WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7, 2004
KRAUTHAMMERS SCRIPT: According to White House aide Dan Bartlett, Condi Rice can set the record straight when she testifies to the 9/11 commission tomorrow. But alas! When Bartlett spoke with the Posts Mike Allen, he peddled Charles Krauthammers phony script about one of Richard Clarkes troubling claims:
ALLEN: The most serious misimpression being leveled by Dick Clarke is leaving the perception that if we had just listened to him, 9/11 could have been prevented, Bartlett said. The facts say otherwise.Last Friday, we criticized the Post for letting Krauthammer publish this jive (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/2/04). But now the White House is pimping it, too. What is wrong with Bartletts construction? Clarke said its possible (only possible) that 9/11 could have been thwartedif Bush had convened battle station meetings in the summer of 2001. Last Friday, Krauthammer ridiculed Clarkes claimbut failed to explain what Clarke actually said. Yesterday, Bartlett pimped Krauthammers phony script tooand Allen allowed him to do it.
Could 9/11 have been avoided? We dont have the slightest idea. For the record, co-commissioners Kean and Hamilton both say they think it could have been thwarted. But the Post should let readers know what Clarke has said. Krauthammers column is now a script, designed to mislead on this issue.
IMPERFECT RICE EVERY TIME: In this mornings Times, David Sanger returns to Rices claim that no one could have imagined airplanes-as-weapons. According to Sanger, Rice discussed the statement during her private testimony before the 9/11 commission. We think this account is amazing:
SANGER: She told the commission that she regretted those comments, because at the time she was not aware of intelligence, developed in the late 1990s, that some terrorists were thinking of using airplanes as guided missiles. She told the commission in the private session that she should have said, I could not have imagined, according to one official familiar with the testimony, making it clear that some in the intelligence community knew about those threats but that she did not.Lets be clear about why thats astounding. By May 2002, the history of airplanes-as-weapons threats had been widely discussed in American newspapers. Everyone knew the long history of these threats. For example, heres the start of an article by the Posts Doug Struck. It was published on September 23, 2001, on the front page of the Post:
STRUCK: Abdul Hakim Murad washed his hands, and broke a basic rule of bombmaking.This is just one minor example. The history of airplanes-as-weapons had been widely discussed in the popular press by May 2002, when Rice made her amazing statement. By May 2002, the average American newspaper reader knew about the history of such threats. But to all appearances, Ricethe presidents National Security Adviserremained utterly clueless about this subject. If Sanger is right, Rice has made this astounding admission to the 9/11 commission itself.
Has there ever been a less competent major official? Nine months after 9/11, Rice still didnt know about this history, she says! Meanwhile, why did Rice fail to vet the presidents 2003 State of the Union Address on the matter of uranium-from-Africa? Simple! She hadnt read the entire National Intelligence Estimate, the White House happily said at the time. But despite these (and other) astonishing incidents, the press corps has spun Perfect Rice Every Time. Its a matter of Hard Pundit LawDarling Condi must never be challenged. To this day, no TV interviewer has ever asked her to explain that amazing May 02 statement. Lets hope that things are different tomorrow. Lets hope the commissioners are less concerned with Washington social niceties and more concerned with the national interest.
KAREN HUGHES HATCHES A SCRIPT: In this mornings Post, Allen explains the approach Rice will take tomorrow. According to sources, the uber-script will be hauled out againDear Leader Bush was quite vigilant:
ALLEN: National security adviser Condoleezza Rice plans to testify tomorrow that the Bush administration was acting in a pre-Sept. 11 mindset in its efforts to combat al Qaeda and other terrorist groups and must be judged in that context, administration officials said yesterday.Can that possibly be the line Rice will follow? We wonder if Allen is being spun. Could Rice possibly say that the Bush Admin was stuck in a pre-9/11 mindset? Thats the claim critics like Clarke have brought forward in their attacks against Bush!
But notice the one omnipresent claimDear Leader was alert and focused. How could Rice claim that? a critic might ask. After all, didnt Bush tell Robert Woodward that he wasnt on point before 9/11? It seemed that way when we read Bush at War. But a new script may now have emerged.
Last night, Karen Hughes was asked about this matter on Larry King Live. Her answer? Bush was misquoted:
CALLER: Can you please explain to me what President Bushs own words meant that he said to Bob Woodward which were, paraphrased, Im sorry, if al Qaeda was not urgent, I was not on point, I was not thinking about Osama bin Laden. To me, it begins and ends there.Is this the start of a new White House line? As we told you last week, the White House would love to get back Bushs unfortunate statementthe one where he said that hunting al Qaeda didnt seem urgent before 9/11. Hughes now says that Bush was misquoted. Is this how theyll get the quote back?
