December 7, 2004| 5:45 p.m. ET

Oops! (David Shuster)

One of the ironic things about a Presidential campaign is that the candidates introduce us to thousands of people who are held out as an "example" of something.  And days, weeks, or months later, we find out the supporter is not somebody the candidate or campaign would ever want to associate with.

The latest example comes courtesy of the atrios blog.  On October 6, less than a month before the election, President Bush went to Des Moines, Iowa and introduced us to Mike and Sharla Hintz, a couple that the President said benefited from the administration's tax policies.   Because of the child tax credit, Mike and Sharla Hintz received an extra $1,600 in their tax refund... and with other tax cuts, the President said they saved enough money to buy a more efficient stove, make some home improvements, and go on a vacation to Minnesota.  Mr. Bush joked, "Next year, maybe they'll want to come to Texas."  Mike Hintz, a First Assembly of God youth pastor, said he supports Mr. Bush's values.  Hintz specifically mentioned the "war with our culture that's going on."

Hintz seemed like a perfect example for the Bush campaign.  Here was a youth pastor, a family man, a father of four...  who could talk taxes while condemning the hollywood cultural trash.  Perhaps Mr. Hintz was referring to mass entertainment's obsession with sex... or the impact such morals have had on teenagers and children? 

Speaking of morals, we've now learned that at the time of the Bush campaign event, Mike Hintz had been conducting an affair with a 17-year-girl who was a member of the church youth group.  Iowa television station KCCI is now reporting that Hintz was fired at the end of October and has now been "charged with the sexual exploitation of a child."

A Bush campaign official points out that nobody knew about Mr. Hintz's problems at the time of the event.  And the official noted that when you are talking about tens of thousands of volunteers or staff who help a candidate, you are always going to discover some who aren't quite what they seem.  Indeed.  

Comments/questions:  DShuster@msnbc.com

December 3, 2004| 1:27 p.m. ET

A vote fraud whistleblower... or not? (David Shuster)

If you look at some of the biggest scandals over the last 30 years, most of them were brought to our attention by an "insider," a whistleblower who put his/her neck on the line to stand up for justice and help a reporter or investigation reveal evidence that needed to be told.  Think of "Deep Throat" in Watergate or Jeffrey Wigand in the tobacco company nicotine-spiking scandal. 

A few days ago, my colleagues and I were noting the absence of any whistleblower in the fraud allegations swirling over the election... and I mentioned that I considered this to be another problem for those making the accusations. Surely, if the election had been hacked, there would be somebody who might brag about it to a talkative friend, or somebody who might know something and would be willing to contact a reporter or stand up  for the principle of free and fair elections.

Today, I was presented with an e-mail bouncing all over the Internet from somebody identifying himself/herself as Brad Menfil. Menfil writes, "I work for the RNC.  I fear reprisals if I'm found out."  Menfil alleges that "Florida and Ohio had to go for Bush in order for him to win the election... in reality, he lost both states.  In fact, he did not even win the popular vote.  He lost the national popular vote by at least 1,750,000. This shows you the scale of the fraud."

When it comes to fraud, though, take a look at Brad Menfil. He starts with a quick explanation of the computer encryption system that hacked the results.  Then, regarding Florida, he writes, "Does anybody wonder why the Republican counties were mostly counted after the Democratic counties?" 

Actually, I don't... because that did not happen.  I was in Florida for the election.  And I remember very clearly reporting live on MSNBC when the heavily Republican county final numbers came in.  I also remember pointing out that it was going to be hours before we knew the results from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties... the biggest Democratic strongholds.  In fact, the final numbers from the big Democratic counties came in nearly two hours after the big Republican counties.  I was there.  Brad also claims that in New Hampshire, where Kerry won "barely," the lead was actually 6% and "not enough fraudulent activity took place to flip the state to Bush."  I've spent a lot of time in New Hampshire in recent years... and the granite state is one of those places where voter rolls, precinct results, and town/village numbers are scrutinized by almost everybody who lives there.   As Republican and Democratic officials in New Hampshire stated a few weeks ago in response to similar claims, "the allegations are absurd."

But let's put aside the allegations about the election and look more closely at this self-proclaimed "insider."  Brad claims to work at the RNC.  The RNC is a big organization that leaks like a sieve.  And while that building (and the DNC) have their share of evil partisans, there are also many folks in both organizations who believe that regardless of the outcome, our elections should be clean.

