TUESDAY, MARCH 30, 2004
THIS JUST IN FROM THE CUCKOOS NEST: Reading the New York Times these days is like reading reports from the cuckoos nest. Katharine Kit Seelye is quite upset because Dems dont speak in alphabetical order. Elisabeth Bumiller wants you to know about Bushs excellent bedtime habits. And in todays paper, David Sanger reports the complaints of a man named Franklin C. Miller. According to Sanger, Miller is [a] senior national security official who worked alongside Richard A. Clarke on Sept. 11, 2001. And uh-oh! Miller is disputing central elements of Mr. Clarkes account of events in the White House Situation Room that day.
Miller thus becomes the latest hack trying to make Clarke a liar. The Times is eager to air his complaints. But try to believe the kinds of concerns to which the Times devotes a large article. What errors by Clarke does Sanger relate? Incredibly, heres the first central element which captures the scribes attention:
SANGER: In Mr. Clarkes account, in a chapter called Evacuate the White House, he heads into the Situation Room at the first word of attack and begins issuing orders to close embassies and put military bases on a higher level of alert He describes how Mr. Miller came into the room, squeezed Mr. Clarkes bicep, and said, Guess Im working for you today. What can I do?Incredible, isnt it? This time youre certain were making it up! But this is the sort of central element which leads David Sanger to write a full article. The problem? Clarke quoted Miller saying, What can I do? Miller says he wouldnt say that. More likely, he said, How can I help?
Cant you hear them cuckoos hollerin? Other inanities fill Sangers piece, taken straight from the famous nest. (Example: Clarke says the Situation Room was sparsely populated on September 11. Miller says a dozen people were there.) But then, the New York Times has plainly become our most bizarre major newspaper. Kit Seelye has long been a registered cuckoo. Joining her today, and serving Bush: The Times latest cuckoo, David Sanger.
WHY CONDI WOULDNT SPEAK: How liberal is the liberal press corps? Not very. Consider the treatment of Condoleezza Rices refusal to testify before the 9/11 commission. In particular, consider the segment on this topic from last nights Scarborough Country.
Background: Rice has given four hours of private testimony to the 9/11 commission. But the commission wants her to testify in public, which requires going under oath. On last nights program, Joe Scarborough said the White House is seeking a compromiseRice will testify again in private, with the transcript to be made public. He discussed this matter with three major journalists: John Fund of the Wall Street Journal; Tim Berger of Time; and Deroy Murdock, a syndicated columnist.
Why has Rice tried to avoid public testimony? Predictably, Fund recited the White House line; the White House has refused to let her testify as a matter of principle (executive privilege). But this, of course, would not explain why the White House has let her appear in private, or why they would let her do so again. And a funny thing happened in Scarborough Land. Four journalists were there to debate this topic. But no one suggested that there might be a non-principled, political reason for the attempt to keep Rice private. Four journalists were assembled on MSNC. And none of them suggested an obvious reason why Bush may be holding Rice back.
Why would the White House let Rice testifybut only if cameras werent present? Duh! Heres an obvious possibility: The White House doesnt want tape of Rice being questioned. That is because of the gonzo statements she has made about 9/11 in the past.
Consider her most amazing statementthe one she made in May 2002, nine months after the devastating attacks:
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.As Kristin Breitweiser told Chris Matthews last Thursday, Rice was grossly incompetent, or was lying, when she made this remarkable statement (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/29/04). In fact, there had been a long string of intelligence warnings about the possibility of airplanes-as-weapons in the years before 9/11. Lets assume that Rice was sincere when she made her puzzling statement. That would mean that, nine months after the 9/11 attacks, she was still ignorant of these warningswarnings which had been discussed in the media by the time she spoke. Lets say it again: This would mean that Condi RiceBushs National Security chiefwas still grossly uninformed about this matter nine months after the 9/11 attacks.
In fact, Rice tried to deal with her gonzo statement when she appeared before this commission in private. Heres what Walter Pincus reported in last Fridays Post:
PINCUS: Democratic commission member Richard Ben-Veniste disclosed this week that Rice had asked, in her private meetings with the commission, to revise a statement she made publicly that I dont think anybody could have predicted that those people could have taken an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center that they would try to use an airplane as a missile. Rice told the commission that she misspoke; the commission has received information that prior to Sept. 11, U.S. intelligence agencies and Clarke had talked about terrorists using airplanes as missiles.The icon misspoke, for an unexplained reason. For the record, Pincus formulation is excessively polite; in fact, U.S. intelligence agencies were repeatedly warned about airplanes-as-weapons in the years before 9/11, as the record makes embarrassingly clear. Lets state the obvious: No White House in its right mind would want Rice questioned about this in public. Ben-Veniste could make Rice seem like a fool if this session occurred in public. Videotape of such an exchange could play on the networks for weeks.
Why has the White House tried to keep Rice private? One possible answer is obvious: The White House doesnt want the public to see tape of Rice being asked about her remarkable ignorance. But last night on Scarborough Country, this possibility never occurred to four members of the liberal press! And lets make one more obvious point: In her endless trips around the press corps, no oneno onehas ever asked Rice to explain her groaning misstatement. A real press corps would have asked long ago. But your press corps is really a gang of flunkeys. No one has asked Rice about this statementand no one in the press ever will.
In fact, Rice is a press corps darling; the press would rather eat live worms than challenge her often-embarrassing conduct. Only a fool or a flunkey could fail to see one possible reason for the recent stand-off. But your press corps is spilling with both such groups. How liberal does your press seem today?
