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Daily Howler: Two top pundits massaged the facts--and a famous host stared into air
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A TRIP TO THE SPINHOUR! Two top pundits massaged the facts—and a famous host stared into air: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, JULY 16, 2005

A TRIP TO THE SPINHOUR: How broken is American public discourse? Consider Friday evening’s NewsHour. Brooks and Shields were discussing the Rove/Wilson matter. In the course of their exchange, David Brooks rattled the week’s most familiar script—and Jim Lehrer offered no challenge:
BROOKS (7/15/05): Listen, we had a situation where Joe Wilson said, “The Vice President sent me on this mission.” That turned out to be untrue. People were calling around. Rove was trying to scare people off that story, saying, you know, “Don’t believe this guy.” And Rove turned out to be telling the truth about that. And so that’s—

LEHRER: You mean about—the involvement of the vice president.

BROOKS: The involvement of the vice president.

But when exactly did Wilson say that Cheney had sent him on his trip? Wilson’s statements weren’t always crystal-clear, but this scripted RNC claim has been the week’s most familiar piece of torture—the week’s number-one massaged “fact.” But Lehrer showed no sign of knowing; he asked for no examples or clarification from Brooks, and the assertion went unchallenged. And as Brooks continued, he kept misstating—and Lehrer kept staring into air:
BROOKS (continuing directly): I mean Wilson is questionable on all these issues. You said earlier that Wilson issued a report saying Iraq did not try to buy weapons. That’s not what the report said. We have a Senate investigating committee. We have in Britain the Butler committee. Both of them concluded from Wilson’s own report that the Iraqis were trying to buy weapons. But what we’re doing is getting out of the reality and into all this realm of speculation.
Well—we’re definitely “getting out of the reality.” In Great Britain, the Butler commission did find, in July 2004, that Bush’s famous 16-word claim was, in fact, “well-founded.” But they certainly didn’t reach that conclusion “from Wilson’s own report;” they were evaluating pre-war British intelligence, not any claims Wilson made. Brooks was wildly stretching again. And again, Lehrer gazed into air.

But in the current news environment, both sides get to massage the facts, with the endless acquiescence of distracted big-name hosts. Mark Shields jumped in at this point—and he too issued a howler:

SHIELDS (continuing directly): David, the CIA, the administration, has said the 16 words in the State of the Union were wrong. That’s what it—that’s what the whole thing was about.
But the CIA didn’t say the 16 words were wrong. In his July 12, 2003 speech on the matter, George Tenet said the 16 words should not have been included in Bush’s speech because the claim “did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches.” Two days later, here was Donald Rumsfeld on Meet the Press:
RUSSERT (7/14/03): The White House and now the CIA say it was a mistake to include that phrase [the 16 words] in the speech. Do you agree?

RUMSFELD: Oh, sure. Yes, indeed. George Tenet said that, the president said that. On the other hand, the use of the word "infamous" is a little strange. It turns out that it's technically correct what the president said, that the U.K. did say that and still says that. They haven't changed their mind, the United Kingdom intelligence people. Now, the question isn't that. The question is: Should those words have been in the presidential speech? And the president and George Tenet have agreed they should not. It didn't rise to that standard, but they're not necessarily inaccurate.

Tenet didn’t say the statement was wrong; he said the statement “didn’t rise to” an appropriate “level of certainty.” But in the modern world of American news, each side is allowed to recite its favorite massaged facts. Lehrer failed to challenge Shields, just as he failed with Brooks.

The NewsHour is supposed to be our brightest news show. But last night, we saw how our modern news culture works. Pundits tell the stories they like—and famous hosts stare into air.

One final point: In the past decade or so, this arrangement has worked very poorly for Democrats. Indeed: During Campaign 2000, a twenty-month Reign of Spin and Fake Facts turned the White House over to Bush. (To this day, most big liberals won’t discuss this.) Libs and Dems have suffered badly under the Reign of Spin that prevails. When, oh when, will big libs and Dems stand and directly confront it?