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SCANDAL

Exposing Arnold’s Housekeeper

Why, exactly, are the media outing the woman who gave birth to the out-of-wedlock son?

Well, it’s everywhere.

If you want to know the name of the housekeeper who bore Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child—and take a look at a picture of her in a white coat, white pants and tight-fitting pink top—it’s a click or two away.

Thanks to Radar Online, which revealed the woman’s identity in a joint investigation with Star magazine, every media outlet on the planet can now satisfy your curiosity.

But should they?

The housekeeper, who was recently let go by the former California governor, did not ask to be at the center of a white-hot political scandal. She has made no statement, filed no lawsuit, trotted out no publicist, sold nothing to the tabloids, made no appearance on Oprah. She had an affair with her boss and got pregnant, but she is as far from a public figure as you can imagine. What gives the media the right to obliterate her privacy?

And to point out the obvious, there is a boy of around 14 involved. Thankfully, the Radar photo that went viral blurs his face, but if you know the mom’s name, it’s not going to be too hard to figure out who the kid is.

The Daily Beast, while linking to the Radar piece, initially published the woman’s name and picture until Executive Editor Edward Felsenthal made the decision Tuesday night not to do so.

I agree with the decision. But apparently we’re in the minority. The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story and spoke to the housekeeper (who initially denied the story and then had no comment after Schwarzenegger acknowledged paternity) has not published her name. Nor has The Washington Post. MSNBC and CNN have not identified her on the air.

But ABC has named the woman and shown a different picture of her on Good Morning America. Fox News has shown the photo on the air. CBS has run the photo online. The New York Times, usually so reticent on sex-scandal stories, has named her and run the picture. So have the Huffington Post, Yahoo, AOL, TMZ and countless other outlets. There may come a point where it’s been so widely disseminated that it’s pointless to stick your finger in the media dike. I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

Contrast this with the handling of a simultaneous sex scandal, that involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund. No American media outlet of which I’m aware has named the maid who says he sexually assaulted her at a Manhattan hotel. But a handful of French news organizations—including Paris Match and the French edition of Slate—have named the single mother from Guinea.

The case is very different. DSK is being held at Riker’s. The woman says she was attacked--her lawyer has spoken publicly about the investigation—and there is a long tradition in the American press not to name alleged victims of sexual assault. (It’s not airtight, though, as the 1991 flap over NBC and The New York Times identifying the accuser in the rape case against William Kennedy Smith—he was acquitted—made clear.) But if she is deserving of privacy, why isn’t Arnold’s former housekeeper?

The honest answer is that the Schwarzenegger story is so red hot, given the betrayal of Maria Shriver, that it has melted whatever restraint the media might ordinarily have mustered.

Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that The Daily Beast refrained from publishing the housekeeper’s name. Her photo had been posted only briefly, as the story said, but her name was reported throughout the day Wednesday until a decision was made to take it down.

APOLOGIES

Contrite Newt Apologizes to Ryan

How an experienced lawmaker dug himself a hole and kept digging

The question about Newt Gingrich, professional provocateur, was always whether he had the discipline to run for president.

Judging by the not-so-friendly fire he is taking from the right, his initial foray has not been encouraging.

Many conservatives are furious over his appearance on Meet the Press, where the former House speaker got tripped up not over questions about his affair and subsequent marriage to his third wife, but about policy, which is supposed to be his great strength.

Gingrich dissed the Paul Ryan Medicare voucher plan, saying he didn’t like “right-wing social engineering” any better than the left wing kind. Which is a perfectly respectable position to take, except that all but a handful of House Republicans voted for the Ryan bill, so Gingrich is backtracking a bit. (Update: Gingrich called Ryan Tuesday to apologize, and his campaign is admitting to "missteps," nothing more.)

The former Georgia congressman also backed a key part of Mitt Romney’s health care bill—an individual mandate to buy insurance—which, as a video clip showed, he also supported in an appearance with Tim Russert back in 1993. The problem is that a mandate is a cornerstone of Obamacare, which Gingrich says he wants to repeal.

Again, the candidate could take a principled stance and say while he opposes the excesses of the president’s health plan, he feels that, as with car insurance, people who benefit from the system have to take some responsibility. Instead, Gingrich is tying himself in knots trying to explain away his comments.(Here he is on a conference call.)  

