Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The "Betray Us" distraction

An amazingly strong quote from David Schuster, lancing Republican Congresswoman Martha Blackburn for trying to djinn up more outrage about's "General Betray Us" ad in an attempt to distract voters from, you know, the actual war.

Maybe Keith Olbermann is having an effect on his MSNBC colleagues. In an event, kudos to Schuster for making such a good point in such a strong and pointed manner.

The link can be found here, written by Cliff Schechter.


From yesterday's show, when another GOP orangutan, Rep. Martha Blackburn, pretended to be offended by the MoveOn ad:

Shuster: "Let's talk about the public trust. You represent, of course, a district in western Tennessee. What was the name of the last solider from your district who was killed in Iraq?"

Blackburn:"The name of the last soldier killed in Iraq uh - from my district I - I do not know his name -"

Shuster: "Ok, his name was Jeremy Bohannon, he was killed August the 9th, 2007. How come you didn't know the name?"

Blackburn: "I - I, you know, I - I do not know why I did not know the name..." [Snip]

Shuster: "But you weren't appreciative enough to know the name of this young man, he was 18 years old who was killed, and yet you can say chapter and verse about what's going on with the New York Times and Move" [Snip]

Shuster: "But don't you understand, the problems that a lot of people would have, that you're so focused on an ad -- when was the last time a New York Times ad ever killed somebody? I mean, here we have a war that took the life of an 18 year old kid, Jeremy Bohannon from your district, and you didn't even know his name.

No, she doesn't understand, sadly. Because she is the walking embodiment of what a joke our government has become.

She is probably going to vote to cut children's health care with her President, and already has made sure young men and women from her part of Tennessee and the rest of this country keep dying by the bushel in an America-weakening war based upon lies. But she is "outraged" by a newspaper ad.

But seriously, thanks for at least trying David (we need more like you), even if attempting to reason with her is like trying to to teach a wind-up doll to poll vault.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NU Re-View:Nebraska 41, Ball State 40

- THE NEBRASKA GUNSLINGER: No running game, no defense, and Nebraska still wins thanks to the superior play of QB Sam Keller. Keller was tough, made good decisions, and executed phenomenal throws when called upon. This is what Bill Callahan's offense looks like when he's got a signal-caller who has the physical skills to make all the throws. God bless Zac Taylor, but if he was NU's QB the 'Huskers would be 1-3 this season.
- THIRD DOWN: Thanks to Keller, and some phenomenal and under-appreciated plays by Marlon Lucky, Nebraska was clutch on third down against Ball State. Third down conversions, along with turnover margins, are the two biggest stats in football, and it is gratifying to see NU succeed.
- PAY-PER-VIEW: Because the game was only broadcast on pay-per-view in Nebraska, not a lot of people were able to witness the debacle first-hand. It's the only way to explain NU remaining in the top 25 and still being a 20+ point favorite this week.

- 610: As in the total yardage of Ball State last week. You could just as easily have put in 457 (total yardage against USC) or 376 (total yardage against Wake Forest). No team, especially a team like Ball State should be putting up that kind of yardage against the Blackshirts, especially at home.
- OVER-AGGRESSIVENESS: I understand aggression as a good thing for a defense, but throughout this season it's been clear that NU defenders have been over-running plays and biting too heavily on play fakes causing problems in the secondary, especially when in cover-zero packages. I like a squad being aggressive, but if you can't play smart defense, you're not doing any one any good.
- ATTITUDE: This one is the scariest. In responding to the 610 yards of total offense, the quotes from the Blackshirts I read seemed to suggest that it's football, and that happens. Um, guys, no, it doesn't. Last time that happened in Lincoln was in 1993, and against a team that won a national championship. I have confidence the talent level is there to perform well (see:Big XII Championship Game against Oklahoma last year), but if the defense doesn't realize there's a problem, then there's no reason to think it will get fixed. Einstein's definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. If the Blackshirts think the effort on Saturday is good enough, expect a long season and a lot more boos.

The Iowa State Cyclones blow into town for NU's conference opener. Iowa State won an ugly game at home against their in-state rival Iowa, but have lost to Kent State, Division I-AA Northern Iowa (!), and Toledo. The team is struggling to grasp new coach Gene Chizek's concepts, and lacks depth on both sides of the line. But they can score, and have an NFL wide receiver in Todd Blythe. Nebraska is clearly more talented, but will the defensive woes be corrected in time?

Based on the performance the last few weeks and the comments of the players after the game, there is no evidence to think Nebraska's defensive problems are going to get any better. I expect Callahan to pump the sunshine to the media, but to be all over the players behind closed doors. But if he and defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove don't grab this problem by the neck right now, there's a real danger of losing the season. Ball State now is the canary in the coalmine for Nebraska. The bird still has enough oxygen to sing, but her breathing is getting pretty shallow.

Nebraska's offense is really, really good. It would be great if they could establish a running game between the tackles. Lucky isn't built for that kind of running, and freshman Quentin Castille can't hold on to the football. It sounds strange to say, but this Iowa State game upcoming is crucial for the future not only this season, but of this coaching staff. Another horrendous defensive performance or, God forbid, a loss to the 'Clones, and all the progress of the last four years will be washed away. The 'Huskers were completely taken off the hook by their win on Saturday. The question is, will they use that reprieve to fix the problem, or will it have just delayed the inevitable?

Iowa State @ Nebraska (-22). The only way this line makes sense is if people didn't see the Ball State game in its' entirety, but only saw the final score and not the debacle that went into it. Even with a poor (but not abyssimal) defensive performance, Nebraska should be good enough to outscore Iowa State if necessary. Take the over if it's available. But there is no evidence to believe the defense will flip a switch and play well. Accordingly, take Iowa State and the points in another arena-league-type shootout.

GBR, baby.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Muslim Reformation

Excellent article from one of my favorites, Fareed Zakaria ( discussing how Muslims in the world may now be in the process of a Reformation similar to Luther's in Christianity. I have long thought that, given the ages of the faiths, there should be more comparisons to Islam now and Christianity in the 1400s, in terms of its' growth and position within the world. It is fascinating (and, as Zakaria points out, very scary) that Islam is struggling with many of the same things that Christianity did during its' Reformation.

The problem is, in Luther's time there were no suicide bombers, lethal biological agents, or nuclear weapons for religious zealots to get their hands on in an attempt to ensure the survival of their particular flavor of Ultimate Truth.


Zakaria: The Road to Reformation
Al Qaeda had hoped to rally the entire Muslim world against the West, but now it is in the middle of a dirty sectarian war within Islam.
By Fareed Zakaria

Feb. 12, 2007 issue - For those in the West asking when Islam will have its Reformation, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the process appears to have begun. The bad news is it's been marked by calumny, hatred and bloody violence. In this way it mirrors the Reformation itself, which we now remember in a highly sanitized way. During that era, Christians of differing sects massacred each other as they fought to own the true interpretation of their religion. No analogy is exact, but something similar seems to be happening within Islam. Here the divide is between the Sunnis, who make up 85 percent of the Muslim world, and the Shiites, who represent most of the other 15 percent.

The dominant new reality in the Middle East today is the growing schism between these two groups. Look at the daily sectarian killings in Iraq, listen to the dark warnings of Saudi and Jordanian leaders about a "Shia crescent," watch the power struggles in Lebanon. Islam's quiet cleavage has come out into the open. At a recent demonstration in the Palestinian territories, opponents of Hamas taunted the Sunni Islamists as "Shiites" because of their links to Iranian-backed Hizbullah.

We in the United States have spent much time asking what all this means for Iraq, for U.S. troops in the midst of this free-for-all and for America more generally. But think, for a moment, about what the trend means for Al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, both Sunnis, created Al Qaeda to be a Pan-Islamic organization, uniting all Muslims as it battled the West, Israel and Western-allied regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Neither Zawahiri nor bin Laden was animated by hatred of Shiites. In its original fatwas and other statements, Al Qaeda makes no mention of them, condemning only the "Crusaders" and "Jews."

But all ideologies change as they encounter reality. When bin Laden moved to Peshawar in the 1980s to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, he allied with radical Sunnis who had a long history of oppressing Afghanistan's Shiite minority, the Hazaras. (The novel "The Kite Runner" is about a young Hazara boy.) Even then, bin Laden didn't sanction anti-Shiite violence, nor did he add anti-Shiite accusations to his messages. But after the Sunni Taliban took power, Arab fighters under his command did support his hosts' anti-Shiite pogroms.

Iraq was the real turning point. The self-appointed leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, had a poisonous attitude toward Shiites. In a letter to bin Laden, written in February 2004, he described Iraq's Shiite majority as "the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion, the spying enemy ... The danger from the Shia ... is greater ... than the Americans ... I come back and again say that the only solution is for us to strike the religious, military, and other cadres among the Shia with blow after blow until they bend to the Sunnis." Zarqawi was drawing on Wahhabi Islam—and its offshoot Deobandism in South Asia—in which there is a deep and oppressive strain of anti-Shiite ideology.

Bin Laden and Zawahiri were clearly uncomfortable with this new line, and the latter reproached Zarqawi directly. Bin Laden remained largely silent on the matter, but by the end of 2004, both had decided that Al Qaeda in Iraq was too strong to rebuke. And, rousing anti-Shiite feelings seemed the only way to mobilize Iraq's Sunni minority. It also, crucially, made them see Al Qaeda as an ally. The trouble for Al Qaeda is that as a practical matter, loathing Shiites works in only a few places: principally Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and some parts of the gulf. Most of the rest of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims are turned off by attacks on their co-religionists.

So, an organization that had hoped to rally the entire Muslim world to jihad against the West has been dragged instead into a dirty internal war within Islam. Bin Laden began his struggle hoping to topple the Saudi regime. He is now aligned with the Saudi monarchy as it organizes against Shiite domination. This necessarily limits Al Qaeda's broader appeal and complicates its basic anti-Western strategy.

These emerging divisions weaken Al Qaeda, but they will help most Muslims only if this story ends as the Reformation did. What is currently a war of sects must become a war of ideas. First, Islam must make space for differing views about what makes a good Muslim. Then it will be able to take the next step and accept the diversity among religions, each true in its own way.

The United States should avoid taking sides in this sectarian struggle and aim instead to move the debate to this broader plain. We should encourage the diversity within Islam, which has the potential to divide our enemies. But more important, we should encourage the emerging debate within it. In the end it was not murder but Martin Luther that made the Reformation matter.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

NU Re-View:USC 49, Nebraska 31

- CALLAHAN'S PLAY CALLING: It became quickly apparent last Saturday that Nebrsaka was not going to run the ball between the tackles against the Trojans. So, Bill Callahan pulled out a pass-heavy offense that looked more like what people expect from the West Coast offense than ever before. Nebraska moved the ball against a much superior USC team.
- THE RED SEA: 'Husker fans broke their own record with attendance at ESPN's College Gameday in the morning, and created the atmosphere that the #1 team in the country deserved. The game did not go well for Nebraska, but the fans definitely brought their A game to the party.
- FIGHT ON: I know, I know, I got sick of hearing it too. But Nebraska never quit in this game, even when the points got piled on and the game got out of hand in the second half. That's the kind of thing that helps make sure a one-game blowout doesn't start a season-long slide.

