September 29, 2004 | 12:05 p.m. ET

What the "H" is a Blog? (Dana Falvo,  Creative Story Unit, MSNBC)

In my daily research yesterday, I came across a blog from a soldier serving in Iraq. Now this particular story struck my interest seeing as though I just posted my first blog yesterday. The blog written by Spc. Colby Buzzell can be found at http://cbftw.blogspot.com/. Buzzell’s blog allows family and friend’s back home to read details of war that don't make it into most news reports. I thought to myself that is just amazing that this soldier is using the web to reach millions of people with his personal chronicle, but then I realized there are so many people out there that don’t even realize what the “h” a blog is.

Okay- now I’m a product of the technology generation and I like to think I know how to work my cell phone pretty well, I can maneuver around the web fairly thoroughly, I even know how to record multiple shows on TiVo but the entire concept of weblogging is as new to me as it is my parents. Wait… I take that back- it’s not that foreign to me. I remember when I first heard about blogging in college. Blogging was still new to the computer world but there were students using their blogs as a sort of intellectual outlet to speak out about the atrocities of college life. Since then, the word weblog has made its way into Webster’s New Millennium dictionary. Webster's defines weblog as a personal Web site that provides updated headlines and news articles of other sites that are of interest to the user, also may include journal entries, commentaries and recommendations compiled by the user. Now, with the combination of the world wide web and the ever developing media, weblogs have become a medium that some consider the next generation of news sources.

The first time I came across a blog in the form of a news story came this spring. The particular blog came from an entry-level staffer in Sen. Mike DeWine's office and it sent the Hill into a frenzy with a blog that detailed her performing sexual favors for money. Eventually, the blog was brought to the attention of the Senator’s office, she was identified as Jessica Cutler and dismissed from her position. After her “outing,” Cutler moved onto “bigger and better” things. She got a six-figure book deal about her escapades and now displays her talents for anybody willing to join Playboy’s online club- I would say she got what she came for. (Scroll Down Mid-Page)

CBS’s “60 Minutes” has even found a way into the blogs with its scandal over President Bush's service documents. This is a great example of the way blogs advance news stories. Not even 24 hours after CBS reported the story conservative bloggers were all over them. I know when I was doing my daily research this is where I first came across the possibility that the documents may have been phony.

But aside from revealing scandals, blogs have created a new forum of communication in this new age of technology. Does the future of communication and news reporting lie in the realm of weblogs? I don’t think its possible to make that assessment at this time. But one thing is for sure with the internet available to people all over the world, the generation of weblogging is only in its infancy. Here’s to HardBlogger for being on top of the game!

Thoughts?   Email me at DFalvo@msnbc.com

September 28, 2004 | 4:50 p.m. ET

November in the Buckeye state? (David Shuster)

Four years ago, on the morning after the 2000 presidential election, I received a 4am phone call from the assignment desk at my previous employer instructing me to get on the next flight to Tallahassee, Florida.  The sunshine state was headed towards a "recount."   I would spent the next several weeks covering Fla. Secretary of State Katherine Harris, asking questions of James Baker and Warren Christopher, reporting on court decisions, and explaining ad nauseum, the intricacies of punch card ballot counting machines and why there were different types of "chads."

As an american, the entire episode left me deeply embarassed.  We are the greatest nation on earth, a true beacon of democracy.  And yet, for more than a month, our election "irregularities" (to put it politely) prevented us from determining who won.  The US election system had become a world wide laughingstock.  And even the US Supreme Court, as it settled the matter wrote, "it is likely that legislative bodies nationwide will examine ways to improve the mechanisms and machinery for voting."

Hmmm.  Well, I suppose it was "likely" that Florida would re-examine things.  And in fact Florida outlawed the punch card ballot system and replaced it.  Congress felt the need to do something as well.  So, in 2002 lawmakers passed the "Help America Vote Act," which was supposed to prompt state legislatures to update their voting systems and get away from "chads."   But, the Act also allowed states to keep using punch cards.  And guess what?  For this coming presidential election, 19 states will use punch cards.  Ohio will use punch cards in 70 percent of the state.

Ohio scares me.  If you look at the latest polls, buckeye land is a "toss-up state."  That means the Ohio is "too close" for pollsters to predict.  Furthermore, if the electoral college vote is close again... neither candidate will likely be able to cross the 270 vote threshold without Ohio's 20 electoral votes.  Under Ohio laws, a recount is mandatory if the statewide vote is within one quarter of one percent.  So, let's say President Bush receives 48.5% of the Ohio vote... and John Kerry gets 48.3%.    Hello recount!!!  And by the way, it's not just a recount in some counties... it would be a recount across the entire state...  State officials have said privately that such a recount in Ohio would be a "total trainwreck" and would make Florida 2000 look like a walk in the park.

None of this will matter of course, unless both Ohio and the nationwide election are close.  But, watch out...

What do you think?  Let me know at DShuster@msnbc.com

Check out my "Shuster Reports" for Hardball

September 27, 2004| 4:51 p.m. ET

The Big Debate - Johnny Be Ready (Joe Trippi)

I just found out that I am going to be heading down to Florida this week to help cover the big debate between John Kerry and George Bush that will be held in the multi-hurricane hit state.

Many following the campaign, if not most, expect a debate about current and future foreign policy and defense issues, but I suspect that this debate will get mired in the past almost from the start.  And I do not mean the past of Vietnam or questions about National Guard duty.

The likely target for George Bush to launch his attack will be John Kerry’s “NO” vote against Gulf War I.

In an attempt to further question Kerry’s ability to lead, and to further depict Kerry as a flip-flopper, George Bush will likely ask Kerry to square his vote in opposition to Gulf War I with this vote in support of Gulf War II.

Bush will use the specter of Saddam’s Army crashing through Kuwait, massing on the Saudi Arabian boarder, his willingness to launch Scud missile attacks on Israel, multinational support, and troops from Muslim countries on the frontlines and ask Kerry why when Saddam was visibly such an imminent threat at the time that even Al Gore and Howard Dean supported Gulf War I – the Senator from Massachusetts opposed it.

I have a deep respect for John Kerry’s debating skills but as Frank Rich said on MSNBC’s Hardball show when Chris Mathews asked him this same question “John Kerry better have a damn good answer to that question.”

Frank Rich is right – John Kerry better have a damn good answer to the question – because a lifetime of experience in politics tells me its coming on Thursday in this debate.

I’ll be down in Florida to help figure out the consequences of answers to this and other questions as the debate unfolds – so I hope you’ll watch Hardball and the Debate After Hours Show.   And as always tell me what you think.    What do you think Kerry’s answer should be?

Thanks, Joe

E-mail me, as always: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

September 27, 2004 | 1:25 p.m. ET

"20 Somethings" (Dana Falvo,  Creative Story Unit, MSNBC)

So, here it goes- my first blog ever. First, it is necessary to point out- a sort of disclaimer on my part- by no means do I consider myself in the same league as any of the MSNBC hosts, correspondents or experts. I do, however, see this blog as a chance to represent a younger generation and to give a perspective on things from inside MSNBC.

You see, without giving any numbers, I fall into the youngest demographic of voters and I have the very unique opportunity to work with show producers as well as the “higher ups” here. My position is in what we call the Creative Stories Unit- or the CSU. I report directly to Phil Griffin- the Vice President of Primetime Programming. My days consist of providing research for the shows, helping the producers stay on top of the day’s lead stories and finding the obscure stories before they hit the mainstream. Throughout the day I read approximately 15 newspapers and over 50 articles. I have to say I feel a little pressure to know as much news as possible- but at the same time I come across some pretty interesting articles and throughout this blog I plan to post some of the ones that stand out. 

One of the reasons I think I was asked to start blogging was to provide a younger perspective. While I have graduated from college and I actually voted in the previous election, I still understand what goes on inside the college student’s mind. I probably still have the non-jaded and idealistic view Mr. Trippi referred to in his “College Orientation” blog. But at the same time I empathize with the “20 Somethings” concerns of economy, security and social issues. Hey- I’m just starting out my career, I pay rent and I’m trying to figure out what direction this country is heading too.

So, with this blog I hope to hit the issues that matter to this so-called young swing voter. Although I don’t represent all voters in the youngest age bracket, the goal is to provide a little insight into the topics of campaigns, debates, Vietnam, Iraq, candidates’ children, as well as, social issues and other stories that just strike an interest.  

Here are some stories that caught my eye today:

What does this do to the Swing State? 31 Percent Of Floridians Considering A Move After Hurricane Season

Who knew they could do this? DHS Buys Town For Terror Drills

Did they learn a lesson? "60 Minutes" Shelved Report On Rationale For The War On Terror Because It Would Be "Inappropriate"

Cause For Concern - Teacher Puts Waste In 1st Graders Backpack

Thoughts?   email me at DFalvo@msnbc.com

September 24, 2004 | 5:14 p.m. ET

Where is John Edwards? (Tom Llamas, campaign reporter on the road with Senator John Edwards)

Where's Edwards and what's he doing?

That seems to be the question these days.

