A CHANGE IN THE HOWLER (PART 1)! As Robinson over-praises Bennett, we describe future change at this site: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2005
GRACEFUL AND SERENE: We strongly recommend fortieth reunions (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/28/05)—but we want to think a bit more before we describe what we saw at ours. That said, we did take the chance, while we were there, to gaze on San Mateos superlative children and teens. And we thought the kids were looking quite good. Much more on that topic to follow.
One quick point: We got to meet Rich Spencers seventh-grade son—and he wants to go to Serra! Serra beat Bellarmine in water polo, he explained, gazing into the middle distance. And Bellarmine (Bellarmine College Prep, San Jose) may have the best water polo program in the nation. Of course, we even fact-check kids at THE HOWLER, and we have to admit that we cant quite confirm this report about Serras triumph. (Knowing San Mateos kids as we do, well only say that Spencer II may have been citing a win by Serras freshmen.) But we were pleased to see that San Mateos kids still have their priorities straight, just as we did when we were that age. We were glad that the Golden States mitt-pounding kids still know how much that stuff matters.
PART 1—WHEN BENNETT WENT BAD: Its true—we rarely get the chance to praise the analytical powers of a Post columnist. So lets seize the moment this very day as Gene Robinson analyzes Bill Bennetts recent, much-flogged remarks. Our new champion is right on the mark as he lays out the problem with Bennetts statement:
ROBINSON (10/4/05): Bennett was referring to research done by Steven D. Levitt, a University of Chicago economist and lead author of the best-selling book "Freakonomics." The iconoclastic Levitt, something of an academic rock star, argues that the steep drop in crime in the United States over the past 15 years resulted in part from the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion...Is Levitt right? Did the legalization of abortion produce the subsequent drop in crime rates? Here at THE HOWLER, we dont have a clue. But as Robinson says, Bennett singled out black kids in his now iconic remarks, something Levitt doesnt do. Robinson is fair, but right on target, as he goes on to discuss why that was a bad thing to do.
But then again, its always somethin! For our money, Robinson is a bit too fair in his remarks about Bennett. I grew up in the South in the days when we had to drink at colored water fountains and gas stations had separate colored restrooms, Robinson, an African-American, writes. I know what a real racist is like, and Bennett certainly doesn't fit the description. We dont have any problem with that. But we do draw the line at this comment:
ROBINSON (continuing directly): But that's what's so troubling about [Bennetts] race-specific "thought experiment"—that such a smart, well-meaning opinion maker would so casually say something that translates, to African American ears, as "blacks are criminals.But has Bennett really earned the right to be praised as such a smart, well-meaning opinion maker? We agree with some of Bennetts policy instincts, but we think he surrendered the right to respect with an atrocious, appalling column he wrote at the end of Campaign 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/03). Nasty, stupid, ugly and vile, the column exposed a third-rate mind—and an ugly, fallen moral consciousness. Robinson is on-point about Bennetts recent remarks, but we dont know why he continues to pander. Or do we know? Alas—we might. Weve discussed this stuff for too many years now. Weve seen too many scribes looking away from the major press event of our time.
Yes, change is coming at the THE HOWLER, a change well discuss for the rest of the week. Bennetts column from October 2000 takes us back to the roots of THE HOWLER, and forms a backdrop from which to explain why its time to adopt a new brief.
POST PATTERN: Uh-oh! We surely cant praise the analytical powers of Post reporter Jim VandeHei! On Sunday, VandeHei described a new theory about Patrick Fitzgeralds pursuit of the Valerie Plame outing case. According to this new theory, Fitzgerald may charge a criminal conspiracy against Bush officials:
VANDEHEI (10/2/05): [A] new theory about Fitzgerald's aim has emerged in recent weeks from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case. They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose.To us, that new theory is clear as mud. Obviously, officials were involved in attempts to discredit and retaliate against Wilson—but that sort of thing occurs all the time in American politics. If we prosecuted officials every time they attempted to discredit and retaliate against their critics, we would have to build a thousand new jails—and a string of new courtrooms. So what would be the criminal purpose that would make this case stand out? If their actions werent criminal, why was their underlying purpose? VandeHei continued to type—and continued to bring no enlightenment:
VANDEHEI: One source briefed on [Judith] Miller's account of conversations with [Lewis] Libby said it is doubtful her testimony would on its own lead to charges against any government officials. But, the source said, her account could establish a piece of a web of actions taken by officials that had an underlying criminal purpose.The actions wouldnt be criminal themselves—but they would have an underlying criminal purpose. Do you have any idea what that means? At THE HOWLER, well admit it. We dont.
But then, VandeHei couldnt even describe the simplest facts of this matter. At one point, he reviewed the history of the Plame outing case. And uh-oh! There he went again! He said something that was just flat-out bogus:
VANDEHEI: Cheney's staff was looking into [Ambassador Joseph] Wilson as early as May 2003, nearly two months before columnist Robert D. Novak identified Wilson's wife as a CIA operative, according to administration sources familiar with the effort. What stirred the interest of the vice president's office was a May 6 New York Times column by Nicholas D. Kristof in which the mission to Niger was described without using Wilson's name. Kristof's column said Cheney had authorized the trip.Yes, its a fairly minor point, but Kristofs column didnt say that Cheney authorized Joe Wilsons trip. Here is the passage in question from that seminal column:
KRISTOF (5/6/03): I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.Yes, its a minor point. But if you can read, you can see that Kristofs column didnt say that Cheney authorized Wilsons trip. When Kristofs column appeared, Cheney may have been surprised to see his name linked to Wilsons trip at all, since he says he never knew anything about it. (Wilson no longer disputes this point.) But VandeHei spins up the facts about this part of Kristofs column. It makes the story a bit more compelling. But his statement is plainly just wrong.
Of course, there is one part of the passage from Kristof that is very much worth noting. We now know that Wilson was Kristofs source for this column, and its clear that Kristof ended up misinformed about Wilsons trip to Niger. In particular, Wilson never saw those famous forged documents; as such, he had no way to know who had (or hadnt) signed them. The documents were debunked as forgeries much later—well after Wilsons trip, and by the UN, not by Wilson. But so what? Somehow, Kristof ended up with an embellished (and grandiose) tale after his sessions with Wilson—an embellished tale in which the unnamed envoy heroically debunks those famous forged documents and tells the Admin all about them. But then, to all appearances, the Posts Walter Pincus and the New Republics Judis/Ackerman got the same bogus story from Wilson. Like Kristof, they wrote off-the-record accounts of Wilsons trip before Wilson went public in July 2003. And uh-oh! They too reported the embellished, false story! They too reported that the former ambassador heroically debunked the famous forged documents—the famous forged documents which Wilson never saw, and couldnt imaginably have debunked.
But you know how that press corps is! VandeHei couldnt even report the simplest fact about Kristofs column. Meanwhile, the entire press corps has ducked the interesting part of that column—the part where Kristof seemed to get played by that person involved in the Niger caper. To appearances, Wilson misled Kristof, Pincus and Judis/Ackerman about what he did and saw on his trip. For this and other reasons, we have long offered incomparable advice—advice our readers have refused to accept. We have said that we ought to be careful about accepting frameworks on Plame and Niger which come to us from Wilson himself. Weve said that well wait for Fitzgerald to act before we try to judge just what happened.
In fact, the press corps adopted Wilsons framework on these matters—adopted them right from the start. Indeed, it was one of the few events in the previous decade where the press corps adopted the Dem/liberal framework on such a key story. To this day, Wilsons apparent dissembling has gone unexplored—and many bits of conventional wisdom have been accepted, on faith, from his mouth. We chuckled as VandeHei misstated Kristofs column, in a way that made things a bit worse for Cheney—and as he continued to ignore the interesting part of that key Kristof piece.
But lets return to the heart of VandeHeis Sunday report. Do you have any idea—any idea at all—what that underlying criminal purpose might be? It was the central point of VandeHeis report—and we have no earthly idea what he meant. Cant you see why we jumped at the chance to praise Robinsons acuity this morning? At THE HOWLER, were generous to a fault—so we leaped at the chance to heap propers.