Tom Ridge Lamely Walks Back Terror Alert Claims in Maddow Interview

ridgeWhen former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge’s book first came out, there was a lot of vigorous overselling of the tome as a smoking gun in the politicization of terror alerts. While Ridge’s book seems to indicate he had concerns that efforts to raise the alert level might have been political, it is hardly proof of that.

However, Ridge appeared on last night’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” and promptly tried to walk back even that suspicion. Here’s the relevant part of the interview. Note Ridge’s careful, repetitive construction that “the system worked” and “we didn’t go up”:

There are multiple red flags in this interview, not the least of which is Ridge’s repeated obfuscations on the question of whether he thought efforts to raise the alert might have been political. Maddow asks him, essentially, if anyone tried to abuse the alert system, and Ridge responds, essentially, by saying that no-one succeeded at it.

Then, Rachel asks him about the part where he says that the episode confirmed his decision to leave DHS, and Ridge has no explanation beyond a “less than artful” juxtaposition.

Finally, Ridge volunteers this odd bit of information:

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

“After that, I learned that some people actually recalled there may have been a political discussion, I don’t recall that.”

Am I the only one who’s getting a strong sense of de’ja vu here? Does this sound a little bit like CYA?

As I’ve said before, people have already made their judgments on this issue, based on the available facts. Ridge just doesn’t seem willing to stand by his.

Offensive WWF “9/11” Print Spot is a Rejected Spec Ad


Twitter is currently ablaze with outrage over an extremely tasteless World Wildlife Fund ad that overtly exploits the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11/2001. Mediaite has learned, exclusively, that the ad was not commissioned by WWF, but rather, was a pitch that they rejected.

From WWF’s forthcoming statement: (via email)

“WWF strongly condemns this offensive and tasteless ad and did not authorize its production or publication. It is our understanding that it was a concept offered by an outside advertising agency seeking our business in Brazil. The concept was summarily rejected by WWF and should never have seen the light of day. It is an unauthorized use of our logo and we are aggressively pursuing action to have it removed from websites where it is being currently featured. We strongly condemn=2 0the messages and the images portrayed in this ad. On behalf of WWF, here in the US and around the world, we can promise you this ad does not in any way reflect the thoughts and feelings of the people of our organization.”

It is amazing that anyone thought this was a good idea, and equally amazing that someone would report this story without considering that it could be a spec ad. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Acticons’ Caleb Howe uncovered a series of very high profile, extremely tasteless spec ads that featured the History Channel logo, and were even erroneously given CLIO Awards. The news that WWF isn’t behind this ad leaves PETA as the undisputed champion of tasteless ads by animal-related organizations. Here’s the full text of WWF’s forthcoming statement:

WWF STRONGLY CONDEMNS UNAUTHORIZED AD CAMPAIGN WASHINGTON, DC, September 2, 2009 – World Wildlife Fund today issued the following statement in response to an ad posted on several Internet sites that has been i naccurately linked to our organization and contains messages and images related to the events of 9-11. “WWF strongly condemns this offensive and tasteless ad and did not authorize its production or publication. It is our understanding that it was a concept offered by an outside advertising agency seeking our business in Brazil. The concept was summarily rejected by WWF and should never have seen the light of day. It is an unauthorized use of our logo and we are aggressively pursuing action to have it removed from websites where it is being currently featured. We strongly condemn the messages and the images portrayed in this ad. On behalf of WWF, here in the US and around the world, we can promise you this ad does not in any way reflect the thoughts and feelings of the people of our organization.”

Klein Blasts Greenwald for Email Ethics; Pot and Kettle Outraged

JOE-GLENNAn online feud is heating up between Time’s Joe Klein and Salon’s Glenn Greenwald. Although the bad blood reaches back a stretch, at issue now is Greenwald’s publication of Klein’s off-the-record emails to the “Journolist.” Klein slammed Greenwald on Time’s Swampland blog: (h/t HuffPo).

Klein wrote:

Twice in the past month, my private communications have been splashed about the internet. That such a thing would happen is unfortunate, and dishonorable, but sadly inevitable, I suppose. I ignored the first case, in which a rather pathetic woman acolyte of Greenwald’s published a hyperbolic account of a conversation I had with her at a beach picnic on Cape Cod. Now, Greenwald himself has published private emails of mine that were part of a conversation taking place on a list-serve.

