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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, February 21, 2004

Tom Oliphant responds. The Boston Globe columnist e-mails Media Log on the question of whether Wesley Clark smeared John Kerry, and/or whether Matt Drudge smeared Wesley Clark:

I could not have written anything about Gen. Clark's bus discussion had I been there. Contrary to Mr. Lizza's unclear description about it being off-the-record "sort of", I was told by others who were there that the ground rule was off-the-record. Most of these reporters told colleagues, friends, and other campaigns about it. This is why it is so weird to me that a candidate would talk about a sensitive subject with a group of reporters on that basis.

They also told their home offices, which raises a factual point about all this absurdity that I think has been overlooked. In studying how a germ got into the system, the narrative is not simply Clark and then Drudge. There had been chatter in the political world about "something" coming on Kerry for weeks before that, dating roughly from the end of January. It had no specific basis I was aware of, but the chatter was fairly constant.

Despite the absence of anything specific, I recall thinking and remarking to pals at the time that given contemporary standards there was no way this wasn't going to lead sooner or later to an ugly incident. I can't help you on Chris Lehane as described in your account of Craig Crawford's situation, but from personal experience it was my direct observation that the chatter extended across the campaign and press worlds. I saw it more as inappropriate gossip than sinister plot.

I used quotes only around "intern", obviously not to quote Drudge but to use the one word everyone I talked to used. From the accounts I heard from reporters there and people in their home offices to whom they talked, the verb implode fits the various accounts, though self-destruct and blow up were other examples.

In addition to summarizing the background to Clark's behavior, I also wrote that his comments directed attention [to] (some said specifically mentioned) the piece in The National Enquirer before it was published. The piece was transparently a clip job, but the effect was to increase the level of chatter by a lot. Drudge took it down to the next level, which I described as a frenzy about a story that hadn't been written concerning an allegation that hadn't been made. Clark's role - and by now I would suppose that one of the reporters there will consider writing the whole thing up - was not isolated; its context was weeks of unfocused gossip-mongering behind the scenes. It is not true that one consultant or one campaign was responsible; as usually happens this was much more generic, and as is usually the case the origin of the chatter about "something" is obscured.

In a subsequent phone conversation, Oliphant told me, "There are at least six or seven accounts of this thing. They don't differ in basic thrust, but they differ enough that you know you can't possibly get a handle on it as if it were a transcript of a White House press briefing."

He added: "I was just trying to make the judgment, did Clark play a role in this? And my answer is, yes, but it's not clear-cut-and-dried except in context." Clark's remarks, he explained, would have amounted to no more than "idle chatter" if they hadn't occurred in the context of the buzz that had been making the political and media rounds for at least several weeks previously - buzz that put everyone in "precisely the wrong frame of mind to handle a virus like Drudge."

I asked: But didn't the mainstream media, with very few exceptions, act responsibly by failing to take Drudge's bait? Oliphant answered: "The fact that nobody of any consequence committed any really flagrant foul is certainly encouraging, I guess. But not entirely so, because so much was going on behind the scenes." He called Drudge's non-sex non-story "a tremendous amount of distraction for several days," adding: "It could happen all over again tomorrow. And this one came very close to getting completely out of hand."

A few observations.

First, now we know that Oliphant wasn't there. His observation that he couldn't have broken off-the-record ground rules is well taken. But Oliphant is a columnist who travels, and his paragraph on Clark's alleged outburst had all the appearance of an on-the-scene report, written by someone who was no longer bound by confidentiality since the information had already been reported elsewhere. I'm sure Oliphant wasn't trying to deceive anyone, but he could have been clearer.

Second, Oliphant appears to have done enough checking around to make a convincing case that Clark played some role in spreading the rumor that Drudge would eventually blast across the world. Oliphant's account can't be reconciled with those of the New Republic's Ryan Lizza or the Washington Post's Ceci Connolly. But Lizza, who was there, offers a tantalizing suggestion that Clark really did make a horse's ass of himself. And Connolly, who apparently wasn't there, relies - like Oliphant - on the word of others. Clark's staunchest defenders will probably be unconvinced, but I think Oliphant's account passes the smell test.

Finally, Oliphant's account of the context surrounding the Kerry rumor is fascinating. Given the level of chatter that was apparently taking place, it's a miracle that the media showed as much restraint as they did when Drudge finally published his sleazy, unfounded story. And Oliphant is absolutely right when he says, "It could happen all over again tomorrow."

posted at 3:24 PM | comment or permalink

Friday, February 20, 2004

Did Drudge smear Wesley Clark, too? When Matt Drudge smeared John Kerry with his non-sex non-story, he also dragged Wesley Clark into it, claiming that Clark, "in an off-the-record conversation with a dozen reporters earlier this week, plainly stated: 'Kerry will implode over an intern issue.'"

