HAMMERING PELOSI: have you heard? "some" -- that's newsspeak for other journalists and anybody on TV talking about it -- say they doubt rep. nancy pelosi can win her "tough" battle to overcome the "divisive" moniker of "san francisco liberal."
of course you have. it's been about the only thing said about her. where is she on health care? who knows. but the thrust of upcoming GOP direct-mail campaigns has been foreseen, and journalists dare not avoid sounding smart by agonizing over her chances to beat the label. nevermind that "san francisco liberal" doesn't mean anything to normal people who don't name their children "reagan" regardless of gender. the larger problem is a conservative bias in the media. yes, i did just say that.
let's start with the basics: the parties in the house of representatives chose new majority and minority leaders this week. indeed, both new leaders presently serve as whip. that ms. pelosi is the first woman to assume such a high position in the history of the house would seem to be the only grounds for more coverage of her ascension. a reasonable person might have expected to see side-by-side profiles of the two rising leaders. instead, there has been a torrent of doubtful analyses in print and on (ugh) cable news about ms. pelosi's prospects in the face of being called a liberal.
of course it's really not a conservative bias. it's an ignorance bias. a lazy spin, on which conservatives happen to capitalize in this instance. and for the lazy among our readers, i will provide an example of the twice-recycled conventional wisdom that has overtaken this story. a particular disgrace from the op-ed page of the philadephia inquirer will do: 'When Rep. Nancy Pelosi's name is written these days, the label "San Francisco liberal" inevitably is somewhere nearby. The question that follows is whether someone with that divisive label can lead the bickering Democrats in the House back into power. The answer is that it will be tough, say supporters and detractors of Pelosi, who is all but certain to be elected House minority leader today.' (you can throw another phase of reprocessing on there because i came across this first in howard kurtz' column.)
why has there been no mirrored coverage of the republican decision to elevate one of the most conservative members of either chamber to majority leader? "hyperconservative texas demagogue" can't be said with quite the same panache, but it is the linguistic and factual equivalent of ms. pelosi's nom de obstacle.
republicans, of course, feed the story about the new democratic leader. the democrats, rather than replying in kind and leveling the discourse, feed the same story. it is the republicans frothing at the mouth at the prospect of an unabashed liberal plus the insecure, navel-gazing centrist democrats worrying about it that gives the lazy press all it hungers for a week of news.
frankly, i miss zero-sum, scorched-earth politics. what we have today is one side playing its role in that great american game and the other endlessly "soul-searching" before inevitably improvising further capitulation to the other side's views. would any career-minded republican congressman publicly worry that tom delay might not be the best face of the party? not bloody likely.
a few nights ago jon stewart ascribed the democrats' election woes to a lack of "cahones." he didn't use the term with regard to the new minority leader con ovarios. it was a larger point, and a valid one.
BEFORE I PROSTRATE MYSELF: i batted an even .500 on the sure-of-it calls. yes, that is probably what the toss of a coin or leaving the picks to my three-year-old niece would have gotten. but at least i was completely justified in qualifying the second group with "maybe" -- this shows good instincts. i missed the landreiu call because i really didn't count just how many other candidates there were or on the fact that people in louisiana take the run-off system at least minimally seriously by casting votes for their actual preferred candidate (whoda thunk? actual preferred candidate? did nader teach democrats nothing?). that democrats would at least make a net gain in the house: phrased that way purposely, with confidence that even house minority leader rep. cadaver of missouri couldn't actually lose seats.
one more thing: about colorado. sorry. i thought that allard sounded too much like mallard and that colorado wouldn't endure another term of senator duck. if i had only looked to the people of west virginia for guidance, i would have seen sen. allard has a long career ahead of him.
oh, and florida: i should have foreseen the reluctance of floridians to elect a guy who looked just a little too much like luther from "coach."
PORTENT: the big story today will be how it wasn't close at all. democrats take new jersey, minnesota, colorado, new hampshire, south dakota and arkansas senate races. maybe even georgia, texas, missouri and oregon (in that order of likelihood). landreiu gets 50%. democrats make a net gain in the house, at least. and i think people are motivated in florida; i almost want to say bush loses. am i crazy? we'll see. and yes, it is 4.30 in the morning.
CALLING JOHN ASHCROFT: a new front in the war on terror? here is a bit of the times piece on new press restrictions in russia. one would think they would offer the attorney general a cue on how to save american lives from terrorist-manipulated information. he probably isn't listening, though; how fortuitous for the press in this country that mr. ashcroft is convinced that the "ruskies" are still all communists, and that this whole pseudo-democracy, imploding-oligarchic-economy thing has been an elaborate ruse to get us to let our guard down. he's partly right, but in a way he could never understand:
"'I don't think this is a limitation of democratic freedom,' said Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the defense and security committee of the Federation Council. 'In such situations, only information from official sources should be used,' he said. 'Third-hand information should not be broadcast.'
It was not immediately clear who would enforce the new rules but Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, who used a newspaper interview on Friday to say the siege had highlighted the need for new rules, appeared the most likely candidate. 'The terrorists had a well-worked-out media plan,' he told the Izvestia daily. 'They were very well prepared in terms of knowing the Russian media, journalists and newsmakers.'
'People's lives are more important than the right to information,' Mikhail Fedotov, secretary of Russia's Union of Journalists, told Ekho Moskvy radio. 'If you understand that your words could worsen the hostages' situation, then you should shut up. Keeping quiet is not a problem,' he said....
The new rules specifically prevent the media from publishing information about technology, arms, ammunition and explosives used in anti-terrorist operations. That could have complicated reporting the Moscow theater siege. Under the new measures, the media might well have been unable to report the use of a powerful anaesthetic to knock out guerrillas intent on blowing up the theater if authorities stormed it. Almost 200 hostages remain in hospital....
The draft media law would bar the dissemination of information that could hamper the conduct of anti-terrorist operations or endanger the lives or health of people involved. It would also bar the media from quoting individuals seen as threatening the conduct of anti-terrorist operations or any remarks judged as propaganda or seen to justify resistance to counter-terrorist measures."