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Daily Howler: Hagel is a press corps darling. So the Post pimped his fake, phony tale
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PIMPING CHUCK’S RELUCTANCE! Hagel is a press corps darling. So the Post pimped his fake, phony tale: // link // print // previous // next //

WHERE DOES DISINFORMATION COME FROM: Where does disinformation come from? Consider Bart Gellman’s short report atop page 12 in this morning’s Post. Here’s the headline, which helps to spread the latest RNC phony info:
WASHINGTON POST HEADLINE (12/22/05): Carter, Clinton Authorized Spying, RNC Says
Note: We’re using the headline from our Post hard copy, not the one at the paper’s web site.

You’re right. Technically, that headline doesn’t actually claim that Carter and Clinton “authorized spying.” It only states that the RNC says so. Of course, Gellman knew how bogus that claim really is. But you had to read all the way to his final paragraph to ferret out that information:

GELLMAN (12/22/05): The RNC's quotation of Clinton's order left out the stated requirement, in the same sentence, that a warrantless search not involve "the premises, information, material, or property of a United States person." Carter's order, also in the same sentence quoted, said warrantless eavesdropping could not include "any communication to which a United States person is a party."
In other words, Carter and Clinton didn’t “authorize spying” on U.S. citizens, as the RNC has been claiming. This matter has been discussed in detail at various outlets. For example, see this report from ThinkProgress.

Where does disinformation come from? If you’re a reader of the Post, you get the impression, from scanning today’s headlines, that Carter and Clinton “authorized spying.” You had to read the full report, rather carefully, to find out that this claim is bogus. Even then, Gellman never explicitly raises the question of the RNC’s dissembling. You have to piece the basic idea together: The RNC is at it again.

Why did Gellman write this report as he did? Why did the Post put this headline atop it? We don’t know, but we do know this: Cheers rang out at the RNC when they saw their bunk at the top of page 12, with readers required to read very carefully to discern that the claim is pure hokum.

PIMPING CHUCK’S RELUCTANCE: Chuck Hagel is a press corps favorite, and all Hagel stories get scripted accordingly. Just consider this ludicrous, three-photo story by Rebecca Blumenfeld in today’s Post.

Recently, according to Blumenfeld, Hagel got a blast from his past. His 92-year-old aunt found a box of letters from his late father—letters written during his father’s service in World War II. This was especially moving for Hagel, since his father died when Hagel was sixteen years old. Masterfully, Blumenthal takes it from there. “All day Saturday, at home in McLean, Hagel had holed up with the box,” she typed. “Hagel sat in silence in the library, reading more than a hundred letters, as his great-grandmother's clock chimed every half-hour.” By the way, how did Blumenfeld know, or think she knew, that the clock belonged to Hagel’s great-grandma? Duh! Because Hagel, whoring for attention, had told her! But then, for reasons only she and her editor could explain, Blumenfeld was willing to type nonsense like this:

BLUMENFELD (12/22/05): "This is a treasure chest," Hagel said, weeks later, as he dipped his hands into the box. "Here's 1945, '44, '43," he said, holding up batches of yellowing letters with 6-cent U.S. Army stamps.

Although he reluctantly agreed to show them, Hagel hadn't shared them with anyone yet, not even with his wife. Reading his father's letters was a raw and awkward rite, a reunion with a man lost for 43 years. "You need to sit back and savor them," Hagel said. "Rather than go through like a corn sheller."

Clearly, Blumenfeld will do and say anything to pimp the scripts of a pol the press likes. Just follow the logic of her account. We’re supposed to believe that Hagel “reluctantly” shared these letters—that the solon was so “reluctant” that he hadn’t even let his wife see them! But how “reluctant” could Hagel have been? In fact, he had whored them off to the Washington Post, eager to get that three-photo spread. No one on earth could really believe that Hagel was “reluctant” to share these letters. But Blumenfeld knew the rules of the game. Hagel is a press corps darling, and his self-pimping scripts must be typed.

All in all, we like Chuck Hagel, and find him a positive force in the Senate. But try to imagine what would have happened in 1999 if Al Gore had sought publicity in this absurd, self-serving manner. (He never did.) Surely, everyone knows what would what happened (except, of course, for career liberal writers). Outraged Post writers would have said it showed how fake and phony Gore was—that Gore was willing to do and say anything in his troubling quest for the White House. No, Gore never went whoring like that—so the press was forced to invent phony tales designed to “prove” how fake the guy was. But when Hagel actually behaves in this manner, the obedient Post pretends not to notice—even says how “reluctant” he was!

No, it doesn’t make him evil. It doesn’t mean that he’s a bad guy. But people like Hagel will do and say anything to generate discussions of their military service. They will even pretend to be “reluctant” as they “share” their family’s most private possessions. And how does the Washington Post react? Because Chuck Hagel is a favorite, they’ll even pretend they believe this nonsense. So it goes in the laughable world we still describe as a “press corps.”

WHERE DO PLEASING STORIES COME FROM: Where do pleasing stories come from—stories that warm the partisan’s heart? Consider Glenn Kessler’s informative piece in this morning’s Post.

Kessler reports on a claim from Bush’s press conference—the claim that a 1998 press corps leak caused bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone, thereby destroying the U.S. government’s ability to track him. Bush told the story twice at the conference, letting citizens zero in on the press corps’ vile, un-American ways. “But it appears to be an urban myth,” Kessler notes. In fact, bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone had been widely reported as early as 1996. Nor was bin Laden making any effort to conceal his use of the high-tech device. Did the report cause bin Laden to turn off his phone? There’s no real way to say that it did. And the 1998 report revealed no new information.

But so what? Pseudo-cons got to feel warm-and-tingly when Bush told them (twice) all about the vile media. (Bush omitted one key fact—the 1998 report had appeared in the Washington Times!) But then, pseudo-libs had enjoyed the same thrill when former Clinton officials Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon told this story in their best-selling book, The Age of Sacred Terror. In contrast to Bush, Benjamin and Simon had been careful to finger and slime the Washington Times. Pseudo-liberals enjoyed that warm glow when they read the following passage. In it, B and S describe the reaction to Clinton’s 1998 missile strikes against bin Laden-related targets:

BENJAMIN AND SIMON (page 261): [C]ontroversy erupted over whether Clinton was trying to “wag the dog,” that is, distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The Washington Times—the capital’s unabashedly right-wing newspaper, which consistently has the best sources in the intelligence world and the least compunction about leaking—ran a story mentioning that bin Laden “keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones.” Bin Laden stopped using the satellite phone instantly. The al-Qaeda leaders was not eager to court the fate of Djokar Dudayev, the Chechen insurgent leader who was killed by a Russian air defense suppression missile that homed in on its target using his satellite phone signal. When bin Laden stopped using the phone and let his aides do the calling, the United States lost its best chance to find him.
There! Reading about the perfidy of the Times, liberals got to feel warm-and-tingly—just as conservatives did this week after hearing Bush re-craft the tale.

For us, 2005 will stand as the year when we began to feel that pseudo-lib clowning matched that of the pseudo-con firmament. Let’s face it—by now, everyone knows a place they can go to hear tales that make them feel warm and tingly. And by the way, with that in mind, what follows is the latest improvement on this adaptable story.

How is this hoary tale being re-worked? In the past week, Ron Kessler—a newly-minted pseudo-con hack, presumably no relation to Glenn Kessler—has been reciting the tale all over the media. But Ron Kessler wants pseudo-con rubes to feel extra-good when they hear his recital. So he doesn’t just omit the Washington Times—perversely, he pretends that the story about bin Laden’s phone first appeared in the Washington Post! How humongous a hack is Ron Kessler? Here’s the way he reshaped the tale for Monday’s Talk of the Nation:

RON KESSLER (12/19/05): You know, let's say the Israelis let NSA know that bin Laden or one of his cohorts is on a particular phone and, in fact, we were listening in on bin Laden's satellite phone until 1998 when The Washington Post disclosed that fact and, of course, bin Laden stopped using that. Talk about undermining our security! But let's say the Israelis pass this information along. NSA has got to be on that call immediately, because either the information we lost or he'll be on another phone, and that's why this is so critical.
“Talk about undermining our security?” How about undermining our discourse—our post-Enlightenment way of life! Kessler, a newly-minted pseudo-con super-hack, wants his tribesmen to feel really good. So he keeps pretending it was the Post which sold us out in 1998. For the record, Kessler also fingered the Post on last Friday’s Special Report—and we saw him do it again last night on Fox’s Cavuto program.

Yes, our modern marketplace is all about choice. In today’s marketplace, teen-agers can select from a vast range of athletic shoes—and pseudo-cons and pseudo-libs know where to go to get well-crafted tales. This morning, Glenn Kessler lays out the facts in the Post. Given the way our culture now works, there’s a word for that approach—un-American.

BEATS THEM: Why did Benjamin and Simon tell the story that way? Glenn Kessler called up and asked:

GLENN KESSLER (12/22/05): Officials could not explain yesterday why they focused on the Washington Times story when other news organizations at the same time reported on the satellite phone—and that the information was not particularly newsworthy.

"You got me," said Benjamin, who was director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff at the time. "That was the understanding in the White House and the intelligence community. The story ran and the lights went out."

No, we’re not suggesting that B and S deliberately peddled a fake, crafted tale. But we live in a time when it’s easy to check to see if a certain report was the first. It’s strange to see these info pros simply typing a story the way they first heard it. Is this the way the NSC assembled its info for Clinton?

Final note: To make things worse, the know-it-all 9/11 commission ran with the B-and-S rendering too. Read Kessler, Glenn for the grim details. Can anyone still play this game here?