Commentary Magazine


Topic: lobbyist

Double Fantasy 08′

While Barack Obama earns a standing ovation for blowing his nose, John McCain gets the full smear job for having been in the company of a female lobbyist. This is fitting, as the adulation surrounding Obama’s every twitch is as manufactured as the finger-wagging over McCain’s non-alleged scandal. Troubling that in the most serious of times, the media refuses to take this election seriously.

The New York Times piece in question is the journalistic equivalent of push-polling or the “it was all a dream” narrative explanation. They float a juicy two-pronged premise (adultery and political compromise) before the electorate with no greater justification than that some anonymous observers had mistakenly assumed it to be true. In the article, the Times practically does a cut-and-paste of the most incriminating bits, detailing the non-allegations at the beginning and end, so that all the relevant refutations are framed in slime.

John McCain came up against this kind of unscrupulous warfare in South Carolina during the 2000 primaries. George Bush’s camp invented a scenario to play on voters’ prejudice under the guise of a poll. Voters were asked if they would vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child. Back then, the attack was orchestrated by his opponent. That today such methods are employed by a supposedly impartial press goes to show how far the tenor of political coverage has sunk. But in either case it is a testament to John McCain’s character and record that the most potentially damaging blows to his candidacy need to be fashioned out of thin air. Just as it’s an indication of Barack Obama’s actual flimsiness that the abilities for which he’s adored are also fabrications. Elections have dealt in sleaze before, but this inclination towards legitimizing fiction is a new and alarming turn.

While Barack Obama earns a standing ovation for blowing his nose, John McCain gets the full smear job for having been in the company of a female lobbyist. This is fitting, as the adulation surrounding Obama’s every twitch is as manufactured as the finger-wagging over McCain’s non-alleged scandal. Troubling that in the most serious of times, the media refuses to take this election seriously.

The New York Times piece in question is the journalistic equivalent of push-polling or the “it was all a dream” narrative explanation. They float a juicy two-pronged premise (adultery and political compromise) before the electorate with no greater justification than that some anonymous observers had mistakenly assumed it to be true. In the article, the Times practically does a cut-and-paste of the most incriminating bits, detailing the non-allegations at the beginning and end, so that all the relevant refutations are framed in slime.

John McCain came up against this kind of unscrupulous warfare in South Carolina during the 2000 primaries. George Bush’s camp invented a scenario to play on voters’ prejudice under the guise of a poll. Voters were asked if they would vote for McCain if they knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child. Back then, the attack was orchestrated by his opponent. That today such methods are employed by a supposedly impartial press goes to show how far the tenor of political coverage has sunk. But in either case it is a testament to John McCain’s character and record that the most potentially damaging blows to his candidacy need to be fashioned out of thin air. Just as it’s an indication of Barack Obama’s actual flimsiness that the abilities for which he’s adored are also fabrications. Elections have dealt in sleaze before, but this inclination towards legitimizing fiction is a new and alarming turn.

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More on Rapid Response 101

McCain’s team put out a detailed document on the allegations in the New York Times involving his relationship with a female lobbyist in 2000. On the morning shows the team followed it up with a fairly convincing case that McCain repeatedly took actions that were adverse to the interests of the lobbyist. Of course, the “doing favors” part of the story isn’t what makes it really problematic for him. And so, at a press conference he staged early this morning, the sure-to-be Republican presidential candidate was calm and emphatic in his denials. He might even have responded more angrily, but then the new storyline would have been “Temper Resurfaces.” With Cindy McCain at his side, the full court media counteroffensive by the McCain team and the New York Times apparently unwilling engage on the record about its reporting, this may ultimately turn out to be at worst a wash, and maybe a net plus (on multiple levels), for McCain, who needed to juice up the base a bit.

UPDATE: Perhaps the definitive (at least the funniest) analysis of the New York Times story is here (as is sometimes the case with real Cliff Notes, it is better than the original tale) and examination of the conservative backlash is here.

