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Honeymoon’s Over

Is Ryan a Ticking Time Bomb?

The congressman is getting glowing press, but journalists are just starting to examine his record. Howard Kurtz on the long paper trail that could alienate moderate swing-state voters just getting to know Paul Ryan.

We have learned, in the three short days since Paul Ryan was catapulted into the national spotlight, that he skins and butchers animals to make his own Polish sausage (courtesy of The New York Times). That he is “pretty low-maintenance” (as his wife, Janna, tells People). That he is “kind of hot” (thank you, Politico), and that the second–most popular search term for Ryan is “shirtless” (fun fact from The Washington Post). Not to mention he’s a former altar boy and a fitness buff.

Republican vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin native Rep. Paul Ryan

Republican vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin native Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) greets supporters during a campaign event at the Waukesha Expo Center in Waukesha, Wis., Aug. 12, 2012. (Darren Hauck / Getty Images)

In short, a rather wonkish congressman known primarily for his budget-slashing prowess is in the full flower of a media honeymoon. At the moment, he looks like a stellar pick who has accomplished the daunting task of loosening up Mitt Romney.

But watch out: Romney’s choice may look very different in the coming weeks.


Murdoch Gets His Man

The media mogul is pumped over Romney's selection of Paul Ryan. Howard Kurtz on the conservative campaign to drum up support for the divisive congressman.

It would be too much to say that Rupert Murdoch pushed Paul Ryan onto the Republican presidential ticket. But he certainly gave the conservative congressman a strong nudge.


Rupert Murdoch, left, has been a strong advocate of making Paul Ryan the GOP vice-presidential candidate. (Getty Images)

The media mogul used a combination of private persuasion, newspaper crusading, and Twitter talk to urge Mitt Romney’s campaign to shake things up. And soon after Romney unveiled his running mate on Saturday morning, Murdoch posted a 140-character message of approval:

“Thank God! Now we might have a real election on the great issues of the day. Paul Ryan almost perfect choice.”


Romney Rolls Out Ryan

The Wisconsin congressman vows to launch a crusade against debt and deficits as Mitt hails his running mate’s Catholic faith. Howard Kurtz on how Paul Ryan utterly changes the campaign.

Mitt Romney unveiled Paul Ryan as his running mate on Saturday morning as a moral Catholic and bipartisan lawmaker who would help the country avoid a “fiscal catastrophe.”

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney jokes with Rep. Paul Ryan after announcing him as the "next PRESIDENT of the United States" during an event announcing him as his running mate in front of the USS Wisconsin August 11, 2012 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

After Romney’s rousing introduction in Norfolk, Ryan trotted down from a flag-bedecked aircraft carrier, tieless in a dark suit and white shirt, denounced President Obama’s “record of failure” and declared himself part of “America’s comeback team.” Romney got so carried away that he introduced Ryan as “the next president of the United States,” bounding back a moment later to say he had left out the “vice.”

If there was any doubt that the choice of the seven-term Wisconsin congressman would instantly transform the campaign, it vanished as the two men appeared before an enthusiastic crowd in Norfolk. The Romney team concluded that if Ryan’s divisive budget-slashing plan was going to be a major factor in the election—the Republican nominee had already endorsed it—the best course would be to have its author passionately defend it.


Mitt Plays to His Right

The candidate doubles down on conservative ideology by tapping the Wisconsin congressman as his running mate.

Mitt Romney is playing to his right by naming Paul Ryan as his running mate, instantly transforming the election into a debate over the Wisconsin congressman’s divisive budget-slashing plan.

Based on a report from NBC confirmed by other news organizations, Romney will introduce the Wisconsin congressman as his vice-presidential pick in Norfolk on Saturday morning.

In a single stroke, Romney energizes the right wing of his party by picking the man who many Republicans revere as the intellectual leader of the party’s drive to shrink government. But he also hands President Obama and the Democrats a titanic target with a paper trail, given Ryan’s budget-slashing plan, approved by the House, that would turn Medicare into a voucher program.

Paul Ryan

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

PBS host on Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and pressure to be punchy

With moderators about to be announced for the fall debates, there’s a good chance that Gwen Ifill will again get the nod.

