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Bad News Barry

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007 7:52 AM

Television has been running the replays, the newspaper stories are on the front page, the Web sites are giving it big play, but there is something distinctly underwhelming about Barry Bonds hitting No. 756.

It's been a joyless process for many of the journalists chronicling when Bonds would break the record. That, of course, was inevitable, unless Bonds got hit by a bus, but my sense is that there was more revulsion than excitement in the country. After all, we all knew that Cal Ripken was going to break the record for most consecutive games played, but he was surrounded by an outpouring of affection that Bonds never had, or particularly sought.

As an accused steroid user who has never convincingly denied it, Bonds has had to grapple with the widespread perception that he has tainted perhaps the most revered mark in sports.

Add to that a difficult personality and a frayed relationship with the press (Bonds recently called HBO's Bob Costas a 'midget') and it's clear why this is an athlete with a major-league image problem. And I have the impression that he doesn't much care.

Records come and go, but for those of us who grow up as baseball fans, some are rather mystical. Joe D's 56-game hitting streak, for instance. Babe's 60 HR in a season and 714 lifetime. That last one fell more than three decades ago to Hank Aaron, who ultimately hit 755. I remember Aaron surpassing Ruth as a huge national event. Bonds, not so much. It felt more like something we all had to get through.

This holding-the-nose attitude is reflected in much of the sports commentary, beginning with Salon's King Kaufman:

"It almost looked and felt like a regular old celebration of a record being broken. It wasn't, of course. Nothing is that simple with Barry Bonds, except for some of those home fans and the local TV announcers, who steadfastly refuse to mention steroids or controversy. Listening to Giants broadcasts, you'd never know Bonds was anything other than a great player.

"Unless you looked closely. Then you'd have noticed no team officials on the field to congratulate Bonds other than Willie Mays, who has a job with the organization but was there as Bonds' godfather. You'd have noticed no one representing Aaron or Ruth's family.

"I've been thinking and writing for a while now that Bonds is getting a little bit of a raw deal, that he has become the scapegoat for a whole era of drug abuse and cheating, that to dismiss his achievements as steroid- and human growth hormone-fueled is overly simplistic because we don't know what effect drugs have on baseball performance and we don't know which players and which pitchers were on the juice when.

"But that doesn't mean I -- a home fan, after all -- can enjoy this moment any more than most anybody else. I believe Bonds' record is legitimate, that he really did hit all those home runs, that a lot of our reaction as a society to the steroid mess is in-the-moment hysteria -- why aren't we equally upset about amphetamines?

"And Bonds' record still feels somehow unreal to me. I've got an asterisk going."

Slate's William Saletan is terse:

"Official reaction: He outslugged Hank Aaron. Unofficial reaction: He outran investigations by federal prosecutors and Major League Baseball, which are pursuing charges that he used steroids and committed perjury about it. Compromise view: The performance-enhancing drugs are in his past. Cynical view: So is his performance--he has posted only 53 home runs in the last three years, and he's been hitting .185 since the All-Star Game."

ESPN columnist Gene Wojciechowski sees a charade:

"You can admire or despise him, but you can't deny Bonds' ability to make us watch. It was spellbinding stuff and -- wait . . . I'm sorry. I can't do this anymore.

"I can't pretend what Bonds did Tuesday night in front of a national television audience and his adoring but myopic Giants fans is anything more than a make-believe piece of baseball drama.

"I can't pretend Bonds' 756 homers truly matter because there's no way of knowing how many of them were hit by Barry The Clean or Barry The Cream.

"I can't pretend Bonds is the legitimate successor to Aaron because there are simply too many questions and too much evidence to suggest otherwise . . .

"What Bonds has done, as his body has morphed from a lithe, ungodly, athletic rookie into a Silver Surfer look-alike, was no coincidence. I believe it was cheating. Rationalize and justify all you want, but Bonds had a choice. And I believe he chose to cheat."

