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RICE UNDER OATH (PART 1)! Condi Rice ignored her oath. Your press corps has no plan to notice:

MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2004

RASPBERRY PHONES IT IN: We were embarrassed—and offended—by William’s Raspberry’s column last Monday. The scribe has been snoring loudly for years. Last Monday, he proved it again:

RASPBERRY (4/5/04): Before Sept. 11 most experts—not just those in the Bush administration—assumed that international terror was a state-sponsored phenomenon. It took a while for the notion to take hold that al Qaeda was something new on the scene—terrorism without centralized, geographically based leadership. (It also took a while, as Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, remarked a week ago, for anyone to figure out that commercial airliners could be used as weapons.)
Gaze in wonder at the highlighted passage—you simply can’t be more clueless. But this morning, Raspberry phones in a column that is even more inept. It’s time for this scribe to retire.

How totally clueless is William Raspberry? Today, he opines about Al Franken’s radio show. But no, let’s be a bit more precise; Raspberry actually discusses “[t]he Franken show, as I understand the concept.” Sadly, Raspberry has to be somewhat vague, because he hasn’t yet heard Franken’s program! Indeed, “I haven’t been able to find it on my radio yet,” he says, apparently failing to understand that the show only airs in a couple of cities. But despite his standard screaming ignorance, Raspberry types this astonishing passage:

RASPBERRY (4/12/04): Now, Franken is a funny enough guy, I suppose, as an entertainer. But to the extent he sees his role as countering right-wing misrepresentations with left-wing misrepresentations, my response is: Who needs him?

The answer to lies and partisan innuendo is not more lies but truth—truth at least to the best ability of journalists to uncover it.

Raspberry has never heard Franken’s show. He offers no quote about Franken’s intentions. Despite this, he accuses Franken of deliberately offering “lies” and “left-wing misrepresentations.” This is deeply offensive writing. This morning, Raspberry’s nastiness matches the rank stupidity he put on display last week.

We live at a time of great national challenge. Despite this, Raspberry just keeps phoning it in. His work is lazy, inept and worthless—an open insult to the Post’s readers. If Fred Hiatt were a real journalist, he’d never have published today’s awful column. But Hiatt isn’t so encumbered, as we have seen in the past.

RICE UNDER OATH (PART 1): Late Saturday, the White House finally released the text of that August 6 Presidential Daily Briefing. We finally saw what Bush was told about the ongoing threat from al Qaeda. And we learned more about a serious problem—a problem that doesn’t seem to abate. We learned more about the endless dissembling of Condoleeza Rice.

What was Bush told about al Qaeda? Before we can see how Rice dissembled before the 9/11 commission last week, we need to know what was in Bush’s briefing. With that in mind, here are the final five paragraphs of the 11-graf memo:

PRESIDENTIAL BRIEFING, 8/6/01: (pgh 7) Al Qaeda members—including some who are U.S. citizens—have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks….

(8) A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

(9) We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

(10) Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

(11) The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.

As the White House has noted, nothing in the briefing referred to the use of airplanes as weapons. Nor did the briefing specifically describe what would happen on September 11. No “silver bullet” was provided—no specific description of the 9/11 plan. The CIA didn’t know about the plan, and didn’t describe it for Bush.

But the CIA said several things about ongoing al Qaeda operations. According to the briefing, al Qaeda members had “resided in the U.S. for years.” Al Qaeda “apparently maintained a support structure that could aid [domestic] attacks.” And since 1998, FBI information had “indicated patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.” According to the briefing, the FBI was conducting seventy “full-field investigations” in the US that were bin Laden-related.

When Rice appeared before the 9/11 commission last week, she was asked about this briefing—and that’s when the trouble began. To cite one example, commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste devoted the bulk of his time to questions about this PDB. Some of his questions were very straightforward, and should have been quite easy to answer. But these questions did not produce straightforward answers. In fact, Rice’s answers to these questions were notably evasive. Some of them bordered on lies.

Just how easy were the questions? About halfway through his session with Rice, Ben-Veniste asked this:

BEN-VENISTE: I am asking you whether it is not the case that you learned in the PDB memo of August 6th that the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting…that preparations were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States.
Man! For a brilliant academic like Rice, that should have been very simple! Just how easy was that question? Why, Ben-Veniste had restated language straight from the briefing itself! Let’s recall the text of the PDB, then compare it to RBV’s question:
PRESIDENTIAL BRIEFING, 8/6/01: FBI information since [1998] indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.
Now, let’s recall Ben-Veniste’s question:
QUESTION BY BEN-VENISTE, 4/8/04: I am asking you whether it is not the case that you learned in the PDB memo of August 6th that the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting…that preparations were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States.
Did the PDB suggest that “preparations were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States?” How easy could Ben-Veniste have made it? His language was straight from the PDB. The answer was simple. It was Yes.

