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The [Friday] Papers

The moment when former CIA analyst Ray McGovern questioned defense secretary Don Rumsfeld after a speech in Atlanta yesterday was a remarkable one.

I saw it on one of the cable news networks and felt like I was watching history; that this exchange would go down in the books as one of those crystallizing events marking some watershed of a botched war and a historically failed presidency, re-broadcast for the ages perhaps alongside President Bush declaring "Mission Accomplished" and implying in a State of the Union address that Iraqi agents were traversing Africa in search of yellowcake they would soon transform into nuclear weapons that would threaten America.

It also felt like a succinctly culminating moment for the embattled Rumsfeld that could finally cost him his job, a low point for the administration that even the stubborn Bush would not be able to ignore.

Indeed, McGovern's exchange with Rumsfeld electrified the Web and became the topic du jour on the cable networks, not normally an arbiter I would turn to for validation of my own news judgements but one that seemed to have it right in this case.

After all, McGovern had done what the White House press corps had not: He caught Rumsfeld dead to rights.

And how did he do it? He merely read back to Rumsfeld his own words about how he knew where the weapons of mass destruction were, not to mention the connection he spoke of between Al-Qaeda and Iraq. Now that we know those statements to be wrong, McGovern asked Rumsfeld if he lied or if he had simply been misled.

The exchange became historic when Rumsfeld then denied ever claiming he knew where the WMDs were. It wasn't hard for news organizations to dig out the transcripts that proved citizen McGovern right and the defense secretary wrong.

Any shred of credibility Rumsfeld may have had when he woke up yesterday morning vanished in that instant.

The blogosphere buzzed. The cable news networks yakked. The press yawned.

If you get your news from the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times (or even The New York Times), you might not be aware of what exactly happened in Atlanta yesterday.

The Tribune played the story on page seven, under the headline "Rumsfeld Heckled, Grilled On Iraq Intelligence At Speech." The accompanying photo was that of heckler Gloria Tatum, so you may have dismissed the piece, which came from the Los Angeles Times.

The Sun-Times put an Associated Press story about the matter on page 39, also with a photo of Tatum, and without the key exchange between Rumsfeld and McGovern.

It's not just Chicago's editors who are missing the boat.

My edition of The New York Times didn't have the story at all.

The Washington Post also carried a dispatch from AP's reporter on the scene, one that ignored the central exchange, and lightly focused on disruptions to Rumsfeld's speech being somewhat typical of what administration officials are now facing. It was on page 20.

Perhaps the press figures we already know that Rumsfeld's statements were wrong. But isn't it news when he's not only confronted with them, but denies making them? And isn't it news when the questioning comes not only from a citizen but a 27-year CIA veteran who used to give the first President Bush his morning briefings?

This isn't the beginning of the end for Rumsfeld, it's the end. He's done, whether figuratively or literally.

And the press missed it.

Decide for yourself. See CNN video here; see MSNBC video here.

A transcipt in part can be found here.

Front Page Follies
The Tribune did find room on its front page, though, for stories about how Esquire magazine has named Kentucky the "most stylish state in the Union" and latest installment of "Teens At The Wheel" - pulled from the good ol' standby "Today's Wayward Youth" file - which details with sorrow the obstacles that took down a draconian piece of driving legislation in Iowa.

Over at The Bright One, the Sun-Times's lead story is the stunning development that the city's inspector general has set up a hotline and Website for tips of wrongdoing. (The paper also produced an editorial on the hotline: They're in favor of it!)

Map Madness
So now comes Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly pointing out that "on every question that had been asked previously, today's kids did better than those of 1988 and 2002" on that geography test that has the media a-flutter.

Don't expect the Tribune and Sun-Times to amend their knee-jerk editorials railing against stupid kids, though. Accountability is for everyone else, not editorial boards.

Pay Pals
It's not clear from press reports whether state lawmakers are poised to get 13 percent raises or not. What's worse is that the reporting on this is buried in budget stories instead of broken out - and ridden hard - in their own stories.

The Tribune, in two paragraphs near the end its report, says the pay raise is dead. Sorta.

The Sun-Times did a little better, hinting that a manuever was in the works that could trigger the raise.

Carol Marin's political panel on Chicago Tonight last night also indicated that chicanery could be in the offing. This quote in the Sun-Times from senate president Emil Jones doesn't inspire confidence.

"I believe lawmakers are not second-class citizens," Jones said, "and I believe that they deserve raises."

