It seems this morning that bloggers have taken over the world.
Or at least the 2004 presidential campaign.
Or at least the not-so-invisible primary leading up to the campaign.
The pundits are blogging. The journalists are blogging. And now the candidates are blogging.
Who needs television? Let's just eliminate the middleman.
Here's the deal: ABC's The Note (which went AWOL during the war but is now back) has gone beyond offering its cheeky interpretation of campaign spin. It now offers free space (hey, it's all free in cyberspace) to the '04 contenders to add their own cheeky interpretation of their own campaign spin.
Getting dizzy yet?
So now we have the following exciting scenario: Candidate gives speech. ABC News reports speech. ABC's Note blogs speech. Then candidate blogs his own speech, knocking down any negative interpretation by other bloggers. And we blog the whole incestuous process.
Turns out that some candidates – notably Howard Dean, and increasingly-looking-like-a-candidate Gary Hart – have their own blogs. This raises the disturbing prospect of a blog deficit for the other contenders. What are Kerry, Gephardt and Edwards thinking? We expect them to close the blogging gap immediately.
Maybe the Bush White House will raise a few million more bucks and start a monster www.W.com site of its own, more partisan than this official one.
If you haven't yet run screaming from the room, here are some of the entries on the Note's new Notepad feature:
From Howard Dean: "Bloggers, who toppled Trent Lott, have played a key role in building the Dean campaign. While we were the first campaign to launch an official blog, there are dozens blogging for Dean everyday. . . .
"As we write, over 18,000 people nationwide have signed up to meet monthly to organize and work toward electing Howard Dean as President. This is, shall we say, a heck of a lot of people.
"And the artistic explosion for Howard Dean has entered the realm of mashups. Netroots supporters with good ears and some software have created the 'What I Want to Know' dance mix, which is in heavy rotation here at Burlington HQ."
And the Joe Lieberman entry, from spokesman Jano Cabrera: "200 words. One could do a lot of damage in 200 words. . . . But before I make passing reference to Lieberman's Irish-catholic roots, allow me, in the best tradition of the Note, to begin by simply stating the obvious. . . .
"1) Absolutely no real debate strategy will be unveiled in this forum.
"2) Ditto debate positioning.
"3) Feints will probably abound.
"4) But if so, most will be absurdly transparent."
On Dean's own site, press aide Kate O'Connor files updates like this one:
"People are great! Instead of staying in hotels we stay in private homes. Last night we stayed with a family in Elkader, Iowa (population 1,500). We arrived at 11:30pm – more than fashionably late – and were greeted with a campfire in the backyard. We stayed up for over an hour chatting. This morning they treated us to a home cooked breakfast featuring an Iowa brunch casserole. Before we jumped in the van to head to Minnesota we played basketball with the neighbors. The Governor has a great hoop shot!!
"We arrived in Elkader knowing no one, but left with new friends!"
We'll remain skeptical until they post pictures of Dean sinking a turnaround jumper.
Dean, meanwhile, was involved in the toughest exchange of the young primary season, as USA Today reports:
"The only Democratic presidential candidate to regularly whack his rivals got a taste of his own tactics yesterday and didn't like it. The combative exchange between former Vermont governor Howard Dean and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts previewed what is likely to be a contentious debate among all nine Democrats Saturday in Columbia, S.C.
"The new volleys center on a Time.com report that quotes Dean at a campaign appearance in New Hampshire. 'We have to take a different approach' to diplomacy, he said. 'We won't always have the strongest military.' Asked by Time magazine to elaborate, Dean cited historic patterns of countries that get their way by force and used Britain's decline as an example.
"The remark set off a battle of spokesmen as the candidates tried to stay above the fray.
"Dean's comment 'raises serious questions' about his capability to be commander in chief, Kerry spokesman Chris Lehane said in a news release. In an interview, he called it 'surprising and eye-opening to see a major candidate for president even ponder the possibility of not having the strongest military in the world.'
"Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, branded Lehane's statement 'absurd' and denied Dean would ever tolerate 'an erosion of American military power.'"
Dean has clearly arrived. A few months ago, nobody would have bothered attacking him.
Reverend Al wins the prize for the largest gap between amount of coverage generated (including from us) and amount of money raised:
"Democratic presidential hopeful Al Sharpton raised $114,456 for his campaign from January through March, putting him near the bottom in the race for early money," says this Chicago Tribune wire report.
"Sharpton, who had earlier said he was testing the waters for a possible campaign and didn't need to submit a report, filed a first-quarter campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission yesterday, about two weeks after eight other Democratic hopefuls filed their reports."