In my piece this week on "Sex, Lies, and Republicans," I write that "it appears that the rumor either originated with or was spread by the now-expired Wesley Clark campaign." This has caused some consternation among those who think that Drudge unfairly implicated Clark.

So what do we know?

For my money, the most striking and credible description of Clark's alleged outburst was reported on Sunday by Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant. He wrote:

The sin of commission occurred during an astonishing, even for a rookie, judgment lapse with the gaggle of reporters covering his campaign on its final day last week. Bantering with them at length under supposedly off-the-record ground rules, Clark actually said he was still in the race because he thought Kerry's campaign was going to implode over what he inelegantly called an "intern" scandal.

No matter what you think of Oliphant as a columnist, he's a pretty good reporter, and he travels extensively during presidential campaigns. I don't know about you, but I took his description to mean that he, personally, had witnessed Clark when he supposedly went off about Kerry - especially since he added such I-was-there details as "gaggle of reporters" and "[b]antering with them at length." If Oliphant wasn't there, I'd say his description is at least a little bit deceptive.

The New Republic's Ryan Lizza, who definitely was there, writes this:

Just in case anybody was still wondering whether anything in the original Drudge item about John Kerry was accurate, I can confirm that Wesley Clark did not say what Drudge says he said at that off-the-record conversation with reporters in Nashville one week ago.

I was there when Clark spoke, and just to make sure I didn't miss anything, I've also checked with other reporters who were there. Since it was off the record (sort of), I can't get into what Clark actually said (let's just say it was not his finest moment on the campaign trail), but I can report that the quote Drudge attributes to him - "Kerry will implode over an intern issue" - is not accurate. He never said that.

What is Lizza trying to tell us? I don't know. The most likely interpretation is that Lizza heard Clark slime Kerry, but not in precisely the same way that Drudge claimed. Clark may not have even used the word "intern." Beyond that, though, this isn't particularly helpful.

Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly has also denied Drudge's claim about Clark. The Incomparable One recounts this exchange on Fox News Sunday:

JUAN WILLIAMS: Now, let me just say that Democrats, including the man who endorsed [Kerry] this week, General Wesley Clark, was overheard saying, "Oh, you know, Kerry's campaign is going to implode over an intern," that kind of thing. That adds to it. And I think-

CONNOLLY: You know, what, though? That's not accurate. That's not accurate. That's the way that Drudge reported that supposed off-the-record conversation. But I've spoken to reporters who were there, and that's not even what General Clark accused. It was something far more peripheral, and it was pinned to a tabloid.

Getting warmer? Perhaps. But Connolly apparently wasn't there, either, based on her description.

Now, in some tellings of this tale, Drudge has the rumor being spread by one of Clark's top campaign aides, Chris Lehane. Joe Conason offered some insight into that on Salon last week:

The Drudge item blaming Lehane quoted Craig Crawford, a former Democratic operative who now works as a consultant and columnist for MSNBC. Within 10 minutes after Drudge posted the Kerry intern item, Crawford sent a memo to his superiors that said the story was "something Chris Lehane (clark press secy) has shopped around for a long time." According to Crawford, someone at MSNBC promptly leaked his memo to Drudge. But when Lehane called Crawford with a loudly indignant denial, the MSNBC columnist quickly issued a public retraction. He said:

"The comments attributed to me are from a private email to television news associates based on conversations with Democratic campaign operatives. I did not consider any of it confirmed enough to report or publish. I can only verify that Chris Lehane's rivals in other Democratic campaigns made these claims and I have found no independent source to confirm it. Which is why we did not go with the story. But then someone sent my email to others, which is the only reason it got into the public domain." In other words, there is no proof that Lehane circulated the rumor, let alone that the rumor has any basis in reality.

Lehane also denied it directly to Conason. No disrespect to Lehane, but that's not quite dispositive, since clearly someone is lying - either Lehane or his "rivals in other Democratic campaigns."

Still, I'd say that it all comes down to Tom Oliphant. If he says he was there, and that he heard Clark smear Kerry, then that's good enough for me. For that matter, if he was relying on an eyewitness account by one or more of his colleagues, then that works, too.

But short of that, I'd say Clark is off the hook - and Drudge only looks that much worse.

