Was It Corruption?

Plenty of accusations have flown against CNN since the YouTube debate on Wednesday, but Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten may have the most serious charge. The LA Times’ media critic levels charges of corruption against the network, claiming that its emphasis on illegal immigration as a lead topic — and the large percentage of the debate’s time it took — intended on bolstering its Lou Dobbs show against tough competition (via Hugh Hewitt):

Corruption is a strong word. But consider these facts: The gimmick behind Wednesday’s debate was that the questions would be selected from those that ordinary Americans submitted to the video sharing Internet website YouTube, which is owned by Google. According to CNN, its staff culled through 5,000 submissions to select the handful that were put to the candidates. That process essentially puts the lie to the vox populi aura the association with YouTube was meant to create. When producers exercise that level of selectivity, the questions — whoever initially formulated and recorded them — actually are theirs.
That’s where things begin to get troubling, because CNN chose to devote the first 35 minutes of this critical debate to a single issue — immigration. Now, if that leaves you scratching your head, it’s probably because you’re included in the 96% of Americans who do not think immigration is the most important issue confronting this country. We’ve got a pretty good fix concerning what’s on the American mind right now, because the nonpartisan and highly reliable Pew Center has been regularly polling people since January on the issues that matter most to them. In fact, the center’s most recent survey was conducted in the days leading up to Wednesday’s debate. …
So, why did CNN make immigration the keystone of this debate? What standard dictated the decision to give that much time to an issue so remote from the majority of voters’ concerns? The answer is that CNN’s most popular news-oriented personality, Lou Dobbs, has made opposition to illegal immigration and free trade the centerpiece of his neonativist/neopopulist platform. In fact, Dobbs led into Wednesday’s debate with a good solid dose of immigrant bashing. His network is in a desperate ratings battle with Fox News and, in a critical prime-time slot, with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. So, what’s good for Dobbs is good for CNN.
In other words, CNN intentionally directed the Republicans’ debate to advance its own interests. Make immigration a bigger issue and you’ve made a bigger audience for Dobbs.
That’s corruption, and it’s why the Republican candidates had to spend more than half an hour “debating” an issue on which their differences are essentially marginal — and, more important, why GOP voters had to sit and wait, mostly in vain, for the issues that really concern them to be discussed. That’s particularly true because that same Pew poll reported findings of particular relevance to Republican voters, the vast majority of whom continue to support the war in Iraq.

I recall watching Lou Dobbs for a few minutes before the debate started, and he had been talking up illegal immigration. Oddly, he was also talking populism and wondering whether any of the GOP candidates would adopt a populist stance — as if the GOP had a long history of populism in presidential campaigns. “I hope so, but I doubt it,” was the last we heard from Dobbs.
What makes this such an unusual article is its source. Rutten hardly qualifies as a conservative firebrand out to destroy the mainstream media. He’s a liberal, and occasionally tangles with Hugh Hewitt when Hugh covers media controversies. His take is the first one I’ve read that calls CNN corrupt in this specific sense. (Many have called them politically corrupt, but not in a financial sense.)
I think Rutten overreaches here, however. It’s true that Dobbs likes to harangue on illegal immigration, but then again, it has been a big issue for the Republicans the last three years, too. He notes that 35 minutes of the debate went to this issue in a two-hour show, but a good part of that came from an extended one-on-one between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Since the questions and their order had already been selected, Anderson Cooper couldn’t have predicted that kind of time allocation. In reading the transcript, that topic comprised only 4 of 33 questions, or slightly over 10%. The responses took an inordinate amount of time, thanks to the candidates’ bantering.
The next question was about the North American Union conspiracy theory, followed by five questions on fiscal policy — taxes and spending. Later in the broadcast, CNN returned to spending questions, two of them in the final minutes of the debate. Illegal immigration questions didn’t dominate the debate — if any topic did, it was taxes and spending, as Republicans probably had hoped. If CNN wanted to plug Dobbs, they would have had to foresee the brawl that the questions provoked. They didn’t load up on illegal immigration, although they could have taken more questions on the war (three, by my count).
Corruption? Rutten doesn’t make the case. As my partner Mitch said today on our NARN broadcast, don’t blame conspiracies for what can be explained by incompetence.
UPDATE: Changed “immigration” to “illegal immigration” for clarity. Sometimes shorthands work, sometimes they don’t.

