Thursday, May 31, 2007

Crazy like a Fox. Not.

I'm not kidding myself: the debates have been less than riveting and sometimes even demeaning. During them the next commander-in-chief has participated in awkward "pick me! pick me!" moments and after them sore losers have felt a compelling need to revise and extend comments that had been limited to 30-second bites -- or just an auction-house twitch.

Only today, nearly a month after he joined fellow Republican debaters at the Reagan Library who "do not believe" in evolution, Sam Brownback takes to the op-ed page of the New York Times to explain himself. "As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands," he writes.

Why Bother? Because Nixon went to China

So, the debates are not conducive to thoughtful discussion, they favor the well-rehearsed "impromptu" put-down (think Rudy expressing shock, shock, at Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee vs Congress via John Edwards) and the best arguments tend to come from
There will be incendiary questions. Some will be unfair. Democrats can expect many "When did you stop beating your wife (or husband, Hillary)" questions. Tough.
the least likely to get the nomination (think Mike Gravel, Paul and Dennis Kucinich).

So why bother with these things, 500 days out? Because they are there. Because turning down a debate-fest invitation for any reason other than a death in the family looks bad. Because Nixon went to China. That's why it makes no sense for Democrats to avoid a debate because it is on Fox, for whatever reason.

Parse it any way you want: not showing up appears weak, not principled -- "Who's Afraid of Fox News?" the Washington Times asks. So far that seems to be top-tier candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and, as of today, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson. Secretary of State candidate Joe Biden, and foils Gravel and Kucinich have RSVP'd "yes," assuming the debate takes place.

Taking on Fox

Part of this stems from a campaign by some liberal groups to ostracize Fox, whom they do not regard as (ahem)"Fair and Balanced." puts it this way:

This is not about Democrats being afraid to go on Fox, or about whether Fox is free to air their right-wing views. It's about whether Democrats will help Fox lie about who they are -- putting them on a national stage as a "fair and balanced" debate moderator.
My goodness. This is the sort of petulance each of these candidates would waste no time criticizing in the man they want to replace. Come to think of it, they have: by supporting talks with Iran and Syria in the context of the Iraq Study Group's report they have endorsed the concept of talking to your enemies to accomplish a worthy end without fretting about legitimizing them or treating talks as a reward.

Is it even the business of a candidate to consider appearing on a US television network is in the context of a political spat? What happens next year when Fox gets to host a debate between the Republican and Democratic nominee?

Incendiary, Unfair Questions? Tough

There will be incendiary questions from Chris Wallace & Co. Some will be unfair. Republicans who debated courtesy of Fox were baited to within an inch of their conservative lives. So the Democrats can expect many "When did you stop beating your wife (or husband, Hillary)" questions.

Tough. If you can't take on Wallace I don't want you looking into Putin's eye. Perhaps they can all take solace from the fact that Bill Clinton got sandbagged by Wallace last year one-on-one (Part I and Part II) and did just fine.

And anyway, there will be plenty of do overs. Even if, like Brownback, it takes a month to come up with something like this:

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.
Got it now?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Who's to Blame When A Newsroom is Decimated?

UC Berkely journalism professor Neil Henry opines in the San Francisco Chronicle about the Chron's decision to cut 100 newsroom jobs and suggests that Google and Yahoo should do something to subsidize journalism since they benefit so greatly from it:
"It stands to reason that Google and corporations like it, who indirectly benefit so enormously from the expensive labor of journalists, should begin to take on greater civic responsibility for journalism's plight. Is it possible for Google to somehow engage and support the traditional news industry and important local newspapers more fully, for example, to become a vital part of possible solutions to this crisis instead of a part of the problem?

"Is it not possible for Google and other information corporations to offer more direct support to schools of journalism to help ensure that this craft's values and skills are passed on to the next generation?

"Is it not possible for these flourishing corporations to assist and identify more closely with the work of venerable organizations, such as the Society of Professional Journalists, in support of their mission and to preserve this important calling?"
I am worried about what may happen to journalism if its custodians fail, and I will take no consolation if it is their own damn fault. I lose either way.

Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine takes an opposing view, arguing that Google doesn't really make much money off news and that Yahoo! pays for content and that both drive traffic to originating sites. "Google is far and away the most productive means of sending audience to news sites," he says. (
I don't know if it is still the case but in the early days it was an open secret that some content owner paid Yahoo! for the right to be on their site. How things have changed. But I digress).

