FRIDAY, APRIL 9, 2004
A SCRIPT GROWS IN WASHINGTON: Weve discussed Charles Krauthammers misleading script on three occasions in the past week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/2/04). Just what is his misleading tale? Richard Clarke said that his plan couldnt have stopped 9/11. Left out is something else Clarke said: 9/11 might have been stopped if Condi Rice had shaken the trees during the summer of 2001. Could shaking the trees have stopped 9/11? Here at THE HOWLER, we dont have a clue. But Krauthammer mentioned one thing Clarke saidand cleverly managed to deep-six another. Its a way to keep voters barefoot and pregnantand his script is now spreading quite fast.
KEAN: Secretary Lehman?I agree completely with that, Rice said, knowing she was misleading viewers. No, Clarke didnt say that 9/11 would have occurred even if Rice had followed his lead during the period when his hair was on fire. In fact, he said precisely the opposite; he said 9/11 might have been stopped if Rice had shaken the trees in that period. And of course, Lehman and Rice both know what Clarke said. They just dont want voters to know it.
But this script has now been widely recited. How many shills have now pretended that Clarke said nothing could have stopped 9/11? On last evenings Newsnight, Aaron Brown asked Jeff Greenfield to critique the script. And he said that hes heard it quite often:
BROWN: Lets talk aboutthis has come up a lot, about whether Mr. Clarke said, in fact, that nothing could have prevented 9/11. It has been said on this program I think five different times in the last week. You hear it differently.Showing the lazy indifference of the Washington press corps, Greenfield said that his fellow scribes are half right when they recite Krauthammers misleading story. (By the way, note how garbled his explanation was, the better to avoid ruffling feathers.) But Brown had made a revealing statement; the host has heard the script recited on Newsnight five different times in the last week. Translation: This tale has become an Official Script. Shills are being rushed on the air to recite it again and again.
Indeed, we couldnt help chuckling when Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) spoke with Chris Matthews after yesterdays hearing. Bennett was eager to mouth the script too. As soon as Matthews mentioned Clarke, Bennett interrupted and swung into action:
BENNETT: Can you go back to the key question Slade Gorton asked Richard Clarke? Do you even know what the key question was?I may have forgotten it, sir, Matthews said. What was it? In reply, Bennett recited that scriptand said we should do so early and often:
BENNETT: All right, this is the question that I think needs to be repeated over and over again as we get all excited about Richard Clarke. Slade Gorton said to him, All right, Mr. Clarke, you made a series of recommendations to the Administration. If the Administration had carried out every single recommendation you madeevery single oneimmediately, is there the remotest chance we could have avoided 9/11? And Richard Clarke said No.That was it! Bennett omitted the other thing Clarke said: 9/11 might have been thwarted if Rice and Bush had just shaken the trees.
Why is this script being pushed so hard? Most likely, this new Bush script is being pushed in reaction to news from the commission. In last weeks Newsweek, Evan Thomas reported a troubling fact:
THOMAS: Newsweek has learned that the commission is likely to conclude that 9/11 could have been prevented by the simple act of sharing information. In Phoenix in July 2001, an FBI agent wrote a memo warning that some young Arabs taking flying lessons might be terrorists. Had that warning made it to Clarke's counterterror shop, airlines might have begun bolting cockpit doors.On last Sundays Meet the Press, chairmen Kean and Hamilton both seemed to say they thought 9/11 could have been avoided. None of this means that they plan to blame members of the Bush Admin. But the commission seems to be leaning toward some form of agreement with Clarke. We would guess that this has spawned the misleading script which Brown says he hears every night.
In this mornings Post, George Will is the latest to mouth the script; Fred Hiatt just cant seem to print it enough! Could shaking the trees have stopped 9/11? We dont have the slightest idea. But powerful players dont want you to know what Clarke actually told the commission. So theyre busy reciting a bowdlerized taleover and over, as Bennett prescribed. To Aaron Brown, we offer one consolationreaders of the Washington Post hear this fake script each day too.
CLUELESS IN GENOA: Concerning Rices testimony, lets start with the obviouswith her ongoing statements about airplanes-as-weapons. Chairman Kean raised the issue at the start of yesterdays Q-and-A, saying his question was given to me by a number of members of the families. Kean asked this: Did you ever see or hear from the FBI, from the CIA, from any other intelligence agency, any memos or discussions or anything else between the time you got into office and 9/11 that talked about using planes as bombs? Finally asked about her past statements, Rice extended an astonishing tale:
RICE: I think that concern about what I might have known or we might have known was provoked by some statements that I made in a [May 2002] press conference. I was in a press conference to try and describe the August 6th  memo, which Ive talked about here in my opening remarks and which I talked about with you in the private session.In fact, intelligence warnings about airplanes-as-weapons had been frequent since the mid-90s, a fact which Rice still seems not to know. Its amazing to think that Rice was ignorant of this threat as of 9/11. But now she says, in sworn public testimony, that her ignorance continued right through 5/02! By that time, the history of these serial threats had been widely discussed in American newspapers (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/8/04). The average reader had heard about this. But Rice had not heard, she still says.
How bizarre is Rices statement? In July 2001, Rice accompanied President Bush to a G-8 summit in Genoa. On September 26, 2001, David Sanger described a security problem which developed at that event. He wrote on page one of the New York Times:
SANGER: The president of Egypt and the deputy prime minister of Italy say that Osama bin Ladens network of Islamic terrorists threatened to kill President Bush and other leaders of the industrialized world when they met at a summit meeting in Genoa last JulyAs far as we know, the specific nature of the Genoa threat has never been fully explained. But Sangers article graced the Times front page in late September 2001. According to Rice, she was still clueless about airplanes-as-weapons eight months after that.
