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A DAY IN THE LIFE! We start with Rush—and we end with Niger. It’s a day in the life of the press corps:


TRADING PLACES: Omigod! Post sports reporter Leonard Shapiro really lets it rip today in a page-one report about Rush:

SHAPIRO: As a radio talk show host, Limbaugh once said he felt guilty about telling an African American caller to “take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” He still uses the mock dialect “ax” instead of “ask” when discussing black leaders on his syndicated radio show and often plays the theme song “Movin’ On Up” from “The Jeffersons” when referring to Carol Moseley Braun, the African American former senator from Illinois who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Ouch! Shapiro actually dared describe Rush’s actual conduct! By contrast, we couldn’t help recalling Howard Kurtz’s treatment of Rush shortly after Election 2002. Rush had been savagely trashing Tom Daschle, producing a public complaint from the solon. But in his coverage of the incident, Kurtz was careful—very careful—not to include Rush’s stupid and ugly remarks (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/22/02). But then, we’ve reported the problem before—sports reporters are sometimes more careful about their craft than the grand figures who report the hard news (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/22/98). Maybe it’s time to trade places.

By the way, is Donovan McNabb a top QB? Or is that just liberal media hype? In this morning’s Washington Times, sports reporter Mark Zimmerman takes note of the obvious. “Members of the Redksins’ defense don’t have to be reminded of McNabb’s prowess,” he writes. “They’ve been torched by the multi-dimensional quarterback too many times to believe McNabb’s abilities are slipping away.” Yep—Rush was all wet when he ranked on McNabb. But guess what, ditto-heads? He fills your head full of total nonsense about politics and budget affairs each day, too! For example, have you ever heard Rush say that Reagan cut taxes and doubled revenues? Sports writers probably sense that’s pure crap. But political writers—a bit more timorous—know they must never discuss this.

STYLISH AVOIDANCE: But then, political scribes are often skilled at failing to tell you the obvious. Why did someone tell Bob Novak about Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson’s wife? Here at THE HOWLER, we simply don’t know, but an obvious explanation has been offered. According to Joe Wilson himself, Bush insiders may have done this as a warning to future dissenters. Cross us and we’ll harm you and yours, the gesture said. Indeed, in this morning’s Post, Richard Cohen makes this obvious point early on. “The identity of the CIA employee was disclosed not really to inform the public of something it should know,” he writes, “but as a way to send a dead fish to anyone in the administration who might question that Iraq was a major and imminent menace.” We don’t know if that’s what occurred. But it’s an obvious theory.

But over at this morning’s “Style” section, Ann Gerhart can’t imagine why the White House would have gone after Plame. And it isn’t just Gerhart who is thoroughly baffled. No one in Washington can think of a motive, the stylish reporter asserts. “[E]ven experienced practitioners, both leakers and leakees, are puzzled” by the motive, she says. (Headline: “Even the Experts Are Coming Up Dry.”) And then, Ann Gerhart pulls a Chait. She quotes several major neo-conservatives, all of whom pretend to be puzzled by possible White House motives. Why, even Richard Perle can’t figure one out! You have to read very deep in this piece to get to the obvious theory:

GERHART: “Mean-spirited,” former CIA case officer and author Robert Baer calls the alleged White House whispering campaign. He thinks the outing was just what Wilson says it was: an attempt to intimidate whistle-blowers.
But that’s paragraph 14, out of 17. You have to read all that way to find the obvious theory propounded. Our question: Are Gerhart (and her editors) really this dense? Or is this stylish report what it seems to be—a silly sop from a timid paper, a silly sop to the area’s conservatives?

THAT MEDICARE MISHAP: But then, you’ll get spun about Medicare in this morning’s Post too. As is perfectly appropriate, reporters have been calling Howard Dean on some of his recent wayward comments. But the lead editorial in this morning’s Post keeps offering that misleading Medicare line. At one point, the editors haughtily roll their eyes at certain Dem attacks against Dean:

WASHINGTON POST: First Mr. Gephardt rejected any notion of raising the retirement age, noting that he had voted for an increase to 67 back in 1983 and was sticking with that number. He was quickly matched in that pledge by Mr. Dean, who had once suggested—gasp!—raising the retirement age as high as 70. Then, in case anyone was troubled by that departure from Democratic orthodoxy, Mr. Dean noted that Mr. Gephardt had strayed even further by entertaining the notion of means-testing Social Security and Medicare—“something,” Mr. Dean hastened to say, “that I have never considered.” Whereupon Mr. Gephardt lit into Mr. Dean for supporting “at our darkest hour…the very plan that Newt Gingrich wanted to pass” on Medicare. Mr. Dean’s Medicare heresy? He wanted to slow the growth rate of the program.
The editors “gasp” is meant to show that it’s silly to sweat the retirement age. (Translation: These well-paid editors work at desks.) But their derisive Medicare comment is flat-out misleading, as always. According to the eds, Gingrich “wanted to slow the growth rate of” Medicare back in the mid-1990s. How silly it is, they seem to say, that anyone would have cared about that!

The eds’ construction makes it sound like Medicare services would have grown under Newt. But that’s why this familiar construction is so grossly misleading. In his Medicare proposal, Gingrich proposed spending substantially less in future years than it would have cost to maintain the existing program. Dollar spending would have risen—but far less than the increase in Medicare costs. Almost surely, Medicare services would have been cut. The editors’ formulation hides that fact—just as it did in 1994-96, when the Gingrich team used this cagey construction to mislead the nation.

As Weisskopf and Maraniss explained in their book, the Gingrich team bullied the mainstream press into using this misleading construction. At the Post, they seem to have stayed nicely bullied. In this morning’s paper, Jim VandeHei murks the topic up too:

VANDEHEI: Although Dean never explicitly said he was siding with Gingrich, he did endorse a GOP proposal, backed by the then-speaker, to slow Medicare’s growth. He told a Vermont newspaper in 1995 that he could “fully subscribe” to slowing the rate of the program’s growth to 7 percent, which would have been tantamount to cutting Medicare spending.
Huh? According to VandeHei’s confusing construction, the Gingrich plan would only have “slowed Medicare’s growth.” Medicare would still have grown at 7 percent—although this “would have been tantamount to cutting Medicare’s spending,” he says, in his most confusing passage. We defy normal readers to figure that out. VandeHei provides murk and mire.

What should Vandehei have written? Here’s a start:

VANDEHEI (EDITED COPY): [Dean] told a Vermont newspaper in 1995 that he could “fully subscribe” to slowing the rate of the program’s growth [in dollar spending] to 7 percent, which [due to explosive growth in medical costs] would have [resulted in cuts in Medicare services.]
That’s hardly the best way to lay out the facts, but you start to get the idea. Whatever its merits, it’s fairly easy to describe the outline of the Gingrich proposal. Gingrich proposed spending substantially less than it would have cost to maintain the existing program. Almost surely, his proposal would have led to large cuts in services.

VandeHei does describe the smaller spending adjustments that finally occurred:

VANDEHEI: Clinton eventually signed a bill, in 1997, trimming Medicare’s growth. But that bill scaled back the growth by $115 billion over five years, compared with the $270 billion over seven years that Dean had advocated.
In 1997, VandeHei says, Clinton “trimmed Medicare’s growth” by about half as much as Gingrich had proposed. And what happened when Clinton “trimmed Medicare’s growth?” In particular, did Medicare continue to “grow?” Sorry. Medicare services were cut so much that Congress scrambled to restore funding. But the corps still loves these misleading formulations. As Maraniss and Weisskopf explained in detail, the GOP worked hard to promote their use. At the Post, they still use them today.

BACK ON THAT DUSTY OLD ROAD: Groan! As part of the Wilson/Plame affair, the press corps is again describing those “16 words.” And at the New York Times, they’re up to old tricks. Here’s how Todd Purdum told the tale in Wednesday’s paper:

PURDUM: But this inquiry, into the disclosure of the name of the C.I.A. official, Valerie Plame, an agency operative on unconventional weapons, puts a particularly human dimension and a potentially clear political motive on a controversy that has so far revolved mostly around inside disputes and debates over the reliability—and the use or misuse—of pre-war intelligence estimates of Iraq’s weapons capacity. It is a direct outgrowth of the criticism that dogged Mr. Bush for much of the summer about his assertion in his State of the Union address last winter that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from the nation of Niger.
But that is just flatly inaccurate. As everyone on earth surely knows, Bush didn’t say, in his SOTU, “that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger.” He referred to alleged attempts to buy uranium from “Africa,” of which Niger is one tiny part. What was the context for Bush’s remark? The October 2002 NIE referred to attempts in Congo and Somalia as well as Niger, and when the Brits released their intel in September 2002—the intel to which Bush’s speech explicitly referred—the British press focussed on Congo, not Niger. Meanwhile, Wilson only said that a sale couldn’t likely be completed in Niger (due to extensive oversight). He didn’t prove that Saddam had never tried to make such a purchase. In short, Wilson’s report, on its face, does not shoot down what Bush said in his speech. But at the Times, they love this version, which makes this exciting tale much more pleasing. How much do they love this inaccurate tale? It’s also in today’s lead editorial. Gail Collins likes it told this way too.