Furthermore, take a look at Brad's explanation for why he seems reluctant to be anything more than a cheerleader when it comes to talking about alleged fraud. He writes, "I fear reprisals if I'm found out."  Let me get this straight:  Brad, you know of fraud on a massive scale that proves the election was rigged... but, to heck with protecting the integrity of our democracy, you are more concerned about protecting yourself against "reprisals?"  Come on. 

If you are really savvy enough to get a job in a national political organization, you know there are a dozen ways that whistleblowers can get their story "verified" and "told" while protecting their anonymity and safety.

The fact is, Brad Menfil, or whatever his/her real name is... is a self absorbed and sick punk.  Menfil only seems to care about making an argument, not about proving one.  There are some thoughtful discussions and honest investigations into the troubling election "irregularities."   Let's not allow those to get shoved aside or replaced because of quacks like this.

Thoughts/comments/questions:  DShuster@msnbc.com

December 2, 2004| 1:10 p.m. ET

Inspired by Sen. Gary Hart (Joe Trippi)

Last week, as part of my Fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, I invited former Senator Gary Hart to talk about the general theme of an incredible book he wrote “The Restoration of the Republic”  that I believe every citizen should take the time to read.

In any case, Sen. Hart graciously agreed to take the time to meet with a group of students and he talked about the origins of our republic—about the principles of civic virtue, the common good, and civic participation— ideas we hear too little about in today’s attack dog politics.

He talked about how the founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson, believed that a remote central government was likely to tend towards corruption and away from the people.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how the Democratic Party needs to reform itself to empower people to have more of a say in the decisions that effect their lives— and so I wrote a "Trippi’s Take" column today that was largely inspired by Gary Hart’s talk at Harvard.  I hope you will check it out and let me know what you think.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal printed an Op-ed I wrote “Only the Grassroots Can Save the Democrats” that I hope you can check out (the link may be subscription only).

E-mail Joe Trippi at JTrippi@msnbc.com.

December 2, 2004| 9:28 a.m. ET

John Kerry and the Ohio recount (David Shuster)

On Tuesday night, when I first heard that John Kerry had filed legal documents in Ohio to help keep recount efforts going, I gained a new appreciation for the power of rumor, innuendo, and emotion regarding the irregularities of the 2004 election.    I was initially told that Senator Kerry had been presented with "new information about Ohio" and had personally instructed his legal team, after four weeks of sitting on the sidelines, to spring into action.

What was the new information?  Had Kerry learned something to back up the unsubstantiated allegations about hacked election computers?   A dozen phone calls later, it turned out that Kerry's information was not new, he had not learned anything "solid" to support the fraud allegations, and the Washington Post story that seemed to be in the works was not going to be a "block buster."  My contacts said that Kerry had simply been "briefed" about the legal wrangling between the Green/Libertarian party recount team and local Ohio election boards that oppose such a recount.   Last week, an Ohio judge sided with a board in Delaware County (north of Columbus.)  In granting an injunction, the judge endorsed the argument that a recount on behalf of fringe candidates would be a waste of county time and money.  Despite that ruling, John Kerry was told that a recount in Ohio is "inevitable."  And he was advised that by intervening and helping defend the recount against the election board's lawsuit, the recount would likely begin (and end) sooner instead of later.  Kerry gave his lawyers the green light to get involved.

Unfortunately, every development in Ohio is now subject to incredible claims and speculation.   And why not?  Before an election recount petition can actually begin, Ohio must first "certify" its results.  Now, 4 weeks after the election, (and just 2 weeks before Ohio's 20 electoral votes are sent to Congress) the Ohio certification is still dragging on at a snail's pace.  Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell seems unconcerned.    Did I mention that Kenneth Blackwell was the chairman in Ohio for the Bush-Cheney campaign?  Did you know that based on his timeline for the certification period, recount filing date, and then the recount itself... Ohio will have exactly one day to examine and recount 6 million votes before Ohio's electoral slate is formally sent to Congress? And yet my colleagues and I sometimes wonder why the "conspiracy theorists" on the net are going nuts. 