Hughes did provide one chuckle. At one point, Larry threw her a curve. She banged it right back up the middle:
KING: Lets put it this way. Is there any area you ever disagree with the president?In other words, when Karen Hughes appears in public, she speaks for the president, not for herself. This is roughly the most obvious point on the face of the earth. But two weeks ago, many pundits were deeply perplexed by this deeply puzzling notion. They couldnt imagine what Richard Clarke meant when he said that, in giving a 2002 background briefing, he voiced the presidents views, not his own. Many punditsand some commissionersplayed dumb and dumber about Clarkes remark. But last night, Hughes voiced the obvious. When she did so, she spoke just like Clarke.
350 WAYS TO FOOL A VOTER (PART 2): Michael Kinsley called it a phony statistic. The Concord Coalition said the claim does not pass the straight-face test for credibility. And Annenbergs Brooks Jackson reviewed the claim too. Bushs own words mislead reporters, he said. We refer to a standard Bush campaign claim: John Kerry has voted 350 times for higher taxes! The claim is being widely offered, in a ubiquitous TV ad, for example (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/6/04). But major pundits have called the claim phony. Why have these scribes reached this judgment?
JACKSON: The President misled voters and reporters in a March 20 speech when he claimed that Kerry voted over 350 times for higher taxes on the American people during his 20-year Senate career. Bush spoke of yes votes for tax increases.But in fact, Kerry has not voted 350 times for tax increases, something Bush campaign officials have falsely accused Kerry of on several occasions.
Kerry hasnt voted 350 times for tax increases, Jackson said. But many people are getting that impression. Heres what goes into the Bush camps padded list, the Annenberg fact filbert said:
JACKSON: On close examination, the Bush campaigns list of Kerrys votes for higher taxes is padded. It includes votes Kerry cast to leave taxes unchanged (when Republicans proposed cuts), and even votes in favor of alternative Democratic tax cuts that Bush aides characterized as watered down.In short, when you look at that list of votes for higher taxes, it even includes some votes Kerry cast in favor of actual tax cuts! If Kerry voted for a tax cutbut a larger tax cut had also been proposedthen thats a vote for higher taxes, your straight-talking president says.
Jackson calls this statement misleading. How does he know that? Easy! When Bush made this carefully-crafted statement, Jackson notes, it even misled trained reporters. On March 20, Bush spoke at a Florida rally. He chose his words with great care:
BUSH: Senator Kerry is one of the main opponents of tax relief in the United States Congress. However, when tax increases are proposed, its a lot easier to get a yes vote out of him. Over the years, hes voted over 350 times for higher taxes on the American peopleYou can always trust those foolish audiences! At any rate, Bush carefully said that the devious Kerry had voted over 350 times for higher taxes (not for tax increases). But major reporters misconstrued what Bush said. As Jackson notes, major scribes falsely reported the straight-talking presidents meaning:
JACKSON: The Associated Press said Bush depicted Kerry as a serial tax-raiser who has voted for tax increases 350 times. United Press International said Bush accused Kerry of voting over the past 20 years for tax increasing legislation some 350 times. The New York Times reported: Mr. Bush said Mr. Kerry had voted 350 times to raise taxes in his nearly two decades in the Senate, and The Palm Beach Post said: The President accused the Massachusetts senator of voting to raise taxes more than 350 times.Even reporters thought Bush naccused Kerry of 350 votes for tax increases. For the record, the Times reporter who misconstrued Bush was Richard Stevenson, a experienced budget scribe. If even Stevenson got fooled by Bush, do you really think that average voters were able to interpret the presidents construction? [R]eporters were misled, as were probably many ordinary voters, Jackson said. Meanwhile, other Bush spokesmen didnt mislead votersthey simply made blatant misstatements about Kerry. Jackson listed a string of Bush types who said that Kerry voted 350 times for tax increases. And yes, these statements were simply false. In fact, even the Presidents own campaign organization now admits Kerry didnt vote for tax increases 350 times, or anything close to it, Jackson notes.
