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Issue #63

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Features:

Top Ten Hacks of 2004 Election - Matt Taibbi

MEMRI Problems: Was Kerry's Election Bid Lost in Translation?- Chris Riordan

Pick of the Litter: Bottom-Feeding all the Way to the Top

Redwoods Evil, Must Be Destroyed: Bush Wants Some Wood- Kit Smith

Too Cool for School: City Honors Censorship - Al Uthman

Tortures - R - Us - Christopher Lord


Faux-tures:

New Hotel on Baltic Ave: Boon or Burden? - Ian Murphy

10 Tips For Coping with your Dysfunctional Family this Thanksgiving

A Word From Our Sponsors



Departments:

Buffalo in Briefs

BEAST-O-Scopes

Page 3

Separated at Birth?

[sic] - Letters

The Straight Dope w/ Dr Rotten




Entertainment:

Movie Reviews:

Kino Korner

Music Reviews :

Matchbook Romance/Midtown Show - Chris Meister

Goo Goo Dolls DVD - Seamus Gallivan

Elliot Smith CD- Michael Gildea

Odd Couple CD - Ketchup Samurai

BEASTIVITIES

Sports:

Wide Right: Bills could Make Playoffs--in the NFC - Ronnie Roscoe



Comix:

Beast Comix - Ian Murphy

I Witless News - I. Gonzalez

Deep Fried - Jason Yungbluth

Bob the Angry Flower - Stephen Notley





Issue #62

Features:

O Buffalo: Why Move When we can Secede? - Al Uthman

Love or Four Hour Erections: The Choice is Clear - Matt Taibbi

The Falsification and Death Administration: FDA Approval may be Hazardous to your Health - Kit Smith

Meaning of Tripe: Countdown to the Beast's Ten Worst Presidential Election Campaign Hacks of 2004- Matt Taibbi

10 Ultra-Cynical Ways to Beat the Republicans

The Big Rig: This Election was Worse than 2000 - William Rivers Pitt

The Smoldering Fuel Rods of Environmental Justice - Chris Meister


Faux-tures:

The BEAST Interview With God

Who Voted Bush? - A BEAST Quiz

A Word From Our Sponsors



Departments:

Buffalo in Briefs

BEAST-O-Scopes

Page 3

Separated at Birth?

[sic] - Letters

The Straight Dope w/ Dr Rotten




Entertainment:

Movies:

Kino Korner

Sports:

Wide Right: O Captain my Captain - Ronnie Roscoe









Issue #61

Features:

Voting Guide of FEAR

Top 10 Reasons to be TERRIFIED This Halloween - Al Uthman

Onward Christian Assholes: Some Folks Just Can't Wait for the Apocalypse - Matt Taibbi

A Talk With Sam Hoyt - Eric Gauchat

Give 'em Enough Pink Ribbon to Hang Themselves: Breast Cancer? Chemical Firm Supplies Cause & Cure - Kit Smith


Faux-tures:

Our Election Campaign Sponsors

The BEAST Scary Election Fun Page!

Over 60 Million Killed in Huge Fucking Flu Epidemic - Josh Righter



Departments:

Buffalo in Briefs

BEAST-O-Scopes

The Straight Dope w/ Dr Rotten

Page 3

Separated at Birth?

[sic] - Letters




Entertainment:

Movies:

Kino Korner

Music:

Album Reviews: Interpol, Mos Def

Sports:

Wide Right: Going Double-Negative - Ronnie Roscoe







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© 2004 The Beast

The BEAST's Ten Worst Presidential Election Campaign Hacks: Who's to Blame?
by Matt Taibbi


10 - GEORGE WILL, NEWSWEEK

Will uses big words and pompous literary references to dress up what are basically the brutish and vulgar thinking patterns of a non-union meat-packing plant owner. He is a pig in a lace hat.

Will makes the list but not because he wrote a campaign piece that whined in a predictable way about George Soros' contributions to ACT ("As Goes Ohio..." Oct. 3).  He makes it because he wrote a column calling "SportCenterese" the "lingua franca of ESPN Nation" ("25 Years of ESPN," Sept. 7). It was yet another Will column that opened with Will sitting in the stands at a baseball game.

Is there no way to convince the U.N. to intervene to stop this man?


9 - BOB WOODWARD, WASHINGTON POST

Woodward continues to seem ashamed of his activist-journalism legacy as the reporter who toppled a Republican president. His investigative efforts since All the President's Men, and especially lately, seem determined to seek relentlessly a centrist politics, to be gently corrective rather than crusading and muckraking... And sometimes he drifts into outright shameless hagiography of the ruling powers (i.e. Bush at War).

