Tuesday, September 30, 2008

John McCain, 2008

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I'm just going to repost what I wrote over at the HuffingtonPost:

Several weeks ago, I was clicking through John McCain's presidential campaign website. In the "Events" section I found a listing for a June 13 Townhall Meeting in Pemberton, New Jersey; I decided to attend.

McCain did not pick me out of the crowd to ask a question on live TV, but I was able to speak with him as the event wound down.

This is how it went:

Right after the speech, I knew McCain would work the rope line. Since I was in the front row, it only took me about three steps to get there.

I spoke loudly:

"Senator McCain - I noticed you aren't wearing your flag lapel-pin. May I give you mine?"

McCain: "Yes, sir, you can" (what else was he going to say? - he really wasn't wearing a flag pin.)

now I had him front and center...

"Senator, I spent four years in the Marines"

McCain: "Thank you for your service."

"Oh, no sir, thank you for yours. I have a feeling this is as close as I will ever come to pinning a medal on you." (said as I'm fastening the lapel pin) "Senator - you know our motto is Semper Fidelis - always faithful?"

McCain: "Oh yes, I do"

"Well have you always been faithful to Cindy McCain?"


McCain: "Oh no... that's not what I'm going to talk about."

"Have you been faithful to your wife? You won't answer? C'mon - how 'bout a little of that straight talk?"

(crowd beginning to get angry - hissing)

McCain: "Young man, I will tell you that I have a son serving in Iraq in the Marines."

"Yes - I know. I know a lot about you. Have you cheated on Cindy McCain? Why won't you answer?"

McCain turned away.

(All of the aforementioned was caught on film and microphone by the networks. As far as I know, it has not been released and probably won't be. [When I asked Senator Allen - after the macaca incident - if he ever used the word "nigger" and why he kept a Confederate Flag and noose in his office, the NBC camera guy caught the whole exchange. It, to this day, has never aired in its entirety. The only reason I know it exists is that the video (without the sound) was shown to provide context to the later incident in which Allen's goons threw me to the ground.])

Of course, I could have asked any number of other questions. I had thought of a few:

"Senator: there's been a lot of media chatter about Barack Obama having difficulty wooing women voters that formerly supported Hillary Clinton. The unspoken assumption is that they will cross over and vote for you. Do believe this assumption holds water considering the fact that you left your first wife - a former swimsuit model - after she was disfigured in a car accident and put on a few pounds?"

"Senator: You've pushed back against the assertion that you want to stay in Iraq for the next hundred years. You've said that as long as we aren't taking casualties, a presence like that in Korea or Germany is fine with you. You've said the surge is working, that casualties are down, that we are winning the war in Iraq...

In the end, it sounds to me like you are saying that if we win the war in Iraq, if we aren't taking casualties... we stay... (after all, according to you, bringing the troops home isn't important...)


If we get our asses handed to us in Iraq - if we suffer a lot of casualties - we must win the war, so... we stay...

You haven't shared with the American people what conditions must prevail for American troops to come home. Can you set forth the conditions you would require to pull all combat and combat support troops out of Iraq?"

I chose to forgo these questions in favor of the one I asked because once I decided to attend the event, I reached out to contacts in Washington for advice. After several conversations, a pattern emerged.

Not long ago, the New York Times reported the story of McCain's relationship with the sultry lobbyist, Vicki Iseman. McCain surrogates furiously denounced the story, but oddly, John McCain never brought it up.

As I made the rounds in Washington, several people mentioned the story. A theme developed. None would go on the record, but more than one suggested that fidelity in the McCain marriage was not a priority for either partner. I was told that reporters know a lot more than they let on, but they are reticent about bringing it up.

After chewing on the situation for a while, I decided to ask McCain a question about fidelity for two reasons.

The first has to do with raw politics. I don't believe for a second that John McCain will beat Barack Obama in November. Obama draws tens of thousands to his rallies; McCain is lucky if a thousand people show up for his. Barack has a cash machine that shames anything that came before it. McCain's campaign can barely afford the gas for his Straight Talk Express. Barack is inspiring, McCain is tiring...


Down-ticket races need to be considered as well. Again, almost nobody doubts that Democrats will pick up a substantial number of seats in both houses of Congress. The pressing question is how many seats will flip. Will Democrats get to 60 seats in the Senate?

Every election has its close races. In Virginia, Webb beat Allen by fewer than 10,000 votes. Many, many House seats were determined by fewer than 5,000 votes. Every single vote counts.

I've seen analysis that the evangelical Christian community constitutes 30% of the Republican base. These fundamentalist voters drove the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Republicans are more than capable of reading polls; they knew that the majority of Americans just wanted to MoveOn... Republicans found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The impeachment route made them look partisan and petty to the majority of Americans, but their base wanted it more than anything else...

