"Never argue with a man who buys his ink by the barrel …" is oft-quoted advice first dispensed by Ben Franklin who did, in fact, buy his ink by the barrel.
With that in mind, I would like to take up your valuable time this Friday morning by telling you just how incompetent the Des Moines Register and Iowa Public Television were on Wednesday in putting on what was heavily promoted as the FINAL REPUBLICAN DEBATE BEFORE THE IOWA CAUCUSES on January third.
The Des Moines Register has an extremely talented young reporter in a guy named Tom Beaumont. It also has the most knowledgeable, thoughtful, and insightful political columnist in the state - and maybe in the nation - in David Yepsen.
Yepsen and I have known each other for the better part of three decades. Nobody understands better the ebbs and flows of politics in Iowa - in Presidential cycles and in mid-term cycles - than Yepsen which is why he is every other reporter's go-to-guy. More about him later.
To set the stage, let me quote from the very paper: Rich Galen, a senior adviser to Fred Thompson, nearly got kicked out [of the debate] ... Galen, from all accounts, was not shy about expressing his displeasure that he was expected to check in at the debate site, or that each candidate was limited to eight advisers in the dressing room. Marsha Mills, the Register's campaign coordinator at the debate, said she told Galen she would contact a police officer if there was another incident.
Marsha Mills, in addition to her limited social skills, also has a faulty memory. She never, ever told me she would contact a police officer if there was another incident.
Unless Iowa has a law requiring courtesy to pompous, pretentious, self-important, stiff-necked women there wasn't even a first "incident."
I do believe it is possible that I said to Ms. Mills that the whole affair was "abysmally stupid."
It is also possible that there is a law in Iowa forbidding the use of any form of the word "abysmal."
Thus, an incident might, indeed, have occurred.
At another point I believe she may have asked me if she had mentioned some sub-heading of one of the 3,173 rules which the Register had imposed on the campaigns and (I don't remember this, but one of our folks reported that) I said, "I can't believe I would have suffered through the same conversation with you twice." Or words to a like effect.
The moderator of the affair was an editor (or perhaps THE editor) of the Register.
Whether she unilaterally decided upon the rules (30 second answers, 15 second answers, show-of-hand answers) or whether she was a victim of debate-rules-by-committee, she will go down in political history as the woman Fred Thompson slapped down when he refused to raise his hand in response to a question on global warming, and then refused to answer "yes or no" on that complex issue.
Her make-up made her look like she was one fright-wig shy of appearing on a 1950's Saturday morning children's show and her stern demeanor made her sound like a prison matron in one of those women-in-cages drive-in movies which were so popular during my dating years - also in the 1950's.
The Register reported that I was also overheard in the press room as suggesting that, given the totally unnecessary level of security, "This place makes Guantanamo look like the Borscht Belt."
What the Register did not report was that I also said that the paper had missed a wonderful opportunity by failing to:
"Have the top five candidates sit around a table with David Yepsen leading a grown-up discussion about the issues important to Iowans as surrogates for Republican voters nationwide. It would have been good television, good politics and good democracy."
How do I remember that? Because I liked it so much that I said it (as I am wont to do) about 17 times.
Oh. And the Register allowed Alan Keyes to appear in the debate.
For all of that the Des Moines Register got exactly what it deserved: Scorn and ridicule from just about every one of the many reporters who showed up to cover the debate.
Reporters whose bosses also buy their ink by the barrel