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Daily Howler: The rubber met the road with Spitzer. First, though, the church of Saint Powell
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A TALE OF TWO INTERVIEWS! The rubber met the road with Spitzer. First, though, the church of Saint Powell: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 15, 2009

Rashomon comes to the homeland: Everyone knows the standard rap about Rashomon, the Kurosawa classic. For whatever reason, Wikipedia always seems to say such thing best:

WIKIPEDIA: The film depicts the rape of a woman and the apparent murder of her husband through the widely differing accounts of four witnesses, including the rapist and, through a medium, the dead man. The stories are mutually contradictory, leaving the viewer to determine which, if any, is the truth. The story unfolds in flashback as the four characters...recount the events of one afternoon in a grove.

We know what you’re thinking—Harold and Kumar never saw things exactly the same way either. But Rashomon has become famous for what Wikipedia calls “its emphasis on the subjectivity of truth and the uncertainty of factual accuracy.” In common lore, it makes Last Year in Marienbad read like some sort of technical manual. Everyone sees events his own way, Rashomon is said to show. Somewhat ironically, no other view of this classic film ever seems to be heard.

Rashomon came to the homeland this week—in the hubbub surrounding Nancy Pelosi, to cite one major example.

In September 2002, Pelosi received a briefing from the CIA along with her Republican colleague, Porter Goss. Today, the solons offer “widely differing accounts” of what the CIA said. And it isn’t just Pelosi and Goss! Senators Bob Graham (D) and Richard Shelby (R) were briefed together on September 27, 2002—about three weeks after Pelosi and Goss. In this morning’s New York Times, they present vastly different accounts of what occurred at that session.

But then, Rashomon is everywhere now. This morning, the Washington Post and the New York Times played some Rashomon too, concerning yesterday’s news conference. Wow! “Pelosi Says CIA Misled Congress on Methods!” At least, that’s what the Washington Post saw and heard at yesterday’s press event. They record this striking claim in a headline; because Pelosi’s claim was so striking, they banner the story across page one, with a news report and a separate analysis. But the Times seems to have been at a different event. Their story runs deep inside the paper, with no mention of any such claim by Pelosi. No variant of “mislead” or “lie” appears in Carl Hulse’s report.

Last night, on Fox, Pelosi had lied. (Bill O’Reilly: “I think that most people understand that Ms. Pelosi is not telling the truth at this point.”) On most MSNBC programs, it was clear she was telling the truth.

Meanwhile, in this morning’s Post, Dana Milbank presents his ususal nonsense concerning Pelosi’s “body language.” For unknown reasons, the gentleman thinks the way you walk is more important than what you say. We read his piece, then watched the tape at C-Span. (To watch it, click here.) We emerged with a furrowed brow—and a question: What kind of melted videotape is playing inside this big nut’s head? As we’ve told you: It’s often amazing to compare Milbank’s “body language” tales with tape of what actually happened.

But then, a lot of strikingly different tales float through the culture today. We’ll admit it. We’re still surprised to see major liberals churning pure bull-roar this way:

BENEN (5/14/09): In general, I find the interest in what Pelosi knew and when to be something of a distraction. In fact, the Republicans' criticism of the Speaker needs a little work. The first GOP line is, "The Bush administration didn't torture; everything was legal; and even having this discussion is outrageous." The second GOP line is, "We demand to know what Pelosi knew about the Bush administration's torture policies."

The arguments don't quite add up.

But of course, Benen’s “second GOP line” isn’t the GOP line at all! As recently as a few years ago, we still thought that only mainstream journalists and pseudo-con hacks were willing to con us so baldly and dumbly. Call us naive: We’ve been surprised to see pseudo-libs standing in line to play us this way too.

No, that isn’t the GOP line. Is it even imaginable that Benen thought otherwise? But Rachel Maddow pimped the same pap on her program last night, grinning out at us as she did. Question: Do they really have to hire Rhodes Scholars to churn pure pap like that?

At present, we folk have many different tales clanging around inside our heads. Many hacks seem eager to help Rashomon come to the homeland.

A TALE OF TWO INTERVIEWS: Rachel Maddow’s program is vastly superior to its clownish companion show, Countdown. In fact, the program sometimes shows boatloads of promise, although we’ll wait to be shown.

But consider the interview Maddow did Tuesday night with Eliot Spitzer, former attorney general and governor of New York. Spitzer went after AIG in 2004, long before the gruesome concern gained fame in the Wall Street crash.

Uh-oh! As Naomi Klein had done one week earlier, Spitzer painted an ugly picture of ongoing financial scam. Maddow doesn’t seem to have much to offer in interviews on these complex subjects; her principal approach is to furrow her brow as a sign of her deep profound thoughtfulness. In fairness, many people—including us—would be challenged by these difficult topics. At any rate, to watch Spitzer’s segment, you know what to do: Just click here.