What about it, Tom? Inquiring minds want to know.

On John Edwards's qualifications for office. From today's New York Times:

"I believe he is the one who can beat George Bush," Ms. Wells said. "He's got that Southern thing going for him. He will hand you your guts on a platter, and you will thank him for it before you even feel the knife."

posted at 11:28 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, February 19, 2004

New in this week's Phoenix. "Sex, Lies, and Republicans." Drudge shoots and misses. But Bush's allies are attacking Kerry with everything from a phony Jane Fonda photo to a sickening attack on triple amputee Max Cleland.

posted at 10:48 AM | comment or permalink

Unoriginal sin

"Howard's End" - New York Times, 2/19/04

"Howard's End" - San Francisco Chronicle, 2/19/04

"Howard's End" - Salon, 2/19/04

"Howard's End" -, 2/9/04

"Howard's End?" - Time, 2/9/04


Broadcast Bruds. The great David Brudnoy popped up on the airwaves last night, in preparation for what he hopes will be his full-time return to WBZ Radio (AM 1030) on March 15 following months of cancer treatment.

I missed it - I didn't know until I read about it in the Boston Herald this morning (the story, by Dean Johnson, appears to have been victimized by website glitches) - but look forward to Brudnoy's latest comeback.

Here's an AP story on Brudnoy.

Back to sleep. If John Kerry can only get it going when his back's to the wall and the sharks are closing in, doesn't that sort of bode ill for a Kerry presidency? Just wondering. Read Patrick Healy's report in today's Boston Globe.

posted at 8:56 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Rule number four. John Doherty, co-creator of the excellent "Bush House of Cards," suggests one more rule for reporting on sex:

I think you need to add a rule, specifically naming Republican pols (the Henry Hyde rule?) that "when a politician makes judgments on the morality of other people's sex lives, his own should be ripe for inspection to see if he himself observes the standards he promotes for others."

Right you are, John. And thus there are four.

posted at 12:12 PM | comment or permalink

Media Log's three rules for reporting on extramarital affairs. After the Kerry sex-scandal non-story imploded, Matt Drudge hit what might have been a new low even for him. On Monday, the Drudge Report alleged that the young woman who did not have sex with Kerry may have had sex with a veteran Kerry-campaign operative.

Thus we have a new sex story that may or may not be true - complete with names! - about two entirely private figures. Other than the vicarious thrill Drudge apparently receives from destroying two families, it is impossible to imagine why anyone would do such a thing. As my late father liked to say, it's enough to gag a maggot.

Garbage like this is going to come up again. So with that in mind, I would like to offer Media Log's rules for reporting on the sex lives of presidential candidates. Conveniently enough, I learned them from eight years of watching Bill Clinton, who, unfortunately for him, ran afoul of all three rules. To wit:

The Gennifer Flowers Rule. If an ex-paramour calls a news conference in order to talk about her affair with The Candidate, it's okay to cover it, provided - in the absence of proof - that the allegations are treated with suitable skepticism. Public events are public events, and it would be an abuse of the media's gatekeeper role to pretend they didn't occur. Nor should the entertainment factor be overlooked.

The Paula Jones Rule. If a woman files a lawsuit that alleges The Candidate harassed her by soliciting a blowjob, it's okay to cover it - again with suitable skepticism. If said lawsuit makes it all the way to the Supreme Court, it's definitely okay to cover it. If said lawsuit further alleges that the plaintiff can identify "distinguishing characteristics" on the defendant's unit, then coverage is mandatory.

The Monica Lewinsky Rule. If a $40 million (at the time) government investigation reveals that The Candidate (or, in this case, the president) was carrying on with a woman other than his wife, and that his lies about said carrying-on may constitute perjury in the context of a sexual-harassment suit (see the Paula Jones Rule, above), then it's okay to cover it. It's not okay to go berserk for six months, leading to a stampede that resulted in the only presidential impeachment in the 20th century. (Note: Media Log confesses to breaking the don't-go-berserk rule on several occasions.)

There's a gray area here, too. Occasionally, there will be a candidate - like Gary Hart in 1988 - who essentially says, I've got nothing to hide. Please follow me around and report on what you find! Of course, someone did, and Hart's presidential ambitions went down on the Good Ship Monkey Business.

