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Caveat lector

26 May 1998

Our current howler: Charen does China

Synopsis: How strong was the influence of Chinese money? Mona Charen (inscrutably) would have you believe it caused events that had already happened!

U.S. security in the money bag?
Mona Charen, The Washington Times, 5/21/98

When The Greatest of Greeks arrived in D.C., he was distressed to see how little had changed since his famous first life; and he was especially distressed to see the ongoing role played in our public discourse by talented sophists (see SOCRATES READS, in progress). He critiqued their work with the tragic sense that he had seen their kind in the public square long before; and eventually, he returned to Olympus with a sense of dismay over the role they still played in our discourse.

Our vaunted analysts have been complaining, too, upon their return from Memorial Day weekend--a weekend in which they visited college campuses, and welcomed new members to the legion of scholars. They returned to our headquarters brimming with pride over the decency and integrity of the fine new scholars; and cursed their fate at having to spend their time on work like this, by Mona Charen.

In her column, Charen is busy spinning the story of the China missiles, and after several compulsory insults against President Clinton, she gets to the core of her thought. She is writing about Johnny Chung’s reported testimony to the Justice Department about Chinese aerospace executive Liu Chao-ying:

CHAREN (paragraph 8): Gen. Liu’s daughter, whose company sells missiles for the military and is involved in satellite technology, was very interested in influencing American elections, and Mr. Chung gave her access that was probably beyond her wildest expectations. He took her to see Mr. Clinton himself, first at a Beverly Hills fund-raiser in Los Angeles and later at a private dinner ($25,000 per couple) at the home of a Democratic donor.

After seeing the diligence displayed by our newest scholars in assembling their carefully-wrought senior theses, the reader will understand our analysts’ dismay at returning to writing like this. This paragraph is not the one we will principally challenge, but it serves as a nice example of sophistry, 1998-style, in which the “sophists” whom we today call spin-doctors dress up speculation and inference as fact.

Was Liu “very interested in influencing American elections?” Charen’s statement is sheer speculation. The amount of money that allegedly went from Liu to the Democrats was hardly enough to swing an election; and the “access” to which Charen refers in this paragraph was access to President Clinton, not to voting machines. Does Charen mean to say that Liu was interested in influencing U.S. China policy?According to the news accounts of Chung’s testimony on which all analysis of this matter is based, Chung has told Justice he was never asked to lobby the government on any policy matter, and never did; and at the dinner party to which Charen refers, Liu obtained the customary photo with President Clinton, which some reports have emphasized is very valuable as a promotional tool for Asian business executives. THE DAILY HOWLER has no way of knowing why Liu may have wanted to donate money, but neither of course does Mona Charen; her confident statement of Liu’s motive is (egregious) speculation masquerading as fact.

But the comedy starts in Charen’s very next paragraph. New scholars, avert your eyes:

CHAREN (paragraph 9): All harmless? In 1993, reports Bill Gertz in National Review, the Clinton administration altered U.S. export control laws to make it easier to sell weapons technology to potential adversaries. In March 1996, the administration transferred authority over satellite licensing from the State Department to the Commerce Department (which seems to have become an arm of the Clinton re-election committee).

Except we’re having a little trouble with Charen’s dates--the ones she includes, and the ones she omits. In one of those amazing oversights that occasionally occur even in the best of writing, Charen absent-mindedly fails to put a date, in her paragraph 8, on Chung’s interactions with Liu. But again according to the basic reporting on which all analysis of these matters is based, the financial transfers between Chung and Liu took place from July to September of 1996; Chung and Liu only metin June 1996! How then does Charen hope to imply in paragraph 9 that this connection, which she assures us wasn’t “harmless,” was somehow responsible for decisions made in 1993 and in March 1996?

In her paragraph 10, Charen recites a standard canard, asserting that “thanks to the Clinton administration, several firms, including Loral, gave the Chinese the ability to improve their rocket”--though it is also quite clear from the basic reporting that the Clinton administration was notinformed when Loral produced its allegedly harmful review of the performance of the Long March missile. But we really had to shake our head over Charen’s effort to reverse the flow of time. Somehow it’s implied that money that changed hands in the summer of 1996 influenced matters that happened more than three years before; and the absurdity of Charen’s time-bending presentation is masked by a convenient missing date. And this is all part of a package by Charen to convince us we can’t put our trust in President Clinton!

Socrates would always shake his head at those who would lie to “prove” that President Clinton was a liar. As our grumbling analysts finished up their critique, we only hoped the nation’s new scholars were enjoying themselves with their friends at the beach. Better they expose themselves to the sun’s brutal rays than to spirit-slaying writing like this.