MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2004
RASPBERRY PHONES IT IN: We were embarrassedand offendedby Williams Raspberrys 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 expertsnot just those in the Bush administrationassumed 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 sceneterrorism without centralized, geographically based leadership. (It also took a while, as Condoleezza Rice, Bushs 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 passageyou simply cant be more clueless. But this morning, Raspberry phones in a column that is even more inept. Its time for this scribe to retire.
How totally clueless is William Raspberry? Today, he opines about Al Frankens radio show. But no, lets 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 hasnt yet heard Frankens program! Indeed, I havent 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?Raspberry has never heard Frankens show. He offers no quote about Frankens intentions. Despite this, he accuses Franken of deliberately offering lies and left-wing misrepresentations. This is deeply offensive writing. This morning, Raspberrys 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 worthlessan open insult to the Posts readers. If Fred Hiatt were a real journalist, hed never have published todays awful column. But Hiatt isnt 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 problema problem that doesnt 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 Bushs 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 membersincluding some who are U.S. citizenshave resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks .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 providedno specific description of the 9/11 plan. The CIA didnt know about the plan, and didnt 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 briefingand thats 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, Rices 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! Lets recall the text of the PDB, then compare it to RBVs question:
PRESIDENTIAL BRIEFING, 8/6/01: FBI information since  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, lets recall Ben-Venistes 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 didnt 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 Bushs absence from town at a time of great challenge. On yesterdays Meet the Press, for example, the Dean of All Pundits said this:
BRODER: Well, its 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, hes gone silent on us, and its 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 Fridays 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 Martins 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 APs lengthy Saturdays 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 Bushs cable taping. If you read the Washington Post or the New York Times, you still dont 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.Strange, isnt it? And one other thing: Its 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 Fridaybut 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 Brinkleys 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.Weird, isnt it? Like Milbank, Brinkley completely forgot to say that Bush was taping a cable fishing showa show designed to aid his re-election. Needless to say, the Washington Times didnt report Bushs 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 administrations actions before the 2001 terrorist attacks came under intense scrutiny. He spent part of Friday afternoon fishing on the ranch pondan outing filmed for the Outdoor Life Network program Fishing with Roland Martinbut 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 mustnt speak.
At a time of great importance, Bush has gone silent on us, Broder said. [A]nd its inexplicable to me. But Bush had important business in Texasnews Broders paper deep-sixed.
One final note: After the APs brief report on Friday, grumbling started on the web. Lefties began to gripe about Bushs cable fishing plans. (Most likely, this is why Saturdays 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 cant 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 gameMoscow on the bass pond.
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 Kerrys negatives. But the claim is so torturedand so misleadingthat 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 campaigns list of Kerrys votes for higher taxes includes votes in which the senator voted to leave taxes unchanged, said Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org, a private nonpartisan policy organization based in Washington.Holy cow! Whoda 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 doshe explained Cheneys claim for her readers.
But many big newspapers didnt 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 lets face itCheney hoped that voters would be fooled. Sure enoughreaders of these major papers were almost surely misled.
But the fault was partially Kerrys. For example, here was Mike Allens report of Cheneys speech in the Washington Post
ALLEN (3/30/04): Cheney repeated Bushs 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 cutsnever 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.Allen didnt go to Jackson and Bixbyhe simply reported what the Kerry camp said. And the Kerry camp made a hopeless reply to Cheneys phony statistic. Cheney had cherry-picked a handful of votes, they said. They never disputed Cheneys number. They didnt explain what Cheney included in his list. Offering a hopeless, incompetent rejoinder, they made it sound like 350 votes just werent a big deal to them.
Yes, we think that Allen should have done a better job of explaining what Cheneys claim really meant. But most papers wont 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 rejoinderthat 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 350or maybe just three:
First, the Bush camp invented a phony statistica tortured claim, designed to mislead. Then, reporters like Allen failed to explain the claims madcap logic. But a third player let down the votersand that player was Kerry itself. This isnt the first time the Kerry campaign has failed to respond to Bush camp deceptions. The Bush campaign is eager to fool you. Theres no sign that Kerrys 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.