Hard News by Russell Brown

Shrum vs. Shrub

The brilliant Michael Wolff has a great essay on "Kerry's Karl Rove" - senior campaign adviser Bob Shrum - in the current issue of Vanity Fair. Wolff was unable to secure an interview with Shrum, but he draws a fascinating and convincing picture of the man whose job it is to deliver John Kerry to the White House.

Kerry represents Shrum's third - and probably last - presidential run, his opportunity for immortality, the final success required to secure a personal legend. But, as Wolff points out, the Democrats who hire Shrum are prepared to overlook the fact that he "by most accounts, is not, but a long shot, the best strategist in the game, nor the best ad guy, if they can get a Shrum speech. It's almost a kind of Democratic Party currency."

A Shrum speech, a former Democratic staffer tells Wolff, "is like the theme music on The West Wing." By these lights, the candidate's convention speech this week will be not just the most significant event in the campaign so far, but probably the most significant scheduled event between now and November. There would seem to be quite an onus on Kerry to live up to the stirring populist words he will be given.

He should probably forgetting even trying to live up to the standard of Bill Clinton's address to the convention, which was a reminder of the former president's staggering charisma. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that if Clinton were allowed to stand again - and no matter have much the conservative base loathes him - he'd take the White House at a stroll.

I've tried to catch a bit of the convention coverage on the Sky Digital channels, but it would have been nice to have been sitting channel-surfing in an American hotel room, just to get the range of flavours. It appears that novelty is something of a theme - Larry King had a comedy reporter and Ben Affleck (quite good, I thought) on his rotating panel.

USA Today had what probably seemed a good idea: a 'Crashing the Party' feature, for which the paper would send Michael Moore to cover the Republican convention, and the seriously unbalanced Ann Coulter to spray bile on the Dems. Unfortunately, as Coulter herself observed, they apparently hadn't actually read any of her writing. Her first column was rejected as "unfunny" and "unusable" and she was eventually replaced with another conservative pundit, Jonah Goldberg. Moore will still go to the Republican convention.

Coulter subsequently posted her rejected column on her own website, where you can read it for yourself. I wouldn't have used it either if I'd been the USA Today editors: it's mostly meandering, self-obsessed, irrelevant drivel.

A major news angle apart from the convention action itself is the Democrats' decision to offer press credentials to bloggers - to treat them, in effect, like proper journalists. The Washington Post's Filter column looks at The Blogger Circus, and Dave Winer has a running record of the blogosphere (well, the part of it that has mastered XML) at conventionbloggers.com.

I used to use, and like, Symantec products, but don't do so any more - the company has slipped well off the pace on the Mac platform since the shift to MacOS X, and Norton Utilities can in some circumstances be positively toxic to system health. Unfortunately, Symantec's anti-virus and security software has a strong grip on the corporate and personal PC market.

I say "unfortunately" because Symanetc has done something very, very stupid with its Norton Personal Firewall/Internet Security 2004 product. The latest firewall from Norton goes way beyond security and blocks nearly all web ads and affiliate links by default. It disables Google AdWords and even removes some title logos from pages. It actually strips out source code from web pages before they can be displayed.

So, unless someone has the wit to actively turn it off, the new Symantec product will wreck any plans that Public Address - and hordes of other sites - might have to even partially earn their keep. We have, as you might have noticed, a fairly strict creative policy on this site. Ads have to fit in with the overall feel, and you will never see half-page banners or (Lord forbid) pop-ups. We do this as a matter of respect for readers. But Symantec's product will pay no heed to that. Employing the metaphor of the print world, it will only let its customers read the magazine after all the ad pages have been torn out. It's moronic and destructive.

Stephen Mahaney, president of Planet Ocean Communications, has a furious rant about Symantec's action here. Network World's Mark Gibbs wrote a "so what?" response - the irony being that that response was surrounded by the kind of ads that Symantec's firewall removes or disables without asking. Gibbs might be okay with it - I suspect his publisher will be thinking a little differently.

I hate pop-ups too, and they've become a little more malign with the news some pop-ups can now contain a malicious Trojan. So sure, target them - and put pressure on Microsoft to fix yet another woeful security hole in Windows and Internet Explorer. But please leave the management of general Internet advertising to be managed by the user, at the browser level.

Anyway, I'm quite pleased with the Listener revamp. The debut issue is the strongest in a while, and Gordon Campbell's latest investigation of the Zaoui saga is a genuine scoop that further lifts the lid on a very strange business. You can also read my inaugural Wide Area News column.

So I'm off to Wellington on business tonight, and there probably won't be a blog from me tomorrow (feel free to check in and see whether some of the other regulars have coughed one up though). I'll be staying long enough to take Mum out for a birthday lunch on Saturday - meaning that I miss The Food Show in Auckland, and a free lunch on Friday to boot. But, hey, that's okay …