- WELL, DUH: Nebraska was dominated on both sides of the line. One one run, USC's offensive line was so dominant that there were no Nebraska players visible on the HuskerVision screen. I know there were 11 guys in red shirts there at one point ...
- FUNDAMENTAL DEFENSE: Nebraska did itself no favors by being out of position and missing tackles when they were in position. Some of it had to do with strong USC players making them miss. But not all of it. If you are going to kill a giant, you can't make mistakes like that.
- THAT'S WHY THE BALL AIN'T ROUND: Not sure how much of a difference it would make, but every possible break went USC's way. The seminal moment was, after NU went up 10-7, the Trojans fumble the ensuing kickoff. NU recovers that, scores, goes up 17-7, and who knows how the game changes? But, instead, USC picks it up and goes another 31 yards. I don't think it was the difference, but Lady Luck was a Trojan that night.

While under-appreciated Ball State might be a trap game for Nebraska coming off a post-beatdown hangover, I don't think ultimately it's a dangerous game. Particularly on defense, the Blackshirts know they did not execute well, and should be sharply focused on a top-notch performance this week. That's bad news for the Cardinals.

For the last week, the sky has been falling in Big Red Country, and many, many silly people are questioning whether Nebraska has advanced at all in the Callahan era. Much like last year, Nebraska is right where we expected them to be at this point in the season, yet there are folks who are in distress. Look, I don't like a beatdown any more than the next guy, but the result of this game should not have been a surprise. All we found out in this game is what we knew coming in ... that Nebraska is not USC. Guess who else isn't USC? Every other team on Nebraska's schedule. There is no reason to think Nebraska cannot win every game they have left on the schedule. Will they? That's to be determined, there are certainly difficult tests and potential losses on the schedule as well. But to even think about giving up on what's being built in Lincoln because an elite team came to Lincoln and outclassed Nebraska is the ultimate in foolishness. Calm down, 'Husker Fan, the season is not over and Memorial Stadium has not been swallowed up into the earth. The 'Huskers still have the opportunity to do great things this season.

Ball State @ Nebraska (-21 1/2). This game will either be a trap game or a get-well game for Nebraska. From what I heard from the players coming out of practice, and from what I saw at the end of the USC game, I think it's more likely Nebraska comes out today focused, sharp, and with something to prove. That's not a good sign for David Letterman's alma mater. Take the 'Huskers, give the points.

GBR, baby.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The NFL is not invulnerable

Terrific article by Gregg Easterbrook from ( discussing why the Bill Belichek "tapegate" scandal is a big deal. It eloquently makes the point I have argued for a long time about folks like Pete Rose - the integrity of the game is the bellcow of a profitable sports league. If people don't think it's a fair competition they're watching, they'll stop watching. And even the NFL, the most profitable league in America, isn't invulnerable from that.

I think NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is taking appropriate steps, although I wish he would have punished Belichek and the Patriots a little harder. Cheating, and being blase and arrogant about it, is a big deal, and should be treated as such for the future health of the league. I don't think this is a major threat to the popularity of the NFL - yet.


The situation with the National Football League is a lot worse than people realize, and the only one who seems to grasp this fully is commissioner Roger Goodell. You don't issue emergency orders backed by threats on Sunday morning of a game day, as Goodell just did regarding the New England Patriots' files of cheating information, unless the situation is a lot worse than people realize.

Why is the situation worse than people think? Because the NFL is on the precipice of blowing its status as the country's favorite sport. The whole NFL enterprise is in jeopardy from that single word: cheating. It's the most distasteful word in sports. And now the Patriots have brought the word into the NFL.

Think the NFL can't decline? Fifteen years ago, the National Basketball Association was going up, up, up by every measure and was widely considered the gold-plated can't-miss "sport of the next century." Since then, NBA popularity and ratings have plummeted while NBA-based teams have floundered in international competition. At the moment of its maximum success, the NBA became overconfident and arrogant in ways that need not be recounted here. Key point: There was no law of nature that said the NBA had to stay popular, and it did not.

Today the NFL is king of the hill in sports status, ratings, merchandising and association with the American psyche. There is no law of nature that says the NFL has to stay popular. Overconfidence and arrogance could be the downfall of the NFL, too – and we might be on that precipice. People will always watch and play football, of course. But nothing guarantees that the NFL's version of football must remain the super-successful money machine that it is today. There could be autumn Sunday afternoons in the near future in which the overwhelming majority of Americans couldn't care less what NFL games are being shown. Fifteen years ago, sports-marketing types would have said "impossible!" to the notion that only 11 percent of American households would watch the NBA Finals, which is what happened this June. Plummeting popularity for NFL broadcasts seems "impossible!" right now, but might happen fast enough to make your head swim.

Criminal behavior by NFL players, haughty owners who demand public subsidies, negative press for the union, coaches who snarl at the public instead of acting grateful for their privileged positions, insufferable egotism from multimillionaire athletes: All these things can be overlooked as long as the games themselves are good. If the games themselves are tainted, the NFL could tumble with amazing speed. And now there is a cheating scandal – cheating by the team that presented itself as the epitome of the sport – which calls the games themselves into question.

First we learn that the Patriots were cheating by using video equipment to steal signs, in blatant violation of league rules. Then we learn that even after the scandal broke and Bill Belichick issued his Nixonian stonewalling statement, the Patriots were still keeping sign-stealing videotapes and notes from past games. Surrender of the tapes and notes was the subject of Goodell's emergency order, first reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Sunday night on NBC's "Football Night in America," Goodell threatened more punishment of the Patriots if all cheating materials aren't surrendered, and repeatedly declared it was imperative that NFL games be fair and equal competition. That's exactly the crux of the threat Belichick has created to the league's golden goose.

Consider the Sunday night contest. New England had played San Diego just four games back, in the January 2007 postseason. Perhaps Belichick's cameraman was illegally taping the Chargers that day, and perhaps Belichick illegally used the information against the Chargers on Sunday night. The San Diego coaching staff has changed since the playoff game, so presumably its defensive calls are different. But San Diego's new defensive coordinator, Ted Cottrell, was defensive coordinator for the Bills and Jets, both AFC East teams, in the Belichick period. Perhaps Belichick has spied on Cottrell's calls before and took out the tapes of the spying rather than handing them over as Goodell demanded. Was New England cheating again Sunday night, when the Patriots advanced the ball with such ease it seemed they knew what defense San Diego would be in?

And the Patriots' cheating might have been more extensive than so far confirmed. Fox Sports reported that former NFL players believe Belichick had microphones installed in the shoulder pads of defensive linemen so the Patriots could tape other teams' offensive audibles and line calls. Needless to say, putting microphones on players violates NFL rules. Andrea Kremer of NBC reported that several teams might charge the Patriots this week with having stolen playbooks from the visitors' dressing room. The convenient "malfunction" of visiting teams' headphones at the Patriots' two fields under Belichick seems to have happened far too often to be an IT department error. The rumor mill says Belichick, Richard Nixon-style, has file cabinets of info on opposing coaches and assistant coaches – some gleaned honestly, some obtained by cheating.

It seems more than just an eerie coincidence that Belichick's unethical behavior involves illicit taping, the same offense that made Nixon's actions so sordid. The parallels to Nixon don't stop there. Caught, Belichick – like Nixon – tried to hide the true extent of the prohibited acts; Belichick – like Nixon – tried to claim his prohibited action hadn't been prohibited; Belichick – like Nixon – immediately stonewalled. It would be tempting to break the unhappy tone of this column with a Nixon joke – when the league plays Belichick's tape of the Jets' sideline, will there be an 18-and-a-half minute gap? But for all lovers of the NFL, there's just nothing to laugh about now.

What else is there about New England cheating that the team or league isn't telling us? Are the Patriots one bad apple, or is cheating common in the league? Worst, did the Patriots cheat in their Super Bowl wins? If New England was cheating in the Super Bowl, this will become the darkest sports scandal since Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox. If you don't think Goodell and all owners, including Robert Kraft of New England, are in abject terror of any possible disclosure that the Patriots were cheating in the Super Bowl, perhaps you just don't understand the situation.

The weasel wording of Belichick's Nixonian statement shows the New England coach full of contempt for the NFL fans, and the NFL enterprise, that made him a wealthy celebrity. Belichick declared that his super-elaborate cheating system was only a "mistake" caused by his "interpretation" of the league's rule. Wait, "interpretation"? The NFL rule bans teams from filming each other's sidelines. There's no room for interpretation, it's a ban! Here's the NFL policy, from a memo sent to all head coaches and general managers Sept. 6, 2006: "Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game." Prohibited. There's nothing there to "interpret." Videotaping opponent's signals even after getting this warning isn't a "mistake," it's cheating. Belichick's cheating was not some casual spur-of-the-moment blunder but rather an elaborate staffed system that took a lot of work to put into place and that Belichick worked hard to hide. And you don't hide something unless you are ashamed of it.

Michael Vick tried to deny and stonewall, but at the last owned up and admitted what he did. That's dignity. Belichick is now using weasel words to deny responsibility for his own choices. What kind of example does that set for the young? "Make good choices," football coaches constantly preach to the young. Now, caught, Belichick wants a special exemption to responsibility for his own choices. Belichick also is trying to close the matter by saying he won't talk about it anymore. So he cheated and now unilaterally declares the matter closed because he doesn't want to face the consequences of his own choices. But this is not over and not going away. Before the cheating scandal, Belichick had a reputation for being heartless but a really good coach. Now, he seems little more than a creepy con artist, and it's the refusal to act like a man and take full responsibility that's really offensive. Goodell's draft-choice penalty against the Patriots – either a first or a second and a third – is the highest draft penalty ever imposed in the NFL. The severity of this sanction shows how seriously Goodell takes the violation. If more disclosures are coming, there might be a lot more punishment of the Patriots. And unless Belichick comes clean and stops lying about his cheating, this event should disqualify him from consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame – it is, after all, not the Hall of Cheaters.

Will Belichick even be in coaching by season's end? When the Vick dogfighting scandal first broke, most football pundits, and most in the Atlanta and league offices, thought there would be few repercussions. Then they thought Vick would have to make some kind of apology. Then they thought he'd need some leave of absence. Then they thought he'd be suspended for a year. Now they wonder whether he'll ever be allowed to play again. By acting Nixonian, Belichick is accelerating his fall from grace. Today, Belichick and New England are trying to pretend the scandal is over. It would not surprise me in the slightest if, before the season ends, Belichick resigns, or is suspended, or is fired by Kraft, or even is permanently barred from the league. Belichick's head might be necessary to preserve the integrity of the game. Surprisingly soon, sacrificing Belichick to save professional football might seem an attractive option, even to Kraft. Remember, there is no law of nature that says the NFL must remain popular.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fact-checking Bush's Iraq speech

Another very well done piece from the folks at, on the inaccuracies in Bush's most recent Iraq speech. does a pretty good job of being unbiased, reporting on inaccuracies from both Democrats and Republicans. But this points how much what the current President says is unhinged from reality. The question is, of course, does anyone notice?