I travel with the North Carolina Senator full time for MSNBC and I have the lowdown on where he's been and where's he's headed.  In case you missed it...this week Edwards took aim at the President’s economic policy.

If YOU want to know watch Hardball: The Horserace tonight for the lastest on the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

email: TLlamas@msnbc.com

September 24, 2004 | 3:46 p.m. ET

Which campaign is using the Internet better? (Joe Trippi)

Hardball “The Horserace” is tonight, and I am going to be talking with Chris about who is using the Net and the Blogosphere better— Kerry or Bush?

What’s pretty clear to me is that activists and the grassroots of both parties understand the power they have gained through the Internet far better then either campaign has come to understand that power. But on the whole I give the grassroots/netroots advantage to Democrats and the Kerry campaign. There simply is much more energy and creativity going on at the grassroots level on the Net and Blogs on the side of Democrats.

Moveon.org (a grassroots site that supports Kerry) and Freerepublic.com (a site that is geared towards support of Bush) are two examples of Internet grassroots flexing power in this election cycle. Moveon.org has raised millions of dollars, ran ads, and has gotten its netroots base to hold coffees and organizational activities off-line and into communities across the country.   Posters on Freerepublic.com’s bulletin board made their mark when they successfully launched a challenge to CBS New’s 60 Minutes report questioning President Bush’s National Guard duty.    

The point here is that there is activity at the grassroots level on both sides— but activity spurred by Moveon.org and blogs that lean towards Kerry and the Democrats have waged a much more multi-dimensional campaign than the Freerepublic.com and other like minded sites and blogs on the Right.

The campaigns themselves have clearly learned that the Internet can be used to raise money but frankly both campaigns have failed to fully grasp the power of the Netroots beyond money. When it comes to the two campaign’s blogs Kerry wins hands down.  The Bush camp seems to distain true input from its netroots supporters.

But when it comes to understanding the power of the 'Net and how it is changing everything (including influencing stories that make it into the mainstream press) I have to give the edge to the Bush campaign. They seem to be monitoring everything online and understand that there is a "canary in the coalmine" quality to the 'Net— a kind of early warning system that that lets you smell trouble brewing and ready your response to it before that trouble boils over into the mainstream press.

Had the Kerry campaign been paying attention they would have noticed that the Swift Boat attacks were being waged on the Net long before they made it on to the pages of our newspapers or out of the mouths of network anchors. They could have heeded those warning signs and responded a lot quicker then they did. Had CBS truly understood the changing power of individuals to use their expertise or knowledge of the Net to challenge a mainstream media story— they too would have pulled back and faced the fact that they had gotten it wrong – long before they did.

Back in October of 2003, I had this eerie feeling that from a strategic standpoint the Dean campaign was analogous to the Japanese at Pearl Harbor– we had awakened the sleeping giant Republicans to a new medium that they could use to press their agenda.   While Democrats were doing everything they could to kill the netroots-driven Dean campaign, and were in denial that the Internet was changing everything.

Thankfully the netroots didn’t listen to any of it.  Today it’s the grassroots on the Net that has kept the Kerry campaign competitive in terms of resources and activity.

I hope you’ll tune in to 'The Horserace' tonight at 7 p.m. ET to watch the discussion and catch up on the latest developments in the race for the Presidency.   And let me know what you think!

Thanks
Joe

E-mail: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

September 24, 2004 | 3:16 p.m. ET

General MacArthur! (David Shuster)

Next to John Kerry, New York lawyer and lobbyist Harold Ickes may be the most significant, important, and valuable person the Democrats have in this election. 

Two years ago, Ickes helped start the powerful campaign advertising group known as " The Media Fund."  And now, he is the chief of staff to the companion get-out-the-vote organization called " America Coming Together." 

These two groups are not your typical run of the mill 527s or independent organizations.  The Media Fund has raised and spent 45 million dollars on television advertising.  America Coming Together has raised and spent 100 million dollars. That's right, 100 million dollars.  Harold Ickes has field managers in 15 battle ground states, more than 500 full time paid staffers, and over 2,000 paid canvassers. 

Simply put, Ickes has assembled the largest and most extensive get out the vote organization in Democratic history.  Harold Ickes is close with the Clintons and has deep roots in the Democratic party. (His father was in FDR's cabinet.)  Ickes is an intense and obviously persuasive fundraiser. (George Soros and Peter Lewis each kicked in 10 million dollars in seed money.)  However, Harold Ickes is not somebody who grants many interviews.  That's why you should tune in to the Hardball: The Horserace...

E-mail David at DShuster@MSNBC.com

September 24, 2004 | 12:54 p.m. ET

Appreciation and preparation (Jesamyn Go, Hardball web producer)

This week was “Appreciation Week” here at MSNBC World Headquarters in Secaucus, and my boss Jeanne is appreciating me by letting me blog.

I’m one of the folks behind-the-scenes who makes sure that all the blogs by your favorite personalities get posted. Let me just say, without naming names, that some Hardbloggers post more willingly that others...

'Smiley guy' is the unofficial mascot of MSNBC Appreciation Week 2004. He's also the stress ball give-away everyone received.
Anyway, our big boss Rick and the fine folks at MSNBC Human Resources realized that everyone in the company is deserving of appreciation after an endless summer of big news events— including two conventions, three hurricanes, a D-Day anniversary, and our sad farewell to Ronald Reagan. So all week long, we’ve had activities, daily raffles (congratulations Tom Llamas! ), and sugar highs (Twinkies and RingDings were free at the cafeteria this week).

Hopefully, this keeps us pumped up as things are only getting more exciting! Hardball is already gearing up for the presidential debates, in addition to bringing you an extra 9 p.m. ET show every Wednesday, and a special Friday “ Hardball: The Horserace” show .

In case you missed it, MSNBC.com has an interactive page on the “ Hardball: The Horserace ,” which includes a tour by Chris Matthews, the latest video, polling data, campaign stop information, and even editorial cartoons. You can even do your own electoral college math and call the states as you see them.

'Hardball' tonight will preview the Bush-Kerry debate and the preparations surrounding it. Howard Fineman, in his web-exclusive for Newsweek writes that next Thursday in Miami is “the key moment of the campaign.” “If Bush doesn't blow it, the race may be over. If he screws up—if he loses big time to Sen. John Kerry—Election Day may be another long night, week, or month.” ( Click to read more .)

Our all-stars Norah O’Donnell, Kelly O’Donnell, Andrea Mitchell, Ron Reagan, Chip Reid, and Joe Trippi, will also make appearances. For more on tonight’s show, subscribe to and read the Hardball Daily Briefing newsletter. Executive producer Tammy Haddad is writing it while our briefing editor Dominic Bellone is recovering from minor surgery. I echo Tammy when she says, “Get well soon Dom-Dom! We miss you!”  If I know him, he’ll be blogging from bed sooner than later.

Stay tuned and happy Hardblogging!

E-mail me at JGo@MSNBC.com

For well-wishes to Dominic, send them to DBellone@MSNBC.com

September 23, 2004 | 12:15 p.m. ET

Give me back my house! (Joe Trippi)

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is under investigation by the House Ethics committee for improper fundraising. Three aides to a committee founded by Tom DeLay— Texans for a Republican Majority P.A.C.— have been indicted along with 8 corporations for the illegal movement of funds to targeted races designed to gain control of the Texas legislature. 

It's the money that is destroying our democratic process— and to find out why we are going to have to live with the consequences, I hope you will read my "Trippi's Take" column today

As always, tell me what you think! JTrippi@MSNBC.com

Thanks
Joe

September 22, 2004 | 6:16 p.m. ET

Checking in with our Hardblogger jogger John Lichman who's back at school:

Is a draft making a comeback? (John Lichman)

John Lichman
It certainly is wonderful to be a blogger in New York City. I've got my hipster glasses, my hipster beard, an iPod and the thankful ability to write on this site. On the Shuster-scale of coolness, I'm breezing straight past Trippi— as usual.  And don't forget, it was just Monday when John Kerry AND the Dubya decided to grace my humble city. Not to mention clog up midtown traffic, the errie midtown manhole explosions, and the Dubya almost guarentees no end to our "conflict in Iraq "  despite having  " helped to deliever the Iraqi people from an outlaw dictator. "

Before most of my usual conversations start with "Hey, it's lunch special time at the Vietnamese place," my friends are growing more weary of the rebuilding of Iraq after we spent a month demolishing the country. But especially peaking our interest is the constant rumor floating around the Internet: the draft is making a come back.  I'll admit, I have treated this as a rumor as it appears on message board after message board, but my suspicions are getting the better of me. Howard Dean writes that there are signs that the Selective Service System may return the draft, but moreso that President Bush would be the man to bring that nightmare back.

Even as far back as May 2004, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article mentions a proposal for an "expanded military draftin case the Administration and Congress would authorize one in the future." The fun catch involves "agency officials acknowledged that they would have to 'market the concept' of a female draft to Congress."  The date may be old, but the whirlwind with which this is sweeping around the net has me curious.  As Trippi stated earlier, the blogger and the internet are becoming a new source of (slightly) independent media.  Is the internet getting ready to break a secret plan being hatched by the Dubya? Or is this only heresay designed to scare us further for the coming election?

