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TRAINED SEELYE (PART 2)! Seelye traveled back ten years to spin you on Kerry’s proposal:


TRAINED SEELYE (PART 2): Is Kerry soft on intelligence? Soft on defense? The Bush campaign has pushed these claims hard. On March 8, for example, Bush himself said that Kerry was “willing to gut the intelligence services” when he proposed a $1.5 billion cut in intelligence budgets in 1995—a cut that was “deeply irresponsible.” Before that, the Bush campaign had repeatedly claimed that Kerry had voted to eliminate a string of important weapons systems. Embellishment being the stuff of our discourse, Pat Buchanan was soon hyping the claim on the inventive show, Hardball:

BUCHANAN: If you take a look at all the weapons systems Kerry’s voted against, our own Craig Crawford said, you know, “We’d have been fighting the Iraqis with hockey sticks.”
Is Kerry soft on intelligence? Soft on defense? The Bush campaign has pushed these claims hard. Presumably, inquiring minds want to know.

But if inquiring minds want to sort out these claims, they should avoid the New York Times’ Katharine Seelye. Last Saturday, Seelye—the indomitable Spinner One—examined Kerry’s troubling history in a lengthy Times report. And as we showed you in yesterday’s HOWLER, Seelye was up to her usual tricks as she pretended to study the solon’s record (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/22/04). For example, was Bush on target when he said that Kerry would have “gutted” the intelligence budget? This claim by Bush is patently bogus—and Seelye knew how to keep you from knowing. But then, readers never get the truth when they deal with the great Spinner One.

No, Kerry’s proposal wouldn’t have “gutted” intelligence. But this was hardly the only point which Seelye obscured in her lengthy report. Katharine Seelye is built for spin, and spin rules the day in her timeless reports. Consider the way she handled Kerry’s troubling conduct in 1994.

Is Candidate Kerry soft on defense? Instantly, Seelye led us back to a troubling proposal:

SEELYE (pgh 4): In 1994 [Kerry] proposed some cuts in military programs and intelligence services that even many Democrats rejected. Senator Dennis DeConcini, the Arizona Democrat who then headed the intelligence committee, had said, earlier cuts were “as deep as the intelligence community can withstand during its post-cold-war transition.”
Wow! Even many Democrats rejected Kerry’s disturbing cuts! Indeed, this was Seelye’s first example of Kerry’s weakness on defense. Since her lengthy report offers very few examples, we ought to examine the way she handled this troubling Kerry proposal.

What did Kerry propose in 1994? After her usual fumbling, bumbling and wandering around, Seelye finally got around to “explaining.” What did Kerry really propose? Here is the scribe’s complete treatment:

SEELYE (pgh 22): In 1994, Mr. Kerry proposed a $45 billion cut in the federal budget for the next five years, with the goal of reducing the deficit. Had it passed, his measure would have cut $1 billion from the nation’s intelligence services and $3 billion in military programs.

(23) Mr. Kerry, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, had said those cuts would reduce the deficit “merely by cutting programs that are clearly pork-barrel boondoggles.” In addition, he said with new threats emerging in terrorism and narcotics, his instinct was to favor investing in human intelligence rather than hardware like satellites.

(24) Still, his proposal was killed, 75 to 20. While many senators wanted to keep pet projects, others argued that his cuts went too deep. Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the appropriations committee, urged the Senate to reject the measure, saying, “We have already cut defense spending drastically” and cutting another $4 billion “is simply unwise and insupportable.”

That was Seelye’s complete exposition. According to the ace reporter, Kerry proposed a “$45 billion cut in the federal budget for the next five years.” Let’s put that in Standard Political English, so you’ll know what Seelye was actually discussing; Kerry had proposed a $45 billion cut over five years (average cut: $9 billion per year), a tiny reduction at a time when the deficit approached $300 billion per annum. According to Seelye, Kerry’s proposal would have cut $1 billion from intelligence and $3 billion from defense, apparently over five years. These would, of course, have been tiny reductions, as any sensible person could see—if they were only given the overall budget numbers as a point of comparison. But like all spinners, Seelye was careful to avoid giving context to her complaints. Let’s face it$3 billion just sounds like a lot! Why bother noting the size of the annual budgets, so readers could make a sensible judgment? That is something a journalist would do. But this was, again, Spinner One.

