Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

CLARKE IN THE ZONE! Clarke once presented the Bush Admin line. Quickly, Mr. O started spinning:


TOMORROW: Trained Seelye, part IV.

LATEST FROM THE SPOTLESS MIND: Kafka could never have dreamed this crew up! In recent weeks, the New York Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller has published a string of bizarre “White House letters,” praising the president’s fine bedtime habits and rhapsodizing about his warm, “comfy” bed. Snoopy should have gotten a by-line. The scribe also made a fool of herself at a Democratic presidential debate.

Now, the Spotless Mind takes us behind the scenes at that famous pre-Iraq White House press conference. The conference was held on March 6, 2003; assembled reporters lobbed softballs at Bush, bringing themselves widespread ridicule (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/11/03). Finally, Bumiller explains the corps’ behavior. Kafka couldn’t have dreamed up a White House correspondent who was willing to say this in public:

BUMILLER: I think we were very deferential because…it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.
It’s frightening to stand up there, Bumiller says. It’s frightening to ask the president a question! At the time, Bush hadn’t met with the press in four months; dozens of questions were begging for answers. But according to Bumiller, it was too scary. Why did the “press” lob softballs that day? No one wanted to get in an argument, the spotless Times journalist says.

It’s amazing that Bumiller felt this way. It’s much more amazing that she’d say this in public. You sometimes think we’re being hyperbolic when we say that our “press corps” can’t be from this planet. But remember: The words we quote were recently spoken by the New York Times White House correspondent! We’ve told you for years: You don’t have a press corps! First by her “letters,” then by this statement, Bumiller makes our point clear.

RAINES ON THEIR PARADE: How ironic—that Bumiller’s other-worldly confession coincides with Howell Raines’ Atlantic piece. (Howard Kurtz describes the piece in this morning’s Post.) What did Raines think when he became the Times editor? “I thought the paper was becoming duller, slower and more uneven in quality with every passing day,” he says. The Times “badly need[ed] to raise the quality of its journalism.” But you just don’t talk that kind of smack to the Spotless Minds who work at the Times. “Many of my colleagues became enraged when I talked about the lethargy, “ Raines writes. “It was a violation of the newsroom omerta.”

Was Raines the right man for the job at the Times? On that, we have no opinion. But we couldn’t help chuckling at one part of today’s piece. Kurtz continues quoting Raines as he rips the Times’ performance. The Times could have sold more papers in Gotham, Raines says, but “we were ignoring the economic and social realities of many of our local readers’ lives.”

Say what? The Times was ignoring the real lives of its readers? Is there any chance that that could be true? Kurtz attempted to ask Raines’ replacement. But wouldn’t you know it? “The current executive editor, Bill Keller, was on vacation in the Caribbean and his office said he could not be reached!”

We got a good laugh from Kurtz’s whimsy. But while Keller lounges about in the tropics, Bumiller says that she was too scared to ask about the war with Iraq. She’d rather write about “comfy beds.” Tell us that Kafka could ever have put such a Kafkaesque world into print.

CLARKE IN THE ZONE: So let’s see. In 2002, Richard Clarke—then a high Bush Admin official—gave an anonymous background briefing. In it, he expressed the viewpoint of that administration. According to Clarke, he did this although he disagreed with some of the Bush Admin’s views.

As almost every human knows, this sort of thing goes on every day, in every type of organization. For example, lawyers speak on behalf of their clients, expressing views they may not personally hold. And yes, administration spokesmen voice administration views, although they may not agree with each point. On last night’s Hardball, for example, Chris Matthews mocked Bush spokesman Terry Holt on this very point.

MATTHEWS: When you’re on the payroll, you’re under White House discipline.

HOLT: I think the American people would expect that the truth be told by these people when they’re advising the president on counter-terrorism.

MATTHEWS: Are you allowed to speak the truth in your current capacity or do you have to give the White House line every day?

HOLT: I happen to have the truth on my side, Chris.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, that’s helpful, but it’s also convenient.

Throughout the session, Matthews challenged Holt’s criticism of Clarke. Aren’t you mouthing the Official Line? he kept asking. And Holt kept displaying his considerable skill with that old tool, the non-answer answer.

Are Clarke’s critiques of Bush on target? That is a matter of judgment. But it’s hardly surprising to learn that he once gave a briefing in which he presented the Bush Admin Line. But Fox News has an Official Line, too—Richard Clarke is a two-faced liar. Result? Last night, Bill O’Reilly played viewers for fools as he pushed this Fox Line on The Factor.

