NOTE WELL: My complaint is not about the policy of the decision, but its horrible, horrible reasoning.
It’s traditional, before a debate, to lower expectations for your side, and raise expectations for the other side. That way, if both candidates do OK, the winner is your guy (or gal), because he (or she) was expected to do badly. That’s why, as commenter Aplomb notes:
Right now the Dems are pushing how masterful Palin has been in her Alaska Gov. debates and reminding all how Joe sometimes puts his foot in his mouth. The GOP is pushing the opposite line, how Biden has had decades of experience doing debates while this is her first one on the national stage.
Offered without further comment: a story in this morning’s L.A. Times titled Underestimate Palin at your own risk, former rivals say. “With Thursday’s vice presidential debate approaching, ex-aides and opponents of the Alaska governor recall her skill at jabbing with a smile, even if she wasn’t always focused on learning the issues.”
OK, just one comment: Obama’s aides themselves couldn’t have written a better headline.
That Report on the U.S. Attorneys — and the Horrible Reporting that the L.A. Times Did on the Scandal
Throughout the U.S. Attorney scandal, I defended the Bush Administration against unfair attacks, even as I consistently acknowledged some serious issues with the dismissals. In December 2007, I summarized some of the major anti-Bush points I had made in the spring:
I found the timing of the addition of David Iglesias to the list to be highly suspicious. It certainly raised concerns that Kyle Sampson had proposed to lie to Congress about Bud Cummins. And the buffoonish Kyle Sampson had proposed Patrick Fitzgerald for the firing list — something that certainly suggested that he was looking to politics in making his judgments.
I also argued in March 2007 that Alberto Gonzales needed to resign for incompetence in handling the firings and explaining it afterwards.
This past Monday, a report came out, and Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether there has been any criminal wrongdoing. I haven’t been able to read the whole report, but it looks like, to some extent, it’s gloating time.
Press reports indicate that the Justice Department report slams Gonzales for his ridiculously hands-off approach to this important matter. (He would have made a heck of a Supreme Court Justice, huh? I was right about that, too.) The AP has a summary of the reasons that the U.S. Attorneys were fired here.
Note that, consistent with my observations, among the few apparently nakedly political removals included those of Iglesias and Cummins. For example, the AP summary says about Iglesias:
Iglesias was asked to resign because of complaints about voter fraud and public corruption cases by Republican members of Congress and party activists, including Sen. Pete Domenici. The report says Justice officials failed “to ensure that prosecutorial decisions would be based on the law, the evidence and department policy, not political pressure.”
It also suggests that the Iglesias case should be further investigated by a special counsel to decide if criminal laws were violated.
The report concludes Cummins was removed to make way for another political appointee that Rove & Co. wanted to install. This much was clear at the time; I don’t think Bush ever denied it. (That didn’t keep the L.A. Times from utterly mangling comments by Cummins to make it sound like he thought his firing was over a political investigation.)
Meanwhile, I consistently ridiculed the notion that Carol Lam was fired for any reasons having to do with an investigation into Randy “Duke” Cunningham or Jerry Lewis — a theory that the L.A. Times pursued with the help of some egregious distortions. The AP summary seems to support me on this, since it says not one word about Cunningham or Lewis.
And the AP summary makes clear that some of the U.S. Attorneys were fired for arguably legimitate reasons, like Lam or Paul Charlton, and some for clearly legitimate reasons, including Margaret Chiara and Kevin Ryan, both of whom were fired for poor management skills.
Feel free to tell me if the AP summary misses or misstates anything.
Based on what we know, I think the scandal revealed as much about the wildly biased reporting of the Los Angeles Times as it revealed about the sometimes duplicitous and/or incompetent Bush Administration. Yet cartoonish partisans on either side typically ignored the faults of one side or the other. The truth was somewhere in the middle, and I’m happy to have anyone go back and review my coverage to see how it stands up today.
