Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

HEAT INDEX! Matthews and Mitchell seemed to act like real journalists. How long will this summer fling last?


TEMPERATURE RISING: Sometimes they show you what’s really at issue. On last night’s Hardball, Chris Matthews was battlin’ Tony Blankley over the Bush Admin’s uranium-from-Africa retraction. Blankley was calling it No Big Deal. Matthews—he was hot—said different:

MATTHEWS: Tony, let me be honest with you. I know a lot of people who were really doubtful about the need for that war. They didn’t buy all this human rights stuff, they didn’t buy all this other stuff about chemical. But they were afraid that this guy was getting The Bomb. And that’s the reason—a lot of people watching this show said, “I don’t want that crazy guy to have The Bomb.” And they were told by the president that he was building a bomb, and that’s why they supported the war.
The issue mattered, Matthews said, because the notion that Saddam was seeking nukes tilted the country toward war. And then, Blankley showed what’s at issue, too. Pathetically, he gave this response:
BLANKLEY (continuing directly): Look. To look at this politically, the polls have consistently indicated and continue to indicate the American public overwhelmingly is indifferent to this debate, which Washington is having in all its fury—
Pitiful, isn’t it? Blankley is one of Washington’s brightest pundits—when he isn’t cast in his role as Bush Shill. Last night, played the shill well. Had the Admin misled the public in the run-up to war? It didn’t matter, Blankley said, because polls show the public is indifferent to the debate. Just how pitiful was that response? So pitiful that Howard Fineman interrupted, saying it just wouldn’t wash!

Will mainstream pundits begin to push about the Admin’s credibility? Last night on MSNBC, it seemed that insider pundits had finally been aroused on the subject. On Countdown, Andrea Mitchell even suggested that Colin Powell had some splainin’ to do:

MITCHELL: There are people who have left the State Department—Greg Thielmann is one—who have said, in fact, that Colin Powell knew a lot more earlier in the game, and there certainly are documents from the State Department which went well beyond what their own intelligence experts were advising them. So there could still be someone who goes to the Congress [as a whistle-blower].
Colin Powell, of course, is a press corps untouchable. When an insider like Mitchell starts naming his name, we can’t help wondering if some deep corner of Pundit Soul has begun to wonder about the Bush Admin’s conduct.

You know our view. Back in May, we wrote about the “culture of lying” that now surrounds this American president. Readers, that culture developed for an obvious reason—because the press corps allowed it. During Campaign 2000, the press corps devised a Mighty Theme: Al Gore is a liar, just like Bill Clinton. For twenty months, the corps pretended that this story was true—and to make their story work even better, they pretended that Bush, in contrast to Gore, was just a plain-spoken straight-talker. Eventually, the Bush campaign—later the Bush Admin—realized that the Washington press was letting them say whatever they pleased. Pols dissemble when they’re allowed. The Admin has dissembled freely ever since.

Now our pundits show some signs of wondering about the Bush Admin’s honesty. The Pundit Corps created this problem. It’s time they did their jobs and addressed it.

COLIN’S FOLLY: If Mitchell is worried about Colin Powell, she should rescue Gil Cranberg from obscurity. In February, Cranberg reported a puzzling fact about Powell’s February 5 U.N. presentation. As readers will recall, when Powell made his much-praised presentation to the world body, he played tapes of intercepted phone conversations between Iraqi officials. The conversations were conducted in Arabic, but Powell presented translated transcripts. The transcripts made it seem that the Iraqi officials had engaged in highly inappropriate conduct. And across America, pundits knew what to do. Scripted pundits raced into print, telling the world how completely convincing Colin Powell’s presentation had been.

But alas, there was a small problem. On February 25, Cranberg claimed that Powell’s translation had been embroidered. His report was published in the Des Moines Register and the St. Petersburg Times; on June 29, an updated version of his story appeared in the Washington Post “Outlook” section. Did Colin Powell present doctored transcripts? And if so, where in the world did he get them? (We assume that Powell doesn’t speak Arabic.) Here at THE HOWLER, we can’t answer these questions. But Cranberg’s case was convincing enough for placement in the Washington Post. It’s time the press corps got off its duff and answered his puzzling questions. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/03, with links to prior reporting.

TOMORROW: O’Reilly got hot about William Pfaff. But where was the fairness and balance?

The Daily update

WITHOUT FURTHER DELAY: Mordant chuckles escaped out lips when we read David Sanger’s report in the Times. Tom DeLay was splainin’ away what the president said on uranium. According to Sanger, Republicans “insisted today that if the president made a very public mistake, it was not a consequential one:”

SANGER: “It’s very easy to pick one little flaw here or one little flaw there,” said Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the second-ranking Republican leader in the House of Representatives. “The overall reason we went into Iraq was sound and morally sound. And it’s not just because somebody forged or made a mistake on whether Saddam Hussein was looking for nuclear material from Niger or whatever.”
Or whatever! But we couldn’t help chuckling at DeLay’s first remark: It’s very easy to pick one little flaw here or there! Indeed, the press corps should know how true that is—that is precisely the way the Washington press corps covered Campaign 2000! They found an alleged “little flaw” in something Gore said about Love Story (in 1997, no less) and they wrote about it for twenty straight months, all through the White House election. In fact, what Gore had said was perfectly accurate—but the press corps was deeply concerned with “little flaws,” so they pretended Gore’s remark was untrue. Your press corps hated “little flaws” then. Will they do their jobs with the much larger “flaws” in the Bush Admin’s run to Iraq?

Love Story mattered—but a major war doesn’t? That is the appalling standard your deeply corrupted press has presented. We grant you—the Washington press corps should never cover another public figure as they covered Gore. But critics have raised many concerns about the Bush Admin’s run to Iraq. Last night, Matthews and Mitchell seemed to act like real journalists. How long will this summer fling last?

THEY LOVED THAT STORY: For the record, Gore’s Love Story comments were perfectly accurate. But the press corps began pretending different in March 1999, as soon as Gore’s campaigning began, and they flogged this “little flaw” for the next twenty months. (It suggested that Gore had psychiatric problems, troubled scribes frequently said.) Gore’s fleeting remark—in 1997—was made to Karen Tumulty and Richard Berke. What did Tumulty think of the matter? “I was sort of appalled to see the way it played in the media,” she later said. “The degree to which it became a symbol of [Gore’s] integrity I thought was very unfair.” But no matter! The press corps hated “little flaws” back when they were bangin’ on Gore. Whatever their view of the war may be, will they now examine the “little flaws” which led us to war in Iraq?

For the full text of Tumulty’s statement, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/25/02.