Operation Iraqi Gloss-Over
September 14, 2007
The president cites shaky facts as he makes a case for keeping high levels of troops in Iraq.

President Bush played loose with the facts in his address to the nation Thursday night as he tried to convince the American public that the surge in U.S. troops in Iraq has made the country more stable.

He said "36 nations ... have troops on the ground in Iraq." In fact, his own State Department puts the number at 25.
He said “ordinary life” was returning to Baghdad. Perhaps. In fact, news reports describe the city as starkly segregated with Shiites and Sunnis living in separate neighborhoods, which are walled off from one another with huge concrete barricades.
He said Baqubah in Diyala province was "cleared." But the Washington Post quotes a State Department official as saying the security situation there was not stable.

He said that “the Iraqi Army is becoming more capable,” which may be true. But the Iraqi defense minister says it’ll be 2012 before the army will be even 60 percent capable of protecting the nation from external threats.

The president argued that the pumped-up level of U.S. forces has been a success and things are improving in Iraq. At times he overreached.

Overstating international support

Bush expressed gratitude to a number of nations for having troops in Iraq – but used a figure much larger than the State Department will support.

The president thanked “the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq.” But the State Department’s “Iraq Weekly Status Report" dated Sept. 12 says the number of countries with forces in Iraq, in addition to the U.S., has dwindled to 25. The figure was 27 a year ago and 29 a year before that. The total number of non-U.S. troops has been cut nearly in half during that time, from 23,000 in September 2005 to 11,732 most recently.

We called the White House to find out the reason the president used a number of 36 nations. According to a National Security Council spokeswoman, Bush arrived at 36 by adding the State Department's 25, plus the African nation of Tonga (which is not on State's list), plus three countries participating in a United Nations training mission, plus another seven that are taking part in a NATO training mission. But the White House sent us a document that clearly lists only 26 countries with "troops on ground in Iraq."

"Ordinary" Life in Baghdad

Things are looking up for residents of Baghdad, Bush told us.

Bush: Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down, and ordinary life is beginning to return.
That's painting a very rosy picture, even for Baghdad, where more than half the troop surge has been targeted. If things haven't improved there, it would be a real mark of failure for Bush's strategy. But "ordinary" life? According to numerous news reports, Baghdad is increasingly segregated, with Shiite militias forcing Sunni residents out of mixed neighborhoods into all-Sunni enclaves, which aren't safe either. American troops have put up huge, concrete barricades walling neighborhoods off from each other as a way to reduce the violence.

It's true that within neighborhoods, some schools and shops are reopening. Of course, it's anybody's guess what will happen in this deeply divided city if the American troops leave.

Measuring the Level of Violence

As for Bush's statement that "sectarian killings are down," the president started touting this claim as early as May. And he has said so repeatedly. In an Aug. 28 speech to the American Legion National Convention, Bush said, “Sectarian violence has sharply decreased in Baghdad.”

But other reports contradict this claim or call it into question. The Washington Post has reported the monthly number of unidentified bodies found on Baghdad streets, according to Iraqi Health Ministry statistics. “Unidentified corpses, which are often found bearing signs of torture, are generally an indicator of sectarian violence,” the Post reported in an Aug. 5 story. The number of unidentified bodies found in July, while lower than the number found in June, was still 50 percent higher than the 272 bodies found in March, the first month after the troop increase, the paper said.

The bottom line is that it’s difficult to measure sectarian violence, and there’s no way to thoroughly vet the White House or Pentagon numbers. The Post has also quoted a “senior intelligence official” who questioned the methodology of the sectarian death count, saying that, for instance, Iraqis shot in the back of the head count as sectarian victims, but not Iraqis shot in the front of the head. Those are considered victims of “crime.” Iraq Body Count compiled figures that show some lessening of violence against civilians, but the group adds that "the first six months of 2007 was still the most deadly first six months for civilians of any year since the invasion."

Other factors that affect the level of sectarian violence include the increased division of Baghdad into purely Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods and a substantial increase in the number of Iraqis fleeing their homes.

Giving the All Clear

The president also painted a rosy picture of the security situation in Baqubah, capital of Diyala province.

Bush: “One year ago, much of Diyala province was a sanctuary for al Qaeda and other extremist groups, and its capital of Baqubah was emerging as an al Qaeda stronghold. Today Baqubah is cleared.”

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler fact-checked this item in today’s paper, writing: “But in a meeting with reporters on Aug. 27, the head of the State Department team in Diyala said the security situation was not stable, hampering access to food and energy, though he acknowledged that commerce was returning to Baqubah.” Kessler quoted John Melvin Jones has having said, "It's going to take a while before the security situation gets stable enough so that you can have a lot of these other agencies [such as USAID] involved." That doesn’t sound like Baqubah has been “cleared” to us.

Troop Levels in Context

The president backed Gen. David Petraeus' recommendations for withdrawing some of the troops from Iraq, saying that 2,200 Marines would leave this month as scheduled, an Army brigade would come home by Christmas and that "by July we will be able to reduce our troop levels in Iraq from 20 combat brigades to 15." It's unclear how many troops that includes. Press estimates put it at between 21,000 and 30,000 military personnel.

But this is hardly news. Some drawdown was scheduled to occur anyway, unless commanders decided otherwise. Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, asked Gen. Petraeus about this during the commander’s testimony on Capitol Hill this week.

Reed: …unless tours were extended, 30,000 troops are coming out of there beginning in April next year regardless of the situation on the ground.

Petraeus: Again, certainly the active brigade combat teams were going to come out of there. Again, I'm not aware of what is available in terms of battalions, brigades or what have you.

Reed: My sense is that the Reserve and National Guard forces are not available to --

Petraeus: I think that's the case, but again, I don't know because I have not asked.

Lowering Expectations

The president modified his own measurements for political progress, citing Iraqi actions in his speech last night that he didn't think were good enough a month ago.

Bush: Yet Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done. For example, they have passed a budget. They are sharing oil revenues with the provinces. They are allowing former Ba'athists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions.

But Bush very recently used a different standard for measuring progress. In his Aug. 18 radio speech, he cited the passage of laws governing the sharing of oil revenues among Iraq’s provinces and de-Baathification as steps the Iraqi government needed to take in order to show progress. They are both among the benchmarks the U.S. set to measure success.

Bush (radio address, Aug. 18): Unfortunately, political progress at the national level has not matched the pace of progress at the local level. The Iraqi government in Baghdad has many important measures left to address, such as reforming the de-Baathification laws, organizing provincial elections, and passing a law to formalize the sharing of oil revenues.

Bush noted in that address that “despite the lack of oil revenue law on the books, oil revenue sharing is taking place.” He made no mention of the need for a law in his speech last night. And progress on that front is deteriorating: This week, the New York Times and United Press International reported that acceptance of the legislation appeared to be crumbling.

Forward March?

Bush and others have always said that Iraqi security forces must get up to speed so coalition forces can hand things over to them. There has been progress. But Bush failed to note just how far these forces still have to go.

Bush: According to General Petraeus and a panel chaired by retired General Jim Jones, the Iraqi army is becoming more capable, although there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve the national police.

The Independent Commission on the Security of Iraq, led by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, did say in its report dated Sept. 6 that the Iraqi Army is improving. But the Iraqi Security Forces, of which the Army is a major part, “will not be able to progress enough in the near term to secure Iraqi borders against conventional military and external threats,” the report said. And further:

Commission Report: The Iraqi Minister of Defense seemed to recognize both the progress the Iraqi Army has made and the remaining challenges when he predicted to Commissioners that the Army would be 60 percent capable of independently protecting Iraq from external threats by 2012 and entirely independent in this regard by 2018.

That's five and 11 years away. And as for the police:

Commission Report: Despite coalition efforts to retrain the national police and emphasize human rights and the rule of law, it is not clear that this element of the Iraqi security forces, in its current form, can contribute to Iraqi security and stability in a meaningful way.

The police in many areas of the country, according to the report, won't leave their stations and have been infiltrated by insurgents and militias. It's so bad, in fact, that the panel recommended disbanding the national police force.

As yet another indication of the continuing struggle in Iraq, the president cited success in Anbar province – “Anbar province is a good example of how our strategy is working” – but also mentioned the killing early Thursday of a prominent sheikh in that province who led an alliance of Sunnis fighting against al Qaeda.

– by Viveca Novak and Lori Robertson

Thursday, September 13, 2007

NU Re-View:Nebraska 20, Wake Forest 17

- THE BETTER TEAM LOST: I know, that looks odd as a good thing. But hear me out. Wake Forest really out-played Nebraska on Saturday. Jim Grove knew that NU's defensive weakness was at defensive end, and planned his offense to attack the edges to put pressure on those ends. The Deacons SHOULD have won the game on Saturday ... but didn't. That is a small, but significant indicator of a team that is improving, to get out-played by an opponent but still win.
- DEFENSIVE STARS IN THE MAKING: Much like Brian Billick in Baltimore, Bill Callahan is an offensive genius winning because of defense. Steve Octavien, Courtney Grixby, Ndomukong Suh, and Zachary Bowman were the stars of this game, much more than anyone on the offense. Nebraska's success this season will hinge on the Blackshirts, make no mistake about it.
- I GOT RHYTHM: Callahan has said repeatedly that Sam Keller is a rhythm quarterback. Avoiding the obvious "method" jokes, Keller definitely proved that on Saturday. When he throws a lot, he's good. When he throws sporadically, he's not so good. But he's had two solid tests now to warm up and get into rhythm, hopefully sooner than later.

- THE BETTER TEAM LOST: I know, I'm repeating myself. But while it's good that Nebraska won an ugly game, the fact that Nebraska played ugly is in and of itself disturbing. The most disturbing is the inability to run the ball between the tackles. Wake Forest is a good team, but not a great team. If Nebraska struggles against a team of that level, what will happen in the Big XII?
- CATCHING THE SPEAR: Wake Forest ran what Callahan called a "spear" route leaving a receiver wide open twice. It only hit once, and, according to Callahan, the staff diagnosed it at halftime and were able to shut it down. Still, to see a receiver running free twice in a row on the same play, at any point, is a frightening harbinger of things to come.
- CALLAHAN THE RIVERBOAT GAMBLER: Good Lord, man, why are you going for it on fourth and two? Your defense has held Wake Forest in check almost the entire second half, and there's a little over a minute left. Punt the ball, pin them deep, and don't give them the chance to gash you, kick a field goal with their All-American kicker, and send it to overtime with momentum at home! The fact that the call worked out does not mean that the call was not a ridiculous and unnecessary risk to take.