They decided to dance with who brung 'em. Evangelicals elected them so evangelicals would get their scalp. And Clinton was impeached. (McCain voted in favor of impeachment).

McCain is already on thin-ice with evangelicals. James Dobson won't take his calls. John Hagee's followers still smart over McCain's condemnations. He famously disparaged Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell in the 2000 campaign and he renounced mega-church Pastor Rob Parsely this cycle. McCain's support of embryonic stem-cell research, limited environmental protections and campaign finance reform have each generated withering criticism from the religious right.

The last thing the Republican paryy needs is a John McCain adultery problem.

Check that.

The second to last thing Republican party needs is a John McCain adultery problem. The last thing they need is a John McCain cuckold problem.

And the buzz in Washington is that he's got one.

The second reason I decided to ask McCain about adultery has to do with the way the press has treated the issue. That's the topic of another post, coming soon.

John McCain, circa 2000

You know, I had almost forgotten about something. Way back in the winter of 1999-2000, John McCain spoke to a crowd of people in Manhattan's financial district. At the time he was George W. Bush's competition for the Republican nomination. I was in the crowd. And I was supporting John McCain.

Don't shoot! At the time, I believed money in politics was the greatest evil - actually, I still believe that - and John McCain had been leading on that issue. I figured that if he could clean up politics, it wouldn't matter how conservative he was; we'd finally be able to get good people in office. Sorry to say, that never worked out.

Anyway, it's hard to remember a time when Presidential candidates had to be concerned about racial profiling, but that was the case then. McCain gave his little talk, and at the end of it, I shouted, "What is your position on racial profiling?" Things were too hectic for him to hear me, but a bunch of crazies immediately descended upon me handing me all sorts of literature about George Bush.

Huh. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure that was the first time I spoke aloud in public about a political issue.

Barack Obama

Whassa matta? My questions to Nancy Pelosi weren't enough to convince you that I'm willing to run against Democrats when they're wrong?

OK, well maybe this will help settle the issue.

Over the summer (2008), after he had sewn up the nomination, Barack Obama welshed on a promise he had made to Democrats in the heat of primary season. He had pledged to oppose the expansion of the body of law that dictates when the gov't may spy on the telephone conversations of the citizenry (FISA for short). For whatever reason, he chose to support the bill when it came up.

I used his website, my.barackobama.com, to organize what was then the largest "group" on his site. Once again, I found myself splashed across the pages of several newspapers. Most significantly, the New York Times wrote my profile.


Nancy Pelosi

Lest one believe that I'm willing to turn the other way when it's Democrats that are not behaving properly...

Nancy Pelosi

Bill Bennett/John McCain

One of my favorite things to do is to use the right-wing platform against them. Here I do my best to sew legitimate doubt about John McCain using Bill Bennett's radio show:
Bill Bennett

Lynne Cheney

Did you know Lynne Cheney wrote a book about lesbians? I did ;-)
Lynne Cheney

Tom Delay

I'm sure y'all remember the bug-killer.

It's funny. I met him once at a CPAC convention. He's got the most sinister eyes you'd ever want to see. The man is evil.

A note about this: You'll here him mention the Northern Marianis Islands in this clip. Tom Delay almost single-handedly made sure that the sweatshop owners that ran that island were able to slap a "Made in the USA" label on the clothes they manufactured, even though their factories were not subject to minimum wage or worker protection laws. These factory owners imported their labor from China; they promised the moon. When the workers got to the Islands, they found themselves trapped in what was essentially a labor camp. They even forced abortions on women when they got pregnant.

Tom Delay, champion of Christian Conservatives everywhere, made sure things never changed.

Tom Delay

This one felt good

Not all disgusting people are well known. The right-wing is infested with the most loathsome characters you would ever want to know. Case in point: Grace-Marie Turner. She heads up the Galen Institute, a think tank that claims as its mission:

We work to promote a more informed public debate over ideas that advance individual freedom, consumer choice, and competition in the health sector.

To that end, Grace-Marie Turner spent some time on The Jim Bohannon Show. I tuned in just in time to hear her claim that universal health care provided by the government would surely be a disaster because where it's been enacted (in Massachusetts, in this case), you see things like the state mandating coverage for hair regrowth treatments. That's all she said. Of course, most people not familiar with the issue would immediately think that Massachusetts provides Rogaine to vain middle-aged men that can't come to terms with getting old.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The regrowth treatment is mandated in cases of children and women recovering from leukemia.

I told you these people were vile...
Grace-Marie Turner

Newt Gingrich

Activism is an opportunity sport. You've got to be willing to accept whatever terms are offered and make the best go of it. Here, the platform was Alan Colmes' radio show. He's famous for being soft on miscreants.

