Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida on September 18, 2004 · 27
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Tampa Bay Times from St. Petersburg, Florida · 27

St. Petersburg, Florida
Issue Date:
Saturday, September 18, 2004
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1CA . . . OPINION SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2004 THE TIMES EDITORIALS ealinQ with RSacSer Florida's high court made a safe call in allowing Ralph Nader on the Nov. 2 ballot Now the Legislature must clarify the guidelines for ballot access. The fight over ballot access for Ralph Nader reinforces one new political axiom in Florida: Nothing is quite the same since the 2000 elections. The state election code that requires Nader's Reform Pary to affiliate with a "national party" and hold a "national convention" is full of similarly vague terms that once were solely the province of the Division of Elections. Now they are the subject of litigation. The Florida Supreme Court's 6-1 decision Friday to put Nader on the Nov. 2 presidential ballot ought to end the legal skirmish this time, because the dispute is rooted in state law. At the very least, Secretary of State Glenda Hood can now certify the ballot and bow out, having heard from the state's highest court. That court was put in a precarious position this time. It was asked to take sides in a high-stakes, under-the-gun showdown that had little to do with respect for ballot access or election law. The justices ultimately decided in favor of ballot access. The decision may have owed as much to their fear of bad precedent as to the facts in this case. In that respect, the justices made the safer and more judicious call If they are to err, as they noted in their opinion, they should err on the side of allowing candidates on the ballot The state court's work is done, and the ballot is set But as the justices noted, "We are left with a statute that does not have its critical terms defined or standards to ascertain compliance." Cleanup is the Legislature's job. The law, as written, establishes a false equivalency. It requires a candidate to gather 93,000 signatures to reach the ballot but then exempts a minor party even if it only pretends to be a party. The Nader camp all but admitted that it chose the Reform Party as an end-around to the petition requirement and the "national convention" consisted of a conference call that violated the party's own previous bylaws. But the Nader ploy was challenged because he in fact does have a national following as a candidate. Most of the other minor-parry candidates who reached the ballot have arguably less standing, under the current law. Neither Michael Peroutka nor his Constitution Party of Florida, for example, is exactly a household name. Of the state's 9.7-million registered voters in the primary, the Constitution Party has 509. What kind of "national convention" did Peroutka hold? The test for the Legislature will be to devise a standard that provides realistic access and clear guidelines. Numerical standards such as petitions, registered voters or performance in previous elections are more definitive than terms such as "national convention." The current petition requirement has proved irrelevant because the number is prohibitively difficult to reach, especially for poorly financed candidates, and the minor party alternative is available practically without any oversight or adherence to the law. Could the state require all candidates to meet a smaller petition threshold and exempt those who met certain voting performance in the previous election? After the ruling Friday night Florida Democratic chairman Scott Maddox said he would accept the court's decision. Thafs wise, because a federal court appeal would contradict the arguments Democrats made in 2000, when they said the U.S. Supreme Court had no proper role in the Florida election count At this point Democrats would be better off spending their time and money trying to convince voters, rather than judges, that Nader is a lost cause. CBS should investigate Not long ago, pundits feared ongoing allegations about President Bush's National Guard service would hijack the campaign, forcing the candidates to waste precious pre-election time talking about a 30-year-old war. Instead, days after CBS News admitted that it may have featured forged documents in its blockbuster story on Bush's guard activities, something worse has occurred: We are wasting time talking about CBS' coverage of Bush's Vietnam War-era service. It may have been one of the most rapid disintegrations of a major news story since Jayson Blair. Within hours of the 60 Minutes story Sept 8 alleging family influence got Bush into the Texas Air National Guard, where he then failed to meet performance requirements, Internet bloggers already were challenging the validity of documents at the center of the program. By that week's end, several major news outlets had unearthed document specialists or relatives of the documents' reputed author, now-deceased National Guard Lt CoL Jerry Killian, to dispute CBS' assertion that KLUian wrote several memos critical of Bush while resisting pressure to "sugarcoat" his time in the Guard. On Wednesday, after ABC News featured two experts who said they tried to warn CBS of doubts regarding the memos, anchor Dan Rather offered another defense. The memos may be fake, but the story was right In other words, Rather and CBS News want viewers to believe their conclusions, even though crucial evidence offered as proof may not be valid. Such trust would be a stretch, even for a news organization that hadn't used up so much goodwill by insisting for days that criticism of its now