Here they come, the big, bad, USC Trojans. In many ways, the USC game feels like the Wake Forest game in reverse. Here, as with last week, the superior talented team comes on the road to play a team with a lot to prove. USC has played only one game, and did not play an inspired game. The Trojans also have a lot of small injuries, and some significant ones. But, they have a lot of talent, and with LSU closing fast in the polls, they have an incentive to win and win big.

Winning ugly against a team like Wake Forest is definitely a good sign. Keep in mind, though, we've seen this before from Nebraska (see:Pittsburgh both times, Kansas and Texas A&M last year). The bottom line about this game is much the same as last year. The only way Nebraska really gets hurt is if USC manhandles the 'Huskers, and even then the damage isn't that bad. Arkansas had a half-hundy hung on them by USC, and still make the SEC Championship game. While this game will be a good yardstick to measure Nebraska's talent level, Nebraska still comes into this game with a lot more to win than to lose.

THE NEXT GAME: USC (-10) @ Nebraska. NU has the home field advantage, a quarterback with experience against the Trojans, and momentum on their side. But USC has an overwhelming talent differential, a blueprint for attacking the Blackshirts from Wake Forest, and an incentive to pile the points on. The energy from the home crowd keeps it close through the first half, but USC will eventually find enough chinks in Nebraska's armor to draw blood and pull away late. Nebraska CAN win this game, and I will certainly be rooting for them to win, but the rational part of my brain tells me the Trojans are too much. Give the points, take USC.

GBR, baby.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What "going on offense" means

Great post by David Coel and Jules Lobel of The Nation (, describing how "going on offense" against terrorism, like Rudy Giuliani wants to do, really translates into the kind of police-state tactics that we've seen from the current President and that we know Giuliani is a fan of.

In the last six years, what we've learned from that is (1) it doesn't work to make us safer, and (2) it tears away at the bedrock principals that we as Americans are supposed to stand for.

Besides, "going on offense" might sound good, but it doesn't mean it should always work. A smart candidate would answer Giuliani's comment by saying that it would be like having Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison take the field ... when the Patriots had the ball. Probably wouldn't be too successful.


President George W. Bush is fond of reminding us that no terrorist attacks have occurred on domestic soil since 9/11. But has the Administration's "war on terror" actually made us safer?

According to the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, Al Qaeda has fully reconstituted itself in Pakistan's northern border region. Terrorist attacks worldwide have grown dramatically in frequency and lethality since 2001. New terrorist groups, from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia to the small groups of young men who bombed subways and buses in London and Madrid, have multiplied since 9/11.

Meanwhile, despite the Bush Administration's boasts, the total number of people it has convicted of engaging in a terrorist act since 9/11 is one (Richard Reid, the shoe bomber).

Nonetheless, leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claims that we are safer. Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani warns that "the next election is about whether we go back on defense against terrorism ... or are we going to go on offense." And Democrats largely respond by insisting that they, too, would "go on offense."

Few have asked whether "going on offense" actually works as a counterterrorism strategy. It doesn't. The Bush strategy has been a colossal failure, not only in terms of constitutional principle but in terms of national security. It turns out that in fighting terrorism, the best defense is not a good offense but a smarter defense.

"Going on offense," or the "paradigm of prevention," as then-Attorney General John Ashcroft dubbed it, has touched all of us. Some, like Canadian Maher Arar, have been rendered to third countries (in his case, Syria) to be interrogated by security services known for torture.

Others have been subjected to months of virtually nonstop questioning, sexual abuse, waterboarding and injections with intravenous fluids until they urinate on themselves. Still others, like KindHearts, an American charity in Toledo, Ohio, have had their assets frozen under the USA Patriot Act and all their records seized without so much as a charge, much less a finding, of wrongdoing.

In the name of the "preventive paradigm," thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants have been singled out, essentially on the basis of their ethnicity or religion, for special treatment, including mandatory registration, FBI interviews and preventive detention. Businesses have been served with more than 100,000 "national security letters," which permit the FBI to demand records on customers without a court order or individualized basis for suspicion.

We have all been subjected to unprecedented secrecy about what elected officials are doing in our name while simultaneously suffering unprecedented official intrusion into our private lives by increased video surveillance, warrantless wiretapping and data-mining. Most tragically, more than 3,700 Americans and more than 70,000 Iraqi civilians have given their lives for the "preventive paradigm," which was used to justify going to war against a country that had not attacked us and posed no imminent threat of attack.

The preventive paradigm had its genesis on September 12, 2001. In Bush at War, Bob Woodward recounts a White House meeting in which FBI Director Robert Mueller advised that authorities must take care not to taint evidence in seeking 9/11 accomplices so that they could eventually be held accountable. Ashcroft immediately objected, saying, "The chief mission of US law to stop another attack and apprehend any accomplices ... If we can't bring them to trial, so be it."

Ever since, the "war on terror" has been characterized by highly coercive, "forward-looking" pre-emptive measures -- warrantless wiretapping, detention, coercive interrogation, even war -- undertaken not on evidence of past or current wrongdoing but on speculation about future threats.

In isolation, neither the goal of preventing future attacks nor the tactic of using coercive measures is novel or troubling. All law enforcement seeks to prevent crime, and coercion is a necessary element of state power. However, when the end of prevention and the means of coercion are combined in the Administration's preventive paradigm, they produce a troubling form of anticipatory state violence -- undertaken before wrongdoing has actually occurred and often without good evidence for believing that wrongdoing will ever occur.

The Bush strategy turns the law's traditional approach to state coercion on its head. With narrow exceptions, the rule of law reserves invasions of privacy, detention, punishment and use of military force for those who have been shown -- on the basis of sound evidence and fair procedures -- to have committed or to be plotting some wrong.

The police can tap phones or search homes, but only when there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that the search is likely to find evidence of the crime. People can be preventively detained pending trial, but only when there is both probable cause of past wrongdoing and concrete evidence that they pose a danger to the community or are likely to abscond if left at large. And under international law, nations may use military force unilaterally only in response to an objectively verifiable attack or threat of imminent attack.

These bedrock legal requirements are a hindrance to "going on offense." Accordingly, the Administration has asserted sweeping executive discretion, eschewed questions of guilt or innocence and substituted secrecy and speculation for accountability and verifiable fact. Where the rule of law demands fair and open procedures, the preventive paradigm employs truncated processes often conducted in secret, denying the accused a meaningful opportunity to respond.

The need for pre-emptive action is said to justify secrecy and shortcuts, whatever the cost to innocents. Where the rule of law demands that people be held liable only for their own actions, the Administration has frequently employed guilt by association and ethnic profiling to target suspected future wrongdoers. And where the rule of law absolutely prohibits torture and disappearances, the preventive paradigm views these tactics as lesser evils to defuse the proverbial ticking time bomb.

All other things being equal, preventing a terrorist act is, of course, preferable to responding after the fact -- all the more so when the threats include weapons of mass destruction and our adversaries are difficult to detect, willing to kill themselves and seemingly unconstrained by any recognizable considerations of law, morality or human dignity.

But there are plenty of preventive counterterrorism measures that conform to the rule of law, such as increased protections at borders and around vulnerable targets, institutional reforms designed to encourage better information sharing, even military force and military detention when employed in self-defense.

The real problems arise when the state uses highly coercive measures -- depriving people of their life, liberty or property, or going to war -- based on speculation, without adhering to the laws long seen as critical to regulating and legitimizing such force.

Even if one were to accept as a moral or ethical matter the "ends justify the means" rationales advanced for the preventive paradigm, the paradigm fails its own test: There is little or no evidence that the Administration's coercive pre-emptive measures have made us safer, and substantial evidence that they have in fact exacerbated the dangers we face.

Consider the costliest example: the war in Iraq. Precisely because the preventive doctrine turns on speculation about non-imminent events, it permitted the Administration to turn its focus from Al Qaeda, the organization that attacked us on 9/11, to Iraq, a nation that did not.

The Iraq War has by virtually all accounts made the United States, the Iraqi people, many of our allies and for that matter much of the world more vulnerable to terrorists. By targeting Iraq, the Bush Administration not only siphoned off much-needed resources from the struggle against Al Qaeda but also created a golden opportunity for Al Qaeda to inspire and recruit others to attack US and allied targets. And our invasion of Iraq has turned it into the world's premier terrorist training ground.

The preventive paradigm has been no more effective in other aspects of the "war on terror." According to US figures, international terrorist attacks increased by 300 percent between 2003 and 2004. In 2005 alone, there were 360 suicide bombings, resulting in 3,000 deaths, compared with an annual average of about ninety such attacks over the five preceding years. That hardly constitutes progress.

But what about the fact that, other than the anthrax mailings in 2001, there has not been another terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11? The real question, of course, is whether the Administration's coercive preventive measures can be credited for that.

There were eight years between the first and second attacks on the World Trade Center. And when one looks at what the preventive paradigm has come up with in terms of concrete results, it's an astonishingly thin file.

At Guantánamo, for example, once said to house "the worst of the worst," the Pentagon's Combatant Status Review Tribunals' own findings categorized only 8 percent of some 500 detainees held there in 2006 as fighters for Al Qaeda or the Taliban. More than half of the 775 Guantánamo detainees have now been released, suggesting that they may not have been "the worst of the worst" after all.

As for terror cells at home, the FBI admitted in February 2005 that it had yet to identify a single Al Qaeda sleeper cell in the entire United States. And it hasn't found any since -- unless you count the Florida group arrested in 2006, whose principal step toward an alleged plot to blow up the Sears Tower was to order combat boots and whose only Al Qaeda "connection" was to a federal informant pretending to be Al Qaeda.

The Justice Department claims on its website to have charged more than 400 people in "terrorism-related" cases, but its own Inspector General has criticized those figures as inflated. The vast majority of the cases involved not terrorism but minor nonviolent offenses such as immigration fraud, credit-card fraud or lying to an FBI agent.

The New York Times and the Washington Post found that only thirty-nine of the convictions were for a terrorism crime. And virtually all of those were for "material support" to groups labeled terrorist, a crime that requires no proof that the defendant ever intended to further a terrorist act. While prosecutors have obtained a handful of convictions for conspiracy to engage in terrorism, several of those convictions rest on extremely broad statutes that don't require proof of any specific plan or act, or on questionable entrapment tactics by government informants.

Many of the Administration's most highly touted "terrorism" cases have disintegrated after the Justice Department's initial self-congratulatory press conference announcing the indictment, most notably those against Capt. James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo initially accused of being a spy; Sami Al-Arian, a computer science professor acquitted on charges of conspiracy to kill Americans; Muhammad Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, acquitted in Chicago of aiding Hamas; Sami al-Hussayen, a Saudi student acquitted by an Idaho jury of charges that he had aided terrorism by posting links on his website to other sites containing jihadist rhetoric; and Yaser Hamdi, the US citizen held for years as an enemy combatant but released from military custody when the government faced the prospect of having to prove that he was an enemy combatant.