That's not my style.

Newt Gingrich

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mob rules

Sometimes I'm not even looking for a confrontation; instead I say something truthful and the crazies lose their marbles. Paul Krugman referenced this one in one of his columns...

Bill O'Reilly threatens to lead a mob to my house:
Bill O'Reilly

Bill O'Reilly Again...

Through the summer of 2007, Bill O'Reilly waged a war that was bound to end badly for him.

He went after the blogosphere.

Specifically, he did his best to make fundraising and sponsorship deals difficult for the largest annual Netroots conference, then named YearlyKos. Even more specifically, O'Reilly sent a film crew to harass the CEO of JetBlue, one of the convention's sponsors.

Before we go any further, I should say that for you to fully understand the video embedded at the end of this post, you'll need some background. If you are already familiar with the Andrea Mackris ordeal, you're all set - you can skip to the video. Otherwise, read on...

A few years ago, Andrea Mackris - a producer for O'Reilly's television show - threatened to bring suit against Bill O'Reilly and the Fox Network for sexual harassment. O'Reilly and Fox management immediately went into battle-mode. They smeared Mackris and denyied everything.

Luckily, Mackris was prepared. She had recorded several of the conversations O'Reilly and Fox denied ever happened. In her pleading - the first step of a law-suit - she transcribed some of the conversations verbatim. They were hilarious.

Here's but a sample (remember - these are O'Reilly's exact words):

Well, if I took you down there then I'd want to take a shower with you right away, that would be the first thing I'd do ... yeah, we'd check into the room, and we would order up some room service and uh and you'd definitely get two wines into you as quickly as I could get into you I would get 'em into you ... maybe intravenously get those glasses of wine into you...

You would basically be in the shower and then I would come in and I'd join you and you would have your back to me and I would take that little loofa thing and kinda' soap up your back ... rub it all over you, get you to relax, hot water .... and um ... you know, you'd feel the tension drain out of you and uh you still would be with your back to me then I would kinda' put my arm -- it's one of those mitts those loofa mitts you know, so I got my hands in it ... and I would put it around front, kinda' rub your tummy a little bit with it, and then with my other hand I would start to massage your boobs, get your nipples really hard ... 'cuz I like that and you have really spectacular boobs....

So anyway I'd be rubbing your big boobs and getting your nipples really hard, kinda' kissing your neck from behind ... and then I would take the other hand with the falafel (sic) thing and I'd put it on your pussy but you'd have to do it really light, just kind of a tease business...

So... When O'Reilly decided to tell a bunch of vile and viscious lies about the progressive Netroots, I decided to provide O'Reilly with his own Accountability Moment. Since O'Reilly had decided it was appropriate to accost people at their homes, I chose to visit him at his. Here's the video:

KSFO, Melanie Morgan

In January of 2007, just a few months after the George Allen media storm, a fellow blogger, Spocko, contacted me. ABC/Disney had threatened his web hosts with a lawsuit.

What was the issue? He used his blog to host short clips of Disney/ABC owned KSFO radio show hosts. He sent emails to the companies that advertised on that station and asked if they wanted their brand to be tarnished by its association with such disgusting gutter rhetoric. Advertisers fled in droves.

Because Spocko wanted to retain his anonymity, I took up his cause. Within days, scores of bloggers had mirrored the audio clips Disney/ABC wanted to stifle. Within a week, the story appeared in USA Today, The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle, amongst others.

Howard Kurtz had me on Reliable Sources to chat about the issue:

I can't believe it's been two years already...

George Allen.

He was a racist, and I called him on it.
Allen the racist

He abused his first wife, and I called him on that too.

At the time, he was the conventional-wisdom front-runner to win the Republican nominating contest for President of the United States in 2008. Now, he's not even a Senator anymore.

I even got some truth onto Fox News!

On August 8, 2006, I was at Ned Lamont's campaign headquarters when he defeated Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary. Alan Colmes was there too; he was broadcasting live for Hannity & Colmes.

I saw my opportunity to send Sean a personal message.

And along came Bill O'Reilly...

I'm already out of sequence here...

The first major brush with national media came a few days before the Wilkow call. After a couple of years of listening to Bill O'Reilly's radio show, I had heard him say how much he was a champion of free speech several times. It usually came after Ann Coulter got pied on some college campus; O'Reilly would then decry the "lunatics on the left" and draw a distinction between those that "can't form a rational argument and just want to shut their opponents up", and his show, where all opinions were welcome.

So I saw an opening when O'Reilly put a petition on his website that called for MSNBC to fire the 8 PM host (even then, he wouldn't say his enemy's name - in this case Keith Olbermann - aloud).