admittedly flawed report was unwarranted. Worse, the controversy over CBS' story has overshadowed valid Department of Defense documents obtained by the Boston Globe and Associated Press last week showing President Bush failed to meet his service requirements in the Guard and wasn't punished. Such disclosures only confirm longstanding rumors about Bush that many voters have already heard and considered. However this flap is resolved, many will now see the CBS memo scandal as the story of a liberal-leaning media outlet getting its comeuppance. The Wall Street Journal said as much Thursday, downplaying the role of mainstream outlets such as ABC News and the Washington Post in challenging CBS. The Journal proclaimed "the liberal media establishment has ceased to set the U.S. political agenda." Fortunately, efforts by some GOP lawmakers to initiate a congressional investigation so far have been rejected by Republican leaders. There's history here. Rather has been a target of conservatives ever since a contentious interview with then-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush 16 years ago. A Web site dubbed RatherBiased.com was among the harshest critics of the memos report, sending out daily updates on the controversy to supporters. Though CBS News has promised to find out if the memos are fake, a spokeswoman says the network has no plans to launch an internal investigation on how such flawed material wound up in an important story. But that is exactly what CBS should do, in the same way the New York Times and USA Today exhaustively reported the plagiarism of reporters Jay-son Blair and Jack Kelly. And if the network can confirm that its copies of Killian's memos are fakes, CBS should reveal who provided them. Promises of confidentiality should vanish when a source deliberately lies, and viewers deserve the explanation. Melodramatic as it sounds, the credibility of CBS News, its star anchor and its flagship news program hangs in the balance. PAUL C. TASH Chairmen, CEO and Editor Honda's Best Newspaper FOUNDED 1884 Wl. Strtub 1901-1912 PtulPoynUr 1912-1938 Nthon PoynOr 1938-1978 ' ugene Pmanoo 1978-1988 Andtr Burnt 1988-2004 PHUPLGAUY Editor of Editor and Vice Preeident NHL BROWN Executive Editor and Vlca Pteeident MARTY PETTY Puhtmher and Executive Vie Praaideot ANDREW P. CORTV Vice Preaident and Secretary ROBERT FRIEDMAN Deputy Editor of Edttoriale NEVSJJ OREEN Managing EditorTampa MAJTTM A. DVCXMAM Aaaodate EditorEdNoriai JOSEPH CH9LDS Managing EditorOarvnater JEANNE GRIN8TEAD Deputy Managing Editor LUCY MORGAN Aaaociats Editor ROBERT Wt HOOKER Deputy Managing Editor ANNE QLOVER Senior EdHormeaderahlp E4LL STEVENS North Suncoeat Editor feeistant Managing Editore STEPHEN BUCKLEY World Pit policy of our paper i$ very simple -merely to teUthe truth. TIM NICKa5NB JACKSMEPPARD SUE MORROW PATTY COX MHCIWLSON Metro Sporta Photography Preaentation Newafeeturee RKHARD REEVES ED. CASSfOV JOEDEUJCA JERRY K. Ml CHRttTME MONTGOMERY JANE PEPPARD J ANAL. JONES ELIZABETH SHOLAR NANCY WACLAWEK SEBASTIAN DORTCH AdverMng Director Marketing Director Director of Operatione Circulation Director Director of Electronic Pubhing Vice Preeidera for Organizational Development Chief Financial Officer Chief Technology Officer Director of Corporate Giving Director of Human Reaouroaa and Otverarty Officer I DON WRIGHT THS SWIFT BOO1 VW&ANS KftTrWH WENT 1 HUGE. p&fcLVlNe H)TOOMAmn sirn3ATdDMfvrERS . STORMS AMP MINPYOU, THE SWIPT EQflT VBI5 TOR TRUTH PIP THIS ON THEIR CWN. IU HOT SfMNG THo.'THFlFE SttiNG IT.' wHfxr? fSV - I BEHIND AU-THS WRJOONBSl I) u i COLUMNS A church-state balancing act Joan Vennochi Raymond L Flynn, the former Boston mayor and former ambassador to the Vatican, is walking a fine line between church and state and the presidential campaigns of John Kerry and George W. Bush. Flynn is traveling around the country telling Roman Catholics they have a moral obligation to vote and a moral obligation to support candidates whose views reflect church teachings on abortion, same-sex marriage, and embryonic research, among other things. He recently launched Catholic Citizenship, an arm of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which bills itself as a "nonpartisan, public policy education campaign." He recently met with priests from the Worcester Diocese to discuss how priests can play a role in the November election through voter registration and, as Bishop Robert J. McMan-us put it in a Sept 1 letter to priests, by emphasizing "the moral obligation of Catholics to vote for elected officials who support legislation and public policy that uphold fundamental moral teachings of the church.'' Flynn also spent a recent week in Ohio, a critical battleground state, bringing his message to Catholics there. One of Flynn's favorite lines, according to Larry Cirignano, executive director of Catholic Citizenship, is that "when you get to the pearly gates, it is more important to be a good Catholic than a good Democrat or a good Republican." Can a voter do that and support a candidate with a prochoice voting record? "No," says Cirignano. Still, Cirignano insists that Catholic Citizenship is "absolutely not" anti-Kerry. He says Flynn goes "where he is invited," and his visits outside Massachusetts are "not orchestrated" or planned with any regard to the campaign. Cirignano also said that Catholic Citizenship has no connection to or relationship with Catholics Against Kerry, a group whose home Web page showcases a picture of Kerry with Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America; encourages Web site visitors to "vote Catholic, not Kerry." Flynn did not return several telephone calls seeking comment A recent press release announcing a new Raymond Flynn Web site describes him as a "leading Catholic lay voice in the United States . . . passionately committed to the interests of work-? ing families in urban America." In public appear-t ances, Flynn also talks about church teachings onJ poverty and social justice and war, expressing! concern over GOP positions on such issues. 