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12 November 2001

Our current howler (part III): Wes Pruden—anti-American

Synopsis: There’s only one word for the Washington Times. Their conduct is anti-American.

Letters to the editor
The Washington Times, 11/9/01

Clinton calls terror a U.S. debt to past
Joseph Curl, The Washington Times, 11/8/01

Almost instantly, deceived, misled readers of the Washington Times began sending in angry letters. The Times had lied in their faces about What Clinton Said—but readers had no way of knowing. Robert Snopek, for example, had been deceived out in Woodbridge, Virginia:


Former President Bill Clinton reasons that we are experiencing foreign terror on our own soil because of our history of internal terror—slavery and the harsh treatment of American Indians ("Clinton calls terror a U.S. debt to past," Nov. 8). He also seems to think we Americans are suffering for the crusades, even though they were fought in the 11th and 12th centuries, long before the American founding. I hope the rest of America recognizes this prattle for what it is: good old Arkansas hogwash.

Wednesday’s speech at Georgetown University was classic Clinton…

Woodbridge, Va.

Except Clinton had said nothing like that (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/9/01). Meanwhile, up in Hummelstown, Maryland, Mary Migala had been deceived too:

It is shameful enough that former President Bill Clinton took the occasion of his speech at Georgetown University to act as a poster boy for the "America got what it deserves" crowd. But he showed his trademark state of denial and lack of shame when he said the U.S. government is "woefully" lacking on several key terrorism-prevention areas. Hello? Who was president for the past eight years and did nothing in those areas?

Hummelstown, Pa.

But did Clinton say that "America got what it deserved?" The statement is complete, utter nonsense. There is nothing resembling that view in his speech—though readers of the Washington Times couldn’t know that. The Washington Times had deceived its readers—and angry readers were taking the bait. The Times published letters from irate readers who didn’t know that the paper had lied. But they also published a letter from a student. And the student had actually been there:

Your article "Clinton calls terror a U.S. debt to past" is inaccurate and misrepresentative of the speech Mr. Clinton gave at Georgetown University.

As a Georgetown student, I attended the former president’s speech on Wednesday, and after reading your article, I was perplexed to see how his words could be construed in any way as a statement that the United States was somehow paying a debt to its past…


Ruesch was the sole correspondent who actually knew what Clinton had said. The Times published letters from seven other readers, who didn’t have any way of knowing that the paper had lied in their faces.

How had the Times misled its readers? Let’s start with the headline of its original piece about the Clinton speech. "Clinton calls terror a U.S. debt to past," said the November 8, page-one headline. In fact, Clinton had noted—in a brief, fleeting comment—that terroristic behavior had been directed at blacks and native Americans in the American past. And he noted—again in passing—that the west had engaged in acts of terror against Islam during the Crusades. (For the record, the accuracy of these fleeting remarks is, of course, blindingly obvious.) But nowhere did Clinton ever say or suggest that we therefore "got what we deserved" on September 11—though Joseph Curl and the Washington Times labored long and hard to convey that impression. That’s right—on Thursday, Curl and his editors deceived Snopek and Migala. Only Ruesch had seen Clinton’s speech. Ruesch, therefore, was quite "perplexed" by the way the Times described it.

As we noted in Friday’s HOWLER, when the AP sent out a report on this speech, they didn’t mention any of the remarks about which Migala and Snopek were complaining. Here was an obvious reason for the AP’s omission—Clinton hadn’t made the remarks! At a time of great national stress, the Washington Times had baldly deceived its readers. Our question: Just which English-language words can we use to describe conduct like that?

The Times should be stopped—in its tracks

How disgusting does it get when the Washington Times lies and slanders? A personal note—on Saturday afternoon, we were driving through central Pennsylvania, and heard a syndicated talk show host on WHP-AM in Harrisburg. The station should feel deeply ashamed for what it broadcast this day. The host, Mark Williams, kept saying that Clinton had spoken at George Washington University; clearly, he didn’t know where Clinton had spoken, let alone what he had said. But Williams knew what the hot, new slanders were, and he eagerly spewed them about. Mark Williams told listeners, all over the country, that Clinton "appeared to be either very tired or very drunk at George Washington University" (yes, dear readers, it’s come to that). But the repulsive Williams said something else too. "It turns out," this little guy said, that Clinton is "in philosophical agreement with those who hate America." This is, of course, a vicious slander—an absurd misstatement of Clinton’s speech. But WHP’s misused listeners had no way whatever to know that. Alas! Listeners called in from around the country, shaking their fists in the air at Vile Clinton—listeners who had no way of knowing that WHP and its host, Mark Williams, were lying to them, lying right in their faces.