As one 9/11 widow recently said, either Rice is lyingor shes stunningly incompetent (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/29/04). But as far as we know, yesterday marked the first time Rice has ever been asked about this in public. For the past two years, every journalist who interviewed Rice has observed a tenet of Hard Pundit LawIcon Condi must never be challenged. Rices story remains amazing. But dont expect any further questions. Your Washington press corps serves etiquette rules, not the challenged American public interest. Theyve long avoided this puzzling matter. Theyll most likely do so again.
350 WAYS TO FOOL A VOTER (PART 3): The Bush camp has peddled the claim all around: John Kerry has voted 350 times for higher taxes. But dont confuse that with a similar claimthe claim that Kerry cast 350 votes for actual tax increases. Indeed, when the Bush campaign assembles its list, it even includes a set of cases where Kerry voted to lower taxes! So it goes as Bush continues his effort to distort and mislead (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/7/04).
Yes, the Bush campaign applied madcap logic (Michael Kinsley) when it assembled this ballyhooed list. Thats why Kinsley called it a phony statistic, and the Concord Coalition said that the list does not pass the straight-face test for credibility. As weve noted, Brooks Jackson has also reviewed the Bush listand he too found Bushs claim deceptive. Bushs own words mislead reporters, he judged at his Annenberg site.
CROWLEY: The Bush team didnt take long to respond to Kerrys new TV ad on jobs and the economy. The latest Bush/Cheney spot goes after Kerrys voting record in the Senate.Crowley broadcast an ad which made the misleading claim. After that, she made no attempt to interpret the claim for her viewers.
Should journalists attempt to untangle claims like this? Without some effort at clarification, voters have little hope to understand what this claim actually means. So lets say three cheers for a big west coast paper! On March 30, the Los Angeles Times made a real effort to help its readers interpret this claim. Vice President Cheney had made a speech. In her report, Maria La Ganga quoted the veepthen offered some help to Times readers:
LA GANGA (pgh 1): Vice President Dick Cheney took the lead in a coordinated Republican attack Monday, charging that John F. Kerry has voted at least 350 times for higher taxes during his Senate career. But the claim was disputed by nonpartisan watchdog groups as being based on an inaccurate interpretation of Kerrys recordClearly, the Times found Cheneys claim so misleading that it felt it should be explained. And yes: When major pols make misleading statements, this is what news orgs should do. Without LaGangas explanation, few Times readers would have understood the meaning of Cheneys tortured construction. LaGanga helped her readers know what the VP had actually said.
For the record, other orgs have made an attempt to explain this tortured presentation. But when the Washington Post and the New York Times covered Cheneys speech, their readers got little help. But alasthe fault didnt lie with the papers alone. Some of the fault was John Kerrys.
TOMORROW: A hapless rejoinder
Annals of fact avoidance
CLUELESS IN WASHINGTON: Pundits reacted with great surprise to one part of yesterdays hearing. Scribes were stunned by the title of a Presidential Daily Briefingthe intelligence briefing given to Bush on August 6, 2001. Under questioning by Richard Ben-Veniste, Rice recalled the PDBs title. I believe the title was Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States, the security czar pleasantly said.
Pundits reacted with vast surpriseand showcased their grinding incompetence. For example, Ceci Connolly is a Fox all-star. But she was still amazed, seven hours later, when she did Special Report:
BRIT HUME: Ceci, what was yourwhats your take? What you do take away from this today?Through the years, Connolly has showcased her vast expertise at making up stories, inventing quotes, reciting scripts and starting weird rumors. Last night, though, she was comically clueless. Was that PDB headline new information? Consider a front-page story from the scribes own paper, the Washington Post. The front-page report, by a guy named Bob Woodward, had appeared almost two years before:
WOODWARD (5/18/02) (pgh 1): The top-secret briefing memo presented to President Bush on Aug. 6 carried the headline, Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S., and was primarily focused on recounting al Qaedas past efforts to attack and infiltrate the United States, senior administration officials said.And this was hardly a Woodward exclusive. According to Nexis, the title of the PDB went out on the May 17 AP wire; from there, it went into papers all over the country. On May 19, 2002, it was discussed on This Week and Meet the Press; it was discussed the next day on Morning Edition. Meanwhile, how recently had this fact been reported? Two weeks ago, it found its way into the Daily Egyptian, the student newspaper at Southern Illinois University:
JESSE NELSON (3/24/04): When Clarke was finally allowed to meet with deputy Cabinet members in April, he warned them that al Qaeda posed an immediate and serious threat to the United States.College students knew about this! But since it wasnt a rumor or phony quotation, Ceci was still in the dark!
For the record, whats most amazing is Connollys ignorance as of show time last night. Was she surprised when Rice read the title? Theres a phrase for that: No Big Deal. But eight hours later, Connolly still hadnt conducted the thirty seconds of Nexis research which would have shown that this fact isnt new. Connolly deals in rumors and scripts. She dont stoop to checking out facts.
No, that title wasnt a bombshell (as Chris Matthews called it right after the hearing). The title has been known for two years. But eight hours after Rice answered Richard, Ceci Connolly still didnt know. Like many members of her tribe, she works best with the facts she makes up.