"What people care about in Iraq"

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

Greetings, all, Eric Boehlert here subbing for Alterman, who's off on assignment. He returns to the fold tomorrow. In the meantime, he has a new column here on GOP advantages down the home stretch. You can also watch him here spar with Byron York here.

So Sen. John Kerry's verbal gaffe has clearly morphed into a major campaign blunder. The White House really pounced on his "botched joke" about high school kids with bad grades who end up in Iraq. It's hard to blame the press for playing the story up big, or even take issue with the all-news cable channels pounding the story hour after hour, mentioning Kerry's name 715 times (and counting) in the last 36 hours, according to TVeyes.com. After all, the verbal misstep could be a turning point in the election season, especially in the crucial swing states like Michigan and Ohio where Kerry desperately needs to win if he's to have any chance of defeating Bush on Election Day.

Oh wait ... my bad. Never mind.

Bush says Kerry's crack was "shameful" and "insulting" to the men and women of the U.S. military. But tell me again how many soldiers' funerals Bush has attended since March 2003? Just asking.

While the chatterers were busy chattering about Kerry, U.S. troop strength in Iraq topped the 150,000 mark, an all-time high.

I'll give Bush's former pollster and 2004 campaign co-architect Matthew Dowd the final word on Kerry. Dowd from MSNBC's Hardball last night:

DOWD: What people care about in Iraq is not what John Kerry -- John Kerry lost a presidential election. The American public's already made that decision. What they care about is what's going on there and how we're going to deal with the situation, not some misspoken statement about whether or he thought the troops were ignorant or not, which I don't think, in any way, you could say he thought that. He misspoke.

I have a new column on Rush Limbaugh and how careerism, especially on the TV side, continues to be a driving force in the mainstream media's desire to play nice with his radical brand of conservatism. That, and how the Canadian press embarrassed its U.S. counterparts in covering Limbaugh's attack on Michael J. Fox last week. Read it here.

Let's play "You Be the Editor"

Last night, news executives at The Wall Street Journal had to decide how to play the results of its latest round of political polling to decide which angle to lead with. The polling data contained several possible news hooks. They included:

1. Voters want Democrats rather than Republicans to control Congress by a margin of 52 percent to 37 percent. That 15-point spread represents the widest gap ever recorded on that question in the Journal poll.

2. A 54 percent majority say removing Saddam Hussein was not worth the human and financial cost -- the highest percent since the Journal began asking the question in March 2003.

3. Sixty-three percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the war, which appears to be a new high-water mark in the Journal poll.

4. Forty-six percent approve of Bush's handling of the economy; a nine-point gain over the last four months.

Bingo: No. 4. "Bush Gains Ground on Economy," reads the Journal headline in part.

Meanwhile, where do Republicans find these guys?

I'd say this article gets the Lamont race just about right. The fact is three Connecticut Republican Congressmen may be tossed out of office next Tuesday. Voters there are clearly open to an anti-Bush, anti-war message. For some reason Lamont, in the general election, has failed to adequately deliver that message.

No wonder Air America has such a hard time paying its bills. Media Matters has the scoop. (Or, "a liberal media group," as Howie grudgingly refers to us.)

The cozy confines

Last month, I wrote a review of The Way to Win, the new CW Beltway book by John Harris and Mark Halperin. In it, I noted that, "for anybody who still thinks there's an ounce of friction between the true media elites and the Beltway's mostly Republican ruling class, read The Way to Win and think again. The Beltway really has become a tension-free world where journalists and politicos bond effortlessly."

Proving my point yet again is the puzzling new profile of Karl Rove in Vanity Fair by Todd Purdum. (Honestly, is there a single person left in America who doesn't know Rove cut his teeth in the College Republicans, is a numbers cruncher and a top-notch organizer? This requires 8,500 words from VF in 2006?) Read the creepy, name-dropping opening and tell me how I'm wrong about the cozy confines of the nation's capital:

In the five years my family has lived in a quiet corner of northwest Washington, our neighbors have included the secretary of homeland security, the executive editor of The Washington Post, the junior senator from Texas, a former White House chief of staff, the ambassador to the United Nations, and the general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission. But, as far as I know, only one of them has ever carried our newspapers up the 34 steps from the driveway to our front porch when we were away on vacation and forgot to stop delivery. His name is Karl Rove.

Halperin's dash for cash

And speaking of Halperin: Hold the phone, but he's complaining right-wing talker Hugh Hewitt does not play fair. This is almost too sad for words. Halperin, director of ABC's political unit and author of daily Beltway tip sheet The Note, has in recent weeks been parading through the right-wing echo chamber in a failed attempt to boost so-so sales for his new Rove-is-a-genius book, gladly mouthing every possible conservative cliché about how liberally biased the press is. Then when a professionally dishonest partisan like Hewitt plays Halperin for a fool, the smart guy objects: "I am beginning to think you are intellectually dishonest on a few points," a wounded Halperin wrote to Hewitt this week. Beginning to think? What was Halperin's first clue, when Hewitt's lips started to move? Hay-o!

But seriously, Halperin's misguided dash for cash over the last month has been a colossal embarrassment for ABC. (Halperin, once a respected analyst, now has less than zero credibility on the left, and other locations, I suspect.) And I can't help but wonder what Halperin's co-author, the respected Washington Post editor John Harris, thinks of Halperin appearing on shows hosted by the likes of Hewitt and Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly talking about how reporters are lazy, biased, and dishonest, and how they hate the military. Read blogger Glenn Greenwald's exhaustive smackdown of Halperin here and here. It ain't pretty.