So dear readers, here’s what happened. At a time of great national stress—at a time when we talk about national unity—the Washington Times had a better idea. The Times set out to deceive its readers—and the Times set out to slander a president. What kind of people behave like that, at a time of such national challenge? What kind of people set out to score points at a time like this by engaging in such loathsome slander?

What kind of people behave this way? There’s a word for them—anti-American. And understand—the Washington Times will never stop until the American people make them. The Washington Times will keep his up for just as long as their conduct is tolerated. Our question: Will Americans ever have the courage to make Wes Pruden and his ugly gang stop?

Next: There’s nothing too stupid for the Fox News Channel. On Thursday, Brit Hume’s "all-stars" proved it.

Note to Pruden, anti-American: That’s right, Wes—we’re calling you out. We wonder why you deceive your readers at a time of such national challenge. And we wonder if you have the courage to stand up and explain what you’ve done. But that would require a full, fair debate—one in which the truth is heard. Our question: At this point, are you even prepared to pretend that you believe in such American values?


The Daily update (11/12/01)

How trained spinners do it: Clinton told the students that "we have to win the fight we’re in;" he assured them that terrorists always win at first, but "then sooner or later, hopefully sooner, decent people get together and figure out how to defend themselves." He also said this: "I am just a citizen, and as a citizen I support the efforts of President Bush, the national security team, and our allies in fighting the current terrorist threat. I believe we all should." But how boring—those are the things that he actually said. To content yourself with his actual speech, you know what to do—just click here. By the way, you’ll note that Clinton’s remarks about slavery are a tiny, fleeting part of his speech.

Meanwhile, how do talented spinners deceive? As we’ve told you, they almost never lie. Here is the opening of Joseph Curl’s 11/8 article. You’ll note that Curl never says the things Magala and Snopek took from his piece. Did Clinton say that "America got what it deserved?" Plainly, Curl never says that. Clever spinners don’t lie—they insinuate. They know that Mark Williams—and Rush, of course—will take their insinuations from there:

HEADLINE: Clinton calls terror a U.S. debt to past;
Cites slavery in Georgetown speech


Bill Clinton, the former president, said yesterday that terror has existed in America for hundreds of years and the nation is "paying a price today" for its past of slavery and for looking "the other way when a significant number of native Americans were dispossessed and killed."

"Here in the United States, we were founded as a nation that practiced slavery, and slaves quite frequently were killed even though they were innocent," said Mr. Clinton in a speech to nearly 1,000 students at Georgetown University’s ornate Gaston Hall.

"This country once looked the other way when a significant number of native Americans were dispossessed and killed to get their land or their mineral rights or because they were thought of as less than fully human.

"And we are still paying a price today," said Mr. Clinton, who was invited to address the students by the university’s School of Foreign Service. Mr. Clinton, wearing a gray suit and orange tie, arrived 45 minutes late for the event…

The headline makes an inflammatory statement which isn’t made in Curl’s piece itself. Did Clinton say that the 9/11 "terror" was somehow related to our past? No, he didn’t—and Curl never claims that he did. Clinton did say—in one brief passage—that we still pay a price for past slavery. By the way, that is a thoroughly commonplace notion—one Clinton mentioned quite briefly, in passing. Clinton’s fleeting remarks in that area had almost nothing to do with the overall thrust of his speech. Weird, isn’t it? Curl spent his first four paragraphs on a minor aside—a small, fleeting part of Clinton’s speech.

So how did the Times deceive the nation? Simple! Curl took a tiny piece of Clinton’s speech, and pretended it was his major theme. And the headline writer jacked it up farther, saying something which even Curl never said. Presto! Twenty-four hours later, the Times got to print a bunch of wildly inaccurate letters—letters which said the very things the newspaper wanted you to think from the start. By Friday, he Times got to put false information in front of its readers—things the Times itself never had said.

So that’s the way trained spinners work. They even do it at times of great challenge. The Washington Times is quite good at this stuff. And there’s a word for it—anti-American!