How bad is the damage? Columnist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News:

“This is a big deal. He’s done. He didn’t have a big chance from the beginning but now it’s over. Apart from being contradictory and incoherent as we saw in those two bites you showed where he contradicted himself in the course of one day on the individual mandate – calling the Republican plan, which all but four Republican members of the House have now endorsed and will be running on, calling it radical and right-wing social engineering is deadly.”

And then there is this headline on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. It reads, simply, “Gingrich to House GOP: Drop Dead."

National Review Editor Rich Lowry rolls his eyes at the Gingrich rhetoric:

“That’s Newt being Newt…He can’t help himself. Gingrich prefers extravagant lambasting when a mere distancing would do, and the over-arching theoretical construct to a mundane pander. He is drawn irresistibly to operatic overstatement — sometimes brilliant, always interesting, and occasionally downright absurd,…

“When he was speaker of the House, he alienated his colleagues (some of whom roll their eyes at the mere mention of his name) and dragged himself, his family, and his party through a psychodrama. If he were to replicate that performance in the White House, it’d be a formula for a LBJ- or Nixon-style meltdown.”

When the editor of conservatism’s most important magazine is comparing your emotional state to that of Richard Nixon, I’d say you have a problem.

Rush Limbaugh was a key Gingrich ally back in the 1990s, and when the Republicans took over the House in 1995, El Rushbo was made an honorary member of the freshman class. So how did Limbaugh react?

“I am not going to justify this. I am not going to explain it,” he told listeners.

"The attack on Paul Ryan, the support for an individual mandate in healthcare? Folks, don’t ask me to explain this. There is no explanation! What do you mean, 'If I don't explain it, who will?' There is no explanation for it. First off, it cuts Paul Ryan off at the knees. It supports the Obama administration in the lawsuits that 26 states have filed over the mandate. I guess, what? Back in 1993, Newt supported an individual mandate, everybody should buy insurance. I am as befuddled as anyone else is what I’m telling you.”

So Gingrich clearly has some ’splainin’ to do with conservatives. And the news today isn’t good, with Politico posting this piece about Gingrich owing a huge chunk of change to Tiffany’s: “In 2005 and 2006, the former House speaker turned presidential candidate carried as much as $500,000 in debt to the premier jewelry company, according to financial disclosures filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives.”

This, after all, is a man who wants to manage the nation’s economy.

With Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump out of the race, the path was clear for Gingrich to grab some positive attention in his first week out of the gate. But by any fair reading, he has stumbled badly.

BOWING OUT

Trump: I'm Not Running

He rocketed to the top of the polls, fell back to Earth, and now he has officially bowed out of the 2012 race. Howard Kurtz on why the Donald chose Celebrity Apprentice over the White House—and why he would have lost anyway.

Donald Trump was playing with us all along.

He chose today to tell the world what many had suspected all along, that he’s not running for president—a day that, it just so happens, NBC was meeting with advertisers about its fall schedule. If Trump was still exploring a White House bid, the network couldn’t have pitched his Celebrity Apprentice at the upfronts.

In what has become the standard I-coulda-won statement from Republican dropouts, Trump said in a statement: “This decision does not come easily or without regret; especially when my potential candidacy continues to be validated by ranking at the top of the Republican contenders in polls across the country. I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately, the general election.

“I have spent the past several months unofficially campaigning and recognize that running for public office cannot be done half heartedly. Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector.”

TELEVISION

Television’s Vast Wasteland

A famous speech, and the creation of PBS.

Newton Minow was in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the “vast wasteland” speech that shook up the broadcasting business, leading to the first educational children’s programming and eventually to PBS.

The first draft of the speech that caused such controversy and continues to reverberate described a “vast wasteland of junk,” he recalled Monday evening. Newly installed as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during the Kennedy administration and just 35 years old, Minow had been advised by his general counsel to take out the offending passage. The broadcast industry was already reeling, rocked by scandals -- radio payola and rigged TV quiz shows. Murder and mayhem dominated television programming. The evening newscasts were a scant 15 minutes long. “What I wanted was a debate in the country, and that started it,” said Minow.

He succeeded in getting more educational programming, and built the stations that would eventually become PBS. In a conversation with current FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and moderated by Frank Sesno, formerly with CNN and now at George Washington University, Minow said he is baffled by the current assault on PBS and the GOP’s attempt to end federal funding for public television. “My position is very clear, it should never be partisan,” he said as he launched into a story about PBS’s origins.

