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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 www.dankennedy.net. For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

"Stealing" public documents. The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage today has a huge story on Republican staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who exploited a computer-security hole to steal documents from the Democratic minority. The Daily Kos is all over it. So is Josh Marshall.

This is stunningly sleazy behavior. But is it theft? Savage identifies someone named Manuel Miranda as a likely suspect. And one of the things Miranda tells Savage is this: "Stealing assumes a property right and there is no property right to a government document."

Whoa! That's pretty good. After all, you and I paid for those documents, Mr. Green.

In other words, it's still a scandal, but it may not be a crime.

posted at 3:47 PM | comment or permalink

Does the Globe hate John Kerry? Timothy Noah's latest "Chatterbox" piece in Slate is on "Kerry's Globe problem." The nut: Kerry's presidential campaign has been hurt by the fact that New England's dominant daily newspaper is out to get him.

Noah is definitely tapping into a real undercurrent, at least in terms of what the national media perceive. ABC's online political tip sheet, "The Note," isn't archived; but last fall I recall reading an observation that the Globe's coverage of Kerry was the meanest any presidential candidate had ever received from his hometown paper. Noah also notes that Kerry's former campaign manager, Jim Jordan, has called the Globe's Kerry coverage "distorted, insignificant, irrelevant, and vindictive."

But as I told Noah yesterday, I don't quite buy it. By far the nastiest local commentator on all things Kerry, for instance, is Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr. It is Carr who tagged Kerry with his most enduring nickname - "Liveshot," for his camera-seeking-missile act - and who bashes Kerry every afternoon on WRKO Radio (AM 680), where Carr hosts the afternoon drive-time talk show.

Nor can anyone at the Globe hold a candle - or perhaps I should say a flaming torch - to my former Phoenix colleague Jon Keller, the political analyst for WLVI-TV (Channel 56), who last fall hosted an entire half-hour special devoted to Kerry-bashing. Keller's column in the current issue of Boston magazine - obviously overtaken by events - examines in loving detail how it all fell apart for Kerry on the presidential campaign trail.

To be sure, Noah's Slate piece is full of "to be sures" - so many, in fact, that his Globe theory begins to fall apart. (Among the inconvenient facts Noah is forced to acknowledge is that today's Globe endorses Kerry's presidential campaign. So, for that matter, does the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Herald.) Out-of-town journalists such as Noah take far more notice of the Globe than they do of the Herald or Boston's local TV news stations. But in this case that has led Noah to commit a fundamental error of logic: he correctly observes that there has been a lot of mean commentary about Kerry in the Globe; therefore, he decides, it must have something to do with the Globe.

Yes, over the years the Globe has run tough pieces on Kerry - some fair, some not - by what Noah properly observes is an astonishingly large stable of columnists.

But when it come to truly inspired anti-Kerry pieces of recent vintage, the Globe's not even on the radar.

I could go through a laundry list (if you'd like to compile your own, search these incomparable archives), but I'll close with this. Without question, the meanest, most vicious Kerry-basher working in the media today is someone whose name pops up on Noah's screen every time he clicks to the Slate home page.

That would, of course, be Mickey Kaus, who actually ran a Kerry Loathsomeness Contest last year, and who recently had to suspend his Kerry Withdrawal Contest.

Actual Kaus lead-in for an item on John Edwards on Tuesday: "I'd rather be trashing Kerry ..."

The fact is that Kerry is an ambiguous figure on the Massachusetts political landscape. He's long labored in the shadows of the state's senior senator, Ted Kennedy. He is reserved and formal, which is another way of saying that he's aloof. He doesn't stroke reporters, and reporters love nothing better than to be stroked. He has a reputation for being inattentive to the needs of local officials. He is, for better or worse, a big thinker who's always had his eye on national politics.

Such a person is going to get cuffed around. It would be pretty strange if the Globe ignored that.

New in this week's Phoenix. Speaking of Kerry ... I spent Tuesday tromping around New Hampshire, chasing after Kerry and the other Democratic presidential candidates. Here's what I found.

Also, what did former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill really tell journalist Ron Suskind?

posted at 8:51 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

In defense of polls. There's been a lot of talk since Iowa about how the polls were supposedly all wrong. In fact, they got it exactly right. How they're used is another matter.

Six weeks ago, as we all know, John Kerry's presidential campaign was dead in the water. As Dan Aykroyd's Bob Dole would say, he knew it, we knew it, and the American people knew it. Fundraising dried up. He poured his personal money into the campaign in a desperate attempt to stave off collapse. It got so bad that in New Hampshire, which is close to a must-win state for him, the alternative to Howard Dean increasingly came to be seen not as Kerry but as Wesley Clark.

