Journalists love endorsements. Voters don't care.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
President Bush's decision to make a last-minute stop in Virginia for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore prompted all kinds of media analysis. Would the president get credit if Kilgore won? Would he be blamed if Kilgore lost? Would he be blamed if Kilgore lost anyway, meaning there was no extra risk in doing the drop-by, especially if it enabled Bush to claim credit in case of victory?
Now that Democrat Tim Kaine has won, the press has set the table for all the what-does-it-say-about-Bush pieces.
What journalists often fail to appreciate is that state and local races turn on state and local issues and personalities. There may be voters who would back Jerry Kilgore because Bush visited the state, but I doubt there are many of them. I had the same feeling when I saw Democrat Jon Corzine repeatedly running ads in the New Jersey governor's race with Bill Clinton singing his praises.
The Jersey race was more likely to turn on the appalling mud-slinging in which the press carried allegations that both Corzine and Republican Doug Forrester had extramarital affairs, and Forrester ran an ad quoting Corzine's ex-wife as saying he had abandoned his family and would probably be a lousy governor. I guess voters decided to ignore the former Mrs. Corzine, because the senator won easily. His reward: Moving to Trenton.
Endorsements are a cheap and easy story for political reporters. Remember what a huge deal the media made over Al Gore's backing of Howard Dean? Lotta good that did him.
The only exception I can think of is when Rudy Giuliani endorsed Mike Bloomberg weeks after 9/11, although the former Wall Streeter's spending of $75 million that year didn't hurt. (The Republican mayor's victory yesterday followed an avalanche of TV ads versus nothing for Freddy Ferrer until the final days. If it were a prizefight, it would have been stopped weeks ago.)
There's a simple reason why journalists love big-name endorsements in local contests: because they're dying to imbue them with national significance. Otherwise, they're just local races about schools, taxes, traffic, potholes and health care. What the media want are trend stories that have national significance and can be read as a harbinger of the next national elections.
The Note even noted that "national political analysts have gone on TV to say, in effect, 'Stop us, before we over-analyze again.' "
Every four years, the press grabs onto the flotsam of the Jersey and Virginia races and the New York mayoral contest--boosted this year by Arnold's special election in California--and tries to interpret, infer and extrapolate what it all means. And it may not mean squat beyond the borders of those states. But political reporters are smart enough to make it interesting reading anyway.
Ron Brownstein says in the LAT | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/politics/la-na-govs9nov09,0,5074302.story?coll=la-home-headlines that the Kaine and Corzine wins are "sending new tremors through Republicans worried that President Bush's sagging popularity may drag down the party in next year's midterm elections...The decisive twin victories sent Democratic spirits soaring."
Robin Toner in the NYT | http://nytimes.com/2005/11/09/politics/09assess.html?hp&ex=1131598800&en=e664e8d0cfd1e075&ei=5094&partner=homepage: "After months of sagging poll ratings, scandal and general political unrest, the Republicans badly needed some good news in Tuesday's elections for governor. What they got instead was a clear-cut loss in a red state, and an expected but still painful defeat in a blue one."
Dick Polman in the Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/13118832.htm: "Plagued by bad polls, an unpopular war, top aides under indictment or investigation, and a legislative agenda in limbo, President Bush badly needed to score some good news yesterday in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections to demonstrate that he is still a political kingmaker.
"But, judging by the results, Republicans may well conclude that he has become political baggage."
While Jersey was no shocker, "Virginia is a different story. Bush put his reputation on the line by campaigning at the eleventh hour for Republican Jerry Kilgore - in a reliably 'red' state that Bush won last November by eight percentage points - yet Kilgore was hammered by the triumphant Democrat, Tim Kaine."
The WP | http://media3.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/08/AR2005110802241.html focused on a possible '08 contender, saying Kaine's win "presented an intriguing campaign model for Democrats, in which religious faith plays an important role. And most of all it demonstrated the appeal of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), for whom this could become the first stop of a presidential campaign."
The New York Post | http://www.nypost.com/news/nationalnews/57124.htm's Deborah Orin finds a Hillary angle: "President Bush got a direct rebuff yesterday when Virginia -- which voted for him last year -- elected Democrat Tim Kaine as its new governor, but the vote was also a warning for Sen. Hillary Clinton.
"Kaine's 51-46 percent win over Republican Jerry Kilgore marked a big success for outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who claims to know the formula to win GOP states and is a likely Clinton 2008 rival."
I hope those Virginia voters realized what they were doing!
Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin | http://nydailynews.com/front/story/363972p-309958c.html says Bloomberg's 20-point win could elevate him to the top ranks:
"LaGuardia set the standard, but he is more legend than person. Ed Koch embodied that spirit of oneness for much of his 12 years, and still does by remaining part of the urban fabric. Rudy Giuliani could seem like an alien at times, but anyone who doesn't recognize his contributions to the rejuvenation of our city is either nuts or dishonest. And his leadership on and after 9/11 will stand forever.
"Bloomberg, for all his accomplishments, has not scaled those heights. Competent is the most common word used to describe him, and it's a backhanded compliment. He's more - a good mayor in many ways and a very good mayor in some ways. Still, competent is what most people feel about him.
"One problem is that he's an out-of-towner. Another is his wealth and lifestyle, which have insulated him from the daily grind and fears most people experience. For that reason and perhaps by nature, he can often seem cold and mechanical."
On the terror front, not everyone in the administration favored the rough stuff against prisoners:
"A classified report issued last year by the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general warned that interrogation procedures approved by the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11 attacks might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture, current and former intelligence officials say," reports the New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/11/09/politics/09detain.html?hp&ex=1131512400&en=50d901027e61366e&ei=5094&partner=homepage.
"The previously undisclosed findings from the report, which was completed in the spring of 2004, reflected deep unease within the C.I.A. about the interrogation procedures, the officials said. A list of 10 techniques authorized early in 2002 for use against suspected terrorists included one known as waterboarding, and went well beyond those authorized by the military for use on prisoners of war."
The Washington Post | http://media3.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/08/AR2005110800764.html has news of Denny Hastert and Bill Frist seeking an investigation . . . involving The Washington Post:
"Congress's top Republican leaders yesterday demanded an immediate joint House and Senate investigation into the disclosure of classified information to The Washington Post that detailed a web of secret prisons being used to house and interrogate terrorism suspects."
In Slate, former Clinton NSC aide Daniel Benjamin | http://www.slate.com/id/2129686/ says the veep is a really big deal:
"It has become a cliche to say that Dick Cheney is the most powerful vice president in American history. Nonetheless, here is a prediction: When the historians really get digging into the paper entrails of the Bush administration -- or possibly when Scooter Libby goes on trial -- those who have intoned that phrase will still be astonished at the extent to which the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney was the center of power inside the White House -- and at the grip it had on foreign and defense policy. . . .
"Browbeating intelligence officials, disregard for the National Security Council's traditional leadership of the interagency process -- this kind of behavior, plenty of Bush administration officials privately attest, was typical as the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis that took the country to war."
The Democrats are pushing for a no-pardon pledge, and they get the endorsement of Arianna | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/keeping-the-pressure-on-_b_10277.html:
"In his press conference, Harry Reid said, 'I think the president should come forward now and say he's not going to pardon anybody.'
"Not a moment too soon, because the conventional wisdom on Scooter Libby being pardoned is already starting to congeal. . . .
"According to the pundits, a pardon is a done deal. All that's up for grabs is the timing.
"Will it be after Scooter changes his plea to guilty, thus pulling the plug on a trial -- and robbing us of the pleasure of seeing Dick Cheney on the stand, under oath, being grilled on WMD, aluminum tubes, the WHIG, and the campaign to smear Joe Wilson? Or will Bush follow in the footsteps of his father's pardon of Cap Weinberger, and give Libby his presidential Stay Out of Jail Free card preemptively, before he even has to admit to any wrongdoing?
"Of course, there is a third option: Bush assenting to Reid's request and taking the pardon option off the table. That would be the best way to offer the American people the chance to finally learn the truth -- which after all, is what the president has repeatedly said he is after."
Tom DeFrank | http://www.nydailynews.com/front/story/363529p-309592c.html of the Daily News has more on the alleged estrangement of Bush and Cheney:
"The CIA leak scandal has peeled back the veil on the most closely held White House secret of all: the subtle but unmistakable erosion in the bond between President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
"Multiple sources close to Bush told the Daily News that while the vice president remains his boss' valued political partner and counselor, his clout has lessened - primarily as a result of issues arising from the Iraq war.
"'The relationship is not what it was,' a presidential counselor said. 'There has been some distance for some time.'
"A senior administration official termed any such suggestion 'categorically false.' "
In other words, more anonymous leaking stemming from an investigation into anonymous leaking.
John Dickerson | http://www.slate.com/id/2129655/ serves up some reasons why Bush shouldn't fire Rove. Among them:
"You'll only encourage us. The nay-saying Washington establishment can never get enough. If Bush fires Rove, the journalists and wise men who have been calling for his head won't be satisfied. They'll be emboldened. There will be calls for more acts of dubious self-flagellation: a broader staff shakeup, a public session of mistake-admitting by Bush, a timetable for troop withdrawals from Iraq, and perhaps even makeup sessions with the French. 'They'll bank it and then want more,' says a senior administration official of those who want a Rove firing.