When Richard Nixon was elected in 1968, Minow got a call from Dean Burch, who had chaired Barry Goldwater’s campaign four years earlier. “I think I just made a big mistake,” Burch said, explaining he had turned down Nixon’s offer to become FCC chairman. He had a successful law practice in Tucson, his kids were in school, and he had a swimming pool, he told Minow. “Call him back,” Minow said. “This is an extraordinary opportunity for public service.”

He did, and soon after, Minow got another call. “Okay, Big Shot, you took me into this, I need some ideas.” Minow happened to be in New York where Joan Ganz Cooney was presenting her concept for Sesame Street. “What does she look like?” Burch exclaimed, recognizing the name as the Joan Ganz he had asked to marry him when they were students at the University of Arizona. Burch was on board. He also took her to see Goldwater, who had returned to the Senate that year after his failed presidential bid. He too recognized her maiden name. Her father had given him his first contribution when he ran for office. “What can I do for you?” Goldwater asked.

Cooney had applied for funding from the Health, Education and Welfare Department and been turned down by Secretary Caspar Weinberger, whose budget-cutting zeal had earned him the name “Cap the Knife.” Goldwater picked up the phone and called Weinberger. “You’ve got your money,” he told Cooney.

“And that was a Republican,” Minow exclaimed. It is how Washington works. PBS, he says, “was an afterthought,” launched only after commercial television was entrenched. In Europe and in Japan, public programming came first and is taken as a given. Minow no longer thinks TV is a vast wasteland, says he’s a news junkie and watches it all the time. He applauds the many choices available, but still believes there is a need for public television. “Why have libraries when we have bookstores? Why have parks when we have country clubs?” he asks with the air of a man who thinks the answer is self-evident.

OBAMA GUEST

The Rap on the White House

An invite to the rapper Common blows up into a political controversy

A week after the White House faced constant questioning in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing, the pendulum has swung to an entirely different topic: pop culture.

The rapper Common, who's real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn, was invited to appear at an even celebrating poetry Wednesday night with President Obama and the first lady. But the problem has been Commons lyrical background, rapping about hurting women, killing cops and disparaging Obama’s predecessor.

"Burn a Bush cos' for peace he no push no button," he said during an HBO Def Poetry appearance in 2007. Before that, back in 2000, he released a song called “A Song for Assata” that offered considerable support to activist Assata Shakur after a 1973 shootout that killed New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster.

The New Jersey state police expressed outrage at the invitation extended through the East Wing. Sarah Palin and Fox News' Sean Hannity wondered over Twitter and on TV why a man of such language was invited to the people's house.

The White House had been silent all week amid mounting critiques and cable news segments. But Press Secretary Jay Carney faced a line of questioning on Wednesday. “While the president doesn’t support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, we do think that some of these reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for in order to stoke the controversy,” he said, pointing out that a report from Fox News six months ago called Common a “rap legend” and referred to him as “very positive” and a “conscious rapper.”

He noted that putting a rapper on the White House stage could help bring poetry to people not usually exposed to it. And plus, he said, this isn’t the first time Common has appeared with the president. Common hosted an Obama rally in Chicago last year, and attended the White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony in December.

But did the White House underestimate how radioactive Common could be? The administration wouldn’t comment on how closely staffers were vetting the event, but poet Jill Scott, who also will appear onstage with Common, told the American Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan that the administration had taken control of the content. “I haven’t gotten the word back of what’s ok [to perform].”

Wife No. 3, wary of the political spotlight

Is Callista front-page news?

The New York Times thinks so, declaring Tuesday that the former speaker of the House “is counting on the third Mrs. Gingrich for his political redemption… Depending on one’s point of view, she is a reminder of his complicated past, or his secret political weapon.”

The downside is obvious: Callista Bisek is the House staffer who had an affair with Gingrich while he was leading the impeachment drive against Bill Clinton. She was, in short, the Other Woman.

But Callista is also the woman responsible for her husband’s conversion to Catholicism—they made a film about Pope John Paul II--and his effort to redefine himself in his sixties as a good family man. I saw them together signing books at the CPAC conference a couple of months ago, and in his public remarks Gingrich does begin many sentences with “Callista and I”—as he did when I asked him about his timetable for making a 2012 decision.

Cheri Daniels takes center stage amid questions about her marriage to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Of the many presidential prospects with colorful marital histories, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ is perhaps the most unusual. He is married for the second time to his wife—who had another husband in between.

