THURSDAY, APRIL 1, 2004
DRIVING MR. CHENEY: Its official: When Dick Cheney meets the 9/11 commission, he will be accompanied by his personal chauffeur, George W. Bush. The arrangement is a coup for the commission. Eavesdropping drivers often recall details that harried execs have forgotten. Bush, as hes affectionately called, may fill in the gaps on awkward matters which Cheney forgets.
Yes, the announcement of this joint appearance puts the pundit corps to the test. The arrangement simply cries for parody; joke themes virtually write themselves. (Buddy films, anybody? Too bad The Defiant Ones is so old.) Surely, Leno declared a Day of Thanks in honor of this laughable announcement. For humorists, this event isnt batting practice. This event is a game of t-ball.
How innately laughable is this plan? Already, the commissions co-chairman has joked about itand we mean Tom Kean, the Republican chair! But this creates a test for your pundits. Will the nations store-bought sages dare to joke about Dear Leader? Maureen Dowd has started her engines. But will the pundit corps store-bought flunkeys ever dare to follow?
Meanwhile, were standing our ground about Sean Hannity. If its shown that he has committed plagiarism, we think he should be fired by Fox. How could Fox keep him on the air if it turns out that hes a plagiarist, not unlike Jayson Blair? Its time to kick him off his show if its proven that Sean has plagiarized. Needless to say, though, well be withholding judgment until weve received all the facts.
WOLF SHOULD HOWL: What type of person does the White House dispatch to make a joke of your national discourse? Lets revisit that conversation between CNNs willing victim, Wolf Blitzer, and dissembling Bush spokesmen Jim Wilkinson (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/31/04).
Background: In chapter 10 of Richard Clarkes book, he explains his opposition to the war in Iraq. In detail, he explains why the war plays into Osama bin Ladens hands. He may be right, or he may be wrong. This passage ends the chapter:
CLARKE (page 246): Nothing America could have done would have provided Al-Qaida and its new generation of cloned groups a better recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country. Nothing else could have so well negated all our other positive acts and so closed Muslim eyes and ears to our subsequent calls for reform in their region. It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting, Invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.Clarke imagines bin Laden engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush. Those familiar with life on this planet will know he was speaking ironically.
But the White House hopes to make a joke of your discourse, and fellows like Blitzer seem eager to help. Bush aides dont want to discuss Clarkes ideasthey want to slime and smear the messenger. They want to talk about profiteering. They want to talk about bad motives. According to Blitzer, they want to whisper about weird aspects of Clarkes personal life. And they want to find trivial points in the book which they can use to create dumb distortions.
Which brings us up to Wilkinsons visit with Blitzer on Monday, March 22. The night before, Clarke appeared on 60 Minutes. Uh-oh! Clarke was experienced and authoritative; he seemed to know whereof he spoke. So the White House sent Wilkinson on the air to insult you with nonsense like this:
WILKINSON (3/22/04): Let me also point something. If you look in [Clarkes] book you find interesting things such as reported in the Washington Post this morning. Hes talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and bin Laden has a mystical mind control over U.S. officials. This is sort of X-Files stuff, and this is a man in charge of terrorism, Wolf, who is supposed to be focused on it and he was focused on meetings.That was part of Wilkinsons rambling, dissembling answer to a serious question from Blitzer. And yesthe X-Files stuff to which he referred was the passage quoted above from Clarkes book. The passage had been quoted that morningwith perfect seriousnessin Barton Gellmans profile in the Post. But what did a man like Wilkinson do? Wilkinson make a sick joke of your discourse. The fake man pretended that this passage shows Richard Clarke is half-nuts.
For openers, lets just state the obvious: Wilkinsona consummate fakedidnt believe a word he said. He knew that he was spreading garbage. Asked about a serious matter, he did his best to fool the rubesand to make a sick joke of your discourse.
But that, of course, brings us to Blitzer. No, it wasnt Blitzers fault that Wilkinson made this insulting presentation. But the CNN host didnt say a word, then or later, about Wilkinsons consummate clowning. This raises a problem which journalists face when dealing with the current Bush White House.
How exactly should someone like Blitzer deal with a man like Wilkinson? To state the obvious, Blitzer knew that this presentation was fake, designed to mislead Wolfs viewers. Even if Blitzer wasnt prepared to deal with this clowning at the time it occurred, didnt he have an obligation to explain the facts at some later point? But this is a major problem facing the press as this White House spreads strings of fake, phony stories. Did Kerry vote for higher taxes 350 times? Everyone knows that this claim is pure crap. But very few members of the press have had the courage to deal with this problem.
Two days after Wilkinson appeared, Blitzer engaged in an odd Q-and-A with White House reporter John King. This past Tuesday, Blitzer said the exchange was about Jim Wilkinson. Lets recall how that Q-and-A went:
BLITZER (3/24/04): John, I get the sense not only what Dr. Rice just said to you and other reporters at the White House, but what administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didnt get a certain promotion. Hes got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, theyre also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well, that they dont know what made this guy come forward and make these accusations against the president. Is that the sense that youre getting, speaking to a wide range of officials?According to Blitzer, that highlighted passage was a reference to Wilkinsons smarmy remark two days earlier. Blitzers claim may even be true. But this would not be an adequate response to Wilkinsons fake presentation.
People like Blitzer have to decide what to do about this White House. Wilkinson laughed in Blitzers face when he peddled his fake, phony spin. But the Bush aide also did something more serioushe laughed in the face of Blitzers viewers. The time has come for people like Blitzer to decide what to do about that.
