MONDAY, MARCH 29, 2004
WE KNOW WHAT HE SAID THAT SUMMER: How hapless is the New York Times? In this mornings page-one lead story, Eric Lichtblau displays the papers standard ineptitudeand in this instance, the Times is (somewhat) unfair to Bush. Sundays network interview shows were simply packed with newsworthy highlights. Somehow, though, the Times thought this was the biggest thing that happened:
LICHTBLAU (pgh 1): The White House acknowledged Sunday that on the day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush pressed his top counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, to find out whether Iraq was involved.But of course, the White House did not acknowledge that Bush pressed Clarke on Iraqs involvementthe claim Clarke makes in his book. Condi Rice did acknowledge, on 60 Minutes, that Bush asked Clarke to examine that question. But Rice didnt say that Bush pressed his aide. Bush asked a perfectly logical question, she saidand no, her statement wasnt Big News. Meanwhile, please note: On the Times web site, the word pressedwhich appears in the paper we found on our doorstephas been changed to the appropriate word, asked. But who would think that this minor point was the Biggest News from Sundays programs? Only the people who run the Timesthe emptiest suits in the town.
By the way, what did Bush think about Iraqs involvement? Youll never learn it from your press corps, but the presidents thoughts are on the recordand they tend to support Clarkes impressions. In Bush at War, Bob Woodward quotes Bush at a crucial NSC meeting on September 17, 2001:
WOODWARD (page 98-99): As for Saddam Hussein, the president ended the debate [about immediate military action against Iraq]. I believe Iraq was involved, but Im not going to strike them now. I dont have the evidence at this point.According to Woodward, Bush believed Iraq was involved in 9/11, although he didnt have the evidence. What a fascinating bit of text! Readers, is it reassuring to know that Bush believes important things although he doesnt have the evidence? This passage certainly tends to support Clarkes portrait of Bush-on-Iraq. But you didnt see it mentioned last week, despite all the flap about Clarkes troubling claim. Why didnt you see this? Were not sure. But lets face it: Among its other troubling traits, this press corps just doesnt read books. Books are hard, and they take too long. The press doesnt cotton to that.
For the record, Lichtblau ends up quoting Bush at Warbut only the part which Clarke has been quoting! Indeed, Bush at War supports quite a few of Clarkes controversial claims; well review this point as the week moves on. Meanwhile, todays front-page is the latest joke from our most inept paperthe Times.
WE HEARD AMERICA SPINNING: Its a war for survival, with the White House trying to slime Clarkes credibility and character. And how does the press corps sort through the mess? You might like to know what your fellow Americans were hearing on cable this morning.
Lets start at 6 AM, with Fox & Friends, the most propagandistic news program ever broadcast in this country. Brian Kilmeade and Kiran Chetry were up quite early, reading the Official Fox Spin-Pointsand needless to say, the Kool-Aid Kids quickly began trashing Clarkes credibility and character. After a segment about Condi Rices great integrity, Kilmeade got started on Clarke:
KILMEADE: All right, six minutes after the hourlets talk a little Richard Clarke. Theres a little problem with Richard ClarkeOn Fox & Friends, thats their idea of we report, you decide! Predictably, Kilmeade and Chetry staged a fair and balanced trashing of All Things Clarke. Eventually, they zeroed in on the troubling amounts hes earning from sales of his book:
KILMEADE: He seems to have gotten very emotional yesterday and then, when asked whats he doing with all his money, he said, Yeah, Ill give some to the victims, I plan on doing that, but according to the White House, Ill never work in Washington again, so I have to look out for my own bank accountwhich by the way, will be pretty large.Please dont make us transcribe all her comments. But Chetrya bright person who resisted the Kool-Aid for yearsrambled on with more of the clowning that defines the Fox & Friends style. Apparently theres some talk that, if this book hits and then stays on the New York Times best-seller list, thats more cash for Richard Clarke as well, she concluded. Really! If he sells more books, he gets more money? But the consummate rubes who watch this program seem to enjoy being talked to this way. Just how dumb does Fox & Friends get? As Kilmeade went to a live shot from Baghdad, he got in one last shot at Clarke:
CHETRY: Apparently theres some talk that, if this book hits and then stays on the New York Times best-seller list, thats more cash for Richard Clarke as well.No, we didnt make that up! It was time to kill the pig on Fox. Kilmeade knew that he had to trash Clarke in Every Single Word That He Said
Youd think it couldnt get any dumberbut if so, you didnt watch Imus this morning. When Fox threw to Hunt, we switched to Don, and were treated to a stupid tirade which made the Fox friends sound like the Twins Einstein. What had Imus troubled this morning? Don was upset because Clarke didnt say what percentage of his earnings will go to victims families. On and on the I-man went, trashing Clarke in the strongest language. And of course, Clarke has been on the government dole for the past thirty years, and hes never had a real job. Weve been paying his salary for thirty years, Imus said. He was still ranting about these concerns when he put him back on at 8:30.
