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Monday, January 26, 2004

Connolly Watch 1.26.04

Is this the additional scrutiny that I thought Kerry might be receiving now that he's inherited the front-runner mantle?

Sunday's article co-bylined by Connolly and Jonathan Finer with various other contributors is headlined "Dean Criticizes Kerry's Stance on '91 War" on page A11. It highlights Dean's charges that Kerry's votes on the two Gulf Wars are inconsistent (Kerry voted no in 1991 and yes in 2002) and demonstrative of questionable leadership. Somehow the war issue receded enough in Iowa to allow Kerry to do well, but now Dean wants to press it, seeing it as his strong point against Kerry, and the media, again playing the role of wanting to see the race tighten, are going along.

The article also touts Dean's complaints about John Edwards' tactics in the Iowa caucuses, citing "reports that Edwards campaign officials had 'coached' Iowa precinct captains to distribute negative information about Dean during the caucuses." But I thought Edwards was Mr. Positive Campaign! Sullentrop is right to complain of Edwards, "His way of merely describing his message as 'positive' and 'optimistic' and 'uplifting' rather than, you know, actually having a message that embodies those qualities grates on me." The point that Edwards is optimistic has been repeated so much, though, that it's become fact-esque. With his success in Iowa, maybe reporters will begin challenging this dogma. Given Edwards' continued low standing in NH, I expect we'll see more reappraisals of Edwards when South Carolina, a state he may actually win, draws closer.

Monday's article by Connolly makes the front page and is headlined "Kerry Defends Votes On Military Action." I think the article does a good job showing why Kerry's war votes were indeed problematic because his defenses don't hold up that well, at least to me. This paragraph I like:

When Kerry entered the race more than a year ago, strategists believed that his stellar military record and expertise on foreign affairs would give him an advantage over the other Democratic candidates who had not seen combat and that it would put him in a strong position to debate national security with Bush. But it was Dean who capitalized on the Iraq war--unexpectedly riding a wave of antiwar sentiment in the Democratic electorate.

Note, though, Connolly wasn't writing this story as recently as two weeks ago. The January 14 entry highlighted how Connolly never offered much of an explanation for Kerry's lagging poll numbers in NH at the time. Now that he's leading, of course, the press treatment gets tougher. As I've made clear in the watch by now, I don't think this pattern should be acceptable because it illogically favors the candidate who is behind. I think it's pretty widespread as a reporting tendency, though, and may be hard to get rid of.

I was disappointed that the two articles contained only passing references to two of the events I saw in person, the Dean women's event he attended with Judy and Kerry's "exuberant campaign rally before 2,500 people." You really can attend these campaign events all day and not hear anything about the topics that get into some of the newspaper articles about those campaigns.