As Republicans seek to gain a partisan advantage by ginning up fear about the Ebola virus in preparation for the midterm election cycle, they're getting a major assist from the news media, which seems to be equally anxious to spread anxiety about the virus, and to implicate President Obama for the health scare. At times, Republicans, journalists, and commentators appear to be in complete sync as they market fear and kindle confusion. ("You could feel a shiver of panic coursing through the American body politic this week.")
The result is a frightening level of misinformation about Ebola and a deep lack of understanding of the virus by most Americans. Indeed, despite weeks of endless coverage, most news consumers still don't understand key facts about Ebola.
If the news media's job is to educate, and especially to clarify during times of steep public concerns, then the news media have utterly failed during the Ebola threat. And politically, that translates into a win for Republicans because it means there's fertile ground for their paranoia to grow. (Sen. Rand Paul: Ebola is "incredibly contagious.")
"They have all caught the Ebola bug and are now transmitting the fear it engenders to millions of Americans," lamented a recent Asbury Park (NJ) editorial, chastising the cable news channels. "It turns out that fear-mongering translates not only into dollars and cents for news-gathering organizations, but also allows talking heads to politicize the issue."
If Republicans want the media to remain relentlessly focused on the anxious Ebola storyline prior to Election Day, they're in luck. Last night, the homepage for the Washington Post featured at least 15 Ebola-related articles and columns. Already this week, the cable news channels have mentioned "Ebola" more than 4,000 times according to TVeyes.com; or roughly 700 on-air references each day. The unfolding crisis is undoubtedly a major news story, but so much of the coverage --particularly on cable news -- has been more focused on fearmongering than solid information. It's a drumbeat that eventually becomes synonymous with fear and uncertainty, which dovetails with GOP's preferred talking point this campaign season.
And for Republicans, it's not just Ebola. The election season scare strategy that has emerged revolves around portraying the virus as the latest symptom of an America that's in startling decline and without any White House leadership able to deal with the crisis. As the New York Times reported on October 9, what has emerged as the GOP's unifying campaign theme is "decidedly grim." It alleges "President Obama and the Democratic Party run a government that is so fundamentally broken it cannot offer its people the most basic protection from harm."
Message: Panic looms. We stand exposed. Nobody's in charge. It's worse than you think.
The truth? "The risk of contracting Ebola is so low in the United States that most people would have to go out of their way to put themselves in any danger," as Medical Daily noted this week. Added one Florida doctor, "I tell people you're more apt to be hit by lightning right now, than you are to get Ebola."
In the past two months, Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza has used his platform at The Fix to obsess over the question of whether Hillary Clinton has sufficiently explained her family's wealth, dismissing Clinton's comments on income inequality while offering conflicting advice on how she should answer the question in a way that satisfies Chris Cillizza and The Washington Post.
Cillizza's latest post came in response to an interview Hillary Clinton gave to Fusion TV host Jorge Ramos that aired July 29. "Hillary Clinton still hasn't found a good answer to questions about her wealth," according to the July 29 headline over at The Fix. After crediting GOP opposition research firm American Rising with focusing his attention on Clinton's wealth, Cillizza concluded: "Until she finds three sentences (or so) to button up any/all questions about her wealth, those questions will keep coming. And that's not the way Clinton wants to run-up to her now all-but-certain presidential bid."
This is the third time in two months that Cillizza has posted a column fixated on Clinton's wealth and his belief that she is struggling to explain it -- and the third time since June 22 that The Fix has turned to America Rising to help define Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, a June NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll found that 55 percent of Americans say that Clinton relates to and understands average Americans.
"The Clintons are not 'average' people," Cillizza warned just a week before that poll came out. He concluded by advising Clinton to stop talking about her wealth and move on: "Instead of spending her time litigating just how wealthy she is, Clinton should acknowledge her wealth and then spend the vast majority of her rhetorical time making the case that through the policies she has advocated and pursued, she has never lost sight of the middle class."