NARN, The Snowy Road Edition

The Northern Alliance Radio Network will be on the air today, with our six-hour-long broadcast schedule starting at 11 am CT. The first two hours features Power Line’s John Hinderaker and Chad and Brian from Fraters Libertas. Mitch and I hit the airwaves for the second shift from 1-3 pm CT, and King Banaian and Michael Broadkorb have The Final Word from 3-5. If you’re in the Twin Cities, you can hear us on AM 1280 The Patriot, or on the station’s Internet stream if you’re outside of the broadcast area.
Today, Mitch and I will cover a lot of ground, including the CNN YouTube debate, the admission from Jack Murtha of the surge’s success, and much, much more!
Be sure to call 651-289-4488 to join the conversation!

The Giuliani Scandal Expands, Somewhat

Everyone knew that the marital woes of Rudy Giuliani would get some play in the presidential race, but the extent of official expenses involved in the extramarital affair that led to his second divorce and third marriage may come as a surprise. New York newspapers have begun to dig into the expenses of Giuliani’s security details to see how much the affair cost the Big Apple — and so far, the results have not helped Rudy put the affair behind him. First, his explanations for spreading the billings to other offices didn’t wash with other NYC officials, as ABC News reports:

New questions were raised today about Rudy Giuliani’s explanation for submitting police security expenses to obscure city agencies while he was mayor of New York and carried on a secret affair with his mistress, who also was given use of a police driver and city car.
Giuliani said Thursday the unusual billing practice was not intended to hide anything but instead to speed payment of American Express credit card bills.
But the current New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said today he knew of no problems with the delay of payments before Giuliani was mayor, when Kelly served under Mayor David Dinkins, or since. …
He said all bills for the police details for Dinkins and now for Mayor Mike Bloomberg are handled directly “through the police department.”

Given Giuliani’s particularly high profile in regards to his work against the Mob, one could consider his explanation plausible, at least to a point. One would not want to tip off enemies to the assets in a security detail, and keeping all of the the expenses in one office could do that. If that was the intent, American Express billing doesn’t make a lot of sense as an excuse. Why not just say that Rudy wanted to keep the extent of security around him a secret to keep those making threats unaware of the defense he had established?
Perhaps today’s story from the Daily News shows why that wouldn’t work, either. They have discovered a number of receipts showing that Judith Giuliani got a personal driver for her 130-mile trip to the home of her Pennsylvania family while Rudy attended a series of 9/11 funerals:

In the fall of 2001, city cops chauffeured Rudy Giuliani’s then-mistress, Judith Nathan, to her parents’ Pennsylvania home 130 miles away on the taxpayers’ dime.
Records show that city cops refueled at an ExxonMobil station down the road from Nathan’s childhood home in Hazleton on Oct. 20, 2001, while Giuliani stayed behind in New York attending 9/11 funerals.
A similar receipt pops up at a different Hazleton gas station two months later, when Nathan apparently went home for a pre-Christmas visit with her parents.
The records show that – in addition to using City Hall funds to take Giuliani and Nathan to 11 secret trysts in the Hamptons, as has been previously reported – taxpayers were paying to ferry Nathan on long-distance trips without Giuliani, now a Republican contender for President.

