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JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES! Jim Lehrer has a decision to make about Candidate Bush’s cherry-picking:

JUST A BOWL OF CHERRIES: Jim Lehrer has a decision to make. Sensibly enough, he wants NewsHour viewers to see short clips of Candidate Bush’s speeches. Yesterday, Bush gave a campaign speech in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Lehrer played segments at the start of his program. But Bush—having cherry-picked and embellished data to lead his nation to war with Iraq—is now cherry-picking/embellishing data to fool the rubes who see him campaign! Here, for example, is the first clip Lehrer played for his viewers. We use the Federal Document Clearing House transcript, including its account of audience reactions:
BUSH: My opponent is a, is a highly experienced United States Senator. He’s been in Washington—


BUSH: He’s been in Washington a lot longer than I’ve been in Washington. He’s been there so long, he’s taken about both sides of just about every issue. (Applause.) He voted for Patriot Act, he voted for NAFTA, he voted for the No Child Left Behind Act, and he voted for the use of force in Iraq. Now (laughter) he opposes the Patriot Act, and NAFTA, and the No Child Left Behind Act, and the liberation of Iraq. If you disagree with John Kerry on most any issue, you may just have caught him on the wrong day. (Laughter and applause.)

Really? Ignore the slick wordplay the fellow unloads (Kerry “opposes the liberation of Iraq!”) Does Kerry really “oppose the Patriot Act?” NAFTA? No Child Left Behind? And is Lehrer comfortable presenting such tortured claims to his viewers without a word of clarification or comment? The host had better make up his mind. In the next segment his viewers were shown, Bush—reigning cherry-picker of Iraq—was cherry-picking data quite freely:
BUSH: Senator Kerry is rated as the most liberal member of the United States Senate. And he chose a fellow lawyer who is the fourth most liberal member of the United States Senate. Now, in Massachusetts, that’s what they call balancing the ticket. (Laughter and applause.)
Hmm. By now, even novelist newsmen must have heard that Bush’s claim about “first and fourth most liberal senator” is based on neatly cherry-picked data—partial data from one year in Congress. (Over the course of his six-year career, Edwards is rated 24th most liberal.) All of us know to wring our hands about cherry-picked data concerning Iraq. Is Lehrer comfortable when his viewers are shown these baldly cherry-picked claims? He better hurry up and decide. Here’s the next segment they sat through:
BUSH: When you hear them talking in Washington about running up those taxes, kind of taxing the rich, really what you need to be hearing is they're going to tax small business owners. And that would be bad for this economy. Now is not the time to be raising taxes on small businesses or on working people in America. Now is the time to make sure we got permanency in the tax code. Now is the time to make sure we don't ruin this economic growth by running up the taxes on the American people. (Applause.)
Would Kerry raise taxes on small business owners? Yes—if they earned more than $200,000 per year. But is Lehrer happy with the clip he showed, in which we somehow go from raising taxes on “small business owners” (no incomes discussed) to raising taxes on “working people in America?” He’d better hurry up and decide, because there’s a million more where those cherries came from. Clownishly, Bush even made a presentation about “more federal spending” and “good fiscal stewardship.” It was the next segment Lehrer showed:
BUSH: My opponents looked at this progress and somehow concluded the sky is falling. It doesn’t matter whether the message is delivered with a frown or a smile, it's the same old pessimism, same old pessimism. And they’re going to cheer us up with higher taxes—(laughter)—more federal spending, and economic isolationism. The good news is, we're not going to let them do that. (Applause.) We’re going to keep taxes low to make sure people can find work and people to be able to realize their dream.

We’re going to continue to bring fiscal discipline to Washington, D.C. See, it starts with understanding that we’re not spending the government's money, we’re spending your money. And we must be good stewards with your money in the nation’s capital. (Applause.)

