Alexandra Polier has written an important article.
The name doesn't ring a bell? She was the woman who made global news for not having an affair with John Kerry (after too many in the media suggested, implied, insinuated or gossiped that she had played the paramour role).
I'm just catching up with her New York magazine | http://www.newyorkmetro.com/nymag/features/coverstory/9221/index.html piece, after having the temerity to take a few days off, and it does more than paint the usual portrait of an innocent bystander unfairly thrust into the eye of a media hurricane. She sets out to answer the question: "Who was trying to make me the next Monica Lewinsky?"
The details of her hounding during the primaries were bad enough. Her e-mail account was hacked into. Her parents were harassed. One shameless journalist had a small child call her cell phone, figuring she wouldn't hang up, and then got on himself. (Remember, this was the mainstream media in self-restraint mode, trying to ignore or play down what everyone knew was an unsubstantiated rumor.)
The former AP stringer refused to venture outside from where she was staying in Kenya, knowing that media types were salivating for a picture of her. She consulted with the Kerry campaign, which wanted to know if she'd ever been alone with the senator and whether there were any pictures of the two together. (Polier had been dating Kerry's finance director and spent some time with JFK at social events.) Finally she issued a statement denying any affair, prompting the New York Daily News to run a banner headline: "I'm No Monica."
Polier finally traced the rumor to a friend she's known since 10th grade who now works for a Republican lobbyist. Polier grants her anonymity, for reasons I don't understand, but the woman sobbed and said: "Look, I was once with you when you phoned Kerry's office and then he called you right back. And I thought, How amazing, and I got excited and I told friends about it. . . . I'm very, very sorry."
Next Polier turned the tables, calling media folks to ask why they'd run with the rumor. National Review's David Frum told her he regretted it. Alexandra Wolfe, Tom's daughter, who had compared her to Paris Hilton in a New York Observer profile, apologized, saying: "I just didn't think of you as a person."
Democratic consultant Chris Lehane, who had jumped from Kerry to Wes Clark, denied peddling the rumor but was unavailable after a brief conversation. Matt Drudge, who gave the rumor huge play, told Polier: "In retrospect, I should have had a sentence saying, 'There is no evidence to tie Alex to John Kerry.' I should have put that." He added, "If Clark had not gone out there and said, 'Kerry is going to bomb,' I never, ever, would have gone anywhere near this."
Brian Flynn, a reporter for London's Sun who was the first print guy to name Polier, told her editor he had "a fantastic source" on the story. When the editor noted that the source had been, um, wrong, Flynn cried: "You've just ambushed me," he cried. "You've ambushed me!"
When Polier got on the phone and said she had some questions, this intrepid journalist said: "It's not a good time right now. Let's meet up next week."
"Why did you quote my mother when she wasn't even home?" Polier asked.
"I really can't talk about this right now, Alex," Flynn said. After that, he insisted she talk to the Sun's PR person, who refused to comment. Talk about being able to dish it out but not take it. Why is it so hard for some journalists to take responsibility for the damage they inflict?
Polier's conclusion: "I am struck by the pitiful state of political reporting, which is dominated by the unholy alliance of opposition research and its latest tool, the Internet."
The news biz has a lot to be embarrassed about.
In the world of politics, the war gets a down arrow in Part 2 of the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/timespoll/la-na-iraqpoll11jun11,1,5543291.story?coll=la-home-headlines poll:
"Most U.S. voters now say it was not worth going to war in Iraq, but an overwhelming majority reject the idea of setting a deadline to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country, according to a new Times Poll.
"Though the survey found voters increasingly worried that America is becoming ensnarled in Iraq and pessimistic that a democratic government will take root there, less than 1 in 5 said America should withdraw all its forces within weeks. And less than 1 in 4 endorse the idea advanced by some Democratic-leaning foreign policy experts and liberal groups to establish a specific date for withdrawal. . . .
"The survey also showed widespread concern that the war has damaged America's image in the world, a strong desire to see NATO take the lead in managing the conflict, and deep division over whether President Bush can rally more international support for the rebuilding effort."
I sometimes get the impression that this election will be decided by about 50 people, since so many folks seem to have made up their minds. I may not be that far off, according to the New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2004/06/11/politics/campaign/11VOTE.html?hp:
"They are more likely to be white than black, female than male, married than single, and live in the suburbs rather than in large cities. They are not frequent churchgoers nor gun enthusiasts. They are clustered in swing states like Ohio, Michigan and here in Pennsylvania. And while they follow the news closely, they are largely indifferent to the back and forth of this year's race for president.