I organized a band of callers and we inundated his radio show for the better part of a week. Our message? We thought Olbermann was great.

O'Reilly bugged out.

Olbermann had a field day with it:

To this day, "The Fox News Police" is a running gag on Olbermann's show and throughout the blogosphere.

From way, way back...

This was probably the first time I realized that taking the fight to the bad guys was going to be pretty popular in the blogosphere. In March of 2006, I decided to call a local show and chat a bit about the meaning of life as it pertains to abortion and the right wing. Here's the audio:

Andrew Wilkow

In this silly call I posed as "John" because this particular host, Andrew Wilkow, hated taking my calls... I was pretty much shocked when the call went viral (or as viral as things went back in the early days of the blogosphere).

Crooks & Liars

I didn't know it then, but I was just getting started...

Allow me to introduce myself...

Since 2003, I have been an advocate for progressive principles in politics and the media. From the very beginning, I believed the best way to fight for those principles was to confront those that would frustrate them. I began my efforts by calling the cheats and liars that hosted local talk radio programs. Soon, I learned that the corrupt (Democratic) mayor of my town hosted a radio show; I started making that show unpleasant for him. Over time, I gained confidence and began calling national radio shows. Suddenly, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity could no longer count on being able to lie with impunity. At about the same time, I discovered the blogosphere.

Actually, this is kind of funny. I was always a “closeted” talk radio caller. I knew it was extraordinarily geeky – nobody I grew up with would even admit they listened to talk radio, let alone listened obsessively – and called in! The blogosphere changed that. One day I decided to confess my filthy habit in a blog post; I chronicled one of my calls. To my surprise, other bloggers and blog readers really seemed to enjoy reading about me calling talk radio. Before long, I got “noticed”.

A fairly new organization, MediaMatters.org, found themselves regularly posting audio clips of calls that I had made to national radio show hosts. By chance, a staffer linked those calls to my blogposts at DailyKos.com. An email arrived in my inbox, I was offered some help and that extraordinarily generous staffer hosted a house party/fundraiser for me. The proceeds funded my first blog, CallingAllWingnuts.com.

I ran CallingAllWingnuts full time for about a year, beginning in early 2006. I’d call 2-4 radio show hosts a day, say something truthful, listen to the host rant, spin, scream or cry, record the audio, and post it to the blog. More often than not, the product was at least mildly amusing. Sometimes it was hilarious. Sometimes it made national news.

I had to put CallingAllWingnuts into dormancy – or so I thought – when I started law school in the Fall of 2006. I still used it occasionally to keep up with loyal followers, but everyone knew that my time would be limited – that there just wouldn’t be time for me to make a lot of calls.

I never thought that within weeks, I’d be at the center of a media storm.

I moved to Virginia to begin law school. At the time, there was a contested Senate race in full swing. Jim Webb was trying to unseat George Allen. I had been keeping loose tabs on the race, but I was not particularly deeply invested in it.

Just a few weeks before I arrived in Virginia, Allen had called a Webb campaign tracker “Macaca”. The YouTube video of the incident was widely circulated and Allen went through fits trying to explain that he meant nothing by it. Unfortunately for him, he had a long and storied racist history. Fortunately for him, the media was allergic to putting the “Macaca Moment” in its larger natural context. They dutifully reported every iteration of the excuses Allen’s press shop cranked out, but simply refused to report things like, say… Allen kept a noose in his office… or he opposed making Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday… or that he carried on a long love affair with the Confederate Flag – even though he was raised in Los Angeles.

So… when I heard Allen would be at a campaign event in my neck of the woods, I decided to take a page out of the CallingAllWingnuts playbook and apply it in real-space. I went to his event with an audio recorder, asked him if he had ever used the word n*****, (he said no), confirmed that he had never used the word in his life (he confirmed it) and then asked why he kept a Confederate Flag and a noose in his office. I took the audio home and posted it to my blog.

Email tips came flying in from people that had lived in Charlottesville at the same time Allen did. Several people claimed personal knowledge that Allen abused his first wife. A couple of weeks later, an arrest record surfaced. A few weeks after that, Allen came back to town. I was ready.

I went to the hotel, asked some more questions and his staff assaulted me. I soon found that 15 minutes of fame lasts much longer when networks are competing to fill a 24 hour news cycle.

Anyway, I’ve gone on much too long for an introduction section, so let me wrap up…

This blog will be used to keep you informed of my efforts to provide powerful people with their own “Accountability Moments”. Since my George Allen adventures, I’ve visited with Bill O’Reilly, Rick Santorum, Nancy Pelosi, John McCain, Barack Obama, several Representatives and many, many others. I personally asked each of them to answer questions they found uncomfortable. Many more will follow.