WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 2004
MORE ON MR. BLUSTER: No, that meaningless glitch on Meet the Press wasnt ever worth discussing (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/18/04). But a report in yesterdays New York Daily News seemed to provide a little more info. Lloyd Grove described the way multimillionaire TV newsman Tim Russert worked himself into a lather about the event, then lowered the boom on Emily Miller, an aide to Colin Powell. According to Grove, Russert went five minutes over his ten-minute allotment with Powell, and just kept going even after Miller phoned NBC to get him to stop. Result? [A] very unhappy Lebanese television correspondent, Rania Tadieddine, who had flown all the way from Paris for her 10 minutes with Powell, had to make do with five minutes. But dont worry. When Russert calms down from his silly rants about attempted news management gone berserk, hell tell you a string of hackneyed tales about the way his Buffalo childhood taught him to just be himself.
OVERVIEW: All rightall right! We changed the title of this series! But readers, when it comes to the way they covered the run-up to Iraq, many members of the press seem to say this: Dont look back!
DONT LOOK BACK (PART 2): Its easy to see why the nations broadcasters didnt warn us about occupation of Iraq. It didnt occur to them, Jim Lehrer said; they werent smart enough to anticipate the potential problemsalthough the issue was being discussed on page one of the Post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/17/04). Besides that, its difficult to raise an issue like that when the president takes a different line. And Lehrer, of course, had his novels to write; he works on them every morning. If hed arisen each morning and studied the news, might he have been a bit more aware? Answering that would involve speculation. But you can now buy his new novel, Crows Flying. Lehrers next novel is already done, he told Don Imus last week.
At any rate, that is why you didnt hear talk about the dangers of occupying Iraq. But how about the talk you did hear? In particular, how about the memorable times when Saddams bomb-maker, Khidir Hamza, did Hardball?
Lets be sure we know who Hamza is. On March 15, Chris Matthews hosted former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, who was promoting his own (non- fiction) book about the run-up to war in Iraq. At one point, the conversation mturned to those Iraqi defectors who had driven much of the pre-war debate. Matthews noted a recent statement:
MATTHEWS: Well, heres a statement in the London Daily Telegraph by Ahmed Chalabi, one ofthe key defector, who says, We are heroes in error. He admits that he gave bad information to the Americans to justify the war so he could get his country back. And he said, As far as were concerned, weve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before it is not important.Blix said Chalabi had been cynical and dishonest. But I think whats even worse is that the U.S. accepted it, he said. Then he fingered Dr. Hamza, once a prime Hardball guest:
BLIX: But I think whats even worse is that the U.S. accepted it, that they believed these things. We knew, for instance, that Khidhir Hamza, who published a book here in the U.S. about being Saddams bombmaker, andthere are enormous errors in it. And Im sure that CIA knew that as well. But why didnt they pay more attention to what the inspectors had to say?Say what? According to Blix, Hamza had been faking his factsand the CIA knew it! Matthews next guest was David Kay, former Bush Admin weapons inspector. Chris asked Kay about Hamza too. Their mordant exchange is worth quoting:
MATTHEWS: What happened to this fellow that used to be on this show and sit in that seat all the time, months and months before we went to war, Khidhir Hamza, the bombmaker? What eversomebody told me he was back living in one of the palaces! What is this guy? Who was he?Kay chuckled knowingly as he told his host that he had been played by the bombmaker. When Hamza did Hardball, hed been talking smack! Hed yakked about Iraqs nuclear program. There was not one, Kay now said.
So readers, what happened when Hamza did Hardball? We fired up the trusty old Dell and let Nexis take it from there. We read the tracsripts from the day when he used to be on this show and sit in that seat all the time. In the process, we saw part of the way the public was conned in the run-up to war in Iraq.