However you choose to look at it, realize that the plan itself isn't imaginary, nor are congressional bills H.R. 163 or S.89 which state the plan.

Now back to your regularly scheduled bloggers.


-John

Comments? E-mail John at john.lichman@gmail.com 

September 22, 2004 | 3:30 p.m. ET

Sail away (David Shuster)

There is a new Bush campaign commercial showing John Kerry windsurfing... and the ad is both creative and funny. But the content of the ad makes it one of the most misleading ads we've seen so far. "Kerry voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again."

Actually, Kerry voted not for war but to give President Bush the authority to decide. Kerry opposed the President's decision to clear out the inspectors and invade, he supported getting rid of Saddam, but still opposes going to war in the fashion the president did and without any evidence of WMD. So to charge he was "for the war, opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again" is wrong.

The end of the ad says (of Kerry) "He claims he's against Medicare premiums, but voted five times to do so." Actually, Kerry voted to maintain the same premium formula that's been in place since before he became a Senator. And those 5 votes the ad refers to were actually large authorization bills... 4 of them with bipartisan support, 3 of them supported by almost every Republican.

Lest you think I'm just picking on the Bush campaign, the latest Kerry ad is also misleading. The ad says the Bush health care plan would "raise insurance premiums for 4 out of 5 small businesses; over a million more Americans would lose their health insurance coverage." Actually, experts dispute the effect of the Bush plan, both in regards to rising insurance premiums and the number of americans who might lose their insurance."

But, accuracy has been tossed aside by both campaigns— and not just in their tv commercials. Here is what President Bush said tuesday about John Kerry and Iraq. Quote: "The world is better off with Saddam Hussein sitting in a prison cell. And that stands in stark contrast to the statement my opponent made yesterday when he said that the world was better off with Saddam in power."

If Kerry had actually said that, it would have been a blockbuster news day. What Kerry actually said was, "Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell. But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left america less secure."

So, is there a penalty for lying about what your opponent said or misleading tv viewers about his record? You tell me... DShuster@msnbc.com

This is the subject of Shuster's reports, tonight. Click here to read past reports from David.

An extra edition of Hardball airs at 9 p.m. ET tonight, Wednesday. The focus for tonight's show is a special report with Newsweek on religion and politics. Is faith a factor when it comes to the polls?  Click here to read more.

September 22, 2004 | 12:19 a.m. ET

A guest blog from one of our RNC-coverage bloggers:

Release the bloggers! (Brian Reich, editor of Campaign Web Review)

So the document-gate, Air National Guard-Gate, Rather-gate, or whatever you want to call it thing is over.  Two weeks ago, Dan Rather reported on "60 Minutes'' that newly unearthed documents confirmed that the Bush family applied pressure to Texas Air National Guard Commanders to give special treatment to George W.  Two weeks and an apology from CBS later, the debate over the Bush's military service record continues, the memos seem to have been discredited, and Dan Rather's quest to become the 'most trusted man in news' has taken a serious blow.

(If you want to read a little bit about what happened in between, I’ve summarized it here.)   

Some argue that the role of the bloggers has now been more clearly defined, and that bloggers doing their own investigative research can help to present the truth, which mainstream media long ago overlooked in the name of ratings.  Moreover, the media now has another watchdog, a quality control meter that forces them to think, and verify, before they speak.  Perhaps, but keep in mind that most bloggers write with a bias, or specific agenda.  Their promotion of an issue is often self-serving and not objective— which, whether you agree or not that they reach this standard, is the role traditional media is offering.

For a long time, whether or not the blogosphere was promoting the truth, or its heavily-partisan interpretation of a story, wasn't really a major factor.  The audience simply wasn't that large nor influential.  But that has changed, and blogs are now competitive with cable news, at least online:

Over the past thirty-one days, the ten most trafficked political blogs, DailyKos, Instapundit, Atrios, Josh Marshall, Little Green Footballs, Wonkette, Political Animal, Teagan Goddard, Captain's Quarters and Real Clear Politics (listed in no particular order), totaled just over 28,000,000 unique visits. This compares favorably to the website trafficof the three 24/7 cable news networks:

FoxNews.com had 5.7 million unique users in May, compared with 22.3 million for CNN.com and 21.1 million for MSNBC.com

Particularly amazing is that Dailykos, with around 7 million unique visits over the past 31 days, now has a higher monthly website traffic than Fox News.  

Maybe a better metaphor is the blogger-as-canary-in-the-mineshaft, sniffing out stories before they are stories (as was the case in the case of Trent Lott, and his comments at a birthday party for Strom Thurmond that ultimately cost him his leadership position in the US Senate). 

Bloggers are certainly more nimble than journalists, and can do much of the legwork that big media budgets won't allow for anymore.  There are plenty of times when bloggers get the story wrong, and amplify bad information (one blogger reported on the final night of the GOP convention that Osama Bin Laden had been captured, which at last check, still was not true— conspiracy theories aside). 

Clearly, there is more than enough evidence that even with standards, and editors, and producers, and lawyers, and big budgets, the traditional media still gets things wrong as well.  Simply put, big media is being pushed off its pedestal, or least being forced to share it with quasi-journalistic bloggers.  

Click here to read a previous blog entry from Brian.


September 21, 2004 | 5:26 p.m. ET

It started with a little Hardball (Joe Trippi)

Last week I wrote that, "...the Blog world is turning things upside down for traditional media."

The story of how a group of bloggers at FreeRepublic broke the CBS Killian memo scandal has now been recounted on television, radio and just about every news publication in the country.

Now there is even a blogger offering a $3000 donation to the Republican National Committee if George W. Bush, Dan Bartlett and Scott McClellan will call the Killian memos untrue.

Well, it wasn't long before the true story behind the memos came to the surface. 

It seems the whole thing (no, not the documents) started with a little Hardball.

As it turns out, Bill Burkett, an ex-lieutenant colonel in the Texas Guard and the man responsible for providing CBS with the documents, can thank none other than MSNBC's Hardball for his new found celebrity.

According to USA Today, "Burkett said [Lucy] Ramirez told him she had seen him the previous month in an appearance on the MSNBC program Hardball, discussing the controversy over whether Bush fulfilled all his obligations for service in the Texas Air Guard during the early 1970s.

"There is something I have that I want to make sure gets out," he quoted her as saying."

We all know what came of Burkett's supposed contact with Lucy Ramirez... CBS certainly does — So I guess that makes this two bouts of Hardball for Burkett in a single year. 

Who's taken more body blows over this thing... Burkett or CBS?  Who's coming out on top... the blogs, the other networks, Bush?

Email me at JTrippi@MSNBC.com with your comments— let me know what you think.

September 21, 2004 | 1:00 p.m. ET

Schieffer and Lockhart and not running up the score (Keith Olbermann)

The very bad days at Black Rock handed one side in the presidential race a huge victory.

It'd be useful to that side to remember not to run up the score.

If the Bill Burkett story can be laid directly at the feet of the DNC— go for it, boys. It's exactly the kind of misuse of the media/politics vortex we're all supposed to abhor. The same is true if Burkett's plaintive plea "I'm a Patsy" (memo to Bill: try to not quote presidential assassins) has validity, and can be drawn back to the RNC.

But for now, maybe we could leave Joe Lockhart and Bob Schieffer out of this.

For different reasons, I might add. Though Dan Bartlett sees disturbing questions in CBS acting as a referral service from Burkett to Lockhart , I don't. I wouldn't do it myself, but if you're bargaining in good faith with a source for a story and he asks you for a phone number, nothing in my 25 years in reporting tells me this is a bigger violation than if the source asked you to send a car for him to get to your studio for your interview. Hell, I've bought sources dinner.

And where would it rank, in terms of improper contact, compared to the case earlier this year when the White House sent at least three e-mails to various employees here at MSNBC and NBC, urgently seeking to get me its "talking points" in advance of an interview with Ambassador Joe Wilson about his book? Not fact challenges, not "our side of the story," but talking points. I never saw such naked pre-spinning even in the hype-hysterical world of sports.

Which brings me to Schieffer, and a right wing blog's push to get the venerable CBS Newsman tossed off the third Presidential debate because of the Rather mess.

Way to shoot yourselves in both feet, guys.

Apart from the fact that Bob Schieffer has never struck a note that was anything but impartial and professional, he is also one step apart from being an FOW. When the President owned the Texas Rangers baseball team, his President, later his successor as General Partner, his inside good buddy, was another Texas businessman named Tom Schieffer.

Tom would've been Bob's brother.

The brother that baseball addict Bob used to call for insider information for the Rotisserie Baseball fans' league Schieffer not only played in at CBS, but served as Commissioner. Not that it did him much good, I'm told, in the standings— but if there's anybody more likely to give George Bush a fair shake in a debate, it'd be a man still indebted to the Texas Rangers for his ballplayer scouting reports.

E-mail Keith at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

September 21, 2004 | 10:08 a.m. ET

From Derry, N.H. (Mike Barnicle

)

Out in the country where polls are simply news stories few have time to read, people of different political beliefs stood in the sunshine near Dave Allen's Lincoln-Mercury, directly across the road from Mattress World and Wal-Mart waiting to wave at George Bush's motorcade. The President was here Monday for a Town Hall meeting and the production was scripted more tightly than 'Phantom of the Opera.'