 “Moderating debates is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” the host of PBS’s Washington Week telle me in a video interview. “I’ve written books, I’ve covered White Houses, I’ve interviewed royalty. But sitting on that stage is hard for reasons that have nothing to do with just the fact that 67 million people are watching your back.”

Ifill, who has moderated the last two vice-presidential debates, says that “you had to stick to time cues, you had to find a way to think of questions where you might get an honest answer, maybe, that’s not just the rote for both of the candidates. And you have to listen to their answers, just in case they say something like ‘I killed my wife.’ You want to know!”

The healthy-diet champion has cast the attacks on the fast-food company as an assault on religious freedom. Now the ex-governor is driving customers to the embattled chain.

Mike Huckabee has mounted his share of political crusades, but never on behalf of the Spicy Chicken Sandwich Deluxe.

Mike Huckabee and Chick-Fil-A

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee called for a "Chick-Fil-A" appreciation day on Wednesday after the chicken chain was criticized for its president's public opposition to gay marriage. The company says it set a sales record that day. (Getty Images; AP Photo)

The former presidential candidate—who famously shed 100 pounds and wrote a book about it—has dived into the political war over Chick-fil-A, which has been battered, so to speak, over the antigay views of its president, Dan Cathy. Huckabee orchestrated a Chick-fil Appreciation Day on Wednesday that the chain says led to “record-breaking” business.

“I felt the attacks on Dan Cathy were unfortunate, intolerant, and hypocritical,” Huckabee tells The Daily Beast.

He'll be the star of the Democratic convention, while Bush stays home

As the House was in the process of impeaching Bill Clinton in the final days of 1998, I was somewhat surprised to see him posing for pictures with members of the Fourth Estate.

He easily could have blown off his appearance at the annual Christmas party. From the White House perspective, the gathering was populated by those who had been torturing Clinton all year over the Monica Lewinsky affair. It was the era of the stained blue dress and “depends on the meaning of is.” And yet the president of the United States, who would soon be tried in the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors, showed up and acted like it was a normal social gathering.

The magnitude of Clinton’s comeback since that self-inflicted disaster is evident in Monday’s news that President Obama is giving him a prime speaking slot at the Democratic convention. Clinton is in effect bumping Joe Biden on that Wednesday night in Charlotte, with the vice president introducing Obama the following night. Other than the man accepting the nomination, he will be the unquestioned star of the extravaganza.

Bill Clinton

Steven Senne / AP Photo

What about the Republicans' role?

There is a curious omission in Mitt Romney’s speech to the VFW today.

He warns against the dire consequences of the massive Pentagon budget cutbacks scheduled to take effect at the end of the year. And that’s an absolutely legitimate issue, prompting concern in both parties.


J.D. Pooley / Getty Images

But here’s the rub that Romney neglects, at least based on excerpts released by the campaign: The Republicans agreed to these cuts. The GOP-controlled House went along as part of a bipartisan deal last summer to prevent the government from sliding into default.

Fox News anchor says president is free to take his shots

Chris Wallace brushes off the fact that President Obama keeps taking digs at Fox News.

“Do I think we’re his favorite channel? No,” the host of Fox News Sunday says in a video interview with The Daily Beast. “I think it also helps rally his base to say there are some people out there—I don’t think it’s completely accurate, particularly in our news coverage--but [that] he thinks are hypercritical of him. Some people may be upset about it. I’m not, we’re big boys. We dish it out, we can take it.”

'Fox News Sunday' host Chris Wallace on why presidential candidates are wary of Sunday Talk appearances.

Asked if he agreed with a Fox Executive Vice President Michael Clemente that Obama’s conduct “lowers the office,” Wallace said simply: “No.”

Rupert gives up several directorships in his media empire, relinquishing leverage over his newspapers. Howard Kurtz on what’s behind the mogul’s moves.

Rupert Murdoch’s grip on his global media empire just got significantly looser.


Mark Lennihan / AP (FILE)

In giving up his director’s seat in several key units of his British and American companies, Murdoch is sending an unmistakable signal of disengagement—and perhaps foreshadowing a sale of his beloved newspapers.

