"Both Parties" Dealing with 2008 Controversies?

The Times balances a juicy fight between the two leading Democratic candidates with one between John McCain and two people not running for anything.

The Times generated its own front-page story Thursday. Patrick Healy and Jim Rutenberg's piece, "In Both Parties, 2008 Politeness Falls to Infighting," picks through the fallout from a column Wednesday by Maureen Dowd (Times Select $ required) writing about Sen. Barack Obama's visit to Hollywood. Dowd's column caused a firestorm among Democrats by quoting movie big shot (and big Democratic fundraiser) David Geffen, who went after the Clintons in personal terms.

Healy and Rutenberg: "What followed was a remarkably caustic exchange between the Clinton and Obama campaigns that highlighted the sensitivity in the Clinton camp to Mr. Obama's rapid rise as a rival and his positioning as a fresh face unburdened by the baggage borne by Mrs. Clinton, the junior senator from New York. The Clinton camp seemed also to be sending a warning to mudslinging critics that they would be dealt with fiercely.

"It began with a column in The New York Times by Maureen Dowd, in which Mr. Geffen said the Clintons lie 'with such ease, it's troubling' and that the Clinton political operation 'is going to be very unpleasant and unattractive and effective.' Mr. Geffen called Mr. Clinton a 'reckless guy' who had not changed in the last six years, and suggested that Mrs. Clinton was too scripted."

Then it got reallygood:

"In a statement it fired off at 9:46 a.m., the Clinton campaign called on Mr. Obama to sever his ties to Mr. Geffen and return the portion of the $1.3 million that Mr. Geffen helped raise on Tuesday at a reception in Beverly Hills.

"'While Senator Obama was denouncing slash-and-burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband,' Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign communications director, said in a statement.

"Bill Burton, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, responded with a statement less than an hour and a half later, saying it was 'ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen' when he was 'raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln Bedroom.'"

Great story, huh? But as the non-specific headline suggested,the bitterrift among the Democrats either wasn't enough or was too much for the Times to make a story out of, because the paper saw fit to balance it by awkwardly fitting in a policyrift between Sen. John McCain and....two people not running for president.

"The Democrats were not the only ones dealing with intramural warfare. On the Republican side, Vice President Dick Cheney struck back at criticism leveled against him and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld by Senator John McCain of Arizona, underscoring the often tense relationship between the White House and Mr. McCain.

"The presidential campaign has been a relatively polite affair in its early stages, and the day marked an abrupt change of tone that exposed the intensity of the bad feeling bubbling just below the surface in both parties. None of the players showed much inclination to back off."

Thestory included a graphic labeled "Recent Feuding Among Democrats....and Republicans," as if the two were equally significant.

Mark Finkelstein has more on the Times story at NewsBusters.