Audience questions were pre-screened for approval so there was no chance anyone was going to lob anything other than a softball.

Here's the toughest question posed yesterday: "What's Chris Matthews like?" Carlene Magoon asked me.

She was there with her little boy, Nathaniel, who is four and a half. She had been shopping in Salem, a few miles down the road but her whole family have these Nextel Walkie-Talkie phones and her husband called to tell her Bush was in Derry.

"I'm a Democrat but I wanted to see him," she said.

She hates the war. So does Martha Spalding who came along just as Carlene asked about Chris.

It's a big deal when the president shows up in a place like Derry. The locals are proud and excited. The cops and Secret Service put on a show for adults and kids alike, stopping traffic until the limo whips by in a blur of blue lights and cruisers.

George Bush was here a few hours after John Kerry finally coughed up the first big-boy speech of his over-consulted campaign. Earlier in the day, he laid the wood to the president's management of the war in Iraq, calling it incompetent and an indication that Bush was delirious and had no judgment.

Funny thing is, Derry isn't a whole lot different than Dubuque, Columbus, Pittsburgh or Milwaukee: Sensible people seem hugely anxious about the casualty count and the direction of the country. They are not nearly as caught up in the decades old slime of Swift Boat charges and National Guard accusations as we are in the news business. Lives are on the line and the locals know it because they actually know neighbors who were on the town fire or police departments a year ago and are in Baghdad or Fallujah tonight.

Here's some of what they see: On TV, they view John Kerry with a four point plan, wearing a $3,000 suit and a $200 pink tie, talking as if he's doing an audition for an extra's part in 'Six Feet Under.'

Then, they stand in the sunshine of this fading summer and see the President in an oxford cloth blue shirt, open at the collar, smiling, affable, lunging for their hands, looking like he's happy to be there and enjoys asking for his job back.

So far, the cosmetics of this dreadful campaign have been more important than the content. But people are smart and they are starting to focus on the one big thing out there that pushes everything else to the side: This war in Iraq .

And here's why: George Bush's route back to the airport in Manchester took him in the opposite direction from the Derry Exit off I-93 where a white bed sheet hung over the rail of the highway below. On the sheet— in red, white and blue letters— was the message: 'Welcome Home Sgt. James Hubbard,' one more local from another small town where only a few are paying a big price.

By the way, I assured both Carlene Magoon and Martha Spalding that Chris was a great guy.

September 20, 2004 | 3:50 p.m. ET

The big news headline today is CBS saying it cannot vouch for the authenticity of documents used to support a "60 Minutes" story about President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service after several experts denounced them as fakes.

The network said that while it was "deliberately misled," it was wrong to go on the air with a story that it could not substantiate. ( Click to read more. )

Lt. Col. Bill Burkett is the retired Guard official widely believed to have helped provide “60 Minutes” with the memos.  On 'Hardball' last February, Chris Matthews questioned Burkett extensively about his "eyewitness accounts." ( Click here to read the transcript and watch the video. )

September 19, 2004 | 10:05 p.m. ET

King of the polls (David Shuster)

It's the question my family and friends ask me almost every day:  Who is winning this election? Most of the latest polls are all over the map . CNN/Gallup shows Bush over Kerry by 13.  Pew finds Bush up by 1.  Harris finds Kerry up by 1. Well, here's a little Hardball secret:   The one pollster my colleagues and I watch very closely is a guy by the name of John Zogby.

Why the Zogby poll?  First, a little history:  On November 6, 2000... the final CNN/Gallup tracking poll showed Bush over Gore 47-45.   Wall St. Journal:  Bush over Gore 47-44.   ABC/Washington Post:  Bush over Gore 48-45.   Tarrance:  Bush over Gore 46-41.   Christian Science Monitor:  Bush over Gore 48-46.  Only CBS (Gore over Bush by 1) and Zogby (Gore 47-Bush 46) got it correct.  (Gore received 500,000 more votes than Bush... though Bush, with Florida, won the "electoral college" and the White House.)

What happened? Most of the pollsters in 2000 used an inaccurate model of minority turnout.  Basically, their sampling model for minorities was too small and the polls thereby underestimated Gore's support.  Gallup's model, for example, was based on the premise that election turnout would be 87.5% white and 12.5% "non white."   However, according to exit polls, 19% of the voters were "non-white" and 81% were "white," a ratio that only Zogby nailed.  

One other important point:  Remember the lesson from Florida.  In each state, it's a winner take all as far as the electoral college is concerned, even if the candidates are separated in that state's popular vote by a Florida like .001%.  So, while some of the national polls right now may be interesting... they don't tell us what we need to know. And what we need to know is, what are the poll numbers in each of the top battleground states (Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan,  Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota, West Virginia, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Tennessee.)

As of this very moment, John Zogby is finishing his battleground state polls.  (He is doing them every two weeks.)  The Zogby "state by state" numbers will be out late Monday night or Tuesday.  Tune in to Hardball next week and we will have his results (and our best guidance) as to "who is winning this election."

E-mail David at DShuster@MSNBC.com

September 18, 2004 | 11:15 a.m. ET

Who you callin' Buckhead? (Keith Olbermann)

The Los Angeles Times "outed" Buckhead Friday night.

Last week, you may have seen what we reported on Countdown about the leader of the Blog pack who so quickly and with such surprising skill went after the dicey Killian Memos produced (and I mean that in both ways) by CBS News. His posts to FreeRepublic left the tracks of some of his identity, and we noted it: his Georgia base (hence the on-line handle), his contention that he was highly placed among Republican attorneys, his on-call status in the event that Bush '04 needed lawyers the way Bush '00 needed lawyers.

The L.A. Times connected the rest of the dots, and would that they drew a nice easy-to-digest picture of some lawyer/computer geek, or lawyer/typewriter fancier, or any of the other healthy fanatics the blogosphere has produced.

Nope.

This one's a Conservative activist with a connection to Ken Starr.

Harry W. MacDougald, of Atlanta, the law firm of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, the Federalist Society, and the Southeastern Legal Foundation, admitted he is "Buckhead" when the Times found him Friday, but would say nothing else. "You can ask the questions but I'm not going to answer them."

So, we'll ask anyway. There sure are a lot to ask.

They're mostly about that Southeastern Legal Foundation. It was the group that petitioned the Arkansas bar to revoke, or suspend, President Clinton's license to practice law, based on his false testimony in the Paula Jones case. Buckhead MacDougald was one of the lawyers who drew up the petition.

So maybe he's an activist lawyer with a font fetish. So what?

Except that Buckhead MacDougald also worked with the SLF's legal challenge against the campaign finance law we now call McCain-Feingold. Went all the way to the Supreme Court, that one did, underwritten by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, and handled up the legal chain by an attorney named Kenneth Starr.

I'm remembering the name. I'm having trouble placing the face.

Within four hours of CBS broadcasting the dubious paperwork, this man was, to use the parlance of Radioactive Man, "Up and At Them!" A complete mechanical and historical breakdown of the history of the font type, the IBM Selectric typewriter, the capacity of Microsoft Windows to produce such documents, and a call to arms for all other bloggers rightly suspicious of the Killian Memos.

I wrote here not long after it all broke that since doubtful doc-u-dramas had been a part of the Presidential Campaign landscape since 1844, that it really would be a nice innovation if somebody had had the cajones to self-forge— just for the novelty of the thing. At about the same time, Democratic chairman Terry McAuliffe speculated on the same possibility, and even fingered Karl Rove, who has in the past been suspected of tapping his own candidate's phone, and dropping off his own candidate's debate practice tape, to make himself and his team look like injured parties.

Buckhead's identity does nothing to confirm that bit of political science fiction.

Sadly, though, in this time when you are presumed conspiratorial until proved individualistic, the fact that somebody could, if they wanted to, draw a line from Ken Starr and Mitch McConnell through Harry "Buckhead" MacDougald to the lightning-fast doubt-raising about the Killian memos— means that a lot of somebodies will.

React to Keith's post a KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

September 17, 2004 | 4:55 p.m. ET

As the blog world turns (Joe Trippi)

“Hardball: The Horserace” will premiere tonight on MSNBC at 7p.m. ET. The whole idea is to provide the most in-depth look at the race for President possible— the place to stop every week for an up-to-date fast paced look at where things stand.  We are going to leave no stone unturned in our quest to make sure you have all the latest info on what’s going on in the race for President, and key state and local races.  

Chris Mathews will host it every Friday from now to election day, and the show will run again on Saturdays and Sundays for those who want to catch up on all things political over the weekend.

My guardian angel boss Tammy has swung things, so I will be on the show tonight and I am going to take a look at how the Internet and the Blog world is turning things upside down for traditional media. I am going to take a look at the CBS Guard Memo episode.

It turns out that the 60 Minutes story that made the case that George Bush had not fulfilled his National Guard duty wasn’t even over yet when the first question about the documents Dan Rather had cited was raised.