"These are what pollsters describe as the rarest of Americans in this election year: the undecided voters. And with aides to President Bush and Senator John Kerry increasingly confident about their ability to turn out their base voters, and thus create an electoral standoff in as many as 15 states, these people have become the object of intense concern by the campaigns as they try to figure out who these voters are and how to reach them.
"Only about 5 percent of the voting public is undecided, about one-third of what is typical at this point in the campaign, according to several recent polls."
Bush, by the way, didn't get much at the much-overshadowed G-8 meeting, other than a scenic Sea Island photo op:
"President Bush said yesterday that he backs a French proposal to let Iraq's new government decide how the NATO military alliance should expand its security role in Iraq -- if at all," reports the Baltimore Sun | http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/iraq/bal-te.summit11jun11,0,863855.story?coll=bal-nationworld-headlines.
"His comments seemed to underscore how Bush, in recent weeks and at a summit near here this week, has accepted that there is scant support for a larger peacekeeping force in Iraq under the control of the United States and its NATO allies."
Heads up, you may soon be passing Ronald Reagan High School as you head toward Ronald Reagan Memorial Bridge on the way to the Reagan Expressway:
"As mourners gathered to pay their respects before Ronald Reagan's casket yesterday, members of Congress and conservative activists were working to seize the moment to create more-enduring Reagan memorials," the Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/06/11/reagans_backers_seek_a_memorial/ observes.
"The plans include Senate majority leader Bill Frist's legislation to rename the Pentagon for Reagan, four separate bills to place Reagan's profile on the $10 bill, the $20 bill, the 50-cent piece, and the dime, and renewed calls for Congress to waive the 25-year waiting period to place a memorial on the Mall."
You think I'm joking? The Sun's | http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/bal-reaganwallpaper,0,3125511.htmlstory?coll=bal-home-headlines Web site has this offer: "Download Reagan Wallpaper To Your Desktop."
Josh Marshall | http://talkingpointsmemo.com wonders about Bush's Reagan strategy:
"A few days ago I noted a divergence between the websites of the two presidential candidates. John Kerry's website showed lots of pictures of John Kerry in all the expected poses of authority, empathy and so forth. Meanwhile , President Bush's Website also showed lots of pictures of John Kerry caught, as you might imagine, in poses suggesting buffoonery, arrogance, indecision and the like. What the GWB website didn't have any of was pictures of George W. Bush. . . .
"The Bush campaign has replaced the front page of their website with a Reagan tribute, with a huge picture of the late president backgrounded with flags, accompanied by links to a Reagan tribute video, links to President Reagan's most famous speeches and statement of his praise for President Reagan by President Bush. . . .
"Now, how many days of leaving the site that way will it take before people start to see the obvious: that President Bush's campaign staffers believe that pushing their own guy isn't a particularly good political strategy and that bashing Kerry or grasping on to Reagan nostalgia is far preferable?"
In Slate | http://slate.msn.com/id/2102060/, David Greenberg tries to debunk some Reagan myths:
"During crises and other shared public experiences, the news media often stop worrying about their mission to tell the truth. Instead, they take on the role of national rabbi or shaman, fostering a collective sense of good feeling by recounting stories and myths we wish to hear. Since Ronald Reagan's death, the media have chosen mostly to do just that, sugar-coating his life and career rather than grappling with his difficult legacy. Herewith, then, some myths about Reagan now being bruited about and why they don't do justice to the man's complexity.
"Myth No. 1: Reagan, the 'Great Communicator,' owed his success mainly to his facility with television and public relations. . . . His acting talent, though never much admired when he was actually an actor, allowed him to master the televised speech and the nightly news clip. A myth thus took hold that Reagan embodied the triumph of style over substance, image over reality.
"The myth was suited to the period when television became central to politics. It flattered aides such as Michael Deaver and David Gergen, who received credit for masterminding his generally favorable coverage. Above all, it comforted Reagan's liberal opponents, who could reassure themselves that the public didn't really support his conservative policies and had simply been duped by Hollywood showmanship.