Now, what if Kerry had ignored the polls? Guess what: he'd be limping into the final week of his campaign. Instead, he shook up his campaign staff. He sharpened his stump speech. And - most important - he pulled up stakes in New Hampshire in favor of running full-time in Iowa during the last few weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

As we now know, Kerry's all-or-nothing gamble on Iowa paid off. But it's not as if no one saw it coming. Several weeks ago the media - including national papers such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times - reported that Kerry appeared to be doing a much better job of connecting with ordinary voters in Iowa.

Then, about a week and a half before the caucuses, the Zogby daily tracking polls began to show movement: Kerry and John Edwards up; Dean and Dick Gephardt down. By last Wednesday, with a week to go, Kerry had taken a narrow lead. The last Zogby poll, as well as the Des Moines Register's weekend poll, foresaw the exact order of finish, although not the dramatic margin of Kerry's and Edwards's final tallies.

In other words, it appears that the polls were an accurate reflection of what was happening on any given day. The polls were immensely useful to the Kerry campaign. Where the pundits blew it was in taking those polls and using them to predict what would happen two or more months out. But even here I think it would be wrong to be too harsh. No one has ever come back from the kind of hole Kerry had dug himself into. His conflicted stance on Iraq, and his rococo speaking style, hardly seemed like the tools needed to stage one of the great political comebacks.

And by the way: according to the American Research Group's daily tracking polls in New Hampshire, Kerry's Iowa bounce is for real. The latest numbers show Dean still leading, with 26 percent; Kerry with 24 percent; and Clark at 18 percent, dropping out of the virtual tie he had been in with Kerry. Zogby has it Dean, 25; Kerry, 23; and Clark, 16.

I'm willing to bet if the primary were held today, the results would reflect those numbers. But next Tuesday? Well, we'll just have to wait and see.

posted at 12:14 PM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Michael Dukakis, prophet of Iowa. Not much to say this morning - I'll be driving around New Hampshire all day, stalking the wily Democratic presidential candidates.

Like practically everyone, I had all but written off John Kerry as recently as two weeks ago, reporting on the "nearly impossible position" of being the former front-runner. So I'm glad I included this very smart quote from former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, the Democrats' 1988 nominee and a Kerry backer:

The race has just begun. I don't know - and I love you all dearly - you guys in the media get so mesmerized by the polls.... John has always been a slow starter and a strong finisher. We'll see. We'll only know what's going on after we've had a series of primaries and things begin to sort themselves out. That's one grizzled veteran's take on all this.

Slate's William Saletan, per usual, has a smart take on why Kerry won. Slate's Kerry-loathing blogger, Mickey Kaus, has put his "Kerry Withdrawal Contest" on hold.

And I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought Howard Dean did himself no favors when he spoke to his supporters Monday night.

posted at 7:47 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, January 19, 2004

Kerry-Clark '04? Why not? It makes sense, so it probably won't happen. But here's why it should. Although it may still turn out that Howard Dean's and Dick Gephardt's field organizations are too much to overcome, there is a pretty good chance that the story coming out of Iowa tonight will be John Kerry. The final Zogby Iowa tracking poll: Kerry, 25 percent; Dean, 22 percent; John Edwards, 21 percent; Gephardt, 18 percent.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Kerry's campaign - dead as recently as a week ago - has sprung to life; he's essentially tied for second with Wesley Clark (Clark, 20 percent; Kerry, 19 percent) in the American Research Group daily tracking polls. Dean still holds the lead with 28 percent. (The Boston Globe/WBZ-TV tracking poll isn't quite as good for Kerry: he's lagging with 14 percent, behind Dean's 30 percent and Clark's 23 percent).

To finish setting the table: on Sunday, the Concord Monitor endorsed Kerry, writing, "Only Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has well-reasoned and rock-solid answers to every question, foreign or domestic. Kerry is prepared to take office tomorrow." So did the Nashua Telegraph. The Boston Globe and possibly the Boston Herald (even though it will be with George W. Bush in November) can be expected to follow suit in the next few days.

Now, then. I can't dig up the citation, but I know I saw a comment from Clark recently saying that he wouldn't have jumped into the race if Kerry had caught fire. And Kerry, after being all but written off, is finally on the move. But if Kerry and Clark split the anti-Dean vote in New Hampshire next Tuesday, then Dean could win, regain the momentum, and roll to the nomination.

Clark has run an interesting campaign, and he's a very smart guy, but huge questions remain about his lack of experience in anything other than the military. If he were to drop out, and Kerry were to take the unprecedented step of naming his fellow war hero as his running mate, the combination might be too much for Dean to overcome. And if Dean can't win in New Hampshire, he likely can't win anywhere.

Little People news. Yesterday's Providence Journal reviewed Little People. Reviewer Jeanne Nicholson writes:

He weighs the risks and rewards of bone-stretching surgery; he seeks out and interviews adult dwarfs on their home turf for insights into how Becky might attain a life of quality in spite of her difference; he attends and writes about the meetings of Little People of America, knowing his daughter will have to build a life for herself in a world with people of average height.

posted at 9:30 AM | comment or permalink


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

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