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DEUX EX MACHINA

Will Sandy Swing the Election?

The Frankenstorm is canceling rallies and could black out millions during the final ad blitz. Howard Kurtz on the campaigns' new dynamics in the home stretch.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have spent months meticulously planning the endgame of reaching enough wavering voters to eke out an Electoral College victory.

Superstorm

Alan Diaz / AP

And now it could all be blown away by a monster storm. If Hurricane Sandy does anywhere near as much damage as forecasters are predicting, it will upend both presidential campaigns and leave millions of voters focused more on personal misery than politics.

Oh, and have I mentioned that the media love extreme weather?

Washington Post columnist puzzled by Romney (no joke)

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank tells Howard Kurtz that Twitter's to blame for the homogeneous punditry you see on TV.

Ask Dana Milbank what he thinks of Mitt Romney and he sounds a bit confused.

Weighing the candidate’s earlier campaign against his performance in the debates, the Washington Post columnist says, “we have no idea what the genuine Romney is. Possibly Romney doesn’t know what President Romney we’re getting…

“He didn’t just do the Etch a Sketch, he completely whitewashed everything. Probably every sentient voter knows he’s changed his mind on virtually everything, but he hasn’t presided over this awful economy.”

Election Follies

The Clown Campaign

Ann Coulter calls Obama a ‘retard.’ Then there’s Gloria Allred, TMZ, and a divorce. They and others are turning the race into a circus. Howard Kurtz on the nuttiness factor.

It’s the last two weeks of a presidential campaign: a time for suspense, for intrigue, for plot twists and…well, a whole lot of silliness.

Woman in Big Bird Costume Hugs President Obama

A woman in a big bird costume reaches out to hug US President Barack Obama as he greets supporters during a campaign event on October 24, 2012 at City Park in Denver, Colorado. (Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images)

We’re not just talking horses and bayonets here.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump is back. Surely you missed the days when he was demanding Barack Obama’s birth certificate and threatening to run for president—that is, before re-upping on Celebrity Apprentice.

The Fox News chairman inks a four-year deal

A couple of years ago, Roger Ailes would muse from time to time that maybe he would hang it up after the 2012 election and slip gracefully into retirement.

Not many people believed him. And with good reason, as it turned out.

The Fox News chairman has just signed a new, four-year deal with News Corp., as I reported exclusively on Twitter (hey, tweets are like AP dispatches these days). Those who can’t stand him or Fox will still have Ailes to kick around, at least through 2016.

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Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images

Exclusive

Exclusive: Roger Ailes Signs New Deal

Roger Ailes has signed a four-year deal with News Corp to run Fox News, Fox Biz, Fox stations, and 20th TV. Ink hasn't dried yet on contract. 

Part of the Plan

The GOP's Candy Strategy

By pouncing on the moderator, Team Romney is deflecting attention from a tough night for its man. Howard Kurtz on the shaping of the media narrative.

People at home may remember Barack Obama and Mitt Romney circling each other like wary gladiators. Folks online are wallowing in Romney saying that as governor he wanted "binders of women." But on television Wednesday, most of the talk about the second presidential debate centered on the flareup over Libya—which is exactly the way the Republicans want it.

Presidential Debate

Moderator Candy Crowley and Mitt Romney during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Oct. 16, 2012 (Michael Reynolds, Pool / Getty Images)

By attacking moderator Candy Crowley for inserting herself into the middle of that argument, the Romney camp is diverting attention from the fact that an energized Obama often dictated the terms of the argument and frequently put their man on the defensive.

Romney held his own most of the time, and polls by CBS and CNN showed the president eking out only a narrow victory. But as Bob Schieffer, who will moderate next week's faceoff, told me the other day, the team that is winning never complains about the umpires.

Presidential Gaggle

Debate Pre-Spin Under Way

Democrats and Republicans are already working the media refs at the second presidential debate. Howard Kurtz is at the scene.

Ladies and gentlemen, the spinning has begun here at Hofstra University.

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The stage is set for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. President Barack Obama to answer questions during a town hall style debate at Hofstra University Oct. 16, 2012, in Hempstead, N.Y. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

John Kerry was so wound up before a gaggle of reporters that if he had been this animated in 2004, he might have won.

Kerry carries special status here at the site of the second presidential debate for two reasons. He’s from Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney was governor, and he played Romney in debate prep.

Moderator of third presidential debate sees a huge jump in partisanship

Bob Schieffer thinks he knows why the presidential debate moderators are getting so much flak this year.

‘Bob Schieffer tells Howard Kurtz that he’s ‘never going to please all of the people all of the time.”

It “has something to do with how partisan things have become,” says the CBS News veteran, who will moderate next week’s third and final faceoff between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. “I never heard anybody at a baseball game that their team won criticize the umpires.”

In a video interview, Schieffer also blames the relentless news cycle: “There’s just so many people out there writing about it, blogging about it, tweeting about it. When I came to Washington you had two deadlines a day, one for afternoon papers and one for morning papers…It never stops now.”

Why the columnist can't always be a cheerleader

Clarence Page is rooting for Barack Obama—up to a point.

“No question about it. I’m allowed to,” the Chicago Tribune columnist tells me in a video interview. “I’m a pundit.” He pauses a beat.

“But I also have my credibility at stake. I have to be very honest about these things.” And in the first presidential debate, “let’s face it, he did screw up, and Democrats were angrier at him than Republicans were.”

It’s hardly surprising that an African-American commentator from Chicago would favor the president. But Page can be cold-blooded in his analysis.

