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350 WAYS TO FOOL A VOTER (PART 2)! Bush’s claim is designed to mislead. Three major scribes lay it out:


KRAUTHAMMER’S SCRIPT: According to White House aide Dan Bartlett, Condi Rice can set the record straight when she testifies to the 9/11 commission tomorrow. But alas! When Bartlett spoke with the Post’s Mike Allen, he peddled Charles Krauthammer’s phony script about one of Richard Clarke’s troubling claims:

ALLEN: “The most serious misimpression being leveled by Dick Clarke is leaving the perception that if we had just listened to him, 9/11 could have been prevented,” Bartlett said. “The facts say otherwise.”

Bartlett pointed to Clarke’s one-word answer—“No”—when a commissioner told him to assume that all of his recommendations had been followed, then asked if there was “the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9/11.”

Last Friday, we criticized the Post for letting Krauthammer publish this jive (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/2/04). But now the White House is pimping it, too. What is wrong with Bartlett’s construction? Clarke said it’s possible (only possible) that 9/11 could have been thwarted—if Bush had convened “battle station” meetings in the summer of 2001. Last Friday, Krauthammer ridiculed Clarke’s claim—but failed to explain what Clarke actually said. Yesterday, Bartlett pimped Krauthammer’s phony script too—and Allen allowed him to do it.

Could 9/11 have been avoided? We don’t have the slightest idea. For the record, co-commissioners Kean and Hamilton both say they think it could have been thwarted. But the Post should let readers know what Clarke has said. Krauthammer’s column is now a script, designed to mislead on this issue.

IMPERFECT RICE EVERY TIME: In this morning’s Times, David Sanger returns to Rice’s claim that no one could have imagined airplanes-as-weapons. According to Sanger, Rice discussed the statement during her private testimony before the 9/11 commission. We think this account is amazing:

SANGER: She told the commission that she regretted those comments, because at the time she was not aware of intelligence, developed in the late 1990’s, that some terrorists were thinking of using airplanes as guided missiles. She told the commission in the private session that she should have said, “I could not have imagined,” according to one official familiar with the testimony, making it clear that some in the intelligence community knew about those threats but that she did not.

“Information about possible use of airplanes as missiles to destroy buildings was not briefed to her prior to that statement in May 2002,” [Rice spokesman Sean] McCormack said.

Let’s be clear about why that’s astounding. By May 2002, the history of airplanes-as-weapons threats had been widely discussed in American newspapers. Everyone knew the long history of these threats. For example, here’s the start of an article by the Post’s Doug Struck. It was published on September 23, 2001, on the front page of the Post:
STRUCK: Abdul Hakim Murad washed his hands, and broke a basic rule of bombmaking.

When the water mixed with chemical residue in the kitchen sink of unit 603 in the Dona Josefa Apartments here in 1995, it set off an eruption that would reveal the inner workings of a clandestine terrorist cell allied with Osama bin Laden.

It also revealed a plan that gave a chilling preview of the attack in New York and Washington on Sept. 11.

Arrested and tortured by Philippine intelligence agents, Murad told the story of “Bojinka”—“loud bang”— the code name bin Laden operatives had given to an audacious plan to bomb 11 U.S. airliners simultaneously and fly an airplane into the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

This is just one minor example. The history of airplanes-as-weapons had been widely discussed in the popular press by May 2002, when Rice made her amazing statement. By May 2002, the average American newspaper reader knew about the history of such threats. But to all appearances, Rice—the president’s National Security Adviser—remained utterly clueless about this subject. If Sanger is right, Rice has made this astounding admission to the 9/11 commission itself.

Has there ever been a less competent major official? Nine months after 9/11, Rice still didn’t know about this history, she says! Meanwhile, why did Rice fail to vet the president’s 2003 State of the Union Address on the matter of uranium-from-Africa? Simple! She hadn’t read the entire National Intelligence Estimate, the White House happily said at the time. But despite these (and other) astonishing incidents, the press corps has spun Perfect Rice Every Time. It’s a matter of Hard Pundit Law—Darling Condi must never be challenged. To this day, no TV interviewer has ever asked her to explain that amazing May 02 statement. Let’s hope that things are different tomorrow. Let’s hope the commissioners are less concerned with Washington social niceties and more concerned with the national interest.