According to Jackson, Bush has been peddling a tortured construction, one that is guaranteed to mislead. But is Bushs statement even technically accurate? Given Bushs odd definitions, is it technically accurate to say that Kerry has voted 350 times for higher taxes? Writing in Slate and the Washington Post, Michael Kinsley seemed to say no. First, Kinsley recalled the way Bushs father played this same sort of trick on the voters. Bushs tortured, misleading construction is an old family heirloom, he said:
KINSLEY: In 1992, Bushs father charged that Bill Clinton, as governor of Arkansas, had raised taxes 128 times. This shabby and deeply disingenuous allegation became an embarrassment to the elder Bush, but it took weeks and months of pounding by the media and the opposition to make it this way.Just how stupid was Bush Is list? George the elders list of Clinton tax increases included such things as an extension of the dog-racing season, on the logic that a longer season meant more tax revenue, Kinsley recalled. And he voiced an obvious thought. Honesty means more than factual accuracy, It means avoiding disingenuousness: not talking rot when you know its rot.
But has Kerry voted 350 times for higher taxes, even given Bushs deliberate rot? Kinsley seems to say the answer is no, although his own writing here is impenetrable. (Slate should clarify this point.) At any rate, Kinsley offers an excellent way to judge the merits of Bushs claim. The best way to see the absurdity of saying that Kerry voted for higher taxes 350 times is to apply Bushs madcap logic to Bush himself, he writes. By Bushs own logic, Bush himself has proposed higher taxes 63 times in the past four years, Kinsley says. At Bushs current rate of 16 tax increases a year, hed have 320 under his belt if he could stay in the White House for 20 years, the scribe notes. This means that, using Bushs own logic, Bush and Kerry are proposing higher taxes at roughly the same rate per year. (For the record, Kinsley says hes talking about real tax increases, not proposals for higher taxes by Bush.)
Readers, can you see why the Concord Coalition says that Bushs tortured claim doesnt pass the laugh test for credibility? But no matter! Major Bush spokesmen go on the air and mouth this claim routinelyand major pundits like Judy Woodruff sit and stare into space when they do. When politicians seek to deceiveas this president does in his sleepjournalists are supposed to serve the public. But so far, Washington journalists have performed quite poorly when confronted with this phony stat.
TOMORROW: Part 3: The Los Angeles Times makes an effort
DUMBING DOWN DEAN: You cant get dumber than Sean Hannity got when John Dean appeared on his program last night. Dean has written a book about Bush, Worse Than Watergate. But viewers were kept far away from Deans thoughts when Hannity applied his matchless skills to his guest. Here was his opening statement:
HANNITY: We turn now to domestic politics where yet another book has been released, criticizing President Bush as being more secretive, more dangerous than Richard Nixon. Joining us now, President Nixons former White House counsel, author of the book Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.Well, its disappointing youre disappointed, Dean replied, because youre the kind of person who should really understand what Im trying to say, particularly given the books youve just written. But what is Dean trying to say? Quickly, Hannity began to talk about things the author hasnt said:
HANNITY: Because this I put in the genre of just another Bush-hating book. You blame the president and the administration for exploiting 9/11. When I hear that from the left, when they accuse the president of knowing about 9/11 ahead of time, they accuse him of pre-planning 9/11 before Iraqpre-planning Iraq before 9/11thats exploitation.Obviously, Dean hasnt accuse[d] the president of knowing about 9/11 ahead of time. Has he said that Bush pre-planned Iraq? What exactly has Dean said? We dont have the slightest idea, because Hannity was determined to keep us from knowing. After saying that Dean knew this book would hurt the president (he said it twice), Sean went off on a tangent:
HANNITY: Ive got to ask you. Youre entitled to say it. Ive gone back and Ive looked a lot, Ive done a lot of research on you today. Ive got to ask you a tough question here, because you wrote in your last book, it was called Blind AmbitionOops. That wasnt my last book, but go ahead, Dean said. Readers, dont ever say that to Sean Hannity:
HANNITY: One of your books, OK. It was back awhile; it was in the 1970s. And you had to admit under oath you didnt write the book. You admitthe Washington Times characterized it this way. Now Mr. Dean says he didnt write key portions, nor did he even read the entire book. Ive gone through this book, cover to coverDean tried to object, but Sean kept going:
HANNITY: Its sworn depositions that have been obtained by the Washington Times. Mr. Dean said key elements were pure speculation, reasonable conjecture and distortion. Now Gordon Liddy wrote in his book quoting your book when it was published that you said, quote, I prepared for the writing of Blind Ambition the same way I prepared to testify before the Ervin committee or special prosecutors.Heres my pointdid you write this book? Sean said, as Dean again tried to speak. By now, it wasnt even clear which book he meant. So Whos on First quickly broke out:
DEAN: Let me tell you somethingWed link you to the transcript, so you could see where this ended, but Fox is too smart to provide such a service. After all, would you want the world to see the record if you insulted the American public interest this way? And heres a question for all the Fox rubes: Just how dumb do you have to be accept being mocked in this wayby a man whos paid millions each year to treat you like absolute idiots?