"The tumult will pass. The limbo period after the Libby indictment has contributed to the ethical stink surrounding the White House. The press asks the president or his spokesman about Rove every day, and the White House can only stonewall. That drives the president's poll numbers down. But once Fitzgerald closes shop without another indictment, the scandal will start to fade away. Sure, Rove's continued employment will be measured against Bush's previous righteous statements on government ethics. Clintonites will be rightfully smug. Democrats won't let the Rove case go, but they were going to attack him whether Bush fired him or not. If the nonpartisans in the country ever cared about Rove at all, most will go back to caring about the war in Iraq and gas and home-heating-oil prices. Those aren't issues that work well for Bush, but they're also ones that won't be improved by a Rove firing."
I know senators think they're all-powerful, but the New Republic | http://www.tnr.com/blog/theplank has still more evidence:
"Patrick Fitzgerald is said to be lining up a host of witnesses--including Tim Russert, Judy Miller, Ari Fleischer, and possibly even Dick Cheney--to testify that Scooter Libby lied to investigators when he said he learned of Valerie Plame's identity from reporters. But there's one more name Fitzgerald might want to add to his witness list: Tom Coburn. The senator, evidently, has a special knack for sussing out liars. During John Roberts's confirmation hearings, the Oklahoma Republican said:
"I've tried to use my medical skills of observation of body language to ascertain your uncomfortableness and ill at ease with questions and responses. I will tell you that I am very pleased both in my observational capabilities as a physician to know that your answers have been honest and forthright as I watch the rest of your body respond to the stress that you're under."
If only journalists could detect truth and lies so easily!
A classic debunking piece about Iraq, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch | http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/politics/story/51DC19D72A063D2F862570B00067A5B7?OpenDocument&highlight=2%2C%22jimmy%22+AND+%22massey%22:
"For more than a year, former Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy Massey has been telling anybody who will listen about the atrocities that he and other Marines committed in Iraq. In scores of newspaper, magazine and broadcast stories, at a Canadian immigration hearing and in numerous speeches across the country, Massey has told how he and other Marines recklessly, sometimes intentionally, killed dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians. Among his claims:
"--Marines fired on and killed peaceful Iraqi protesters.
"--Americans shot a 4-year-old Iraqi girl in the head.
"--A tractor-trailer was filled with the bodies of civilian men, women and children killed by American artillery.
"Massey's claims have gained him celebrity. Last month, Massey's book, 'Kill, Kill, Kill,' was released in France. His allegations have been reported in nationwide publications such as USA Today, as well as numerous broadcast reports...News organizations worldwide published or broadcast Massey's claims without any corroboration and in most cases without investigation. Outside of the Marines, almost no one has seriously questioned whether Massey, a 12-year veteran who was honorably discharged, was telling the truth.
"Each of his claims is either demonstrably false or exaggerated - according to his fellow Marines, Massey's own admissions, and the five journalists who were embedded with Massey's unit, including a reporter and photographer from the Post-Dispatch and reporters from The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal."
How on earth did this guy get such a free ride from the press?
Eric Pfeiffer, blogging at Wonkette | http://www.wonkette.com/politics/laura-bush/linen-n-things-135889.php,
"White House reporters have noted Laura Bush's appetite for news. Unlike the professions of her husband, Laura reportedly not only reads the papers but calls reporters when she disagrees with a particular take. We don't know if the rumors are true, but this corrected White House pool report did catch our eye.
"The president and first lady arrived at the lock at 10:35 a.m. EST, about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. He was wearing a blue shirt and gray slacks and no tie. The first lady had on a white pantsuit, looking very crisp."
"Skies were overcast, but it was not raining. A very large cruise ship, tourists lining the railings, passed thought the lock just before they arrived."
"The Bushes were joined at the lock by President and Mrs. Torrijos. The Panamanian president was without jacket and tie, also His wife had on an eggshell-white pantsuit. Hers appeared to be linen, while Mrs. Bush's outfit was probably polyester and cotton.
"About three hours later, the following correction went out to reporters:
"First Lady Laura Bush's white pantsuit was linen, and not polyester and cotton, as reported. It still looked crisp.
"Richard (Saint Laurent) Benedetto, USA TODAY."
Me, I don't do fabrics. But what about Laura "reportedly" calling scribes to complain about stories? This is the first I've heard of it. If any ink-stained wretch out there has gotten such a call, drop me a line.