KAREN HUGHES HATCHES A SCRIPT: In this morning’s Post, Allen explains the approach Rice will take tomorrow. According to sources, the uber-script will be hauled out again—Dear Leader Bush was quite vigilant:

ALLEN: National security adviser Condoleezza Rice plans to testify tomorrow that the Bush administration was acting in a pre-Sept. 11 mindset in its efforts to combat al Qaeda and other terrorist groups and must be judged in that context, administration officials said yesterday.

At the same time, Rice plans to argue that President Bush focused aggressively on terrorism before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The CIA had warned for several months that a massive al Qaeda strike was possible.

Can that possibly be the line Rice will follow? We wonder if Allen is being spun. Could Rice possibly say that the Bush Admin was stuck “in a pre-9/11 mindset?” That’s the claim critics like Clarke have brought forward in their attacks against Bush!

But notice the one omnipresent claim—Dear Leader was alert and focused. How could Rice claim that? a critic might ask. After all, didn’t Bush tell Robert Woodward that he wasn’t “on point” before 9/11? It seemed that way when we read Bush at War. But a new script may now have emerged.

Last night, Karen Hughes was asked about this matter on Larry King Live. Her answer? Bush was misquoted:

CALLER: Can you please explain to me what President Bush’s own words meant that he said to Bob Woodward which were, paraphrased, I’m sorry, if al Qaeda was not urgent, I was not on point, I was not thinking about Osama bin Laden. To me, it begins and ends there.

HUGHES: That’s slightly somewhat of a misquote. I was in the office when the president did that interview with Bob Woodward. What he was actually asked about was killing Osama bin Laden, assassinating Osama bin Laden. You understand, that is always a very difficult decision for any American president. That’s something that our country is rightly very concerned about, the idea of assassination of a foreign national. Particularly before September 11.

And what Bob Woodward asked him was, did you think about killing Osama bin Laden, assassinating him? And President Bush was comparing the way he felt before September 11 to the way he felt after September 11. And he said, my blood was not nearly—I was not as on point. The end of the quote was, my blood was not nearly as boiling as it was in the aftermath.

Is this the start of a new White House line? As we told you last week, the White House would love to get back Bush’s unfortunate statement—the one where he said that hunting al Qaeda didn’t seem urgent before 9/11. Hughes now says that Bush was misquoted. Is this how they’ll get the quote back?

Hughes did provide one chuckle. At one point, Larry threw her a curve. She banged it right back up the middle:

KING: Let’s put it this way. Is there any area you ever disagree with the president?

HUGHES: Oh, sure. But I’m going to tell him, not you.

KING: Are you as forceful an advocate for your disagreement as you are for your agreement?

HUGHES: I am. I am. I think one of the things the president expects from his staff is our unvarnished opinion.

In other words, when Karen Hughes appears in public, she speaks for the president, not for herself. This is roughly the most obvious point on the face of the earth. But two weeks ago, many pundits were deeply perplexed by this deeply puzzling notion. They couldn’t imagine what Richard Clarke meant when he said that, in giving a 2002 background briefing, he voiced the president’s views, not his own. Many pundits—and some commissioners—played dumb and dumber about Clarke’s remark. But last night, Hughes voiced the obvious. When she did so, she spoke just like Clarke.

350 WAYS TO FOOL A VOTER (PART 2): Michael Kinsley called it a “phony statistic.” The Concord Coalition said the claim “does not pass the straight-face test for credibility.” And Annenberg’s Brooks Jackson reviewed the claim too. “Bush’s own words mislead reporters,” he said. We refer to a standard Bush campaign claim: John Kerry has voted 350 times for higher taxes! The claim is being widely offered, in a ubiquitous TV ad, for example (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/6/04). But major pundits have called the claim “phony.” Why have these scribes reached this judgment?

Let’s start with Jackson’s insightful analysis at the Annenberg Fact Check site. In his summary, he said that some Bush campaign statements have been misleading, and that some have simply been wrong:

JACKSON: The President misled voters and reporters in a March 20 speech when he claimed that Kerry “voted over 350 times for higher taxes on the American people” during his 20-year Senate career. Bush spoke of “yes” votes for “tax increases.”
But in fact, Kerry has not voted 350 times for tax increases, something Bush campaign officials have falsely accused Kerry of on several occasions.