Entrepreneurial Thinking in the Newsroom

It's true that Craigslist is dining out on a diverted revenue stream from newspapers but generally I don't think revenue is leaving newspapers and finding its way to Yahoo! and Google. It is more liekly that because the rules are changing there is less money to be made -- perhaps part of the price for setting information free -- and that newspapers think they must, for the time being anyway, support a top-heavy mortar-and-bricks newspaper infrastructure which their digital businesses are unable to sustain.

And that's what makes the problem somewhat intractable. It requires entrepreneurial thinking in the newsroom and even more so media corporate suites, places which are not synonymous with agility and adaptability. Even so, there are no guarantees: for all the griping that newspapers aren't being clever enough nobody has a bullet-proof business plan that travels anywhere and scales. So maybe there is a model that will enable the transition of media companies who happen to own newspapers, and maybe there isn’t. Maybe we are witnessing the early days of extinction for newspapers as we know them, to be replaced by something which serves the public better.

Or not nearly as well. I'm struck by the similarity of the death of small-town Main Street businesses at the hands of Big Box stores. The loss of Annie's Dress Shoppe is lamented but the charge is taken up -- suitably replaced -- by Abercrombie and Hollister. Is it the same when The SmallTown Gazette goes under? I believe in evolution and the market even in the news business but there is something more at stake worth fretting over as nature takes it course: the new publishers of record create no content and have no journalistic tradition. Isn’t this extraordinary and historical?

Revolutionary Bifurcation

I don’t blame Google or Yahoo for being successful or excuse newspapers that aren’t monetizing their inherent and inherited monopoly on local. But when journalists — and I do think that still means something special — are hurting and aggregating publishers regard journalism as just another widget it’s clear that something is going to have to give. It is this bifurcation that is revolutionary and I think journalists and newspapers and anyone who depends on a free and flourishing press has to come to grips with it.

It is more than a little amusing that there is any "tsk tsk" about the impact on journalism with a Thomson-Reuters combination or a Murdochian takeover of DJ but what seems like reflexive neutrality bordering on an invitation of anarchy about what is going on in the business long term. What happens when there isn’t the structure to do enterprise? When institutional knowledge dies? When the public thinks my take on the Supreme Court is as insightful as Linda Greenhouse’s? When there isn’t anything unique to link to?

I think it is possible to take a macro view of this without taking the bait or when lawsuits are threatened. I am worried about what may happen to journalism if its custodians fail, and I will take no consolation if it is their own damn fault. I lose either way.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Iraq Two-Step

I'm getting more confused every day about what a way out of Iraq will look like. Is it any wonder?

The president continues to say it is a vital national interest to engage Al-Queda in the chosen land of Iraq. We'll leave if Iraq asks us to, consequences notwithstanding. That's called respecting a sovereign state. We won't leave if Congress asks us to, consequences notwithstanding. That's called surrender.

The administration is pinning its current hopes on the success of what it calls a "surge." This allegedly temporary increase in troop strength and activity is supposed to stabilize Baghdad enough to give the political processes a chance to work.

The argument against a timetable is that it gives the enemy a date certain around which to plan. And the enemy wins either way: by increasing their activity now, they give ammunition to those who would call the "surge" a failure, and by retreating to fight again when the "surge" is over they create the chaos what remains of US Iraqi military strategy is meant to quell. The taunts of al-Quada can be turned on and off at will even if Shiite/Sunni fighting can't.

But the administration also speaks obliquely of the consequences of Iraq's failure to meet benchmarks by saying the patience of the US public isn't infinite. And it is reported that the White House is evaluating "concepts" for reducing troop strength by 50% next year.

So we will pick an arbitrary day to leave if we're asked to. Or if Iraq doesn't step up. Or next year.

Showing Love to Baker/Hamilton

The message of not supporting the troops would have sounded the loudest with every death in the battlefield and with a remarkably sympathetic Robert Gates scrambling to cover his position by not paying the Pentagon lighting bill.

Perhaps the biggest double-take inducing concept: the Bush White House gave lip service to the Iraq Study Group's report when it was first published and now the president jokes that he doesn't have so much a "Plan B" as a "plan BH (Baker/Hamilton).