The L.A. Times reports:
I suggest y’all fix that before it hits the print edition tomorrow. No need to thank me.
Supposedly it’s going to get fixed soon. But I’m beginning to feel like the guy who tells his mistress every week that this is the day he’s going to leave his wife. (It’s an analogy, Mrs. P!) I can tell you it’s going to happen — but I’m not sure I believe it myself.
All I can say is I’m trying, and I’m told it will happen soon.
[Guest post by DRJ]
Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is a strong supporter of Barack Obama and has been described as his campaign’s “most effective attack dog.” In an odd twist, McCaskill’s latest target was … Joe Biden:
“Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., today told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the American people don’t know much about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin “and she is now being thrust on a stage without a script and everyone is curious about how much she knows.”
More pointedly, McCaskill said of Palin’s opponent, Sen. Joe Biden, Del., that he “has a tendency to talk forever and sometimes say things that are kind of stupid.”
“He a regular guy and … he doesn’t parse his words and he’s not hyper-careful,” she said. “He’s very authentic.”
She then seemed to regret what she’d said.
“I was probably having a Joe Biden moment myself,” McCaskill said of her candid moment minutes before.”
Joe Biden is the loose cannon in this race and even Claire McCaskill knows it.
Update: For example, last week’s Joe Biden helicopter tale.
[Posted by Karl]
CBS’s Katie Couric asked Vice-presidential nominees Sarah Palin and Joe Biden their views on the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade and whether there were other Supreme Court decisions with which they disagreed:
However, Biden fares little better. He filibusters the follow-up, complaining about the Supreme Court decision invalidating part of the Violence Against Women Act. He does not actually name U.S. v. Morrison, which raises the question of whether he remembered it only because of his direct involvement in drafting the part of the law the Supreme Court invalidated. (Ironically, the ACLU opposed the original version of the VAWA on the ground that it allegedly violated the right to privacy.)
Worse, in the first question, Biden lectures Couric about the trimester framework of Roe, which he calls as close to a consensus as America can get. In reality, the Supreme Court
ruled signaled that the trimester framework had “proved to be unsound in principle and unworkable in practice” in the 1989 case of plurality opinion in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.* The trimester framework has been bad law for 19 years.
Palin, having spent her days dealing with state issues as Governor of Alaska, might be expected to stumble over these sorts of questions, which is probably why Couric asked them. Biden has been on the Senate Judiciary Committee for decades — what’s his excuse?
Update: Here’s video of Palin disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s opinion reducing the punitive damages awarded in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker.
UPDATE BY PATTERICO: Sorry, but this is just embarrassing. I’ve become far less confident over the past few days that Palin is up to the job; much of the interview with Gibson could be explained away as the product of distorted editing, but this is a bit much. That said, in the videos I’ve seen of her interviews and debates before the 2006 Alaska gubernatorial election, she was impressive. I wonder which Sarah Palin we’ll see tomorrow.
She had better do well — and then, she had better get out there and start engaging with journalists. If this doesn’t happen, in a decisively impressive way, you may be adding me to the ranks of the Kathleen Parkers and David Frums of the world.
UPDATE BY KARL: I don’t disagree much with Patterico on Palin’s answer — which is why I linked to criticisms of it from the Left and Right. But inasmuch as the criticism of Palin is already widespread, I thought it worth noting what others were not — i.e., that Biden was not called on his babbling about the legally discared trimester framework of Roe, just as he was not savaged by the MSM for babbling about FDR being president and on television in 1929, exaggerating his adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, and so on, as SPQR notes in the first comment below.
Posted by WLS:
The prize today goes to the writers for the Gallup organization who made this notation about the poll numbers put out today on their daily tracking poll:
“The latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking update of registered voters finds Barack Obama at 48%, and John McCain at 44%, marking a slight narrowing of the race from the eight percentage point margin Obama held earlier this week.”