0 But abortion is the real wedge issue. America's 1 65-million Roman Catholics, representing about 25 3 percent of the voting population, are a hotly pur-3 sued demographic in presidential politics. But nail-, ing down the Catholic vote is becoming another election-year challenge for Kerry, a lifelong Catho- "lie. Various bishops have challenged his right toB receive Communion because of his votes in the'1 Senate in favor of abortion rights. Recent polling ;j done by Zogby International shows some Catholic3 voter shift toward Bush in such states as Minnesota,0 Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. In a story distributed recently by Catholic News Service, Zogby political writer Fritz Wenzel offered a this analysis: "In this political atmosphere, there are two key issues for Catholics. Concern about the legitimacy of war in Iraq is being overridden by ongoing discomfort with Kerry's stand on abor-J tion." -! In 2000 Flynn endorsed Bush. He has not3 endorsed a candidate in 2004. He has a long history with Kerry, which becomes more complicated in-) the context of presidential politics. Impressed by ' Kerry's Vietnam service, Flynn supported Kerry's! bid for lieutenant governor in 1982. He supported Kerry when he ran for Senate two years later, campaigning "out of loyalty," against the wishes of labor unions and House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill. Jr., Flynn told Time magazine last summer. During the recent Democratic National Convention, Flynn complained that prolife Democrats werei not allowed to address the convention. Later, whenF Kerry said he supports abortion rights but personal-S ly believes life begins at conception, Flynn calledi the Democrat's position "absurd." I The night Kerry spoke to delegates in Boston, Flynn was listed by the Kerry campaign as Kerry's2 personal guest 1 The thought was nice. It did not change Flynn's balancing act i Joan Vennochi is a Boston Globe columnist Her e-mail address isvennochiglobe.com. C The Boston Globe ' I Gay marriages couldn't do worse Michael Gross Affixed to our refrigerator door is a photo of my wife and several of her friends: five attractive, intelligent suburban women, some professionals, some housewives, many of them friends for more than 20 years. Among the many things they have in common is the fact that they all experienced marriages put to the torch by husbands who once publicly avowed to stand by their spouses until death did them part One of the husbands decided that his marriage and family interfered with his time at the gym. Another went searching for a "new and improved" woman, while another had already found one. One nurtured his personality disorder like a hothouse flower, and my personal favorite one walked out on his toddler and pregnant wife during Christmas week. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy. Unfortunately, stories such as these are all too common, even in good, solid, conservative communities such as my own. But in our zeal to defend the institution of marriage, I can't help wondering whether a constitutional ban on gay marriage may just be shifting the blame. I admit that blame-shifting does have its rewards. Nothing could be more satisfying than to think that gay men and lesbians not we are responsible for the shameful rate of failed marriages in the United States. If, as the Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed, they were indirectly responsible for the attacks of 911, they might be capable of anything! How very gratifying to conclude that my adversary is the embodiment of evil, while I am the embodiment of good. But the first casualty of shifting the blame is often common sense: the rapist blaming his crime on the immodest dress of his victim; a defense lawyer assigning his client's murder spree to a, Twinkies diet; or a Talib concluding that his obses-, sion with a woman's bare ankle is best addressed byj blowing up a pair of 1,500-year-old Buddhas. If the conservatives are right and we've becomei a society of whining victims fighting for a spot onl Oprah and blaming others for our troubles them let's stop rebuking homosexuals for the sad state ofi conjugal bliss and pass some laws that really make al difference. I In our zeal to defend the institution of marriage, I can't help wondering j whether a constitutional ban on gay marriage may just be shifting the blame. 4 How about a constitutional amendment to deny1 marriage to any couple that did not take a mandator ry, government-sponsored prenuptial class? Or del nying divorce to any couple that did not submit to a minimum of six months of twice-weekly marriage counseling sessions? Sterilization for any hetero? sexual man who abandons his children? A tax deduction for joining Promise Keepers? ( I understand the moral outrage of those who invoke the biblical injunctions against homosexuals ty, but if we're not going to observe its equally no-nonsense penalties for adultery (i.e., stoning to death), maybe the fairest thing to do would be to leave the homosexuals to themselves while we put our own houses in order. I can't imagine they't botch the job any more than some of us have. ( Michael Gross is an actor; he is well known for his role as the father on the television series Family Ties. r Special to the Loa Angelea Timsa 1

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