Hamza became a Hardball guest on February 5, 2002. We offer the end of that evenings exchange to give you a taste of the discourse:
MATTHEWS: Does the average man or women drinking a coffee on the wayI love this sort of bourgeois image of a regular, a regular Iraqi going to work in the morning like we dois that kind of person aware that your president over there, Saddam Hussein, is building weapons of mass destruction?Eight days later, Hamza played some Hardball again, and was praised by Matthews as a great guest. Of course, our favorite Hamza does Hardball sign-off occurred on 5/6/02:
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you this. Can the United States go in and destroy his nuclear capability quickly? Or would we have to overthrow the whole government to stop him?You know what youre talking about, Matthews said. But alas! According to Blix and the mordant Kay, Hardballs host had just been conned.
Should Matthews have seen through Hamzas ruse? We dont know how to judge that. According to Blix, the CIA knew Hamza was hoaxing. Should Matthews have known it too? We cant say. For the record, Matthews later became a sceptic on pre-Iraq matters. Most of the press corps didnt.
But Americans need to understand the way they were hoaxed by these heroes in error.Sadly, youve seen little reporting about this hoax since its scope has become better known. In March, the Los Angeles Times did a mammoth report on Curveball, the colorful Chalabi hoaxer who, were now told, convinced the Admin about those alleged mobile labs. But the rest of the press corps ignored the report, and it produced very little discussion. Also in March, Leslie Stahl used a segment of 60 Minutes to disown a two-year-old story in which she got hoaxed on this same subject. But this too led to little discussion. Scribes seem to be saying, Dont look backperhaps because a backward glance shows them and their news orgs getting conned too, just as were told the Bush Admin did. Lehrer, of course, was writing his novels while all this excitement went on.
If we can believe what were now told, the Bush Admin got itself hoaxed by these hustling heroes in error. But why has this story received little play? Perhaps because journalists also got hoaxed, and dont like discussing their own gullibility. Back in March, David Kay chuckled at Matthews. From that day to this, not a word has been said about what happened when Hamza did Hardball.
VISIT HIS INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For an overview report on this general topic, see Jack Shafers April 9 Slate report. Shafer is one of very few scribes who have looked at this major topic.
TOMORROW: Why is Zarqawi still walking around? Scribes seem to say: Dont look back!
CONGENITAL DEAD-ENDER: Readers, whats up with that roadside bombthe one that had a hint of sarin? Here at THE HOWLER, we simply dont know. But we detected a whiff of congenital spin when William Safire went there this morning. The media blew off the story, Bill said. Here was part of his spin-rich rumination:
SAFIRE: You never saw such a rush to dismiss this as not news. U.N. weapons inspectors whose reputations rest on denial of Saddams W.M.D. pooh-poohed the report. It doesnt strike me as a big deal, said David Kay. Sarin Bomb Is Likely a Leftover From the 80's was USA Todays Page 10 brushoff; maybe the terrorists didnt know their shell was loaded with sarin...Hmm. Kay was once a UN inspector, but more recently served as Bushs main man. And who said the terrorists might not have known their shell was loaded? U.S. military and other government officials, according to the story Safire cited. Yesterdays report in the Washington Times provided the same information.
CONASON GETS IT RIGHT: We advise you to read Joe Conasons report on the Sunday Times profile of Ed Gillespie. The profile came straight from the Bumiller school; everyone seemed to have told Rick Lyman what a sweet guy the GOP chairman is. Meanwhile, on that same days front page, we were reading Todd Purdums profile of Kerrythe one that started with poor little Johnny boo-hooing because nobody liked him (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/18/04). As weve told you, such profiles are invitations to spin. The next time you hear some pseudo-con talker complaining about the liberal Times, remember the day they shined up Ed and made a cry-baby fool out of Johnny. Increasingly, this seems to be the way the Times now covers our White House elections.
By the way, the Times now loves to tell its readers how ecumenical those Republicans are. The sub-headline on Gillespie: A GOP chairman with friends on both sides of the aisle. Last Thursday, Bumiller wrote her latest sunny profile of Secretary Rumsfeld. Don moves easily in Democratic and Republican circles, the cheerful hagiographer said.