Seelye also clowned—and she clowned hard—in her statement about Senate Democrats. Why was Kerry’s proposal defeated? Easy! “While many senators wanted to keep pet projects, others argued that his cuts went too deep.” But readers! Solons who “want to keep pet projects” don’t stand on the Senate floor and say so! What do they do instead? Duh! They argue that the cuts go too deep! Clownishly clowning, Seelye quotes the venerable Byrd, whose name is a virtual synonym for pork, and who has built a Senate career by transferring intelligence projects to his native state. In April 1992, for example, the Post’s Kent Jenkins provided the play-by-play when Byrd’s latest boondoggle went up in smoke. The CIA had finally decided that it wouldn’t build its new compound in West Virginia:

JENKINS: For months, critics have derided the proposal as a giant pork-barrel project promoted by Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to enrich his home state of West Virginia. A recent report by the CIA’s inspector general concluded that the agency selected a West Virginia location solely to get Byrd’s support.
But there is Seelye, quoting Byrd as if he were The Voice of Dispassion. What were the actual merits of Kerry’s proposal? Seelye makes no attempt to say, and clownishly clowns as she spins the numbers and hands you quotes from DeConcini and Byrd. For the record, Kerry’s proposal was co-sponsored by a string of respected Dems, including Bill Bradley, Kent Conrad, Dale Bumpers and Patrick Leahy. Needless to say, she doesn’t quote them about the bill’s merits. Indeed, Spinner One knows enough not to mention their names at all.

Can this be Kerry’s most troubling proposal? As usual, Seelye plays Times readers for fools as she kicks things off with this stupid example—one of the few specific examples she actually cites in her lengthy report. Tomorrow, though, things get even better. We’ll show you why she selected this case—and we’ll show you where she got those quotes from DeConcini and Byrd.

TOMORROW: From the RNC’s lips to “Kit” Seelye’s ears—how Spinner One makes it happen.

DANA DOES DALLIANCE: Yesterday, we saw John Harris repeat a Treasured Old Script—Al Gore said he invented the Internet. Today, Dana Milbank takes his turn on the stage. Milbank notes the RNC’s effort to make voters think that John Kerry seems French. Today’s topic: Did Kerry really seek advice from a French anthropologist, Clotaire Rapaille? As it turns out, the answer is no. But as Milbank examines this stupid question, he can’t help it. He just can’t resist:

MILBANK: Sitting on the biggest scoop since Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones, your correspondent called Rapaille and confirmed that he has been contacted by the Kerry campaign. But that is where the Wolf comparison ends.
Readers, there he went again! Naomi Wolf told Al Gore to wear earth tones!

Please note: Today’s inane topic was raised by Milbank himself, not by the RNC. But don’t worry; now that Milbank has brought it up, it will be recited, in rearranged form, all over the pseudo-con universe. Pseudo-con rubes will hear a pleasing tale: Kerry hired a French anthropologist! This idiot tale will go out for one reason—because a dim-witted scribe brought it up.

But readers, did Naomi Wolf tell Gore to wear earth tones! This pleasing tale was based on a single “speculation”—a “speculation” offered by Dick Morris to the Post’s Ceci Connolly. Connolly published the “speculation” on 11/1/99, and just like that, all over the press, it turned into Instant Fact. (CNN’s Jonathan Karl recited it as fact that afternoon.) No source ever said that the “speculation” was true, and Wolf and Gore both flatly denied it. Nor did anyone ever say when Wolf was supposed to have told Gore to do this. Gore, like almost everyone on earth, had been wearing such tones at various times throughout his long campaign.

But no matter! The press was conducting a War Against Gore—the war that subverted your last election—and this was a mightily pleasing tale. Vacuous pundits began to recite it—and Milbank coughs up the time-honored hairball today. Your Washington press corps is endlessly daft. We think you know their timeless rule: If it feels good, type it.

Meanwhile, why not visit our incomparable archives? For more on the press corps’ “earth tones” invention, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/10/03, with links to a five-part report. No, there is no evidence that Wolf told Gore to wear tones. But once the “press” has a story it likes, it never disappears from the earth.

QUESTIONS ON SOCIAL PROMOTION: We received excellent questions about social promotion. One reader voiced some common concerns:

E-MAIL: Regarding your recent statements about social promotion, I’m somewhat confused. It appears that you are advocating promoting students despite their inability to succeed at the appropriate grade level, only to create special “below-grade-level” classes for those same students once they are in the higher grade. Doesn’t this complicate things greatly, as opposed to, for example, teaching sixth-grade math to all students who are learning at that grade level, regardless of age? Moreover, doesn’t it simply postpone the ultimate problem? Under your solution, if I understand it correctly, you might have a class of 8th-grade students working at a 3rd-grade level, which presumably would advance to a 4th-grade level by the time the students are in 9th or 10th grade, and then a 5th- or 6th-grade level by the time the students reach 12th grade, whereupon the students will graduate, having failed to learn anything at even a high-school level.

I suppose that you might argue that this solution is better than the current situation, because it at least gets kids to a 6th-grade level. Perhaps you’re right, but I don’t know that it’s clear at all.

These are basic, common-sensical questions. Tomorrow, our incomparable reply.