The president doesn't say much anymore that this is a different kind of war, but it is. There is no way to estimate enemy troop strength, no way to define the enemy in a way that is commonly agreed, no way to stop reinforcement by so-called foreign fighters (foreign to what, exactly?), no way to prevent covert intervention by other nation states (though the Middle Eastern equivalent of bombing Laos and Cambodia may come true), no way to keep score by killing and capturing asymmetric enemy forces, no way to keep score by capturing and holding territory.

Fighting With a Systemic Handicap

There isn't even a way to engage the enemy without creating lots of collateral damage among the innocents who outnumber and out-concentrate both fighting forces combined. I was in the first class of "Media Boot Camp," the pre-war Pentagon initiative to prep potential embeds. One of the things we were shown was an urban warfare fighting scenario in which marines were trained to take on snipers in a city setting. We observed this exercise for only an hour or so -- it was done with paintballs -- but the trainees never "won," the snipers always did. Now, if they could have just blown up the buildings ...

It seems like the outcome in Iraq will be inevitably bad without an enormous policing force. It seems that peace -- or at least stability -- will come only when one side suppresses the other. Given that losing the peace is worse than losing the war is it any wonder that so much posturing is going on now among US politicians trying to avoid the blame that will come from a fickle American electorate when the music stops?

Given this backdrop I find it difficult to brand the Democratic-led Congress cowardly for not playing chicken longer on the issue of a timeline. Though skewered by the "out of Iraq now" wing of the party and the Bill Mahers and John Stewarts of the world it seemed there was no way to force Bush's hand, he with nothing to lose by continuing to imperil those he has put in harm's way.

Yes, the Democrats were voted in to bring this to an end. But if you calculate only that way, they were not voted in with numbers of sufficient force to meet the immovable object that is President Bush. What is the takeaway from getting just enough votes to run committees but not nearly enough to override vetos?

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

On the "hell or high water" course many urge on the Democrats it seems clear to me that the message of not supporting the troops would have been the one that sounded the loudest with every death in the battlefield and with a remarkably sympathetic Robert Gates scrambling to cover his position by not paying the Pentagon lighting bill. I can just hear the refrain of "We voted to bring the war to an end -- but not this way" touted on weekly polls.

Sometimes progress require a one step forward, two steps back approach. The cause hasn't been abandoned. There will be other votes and more time to enlist needed Republicans as the grim news gets grimmer and the election approaches.

Perhaps one thing the Democrats know that the Bushies never will: victory sometimes requires a strategic retreat.

[Note: Photographs of US Marine urban combat training were taken in November 2002 at The Basic School by the author]

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rosie Negotiates, Part II

The reviews of Rosie O'Donnell's on-air fight with Elizabeth Hasselbeck are in, and the winner is: live TV. I wonder if ABC is considering re-opening the negotiations with their soon-to-leave "The View" star?

"The View" is supposed to be a combustible mix but casting is always a crapshoot and contrived friction always rings hollow. Wednesday's terribly personal exchange seemed terribly real and utterly fascinating, on a par with John Stewart's skewering of Tucker Carlson a couple of years ago.

O'Donnell occasionally expresses herself so inartfully that her words do not match what one charitably believes she believes. Her remarks on the collapse of World Trade Tower 7 allowed her critics to argue O'Donnell was suggesting US complicity in the 9/11 attack. This time she
By walking away from her own Emmy-winning talk and an eponymous magazine years ago Rosie has established that she is motivated more by the length of a commitment than the compensation. She's gotta be free. She liked the $10 million, but needed only a year.

equated the deaths of 650,000 Iraqi civilians -- this is worst-case estimate not univerally accepted, but whatever -- with the 9/11 attacks. It was easy to infer that she was making a moral equivalence between the US troops (or at least the administration which sent them there) because the context of the discussion was -- again -- terrorism.

All For One and One For All

So her likely point, that one tragedy spawned another, avoidable tragedy, one was lost again. And lost in the rumble with Hasselbeck -- because O'Donnell hurled the loaded word "coward" -- was that this spat was about comradeship and how friends stand together when one is unfairly attacked. All for one and one for all and all that. Who knows if O'Donnell rates that loyalty from Hasselbeck, but she clearly expected it.

But forget the merits. It doesn't matter what they were talking about, only that they were talking and shouting and attacking and defending and putting on an intelligent extemporaneous show too rarely seen on TV. All this proves that "The View" is one of the few places where real emotion can bubble to the surface on subjects of import. And it also proves that this combination will be very tough to beat. What a great lesson on the last day of sweeps!

