Still Spinning the Berger Burglary - July 22, 2004 -

Times Watch for July 22, 2004

Still Spinning the Berger Burglary

Eric Lichtblau and David Sanger work some anti-Bush spin into Thursday's front-page story on the Sandy Berger investigation. The Justice Department is examining the former Clinton national security adviser's "inadvertent" removal and losing of classified intelligence documents. The spin is obvious from the story's headline, which avoids Berger's filching of the documents and focuses on the White House instead: "White House Knew Of Inquiry on Aide; Kerry Camp Irked."

They write: "The disclosure of the investigation forced Mr. Berger to step down as an informal, unpaid adviser to Senator John Kerry's campaign on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the campaign accused the White House of deliberately leaking news of the investigation and said that Vice President Dick Cheney was involved in strategies to divert attention from the Sept. 11 report to be issued Thursday."

Hmm. "Informal, unpaid adviser?" Since getting into legal hot water, Berger's apparently been demoted by the Times.

Reporter Sanger gave Berger significantly higher standing in the Kerry campaign back on June 15, in a story on the unveiling of the official White House portraits of the Clintons. Among those in attendance were "two of Mr. Kerry's top foreign policy advisers: the former defense secretary William Perry and the former national security adviser Samuel R. Berger." And back on April 21, Sanger and reporter Thom Shanker cowrote a story on Pentagon troop plans that labeled Sandy Berger "a key adviser" to Kerry.

Right up top in Thursday's story, in the fourth paragraph, Democrats are allowed to accuse Republicans of politically motivated leaking: "'The timing of this leak suggests that the White House is more concerned about protecting its political hide than hearing what the commission has to say about strengthening our security,' a statement issued by Mr. Kerry's campaign said. Scott McClellan, the president's press secretary, denied Wednesday that the White House had anything to do with the leak, or was seeking a diversion from the report."

Following a pattern reminiscent of media coverage during the Clinton era, the Times puts the onus on the Republicans for alleged leaks, rather than the actual damaging information unearthed about Democrats: "Traditionally, law enforcement officials have sought to maintain a firewall of sorts between criminal investigators and political appointees on politically sensitive cases. Several legal analysts said it would not be unusual or necessarily improper for the political appointees at the Justice Department to have let the White House know of the investigation's existence. But they emphasized that such communications should be closely held at the White House, should not involve criminal investigators and should not be allowed to influence the outcome."

They conclude with a quote from Beth Nolan, White House counsel for Clinton, who says, 'If you have information that was shared and was then leaked, it creates a whole set of political problems.'"

But with one of Kerry's "top advisers"-sorry, make that one of Kerry's "informal, unpaid advisers"-under criminal investigation, isn't Kerry the one with the bigger political problem at the moment?

Sanger also files a "White House Memo" on the partisan response to the allegations that puts more credibility to Berger's "inadvertent" tale than the less benign explanations offered by Republicans.

Sanger uses sarcasm to make his point: "Mr. Berger said that the removal of the documents was inadvertent. Republican leaders have suggested a nefarious plot, though it is unclear from their telling whether Mr. Berger was interested in withholding some data from the commission or funneling specific documents to the investigators, or none of the above."

Again, the Washington Post has a more detailed (and damning) story than the Times, opening by describing the "sting operation" set up by the National Archives:

"Last Oct. 2, former Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. 'Sandy' Berger stayed huddled over papers at the National Archives until 8 p.m. What he did not know as he labored through that long Thursday was that the same Archives employees who were solicitously retrieving documents for him were also watching their important visitor with a suspicious eye. After Berger's previous visit, in September, Archives officials believed documents were missing".Several days later, after he had retained Breuer as counsel, Berger volunteered that he had also taken 40 to 50 pages of notes during three visits to the Archives beginning in July, the lawyer said."

For the rest of Sanger and Lichtblau on the Berger burgle, click here.

" Sandy Berger | George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Sen. John Kerry | Eric Lichtblau | David Sanger | Terrorism

The Right's Latest Victim: Linda Ronstadt?