McCain’s team put out a detailed document on the allegations in the New York Times involving his relationship with a female lobbyist in 2000. On the morning shows the team followed it up with a fairly convincing case that McCain repeatedly took actions that were adverse to the interests of the lobbyist. Of course, the “doing favors” part of the story isn’t what makes it really problematic for him. And so, at a press conference he staged early this morning, the sure-to-be Republican presidential candidate was calm and emphatic in his denials. He might even have responded more angrily, but then the new storyline would have been “Temper Resurfaces.” With Cindy McCain at his side, the full court media counteroffensive by the McCain team and the New York Times apparently unwilling engage on the record about its reporting, this may ultimately turn out to be at worst a wash, and maybe a net plus (on multiple levels), for McCain, who needed to juice up the base a bit.

UPDATE: Perhaps the definitive (at least the funniest) analysis of the New York Times story is here (as is sometimes the case with real Cliff Notes, it is better than the original tale) and examination of the conservative backlash is here.

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McCain Really Must Be The Nominee

The New York Times came out with its Drudge-previewed piece about John McCain’s alleged dealings with a female lobbyist, and the McCain campaign immediately and strongly responded. Others (here, here, here and here) have already remarked on the thinly sourced allegations (and mutual denial) of his personal relationship with the lobbyist and questioned how far the story will go, since the Times dutifully reported aides’ statements that no inappropriate legislative action was taken. (Remarkably, the Times’ online reader comments suggest a high dose of skepticism about the sourcing and value of the story.)

Aside from the obvious question about the timing of the story and whether The New Republic stampeded the Times (Otherwise why run it now? What changed since the Drudge leak in December?), this raises the possibility that the story will perversely help McCain with certain elements in the conservative base that have long complained McCain has been too cozy with liberal media. (Many conservative pundits, of course, heaped scorn on McCain when the very same Times endorsed him.) If mutual antagonism toward the New York Times and the prospect of an ultra-liberal opponent can’t bring McCain and the conservative base together, I suppose nothing will.

The New York Times came out with its Drudge-previewed piece about John McCain’s alleged dealings with a female lobbyist, and the McCain campaign immediately and strongly responded. Others (here, here, here and here) have already remarked on the thinly sourced allegations (and mutual denial) of his personal relationship with the lobbyist and questioned how far the story will go, since the Times dutifully reported aides’ statements that no inappropriate legislative action was taken. (Remarkably, the Times’ online reader comments suggest a high dose of skepticism about the sourcing and value of the story.)

Aside from the obvious question about the timing of the story and whether The New Republic stampeded the Times (Otherwise why run it now? What changed since the Drudge leak in December?), this raises the possibility that the story will perversely help McCain with certain elements in the conservative base that have long complained McCain has been too cozy with liberal media. (Many conservative pundits, of course, heaped scorn on McCain when the very same Times endorsed him.) If mutual antagonism toward the New York Times and the prospect of an ultra-liberal opponent can’t bring McCain and the conservative base together, I suppose nothing will.

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Romney’s Rageless Bull

Yesterday during a South Carolina press conference, a reporter took Mitt Romney to task for claiming he doesn’t have lobbyists running his campaign and Romney returned fire with . . . something.

AP reporter Glenn Johnson  interrupted Romney and said, “That’s not true governor. That is not true. Ron Kaufman’s a lobbyist. How can you say that you don’t have lobbyists?” It is true that Kaufman is both a lobbyist and involved with Mitt Romney’s campaign. Romney went on the defense: “I said I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign and he’s not running my campaign.”

The unconvincing renunciation of lobbyists is neither new nor interesting. So, the media has tried to make something of Mitt Romney’s supposed outrage in response. But, as this clip of the incident demonstrates, Romney doesn’t do outrage very convincingly either. As the video reveals, he scolds the reporter with all the ferocity of a commercial airline pilot reporting on wind condition and ETA. Romney is a good face man, and a talented fixer, but this is no time for a smooth, safe, and comfortable presidency. When Bill Clinton flips he resembles a child having a tantrum and John McCain is capable of white-hot fury. Mitt Romney’s placid mien and financial and organizational know-how might make him, say, an excellent secretary of the treasury. But not a president.