Not surprisingly, a poster with the online nickname “TankerKC” at one of the most conservative web bulletin boards on the Internet, www.freerepublic.com wanted to know if someone could take a look at the memos. “TankerKC” had served in the U.S. Air Force and something didn’t seem right about the style of the memos CBS was using to validate its report.

Well the Blog world started to turn. Another Freeper (that’s what a poster at Freerepublic is called) with the online nickname of “Buckhead” posted the first real critic of why the CBS documents could be forgeries. 60 Minutes had only been off the air for a few hours and a firestorm was raging from web bulletin boards, to blogs to the Drudge Report and in less than 12 hours to the mainstream media.

Spirited defenses of CBS and Rather began to spring up across the Net on Blogs like the DailyKos a noted liberal leaning blog.  

So I was a little taken aback not when CBS found itself in hot water because of the bottom-up nature of the Internet— something I write quite a bit about in my book— but because CBS then actually used the Blogosphere to defend itself.

It's right in that fine publication called the NY Times: “CBS Offers New Experts to Support Guard Memos” was the headline. But who were the “new experts”?  Well, Bill Glennon, a technology consultant and I.B.M. typewriter specialist for one. And where did CBS find Mr. Glennon?  According to the NY Times story, he posted his thoughts on the memos on a blog— and CBS gave called him.

The next 47 days are going to be a wild ride, made even more wild by how the Internet is changing the game. I hope you will tune in to The Horse Race tonight and every Friday to see our take.

BTW, Tom Curry has an excellent column related to how the 'Net is changing things.

E-mails: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

September 17, 2004 | 3:49 p.m. ET

Cheney— attacked and attacking  (Priya David, MSNBC reporter for the Cheney campaign)

We're ending this campaign week in the Pacific Northwest with two stops in Oregon.  Oregon is a state that Dick Cheney will likely keep visiting... they lost by just under 7,000 votes last time, and they feel they have a pretty good shot this year.  But that's not the case with neighboring Washington State.  We used to make campaign stops there too, and the campaign might not tell you this, but they've pretty much conceded the state to Kerry and now they're focusing on Oregon and its 7 electoral college points.

While Cheney focuses his attacks pretty much on Senator Kerry and all but ignores John Edwards, the Kerry campaign feels Cheney is a major liability for the Republican ticket that they can play up. So they attack the VP pretty consistently on the stump, and today launched a full attack.  The released a campaign ad accusing Cheney of profiting off the war in Iraq through no-bid contracts with his former employer, Halliburton.  Kerry also attacked Cheney in a speech in Albuquerque today, saying that he has two words for companies like Halliburton, "You're Fired," and calling for an end to corporate "cronyism."

Onboard Airforce 2, a campaign official told us that Cheney won't personally respond to these "old tired" attacks, but the campaign certainly kicked into high gear.  They put out multiple statements this morning, and said the attacks were baseless, with about as much credibility as "a Kitty Kelley novel." 

You can bet this isn't the end of this. The Kerry campaign has been frustrated that their attacks on the Vice President and his connections to Halliburton haven't gained as much traction as they'd like.  Now that they've launched this assault they'll do their best to keep it alive. 

E-mail: PDavid@MSNBC.com

September 17, 2004 | 12:35 p.m. ET

Man with a mission (David Shuster)

On 'Hardball,' we've analyzed, scruitinzed, and dissected just about every campaign television commercial that has been released in this election. Most of them, of course, are misleading.  But many of them are also quite effective.  And perhaps the most effective television commercials on the right come from an organization known as the " Club for Growth."

The president of the "Club for Growth" is a polite and mild mannered policy wonk named Stephen Moore. He was trained as an economist, spent several years working for conservative think tanks, and became the architect in the late 1990's of the infamous "flat tax" proposal introduced by Congressman Dick Armey. 

In 1999, Moore started "Club for Growth," an organization that advocates for lower taxes and smaller government.  In the beginning, his club members funneled contributions to conservative candidates seeking election or re-election.  But this year, when the new campaign finance laws went into effect, and Democratic groups like Moveon.org started raising millions to fill a void left by restrictions on the political parties, Moore felt the need to respond.  His club started raising money specifically to run campaign commercials themselves.  Moore says, "the club is a club of people you know, who are like minded ideologically.  But it's also a club like a baseball bat that we hold over the head of politicians if they misbehave."

Moderate republican Arlen Specter, just before his Senate primary against a more conservative Republican, got whacked by a club for growth ad and barely survived.  Democrat Howard Dean got "clubbed" as a "sushi eating, latte drinking, liberal freak show" just before the Iowa caucuses. 

The irreverent style of the Club for Growth ads has been fueling the group's popularity among Republicans. And by the election, Club expects that it will have raised and spent 25 million dollars.  That's the largest amount of any Republican 527 organization

Tune into the 'Hardball: The Horserace' tonight for a closer look at Stephen Moore and his "Club for Growth."  Next Friday, we will have a closer look at Moore's counterpart on the democratic side -- Harold Ickes, who runs a democratic 527 organization called " The Media Fund."

E-mail DShuster@MSNBC.com

Click here to read Shuster's report on 527 organizations . Click to read more of Shuster's reports .

September 16, 2004 | 6:10 p.m. ET

My "college orientation," and hopefully-not-too-idealistic thoughts (Joe Trippi)

It’s been a few weeks since I dropped my daughter Christine off to start her freshman year of college, so this week it was my turn to go through my own college orientation of sorts. Earlier in the year I was selected to be a Fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government—Institute of Politics.

So on Monday, I headed up to Cambridge, Massachusetts to go through orientation, meet students, and get situated. What’s amazing is to find myself in the midst of young people who are so idealistic, and not jaded, or worn down by the angry divisive politics of the current election cycle.

The Institute of Politics is a living memorial to President Kennedy, and being here is special to me as both John F. Kennedy, and particularly his brother Bobby inspired me to get into politics in the first place.

I am sitting at my desk in a place named after one of the most idealistic Presidents in my lifetime. For all John F. Kennedy’s strengths and faults, he inspired people and asked Americans to sacrifice for the common good of the nation.

Today, we live in a country that is at war. We have an all-volunteer army in Iraq with over 1000 of America’s sons and daughters paying the ultimate sacrifice , giving their lives for our country. And the thing that is different is how little has been asked of the rest of us. We are the first citizens to have our taxes cut in a time of war. Too many Americans would complain about it if instead of cuts, our taxes had been raised to pay for the war in Iraq.   

You get a sense from the students here, that they want to be called on again, that they want to know what they can do— that they want to do something— frankly I’ve had that sense from most Americans since 9/11. What is stunning to me as I sit here is that it is clear to me that the American people want to pull together for the common good more than ever— and instead we are witnessing one of the most divisive and polarizing campaigns by both sides— and its driving us apart.

Maybe things were easier for our leaders in the 60’s. Maybe we weren’t so cynical and jaded.   I am a Democrat, and I hope John Kerry wins this election but the fact is that neither Kerry nor Bush have called on the American people to sacrifice a thing for the common good of the nation in this election. I believe both have missed a giant opportunity to call on the American people and either would be stunned by the response of average Americans to such a call.

What’s refreshing is to be in a place where despite this lack of leadership there exists idealistic students who still hear the call of doing something for their country and are hungry to discover what they can do.

Tomorrow, I fly back to Washington in the morning because (as I hear it) my guardian angel boss Tammy has talked Phil into putting me on the air again. So tune in during Hardball if you can!

E-mail me, as always: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

'Hardball' premieres "Hardball: The Horserace" tomorrow (Fridays, 7 p.m. ET). Click here to read the press release.

September 16, 2004 | 4:02 p.m. ET

Guest blog from CNBC's Ron Insana:

Bush-whacked (Ron Insana)

I am not political analyst but I do believe the markets are very good barometers of where the country is both economically, politically and socially.

As you know by now, I am a believer that markets help us predict future outcomes. And in the case of the presidential race, the market has placed its bet squarely on George W. Bush. And not on John Kerry. And that's not a preferential statement... it is just a statement of fact.

Just look at the presidential futures markets and what they are saying about November. 

The Iowa electronic futures market has President Bush widening his lead by 18 points over his Democratic challenger, while "Trade Sports," a British on-line futures market, has President Bush with a neatly 40 point lead over John Kerry.

As late as the middle of August, this race was a dead heat.

The rally in stocks also underscores the notion that the financial markets are pricing in the status quo, no tax hikes and no attempt to radically alter the health care landscape, the two areas that would show the most obvious reactions to the prospect of a Kerry presidency.

Please remember that this is not, NOT, personal. Political commentary... this is only my view of how the markets are behaving with respect to the election outcome. But as the lead widens, it becomes clear that the markets are betting that John Kerry is on a swift boat to join Al Gore and Robert Dole and Michael Dukakis down the political river Styxx.

Catch Ron on MSNBC's "Market Wrap," 4 p.m. ET on MSNBC. Click here to subscribe to his daily newsletter, "Message of the Markets".

September 15, 2004 | 5:20 p.m. ET

Who is winning this race and why... (David Shuster)

To win a presidential election, strategists of every stripe will tell you that your campaign must show audacity, fearlessness, and chutzpah. And it's why the Republican party and the Bush campaign has been crushing the democrats and John Kerry.