In the New Republic, Gary Hoenig says, well, lots of people do it:

"If you bothered to read beyond the Bonds exposés and the circus of congressional hearings in 2005, you would have learned that steroids have been used by baseball players as far back as at least the mid-'80s, that by 1991, baseball officials were alarmed enough to add steroids to a list of banned substances sent to all teams, and that even with new testing procedures in place since those hearings, any player who wants to enhance can likely do so with little chance of being caught. But most sportswriters and columnists went back to the safest route: blaming the few, extolling the virtues of the game, finding solace in building up new heroes to replace the fallen ones."

The Army's conclusion that Scott Thomas Beauchamp was lying in his New Republic pieces--and the magazine's insistence that it has corroborated his account--is really heating up the blogosphere debate. Michelle Malkin rips both Beauchamp and TNR:

"To illustrate the soul-deadening impact of war, Beauchamp had described sitting in a mess hall in Iraq mocking a female civilian contractor whose face had 'melted' after an IED explosion. 'I love chicks that have been intimate -- with IEDs,' Pvt. Beauchamp claimed he said out loud in her earshot. 'It really turns me on -- melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses.' Beauchamp recounted vividly: 'My friend was practically falling out of his chair laughing. The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall.'

"It wasn't true. After active-duty troops, veterans, embedded journalists, and bloggers raised pointed questions about the veracity of the anecdote, Beauchamp confessed to The New Republic's meticulous fact-checkers that the mocking had taken place in Kuwait -- before he had set foot in Iraq to experience the soul-deadening impact of war.

"Military officials in Kuwait tried to verify the incident and called it an 'urban legend or myth.' Beauchamp's essays are filled with similarly spun tales. How much of a bull-slinger was Beauchamp . . . The very first line of his essay 'Shock Troops,' which opened with the melted-face mockery, was this: 'I saw her nearly every time I went to dinner in the chow hall at my base in Iraq.' 'Nearly every time.' At 'my base in Iraq.' Complete and utter bull.

"Defenders of The New Republic, a left-leaning magazine infamously duped by another young and ambitious fabulist, Stephen Glass, say the Beauchamp saga has been 1) blown out of proportion; 2) perpetuated by sloppy, rumor-mongering bloggers; 3) used as a distraction from the troubles in Iraq; and 4) exploited by 'chickenhawks' who deny that war atrocities happen. But the truth is, you won't find a single Bush Kool-Aid drinker among the military bloggers, embedded independent journalists, and active-duty troops who prominently questioned the Beauchamp sham. They know it ain't all going swimmingly overseas. But unlike Pvt. Beauchamp, they're committed to telling the whole truth about the war, not just approximations and embellishments that will score easy magazine gigs and future book deals with elite New York City publishers."

TPM's Josh Marshall is more skeptical about the military's conclusion:

"What's up here?

"Beauchamp makes his charges. The US Army allegedly investigates and finds the highly embarrassing charges to be false. But no information will be released about which of his charges were false, how they were false or how they were determined to be false.

"They then punish Beauchamp by preventing him from having any communication with the civilian world. And if that's not enough, an unnamed military source tells the Standard that Beauchamp has undergone a successful self-criticism session and has recanted everything. But an Army spokesman tells TNR that he's not aware of any confession or recantation. We can at least be thankful that the matter is being handled with such transparency.

"Maybe Beauchamp was always a teller of tales. He wouldn't be the first nor even the first to have wormed his way into the pages of The New Republic. But it's hard not to have some suspicion that the Army has put itself in charge of investigating charges which, if true, would be deeply embarrassing to the Army; that it has provided itself a full exoneration through an investigation, the details of which it will not divulge; and it has chosen to use as its exclusive conduit for disseminating information about the case, The Weekly Standard, a publication which can at best be described as a charged partisan in the public controversy about the case.

"This hardly inspires much confidence."

A liberal blogger agrees to pay a $30,000 fine to settle SEC charges that he touted a stock without disclosing he was being paid to do so.

Bush had lyme disease last year--now they tell us?

Is 43 getting advice from 41?