How serious are these allegations? On one hand, Giuliani needed security, and by extension, so did his family and close associates, such as his girlfriend. (He had publicly split from Donna Hanover well before then, so calling Judith a “mistress” seems a rather loaded nomenclature.) If security was going to tail Judith all the way out to Pennsylvania anyway, why not have her ride in the car and make it easier?
However, most people won’t buy that explanation, either. At the least, the Giulianis should have reimbursed the costs of the trips to the taxpayers of New York City — particularly the fuel bills. The necessity of security does not grant politicians the authority to provide no-cost chauffeur service to friends, and that includes significant others. When those kinds of expenses do get incurred, the expectation is that they will be handled in an above-board manner so that taxpayers can have an honest accounting of the costs to the community.
While I believe this to be a minor issue for Giuliani in terms of ethics — it tells us nothing new about his relationship with Judith Nathan before their marriage that didn’t already make contemporaneous headlines — the Giuliani team has not handled it very well. They should acknowledge that they made mistakes in handling the billings in 2000 and 2001 and apologize for the errors. The longer they issue threadbare rationalizations, the longer this will stick to the campaign.
UPDATE: For the reading-comprehension challenged, there is nowhere in here where I say this is “no big deal”. Clearly, the Giuliani camp has a problem here, one which I note in two ways they’re not handling well. We already knew that Giuliani conducted a very public affair with Judith Nathan while married to Donna Hanover, and people have already factored that knowledge into the race. Newspapers and pundits have discussed that much since the beginning of the year.
This is different, and unless the Giuliani team quits issuing the threadbare rationalizations we’ve heard and starts making some reimbursements, it’s going to sting. That’s what I said above, and that’s what I believe. If there’s more after this, it’s going to be a real problem for Rudy.
Incidentally, I should note that Josh Marshall at TPM has been doing a good job of going through the paperwork on this story. It’s worth a long read, whatever your take on the story.

Chavez Threatens US Oil Supply (Update: He’ll Boycott Himself?)

Hugo Chavez, facing a potentially embarrassing defeat on his dictatorship referendum this weekend, has declared the opposition a CIA operation. He now says those voting against a potential lifetime presidency for himself will have cast a vote for George Bush, and threatened to cut off oil sales to the US if the CIA continues its operations against him:

A threat by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to stop oil exports to the United States has raised the stakes over a Sunday referendum he has called in a bid to expand his powers.
Chavez told tens of thousands of supporters late Friday he was putting Venezuela’s oil field and refineries under military “protection” and would halt the exports “if this (referendum) is used as a pretext to start violence in Venezuela.”
He accused the US Central Intelligence Agency of preparing to spread unrest during the plebiscite in an effort to topple him, and said if its operation was activated “there won’t be a drop of oil from Venezuela to the United States.”
The menace was an escalation of anti-US rhetoric Chavez has long employed, and highlighted both Venezuela’s pivotal role as South America’s biggest oil producer, and the parlous relations between Washington and Caracas. ….
The referendum calls for a scrapping of term limits for the president, opening the way for Chavez to stay on past 2013, when he is due to step down. … Changes to allow the government to take over the central bank and expropriate private property in the name of “economic socialism,” and gag the media in times of emergency are also being proposed.

