Confession time: I can't bear to read any more stories about:

--Undecided voters. Make up your minds already and stop wasting everyone's time!

--Registration surges. This story is trotted out every four years. It may be the record numbers this year will be a factor, but we don't know how many of those newly engaged registrants will actually turn out.

--Ohio. Wants to be the new Florida, but it's much colder in Canton, Columbus and Cleveland.

--Election litigaton. Couldn't we at least wait until the votes come in for both sides to go nuclear over fraud allegations? The endless cover stories and front-page headlines about another deadlocked election are mainly serving to scare people, and could look silly if either candidate wins decisively.

--The 2005 landscape. Enough useless speculation about who will quit in Bush's second term, or serve in Kerry's Cabinet.

--Mary Cheney's private life.

--Airhead celebrities. In particular, those who have never bothered to go to the polls but have become spokesmen for young-people-you-must-vote-or-die campaigns.

--Anonymous quotes. At least from Bush aides trashing Kerry or Kerryites dumping on the president. They're paid to do that, media people. Just say no unless they go on the record.

--Tracking polls. They're all over the map and driving everyone nuts. Only state polls matter at this point.

--Ashlee Simpson. Period.

By the way, the biggest issue in the campaign, according to the "O'Reilly Factor," is Kerry's refusal to step inside the no-spin zone. He's even doing MSNBC, for cryin' out loud, O'Reilly complains. You have company, Bill: Kerry won't answer questions--even submitted in advance--from Bob Woodward. |

Meanwhile, I think this Iraqi ammo story is so important--in terms of the way it's consumed the last three news cycles and the role of the media--that I want to give you my full report on the controversy:

On Sunday night, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller told Jeff Fager, executive producer of CBS's "60 Minutes," that the story they had been jointly pursuing on missing Iraqi ammunition was starting to leak on the Internet.

"You know what? We're going to have to run it Monday," Keller said.

The paper's front-page story, charging that 377 tons of powerful bomb-making material "vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year," hit the presidential campaign with explosive force, as John Kerry seized on it for three straight days and President Bush accused Kerry yesterday of making "wild charges."

The article has also sparked criticism of the two news organizations from some conservatives, who accuse the Times and CBS of orchestrating a late hit against Bush.

Keller said in an interview yesterday that campaigns "attack the messenger" when they do not like the message. "Beating up on the so-called elite media has a nice populist ring to it, and some of it is calculated," he said. Bush campaign officials thought that "if they barked at us, we would back off. . . . We've vetted this every way we can, and we continue to do that."

Keller said "60 Minutes" executives asked the newspaper to hold the story until this Sunday so they could report it the same day, and "we said we weren't comfortable doing that because it wouldn't give the White House a fair opportunity to respond."

Fager dismissed criticism of the timing as "absurd," saying "it was a breaking news story and a significant one. It's impossible to manage these things." He said "60 Minutes" and correspondent Ed Bradley had planned to break the story this Sunday -- two days before the election -- only because "the story came to us on relatively short notice" and that was the next available show. The program has a separate staff from "60 Minutes Wednesday."

Fager said it was "incredibly unfair" to link the ammunition story to the earlier "60 Minutes Wednesday" report on documents about Bush's National Guard service, which CBS has admitted it cannot authenticate.

A Bush campaign release Tuesday accused the Times of publishing a "false story," without elaboration. Critics on the right say the story was overblown.

Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol said the front-page piece, while accurate, was "somewhat hyped" and that it "didn't put it into context how important 380 tons are when there are tens of thousands of explosives in the country." He also called CBS's plan to report the story Sunday night "really kind of stunning."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page questioned the article's timing. Among Fox News commentators, Bill O'Reilly questioned whether it was "a legitimate story or a dirty trick," while Tony Snow said the article "looks pretty bogus" and is "an embarrassment to the New York Times and also CBS."

The principal uncertainty about the story involves the timing of the ammunition's disappearance. The White House says the explosives may have gone missing while Saddam Hussein still controlled Iraq.

"Sure there's a possibility" that happened, Keller said, "and I think the original story accounted for that possibility. . . . I don't think we've ever claimed there was a definitive answer to what became of this stuff."

Bush campaign officials point out that Kerry's foreign policy adviserscannot say for sure what transpired. Richard Holbrooke told Fox that "I don't know what happened," and Jamie Rubin told CNN it was "possible" the weapons were removed by Hussein. A top Republican strategist said the Times did not spell out the possibility that Hussein moved the ammunition and that CBS was planning a last-minute "ambush on the president."

Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton deflected questions about whether the Democratic nominee was going beyond the available evidence in assailing Bush for "incredible incompetence" and using the Times headline in an attack ad. "This is a devastating report for the Bush administration," Clanton said. "The president could clear this up if he would come forward and tell us what happened."