Take the CBS/Bush national guard documents— Republicans are hammering the anti-Bush story and  those responsible for it. The GOP is even demanding a Congressional investigation .  Quote, (from a Republican letter on capitol hill): "We urge CBS to retract its story, and to disclose the identities of the people who have used your network to deceive your viewers."  A congressional investigation may be warranted.  But keep in mind this is the same group of lawmakers who tried to BLOCK investigations into the false testimony, forged documents, and outright lies used by the CIA and Pentagon to make the case for war with Iraq.  Audacity?  You bet.  Agressive and smart politics?  Indeed.

Here's another example.  Guess who said, "It's simply wrong to vote to commit our troops to combat and then refuse to provide them with the resources they need."  Was this (a) a Democrat complaining to military leaders in March 2003 about the decision to send troops into Iraq without bullet proof vests. (something testified to by military leaders at the time.)  Or was this (b) Dick Cheney slamming John Kerry for his vote against supplemental war funding.  If you guessed "b," you know who is showing confidence and strength.

How about this example: Guess who said this week,  "I believe a president must confront problems, not pass them on to future Presidents and future generations."  Was this (a) President Bush talking about Iraq or (b) John Kerry bemoaning the record budget deficit and calling on higher taxes on the rich to close the gap.   If you guessed (a), you know which candidate is showing the fearlessness it takes to win. 

E-mail David: DShuster@MSNBC.com

Watch Shuster's reports , tonight, 7 p.m. ET on 'Hardball.' David's upcoming report is on Kerry's new line of attacks, challenging the president's credibility, blasting Pres. Bush for becoming the first president in 80 years to lose more jobs than have been created.

September 15, 2004 | 3:00 p.m. ET

Vietnam issues shouldn't have surprised Kerry and Co. (Dee Dee Myers)

From the beginning, John Kerry knew —or should have known— that Vietnam was a double-edged sword for him.  Always has been, always will be.  As we all know by now, he volunteered for combat, served bravely, and was decorated five times.  Efforts to discredit that service are nothing short of dispicable.  At the same time, when he came home to lead the anti-war movement, a lot of verterans who were more conflicted about the war felt like they'd been punched in the face.  And for 30 years, they've been talking about it.  When Kerry decided to run for — and certainly by the time he won the nomination— he had to know some kind of attack was coming.  So what did he do to prepare for the inevitable?  Next to nothing.  Sure, he surrounded himself with the "Band of Brothers," who provided moral support and inspiring testimonials about Kerry's bravery under fire.  And Kerry is never better than in the company of men who served with him and defend him to this day.

But what about the rest of them, the ones who've been accusing him of exaggerating his feats, hoodwinking his superiors and going home with medals he didn't deserve?  Its not like they appeared out of nowhere last month.  They've been out there for years, raising questions in virtually every campaign he's ever run.  And Kerry has always understood the source of the anger: not what he did in combat; but what he did when he came home.  So why didn't he defend his anti-war efforts (while perhaps admitting that his language was sometimes too harsh)?  Why didn't he simply say, "I went to Vietnam because I believed it was my duty, but what I saw there changed me forever.  I saw young Americans dying for a war the government was no longer committed to winning.  I saw a civilian leadership that had let down the troops.  And I came home determined to prevent another man from dying in vain.  If I offended some people with my blunt talk, I'm sorry.  But I still believe it was the right thing to do." 

In addition to innoculating him against some of the harshest charges leveled by the Swift Boat Veterans for Bush, Kerry could have drawn some relevant parellels with Iraq: civilian leaders who misunderstood what was at stake, were overly optimistic about what it would take to win, didn't prepare adequately for a more hostile environment and a more determined insurgency, and who ultimately let the troops down.

Yes, it's Monday Morning Quarterbacking.  But after more than 30 years in this game, Kerry and Co. should have seen it coming.

E-mail DeeDee at DMyers@MSNBC.com

September 15, 2004 | 11:20 a.m. ET

All the yak-yak (Keith Olbermann)

Your Honor, in the case of the People versus Sleazy Politicians, we’d like to introduce our Plague-On-Both-Your-Houses witness.

So the documents are lies, but what’s in the documents is the truth.

For the second time in the Killian Memos controversy, we’ve heard this puzzle wrapped inside an enigma, so described by a primary source. The first was when a retired officer verified the documents based solely on their content, then recanted when he actually saw them in a form that appears to be as much a historical mismatch as Shakespeare's reference to chimneys in Julius Caesar.

The second was yesterday, when Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian’s secretary, 86 years old, alive and well and evidently full of vinegar and the other stuff, told The Dallas Morning News “these are not real,” but added “the information in here was correct.”

The woman is identified as Marian Carr Knox, Killian’s secretary— and typist— at Ellington Air Force Base from 1956 to 1979. “They’re not what I typed, and I would have typed them for him.”

Killian, Ms. Knox told the Dallas paper, did indeed keep files full of memos and notes - the kind of file Killian’s widow denied existed - a “cover his back” file that he kept in a locked drawer in his office desk. And she remembered “vividly when Bush was there and all the yak-yak that was going on about it.”

Thank you, Ms. Knox. We needed a new memorable phrase to replace the rapidly fading ones dealing with superscripts and font sizes. “All the yak-yak” will do just fine.

Of course, it turns out Jerry Killian’s secretary is more than just a material witness against both the validity of the documents and the validity of the President’s version of events. She is also a theorist on the controversy, and of course we don’t have enough of them.

Her speculation was that clearly somebody had seen Killian’s private file and forged the memos from memory. These weren’t recreations, she concluded. The language and terminology were wrong, they sounded more like they were written by an Army man than an Air National Guardsman. If his notes and memos still exist, they don't look like these memos -- she always put Killian’s signature on the other side, and she never used that typeface, although she remembers her two office typewriters, an old manual Olympia, and an IBM Selectric.

Gee whiz, Ms. Knox, we’re real sorry you can’t remember any details.

The picture is beginning to clear up, despite the haze of history, the Fog of Reserve Duty, and the artificial smoke machines being deployed on both sides. If anybody should’ve known how Jerry Killian liked his memos, and how he did or didn’t like his Lieutenant Bush, it would be his secretary.

As unlikely as it sounds, it looks like everybody’s guilty. Somebody, somewhere, wanted to get the damning and accurate perceptions of the President’s time in the ANG out to the media, and decided to improve upon the truth— like a scuffed and dented up baseball cards with its creases ironed out and its stubbed corners restored to pristine sharpness.

The catch, of course, is that people who cherish the truth—  and I’d have to nominate Marian Carr Knox for membership— the truth isn’t supposed to receive this kind of help.

And the catch to that, of course, is that if the truth has been held hostage somewhere, you’re supposed to rescue it by any means necessary.

And the catch to the catch, of course, is who at CBS News said it was ok to smuggle the truth out dressed up as a forgery.

Alas. Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, you may resume all the Yak-Yak.

E-mail Keith at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com

September 15, 2004 | 10:40 a.m. ET

VP Cheney and hand cleanser (Priya David, MSNBC reporter for the Cheney campaign)

The VP has been more elusive these days than when I first joined the trail two months ago.  We used to get glimpses of him behind the scenes, waiting to go on stage as we hustled to our seats, or as he exited after shaking supporters' hands.  Now the staff carefully orchestrates our movements so we don't get the chance to peek at him in those moments.  We'll all get out of the motorcade together and then be held at the door, or behind a curtain, until the area is clear. 

Vice President Dick Cheney waves at the audience after addressing the 2004 Republican National Convention
Gary Hershorn  /  Reuters
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney waves to the audience after addressing the 2004 Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden in New York, September 1, 2004.
It all stems from one day when we were waiting for him offstage...  Cheney walked out of a rally, after shaking dozens and dozens of hands, and we watched him wiping his hands with some sort of hand cleanser.  A few of us asked for details about the cleanser, but our questions went unanswered.  The incident made it into the Washington Post that weekend, much to the chagrin of the staff.  After that, our time with the VP, even near him, was cut back.  I know what it can be made to look like...that the Cheney's not a 'man of the people'...and I'd be the last to say that he's a man who thrives in crowds of people. 

And I'm certainly no clean freak, but I'll tell you, if I'm ever shaking that many strangers' hands, multiple times a day, it would be hard not to start dunking my hands in a vat of Purell.

E-mail PDavid@MSNBC.com for thoughts, comments.

September 14, 2004 | 10:15 p.m. ET

Why are the Democrats still fighting the Vietnam War? (Dee Dee Myers)

The ad released by the DNC earlier today— rehashing questions about young George W. Bush's service in the National Guard — is a total waste.  It does nothing to help John Kerry win.  Instead, it pours precious resources down the rathole of 30 year-old questions.  Yes, its emotionally satisfying for some of us partisans to search for a paper trail that proves George Bush's service was less than honorable.  But there's just no there there.

I am convinced (along with almost every open-minded person I know) that Bush got preferential treatment when he got inot the Guard in 1968.  But I'm also more or less satisfied that he fulfilled his obligation.  Yes, he gamed the system.  After he learned to fly jets— and got a little bored with the routine, perhaps— he figured out how much, or how little, he would have to do to check the requisite boxes and get on with his life.  And that's exactly what he did.