The Administration recently managed to convict José Padilla, the other US citizen held as an enemy combatant, not for any of the terrorist plots against the United States that it once accused him of hatching but for attending an Al Qaeda training camp and conspiring to support Muslim rebels in Chechnya and Bosnia before 9/11.

Overall, the government's success rate in cases alleging terrorist charges since 9/11 is only 29 percent, compared with a 92 percent conviction rate for felonies. This is an astounding statistic, because presumably federal juries are not predisposed to sympathize with Arab or Muslim defendants accused of terrorism. But when one prosecutes prematurely, failure is often the result.

The government's "preventive" immigration initiatives have come up even more empty-handed. After 9/11 the Bush Administration called in 80,000 foreign nationals for fingerprinting, photographing and "special registration" simply because they came from predominantly Arab or Muslim countries; sought out another 8,000 young men from the same countries for FBI interviews; and placed more than 5,000 foreign nationals here in preventive detention.

Yet as of September 2007, not one of these people stands convicted of a terrorist crime. The government's record, in what is surely the largest campaign of ethnic profiling since the Japanese internment of World War II, is 0 for 93,000.

These statistics offer solid evidence to support the overwhelming consensus that Foreign Policy found when it polled more than 100 foreign policy experts -- evenly dispersed along the political spectrum -- and found that 91 percent felt that the world is becoming more dangerous for the United States, and that 84 percent said we are not winning the "war on terror."

It is certainly possible that some of these preventive measures deterred would-be terrorists from attacking us or helped to uncover and foil terrorist plots before they could come to fruition. But if real plots had been foiled and real terrorists identified, one would expect some criminal convictions to follow.

When FBI agents successfully foiled a plot by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (popularly known as "the blind sheik") and others to bomb bridges and tunnels around Manhattan in the 1990s, it also convicted the plotters and sent them to prison for life.

In October 2005 Bush claimed that the United States and its allies had foiled ten terrorist plots. But he couldn't point to a single convicted terrorist. Consider just one of Bush's ten "success" stories, the one about which he provided the most details: an alleged Al Qaeda plot to fly an airplane into the Library Tower, a skyscraper in Los Angeles.

The perpetrators, described only as Southeast Asians, were said to have been captured in early 2002 in Asia. As far as we know, however, no one has ever been charged or tried for this alleged terror plot. Intelligence officials told the Washington Post that there was "deep disagreement within the intelligence community about ... whether it was ever much more than talk."

A senior FBI official said, "To take that and make it into a disrupted plot is just ludicrous." American officials claim to have learned about some of the plot's details by interrogating captured Al Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but he was captured in 2003, long after the perpetrators had been arrested.

As the Los Angeles Times put it, "By the time anybody knew about it, the threat -- if there had been one -- had passed, federal counter-terrorism officials said." These facts -- all omitted in Bush's retelling -- suggest that such claims of success need to be viewed skeptically.

If the Bush strategy were merely ineffectual, that would be bad enough. But it's worse than that; the President's policy has actually made us significantly less secure. While the Administration has concentrated on swaggeringly aggressive coercive initiatives of dubious effect, it has neglected less dramatic but more effective preventive initiatives.

In December 2005 the bipartisan 9/11 Commission gave the Administration failing or near-failing grades on many of the most basic domestic security measures, including assessing critical infrastructure vulnerabilities, securing weapons of mass destruction, screening airline passengers and cargo, sharing information between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, insuring that first responders have adequate communications and supporting secular education in Muslim countries. We spend more in a day in Iraq than we do annually on some of the most important defensive initiatives here at home.

The preventive paradigm has also made it more difficult to bring terrorists to justice, just as FBI Director Mueller warned on September 12. When the Administration chooses to disappear suspects into secret prisons and use waterboarding to encourage them to talk, it forfeits any possibility of bringing the suspects to justice for their alleged crimes, because evidence obtained coercively at a "black site" would never be admissible in a fair and legitimate trial. That's the real reason no one has yet been brought to trial at Guantánamo.

There is debate about whether torture ever results in reliable intelligence -- but there can be no debate that it radically curtails the government's ability to bring a terrorist to justice.

Assuming that the principal terrorist threat still comes from Al Qaeda or, more broadly, a violence-prone fundamentalist strain of Islam, and that the "enemies" in this struggle are a relatively small number of Arab and Muslim men, it is all the more critical that we develop close, positive ties with Arab and Muslim communities here and abroad. By alienating those whose help we need most, the preventive paradigm has had exactly the opposite effect.

At the same time, we have given Al Qaeda the best propaganda it could ever have hoped for. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld identified the critical question in an October 2003 internal Pentagon memo: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

While there is no precise metric for answering Rumsfeld's question, there can be little doubt that our preventive tactics have been a boon to terrorist recruitment throughout the world.

More broadly still, our actions have radically undermined our standing in the world. The damage to US prestige was perhaps most dramatically revealed when, after the report of CIA black sites surfaced in November 2005, Russia, among several other countries, promptly issued a press release claiming that it had nothing to do with the sites. When Russia feels the need to distance itself from the United States out of concern that its human rights image might be tarnished by association, we have fallen far.

In short, we have gone from being the object of the world's sympathy immediately after 9/11 to being the country most likely to be hated. Anti-Americanism is at an all-time high. In some countries, Osama bin Laden has a higher approval rating than the United States. And much of the anti-Americanism is tied to the perception that the United States has pursued its "war on terror" in an arrogant, unilateral fashion, defying the very values we once championed.

The Bush Administration just doesn't get it. Its National Defense Strategy, published by the Pentagon, warns that "our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism."

The proposition that judicial processes and international accountability -- the very essence of the rule of law -- are to be dismissed as a strategy of the weak, aligned with terrorism itself, makes clear that the Administration has come to view the rule of law as an obstacle, not an asset, in its effort to protect us from terrorist attack.

Our long-term security turns not on "going on offense" by locking up thousands of "suspected terrorists" who turn out to have no connection to terrorism; nor on forcing suspects to bark like dogs, urinate and defecate on themselves, and endure sexual humiliation; nor on attacking countries that have not threatened to attack us.

Security rests not on exceptionalism and double standards but on a commitment to fairness, justice and the rule of law. The rule of law in no way precludes a state from defending itself from terrorists but requires that it do so within constraints. And properly understood, those constraints are assets, not obstacles. Aharon Barak, who recently retired as president of Israel's Supreme Court, said it best in a case forbidding the use of "moderate physical pressure" in interrogating Palestinian terror suspects: "A democracy must sometimes fight terror with one hand tied behind its back.

Even so, a democracy has the upper hand. The rule of law and the liberty of an individual constitute important components in its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and this strength allows it to overcome its difficulties."

The preventive paradigm has compromised our spirit, strengthened our enemies and left us less free and less safe. If we are ready to learn from our mistakes, however, there is a better way to defend ourselves -- through, rather than despite, a recommitment to the rule of law.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11 changed nothing

A devastating, heartbreaking, and extraordinarily well done piece from Anna Quindlen of Newsweek about how we have wasted the opportunities to learn from and respond to the 9/11 attacks, and how instead we have retreated to our old ways. It's so sad, because it's so true, that all those innocent men and women who died on that dark day do not have the legacy that they deserve.

God bless America. And God help us. Please.


Quindlen: American Forgetting
Instead of expanding, we contracted. Instead of a new juncture, we retreated to old ways. It's all there at the construction site.
By Anna Quindlen

Sept. 17, 2007 issue - At the construction project that has replaced the site of one of America's greatest national traumas, there is a sign with the telephone number of the Port Authority police "in case of an emergency." This would be ironic were it not so sad. Everything about the enormous urban square where the World Trade Center once stood, once burned, once fell, is terribly sad because it has been so sanitized. THIS IS A SPECIAL PLACE, says one small sign on the construction fence, but there's no sign that that's true. Everything has been done to make it seem ordinary. Girders, cranes, gravel, hard hats—it looks no different from the places nearby where luxury condos rise. THINK BACK. MOVE FORWARD. IT'S TIME reads a billboard that has the unmistakable odor of ad agency. Americans like history as long as it's over fast enough.

Six years ago there was a moment. How long did it last? Long enough to seem indelible and authentic. After the greatest terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and a field in Pennsylvania, there was a moment when it seemed that the sheer scale of the event would evoke a response of answering enormity, in thought, in action and in behavior.

That is not what happened.

Instead we launched a war, a cheap bait-and-switch by an administration that figured it could simply replace one Middle Eastern bad guy with another in the public mind, trade an Osama bin Laden card for a Saddam Hussein. Our so-called leaders knew that the most terrifying thing about a War on Terror was that it was a war without borders, nationality or country. They decided to pretend otherwise by invading Iraq. Today it may be that things are better in one part of that country, not so good in others, but the bottom line is that there remains no compelling reason why the United States should ever have invaded in the first place, and certainly none that can be linked to the events of September 11.

Six years along, and there is little evidence that the intelligence apparatus of the nation is much better than it was on Sept. 12, 2001, when pay-phone messages picked up two days earlier that said "The match begins tomorrow" and "Tomorrow is zero hour" were finally translated. Entrenched government bureaucracies, a resistance to and ignorance of new technology, and a lack of communication among agencies still remain. With so many fiefdoms, programs and initiatives—and so little overarching leadership—it is hard to tell what has improved. But intelligence wonks suspect that if there were another attack, the discussions about our shortcomings would be remarkably similar to those we heard in 2001.

Instead of trying to understand and therefore counter the mind-set of those who hate us, and to rally our allies in their communities, American jingoism has produced an ugly strain of anti-Muslim thought and chatter. That has hampered intelligence gathering, since Arab-Americans are loath to cooperate with government agents who solicit them as sources but treat them as suspect. Such suspicion has broadened to encompass other newcomers; the most reliable wedge issue in this country is now immigration. Government focus has been on rote oversight of visitors from other countries, a scattershot course that is no more likely to deter terrorism than taking off your shoes at the airport does. It does, however, sometimes deter foreign-born doctors from being able to work in poor and rural areas that have been neglected, and foreign graduate students from attending American universities and doing the research here they have in the past.

There was a moment when it seemed that what had happened to this nation would result in an unparalleled display of those things that make America great: audacity, community, a sense of the future as a broad plain upon which this country could make its mark for good. Instead, at almost every turn, our government and, yes, many of our citizens took the narrowest road. Instead of expanding, we contracted. Instead of a new juncture, we retreated to old ways.