The reality is that Clinton has already done exactly what Cillizza advises; he just largely chooses to dismiss it. When Clinton has been asked about her wealth, she has consistently paired her personal finances with discussing her lifelong advocacy and work on behalf of the poor and middle class.
Hitting on what has become one of the Beltway media's favorite narratives of 2014, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza this week bemoaned the fact that increased polarization within the electorate, fueled by spiraling partisanship, means "we are increasingly moving toward two entirely separate Americas, a liberal one and a conservative one." According to the writer, we're two separate, stubborn nations unwilling to communicate or compromise.
This type of analysis has been repeated often in recent weeks, in part because of an influential Pew Research study that fueled a larger media discussion about polarization. But this focus on polarization misses the larger point and lets the GOP off the hook. Especially when you look at the polling on crucial issues facing the nation; issues President Obama has tried to get Congress to act on for years.
The Democratic president's been met with an unprecedented brand of Republican obstructionism, which the press has often been too timid to name. Rather than call the malady what it is, media now embrace claims of cultural "polarization" to explain away the radical GOP streak.
The press throws up its hands and announces the whole situation is hopeless: Americans are so divided there's no way anything can get done in Washington because gridlocked politicians simply mirror the voters' disdain for compromise. But by throwing up their hands, journalists basically absolve Republicans for adopting their radical say-no strategy, while ignoring the fact that there exists agreement among voters on a wide range of pressing issues.
Immigration reform, climate change, war, extended unemployment benefits, minimum wage, and tighter gun laws are all part of a laundry list of issues where a working majority of Americans agree. Meaning, Obama enjoys widespread support for many of the tenets of his legislative agenda, but Republicans block everything in Congress. ("Legislative constipation," is how Vanity Fair's James Wolcott describes it.) The press, decrying gridlock without adequately assigning blame, insists that as a country we're deeply, deeply divided, and that's why nothing gets done in Washington.
But we're not.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza is protecting politicians who oppose popular gun laws by predicting that the nation's latest mass murder will change nothing and pre-emptively blaming that on an indifferent public.
On May 23, a 22-year-old man apparently motivated by a deep-seated hatred of women stabbed three people to death before using a gun to kill three and wound eight others in Isla Vista, California. Five other victims were injured by the shooter's car.
The following day Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was shot to death during the killing spree, gave an impassioned press conference in which he castigated "irresponsible politicians and the NRA" and asked, "When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, 'Stop this madness?' We don't have to live like this. Too many have died. We should say to ourselves, 'Not. One. More.'" Martinez later elaborated on his press conference, telling politicians, "I don't care about your sympathy ... Get to work and do something."
While expressing sympathy for Martinez, Cillizza categorically rejected the idea that anything will change because of "Richard Martinez's grief" in a May 27 blog post. Cillizza concluded by writing, "Yes, Richard Martinez's grief is powerful. But it is also fleeting in the American consciousness. If the slaughter of 20 children at their elementary school didn't change things, it's hard to believe that Richard Martinez's anger -- or virtually anything else -- will." (Cillizza published columns with similar conclusions following the Newtown massacre and the Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass shooting.)
Cillizza's description of the events since 20 children and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 both ignores the progress that has been made since and misrepresents public opinion on the gun issue.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza baselessly criticized former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun safety efforts, claiming without evidence that Bloomberg's "persona could hurt" the campaign.
Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million this year "building a nationwide grass-roots network to motivate voters who feel strongly about curbing gun violence," The New York Times reported. Republican and Democratic officials, including President Bush's secretary of homeland security and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sit on the board of Bloomberg's new group, Everytown for Gun Safety, as do several prominent survivors and family members of victims of gun violence.
Responding to the news, Cillizza criticized Bloomberg for allegedly making himself "the face of his new gun violence push." Cillizza wrote that Bloomberg "doesn't fully grasp how he is viewed by many people outside of major cities and the Northeast," who supposedly see the former Mayor as "the living, breathing symbol of the sort of nanny government they loathe."
It's true that Bloomberg has been harshly criticized by conservative media outlets for his work as mayor of New York City. But Cillizza errs in conflating this "conservative vitriol" from critics like Michelle Malkin -- hard-right types who will never support a gun safety agenda -- with the views of the people Bloomberg "needs to convince."
As Cillizza himself notes, polling data doesn't bear out the contention that there's a massive wave of anti-Bloomberg sentiment. According to the 2013 poll Cillizza cites, roughly equal numbers of Americans view the former New York City mayor favorably or unfavorably, while slightly fewer haven't heard of him or have no opinion. Other polls likewise show no massive anti-Bloomberg movement of the type Cillizza suggests.
Cillizza claims Bloomberg's persona impedes his efforts with the Republican-leaning women Bloomberg "needs to convince" for his efforts to be successful. But he provides no evidence that a sizable number of those women see Bloomberg unfavorably -- or that any block of swing voters, moderates, or independents do so. Indeed, the proposals Bloomberg supports, such as universal background checks on firearms purchases, have overwhelming public support.
Cillizza's case study for the supposed opposition also doesn't hold up. He writes:
The more groups opposed to gun control are able to cast the effort to pass measures that would tighten said laws as the efforts of a New York City billionaire bent on telling you how to live your life, the less effective the effort will be. Look at how badly Virginias reacted when Bloomberg ran stings in the Commonwealth in 2007 and when he made comments in 2012 about how so many guns used in New York City came from Virginia. People don't like others telling them how to handle their business -- especially if that person is a billionaire New York City resident who wants to regulate things like sugar in soda.
Cillizza leaves out what happened in Virginia in 2013, when pro-gun safety candidates backed by millions in election spending from Bloomberg-supported groups were elected as the state's governor and attorney general. Either the people of Virginia weren't as opposed to Bloomberg as Cillizza thinks, or their opinion of him didn't matter as much as Cillizza thinks.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza is pushing the myth of the National Rifle Association's electoral invulnerability as his latest rationale for why he believes stronger gun laws won't pass Congress.
Cillizza moved on to this myth after claiming that such laws were unlikely to pass because the American people didn't support them -- a claim now no longer plausible given new data from the same poll question he previously cited.
After a week of comically inept warfare between the gut vs. data camps regarding the state of the 2012 race, Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza takes stock of it all and declares a loser: polls.
Remember those golden days of this election season when a poll or two came out each week, and we political junkies pored over it with the glee of 5-year-olds at Christmas?
That joy has turned to ash in our mouths of late as each day is packed full of competing poll numbers that often seem to tell contradictory stories.
In the past week alone, at least nine polls have been released on where the presidential race stands in Ohio, and at least seven have come out in Virginia. A CBS News-Quinnipiac-New York Times poll in Virginia said that President Obama led by two points; in a Roanoke College survey, it was Mitt Romney by five. And the pollsters were in the field at the same time!
What all of that polling means is that partisans, who already live in a choose-your-own-political-reality world, can select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different.
Let's break this down. Cillizza's argument against the surfeit of polling data is that silly partisans can simply "select the numbers that comply with their view of the race and pooh-pooh the data that suggest anything different." True enough! But what is Chris Cilllizza's view of the race? Well, he thinks it's "tight as a tick," according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post national tracking poll showing a virtual tie. In keeping with that view, he looks this past week's glut of polling data from Virginia, selects two polls that suggest a tight-as-a-tick race, and blows off the rest of the data. Meanwhile, a look at the average of all the latest Virginia polling shows something different.
So in bemoaning the partisans who cherry-pick poll data that confirm their views of the race, pundit Chris Cillizza cherry-picked data that confirm his view of the race, and then awarded the data itself the winner of "the worst week in Washington."
Because it's the numbers that screwed up, not the people whose job it is to interpret them.
In the wake of last week's tragic mass shooting in Aurora, CO, some in the media are distorting public opinion and election results to predict that the events will not have an impact on the debate over gun violence prevention. In fact, polls indicate public support for a broad range of stronger gun restrictions, including the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which may have prevented the legal purchase of one of the alleged shooter's guns.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza kicked off the debate with a piece published the morning after the shooting headlined "Why the Aurora shootings won't likely change the gun control debate":
If history is any guide, however, the Aurora shootings will do little to change public sentiment regarding gun control, which has been moving away from putting more laws on the books for some time.
In 1990, almost eight in ten Americans said that the "laws covering the sales of firearms" should be made "more strict" while just 10 percent said they should be made "less strict" or "kept as they are now". By 2010, those numbers had drastically shifted with 54 percent preferring less strict or no change in guns laws and 44 percent believing gun laws should be made more strict.
By Sunday the claim that Americans don't support tougher gun laws was a regular feature on the morning political talk shows. But if Congress is not moved by this tragedy to pass new gun violence prevention laws, it won't be because the American people oppose such measures.
In fact, other polls indicate that contrary to the result of the Gallup poll Cillizza cited, Americans support the passage of an array of new, stronger firearm sale laws.
Note that this appetite among the public for stronger gun laws includes the support of more than three in five for reinstating the nationwide ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. One of the weapons used by the alleged shooter was an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, which reportedly may have been banned under that law. Members of the House and Senate have called for bringing back the ban in response to the shooting. They enjoy the support of 62 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans, according to a June 2011 Time magazine poll.
The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza does his turn at distilling conventional wisdom this morning by asking of the Supreme Court's health care ruling yesterday: "Did Republicans lose the health care battle but win the health care war?" It's a loaded question, born of utterly predictable spin, that assumes a Republican victory regardless of the outcome. But it looks even more ridiculous when you think about the question that should be asked in its stead: We know now what Obama will run on, so what exactly is the Republican health care plan?
After the ruling was issued yesterday, Mitt Romney stood behind a podium and promised that, were he to be elected, he would repeal the law on his first day as president. The Republican National Committee blasted out talking points announcing their intention to repeat the word "tax" ad nauseam from here to November. And everyone seems very impressed that Romney claims to have raised $2 million yesterday off the ruling.
That's all well and good, but as the Post's Ezra Klein pointed out a couple of weeks ago, we're less than five months from Election Day and the presumptive Republican nominee still has not articulated a specific health care policy. That's a remarkable thing, particularly when you consider that at this point in the 2008 election cycle, then-candidate Barack Obama's detailed health care proposal had been a matter of public record for more than a year.
Last night's Republican presidential debate generated no shortage of headlines and much coverage of the record number of prisoner executions during the administration of Texas governor Rick Perry.
Asked by NBC's Brian Williams if he struggles with the idea that any one of those executed prisoners might have been innocent, Perry answered: "No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all. ... In the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."
Much of the coverage thus far has focused on the theatrics of Perry's staunch defense of Texas' system for capital punishment, rather than the substance. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza wrote this morning that Perry was one of the "losers" last night, but "salvaged the second half of the debate with a very strong answer on the death penalty." For those wondering what was so "strong" about it, tough luck: Cillizza didn't explain. In today's Politico "Playbook," Mike Allen counseled Perry to "give the same answer on executions in every debate."
A few media outlets have noted Texas' controversial record on capital punishment, and some even spotlighted the case of Cameron Todd Willingham as a counterpoint to Perry's faith in the Texas criminal justice system. Willingham, convicted of murdering his three daughters by arson, was put to death in Texas in 2004. Perry denied a stay of execution to allow the state to review evidence that the fire science used to convict Willingham was spurious. In 2009 he abruptly replaced several members the state forensic science commission just before it was scheduled to hold hearings on the matter.
Willingham's case is an important one, but we should also be talking about the many wrongly convicted prisoners freed from death row in Texas in the last ten years. They, more than the unresolved Willingham case, demonstrate conclusively not just that the Texas criminal justice system is capable of making catastrophic errors when meting out capital punishment, but also that such errors happen with appalling frequency.
In a "Fast Fix" video about budget deficits, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza demonstrates the elite media's hostility to Social Security and Medicare:
Cutting spending is the obvious fix. But where to cut, and by how much? The simple solution is to make cuts to two large government entitlement programs: Social Security and Medicare. The problem? Members of Congress have been more concerned with counting votes than cutting costs. Social Security and Medicare are considered the "third rails" of American politics. Nobody wants to touch them.
It has apparently never occurred to Cillizza that another "problem" with making deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare is that doing so would take money out of the pockets of the elderly, and force people to postpone retirement. That may not seem like a big deal to Chris Cillizza, but people with jobs that require considerably more physical exertion than sitting at a desk may see things differently.
Later, Cillizza referred to President Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security as "reform" -- a loaded description, to be sure, but one that is consistent with his apparent belief that there are no legitimate policy reasons for opposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare; that all such opposition is purely political.
Note also that Cillizza fixates on spending cuts as the "obvious fix" to budget deficits. Budgets involve two key components: Revenue and expenditures. But only one of those -- reducing expenditures -- strikes Cillizza as an "obvious" solution. Raising taxes on the wealthy? Inconceivable! (According to the Washingtonian, the average Washington Post reporter makes $90,000 a year. And that's an average -- Cillizza is a star Post reporter, complete with online videos. And Cillizza commands speaking fees of $5,001-$10,000 per speech. Maybe that has something to do with his belief that cutting Social Security, rather than raising taxes on the rich, is the "obvious" solution to budget deficits?)
Was today's Washington Post ghostwritten by the RNC press shop? Based on all the unsupported -- and unsupportable -- suggestions of excessive Democratic partisanship, it sure looks like it.
Let's start with Shailagh Murray's portrayal of Democrats of being newcomers to bipartisanship:
Never mind that Democrats didn't pass a health care reform package that created a single payer system, or even one that included a public option, but rather passed a package that reflected longtime Republican health care priorities, like an individual mandate. To the Washington Post, the fact that Republicans voted against a plan chock-full of ideas they had long advocated means the Democrats weren't behaving in a bipartisan manner. And never mind that the Democrats passed a stimulus that was significantly smaller, and more tax-cut laden, than many economists, from Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman to Christina Romer, thought was necessary -- and did so in an effort to win Republican support. To the Washington Post, the fact that Republicans almost unanimously opposed it despite those concessions means the Democrats weren't behaving in a bipartisan manner.
Murray's Post article asserts:
Many voters thought Democrats had overreached and were governing by fiat, and they responded in November by giving Republicans control of the House and narrowing the Democratic hold on the Senate.
Really? I've never seen polling demonstrating that widespread anger at Democrats for "governing by fiat" was key to the GOP's electoral gains last November, and I strongly suspect the Washington Post hasn't, either. Meanwhile, there are plenty of indications that a poor economy had far more to do with Democratic losses than a perception of "governing by fiats" -- but that doesn't fit into the Post's neat little storyline about Democratic overreach. Indeed, given that the 2009 stimulus package was smaller than many economists thought it should be, attributing last fall's election outcomes largely to the state of the economy would directly undermine the Post's storyline -- and might even suggest that Democrats suffered politically because they were too solicitous of Republicans. But instead of changing their narrative to fit reality, the Post makes up an alternate universe in which fiats weighed more heavily on the minds of voters than did jobs.
Next, let's take a look at Chris Cillizza's "Ten members to watch in the 112th Congress":
North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D): Conrad watched as Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) retired and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) were defeated in the last cycle -- and now must decide whether or not to run again in his own right in 2012. If Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, does decide to retire, it could actually help the chances of a bipartisan budget deal as he would be less concerned about the political fallout from any compromise.
Again, the idea that recent lack of agreement by the two parties on fiscal measures is a result of excessive partisanship by Kent Conrad is absurd. On the biggest legislative items of the last Congress -- things like health care and the stimulus, the very things Republicans and journalists invoke as evidence of Democratic partisanship -- Democrats again and again made concessions in an attempt to win Republican support, and Republicans refused that support anyway. It was the GOP's entire legislative and political strategy. Don't take my word for it: Mitch McConnell has explicitly said it was the Republicans' approach. He has bragged about it. Here's McConnell:
"We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals," McConnell says. "Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the 'bipartisan' tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there's a broad agreement that that's the way forward."
In light of the fact that Republicans like Mitch McConnell have explicitly said that they pursued a strategy of opposing everything the Democrats did, specifically so nothing could be called "bipartisan," it's simply dishonest to blame Democrats for insufficient bipartisanship.
From the July 4 edition of CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley:
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The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza credulously passes along some GOP health care spin, never thinking to question whether maybe -- just maybe -- there's some artifice involved:
Republican lawyers warn Democrats of "deem and pass" consequences
Less than 24 hours after House Democratic leaders floated the idea of using a parliamentary procedure to avoid a recorded vote on the Senate health care bill, a group of Republican lawyers -- including the legal counsels for the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee as well as high profile campaign attorney like Ben Ginsberg of Patton Boggs and Cleta Mitchell of Foley & Lardner -- penned an open letter making clear that such a tactic would not make Democrats immune from attacks on the bill in the fall campaign.
Citing an assertion from Rules Committee ranking member David Dreier (Calif.) that "a vote for the rule is a vote for the Senate bill," the group wrote: "We believe it is accurate to state in public communications that the effect of a vote for any rule illustrated in [Dreier's memo] is a vote for the Senate bill and all of its provisions." Put simply: Republicans believe that House Democrats using the "deem and pass" maneuver in no way prohibits GOP candidates and party committees from attacking them for "voting" for the Senate legislation.
So, Republican lawyers, citing a Republican member of congress, say Republicans can say in public communications (that's a reference to television advertising; each party frequently tries to get television stations to pull the other's ads over disputed claims) what the Republican member of congress says. How very nice and circular. And predictable. Oh, and ... meaningless. It probably won't surprise you to learn that the legal counsels for the RNC, NRSC and NRCC don't get to decide this question. That's up to television stations and their attorneys.
Unfortunately, Cillizza didn't include any indication of whether lawyers not in the employ of the GOP agree with the assessment. Or even any response from Democratic lawyers.
The letter along with House Republican leaders' vow to force a vote on the use of "deem and pass" is a reminder that GOPers believe the health care bill -- no matter the outcome of the vote later this week (or weekend) -- is something close to a silver bullet for them in the coming midterm elections.
Actually, it's a reminder that GOPers seem to want people to believe that they believe the health care bill is something close to a silver bullet for them. And, at least in this case, they got their wish.
How would Republicans behave if they believed health care was "something close to a silver bullet" for them? Pretty much they way they are behaving right now. (Or, perhaps, by laying low to encourage Democrats to walk in to their trap.)
But: How would Republicans behave if they believed health care could become a silver bullet for them, but would be much more likely to do so if there was a widespread belief that it would? Pretty much the way they are behaving right now. By thinking he can read the GOP's minds -- and concluding that their public statements are a sincere representation of their inner thoughts -- Cillizza plays right into their hands.
(Note that I'm not saying Republicans don't sincerely believe health care is their "silver bullet." I'm saying we don't know what they "believe," and that Cillizza's assumption that he does makes that outcome more likely. It's an assumption, by the way, that requires assuming that Republicans are offering Democrats sincere campaign advice, which seems more than a little unlikely.)
Washington Post reporter Chris Cillizza calls tomorrow's Massachusetts Senate election for Republican Scott Brown:
Cambridge, MA: I still think Coakley wins this race by 8+ points and the story is marginalized post-election. The voter ID for Dems is just too large and this national attention has woken up MA residents. ...
Chris Cillizza: Great minds!
I am not sure I agree on Coakley -- solely because the race has been so unpredictable to this point -- but I think that no matter what happens on Tuesday you have a clear winner and a clear loser already.
Winner: Scott Brown. His candidacy has shocked the political world so even if he comes up short he will be touted for any and all open office in the state. One potential option: Coakley's attorney general post.
No word yet on how a Brown loss would be good news for Rudy Giuliani.