But Rice didn’t say “yes” to this question; instead, she did all she could to avoid the simple truth. Under oath, she kept avoiding the truth. And your “press corps” has no plan to say so.

TOMORROW: Breaking her oath

MOSCOW ON THE BASS POND: How did your president spend his weekend? In Washington, many Big Pundits were grumbling about Bush’s absence from town at a time of great challenge. On yesterday’s Meet the Press, for example, the Dean of All Pundits said this:

BRODER: Well, it’s been a terrible week or 10 days for this country and therefore for the administration. But I think compounding it has been the fact that of all moments, the president chose this moment to disappear. At a time when the country really needs to hear from a president, from its president, and the world needs to hear from the president, he’s gone silent on us, and it’s inexplicable to me.
“Well, especially given how much they are trying to emphasize his identity as a decisive wartime leader as the core of the argument for re-election,” Ron Brownstein said in reply.

But while Big Pundits asked Where was George, reporters struggled to keep you from knowing. What exactly was Bush doing while matters were coming undone in Iraq? On Friday, he was taping a cable fishing show, Fishing with Roland Martin, which airs on the Outdoor Life cable channel. According to Friday’s AP report, “[t]he White House approached the network about coming to film Bush, who is eager to cultivate an image as a sportsman with the millions of voters who hunt and fish.” In the report, the AP said that Bush and his father, the former president, were going to shoot a segment for Martin’s show on Saturday morning. As things turned out, this schedule changed. Bush cancelled the Saturday session, instead shooting footage on Friday night. (He also seems to have shot some footage on Wednesday.) According to the AP’s lengthy Saturday’s report, the program will air in August.

By normal standards, this is news. For example, when Kerry took a recent skiing vacation, trivial episodes from the week were widely reported, embellished and spun. But major papers have plainly decided to deep-six Bush’s cable taping. If you read the Washington Post or the New York Times, you still don’t know that Bush taped this show. The big, brave newspapers somehow knew that they had to keep this out of print.

What did the Washington Post tell its readers? Dana Milbank covered Bush in Texas. This is all the brave Post dared to print:

MILBANK (4/11/04): The president, who has been vacationing on his ranch here, is scheduled on Sunday to participate in Easter services at nearby Fort Hood, which has lost several soldiers in Iraq.

Bush canceled a fishing outing on his ranch Saturday with Roland Martin, host of the Outdoor Life Network program “Fishing With Roland Martin.” Martin, who fished with Bush on Friday, told the Associated Press that Bush explained: “I’ve been busy, all these crises.”

Strange, isn’t it? And one other thing: It’s pure propaganda. What did the Post tell its readers? It said that Bush canceled “a fishing outing” because of his attention to duty. Readers are told that Bush fished with Martin on Friday—but they are never told that he was taping a cable show when he did! But then, the New York Times played Pravda too. Here is Joel Brinkley’s report:
BRINKLEY (4/12/04): On Friday, as Americans worked to put a cease-fire in place in Iraq, Mr. Bush fished in the bass pond on his ranch with Roland Martin, host of the Outdoor Life Network cable show “Fishing with Roland Martin.”

Mr. Bush “took the biggest one of the day”—a four-pound bass, Mr. Martin told The Associated Press.

“The president was very relaxed,” he added. “He didn’t really talk about politics at all.”

The White House said Mr. Bush had to cancel another fishing trip scheduled for Saturday because of meetings with his advisers on Iraq.

Weird, isn’t it? Like Milbank, Brinkley completely forgot to say that Bush was taping a cable fishing show—a show designed to aid his re-election. Needless to say, the Washington Times didn’t report Bush’s sessions with Martin at all.

According to Nexis, only the Los Angeles Times, among major papers, dared report what Bush really did. Somehow, Ed Chen dared to speak:

CHEN (4/11/04): The president left Washington on Monday, and has stayed out of sight since returning Tuesday from a speech in Arkansas, even as the death toll mounted in Iraq and as his administration’s actions before the 2001 terrorist attacks came under intense scrutiny. He spent part of Friday afternoon fishing on the ranch pond—an outing filmed for the Outdoor Life Network program “Fishing with Roland Martin”—but canceled a scheduled second round on Saturday.
See how easy that is? But other papers knew this was unflattering, given the situation in Iraq. So they got out their airbrush and cleaned up the story. They knew that they just mustn’t speak.