The answer: damned if I know what the media should have done. Hart was stupid, and stupidity is always worth reporting on. Still, affairs between two consenting adults should always be off limits unless one of the Clinton rules comes into play. My best answer is to hope that someone else reports it, then write a thumb-sucking think piece about the decline of media standards.

posted at 11:02 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Joe Conason's non-hypocritical Spy piece. Media Log has obtained a copy of Joe Conason's 1992 article for Spy on the alleged infidelities of George H.W. Bush - the subject of much chortling over the weekend by Mickey Kaus, given Conason's outrage over the John Kerry sex rumors.

As I suspected, the so-called hypocrisy Kaus thought he had unmasked was anything but. Yes, Conason did indeed give a full - a very full - airing to longstanding rumors that the first President Bush liked to cat around. But Conason did it entirely in the context of the sexual witch hunt to which the media had subjected Bill Clinton and, earlier, Gary Hart. Conason wrote:

But the media deflowering of "Gennifer with a G," cabaret singer, former Arkansas state employee and self-proclaimed (and, for snitching about it, handsomely paid) Bill Clinton sex partner, again poses the problem that agitated the press during the 1988 election: If stories about womanizing could ruin Gary Hart and cripple Clinton (not to mention Senator Chuck Robb), then why isn't anybody looking into the stories about George Bush?

And this, in the windup toward the end:

Even more to the point is that the Republicans have not hesitated for an instant to employ such information against their opponents. They have been involved in the exposure of Bill Clinton, and the GOP is reported to have three dozen researchers working full-time to produce even more dirt. There is, or there ought to be, such a thing as a level playing field.

Certainly it's past time for American politics to grow up and reach a point where stories about our leaders' sex lives are treated as the titillating, perhaps largely irrelevant trivia they usually are. But that maturity will never be achieved as long as the public is permitted to see the messy human truth only about Democrats, while Republicans are displayed inside a bubble of happy, wholesome illusion.

Is that clear enough, Mickey? Of course, since he was relying on a USA Today description of Conason's article, it's likely that he hadn't even read it.

posted at 12:32 PM | comment or permalink

The sliming of Max Cleland, cont'd. As I noted on Sunday, alleged funnyman Mark Steyn has been channeling Ann Coulter in order to cast aspersions on the war record of triple amputee Max Cleland. You can't make this stuff up! I've gone back and read Coulter's original attack piece. Read the whole thing, but here is a particularly sickening highlight:

Moreover, if we're going to start delving into exactly who did what back then, maybe Max Cleland should stop allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero who lost his limbs taking enemy fire on the battlefields of Vietnam.

Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix. In fact, Cleland could have dropped a grenade on his foot as a National Guardsman - or what Cleland sneeringly calls "weekend warriors." Luckily for Cleland's political career and current pomposity about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam.

My first impulse was that Coulter had probably stopped sharpening her fangs just long enough to do some homework, and that her characterization of Cleland's service was factually accurate, though repulsive. After all, accidents happen in war zones, and it scarcely matters whether Cleland was injured in combat or in training - even if he was (cover the children's eyes) preparing to drink beer!

But as Lily Tomlin once said, "No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up." Because Media Log reader G.W. has sent along a link showing that Coulter didn't even come close to getting her facts straight. Not only did she describe the accident incorrectly, she missed perhaps the most pertinent fact of Cleland's service in Vietnam.

G.W. pointed me to the Progress Report, which exposed Coulter's lies on Friday. Some highlights:

But as the 8/1/99 Esquire Magazine notes, Cleland lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam when a grenade accidentally detonated after he and another soldier jumped off a helicopter in a combat zone.


Coulter said people "should stop allowing [Cleland to be] portrayed as a war hero" - despite the fact that, in a separate incident four days before he lost three limbs, Cleland won a Silver Star - one of the highest honors for combat courage the U.S. military gives out. The congressional citation which came with the medal specifically said that during a "heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack Captain Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions." The citation concluded, "Cleland's gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army."

The right wing is in full panic mode. Look at what's happened during the past week: the phony Drudge rumor about John Kerry's having an extramarital affair (not that Media Log much cares if he did); the phony photo of Kerry and Jane Fonda standing together at an antiwar rally; the doctoring of quotes from Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 to make it look like he was accusing US soldiers of committing atrocities in Vietnam, when in fact he was repeating what soldiers who had actually committed such atrocities had testified to earlier.

Words fail me, except to say that this is sickening, horrifying stuff. Kerry's got to do everything he can to make sure they don't get away with it.

Have a biscuit, Sam! From today's Boston Globe:

"Mr. President, we have to keep this tax cut," said Sam Leto, board chairman for Tampa Brass and Aluminum Corp.

