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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

The field's turned upside-down. Here it is: the Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll.

  1. John Kerry, 26 percent
  2. John Edwards, 23 percent
  3. Howard Dean, 20 percent
  4. Richard Gephardt, 18 percent

It's close, and Dean and Gephardt are still thought to have the superior organizations heading into Monday's caucuses. But this is quite a turnabout, no? And organization might be offset by passion. Check out this paragraph:

In another sign of strength for Kerry, he is supported by 33 percent of those definitely planning to attend the caucuses. Dean comes in second in this group with 21 percent. Edwards and Gephardt follow with 19 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

Of course, this raises many, many questions. If Kerry doesn't finish first now, is it worse than if he had never held the lead? If he does finish first, do New Hampshire Democrats care? Those are just for starters.

posted at 9:28 PM | comment or permalink

But he's still John Kerry. And he's still capable of whacking his fellow candidates for supporting the Iraq-war resolution even though he, too, supported it. Anne Kornblut and Patrick Healy report in today's Boston Globe:

Kerry yesterday launched a new attack against Gephardt and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut over their support for the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq. Kerry accused the two of siding with President Bush on the resolution, ultimately approved by Congress, instead of an earlier one that would have limited Bush's ability to go to war quickly.

"When Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt wound up down at the Rose Garden with the president signing off on some deal, they pulled the rug out from the rest of us in the United States Senate who were fighting for a different resolution," Kerry told voters in Guttenberg, Iowa. Kerry ended up voting for the resolution that passed.

For what it's worth, Kerry has also slipped backwards in Zogby's Iowa tracking polls for the first time in a while.

posted at 9:14 AM | comment or permalink

Friday, January 16, 2004

More on the Kerry surge. The New Republic's Michael Crowley - like Al Giordano, a former Phoenix colleague - gives the credit to Michael Whouley, who actually lives a few blocks from me. Not that he's ever home.

posted at 7:42 PM | comment or permalink

The Kerry surge explained. If John Kerry really has revived his campaign - and we'll know by Monday night - then Al Giordano's analysis will stand as a pretty good explanation.

posted at 7:13 PM | comment or permalink

More stuff reporters could learn if they would read Howard Dean's book. Today's Boston Herald has a news flash:

Howard Dean, in a revealing new magazine interview, candidly recalled suffering an anxiety attack and "hyperventilating" when he unexpectedly learned he was to become governor of Vermont in 1991.

"To suddenly get told that you have responsibility for 600,000 people - it provokes a little anxiety," Dean told People magazine.

The sudden death of then-Gov. Richard Snelling came as a bolt from the blue for Dean, who was thrust into the governorship literally overnight after having served as lieutenant governor under Snelling.

The right-wing website is extremely excited about this development. Here's the top of the "story behind the story" that it posted yesterday:

Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean offered more details this week on psychological counseling he underwent for anxiety attacks suffered in the 1980s - and revealed that he had a panic attack the day he took over as governor of Vermont 13 years ago.

Reacting to news of Gov. Richard Snelling's death in August 1991, Dean told People magazine, "I hyperventilated and I started hyperventilating and I thought, You better stop that or you won't be much good to anybody."

And here's an excerpt from pages 55-56 of Dean's book, Winning Back America, which has been available for a good month and a half:

The call was from Bruce Yost, one of Governor Snelling's staffers. "I'm terribly sorry to inform you the governor's passed away," Bruce said. My first split-second reaction was that he was kidding, but I knew immediately by his tone of voice he wasn't. I then started to hyperventilate, which was something I'd never done in my entire life. I told myself to breathe normally because I wouldn't be of use to anyone if I kept that up.

Here is the entire People interview with Dean and his wife, Judith Steinberg.

There are some interesting new details in here about the anxiety attacks he suffered in the 1980s, when his brother, Charles, was being held captive in Laos, and was later killed.

You should read it now, so you'll have the context when the right-wingers begin attacking Dean for being psychologically unstable or some damn thing. In fact, as you will see from the piece, it's already started.

posted at 11:10 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, January 15, 2004

New in this week's Phoenix. Taking a look at the Democratic presidential candidates' campaign books. Also, what reporters could have learned by reading Howard Dean's book.

posted at 11:43 AM | comment or permalink

Kerry's big move. John Kerry's decision to spend nearly all of his time in Iowa appears to be paying off in a major way. The Zogby tracking polls, which have been the talk of the political world the last few days, now actually show Kerry to be in the lead in Iowa. The numbers: Kerry, 22 percent; Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt, 21 percent each; and John Edwards, 17 percent. How dramatic is this? Well, barely a week ago Dean was leading with 25 percent, Gephardt was running second at 23 percent, and Kerry was third at 15 percent.

What does any of this mean? Who knows? All the experts argue that tracking polls are notoriously unreliable. Still, it seems that Kerry is, all of a sudden, the hot candidate, at least in Iowa.

