How outraged should John Kerry's campaign be over Terry Holt's joke?

For those of you who aren't "Hardball" addicts, Chris Matthews was interviewing Holt, the Bush campaign spokesman, and Kerry senior strategist Tad Devine Tuesday night. Matthews was pressing Holt on why the president chose the National Guard over serving in Vietnam.

I just watched the tape, which is helpfully posted on the Kerry Web site, | http://blog.johnkerry.com/dbunker/ and saw Holt toss off this line:

"In John Kerry's case, he went to Vietnam. He took his own photo camera, by he way, so he would get some good pictures."

Matthews laughed. Devine laughed. It was an old-fashioned barb, delivered with a smile.

Yesterday, however, the Kerry camp opened fire. "What Terry Holt said last night was an intentional effort to diminish John Kerry's military service," his campaign chairman, former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen, said in a statement. "Not only was it wrong, it shows a fundamental disrespect for the service and sacrifice veterans of military combat duty have given our country. Mr. Holt crossed the line last night, and he should apologize immediately."

Kerry crewmate Del Sandusky said: "We are outraged. This accusation is total bull feathers. John Kerry served honorably. We know, we were with him. Holt should apologize for insulting our service to this country."

Is this anger real, or manufactured?

Holt's crack wasn't a harmless joke. Lots of folks have wondered how Kerry happened to get video footage of himself in Vietnam, which has showed up in many of his ads. Holt went on to say that Kerry ran for office soon after returning from Nam. Given the questions about Bush's Guard record, and the contrast with Kerry's heroism under fire, this may well be an area that any Bush spokesman should stay away from, even in jest.

But do we really want a political discourse in which everyone gets spanked for the slightest deviation from the talking points? Devine didn't look miffed when he retorted that Kerry, camera or no camera, "was getting shot at." Holt's jibe--and he noted that Kerry served honorably in Vietnam--hardly seemed beyond the pale.

"Someone should ask the Kerry campaign how it is that pointing out Kerry took a camera to Vietnam is an attack on his patriotism," Holt said by e-mail.

Undoubtedly, the Kerry campaign didn't want to miss a chance to drive home the contrast between what their man and their opponent did during the war. Whether it's overkill will be up to viewers and voters to decide.

Now to the NYT editor's note on WMD that I wrote about yesterday. Dan Kennedy | http://www.bostonphoenix.com/medialog/index.asp wonders if there's another shoe to drop:

"The talk of the media world over the next few days is going to be Wednesday's mea culpa in the New York Times about the paper's gullible coverage of Iraq's weapons capabilities and terrorist ties in the run-up to the war. Headlined 'From the Editors,' the piece admits to mistakes on the part of reporters and editors, and to the same overreliance on the charlatan Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi that helped goad the White House into this terrible, unnecessary war.

"Although the piece, as Editor & Publisher has already observed, makes no mention of Chalabi's favorite Times reporter, Judith Miller, you've got to wonder whether her career can survive. It would be ironic if Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, et al., whose love affair with Chalabi led to the deaths of hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis, get off scot-free while Miller pays a higher price. Then again, despite the Times' well-documented problems of the past several years, it still has higher standards than the Bush White House."

Slate's Jack Shafer | http://slate.msn.com/id/2101294/, who led the charge, is partially satisfied:

"As someone who has harangued the Times for better than 14 months to acknowledge its reportorial shortcomings, I applaud the paper for finally crawling out from under its rock and confirming the true verdict. Granted, the note is more 'mini culpa' than mea culpa, but at least it's a start. Granted, the note is months late in arriving. Granted, it doesn't take a lot of courage to dump on the Iraqi defectors a couple of days after the U.S. government gives former exile in chief Ahmad Chalabi the big kiss-off. And granted, it is not the note I would have written. But as a demonstration of accountability, it exceeds what most of the rest of the errant press corps has done by a factor of 100.

"We were saps, the note practically shouts. Stupid saps.

"Some Times critics will disparage the note because it bows, bows, bows -- but does not scrape. They'll find it insufficient because it doesn't crucify Judith Miller, a frequent target of this column, or any other Times reporter by name. But the last time I checked, the Times had yet to distribute pressroom keys to Miller, giving her power to print whatever excites her fancy. Editors aided and abetted every one of the flawed stories."

Here's a note to the staff from Editor Bill Keller, as posted on Romenesko: | http://poynter.org/forum/?id=memos

"After a thorough review of that coverage, we feel we owe our readers some explanations. The purpose of the note is to acknowledge that we, like many of our competitors and many officials in Washington, were misled on a number of stories by Iraqi informants dealing in misinformation.

"This note is not an attempt to find a scapegoat or to blame reporters for not knowing then what we know now. Nor is it intended to signal that you should pull your punches. Quite the contrary. As you have probably noticed in, for example, our coverage of the prisoner abuse story, we prize hard-won, hard-hitting stories.