The Times engages in liberal hand-wringing over audience reaction to Linda Ronstadt in a Wednesday Arts section report by Jason Zinoman as well as an editorial (yes, the Times devotes an editorial defending Linda Ronstadt's right to free expression).

Zinoman wonders what the Ronstadt reaction (patrons revolted after the singer dedicated the song "Desperado" to left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore) might mean for the successful Broadway puppet play "Avenue Q," which is Vegas-bound.

He writes: "The producers of 'Avenue Q' might take pause at yesterday's news that Linda Ronstadt caused a revolt among some of her audience members over the weekend by praising Michael Moore's anti-Bush polemic 'Fahrenheit 9/11' in a Las Vegas casino. If dedicating a song to Mr. Moore could send fans fleeing to the exit doors there, as was widely reported, imagine what might happen when a musical in which puppets have sex onstage, sing about masturbating to Internet porn and take potshots at President Bush comes to the city without clocks. 'Avenue Q,' the irreverent Tony-winning musical playing at the John Golden Theater on Broadway, announced in June that it would forgo a national tour in favor of an open-ended run in a new $40 million theater on the Las Vegas strip. In the past, theater in Las Vegas has been better known for less provocative entertainments like 'Mamma Mia!' and 'Blue Man Group.'".It is also a show that receives a huge cheer from New York audiences when the cast, in a song called 'For Now,' implies that President Bush will lose the upcoming presidential election. 'George Bush is only for now,' the company sings. The producers of 'Avenue Q' said they had no plans to change the line when the show opens in Las Vegas around Labor Day of 2005, but it is doubtful that it would pass muster at the Aladdin Casino, where Ms. Ronstadt's political comments inspired angry crowds to tear down her posters and demand their money back."

Jeff Jarvis notes: "First, it's a nonstory because no one except the Times suggested that there is any parallel between a sputtering propagandist and a bunch of funny puppets. Second, this reeks of agenda as it makes it seem as if anyone who doesn't like Moore and his movie are obviously (a) homophobic, (b) puritanical, (c) right-wing".it's shameful journalism to make up such a story out of nothing and to play it in what is supposed to be a paragon of papers without the slightest excuse for news in it."

A Times editorial, "Desperadoes," has the same concerned tone. "Something went awry at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas last Saturday night. Linda Ronstadt did what she has done at several concerts across the country this summer. She dedicated the song 'Desperado'-an encore-to Michael Moore and urged members of the audience to go see his new movie, 'Fahrenheit 9/11.'".At the Aladdin, a few audience members tore down posters, threw drinks and demanded their money back. According to one person who was present-William Timmins, the Aladdin's president-it was 'a very ugly scene.' Mr. Timmins promptly made it even uglier. He had Ms. Ronstadt ejected from the premises. This behavior assumes that Ms. Ronstadt had no right to express a political opinion from the stage. It implies-for some members of the audience at least-that there is a philosophical contract that says an artist must entertain an audience only in the ways that audience sees fit. It argues, in fact, that an artist like Ms. Ronstadt does not have the same rights as everyone else."

But does an entertainer have the right not to be entertaining? Besides, a report from a French news agency suggests Ronstadt is happy to be free of the Aladdin: "She told the Las Vegas Review Journal before Saturday's explosive concert that she was appalled at the Republican Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. 'I don't understand this country sometimes and I really fear for it,' she told the paper last week. 'The government is making everybody in the world hate us, including the people that used to be our friends.' Ronstadt also foresaw her split from the Aladdin, where she had previous squabbles related to shows. 'I keep hoping that if I'm annoying enough to them, they won't hire me back,' she said."

For the rest of the Times editorial on Ronstadt, click here.

For the rest of Jason Zinoman's story on Ronstadt and what it may mean for "Avenue Q," click here.

" Arts | George W. Bush | Editorial | Michael Moore | Music | Linda Ronstadt | Jason Zinoman