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Daily Howler: A comical tale about Strong Leader Bush makes us wonder about Woodward's access
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THE PRICE OF BOB’S MANSION! A comical tale about Strong Leader Bush makes us wonder about Woodward’s access: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2005

READING KARL'S TEXT: Did Karl Rove slander Dems last week—or did he simply talk about “liberals?” On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace pimped the preferred line from the start: “Well, before we get to the media coverage, let's talk about Karl Rove's remarks, where he said that liberals wanted to offer therapy and understanding to the 9/11 attackers,” he said (our emphasis). Chris couldn’t grasp why the Dems were upset. Soon he was pimping this nonsense:
WALLACE (6/27/05): Let me ask you about this, Mara, because Rove did go after in his speech liberals, not Democrats. But a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill reacted as if they personally had been attacked and insulted, and demanded that Rove apologize or be fired.
Of course, Brit couldn’t understand either. “Rove was talking specifically about and a petition drive that it mounted,” he recited. “What Karl Rove said specifically, factually was challengeable only on one point, and that is I don't remember anybody suggesting therapy.” Once again, Brit told the rubes how silly it was to suggest that King Karl had dissed Dems.

Which brings us to this morning’s question: Can’t anyone read in this press corps? Here’s the part of Rove’s speech which came under attack. We’ll ask you to do what millionaire pundits won’t. We’ll ask you to look at eight paragraphs:

ROVE (6/22/05): Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to submit a petition. I am not joking. Submitting a petition is precisely what did. It was a petition imploring the powers that be" to "use moderation and restraint in responding to the terrorist attacks against the United States."

I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the earth, a side of the Pentagon destroyed, and almost 3000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble.

Moderation and restraint is not what I felt—and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will—and to brandish steel.

MoveOn.Org, Michael Moore and Howard Dean may not have agreed with this, but the American people did.

Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia.

Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantanamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot—three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the 20th century?

Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.

Let me end where I began. Forty years ago, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a proud liberal, won the Presidency in a landslide. His party held 68 Senate seats; 295 House seats; and 33 governorships...

So how about it—was Rove only speaking of liberals, not Dems? Uh-oh! He explicitly said (incorrectly, of course) that Howard Dean opposed the war in Afghanistan—and Dean is the Dem Party chairman! He explicitly called Dick Durbin a liberal, saying that Durbin’s recent statement showed us the motives of liberals. And then he ruminated about LBJ, describing him as “a proud liberal.” In eight paragraphs, Rove conflated liberals and Dems over and over again.

So that’s what he actually said in his speech. But in your modern Washington “press corps,” millionaire pundits don’t stoop to the chore of reading an actual text. Millionaire pundits are too fine for that. Here’s part of Mara’s response to Wallace, to the question we posted above:

LIASSON: Now, in terms of the liberal and Democrat distinction, in the past, Karl Rove has never made a distinction between Democrats and liberals. When he runs against Democrats, he calls them liberals and he will do that again. Also, his overriding purpose in life is to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats. He's used the war on terror in the past, in 2002 in the midterms, against Democrats.

And I think, you know, just in terms of the substance of what he said, you know, to parse his statements and say, "Well, the therapy thing was wrong, he should have said 'some liberals'," that's giving him the kind of, you know, context and understanding that I don't think is applied to Howard Dean or Dick Durbin or other people. And it shouldn't be. Every over-the- top comment should be judged on its very own feet.

All true—but she failed to note that Rove explicitly talked about Dean and Durbin, right in the speech at question! Finally, it took Bill Kristol to point this out—and Brit was furious, betrayed:
KRISTOL: Look, what Karl Rove said, what outraged people is when he said, "Al Jazeera is broadcasting the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals." He is saying—I mean, that is a very tough and I think inaccurate and—it's just a bad statement to make.

HUME: But that’s not what—

KRISTOL: I'm sorry, that is. “No more needs to be said—”

HUME: Of course it's not—

KRISTOL: Twenty percent—20 to 25 percent of the American people identify themselves as liberals. Are they not patriots, most of them? That is what Karl Rove is saying? “No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals?”

HUME: I think it's—your indignation about that is interesting. It has very little if anything to do with what liberals were reacting to.