Its obvious why the friends are trashing Clarke. A war is on, and like everyone at Fox, theyre reading the Approved White House Spin-Points. Its less clear why Imus has trashed Clarke so hard. But one thing is clear. When future generations play tape of these shows, they will blush to think that theyre part of a race which once produced such consummate idiots.
PERFECT RICE EVERY TIME: When Imus spoke with NBCs Bob Kur, the I-man wondered why Condi Rice wont testify in public. To Kur, it was clearly a matter of principle, since theres nothing Rice could possibly say which could possibly hurt the White House. Other notions didnt occur. For example, is it possible that the White House doesnt want Rice to testify because she has made so many gonzo statements in the past? That possibility would occur to almost anyonebut no, it didnt occur to Kur. And Imus swallowed what he was told. He wondered why the White House would make such a stupid political blunder.
Which brings us back to last Thursdays Hardball. During the program, Chris Matthews played some remarkable tape. It was Condi Rice in May 2002, rapping on airplanes-as-weapons:
RICE (5/12/02): I dont think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon. That they would try to use an airplane as a missile? A hijacked airplane as a missile? All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking.Of course, there had been numerous warnings, before 9/11, about terrorists using airplanes as weapons. Rices statement was truly amazing. Obvious judgment? Rice was clueless again.
But Condi Rice is a press corps untouchable, so Washington journalists have never asked her to explain this remarkable statement. Never! Shes never been asked! But on Thursday, Matthews was playing this tape for Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died on 9/11. Because Breitweiser isnt part of the club, she quickly voiced the obvious responsethe one journalists all know to avoid:
BREITWEISER: Either she flat out lied or shes incompetent, because the historical record is replete with instances of planes being used as missiles.Holding a thick congressional report, Breitweiser noted the absurdity of Rices statement. But wouldnt you know it? The previous night, Matthews had played this same tape for Michael Isikoff and Dana Milbank. Neither made the obvious comment. In todays Washington, only someone who isnt a journalist is allowed to say things that are true.
Amazing, isnt it? No journalist has ever asked Rice to explain her astounding remark. But then, last week was so bad for Rice that Pincus and Milbank did a Post piece about Icon Condis assorted odd statements. Omigod! They cited airplanes-as-weapons. They cited her misstatement about those aluminum tubes. And they cited several other groaners, howlers The Icon voiced just last week. We strongly suggest that you read this reportand marvel to think that the rest of the press refuses to challenge this favorite.
On Hardball, Breitweiser made the obvious commentthe one your press corps knows to avoid. But then, Condi Rice is a press corps untouchable. It doesnt matter what she says. In the hands of a fawning press, we get Perfect Rice every time.
KITTEN-KILLER STARTS TO WEASEL: Thats astonishing, Josh Marshall wroteand here at THE HOWLER, we hugely agree. Marshall referred to a Friday night MSNBC report about kitten-killing conservative Bill Frist. On Friday afternoon, Frist slimed Clarke on the Senate floorbut soon, he started to weasel:
MSNBC: Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath, Frist said in a speech from the Senate floor, alleging that Clarke said in 2002 that the Bush administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al-Qaida before the attacks.Say what? In the Senate, Frist said Clarke told two entirely different stories under oath. But a few hours later, he told MSNBC that he didnt know if there were any discrepancies!
Marshalls right. Its astonishing that Frist would make such a speech if he knew of no discrepancies. But then, the pet-snuffing solon never said that Clarke had actually perjured himself. As slime-merchants always do, he insinuated:
FRIST (Senate speech): It is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media. But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is a far more serious matter. As I mentioned, the intelligence committee is seeking to have Mr. Clarkes previous testimony declassified so as to permit an examination of Mr. Clarkes two different accounts. Loyalty to any Administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied before Congress.The clever Frist kept saying if as he put his nasty charge into play. Soon, reporters swung into action. The word perjury is now all over the press, directly applied to Clarke.
Frist was playing a nasty game. We agree with Joshhis conduct was astonishing. But Frist, like Rice, is a press corps favorite. Al Hunt hammered the solon on Capital Gangbut seemed to feel that he had to call Frist someone I have long admired. We think you know how Frists game worked. Frist walked away with barely a scratchand questions abound about Clarkes alleged perjury! Yes, it really would be astonishingexcept in todays hopeless press.