(Sorry. The transcript of Tuesday night’s show still hasn’t been posted.)

To Maddow’s credit, she did have Spitzer on her show—and he painted a troubling picture of private debt being dumped on the public. (As Klein had done, using different lingo.) Before long, the feisty fellow even brought the conversation “close to home.”

The following passage may be unclear—the function of the New York Fed is not widely understood, including by us. But good golly!Just look where Spitzer went! He went right to Jeffrey Immelt, MSNBC overlord:

SPITZER (5/12/09): I would like to see a very serious inquiry into the structure of the Fed and New York Fed. Not to politicize it—the last thing you want is to politicize it. But there are supposed to be public voices on the board of the New York Fed—

The Fed is sort of an odd entity, a quasi- governmental, quasi- private entity, chosen—its board members chosen partly by the board of governors of the Fed in Washington, partly by the banks that control the Fed. The public representative—I’m not going to try to strike too close to home here. The public representative chosen by the banks, public—Jeff Immelt, the chairman of GE—

MADDOW: I’ve heard of him!

SPITZER: Also the chairman of this company!


SPITZER: But wait a minute! He is the public voice, the chairman of GE, whose the bonds are being guaranteed by the Fed, saving that company huge sums of money. Where is the real public voice to say, “Why are we guaranteeing these bonds, at what cost to competition? What is being demanded in return?”

No wonder everyone hated this guy! Right there on the GE-owned channel, Spitzer challenged cozy conduct involving the Fed and Immelt, GE’s current chairman. Why is GE getting handed all that cash, the unpleasant gentleman wondered.

Let’s be candid. During this segment, Maddow showed little sign of understanding the role of the Fed or the New York Fed—any more than we would have. In part for that reason, Spitzer’s feisty conversation was probably murky for most viewers, including for us. But let’s dream a while: If Maddow would maybe stop writing her book; if she’d maybe stop taping her radio show; if she’d maybe start using her full work-day to prepare herself for her TV program, a person could imagine the Maddow Show becoming a real progressive engine—a serious source of real news.

Or would she ever betray her owners with more conversations like this? We’ll wait to be shown. Then again, would Bill Wolff permit it? More on his world next week.

(What was Spitzer talking about? You won’t find out by reading newspapers. For a quick overview, just click here.)

Last week, Klein told Maddow that we’re witnessing the biggest heist in monetary history. This week, Spitzer raised similar claims at all points of his discussion. These claims are hugely consequential (although not for rich cable anchors, of course). Watching Maddow interview Spitzer and Klein, you could imagine a serious, smart news program emerging on cable. (Some joking would be allowed.) On the other hand, Tuesday’s show included Maddow’s latest interview with Lawrence Wilkerson, a man best known for his former seat at the right hand of Washington’s God. (To watch the session, click here.)

As we’ve noted before, Wilkerson sat for many years at the right hand of Colin Powell, one of many compromised figures from the Bush Administration—unless you’re at an insider party, in which case Powell’s the son of a living God, delivered to us here on earth. Wilkerson sat at the right hand of Powell—even as Powell’s shaky conduct helped lead us to war with Iraq. Must we review this matter again? Wilkerson was the force behind Powell’s gruesome UN presentation, the Post’s Richard Leiby reported. Let’s recall the boo-hooing, thousand-yard stares as Wilkerson “explained” how that happened:

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.”

Poor guy! For ourselves, we wouldn’t prejudge Wilkerson’s conduct—although explanations of this type strike us as less than convincing. But it’s quite amazing that Wilkerson can parade about on “progressive” news shows, without a single question asked about the role he himself played in our nation’s recent disasters. But this formula plainly obtains on Maddow. Wilkerson made his fourth appearance of the year Tuesday night, again without a question asked about his own bollixed affairs.

Why is Wilkerson pandered to so? Presumably, because he’s willing to come on the Maddow Show and trash the even viler Cheney! Unfortunately, he tends to do so in the dumbest possible ways, though Maddow doesn’t much seem to care.

Tuesday’s interview with Wilkerson struck us as remarkably dumb. In our view, every point the gentleman made was either strikingly contentious (especially from someone in his position) or just flat-out dumb. Before this Tuesday night, for example, did you know that al Qaeda doesn’t even want to stage an attack inside the US? Hasn’t wanted to do that for years? But Wilkerson was also eager to move to the realm of brainless, rube-pleasing insult. He pleased the demo with insults here—but this whole exchange was inane:

MADDOW: Given that [Cheney] was so reluctant to talk to the press while he was vice president and he was sort of proudly disdainful of public opinion, which I always thought was sort of one of the more interesting things about him, whether or not you think it’s admirable: What do you make of his decision just to be talking so much right now? Is this an attempt to mount a public defense? Is this about the fear of being prosecuted?