Unlike his counterpart Sy Hersh, who appears happily poised to keep pissing people off well into his nineties, Woodward seems very determined to remain a respectable figure to parties on all sides. Therefore he says, with pride, things like the following about Plan of Attack: "It's a book that looks both ways." Or: "You can look at that and say that's what we need in a president or you can look at that and say that's exactly what we don't need in a president." Or that Bush in Plan of Attack either comes across as a "forceful, decisive leader" or "shows he does not know what he is doing," depending on your point of view.

Woodward achieves this balancing act in subtle ways. He does the actual reporting of just enough damning facts about the Bush presidency (like the revelation that Bush talked about "taking the gloves off" with Gitmo prisoners after 9/11), then turns around and flatters the same interview subjects he just skewered. Thus he will report really damaging things about Bush, then will turn right around and blow smoke up his ass on national television, doing things like telling Tim Russert (Sept. 12, “Meet the Press”) that he sincerely believed Bush was willing to take the risk to go into Iraq, even if that made him a one-term president. When a professional doubter suddenly starts credulously buying the transparent posturing of politicians, you know something's up.

Or, Woodward will say things like the following:

"I mean, Bush essentially says, when you get into this question, how is history going to judge the Iraq War? And he makes the point, 'Well, we don't know. We'll all be dead.' And I think that's true."

No, that isn't true. It's stupid. It's the grasping non-answer of a junior-high fuckup who didn't do his homework. And Woodward knows it. But he does this stuff to ensure that he still gets to sit in the Oval Office a few times a year.

This is too bad, because Bush is a much bigger target than Nixon, his crimes much more outrageous and egregious than Nixon's, and America's most famous muckraker softballed him throughout the election season, just to make sure he stays on the White House Christmas card list.


- ROBERT NOVAK, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES

The mean old bastard who wrote, without kidding, "I am a Ken Mehlman fan."

Novak, even after he fell and broke his hip after the first debate, was back blasting away at Don Rumsfeld from his hospital bed two days later. The guy is really unstoppable. At the end of his life, he's going to be like the machine in the last frames of The Terminator, legs gone, flesh all burned off, crawling forth in the abandoned factory, spewing venom about government spending. One has to admire that.

Novak is in the top ten because of that dreary purse-lipped sadist's face of his. (You've seen that face before: the prison warden meets high school vice-principal of your nightmares, shitting on your wife's back.) That plus his outing of Valerie Plame is suddenly being upheld as a free-press issue. He makes the list because he recently told an audience of Penn State students that he is only able to stand James Carville because "CNN pays me a lot of money."

But here's the worst thing about Novak. Six years ago, Novak's column was the favored destination of anonymous leakers from the office of special prosecutor Ken Starr. They gave him such nuggets as the revelation that it was their "educated guess" that Hillary Clinton would be named as an unindicted coconspirator in the Hubbell case ("Clinton's Woes Far from Over," Nov. 26, 1998). At the time, Novak had no problem being the submissive love-slave of an overzealous independent prosecutor seeking, in a clearly inappropriate manner, to try his case in public.

Now Novak is going to sit back and let people like William Safire blast special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald for going too far in hammering Novak for his sources in the Plame case. Live by the leak, die by the leak, you fucking dog.


7 - JODI WILGOREN, NEW YORK TIMES

Pundits and Politicians are fond of referring to the campaign as a conversation between the candidates and the public. Kerry even put that in his stump speech, beginning town halls and rallies by gesturing to the crowd and saying, "You and I are going to have a conversation." But was it really a conversation?

In fact, if you look at it closely, the campaign was mainly a conversation with itself. And if you look at the campaign as it existed in the media, it was entirely a conversation with itself. Virtually everyone who is allowed to tell us what to think of the candidates, their positions and the state of our politics in general is an insider of some kind. In this movie, only the guild members—candidates, spokespeople, talking heads, pundits and pollsters—get the speaking lines. The rest of the country is represented by crowd shots and poll numbers.

In order to understand why this is, you have to grasp an essential truth about our political journalism. What our political reporters do for a living is sell the campaign to the population, not speak for the people to the campaign. This is most vividly demonstrated in who actually gets to talk in campaign coverage.

