Tuesday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 16, 2004 2:40PM (EST)

Neck and neck
A new New York Times/CBS News poll shows John Kerry and George W. Bush statistically tied in the race for president, with Bush ahead 46 percent to 43 percent. With Ralph Nader in the race, the poll showed Bush's lead outside the margin of error: 46 percent to 38 percent. Perhaps most disturbing for Bush is the statistic that 54 percent now believe the country is moving in the wrong direction, as high as it has been during his presidency.

Most voters say they have already made their decision on the candidates, with 71 percent of voters saying their minds are made up now, although Kerry is less of a known quantity among voters. Forty-one percent said Kerry remains "unknown" to them. Bush has higher unfavorable ratings than Kerry: 39 percent to Kerry's 29 percent.

As for the candidates' strengths and weaknesses: Bush is weak on the economy. Half say Bush is not likely to increase jobs, about the same number who say Kerry will increase jobs. Bush's strength appears to be in the area of national security, with 53 percent confident in his ability to handle an international crisis. A third said they were confident in Kerry's ability to handle an international crisis. Although a majority said both candidates were likely to protect America from another terrorist attack.

Here's something interesting: Despite GOP efforts to depict John Kerry as a "Massachusetts liberal," 39 percent of those polled said Kerry was liberal and 30 percent said he was moderate. Meanwhile, the electorate appears to see Bush as the radical in the race: 53 percent called him conservative while only 26 percent said he was moderate.

The entire poll is here in .pdf format.

Weak on terror
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman pokes holes in this public perception of Bush as strong on national security. "The Bush administration, which baffled the world when it used an attack by Islamic fundamentalists to justify the overthrow of a brutal but secular regime, and which has been utterly ruthless in its political exploitation of 9/11, must be very, very afraid," he writes. "Polls suggest that a reputation for being tough on terror is just about the only remaining political strength George Bush has. Yet this reputation is based on image, not reality. The truth is that Mr. Bush, while eager to invoke 9/11 on behalf of an unrelated war, has shown consistent reluctance to focus on the terrorists who actually attacked America, or their backers in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan."

"This reluctance dates back to Mr. Bush's first months in office. Why, after all, has his inner circle tried so hard to prevent a serious investigation of what happened on 9/11? There has been much speculation about whether officials ignored specific intelligence warnings, but what we know for sure is that the administration disregarded urgent pleas by departing Clinton officials to focus on the threat from Al Qaeda."

"Leaders" flap based on misquote
The political wrestling match over John Kerry's comment last week about leaders who supposedly hope Kerry beats Bush in the fall took a new twist on Monday as the pool reporter who first reported the quote said he got it wrong. The Los Angeles Times gives an update: "The Boston Globe reporter who was covering a Florida fundraiser for Kerry on March 8 wrote in a pool report, which was distributed to the rest of the press corps, that Kerry said he had spoken with 'foreign leaders' who had indicated they want him to beat Bush. But on Monday, the reporter said that, upon review of his tape, he realized that Kerry had in fact said 'more leaders' want him to beat Bush. During the past week, Kerry never disputed that he was talking about foreign leaders when referring to dissatisfaction abroad with Bush. He told reporters Sunday he was talking about 'people around the world' at 'different levels.'"

"But the campaign said Monday that the Globe's clarification demonstrates some ambiguity about what Kerry meant. His reference to 'more leaders,' said Kerry's spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, 'could mean anybody.' The media's repeated references to 'foreign leaders' allowed critics to suggest he was talking about heads of state. 'He was misquoted,' said Cutter. 'Had he not been misquoted, this wouldn't be a story.'"

The Drudge Report published what appears to be the Globe reporter's email to other reporters correcting the record.

'Old Europe' roots for Kerry
As the U.S. political media focuses on Kerry's "leaders" comment as a gaffe, and as administration officials, including Colin Powell, push Kerry to "name names," the state of world opinion about George W. Bush goes largely ignored in press coverage. But Reuters looks at anti-Bush sentiment in places like Germany and France, ridiculed not too long ago as "Old Europe" by Donald Rumsfeld. "John Kerry refuses to reveal the identities of foreign leaders he says are hoping he beats George W. Bush, but the list of admirers may include 'old Europe' leaders alienated by the U.S. president's policies. Even though no European leader has gone on record endorsing Kerry over Bush in the U.S. presidential election, analysts say many Western governments and their citizens are rooting from the sidelines for Kerry with unaccustomed zeal," Reuters writes.

"'You can probably find a lot of top people in governments across Europe very much hoping Kerry will win,' said Peter Loesche, a political scientist at Goettingen University. 'Bush isn't at all liked in Germany or many places in Europe.' German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac, who have openly clashed with Bush over Iraq and felt the wrath from Washington for their opposition, could be among those hoping for a new U.S. government in November. European officials are at pains to avoid interfering in the U.S. campaign, but point to mass demonstrations against Bush policies and polls that show Europeans would prefer the Massachusetts senator over the sitting U.S. president. A survey Monday of German voters published by Focus magazine found that 65 percent want Kerry compared to 11 percent for Bush, five percent for neither and 19 percent undecided."

"It's not an anti-American mood in Germany but there are strong feelings against Bush," said Manfred Guellner, an adviser to Schroeder and head of the Forsa polling institute. "Europeans felt comfortable with (Bill) Clinton. They don't with Bush."

Anatomy of a mis-information campaign
The Iraqi National Congress, the same former Iraqi exile group that gave the Bush administration exaggerated and fabricated intelligence on Iraq, also fed much of that same mis-information to leading newspapers, news agencies and magazines in the United States, Britain and Australia, a Knight-Ridder investigation found. The INC itself monitored the extent to which its faulty information infiltrated the news media. In a June 26, 2002, letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the INC listed 108 articles that used information provided by the INC's Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq.

"The assertions in the articles reinforced President Bush's claims that Saddam Hussein should be ousted because he was in league with Osama bin Laden, was developing nuclear weapons and was hiding biological and chemical weapons. Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress, helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden. In fact, many of the allegations came from the same half-dozen defectors, weren't confirmed by other intelligence and were hotly disputed by intelligence professionals at the CIA, the Defense Department and the State Department. Nevertheless, U.S. officials and others who supported a pre-emptive invasion quoted the allegations in statements and interviews without running afoul of restrictions on classified information or doubts about the defectors' reliability," Knight-Ridder said.

Post-script: Yes, the U.S. government is still paying the INC $340,000 a month for intelligence.

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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