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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Connolly Watch 3.24.04

Again I'm late, this time in reviewing Ceci Connolly's appearance Friday night on Washington Week in Review. Connolly was a panelist on the show, asking a few questions on other topics but there primarily to deliver a report on the recent Medicare shenanigans. One comment/question is worth noting before the Medicare piece--the last on the program--came up. It dealt with John Kerry's perceived missteps while campaigning last week:

Karen, we've seen parts of this movie before, it seems to me. I mean, just back in December, John Kerry was all but dead, or at least all of the sort of Washington smarty pants like us thought that he was dead, and he managed to turn--turn that situation around. Is this just--is this just sort of the John Kerry cycle, there are going to be ups and downs, or what needs to happen here?

The statement is appropriately self-effacing about the inability of the press to accurately predict the primary season's outcome, though it also neglects the role of the news media in affecting that outcome. As I documented in some of Connolly's own reporting when I began the Watch a few months ago, Kerry received far more favorable coverage when he was seen as the underdog in the primaries. Now that he's emerged as the Dem nominee and has been taking the brunt of coordinated administration attacks, that is taking a toll in his media coverage. I think there's also something to be said for Kerry being a better campaigner when he needs to be, with the implication being that he's relaxed since sewing up the nomination and his campaign has suffered as a result, but it would really have to be a total Jeckyll/Hyde transformation to justify the highs and lows of Kerry coverage that's appeared. I think Kerry's transformation from a pathetic also-ran to the Democratic nominee has more to do with the change in coverage.

Moving on to the Medicare story, Connolly doesn't pull any punches in criticizing the Bush administration, allowing at the top that, "this is really something." There's so much dishonesty and malfeasance to cover, Connolly spends most of the time simply listing off the allegations and investigations that are getting under way. The primary issues are that the cost of the Medicare bill was revised upward after passage (from $400b to $534b) and the charge that the chief Medicare actuary was threatened not to reveal the higher cost to members of Congress before the vote, on penalty of being fired (I wish she'd had time to mention that Tom Scully's main defense against the charge from Richard Foster is that he was joking about the firing---funny!). Ceci also touches on the indications that Michigan Rep. Nick Smith was threatened by GOP leaders that his son, who is running for the retiring Smith's seat, wouldn't have the party's support without the elder Smith voting for the bill, as well as the propaganda videos the administration put out about the law recently that featured a fake TV reporter. (Tim Noah has another in a series of articles on the bribe story out today.)

There's only a brief opportunity at the end for some political handicapping of the issue, when Connolly correctly asserts, "the tricky thing here is knowing whether or not all of these controversies and mini scandals that we're talking about here in Washington are really sort of making it out there into the real world." Connolly is doing good work communicating the facts of these stories to the news-consuming audience, and I hope her work is compelling enough to produce the necessary awareness she describes in order for the truth about Medicare to have its deserved impact in November.