From September 10 to October 10, Wilgoren had a byline on some 16 campaign articles. In the course of that month, she quoted some 56 professional campaign creatures, with the vast majority of quotes coming from the candidates themselves and spokesmen like Joe Lockhart, Karen Hughes, Dan Bartlett, Mary Beth Cahill and Scott McClellan. Also represented were a trio of pollsters (Andrew Kohut, Frank Luntz, Peter Hart), a half-dozen or so talking heads (e.g. Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, Thomas Mann of Brookings) and other assorted humanoid flotsam and jetsam commonly found in campaign circles (a "top Democrat... in a hotel bar," a "debate expert").

During that month, Wilgoren traveled all over the country, from Allentown to Washington to Toledo to New York to Miami to Wausau, WI, and to half a dozen other cities, a journey spanning about 10,000 miles. In that time, amidst all that crosstalk between campaign types, she quotes exactly three real human beings. She gives two lines to a Florida citrus farmer named Karen McKenna, one word to a man named "Steve" who tells Kerry which name to sign on a photo ("Steve," he says)—and lastly, an end-of-the-article shout-out to an unnamed elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease who croaked out at a Kerry rally the words, "It's too late for me."


6 - JILL ZUCKMAN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Zuckman and her Trib colleagues filed a piece ("Battle gets more personal—and urgent; Candidates offer debate rebuttals on campaign trail," Oct. 10) that twice quoted Bush's dipshit stump line, "He can run, but he can't hide." Once, thank you, was more than enough.

Incidentally, out of nearly 1000 campaign reporters, only one—Chris Suellentrop of Slate—bothered to look up the ancestry of "You can run, but you can't hide." The line has obviously been used in the White House before, most recently by Scott McClellan about modern-day terrorists, but more famously by Ronald Reagan about terrorists involved with the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. Reagan also described the Tripoli bombing campaign as "you can run but you can't hide" airstrikes. Candidates recycle lines all the time, and journalists, obeying the generally Orwellian relationship of campaigns to both fact and the past, rarely call them on it. This is positive because it allows the campaign sham to be cyclical as well as depressing.


5 - CAL THOMAS, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Cal Thomas is the loopy mystic with the gay-porn moustache who blasted Dick Cheney, of all people, for being soft on family values, and spent time buddying up to one of the rising stars of the Christian nut-job set.

Little can be added to the photo of him with Joni Eareckson Tada from his FOX program, “After Hours with Cal Thomas”—a show, incidentally, that is showing signs lately of mounting a strong ratings challenge to the automatic rice-cooker infomercials on MNN. Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic, is an honorary co-chair of the Presidential Prayer Team, an organization devoted to praying for the health and success of the Bush administration. This is a group that issues daily instructions to pray for such people as Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and Secretary of Commerce Don Evans. With his invite of Eareckson Tada, Thomas has now been plugged as mainstream-media friendly on the group's website—twice. On the show, incidentally, he and Eareckson Tada engaged in a mutual congratulation session over their identically recalcitrant views on stem-cell research.

Meanwhile, in his literary endeavors, Thomas performed admirably, blasting Cheney after the debate for having the temerity to assert that a job was the best antidote to poverty. According to Thomas, heterosexual marriage is a better weapon against poverty than a job. "[S]table two-parent homes with a mother and father ... constitute the best anti-poverty program," he wrote.

That's a nice line of reasoning. Maybe it ought to be developed: "Homosexuality: It takes food off the table."


4 - JAMES BENNET, NEW YORK TIMES

The Beast would first like to express its disappointment that Bennet could not find space for the words "throbbing man-shaft" in this sentence from his post-debate wrap ("Wherein Bush Turns That Frown Upside Down," Oct. 15):

Mr. Bush skirted the rock-hard positions favored by his base to plant his flag deep in the mushy middle ground once held by President Bill Clinton.

Look at how much better that works if you write it this way:

Mr. Bush planted his rock-hard throbbing man-shaft up to the base, deep in the mushy middle ground under the skirt once held by President Clinton.

That is a completely different story, and probably a better one.

I sympathize with Bennet—it's hard for an intelligent person to come up with anything at all to say about the debates, and having to do it over and over again in the New York Times can't be easy—but he makes the list because his sufferings are just too funny for the rest of us.

Take Bennet's wrap of the second debate ("In a Disguised Gym, Softballs and Political Drama," Oct. 9). Bennet's general argument in this piece was that there was a special "dynamic" to the debate that you missed if, unlike Bennet, you weren't there.

"Inside the hall, the scene was of a theater in the round," he wrote, adding that "Viewers at home were denied the peek behind the political and news media curtain that voters here received."

Bennet goes on to describe some of those elements of the "dynamic" that were invisible to TV viewers:

Those viewers did not see how the moderator, Charles Gibson of ABC, hammed it up with a colleague, Chris Wallace of Fox News, who was seated in one of the network boxes overlooking the hall.