The fact is, a lot of people over the last month have blown opportunities to tamp down the internet wildfire and restore some confidence in the outcome of the 2004 election.  The exit polling organization (that received $10 million from the networks, by the way) should have come out weeks ago and explained why their exit polls were inaccurate?  I accept the group's quiet explanations that their workers, in some states, were improperly trained and that the mathematical models analysts relied upon throughout the day were problematic.  But the consortium should should swallow their pride, hold a full blown press conference, and help douse the fire that is raging.  And Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell would help himself and the nation by speeding up Ohio's election certification so the recount can start immediately.   The way to get even with those recount petitioners is to prove their allegations baseless and do it well before Ohio's electors are sent to Congress.

Unfortunately, the key players in this story seem to be just bumbling along and adding fuel to the fire instead of taking steps to put it out.  How sad.

Your thoughts/questions/comments?  DShuster@msnbc.com

December 1, 2004| 5:55 p.m. ET

We'll miss you, Tom Brokaw (Mike Barnicle)

A television is the only appliance people own that becomes part of the family. It sits in kitchens, dens, family rooms and bedrooms and offers information, drama, humor, sports, poor taste and the occasional lasting memory.

A few who appear regularly on it become old friends to viewers who— odds are— will never personally meet them. And Wednesday evening, America's most prominent visual bookmark, a guy so familiar that the mention of his name and the sight of his face creates comfort and trust coast-to-coast cut himself loose from the ball and chain of the daily grind that is a nightly network news show after nearly 21 years of explaining and guiding the country through events that shape us.

For the first time ever, Tom Brokaw, who is NBC News, did not end his broadcast saying he would see us tomorrow night. He's giving up the anchor chair, going out on top, at a very young 64 to further explore the life around us without the weight of reporting for duty at the same time five days a week.

"I love the guy," John Caulfield of Cambridge, Massachusetts said. "He's one of the most genuine, down-to-earth people I've ever met. You'd never know he was a celebrity."

"Lefty" Caulfield is 77 now. He grew up in Kerry Corner, a long-gone neighborhood that today is the site of Harvard University dorms. He played baseball and went to Harvard on scholarship after serving in the Pacific during World War II.

For years, Johnny Caulfield presided over a monthly meeting of other local veterans upstairs at Charley's Kitchen in Harvard Square. He called his collection of friends 'The Romeo Club."
"Retired old men eating out," Caulfield explains.

A few years ago, Brokaw read about them in the paper, called 'Lefty' and flew up for dinner. Caulfield and his crew became part of Brokaw's seminal book " The Greatest Generation ."
"I'm still signing copies," John Caulfield says.

But the relationship didn't end with publication. And it hasn't dimmed or been diminished by time. Brokaw still checks on the old man regularly, takes him to ball games and out to dinner, cares about him.

"He's my friend," the NBC anchor says.

TV is like an X-Ray or an MRI, offering an image that provides an outline of truth about the personality revealed on it. Decency, solid values, insight, intellect; none of it can be faked for long because the public sniffs out fraud and changes the channel.

Tom Brokaw stayed at the top all these years for a lot of reasons. He is not an ideologue. His education has been obtained through eyesight, curiosity and a compelling interest in the news and culture that swirls around us at an increasingly dizzying pace.

He lives in Manhattan but his true zip code is rooted in the solid cement of where and how he grew up: Yankton, South Dakota. Brokaw knows popes and presidents but the American prairie is still his compass.

Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley all showed up at supper during a period when network news was the supreme and sometimes the sole source of information. Today the family dinner hour has gone the way of the typewriter, letters and telephone party lines. The audience is smaller and fragmented by offerings available on cable and the Internet.

Tom Brokaw was the last link to that age when anchors were dominant and their presence on TV was reassuring and familiar. But his greatest skill, in addition to gathering news, being fair and never cruel, is gathering friends and keeping them, the way good neighbors and decent people do. Just ask John Caulfield.

Share your own memories of Tom in a special MSNBC.com section, "Tom Brokaw: Eyewitness to History." Click here to read essays by Tom Brokaw, and to view slideshows and videos.

E-mail Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

December 1, 2004| 5:40 p.m. ET

Merry nothing (Dana Falvo, Creative Stories Unit)

Merry Christmas… no… I mean Happy Hanukkah… no no no… I don’t want to offend anyone… Lets just say Happy Holidays… well shoot, that doesn’t work--the word ‘holiday’ has a religious connotation… Does Happy Winter work? No then the other seasons will get upset.