Clownishly, one of the biggest spenders and deficit-raisers we’ve ever had let the assembled rubes cheer hard about the way he planned to “continue to bring fiscal discipline to Washington, D.C.” One of our biggest spenders told the rubes that his opponent—he’s a pessimist, you know—would bring them “more federal spending.”

So Lehrer (and others) now face a decision. We used to think we could play tapes of White House hopefuls speaking to voters out on the stump. Yes, of course, they’d tell it their way, but everyone knew to discount for that. (In accompanying segments from a John Edwards speech, Edwards praised John Kerry’s values.) But Bush—who cherry-picked the children of Flint off to war—is now cherry-picking Waukesha voters when they see him speak on the stump. So Lehrer has a decision to make. In good faith, can we continue to show such clips without instant “truth squadding” features?

Yes, the nation’s TV hosts must decide. No one can stop our Cherry-Picker in Chief from telling people who come to see him that his foes are first and fourth most liberal. But Lehrer needs to ask himself why he lets his viewers be so disinformed. All good newsmen are wringing their hands about the cherry-picking on Iraq. But last night, Lehrer let a certain slick dude cherry-pick NewsHour viewers hard. So Jim, you have a question you need to resolve. What will you do about the way your viewers are currently being misled? Unless you run instant Truth Squad features, can you continue to show them tape of such blatantly cherry-picked info?

JUST LIKE OLD TIMES: It really has seemed like old Times as we’ve trod that Niger road this week. This morning, for example, Christopher Marquis pens this puzzling paragraph in his New York Times review of Lord Butler’s report:

MARQUIS (7/15/04): [Butler’s report] also defended British officials in the case of an apparently erroneous British report on Iraq’s nuclear ambitions that made its way into President Bush’s State of the Union speech last year claiming that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium in Niger. The Butler report confirmed that Iraqi officials had visited Niger in 1999, and the British government had several different sources insisting that the purpose was to buy uranium. But it added, “the evidence was not conclusive that Iraq had actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium, and the British government did not claim this.”
We find that paragraph totally puzzling. Did Iraq seek uranium in Africa? In our view, the matter remains unresolved. But what did Marquis mean when he said an “apparently erroneous” British report made its way into Bush’s speech? We don’t have the slightest idea, and we defy you to torture it from his report. At any rate, all Times writers knew to omit the specific thing Butler said on this topic. In this morning’s Post, by contrast, Walter Pincus does the unthinkable. He goes ahead and tells his readers what Butler’s report really said:
PINCUS (7/15/04): In 2002, the British got separate intelligence reports about the Congo and Niger, but they were inconclusive as to whether any deals with Iraq were reached, according to the Butler report.

However, based on what was known in 2002, the Butler panel concluded that references in Britain's September 2002 dossier that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium in Africa and its repetition in Bush’s State of the Union address in January 2003 were “well founded.”

According to Butler, Bush’s 16-word claim was “well founded.” Of course, Butler’s judgment isn’t dispositive. But this is an obvious piece of news—news you won’t read in today’s New York Times! Instead, you get to puzzle what Marquis could have meant when he said the British intel was “apparently erroneous.” You won’t have to worry about what Butler really said. No, it really seemed just like old Times as Marquis disappeared Butler’s view.

Because yes, this is just like old Times—the good old days when the Times pimped Clinton scandals, and would simply omit basic info which failed to jibe with Preferred Story Lines. Indeed, the Times engaged in the same conduct yesterday. James Risen—an old Clinton hand—discussed last week’s Senate Intelligence Committee report. What had it said about Joe Wilson’s trip? Can you spot what Risen left out?