"Hi, Chris," Mr. Gibson hallooed, before the debate began, to the delight of the assembled voters. "Hello, Charlie," Mr. Wallace called back with a grin.

In the hands of a mere mortal, this scene is written as follows: "Charlie Gibson said hi to Chris Wallace." But in Bennet's hands, this "hallooing" was a bit of "theater in the round," part of a "drama that mixed calculated stagecraft and moments of genuine improvisation," only discernible to those who were there to hear Charlie Gibson say "hi" to Chris Wallace. However, one paragraph later, Bennet was arguing that "one can learn more about a candidate by watching from a great distance, on television."

Now, a sensible person here will ask: With which particular mental and physical attitude should I learn more about the candidates by watching from a great distance? Bennet has your answer: from "the Olympian detachment of the couch." (Only Bennet can turn a couch potato into Zeus.) And it's just as well that you watch from there, because meeting the candidates in person is overrated:

...face-to-face encounters with candidates are often overrated. Town halls are one thing, but you can keep your catch-and-release handshake, your dandled baby, your pale-brew kaffeeklatsch.

My what? What the hell is he talking about—and why? Bennet has about three of these moments per article.


3 - KAREN TUMULTY, TIME

Every campaign reporter has something he can call his own. George Will has his unnecessary alliteration, Howard Fineman his boxing/combat imagery, James Bennet the unexplored vestiges of the liner notes to Beowulf. Tumulty is the only reporter with the perfect all-court game. She uses labels like "liberal" more consistently and derisively than Karl Rove; she can't file a single piece that isn't wrapped around a poll; she is more prone than most to imbecilic generalizations like "Kerry's [positions are] more like a kaleidoscope, than like a circle"; and she is really the only reporter on the trail who can be consistently counted on to croak out dire warnings to candidates about the consequences of listening to reason instead of pollsters ("The Kerry campaign at times resembles a floating five-ring circus of longtime Democratic operatives who have all sorts of views… That worked fine when it was up against Howard Dean's homespun Vermont militia. Against Bush-Cheney '04, a disciplined hierarchy run by Karl Rove...it could be a recipe for a landslide").

Like Tumulty, other reporters avoid talking to ordinary people, usually preferring to talk to staffers and pollsters and talking heads. But Tumulty's Time campaign team is probably the first magazine to actually outsource the job of talking to ordinary voters. If you look at the byline of Tumulty pieces, they are usually absurdly long, with five or six reporters contributing to each 2000-word piece (typical Time byline: "Karen Tumulty, With reporting by Perry Bacon Jr. on the road with Kerry; and Timothy J. Burger, James Carney, John F. Dickerson and Michael Duffy/Washington"). A lot of the man-on-the-street stuff naturally comes from these supporting writers, leaving the big gun free to talk to the real people.

That happens in the business and is nothing new; a perk of being a big-timer is that you use assistants to talk to the rabble. But in Time you will sometimes also see a polling agency in the article credits—for instance, Schulman, Ronca and Bucuvalas, which frequently helps out in poll data.

I called Mark Schulman of SRBI, and asked him if his agency ever provided Time with quotes from respondents in addition to polling data. He said no, although this was possible ("provided we get permission from the respondent"). However, he did note that Time had recently asked his agency's help in recruiting "real people" for its reporters to talk to.

"They said, 'We want to talk to some real people,'" he told me.

"They said that?" I asked. "Just like that? 'We want to talk to real people?'"

"That's what they said," he replied. "I mean, it makes sense, because there's the number, but the numbers aren't the people, of course."

A striking thing for a pollster to say, one would think.

"So where do you go looking for real people?" I asked. "That can't be easy."

"Um, we just get them off the street," Schulman said. "Although in this case, we just sort of called around, asked people we knew, and they put us in touch with some women they knew in the Philadelphia area."

The recruiting Schulman was referring to was actually for a Nancy Gibbs piece ("What Do Women Want?" Oct. 11), to which Tumulty contributed. This sounds like an up-and-coming trend to me: You get the pollster to find "the people," leaving the reporter more time to spend on the plane with the Louis Quatorze crowd. It saves time and money, right?

In any case, "Tumulty" is seriously ugly.


2 - ELISABETH BUMILLER, NEW YORK TIMES 

BUMILLER was often immune to concerns about the lack of substance in the campaign as she demonstrated that most forcefully when she was one of the moderators of a live televised debate of Democratic candidates, held in New York on Feb. 29 of this year.