"The note we are publishing will not satisfy our most vociferous critics, but it is not written for them. It is an attempt to set the record straight, something we do as a point of journalistic pride. For those of you who are wondering about the next chapter of this ordeal, the next chapter is, we keep reporting."

Kerry will deign to accept the nomination after all, and you can tell the Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/politics/president/kerry/articles/2004/05/27/kerry_rules_out_delaying_tactic/ didn't think his convention scheme was a hot idea:

"John F. Kerry announced yesterday he would accept his party's presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 29, ending a five-day flirtation with the idea of a delay that could have helped him financially but had sparked criticism from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, ridicule from Republicans, and questions among Boston-area residents facing a jam of convention-driven inconveniences."

Other than that, everyone loved it.

"Kerry's decision came partly in response to widening concerns about the postponement scenario from political allies such as Menino, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. Former president Bill Clinton spoke with McAuliffe on Sunday about the pros and cons of delaying the nomination but did not take a position during the conversation, party officials said yesterday."

In the Kerry-can't-win department, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-kerryiraq27may27,1,107156.story?coll=la-home-headlines reports:

"Sen. John F. Kerry faces a stark new challenge in the campaign skirmishing over Iraq: As President Bush has moved toward his position, the Democratic Party is moving away from it.

"From one side, Kerry confronts calls from growing numbers of Democrats to establish a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. That idea will receive a major boost today when Win Without War, a coalition of 42 liberal groups, announces a campaign that will urge the U.S. to specify a date for ending the American military presence in Iraq.

"From the other direction, Bush has come much closer to Kerry's view that the U.S. should rely more on the United Nations to oversee the transition from occupation to a sovereign Iraqi government -- thus blurring the contrast between the two men."

What's a challenger to do?

The real problem, suggests Adam Nagourney in the

New York Times, is that JFK is too cautious: | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/27/politics/campaign/27DEMS.html?hp"President Bush's political difficulties have prompted a debate among Democrats and aides to Senator John Kerry over how cautious his campaign should be on a variety of issues, from choosing a vice president to differentiating himself from Mr. Bush to responding to the turmoil in Iraq.

"Some party officials say that with three new polls showing President Bush more embattled than he has ever been, Mr. Kerry's wisest course would be to take few chances and turn the election into a referendum on a struggling president . . .

"But other Democrats warn that such a strategy entails risks of its own, banking on the proposition that Americans would be willing to fire an incumbent during war time and replace him with someone they know little about."

Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum | http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/ pounces on some little-noticed quotes from the former Senate majority leader:

"A few weeks ago I half-jokingly noted that mainstream conservative reaction to Abu Ghraib had shifted over time. Phase 1: horrible, just horrible. Phase 2: yes, it's bad, but keep in mind that it's not as bad as Saddam. Phase 3: give it a rest, OK?

"And then I guessed that there might still be a phase 4 to come:

"Maybe torturers as heroes, thanks to testimony from someone or other that one of the scraps of information they extracted saved a convoy somewhere? Hey, war is hell.

"I am truly disgusted to report today that Phase 4 has now been reached. Here are the words of the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Trent Lott:

" 'Frankly, to save some American troops' lives or a unit that could be in danger, I think you should get really rough with them,' Lott said. 'Some of those people should probably not be in prisons in the first place.'

"When asked about the photo showing a prisoner being threatened with a dog, Lott was unmoved. 'Nothing wrong with holding a dog up there unless it ate him,' Lott said. '(They just) scared him with the dog.'

"Lott was reminded that at least one prisoner had died at the hands of his captors after a beating. 'This is not Sunday school,' he said. 'This is interrogation. This is rough stuff.'

"He's a real credit to his party, isn't he?"

If you think things are bad in the country now, check out this AP | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/8768765.htm look at the final months of the wild and crazy Nixon years:

"As his presidency unraveled, Richard Nixon was too 'loaded' to take an urgent call during the Arab-Israeli war and joked darkly about bombing Congress during impeachment hearings, according to transcripts of foreign-policy chief Henry Kissinger's phone calls.

"With Watergate bearing down and resignation just months away, Nixon also pushed ideas that Kissinger feared could start a war, according to phone calls among more than 20,000 pages of transcripts released yesterday by the National Archives . . .

"On the night of Oct. 11, 1973, just days into the Arab-Israeli War and with the United States and Soviet Union on a seeming collision course, British Prime Minister Edward Heath tried to reach Nixon by phone to discuss the crisis. 'Can we tell them no?' Kissinger asked his assistant Brent Scowcroft, who had told him of the request from No. 10 Downing Street. 'When I talked to the President, he was loaded.'...

"In March 1974, a month after the House voted to press ahead with impeachment proceedings and five months before Nixon resigned, Kissinger fretted about the President's state of mind in a phone call with White House aide Alexander Haig. 'I am calling you about something the President said this morning which rather disturbed me,' Kissinger said. 'He was in a rather sour mood.'

