Politics as usual

John McCaslin
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Posted: Mar 25, 2004 12:00 AM

The Democratic National Committee was quick to jump on the Monday morning bandwagon of Richard A. Clarke, a former top terrorism official in the past four administrations who now charges that President Bush ignored his urgent warnings from early 2001 that the U.S. faced imminent terrorist threats from al Qaeda.

Albeit, the DNC acknowledges, "threats that developed over the previous eight years" during the watch of President Clinton.

Still, the Democratic Party has now decided to circulate a petition to congressional leaders - Republicans, mind you - "urging a full investigation into President Bush's national security record before and after the attacks of Sept. 11."

RUTH'S PUBLICIST

First came calls from Democrats in Congress that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was nominated by President Reagan, recuse himself (he refused) from an appeals case involving Vice President Dick Cheney because the two men hunted Louisiana ducks together.

Now, Republicans in Congress are calling on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated by President Clinton, to disqualify herself from abortion-related cases because of her suspected ties to the pro-choice NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.

"We find ... they call into question your ability to judge fairly in cases that the NOW Legal Defense Fund regularly involves itself," 13 members of Congress have written to the associate justice. "It is well known that NOW Legal Defense engages in active lobbying on behalf of pro-abortion activists and regularly submits briefs to the Supreme Court in a variety of cases."

For that matter, the NOW Legal Defense Web site home page highlights Justice Ginsburg's speaking engagements and even pictures her next to the organization's president, Kathy Rodgers.

Federal law requires that a justice or judge "disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."

SPACE-AGE VOTING

Conspiracy theorists will delight in the latest Harper's Index, which calls attention to the percentage of U.S. voters whose 2004 vote will be cast via a computer system producing no paper record: 29.

CONNECT THE DOTS

Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Texas) wasn't "quick enough" to the TV dial Sunday night (March 21) at the conclusion of the NCAA basketball game and "was exposed to a 20-minute infomercial that was passed off as a news interview."

He was referring to the CBS "60 Minutes" interview with Richard A. Clarke, a former top terrorism official in the previous three administrations (he was demoted by President Bush) who says it is outrageous that Bush is running for re-election based on national security.

Now the freshman congressman, until late an obstetrician, is connecting the dots.

"CBS, as we learned during the Super Bowl last year after the half-time show, is owned by Viacom," says Burgess. "The publisher of the Clarke book is owned by Simon and Schuster. Simon and Schuster ... is the publishing operation of Viacom, one of the world's premier media companies."

CBS book promotion aside, the congressman praised Clarke for closing his interview with a comment that "actually should have been first. He said, 'All of us perhaps share some blame for 911, and I am partly to blame.'

"Yes, Mr. Clarke, indeed you are, and those should have been the first words out of your mouth. While you are at it, how about Mogadishu? How about the first World Trade Center bombing? What about our servicemen at the Kobar Towers? What about the two embassy bombings in Iraq? And, Mr. Clarke, what about the Cole?"

BARNEY'S MOM

The silly season in Massachusetts politics is traditionally launched by the banter and blarney of the St. Patrick's Day breakfast for pols and pundits held in South Boston, but Democratic Rep. Barney Frank didn't wait for the green eggs and ham to lambaste his Republican opponent by threatening to unleash his mother on him.

"I don't know if you've ever been smacked by a 91-year-old, but if my mother reads this, he's going to need a bodyguard," Frank told the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Mass., in response to comments by challenger Chuck Morse.

What really got Frank's blood boiling was a quote from a book authored by Morse in which the former conservative talk-show host suggested: "Frank, a self-described homosexual, exhibits the type of aggressive male behavior that is perhaps enhanced by a life without the civilizing influence of a woman."

Reached Tuesday in Massachusetts, Ben Kilgore, spokesman for Morse, told this column: "Things are obviously heating up here to the point that Barney has now threatened us in print with his 91-year-old mother - he's going to sic her on the candidate. If that weren't so funny it would be positively tragic."

Morse has fueled the fire of late by taking the Democratic incumbent a step further from the "most notorious gay rights activist in America" to "the most outspoken proponent of gay marriage in America."

"And to think the election is still seven months away," Kilgore conceded Tuesday.

No matter who the voters support, if the race for Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District is, as Morse claims, "a microcosm of the cultural war zone America has become," it ought to attract plenty of attention this fall. Stay tuned.

PUSHEDTO PLAGIARIZE

Be nice to newspaper columnists. We're under a lot of stress.

"For the past 15 years, the public's perception of the news media has been becoming more negative, causing historic professional stress for journalists," says a new study by the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.

Not that newspaper readers don't have cause to be disgusted with all the recent escapades of fabricating and plagiarizing, the most outrageous offenders being Boston Globe columnist-turned-MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle, promising New York Times reporter Jayson Blair and now Jack Kelley, one-time star correspondent of USA Today.

As for the resulting stress, changes to the journalism code of ethics played a significant part in the negative perception of the fourth estate, says UM journalism professors Bonnie Brennen and Lee Wilkins. The pair analyzed and compared two early codes - the 1923 American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) code and the 1934 American Newspaper Guild (ANG) code - with the 2003 New York Times code of ethics, finding significant shifts in professional thinking.

"The ASNE code set out to maintain the rights and dignity of the profession and tried to establish ethical standards for journalistic conduct," says Brennen. "For example, the ASNE code says that invasions of privacy should be avoided unless the public good warrants such intrusion, and editors are asked to not publish unofficial charges without giving the people the opportunity to defend themselves."

The ANG code, at the same time, insists reporters respect the rights of individuals by writing factual and fair news stories that accurately represent an "unbiased account of the news," and gives scribes little room for exceptions or extenuating conditions.

But when the researchers looked at the New York Times code, they found "striking differences" from the ASNE and ANG codes.

"The (New York) Times code focuses mainly on conflicts of interest, economic health and financial success," says the pair. "Other elements that influence the integrity of the news reports, such as accuracy and tough-minded evaluation of both sources and the information they provide, are not mentioned in the (New York) Times code."