In my research today, I came across an article about a group boycotting Macy’s because the store refuses to use “Merry Christmas” in their holiday decorating. The department store finds it personally offensive to non-Christian shoppers to see the seasonal greeting.

That’s right, Macy’s, the same store featured in the Christmas classic, "Miracle On 34th Street", is denying the day and more so the reason for Kris Kringle himself.

This is an issue we have assumed as a society. In an attempt to be politically correct and accepting of everyone’s beliefs, we have become inadvertently bitter towards all beliefs.

The Double Standard

Macy’s has created this issue that individual beliefs cannot apply to the masses. But stop and think: why are the masses in the store? Each shopper that walks in those doors has a mission, and if it’s December, it’s Christmas or Hanukkah shopping. Convenient enough for Macy’s, they find it necessary to decorate in some generic holiday fashion to generate some appeal.

Here’s my solution: one bag with Merry Christmas on one side and Happy Hanukkah on the other and another for the non-celebratory public that is just plain no seasonal message at all.

Related Stories:

Other stories catching my eye:

Direct all those very merry e-mails to Dana at DFalvo@msnbc.com

December 1, 2004| 2:19 p.m. ET

Hardblogger jogger runs the border (John Lichman, The Hardblogger Jogger)

As you may (or may not) recall, my last entry dealt with those unhappy with President Bush’s reelection wanting to go to Canada. Unfortunately, stereotypes tend to lie—Canadians aren’t all that happy with the U.S.

But here’s the real question: what would Canadians do if they ever got their hands on George W. Bush?

And here are the answers: arrest him and put him into a war crimes court. Sponsored by Lawyers Against the War (LAW), this group of international lawyers has written up the charges against the President of the United States, ranging from his knowledge of Abu Ghraib atrocities to torture at Guantánamo Bay prison.  The only thing that LAW doesn’t do is file the charges; that is left to Canadian citizens who wish to contact their attorney general according to the Canadian criminal code.


From their website,

“These practices were explicitly and implicitly authorized by senior members of the military and Bush administration, who report directly to the President. On the basis of existing reports, it is reasonable to believe that President Bush himself must have been aware of these practices, or suspected them while deliberately keeping himself in ignorance--which is called  ‘wilful [sic] blindness by the law and is equivalent to knowledge--or at the very  least he should have known. Reports indicate that as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, he took no steps to interfere and issued memos that could only have been regarded as authorization for these practices. There are reasonable grounds to believe that George W. Bush, while not inflicting torture himself, counseled [sic], aided and abetted torture.”

Meanwhile, Canada protests the arrival of the president . I know that seems shocking to a number of you, but I figured I’d try and get a real perspective of what’s going on up there.

So, the following is a brief report from Lora Beck, the Hardblogger Jogger’s Canadian correspondent:

“Man. Just got back from downtown. Halifax was on the edge of riot at one point, but I left before we got boxed in and then went around again when we went up Queen Street and headed back to the school. When a dude with a megaphone starts
yelling: 'The cops are not your friends!' I find the safest root is getting out of the way. No word on numbers yet. Best I can say is 'alot.' Tons of students, old people, small kids. Some great signs like: 'Stop Mad Cowboy Disease.'”

And while I apologize for not getting to publish some of the great responses I got on my last query, I’ll play it safe and throw a rhetorical question out there: if the leader of a government is technically guilty of war crimes, should he be tried and sentenced for them? You tell me. Pretend we’re not talking about Canada and Bush at the moment. Give me your opinions, and I’ll do my best to let them see the light of day.

Cheers,
-john.lichman@gmail.com

November 24, 2004| 11:30 a.m. ET

It’s here... the worst travel day of the year .  And this day is going to be particularly nasty because of weather delays, overcrowded airplanes, stringent security measures, and the increasingly miserable “customer service” from many of our airline carriers.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been corresponding with the media relations department at United Airlines regarding one particular incident brought to my attention by one of you—a hardblogger fan.