Got that? A lead that shrinks from 8 points to 4 points in only 2 days — Obama led 50-42 on Monday — reflects only a “slight narrowing” of the race.
50% reduction = slight.
Well, put another way, since about 130 million people (I didnt’ say “citizens”) are likely to vote, Gallup’s numbers reflect a shift of about 2.6 million people from Obama’s column into McCain’s column in the last 48 hours.
[Posted by Karl]
The blogosphere is abuzz with the story that Vice-Presidential debate “moderator” Gwen Ifill has a book on “The Age of Obama” due for publication on Inauguration Day. It is a story that goes beyond mere questions of bias, raising the issue of a financial conflict of interest.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics provides that journos should “[a]void conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” The Radio-Television News Directors Association Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct states that “Professional electronic journalists should present the news with integrity and decency, avoiding real or perceived conflicts of interest.” PBS, which employs Ms. Ifill, has in place Editorial Standards and Policies listing “real or perceived conflicts of interest” as unprofessional conduct.
In the MSM, a few talking heads discussed the issue on cable after it became the top headline on the Drudge Report.
But Washington Post media crtitic Howard Kurtz had no criticism at all, going so far as to quote PBS flack Anne Bell declaring it “a non-issue” without any mention of PBS’s own policies. At the Pittsbugh Post-Gazette, Timothy McNulty dismisses it as a conservative talking point, adding that Ifill is “a terrific person and journalist.” The Tribune Corp’s Frank James strikes the same tone, as though calling someone a professional excuses everyone from the obligation to look at whether Ifill is in this instance meeting the traditional standards of professionalism in journalism. Newsday’s John Riley at least acknowledged the issue, as did The Hotline On Call, but — like the others (including the New York Times Caucus blog)– as a question of objectivity; neither makes reference to the apparent financial conflict of interest.
At the L.A. Times, Don Frederick concedes that “[p]resumably, an Obama victory in November would improve the book’s marketability,” but then dismisses the concern because “it’s the rare political tome that even comes close to best-selling status.” By the same logic, Frederick would be okay with a bribe-taking judge, so long as it was a small bribe. Or an NFL referee betting on games he is overseeeing, so long as they are not big bets.
This not merely a question of bias. It is not even a question of political self-interest, as the McCain campaign could benefit from a compromised debate moderator. It is a question of ethics, and plenty of Ifill’s colleagues in the media seem determined to look the other way.
Follow-up: Insta-lanche! Subsequently, the Perfesser asks, “Moderating a debate is something that is frequently done by journalists, but is it really journalism?” I would first answer that question with another: “Are presidential debates really debates, or more like joint press conferences?” Second, as a historical matter, the GOP signed onto the idea of a Commission on Presidential Debates primarily to be rid of involvement from the biased (then and now) League of Women Voters, thereby getting rid of questioners like Elizabeth Drew, former JFK speechwriter/Nixon enemy Joseph Kraft. syndicated columnist Daniel Greenberg, not to mention Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke. The Commission has always employed “non-opinion” journalists, precisely to avoid questions of neutrality. And as noted in the initial post, the problem here is not even the more subjective issue of political bias, but the more objective problem of having a financial stake in the outcome.
The Politico’s Michael Calderone wants to get it, but can’t help himself:
I think Malkin and other critics have a right to raise questions about whether Ifill should be moderating, but at the same time, it’s not as if the veteran PBS journalist has been keeping the book under wraps until now. It’s also a logical question to ask whether an Obama book would sell better or worse depending on the outcome of the election. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that if Obama’s sworn in on the Jan. 20 pub date, a book with “Obama” in the title will sell more copies.
Legitimate questions, indeed. So why is this coming up less than 36 hours before Palin and Biden hit the stage?
A: Because MSM folks like Calderone fell down on the job.
HotAir’s Ed Morrissey notes that Ifill did not disclose her financial interest to the Commission, and asks when “The Age of Edwards” ended.