Greenwald and his acolyte might have a legitimate axe to grind with Klein regarding his bona fides as a liberal pundit, and I’m not crazy about Klein’s sexist-y, contemptuous reference to a “woman acolyte.” Having read her account of the encounter, he doesn’t really have a leg to whine on about her publicizing of that conversation, but he’s dead-on about the handling of his emails. No matter the justness of your cause, you can’t say “boo” about someone’s journalism skills if you violate the most basic of its ethics.

That’s why I was a little bit surprised to learn that Joe Klein recently published an email from a reader, complete with the reader’s full name and email address. This is arguably a violation of a more sacred trust. Klein is in the public eye voluntarily. His readers, even the jerky ones, ought not to be thrust there by him, with none of the benefits he enjoys.

This kerfuffle comes on the heels of another high profile case of email privacy violation, the publication of Mike Hendricks’ ham-fisted job pitch to PR firm Ogden Publications. In both cases, the offenders published emails to satisfy some personal grudge, and took pains to protect the identities of the email recipients.
There may be situations in which the news value of an email might merit its publication, with as much protection of personal info as possible, but none of these examples rises to that level.

The bigger question here might be “Is this the end of Journolist?” An off-the-record email list ceases to be useful once its contents become fair game. I’m betting Journolisters will be a lot less candid from now on.

Michael Vick vs. Chris Brown: Who’s The Bigger Bad Guy?

UntitledJudging by the breathless and obsessive media coverage devoted to Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Chris Brown, you’d think it’s a curse to be young, black and rich within today’s celebrity industrial complex. To be sure, each man allegedly broke the law in his own uniquely disgusting way, exhibiting unabashed cruelty, foolishness and rage, respectively. But in the American collective consciousness there’s a thin line between prolonged villainy and total forgiveness in the media, and we’re seeing that unfold as we approach both Chris Brown’s prime time interview with Larry King and the NFL kickoff.

The season will begin without Burress, a Super Bowl hero, who was sentenced to two years in prison for possessing the handgun with which he shot himself in the leg. And yet it’s widely accepted that he caught a bum rap, showing that the court of public opinion often works antithetically to our justice system. It will be a while before we see or hear from Plax again — he seems harmless, but he’s doing hard time.

And then there’s Vick and Brown, tumbling from their hard-earned pedestals due to violent acts, and yet all but forgiven by the courts. Their parallels are difficult to ignore: both were young, exceptionally talented, and wealthy before committing high-profile, dastardly crimes. But with their repentance tours simultaneously in full effect, who’s the biggest bad guy? Are either of them truly remorseful, and if so, do they have a shot at forgiveness or will they continue to be vilified? We run down their ongoing media narratives below.

Rise to fame

Vick: As a quarterback at Virgina Tech, Vick was as flashy as he was fast. The playmaker’s quick feet lead to a Heisman Trophy nomination and Vick eventually became the first overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft. That spring, Vick signed a six year, $62 million contract, the largest ever for a rookie at the time.

Brown: Chris Brown released his eponymous debut album at the age of 16, and the record went on to sell two million copies. With quick feet of his own, Brown was touted as a new school Michael Jackson, often paying homage to the King of Pop with his costumes and choreography.


Vick: In 2007, a federal investigation into illegal dog fighting activities at Bad Newz Kennels on Vick’s property lead to felony charges of financing an interstate gambling operation, in addition to participating in the dog fights. After his three co-defendents pleaded guilty, Vick followed, though the men “told of how Vick participated in the killing of dogs that didn’t perform well in test fights by shooting, hanging, drowning or slamming them to the ground,” according to ESPN.

Brown: Earlier this year, Chris Brown was charged with felony assault and making threats against his R&B singer girlfriend Rihanna. Although unidentified in police reports, a photo of the battered singer was ubiquitous in the following weeks, while details of the beating included Brown biting Rihanna, slamming her head against the car door and threatening to kill her.


Vick: Pleaded guilty and eventually served 18 months of a 23 month sentence.

Brown: After initially pleading not guilty, Brown accepted a plea bargain, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to community service, counseling and five years of probation.

Leading attackers in the press

Vick: PETA was steadfast in its condemnation of Vick, even withdrawing its offer to sponsor an anti-dogfighting PSA with the disgraced football star after his release. “Saying sorry and getting his ball back after being caught enjoying killing dogs in hideously cruel ways for many years doesn’t cut it,” said PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk, who also recommended Vick undergo a brain scan and complete psychiatric evaluation.

Brown: Various women’s organizations and agencies against domestic violence spoke out repeatedly against Brown, especially after his light sentencing. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women said, “Paris Hilton got more jail time than Chris Brown did for beating a woman to a pulp,” while Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, was quoted as saying, “If we give them a break, we give them a shorter sentence or less consequence, it basically just says this wasn’t such a big deal.”