Yesterday during a South Carolina press conference, a reporter took Mitt Romney to task for claiming he doesn’t have lobbyists running his campaign and Romney returned fire with . . . something.

AP reporter Glenn Johnson  interrupted Romney and said, “That’s not true governor. That is not true. Ron Kaufman’s a lobbyist. How can you say that you don’t have lobbyists?” It is true that Kaufman is both a lobbyist and involved with Mitt Romney’s campaign. Romney went on the defense: “I said I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign and he’s not running my campaign.”

The unconvincing renunciation of lobbyists is neither new nor interesting. So, the media has tried to make something of Mitt Romney’s supposed outrage in response. But, as this clip of the incident demonstrates, Romney doesn’t do outrage very convincingly either. As the video reveals, he scolds the reporter with all the ferocity of a commercial airline pilot reporting on wind condition and ETA. Romney is a good face man, and a talented fixer, but this is no time for a smooth, safe, and comfortable presidency. When Bill Clinton flips he resembles a child having a tantrum and John McCain is capable of white-hot fury. Mitt Romney’s placid mien and financial and organizational know-how might make him, say, an excellent secretary of the treasury. But not a president.

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The Thompson Candidacy

How serious a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination is Fred Thompson?

Apparently quite serious indeed. Last week GOP insider pundit Robert Novak assured readers that Thompson isn’t just toying with running—he will declare his candidacy early next month. This rumor has generated outsized buzz, including a highly negative column by George Will. But a great many conservatives, dissatisfied with a field in which none of the three leading contenders is a down-the-line conservative, seem to be fans.

The former Senator’s most salient attribute is his persona. He has a large, comforting, commanding presence that Hollywood directors have seen fit to cast as an admiral, the director of the CIA, and even the President. His slow drawl, big eyes, and wrinkles make him the very image of the respected Southern lawyer. He is an excellent communicator, sympathetic, easy to watch, and never grating (which is not true of, say, Rudy). Some go so far as to call his qualities “Reaganesque.”

But what about substance?

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How serious a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination is Fred Thompson?

Apparently quite serious indeed. Last week GOP insider pundit Robert Novak assured readers that Thompson isn’t just toying with running—he will declare his candidacy early next month. This rumor has generated outsized buzz, including a highly negative column by George Will. But a great many conservatives, dissatisfied with a field in which none of the three leading contenders is a down-the-line conservative, seem to be fans.

The former Senator’s most salient attribute is his persona. He has a large, comforting, commanding presence that Hollywood directors have seen fit to cast as an admiral, the director of the CIA, and even the President. His slow drawl, big eyes, and wrinkles make him the very image of the respected Southern lawyer. He is an excellent communicator, sympathetic, easy to watch, and never grating (which is not true of, say, Rudy). Some go so far as to call his qualities “Reaganesque.”

But what about substance?

Thompson frequently fills in for ABC radio host Paul Harvey, and gives short “position paper” talks on issues. If recent ones are a guide, he is pro-defense, committed to winning in Iraq, opposed to civilization-wide surrender to Islamofascism, pro-immigration enforcement, and an economic conservative. It is worth noting, however, that these are only his stated positions. In his Senate years he supported McCain-Feingold on campaign-finance reform and lacked the political skill to turn the Chinagate hearings (which he chaired) into a substantive exposition of Bill Clinton’s arms-for-cash chicanery.

Thompson certainly has as much political experience as anyone from either party in this year’s not overly experienced crop. He served eight years as a U.S. Senator but has been in government and around politics much longer than that. His resume includes an early stint as a deputy U.S. attorney in his native Tennessee, after which he ran Howard Baker’s 1972 Senate campaign. He came to Washington to serve as co-chief counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee. He worked as a lobbyist for 18 years, and began his acting career accidentally enough in 1987, when the director of a movie about one of Thompson’s cases couldn’t find someone to play him, and so asked him to audition. After leaving the Senate in 2003, he joined the cast of the popular legal drama Law and Order.