Apaprently Jones believes that lawmakers are first-class citizens, and the rest of us are in that second class.

If there is a class that doesn't deserve a raise, though, surely it's the political class. What have you done for us lately, Mr. Jones, except pass another sham budget that papers over the state's fiscal reality?

Stroger Shift
As long indicated by The Beachwood Reporter's political oddsmakers, Todd Stroger is making his move to replace his father as Cook County board chairman.

"If I haven't paid my dues, then nobody has paid dues," Todd Stroger says in the Sun-Times.

Except maybe somebody who actually stood for election.

In a just world, Stroger's lack of self-awareness and obviously unmoored ethical compass would eliminate him from consideration.

But in Cook County, the odds are still on his side, despite the unsavvy nature of his power grab.

Steinberg's Due
Speaking of lack of self-awareness, Neil Steinberg blames voters for the possibility of a Todd Stroger-led county board without even hinting that it was his column questioning whether John Stroger really had a stroke and equating it with dirty picnic areas in the forest preserves that galvanized Stroger voters.

Steinberg then had the gall to issue a faux apology, further patronizing African-Americans just a short time after he also called congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. stupid.

But Steinberg has a skewed sense of journalism. For example, today he extolls retiring society columnist Mary Cameron Frey because "she has money and didn't just report on society - she belonged to it." He marvels at how she "knew who was important and who should stop putting on airs and slink undocumented back to the buffet table," and how she had "the sort of larger-than-life personality rarely produced at journalism schools."

I see Steinberg's point: Journalism needs more rich reporters who belong to "society" and know who's important and who isn't instead of those reality-sized personalities that come out of journalism schools.

Pallmeyer Punts
So Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer will question Evelyn Ezell, but not Sonja Chambers. I know how tired I am of the ongoing travails of the George Ryan jury, so I can imagine how Pallmeyer must feel.

But does she have to be so grudging about getting to the bottom of this jury's mess? After all, justice for two men is at stake.

Pallmeyer says of her decision not to question Chambers, "I simply don't believe anyone's divorce case makes any difference in whether they can be fair."

That's not the point, and she has to know it. It wasn't just Chambers's failure to disclose a divorce as a previous court proceeding she had been involved in. That would have been perfectly understandable. But Chambers's divorce was a bitterly fought court battle that included orders of protection. She also failed to disclose a civil lawsuit involving a furniture company. Add to that her apparent blabbing about the trial with a coffee stand operator and her apparent dishonesty about it when questioned by Pallmeyer and it's not hard to infer that maybe she wanted to be on this jury real bad. And that would be a problem.

Higgins Hacks
Jack Higgins's editorial cartoon today in the Sun-Times is almost as offensive as radio host Don Wade's recent comments about "wetbacks."

And while Wade was wrong on the rhetoric, Higgins is wrong on the facts. He depicts a Mexican waiter in a Mexican restaurant shouting "I want legal status now! I want full citizenship now! I want the national anthem en espanol now!"

The father of a white family looking at a menu says, "Swell . . . And is there anything else you want to order?"

As far as I can tell, nobody is demanding "legal status," whatever that is, or "full citizenship," now. The congressional legislation supported by pro-immigration activists would put "illegals" through a series of requirements to earn citizenship in something like 10 years.

Meanwhile, I think the waiter in the cartoon ought to have some legal status, given that he is working an actual job for an actual legal American business.

And I'd like Higgins to name one person who is demanding a Spanish-language national anthem, rather than enjoying just the latest pride-filled version of a song that has been - and should be - sung in a variety of ways.

I wonder if Higgins will be lunching with Steinberg today to get advice on crafting an apology in light of a possible boycott threat.

In Today's Reporter
Has anyone written more eloquently about Bob Dylan's new satellite radio show than our very own Don Jacobson?

Has anyone written more elegantly about the death of the Hostess Pie Magician than our very own Marty Gangler?

Has anyone better tracked the latest crap to come out of the mouth of Ozzie Guillen than the Beachwood Sports Affairs Desk?

I didn't think so.

And don't forget to watch tomorrow for our crack Weekend Desk Report, starring Natasha Julius.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Demanding legal status now.


Posted on May 5, 2006

MUSIC - Spring Awakening Wake-Up Call!
TV - Goodbye, Apu.
POLITICS - The Political Odds.
SPORTS - SportsMonday: Catching Bears Fever.

BOOKS - Gov. Ed Coles.


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