His cheatin' heart ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

We've got a new "Think Again" column here called "The Bush Legacy: Flailing and Failing the World Over," and there's a new Nation column here called "Conservative Cannibalism," in which I attempt to assess the relative worth of the recent book-length works by David Frum and Jonah Goldberg. (Coincidentally, I watched a best-of Larry Sanders this morning after I wrote the column, with Jon Stewart as guest host and Hank playing Hitler as the host of a new game show. "This small group of people control all the world's money," was one of the questions asked. It reminded me a lot of Goldberg's masterpiece, sadly, too late to mention.)

Anyway, on to the story of the day: If John McCain and Vicki Iseman were having sex, I say "bully for them." If more consenting adults would have more sex, the world would be a better place. But it's none of our business and does not belong on the front page of The New York Times, regardless of timing. What's more, the sex gets in the way of what is really important about McCain's behavior and why, in so many ways, the man is a complete fraud, however much the MSM may love every last wrinkle on his impressively active seven-decade-old body. For instance, we learn (as summarized by the AP):

In late 1999, McCain twice wrote letters to the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of Florida-based Paxson Communications -- which had paid Iseman as its lobbyist -- urging quick consideration of a proposal to buy a television station license in Pittsburgh. At the time, Paxson's chief executive, Lowell W. "Bud" Paxson, also was a major contributor to McCain's 2000 presidential campaign.

McCain did not urge the FCC commissioners to approve the proposal, but he asked for speedy consideration of the deal, which was pending from two years earlier. In an unusual response, then-FCC Chairman William Kennard complained that McCain's request "comes at a sensitive time in the deliberative process" and "could have procedural and substantive impacts on the commission's deliberations and, thus, on the due process rights of the parties."

McCain wrote the letters after he received more than $20,000 in contributions from Paxson executives and lobbyists. Paxson also lent McCain his company's jet at least four times during 1999 for campaign travel.

From the Times:

Mr. McCain promised, for example, never to fly directly from Washington to Phoenix, his hometown, to avoid the impression of self-interest because he sponsored a law that opened the route nearly a decade ago. But like other lawmakers, he often flew on the corporate jets of business executives seeking his support, including the media moguls Rupert Murdoch, Michael R. Bloomberg and Lowell W. Paxson, Ms. Iseman's client. (Last year he voted to end the practice.)

If you read Robert Bennett and Charlie Black's comments, as well as Drudge, it's clear that the unproved sex allegations will allow McCain to avoid the conflicts-of-interest stories that really ought to be at the heart of this issue. They will also use the Times' misleading reputation as a "liberal newspaper" to give them cover, as will most of the media's never-ending love affair with McCain, which is smartly documented in Ryan Lizza's terrific report here.

In the meantime, ask yourself: Why are these corporations spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of their shareholders' money to ferry McCain around the world? And does McCain think he's entitled to these trips without giving something in return. (And what would the children say about this?)

And also, I know people call Nicholas Kristof a "liberal," and he likes to call himself one, usually for the purpose of bashing real liberals -- remember, he equates questioning the dogma of free trade by liberals with the Swift Boat lies of conservatives. Anyway, his column on McCain must surely have been an embarrassment to anyone who previously thought Kristof deserving of the honor of the liberal label, but I found it most valuable for the insight it shed on the Establishment's love affair with Mr. McCain -- something I thought nicely illustrated in the two letters below that were printed in today's Times, here:

To the Editor:

Re "The World's Worst Panderer" (column, Feb. 17):

Let me see if I understand Nicholas D. Kristof's commentary.

John McCain has repeatedly betrayed his own principles and the commands of common decency, but he deserves our respect because he apologizes?

On torture, Senator McCain votes no, then yes, because he deems it politically expedient. Ditto on tax cuts for the rich.

He flip-flops on the significance of the Confederate flag to curry favor with white racists. He tells a so-called joke about Chelsea Clinton so "savage" that major newspapers refused to print it.

But Mr. Kristof assures us that we needn't worry: Mr. McCain is always quite conscious of his own unscrupulous behavior, and that proves his high moral character.

Peter Conn
Philadelphia, Feb. 17, 2008

To the Editor:

So, according to Nicholas D. Kristof, we should praise Senator John McCain for commitment to his principles because he capitulated only regretfully to the Bush administration on torture, voting against a bill to ban the Central Intelligence Agency's use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques. This makes no sense.

As a new mother, I dearly hope that my son learns a different meaning of courage: standing up for your most deeply held principles, no matter what.

Alice Varon
Stone Ridge, N.Y., Feb. 17, 2008

And now for a quiz: John McCain or Marty Peretz?

"After all, it's well known that he repeatedly cheated on his first wife Carol, of a number of years, with a variety of women, before eventually dumping her for a much-younger heiress whose family fortune was able to help finance his political career." Ask Yglesias.

George Zornick writes: An emerging meme in the coverage of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential run seems to be that the candidate is developing an irrational, cult-like following -- devotees sobbing and fainting at his speeches, displaying "Helter-Skelter cult-ish qualities," according to ABC's Jake Tapper. This, naturally, isn't a good thing -- it's "a scene some increasingly find not inspirational, but 'creepy,' " says Carol Costello of CNN.