On Saturday November 13, hardblogger reader “Rebecca” (and ten other passengers booked on her flight to Detroit) arrived at a Dulles airport gate 12 minutes before departure.  They were told, without explanation, that the flight had been “closed.”  Furthermore, as Rebecca wrote in her formal United comlaint (which she cc’d to me) the gate agent was, “the most inappropriate, rude, and unprofessional United representative I have ever encountered.  He did not attempt to provide an explanation, nor did he extend the slightest bit of courtesy.  A number of times, he actually shouted at the passengers.”

Rebecca’s e-mail then recounted her interaction a few minutes later with a United customer service agent.  “She actually said to me, ‘what do you want me to do, I’m just customer service.’”

As Rebecca noted in her e-mail, United is a company that is “publicly traded” and thus has “an obligation to stockholders” to operate in an efficient manner.  (Flying an airplane half empty and booking 11 of your own passengers on a competitor because a gate agent is in a bad mood certainly doesn’t sound efficient.)  

After receiving a copy of Rebecca’s e-mail complaint, I contacted the United Airlines “media relations” department.  I wrote, “Before I use any part of her complaint, I want to make sure United has an opportunity to respond.”

That day, a United representative acknowledged my inquiry via e-mail.  But two days later, a United spokesperson informed me that “this is the first our headquarters has heard of the passenger’s complaint.”

Maybe United’s headquarters had not heard of the passenger’s complaint, but the director of Customer Relations had actually sent an e-mail reply to this passenger and said, “one of my team members will personally review your correspondence.”  I forwarded the e-mail to United to try and help them.

A few days later, a United representative did call passenger Rebecca to apologize.  However, Rebecca said the representative spent a lot of time  defending the record of the gate agent at Dulles airport who had decided, seemingly arbitrarily, that 11 passengers would not be flying the friendly skies that day.  The United representative promised a full review and a “notification” of the findings.

That was 10 days ago.  Since then, Rebecca has not heard a thing.  Two days ago, when I reminded United’s media relations department that I was moving forward with this blog, I was given the following statement:

“It is very unfortunate to hear what one of our most loyal customers experienced... Customer satisfaction is very important to us and we are reviewing this complaint thoroughly so we can work directly with our customer to try and resolve to her satisfaction.”

Is the passenger satisfied?  Rebecca said, “You gotta be kidding me?”  Does the passenger feel United has conducted a thorough review?  “What review?”

In her initial e-mail, Rebecca asked United airlines to answer a few straightforward and reasonable questions, including “what action was taken with the gate agent?” “What is United’s formal policy for closing departures?”  “Who is responsible for seeing that this feedback reaches the appropriate individuals/department?”

As of this blog, United has been unable or unwilling to answer a single one of these questions.

I don’t mean to pick on United Airlines.  But all of us at hardblogger are committed to holding powerful individuals and groups accountable, whether they are political figures or corporate titans.  And the fact is, nearly all of the major US based airlines (including United) have received billions in taxpayer bailouts.  As taxpayers, you have a right to expect that the airlines will operate in a safe and efficient manner.  Is it too much to also ask for “decency” and “accountability?”  I hope not.

Questions/comments/tips about political or corporate misbehavior: DShuster@msnbc.com

November 23, 2004| 5:33 p.m. ET

MSNBC welcomes Citizen Journalists (Joe Trippi)

During this year’s election, MSNBC tried something different. We accepted real reports from Citizen Journalists .  MSNBC posted these reports from everyday folks across the country on our blogs, and talked about many reports on the air.  It was an experiment that worked.  With over 4,000 stories received and 500,000 hits on our site, Citizen Journalists helped MSNBC cover the election from every angle.

We want to continue this experiment.  At MSNBC, we embrace the change the Internet can bring to the way we report things — and that experiment starts with you.  So, we are giving Citizen Journalists a regular home for coverage on events large and small. We will post some stories you file up on our Citizen Journalist blog, and take the best reports and put them on the air.  

MSNBC has a great team of reporters trying to keep you informed — but they can’t always be where you are — and they can’t see the things you see. 

Send us your insight.  Be creative.  Become a Citizen Journalist to start telling your story to the MSNBC community.  So over the Thanksgiving Holiday we hope you will join our growing group of Citizen Journalists and file your story.

Check out my column on this and join me in the experiment.  You do your job and I’ll do my best to get stories on the air to MSNBC’s viewers.  