RISEN (7/14/04): Mr. Wilson went to Niger in February 2002 and met with the former prime minister, former minister of mines and other business contacts. In his C.I.A. debriefing, Mr. Wilson reported that the former prime minister said he knew of no contracts with any so-called rogue nations while he was prime minister, from 1997 through 1999. But he did say that in June 1999, a businessman insisted that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss expanded commercial relations with Baghdad, according to the Senate report. The meeting took place, but the prime minister said he never pursued the idea because of United Nations sanctions on Iraq.
Can you spot the info which Risen dropped? Yep—he forgot to say that the Nigerien official told Wilson that he got the impression that the “Iraqi delegation” was interested in uranium! This point is stressed in the Senate report, but somehow, despite the great length of Risen’s piece, he absent-mindedly left the point out. Risen wrote a lengthy piece. But this significant part of the Senate report wound up on the cutting-room floor.

Butler said Bush’s “16 words” were well-founded. Wilson told the CIA that the Nigerien minister got the impression that the Iraqis did want to talk about uranium. But readers of the New York Times won’t be bothered with such silly data. Yes, it really seemed like old Times as these points were disappeared by the great Gotham paper. Readers, some news isn’t fit to print. In the Times—our most disordered paper—you won’t have to read such reports.

NEWS FROM BIG PINK: Did Iraq seek uranium in Africa? We don’t have the slightest idea. But Pincus, discussing the Butler report, included a range of information, unlike the tin-pots at the Times, who tastefully chose what you could know. Again, you’ll note the British claim that Iraq’s possible uranium chase involved the Congo as well as Niger:

PINCUS (7/15/04): British intelligence based its prewar 2002 assessment that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa on reports that Baghdad had made such inquiries in the Congo and in Niger more than two years earlier, according to the Butler report.

It showed that British and CIA intelligence were relying on similar, though less than conclusive, reports that Iraqi officials had visited several African countries in 1999. Last week, a Senate committee report on U.S. prewar intelligence concluded that the CIA overstated what it knew about Iraq’s attempts to procure uranium in Africa. President Bush, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, cited Iraqi efforts to procure uranium in Africa.

When it came to Niger, whose main export was uranium, the [British Joint Intelligence Committee] “judged that Iraqi purchase of uranium could have been the subject of discussions,” the Butler report said.

In 2002, the British got separate intelligence reports about the Congo and Niger, but they were inconclusive as to whether any deals with Iraq were reached, according to the Butler report.

However, based on what was known in 2002, the Butler panel concluded that references in Britain’s September 2002 dossier that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium in Africa and its repetition in Bush’s State of the Union address in January 2003 were “well founded.”

Correctly or otherwise, that’s what they said. (Psst! Pass the word to a New York Times reader.) Pincus went on to discuss more recent info—information which tended to cut both ways, depending on whose word you trust:
PINCUS (continuing directly): More recently, the Butler panel learned from International Atomic Energy Agency officials that the leader of the Iraqi delegation told IAEA that he and the others went to Niger in February 1999 to invite that country's president to Iraq, not to seek uranium. The Niger president was supposed to visit Baghdad in April 1999, but he died before the trip.

David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, said in an interview that his group had discovered a memo in Iraq from Congolese officials offering to sell the Saddam Hussein government items including uranium. He added that it had a note in Arabic saying the country was under too much scrutiny at the time for such a deal.

Did Iraq seek uranium from Africa, as Bush said in his sixteen words? We don’t have the slightest idea. But we pose the question we’ve posed before: How could Joe Wilson have known? And why did the press waste its time on this murky tale, when other examples of pre-Iraq dissembling were much more important and much more clear-cut? While we traveled that road to Niger, the aluminum tubes simply rusted away. Your press corps loved that dusty road—and ignored the more powerful story.

THE RESULT: As a result, we get this column today from Bob Novak. Needless to say, HOWLER readers will know to hiss and boo—but much of what he says seems well-founded. Please don’t send us e-mails saying, “Yes, but who outed Joe Wilson’s wife?” We don’t know, and nothing we’ve said has anything to do with that topic.

NOVICE HOPEFUL: This morning, Imus asked Edwards how much a gallon of milk costs. Dumbly, Edwards tried to answer. Dumbly, he was way wrong. (Hook: Edwards said Cheney is out of touch with average voters. More, we suspect, tomorrow.)