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KILLING THE PIG! The White House went to war sliming Clarke. Don Imus seemed born to follow:

MONDAY, MARCH 29, 2004

WE KNOW WHAT HE SAID THAT SUMMER: How hapless is the New York Times? In this morning’s page-one lead story, Eric Lichtblau displays the paper’s standard ineptitude—and in this instance, the Times is (somewhat) unfair to Bush. Sunday’s network interview shows were simply packed with newsworthy highlights. Somehow, though, the Times thought this was the biggest thing that happened:

LICHTBLAU (pgh 1): The White House acknowledged Sunday that on the day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush pressed his top counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, to find out whether Iraq was involved.
But of course, the White House did not acknowledge that Bush “pressed” Clarke on Iraq’s involvement—the claim Clarke makes in his book. Condi Rice did acknowledge, on 60 Minutes, that Bush asked Clarke to examine that question. But Rice didn’t say that Bush “pressed” his aide. Bush asked “a perfectly logical question,” she said—and no, her statement wasn’t Big News. Meanwhile, please note: On the Times web site, the word “pressed”—which appears in the paper we found on our doorstep—has been changed to the appropriate word, “asked.” But who would think that this minor point was the Biggest News from Sunday’s programs? Only the people who run the Times—the emptiest suits in the town.

By the way, what did Bush think about Iraq’s involvement? You’ll never learn it from your “press corps,” but the president’s thoughts are on the record—and they tend to support Clarke’s impressions. In Bush at War, Bob Woodward quotes Bush at a crucial NSC meeting on September 17, 2001:

WOODWARD (page 98-99): As for Saddam Hussein, the president ended the debate [about immediate military action against Iraq]. “I believe Iraq was involved, but I’m not going to strike them now. I don’t have the evidence at this point.”
According to Woodward, Bush “believed Iraq was involved” in 9/11, although he “didn’t have the evidence.” What a fascinating bit of text! Readers, is it reassuring to know that Bush “believes” important things although he “doesn’t have the evidence?” This passage certainly tends to support Clarke’s portrait of Bush-on-Iraq. But you didn’t see it mentioned last week, despite all the flap about Clarke’s troubling claim. Why didn’t you see this? We’re not sure. But let’s face it: Among its other troubling traits, this “press corps” just doesn’t read books. Books are hard, and they take too long. The press doesn’t cotton to that.

For the record, Lichtblau ends up quoting Bush at War—but only the part which Clarke has been quoting! Indeed, Bush at War supports quite a few of Clarke’s “controversial” claims; we’ll review this point as the week moves on. Meanwhile, today’s front-page is the latest joke from our most inept paper—the Times.

WE HEARD AMERICA SPINNING: It’s a war for survival, with the White House trying to slime Clarke’s credibility and character. And how does the “press corps” sort through the mess? You might like to know what your fellow Americans were hearing on cable this morning.

Let’s start at 6 AM, with Fox & Friends, the most propagandistic “news” program ever broadcast in this country. Brian Kilmeade and Kiran Chetry were up quite early, reading the Official Fox Spin-Points—and needless to say, the Kool-Aid Kids quickly began trashing Clarke’s credibility and character. After a segment about Condi Rice’s great integrity, Kilmeade got started on Clarke:

KILMEADE: All right, six minutes after the hour—let’s talk a little Richard Clarke. There’s a little problem with Richard Clarke…
On Fox & Friends, that’s their idea of “we report, you decide!” Predictably, Kilmeade and Chetry staged a “fair and balanced” trashing of All Things Clarke. Eventually, they zeroed in on the troubling amounts he’s earning from sales of his book:
KILMEADE: He seems to have gotten very emotional yesterday and then, when asked what’s he doing with all his money, he said, Yeah, I’ll give some to the victims, I plan on doing that, but according to the White House, I’ll never work in Washington again, so I have to look out for my own bank account—which by the way, will be pretty large.

CHETRY: Yeah, this is what happened. Apparently, he’s already gotten a six-figure advance and he’s on track to earn over a million dollars just in cash advance and royalties, but people say that this will soon turn into a seven-figure total compensation if sales continue at the pace they are now...

Please don’t make us transcribe all her comments. But Chetry—a bright person who resisted the Kool-Aid for years—rambled on with more of the clowning that defines the Fox & Friends style. “Apparently there’s some talk that, if this book hits and then stays on the New York Times best-seller list, that’s more cash for Richard Clarke as well,” she concluded. Really! If he sells more books, he gets more money? But the consummate rubes who watch this program seem to enjoy being talked to this way. Just how dumb does Fox & Friends get? As Kilmeade went to a live shot from Baghdad, he got in one last shot at Clarke:
CHETRY: Apparently there’s some talk that, if this book hits and then stays on the New York Times best-seller list, that’s more cash for Richard Clarke as well.

KILMEADE: Yeah, it’s sold a half million copies, that’s a lot. All right, nine minutes after the hour. Jonathan Hunt is in the middle of it all in Baghdad—where, if Richard Clarke had his way, we wouldn’t be…

No, we didn’t make that up! It was time to “kill the pig” on Fox. Kilmeade knew that he had to trash Clarke in Every Single Word That He Said

You’d think it couldn’t get any dumber—but if so, you didn’t watch Imus this morning. When Fox threw to Hunt, we switched to Don, and were treated to a stupid tirade which made the Fox friends sound like the Twins Einstein. What had Imus troubled this morning? Don was upset because Clarke didn’t say what percentage of his earnings will go to victims’ families. On and on the I-man went, trashing Clarke in the strongest language. And of course, Clarke “has been on the government dole for the past thirty years,” and “he’s never had a real job.” “We’ve been paying his salary for thirty years,” Imus said. He was still ranting about these concerns when he put him back on at 8:30.

It’s obvious why the “friends” are trashing Clarke. A war is on, and like everyone at Fox, they’re reading the Approved White House Spin-Points. It’s less clear why Imus has trashed Clarke so hard. But one thing is clear. When future generations play tape of these shows, they will blush to think that they’re part of a race which once produced such consummate idiots.

PERFECT RICE EVERY TIME: When Imus spoke with NBC’s Bob Kur, the I-man wondered why Condi Rice won’t testify in public. To Kur, it was clearly a “matter of principle,” since there’s nothing Rice could possibly say which could possibly hurt the White House. Other notions didn’t occur. For example, is it possible that the White House doesn’t want Rice to testify because she has made so many gonzo statements in the past? That possibility would occur to almost anyone—but no, it didn’t occur to Kur. And Imus swallowed what he was told. He wondered why the White House would make such a stupid political blunder.

Which brings us back to last Thursday’s Hardball. During the program, Chris Matthews played some remarkable tape. It was Condi Rice in May 2002, rapping on airplanes-as-weapons:

RICE (5/12/02): I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon. That they would try to use an airplane as a missile? A hijacked airplane as a missile? All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking.
Of course, there had been numerous warnings, before 9/11, about terrorists using airplanes as weapons. Rice’s statement was truly amazing. Obvious judgment? Rice was clueless again.

But Condi Rice is a press corps untouchable, so Washington journalists have never asked her to explain this remarkable statement. Never! She’s never been asked! But on Thursday, Matthews was playing this tape for Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died on 9/11. Because Breitweiser isn’t part of the club, she quickly voiced the obvious response—the one “journalists” all know to avoid:

BREITWEISER: Either she flat out lied or she’s incompetent, because the historical record is replete with instances of planes being used as missiles.

I can hold up the joint inquiry report. You see all the post-its on here, indicating instances of planes being used as missiles, of al Qaeda being interested in using plane as missiles of attacks in the homeland.

And I think that she needs to go before the American people and set the record straight.

Holding a thick congressional report, Breitweiser noted the absurdity of Rice’s statement. But wouldn’t you know it? The previous night, Matthews had played this same tape for Michael Isikoff and Dana Milbank. Neither made the obvious comment. In today’s Washington, only someone who isn’t a “journalist” is allowed to say things that are true.

Amazing, isn’t it? No “journalist” has ever asked Rice to explain her astounding remark. But then, last week was so bad for Rice that Pincus and Milbank did a Post piece about Icon Condi’s assorted odd statements. Omigod! They cited airplanes-as-weapons. They cited her “misstatement” about those aluminum tubes. And they cited several other groaners, howlers The Icon voiced just last week. We strongly suggest that you read this report—and marvel to think that the rest of the press refuses to challenge this favorite.

On Hardball, Breitweiser made the obvious comment—the one your “press corps” knows to avoid. But then, Condi Rice is a press corps untouchable. It doesn’t matter what she says. In the hands of a fawning “press,” we get Perfect Rice every time.

KITTEN-KILLER STARTS TO WEASEL: “That’s astonishing,” Josh Marshall wrote—and here at THE HOWLER, we hugely agree. Marshall referred to a Friday night MSNBC report about kitten-killing conservative Bill Frist. On Friday afternoon, Frist slimed Clarke on the Senate floor—but soon, he started to weasel:

MSNBC: “Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath,” Frist said in a speech from the Senate floor, alleging that Clarke said in 2002 that the Bush administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al-Qaida before the attacks.

Frist later retreated from directly accusing Clarke of perjury, telling reporters that he personally had no knowledge that there were any discrepancies between Clarke’s two appearances. But he said, “Until you have him under oath both times, you don’t know.”

Say what? In the Senate, Frist said Clarke “told two entirely different stories under oath.” But a few hours later, he told MSNBC that he didn’t know if there were any discrepancies!

Marshall’s right. It’s astonishing that Frist would make such a speech if he knew of no “discrepancies.” But then, the pet-snuffing solon never said that Clarke had actually perjured himself. As slime-merchants always do, he insinuated:

FRIST (Senate speech): It is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media. But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is a far more serious matter. As I mentioned, the intelligence committee is seeking to have Mr. Clarke’s previous testimony declassified so as to permit an examination of Mr. Clarke’s two different accounts. Loyalty to any Administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied before Congress.
The clever Frist kept saying “if” as he put his nasty charge into play. Soon, reporters swung into action. The word “perjury” is now all over the press, directly applied to Clarke.

Frist was playing a nasty game. We agree with Josh—his conduct was astonishing. But Frist, like Rice, is a press corps favorite. Al Hunt hammered the solon on Capital Gang—but seemed to feel that he had to call Frist “someone I have long admired.” We think you know how Frist’s game worked. Frist walked away with barely a scratch—and questions abound about Clarke’s alleged perjury! Yes, it really would be astonishing—except in today’s hopeless “press.”