There have been reports for 18 months about the looting of Iraqi weapons. What three Times reporters wrote Monday, days after getting a tip from a "60 Minutes" producer, was that Iraq's interim government had warned U.S. and international inspectors earlier this month that 377 tons of explosives were missing.

NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, who was embedded with the Army's 101st Airborne Division during the war, reported Monday that the unit visited the Qaqaa weapons facility on April 10, 2003, and never found the explosives.

Anchor Tom Brokaw clarified the next night that "we simply reported that the 101st did not find them. For its part, the Bush campaign immediately pointed to our report as conclusive proof that the weapons had been removed before the Americans arrived. That is possible, but that is not what we reported." The Times on Tuesday quoted the unit's commander as saying his troops had stopped at the facility but did not search it.

Keller said the original story noted that the Qaqaa facility had last been visited by U.N. inspectors in March 2003, and quoted a letter from a senior Iraqi official saying that the stockpile disappeared after early April 2003 -- during the war -- because of theft and looting. Other than some last-minute checks and editing on Sunday, Keller said, "the story was basically ready."

The rhetoric on the trail has turned, well, explosive:

"President Bush broke his silence on Wednesday on the disappearance of 380 tons of explosives in Iraq, accusing Senator John Kerry of making 'wild charges' about the missing explosives and of 'denigrating the actions'' of troops in the field.

"Mr. Kerry quickly responded that while 'our troops are doing a heroic job, the president, the commander in chief, is not doing his job.'

"The president's comments, his first on the missing explosives since Mr. Kerry began accusing him on Monday of incompetence in failing to secure Iraq after the American-led invasion, reflected concern in the Bush campaign that the issue could be hurting the president only six days before what is expected to be an extraordinarily close election."

The Washington Times | says Russia may have been involved in moving the ammunition.

Here's Bill Kristol's piece in the Standard |

"It seems that Monday's groundbreaking New York Times story on missing explosives in Iraq was certainly not groundbreaking and may not even be true. The allegations that nearly 400 tons of 'high explosives' were missing from the al Qaqaa arms dump are based on charges leveled by Mohamed al Baradei, chairman of the International Atomic Energy Association. The claims are old and increasingly suspect. But that hasn't kept John Kerry's presidential campaign from using the story in a new television ad and in virtually every stump speech and media appearance over the past two days.

"Now, however, the Kerry campaign admits that the information that is the basis of Senator Kerry's statements and his campaign advertisement may not even be true. Pressed on Tuesday afternoon about the accuracy of the allegations on Fox's Big Story with John Gibson, Richard Holbrooke, a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign, said: 'You don't know the truth and I don't know the truth.' He later underscored this point: 'I don't know the truth.'

"That minor issue hasn't kept the Kerry campaign from creating a television ad based on what may well be untruthful claims."

Josh Marshall | says the administration should be worried about other inside leakers:

"Like at the Pentagon, for instance.

"Who over there is trying to stick it to the president?

"Look at two big news stories on Tuesday, the Washington Post report that the White House plans to ask for some $70 billion more in Iraq spending just a week or two after the election and this USA Today piece reporting that the Pentagon is planning to add roughly 20,000 more troops to the force in Iraq in anticipation of the elections in January.

"Just on the basis of logical inference, I'm gonna bet those leaks didn't come from Scott McClellan.

"More troops in the country is something that many administration critics have been pressing for. But, still, it's not the news the Bush campaign wants to be talking about one week before the election. Combined with the al Qaqaa business, these two stories managed to create what one network news talking head called a trifecta of bad Iraq news to kick off the last week of the campaign."

From ammo to terror: If you've heard about this supposed al-Qaeda tape in the possession of ABC News, here are the facts. |

The GOP, as I suggested earlier, is really crying foul about the press:

"Republicans, who have long argued that they are treated unfairly by the mainstream media, are airing complaints -- and using them to galvanize their base -- as Election Day draws near," says the Wall Street Journal.

"This week's reports of explosives missing in Iraq is the latest instance where the national party has tried to sow doubt about media coverage of the president during the campaign. Among other things, such attacks are intended to energize the conservative activists who form the base of the Republican Party, and whose efforts on Nov. 2 are pivotal to Mr. Bush's chances at winning re-election.

"'Taking on the liberal media . . . is a huge motivator,' says Republican Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign. The complaints also raise pressure on news organizations and their reporters in the homestretch of a dead-heat presidential race. Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie says he isn't trying to intimidate news organizations, only to set the record straight. . . .

"Reports this week asserting that explosives in Iraq may have been stolen because of poor security by American troops have heightened the tension, and produced a flood of complaints from Republicans that Mr. Bush's campaign is being hurt by a story questioning his administration's handling of the war."

