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Caveat lector

TRAINED SEELYE! Katharine “Kit” Seelye is faking again. She’ll do it until she is stopped:

MONDAY, MARCH 22, 2004

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE BUMILLER MIND: If you still don’t know what the New York Times has become, this morning’s edition puts your questions to rest. Richard Clarke is found at the bottom of page A18, where his startling new book and 60 Minutes interview are treated by White House stenographer Judith Miller. Before offering an abbreviated listing of Clarke’s striking claims, Miller gives unnamed Bush officials plenty of space to speculate about his troubling motives. But for a taste of the New York Times’ state-sponsored journalism, look again to Elisabeth Bumiller and her latest “White House Letter.” Today, she mind-reads Bush once again, telling us how much he enjoys life out on the trail. Headline? “Running on a Campaign Trail Paved in Comfy Feathers.” Awww! But then, the sun eternally shines on Bush in this hapless scribe’s spotless reports:

BUMILLER (pgh 2): These days, one of the striking things about Mr. Bush's campaign for re-election is how much he actually likes getting out and asking people for votes. And why not? He feels cooped up at the White House, and running for president as president is a lot better than running as challenger.
Bush just luvs campaigning, Bumiller says. Indeed, it’s much more fun than last time. But how can she know these things are true? Easy! Bumiller knows these things are true because she heard Laura Bush say them!
BUMILLER (pgh 3): As Laura Bush told thousands of supporters on Saturday at a campaign rally in Orlando, Fla., life on the stump has improved for the couple since her husband ran unsuccessfully for Congress from Texas more than a quarter century ago.

(4) “I have to say campaigning is a little bit different than that first one, in 1978,” Mrs. Bush told the crowd. “These days we get to travel in a very nice airplane instead of an old Chevy Cutlass.”

Awww! In her latest Hallmark card to Bush, Bumiller provides the homey details that any White House loves seeing in print. Indeed, just as she did in last week’s “Letter,” Bumiller starts quoting New York Rep. Peter King about how much fun Bush is on the road. Here is the spotless way she ends this latest puff piece:
BUMILLER: Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who spent eight hours with Mr. Bush on a trip to Long Island this month, said the president insisted that he and Representative Vito J. Fossella, another New York Republican, watch sports on the trip back to Washington.

“Coming back in the car,” Mr. King said, “he’s telling us: ‘We’re going to relax on the way back. You guys are going to watch the basketball game.’ He was telling us about this new screen he has, how you can get ESPN.”

Once on board, though, Mr. Bush had a little trouble with the controls. “He gets the remote and nothing’s happening,” Mr. King recounted. “He calls the steward and says, ‘What’s wrong with my television?’ The look on his face was, ‘I’m the most powerful guy in the world and I can’t get my television to work.’ And the guy comes back and says, ‘It takes seven minutes to warm up.’”

Mr. Bush, Mr. King said, seemed amused, but threw a mock tantrum. “He said, ‘Seven minutes!’” Mr. King recalled. “‘The game could be going into overtime! Anything could happen in seven minutes!’”

As it happened, nothing did. The game came on, Connecticut beat Notre Dame, Mr. King and Mr. Fossella ate pizza—and the president was home in time to sleep in his own bed.

Awww! Incredibly, Bumiller produces such vacuous “coverage” on a routine basis. In recent weeks, she has written a “letter” in praise of the Bush bedtime habits, and several “letters” letting us know how much the great president enjoys his campaigning. Here are the cheery headlines from the past two weeks alone:
March 8: White House Letter: Bush Ready And Bursting To Bring It On

March 15: White House Letter: Want a Reliable President? Here’s One You Can Set Your Clocks By

March 18: Political Memo: Bush Glad to Be in the Campaign Fray and Not Above It

March 22: White House Letter: Running on a Campaign Trail Paved in Comfy Feathers
This is clowning of the type produced by Frank Bruni in Campaign 2000, when the fatuous flunky pandered and fawned as he “covered” the Bush campaign.

Let’s repeat that key phrase: State-sponsored journalism. How far in the bag has the Gotham Times gone? This morning, even the Washington Times gives Clarke more prominence than its more famous namesake does. And Bumiller? She offers another spotless look at a happy president in his warm bed. If you still don’t know what the Times has become, you should shell out a dollar this morning.

CAMPAIGN 2000, THE SEQUEL: Of course, we all know what to expect from the state-sponsored Washington Times. But even we were forced to laugh at Stephen Dinan’s front-page story this morning. Headline: “GOP sees pattern of fabrication by Kerry.” In his opening paragraph, Dinan cuts-and-pastes from Campaign 2000, typing “Kerry” where the script once said “Gore” and “Massachusetts” where it said “Tennessee:”
DINAN (pgh 1): Republican campaigners continuing to highlight John Kerry’s statements that he has been endorsed by “foreign leaders,” assert that this is part of a pattern of fabrications and exaggerations going back to his Massachusetts campaigns.
Readers enjoyed this story in Campaign 2000, so the Times is going to let them enjoy it again. The White House is going to sponsor such tales—and the Dinans are eager to type them.