Bumiller was one of three journalists, along with Dan Rather and Andrew Kirtzman of WCBS, who moderated the last meaningful Democratic debate. At the time, there were only four candidates left: Kerry, Edwards, Sharpton and Kucinich. The debate was remarkable because of the obviousness with which the three panelists tried to steer the discussion away from Sharpton and Kucinich. Early in the debate, Bumiller cut Sharpton off in the middle of one of his answers, about Haiti. When she tried it again later on, Sharpton protested:

SHARPTON: If we're going to have a discussion just between two—in your arrogance (ph), you can try that, but that's one of the reasons we're going to have delegates, so that you can't just limit the discussion. And I think that your attempt to do this is blatant, and I'm going to call you out on it, because I'm not going to sit here and be window dressing.

BUMILLER: Well, I'm not going to be addressed like this.

 And Bumiller made it clear later on that the press was not going to be pushed around, when in an exchange with Kerry she angrily insisted on the right to make political labels an issue in the campaign:

BUMILLER: Can I just change the topic for a minute, just ask a plain political question?

The National Journal, a respected, nonideologic publication covering Congress, as you both know, has just rated you, Senator Kerry, number one, the most liberal senator in the Senate...

How can you hope to win with this kind of characterization, in this climate?

KERRY: Because it's a laughable characterization. It's absolutely the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life.

BUMILLER: Are you a liberal?

KERRY: Let me just...

BUMILLER: Are you a liberal?

KERRY: ...to the characterization. I mean, look, labels are so silly in American politics...

BUMILLER: But, Senator Kerry, the question is...

KERRY: I know. You don't let us finish answering questions.

BUMILLER: You're in New York.

This question—how can you hope to win if you're so liberal—was what sank Howard Dean, was what allowed the press to ignore Sharpton and Kucinich, was what ultimately made it impossible for opponents of the war to have a voice in this campaign. In most cases, this demonization of the word and witch-hunting of anyone who could be attached to it was a subtle thing whose effect was cumulative. But Bumiller brought it right out into the open, wore it like a badge of honor. And looked like a smug, barking cow doing it.


1 - HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK

IN HIS MSNBC "Web Exclusive Commentary" after the third debate, Howard Fineman made the observation—an observation widely commented upon in the broadcast media in subsequent days—that there were "no laughs but gasps" in the press room when Kerry brought up Dick Cheney's daughter in response to a question about whether homosexuals are born or made.

Now, I've been in filing rooms with that same crowd of campaign journalists Fineman is talking about. I can report that the campaign press will gasp at a lot of things: empty buffet trays, poor hotel accommodations (the cut-rate motel choices of the Dean campaign elicited astonishment among some regulars), the face of Dennis Kucinich, the presence of alternative media, the platform of Ralph Nader.

About the only time the national political press doesn't gasp is when the illiterate president of the United States stands up and for two fucking consecutive years says that we have to invade Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from attacking us with "weapons of mass destruction."

Then, they don't gasp. Then they stiffen up in their seats like altar boys and say, "Really? No shit, Mr. President? Call on me, Mr. President! I'll ask you how your faith guides you in this difficult time! How long should we let the inspections drag on, Mr. President? What about those goddamned French, Mr. President?"

The press room gasps at things like the Kerry lesbian-baiting ploy because it's the kind of vicious celebrity twaddle they're sensitive to, twaddle they consider themselves experts and authorities on. If someone makes what they consider a "mistake" on that turf, they dive on it like pigs converging on a watermelon rind. But if a politician drives the country off a cliff, they sit on their hands, waiting for Zogby and the Brookings Institution to give them their gasping cues. A gasp in the press room is as meaningless as a standing ovation at an Amway convention.

It should be noted that a year and a half ago, when responsible observers in every country but America were freaking out en masse about the impending war, Fineman was leading the charge here in America in the area of stupendously irrelevant bullshit puff pieces about our heroic president's intentions. Just before the invasion ("Bush and God," cover, 3/10/03) this is the kind of hard-hitting, critical journalism Brother Fineman was writing:

"George W. Bush rises ahead of the dawn most days, when the loudest sound outside the White House is the dull, distant roar of F-16s patrolling the skies. Even before he brings his wife, Laura, a morning cup of coffee, he goes off to a quiet place to read alone..."

Surprising that Fineman didn't add that Bush's personality was disarming, his demeanor relaxed, as evidenced by his loosened tie... You see how this kind of behavior gets passed on down the ranks.

Anyway, nothing like a professional flatterer, masquerading as a journalist, chiding his press colleagues for being too hard on the boss.



 

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