Sob Stories

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 23, 2007 8:32 AM

Memo to the media: Everyone who is defaulting on a home mortgage is not necessarily a victim.

I feel sorry for anyone in that situation. Losing a home is an awful thing. Some were undoubtedly pressured into buying by unscrupulous lenders. Too many greedy players on Wall Street got away with making shaky loans for too long. They sliced and diced mortgage debt into increasingly exotic paper and lost sight of the risks involved, figuring the Fed would bail them out if things got out of hand.

But let's face it: Most of the people who took out home mortgages for no money down knew that this was a roll of the dice. Who gets to buy a house without a down payment? And most of those who took out adjustable-rate mortgages knew that their rate would balloon in a couple of years, and could do so at a level that would be hard to afford. They took the risk anyway. No one forced these folks to take on big mortgages they could barely handle.

My colleague Michael Rosenwald owned up to this the other day, describing how he and his wife bought a $459,000 Maryland home with an interest-only, adjustable-rate mortgage just as the housing bubble was about to pop. Now he's facing a difficult time, with a rate that could jump to 10.1 percent.

He'll probably be okay; many others are not. Like people who raced to buy dot-com stocks of companies with no profits, folks bought houses they couldn't afford because the escalator had been going up so quickly for so long that it seemed like a reasonable bet.

But when the mortgage meltdown pieces are written or broadcast, the lead is inevitably someone who is about to lose his or her house, with not so much as a nod toward the notion that these people might have overreached or bears any responsibility at all for their financial plight.

Perhaps inevitably, Hillary Clinton has now proposed a $1-billion fund to help struggling families catch up on their mortgage payments, and John Edwards also wants to give money to those who can't make their payments. So the taxpayers should bail out folks who took out these loans with their eyes wide open?

Again, I'm not unsympathetic. And there's plenty of blame to go around. But we shouldn't let homebuyers completely off the hook just because it makes for a better narrative.

Speaking of the mortgage mess, Columbia Journalism Review praises the NYT: "The fact is, theTimes has been hitting the subprime issue harder and longer than Forbes, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and other publications devoted solely to business and financial news. This should not be, but it is."

While American Journalism Review is in financial trouble, as I reported yesterday, CJR says it's running $50,000 in the black.

Time now to talk about the war. The Vietnam War.

"With a tough battle with Congress over the future of the war expected to come in September," says the NYT, "President Bush offered a rousing defense of his Iraq policy today, declaring that he envisions an American victory there and asserting that a hasty withdrawal by the United States would unleash a bloodbath reminiscent of the Vietnam War era.

"Mr. Bush accused the Congress of planning to 'pull the rug out from under' American troops. He said the American pullout from Vietnam more than 32 years ago was to blame for millions of deaths in Cambodia and Vietnam, and for putting a dent in American credibility that lasts to this day."

Sooo...we shouldn't have pulled out of Vietnam? Are we going to refight that war now, too?

Oh, and remember how Bush expressed frustration with Maliki on Tuesday? And therefore people concluded that he was ready to cut and run on his ally? What a difference a day makes.

"To beat back that perception, Mr. Bush told the audience at the veterans' convention that the prime minister was 'a good guy, good man with a difficult job.' "

The Washington Times says POTUS gave a "fiery" speech:

"President Bush yesterday warned lawmakers not to try to 'pull the rug' out from under the U.S. military in Iraq just as troops are making progress against insurgents."

The Chicago Tribune gives the critics equal billing: "But his remarks to a VFW convention in Kansas City, Mo., also invited stinging criticism from historians and military analysts who said the analogies evidenced scant understanding of those conflicts' true lessons.

"What is more, the speech opened a new vein of attack from Bush's political opponents, including the man he defeated in 2004, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a Vietnam veteran who called the president's words 'irresponsible' and 'ignorant.' "

Boston Globe: "Bush's bold decision to compare Iraq to Vietnam, a conflict that took more than 58,000 American lives, caused a stir among political analysts and historians. They said most Americans regard the US involvement in Vietnam, which lasted for more than a decade, as a historic blunder and stinging military defeat."

Interesting move by Hillary, jumping into the Maliki-must-go camp. Not many pro-Maliki voters here in the States. And how loudly can the White House complain after Bush's own bout of frustration with the Iraqi PM?

" Hillary Sandbags the Antiwar Movement," says this post from...Mike Gravel.

The senator has also been catching it from the left for daring to say that in some places, such as Anbar province, the surge is working, even though it's too little and too late.

"What does Hillary mean by 'working'?" asks HuffPoster Frank Dwyer. "How is the surge working? What is it accomplishing? What is it meant to accomplish? What, in the war gospel according to Hillary, is the goal of the surge? Is it the same goal she had in mind when she voted to allow Bush to go to war in Iraq if he wanted to? Is her only regret now that our 'tactics' were flawed, i. e., we did not send enough Americans to accomplish whatever the Bush/Clinton goal is right from start?

"I suspect all she meant to do in Kansas City was pander a little to the Vets, be enough of the Hillary they want to get some of their votes, you know. But her declaration that the surge is 'working' and that we're just 'years too late in our tactics' goes beyond standard politician-pander to reveal something terribly wrong in her thinking. She has given us a glimpse beneath the mask -- there's the real Hillary."

But surge or no surge, says Dick Polman, it still comes back to Maliki:

"Breaking news! Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats eat crow and endorse President Bush's troop hike strategy in Iraq!

"So says the conservative media, anyway.In their latest attempt to spin the Iraq war as a worthy enterprise, in advance of the September Surge report, Bush's enablers have been very busy over the past 24 hours, spreading the story that Hillary, along with Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, have finally acknowledged that the Bush troop hike has improved security around Baghdad. For instance, The Drudge Report highlighted a fragment of a Hillary sentence ('it's working') that the Democratic candidate uttered during a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars . . .

"While those [conservative] media outlets were crowing about Hillary and Levin, we also learned elsewhere - in The Wall Street Journal, where the news pages (at least for now) operate by traditional journalistic standards - that others share Warner's view that the Surge may well fail to coax the Iraqis toward reconciliation. Consider this quote: 'It would be a huge shame if after all the military has accomplished with the surge, we don't get a political accomodation. But I'm not optimistic.'

"That was Gen. George Casey, who until recently served as the top U.S commander in Iraq. He and Hillary are saying roughly the same thing.The basic problem facing the conservative media is that the Surge is no more capable of working miracles than a massive dose of morphine can heal a patient who is mortally ill. The Surge may well ease the pain in Iraq, as Hillary acknowledged, but a late dose of U.S. military power - after years of administration ineptitude - will not be able to cure the body politic."

The New Republic and the Weekly Standard have always had a spirited, ideologically based rivalry. But things have gotten pretty tense since the Standard led the charge against TNR's Baghdad Diarist, who the liberal magazine defends but who the Army says is a fabricator. Now comes TNR's Jonathan Chait with a thumb in the eye titled "The Thuggery of William Kristol":

"It's hard to believe that, not so long ago, neoconservative foreign policy thinking overflowed with ideas and idealism. The descent has been steep, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the pages of The Weekly Standard--particularly in William Kristol's editorials, which have come to consist of stubborn denials of any bad news, diatribes about internal enemies, and harangues against the cowardice of Republican dissenters.

"Kristol's sensibility is perfectly summed up in one representative passage from a recent issue. The topic was The New Republic's decision to publish an essay by Scott Beauchamp, an American soldier serving in Iraq, detailing some repugnant acts he said he and his comrades committed. Legitimate questions have been raised about this essay's veracity. (We've been publishing updates on our continuing efforts to get answers to them at But Kristol rushed past these questions, immediately declaring the piece a 'fiction.' Offering up his interpretation of why tnr would publish such slanders, he concluded, in an editorial titled, 'They Don't Really Support the Troops':

"Having turned against a war that some of them supported, the left is now turning against the troops they claim still to support. They sense that history is progressing away from them--that these soldiers, fighting courageously in a just cause, could still win the war, that they are proud of their service, and that they will be future leaders of this country . . .

"Then there is Kristol's accusation that critics of the war don't 'support the troops.' I wonder if, back in his youthful days teaching political philosophy, Kristol ever imagined he would one day find himself mouthing knucklehead slogans like this. I shouldn't need to say this, but apparently I do: I strongly support and respect the troops and would desperately like them to succeed. My respect, unlike Kristol's, extends to soldiers who don't share my politics, and isn't contingent on the fantasy that all of them are saints . . .

"Kristol's good standing in the Washington establishment depends on the wink-and-nod awareness that he's too smart to believe his own agitprop. Perhaps so. But, in the end, a fake thug is not much better than the real thing."

This got a rise out of the conservative blogosphere, including Power Line's Scott Johnson:

"How is it that Kristol got it right while 'the editors' have disgraced themselves and their magazine?

"We won't find our from Chait. He turns his guns on Kristol, with the venom and crudity that distinguishes his polemical writing. It is Kristol, after all, who had the bad taste to see -- 'immediately' -- the fabulations of TNR's Baghdad Diarist for what they were. In Chati's eyes, this is a manifestation of Kristol's thuggery. Chait condemns Kristol for a lack of interest in the truth. It is Kristol whom Chait finds guilty of 'agitprop.' On the ostensible subject of Chait's column, however, Kristol got it right while Chait and his colleagues peddled a fraud. In his column Chait presents with a classic case of what the psychiatrists call 'projection.' "

Get this: yet another media scandal! It began when two D.C. journos, Kriston Capps and Catherine Andrews, won Fishbowl DC's Hottest Media Types contest. Harmless summer fun, right?

Wrong! Salon's Farhad Manjoo blows the lid off this little scam:

"The contest was not on the up-and-up. Fishbowl's poll often functions less as an assessment of a nominee's hotness -- whatever that might mean -- than of online organizing prowess, and this year, it was even less than that. Capps and Andrews acknowledge that they won only because their online friends -- without their express encouragement, they both say -- built software 'bots' that voted thousands of times for each of them. The bots were distributed on Unfogged, a humorously wonky blog and discussion site popular with D.C. types, within a day of the poll's opening. If you downloaded and ran the software, your machine began tallying up votes for Capps and Andrews faster than a Diebold rigged for George W. Bush . . .

"What's surprising is not that anyone cheated -- online polls are about as trustworthy as Soviet Bloc elections -- but how brazen, and how easy, the cheating was. It's possible to read too much into the breezy contest -- perhaps it's going too far to suggest, as one of the contestants did, that the poll functions as a perfect metaphor for Washington life, in that everyone knew that the only way to get ahead was to play outside the rules. Still, the manner in which people went about pushing themselves is telling. These were media people in Washington; it was probably too much to expect that they wouldn't rig the contest . . .

"ABC News' Jake Tapper put out a brilliant e-mail pitch asking people to ignore his nomination and to, instead, donate money to a nonprofit child mentoring organization -- the unstated message, of course, being that kindness is hot (he lost to the liberal commentator Bill Press, whose GOTV tactics have come into question).

"No one seems to have taken the contest more seriously than Philippe Reines, Hillary Clinton's press secretary, who sent out several missives exhorting his friends to vote -- notes so pathetic that both the New York Times and CNN took pity on him."

So much for journalistic or political excellence: it's all about being seen as hot! By any means necessary.

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