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SLICING APPLE (PART 2 OF 2)! Johnny Apple got sliced up at Fox. But then, so did two troubling generals:

FRIDAY, APRIL 11, 2003

GENERAL SPINNING: Here’s a question we’d rather not have to ask: What explains Morton Kondracke’s slide into his current rank demagogy? Here he was on Wednesday’s Special Report, trashing the New York Times’ Johnny Apple:

KONDRACKE (4/9/03): Poor Johnny Apple has been so wrong about this because he has a Vietnam quagmire image of what happens when America goes to war. I mean he was Vietnam War correspondent and he can’t get that defeat out of his head.
“Poor Johnny Apple,” the scribe sadly said, taking part in a bit of group dissembling. In fact, Apple had declared Iraq a “military success” in that day’s New York Times; there was no “quagmire” in his view of events (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/10/03). But Brit Hume and the gang were pretending otherwise, furthering the rank propaganda campaign they now routinely perform on Report. And Kondracke, of course, knew enough to say “quagmire.” It’s a standard spin-point for those who would say that the “liberal press” is being defeatist. “Poor Johnny Apple” had actually said that the war in Iraq had now been won. But on Report—with Morton doing the honors—Apple was still stuck in the “mire.” Fox viewers? They were being misled.

But Apple wasn’t the only guy getting slimed on Wednesday’s Report; retired general Barry McCaffrey was taking some incoming too. After Kondracke warned Dems to avoid Wesley Clark—“he’s been a doomsayer about this from the beginning”—he also strafed McCaffrey. McCaffrey “has changed his tune from time to time,” Kondracke said—and he and Brit then shared some mots about how fickle the feckless general had been. “He switched when we started to getting into trouble because he doesn’t like Don Rumsfeld,” Mort said.

But then, McCaffrey is now a nightly target for the gunners on Special Report. The problem began on April 1. On that day, General Myers complained about armchair generals who were critiquing the Pentagon war plan. At Special Report, the vaunted all-stars quickly adopted the Official Approved White House Spin-Points. McCaffrey was soon getting spun:

KONDRACKE (4/1/03): Well, actually, I talked to General Barry McCaffrey after that Myers appearance and he was not backing down. He still thinks that the forces were too light that went in—

HUME: If he thinks that, why is he writing in the Wall Street Journal that this is all going so swimmingly and that we’re winning and this is great and all that?

KONDRACKE: Well, he saying that they’ve recovered, that—

HUME: That’s not what he said this morning.

KONDRACKE: Well, I’m telling you what he told me that they finally turned it around and they’re adapting—

HUME: Turned what around? Wait a minute.

BARNES: He said that “with the attack they have achieved a blitzkrieg success in plunging an Army-Marine Three-Division Task Force 300 miles into Iraq up to the gates of Baghdad.”

KONDRACKE: Well, he is standing by what he wrote in U.S. News & World Report and he’s saying that we’re now in an ugly situation, etc., etc.

HUME: Did you read what he wrote in the Wall Street Journal?

KONDRACKE: Of course I read it.

HUME: Is this man OK?

KONDRACKE: He said in there that it’s risky. That what they were doing was risky and he thinks that is they’ve compensated for it and it will be OK now, but it was badly conceived

HUME: OK. Now let’s not spend any more time on poor, old Barry McCaffrey; he’s had a tough day, it sounds like.

This time, it was poor old McCaffrey taking the grief. And, as pundits on Special Report now often do when they want to slime a prime target, Hume implied that McCaffrey was mentally ill. “Is this man OK?” the brave pundit asked. (For another example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/3/02. This time, Gore was mentally ill, with Charles Krauthammer providing diagnosis.)

But Hume—challenging a retired general’s mental fitness—had been up to his old tricks again. According to Hume, McCaffrey had written, in the Journal, that “this is all going so swimmingly and that we’re winning and this is great and all that.” But once again, Hume was baldly misleading his viewers. Here’s some of what McCaffrey had said his Journal piece:

MCCAFFREY: The “rolling start” concept of the attack dictated by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has put us in a temporarily risky position.

We face a war of maneuver in the coming days to destroy five Iraqi armor divisions with only one U.S. armored unit (the Third Mechanized Infantry) supported by the modest armor forces of the First Marine Division and the Apache attack helicopters of the 101st Airborne.

“We will succeed in this battle because of the bravery and skill of our soldiers,” McCaffrey concluded. But Hume’s presentation completely miscast what the general had actually said. But Special Report is now pure propaganda—and McCaffrey had challenged the Fox Network’s patrons. When you do that, you’ll soon take some rounds. We’re surprised to see Morton so occupied.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In January 2000, when no one else would, Kondracke stood up to Approved Press Corps Cant. What ever happened to that Morton K? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02.