Fortunately, oil is a fungible market. If Hugo Chavez wants to sell his oil elsewhere, we would buy ours elsewhere. It might or might not raise the costs, but if it did, it wouldn’t have a great effect on the price. Moreover, the type of crude Venezuela produces is more expensive to refine, and many nations would prefer to use the lighter crude available from other producers. Chavez may actually find his crude a little less valuable without the US as a trading partner.
The threat shouldn’t bother the US, where people already avoid Venezuelan-owned Citgo, but the people of Venezuela. Chavez has tipped over the edge of paranoia and megalomania, and this example proves it. Even Chavez’ fans among the poor have begun questioning his mania to turn their country into an homage to Fidel Castro, and his political allies have started to peel away from his spittle-flecked rants.
Can Chavez lose this plebiscite? It would take an extraordinary effort for Venezuelans to reject it. Chavez has all but called opposition to his proposal seditious. He told his now-friendly media that anyone voting against his referendum would be acting to further American imperialism and professing loyalty to Bush rather than Chavez. This kind of rhetoric should alert Venezuelans to the kind of dictatorship they would be approving in this plebiscite — where dissent equals treason, as decided by a man who already has not hesitated to use firepower to intimidate the citizenry.
If Chavez loses, watch out for the explosion. Most likely, though, Chavez will “win” this election regardless of how the vote turns out.
UPDATE & BUMP: CapQ reader Janna B reminds me that PDVSA (Venezuela’s state-owned oil company) bought Citgo years ago specifically for its capacity to refine the low-grade crude PDVSA produces. In effect, Hugo sells his crude to himself, mainly because few other refiners can handle his product. If he cuts off the US, he’s cutting off Citgo, and there may be few markets left for Venezuelan crude outside of his own subsidiary.
Hugo may enjoy cutting off his nose to spite his face, but Venezuelans may not care to follow suit and dive into poverty.

Talk About Spin

Everyone expressed gratitude and relief at the end of the hostage crisis yesterday in Rochester, New Hampshire, when police arrested the disturbed man who created it. No one got hurt and a sick man will get the care he needs, and the community will receive protection from him as well. It demonstrated the competence and patience of the Rochester police department in resolving a standoff that only gained national attention because it took place in the campaign headquarters of Hillary Clinton.
Somehow, later that evening, the Clinton campaign decided this makes Hillary look presidential, at least to Larry Sabato and the AP:

And as soon as it ended, Clinton took full advantage of the opportunity she had unexpectedly been handed.
In her New Hampshire press conference, she stood before a column of police in green and tan uniforms. She talked of meeting with hostages. She mentioned that she spoke to the state’s governor about eight minutes after the incident began.
The scene was one of a woman in charge.
“It looked and sounded presidential,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “This was an instance of the White House experience of this campaign. They knew how to handle this.”
That the crisis was outside Clinton’s control gave it a rare quality in this era of hyper-controlled politicking, Sabato added.
“What’s most important about it is that it’s not contrived. It’s a real event and that distinguishes it from 99 percent of what happens in the campaign season.”

Er, what? Sabato, who usually gives intelligent political analysis, must have inhaled a little deeply. Clinton was nowhere near New Hampshire during the entirety of the crisis. What was presidential about having the Rochester PD talk a hostage-taker out of a building? What “leadership” did Hillary show in Virginia during this crisis? She canceled a speech!
The AP’s Glen Johnson is even worse. He breathlessly describes Hillary’s efforts as “continu[ing] to call up and down the law enforcement food chain, from local to county to state to federal officials.” The hostages were released within a couple of hours, and presumably their families had closer contacts with the PD, as they live closer to the offices than Virginia. “I knew I was bugging these people,” Clinton told the AP, but she wanted to know minute-by-minute what was happening, so she could tell her staff and be prepared for whatever assistance she could lend. Which would be exactly …. what? If the PD wanted to have her call the ersatz bomber, they would know where to find her.
Hillary certainly didn’t do anything wrong, but she didn’t “take charge” as the AP implies, or look presidential, as Sabato declares. She certainly looks considerably less presidential today in trying to take credit for the professional work done by the Rochester PD yesterday. That looks a lot more like a politician than a President, and we already know her credentials for the former. This incident doesn’t provide Hillary any credentials for the latter.
Jim Lynch has more thoughts, and wonders whether the FEC should consider the AP report an in-kind contribution.
UPDATE: The normally clear-headed Michael van der Galien makes a very strange argument, claiming an equivalency between Rudy’s handling of 9/11 and Hillary’s handling of this incident. I suppose that would make sense — if Rudy hadn’t been mayor of New York City, and if Rudy had been hundreds of miles away, and if Rudy had merely pestered local authorities for updates instead of actually taking charge because he was in charge. In short, Michael is very confused about the difference between a city-wide catastrophe and a run-of-the-mill hostage standoff, and their implications