It's all there at the construction site. Tourists peer through the fence, but it's hard to understand what they think they're seeing. Everything that once spoke of the magnitude of the events of September 11 is gone. As much as its jagged smoking ruins were once a symbol for unparalleled disaster, now its bland expanse is a symbol of how narrow and parsimonious the long-term response has been. It's business as usual there, except for one small section of the fence with a listing of the names of those who died in letters so small that you almost have to squint to read them. Remember how we said we would never forget them? We forgot them. If the spirit of the day had prevailed, the sense that this was a moment like no other and demanded a gesture in kind, someone would have had the guts to leave this national graveyard solemn, empty and still. Instead there is a sign there that says that the job now is "to recover the 10 million-sq. feet of commercial space lost in the attacks." How American. It's all about the real estate.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The media, Al Gore, and 2000

As a very wise man once said, what liberal bias? A wonderful (if long) piece from Vanity Fair by Evgenia Peretz ( on how the media's coverage of the 2000 election, focusing on Gore as the uptight nerd and Bush as the affable slacker, influenced the outcome of a razor-thin election.

Now, not mentioned in this article is the big assist Gore gave to his detractors in the feckless campaign that he ran. I remember watching a witty, charismatic Gore give the opening remarks at the 2004 Democratic Convention and thought, where the hell was this guy in 2000? So, to paint Gore as a victim of the media isn't really entirely fair. Having said that, there is much truth in the effect the coverage on Gore had on the election.

And, it should put to rest the Big Lie that the right wing noise machine continues to pump out about how the "mainstream" media is all biased against conservatives. Untrue in total - the problem, as Stephen Colbert has observed, is that reality has a liberal bias.


Going After Gore
Al Gore couldn't believe his eyes: as the 2000 election heated up, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other top news outlets kept going after him, with misquotes ("I invented the Internet"), distortions (that he lied about being the inspiration for Love Story), and strangely off-the-mark needling, while pundits such as Maureen Dowd appeared to be charmed by his rival, George W. Bush. For the first time, Gore and his family talk about the effect of the press attacks on his campaign—and about his future plans—to the author, who finds that many in the media are re-assessing their 2000 coverage.
by Evgenia Peretz October 2007

As he was running for president, Al Gore said he'd invented the Internet; announced that he had personally discovered Love Canal, the most infamous toxic-waste site in the country; and bragged that he and Tipper had been the sole inspiration for the golden couple in Erich Segal's best-selling novel Love Story (made into a hit movie with Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal). He also invented the dog, joked David Letterman, and gave mankind fire.

Could such an obviously intelligent man have been so megalomaniacal and self-deluded to have actually said such things? Well, that's what the news media told us, anyway. And on top of his supposed pomposity and elitism, he was a calculating dork: unable to get dressed in the morning without the advice of a prominent feminist (Naomi Wolf).

Today, by contrast, Gore is "the Goreacle," the elder statesman of global activism, and something of a media darling. He is the Bono of the environment, the Cassandra of Iraq, the star of an Oscar-winning film, and a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. To the amusement of his kids, some people now actually consider him cool. "If you had told me 10 years ago that people were going to be appealing to me for tickets to a hot rock concert through my parents, I would have fallen over," says his daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, 34, referring to the Live Earth 24-hour extravaganza in July.

What happened to Gore? The story promoted by much of the media today is that we're looking at a "new Gore," who has undergone a radical transformation since 2000—he is now passionate and honest and devoted to issues he actually cares about. If only the old Gore could have been the new Gore, the pundits say, history might have been different.

But is it really possible for a person—even a Goreacle—to transform himself so radically? There's no doubt that some things have changed about Al Gore since 2000. He has demonstrated inner strength, rising from an excruciating defeat that would have crushed many men. Beyond that, what has changed is that he now speaks directly to the public; he has neither the patience nor the need to go through the media.

Eight years ago, in the bastions of the "liberal media" that were supposed to love Gore—The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, CNN—he was variously described as "repellent," "delusional," a vote-rigger, a man who "lies like a rug," "Pinocchio." Eric Pooley, who covered him for Time magazine, says, "He brought out the creative-writing student in so many reporters.… Everybody kind of let loose on the guy."

How did this happen? Was the right-wing attack machine so effective that it overwhelmed all competing messages? Was Gore's communications team outrageously inept? Were the liberal elite bending over backward to prove they weren't so liberal?

Eight years later, journalists, at the prompting of Vanity Fair, are engaging in some self-examination over how they treated Gore. As for Gore himself, for the first time, in this article, he talks about the 2000 campaign and the effect the press had on him and the election. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my father, Martin Peretz, was his teacher at Harvard and is an ardent, vocal Gore backer. I contributed to his campaign in February 1999. Before reporting this article, however, I'd had maybe two passing exchanges with Gore in my life.) Gore wasn't eager to talk about this. He doesn't blame the media for his loss in 2000. Yet he does believe that his words were distorted and that certain major reporters and outlets were often unfair.

How does he feel about it all? "I feel fine," he says, "but, when I say that, I'm reminded of a story that Cousin Minnie Pearl used to tell about a farmer who was involved in an accident and sued for damages." To paraphrase, at the trial the lawyer for the driver of the other car cross-examined the farmer, saying, "Isn't it true that right after the accident, you said, 'I feel fine'?" The farmer said, "Well, it's not the simple," before going on to explain that the other car rammed into him, throwing both him and his cow from his car. When a highway patrolman came by and saw the cow struggling, he shot him between the eyes. The farmer continued, "The patrolman then came to my side and said, 'How do you feel?'… so I said, 'I feel fine.'"

The Wonk Versus the Frat Boy

The media began the coverage of the 2000 election with an inclination not so different from that demonstrated in other recent elections—they were eager for simple, character-driven narratives that would sell papers and get ratings. "Particularly in presidential elections … we in the press tend to deal in caricatures," says Dan Rather, who was then anchoring for CBS. "Someone draws a caricature, and it's funny and at least whimsical. And at first you sort of say, 'Aw shucks, that's too simple.' In the course of the campaign, that becomes accepted wisdom." He notes, "I do not except myself from this criticism."

In 2000, the media seemed to focus on a personality contest between Bush, the folksy Texas rogue, and, as The New York Times referred to Gore, "Eddie Haskell," the insincere brownnoser from Leave It to Beaver. ABC anchor Claire Shipman, who covered the 2000 campaign for NBC, says, "It was almost a drama that was cast before anyone even took a good look at who the candidates were."

George Bush made it easy—he handed them a character on a plate. He had one slogan—compassionate conservatism—and one promise aimed squarely at denigrating Bill Clinton: to restore honor and integrity to the White House. He was also perceived to be fun to be with. For 18 months, he pinched cheeks, bowled with oranges in the aisles of his campaign plane, and playacted flight attendant. Frank Bruni, now the restaurant critic for The New York Times but then a novice national political-beat reporter for the same newspaper, wrote affectionately of Bush's "folksy affability," "distinctive charm," "effortless banter," and the feather pillow that he traveled with.

But Gore couldn't turn on such charm on cue. "He doesn't pinch cheeks," says Tipper. "Al's not that kind of guy." With Gore still vice president, there was a certain built-in formality and distance that reporters had to endure. Having served the public for nearly 25 years in different roles—from congressman legislating the toxic-waste Superfund to vice president leading the charge to go into Bosnia—Gore could not be reduced to a sound bite. As one reporter put it, they were stuck with "the government nerd." "The reality is," says Eli Attie, who was Gore's chief speechwriter and traveled with him, "very few reporters covering the 2000 campaign had much interest in what really motivated Gore and the way he spent most of his time as vice president: the complexities of government and policy, and not just the raw calculus of the campaign trail."

Muddying the waters further was the fact that the Gore campaign early on was in a state of disarray—with a revolving door of staffers who didn't particularly see the value in happy chitchat. "We basically treated the press with a whip and a chair … and made no real effort to schmooze at all," says Gore strategist Carter Eskew. "I fault myself." It was plain to the reporters that this was not the tight ship of Bush's campaign, led by the "iron triangle" of Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, and Joe Allbaugh.

"The campaign went through several official slogans," says The New York Times's Katharine Seelye, who would become one of the more critical reporters who covered Gore. "They had a hard time latching onto a clear idea of what the campaign was about. [Democratic strategist] James Carville once said to me that if you want reporters to write about hamburger, you give them hamburger. You don't give them French fries and ice cream."

Gore needed to give them hamburger, as Carville put it—a simple, dramatic character; a simple, dramatic story line; a 10-word slogan. If Gore couldn't provide it, the press would. As the campaign wore on, the media found a groove they could settle into: wonk so desperate to become president he'll do or say anything, even make stuff up. It complemented perfectly the other son of a politician running for president: irresistible frat boy who, when it came to the presidency, could take it or leave it.

The seeds of Gore's caricature had been planted in 1997 when he, the presumptive candidate for 2000, made a passing comment about Erich Segal's Love Story, over the course of a two-hour interview with Time's Karen Tumulty and The New York Times's Richard Berke, for profiles they were writing. Tumulty recounts today that, while casually reminiscing about his days at Harvard and his roommate, the future actor Tommy Lee Jones, Gore said, It's funny—he and Tipper had been models for the couple in his friend Erich Segal's Love Story, which was Jones's first film. Tumulty followed up, "Love Story was based on you and Tipper?" Gore responded, "Well, that's what Erich Segal told reporters down in Tennessee."

As it turned out, The Nashville Tennessean, the paper Gore was referring to, had said Gore was the model for the character of Oliver Barrett. But the paper made a small mistake. There was some Tommy Lee Jones thrown in, too. "The Tennessean reporter just exaggerated," Segal has said. And Tipper was not the model for Jenny.

In her story, Tumulty and co-author Eric Pooley treated the anecdote as an offhand comment. But political opinion writers at The New York Times, it seems, interpreted the remark as a calculated political move on Gore's part. "It's somewhat suspicious that Mr. Gore has chosen this moment to drop the news—unknown even to many close friends and aides," wrote Times columnist Maureen Dowd. "Does he think, going into 2000, that this will give him a romantic glow, or a romantic afterglow?" Times columnist Frank Rich followed it up. "What's bizarre," he wrote, "if all too revealing … is not that he inflated his past but that he would think that being likened to the insufferable preppy Harvard hockey player Oliver Barrett 4th was something to brag about in the first place."

Tumulty says she was stunned at seeing Gore's remark being turned into a "window onto his soul" in the pages of The New York Times and elsewhere: "I'm in the middle of this gigantic media frenzy. It had truly, truly been an offhanded comment by Gore. And it suddenly turns into this big thing that probably continues to dog him for the rest of the campaign."

Caught in the Web

The Love Story distortion set the stage for the "I Invented the Internet" distortion, a devastating piece of propaganda that damaged Gore at the starting gate of his run. On March 9, 1999, CNN's Wolf Blitzer conducted an interview with Gore shortly before he officially announced his candidacy. In answer to a question about why Democrats should support him, Gore spoke about his record. "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative"—politico-speak for leadership—"in creating the Internet," he said, before going on to describe other accomplishments. It was true. In the 1970s, the Internet was a limited tool used by the Pentagon and universities for research. As a senator in the 80s, Gore sponsored two bills that turned this government program into an "information superhighway," a term Gore popularized, and made it accessible to all. Vinton Cerf, often called the father of the Internet, has claimed that the Internet would not be where it was without Gore's leadership on the issue. Even former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich has said that "Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet."