Cheri and Mitch Daniels married in 1978, while he was working as a Senate aide. In 1994, Cheri left her husband and four daughters, then aged 8 to 14, to move to California and marry another man. Then she divorced him and, in 1997, remarried Daniels.

It’s complicated, as they say on Facebook, and not something anyone feels much like discussing.

That would include Cheri Daniels, who, according to media reports, has never talked publicly about that period in her life.

It would include Mitch Daniels, whose entire commentary on the matter appears to be limited to this 2004 remark to the Indianapolis Star: "If you like happy endings, you'll love our story. Love and the love of children overcame any problems."

It would seem to include, at least until now, many in the media. How else to explain why the couple’s unusual marital history is not mentioned until word No. 8,257 of an 8,641-word profile in The Weekly Standard? I’m not making this up. I know, The Weekly Standard is not People or US Weekly. But Standard readers can’t live by policy alone, and this is at the very least a fascinating tidbit.

There is much anticipation in Indiana this week because Cheri Daniels, introduced by her husband, is going to give the keynote speech Thursday at the state Republican Party dinner. It is a first for her. “She’s obviously given speeches before, but not to a crowd this size or in this type of venue,” says party spokesman Pete Seat. The venue is a huge ballroom, tickets—still selling—are priced from $200 to $5,000, and the audience is on pace to top 1,000. Seat says Cheri Daniels has already out-drawn the star attraction at the party’s October dinner. That was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

There’s no indication that Cheri, who has promoted fitness, heart health, education, and literacy, will do anything but what her office has said she’ll do. That is, share stories and observations from her years as first lady of Indiana. Nobody is expecting her to announce she’s given her husband the go-ahead.

Still, everyone will be looking for clues. And the first clue is simply her presence. This is a woman who has made clear she doesn’t like politics. In 2004, during Daniels’ first campaign for governor, she told the Star that she told her husband during their dating days that “I am not a political person. I do not eat and breathe this, and I do not care to.”

Mitch Daniels has projected deep ambivalence about running, and his family is a central reason. He has said his wife and daughters are “terrified” at the prospect of intense media scrutiny. “It scares them to death. And it should,” he explained. The Huffington Post reported Tuesday that the last remaining unresolved issue for Daniels is whether Cheri is ready to face questions about the couple’s past.

In a national campaign, there’s no way the couple could avoid addressing their marital history. Their best option would be to go the Bill and Hillary Clinton route: Appear on a national television program like 60 Minutes to tell their story the way they want it told, and consider the matter closed. That might stem the questions. I’m betting it would also give Daniels more depth as a person, and broaden his appeal. It’s not like voters don’t get that marriage has its ups and downs. And this is, in the end, a tale of two people who found their way back to each other.

SITE TRAFFIC

Why News Sites Get Lonely

Fickle consumers check in, check out at warp speed.

The future of news may be online, but even the biggest of the big news outlets have a little problem on that front.

Turns out most people don’t come to their sites very often, and when they do, they don’t stay very long.

Most are “casual users” who stop by only a few times a month; 85 percent of visitors to USAToday.com, for instance, came between one and three times a month. And once there, 30 to 40 percent of visitors to top news sites stay less than five minutes.

The figures are from a Project for Excellence in Journalism study of online news habits, out Monday, that is certain to be closely scrutinized by media types. I can’t tell you how much energy is expended in newsrooms trying to figure out how to boost traffic and get readers to stick around.

The project looked at 25 top news sites, including The New York Times, L.A. Times, and Washington Post, Huffington Post, Yahoo, AOL, CNN, MSNBC, Fox and London’s Telegraph and Guardian.

These sites have a core of loyal readers—about 7 percent—dubbed “power users,” who return more than 10 times a month. The figure runs as high as 18 percent at CNN.com. For The New York Times, 9 percent are heavy users—the target audience for its new paywall.

The findings on who drives traffic to these news operations are striking. Google is the monster, accounting for 30 percent of the readers at the top news sites. One site, Examiner.com, got just over half its traffic from Google. The Drudge Report remains quite influential, steering 19 percent of traffic to the New York Post and 15 percent to The Washington Post, for instance.

But the rise of social networking may steal the headlines. Facebook is becoming a major player. With 500 million users worldwide, Mark Zuckerberg’s creation was the second- or third-most popular traffic driver for six of the top news sites studied. Arianna’s Huffington Post got 8 percent of its visits from Facebook links; The New York Times drew 6 percent. The proliferation of “like” buttons make it easier to follow such links.

