FACT-CHECK FOLLIES CONTINUED! The Times fact-checked the presidents speech—at least in certain editions:
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2004
LIMNING ONEILL: We got an excellent e-mail yesterday criticizing our comments about John ONeill. Because these issues are very important, we reprint the missive in full:
E-MAIL: Generally I agree with and am enlightened by THE HOWLER, but today, 9/7, you included a comment about John O'Neill that was simply off the mark (claiming that it was due to "weak men" like O'Neill that the US lost in Vietnam).Obviously, neither we at THE HOWLER nor anyone else thinks the U.S. lost in Vietnam because of the caliber of our troops. For decades, people have respected and admired Vietnam vets for the horrific service they were asked to perform. Indeed, John ONeill makes one good point in Unfit for Command, and it comes early on. We were going to start with it when we reviewed the book, but lets present that point right now. ONeill explains why he was upset when he heard Kerrys Senate testimony in 1971:
ONEILL (page 11-12): I was overwhelmed by the greatest sense of injustice that I had ever experienced—the memory of that night still haunts me today. I remembered my friends who served in Vietnam, living and dead, from the Naval Academy and from Swift Boats, and how hard we had tried to avoid civilian casualties under terrible conditions, at considerable risk to ourselves. I remembered those wounded and killed on the Dam Doi river, some of whom I watched die, because we broadcast messages of hope and freedom, urging villagers (many of whom were held in these villages by the Viet Cong against their will) to Chu Hoi. Moving at slow speeds, we were sometimes shot at—and some of us died.Although ONeill has been so disingenuous in the past six months that he has forfeited the presumption of accuracy, we have no doubt that Vietnam was full of American troops who behaved in the ways he described here. We have no doubt that ONeill saw many acts of courage and decency when he served in Vietnam. And no—no one thinks the U.S. lost the war because of the caliber of the troops. In 1971, Americans would have been well served if ONeill had stressed this aspect of our troops service. This is surely a part of the Vietnam story. So, alas, are the matters which Kerry described in the Senate. More on that when we limn ONeills book.
But no, our words werent caused by pique. Our words were part of a search for a way to respond to election-jumpers like ONeill. Since 1988, people like ONeill have intruded on American White House elections: First Lee Atwater, sliming Dukakis; then the Arkansas crazies, sliming Clinton (and creating the Whitewater hoax in the process); then the press corps itself, sliming Gore; and now the pair of authors (ONeill and Jerome Corsi) who produced Unfit for Command. Assorted slingers of garbage and bullroar have pushed themselves to the heart of our elections. And we Americans have been far too polite in our response to these slime-peddling people. If we ever want to have sane elections, we have to learn to respond to these people in the way they deserve.
Plainly, your press corps refuses to do so; they find it more pleasant to stare into air. So here at THE HOWLER, well be looking for appropriate ways to describe John ONeill. Here at THE HOWLER, were tired of seeing men like this make a sick joke of our White House elections. ONeill deserves to be called what he is, and we intend to seek out the best ways to do it.
That is going to take trial and error. But this isnt pique—its a search for the truth. Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! John ONeill sheds tears of self-pity all through his fake, puny book. Our series on Unfit for Command will begin this week or next. But nothing said there should take away from the basic facts about our men in Vietnam. For decades now, Americans have known to respect and honor their service. Blubbering men like John ONeill dont define who these troops really were.
FACT-CHECK FOLLIES CONTINUED: Weird! We learned about David Sangers piece when we read another web site on Monday. At CampaignDesk.org, Thomas Lang said that the New York Times had done a fact-check of Bushs convention address. This came as total news to us. And therein lies the latest chapter in the press corps Fact-Check Follies.
First question: How little does the New York Times care about its own fact-check features? When Zell Miller gave a speech Wednesday night—a speech that spilled with howlers about Kerry—the Times didnt bother to fact-check at all. But the Times did fact-check Bushs speech—depending on which edition you get. We get whats called the Washington Edition, and Sangers piece wasnt in it on Friday. Nor did the piece appear the next day. Thats right, kids! If you get the Washington Edition of the Times, you didnt see Sangers piece at all! The Times did fact-check Bushs speech—if you get the right edition.
How could such a thing occur? Bushs speech ran past 11 oclock; presumably, the Times didnt have sufficient time to get Sangers piece in its early editions on Friday. But readers, what does the Times do when a Yankee game ends too late for deadline? Of course! It reports the game the day after that! But Yankees baseball is very important, and Bushs speech quite plainly was not. Did Jeter get a hit? At the Times, thats important. Did Bush make errors in his big speech? The Times doesnt much seem to care.