Annals of the weekend

JOHN HARRIS HAS NO PLAN TO STOP: When future scholars study the modern press corps, one key point will be always be noted: This press corps never abandons its stories, no matter how bogus they turn out to be. Case in point: John Harris, in yesterday’s Washington Post. Harris discussed Kerry’s apparent claim that some foreign leaders prefer him to Bush. Harris noted that Kerry now says that he will accept no foreign endorsements. Then, he dragged out a treasured old script. Try to believe—just try to believe—that scribes are still willing to type this:

HARRIS: So goes the effort to end the hubbub over perhaps the most damaging boast in U.S. politics since Al Gore claimed the invention of the Internet.
Al Gore claimed he invented the Internet! By now, everyone knows that this tortured old claim is absurdly unfair. But it’s a Treasured And Hoary Press Script, and sticking to these hoary old scripts is part of the press corps’ pathology. Indeed, how far will they go to maintain bogus tales? Read Harris’ inane fuller statement:
HARRIS: So goes the effort to end the hubbub over perhaps the most damaging boast in U.S. politics since Al Gore claimed the invention of the Internet. Like that earlier boast—Gore was indeed an important early backer of government research funding for the technology that eventually became the Internet—this [alleged boast by Kerry] may well have more truth than not.
What a ludicrous presentation! Let’s state the obvious: If Gore had said he invented the Internet, the statement would not have had “more truth than not.” Since no one actually “invented the Internet,” such a statement would have been delusional—which is just the way the press corps played the invented statement during Campaign 2000. So why does Harris make this odd presentation? Simple. He knows his hoary old script is a joke, but also knows, by Hard Pundit Law, that he is required to keep reciting it. And so, as a deal, he throws you a bone, saying Gore’s non-existent statement was actually more right than wrong.
(By the way: How weird would it be if the most damaging boast of the past six years had actually been more right than wrong? Harris simply types along, ignoring the oddness of his statement.)

How can we deal with this endless deception—this endless subversion of your public discourse? For starters, decent Americans should revile John Harris whenever they pass him in the street. But Harris is hardly alone in his conduct; as a group, his colleagues refuse to drop their scripts, or to acknowledge their own past misconduct. And Harris’ colleagues have many slick ways to hide the things they have done in the past. Last Wednesday, for example, the AP’s Ron Fournier showcased one time-honored device. Discussing Bush and Kerry’s attacks on each other, he uncorked a hoary old howler:
FOURNIER: Few of [Bush and Kerry’s] assertions are patently wrong; most reside in the murky gray area between correct and incorrect—a rhetorical margin of error. Just as Bush convinced many Americans in 2000 that Democrat Al Gore fabricated his biography and record, Bush and Kerry hope to open a credibility gap.
We’ve told you this, again and again: The press corps always blames someone else for its own misconduct. What is the truth about Campaign 2000? During that race, Candidate Bush played almost no role in “convincing Americans that Gore fabricated his biography and record.” By mid-March 2000, Bush did begin to refer, on occasion, to some of the iconic slanders of Gore. But at that point, who had been pushing these tales for a year? Of course! The Washington press corps! “Invented the Internet,” to cite one example, began in March 1999 (about one year before Bush ever mentioned it). But journalists always do what Fournier did—they always pretend that someone else pushed the endless false tales about Gore. Sometimes they say it was “late-night comedians;” sometimes they blame “Gore’s Republican opponents.” But they never tell you the truth—never say that they, the press, did it! Fournier is lying, right in your face. But then, that’s what this slimy “press” does.

Harris and Fournier should be reviled whenever they move through the streets. And make no mistake: They will never stop subverting your discourse until American citizens make them. They will never abandon their Treasured Old Stories. They will deceive you until forced to stop.

ERRATUM: Last Thursday, Thomas Lang discussed Fournier’s piece at But Lang made an error that should be corrected. He said that Gore made his innocuous statement about the Internet in late June 1999. In fact, the statement was made on March 9, 1999, during Gore’s first interview as a declared candidate. (The press corps, angry over Clinton’s recent impeachment acquittal, was plainly lying in wait.) It’s important that Americans understand how Campaign 2000 was covered, and so we offer this correction.

On Saturday, by the way, Lang penned an incomparable critique of an AP report by Jonathan Solomon. Wouldn’t you know it? Solomon has been taking his scripts from the RNC once again, a point we’ll discuss in more detail tomorrow. In the meantime, we strongly advise you to read Lang’s piece.