But with Dean, Gephardt, and Kerry essentially tied, and with Iowa's convoluted caucus system requiring more than the usual amount of devotion from one's supporters, the results of Monday's caucuses are going to depend heavily on organization. This Todd Purdum piece in today's New York Times suggests that Dean and Gephardt have the strongest organizations - although Kerry, who's been reaching out to his fellow veterans, will be no slouch.

Of course, the very real possibility exists that Kerry's roll-of-the-dice gamble on Iowa will fail. He could still come in third, giving him zero bounce going into New Hampshire, where Dean and Wesley Clark (who's skipping Iowa) are the leading candidates. The latest Boston Herald poll - reflecting other polls - shows Dean at 29 percent, Clark at 20 percent, and Kerry at just 15 percent.

As I learned recently, Kerry's New Hampshire campaign has been all but moribund for quite a while. What Kerry is banking on is that an unexpectedly strong showing in Iowa - say, second place (especially if Dean falls to third) or, even better, first - will give New Hampshire Democrats a reason to look at him again.

A side note: one thing I've noticed is that whenever I write about polls, I get e-mails from angry partisans of one candidate or another lambasting me for focusing on the horse race rather than "the issues." Well, of course, the issues are important. But differences on Iraq (not so great as one might suppose), health care, and tax cuts aside, the fact is that Dean, Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, and Clark are all from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. (I'm not so sure about Joe Lieberman.) The most important issue is which candidate will give George W. Bush the toughest fight. And that starts with which Democrat is able to win the nomination.

Hynes City Hall? I love an idea put forth by Boston city councilors Paul Scapicchio and John Tobin to move City Hall to the Hynes Center, and sell off the current City Hall - and the disastrous sea of brick that surrounds it - to private developers. Ellen Silberman has the story in today's Boston Herald.

No doubt the idea is impractical: a logistical nightmare combined with a one-time financial bonanza that might not even cover the cost of the move. But, given that city and state officials seem determined to kill the Hynes in order to boost the dead-on-arrival South Boston convention center, the Scapicchio-Tobin idea would at least keep the Back Bay alive and vital.

LaPierre on the loose. I'm not sure which is more ridiculous: the fact that WBZ Radio (AM 1030) lets Gary LaPierre anchor the "local" news from Florida or the fact that LaPierre sees nothing wrong with it. Suzanne Ryan reports in today's Boston Globe.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Powell panders over F-word. Not to intrude on your day with F-bombs, but it was the Federal Communications Commission that ruled last October on the fine distinctions between the adjectival and verb forms of that fine old Anglo-Saxon word.

I don't find this quite as personally exciting as quoting from the footnotes of the Starr Report. Nevertheless, here is the excerpt from the FCC report (PDF file) exonerating the broadcast media for putting Bono on the air while he used the phrase "fucking brilliant" at an awards show:

As a threshold matter, the material aired during the "Golden Globe Awards" program does not describe or depict sexual and excretory activities and organs. The word "fucking" may be crude and offensive, but, in the context presented here, did not describe sexual or excretory organs or activities. Rather, the performer used the word "fucking" as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation. Indeed, in similar circumstances, we have found that offensive language used as an insult rather than as a description of sexual or excretory activity or organs is not within the scope of the Commission's prohibition of indecent program content.

God, I love it when the FCC talks dirty to me!

Anyway, the decision, arrived at by the FCC's enforcement division, is now being challenged by the head of the agency, Michael Powell, who, according to this report on, "is actively campaigning inside the agency to get that ruling overturned by the full commission."

Powell also wants fines for broadcasters who let the naughty bits slip through to be raised from $27,500 to $275,000. At an appearance at the National Press Club today, Powell reportedly said, "Some of these fines are peanuts. They're just a cost of doing business. That has to change."

The pandering, puffy-faced offspring of Secretary of State Colin Powell is better known for trying to convince us that corporate media concentration is good for us. Edging into James Dobson territory is new for him, and somewhat at odds with his image as a libertarian technocrat. But, of course, it is an election year.

The MediaDrome notes that "given the fact that Bono's outburst was broadcast live, it's difficult to imagine how stations are to be expected to exert control." Worth reading.

posted at 4:39 PM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Canellos calls Dean a liar - and gets it wrong. The Boston Globe's Washington-bureau chief, Peter Canellos, has hit the Iowa campaign trail to find out what it is that makes Howard Dean tick. Canellos's answer: anger. Grrr! Where have we heard that before?

But Media Log was especially struck by this Canellos passage, since it suggests that he simply hasn't been paying attention:

Now, Dean's tendency to shoot from the hip has become an issue unto itself, as the other candidates contend, reasonably, that Dean's arguments don't always square with the facts. Take his oft-repeated insistence that "there was no middle-class tax cut." There was. It just wasn't nearly as big as the cut for the wealthy.

Did Canellos accurately portray what Dean has been saying? Not even close. Here's Dean at the Des Moines Register debate of January 4:

Well, we've got to look at the big picture. If you make over $1 million, you've got a $112,000 tax cut. Sixty percent of us got a $304 tax cut.