"Interviews with a broad range of people close to both presidents -- including family members like the elder Mr. Bush's daughter, Doro Bush Koch, and aides who have worked for both men, like Andrew H. Card Jr. -- suggest a far more complicated father-son dynamic, in which the former president is not nearly so distant as the White House would have people believe," says the NYT.

Edwards chided Hillary for appearing on a Fortune magazine cover ("Business Loves Hillary"), but guess who spoke to CEOs at a Fortune Global Forum in 2002?

After every debate, the pundits revise their scorecards. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, with help from NBC's Chuck Todd, offers this ranking:

"Hillary Clinton: a day doesn't go by that she doesn't look like a stronger general election candidate, mainly because of how she's always got her eye on the general when answering debate questions like the one in question. No member of the C.W. chattering class believed she'd be this strong in general election matchups this early in the process. She seems more unbeatable every day, which is why you should expect both Obama and Edwards to stop mincing words and take near-daily shots at the front-runner. She's on such a roll right now, one can't help but wonder if she's peaking too soon.

"Barack Obama: The Clinton folks are convinced that the Obama campaign knows he made two gaffes in the last two weeks, but because they feared the 'inexperienced' tag might take hold, they had no choice but to stand their ground based on what he said. We'll never know who's right, but the Obama camp does deserve credit for not being shy about taking on the Georgetown set on issues of foreign affairs. Six months ago, we thought Obama was dying to win the Georgetown primary; now, clearly, he doesn't care.

"John Edwards -- Meet Mr. Angry! He's not going to take it any more! Edwards gets better every day in the role of angry populist, but we can't help but wonder if eventually his 'no more Mr. nice guy' routine is going to rub Iowa voters the wrong way. Edwards' strength in '04 was that everyone seemed to like the guy. Usually, voters don't like angry populists; they may respect them, but like? Not usually."

Hillary's rivals have been bashing her for taking money from lobbyists, but as Tom Edsall reports, that may be a distinction without much difference:

"Obama and Edwards, running second and third to Clinton respectively, have pinpointed one of the New York Senator's vulnerabilities. Anonymous opposition researchers (you can guess) have calculated that 261 federal lobbyists have given her campaign $479,130 so far this year. In addition, 15 lobbyists acting as contribution bundlers have raised at least $1.5 million for her.

"Edwards and Obama may not be taking contributions from federally registered lobbyists, but that does not mean that their money is as pure as they'd like us to believe.

"Edwards' 2004 campaign manager, Nick Baldick, who is currently a senior adviser to the 2008 campaign, is a founder of the Washington lobbying firm Avenue Solutions, which includes among its clients Aetna, Northwest Airlines, the Healthcare Leadership Council, Medco, Travelers Cos. Inc., and the Financial Services Roundtable.

"Baldick left the firm in 2006 to found Hilltop Public Solutions which, according to its website, has 'managed winning campaigns for clients that have included the nation's largest financial services firm, one of the nation's largest airlines, a major fast food retailer, the world's largest healthcare provider, and numerous additional industry leaders.' It generally performs these services at a state level and is not federally registered.

"At least three staffers on the Obama campaign were registered as federal lobbyists, although two worked for such pro-Democratic clients as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Environmental Defense Fund. The third, Emmett Beliveau, worked at Patton Boggs LLP, which includes among its clients Giner Electrochemical Systems, the Offshore Marine Service Association, ABT Associates, and Preferred Communications Systems.

"In addition, the campaign web site Opensecrets.org reports that Edwards has received $6.5 million from lawyers, many of them trial lawyers; $668,590 from employees in the investment banking industry; $254,297 from officials of the health care industry and $218,290 from operators of hedge funds.

"Obama has been no slouch in this territory, according to Opensecrets. Employees of investment banking firms gave him $3.2 million; real estate companies $1.3 million; health companies, $701,993; and hedge funds $652,105. Clinton's contributions fit much the same pattern."

What's more, says the Boston Globe, "A Globe review of Obama's campaign finance records shows that he collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from lobbyists and PACs as a state legislator in Illinois, a US senator, and a presidential aspirant."

So much for being on a high horse.

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