But lets move on to our second question: How well did Sanger do his fact-check? Alas! When one sees the caliber of Sangers work, Washington residents may be just as glad that their papers hit their doorsteps without it.
Sanger presented five statements from Bushs speech, which he then compared to the Facts. Here is the simplest of the five items, just as the great Times presented it:
PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT: After supporting my education reforms, [Kerry] now wants to dilute them.Could a fact-check item be less direct? Bush does make a direct accusation—Kerry wants to dilute my reforms. But was that statement actually true? Forgive us if were not really sure after reading Sangers obscured presentation. According to Sanger, Bush was referring to No Child Left Behind—but Sanger says that Kerry only wants to give the program full funding. Obviously, that is not diluting a reform; if thats all there is to Bushs complaint, then Bush was plainly misstating again. But Sanger is a timid soul; he wasnt about to tell Times readers that Bush had made an inaccurate statement. Yes—according to Sangers own presentation, Bushs statement was simply false. But Sanger seems too scared to say so, and readers have to puzzle and strain to make out the scribes obscured meaning.
But then, Sanger displays his timid heart throughout this puny fact-check. Below, you see him do it again. He simply refuses to say that Bush has made another misstatement:
PRESIDENT'S STATEMENT: "Senator Kerry opposed Medicare reform and health savings accounts," Mr. Bush said halfway through his speech, taking on his opponent, but not with the ferocity that Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator Zell Miller, Democrat of Georgia, did on Wednesday night. He added, "I brought Republicans and Democrats together to strengthen Medicare."If Sangers information can be trusted, this statement by Bush is simply false too. Senator Kerry opposed Medicare reform? No he didnt, according to Sanger; according to Sanger, Kerry supported a Medicare bill that was more ambitious than Bushs. But look how hard a reader must work to determine that Bush made another false statement. Sanger is a frightened soul. He simply wont come out and tell you.
So gaze on the timid soul of the Times! When Miller baldly dissembled on Wednesday, the Times didnt do a fact-check at all. They did present a fact-check on Bush—but left it out of certain editions. And when we look at the fact-check itself, we see the papers timid heart. Yes, Bush misstated—but Sanger wont tell you. Who was luckier after this speech? Readers who didnt get Sangers fact-check? Or readers who had to struggle and strain to tease out the scribes obscured meaning?
FINALLY, STEVENSON SAYS IT: Being such a timid soul, Sanger knew which statements not to check. For example, Bush said the following in his speech, and Sanger knew not to include it:
BUSH (9/2/04): My opponent and I have different approaches. I proposed, and the Congress overwhelmingly passed, $87 billion in funding needed by our troops doing battle in Afghanistan and Iraq. My opponent and his running mate voted against this money for bullets and fuel and vehicles and body armor.There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops? Then why did Bush threaten to veto this funding, six days after Kerrys no vote? (Colin Powell swore the threat was real. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/12/04).This bill was complex from beginning to end, as Bushs own conduct made abundantly clear. This claim by Bush has cried for correction—but Sanger knew not to provide it.
But hallelujah! Finally, in this mornings paper, Richard Stevenson clues in Times readers! It comes at the very end of his story. But finally, the information is there:
STEVENSON (9/8/04): To some degree, Mr. Kerry is fighting back on the consistency issue. His awkward attempt to explain that he had supported the $87 billion spending package if it could have been paid for by a failed proposal to roll back some of Mr. Bush's tax cuts—''I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it''—has been lampooned nearly every day by the White House. On Tuesday in Missouri, Mr. Bush cited Mr. Kerry's explanation that the issue was complicated, and used a line that is one of the most reliable applause-generators in his stump speech: ''There is nothing complicated about supporting our troops in combat.''As Stevenson notes, Bush has been making this claim for weeks, always getting a derisive laugh from the voters he is misleading. Finally, in the last paragraph of a long story, the mighty Times gives its readers some background. Sanger knew not to do that last week. David Sanger is a weak, timid man.
SANGERS HELPERS: Sangers co-writer was Elisabeth Bumiller. How timid are the titans the Times sics on Bush? In March, Bumiller explained how frightening it is to have to stand up and ask Bush a question! Try to believe that she actually said it! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/25/04.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops? In fact, that $87 billion measure was very complex. For a list of the various complications, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/6/04.
As Joe Klein has said, this recurrent claim by President Bush is the emotional heart of his pitch against Kerry. Bush makes this misleading claim every day. Sanger knew he should leave it alone.