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TAKING THE LYING OUT OF IMPLYING: A Post editorial parses hard about Cheney’s ongoing conduct:


TAKING THE LYING OUT OF IMPLYING: Has Dick Cheney misled the public about Iraq and al Qaeda? Cheney’s important, and so is this topic, so you might even think that the question would matter. But in this morning’s Washington Post, the editors seem unable to care. Sadly, the paper’s lead editorial parses hard about Cheney’s troubling conduct.

The editorial discusses the 9/11 commission, which stated the obvious yesterday. “We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States,” the commission said. But what has the editors’ shorts in a wad? Principally, the editors are upset because (unnamed) “Administration foes” have allegedly used the commission’s report to—horrors!—say that Cheney’s been lying:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: [P]art of the public debate immediately focused on a single passing point that is no kind of revelation at all: “We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.” Administration foes seized on this sentence to claim that Vice President Cheney has been lying, as recently as this week, about a purported relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. The accusation is nearly as irresponsible as the Bush administration's rhetoric has been.
We don’t know who said that Cheney was “lying;” the editorial doesn’t bother to say. But the editors are quite upset at such an “irresponsible” comment. “The administration has not recently suggested that Iraq was behind Sept. 11,” they assert. “Nor, in fact, did the commission yesterday contradict what Mr. Cheney actually said...earlier this week: that there were ‘long-established ties’ between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”

But if you read what Cheney “actually said,” the Post’s assertions are less than convincing. Did Cheney “suggest that Iraq was behind Sept. 11?” The editors insist that he didn’t. We don’t know what makes them so adamant:

CHENEY (6/14/04): Saddam Hussein was in power, overseeing one of the bloodiest regimes of the 20th century. He had started two wars—produced and used weapons of mass destruction against Iran and the Kurds, and was in repeated violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. He was a patron of terrorism—paying $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers in Israel, and providing safe haven and support for such terrorist groups as Abu Nidal and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He had long established ties with Al Qaeda.
If you parse carefully, it’s quite clear; plainly, Cheney didn’t say that Iraq was behind 9/11. But did he “suggest” it with this remark? Maybe it all depends on what the meaning of “suggest” is! In our view, as long as Cheney keeps making such comments, many Americans will keep believing that Saddam was “tied” to 9/11. Indeed, the editors seem to think this too. They say so, right in their editorial:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: The trouble for the administration is that Mr. Cheney has not always been careful to distinguish between Iraqi ties to al Qaeda and supposed support for the attacks...His recent comments not only overstate what now appear to be rather tentative ties between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, but they probably help to keep alive in the minds of many Americans a link between Iraq and the attacks that not even Mr. Cheney still alleges.
Exactly! In other words, given the way public discourse works, Cheney’s comments keep leading American citizens to think various things he knows to be false. Indeed, at the end of this morning’s piece, the eds take this point even farther:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: If the U.S. intelligence community now believes that the relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein consisted of no more than what the commission reports, Mr. Cheney ought not be implying more.
Has Cheney been “implying” that Saddam was hooked to 9/11? No, that ain’t what the editors say. But he has been “implying” thing that are bogus, the editors say, and they politely say that he should stop.

But readers, where’s the outrage? Yep, the eds are really slicing it thin in this timid editorial. Cheney has been “implying” things that are false, they say. And they say his remarks make people think that Saddam was behind 9/11. But don’t worry—he hasn’t “suggested” this, they say; it’s just what people draw from his comments! Meanwhile, at whom do the nabobs principally rail? They’re upset with those (unnamed) people who dare to say that Cheney’s been “lying.” He hasn’t been lying at all, the eds say. Taking the “lying” out of “implying,” they insist he just hasn’t been “careful.”

We agree with the eds on one basic point—people should be judicious with the L-word. But Cheney’s a smart and a careful man. He knows how public discourse works. Has he simply been “careless” when he makes his misleading statements? The notion is simply absurd on its face—but the eds are too timid to say so. Quite frankly, they don’t seem to care.

THE LOGIC OF LINKS, TIES AND CONTACTS: As this topic is spun this week, a great deal of confusion is going to turn on the logic of “links,” “ties” and “contacts.” Those three little words can be quite useful in the hands of a qualified sophist—and plenty of sophists will be at work as this topic is mangled this week.

What is the logic of “links,” ties” and “contacts?” Consider Walter Pincus’ (accurate) account of the commission’s finding in this morning’s Post:

PINCUS: President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials have often asserted that there were extensive ties between Hussein's government and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network; earlier this year, Cheney said evidence of a link was “overwhelming.”

But the report of the commission's staff, based on its access to all relevant classified information, said that there had been contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda but no cooperation. In yesterday’s hearing of the panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, a senior FBI official and a senior CIA analyst concurred with the finding.

In Pincus’ construction, there were “contacts,” but no “cooperation.” But be careful! “Contacts” can be made to sound like something it isn’t. For example, here’s the way Brit Hume headlined this story at the start of last night’s Special Report:
HUME: The 9/11 Commission says the terrorists originally planned a much larger attack. The commission also documents al Qaeda-Iraqi contacts.
Wow! They actually “documented contacts!” That construction can sound like something it’s not. In fact, here’s what Major Garrett actually said when Hume finally got around to reporting this topic, some fourteen minutes into his program:
GARRETT: As for al Qaeda deals with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the commission says bin Laden began focusing on attacking the U.S. in 1992 and made overtures to Iraq from his base in Sudan in 1994.

COMMISSION STAFF MEMBER (videotape): A senior intelligence, Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, and finally met with bin Laden in 1994. At that time, bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded

GARRETT: The commission said Iraq and al Qaeda may have kept in contact when bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996. But nothing developed. And the commission established no link between Saddam and al Qaeda terror.

That report is very different from what Hume’s lead-in may have “suggested” or “implied.”

Readers, just watch and see the way these three words are used to confuse the public discussion. You will hear, again and again, about the “contacts” (morphed into “links” and “ties”) between Iraq and al Qaeda. Of course, there were “contacts” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union all through the 40-year Cold War—and those “contacts” could be referred to as “links” if you wish. But is there actually any sign that al Qaeda ever cooperated with Iraq in any way? Be on the lookout for three little words as this discussion is endlessly bungled.

How should this topic be reported? Here are three questions your press corps should distinguish and answer:

1) Did Iraq play a role in 9/11?
2) Did Iraq cooperate with al Qaeda in any attack on the US?
3) Did Iraq ever cooperate with al Qaeda in any attack in the Middle East?
Other specific questions exist. But get ready to see a gummed-up discussion, especially if you’re watching TV. America’s grinning TV entertainers have very few logical skills and very little interest in using them. “Links,” “ties” and “contacts” will be widely spun. When they’re placed in skillful hands, these words sound like something they’re not.

From the annals of Hannity triumphs

PRESSING CONCERN: Sean Hannity ate Bill Press for lunch last night—and the truth is, he should have. People shouldn’t use the L-word in the way Press did. Sean was right to chop him down. We like Press, but he has to do better. With Nexis slow to post Fox’s transcripts again, we’ll do more with this topic tomorrow.

ALSO TOMORROW: The story we’ve been trying to get to for more than a month! Green spins Gore in the Atlantic! Yes, we’re tired of Gore Lore too. But Green engages in such total clowning that he deserves a review.