Rosie's contract expires at the end of June, and she is said to have walked away from an offer of three years for $6 million, looking for $10 million for one. By walking away from her own Emmy-winning talk and an eponymous magazine years ago she has established that she is motivated more by the length of a commitment than the compensation. She's gotta be free. She liked the $10 million, but needed only a year.

So here's what needs to happen: ABC approaches Rosie, tells her they fired the last guy who spoke to her people, his offer was an insult -- what was he thinking, he didn't clear it with us. What we meant to say was, $6 million for one year.

This could happen. And it should.

Monday, May 21, 2007

James Frey, Redux

The settlement between James Frey and his publisher and readers of "A Million Little Pieces" who sued claiming they were duped into buying what was promoted as a memoir but was in part fiction has received tentative approval by a judge.

I've written at some length before on this saga, so I will just point to the last Planet Abell item on this subject, in which I use what I can recall of elementary school arithmetic to conclude that the $2.3 million deal makes whole a tiny fraction of potential victims (I use this word with some reluctance) and affects a small portion of total revenues.

I remain conflicted on this subject; I still have not read the book but do not intend to return my copy. Frey is a talented writer whose hoax was nowhere near the scale of Clifford Irvings'.

Is a couple of million dollars' penalty enough or not? Is it too much?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Who'da Thought It?

Fascinating tale told by former Undersecretary of Justice James Comey of a Tom Clancy-esque (or Mario Puzo?) drama to renew authority for the then-still-secret domestic wiretap program.

My biggest takeaways:

  • Who knew John Ashcroft could take a principled stand?

  • Is it only irony that Alberto Gonzalez, who tried to end-run authorization, replaced Ashcroft?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Where is the Republican Clinton?

(Disclosure: edited 2/26 for typos)

Something has been bothering me about the field of Republican presidential hopefuls, and it isn't the absence of Fred Thompson or Newt Gingrich.

This is it: Since 2000 (a political eternity) there has been no doubt about an open GOP ticket for '08.
Dick Cheney made clear he was not going to run for president after a presumptive two-term Bush administration, leaving no heir presumptive.

And yet there is no young, vibrant Republican in the mix or even mentioned as a dark horse. No conservative media darling whose candidacy is so audacious, so presumptuous, it just might work.

There is room in the tent -- witness talk of Thompson and Gingrich, who poll better than some announced candidates in some polls, and even whispers of a third-party putsch by Michael Bloomberg and Chuck Hagel.

Of the presumed leaders John McCain is a re-tread and, thanks to his support of the of Bush war strategy, a far cry from the "rebel" he was perceived of as being last time around. Rudy Guiliani may, with his new strategy owning up to independent thinking, burnish his image or crash. Mitt Romney comes the closest to having a fire in the belly and coming from nowhere -- and he has, having abandoned virtually everything he said he stood for as governor of Massachusetts.

But where is the Republican Bill Clinton, who dreamt of being president at such a young age that he got a picture of himself pushing himself forward to shake hands with JFK on the White House lawn. Where is the Republican Barack Obama, catching fire so quickly that his only major flip-flop so far was saying he wasn't interested in being president earlier in the same year he relented.

There are colleges which mint Republicans. There are Young Republican clubs on campuses everywhere. There are think tanks that nurture and give safe haven to Republicans in transition. Until the mid-terms, Republicans had most of the governorships. There is a Federalist Society which during Republican administrations pretty much anoints members of the judiciary; most people who run for president are lawyers.

So, where is the next generation, the next Newt? Why aren't young turks who have been primping and posturing for at least the last eight years now dominating the discussion at this historic -- and predictable -- juncture?

I know the young, charismatic Republican thinkers are out there. I see at one almost every week on Bill Maher.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

CBS Drops Gen. Batiste Because ...

CBS News has canned Gen. John Batiste "due to his participation in an ad criticizing President Bush."

The initial post on the CBS Public Eye quoted Standards and Special Projects Linda Mason as saying that viewers of the ad "might have the feeling everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn’t seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss.”

In an update to the post Mason "expanded" her remarks. “General Batiste took part in a commercial that’s being shown on television to raise money for veterans against the war,” she said. “It isn’t just that he took an advocacy position.”