Lost money in your 401(k)? Here's one of the reasons why:
"Prosecutors announced a settlement today with the nation's biggest investment firms that bars the head of the largest bank from talking to his analysts, details a far greater range of conflicts of interest than previously disclosed, and leaves the industry exposed both to further regulation and costly litigation," says the New York Times.
"The $1.4 billion settlement by 10 firms and 2 well-known stock analysts reached tentatively last December but completed in the last few days, resolved accusations that the firms lured millions of investors to buy billions of dollars worth of shares in companies they knew were troubled and which ultimately either collapsed or sharply declined.
"The Securities and Exchange Commission, state prosecutors and market regulators accused three firms in particular – Citigroup's Salomon Smith Barney, Merrill Lynch, and Credit Suisse First Boston – of fraud. But the thousands of pages of internal e-mail messages and other evidence that regulators made public today painted a picture up and down Wall Street of an industry rife with conflicts of interest during the height of the Internet and telecommunications bubble that burst three years ago.
"At firm after firm, according to prosecutors, analysts wittingly duped investors to curry favor with corporate clients. Investment houses received secret payments from companies they gave strong recommendations to buy. And for top executives whose companies were clients, stock underwriters offered special access to hot initial public offerings."
Meanwhile, the much-hyped Henry Blodget, who touted Net stocks he was privately deriding, has been fined $4 million and barred from the securities industry for life.
Here's one internal message, reported by the Wall Street Journal: "'What's so interesting about Goto except banking fees????' one institutional client asked Mr. Blodget in an e-mail. His reply: 'nothin.'"
And another: "In this May 2001 e-mail between research-investment banking liaison members, Joshua Williams tells Michael Blumstein that Morgan Stanley shouldn't commit to providing research coverage of Pilgrim's Pride until they 'get the books and at least $3-5 mm in fees, with the money in the bank.' The two had been advised that Pilgrim's Pride was seeking equity research coverage in exchange for a $250 million high-yield offering."
So much for the notion of independent analysts offering objective views. It was all about Show Me the Money.
Can Saddam possibly still be around? Could be, says the New York Post:
"The U.S. military is investigating new reports that Saddam Hussein lived to see his 66th birthday yesterday, having survived two airstrikes aimed at him. Pentagon officials revealed that Iraq's high-profile former foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, told interrogators Saddam was alive in early April.
"Aziz, who surrendered to U.S. authorities last week, reportedly has claimed that he saw the Butcher of Baghdad after the March 20 airstrike on his home compound on the war's opening night."
The guy's getting to be like Elvis.
This London Sun story sounds like British tabloid hype – but is verrry specific:
"Saddam Hussein's key aide Tariq Aziz is set to live like a king in Britain – at one of Prince Charles's mansions.
"Security chiefs want to give the brute a royal hideaway in return for spilling the beans on the whereabouts of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, The Sun can reveal.
"They reckon one of the remote homes on the prince's sprawling estates could be perfect for keeping Aziz tucked away. But the idea will sicken British taxpayers left to foot the bill for his life of luxury here. It would also mean giving in to his demands for complete immunity from prosecution.
"Human rights groups say Aziz, 67, has the blood of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians on his hands. One organisation, Indict, said: 'This is sick. There's no way a monster with his record should be allowed to set foot in this country.' . . .
"Aziz would have round-the-clock security like that given to Prime Minister Tony Blair and senior royals."
And daily tea and crumpets?
National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru seems to have aroused the ire of Jack Kemp:
"On Wednesday, the former HUD secretary and vice presidential candidate released a statement defending Secretary of State Colin Powell from the criticisms of Newt Gingrich and me. . . .
"Kemp says that my article on Powell was 'catty,' which I'll leave for readers to decide. He implies that it was in some way coordinated with Gingrich's speech. Not so. I did call Gingrich while writing it, because I've found his thoughts on national-security matters since 9/11 interesting. He did not, alas, return my call.
"Kemp says that my article 'harps on a constant refrain that Powell is willing to sacrifice the interest of his country to bolster his own position in Washington.' Not only is this not a 'constant refrain' of my article; it's not something I say even once, for the simple reason that I don't believe it. What I actually wrote was that Powell 'has been more successful' at protecting his reputation than at protecting America's interests. I believe that Powell has indeed sought to serve the interest of his country, but that he hasn't done it well. Surely Kemp is capable of seeing the distinction?"