Road to redemption

Vick: In his first interview upon release, Vick spoke with 60 Minutes, telling the television newsmagazine that he “cried so many nights” over the guilty he felt, and claimed to blame only himself. Yet his repentance was met by some understandable skepticism, as Vick came off something between cardboard and an opportunist — you could almost see the dollar signs in his eyes as imagined another NFL contract. Still, Vick was conditionally reinstated by the league and has since signed a one-year deal (worth $1.6 million) with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Brown: Chris Brown’s first public comment came in the form of a vague YouTube apology that left the performer looking wooden as he baldly read the cold, unspecific statement. After sentencing, Brown may have encountered a stroke of luck when a charming wedding video went viral, featuring one of Brown’s songs which then shot to the top of the iTunes chart. The singer may have squandered that fleeting goodwill, though, as we brace ourselves for his forthcoming interview with Larry King, set to air on Wednesday. In a particularly baffling preview, Brown tells King that he doesn’t remember “doing it,” only to release a statement blaming his amnesia on CNN’s editing.


When it comes to his villainous association, Vick is lucky enough to now have most of the Philadelphia faithful on his side, too hungry for a championship to care. Combined with the fact that he served his time and the crime hurt no humans, as soon as the man converts a third-and-short with a nimble QB sneak, the cheers will overpower the rest.

As for Brown, unless tomorrow’s appearance on Larry King Live is shocking in its self-reproach, the young singer has a chokehold on the title of Biggest Bad Guy. Only time will tell if we are truly a land of forgiveness, but sometimes a New York Post cover is hard to forget.

Though the sheer amount of press both Vick and Brown have received reinforces the cult of celebrity, it’s simply impossible to glean too much sympathy as long as details of these gruesome crimes are being reiterated. For all of their talent and contrition, both men are lucky to have any supporters at all; their respective fanbases have weathered a hell of a media storm, quite relentless in its unavoidable negativity. And yet maybe moral considerations are for naught, as it’s likely that regardless of the general public’s forgiveness, both men will have lucrative futures in the entertainment marketplace.

Huffington Post’s Awesome Ted Kennedy – “Mad Men” Synergy

Ted-Kennedy-Mad-MenThe treatment of Senator Ted Kennedy’s death has received almost as much coverage as the death itself. Immediately, there were accusations of politicization from the right. Around the web, there has been the requisite cataloging of trollish actions and reactions, and the attendant pushback.

We’ve certainly done our part, watchdogging the coverage and the reactions, and measuring the breadth and depth of the coverage.
Mediaite has also worked hard to set the world’s record for voluntary pimping of AMC’s “Mad Men,” shoehorning the red-hot cable drama into every story we can. The Huffington Post, however, has managed to outdo us on both fronts with one fell swoop.

I’m referring, of course, to HuffPo’s recent pictorial,“Ted Kennedy’s ‘Mad Men’-Style Suits.” Can’t you just hear the wheels turning in the guy who thought that up? “Oh, man, we are gonna OWN search engines with this.”

Is it uncharitable to view this as crass? Perhaps, but had Kennedy have died closer to the premier of “Transformers 2,” would we have been treated to renderings of “Kennedy-style Robots and the Things They Transform Into?” Maybe McDonald’s ought to do some kind of “Un-Happy Meal” to mark the occasion.

Plus, isn’t referring to Teddy’s early-60’s wardrobe as “Mad Men-style” a bit like calling the Beatles “Monkee-esque?”

Ted Kennedy’s Mad Men-Style Suits

(Photo also via HuffPo – and is that a London Fog jacket we see slung over his arm?)

Tommy Christopher is a Mediaite columnist on politics and media and also reports frequently from the White House. Tommy can also be found at his own blog: Follow him on Twitter here.

The Plax of His Tears: E:60’s Surprisingly Revealing Interview With Plaxico Burress

katie-bakes-iiiI was standing ankle-deep in shredded paper on lower Broadway back in February of last year, and the money float — the one with Eli Manning, Michael Strahan, and the Vince Lombardi trophy — had just driven by to much rejoicing and fist-pumping. I assumed that another marquee player couldn’t be far behind.

“I can’t wait to see Plax!” I exclaimed to a fellow hooky-player. I was referring on a first-syllable basis to Plaxico Burress, the 6′3″ wide receiver who had pulled down the championship-winning touchdown, and with it the odious New England Patriots, several days before.