"Thank you, sir," Bush said. "I agree. Good job, Sam."

posted at 9:30 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, February 16, 2004

Good job, Matt! The sliming that's going on right now is beyond belief, and I'll have more to say about it tomorrow. In the meantime, the "Mystery Woman" - Alexandra Polier, whom I will name, since she has now named herself - has issued a statement denying any relationship with Senator John Kerry. Her parents, far from calling Kerry a "sleazeball," say they're going to vote for him.

Drudge is backfilling by floating a new rumor, and it's sickening. I won't even link to his latest, but you can find it if you're interested.

posted at 9:07 PM | comment or permalink

If Bill Gates did this, people would be howling. A little more than a year ago, Apple unveiled Safari, a brand-new Web browser for its Macintosh computers. The move led Microsoft to stop further development of the Mac version of Internet Explorer. So - at least for those who like to use Officially Approved Software - Safari was suddenly the only game in town.

Now Apple has finally released an upgrade to Safari, version 1.2. And I can't use it. The new Safari only runs on OS X 10.3 (a/k/a Panther). I'm running OS X 10.2 (Jaguar). Panther is not a new operating system - it's a maintenance upgrade with a few new features. And it costs $129. I'm not buying.

The problem is that I'm not seeking cool breakthroughs in Safari, just basic functionality that was left out of version 1.0, like the ability to print stuff out with page numbers. Not being allowed to upgrade to Safari 1.2 without forking over more money strikes me as at least low-level customer abuse, given that my iBook is less than a year old.

Anyway, I'm experimenting with a new browser, Mozilla Firefox. It's still in beta (version 0.8), but it seems to be stable and at least as fast as Safari. You get page numbers when you print, and some sites that don't render properly with Safari - such as Cosmo Macero's weblog - now look just fine. It interacts better with, too.

Firefox is part of the Mozilla Project, which designs open-source Internet software. There's a Windows version, too, so give it a try.

posted at 10:19 AM | comment or permalink

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Like Bush said about Adam Clymer, only minor-league. There are people - smart people - who think Mark Steyn is just terrific, a funny conservative truth-teller who deserves a wider audience.

I'm sure many of his fans cannot be convinced otherwise. But if you have an open mind, please read this repulsive recitation of half-truths. Check out, especially, how Steyn literally stoops to the Ann Coulter level.

Hey, Steyn: Max Cleland never could have made the "stupid mistake" that cost him three limbs if he hadn't gone to Vietnam in the first place. Too bad his daddy couldn't get him into the National Guard, eh?

Jesus. I think I need a shower.

posted at 7:17 PM | comment or permalink

There is less joy in Mudville. Some counterintuitive first thoughts on the Yankees' acquisition of Alex Rodriguez following the Red Sox' long, protracted efforts:

1. Remember, this wasn't about upgrading the team at shortstop. It was about getting rid of Manny Ramírez. Manny's still here, but guess what? He's still going to hit a ton. Rodriguez may be a better player than Nomar Garciaparra, but they're both going to the Hall of Fame. Ask yourself this: did you really want to see Nomar leave town?

2. Psychologically, this is good for the Sox. They've been the favorites all winter. Who needs that pressure? The Yankees are better today than they were yesterday, but not by so much that they look unbeatable. And now the focus is going to be on George Steinbrenner and his $200 million payroll.

3. Major League Baseball's sickness may be reaching its terminal phase. Two weeks ago, we all got to see a professional sports league that does it right (except for contracting out its halftime show). It's depressing to see how owner selfishness has ruined baseball. Does any team even matter other than the Yankees and the Red Sox? Every true fan - except those of us in Boston and New York - will be rooting against both teams.

Sex, context, and hypocrisy. Mickey Kaus has posted what, at first glance, appears to be a striking bit of hypocrisy on the part of Joe Conason. Conason - who is properly outraged at Matt Drudge's pathetic attempts to hang an apparently non-existent sex scandal on John Kerry - turns out to have been very interested in George H.W. Bush's sex life 12 years ago.

Context, please? I don't have Conason's 1992 Spy article in front of me, but I can guess. In 1992, the Republicans - then as ever - were obsessed with Bill Clinton's sex life, as though Republicans never carried on any extramarital affairs. As I recall, a lot of liberals were appalled at the single-minded focus on Clinton.

Allegations that Poppy Bush might have had an affair were irrelevant. The possibility that the media - spurred on by the Republican Attack Machine - were focusing entirely on the alleged dalliances of the Democratic candidate while ignoring evidence about the Republican candidate was important and worth looking into.

posted at 9:26 AM | comment or permalink


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

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