Andrew Sullivan gets downright emotional about the Santorum imbroglio:
"The response to my offense at Senator Santorum is overwhelming, at least as far the emails are concerned. Around seven out of ten say: I'm crazy. I need to take my meds. I'm distorting what the guy said. I'm playing into the hands of the left. I should shut up, already. I'm a hysteric. I take these things too seriously. Okay, okay. I get the message. I've made my point. I don't have anything else to say. Except perhaps this. The anger and, yes, hurt that I have expressed these past couple of days comes from a sincere moral conviction equal to that which animated my much more extended attempt to expose Trent Lott's remarks. Of course, the hostility directed toward the intimate lives of gay people by Senator Santorum affects me more deeply, because I am gay. How could it not? . . .
"The simple truth is that I and many others feel immensely wounded not so much by some clumsy, ugly remarks by someone who might even in some way mean well; but by the indifference toward them by so many you thought might at least have empathized for a second. Has that made me lose perspective? I don't think so. I think it means I simply have a different perspective – one born out of pain and honesty and disappointed hope that we might eventually help people understand better the dignity and equality of homosexual persons. I know we have made many gains. I know Santorum represents very few.
"I know also that many, many good people – in the Republican party and elsewhere – do not wish gay people ill. But it is hard to express fully the sheer discouragement of this past week, capped simply by a calculated and contemptuously terse political gesture by a president I had come to trust. It makes me question whether that trust is well founded. And whether hope for a more inclusive future among conservatives is simply quixotic."
American Prospect's Mary Lynn Jones says reporters aren't laying a glove on Bush:
"After eight years of bludgeoning the Clinton White House, reporters have been remarkably tame in going after George W. Bush. The trend of positive coverage has only increased leading up to and during the war against Iraq. And some news outlets have even taken a direct role in promoting the president's positions. In one of the most egregious examples, Clear Channel Worldwide Inc., which owns more than 1,200 stations in the United States, organized pro-war rallies in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Antonio, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Charleston, S.C., and Richmond, Va., in March, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"Of course not all of the fault lies with the media. Democrats were timid about criticizing Bush after September 11 and have said they won't attack him during the war with Iraq. That lack of dissent makes it hard for journalists to run with an anti-Bush story line. Indeed, on the night the war started, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) told CNN that there wasn't 'an inch of distance' between him and Bush on Iraq. In addition, war raises a president's approval ratings; the media's reliance on poll numbers to gauge the nation's mood means journalists will run positive stories about Bush's resolve and strength as commander in chief. And Bush is running what veteran reporters call the most disciplined administration in years, keeping damaging inside information from reaching the hands of journalists.
"Still, it's disconcerting to watch reporters give President Bush what amounts to a free ride. Unanswered questions remain about his dealings with Harken Energy, and about Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force. (Both received far less coverage than President Bill Clinton's Whitewater land deal and Vice President Al Gore's Buddhist temple fundraising.) Bush has held only eight press conferences thus far, far fewer than his recent predecessors did at the same point in their presidencies. On March 6 reporters sat quietly in their seats as Bush, reading from a prepared list of names, made clear that he only intended to answer questions from a select few. More often than not, his responses simply repeated practiced rhetoric. There's a sense that the aggressive tactics Sam Donaldson displayed in the Reagan years wouldn't be tolerated – or even tried – now. Bush's most vocal critic in the media, Hearst Corp.'s Helen Thomas, was ignored at his press conference for the first time in decades.
"It's unfortunate – and dangerous – that reporters are backing down rather than speaking up; at a time of war, the press should be more vigilant, not less."
For all Bush's popularity, the Boston Globe argues, he isn't expanding his base much:
"Looking ahead to a time when the president's wartime popularity wears off, Republican advisers and strategists acknowledge that George W. Bush faces a challenge in his quest for reelection: capturing traditional Democratic constituencies, especially women, labor unions, Catholics, and Hispanics.
"Bush began his term in office determined to peel off such Democratic loyalists with a series of overtures – frequently meeting with union presidents and workers, focusing on health care and other issues that matter to working women, nominating a Latino to a key federal appeals court – and constant reminders of his 'compassionate conservative' agenda. The approach seemed to yield results in the midterm elections last year, when union members, women, and Hispanics all edged closer to the Republican camp and helped give the party control of both houses of Congress.
"But in the lead-up to the 2004 campaign, the aggressive 'poaching' strategy has been faltering, according to strategists in both parties. The nation's attention has been focused on the war in Iraq and the sagging economy, while a series of policy positions and GOP gaffes has undercut attempts by Bush to soften the Republican Party image."