It's become an agreed-upon fact that Obama's followers are so blindly passionate that fainting is a regular occurrence during his apperances. Alan Colmes says supporters are "so in awe of him they're fainting in numbers at some of his rallies." ABC's David Wright notes that an Obama rally is "like a pilgrimage" to many, and "a few people literally faint." Bill O'Reilly claimed that "everybody [is] fainting -- everybody fainting, Tanya, in front of Barack Obama. David Brooks notes people are "fainting at rallies," because of "intense surges of hope-amine, the brain chemical that fuels euphoric sensations of historic change and personal salvation." Chris Matthews had a segment on Hardball this week comparing Obama events to Beatles concerts, showing five different clips of Barack Obama halting a speech and tossing water to a faint-feeling supporter. (The video is here.)

So is Sen. Obama the next Charles Manson? Or the next John Lennon? Or ... do his supporters just not drink enough water?

Notes one photographer who regularly covers large rallies, "There are always people that faint. Guaranteed. When somebody has to stand at one spot, at a view up front of their candidate, and they wait hours upon hours with no water, no food, it's expected and understandable." This is borne out by numerous fainting episodes at the events of other candidates -- both Hillary Clinton (here and here) and John McCain (here).

Never, during any of this coverage, has any reporter actually found someone who fainted at an Obama rally after being over-come by his message or star power. If you watch the Matthews clip above, the incidents seem to all come during apparently calm moments in the speech -- some of which are given outside, like this speech on a hillside in Southern California, packed with 1,000 supporters, one of whom fainted.

But, as we sadly know about election coverage, the facts can sometimes become incidental to pre-determined themes. Just ask the know-it-all inventor of the Internet, Mr. Gore...

Of course, if labeling his supporters cult-like doesn't work, there's always the fascist connection according to guess who. Because, along with eating vegetarian, a campaign theme of "unity" is inherently fascist. ...

If that doesn't stick, one might try the Communism charge. A former speechwriter for Dan Quayle writing at the Corner assumes that since she knew some interracial couples in the '60s who met at Communist events, and Barack Obama's parents are interracial and met in the '60s, he may be a Communist. (No, really.)

And finally, here is an important story by the academic who commissioned the famous Lancet study into Iraqi civilian casualties during the U.S. invasion. The study came under fire unjustly for its methodology, and for being "funded" by George Soros (who, in reality, just provided a small grant after the study had already been completed, to help promote its results.) Aside from the bothersome smear campaign against the study, it was largely ignored by the mainstream press, and the toll the war has taken on the Iraqi people remains largely unexplored by American media.

This week on Moyers:

Bill Moyers Journal and the PBS series Exposé: America's Investigative Reports offer a hard and fresh look at how earmarks really work. Watch a preview. The broadcast profiles Seattle Times reporters on the trail of how members of Congress have awarded federal dollars for questionable purposes to companies in local Congressional districts -- often to companies whose executives, employees or PACs have made campaign contributions to the legislators. The segment also focuses on how earmarks for some products were added to the defense appropriations bill even in cases in which the military didn't want them in the first place. Example: a $4.65 million patrol boat the Coast Guard hadn't even asked for and decided it couldn't use was eventually given away by the Coast Guard to a California Sheriff's office. David Heath of the Seattle Times says: "They're selling a product to the military that they're not even using." The segment will available for viewing before the broadcast at www.pbs.org/expose and airs on Bill Moyers Journal Friday, February 22. Viewers can post questions for Seattle Times reporters after the broadcast at The Moyers Blog. Exposé will premiere a new episode one Friday per month as part of Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jesse Zander Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR

[In re: "Tiffany's"] Sure, maybe the name of the store is wrong, but that hardly registers in the presence of Mickey Rooney's ridiculously racist Japanese neighbor. The film was cute, but that character kind of ruins it.

For an Audrey fix, I find "Charade" to be damn near perfect.

Eric replies: True, the character is indefensible but getting the name of the store in your title wrong is a different sort of crime; rather like Jonah Goldberg thinking that Mussolini had no association whatever with fascism. And my preference over "Charade" would be "Roman Holiday" and "Funny Face" and much but not all of "Tiffany's."

Name: Lorraine Warren
Hometown: Tempe, Arizona

Dear Eric,

It's comforting to read about the media on your blog. I sometimes wonder if I'm going crazy or if my newspapers and TV news are getter slimmer on news and heavier on slant.

Name: Cap'n Phealy
Hometown: Vallejo, CA

I was struck by the juxtaposition of two items in Wednesday's Altercation - the Jane Fonda appearance on "Today" and the continuing correspondence on the Country Music Hall of Fame.

It was Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter Cash (and stepsister of your bud Rosanne Cash), who once said during a performance, "If this song doesn't put the 'c**t' back in 'country,' nothing will," not realizing that her mother and stepfather, the Man in Black himself, were in the audience. Apparently, they were not amused.

Name: B.L. Webb
Hometown: Edmonton, Canada

I'm afraid I must take issue with Landon W.'s comments regarding Gary Stewart's work in the '70's.

For my money, I have always felt that "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" by Neil Young, from 1969, is absolutely the very first Alternative Country album. As someone who was around at the time, I can assure you that nothing like that had ever been heard before.

Wilco, and many other so-called Alt-Country artists, regularly channel that album in their music.

Also, for what it's worth, I feel it was also the very first grunge album; and over-all, was a highly influential, and criminally under-recognized album, whose widespread influence lives on to this day.

Keep up the good work!

Eric replies: That is sooo wrong. "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," 1968; "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere," 1969, for starters.

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