After four years as president, George W. Bush is known quantity.  People who like him tend to see him as resolute and steady, navigating from a fixed set stars.  People who don't like him tend to see him as wrecklessly stubborn, refusing to change his mind in face of insurmountable evidedence that he is wrong.  Either way, these notions are set, and are unlikely to change much in the next 58 days.  So why bother?  Wouldn't it be more productive to fight about the direction he has led the country in the last four years— and more importantly where that record suggests he'll lead in the next four? 

To paraphrase Pres. Clinton, elections are about voters futures, not politicians pasts.  So let's get on with it.

E-mail: DMyers@MSNBC.com

September 14, 2004 | 4:43 p.m. ET

Is the pen mighty? (Dominic Bellone, Hardball producer and newsletter editor)

Tonight, Chris interviews two authors with provocative new books, Kitty Kelley and Seymour Hersh.  Hersh's book "Chain of Command: From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib" covers much of the ground we've been over for the past couple of years: How did we get to war in Iraq?  What evidence was used to take us there? Who were the key players who influenced the President's thinking on Iraq and what were their political motivations? And most recently, how did our soldiers end up committing the heinous acts they did at Abu Ghraib? Hersh contends that top officials were aware of the abuse and did nothing to correct it. In fact the Pentagon has already issued this blanket condemnation of the book.

The Kelley book is a whole other ball of wax . One of the more incendiary charges in the book is the allegation of substance abuse by the president.  Chris will ask her about the private lives of the Bush family which don't, in her mind, jive with the family's public persona.  Chris will also question her sources and methods in writing the book.  Chris is really interested in figuring out what, if any, new revelations in the book might sway voters this election. 

We'll leave it up to you to decide her credibility. She also levels an allegation about Laura Bush that will blow your mind, but you'll have to tune in to hear it. 

Hardball airs tonight at 7pm, 11pm, & 4 am ET on MSNBC.

September 14, 2004 | 2:22 p.m. ET

What's up with Dick Cheney? (David Shuster)

Last week, I blogged about some of Vice President Cheney's more memorable quotes.  Now, the Vice President has given us another incredible quote, even hotter and more controversial than previous offerings. And today, when I called Republicans on capitol hill to read them the quote, several of them suggested, "he (Cheney) couldn't possibly have said that."  Well, we've double checked the transcripts... and he did.

Talking about European nations and the war on terror, Cheney said, and I quote:  "I think some have hoped that if they kept their heads down and stayed out of the line of fire, they wouldn't get hit. I think what happened in Russia now demonstrates pretty conclusively that everybody is a target. That Russia, of course, didn't support us in Iraq, they didn't get involved in sending troops there, they've gotten hit anyway."

The first two sentences are not the issue... it's the third sentence -- the idea that if Russia had only supported us in Iraq, had only sent troops there, they wouldn't have gotten hit.  That is insane.  Russia got hit because of their conflict in Chechnya.  It had nothing to do with whether they did or did not send troops to Iraq.  Every Republican I've spoken with today has expressed "displeasure" at the vice president's remarks  Furthermore, most of them are feeling awfully "queasy" about Mr. Cheney using the murder of hundreds of children in Russia to make an argument about U.S. involvement in Iraq.

mail DShuster@MSNBC.com

Click here to read more Shuster reports , and watch 'Hardball' for the latest election news from David.

September 14, 2004 | 10:50 a.m. ET            

Was Dan duped? (Pat Buchanan)

Dan Rather, successor to Walter Cronkite as anchor of CBS News, may be about to close out his career on a banana peel.

Last Wednesday, Rather launched a "60 Minutes" pre-emptive strike against the president. Rather's charges: Bush got into the National Guard through pull, was an insubordinate officer who refused to take the medical exam to keep flying and used clout to prevent his being disciplined.

Rather's attack was based on four newly discovered memos said to be from the personal files of Bush's squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. The memos, writes The New York Times, indicate "Mr. Bush ... failed to take a physical examination 'as ordered' and that his commander felt under pressure to 'sugarcoat' his performance rating, because First Lieutenant Bush ... was 'talking to someone upstairs.'"

Rather seemed to have substantiated the rumors about Bush's Guard service, as his piece also featured an interview with former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who confessed to having interceded to get Bush into the Texas Air National Guard.

Within hours, however, Rather's case was crumbling . From both independent analysis of the memos and witness testimony, it appears that Rather may have been duped into colluding with a scheme to use forgeries to smear and sink a president of the United States.

First, the new Killian memos appear to have been produced on a word processor that did not exist in 1972-73. They are written in a Times New Roman typeface rarely found on old typewriters. The letters "th" in "111th squadron" are written in a "superscript" few typewriters of the Vietnam era had. And the spacing of the letters on the memos is more like that of modern word processors than of early 1970s' typewriters, where letters were of equal size.

Killian's widow (he died in 1984) and son say he never kept notes and call the memos a farce. "No officer in his right mind would write a memo like that," says Killian's son Gary, an ex-Guardsman himself, of the memo in which Col. Killian says he is being pressured to "sugarcoat" Bush's record of insubordination. Rufus Martin, personnel chief in Killian's unit, also calls the memos fakes: "I don't think Killian would do that, and I knew him for 17 years."

On "60 Minutes," Rather identified the senior officer who was said to be leaning on Killian. "Killian says (in his memo) Col. Buck Staudt, the man in charge of the Texas Air National Guard, is putting pressure on to 'sugarcoat' an evaluation of Lt. Bush." But according to The Dallas Morning News, Staudt was discharged from the Guard and gone 18 months before Killian's memo was written.

Rather claims Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, Col. Killian's superior, confirmed to CBS that the memos were consistent with what he recalls.

But ABC quotes Hodges as saying CBS mislead him into thinking the memos were handwritten, and he thus responded, "Well if he wrote them that's what he felt." Hodges now calls the memos a "fraud" that has been "computer-generated."

If Killian did write the four memos, notes National Review's Byron York, he would have to have been a complete hypocrite. For as he was allegedly writing bitter memos to himself about Bush, he was praising Lt. Bush in the official records in Guard files. Killian's widow says her late husband was an admirer of young George.

As for Ben Barnes, his daughter Amy says her father is now lying. Barnes is a Kerry fund-raiser and Nantucket neighbor of the windsurfer whose story about intervening for Bush has changed over the years.

Despite the cloud over the authenticity of the memos, CBS says it is conducting no internal investigation of how it got them or whether they are authentic. Hard to believe. For the reputations of Rather, CBS and "60 Minutes" are all on the line.

It should not be difficult to authenticate the memos. If they were written by Killian over an 18-month period, then other memos about unrelated matters, but with the same Times New Roman font, the same spacing, the same signature and the same "superscript" should be there. If, however, none are found, CBS may have placed its credibility behind a criminal forgery to destroy a president.

Indeed, if these memos turn out to be fakes, CBS and Rather will be guilty of, at least, having been played for fools. At worst, they could be convicted in the court of public opinion of collusion in a plot to bring down a president— a plot into which they were lured by a blinding bias against George W. Bush.

E-mail at PBuchanan@MSNBC.com

Click here to learn more about Pat's new book, "Where the Right Went Wrong: How Neoconservatives Subverted the Reagan Revolution and Hijacked the Bush Presidency."

September 13, 2004 | 5:10 p.m. ET

Good Afternoon from Wisconsin Hardbloggers (Felix Schein)

For the past week I've been on a road-trip through the Midwest working on a series we've called "America's Voices." The idea is to get your thoughts and feelings about the election and the issues that are important to you on our air and to take you behind the scenes of the campaigns and show you what they are doing to court your vote.

So far I've stopped in West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin and we've talked to voters about the economy, national security, guns and the non-stop political ads many of you are seeing on television. Today, I hope to focus on education and what people in LaCrosse, Wisconsin think about the No Child Left Behind Act. This was one of the first towns President Bush visited following his signing the legislation into law.

Up next is New Mexico, a state that was decided by fewer than 400 votes in 2000. With some luck we'll talk to campaign staff on both sides who were there then and who are working hard to win this year. With such a slim margin for error, you can imagine it gets personal.

As always, your thoughts and input are welcome. This is a series we intend to carry forward until election day, so make your voices heard.

E-mail FSchein@MSNBC.com

September 13, 2004 | 12:53 p.m. ET

Battleground Pennsylvania (Joe Trippi)

I’ve just spent the last three days rolling around Pennsylvania again.   And I’ve got to say that the race for President has gotten considerably closer in the Keystone state since my last visit. But this is Hardblogger where we are going to call them like we see them— and I still do not see how Bush carries the state at this point.

Let me explain: I’ve spent the bulk of my time in the “T”. The “T” is what political pros call the area

of the state from Erie in the west across the top of the state towards Allentown in the east, and the area in the middle of the state from Scranton in the north down through Harrisburg.  This area is the most conservative in the state and has a much higher percentage of registered Republican voters than areas outside the “T” such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

On my last visit to the “T”  Kerry actually held an unheard of lead over Bush. That has changed.  Bush has closed the gap and quite likely taken a lead here now.  But its close.   And if the “T” stays close there are just too many votes in Philadelphia and other areas of the state, where Democrats are strong, for Bush to win the Keystone state.

