When New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau wrote a story last fall that the FBI didn't like, the bureau responded by trying to freeze him out.
FBI spokeswoman Cassandra Chandler sent top officials a memo disputing the story and assailing "the slanted and biased report[ing] style of Mr. Lichtblau. In the meantime, we encourage each of you to please avoid providing information to this reporter. He has consistently demonstrated that he lacks the ethics of a respected journalist."
During the same period, the Justice Department revoked Lichtblau's credentials -- a move that a spokesman calls coincidental.
"I was very surprised they took the action they did, both at the FBI and the Justice Department," says Lichtblau, whose credentials were restored after the Times protested. Earlier, he was abruptly disinvited from a press briefing.
He reported in November, based on an FBI memo, that the bureau had collected extensive information on antiwar demonstrators. FBI officials were quoted as saying the effort was aimed at identifying extremists plotting violence.
Times Washington Bureau Chief Philip Taubman, praising Lichtblau as "an inquisitive, skilled and fair reporter," says Justice and FBI officials understood the inherent tensions with the press when he covered the beat two decades ago. "I've been surprised that that attitude is not apparently shared by their counterparts in those agencies today," he says.
An FBI spokesman who declined to be named says only that "the matter has been handled and we cooperate with the New York Times." After Chandler's memo, Taubman had heated discussions in a meeting with her and in phone conversations with Justice spokesman Mark Corallo.
Corallo says that Lichtblau's credentials were lifted as a routine matter because he does not visit the building very often and that many other journalists have lost theirs for the same reason. He says the move was unrelated to any particular story. Lichtblau says he visits the headquarters regularly each week.
Lichtblau isn't the only Justice correspondent who's had prickly relations with the department. A number of news organizations signed a letter to the press office last year, complaining about their lack of access to Attorney General John Ashcroft, among other things.
Conservative activist Brent Bozell has long argued that the liberal media are distorting the news. Now, six months before the election, he's paying to get his message out.
Bozell's Media Research Center has raised $2.8 million for newspaper ads in 15 markets, billboards in 40 cities and a talk-radio blitz aimed at countering what he sees as a "liberal jihad" that is unfair to President Bush. The slogan (also on T-shirts and mugs) is not exactly subtle. A finger-pointing Uncle Sam declares: "Don't believe the liberal media!"
"This is a media that in the last year has gotten out of control," Bozell says. "They're so blatant in the way they slant the news. . . . It's as if people in newsrooms have just taken off the gloves, whether it's foreign policy, economic news or political news, there's a spin on everything that's said."
Steve Rendall of the liberal group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting scoffs at the indictment, saying that "things are going badly for the White House in Iraq. Accurately reporting that isn't bias. As for the economy, positive indicators are reported every day. That many Americans still see a net loss of jobs, wages lagging behind inflation and rising health care costs, well, reflecting their views is basic journalism."
From 9/11 through last summer, Rendall says, "journalism was largely in the tank for the White House."
A look at the Bozell group's Web site shows that what is depicted as bias often tends to reflect a conservative outlook: Complaints that some journalists were too hard on Ronald Reagan, too easy on Bill Clinton and too critical of Ken Starr. "For Clinton, Dan Rather Is Putty in His Hands," a typical headline says.
Bozell, who hopes to reach 50 million people a week with the forthcoming campaign, says that on Iraq "there is almost an obsession with reporting the negative. There are lots of positive developments going on and you never hear about them."
The effort is not designed to help Bush or hurt John Kerry, Bozell says. "If Bush wins, the media will continue to try to make his life miserable. If Kerry wins, they'll still be promoting a left-wing agenda."
Public and Private
As a general assignment reporter for WRC-TV, Jackie Bensen often covers D.C. police and crime stories.
She sees no problem with the fact that she lives with an assistant D.C. police chief, Peter Newsham, who oversees ethics investigations and disciplinary reviews as head of the department's Office of Professional Responsibility.
"We're both professionals who have been in our respective fields for some time," Bensen says. "We made a conscious decision not to have contact with each other professionally." By agreement with her bosses, she says, she does not cover anything involving Newsham's office.
Newsham says his girlfriend doesn't cover police corruption stories and that "we're very careful not to discuss business. My personal business may be of some interest to people because of my position, but I don't think it's unusual in this particular city."
Although no one is questioning Bensen's journalistic abilities, several police officers have remarked in interviews that they feel they must cooperate with her because of the relationship. Newsham says he has "never told anyone but my closest friends -- and most of my closest friends aren't police officers -- that we even have a relationship."
Vickie Burns, Channel 4's vice president for news, who had been unaware of the relationship, says she is "comfortable" with Bensen just steering clear of Newsham's unit. "She's a terrific reporter with great access," Burns says. "Jackie's sources, whether they're police department sources or other sources, predate this specific relationship, and I'm confident about her ability to handle things both ethically and sensitively."
