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WHO IS LARRY WILKERSON? Why did he let that report proceed? Someone forgot to ask: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2009

A Requisite Village Script: Groan. Last Saturday, speaking with our entire staff, we discussed Newt Gingrich’s Friday appearance before the House Energy Committee. We mentioned a strange new Village Script. It has become Village Law, we observed. For some reason, Villagers know they must refer to Gingrich as a “man of ideas.”

Newt must be praised as a man of ideas, much as McCain had to be a straight-talker. And sure enough! One day later, Walter Issaacson appeared on the CNN show, GPS. At one point, he produced this groaning exchange with his host, Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA (4/26/09): So, who would be the most interesting figures in the Republican Party today?

ISAACSON: I think Newt Gingrich has a lot of great ideas. I'm from Louisiana, and I'm a very big fan of Bobby Jindal, who I think is a smart guy. I’m thinking—he needs a new speech-writer for that speech he gave after the State of the Union. But he's a decent guy.

I think you're going to look for people with new ideas.

Please come to Aspen! It’s truly amazing—the way these Official Village Hacks memorize, and recite, Standard Scripts. (We’ve presented Isaacson’s jest about Jindal’s speech-writer as best we can. The published transcript is clearly inaccurate.)

Newt has a lot of great ideas! Doesn’t that make you wonder what Isaacson might think about low-income schools?

See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/24/09. He memorized that script too.

Watching them fawn: We think of Zakaria as someone who is relatively original in his thinking. But here’s the way he pandered and fawned in dragging out yesterday’s panel:

ZAKARIA: As I was thinking about the smartest people I could gather to talk about the first stage of Barack Obama’s presidency, I thought of that wonderful quotation from Oscar Wilde: “Any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.”

So today, I'll be talking with a panel of geniuses. Each of them has books and accomplishments too numerous to mention. I'll talk about a few. The others will be on the screen.

Who comprised this panel of geniuses? People! Who else? Peggy Noonan, Jon Meacham and Isaacson!

Soon, Meacham was showing that he can fawn as shamelessly as all the others:

ZAKARIA: Jon Meacham, fresh from the Pulitzer Prize, do you feel that you have any special insights into the first 100 days of Barack Obama?

MEACHAM: I spend most of my time carrying Walter's sedan chair—

(Laughter from panel)

So, that's—I've got to get shoulder pads for that.

You might want your knee pads too, we quipped, channeling Ana Marie Coulter-Cox.
Increasingly, we see Rachel Maddow as a soul-mate to these keister-kissing, insider-y hacks. If you find that thought intolerable, you might want to stop reading here.

WHO IS LARRY WILKERSON: Groan. This wouldn’t have been our first choice for a topic. But the conduct was so remarkably odd it nominates itself for review.

Last Wednesday (April 22), the Senate confirmed Tammy Duckworth as an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The confirmation vote had originally been scheduled for April 2—but North Carolina Senator Richard Burr asked for, and received, a delay, saying that Duckworth had failed to complete standard Senate paperwork. No one seemed to dispute this claim. For details, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/15/09.

On April 7, Burr said his questions had been resolved. “I will support her,” he told a group of editors at the (Raleigh) News and Observer.

Fifteen days later, on April 22, the confirmation vote occurred. Two nights after that, Rachel Maddow offered this remarkably strange report:

MADDOW (4/24/09): It’s official. After more than eleven weeks in limbo, Tammy Duckworth is the new assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She was sworn in at a small private ceremony late this afternoon. She will start work on Monday.

Tammy Duckworth is an Iraq war veteran whose helicopter was shot down there. She’s a double amputee. She gained national recognition for her work as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

But apparently that was not enough to impress North Carolina senator Richard Burr. Remember him? The guy who told his wife to make a one-family bank run on the local ATM when the banking crisis got bad last fall? And the guy who was blocking Tammy Duckworth’s confirmation, for reasons that Senator Burr still has not disclosed.

Well, Senator Burr must have had a change of heart. Because when the senate conformed Major Duckworth this week, it was by a unanimous vote. I’m still mystified as to what happened before, Senator Burr. But congratulations to the new assistant secretary and congratulations to all the veterans groups who supported Ms. Duckworth’s nomination.

This represented the sixth separate time Maddow has presented some variant of this report, claiming she has no idea why Burr delayed the confirmation vote. In this case, she extended the offense, expressing surprise at Burr’s “change of heart”—a “change of heart” which had been announced, with explanation, more than two weeks earlier.

In fact, the reason for the delay in the confirmation vote had been clearly reported in real time. And Burr’s support for Duckworth’s confirmation had been announced April 7. But so what? Last Friday night, Maddow was “still mystified” about the reasons for the delay. And she seemed to be surprised by Burr’s favorable vote.

In our view, there are two ways to interpret this strange report. Neither is especially cheering:

Two possibilities: Either Maddow and her staff are unable to research even the simplest matter. Or Maddow was deliberately deceiving you again.

Again, we strongly suggest that you read our original report on this (minor) matter. There was nothing “mystifying” about the delay in the vote. Nor should there have been any surprise about the way Burr voted last week. But so what? Last Friday, Maddow was still professing her mystification—and turning a three-week confirmation delay into a misleading eleven.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have a rather persistent reaction to this sort of conduct. We don’t like turning on our “TV machine” and being lied to by smiling hacks who kiss the keisters of mainstream journalists and give succor to various Bush Admin figures. We started this site in 1998 because we were already sick of that sort of misconduct. We still don’t like that sort of misconduct—even when it’s served to us by someone who claims to be on our side.

Maddow was “still mystified” by what occurred? If that was anything but an outright lie, she really ought to take her incompetent self off the air.

This silly episode has the marks of a vendetta (see below)—the type of conduct staged by someone who isn’t quite ready to serve the public. But on last Friday’s program, Maddow’s interview with Lawrence Wilkerson was, in our view, much worse.

Who the heck is Larry Wilkerson? As Maddow explained in her introduction, he was “chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005.” As such, he played a key role in the way the United States went to war in Iraq. In particular, Wilkerson was in charge of the preparation of Powell’s UN presentation in February 2003—the presentation which sealed elite opinion in favor of war.

In January 2006, the Washington Post’s Richard Leiby interviewed Wilkerson about that fateful, still-unexplained episode. In response, Wilkerson authored a masterful display of standard keister-covering:

LEIBY (1/19/06): Wilkerson, as it turned out, became the point man for making the case for preemptive war against [Saddam] Hussein. He put together the task force that, during a week at CIA headquarters, vetted all the intelligence reports used for Powell's famous pro-war presentation in February 2003 to the Security Council, where he brandished a vial of fake anthrax, played excerpts of intercepted Iraqi military chatter, and warned of mobile bioweapon "factories" and other doomsday machines, none of which actually existed.

How did it happen?

"Larry thought they had cleaned out the obvious garbage, but it turned out there was more," says James A. Kelly, a former assistant secretary of state who's known Wilkerson for 20 years. “Larry felt that he let down the secretary, but the job was so big in cleaning out the misinformation.”

Wilkerson won't say outright that he and Powell were deliberately snowed by intelligence reports tailored to fit a political push for war, but he has edged closer to that view, noting, "I've begun to wonder.” It turns out that the administration relied on fabricators' claims about Hussein's illusory WMD programs and, in one case, an al Qaeda suspect whom the CIA turned over to alleged torturers in Egypt.

"I kick myself in the ass," Wilkerson says. "How did we ever get to that place?"

The speech tarnished Powell's gold-plated reputation, but he has never publicly pointed a finger at then-CIA Director George Tenet or the White House.

"Nothing was spun to me," Powell told David Frost in a BBC television interview last month. "What really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced up to us."

Why didn't the doubts reach Powell? Perhaps because then he wouldn't have given the speech at all?
"That's right," Wilkerson says, shooting a hard, solemn stare across the restaurant table. "That's right."

He also says, "I am prepared to entertain the idea that they used him."

What a pile of pluperfect crap! According to Wilkerson, he and Powell were babes in the woods, thumb-sucking innocents who managed to get themselves “snowed” and “used” by others. Powell had even complained to David Frost about the fact that those in the know never came to him with the truth: “What really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced up to us."

No one came to Powell with the facts! Quite correctly, Tim Russert was ridiculed when he made a similar, keister-covering statement to Bill Moyers. And yet, when Wilkerson grandly presented himself on our “progressive” news program last Friday, he received no questions of any kind about this crucial episode. You see, he was willing to call Dick Cheney names! For that reason, he was allowed to gild his own lily and, by extension, Powell’s.

Increasingly, this seems to be the peculiar function of Maddow’s “progressive” program.

Increasingly, the Maddow Show is the program on which one faction of the Bush Admin war machine appears to repair its image while trashing the other faction. When Powell himself appeared on the program, Maddow failed to ask the world’s most obvious question: Was water-boarding discussed in your presence? In accord with the dictates of Hard Village Law, Powell was allowed to escape without being asked. Last week, Maddow hosted both Wilkerson and Philip Zelikow, former top aide to Condoleezza Rice. But neither man was asked about the war-making role played by his principal. Each was allowed to present himself, and thereby his principal, as a high-minded opponent of the offenses committed by other Bush factions.

What’s the truth about the roles played by Wilkerson, Zelikow, Powell, Rice? Here at THE HOWLER, we aren’t really sure. You see, we waste our time watching programs like Maddow’s—programs in which one part of the Bush Admin is allowed to rebuild its reputation—no questions asked—at the expense of the other.

Larry Wilkerson played a key role in the way we went to war in Iraq. But so what? Maddow gave him a total pass, even as she handed you that crap about the Duckworth matter. The Duckworth matter was quite minor; the Wilkerson matter is a part of world history. But in each case, Maddow massively failed, in ways which have nothing to do with journalism—or with progressive values.

The segment on Duckworth was astoundingly bad. The Wilkerson session was worse.

Powell and Rice are masterful inside players, embraced by all within The Village. Last week, Maddow was kissing the keisters of Big Village Scribes in remarkably shameless ways, even as she kept letting Rice and Powell reshape their bright, shining images.

Why did Wilkerson let that report proceed? Someone forgot to ask.

V for vendetta: Why has Maddow been banging on Burr, seeming to lie in your face as she does so? Way back when, the self-adoring “TV progressive” seemed to call her shot:

MADDOW (4/3/09): A Republican senator who has never received much national notice before, who has flown mostly under the radar in his four years in the Senate, he decides that the issue on which he would like the country to become acquainted with him, the way he’s going to make a name for himself, the way he’s going to have his name known coast to coast, is by personally blocking this person, Tammy Duckworth, double-amputee Iraq war vet and nationally-respected veterans advocate, from taking a job at the V.A. The senator’s name is Richard Burr, and now, I will never, ever forget that. We will have more on that coming up.

Maddow was wearing her heart on her sleeve, letting us know how decent she is. Our advice? When someone pimps herself that way, prepare to check your wallet.