Yep! Mr. O was spinning hard—right in the “No Spin Zone,” no less! Note the things he forgot to say when he worried about Clarke’s vast duplicity:

O’REILLY: Former terror czar and book writer Richard Clarke testified today, but the more I learn about this guy, the more I’m skeptical that he is now using his knowledge for political reasons…We have two sound bites for you from Clarke, vis-a-vis Clinton and Bush. First, what he said today.

CLARKE (videotape): My impression was that fighting terrorism in general and fighting al Qaeda in particular were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration. Certainly no higher priority. I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue, but not an urgent issue.

O’REILLY: All right. But that was quite different from what Clarke said in August of 2002 when he put forth that once President Bush took office in January, 2001, he stepped up the war against al Qaeda.

CLARKE (audiotape): In the first week in February, decided on principle, in the spring, to add to the existing Clinton strategy, and to increase CIA resources, for example for covert action, five-fold, to go after al Qaeda. And then changed the strategy from one of rollback with al Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al Qaeda.

O’REILLY: Rollback under Clinton. Rapid elimination under Bush. So will the real Richard Clarke please stand up? We’ve got two sound bites. You just heard them. OK? Something’s going on here.

But wouldn’t you know it? Mr. O forgot to mention Clarke’s explanation for the statement from 2002. Then he trashed a 9/11 commissioner—and was careful to omit more key facts:
O’REILLY: By the way, former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey, a member of the commission, criticized Fox News for using that last sound bite of Clarke. So, Mr. Kerrey, are you looking out for the truth here, sir, or what?
But why did Kerrey criticize Fox? Because “that last sound bite” was from an anonymous “background” briefing—a briefing which is supposed to remain anonymous. Was Mr. O looking out for his viewers? Sorry. Instead, he picked and chose his facts, letting viewers hear those facts which would win them to the Official Fox Line.

Spokesmen give briefings every day in which they present the views of their orgs. They may not personally agree with those views; surely, every human knows it. But Fox was pushing hard last night, eager to cut into Clarke’s credibility. Is Clarke on target about the Admin? As we’ve said, that’s a matter of judgment. But Mr. O’s viewers won’t have to judge. He’ll give them only the facts they need—the facts that help push his own line.

Smile-a-while: Hannity crosses the Rubicon

SEAN SPINS THE RUBES: Low, mordant chuckles filled our vast halls as we watched Sean spin the rubes Tuesday night. In his new book, Clarke suggests that Condoleezza Rice was less-than-current about al Qaeda when the Bush Admin took office. In early 2001, Clarke briefed Rice. He writes, “Her facial expression gave the impression she’d never heard of al Qaeda before.”

Had Condi ever heard of al Qaeda? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But almost anything’s possible with Rice. Remember, this is the National Security Adviser who had never heard about airplanes as weapons and who didn’t read the whole National Intelligence Estimate before the war with Iraq. But Hannity was eager to make Clarke a liar. So he subjected Newt Gingrich to this:

HANNITY: Mr. Speaker, I want to ask you this. This new book by Mr. Clarke that is out there, he accused Condoleezza Rice, I think he was particularly vicious towards her, of having never heard of al Qaeda until he mentioned it to her in early 2001. Quote, he said, “Her facial expression gave the impression she’d never heard of al Qaeda before.”

Well, I have a tape of Condi Rice. She was on a WJR radio interview in Detroit with David Newman, and I want to play this because it contradicts that frankly mean-spirited lie that’s in this book.

Wow! Hannity really had the goods! He was going to refute Clarke’s mean-spirited lie! Rubes leaned forward in their chairs. And the rube-runner played this tape:
RICE: Osama bin Laden do two things [sic]. The first is you really have to get the intelligence agencies better organized to deal with the terrorist threat to the United States itself. One of the problems that we have is a kind of split responsibility, of course, between the CIA and foreign intelligence and the FBI and domestic intelligence.

There needs to be better cooperation because we don’t want to wake up one day and find out that Osama bin Laden has been successful on our own territory.

Sean was thrilled. “Pretty amazing, isn’t it, Mr. Speaker?” he asked. Diplomatically, Newt changed the subject.

Why did Speaker Newt move on? Duh. Clarke didn’t say that Rice had never heard of bin Laden; he said she may have been stumped by the term “al Qaeda.” But readers, Rice didn’t use that term in this tape! And trust us: If Rice ever said “al Qaeda” in public before she met Clarke, the tape would be there in Sean’s hands.

No, this doesn’t really make any difference. But our hearts went out to Speaker Gingrich, forced to listen to Sean’s silly clowning. “Nobody found the tape that I just played,” Hannity bragged, “that shows that he was dead wrong in his observation and knowledge of what Condoleezza Rice knew.” Gee, Sean, we wonder where you “found” the tape? Any chance that you “found” the tape in the hands of Terry Holt and associates?