The ad does not solicit money, but targets moderate Republicans to support Democrat-led Congressional initiatives regarding Iraq war funding and checks. But leave that aside. And also that Mason said that, despite his infraction, CBS may yet turn to Batiste, though not as a paid consultant. What's really confusing is whether it is his opinion or its expression that tips the scales.

Clearly, Batiste is advocating. In an appearance on MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" on the day he was let go Batiste said that the ad was running in the districts of four of the 11 moderate Republicans who met with Bush and top advisers to convey the news that the war was damaging Republican political fortunes. "That speaks volumes," Batiste said, appearing to revel in the notion that the ad may have helped motivated the visit.

But Batiste was a prominent critic of Bush's handling of the war before he was hired as a CBS consultant. He vigorously called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, including in testimony before Congress. The modestly informed viewer already knew he had strong opinions on that subject -- his area of expertise, for goodness' sake, the one he was hired to talk about.

So what's new?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Pasadena by way of Bangalore

Robert Niles, the editor of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism review, has a nifty commentary about a publisher in his hometown of Pasadena who has decided to outsource reporting of city council proceedings to contract hires in -- Bangalore.

As originally reported in Los Angeles Times, the move will allow web publisher James Macpherson of PasadenaNow to pay two reporters less than $20,000, considerably less than if he tried to cover the council from, oh, say, Pasadena.

As easy as it is to scoff and start a office pool about when the first embarrassing gaffe will be published, this looks like an honest attempt to figure out how to cover important local stories that might not otherwise get covered by an enterprising "little guy" publisher.
It's not so much the distance but the credibility of expertise that matters.

But there are real things to worry about. It's not so much the distance but the credibility of expertise that matters. Anyone who has covered a large territory (I covered New England for Reuters in Boston) uses the phone all time time to report "from" places we aren't. If webcasts had been available back when I'm not sure I would have traveled to many or any shareholder's meetings.

Too Far from the Story?

But it is really is difficult to see how the Bangalore reporters can ever understand the story in the way that people in the area do, immersed as the locals are in their surroundings and engaged as they are with their neighbors, local TV, the free paper, etc.

Reuters offshored tons of financial reporting to Bangalore but their stated strategy (besides saving tons of money) was to "free up" people near the stories to do more real reporting (interviews), instead of the rip and storify stuff the Indian unit was meant to do with corporate releases. The commodity work was going to get done either way, but it gets done cheaper (and more of it gets done) with cheaper labor.

Macpherson will edit the stories and shoot his reporters interviews he does to add local flavor to stories they write, so the collaboration and quality control on this small scale bodes well. "When you instant-message someone in Mumbai, it's like looking over her shoulder," he tells the LATimes.

For Macpherson it sounds like outsourcing is the only way to cover this story affordably -- or so he thinks. I wonder if anyone else will enter the space using motivated locals or students in a citizen's (journalism) revolt. Nothing is cheaper than free, after all.

Macpherson's approach will either work or it won't. His readers will decide. If it succeeds he will have created a market someone else may swoop in to do in a different, dare I say, better way.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Reuters Grows Up, Again

Reuters appears to be on the verge of merging with Thomson, a deal that would create a financial news and information powerhouse to rival Bloomberg by reducing the field to two major players. It should also enhance the profile of Reuters editorial, which for all the time I was part of it looked over its shoulder to protect itself not so much from external threats but powerful insiders who questioned its relevance far too often for comfort.

The proposed deal as outlined by Reuters CEO Tom Glocer would be a bit complicated; the companies would tie up as a "Dual Listed Company" with two identical boards, and each would remain separately listed on exchanges. The company would be called "Thomson-Reuters" but the combined news gathering and publication divisions would be called "Reuters." The Trust Principles and the Reuters Founders Share Company, which aim to ensure editorial independence, would be retained.

Glocer said he would become the CEO of the merged companies and David Schlesinger would continue to be global Editor in Chief. Nobody else gets an early vote of confidence: "... other Reuters senior management will have prominent positions
One boldface Reuters name in the mid-90s, answering the persistent "What about Bloomberg?" question during one of those rare meetings with journalists, answered: "Oh, he's just a meglomanic." As if that is a bad thing.
alongside their new colleagues from Thomson," Glocer says.

News Gets The Nod

What's the signal in singling out Schlesinger for life in the hereafter? It can only be that while perhaps not driving the deal Reuters Editorial is an important part of the deal. It is great to learn that Reuters Media will not be spun off, as was often rumored (though who knows how seriously) during the dot com heyday.