With the state of Missouri now clearly moving into the Bush column (at least as of now) and Ohio currently leaning in that direction as well, Pennsylvania may earn its Keystone nickname in the Bush/Kerry contest.  Kerry has to carry the state— and after this visit it looks like it’s a closer contest but its still Kerry’s to lose.

E-mail: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

Click here to read Trippi's take on Pennsylvania from the commentary archives.

September 13, 2004 | 10:15 a.m. ET

John Kerry is toast, but what about the issues? (Joe Scarborough)

I know there are still 50 or so days left, but I am beginning to wonder how a presidential candidate who has failed to define himself at this late stage of a campaign can ever find his footing.

Kerry has become the Amazing Shrinking Man over the past 60 days because the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat vets have endlessly run commercials that have painted the Massachusetts senator as a flip-flopper who believes in nothing more than winning elections.

The number one rule for challengers in political campaigns is to define yourself before you let others define you. The Kerry camp has failed this political test miserably while those blasting away at Bush are wasting their time and money. Americans know who George W. Bush is, for better or worse. And they really couldn't care less what he was doing during the Vietnam War.

All they care about is what he is going to do to win the war we are in with Islamic terrorists.

So now that the election is essentially won, the Republican Party has proven once again that it is ruthlessly efficient when it comes to finishing off political enemies outside the Party. Now the only question is whether they will be as effective taking on the enemies from within.

Republicans in Congress have spent the past three years passing the largest spending bills ever-ripping off taxpayers at record rates. The deficit, the debt, and the future debt are all at record highs. America has gone from being the biggest creditor nation to being the greatest debtor nation. And GOP leaders are now telling us that the era of small government is over—that it is good to be a "big government conservative."

Ten years after we also hear that $7 trillion socialized medicine schemes are good things and that Teddy Kennedy's bill to nationalize public education is a step forward.

I'm confused. Wasn't Goals 2000 supposed to bring about the end of Western Civilization? What of HR 4 in 1993? Where is the consistency? Where is the shame?

We were told ten years ago that deficits were the greatest threat to America's future. Now that they have almost doubled GOP leaders tell us that deficits matter.

One question: were we lying then or are we lying now?

Just curious.

E-mail JScarborough@MSNBC.com

Joe Scarborough hosts ' Scarborough Country,' weeknights, 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC. He's also the author of a new book, "Rome Wasn't Burned in a Day,"  which talks about how politicians, bureaucrats, and other Washington barbarians are bankrupting America.

September 11, 2004 | 3:15 p.m. ET

The Nth degree (Keith Olbermann)

All I know is, I didn’t have a typewriter like that in 1972.

But somebody had an idea like that. As early as 1844.

Many of the developments in “The Killian Memos” story are not merely inconsistent— they seem to be mutually exclusive. It’s so bad I can’t even tell how many rats I smell.

The starting line, of course, are with the papers themselves, filled with their electronic-age spacing and printer’s quality superscript “th”s and, most relevantly, their mis-timed references to military men who’d already beaten their swords into plowshares and gone home.

But there’s also the back-story, that of the reluctant CBS confirming source, the Bush supporter who says with sadness that all that’s in those notes is exactly what Jerry Killian told him, and if that doesn’t sound as phony as the documents themselves, I don’t know what would.

Except maybe the White House itself distributing copies of the memos to reporters and Scott McClellan almost defiantly announcing that the administration wasn’t contesting the authenticity of any of them.

I am not suggesting somebody set CBS up with subtly fabricated documents that could then be triumphantly proved as forgeries. That’d be a helluva political risk, since you could always go broke underestimating the resourcefulness of the American media and your deliberately phonied documents might never be debunked. But in this season of Swift Boats and Texans for Truths, I almost wish I could.

The largest lie contained in the charges and counter-charges by the arm’s length anti-Bush and anti-Kerry campaigns (with small c’s) is that this is all somehow new to presidential politics, as if the broad smear and the mining of the candidates' distant past were not part-and-parcel of American history. The commentators who bemoan the corruption and debasement of the process are as disingenuous as some of the ads, and as convincing as Claude Rains announcing he was shocked, shocked, to discover gambling going on in Casablanca.

The Connecticut Courant, then a house newspaper of the Federalist Party, anticipated Dick Cheney by 204 years when it wrote during the election of 1800 that the election of Thomas Jefferson (“the drunkard and enemy of religion”) would doubtlessly foment Civil War. By 1802, the Richmond Recorder had reported the rumor of Jefferson’s liaison with Sally Hemmings (to hell with Monica Lewinsky— that’s a story with staying power).

More to the point of the Killian memos: in 1844, campaigning on behalf of Whig nominee Henry Clay, kingmaker Thurlow Weed composed a newspaper article quoting a third party who’d supposedly seen the slaves of Democratic nominee James K. Polk branded like cattle with his initials. The Whigs later sent letters to Democratic leaders bearing the forged signatures of other Democratic leaders, forecasting horrific defeat and urging them to stay home from the polls. There was a damaging forged letter ascribed to James Garfield in 1880 (he won the election anyway, but was assassinated, and if there’s a lesson in there I don’t know what it is), and another forgery that contributed to Grover Cleveland’s defeat in 1888.

There is no conclusion here about the legitimacy of the Killian letters, although I will conclude by confessing that the Political Science Fiction explanation (these were literally designed to be discredited) appeals to me, if only out of a wish that these hack politicians would actually come up with something new and not merely repeat tactics which constitute the sole living legacy of long-defunct parties like the Federalists and the Whigs, for cryin’ out loud.

E-mail Keith at KOlbermann@MSNBC.com
     
September 10, 2004 | 5:45 p.m. ET

The eve of 9/11's third anniversary (Dominic Bellone, Hardball producer and newsletter editor)

Tonight, Chris Matthews hosts an exclusive special on the eve of the 9/11's third anniversary. 

We'll spend the full hour with five of the 9/11 Commissioners charged with investigating what led to 9/11, what went wrong and what our government can do to prevent another attack. 

One of the many ways we can honor the victims and heroes of 9/11 is to ask the tough questions of our government about America's worst terrorist attack in history.  Who's to blame?  Why weren't we more prepared?  Are we safer now three years later?  Have we dismantled the terrorist network that attacked us? 

Please join us tonight at 7 pm, 11 pm & 4 am Eastern in lieu of Hardball.

September 10, 2004 | 1:15 p.m. ET

When my daughter Christine met Kerry's now-chief adviser John Sasso (Joe Trippi

)

About 25 years ago in November of 1979, I received the call that beckoned me to work on my first presidential campaign.  I was 23 years old and my only possession in the world was an old beat up Ford Pinto which I promptly jumped into and drove like a banshee to Des Moines, Iowa.

I bring this up because John Sasso just joined the Kerry campaign , and in 1979, all I knew was I was supposed to get to Des Moines as fast as possible and report to a guy named... John Sasso.  John, along with 4 or 5 others, changed my life forever that year— I had been an aeronautical engineering major, and would end up dropping out of college to try and "change the world" through politics.  So yeah I'm biased but Sasso is someone I'm glad to know is on Kerry's team now.

In any case, for those of you who followed my recent 14-hour drive to take my daughter, Christine to college, I left something out.  Along the way I realized we were passing by the building John Sasso's office was in— and it hit me— we hadn't run into each other in years, really. I suddenly wanted to introduce Christine to someone who had such an impact on my life. So, I just pulled over (getting the "Oh, dad!" look from Christine) and headed up to his office unannounced (which really got the "Oh, dad!" look from Christine).

Sasso was in his office looking at a map of the United States with dozens of colored pins stuck in it. He brought Christine in and began to explain that all of the pins represented the campaign stops of Bush, Cheney, Kerry and Edwards, and that he was tracking them to see what the pattern of each campaign was.  Christine pointed at a bunch of stops Bush had recently made in Florida and asked if that meant the Bush campaign was worried about the Sunshine State.  My chest swelled a little at my daughter's clear understanding of exactly what the pins on John's wall meant.

A broad grin swept across my face as I watched Christine become deeply interested in what John Sasso was saying.  She asked him questions, and seemed to be getting more interested with each of his answers.

Then a sickening thought ran through my head: When I'd had a similar talk with John back when I was Christine's age, I had immediately dropped out of college.

My heart sank at the prospects, after all I hadn't even gotten Christine moved into her dorm yet!

I sprang into action immediately— apologized to Sasso for taking up so much of his time, and drove Christine straight to her campus.  Sure, leaving here there was kind of tough, but I consoled myself with the fact that I left her on campus without a car. No way was my little baby driving like a banshee anywhere in this presidential season.

Seeing your own crazed genes emerge in your child is a scary thing to watch, and I'd seen enough to scare me for the rest of the semester.

E-mails: JTrippi@MSNBC.com

Read Joe's latest "Trippi's Take" on the comments VP Cheney can't "explain away."

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