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Caveat lector

MEET THE POTEMKIN PRESS! Bowden asked about WMDs. Russert’s gang knew not to answer:

MONDAY, JUNE 2, 2003

CHAIT CHAT (PART 1): Jonathan Chait’s cover piece in last week’s New Republic has many things to recommend it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/03). But let’s begin with that Culture of Lying. TNR’s cover screams “HE’S STILL LYING,” and Chait isn’t kidding around on that point. “Bush’s Most Dishonest Tax Cut Yet,” says the cover. Soon, we get a groaning example of the culture which has grown around Bush:

CHAIT: Bush’s primary justification for his tax cut is…creating jobs, which he calls the plan’s “whole purpose.” Speaking in Ohio last month, Bush asserted, “The package needs to be robust so that we can create more than a million new jobs by the end of 2004. That’s not my projection. That’s the projection of a lot of smart economists who’ve analyzed the package.”
“That’s not my projection,” Bush says. It’s “the projection of a lot of smart economists.” But doh! “In fact, the calculation comes from his own Council of Economic Advisers,” Chait notes. More than a million new jobs from the tax cut? Right or wrong, that’s the president’s projection. But as they listen to Bush’s statement, decent Americans, trusting their president, are in fact being played once again.

It’s embarrassing to sift through such ham-handed groaners, in which a president is so disingenuous. But a Culture of Lying—allowed by the press—has now spread all around Bush. Despite the headlines on TNR’s cover, the lying isn’t Chait’s primary point. But his article spills with Grade A groaners. How disingenuous will Bush be? Here comes another prime example:

CHAIT: Bush told a California rally earlier this month, “[Congress] agreed to [cut taxes in 2001]. The problem is that they weren’t going to let you keep your own money for three, five, or seven years from now.” He makes it sound like an unwelcome scheme, probably cooked up by Tom Daschle. In fact, Bush’s original 2001 plan had phase-ins, and Congress—with the administration’s approval—extended the phase-ins in order to include the deepest possible tax cuts while still appearing to comply with its budget.
As Chait has noted before, Bush’s proposals have spilled with phase-ins and sunset clauses. But the man just loves to fool the rubes, so he pretends that his rivals did it.

There are many virtues to Chait’s report; we’ll examine different aspects of the piece all week. But on our first reading, we were struck by the groaners that litter the article. Some of the fakery is quite important. Other examples—like those above—simply bespeak a growing culture in which dissembling has become the rule. As president, Bush dissembles much, much more than he ever did as a candidate. But pols tend to lie when they know it’s allowed, and the press has permitted this nonsense from Bush. For that reason, Bush can say that what he did was actually done by someone else. He can pretend that clauses which he put in bills are the work of vile men of the Congress.

Where has all this nonsense come from? In Campaign 2000, the press corps created a pleasing script (they “typecast” a “drama,” said the Post’s E. R. Shipp). According to the press corps’ script, Gore was a liar, just like Bill Clinton—so Bush’s dissembling had to be ignored. The corps made up lies and pretended Gore said them; meanwhile, Bush’s camp slowly learned they could say whatever they liked. Now Americans are handed a string of prime groaners, and the press corps politely pretends not to notice. Tomorrow we examine more Grade A nonsense—important nonsense that drives our debates.

TOMORROW: Do tax cuts increase or decrease federal revenue? It all depends on where you stand regarding that Culture of Lying.

The Daily update

DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL: Things are semi-uncool for Bush when he starts to lose the Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down). In last Sunday’s Philly Inquirer, Bowden questioned Bush’s honesty in discussing those WMDs. “I can imagine no greater breach of public trust than to mislead a country into war,” Bowden wrote. And Bowden thinks Bush may have done that:

BOWDEN: I trusted Bush, and unless something big develops on the weapons front in Iraq soon, it appears as though I was fooled by him. Perhaps he himself was taken in by his intelligence and military advisers. If so, he ought to be angry as hell because ultimately, he bears the responsibility.
We don’t necessarily agree with Bowden’s reasoning, but he’s asking obvious questions. Bowden wants to know what happened here. Indeed, what American wouldn’t?

Actually, after watching yesterday’s Meet the Press, we can think of several. Does the fog come in on little cat’s feet? So did Russert’s panel of pundits as they discussed those WMDs. David Broder did start the session by saying that the CIA “in my view has been misused by this administration.” But Russert’s pussy-footin’ panel struggled to keep themselves out of the catnip. Mark Bowden wants the truth. Others aren’t eager to help him.

For example, what about those forged documents about uranium from Niger—the documents Colin Powell touted at the UN? According to Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times (5/6), the documents in question “had been forged so amateurishly that they should never have been taken seriously.” According to Kristof’s reporting, the matter had been clear since February 2002. At that time, a former ambassador—Cheney’s office had asked him to investigate—“reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.” Kristof: “The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade.” Seymour Hersh did similar reporting on this incident in the New Yorker.

Mark Bowden probably wants to know the truth about this matter. We hope he didn’t watch Meet the Press. Incredibly, this was the panel’s entire discussion of that seminal topic:

RUSSERT: On January 24th, the president’s State of the Union message, he said that “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently bought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” and that now has been proven not to be accurate, that the documents were forged. How does that find its way into a presidential speech?

WILLIAM SAFIRE: That was stupid, and somebody goofed. But that doesn’t derogate the whole thing.

“Somebody goofed,” Safire explained. And that was the total discussion! Russert simply changed the subject, moving on to the next question.

At times, the group seemed to be on Planet La-La. “Nobody ever thought [Saddam] had nuclear arms,” Robert Novak said at one point. And no one contradicted the statement—although Cheney and Rice had both warned the public about those Iraqi nukes. Earlier, Novak served another howler, saying that the Admin never discussed Iraqi WMDs until “Secretary Powell talked the president into going to the U.N.” No one on the panel demurred, although the statement is complete, screaming nonsense. (Bush warned about Iraqi WMDs at a 10/11/01 press conference. Rice followed suit four days later.) Meanwhile, what do you suppose Broder said when Safire posed this tangy question?

BRODER: I believed the rationale that our government put out. I believed when they said that there are these weapons of mass destruction and we have proof that they exist…What gave this urgency, what gave it the plausibility to go ahead and act on our own against Saddam Hussein was the assertion that he had amassed these weapons of mass destruction.

SAFIRE: But it was a truthful assertion. Nobody—you’re not suggesting that he lied about it?

How did Broder answer? He didn’t—Russert cut the question off, moving to the Potemkin “discussion” about that Niger document.

No, the panel had little time for the questions which trouble Mark Bowden. But they did have oodles of time for one question. They had plenty of time to clown around, asking if Bill Clinton wants to seek a third term. Read through this embarrassing transcript, and marvel at the time spent on this nonsense. This Sunday, out in America, Mark Bowden had serious questions. But at Meet the Press, they knew their roles. They clowned around about Bill Clinton—and ran from important discussion.

MILLIONAIRE PUNDIT VALUES: And, of course, there’s always time for this required exchange:

RUSSERT: There are indications that some of the soldiers in Iraq, because of their low income, will not be beneficiaries of this tax cut. Would that be acceptable to you?

NOVAK: To me, it’s quite obvious that people who pay the taxes should get the tax cuts. People like you, for example, who get so much income, should get the tax cuts.

SAFIRE: And you. And you.

AL HUNT: All of us here, let’s be honest.

Can these harlequins ever discuss the budget without explaining how rich they all are? The buffoonism here is simply endless—unlike that clipped “discussion” on the topic which Mark Bowden raised.