Over at, a number of letters have now been published about our Monday and Tuesday HOWLERS (click here, scroll back to Tuesday). Because we think the issues involved are important, we’ll try to respond to some letters on Monday. If you don’t want to read such ill-mannered claptrap, we advise you to cover your eyes.

STILL SPINNING: On Special Report, the potshots at McCaffrey continue apace. Last night, Fred Barnes did the honors, offering up this stupid comment about the state of affairs in Iraq:

BARNES: Donald Rumsfeld said, as he did up on the Hill just a few minutes ago that it may be Mosul [falling to Coalition forces] tomorrow. A city a day. That’s pretty good. I guess there are enough troops. These cities seem to be falling. And I sure hope—

HUME: They seem to be falling with almost no American forces up in the north.

BARNES: Yes, tell General McCaffrey. But I hope they have one of those statues. This sort of makes my day every day when they pull one of those down. That’s great.

The Beltway boy was feeling good, and he got in the requisite lick at McCaffrey. Of course, looting transpires all over Iraq, and humanitarian problems spread. Anyone think we could use a few troops to help pit a lid on the mayhem? Meanwhile, what was up with Mort’s April 9 trashing of Clark? Is it true? Has Clark been a “doomsayer?” Here’s what he said on April 1, when other generals were knocking the war plan:
CLARK (4/1/03): I think the troops and all the people over there, the commanders, have done an absolutely superb job, a sensational job. And I think the results speak for themselves.

Secondly, I think it’s very unfair and difficult for anyone to criticize a war plan without ever having been involved in the planning process and knowing what’s going on. This happened to me when I was commanding in Kosovo, and there were people back here sharp-shooting…They didn’t understand what was going to behind the scenes.

“I think the troops have done a sensational job,” Clark said. “I think the results speak for themselves.” On Report, of course, this makes him a “doomsayer,” with all-stars sounding grave warnings:
KONDRACKE (4/9/03): Wesley Clark, who wants to be vice president of the United States—the Democratic Party should think very carefully about taking advice from Wesley Clark, who has been a doomsayer about this from the beginning.
But then, Special Report is now pure propaganda. Johnny Apple has been duly strafed, and McCaffrey and Clark—presumed to be Dems—must be filled full of lead too.

The Daily update

THE FORGOTTEN VILLAGE: We’ve received varied reactions to Marc Fisher’s portrait of a troubled D.C. elementary school. Our point in this is fairly simple. We can’t draw sweeping conclusions from one report about one school. But we were surprised by Fisher’s piece, because newspapers shy away from such efforts, which take us inside our dysfunctional urban schools and help us see the miserable deal urban children are actually getting.

Generally, newspapers prefer upbeat reports about urban “schools that [allegedly] work.” They will go to schools where test scores have risen and try to guess why that has happened. But only feel-good speculation need apply; reporters never try to learn if the testing programs have been gimmicked in some way, although test fraud has been routinely documented all across the country (links below). Nor did Fisher try to limn achievement levels at the school he studied. On that point, we’ll repeat what we said on Tuesday; we’d bet the house that teacher Josh Kaplowitz’s fifth-grade kids weren’t reading as well as he thought (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/8/03).

Our urban schools have long been forgotten, abandoned by a crusading press which used to clamor for their improvement. In the fall of 1969, we ourselves began a twelve-year “career” in Baltimore’s city schools. And we had an experience with our first group of fifth graders that we have never forgotten.

Late in the year, we showed a film—a drama called “The Forgotten Village” The screenplay had been written by John Steinbeck; the setting was a dusty, rural, Mexican village, where the children were dying of a mysterious illness. The one village teacher had heard of germs, and he suspected that water from the village well was causing the terrible illness. But the village shaman began a propaganda campaign, and the parents turned against the teacher. Before he was forced to leave the village, the teacher gave a bit of advice to his brightest student (the student could sense that the teacher was right and that the elders were probably wrong). “You’ll have to go away to the city and study hard before you can help your village,” he said. The student would have to gain many skills before he could return and stop children from dying.

The children in our fifth-grade class were enraged by what they saw. They couldn’t believe that a group of parents would let their children die so foolishly. In our subsequent years in the Baltimore schools, we never saw a group of kids respond so strongly to any event. And years later, when we understood urban schools a bit better, an odd thought finally entered our mind. We began to wonder if those children had seen themselves in that film—if they had somehow known that they too were living in a forgotten village, with their life prospects draining away as their community didn’t step in to help them.

Newspapers almost never do what Fisher did in this report. In our view, there’s little we can learn from this piece about what’s fixably wrong in our urban schools (some things are). But our modern press corps rarely bothers with topics like this. To visit another forgotten village, spend some time with this tragic report.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Cheating on standardized tests has been rampant for years, although the press almost always pretends not to know it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/01. For other reports on related topics, enter “Cannell,” NAEP,” “KIPP” or “Rand” into one of our plupotent engines.