The Bush White House is now peddling a string of insultingly stupid tales. John Kerry would have gutted intelligence. John Kerry has voted for higher taxes 350 times. John Kerry is Senate leader in accepting special interest money. And, of course, Clarkes book is full of X-Files stuff. How will Blitzer protect his viewers against the deceptions of people like Wilkinson? Wilkinson laughed at Wolfs viewers that day. Is Blitzer too weak to address it?
DAVID SANGER, WILLING IDIOT: How dumb is this White House willing to be? And just how far will journalists go to accomodate the Bush camps stupid stories? On Tuesday, we presented an example from David Sangers laughable piece in the New York Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/30/04). The White House wanted you to think that Clarkes book was packed with mistakes. So a White House aide listed problems with Clarkes first chapterand Sanger obediently typed them on up. The first example that Sanger provided? At one point, Clarke quotes the aide, Franklin Miller, saying this: What can I do? But Miller said that didnt sound rightmore likely, he would have said: How can I help? And yes, this actually went in the Times, the first item in a long story which ran with a photo of Clarke. (Sanger included six examples in all.)
Youre right: We approach mental illness when a scribe puts such lunacy in the Times. But to show you how fake this whole mess can be, lets look at the troubling item with which Sanger closed his report:
SANGER: While the book describes the Situation Room [on September 11] as sparsely populated, Mr. Miller and Mr. McCormack ticked off the names of at least a dozen people who came in to work the phones and help figure out the location of suspect aircraft.Youll note that Clarke isnt quoted here; Sanger helpfully paraphrases (he describes the Situation Room as sparsely populated). Of course, most of Sangers readers didnt have Clarkes book. But we do. Heres what Clarke writes:
CLARKE (page 10): The White House compound was empty now except for the group with Cheney in the Easy Wing bomb shelter and the team with me in the West Wing Situation Room: Roger [Cressey], Lisa [Gordon-Hagerty] and Paul [Kurtz] from my counterterrorist staff, Frank Miller and Marine Colonel Tom Greenwood and a half dozen Situation Room staff.So lets count the people in the room:
LATEST RUBE: Today, its Michiko Kakutani. In her Times review of Clarkes book, she too types up the script:
KAKUTANI: One of the things that has opened Mr. Clarke to criticism is his you are there narrative, which recreates entire scenes, like the day of Sept. 11 at the White House, complete with dialogue. In addition some of his interpretations of other peoples reactions are clearly patronizing and off base: for instance his observation that when he first briefed Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bushs national security adviser, about Al Qaeda, her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard the term before is contradicted by public statements that she made about the terrorist group before joining the Bush White House.According to Kakutani, Clarkes assessment was clearly off base, as shown by Rices public statements before joining the Bush White House. As weve repeatedly noted, no such statement has ever been offered. We have never seen such a statement. Neither, we would guess, has Kakutani.
This matter, of course, is utterly trivial. But this scripted story is patently false. Despite this, every journalist knows she must type it. Cant you just hear them in the White House? We think we can hear them: Hey, rube!
CLARKE (page 143): The Joint Staff had an answer they used whenever asked to do something that they did not want to do:Clarke has stories of particular snatches in which the CIA refused to act, then blamed the inaction on Clinton (or Janet Reno). How accurate is this fascinating chapter? Here at the HOWLER, we dont have a clue. But the perfumed poodles of your press corps prefer to focus on Total Trivia. Had Condi Rice heard the term al Qaeda? Did Franklin Miller say, How can I help? Total Trivia is a lifestyle for the powdered boys and girls of your press corps. Theyre determined to steer you to the chaffand to keep you away from the wheat.
Of course, when Clarkes book appeared, so did the propaganda; White House slugs fed nonsense to scribes, and scribes ran to type the scripts up. All these scripts were designed to suggest that Dick Clarke has just made this sh*t up. Eric Alterman comments aptly on the oddness of this Richard Clarke food-fight:
ALTERMAN: [T[he ferocity of the argument is odd. Clarke is not really revealing anything we did not already know. So far, Ive not heard anythingabsent insidery detailthat I did not include in my chapter on the subject in The Book on Bush, including for instance, the fact that Cheneys alleged commission on terrorism never once met. This is not news. I read it in The Washington Post, I believe, which is why I knew it.Indeed, many disputed points in Clarkes book have been supported in other venues (as Kakutani notes in todays review). In particular, many of Clarkes controversial points are supported by Bob Woodwards Bush at War.
When it was published, of course, Woodwards book was taken to be just this side of the Word of Godin part because its author fawned to Americas brilliant Bold Leader. Take an incident Woodward describes on September 12, 2001. According to Woodward, Karen Hughes proposed that the president make an early public statement and reminded him that he would need remarks for a scheduled visit to the Pentagon. As Hughes goes off to fashion these comments, Woodward displays the pandering style that gave wet-dreams to Dear Leaders intimates:
WOODWARD (page 41): Hughes returned to her corner office on the second floor of the West Wing to begin drafting a statement. Before she could open a new file for her computer, Bush summoned her.Helped along by her Dear Leaders brilliance, Hughes went back to work.
Did this bit of Bold Leadership really occur? Its hard to see how Woodward can know. But that tone suffuses Bush at War, which helps explain the reverential treatment the book got in Washington circles.
But Woodwards book quite clearly supports a number of Clarkes controversial statements. Lets cite four examples:
TOMORROW: Woodward and Clarke, part 2: Onward with Woodward and Clarke!