TRAINED SEELYE: Is Kerry soft on defense? Soft on intelligence? Bush has made harsh claims in recent weeks, and some of those claims are plainly bogus. On March 8, for example, the president made an ugly charge about a bill Kerry proposed in 1994—a bill which would have cut the intelligence budget by $1.5 billion over five years. “His bill was so deeply irresponsible that he didn’t have a single co-sponsor in the United States Senate,” Bush thundered. “Once again, Senator Kerry is trying to have it both ways. He’s for good intelligence, yet he was willing to gut the intelligence services.”

That is, of course, an ugly charge. But is it true? Was Kerry “willing to gut the intelligence services?” In fact, Bush’s charge was patently phony, as Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank made clear in the March 12 Washington Post. Was Kerry trying to “gut” intelligence? Sorry—Bush was lying once again:
PINCUS/MILBANK (pgh 3): Bush appears to be wrong when he said the proposed Kerry cut—about 1 percent of the overall intelligence budget for those years—would have “gutted” intelligence. In fact, the Republican-led Congress that year approved legislation that resulted in $3.8 billion being cut over five years from the budget of the National Reconnaissance Office—the same program Kerry said he was targeting.
The key facts? Kerry’s $1.5 billion proposal was one percent of the intelligence budget! And Republicans passed a similar bill which cut intelligence spending more than twice as much! Bush was lying to the public again—and the facts of the case are quite easy to state. But as we noted in last Friday’s HOWLER, the great-and-mighty New York Times had still not made the slightest attempt to analyze what Bush had said.

On Saturday, the Times finally dealt with Bush’s charge. Unfortunately, the assignment was given to Katharine “Kit” Seelye, one of the press corps’ most bald-faced dissemblers. During Campaign 2000, we called the Times scribe “Spinner One,” and she developed a world-wide reputation for her endless attacks against Gore. On Saturday, this inventive creature got busy again, spinning Kerry, the latest Dem hopeful. As part of a lengthy analysis of Kerry’s record, she discussed that nasty charge by Bush. We’ll show you her full “analysis:”
SEELYE: President Bush has said that another Kerry proposal from 1995—to cut $1.5 billion from the intelligence budget, or $300 million each year for five years—was a plan to “gut” the intelligence services and was so “deeply irresponsible” that no senator joined Mr. Kerry in sponsoring it.

Jonathan Wiener, a long-time Kerry aide and adviser on national security, said no one co-sponsored Mr. Kerry’s bill because it was superceded by a similar bill offered that same day by Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who was chairman of the intelligence committee. Mr. Specter's measure passed by voice vote.

“This wasn’t even controversial,” Mr. Wiener said.

Republican officials counter that the Kerry camp is rewriting history. They said the Kerry and Specter measures had two different purposes. The Specter legislation cut money from the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees spy satellites, because it had unspent money set aside in a secret fund.

Mr. Kerry’s measure was titled “Responsible Deficit Reduction Act of 1995,” reflecting his goal of reducing the deficit by cutting both military and nonmilitary spending. It did not mention the National Reconnaissance Office.

Rand Beers, the Kerry campaign’s foreign policy adviser, said Mr. Kerry did not mention the reconnaissance office because the committee’s deliberations were supposed to be classified. But, Mr. Beers said, he was “going after” the same office.

That was it! As you can see, Seelye spent six paragraphs on this specific charge, part of a lengthy article. But good old “Kit!” As you can see, she managed to avoid the salient facts about Bush’s nasty allegation. She forgot to say that Kerry’s “gutting of intelligence” involved one percent of the intelligence budget. And she forgot to say that the Republican-sponsored measure cut intelligence more than twice as much! Pincus and Milbank put these obvious facts in the third paragraph of their article. But Seelye, penning six grafs on the topic, somehow forgot to include these facts anywhere at all.

Of course, no one should be surprised by such deceptions. During Campaign 2000, Seelye trashed Gore from beginning to end, becoming a joke within her own press corps. Finally, in August 2000, the London-based Financial Times told the truth about her grinding misconduct. According to the Times, Seelye was “hostile to the [Gore] campaign, doing little to hide [her] contempt for the candidate.” Now she’s showing her contempt for Kerry—and for the American electorate.

Tomorrow, we’ll offer more thoughts on Seelye’s report. But make no mistake. Seelye gamed Campaign 2000, and she’s apparently planning to do it again. Seelye’s “analysis” of Bush’s fake charge is a perfect example of state-sponsored journalism. Katharine “Kit” Seelye is lying again. And she’ll do it until she is stopped.

TOMORROW: More on Seelye’s Saturday piece, parts of which came straight from Solomon. Also, social promotion and readable textbooks! Our incomparable discussion continues.