And the question I have for Americans is, did your college tuition go up more than $304 because the president cut Pell Grants in order to finance his tax cuts for his millionaire friends? How about your property taxes, did they go up more than $304 because the president wouldn't fund special ed, wouldn't fund No Child Left Behind, wouldn't fund COPS and - how about your health care payments? Did they go up more than $304 because the president cut thousands of people all over America off health care because he wouldn't fund the states' share that they needed to continue to insure people, and that was shifted to insurance and the health care premiums?

Middle-class people did not see a tax cut. There was no middle-class tax cut. There was a Bush tax increase with tuitions, with property taxes, with health care premiums, and most middle-class people in this country are worse off because of President Bush's so- called tax cut than they are better off.

Now, I have no idea whether Dean's $304 figure is a fair representation of the middle-class tax cut. Some of his critics - like John Kerry - have argued that it was actually quite a bit more than that, and that it was pushed through by Democrats over Republican objections.

But Dean's rhetorical intent is absolutely clear: to disparage the Bush-era middle-class tax cut as piddling, and to argue that it was more than offset by increases in property taxes, college tuition, and health care caused by Bush's ridiculous tax cuts for the rich - tax cuts that we now know, thanks to Paul O'Neill and Ron Suskind, even Bush thought were absurd.

It's very simple. Canellos mischaracterized Dean, and then used that mischaracterization to build his case that Dean is an angry guy who has a "tendency to paint complex issues in very stark terms."

The truth is that it's Canellos who is shooting from the hip here.

posted at 9:20 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, January 12, 2004

O'Neill speaks. The principal revelations by former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill - that the Bush administration began planning to go to war against Iraq almost from the moment it took office, and that even George W. Bush questioned huge tax cuts for the rich before gutlessly signing on - are staggering.

It is an incredible indictment of the state in which we find ourselves these days that it probably won't make any difference.

Here is the transcript of O'Neill's appearance last night on CBS's 60 Minutes. The section on Iraq is appalling beyond description:

And what happened at President Bush's very first National Security Council meeting is one of O'Neill's most startling revelations.

"From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go," says O'Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11.

"From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime," says Suskind. "Day one, these things were laid and sealed."

As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.

"It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this,'" says O'Neill. "For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap."

O'Neill's account of Bush and the second tax cut comes from a "nearly verbatim transcript" that an administration official gave O'Neill following a meeting in November 2002. Ron Suskind - author of the forthcoming The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill - describes it like this:

He says everyone expected Mr. Bush to rubber stamp the plan under discussion: a big new tax cut. But, according to Suskind, the president was perhaps having second thoughts about cutting taxes again, and was uncharacteristically engaged.

"He asks, 'Haven't we already given money to rich people? This second tax cut's gonna do it again,'" says Suskind.

"He says, 'Didn't we already, why are we doing it again?' Now, his advisers, they say, 'Well Mr. President, the upper class, they're the entrepreneurs. That's the standard response.' And the president kind of goes, 'OK.' That's their response. And then, he comes back to it again. 'Well, shouldn't we be giving money to the middle, won't people be able to say, 'You did it once, and then you did it twice, and what was it good for?'"

But according to the transcript, White House political advisor Karl Rove jumped in.

"Karl Rove is saying to the president, a kind of mantra. 'Stick to principle. Stick to principle.' He says it over and over again," says Suskind. "Don't waver."

In the end, the president didn't. And nine days after that meeting in which O'Neill made it clear he could not publicly support another tax cut, the vice president called and asked him to resign.

If O'Neill is telling the truth - and there is no reason to think he isn't - then this is an absolutely devastating portrayal.

The Time magazine piece is, if anything, even more frightening in its picture of Bush and, especially, of the machinations of the Dark Lord, Dick Cheney. Check out the account of the "gang of three beleaguered souls" - O'Neill, former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Who elected this guy, anyway? Oh, yeah ... right.

His bowtie is twirling. Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler slapped buckraking columnist George Will yesterday for Will's non-disclosure of the $25,000 payment he'd received from corrupt press lord Conrad Black.

The ex factor. Right below a column by Boston Globe Christine Chinlund today on the number of corrections the paper ran last year (1223) is a piece by syndicated columnist William Pfaff (not online at the Globe's website) that refers to "ex-US Senator Charles Schumer."

Here is the Pfaff column - first published last Friday - at the website of the International Herald Tribune. As you'll see, Schumer is properly identified as a current senator. But, of course, this could have been corrected after it came in.

So did a Globe editor introduce the mistake or simply fail to fix it? Media Log will be watching the corrections column.

Clipping service. Bruce Allen wants to know: how much leeway does that disclaimer at the bottom of the Globe's sports-notes columns give? Is it okay for a writer - like football columnist Ron Borges - simply to cut-and-paste from

posted at 8:55 AM | comment or permalink


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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