File your stories at CJ@msnbc.com or email me at Jtrippi@msnbc.com

November 22, 2004| 3:44 p.m. ET

We received a lot of e-mails from Sarah Muller’s blog who posed the question of whether or not embedded journalism was a good thing. Below are a few:

“Is there a way to make the embed process work better?  Sure.  The reporters should be supportive of the troops mission as they were going in. The reporters should NEVER show tape which would bring disrepute on the soldiers and the United States in general.  If Mr. Sites didn’t have the patriotism to push the ‘erase’ button on his Videocam, some US censor should have done it for him.  Yes, censor.  I know you all hate censorship, but in the middle of a war zone, censorship is surely proper to be sure that the mission of the USA succeeds."  —Lee Prince, Hansville, Wash.

“The worse thing the government has done is to allow embedded reporters in Iraq.  Those reporters do not care for the well being of our troops. One example is that Kevin Sites who video taped that poor soldier shooting the Iraqi insurgent.  All reporters care about are headlines.  Being an embedded reporter, is a privilege not a right.  I’m sure Sites knew of the hardship and fear that the young soldier was experiencing at the time.  In my opinion what Sites did is an act of treason.  Reporters have no loyalty to their country and could not care less about human lives. Shame on all of you.” —Elizabeth Valdes,  Kearny, N.J.

Last Thursday, the Army Times reported of an online petition backing the Marine. The sentiments towards Sites, expressed by some interviewees in the article, were no different than the e-mails we received.

In an open letter to the Marines , published on MSNBC.com today, Kevin Sites explains what happened in the Fallujah mosque. Here is an excerpt:

“I considered not feeding the tape to the pool—or even, for a moment, destroying it. But that thought created the same pit in my stomach that witnessing the shooting had. It felt wrong. Hiding this wouldn’t make it go away. There were other people in that room. What happened in that mosque would eventually come out. I would be faced with the fact that I had betrayed truth as well as a life supposedly spent in pursuit of it.

When NBC aired the story 48 hours later, we did so in a way that attempted to highlight every possible mitigating issue for that Marine’s actions. We wanted viewers to have a very clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding the fighting on that frontline. Many of our colleagues were just as responsible. Other foreign networks made different decisions, and because of that, I have become the conflicted conduit who has brought this to the world.

The Marines have built their proud reputation on fighting for freedoms like the one that allows me to do my job, a job that in some cases may appear to discredit them. But both the leaders and the grunts in the field like you understand that if you lower your standards, if you accept less, than less is what you’ll become.

There are people in our own country that would weaken your institution and our nation — by telling you it’s okay to betray our guiding principles by not making the tough decisions, by letting difficult circumstances turns us into victims or worse ... villains.”

Click here to read the whole letter.

Other Hardblogger readers expressed their appreciation of Sites' reporting, and embedded reporters:

“Embedded reporters let America know war isn’t at all like the John Wayne movie’s of the 60’s.  Sorry if the truth ‘hurts’, but American needs to see the ‘truth’, they need to see what Bush got us knee deep into.  Those Marines and soldiers are doing one hell of a job in a shamefully, awkwardly defined mission, in a war environment where they are expected to play by the rules and are held to a high standard of conduct, while the enemy has no uniforms, no rules, no standards, no morals, and no repercussions for beheadings or a shot to an innocent female missionary’s head.   From your couch, as you do your Monday morning quarterbacking, you think the Marine was wrong.  As a retired Marine, under these same combat conditions, I say I would have taken the same shot.  If your viewers don’t want to see the horrors and reality of war, tell them they should have voted Bush out of office, or just turn the channel to some stupid network race of a “reality” show.   Even the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Hagee, agrees the embedded journalists are a positive, not a negative.” —Lynn, Vista Calif.

“Americans need to know what is going on. Just because front-line reporting can’t be done ideally, doesn’t mean that the endeavor should cease altogether.  Then we are really wide open for misinformation. It is critical that we have reporters letting people in the US know what is going on behind the scenes during war.  Otherwise the operation becomes sanitized;  death, destruction, loss of limb people from both sides suffer becomes a distant unreality, something we just don’t think about.  This information can  be used as propaganda by both sides in a conflict, but that risk shouldn’t outweigh the heavy burden of needing to know what it is that your government is doing and why.” —Heidi Eversley

What do you think?

