Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Friday, October 10, 2003
Well, Son of a Gun! Rush Limbaugh really is addicted to painkillers. When the NY Daily News first reported his ex-housekeeper's allegations, I figured there was some exaggeration, or at the very least, that we'd learn that the issue was in the past.

Apparently not. Go NY Daily News!

And While We're Hailing Newspapers... amNew York, the Tribune Co.'s effort at developing a free giveaway daily tabloid for city readers in attractive demographics, debuted today. Not ready to pass a final judgement yet, but I will say that it's far, far, far better than the Washington Post Co.'s "express" and the Metro papers in Philadelphia and Boston.

amNew York has only two reporters and one columnist, so it's not going to be a place to look for penetrating, original journalism. But in their first edition, the editors put two big local stories on the cover (the express, in particular has pretended it is not published in a city), and actually gave their writers a few hundred words to explain what was going on (Metro's pieces are painfully brief). It'll definitely be worth keeping an eye on.

Thursday, October 09, 2003
Synergy Over Sanity? The New York Times has been admirably successful in establishing itself as a national newspaper in recent years. This blog has made no secret of its concern that, as a result, the paper occasionally gives short-shrift to local concerns in pursuit of larger pools of national-advertising dollars.

Until now, I was convinced any omissions were inadvertent and, more often than not, harmless. However, this editorial leads me to believe that the very highest levels of leadership at the paper are willing to trade its credibility in its home market in pursuit of loftier business goals.

What did they call for? Nothing short of a Red Sox win over the Yankees in the current American League Championship Series!

It's a sad commentary on the reading habits of Yankee fans that the endorsement was not met with boycotts, but I digress from the core issue: The Times' conflict-of-interest (it's parent company owns a piece of the Sox!) was never explained in the piece. In addition, The Boston Globe was famously bought by the Times Co. a few years ago. While a Yankees' World Series appearance has become routine enough that it no longer leads to a spike in newspaper sales in the Big Apple, a Sox appearance would no doubt create a massive shortage of newsprint on the East Coast, as the long-suffering Beantowners horde their "commemorative editions."

Wednesday, October 08, 2003
The Virtues of a Landslide Once again, we're reminded how much easier this whole electoral process thing is when the people's will is represented by a large plurality vote. There's plenty of evidence of electoral errors (think the 10,000 votes cast for George Schwartzman, the best-performing "noncelebrity" candidate. He outdrew porn star Mary Carey (but not porn maven Larry Flynt), presumably due to his name's similarity to Arnold's).

Since the margin was so wide, it doesn't really matter. However, in the wake of Florida 2000, you do have to recognize that our system dodges a bullet in a way every time a clearly-decided election is concluded. Not sure there's an answer -- no system is foolproof, or idiot-proof for that matter -- but I think being reminded of the fragility of democracy is actually somewhat sobering and only increases one's respect for the system...
Update: Another widely-predicted example of voter error was the suggestion that people would only answer one of the two recall-related questions on the ballot -- either voting only on the recall and not for a replacement, or voting only for a replacement. My quick look at the numbers shows 7.47 million votes cast on the recall, and 7.20 million total cast on the replacements. Even if you assume most of the people who only voted in the recall were Davis supporters who voted no, and refused to designate a successor,but who would have been more sympathetic to Bustamante, it barely cuts into Arnold's lead.
Update 2: The county boards of elections deserve some serious props for organizing this record-turnout election with what appears to be a minimum of problems and for coming up with ballots that appear to be as easy to understand as possible. Go counties!

Tuesday, October 07, 2003
Glad I Don't Live There I promised a California Recall blog post, but the truth is that any observations I had from my San Diego trip were rendered fairly moot after the debate, which I watched on JetBlue's Direct TV set on the flight back.

Up until that night, a lot of Californians believed Davis would survive. But the debate, combined with the pundits' conclusion that all of the participants looked "legitimate," was clearly the turning point.

Now, if the giddy grins on the network news personalities are to be believed, Arnold Schwarzenegger is about to be crowned California's governor. They're being even more patronizing than usual tonight in delivering their usual "Well, the polls are still open for another hour" mantra while flashing a grin that says: "But I've seen the exit poll numbers and there's no way Arnold hasn't won."

Fox News Channel was the worst offender, with the emotionless Greta van Susteren introducing a reporter on the floor of Schwarzenegger HQ who said something like "Well, people still have time to vote, but its getting PRETTY LOUD and people are PRETTY EXCITED here on the floor at Schwarzenegger headquarters. In fact, the rumor now is that Gray Davis (somehow, the Governor has lost his title even before the polls closed) is going to speak as early as 8:30 Pacific Time" which, again, is supposed to be a clue that the race is such a blowout that Davis will concede early.

I'm a bit surprised at how badly I'm taking the news. I predicted Arnold would win, and never really wavered from that, but his inability to show any semblance of a comprehensive or even coherent vision for governing the state has been worse than I expected, and the fact that millions of voters seem eager to give him the reins of government anyway is just depressing.

What's the Next Surprise? Californians now can make themselves comfortable and settle in for a new feature. If the recall campaign was a straight action film, the first few months of Schwarzenegger's term will be more like a Hitchcock thriller as we try to see who he actually is. The one bit of insider gossip I can pass along from the San Diego conference is that several moderate politicians and ex-politicians who have come to know Arnold in recent years as he contemplated this move into politics say that he is much smarter than the campaign showed. I guess that's good news for Californians. Whoopee.

Still, lots of questions remain to be answered. Will he stock his administration with the same group of Pete Wilson advisers who occupied the top ranks of his campaign? Is he really as socialist as he sounds with statments like "the people must be taken care of?" Time will tell...