One last point: Some family members have been dragged out to complain about Richard Clarkes testimony and book. The White House is playing these people for fools. Clarke is plainly reciting real facts (more tomorrow); with Rice, the White House has tried to keep the truth hidden. But who do these families complain about? Clarke! Alas! Politicians have always played decent people for fools, andwith the help of the liberal pressthats what Bush has perhaps tried to do in the case of his darling, Icon Condi.
JACK BURKMAN, SUBVERSIVE: How corrupt, how vile has your discourse become? After his silly discussion of Rice, Scarborough led a discussion of Richard Clarke. He hosted Jack Burkman, former RNC spokesman. Burkman put his slithery skills on displayand took dead aim at Americas vital interests.
BURKMAN: If [Clarke] felt that what he had to say was so darn important that the American people had to hear it because it could be instrumental in preventing another attack, why would he wait two and a half years to say it? If I hold, if you held, if anybody holds information, if their motive is pure, if their motive is to help the people, you would release that information two years ago. You wouldnt release it now. I dont know how anybody could look at this and see anything but bad motives, given the timing. And you could say the same thing for Madeleine Albright with her testimonyit was much the same story. Ill tell you something else about Richard Clarke. I very strongly suspect that he has committed felonies in his testimony by releasing classified information. No one has looked into this. But the things that he cites could only have comeand I bet if you go through this, if the Justice Department goes through the transcripts, you will find several instances, each one of which is a felony, where this guy has committed crimes. And Ill tell you something else. For a person who served in the Clinton administration, and you remember December 9, 1998, when impeachment was on the Hill and you were there, that team bombed Iraq committing what I argued then, will still argue now was nothing but blatant treason, the use of American military forcehe was a part of that.You get the sense of this slithering man. All right, Jack, we dont want to get off on too many sidetracks here, Joe Scarborough said.
So you see the kind of slithering thing the RNC sends out on the Land. (Vintage Burkman: And you could say the same thing for Madeleine Albright!) Of course, beasts like Burkman have always existed, taking dead aim at Americas discourse. But now we have people like Scarboroughand orgs like MSNBCwho are eager to send these slithering creatures out to subvert your challenged land.
MINOR POINTCLARKE IS RIGHT: While Burkman was sliming Clarke and Albright, the Times was posting Paul Krugmans column. Krugman notes something pundits all know to avoidClarke is right in his basic assertions:
KRUGMAN: The truth is that among experts, what Mr. Clarke says about Mr. Bushs terrorism policy isnt controversial. The facts that terrorism was placed on the back burner before 9/11 and that Mr. Bush blamed Iraq despite the lack of evidence are confirmed by many sourcesincluding Bush at War, by Bob Woodward.Tomorrow, well walk you through the Woodward book to show you how it supports Clarkes controversial statements. Yes, its easy to show that, on the merits, Clarkes assertions are basically accurate. As Krugman explains, thats why Clarke is now being subjected to slithering things like Jack Burkman:
KRUGMAN: Thats why the administration responded to Mr. Clarke the way it responds to anyone who reveals inconvenient facts: with a campaign of character assassinationAnd your liberal press corps plays the game! How many shows have made an effort to list and evaluate Clarkes real claims? And how many shows have wasted your time on stupid claims about his bank account and his personality? How many scribes have dealt with pure trivia? Latest example: According to Clarke, Miller said, What can I do? In fact, he said, How can I help?
Yes, Krugmans own paper is busy today, making a joke of your national discourse. But one last point of praise for The Krug: The scribe rebukes CNNs Wolf Blitzer for an astonishing bit of misconduct:
KRUGMAN: [J]ournalists apparently remain ready to be used. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer told his viewers that unnamed officials were saying that Mr. Clarke wants to make a few bucks, and that in his own personal life, theyre also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well.Nice work, Wolf! Be sure to make dark insinuations about Clarkes weird personal life! For the record, heres the slithering exchange, with correspondent John King, from last Wednesdays Wolf Blitzer Reports:
BLITZER: John, I get the sense not only what Dr. Rice just said to you and other reporters at the White House, but what administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didnt get a certain promotion. Hes got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, theyre also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well, that they dont know what made this guy come forward and make these accusations against the president. Is that the sense that you're getting, speaking to a wide range of officials?Have Bush officials been whispering to Blitzer, suggesting weird aspects in Clarkes life as well? That would hardly be surprising. The White House has slugs like Burkman crawling about, fouling the land and whispering slanders. Blitzer should report what these creatures have said. But that would take courage, and a bit of integrity. Did you think your liberal press corps had either?
TOMORROW: Woodwards book supports Clarkes assertions. A must-read HOWLER report.
THIS JUST IN FROM LAKE WOBEGON: We knowwe owe you installments about social promotion. But in this mornings Times, a reading specialist from Chicagos schools offers a puzzling report on the subject. According to Marlene Heath, the end of social promotion in Chicago has led to a far brighter day.
But alas! Heath seems to write, not from Chicago, but from the land of the lotus. Heres her most puzzling passage:
HEATH: I began teaching sixth graders in 1992, and shortly after social promotion ended [in 1995], I began to see students who were much better prepared. This new caliber of students allowed me to do what I should have been able to do all alongteach sixth-grade-level work to all my students. That hadnt been possible with the two or three nonreaders who had passed each year through my class before.That passage is deeply bizarre. According to Heath, she teaches in a Chicago school. What is the social profile of her students? [A]lmost 100 percent [are] living in poverty and many in public housing, she says. Despite this, what are her sixth-grade classes like? Even before social promotion supposedly ended, all but two or three of her students were able to work at sixth-grade level! As a sixth-grade teacher, she says she had 27 students on sixth-grade level, and two or three who couldnt read at all.
Only the Times would publish such strangeness. If thats what Heaths classes were like before reform, there was almost nothing to reform in the first place! But thats not the reality of our troubled urban schools. What a shame that the Times doesnt know it.