The Los Angeles Times |,0,7555059.story?coll=la-home-headlines gets with the battleground poll idea:

"The surveys find President Bush holding an 8 percentage point lead among likely voters in Florida, John Kerry opening a 6 percentage point advantage in Ohio, and the two men battling to a dead heat in Pennsylvania

"The Times results portray a slightly closer race in Pennsylvania than most other recent public surveys, which have shown Kerry with leads of 2 to 5 percentage points. . . .

"In Ohio and Florida, surveys over the past few weeks have oscillated, with Kerry and Bush trading the lead depending on the poll. But Kerry's advantage in Ohio in the Times survey is larger than in any other public poll this month, and Bush's edge in Florida is larger than in any other recent public survey except a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted last week that also found him leading by 8 points."

That clears that up, doesn't it?

This just in: Slate is pro-Kerry! | Editor Jake Weisberg writes:

"Slate continues a tradition initiated four years ago, when we asked our staff and contributors to tell us who they voted for on Election Day 2000. Last time, the tally was 29 for Gore; 4 for Bush; 2 for Nader; and 2 for Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate. This time, we've cast a slightly wider net and caught 45 for Kerry; 4 for Bush; 1 for Michael Badnarik (Libertarian); and 1 for David Cobb (Green).

"Interesting footnotes: One of those who voted for Bush in 2000 (our former publisher) has switched to Kerry. (The other Bush 2000 voters aren't in this year's survey.) One contributor who voted Libertarian in 2000 is now supporting Bush. The other three Bush supporters are new to Slate since the last election. One current Kerry voter, Daniel Drezner, was a Bush campaign adviser last time around.

"Other than curiosity, we're conducting this voluntary poll again for two main reasons. The first is to do something in lieu of an official endorsement by the magazine. Slate is a journal of opinion, but those opinions usually differ. Even writers who agree about a conclusion seldom cite the same reason. Collectivizing the fruit of unconventional minds in an endorsement would either ignore many views or yield a mushy compromise. It seems much more satisfactory to tell you who we're endorsing individually at the voting booth . . .

"Len Downie, the executive editor of the Washington Post, famously goes so far as to avoid even voting. Slate, which is a journal of opinion, takes precisely the opposite approach. Rather than bury our views, we cultivate and exhibit them. A basic premise of our kind of journalism is that we can openly express what we think and still be fair."

Washington Monthly blogger Amy Sullivan | picks up on my report yesterday that "some 36 newspapers that endorsed Bush in 2000 have decided to lend their stamp of approval to Kerry this time around. That's well and good and all. But what caught my attention was the comment a few paragraphs in that a number of prominent papers have declined to endorse either candidate for the White House. 'We have decided not to add one more potentially polarizing voice to a poisoned debate,' wrote the Cleveland Plain Dealer in their lame, weasely editorial.

"Is the Bushification of public discourse so complete that people actually believe it's somehow polarizing or wrong to express a judgment about two candidates for the highest office in the country? Last time I checked, democratic elections were all about assessing the records and potential of candidates and then making a determination about who would be the best. There's plenty of poisoned debate to go around, yes. But reasoned newspaper endorsements can and should be on an entirely different plane.

"The distinctions between Bush and Kerry could not be more clear and the failure to provide readers with a thoughtful analysis of the candidates' strengths and weaknesses is nothing short of an abdication of responsibility. I don't care if it sounds like I'm on my high horse. This is ridiculous."

Elsewhere on the site, Kevin Drum, crediting Atrios, | observes that "Christopher Hitchens appears to have changed his presidential preference within just the last week. Here he is in The Nation on October 21:

"'Should the electors decide for the President, as I would slightly prefer . . . .'

"And here he is in Slate five days later:

"Endorsement: John Kerry. Why? 'Bush deserves to be sacked . . . .'

"Does he really think that no one reads both magazines?"

The fate of America may be at stake in Tuesday's election, but the Chicago Trib |,,SB109890031518057350-H9jf4Njlad3n52ma4GIaayFm4,00.html is in a tizzy over the C-word. First, the Wall Street Journal report:

"So much for 'stop the presses.'

"Top editors at the Chicago Tribune tried desperately to stop publication Tuesday of a prominent feature story exploring usage of a vulgar slang term for a woman's anatomy. After discovering Tuesday morning that the story, which contained a provocative headline, had already hit the presses at the newspaper's Freedom Center printing plant, Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski ordered a team of high-ranking editors to manually pull the section out of pre-printed packages."

Here's the editor's note |,1,4673706.story in the Trib:

"Wednesday's WomanNews section included an article discussing the use of vulgar slang in referring to women. Senior editors determined that the story was inappropriate after the preprinted section went to press. Most copies were removed from Wednesday's edition of the paper, though a relatively small number of copies may still contain it. A new version of the section was printed in time to be distributed to a substantial number of readers. . . . The Tribune regrets any offense and inconvenience to its readers."

It sounds like they deeply regret it.