Putin Withdraws From Treaty

Vladimir Putin continues his saber-rattling with his withdrawal from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. He signed into law the suspension, which will take place on December 12th, that will throw out the final Cold War treaty that kept Europe and Russia from flooding the borders with heavy arms and allowed the decades-long standoff to wind down peacefully. Putin says he wants a new treaty, one that allows Russia to defend itself:

President Vladimir Putin signed a law Friday suspending Russia’s participation in a major conventional arms treaty that had limited NATO and Russian military deployments in Europe.
The Kremlin had been threatening all year to scrap the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, and on Friday Putin signed a law passed this month by parliament providing for that step. The suspension takes effect Dec. 12.
Putin’s decision comes two days before parliamentary elections and after a campaign marked by harsh anti-Western rhetoric and claims that the president has restored Russia’s ability to stand up to the United States and the NATO alliance.
Signed in the last days of the Cold War, the accord limited the number of tanks, combat aircraft and attack helicopters, as well as artillery pieces and other heavy weapons, that NATO and the Soviet Union could deploy in Western Europe and the western part of Russia.
Senior Russian generals have said there will be no immediate deployment of military hardware to Russia’s western borders following the suspension. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Russia is ready to discuss implementing an amended version of the treaty.

Putin says he withdrew from the CFE partly because of US plans to install anti-missile systems in eastern Europe. They also want the US and other NATO members to ratify amendments made to the CFE in 1999, which the Western nations has so far not done. Lavrov’s offer pertains to the amended version of CFE, which Russia sees as beneficial to its security.
NATO, however, sees it differently. The amendments hinged on Russian withdrawal from Georgia and Moldova. Russia only now has begun withdrawal from Georgia eight years later, and still doesn’t plan on pulling out of Moldova. Until Russia agrees to remove its troops from former Soviet republics, NATO countries do not want to offer Russia favorable security terms.
With the Russian elections about to begin, Putin undoubtedly intends this to be a show of force to the US and NATO. He wants to ride anti-Western feeling — and stoke it up as well — all the way into an unassailable parliamentary majority that will then bolster his grip on power. The CFE is just the first diplomatic victim of the Putin power grab.

Another Reason Not To Do Business With China

The Chinese Army has targeted British companies that do business in China for Internet espionage. MI-5 has sent warning letters to over 300 firms, advising them that they run the risk of losing vital proprietary secrets through Chinese hacking. The warning casts a pall over Sino-British trade — and perhaps trade with other nations as well:

The Government has accused China of carrying out an internet spying campaign against vital parts of the economy, it has been reported.
The head of the MI5 sent a letter to more than 300 senior executives at banks, accountants and legal firms earlier this week warning them of a web-based attack from Chinese state organisations.
The letter warns that British firms doing business in China are being targeted by the Chinese army, which is using the internet to steal confidential information to benefit Chinese companies.
It is believed to be the first time the Government has directly accused China of involvement in such tactics and could cast a shadow on Gordon Brown’s visit to the country in the new year.

The British believe that the Chinese Army has created software specifically designed to breach security protocols and to retrieve sensitive information. They apparently focus on those firms doing business in or with China as they have to network with their home offices, giving the Chinese the opening they can exploit. They have spent considerable time and effort on this espionage, and MI-5 warns that it can defeat even the best practices of corporate network security.
Does anyone want to assume that the Chinese only have interest in the proprietary information of British firms? Somehow, that seems very unlikely. If MI-5 has taken the extraordinary step of sending hundreds of warning letters to British firms, their suspicions are probably well-founded — and the Chinese would not hesitate to employ the same tactics against other Western trading partners, including the US.
This year has given Americans plenty of reasons not to buy Chinese products. The Chinese Army now has given Western businesses a good reason to avoid trade with China altogether. If the Chinese government wants to maintain its export business, it needs to shut down its spy ring.