Never much of a poster child for the Giants — his face was typically twisted into a scowl, and a recurring ankle injury kept him off the practice field for much of the season — Burress was nevertheless one of my favorites. I never questioned his game-readiness (Allen Iverson would agree with me on that one) and his performance that season largely quieted any doubters. He generally made the players around him better: his greatest asset, his height, enabled him to snag many of the errant jump-ball tosses that Manning tends to hurl and contributed in no small part to the Giants QB being named Super Bowl MVP that year.

But I don’t have the best track record with my favorite athletes. The beloved jersey I wore throughout that season (and ultimately to the ticker-tape parade) was that of the grumpy but electrifying Jeremy Shockey, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 15 and promptly went MIA from the Giants’ sideline and ultimately from the victory march. Also missing from the parade that day, as it turned out: my man Plax, who cited the bum ankle as an excuse. I was crushed.

Unlike Shockey, who would never again suit up as a Giant, Plax did return to the team, but only after a messy and distracting contract dispute during preseason. And then, only briefly: Giants fans woke up one Saturday morning in late November to the news that their star wide reciever had … what? Shot himself? At a nightclub? On the Upper East Side? The mind boggled: who knew that the Upper East Side had clubs? Anyway, it became clear that Burress’ name would never again appear on a Giants jersey. Instead, it was added to the esteemed (albeit rapper-heavy) Wikipedia list of “American shooting survivors.”

This week, Plax finally did show up somewhere: in court, where he accepted a plea sentence for 2 years in prison for attempted criminal possession of a handgun, and then later on ESPN’s news magazine show E:60, where he spoke with Jeremy Schaap at length in his first public TV interview.

E:60, which debuted in October of 2007, is styled as a 60 Minutes clone, with multiple segments ranging from profiles and interviews to feature stories and Very Special Episode-y pieces. While it has a fair amount of overlap content-wise with ESPN’s investigative reporting-heavy Outside the Lines, E:60 has shorter segments that veer both maudlin and slapstick. Save for some unfortunate mini-controversies, like an embarrassing ambush on Miguel Tejada (remember when birth certificate scandals were the domain of baseball players and not Presidents?) and some racially-charged comments about the pseudo-sport Parkour, the Tuesday night show has largely flown under the radar.

Lately, though, it has come close to cornering the market on NFL Players in Legal Trouble, having previously run an interview with Donte Stallworth, who pleaded guilty a to DUI manslaughter charge several weeks prior. (The third player in this Unholy Trinity, Michael Vick, chose to go straight to the big leagues to be interviewed by James Brown on the real 60 Minutes. I was hoping for Morley Safer!) Awful Announcing questioned whether the routing of these interviews to E:60 was an effort to boost ratings, but I think they constitute the perfect type of programming for the show.

I’m biased, of course, but I found the Burress-Schaap banter to be an excellent exchange. Burress was calm, humble, likeable — in his description of the seconds after the gun went off, he charmingly referred to his Chuck Taylor shoes with a downcast smile — and contrite, with a clear understanding that he had himself to blame for his situation. (I found Vick’s interview, in contrast, to be somewhat less believable.) Burress is due to be officially sentenced on September 22, and I worried that he would appear tight-lipped and dodgy in advance of that date. Indeed, Jeremy Schaap later said in an interview with WQXI in Atlanta that Burress warned him that there were issues he may not be able to discuss but that “sure enough, all the things that I assumed he would be reluctant to discuss and he would basically take the fifth on, he discussed anyway.”

>>>NEXT: Did Plax get screwed?

Barack Obama: Rebel Without a Helmet

obamahelmet I’ve been waiting all week for Barack Obama’s Vineyard Vacation to take over the news cycle, but it hasn’t happened yet. With any luck, that may all change today.

The President was photographed, repeatedly, bicycling without a helmet yesterday, and the story is already circulating on blogs.

The LA Times’ Top of the Ticket offers not just up-to-the-minute reporting on the President’s reckless ridership, but also offers some historical perspective by including pictures of a helmeted candidate Obama, and an unprotected Child Obama on a trike.

The Boston Herald’s blog, meanwhile, reached out to the Bike Helmet Safety Institute, procuring this awesome statement:

“We don’t comment . . . since it looks like it’s coming from the Helmet Police if we do,” BHSI spokesguy Randy Swart e-mailed the Track. Well, duh! You are the helmet police!!!

Seriously, though, this was your moment, Randy! Total PR fail!

This story has all the elements of a late summer time-waster that could get lots of air time. Let’s see how it develops.