Reuters has had a remarkable trajectory. A 156-year-old company that went public only 23 years ago, its full appreciation of the promise of the Internet did not occur overnight. Now above $70, a few short years ago its NASDAQ ADRs were trading for under $10 -- delisting territory -- raising fears (or hopes, as the case might have been) that it could be a takeover target. In those dark days any deal would have almost certainly been done on someone else's terms, perhaps even by a paper-rich new media newcomer eager to buy credibility. The directors of Reuters Founders Share Company were not necessarily averse to selling, though one said at a small lunch I attended in that era that someone like Rupert Murdoch would likely have been rebuffed.

It is more than a little amusing now to recall the smug dismissal of Bloomberg by senior management before Glocer's tenure. One boldface name in the mid-90s, answering the persistent "What about Bloomberg?" question during one of those rare meetings with journalists, answered: "Oh, he's just a meglomanic." As if that is a bad thing, I thought.

Bloomberg? What -- Me Worry?

So through the 90s upstart Bloomberg (formed two years after I joined Reuters) increasingly ate Reuters' lunch in the marketplace while my old company played sleeping giant and pretended to be things it wasn't and couldn't be. And now, only through combining with the only other major player in the field, can it hope to eclipse Bloomberg -- and barely at that. According to Bloomberg:
Reuters would lift Thomson's share of the financial data market to 34 percent from 11 percent, compared with Bloomberg's 33 percent, based on 2006 figures compiled by Inside Market Data.
While this deal is primarily about market share it also says a lot about content being king. On the same day the Thomson-Reuters news broke it was reported that Rupert Murdoch was trying to acquire Dow Jones. We see billionaires fighting over the Los Angeles Times. Fox has already bought MySpace and is now after PhotoBucket. And who can forget the $1.6 billion Google recently paid for YouTube?

Whether old or new media, there is a scramble on to own the content stream. This is a good thing. As I see it a buyers' market will help one of the greatest news-gathering operations in the world breathe a little easier.

Friday, May 4, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different

I'll have to wait for "The Daily Show" to come up with the official count of how many times Ronald Reagan's name was dropped, but other key facts by my personal reckoning:
  • Chris Matthews lost control at about 8:44
  • Three questioners, each with his own schtick (reading from a monitor?), is a distraction
  • It is OK to be against stem cell research (even with Nancy Reagan staring you down in the front row), for congressional intervention in matters like the Schiavo case and to use the need for "victory" in Iraq as the catchall answer to any question about the war -- including a very pointed one about dealing with an endless supply of enemy recruits.
I had never seen Mitt Romney in an extended forum (if you can call 60 seconds long) or on TV doing anything other than defending himself in sound bites, so I can appreciate now what his supporters see in him: a smooth, prepared, articulate candidate of dare-I-say presidential
Why is it that only the fringiest of the candidates -- Ron Paul on the Republican side, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich on the Democratic -- can answer questions directly?
bearing. He was unflappable, missing not a single beat. Get past the fact that he has changed his position on everything of consequence in the last 22 minutes and he will be a force to be reckoned with.

What Will Hold Giuliani Up?

I am starting to agree with those who say Giuliani's balloon cannot possible stay aloft too long. He has become the uninspiring, borderline mumbling chief executive I recall from his many pre-9/11 years in New York. And repeating his line that electing a Democrat puts the U.S. on the defensive means he is wedded to this cheap politician pander.

Sadly, McCain conveys the worst of two worlds: he is looking his age and sounding like a radical in this pack (apart from the war).

Any why is it that only the fringiest of the candidates -- Ron Paul on the Republican side, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich on the Democratic -- can answer questions directly? Is it only because they have nothing to lose?

Rating this as performance art (what else is it at this point) puts Romney on the ascent, at least as a national candidate.

Wither Fred Thompson?

  • Were the answers to questions posed (and posted publicly) by readers better than those that could not be read ahead of time?
  • Whose idea of a good idea was it to have the host of a show called "Hardball" to ask campaigning Republicans if whether it would be a good or bad thing if Bill Clinton lived in the White House again? (I'd like to say yes, but that would mean I lost ...)
  • When Fred Thompson jumps in, is it bad news mostly for Romney, Guiliani or McCain?