Twitter, with 175 million accounts, was a minor player, a traffic driver for just nine of the 21 news sites for which data are available. And for all but one of those, Twitter provided only 1 percent of the traffic. The exception: LATimes.com got 3.5 percent of its traffic through tweets.

But for all the off-ramps entangling the Internet, the home page still rocks. It was the most viewed page for 21 of the 25 news sites, accounting for 79 percent of the hits at Reuters.com and 60 percent at CNN.com, although just 6 percent at AOLNews.com. In that sense, many of these sites still resemble newspapers: People want to check the day’s headlines.

White House chief of staff Bill Daley had a brief but worrisome encounter with an actor from ABC’s 'Modern Family'—with the mission to kill Osama bin Laden on the line.

Sounds like a bad sitcom, I know.

As Daley recounted the tale to a couple of reporters, he met an actor from ABC's Modern Family—who turned out to be Eric Stonestreet—at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night. Stonestreet mentioned that he was pumped about a White House tour he was taking the very next day.

Uh-uh, Daley thought. No way that guy’s coming over on the day of the bin Laden mission. The chief of staff had ordered all tours canceled. But he kept mum. An hour later, the actor said he’d gotten an e-mail canceling the tour. What was up? Was something going on?

Daley played dumb. Maybe a pipe had broken. How about this, he said, I’ll give you a personal tour on Monday.

The next day, a Navy SEAL team killed the al-Qaeda leader. And Daley was a tad too busy Monday to provide the tour.

Seems to me he owes Stonestreet a rain check.

Correction: In an earlier version of this post, I screwed up a couple of key details. Daley couldn't remember the name of the actor, so I suggested it might be Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, who also does some of the voices. Apologies for my pop culture cluelessness.

DEBATES

Pawlenty’s Fox Gamble

What’s at stake in the Thursday night debate with four also-rans.

The pressure is on Tim Pawlenty!

That, at least, is what some pundits are saying about tonight’s Fox News debate—you know, the one that most of the big-time candidates are ducking.

No Mitt Romney, who’s laying awfully low for a supposed front-runner. No Newt Gingrich, who’s still dealing with untangling his business affairs. No Michele Bachmann, who seemed poised to jump in. No Mitch Daniels, who told an interviewer the other day that no sane person wants to run for president (and I have no reason to question his sanity).

Instead, Pawlenty will be up against the less-than-fearsome lineup of Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Gary Johnson. Not exactly Must See TV.

New York magazine has ridiculed the former governor of Minnesota for joining the “loser’s table.”

“Some might argue that Pawlenty is foolhardy to take the stage in South Carolina with this group,” says the Daily Caller. “He’ll be a natural target for the candidates looking to score the big sound bite that will boost their visibility and fundraising numbers.”

I’m not buying any of that. Pawlenty may be the only person on the stage in Greenville, S.C. with a serious shot at becoming president, but he doesn’t have much to lose.

The debate itself is likely to get little attention, so even if Pawlenty makes a mistake, it will be a blip. We’re still in spring training here.

Pawlenty isn’t well known, so beaming into the homes of Fox viewers, even while fencing with a pizza mogul (Cain) and an ex-governor who wants to legalize pot (Johnson),won’t hurt him.

He also gets to sharpen his skills for the later debates that actually will matter.

In short, it’s a low-risk affair for a serious candidate who needs exposure, and by June it will seem like a mere footnote. Maybe even by the weekend.

DEBATES

Pawlenty Gets Fox Grilling

Sharing a stage with four also-rans, he draws most of the tough questions

Tim Pawlenty struck the right note in the opening seconds of Thursday’s Fox News debate, praising President Obama for a “fine job” making “tough decisions” in the mission against Osama bin Laden before pivoting to criticism of the administration’s Libya policy.

But he seemed wimpy when asked about his critique of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care, saying he wouldn’t address it because Romney wasn’t there. “I’m not going to pick on him,” T-Paw said. Huh? It wasn’t like Romney was laid up in a hospital bed; he ducked the debate! Why agree to join second-tier candidates in the South Carolina event and then whiff when it comes to your chief competitor?

The former Minnesota governor sidestepped a Chris Wallace question on using one-time budget gimmicks, proclaiming he had balanced all his budgets (which all but one state is legally required to do) and offering a technical explanation for why he left a huge deficit to his successor. It was downhill from there.