The press didn't object to Gore's statement until Texas Republican congressman Dick Armey led the charge, saying, "If the vice president created the Internet, then I created the interstate highway system." Republican congressman James Sensenbrenner released a statement with the headline, delusions of grandeur: vice president gore takes credit for creating the internet. CNN's Lou Dobbs was soon calling Gore's remark "a case study … in delusions of grandeur." A few days later the word "invented" entered the narrative. On March 15, a USA Today headline about Gore read, inventing the internet; March 16 on Hardball, Chris Matthews derided Gore for his claim that he "invented the Internet." Soon the distorted assertion was in the pages of the Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe, and on the A.P. wire service. By early June, the word "invented" was actually being put in quotation marks, as though that were Gore's word of choice. Here's how Mimi Hall put it in USA Today: "A couple of Gore gaffes, including his assertion that he 'invented' the Internet, didn't help." And Newsday's Elaine Povich ridiculed "Gore's widely mocked assertion that he 'invented' the Internet." (Thanks to the Web site the Daily Howler, the creation of Bob Somerby, a college roommate of Gore's, we have a chronicle of how the Internet story spiraled out of control.)

Belatedly attempting to defuse the situation, Gore joked about it on Imus in the Morning, saying that he "was up late the night before … inventing the camcorder." But it was too late—the damage had been done.

The Beat Goes On

As with all campaigns, the coverage of the 2000 election would be driven by a small number of beat reporters. In this case, two women at the most influential newspapers in the country: Seelye from The New York Times and Ceci Connolly from The Washington Post.

A prominent Washington journalist describes them as "edgy, competitive, wanting to make their mark," and adds that they "reinforced each other's prejudices."

"It was like they'd been locked in a room, and they were just pumping each other up," says Gore strategist Carter Eskew.

"They just wanted to tear Gore apart," says a major network correspondent on the trail. (Both refute such characterizations of themselves. "Why would reporters [from] major news organizations confer with the competition on such a fiercely competitive story?" asks Connolly.)

Building on the narrative established by the Love Story and Internet episodes, Seelye, her critics charge, repeatedly tinged what should have been straight reporting with attitude or hints at Gore's insincerity. Describing a stump speech in Tennessee, she wrote, "He also made an appeal based on what he described as his hard work for the state—as if a debt were owed in return for years of service." Writing how he encouraged an audience to get out and vote at the primary, she said, "Vice President Al Gore may have questioned the effects of the internal combustion engine, but not when it comes to transportation to the polls. Today he exhorted a union audience in Knoxville, Iowa, to pile into vans—not cars, but gas-guzzling vans—and haul friends to the Iowa caucuses on January 24." She would not just say that he was simply fund-raising. "Vice President Al Gore was back to business as usual today—trolling for money," she wrote. In another piece, he was "ever on the prowl for money."

The disparity between her reporting and Bruni's coverage of Bush for the Times was particularly galling to the Gore camp. "It's one thing if the coverage is equal—equally tough or equally soft," says Gore press secretary Chris Lehane. "In 2000, we would get stories where if Gore walked in and said the room was gray we'd be beaten up because in fact the room was an off-white. They would get stories about how George Bush's wing tips looked as he strode across the stage." Melinda Henneberger, then a political writer at the Times, says that such attitudes went all the way up to the top of the newspaper. "Some of it was a self-loathing liberal thing," she says, "disdaining the candidate who would have fit right into the newsroom, and giving all sorts of extra time on tests to the conservative from Texas. Al Gore was a laughline at the paper, while where Bush was concerned we seemed to suffer from the soft bigotry of low expectations." (Seelye's and Bruni's then editors declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Connolly, too, at The Washington Post, wrote about Gore's "grubbing for dollars inside a monastery," and "stretching the [fund-raising] rules as far as he can." Her stories about the distortions extended the life of the distortions themselves. In one article, she knocked Gore for "the hullabaloo over the Internet—from [his] inflated claim to his slowness to tamp out the publicity brush fire." In another, co-written with David Von Drehle, she claimed, "From conservative talk radio titan Rush Limbaugh and the New York Post (headline: 'Liar, Liar') to neutral papers across the country, the attack on Gore's credibility is resonating."

When Lehane and his communications partner, Mark Fabiani, selectively granted access, Connolly, for reasons Gore staffers say are obvious, was rarely favored and experienced it as an attack. "The 'Masters of Disaster,' as [Lehane and Fabiani] like to be called, spent an inordinate amount of time attacking various reporters and pitting journalists against each other and generally trying to steer the subject away from a troubled campaign," Connolly says today. (Lehane had no comment.)

But eventually, Gore staffers came to feel that if Connolly was denied the access or information she wanted there would be a price to pay in terms of her coverage. In one of her pieces Carter Eskew, a former tobacco-industry adviser, was described in a quote as being "single-handedly accountable for addicting another whole generation of American kids" to smoking. When asked about the article, Eskew recalls how Connolly had called him the day before for a comment about an environmental group's endorsement of Bill Bradley. After he gave her something perfunctory, he says, she went after him. "She goes, 'That's all you're going to say?'" recalls Eskew. "And I said, 'Yeah, that's all we're going to say.' And she goes, 'Do you know how stupid that is, Carter?' And then she threatened me, 'Well, if that's the kind of relationship you want to have with me, then you'll find out the kind of relationship we're going to have'—something to that effect." ("I never threatened Carter Eskew," says Connolly. "It's possible I pressed him for something more than a 'perfunctory' answer.… It's odd that he would think my story was journalistically out of bounds or retribution for something as trivial as a mediocre quote.")

Toxic Coverage

On December 1, 1999, Connolly—and Seelye—misquoted Gore in a damning way. Their error was picked up elsewhere and repeated, and snowballed into a political nightmare. Gore was speaking to a group of students at Concord High School, in New Hampshire, about how young people could effect change. He described a letter he had received as a congressman in 1978 from a girl in Toone, Tennessee, about how her father and grandfather had gotten mysteriously ill. He had looked into the matter and found that the town was a toxic-waste site. He went on:

"I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I had the first hearing on that issue and Toone, Tennessee. That was the one you didn't hear of, but that was the one that started it all.… We passed a major national law to clean up hazardous dumpsites, and we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around the country.… It all happened because one high-school student got involved."

Jill Hoffman, a high-school senior in the audience who was helping to film the event, says, "I remember thinking, I really, really like what he has to say." But what Seelye and Connolly zeroed in on was Gore yet again claiming credit for something he didn't do—"discovering" Love Canal (which was, in fact, discovered by the people who lived there). In addition to mischaracterizing his somewhat ambiguous statement, they misquoted him, claiming he said, "I was the one that started it all," instead of "that was the one that started it all." The next day, Seelye offered a friendlier account of Gore's visit to the school. Connolly repeated the misquote. In an article titled "First 'Love Story,' Now Love Canal," she wrote:

The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie "Love Story" and to have invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site when he said at a high school forum Tuesday in New Hampshire: "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal." Gore went on to brag about holding the "first hearing on that issue" and said "I was the one that started it all."

The story picked up steam. "I was the one that started it all" became a quote featured in U.S. News & World Report and was repeated on the chat shows. On ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos said, "Gore, again, revealed his Pinocchio problem. Says he was the model for Love Story, created the Internet. And this time he sort of discovered Love Canal." On two consecutive nights of Hardball, Chris Matthews brought up this same trio as examples of Gore's "delusionary" thinking. "What is it, the Zelig guy who keeps saying, 'I was the main character in Love Story. I invented the Internet. I invented Love Canal.…' It reminds me of Snoopy thinking he's the Red Baron." "It became part of the vocabulary," Matthews says today. "I don't think it had a thunderous impact on the voters." He concedes, however, that such stories were repeated too many times in the media.

Seelye would later write a story with John Broder under the headline questions of veracity have long dogged gore and provided "familiar and fairly trivial examples," including his "taking credit for inventing the Internet or being the model for … Love Story." Asked today why those discredited allegations of misstatements were included, Seelye says, "Probably because they were ones that everyone had heard of. We did write that they were 'trivial,' but if that was the case, we should have left them out or debunked them."

Perhaps reporting in this vein was just too gratifying to the press for it to stop. As Time magazine's Margaret Carlson admitted to Don Imus at the time, "You can actually disprove some of what Bush is saying if you really get into the weeds and get out your calculator, or look at his record in Texas. But it's really easy, and it's fun to disprove Al Gore. As sport, and as our enterprise, Gore coming up with another whopper is greatly entertaining to us."

A study conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 76 percent of stories about Gore in early 2000 focused on either the theme of his alleged lying or that he was marred by scandal, while the most common theme about Bush was that he was "a different kind of Republican."

At the time, the only people seeming to notice the media's missteps were journalists at the fringes or out of the mainstream, including Somerby of the Daily Howler, Robert Parry on, and Eric Boehlert on Salon, as well as mere citizens who had no outlet but the telephone. These last included the Concord High students, who were trying to correct the record on Love Canal. The footage was reviewed by a teacher, Joanne McGlynn, the day after the initial Love Canal stories ran. McGlynn spotted the discrepancy between Gore's actual words and what was being reported, and phoned the relevant news outlets to alert them. The Times and the Post printed the correction … about a week later. But by that time the story had been echoed widely and was accepted as fact.

Connolly contends that the misquote "did not dramatically change the point he was trying to make" and that "the Love Canal reference was near the end of a story that ran deep inside the paper." (Page A-10.)

At least one reporter who either made or repeated the misquote was not thrilled to have been corrected by high-school students and their teacher. Sometime after the Love Canal stories came out, Hoffman, the high-school senior, went to see Gore speak again at an event in New Hampshire. There she was introduced to one of the reporters who'd gotten it wrong. The reporter, Hoffman said, made it clear her help in fixing the misquote was not appreciated, and said that the article was written very fast, while riding in a van. "It's amazing what one word can do to a person's integrity," says Hoffman today.

Gore responded to episodes like these by distancing himself from the beat reporters, which puzzled them. "Some of these reporters would write ruthlessly unfair pieces about him and then come complain to me in private, 'Gore could've been friendlier to me at that cocktail party,'" recalls Gore speechwriter Eli Attie. To this day, Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz, who spent time traveling with both candidates, wonders why Gore remained "secluded in the front cabin [of the plane]" and didn't engage in chitchat. "Everything is fair game in a presidential campaign," says Kurtz, "and part of the test of any candidate is how he deals with an often skeptical press corps.… The press sets up a series of obstacle courses … and if you are Al Gore and considered to be super-smart, yet not particularly gregarious, it's the moments of awkwardness or misstatements that are going to get media attention. If Gore had had a lighter touch, he probably could have overcome that."