ABC correspondent was firmly in charge at the contentious VP faceoff

Martha Raddatz took control at the outset and never let go.

From her opening question to Joe Biden—Was there a “massive intelligence failure” in Libya?—she asked smart, informed questions, followed up aggressively and kept things moving in the vice-presidential debate.

When Raddatz told Biden and Paul Ryan “let’s move on,” they did.

Martha Raddatz

Win McNamee / Getty Images

Both candidates scored points in the hard-fought VP debate. Howard Kurtz on how the vice president succeeded where Obama failed.

Joe Biden and Paul Ryan clashed repeatedly in a fast-paced and contentious debate on Thursday night, with the vice president more aggressively interrupting and dismissing his fact-filled opponent.

biden-ryan-gesturing-split

AP Photo

The Kentucky faceoff was a clash of generational styles, Biden the sometimes exasperated lecturer, Ryan the serious-minded student. Biden proved the superior debater, raising his voice, directly addressing the audience and rising above the wonky arguments with greater effectiveness. But by going toe to toe against a graying incumbent, the Wisconsin congressman held his own and blunted some, but not all, of his rival’s attacks.

Biden showed considerable passion when the debate turned to the economy, getting in more attack lines in two minutes than President Obama did against Mitt Romney in an hour and a half: Romney wanted to let Detroit go bankrupt. Romney wrote off 47 percent of the country. Romney pays a lower effective tax rate than Biden’s parents and neighbors.

Moderator of VP debate has journalistic combat experience

When Martha Raddatz opens the vice presidential debate Thursday night, she will bring something very different to the highly touted event.

No, not the fact that she’s a woman. It’s great that the debate commission has finally come into the 21st century by naming two women, Raddatz and CNN’s Candy Crowley, to handle half the fall debates. But what sets Raddatz apart is that she’s a battle-tested correspondent.

Among other things, ABC’s senior foreign affairs correspondent has been to Iraq 21 times and traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan dozens of times. She has also covered the White House and the State Department. Raddatz was the first to report that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, had been killed in a U.S. airstrike, and reported exclusive details the night that Osama bin Laden was killed.

Most of the debates have been moderated by television anchors and hosts, and they are good at their craft. Folks like Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw, Charlie Gibson and Bob Schieffer (who will moderate the third presidential debate this year), stretching back to Carole Simpson and Bernard Shaw. Some had extensive reporting experience, as Crowley does, but they were accustomed to fronting television shows.

GMA keeps it light with candidate's wife as co-host

I’m sure Good Morning America didn’t mean to suggest that Ann Romney belonged in the kitchen.

But there she was on the ABC set on Wednesday morning, cooking up a storm.

Ann Romney

Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, tapes an interview with Neil Cavuto, for his program "Your World With Neil Cavuto," on the Fox New Channel, in New York, on Sept. 14, 2012. (Richard Drew / AP Photo )

She was billed as a guest “co-host”—and why on earth should a presidential candidate’s wife have that title on a news show?—but that turned out to be a bit of marketing hype. For much of the two-hour program, Romney was nowhere to be found. She did not sit at the big anchor desk with George Stephanopoulos and the team. There was no big political interview. Romney was not so much on the show as on display.

Columnist says he won debate by dropping "extreme" positions

Tom Friedman has a simple rejoinder for Mitt Romney after the Republican candidate ripped President Obama’s foreign policy by declaring that “hope is not a strategy.”

“Attitude is not a strategy, either,” the New York Times columnist tells me in a video interview.

Friedman dismissed Romney’s Monday address as “not a foreign policy document,” but says the former governor has moved to “a different place” on Libya, Afghanistan and Israel. He says, for instance, that Romney has moved to “safer ground” by backing a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians rather than “doing whatever Bibi Netanyahu wants.”

The three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and the coauthor of the book That Used To Be Us describes the GOP approach this way: “Democrats are wimps. Republicans are tough. Obama’s been a wimp. I will be tougher…It’s a real stretch.” He says foreign policy has been a back-burner question in this campaign, even though “Republicans are used to owning this issue,” because “mainstream Americans are basically satisfied” with Obama’s stewardship.

Why the Saturday Night Live sendup matters

For all the perpetual punditry that continues to cast Barack Obama as the biggest debate loser in recorded history, Saturday Night Live may have landed the most devastating blow.

In a debate skit depicting the president as detached and daydreaming, the late-night show did more than make Obama look like a buffoon (which is, after all, its stock in trade). The bit cemented an image of Obama as totally checked out, hardly the kind of guy burning with desire for a second term.

Darrell Hammond, who famously played Bill Clinton and Al Gore on SNL, told me a couple of weeks ago that Obama was almost impossible to successfully parody because “he’s an elegant man with perfect speech.” Well, he’s a lot easier to lampoon now, and not just because Jay Pharoah does a better impersonation than Fred Armisen. The remoteness, the coolness, the lecturing style is now a liability.

If you missed it, Obama is shown daydreaming about what anniversary gift to get Michelle when the faux Jim Lehrer interrupts: “Mr. President, Governor Romney has just said that he killed Osama Bin Laden. Would you care to respond?” Obama, looking startled, replies: “No, you two go ahead.”

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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Martha Stewart Vs. The Law

Roughly a decade after the insider trading scandal that landed her in federal prison, the 'domestic diva' is back in court, this time sued by Macy's for breach of contract. Here's the condensed history of Martha Stewart's legal battles.

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