But as web-readers know, liberals were responding to that statement all week! Only a consummate hack like Hume could just keep denying the obvious.

So what a picture of the “press corps” we got from yesterday’s panel! Rove was plainly “talking about Democrats,” as the text of his speech makes clear. But Wallace, the host, betrayed no sign of knowing. Liasson didn’t seem to know either. The hapless Juan Williams, speaking earlier, hadn’t noticed and never would have. At long last, it fell to the conservative Kristol to mention Rove’s text—and when he did, the angry Hume insisted traitor Kristol was wrong.

Last week, we spoke about the breakdown of your country’s capacity for elementary discourse. Facts and logic have virtually disappeared from the culture of the American press elite. Today, we should mention one other problem—this gang won’t stoop to reading texts either, unless the text come straight from the White House with the White House seal of approval. Wallace, Liasson, Hume? All clowns. Only one man—conservative Kristol—seemed to have read King Karl’s text. Try to believe that slackers like this sit like royals, at the head of your discourse.

HOW THE RUBES GET FALSE FACTS: No, Dean didn’t oppose the war in Afghanistan. But then, MoveOn didn’t run that petition, either. But so what? Once again, Hume said they did—and no one offered correction.

Special report—Downing Street info!

SEQUEL—PIMPING STRONG LEADER: Plan of Attack is full of passages which show the Bush Admin “fixing the intel.” But it’s also driven by peculiar anecdotes which tilt things in Bush’s favor. For example, when the Bush Admin starts faking the intel in August 2002, it turns out that it isn’t Bush’s fault. Cheney is to blame, we’re told; according to Woodward’s implausible account, Bush didn’t ask his VP what he planned to say in that August 26 speech—the speech where Cheney “issued his own personal National Intelligence Estimate” of Hussein and stopped “just short of a declaration of war” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/23/05). And that puzzling anecdote from December 2002 takes Bush off the hook as well. In this case, Tenet is the fall guy. He assures Bush that the WMD are “a slam dunk;” Bush is portrayed as a knowing Wise Leader, warning everyone, “several times,” that they shouldn’t “stretch” the intelligence (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/25/05). Of course, Bush himself has been “stretching the intel” for months—but Woodward agrees not to notice. Chronologically, this story makes little sense—but journalists ran to recite it.

Yes, there’s a string of puzzling anecdotes in Plan of Attack which tilt the tale in Bush’s favor. But before we review the most laughable Bush-friendly passage, let’s examine the anecdote from this book which may be most telling of all. We refer to the passage in which we learn how Attack came to be written.

How did Woodward come to write Plan of Attack? For this, we return to December 2002. Woodward is attending a party:

WOODWARD (page 243): That evening, December 18, my wife, Elsa Walsh, and I attended a huge White House Christmas Party for the media hosted by the president and his wife. The Bushes stood for hours in a receiving line as a photographer snapped pictures with the first couple. When we reached the front of the line, the president remarked that my book Bush at War was selling well.

“Top of the charts,” he said, and asked, “Are you going to do another book?” He then stretched out his arms and indicated with his body language that there might be a story there, that it should be done.

“Maybe it will be called ‘More Bush at War,’” I said.

“Let’s hope not,” Laura Bush said, almost mournfully.

Instead, the new book was called Plan of Attack, and upon its release in April 2004, it too was selling well—and journalists stampeded to recite that “slam dunk” tale, the one which made Bush such a wise, honest leader. The anecdote made no chronological sense, but all good scribes ran to recite it.

Yes, scribes all knew which tale to pimp—and which tales to ignore. But for the record, when they speed-read Plan of Attack, they encountered one more Bush-friendly story—an anecdote which is laugh-out-loud funny. The events take place on Bush’s Christmas vacation in early 2003, shortly after the pleasing meeting at which Wise Leader warns his aides not to stretch. In this passage, Woodward describes a meeting between Bush and Karl Rove, in which Rove foolishly tries to get Bush to think about self-interest. Not since Chairman Mao swam that river has anyone peddled a sillier portrait of a Dear, Wise Leader in action. The story starts with hapless Rove unwittingly winging to Crawford:

WOODWARD (page 254-255): Rove was also flown to Crawford for part of the holiday. He had been quietly working on the confidential plan for Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. In fact Rover had been devoted to this project since Bush had been declared the winner in 2000. Rove believed in learning from history, and he had been doing in-depth research on how Republican presidents had campaigned for reelection...

