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PUSILLANIMOUS PUNDIT WATCH! The Post should ask the prez why he changed. And we search for some prime propaganda:


SEARCHING FOR WEAPONS OF MASS PROPAGANDA: Here at THE HOWLER, we’ve never doubted that Saddam had WMDs. In fact, we’d be surprised if he didn’t. We think antiwar types set themselves up for a fall when they crow about the lack of quick discovery.

But we’re surprised by Jack Shafer’s reaction to Judith Miller’s story in yesterday’s New York Times. According to Miller, an unnamed Iraqi scientist has told Army WMD-hunters “that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began.” According to Miller’s government sources, the unnamed scientist has also said that Iraq “secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990’s, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with Al Qaeda.” According to Miller’s sources, this scientist led WMD-hunters to some buried materials—materials which “proved to be precursors for a toxic agent that is banned by chemical weapons treaties.” According to Miller, her government sources described this material as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.”

Did the scientist actually say these things? If so, are his statements accurate? And what did the government find in the ground? At the moment, there’s no way to tell. In fact, Miller has nothing to go on in this matter beyond what her government minders have told her; she hasn’t been allowed to meet the scientist, or examine what her minders have found. But one thing is abundantly clear. The government may be having troubling finding WMDs. But this unnamed scientist is the greatest propaganda discovery since the end of the recent war. According to Miller’s government sources, this unnamed scientist has told them every thing the U.S. government would like you to hear. Saddam did have WMDS, he has said. Saddam was tight with al Qaeda, he claims. And oh yes, Saddam sent the WMDs off to Syria (translation: Don’t expect that we’ll actually find them). These statements may be perfectly accurate. On the other hand, they may be a pile of pure cant—and they are currently being bruited wherever Admin story lines are sold.

Miller doesn’t know if these claims are true. She doesn’t know the scientist’s name—or if the scientist is really a scientist. Beyond that, she doesn’t know what “precursors” the government found (if any) or if these materials have some innocent use. “Give Miller kudos for her scoop,” Shafer writes. Sorry. In an age that is driven by pure propaganda, we plan to hold off for a while.

THE EMPEROR’S NEW BUDGET PLAN: How long will pundits wait before noting an obvious fact—the fact that Bush is pushing a budget agenda that flies in the face of the program he ran on? In Campaign 2000, Candidate Bush repeatedly swore that he had counted out every last penny. According to his thoughtful calculations, we could afford a $1.3 trillion tax cut (2002-2010) without having to spend any Social Security revenues. We all heard it, again and again—Bush wouldn’t spend any SS dough. Like all the candidates in that election, he presented this as a point of Big Principle.

In 2001, Bush got his big tax cut—the one he’d so carefully budgeted for. But since then, budget realities have massively changed. We’re now spending massive chunks of Soc Sec cash to cover our annual budget expenses—exactly what Bush said we wouldn’t have to do. But despite that, Bush is proposing more tax cuts—cuts which have almost nothing to do with “jump-starting” the sluggish economy. Whatever one thinks of these budget proposals, they seem to have almost nothing to do with the program on which this man ran.

But major scribes—even those opposing his proposals—refuse to see the emperor’s new plan. In Monday’s WashPost lead editorial, the eds politely noted, for the ten millionth time, that Bush’s cuts won’t provide short-term stimulus:

THE POST: Mr. Bush talked a lot in the Rose Garden [last week] about the need for tax cuts “right away,” to “do it now,” for “immediate tax relief.” But if the point is to stimulate the economy, his package isn’t particularly well crafted to do that. Just a sliver of the proposed $726 billion in tax cuts—5.5 percent—would take effect this fiscal year, and only one-fifth would occur by the end of fiscal 2004.
But why must we keep pretending that Bush isn’t aware of these obvious facts? And why must we pretend that absurd presentations actually do make some sense? Bush says we must “do it now”—but most of his cuts don’t take place for years. Why must our poobahs politely pretend that they can’t see this emperor’s problem?

Years ago, in a fabled kingdom, editorial writers avoided seeing a notable flaw in an emperor’s clothes. Bush mocks the budget program he ran on. Why won’t timorous editors simply say so, and ask this great man why he changed?