For Time's Mike Allen, this GOP-friendly column was so nice, he wrote it twice.

Civic grace

These must be tough times for Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. A couple weeks ago, the former Reagan speechwriter got all worked up as she decried the lack of "civic grace" in politics today, and yearned for a more polite public discourse. I'm sure Noonan was troubled by the report that a fan at a Barbra Streisand concert became so unhinged during a skit that poked fun at Bush that he tried to pelt the singer with his drink.

I'm sure Noonan was aghast at the news from Virginia where a former Marine posed a tough question to Sen. George Allen at a public event and Allen's Republican campaign thugs threw the citizen to the ground. (Watch the video here, and read the man's account here.)

What does Noonan make of the spectacle of the former Bush speechwriter who in a recent newspaper column proudly proclaimed his deranged hatred for liberals: "Now I detest them as among the most loathsome people America has ever vomited up"?

And she must be horrified by the news that a right-wing nut in Ohio sent a profanity-laced death threat to liberal talk show host Stephanie Miller after seeing her on Fox News.

I anxiously wait to see how Noonan adroitly addresses these troubling developments -- the shocking lack of "civic grace" -- in her next column.

How much money can the New York Post lose?

I've been getting a chuckle this week watching conservative bloggers like Michelle Malkin cheer the news that major metropolitan newspapers continue to lose readers at a rapid pace. Conversely, they're cheering the fact that Rupert Murdoch's conservative New York Post reported a sharp five-percent gain in readership. With that readership surge, one of the very few recorded this year in any market, the Post became the fifth-largest newspaper in the country, and for the first time surpassed the daily circulations of both The New York Daily News and The Washington Post.

Like lots of press-hating conservatives, Malkin argues (naively) that drops in print circulation represent proof that Americans are turned off by the liberal bias of newsrooms. If only newspapers hired more conservatives, their business plan goes, readers would stop canceling their subscriptions. (The fact that readers are logging on in record numbers to the websites of the same 'liberal' newspapers is conveniently deemed irrelevent.) "Hemorrhaging left-wing newspapers could learn a thing or two about gaining and keeping readers from the NYPost, don't ya think?" Malkin asked this week.

I'm chuckling because this right-wing meme simply confirms how little the bloggers know about journalism or the business they claim to be experts on. I'm chuckling because bloggers are holding the New York Post up as a model of newspaper success when, in fact, the New York Post, from a business standpoint, is without a doubt one of the least successful newspapers in America. Note to Malkin: The Post loses money at an astonishing rate. According to one Murdoch insiders quoted in The New York Times in 2005, the Post was losing an unprecedented $70 million annually. It's run as a vanity press by Murdoch who has lost well over $250 million on the Post since buying it nearly 20 years ago. Any for-profit owner would have killed the paper decades ago.

Why the waves of red ink? First, the Post does not attract quality, mainstream advertisers. And second, the Post is essentially given away on the newsstands; costing just 25 cents. That drastic price reduction has obliterated a key revenue stream. The good news it continues to juice the paper's circulation. That, and the fact that clueless commentators like Malkin think the Post represents a surging success story.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Rich W.
Hometown: Clarks Summit, PA

Interesting article here.

Two things stand out for me:

1) We have the Pentagon spending additional money to counteract all of the bad news coming out of Iraq, which, of course, is due to its own piss-poor post-war planning. Apparently, we aren't spending enough on this war.

2) Rumsfeld is said to be deeply troubled by the success of terrorist groups in "manipulating the media" to influence Westerners. He is then quoted as saying "That's the thing that keeps me up at night." NOT the 2,800+ American soldiers who have died, NOT the tens of thousands of American soldiers who have been injured, and certainly NOT the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens who have been killed by the prolonged conflict.

Can we get someone who is not interested in PR planning, and get someone who IS interested in competent war planning?

Please?!

Name: Jeff
Hometown: Baltimore

The political climate over the past six years has made me irritated, frustrated, baffled and angry. But I am outraged at the reaction to Kerry's remark. Let's start with the remark itself. Shouldn't it count for something that he's absolutely right? The kids dying for Bush's Folly don't come from well-to-do families, don't go to private schools and don't have the same educational opportunities their rich counterparts do. Soldiers are, by and large, poor kids with high school educations. Does anyone question this?

But the reaction is so venomous and over the top, well, methinks the president doth protest too much. The GOP and a subsection of voters are eviscerating Kerry. But they don't say a peep about the war. So one poorly worded phrase on Kerry's part is worse than 3,000 soldiers dying during six years of a pointless war based on outright lies. If we could channel the anger directed at Kerry and direct it at Bush we could bring his administration's ruinous policies to a screeching halt.

As for Kerry: When did he grow a spine? I he had talked like that during the election he would have won easily.

Name: Robert Cook
Hometown: Eastham, MA

Eric,

I was another of the lucky ones at Sunday night's Stones concert at the Beacon, via Ticketmaster public sales. Thought it was George Soros strolling past me as I stood in the main rotunda, but I do not mingle much with celebrities and politicians in my field (wildlife ecology). Thanks for settling that question.

It was a great show indeed. I particularly loved "Just My Imagination", "She Was Hot", "Undercover," "Shine A Light," and "As Tears Go By." So many rarely performed songs all in one show.

Thanks also for reminding me of the Kinks there in 1976. They were performing the Schoolboys in Disgrace album and were in schoolboy custom, knickers and all if I recall. What great band they are, and what a great place the Beacon is.

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