Rove had with him a PowerPoint presentation on the strategy, themes, timetable and an overview plan to win reelection. The essence of the message for the president was: Pay attention man, it’s coming.

Foolishly, Rove believes that Wise, Dear Leader will tolerate thoughts of politics. “He found some time alone with the president to brief him at his ranch house, “Woodward writes. “Laura Bush was on the couch reading a book, pretending to pay no attention.” Opening his laptop, Rove displayed his reelection plan. According to Woodward, page one of the plan was titled PERSONA. The first three heading on the page: “Strong Leader,” “Bold Action,” “Big Ideas.”

After reviewing the three-page plan, Rove tells Bush that “he expected the campaign to be as close as it was in 2000, that the country was as narrowly divided as it was then.” Politely, Bush asks Rove when he’d like for all the politickin’ to begin. Rove “said he wanted the president to start in February or March of [2003] and begin the process of raising the money, probably $200 million,” Woodward writes. But uh-oh! A Strong Leader Boldly stared into space. He was gripped by a few Big Ideas:

WOODWARD (page 256): “We got a war coming,” Bush told Rove flatly, “and you’re just going to have to wait.” He had decided. It was the president’s version of Pay attention, man, it’s coming. War was the only option now. “The moment is coming,” he said...

“Remember the problem with your dad’s campaign,” Rove replied. “A lot of people said he got started too late.”

“I understand,” Bush said. He had been there. But this was decided and this was the way it was going to be. So the early fund-raising was out. He couldn’t campaign if he was getting ready to start war. Rove’s plan would have to be flexible. “I’ll tell you when I’m comfortable with you starting.”

Oh, nooooooooo, Rove thought. But he knew there was nothing he could do. With war coming, there was no way he was going to try to convince Bush he needed to go to a fund-raiser in Altoona or anywhere for that matter.

Woodward types a scene from a Boy’s Life bio—or from a Chinese tract. The churlish adviser appeals to self-interest—but Strong, Wise Leader, speaking flatly, refuses to entertain such crass thoughts. He knows one interest—the public interest. And the chastened adviser quickly knows what this means. He has seen this Strong Leader before.

Question: How does Woodward know that this scene occurred in the way he describes it? It seems there were three people present—George Bush, Laura Bush and Karl Rove. Which of the three did Woodward trust to provide an accurate account of the meeting? Let’s state the obvious; it’s hard to see how Woodward could know what really occurred between Bush and Rove. But he types this heroic version anyway. This version comes straight from his source’s mouth. But his source is no longer a murky Deep Throat. Now, his source is Strong Leader himself—the welcoming host from that Christmas party, the man who suggested the book.

At Christmas time 2002, Bush asked Woodward to write this book. Do you start to see why he did?

THE PRICE OF BOB’S MANSION: Who exactly is chronicler Woodward? In his new Clinton book, Survivor, John Harris describes a foppish life style:

HARRIS (page 147): The investigative reporter of Watergate fame was a one-man Washington institution [by 1994]. He had kept his affiliation with the Washington Post, but he was no reporter in the traditional sense. He worked on books, disappearing for a year or two at a time, then weighing in with volumes that were invariably full of sensational revelations about Washington’s most powerful officials, and invariably best-sellers. He lived in a Georgetown mansion and was on friendly terms with cabinet secretaries, senators and columnists.
In short, Woodward no longer moves a flower pot around a small apartment balcony. Now he lives in a Georgetown mansion, and he’s friendly with the people he covers. But don’t worry! According to Harris, the gentleman’s books are “invariably full of sensational revelations about Washington’s most powerful officials.” But uh-oh! In the case of Plan of Attack, the sensational revelations included these: The faking of intel wasn’t Bush’s fault. The WMD wasn’t Bush’s fault either. And oh yes, one more startling revelation: Bush refused to think about politics as he was marching to war.

In fairness, Plan of Attack is full of info that makes the Bush Admin look bad. But Woodward lives in a Georgetown mansion, and there may be a price a gentleman pays to maintain such cumbersome holdings.