Continue to weigh in at Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

November 19, 2004| 4:08 p.m. ET

Embedded journalists: Too close to call? (Sarah Muller, Hardball associate web producer)

Perfect footage is the Holy Grail to all television journalists.  Many search for it, but few are lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. Capturing the perfect footage or edgy sound-bite can tell a story on its own without the aid of a reporter. Kevin Sites is one such reporter, he's a freelance reporter on assignment in Iraq for NBC News.

As an embed, Sites witnessed a marine shooting a supposedly unarmed Iraqi insurgent in the head at point-blank last week— all caught on tape. The soldier’s action could arguably break the Geneva Code of War. Due to the graphic footage, this incident is now pending investigation.

Embeds have gone where no network has gone before: behind the lines and into the barricades; they accompany soldiers at all times, from the base to the battlefield. These reporters gain the ultimate V.I.P. pass to access, classified information, pictures, and a never-before-seen insight into the daily lives of troops.

The footage Sites got as an embedded reporter was as remarkable as it was rare.  Most of the “breaking news” footage viewers actually saw during the height of the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq resembled that of a grainy, low-grade Atari video game.  (Pong anyone?)

Even with a camera and microphone, an embedded reporter inevitably puts their lives and journalistic objectivity on the line. And no bulletproof vest can shield them from this hazard.

Embedding can jeopardize a reporters' trained ability to put scenarios into perspective for viewers. When you're participating in the "story" itself, it's harder to be impartial. You get attached to people that you share common experiences with, like eating, working, and living. And how could any human being not? How could any human being (journalists are included in this one, too) not feel pain, sorrow, or anger when a fellow comrade, a friend, is killed standing only two feet away from you? Unfortunately, these are regular emotions endured by men and women at war for centuries.

So naturally, 'they' becomes 'we' and then we all have a problem.

Does this mean networks should embed reporters behind enemy lines as well for balance? Not necessarily.

This is still an evolving discipline that deserves more attention and serious thought. Utilizing the freshest reporting techniques and latest technology for up-to-the-minute coverage is better than any talking head behind a desk, spewing out facts; nothing beats live coverage from the field.

But, I want all points-of-view to frame a story— not just what "our” troops do or "our" government allows us to report— a clear limitation as an embed, not by fault of their own. 

Perhaps, only then can we achieve a more inclusive perspective. Until the networks find a better solution to obtain the best and most accurate information, it might not be worth the trouble— or danger.

Do you have thoughts on war reporting and how it could be done better? E-mail Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

November 19, 2004| 4:08 p.m. ET

In case you missed 'Hardball last night,' here are some of Chris’ observations on the Clinton Presidential Library opening :

A gathering of political celebrities (Chris Matthews)

On the ages of the presidents: It strikes me how young everybody is. Everybody is in their 50s.  They were talking about the Clinton presidency like it was a hundred years ago. Carter and he both got out pretty early.  Carter ran out of steam politically.  Bill Clinton, because he ran out of time.  Isn't it amazing?  Look at how old they are.  They’re not old.  And they’re talking about “the past.”

On closeness between Clinton and the current President Bush: I noticed there was a real camaraderie between the Bushes and the Clintons today.  Today we saw the close ties between President Bush, two-term hero, now politically succeeding, with Bill Clinton, two-term hero.  Is there an inner club of presidents who have won two terms that’s better and neater to be in? 

On Clinton saying he liked both Bush and Kerry: It was the rhetorical question of the day—“Am I the only person in the entire U.S. of America who likes both George W. Bush and John Kerry?” Of course, if you read the NBC polls, you know that he is now one of 2 percent of the country that actually do like both these guys. 

On Clinton's comments about the divided America of today: There he was up on the platform, Bill Clinton, decrying the divisions between the blue and the red states as if he had played no role in that with his misbehavior in the White House.   The disastrous map that we’ve gotten so familiar with in the last couple weeks was pretty much the map of four years ago, the map that poor Al Gore inherited from Bill Clinton. 

On Hillary Clinton being the first of the First Ladies who got up to listen to Bono: I thought it was great that Hillary, the classic 60s woman, in the best sense of that word of course, rushed over. She was the first one to sort of leave the protocol space where she was assigned, and walked over like she was still at some old Crosby, Stills and Nash concert or something, back in the old days.

E-mail Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

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