Can Thompson catch up with the field money-wise, having missed the first quarter of fundraising? He is said to be able to raise “Hollywood money” (though Hollywood GOP money is a new concept). Thompson is not by any means known as a hard worker–and raising more than $1 million a week is hard work. His already-high name recognition, though, could offset the need for advertising dollars. Jumping in late also has the potential advantage of saving him from overexposure. John McCain is already suffering from this malady, having been the candidate-in-waiting since the end of the 2000 primaries. And Thompson polled high in March, beating Hillary in a Rasmussen match-up by a margin of 44 percent to 43 percent, and came in third in the Republican field (ahead of Romney) in a recent Gallup poll.

Last month the evangelical leader and talk-show host James Dobson announced that he won’t support Thompson. Dobson doesn’t think the former Senator is a real Christian, never having heard him discuss his Christian beliefs publicly. This won’t hurt, since no one meets Dobson’s test this year—and polls show Rudy Giuliani, a social libertarian who respondents feel is tough enough to stare down the nation’s very real enemies, running first. What may hurt Thompson, quite reasonably, is the fact that he has no executive experience.

Ten months out from the first primary, the GOP field remains fluid, as Republicans wait to see how the candidates fare over a very long campaign season. Thompson could easily end up on the ticket—but it’s not likely to be in the top slot.

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The Vaccine Minefield

A vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), approved last year, has now sparked controversy in at least a half dozen states. HPV is by far the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. (a recent study suggests as many as 25 percent of women under the age of 60 are infected). Symptoms are usually not serious but two rare strains of the virus can actually cause cervical cancer—the second most common form of cancer among American women.

That’s why the introduction of an HPV vaccine made waves last year. Approved by the FDA in June, it is the first vaccine that can avert a form of cancer. Public health officials hailed it, and even President Bush talked it up earlier this year.

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A vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), approved last year, has now sparked controversy in at least a half dozen states. HPV is by far the most common sexually transmitted virus in the U.S. (a recent study suggests as many as 25 percent of women under the age of 60 are infected). Symptoms are usually not serious but two rare strains of the virus can actually cause cervical cancer—the second most common form of cancer among American women.

That’s why the introduction of an HPV vaccine made waves last year. Approved by the FDA in June, it is the first vaccine that can avert a form of cancer. Public health officials hailed it, and even President Bush talked it up earlier this year.

But the vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck, quickly overreached in its effort to market it, pressuring state officials to mandate vaccination of sixth-grade girls. In February, Texas governor Rick Perry issued an executive order requiring vaccination, but when it was revealed that Perry’s former chief of staff is now a lobbyist for Merck, the company’s role in pushing for mandatory adoption became an issue across the country. In late February, Merck announced an end to its lobbying campaign.

The HPV vaccine stands to be a major boon to women’s health, but it is not an obvious candidate for mandatory use. Mandatory vaccination of children is generally used to prevent diseases that can spread easily in school—like chicken pox and mumps—and HPV does not quite qualify. Indeed, many parents are uneasy vaccinating their 11-year-old daughters against a sexually transmitted disease. Merck marched far too aggressively into that minefield, and by overplaying its hand has not only undermined its own vaccine, but may also have unwittingly contributed to a growing campaign to build doubts in parents’ minds about vaccines in general—a campaign with serious health implications.

That broader campaign has been building slowly for years, advanced especially by a few groups of parents of autistic children, who are persuaded (without concrete evidence) that chemicals in childhood vaccinations (especially small doses of mercury) cause autism. By planting baseless fears in the minds of parents, they have caused a real decline in the number of children being vaccinated, which could contribute to the resurgence of some diseases thought to be things of the past, like mumps. Public-health officials have come to realize over the past decade that vaccines are extremely sensitive territory. Apparently no one bothered to tell Merck.

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