute way to ascribe this behavior, as opposed to planting trees, to his ethnicity. After hearing that Salinas had dated two other Mexican American politicians, Fabian Núñez and Alex Padilla, Times columnist Steve Lopez joked that the three men were playing a game of '¿Quién Es Más Macho?,' a phrase comedian Bill Murray came up with on 'Saturday Night Live' in a 1979 takeoff on Latino stereotypes. Because -- heh, heh -- you know what they say about those Latin men.

"I'm surprised no newspaper ran a cartoon of the mayor sporting a pencil mustache, a Zorro mask and a rose clenched between his teeth."

The same column dealt with the firing of Chicago TV reporter Amy Jacobson, and the Chicago Tribune's Tim McNulty makes what at first sounds like a startling confession:

"I must first admit to wearing a swimsuit and taking my young children to a source/subject's home swimming pool, not unlike former WMAQ-Ch. 5 reporter Amy Jacobson, who was fired last week for that breach of ethics, 'lapse in judgment' and whatever else it has been called.

"The home I visited did not belong to the estranged husband of a missing woman, however. It was the summer home of then-president George H.W. Bush, who had invited the traveling White House press corps to Maine for a swim party in Kennebunkport. Nothing happened. Context is everything."

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