On paper, at least, he is still the unquestioned master and controlling authority of News Corp. and News International. And yes, according to a Saturday report in the Telegraph, the Murdoch conglomerate is playing down the moves as “nothing more than a corporate housecleaning exercise prior to the company split.”

Striking Back

Romney Aide Hits 'Bullying' Obama

Trying to seize the offensive, Romney strategist Stuart Stevens tells Howard Kurtz that the attacks on Mitt’s finances are hurting the president—and that voters just don’t care about the issue.

Mitt Romney’s top strategist unleashed a strikingly personal attack on Barack Obama on Thursday, saying the president had reduced himself to “another politician who’s bullying an opponent.”

Romney on the offensive

Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Bowling Green, Ohio in July. (J.D. Pooley / Getty Images)

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Stuart Stevens responded to weeks of sustained criticism of Romney’s finances and business record by trying to turn the tables on the Democratic campaign. It was the latest sign of a more aggressive posture by a GOP team that has been decidedly on the defensive.

“Obama had something very special,” Stevens said. “He seemed above politics, and that made it difficult to attack him.

Caught in a Trap?

Right Rips Romney on Taxes

The candidate’s position is becoming untenable as even conservatives in his own party are insisting that he release his returns. How did it come to this?

Mitt Romney’s insistence on shielding his tax returns has become so untenable that he can’t even make the sale to National Review.

Romney 2012

Evan Vucci / AP Photos

Hours after Romney told the conservative magazine that he is “simply not enthusiastic” about giving Barack Obama’s oppo researchers “hundreds or thousands of more pages to pick through, distort, and lie about,” its website scolded him in an editorial.

His stance looks “unsustainable,” the website said, and “in all likelihood, he won’t be able to maintain a position that looks secretive and is a departure from campaign conventions. The only question is whether he releases more returns now, or later.

Wasserman Schultz says Romney camp trying to paint Obama as less than American

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic Party chairman, says Mitt Romney’s campaign says Mitt Romney’s campaign is deliberately questioning whether President Obama is less than fully American.

In a video interview with The Daily Beast, the Florida congresswoman said that John Sununu, a top Romney surrogate, was “sending dog-whistle messages to the extremists” with his recent attack on the president. Sununu told reporters on a conference call that Obama should “learn how to be an American.”

“I think that choice of words was deliberate,” Wasserman Schultz told me. “It was the reaction of a campaign that feels like a cornered animal, that is desperate and flailing, to hit back in any direction.

Exit Interview

Lieberman’s Slow-Motion Dem Divorce

He has been driving Democrats crazy for nearly 25 years. Howard Kurtz talks to the retiring senator about why he believes his party abandoned him.

During the run-up to the Persian Gulf War, Joe Lieberman was leaving an Oval Office meeting when George H.W. Bush turned to him and said, “Where are you on this, Joe?” 

Joseph Lieberman

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman attended a Brookings Institution event with GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in April. (Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images)

The freshman Democratic senator said he agreed that Congress should formally authorize military action to liberate Kuwait. “I want you to know I’ll strongly support it,” he said, “because I think it’s the right thing to do.” 

There was stone-cold silence from the dozen other assembled Democrats—a reaction that Lieberman found “very troubling.” 

Press swoons over one of few female CEOs in Silicon Valley.

This headline on the NBC News website caught my eye: “She’s the new CEO of Yahoo—and also expecting her first child.”

Marissa Mayer is a great story, right?

She is the rare woman to become a chief executive in the male-dominated, Mark Zuckerberg playground of the tech world. She is leaving a hot company (Google) to attempt to rescue a struggling company (Yahoo). And, as you may have noticed, she is 37 and attractive.

Call me crazy, but I think there’s a whiff of sexism in the coverage. If Yahoo’s interim CEO, Ross Levinsohn, had gotten the nod, does anyone think he’d be receiving a fraction of the media attention? Would his appointment have made the front page of the New York Times? (When Yahoo picked Scott Thompson as CEO just six months ago, the story ran in the Business section. Thompson got a lot more coverage when he was forced out over discrepancies in his resume.)

About the Author

Author headshot

Howard Kurtz

Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast and Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, and writes the Spin Cycle blog. He also hosts CNN’s weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.


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