WILKERSON: He’s a fearful man, as I’ve said before. And that very well could be the case. He looks like Batman without Bruce Wayne’s principles or maybe more accurately, the Joker with a straight face. I don’t know why, though, people give him so much air time.

This is the man who, after all, said we know with absolutely certainty Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. We know he has an active nuclear program. We know he has contacts with al Qaeda. This is the man who has told more lies from a public pulpit than almost anyone else I know. Why does the media give him so much air time?

Without a doubt, Cheney said many inaccurate things starting in 2002. Of course, it was Wilkerson’s man who went to the UN and made similar statements, based upon utterly ludicrous “evidence,” thereby stampeding elite opinion in the upper-end press corps. Beyond that, Wilkerson was puzzled: Why does Cheney get so much air time? At present, the answer is blindingly obvious—though we might ask a similar question about the air time Wilkerson gets on this “progressive” news program. And of course, Wilkerson’s time is never cluttered with unpleasant questions about his own bungles. (We won’t use his own word: “lies.”) For that reason, we had to laugh when Maddow performed this typical bit of self-pimping:

MADDOW (continuing directly): I would like to have him on this show, because I would like to ask him the questions that I think a prosecutor should ask him, personally. So if I could give him air time, I have to tell you, I would. But he won’t say yes to our interview requests—yet.

WILKERSON: Oh, I’d love to watch that show!


MADDOW: So would I. Maybe you could come here and help me out if it was going to happen.

Maddow growled about the tough questions she’d ask—even as she failed to ask basic questions of the guy who was sitting right there! Even after she failed to ask the world’s most obvious question when Powell himself appeared. (Was water-boarding discussed in your presence? She simply refused to ask him.) Finally, the pair of pals cemented their friendship with a bit of world-class nonsense. Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo, Maddow’s heartbroken house-guest now said:

WILKERSON: [Cheney’s] attack on Colin Powell was something that stunned me. I didn’t think that he would go that far. He is destroying what’s left of the Republican Party. I think the latest polls show we’re down to 21 percent of Americans identifying as Republicans. I suspect that if Cheney continues, it will be down in the low teens. He’s destroying the party! There needs to be someone with some, as we say in the Army, some intestinal fortitude, some guts, who steps forward and tells this man to go home and shut up.

MADDOW: On that point of his recent comments attacking Colin Powell, he said on CBS on Sunday he would rather have Rush Limbaugh in the Republican Party than Colin Powell. I know you don’t still work with General Powell. But beyond being shocked, do you think that there’s any appropriate response? Do you think he should be asked for an apology?

How dare Cheney fail to love Powell? Of course, Powell endorsed Obama in 2008—and we all remember how sweetly we Dems reacted when senators Miller and Lieberman did that in the other direction. But Maddow was so shocked by Cheney’s misconduct that she asked her weeping guest if he should be asked to apologize! Apologize! For not loving Powell! In response, Wilkerson offered the type of pseudo-analysis liberals used to reject:

WILKERSON (continuing directly): Two tours in Vietnam, 35-plus years service to his country. Five deferments for Dick Cheney, never served a day in the military, said he had other priorities. I don’t even think there’s a comparison.

MADDOW: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief-of-staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell—thank you so much for your time tonight, sir.

Cheney never served a day? Neither did Clinton, or Howard Dean. Neither did Obama—or Biden! (Biden received five deferments too.) But in our view, this was the perfect end to an interview which was a gong-show right from the start.

Cheney’s track record is very poor—but absent good answers to basic questions, Wilkerson makes a rather strange critic. It’s clear now that Maddow won’t ask those questions—that she seems involved, with the media’s swells, in the re-exaltation of Powell. But then, Maddow describes herself a a “national security liberal”—as someone who is “cripplingly patriotic.” (Translation: More patriotic than other liberals.) But then, this young woman has more ways to praise herself, at others’ expense, than anybody we can remember. It’s found quite extensively in her profiles, as we’ll note in future weeks.

We saw two possible Maddow Shows in Tuesday’s dueling sessions. Maddow didn’t bring a lot to her session with Spitzer, which dealt with topics are quite hard. But to her vast credit, she did have him on, even as Olbermann ran his home movies of Miss California prancing around. But her Wilkerson session was just plain dumb—and her love for this guest is just odd. (Although we can guess where it may lead. We’ll let you know if we’re right.)

Which way will the worm be turning—as the titans at General Electric build our “progressive” “news” channel for us? The answer may lie in the world of Bill Wolff! We’ll journey to that world next week.