"Best dope in the world ... and it's free."

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

George Zornick observes: The stage is set for Florida tomorrow -- Rudy Giuliani's strategy to skip the early primary contests and stake his candidacy on Florida's delegate-rich primary will be tested. This is how virtually every media outlet sees the story: The Washington Post; CNN; The Wall Street Journal; USA Today; The Buffalo News; and so on.

Here's the problem: Giuliani never skipped over early states like New Hampshire; rather, the voters skipped over him. He did finish in fourth place in the Granite State, barley nudging out Ron Paul -- but it wasn't for lack of trying. Giuliani actually held 126 campaign events in the state, notable because the winner, John McCain, held only 104 events. Giuliani also spent $2.5 million is television ads there.

The media has latched onto the eggs-in-one-basket storyline, keeping Rudy's candidacy alive, despite it being totally disconnected from the facts -- as they do when assigning grand narrative arcs to candidates that bear no relation to the simple fact of how many delegates have been compiled. Reporters insist on this narrative even despite being told by Rudy himself, as our sponsors note, that he hadn't skipped New Hampshire and spent more time there than he had in Florida.

With the polls showing him down in the Sunshine State, I suppose the countdown until Rudy "skips" Florida begins now ...

I see today is the official launch of The Washington Independent, an online investigative outfit that's aiming to combine old-media-style investigative reporting with the fast pace of the Web. Spencer Ackerman gets the Independent off on a good start with a thorough report on the oxymoron that is the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program: He traces the origins of post-9/11 interrogation practices and finds it was a policy formed out of ignorance, which continues to operate in a brutal -- and ineffectual -- way.

Those with intimate knowledge of the program say that in many cases, U.S. interrogators haven't even been able to learn the basics about many of those they hold or have held, to say nothing of whatever crucial information they possess. "How do you separate the sheep from the wool? There's no fingerprints, no DNA," said a former senior intelligence official who helped set up the CIA's interrogation program, and who would not speak for attribution. "You don't know if you have Osama bin Laden or Joe Shit the rag-man."

Read the rest of the story here, and check out the Independent here.

OK, back to Eric:

The bazillionth time as farce: The more things change ...

Today's history lesson is that while the world changes, people and institutions, not so much.

Observing the never-ending media swoon over John McCain and recalling how much of the media thought it a good idea to give in to George W. Bush's insistence that the election ballots of 2000 not be counted, lest right-wing loonies start a riot if the election did not go their way, you might have imagined that this was a relatively recent phenomenon, that right-wing crazies so intimidate the grand pooh-bahs of the punditocracy to the point where they are willing to get them to do their bidding whether they agree with them or not. I was thinking about that phenomenon when I came across this entry in Arthur Schlesinger's diary:

I spent most of the day working on Adlai's Thursday speech. I had dinner with Scotty Reston. We spent two or three hours trying to sort out the varied and perplexing reactions to Adlai. Scotty thinks that Adlai and Ike are not unlike in some respects -- both are good but not great men. He will vote for Ike in order to spare the country four more years of Yalta, Hiss, McCarthy etc. (Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Journals: 1952-2000 (New York: Penguin Press, 2007), 12,13)

(Schlesinger smartly adds: "This position distresses me far less than it would have a few weeks ago. If we are going to have a Republican President it might as well be on the Republican ticket.")

Now look at this. In reading all this back-and-forth about whether Martin Luther King Jr. was more responsible for civil rights legislation passing than LBJ, you thought the press was strongly behind the civil rights movement. Maybe the press covering the apartheid South was, but Washington is always Washington. Here is Taylor Branch's report on the Sunday preceding the 1963 March on Washington:

King returned to New York to join Roy Wilkins for a guest appearance on "Meet the Press." In the first question, Lawrence Spivak spoke of the numerous authorities who "believe it would be impossible to bring more than 100,000 militant Negroes into Washington without incidents and possibly rioting," and he asked Wilkins sourly what the country could possibly learn about civil rights that could justify such risks. Spivak asked no questions of King -- perhaps still fuming over King's refusal to come out of jail for the show the previous summer -- but the next panelist promptly asked King three times how the march's leadership could tolerate Bayard Rustin's background of subversion and character defects. The friendliest reporter, Robert MacNeil of NBC News, sparred with King over the meaning of "social equality" and wanted to know how the civil rights movement could survive the "psychological climax" of the march without either disbanding to rest or pushing on into violence. The fourth panelist pressed King to admit that the movement needed to eliminate extremism and "rowdyism," such as the public booing of Mayor Daley and J.H. Jackson. "I wouldn't say that I condone every action that is taking place at this time," King replied. "I think we must see that we are in the midst of a great social revolution, and no social revolution can be neat and tidy at every point." (Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America During the King Years 1954-63 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), 871-872)

And back to Adlai for a moment, here's one more reason why nobody, not Obama, nobody, in the Democratic race should try to emulate Adlai Stevenson:

There is a kind of Calvinism in Adlai. He has a natural and honorable dislike of the kind of speech which seeks to buy votes by making promises. But he recoils from this with a political puritanism which regards any popular political position (at least on the liberal side) as somehow immoral. He flinches from civil rights because it will be construed as a bid for Negro votes. Thus his whole desire is to lecture the veterans at the American Legion, to lecture the workers in Detroit, etc. When I noted this, he said, "Well, I would rather lecture them than try to win their votes by promising them material benefits."

As I say, this is an honorable position. But it would be more honorable if he were as austere in his attitude toward special interests on the right as he is toward special interests on the left. (Schlesinger, August 11, 1952 [Springfield, Illinois])

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Chuck
Hometown: Kansas City

Dr. A, Regarding your criticism of the Democrats' inability to block the Bush agenda, the current telecom immunity/FISA legislation is another example. Several Democratic senators voted to advance the Bush/Cheney bill for a vote, including some from states that are not considered red like Delaware, Hawaii, and Maryland. So on one hand you have the united minority, plus Lieberman, minus Hagel, versus a party that votes all over the place.

In other words, the 'moderates' consist of Sen. Hagel plus 10 or so Dems from red states, and a few more from blue states that can't be counted on to vote with their base. And all Bush and Co. has to do is accuse them of being weak on terrorism, etc. to get them to vote against their core values. And the liberal media is there to enable them, constantly reinforcing that theme.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

I agree with every one of your correspondents about backing the Democratic nominee whoever he/she is when this shakes out. That said, it will be harder to do that with enthusiasm if it turns out to be Clinton. The low-road politics that the candidate and her spouse are employing are not just disappointing; they reflect very badly on her and her campaign. It's no surprise that now both Hilary and Bill are saying that he probably went too far in his attacks on Obama. Does anybody doubt that this half-hearted mea culpa is a direct result of falling polls for her candidacy? Regretting something because of a negative outcome is not the same as a genuine appreciation of having done something wrong.

On the other hand Siva's point is a good one. If Obama is the nominee, he'll face a Republican firestorm of lies, mischaracterizations, and distortions. But I don't think we should congratulate the Clintons for testing out the same tactics. First, their attacks on Obama don't rule out that she'll still be the nominee, and in the eyes of some voters she'll be considerably damaged for having won the nomination in spite of lousy politics. Second, the baseball metaphor he closes with just doesn't work. In baseball, one doesn't learn to hit the high-inside pitch, one learns to lay off it -- it cannot be hit. A better analogy comes from the courtroom, an arena of contest that Obama is acquainted with. He must expose the fallacy of erroneous or perjured testimony through aggressive cross-examination--that's where Bill Clinton, whatever you think of him, has a historical Achilles' heel.

Name: Jonathan Strickland
Hometown: Fairburn, Ga

It's not clear to me how you take care of issues like you described last year and your calls for class-based affirmative action. If you can describe to me how you solve the problems of the majority simply having problems with black folks that aren't class-based, I'd love to worry about only making sure the poor have an equal shot. I don't think it can be either class-based or race-based. I think whatever solutions are developed have to take both into account.

Name: Thomas Beck
Hometown: East Windsor, NJ

For your consideration: I'd suggest Ratatouille. Yes, it's "only" an animated movie - but a thoroughly brilliant one, technically and artistically (has the real Paris ever looked better?) If this can't be nominated for Best Picture, can any animated comedy ever be nominated for Best Picture?

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