The relationship attracted attention in March after Newsham's ex-girlfriend pleaded guilty to assaulting Newsham and Bensen. Cheryl Gargac says in an interview that she showed up at what she thought was Newsham's Bethesda home and discovered Bensen there, and in the altercation that followed she smacked Newsham in the face and grabbed Bensen by the back of the hair. Bensen, who owns the house, said in a statement to police that she was also kicked in the groin. Gargac says she agreed to pay $600 for breaking a window.
A New Day in Iraq
With all the TV anchors flying in for ceremonies in Baghdad Wednesday, the ceremony took place in the middle of the night, U.S. time:
"The U.S.-led coalition transferred sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government two days early Monday in a surprise move that apparently caught insurgents off guard, averting a feared campaign of attacks to sabotage the highly symbolic step toward self-rule," the Associated Press | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/sns-ap-iraq-sovereignty,1,7860308.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed reports. "Legal documents transferring sovereignty were handed over by U.S. governor L. Paul Bremer to chief justice Mahdi al-Mahmood in a small ceremony attended by about a half dozen Iraqi and coalition officials in the heavily guarded Green Zone. Bremer took charge in Iraq about a year ago."
Hmm . . . administration officials can't do that with our election, can they?
On the campaign trail...Isn't it interesting that the conservative president's GOP convention will feature three party moderates (John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger), the last two of whom, for example, are pro-choice? The two top Democratic speakers look to be Bill Clinton and Teddy Kennedy.
John Kerry's wife is giving a whole new meaning to the word wealthy, as the Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-heinz27jun27,1,6189224.story?coll=la-center-elect2004 reports:
"Teresa Heinz Kerry, through a network of investments in blue-chip corporations, venture capital funds and municipal bonds, controls a family fortune worth an estimated $1 billion, an examination of public records shows. "The $1-billion figure is double the estimates of her wealth that are widely cited in news stories about her husband, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president."
Republicans are trying to knock those Michael Moore ads off the air, as the New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/27/politics/campaign/27ads.html observes:
"The advertising push behind Michael Moore's new documentary critical of President Bush, 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' is angering some Republicans, who say it is little more than a commercial campaign devised to help Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.
"For instance, one television commercial for the film, which opened nationally on Friday, shows Mr. Bush in mid-golf game, talking emphatically to news cameras that follow him around the course.
"'We must stop these terrorist killers,' he says before turning his back to tee off and shouting back at the pack, 'Now watch this drive!'"
Maybe the ad will help Bush win the golf vote.
Slate's Fred Kaplan | http://slate.msn.com/id/2102858/ mentions the unmentionable: the draft.
"It's a complex business, calculating how many troops a nation needs. No matter how you do the math, though, one thing is clear: The United States doesn't have enough.
"Should we, must we, bring back the draft to fill the gaps?
"We need to do something. Simply to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan (and we're doing a less-than-adequate job of that), the U.S. Army has mobilized all its available brigades, delayed their rotations back home, and turned the Guard and Reserves' 'weekend warriors' into full-time soldiers. Despite all this, the Army still needs to bring in 4,000 troops from the once-untouchable garrison in South Korea. More desperately, it's ordering to Iraq members of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the outfit in Ft. Irwin, Calif., that trains all other Army units for desert warfare. This is like melting down the lathe to make more metal.
"In short, we are stretched thin. If tomorrow brought another crisis requiring U.S. ground forces, it's not clear where they would come from or how they would get there.
"The prospect of compulsory military service raises fundamental questions -- and agonizing dilemmas -- for a free and democratic society. On the one hand, should the state have the right to compel its citizens to kill and possibly be killed? . . . On the other hand, should we, as citizens, be allowed to evade this ultimate obligation by turning it over to the poorer members of society -- those who can't find good-paying jobs except in the military?"
Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com/ weighs in on the veepstakes:
"To my mind, the obvious choice for veep for Kerry is John Edwards . . . Edwards would appeal to a very important constituency -- the non-unionized white working class. But he's also more comfortable among African-Americans than Kerry. And, as the primaries show, he has real appeal to independents, who are still deeply resistant to Bush, especially after the president's slavish courting of the religious right in recent months.
"At a deeper level, it seems to me that Kerry is a world-class crashing bore. It's extremely hard to keep your eyes open listening to him drone on endlessly. Part of his recent success is due to his staying out of the limelight, while Bush self-destructs. And a responsible, tedious, upper-class pandescenderer, while appealing to some voters exhausted by the revolutionary zeal of the man from Midland, needs an adrenaline fix. Edwards, whatever his faults, has plenty of zip. People like him. No one really likes Kerry. Edwards also gets the fact that a successful Democratic candidate has to have soul and passion. He's from the South -- something that won't mean much in terms of winning over any Southern states, but helps balance out Kerry's Brahmin Yankeeness."
