THURSDAY, JUNE 17, 2004
TAKING THE LYING OUT OF IMPLYING: Has Dick Cheney misled the public about Iraq and al Qaeda? Cheneys important, and so is this topic, so you might even think that the question would matter. But in this mornings Washington Post, the editors seem unable to care. Sadly, the papers lead editorial parses hard about Cheneys 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 commissions report tohorrors!say that Cheneys 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 dont know who said that Cheney was lying; the editorial doesnt 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 Husseins Iraq.
But if you read what Cheney actually said, the Posts assertions are less than convincing. Did Cheney suggest that Iraq was behind Sept. 11? The editors insist that he didnt. We dont 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 warsproduced 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 terrorismpaying $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, its quite clear; plainly, Cheney didnt 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, Cheneys comments keep leading American citizens to think various things he knows to be false. Indeed, at the end of this mornings 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 aint 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, wheres 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 dont worryhe hasnt suggested this, they say; its just what people draw from his comments! Meanwhile, at whom do the nabobs principally rail? Theyre upset with those (unnamed) people who dare to say that Cheneys been lying. He hasnt been lying at all, the eds say. Taking the lying out of implying, they insist he just hasnt been careful.
We agree with the eds on one basic pointpeople should be judicious with the L-word. But Cheneys 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 facebut the eds are too timid to say so. Quite frankly, they dont 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 sophistand 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 commissions finding in this mornings 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 Ladens terrorist network; earlier this year, Cheney said evidence of a link was overwhelming.In Pincus construction, there were contacts, but no cooperation. But be careful! Contacts can be made to sound like something it isnt. For example, heres the way Brit Hume headlined this story at the start of last nights 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 its not. In fact, heres 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 Husseins 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.That report is very different from what Humes 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 Warand 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?Other specific questions exist. But get ready to see a gummed-up discussion, especially if youre watching TV. Americas grinning TV entertainers have very few logical skills and very little interest in using them. Links, ties and contacts will be widely spun. When theyre placed in skillful hands, these words sound like something theyre not.
From the annals of Hannity triumphs
PRESSING CONCERN: Sean Hannity ate Bill Press for lunch last nightand the truth is, he should have. People shouldnt 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 Foxs transcripts again, well do more with this topic tomorrow.
ALSO TOMORROW: The story weve been trying to get to for more than a month! Green spins Gore in the Atlantic! Yes, were tired of Gore Lore too. But Green engages in such total clowning that he deserves a review.