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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I've always marveled at those not-infrequent Maureen Dowd columns that have a gazillion adjectives, three dozen clever phrases or riffs, and no discernible narrative structure or point whatsoever. But this example from this morning's paper particularly caught my eye.

Does Mr. Gore really think that all the Ken dolls — John Edwards, Evan Bayh, John Kerry — much less his eager ex-protégé, Joe Lieberman, will simply step aside and say, "Oh, O.K., Al, you go again"?

Maureen Dowd
August 5th, 2001
New York Times

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a charismatic midwestern moderate regularly mentioned as a leading prospect for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, took himself out of the running last week, saying he wanted to spend as much time as possible with his twin 5-year-old sons.

Ben White
June 17th 2001
Washington Post

Even frothy columns need fact-checking, right?

Hey, what's the deal with that beard!?!? Is that Al Gore? I mean, look, I've gotta admit, I think it looks pretty good.

Anyway, on more substantive matters, Gore does seem to be making his first tentative steps out of his wisely self-imposed post-election exile. He's apparently going to start out by campaigning for New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey this Fall.

I was talking to a New Dem friend of mine a few days ago who wonders whether Gore will "torment" Democrats with another run at the White House in 2004. He's certainly not the only one who feels that way. But I'll be honest, I've still got a very soft spot in my heart for the guy. And it ain't just because of the beard!

We'll be saying more about this.

As I explained last night a number of readers have written in questioning what I earlier said about Lisa DePaulo, the author of the buzzful article on Chandra Levy and Gary Condit in the new issue of Talk magazine. They had read a post on Bob Somerby's Daily Howler site and wondered whether I hadn't gotten it wrong. To recap: I said she was wonderful and very knowledgeable about the whole Chandra-Condit story; Somerby thinks she's neither.

Many of the things Somerby says are simply ad-hominem remarks. So in those cases there's nothing for me to say but that I disagree with him. Let me also say that I really don't like knocking Somerby because his column was so good last year during the presidential campaign, knocking down countless half-truths and untruths about Al Gore. Having said that, though, let me just give one example of how a little knowledge and lots of attitude has allowed Somerby to say some unkind and untrue things about DePaulo.

In the post in question Somerby lays out the following facts. In a Larry King interview a few nights ago Chandra Levy's uncle said they first told the police about Chandra's affair with Condit on May 15th. Yet a short time later on the same broadcast DePaulo repeated her claim that Levy's aunt and uncle had told the cops about the affair from "day one."

Here's what Somerby said about the apparent contradiction:

But, if Katz is to be believed, "Aunt Linda" did not come forward on "Day One," and neither, it would seem, did the Levys. DePaulo has repeatedly claimed on King’s program that the police knew about the affair "from Day One." Last night, she continued to make the melodramatic claim even after Katz seemed to say it wasn’t true.

Does any of this matter? It only matters if you’re trying to determine what has actually gone on in this case. But it matters in a different way too; it makes a difference in the hagiography which pseudo-journalists like DePaulo have been peddling. In truth, DePaulo has been functioning like a novelist; she wants to tell a morality tale, and she wants it to work Just One Way. She wants the Levys to be Totally Righteous, and she wants Condit to be a mustachio-twirling villain. Therefore, she doesn’t want you to think that the Levys, like Condit, may have initially withheld what they knew of the sexual affair. When Katz suggests that the Levys did not tell police about the affair, she rushes to clean up the story.

In other words, Somerby says that DePaulo is either ignorant of the facts of the case or indifferent to them.

Let me explain Somerby's mistake.

There are two issues here. One is whether the Levys suspected the affair with Condit from the first or only made these charges much later. I know the former is true because they told numerous people so at the very outset of the case.

In his post Somerby says the Levys first called police on May 5th (ten days before the uncle says the matter of the affair was broached.) That's true. But Somerby seems only to know the date with little of the context.

On May 5th, the Levys first called police but were basically blown off. Again the following day they called, this time more intently and begged police to visit Chandra's apartment. They did so, but conducted no search. Then several more days went by until police warmed to the idea that something was seriously wrong and conducted a full forensic search of Levy's apartment. I don't have the precise dates in front of me. But the point is that by the time the police were taking the case seriously -- doing searches, conducting interviews with Chandra's aunt and uncle, and so forth -- it was a good week later. In other words, pretty close to May 15th.

Somerby's idea seems to be that the first frantic phone call Levy's father made to the police on May 5th should have gone something like this:

Officer, we're terribly worried about our daughter. She hasn't responded to our calls in days. We're very worried. It's not like her. Can you please send someone to her apartment? And ... oh yeah, officer, by the way, she's been doing the wild-thing with our Congressman Gary Condit.
Somehow I don't think this is what Lisa meant. By "day one" I think she meant that from their first conversations with the police the Levys told them that they suspected Chandra had been having an affair with Condit. Not only do I believe this is true; but the timeline DePaulo mentioned makes perfect sense if you have more than a passing understanding of the details of the case.

I've gotten several emails this evening from readers pointing me toward the July 31st Daily Howler by Bob Somerby as evidence that I'm wrong in my estimation of Lisa DePaulo, whom I called "wonderful" and one of the most knowledgeable folks about the Chandra case in this afternoon's post.

I went and read Somerby's criticism in which he calls Lisa, among other things, a "pseudo- journalist." It pains me to say this, because I usually really like Somerby's column, but in this case he's simply wrong. About the person (DePaulo) and about the facts he supposedly calls her out on.

Unfortunately, I'm writing on deadline tonight and don't have time to go into all the particulars. But I'll be jumping into the fray either later this evening or tomorrow to set the record straight and defend Lisa (not that she needs defending, but you know what I mean) from these churlish and unfounded attacks.