The American Prospect | http://www.prospect.org/weblog/ zings Zell:
"Not that it's a surprise or anything, considering the way he's been attacking the Democratic Party for months now, but Georgia Sen. Zell Miller has still reached a new low for someone calling himself a Democrat in agreeing to speak at the Republican National Convention in New York . . .
"While it's not entirely clear what the Democrats can do about Miller, given that he's already set to retire, Miller's continuing courtship of the GOP higher-ups and the president ought to start counting for something, and counting soon.
"Just two years ago Miller told supporters of Max Cleland, 'No outsider, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter how well-respected, can come into Georgia and holler "liberal" and expect Georgians to jump,' according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
"His new speaking engagement proves he still believes that if you're going attack someone as a liberal, it helps to do it as an inside job."
Clinton is now officially criticizing his ex-veep's strategy, in an interview with Salon's Joe Conason | http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/06/25/clinton/index.html:
"Did Al Gore make an error in 2000 by seeking to put some distance between himself and his campaign for the presidency, and you and your administration?
"In the beginning, I supported his going out on his own with Joe Lieberman, because every vice president has the same problem in running directly for the presidency. People don't give the vice president credit for the good things that happen in the administration, as much as they should. I tried to solve that by giving Al lots of credit all through the eight years, but [voters] don't absorb that . . . I thought Gore ought to be independent . . .
"But I thought it was not a good idea to not embrace the record more explicitly and say we ought to keep the change going in the right direction. Remember in Los Angeles, he said the issue was the people versus the powerful, which it certainly was. Every powerful right-wing interest group in the country was behind Bush. But that didn't send a clear signal that it was necessary to vote for Gore to keep the prosperity going. At the end of the election, when Gore came back to that theme, about eight days before Election Day, he made up points in a hurry and actually won the election by about 500,000 votes . . .
"He probably would have won by enough to stay out of the Supreme Court if that had been the theme from August straight through November . . .
"I believe Al lost Arkansas because of the National Rifle Association . . . and maybe Missouri, and maybe Tennessee, and maybe New Hampshire (in addition to the Nader vote) . . . I don't think the NRA got near as much credit as they deserve for Bush's election. They hurt us bad."
In the LAT, columnist Max Boot | http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-boot24jun24,1,4390125.column?coll=la-news-comment-opinions reflects on Clinton hatred:
"The mystery of Clinton is that he was an essentially conservative president -- perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the White House since Grover Cleveland -- and yet he was loathed by conservatives. So much so that he was accused of all sorts of awful things he didn't actually do, from murdering Vince Foster to being in cahoots with the Chinese. I don't blame Clinton for getting a tad upset about the nutty accusations tossed his way and for not being able to figure out what a good ole boy with a saxophone and a smile had ever done to justify such venom.
"I'm not sure I can explain it either -- any more than I can explain why George W. Bush has inspired such antipathy from the Al Franken wing of the Democratic Party even while so abjectly pandering to them with his Medicare expansion, No Child Left Behind Act, campaign finance reform and budget-busting spending increases. Here's Dubya expanding the Great Society, and yet he gets accused of dismantling the New Deal. Go figure.
"My theory, for what it's worth, is that there's a basic divide between people who value character in their president and those who prefer cleverness. (For some reason the two don't generally seem to go together, at least not since Teddy Roosevelt retired.) At the risk of over-generalization, conservatives like character, liberals like cleverness."
I spotted an interesting comment by Sy Hersh, the New Yorker sleuth who's been breaking those Abu Ghraib stories, in the Chicago Tribune | http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/chi-0406250257jun25,1,1038233.story?coll=chi-leisuretempo-hed:
"'The fragility of our government is terrifying,' he tells his U. of C. audience. A handful of neoconservatives took control of the levers of government 'without a peep from the bureaucracy, the Congress, the press,' he says. 'It was so easy. . . . What is it about us that made us so vulnerable to these people?'"
And on the lighter side, this just in:
Former President Bill Clinton has received more abuse at the hands of the late-night comics than President Bush and John Kerry combined for this month, according to a study conducted by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. The study also found Clinton comes in third for the year-to-date, unprecedented for an ex-President.
The totals for so far in June: Clinton 92, Bush 64, Kerry 26, Nader 10, Hillary 7 (who says Kerry isn't getting much attention?) The other night, Letterman said: "Bill Clinton is really busy right now. He's so busy signing books that he had to cancel his 3 o'clock intern."
Leno said: "The most quoted thing in the book is where Clinton talks about after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, he slept on the couch for two months. That's how you know Hillary was mad. They had separate bedrooms and she still made him sleep on the couch."
Leno's other Monica jokes are a tad racy for a G-rated blog.