At a time of great importance, Bush has “gone silent on us,” Broder said. “[A]nd it’s inexplicable to me.” But Bush had important business in Texas—news Broder’s paper deep-sixed.

One final note: After the AP’s brief report on Friday, grumbling started on the web. Lefties began to gripe about Bush’s cable fishing plans. (Most likely, this is why Saturday’s session was cancelled.) Result? When the AP filed a lengthy report on Saturday, Scott Lindlaw also obscured the fact that Bush had been taping a cable program. This Saturday report is amazingly garbled. Yes, you can figure out that Bush taped a show, but you have to work at it. If you think Lindlaw can’t write more clearly, we have a singing fish you can put on your wall. So it goes when a well-trained press plays a sad new game—Moscow on the bass pond.

Annals of tax obfuscation

350 WAYS TO FOOL A VOTER (PART 4): Has John Kerry really voted 350 time for higher taxes? The Bush campaign has bruited this claim all about, driving up Kerry’s “negatives.” But the claim is so tortured—and so misleading—that Michael Kinsley called it a “phony statistic,” and several other Big Scribes have agreed. And so, when Vice President Cheney made the claim in a March 29 speech, the Los Angeles Times did its readers a favor (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/9/04). Maria LaGanga took the time to explain what his claim really meant:

LA GANGA (3/30/04): The Bush campaign’s list of Kerry’s votes for “higher taxes” includes votes in which the senator voted to leave taxes unchanged, said Brooks Jackson, director of, a private nonpartisan policy organization based in Washington.

The list also includes votes in which Kerry backed proposals to cut taxes, though not as much as Republicans advocated.

“Such a standard does not pass the straight-face test for credibility,” said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group.

Holy cow! Who’da thunk it? When Cheney said that Kerry had voted “350 times for higher taxes,” he even included a series of votes where Kerry voted for tax cuts! Few Times readers could have guessed what Cheney meant by his fake, tortured claim. So LaGanga did what a real scribe should do—she explained Cheney’s claim for her readers.

But many big newspapers didn’t explain what Cheney meant by this statement. Their readers were left in the dark. Like many journalists (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/7/04), these readers probably thought that Cheney meant that Kerry cast those votes for tax increases. And let’s face it—Cheney hoped that voters would be fooled. Sure enough—readers of these major papers were almost surely misled.

But the fault was partially Kerry’s. For example, here was Mike Allen’s report of Cheney’s speech in the Washington Post

ALLEN (3/30/04): Cheney repeated Bush’s assertion that Kerry has voted at least 350 times for higher taxes, a figure that includes votes against tax cuts. “He says that he will keep some of those tax cuts—never mind that he opposed each one of them at the time,” Cheney said. “He has given the usual assurances that in those first hundred days he's planning, only the wealthiest Americans can expect higher taxes.”

Kerry campaign statement said Cheney had “cherry-picked a handful of votes that were part of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which John Kerry opposed because they primarily benefited the wealthy and contributed to record deficits.”

Allen didn’t go to Jackson and Bixby—he simply reported what the Kerry camp said. And the Kerry camp made a hopeless reply to Cheney’s “phony statistic.” Cheney had “cherry-picked a handful of votes,” they said. They never disputed Cheney’s number. They didn’t explain what Cheney included in his list. Offering a hopeless, incompetent rejoinder, they made it sound like 350 votes just weren’t a big deal to them.

Yes, we think that Allen should have done a better job of explaining what Cheney’s claim really meant. But most papers won’t work that hard for their readers. At the New York Times, Michael Janofsky snored loudly too. First, he quoted Cheney and another Bush spokesman making the claim about 350 votes. Then, he too quoted that hopeless rejoinder—that Cheney had “cherry-picked a handful of votes.” That was the only clarification New York Times readers were offered.

How many ways can voters get fooled? In this instance, there have been 350—or maybe just three:

First, the Bush camp invented a “phony statistic”—a tortured claim, designed to mislead. Then, reporters like Allen failed to explain the claim’s “madcap logic.” But a third player let down the voters—and that player was Kerry itself. This isn’t the first time the Kerry campaign has failed to respond to Bush camp deceptions. The Bush campaign is eager to fool you. There’s no sign that Kerry’s camp cares.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: We found 350 ways to fool a voter! Enjoy each exciting installment:

Part 1: The Bush camp is pushing a “phony” claim. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/6/04.

Part 2: Three major scribes debunked Bush’s claim. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/7/04.

Part 3: The Los Angeles Times explained Cheney’s statement. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/9/04.

Part 4: Bush is trying to mislead voters. Kerry keeps helping him out. See above.