Yes, Talking Points is just that chivalrous!

On Star Trek they call it 'synaptic breakdown,' the fatal, final, flickering of neural firing that marks the collapse of coherent brain wave activity and the onset of death. Media marathons often end in a similar manner. And the long-running Gary Condit-Chandra Levy saga has apparently arrived at just that point.

Need some examples? Well, how about Greta Van Susteren's show tonight about how the foreign media is reporting and interpreting the Chandra story ... (Hmmmmmm. What do the Sri Lankans make of all this. The Nepalese?) Or the running stories across all the cable nets today about parents getting leery about sending their fetching daughters off to be interns in Washington (Hint: don't do the fifty-something pol, and you'll be just fine).

Yesterday's apparently-now -discredited report of Levy's body being buried down on a military base near Richmond, Virginia seems less like the much-awaited third act and much more like one of those cliched scenes from a mid-century Hollywood melodrama where the on-the- edge-of-death hospital patient rouses him or herself for one final revealing utterance before finally giving up the ghost entirely.

There are a few good things out there worth watching still. Larry King has the wonderful Lisa DePaulo on tonight. Her much awaited Talk magazine article will be out next week (you'll definitely hear some new and revealing info from her tonight). For at least part of the show Lisa will have to share the stage with the motley crew of Garegos, Olson, Epstein, et.al., who have little if any idea of any of the facts of the case. But Lisa is one of the few folks in this whole media circus who is chock full of info and has a pretty clear understanding of everything that is knowable about the case.

There's certainly more facts to discover about this whole ugly, sorrowful story. And no end of leads worth following up. But the prospect of ever truly knowing what happened to Chandra Levy is beginning to look distant indeed. And the chances of justice for whomever did her harm look bleaker still. We may never know with absolute certainty whether Chandra Levy is alive or dead. The fate of this story, though, looks much more clear.

The story late this afternoon is that President Bush managed to ink a deal with Patients' Bill of Rights pooh-bah Charlie Norwood. The story is a little less than meets the eye, though. Not only did Norwood not have his House and Senate allies on board for this compromise; but those allies seem to think Norwood just got rolled -- squeezed until he popped by the folks at the White House, my Senate sources tell me.

Of course, this could suit the White House's purposes just fine, because the chief goal for the White House is not to pass its own bill. That might be nice. But their paramount goal is to prevent the existing PBOR bill from getting to the president's desk, and thus forcing him either to sign it or veto it. If Norwood's defection helps bring over enough moderate Republicans to pass a Bush-acceptable bill through the House then maybe they can just let the whole thing languish and die in conference and be done with it.

Maybe we should be calling this an ABR administration -- anything but reform. How's that sound to you, Marshall?

I've had a number of folks write in commenting on the glories of private accounts and the wonders of individual ownership of assets. This seems like a good opportunity to dispel a widespread myth.

Looking at the current Social Security debate you could easily get the impression that the debate is over private accounts. That's actually not true. There's a pretty wide consensus in support of private accounts -- stretching across most of the ideological spectrum from the right to the left. The Clinton administration had a private accounts proposal called USA accounts.

The debate isn't really over private accounts so much as it's about where the money comes from. Or more specifically, whether private accounts are instituted on top of Social Security or whether they replace Social Security. A very big difference.

More on this later.

I've seen a number of published responses, rebukes, and so forth, to my article in Salon over the weekend about Republicans conflating the Condit drama with impeachment. And I've just noticed Andrew Sullivan posted a response too.

You can read it yourself to decide what you think. But this sentence jumped out at me.

"Condit has been accused of no crime whatsoever, and his sex life has been conducted entirely with individuals (so far as we know) who don't work for him."
Really? The woman's name is Joleen McKay. She had an affair with Condit in the mid-1990s when she was a low-level staffer in his Capitol Hill office. She's discussed this with the FBI and several news organizations. The watch box disposed of in Virginia was a gift from her.

Andrew, maybe it's a bogus story. But if you're going to criticize, you've at least gotta keep up.

Let me make this site true to its name for a moment and suggest a pretty obvious question for any intrepid political reporter or Democratic pol or flack:

Mr. Lindsey (note: insert name of other administration mouthpiece as appropriate), why should Americans trust the Bush administration to protect Social Security when the administration has already broken its promise not to spend the Social Security surplus on tax cuts?
It's a difficult question for them to answer. So why not ask it? Over and over and over.

There was a rumor swirling around Washington last week that Abbe Lowell might be out as Rep. Gary Condit's attorney. I mention it now because nothing seems to have come of it. And presumably the rumor was unfounded.

But if it had been true it would have had some obvious implications quite apart from Mr. Lowell's professional prospects. Sometimes when a defense attorney bows out of a case it is because he or she has either come to know too much, has said too much, or has committed him or herself to too much to effectively defend the client.

No, don't worry. This isn't another Gary Condit post.

But the logic suggests a connection to Talking Points' other big obsession: Social Security.

I've wondered for a while why Mitch Daniels has been out front and center on the administration's efforts to justify dipping into the Social Security surplus funds. After all Larry Lindsey is the big privatization guru and he's the one who penned the tax cut bill. So why not Larry?

Could it be because he'd already committed himself too squarely and fulsomely to keeping those funds off-limits (the promise Daniels has now said the administration will break)?

Here's a clip from a Jules Witcover column of March 14th:

some Democrats argue that as the Bush administration spends more for defense, education and other programs, it may have to dip into Social Security surpluses to give Mr. Bush's cuts to income tax payers. Larry Lindsey, Mr. Bush's presidential assistant for economic policy, denies it, saying Social Security money will "never" have to be touched for this purpose.
Ask not for whom the box locks, Larry. It locks for thee!

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