"'Yes, that is conceivable,' Haig said.

"Kissinger went on to complain that Nixon was being too tough on Israeli allies and 'has been just waiting for an opportunity to lay into them . . . Now I tell you if he goes publicly after the Israelis, he might as well start a war.'

"Haig said Nixon was, 'just unwinding,' and mentioned that the President had told him to fetch the 'football' - the briefcase with the codes to unleash nuclear weapons. 'For what?' Kissinger asked.

"'He is going to drop it on the Hill,' Haig said. 'What I am saying is, don't take him too seriously.'"

The man had an odd way of unwinding.

Salon's Eric Boehlert | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/05/26/rush_limbaugh/index.html challenges Rush radio:

President Bush has condemned the torture of Iraqi prisoners, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled it 'un-American' and a recent Gallup poll found 79 percent of Americans 'bothered' by the abuses. But Rush Limbaugh was gleeful. For weeks, the conservative talk show host has been dismissing the scandal as a 'fraternity prank,' mocking Democrats and others for expressing outrage and suggesting the prison humiliation -- which he dubbed 'a brilliant maneuver' -- was 'no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation' at Yale. He described the images of torture as 'pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography' and assured his listeners 'there was no horror, there was no terror, there was no death, there was no injuries, nothing.'

"Limbaugh's increasingly bizarre comments about the military's widening prisoner abuse scandal -- the Pentagon acknowledges it's now investigating the deaths of 33 detainees, nine of whom were apparently beaten to death while in U.S. custody -- have forced a long-simmering question into the open: Why does Limbaugh's program, as the only hour-long, partisan political talk show broadcast daily to U.S. troops, enjoy exclusive access to American Forces Radio -- and American troops in Iraq?"

Ever wonder who reads blogs like Andrew Sullivan's and Josh Marshall's? Sullivan tells us: | http://www.andrewsullivan.com"Josh Marshall has just done a survey of his readers. It's an interesting contrast with mine. First off, the similarities. Josh's readers are 81 percent male; mine are 85 percent male. This is no big surprise: for some reason, political opinion sites (and magazines) always skew toward the testosteroned. 35 percent of my readers are 35 or under; 29 percent of Josh's are. 36 percent of my readers are over 45; 46 percent of Josh's are. In other words, my readers are slightly younger on average than Josh's.

"Wealth? 29 percent of Dish readers earn $50,000 or less a year; Josh's demographic is identical. 35 percent of Dishies earn $100,000 or more; 34 percent of Josh's do. Politics? Polarization is real. 60 percent of Josh's readers call themselves 'liberal'; only 6 percent of Dishies do the same; 12 percent of Josh's readership call themselves 'New Democrats,' while 9.4 percent of mine call themselves 'center-left.' I have more Independents and way more conservatives. My center-right/conservative total amounts to 61 percent of the total; Josh's 'liberal/New Democrat' coalition amounts to 72 percent of his readers.

"My readership, in other words, is slightly more diverse in political opinion than Josh's - but not an awful lot. That either implies, I guess, that Josh is preaching more to the choir than I do and is more ideologically homogeneous in his views - or it means that liberals are more open-minded and read people with whom they might often disagree."

And before I log off, the anti-Washingtonienne backlash has begun.

The flap over sex blogger/fired Hill staffer Jessica Cutler, which we dutifully linked to yesterday, has drawn the ire of syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin | http://www.townhall.com/columnists/michellemalkin/mm20040526.shtml:

"Cutler's partners reportedly included government officials who gave her money for her sexual services.

"Diary excerpt: 'I just took a long lunch with F and made a quick $400. When I returned to the office, I heard that my boss was asking about my whereabouts. Loser.' In another entry, Cutler explains: 'F(equals)Married man who pays me for sex. Chief of Staff at one of the gov agencies, appointed by Bush.'

"Cutler, who aspired to be a journalist, spouted: 'I'm sure I am not the only one who makes money on the side this way: How can anybody live on $25K/year??' When I was 24 and making less than that, I did it by eating Spaghetti-O's, Ramen noodles and Swanson pot pies for dinner; driving a Toyota Tercel with no air conditioning; and sleeping on a $30 futon. I did it the way most parents teach their daughters to succeed: through hard work, thrift, faith and perseverance.

"I don't usually write about such inside-the-Beltway gossip, but Cutler's indecent conduct, glib rationalizations and in-your-face shamelessness, and the accompanying feeding frenzy over her, deserve a firm outside-the-Beltway lashing. This vulgar little episode reflects a larger, disturbing media trend toward normalizing and glamorizing sexual promiscuity among young working women. It harms those trying to succeed on their merits in the professional arena."

None of which seems to have affected the book and Playboy offers.