"Reagan, however, promised -- and largely delivered -- substantive policies that a majority of the electorate (at least come election time) desired. He may not have fulfilled his pledge to radically shrink the overall size of government, as Tim Noah has noted, but he reasserted American military prowess, led a backlash against liberal permissiveness, and pruned social services that many middle-class voters had no wish to keep supporting. . . .
"Myth No. 2: Reagan was a uniter, not a divider. Reagan's tenure is being depicted as a brief moment of national unity before the advent of today's strident partisanship. In fact, apart from Richard Nixon, it's hard to think of a more divisive president of the 20th century. As I've noted, Reagan was, during his first two years, one of the least-liked presidents of the postwar age. The festering economic doldrums, the worsening Cold War tensions, and doubts about his temperament conspired to make him less popular than Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, and even Carter were at comparable points in their terms. Nor was Reagan's second term free of strife. Starting in 1986, the Iran-Contra scandal revived widespread criticism of his leadership -- including calls for his impeachment -- and his poll ratings went into free fall.
"To be sure, from 1984 to 1986, a surging economy, a revival of patriotism, and Reagan's skillful appeals to disillusioned Democrats enhanced his image and ensured his landslide re-election. Even then, however, the intense dislike that Reagan engendered rivaled the most feverish Clinton-hating or Bush-hating of later years. If his critics bear some blame for wallowing in the demonology, it was Reagan himself who polarized the country through his actions: aligning himself with the Christian Right; playing to racist sentiments by launching his 1980 campaign in Neshoba County, Miss.; nominating Robert Bork to the Supreme Court; appointing as attorney general the ethically challenged Edwin Meese; and so on."
He takes on other myths as well.
Reagan Week has led to a debate over . . . Alexander Hamilton, who could get bumped off the ten-spot, as Matthew Continetti observes in the Weekly Standard | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/004/200qwxkz.asp.
"Why Hamilton? 'Hamilton has less of a built-in constituency of people who would be opposed to him being removed,' the director of the Legacy Project, Chris Butler, told the New York Times. His boss agrees. 'Hamilton is an easier target, said [Grover] Norquist, because he was never president,' the Hill reported. Hamilton was neither a Republican nor Democrat, of course, but a Federalist, though it should be said he was killed by a Democrat, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson's vice president.
"No one will raise a fuss, in other words, if old Alexander were shunted aside. The same would probably not be true if the Legacy Project and congressional Republicans set their sights on FDR or Jack Kennedy.
"It's worth asking what Reagan would think of all this, however. And it's worth asking, too, how Reagan felt about Alexander Hamilton. Reading over Reagan's speeches, an answer suggests itself: Reagan liked Hamilton quite a bit."
What's this? A National Review | http://nationalreview.com/derbyshire/derbyshire200406100836.asp writer opposing putting Reagan on Mount Rushmore?
"It is too soon to speak of the thing," says John Derbyshire. "The latest president among the four on Mount Rushmore is Theodore Roosevelt. The TR head was dedicated on July 2, 1939. That was over 30 years after TR stepped down from the presidency, and over 20 years after his death. TR's inclusion in the monument seems to have been announced in August 1925, so those '30 years' and '20 years' can be reduced to 16 and six, respectively, if you date to conception instead of birth. Equivalent periods for Ronald Reagan would be: to conception, 2005 and 2010; to birth, 2019 and 2024. Any way you cut it, it's too soon.
"And as a matter of fact, I think they jumped the gun on TR. With these great figures of history, you need to give the dust a few decades to settle before you can see the man in perspective."
Not to worry: Another NR writer | http://nationalreview.com/comment/kirsanow200406100840.asp is ready to carve.
On the AIDS issue, Dan Kennedy | http://www.bostonphoenix.com/medialog/index.asp unearths a telling transcript:
"PRESS BRIEFING BY LARRY SPEAKES. October 15, 1982 . . .
"Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement -- the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
"MR. SPEAKES: What's AIDS?
"Q: Over a third of them have died. It's known as 'gay plague.' (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it's a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
"MR. SPEAKES: I don't have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
"Q: No, I don't.
"MR. SPEAKES: You didn't answer my question.
"Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President -
"MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)
"Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
"MR. SPEAKES: No, I don't know anything about it, Lester.
"Q: Does the President, does anyone in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?
"MR. SPEAKES: I don't think so. I don't think there's been any --
"Q: Nobody knows?
"MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester."