Que sera sera


Eric is not working today and wishes everyone who is fasting an easy fast. He notes that you may wish to read his and George's new Think Again column called "The Uses and Abuses of 'Voter Fraud," which is here. And don't forget the New York Times Book Review/Paper Cuts playlist, which is here.

Tom Friedman writes: "How in the world can conservative commentators write with a straight face that this woman should be vice president of the United States? Do these people understand what serious trouble our country is in right now?" I wonder who he might have in mind.

We braced for the worst from debate moderator Tom Brokaw last night, and got -- well, not the worst, but definitely not the best. Brokaw had no "knock-out punches," to borrow the terminology of post-debate analysis -- that is, there were no moments where the moderator quite obviously laid down for McCain, as he did during the DNC when he said, "Well, look, for Bill Clinton, and for anyone in the Democratic Party for that matter, it's a very tricky case taking on John McCain and trying to rough him up."

Many of Brokaw's questions were ridiculous, however. How often have Brokaw and his mainstream brethren tried to ride this horse: "Would you give Congress a date certain to reform Social Security and Medicare within two years after you take office? Because in a bipartisan way, everyone agrees, that's a big ticking time bomb that will eat us up maybe even more than the mortgage crisis."

Of course, barely one in four Americans think Social Security is in crisis. And the Congressional Budget Office says the program is fine until 2049, and "future Social Security beneficiaries will receive larger benefits in retirement -- and will have paid higher payroll taxes -- than current beneficiaries do, even after adjustments have been made for inflation and even if the scheduled payments are reduced because the trust funds are exhausted."

There are plenty of other silly questions to choose from, although we'd be remiss not to mention this: "This requires only a yes or a no. Ronald Reagan famously said that the Soviet Union was the evil empire. Do you think that Russia under Vladimir Putin is an evil empire?" Even McCain, who loves to talk tough on Russia, had plainly reject the question: "If I say yes, then that means that we're reigniting the old Cold War. If I say no, it ignores their behavior."

My main problem, really, was the format. This was not a town hall meeting. Brokaw got a reported 6 million questions on the Internet, and had 80 to choose from inside the hall. He alone made the choices of what questions to ask, and with that volume, one has to assume Brokaw had questions on virtually every issue at his disposal. He alone decided the nature and order of the questions, and none of the questioners from the audience were allowed to follow-up or even visibly react to the answers. I think you either let the audience loose on the candidates, or cut the town-hall window dressing and just ask the questions yourself.

George Zornick writes: In "Loving John McCain," we noted that David Broder once wrote that in "an age of deep cynicism about politicians of both parties [McCain] is the rare exception who is not assumed to be willing to sacrifice personal credibility to prevail in any contest." This represented a deep-seated mainstream media conviction that McCain was no ordinary politician.

Now, restraints related to both space and tax laws prevent a full discussion of the myriad ways in which McCain has violated this image since he won his party's nomination. But yesterday Mike Allen of Politico wrote a piece proving that old habits really do die hard. The tagline with the article read: "McCain is miserable about having to run a campaign that's antithetical to his persona." How do we know that McCain really does hate all these negative advertisements and, well, lies that his campaign has put out there? What's the source?

A close McCain friend said the reason is clear: McCain is miserable about having to run a campaign that's antithetical to his persona.

Case closed, then ... Why is this allowed to be an anonymous quote? Why is this adoring close friend granted the privilege of anonymity?

McCain Suck-up Watch: NPR and the Los Angeles Times reported Gov. Sarah Palin's claim that Sen. Barack Obama has been "palling around with terrorists," a reference to his acquaintance with William Ayers. However, neither noted Palin's distortion of the New York Times article she cited, which reported that "the two men do not appear to be close." More here.

The St. Petersburg Times writes:

Constantly under the watchful eyes of security, the media wasn't permitted to wander around inside Coachman Park to talk to Sarah Palin supporters. When reporters tried to leave the designated press area and head toward the bleachers where the crowd was seated, an escort would dart out of nowhere and confront him or her and say, "Can I help you?'' and turn the person around.

When one reporter asked an escort, who would not give her name, why the press wasn't allowed to mingle, she said that in the past, negative things had been written. The campaign wanted to avoid that possibility Monday.

This naturally should spur a great deal of warranted journalistic hand-wringing over a campaign that not only is largely excluding the press from talking with the vice-presidential candidate, but members of the public who choose to support her in a public place.

The fix is easy though, and requires very minimal journalistic elbow grease: just wait for the rally to end, and then talk to people as they disperse. That must be possible, no?

Eric Boehlert offers a memo to media: The Palin rape-kit story has not been "debunked." Read more here.

Announcing the "IIIIIIIIIessss": or, the "Abe Rosenthal/Pat Moynihan Award for quoting yourself quoting yourself and using the word "I" the most times in a single paragraph that is ostensibly about something else. And the contestants are:

1) Rex Reed in The New York Observer: "We must remember that Truffaut wrote all this and more about Lola Montès 53 years ago, and it resonated with a kind of avant-garde outrage that I still felt eight years later during the first New York Film Festival, in 1963, when I enraged many of the readers of my column in The Village Voice by designating Lola as the greatest film of all time. As I told an audience for an unprecedented third showing of Lola Montès at this year's 46th New York Film Festival, when I indulged in a bit of Lolatry in 1963, the character in the film I most resembled was Peter Ustinov's Ringmaster. Indeed, that's really what I've been doing for the 55 years since I began appearing in print. I always just wanted to bang a drum announcing the greatest shows on earth, the films that constituted the alternate universe for me ever since I could remember. My problem is that I cannot convey in print the sheer ecstasy I felt when I finally saw Lola properly for the first time in Paris in 1961. So I beat the drum with my superlatives out of sheer frustration with the limitations of my prose.... Some years ago, I sat on a doctoral panel at N.Y.U. with the late Bill Everson, our own Henri Langlois, for Richard Koszarski's defense of his thesis on the directorial career of Erich von Stroheim. When I expressed what I thought was a mild reservation about the von Stroheim oeuvre -- I notoriously always ranked Sternberg over von Stroheim -- Everson laughingly teased me about my addiction to camera movement. And the funniest thing is that I couldn't say anything in response because he was right. I am addicted to camera movement, and I assume Ophüls is to blame, though Ophüls never indulged in camera movement simply for its own sake." Here.

2) Nat Hentoff in The Wall Street Journal: "I told him about sitting next to my father in an Orthodox synagogue when I was a child as the hazzan, or cantor, in his black robes and high black skullcap took over the service. As I wrote in my memoir, 'Boston Boy' (Knopf/Paul Dry Books paperback) that I was later to hear in black blues singers. There were moments when I wanted to rise and shout, but I did not want to embarrass my father." Here.

Correspondence Corner:

To the Editor of The Boston Globe:

March 13, 2002

George F. Will writes (Boston Globe, March 12): "Bush's terseness is Ernest Hemingway seasoned with John Wesley."

Well, one is hardly familiar with John Wesley's sermons, but I do know that to put George W. Bush's prose next to Hemingway's is equal to saying that Jackie Susann is right up there with Jane Austen. Did a sense of shame ever reside in our Republican toadies? You can't stop people who are never embarrassed by themselves. George Will's readiness to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse can be cited as world-class sycophancy.

Norman Mailer

To Sal Cetrano:

June 17, 2003

Dear Sal,

Even if you're a deep-dyed conservative, and Republican, please disabuse yourself of the idea that Bush is a good guy. Please, Sal. It seems to me the best argument you can present is that he's a total, shallow, manipulative shit, but that he's got the luck of the devil working for him and so his policy may not end up a total disaster.


Those are also here.

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

On politico.com, the headline read, "Advisers worry about 'grumpy McCain,' " and Mike Allen's story discussed examples of McCain being downright unpleasant to members of the media. It includes this gem:

A close McCain friend said the reason is clear: McCain is miserable about having to run a campaign that's antithetical to his persona.

"He is basically having to be somebody that he isn't," said the friend, who remains strongly supportive. "He is just not a guy that goes on the attack in public. For him to be on the attack constantly, attacking Obama's character - McCain is uncomfortable with that, and it's made him grumpy."

Now, reporting on this may be legitimate, but I think the new Rolling Stone article shows that McCain has been grumpy roughly since the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The point is, it is another example of the media falling for the narrative that McCain has given them over the years about who he is -- or, more accurately, who he claims to be in contrast to who he really is.

Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

You might think that every time Sarah Palin mentions that Barack Obama thinks so little of America that he pals around with terrorists, the media might want to ask her, "Governor Palin, don't you pal around with someone who thinks so little of America that he was a member of a party seeking independence from the United States?"

Name: Mathteacher
Hometown: San Antonio


It's worth noting that the great-grandson of the original Maverick was Maury Maverick Jr., a longtime liberal columnist for the San Antonio Light and later the Express-News. He served in the Marines in WWII and after the war became a lawyer (working for and with the ACLU) and political activist.

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