Running the Gauntlet

One obstacle course the press set up was which candidate would lure voters to have a beer with them at the local bar. "Journalists made it seem like that was a legitimate way of choosing a president," says Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter. "They also wrongly presumed, based on nothing, that somehow Bush was more likable." Chris Matthews contends that "the likability issue was something decided by the viewers of the debates, not by the commentators," but adds, "The last six years have been a powerful bit of evidence that we have to judge candidates for president on their preparation for the office with the same relish that we assess their personalities."

Maureen Dowd boiled the choice between Gore and Bush down to that between the "pious smarty-pants" and the "amiable idler," and made it perfectly clear which of the presidential candidates had a better chance of getting a date. "Al Gore is desperate to get chicks," she said in her column. "Married chicks. Single chicks. Old chicks. Young chicks. If he doesn't stop turning off women, he'll never be president."

"I bet he is in a room somewhere right now playing Barry White CDs and struggling to get mellow," she wrote in another.

Meanwhile, though Dowd certainly questioned Bush's intellect in some columns, she seemed to be charmed by him—one of the "bad boys," "rascals," and a "rapscallion." She shared with the world a charged moment between them. "'You're so much more mature now,' I remarked to the Texas Governor. 'So are you,' he replied saucily." And in another column: "You don't often get to see a Presidential candidate bloom right before your eyes."

As the Daily Howler noted, MSNBC anchor Brian Williams went after Gore's clothes at least five times in one week. "Here is a guy taking off his suits.… This is the casual sweater look—what's going on here?" … "He would have been in a suit a month ago." … "He's wearing these polo shirts that don't always look natural on him." Williams's frequent guest Newsweek's Howard Fineman later chimed in: "I covered his last presidential campaign, in 1988. One day he was in the conservative blue suit, the next he was playing lumberjack at the V.F.W. hall in New Hampshire."

Maureen Dowd's June 16, 1999, New York Times column.
And Gore just kept going on about issues. Alluding to five speeches he made in two months on education, crime, the economy, faith-based organizations, and cancer research, Seelye wrote, "Mr. Gore becomes almost indignant when asked if his avalanche of positions might overwhelm voters." The Washington Post's David Broder later found Gore too focused in his convention speech on what he'd do as president. "But, my, how he went on about what he wants to do as president," wrote Broder. "I almost nodded off." As for the environment, while Gore was persuaded by his consultants not to talk about it as much as he would have liked, whenever he did, many in the media ignored it or treated it as comedy. Dowd wrote in one column that "Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he's practically lactating." In another, referring to his consideration of putting a Webcam in the Oval Office, she wrote, "I have zero desire to see President Gore round the clock, putting comely interns to sleep with charts and lectures on gaseous reduction."

The trivial continued to dominate during the postmortem following Gore and Bush's first debate, on October 3, 2000. The television media were sure Gore won—at first. But then Republican operatives promptly spliced together a reel of Gore sighing, which was then sent to right-wing radio outlets. Eighteen hours later, the pundits could talk of little else. "They could hear you audibly sighing or sounding exasperated as Governor Bush was answering questions," Katie Couric scolded him the next day on the Today show. "Do you think that's presidential behavior?" For the Times's Frank Bruni, the sighs weren't as galling as Gore's familiarity with the names of foreign leaders. "It was not enough for Vice President Al Gore to venture a crisp pronunciation of Milosevic, as in Slobodan," he wrote. "Mr. Gore had to go a step further, volunteering the name of Mr. Milosevic's challenger Vojislav Kostunica."

As Jonathan Alter points out, "Overall, the press was harder on Gore than it was on Bush.… The consequences of [that] in such a close election were terrifying."

Gore couldn't believe his eyes when he read distortions about him printed in the country's most respected newspapers, say those in his inner circle. "It stung to have the political media, the elite political media, buy into this crap," says Roy Neel, his close friend and adviser of 30 years, about the press coverage. "But I don't recall him ever blaming the media for the problems he was having."

Indeed, Gore accepts responsibility for not being able to communicate more clearly with the public. He admits, however, that the tendency of the press to twist his words encumbered his ability to speak freely. "I tried not to let it [affect my behavior]," Gore says. "But if you know that day after day the filter is going to be so distorted, inevitably that has an impact on the kinds of messages that you try and force through the filter. Anything that involves subtlety or involves trusting the reporters in their good sense and sense of fairness in interpretation, you're just not going to take a risk with something that could be easily distorted and used against you.… You're reduced to saying, 'Today, here's the message: reduce pollution,' and not necessarily by XYZ out of fear that it will be, well, 'Today he talked about belching cows!'"

According to Gore, bringing up the Internet again in public was like stepping on a verbal land mine. "If I had tried in the wake of that to put expressions about the Internet in campaign speeches, it would have been difficult," he says. "I did, of course, from time to time. But I remember many occasions where I would say something about the Internet, and as soon as the word 'Internet' came from my lips, the press would be snickering and relishing the mention. Not everybody in the press, but the Zeitgeist was polluted, and it never dissipated, because the stream of pollution coming into it was constant, constant."

The notion that he was prickly or unpleasant to reporters doesn't jibe with what Tipper witnessed. From her viewpoint, he remained gracious with the reporters—even at an event during the campaign, when Maureen Dowd sidled up in the middle of a conversation he was having with two other reporters. "He stood up and got her a chair and said, 'Please, join us.'" After Dowd had written about him "lactating," he agreed to an interview with her, answering questions about his favorite this, his favorite that. According to his staffers, she was a fact of life that would have to be endured.

The Gores, a famously close-knit family, could laugh at the coverage some. They joked around at the nonstop talk about which president you'd want to have a beer with. The Gore's middle daughter, Kristin, pointed out, "Gee, I want the designated driver as my president." But down deep they weren't laughing. "The sighs, the sighs, the sighs," says Gore, of the debate coverage. "Within 18 hours, they had turned perception around to where the entire story was about me sighing. And that's scary. That's scary."

The Comeback

After the election the Gores, heartbroken, traveled in Europe for two months. "We were roadkill," admits Tipper. "It took a long time to pick ourselves up from what happened." Gore grew a beard while he was there. After he stepped back onto U.S. soil, the press began knocking him around again for his latest "re-invention." Ceci Connolly, who had become a contributor on Fox News in 2000, said, "Looks like he's ready to go, but go where? Back to Europe with his backpack?" Later, in the Los Angeles Times, Jack Germond wrote, "He should have shed the beard before coming back. Instead, he continues to wear it in what is being interpreted as a signal of another 'new' Gore."

Over the course of Bush's early months in office, the Gores watched in profound disappointment as Bush rolled back many important environmental regulations of the Clinton-Gore years. But, as Karenna says, "my father set the tone for our whole family in not dwelling. The way he publicly put his weight behind George Bush in the beginning, did not fan the flames, did not cause division—and there was every opportunity to do that—sent a very strong message to all of us to not be dragged down into anger and sadness about it but just to try to make the best of it." After September 11, Gore stood by Bush, saying, "George Bush is my commander in chief."

By September 2002, the country was on the march to war. Against the advice of some confidants, who suggested he might turn out to be on the wrong side of history, Gore spoke out against the invasion—fervently. On September 23, 2002, he articulated all the dangers that have now come to pass. The Washington Post's Michael Kelly wrote about the speech, "It was wretched. It was vile. It was contemptible." (Kelly was killed on April 3, 2003, in Iraq when his Humvee crashed while trying to evade enemy fire.) Fineman didn't hold back in describing how the "Beltway/Broadway clan" now regarded Gore: "as an annoying and ungracious bore who should have the decency to get lost."

In order to diversify and open up the messages coming out of the news media, Gore helped launch Current TV, an alternative channel that features viewer-generated content, thereby providing a dialogue with the medium. He also taught journalism, began working with Apple, and co-founded a business called Generation Investment Management. And, with the encouragement of Tipper, he dusted off the global-warming slide show in the attic of their Arlington, Virginia, home, the one that he had been delivering for 25 years to audiences as small as 10 and as large as 10,000. The first time he showed it, at Middle Tennessee State University, the slides were in backward and upside down. It would be turned into An Inconvenient Truth, win an Oscar, and help wake up the world to a global crisis.

Over the years since 2000, some journalists have attempted to reach out to the Gores. At a pro-choice event a few years ago, Time's Karen Tumulty gave Tipper her card and asked her if she would ever want to talk. "When I saw her that night, she looked as though a gigantic weight had been lifted," recalls Tumulty, who'd recently seen the couple agonizing over Gore's political future. At the East Coast premiere of An Inconvenient Truth, the Gores bumped into Fineman, who recalls, "I said to [Gore], on a personal level, I want you to know that I admire you for the way you have stayed in the game and taken the mess of a few years ago and turned it around and become such a leader in this debate." At the time, Tipper just said thanks and moved on, thinking to herself, Too little, too late, buddy. In retrospect, she appreciates the gesture.

Katharine Seelye, who still writes about national politics for The New York Times, has had time to reflect on her work: "I'm sure there were times my phrasing could have been better—you're doing this on the fly. Sometimes you're just looking for a different way to describe something that you have to write about over and over again," she says. "But I think overall my coverage was tough-minded. A presidential campaign is for the most important, hardest job in the world. Shouldn't the coverage be tough?" Connolly, still a staff writer at the Post but on a leave of absence, maintains that "the Washington Post political team, myself and a dozen other journalists, approached the Gore campaign no differently than any other—with aggressive, thorough, objective reporting."

As for Dowd, a Democratic operative recalls running into her and having an argument with her about her columns on the 2000 debates, in which, he felt, she devoted as much attention to Gore's sighing as she did to Bush's not knowing that Social Security was a federal program. "I basically said, 'How could you equate the two?'" he recalls. "'How could Gore's personal tics deserve as many column inches as the other guy being an idiot?' And her defense was 'Well, I voted for Gore.' I thought, Well, that's great. But hundreds of thousands of people who read your column probably didn't." (A source close to Dowd says that she does not write a partisan column, keeps her votes private, and certainly would not have disclosed that information to a political aide.)

Thanks to his newfound status, speculation about Gore's entering the presidential race has refused to die down. Alas, he's not going to announce his candidacy in the last paragraphs of a Vanity Fair article. "Modern politics seems to require and reward some capacities that I don't think I have in abundance," says Gore, "such as a tolerance for … spin rather than an honest discussion of substance.… Apparently, it comes easily for some people, but not for me."

Tipper says he has made zero moves that would suggest a run for the presidency, but adds that if he turned to her one night and said he had to run, she'd get on board, and they'd discuss how to approach it this time around, given what they've learned.

The reporters and opinion-makers have eagerly chewed over the possibility. After all, he's now a star. In step with the new enthusiasm for Gore, Dowd, in a February 2007 column, described him as "a man who was prescient on climate change, the Internet, terrorism, and Iraq," a sentiment echoed by many. The pundits, however, invariably come around to the same question: "But if he ran, would he revert to the 'old Gore'?" Another question—in light of countless recent stories about John Edwards's haircut—might be: Would the media revert to the old media?

Evgenia Peretz is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.