Kerry hasn’t voted 350 times for tax increases, Jackson said. But many people are getting that impression. Here’s what goes into the Bush camp’s “padded” list, the Annenberg fact filbert said:

JACKSON: On close examination, the Bush campaign’s list of Kerry’s votes for “higher taxes” is padded. It includes votes Kerry cast to leave taxes unchanged (when Republicans proposed cuts), and even votes in favor of alternative Democratic tax cuts that Bush aides characterized as “watered down.”
In short, when you look at that list of votes “for higher taxes,” it even includes some votes Kerry cast in favor of actual tax cuts! If Kerry voted for a tax cut—but a larger tax cut had also been proposed—then that’s a vote for “higher taxes,” your straight-talking president says.

Jackson calls this statement “misleading.” How does he know that? Easy! When Bush made this carefully-crafted statement, Jackson notes, it even misled trained reporters. On March 20, Bush spoke at a Florida rally. He chose his words with great care:

BUSH: Senator Kerry is one of the main opponents of tax relief in the United States Congress. However, when tax increases are proposed, it’s a lot easier to get a “yes” vote out of him. Over the years, he’s voted over 350 times for higher taxes on the American people—


You can always trust those foolish audiences! At any rate, Bush carefully said that the devious Kerry had “voted over 350 times for higher taxes” (not “for tax increases”). But major reporters misconstrued what Bush said. As Jackson notes, major scribes falsely reported the straight-talking president’s meaning:
JACKSON: The Associated Press said Bush depicted Kerry “as a serial tax-raiser who has voted for tax increases 350 times.” United Press International said Bush “accused Kerry of voting over the past 20 years for tax increasing legislation some 350 times.” The New York Times reported: “Mr. Bush said Mr. Kerry had voted 350 times to raise taxes in his nearly two decades in the Senate,” and The Palm Beach Post said: “The President accused the Massachusetts senator of voting to raise taxes more than 350 times.”
Even reporters thought Bush naccused Kerry of 350 votes for tax increases. For the record, the Times reporter who misconstrued Bush was Richard Stevenson, a experienced budget scribe. If even Stevenson got fooled by Bush, do you really think that average voters were able to interpret the president’s construction? “[R]eporters were misled, as were probably many ordinary voters,” Jackson said. Meanwhile, other Bush spokesmen didn’t mislead voters—they simply made blatant misstatements about Kerry. Jackson listed a string of Bush types who said that Kerry voted 350 times for tax increases. And yes, these statements were simply false. “In fact, even the President’s own campaign organization now admits Kerry didn’t vote for tax increases 350 times, or anything close to it,” Jackson notes.

According to Jackson, Bush has been peddling a tortured construction, one that is guaranteed to mislead. But is Bush’s statement even technically accurate? Given Bush’s odd definitions, is it technically accurate to say that Kerry has voted 350 times for higher taxes? Writing in Slate and the Washington Post, Michael Kinsley seemed to say no. First, Kinsley recalled the way Bush’s father played this same sort of trick on the voters. Bush’s tortured, misleading construction is an “old family heirloom,” he said:

KINSLEY: In 1992, Bush’s father charged that Bill Clinton, as governor of Arkansas, had raised taxes 128 times. This shabby and deeply disingenuous allegation became an embarrassment to the elder Bush, but it took weeks and months of pounding by the media and the opposition to make it this way.
Just how stupid was Bush I’s list? “George the elder’s list of Clinton tax increases included such things as an extension of the dog-racing season, on the logic that a longer season meant more tax revenue,” Kinsley recalled. And he voiced an obvious thought. “Honesty means more than factual accuracy, It means avoiding disingenuousness: not talking rot when you know it’s rot.”

But has Kerry voted 350 times for higher taxes, even given Bush’s deliberate “rot?” Kinsley seems to say the answer is no, although his own writing here is impenetrable. (Slate should clarify this point.) At any rate, Kinsley offers an excellent way to judge the merits of Bush’s claim. “The best way to see the absurdity of saying that Kerry voted for higher taxes 350 times is to apply Bush’s madcap logic to Bush himself,” he writes. By Bush’s own logic, Bush himself has proposed higher taxes 63 times in the past four years, Kinsley says. “At Bush’s current rate of 16 ‘tax increases’ a year, he’d have 320 under his belt if he could stay in the White House for 20 years,” the scribe notes. This means that, using Bush’s own logic, Bush and Kerry are proposing “higher taxes” at roughly the same rate per year. (For the record, Kinsley says he’s talking about real “tax increases,” not proposals for “higher taxes” by Bush.)