I’m focusing on Pawlenty for the same reason the DNC peppered me with fact-check bulletins about him and the same reason he drew most of the tough questions: Unlike Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Gary Johnson, he has a strong shot at the GOP nomination. Although it was noteworthy to see three-fifths of the candidates (beyond Pawlenty and Santorum) calling for a withdrawal from Afghanistan or strongly questioning the war.

As frontrunner-for-a-night, Pawlenty was asked whether creationism should be taught in schools. He said there should be room for the study of “intelligent design.” When Juan Williams told him he hadn’t answered the question, Pawlenty said the matter should be up to parents and local school districts.

Seconds later, Chris Wallace not only pressed him on his previous support for cap and trade legislation (now a dirty phrase in GOP circles), he played a radio ad in which Pawlenty strongly defended it. “I was wrong,” the candidate said. “It was a mistake and I’m sorry.” (By the way, the Fox panel asked sharp and tough questions.)

By the way, the DNC accidentally sent out some advice from Obama campaign aide Ben Labolt to several officials on an anti-Pawlenty release: “I’d lead on the pawlenty hit w/ leaving MN with a record deficit before the defensive stuff. Also think there’s a typo in the headline for the first section of bullets.”

Bottom line: Pawlenty took most of the flak but made no major mistake. And even if he had, who’s going to remember this debate a week from now?

EDUCATION

Daniels Ducks the 2012 Question

The governor, in Washington, would rather talk about education.

It’s fair to say that not everyone gathered at a conservative think tank Wednesday afternoon came to hear Mitch Daniels expound on “Creating First-Rate Education in Indiana,” the title of his talk. With the first GOP debate of the primary season one day away and a paucity of credible candidates participating, inquiring minds want to know if Daniels, a two-term governor of Indiana and former White House budget director, is getting into the race.

In the Q and A period after his dutifully wonky speech with slides and bullet points to reinforce everything he said, a reporter gently pressed Daniels on the 2012 presidential campaign: “Without telling us what you’re going to do, can you tell us why it’s not too late to get in if you’re not a celebrity or a billionaire?”

Daniels had fun with the question, saying it’s only late in the game if you’re a political professional or running a bed and breakfast in New Hampshire; otherwise it’s “a damn good thing” the nominating race is measured in months, not years. He later told reporters he would decide within weeks. Asked to expand on comments about Osama bin Laden that he made on Fox News, he looked puzzled, asking, “What did I say?” When told that he said “the struggle is not over,” he got a big laugh with this response: “I don’t think that’s all that deep a thought really, and I don’t know how much deeper I can go.”

It was vintage Daniels, cutting through the BS in his understated way, which made his speech about the package of reforms he pushed through the Indiana legislature worth paying attention to. They include what will become the nation’s biggest school-voucher program, with substantial cash payouts for not only poor but middle-class families that want to enroll a child in private or parochial school, or in Daniels’ phrase, a “non-governmental” school. Most current voucher programs are limited to low-income families, but Indiana will admit families of four making up to about $60,000 a year. The assistance is capped at $4,500.

Daniels is also pioneering a scholarship program for high-schoolers who accelerate their studies and finish in 11 years instead of 12. They will be given the money to use toward any post-secondary education, including community college. Daniels said he got the idea touring high schools and seeing how seniors cruise through that last year.

Daniels won legislative approval for a yearly teacher evaluation program tied to student performance that will make it easier to get rid of teachers who are not performing, and give high-performing teachers without seniority protection from layoffs. Unlike some of his fellow Republicans, he goes out of his way to offer what he calls “affirmations” for teachers, but says more accountability is needed.

Daniels emphasized that many of his education-overhaul measures are supported by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and he applauded their efforts as well. He recalled Duncan coming to Indianapolis to support a charter school in one of the toughest parts of town; they sat together on the stage, a show of solidarity when it comes to expanding charter schools.

The teachers’ unions are not happy with Daniels, but his workmanlike approach has helped him avoid the more open displays of hostility that greeted similar moves by Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio. He points out that 98 percent of Indiana students are in public schools and he expects that percentage to change only marginally with these new options.

These are substantial changes, more far-reaching than any other Republican officeholder has achieved, which, together with his state’s fiscally balanced budget, give Daniels a reformer’s platform that sets him apart from the other prospective candidates—if he runs.