Finally, Gwen Ifill’s reaction is to ignore the financial issue and play the race card, which is another interesting insight into her ethics.
Posted by WLS:
While the race seems to have stabilized in the 4-6 point range — with about 8-10% undecided — Obama is within 2-3 points of locking down the election. Frankly, I think that continues to reflect a problem that is significant for Obama — with all the wind at his back, he’s still having trouble cracking through 50%. The longer he is stuck in the high 40’s, the more of a possibility it is that late-deciding voters are going to go with the “safer” pick of the candidate they know best.
I rarely agree with Lawrence O’Donnell anymore but he made an insightful and accurate comment last night when he said the 8-10% of the electorate that remains undecided are low-information/low-interest voters. They don’t watch the news and they don’t follow the campaigns.
They’re not undecided this late in the game because they are genuinely torn between the two candidates. They are undecided because they aren’t interested in politics and they aren’t really paying much attention even now. The debates might be the first part of the campaign that gets their attention. They are the kind of voters that have to be called and reminded to go to the polls, and they respond with comments like “The election is today? Well, I need to go vote.”
So, how can McCain break through to these voters with a message that isn’t necessarily resonating even with those voters paying attention? I think the events of the last two weeks dictate a complete change in message for him — one that he’s much more comfortable delivering. He should simply take on the entire political class/establishment in Washington and the K Street Lobby that works both sides of the aisle depending on which party is in power. He needs to call out the current state of politics in Washington as a matter of corruption — without regard to who he offends.
I read somewhere in the last couple days — but didn’t have time to post on it — an entry from a recent poll (maybe the WSJ poll) that said by a margin of something like 50-30%, voters believe it is more important to clean out the corruption in Washington than it is to reverse Bush Administration policies with which they disagree.
In my mind this really punctures the myth that it is Bush Derangement Syndrome that is behind the “Right Track/Wrong Track” number that has revealed itself in poll after poll, and is the real reason behind way the GOP got waxed in 2006 and is poised to be whacked again in 2008 in Congress.
The collapse of the financial system under what was clearly a rigged process of government intervention in lending, coupled with the impression that the bailout bill was simply a way to take Wall Street “Fat Cats” off the hook for their bad decisions, encapsulates this feeling in the electorate. Congress ruins the financial services industry – which they gladly go along with when they are earning big fees on the bad loans they are making — and when it all collapses Congress comes to the taxpayer with the bill to pay for the cleanup.
McCain can’t be skittish about the language he uses. He’s got to abandon the fake collegiality of Senate-speak and call out elected politicians in both parties for their corruption — criminal and otherwise.
He needs to hammer home the point that he has objected for his entire time in both the House and Senate to the system of trading votes on special interest projects for campaign contributions from those special interests.
He needs to point out that every elected official in Washington understands that the best way to avoid a serious challenge to your elected office is to have a fat campaign account, and the quickest way to fatten up that campaign account is to vote favors for groups that can quickly start a flow of money your way.
McCain needs to convert this election to a choice between him and Obama. He must make the case that Obama is a product of and loyal to one of the most corrupt political machines in the United States. McCain needs to run against the system — one that has benefited his own party in the past –while identifying Obama as the quintessential product of the system.
It can’t be a message based on “us v. them” populism — that’s a Democrat message. It has to be a message based on attacking a broken and corrupt system in which McCain’s own party is as much to blame as Obama’s party.
He needs to name names, and when all is said and done understand that he can’t go back to the Senate if he loses. It would be his last act of a gallant warrior on behalf of his country.
Its not desperation, just a calculation that he’s not going to beat “hopey and changey” on the issue of how much a box of cereal costs and why the deductibles on health care plans continue to rise.
But the core of voters’ anger is not that things are more expensive than they were eight years ago. The core of voters’ anger is that Congress is part of the reason why that is so, but Congress is not interested in making life better for the citizen taxpayers.