Readers, can you see why the Concord Coalition says that Bush’s tortured claim “doesn’t pass the laugh test for credibility?” But no matter! Major Bush spokesmen go on the air and mouth this claim routinely—and major pundits like Judy Woodruff sit and stare into space when they do. When politicians seek to deceive—as this president does in his sleep—journalists are supposed to serve the public. But so far, Washington “journalists” have performed quite poorly when confronted with this phony stat.

TOMORROW: Part 3: The Los Angeles Times makes an effort

Annals of clowning

DUMBING DOWN DEAN: You can’t get dumber than Sean Hannity got when John Dean appeared on his program last night. Dean has written a book about Bush, Worse Than Watergate. But viewers were kept far away from Dean’s thoughts when Hannity applied his matchless skills to his guest. Here was his opening statement:

HANNITY: We turn now to domestic politics where yet another book has been released, criticizing President Bush as being more secretive, more dangerous than Richard Nixon. Joining us now, President Nixon’s former White House counsel, author of the book Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.

You said “worse than Watergate”—I thought it was Bill Clinton lying under oath! It was a shock to see the other thing. I’ve known you a long time. This is disappointing for me.

“Well, it’s disappointing you’re disappointed,” Dean replied, “because you’re the kind of person who should really understand what I’m trying to say, particularly given the books you’ve just written.” But what is Dean trying to say? Quickly, Hannity began to talk about things the author hasn’t said:
HANNITY: Because this I put in the genre of just another Bush-hating book. You blame the president and the administration for exploiting 9/11. When I hear that from the left, when they accuse the president of knowing about 9/11 ahead of time, they accuse him of pre-planning 9/11 before Iraq—pre-planning Iraq before 9/11—that’s exploitation.
Obviously, Dean hasn’t “accuse[d] the president of knowing about 9/11 ahead of time.” Has he said that Bush “pre-planned Iraq?” What exactly has Dean said? We don’t have the slightest idea, because Hannity was determined to keep us from knowing. After saying that Dean “knew this book would hurt the president” (he said it twice), Sean went off on a tangent:
HANNITY: I’ve got to ask you. You’re entitled to say it. I’ve gone back and I’ve looked a lot, I’ve done a lot of research on you today. I’ve got to ask you a tough question here, because you wrote in your last book, it was called Blind Ambition
Oops. “That wasn’t my last book, but go ahead,” Dean said. Readers, don’t ever say that to Sean Hannity:
HANNITY: One of your books, OK. It was back awhile; it was in the 1970’s. And you had to admit under oath you didn’t write the book. You admit—the Washington Times characterized it this way. “Now Mr. Dean says he didn’t write key portions, nor did he even read the entire book.” I’ve gone through this book, cover to cover—
Dean tried to object, but Sean kept going:
HANNITY: It’s sworn depositions that have been obtained by the Washington Times. “Mr. Dean said key elements were pure speculation, reasonable conjecture and distortion.” Now Gordon Liddy wrote in his book quoting your book when it was published that you said, quote, “I prepared for the writing of Blind Ambition the same way I prepared to testify before the Ervin committee or special prosecutors.”
“Here’s my point—did you write this book?” Sean said, as Dean again tried to speak. By now, it wasn’t even clear which book he meant. So Who’s on First quickly broke out:
DEAN: Let me tell you something—

HANNITY: Here’s my point—did you write this book?

DEAN: Absolutely. Every word of it.

HANNITY: But you didn’t write the last one, even though you—

DEAN: Every word of it.

HANNITY: So you lied under oath?

DEAN: No, I did not. You are misquoting, as the Washington Times did.

HANNITY: Did you write that last book?

DEAN: Which book?

HANNITY: The first.

We’d link you to the transcript, so you could see where this ended, but Fox is too smart to provide such a service. After all, would you want the world to see the record if you insulted the American public interest this way? And here’s a question for all the Fox rubes: Just how dumb do you have to be accept being mocked in this way—by a man who’s paid millions each year to treat you like absolute idiots?