NEWS COVERAGE

The Media, Seriously

A welcome respite from bombast and birtherism

As Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Diane Sawyer began their hourlong broadcasts Monday night at ground zero—after some of their cable counterparts had been there earlier—I got a familiar feeling.

This is what the media can do when they get serious about news, as we saw most dramatically on 9/11 and in the wrenching days that followed.

Then, we were coming off a frenzied summer devoted mainly to Gary Condit. This time, when Osama bin Laden was killed, we were emerging from the cable-fueled craziness over Barack Obama’s birth certificate—a charge that many journalists knew to be a lie but allowed themselves to be hijacked into constantly covering.

The reporting on the helicopter raid that led to bin Laden’s demise in Pakistan has been sober and substantive, with intelligent exploration of the military, political, and global angles. There hasn’t been the usual overheated speculation. And there’s been a striking absence of partisan sniping, the kind that can make Fox News’ coverage look like the mirror image of MSNBC’s. The fact that President Obama presided over a successful operation hasn’t caused the commentators who oppose him to find reasons to snipe, at least for now.

To be sure, this is an upbeat story from an American point of view. Celebrations broke out, not just in front of the White House but across the country. There is a collective feeling that justice has been done, that 3,000 innocent Americans have been avenged, that the country is briefly setting aside its differences and pulling together. That is an easier plot line to cover than the battle over the debt ceiling.

But it’s a welcome reminder that news doesn’t have to be sensational or superficial to be compelling.

BUDDIES

Newt & The Donald, Bosom Buddies

2012 rivals cross path at White House dinner while everyone gawks.

Strange bedfellows are the essence of the over-packed and over-hyped White House Correspondents' Dinner. Where else, on a single night, can you see Scarlett Johansson and Ben Bernanke, or Sean Penn, Mad Man Jim Cramer, and Colin Powell?

But for me, the most surreal sight on Saturday night was Donald Trump, who was absolutely mobbed in the hours before President Obama started taking comedic potshots at him. Everyone was trying to get a word with The Donald, or just get close and gawk.

newt-calista-donald

I was a couple of feet away when Newt Gingrich came over and the two men started backslapping and laughing their butts off. Who knew they were so friendly? Aren't they supposed to be running against each other? Or are both men going to opt out of the 2012 race?

The cellphone photo you see here is of the two men, with Newt's wife Calista in the middle. Trump was at the dinner as the guest of The Washington Post, which is taking some heat for the invitation. Here's the Post's own columnist, Dana Milbank:

SELF-PROMOTION

Trump’s Self-Promotion Gene

Is it somehow unseemly for aspiring candidates to tout themselves?

I’m not accustomed to having a single tweet deconstructed and psychoanalyzed, but I guess that’s the world we live in.

After Donald Trump phoned me—twice—to answer questions about his real estate empire and university venture, I was struck by his accessibility on subjects he knew would be contentious. So I declared on Twitter: “You've gotta say this for Trump: He takes reporters' calls, doesn't hide behind flacks. He relishes the combat and never tires of promotion.”

This prompted the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf to write: “I never understand why so many of my colleagues in the press celebrate the embrace of politics as war, or treat relentless self-promotion as if it's a boon. Isn't it actually a character defect, even if it does cause someone to talk to journalists a bit more often?”

Now he might have half a point on the “combat” metaphor , but the word isn’t that far off the mark—they are long struggles in which candidates set up war rooms and do oppo research and try to rout their rivals. It may not be pretty, and it goes on way too long and gets way too nasty, but that’s the process in American politics. What’s more, I’ve dealt with way too many candidates whose idea of combat is to have lawyers and spinners deal with the press while they give speeches and grant interviews to friendly talk show hosts. Why not credit a (potential) candidate who’s willing to take the heat?

But it’s the objection to “promotion” that I find puzzling (I wanted to write self-promotion but I only had 140 characters). Was Barack Obama’s election in 2008 not a triumph of self-promotion? In every election, from city hall to the White House, a candidate has to define himself or herself, through speeches, advertising and imagery, and win the trust of voters. It’s a proxy for demonstrating that they can withstand the pressures of office. Self-effacing politicians tend not to be terribly successful.

Friedersdorf said he recently profiled former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and liked his “aversion to self-promotion.” I’m sure Johnson is a fine fellow, but he has no chance of being elected president. Maybe Trump doesn’t either, but it won’t be for lack of self-aggrandizement.

Not that self-promotion plays any role in journalists tweeting, of course.

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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