THURSDAY, APRIL 15, 2004
SCHEDULE: Sorrywell postpone discussion of those press conference questions till tomorrow. This morning, Jim Rutenberg pushed to the front of the line.
JIM RUTENBERGS NO-NAME OFFENSE: Jim Rutenberg has his knickers knotted about those 9/11 commissioners. On the front page of todays New York Times, the gentleman details their crimes:
RUTENBERG: Democrats and Republicans alike have raised concerns about the degree to which commission members are discussing their deliberations on television and, even, in newspaper columnsto the point that they are spinning their views like the politicians that many of them are.Yikes! According to Rutenberg, the commissioners are spinning their views on TVbehaving like the pols they are. And you know that the scribes critique is fair. After all, Democrats and Republicans alike have been making the troubling charge.
But theres only one problem with Rutenbergs piece, which stretches to almost 1400 words. He doesnt cite a single Democrat who has made this complaint about the conduct of the commissioners! And this is hardly a major surprise, since the complaint which Rutenberg describes is a current Republican spin-point.
Readers, go aheadread right through this lengthy piece in search of a single Democrat! Rutenberg claims that such people are all over DCbut he fails to cite even one. He quotes Senators Arlen Specter (Republican, Pennsylvania) and Mitch McConnell (Republican, Kentucky). He quotes a TV commentator, conservative Tucker Carlson (Republican, CNN). But he never cites a single Democrat, either by name or on background. And the reason for that is fairly clear. Late in the piece, he finally touches on the obvioushes discussing a conservative talking-point:
RUTENBERG: The Sept. 11 commission has come under attack from conservatives in the last two weeks, in particular, for what they say has been undue criticism of the Bush administration. Those assertions concern more than the members public appearances; they take issue with the members' questioning of witnesses.Duh! In the past few weeks, it has become increasingly clear that the commission will find fault with Bushs flawless performance. As this has happened, conservative spokesmen have begun to attack the commission as a self-serving, partisan enterprise. The claim of partisanship is especially odd; the commission is equally split among Reps and Dems and the commissioner, Thomas Kean, was selected by Bush himself. But no matter! Criticism of the commissions conduct has become a widespread conservative line. Rutenberg, though, has a better idea. He says the criticism is coming from Democrats and Republicans alike. But he forgets to name even one Dem who has put forth the complaint he describes.
Incredibly, this is the second time in the past three days that Rutenberg has played this silly game. On Tuesday, he published a front-page report about Bill Clintons troubling book. Heres how that piece began:
RUTENBERG: As Bill Clinton seeks to finish his memoirs, leading Democrats are voicing concern that the book could overshadow Senator John Kerrys presidential campaign, diverting attention to Mr. Clintons outsize legacy of scandal and achievement.And that wasnt all. Many Democrats said they wanted the book published as far as possible before the election, the scribe said. They fear that the book will embolden Mr. Clintons foes to turn out and vote for President Bush.
Wow! Many Democrats were on Clintons ass. Indeed, leading Democrats were voicing concern. But just who were these leading Democrats? In the course of a 1500-word piece, Rutenberg failed to quote even one! He didnt quote any Dem by name. He didnt quote any Dem on background. And he pulls the same silly trick today, about a more serious subject.
Weve told you this for many yearsthe New York Times is your countrys worst newspaper. The Times has been deeply dysfunctional for yearsand Rutenberg seems at pains to prove it. Today, he takes a piece of RNC spin and pretends that Dems are pushing it too! Meanwhile, who puts this clowning into print? He has a name; you should know it. Bill Keller.
YOU JUST CANT GET THIS STUPID: Could Rutenberg possibly be this dumb? Midway through this mornings piece, he notes a blindingly obvious factTV producers are happy to book commissioners. He quotes a CNN producer to that effectthen expresses surprise about Carlson:
RUTENBERG: Such accessibility has come to the delight of news producers. Its refreshing that the principals in a really important moment in American history are available, and they're usually not, said David Bohrman, the CNN Washington bureau chief.Wow! Even that! Can Rutenberg possibly be this dumb? He expresses surprise that Carlson, a conservative pundit (not a producer), is voicing common conservative spin. Can Rutenberg possibly be this dumb? Someone should ask Mr. Keller.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: When last we looked in on the hapless Rutenberg, he took a puzzling claim in a Bush TV ad and rewrote it, making it seem more reasonable. (To his credit, he didnt pretend that Dems were saying it!) Can Rutenberg possibly be this compliant? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/26/04.
RICE UNDER OATH (PART 3): Last Thursday, Condi Rice testified, under oath, before the 9/11 commission. After she made her opening statement, Richard Ben-Veniste questioned her about that August 6 PDB (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/13/04). In retrospect, its plain that Rice didnt want to mention one part of that PDB. One part of its text was toxic. Well help you pick it out:
PRESIDENTIAL BRIEF, 8/6/01: (pgh 7) Al Qaeda membersincluding some who are U.S. citizenshave resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks .Duh! On August 6, 2001, Bush was told about patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings. And five weeks later, four planes were hijacked! If you were president, would you want to broadcast the fact that you had been warned about hijackings? Not likelyand it seems fairly clear, from Rices testimony, that she didnt want to mention it either. Result? When questioned about the PDB, Rice made a joke of her oath.
Rice didnt want to mention that warning. Indeed, the pattern begins in her opening statement. As we saw in Tuesdays HOWLER, Rice mentioned the historic 1998 hijack threat, the one found in paragraph 9 (see above). But she failed to mention the ongoing threats mentioned in paragraph 10. And when Ben-Veniste asked her, several times, about that language from paragraph 10, Rice evaded his questions for all she was worth. Ben-Veniste rephrased his question several times. Here was his final attempt:
BEN-VENISTE: I am asking you whether it is not the case that you learned in the PDB memo of August 6th that the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that preparationsnot historically, but ongoing, along with these numerous full-field investigations against al Qaeda cellsthat preparations were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States.Ben-Veniste used the language of the PDB itself. The answer to his question was simple: Yes. But heres how Rice honored her oaththe oath to tell the whole truth:
RICE: May I address the question, sir? The fact is that this August 6th PDB was in response to the presidents questions about whether or not something might happen or something might be planned by al Qaeda inside the United States. He asked because all of the threat reporting, or the threat reporting that was actionable, was about the threats abroad, not about the United States.How did she answer this bone-simple question? She refused to respond to what shed been asked; talked about things she hadnt been asked, then said the PDB was not a warning. And remember: When Rice gave Ben-Veniste this answer, the PDB was a classified document. American citizens had no way to know how phony her answers had been.
YepRice was making a joke of her oath. Ben-Veniste knew this, of course, but the PDBs classification meant that he couldnt openly quote the document. But two days later, guess what happened? The White House released the text of the Daily Brief. Finally, everyone could see how fake Rices answers had been.
But the Washington press corps averted its gaze from the matter of Rices failed oath. No one said that she persistently failed to answer those bone-simple questions. Indeed, something very different occurred. On Sunday morning, pundits hammered Ben-Veniste for daring to question Rice as hed done! Rice had make a joke of her oathsome will even say that she lied. But Ben-Veniste did something far worsehe dared to question a Washington Icon. So Washingtons pundits came down on his headand gave Darling Condi her pass.
TOMORROW: Hammering the guy who was right