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STILL SLAM-DUNKED AFTER ALL THESE YEARS! Even now, Cohen and Dowd can’t get their chronologies straight: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MAY 2, 2007

BRIAN’S ENABLERS: Our analysts were shocked to learn that their “uncle,” Eric Boehlert, spends so much time perusing Men’s Vogue! But in yesterday’s right-on haircut report, Boehlert linked to this recent Vogue profile of Brian Williams. In it, we learn the following things about the NBC anchor:
Current salary: $10 million
Current ride: Black Porsche 477-horsepower GT2
Current buddy: Fox’s Brit Hume
According to Boehlert, Williams told Letterman, just last week, that he only pays twelve bucks for his haircuts. Our best guess: In order to pay for the high-powered ride, the gentleman skimps on his grooming.

There’s nothing wrong with being friends with Hume, although it might indicate Williams’ world-view. (Then again, it might not.) But understand: If Brit Hume had hosted last Thursday’s debate, he never would have asked the loaded questions that Williams scattered all over the landscape. Hume has been pretty good in past such assignments; Williams’ performance may have been the worst ever. Indeed, General Patton was “wiping his boots” with Harry Reid in Thursday’s opening question (no, we’re really not making that up). And things just went downhill from there.

Here at THE HOWLER, we learned one more thing from Ned Martel’s profile in Vogue. We learned it in this passage:
MARTEL (3/07): Williams locked in the formal agreement to succeed Brokaw [as Nightly News anchor] only after a ten-year apprenticeship (seven of which included dismal ratings for Williams's high-minded news hour on MSNBC) and only after CBS came calling.
Huh! Williams’ eponymous MSNBC newshour was “high-minded,” Martel said. That certainly came as news to us! It was on that program, in 1999, where Williams complained, night after night, about Gore’s troubling polo shirts. Night after night, he complained that the shirts didn’t “look natural,” and that Gore was wearing them in a “transparent” attempt to attract female voters. When would Gore’s strategy “start becoming so transparent [that] no one is fooled," the handsome anchor grumpily asked (several times). He sought psychiatric analyses of Gore’s wardrobe choices from Howard Fineman in the fall—and from Newsweek’s Bill Turque in the winter. He offered absurdly bogus accounts of the polling on Gore (dishonestly trying to pimp Bill Bradley), and absurdly bogus accounts of op-ed columns about Gore. And let’s not discuss his laughable gushing about the incomparable Candidate Bush! For one example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/1/99; scroll down to “The Howler recommends.” Warning though! Cover the eyes of the children! Williams really embarrassed himself as he gushed about Marvelous Bush in this comic exchange with Steve Forbes.

How do millionaire mediocrities like Williams become so transparently full of themselves? In part, because of people like Martel. Endlessly, Williams played the fool on that eponymous, hour-long program. But so what? In his Vogue profile, Martel told the world that Williams’ program had been “high-minded.” Weeks later, Williams showed up in South Carolina—and he played the fool once again.

How do pundits get so pompous? Through their helpmates, the Ned Martels. Brian Williams is paid the big bucks. And by the rules of this kookiest cohort, that plainly means that the serfs and the proles are required to gush, fawn and pander.

STILL SLAM-DUNKED AFTER ALL THESE YEARS: With apologies for going back to the well: Is there anyone who “doesn’t get it” quite the way Maureen Dowd doesn’t get it? For reasons we’ll explain below, we were already annoyed by her column this morning. (In it, she refers to George Tenet as “Slam” and “Slam Dunk.”) But then, we came upon this:
DOWD (5/2/07): Six former C.I.A. officials sent Mr. Tenet a letter via his publisher...berating him for pretending he wrote his self-serving book partly to defend the honor of the agency and demanding that ''at least half'' of the profits be given to wounded soldiers and the families of dead soldiers (there needs to be a Son of Slam law). One of the signers, Larry Johnson, told CNN that Slam ''is profiting from the blood of American soldiers.''
There needs to be a Son of Slam law! Even when she’s discussing dead American soldiers, Dowd can’t drop her simpering, silly word-play. And she won’t stop purring “Slam” for “Tenet” when discussing those soldiers’ lost blood.

Once again, with apologies: That’s the sort of thing you get when you establish a millionaire pundit brigade. You get people who don’t really care about much—people who don’t even know how to fake it. And you get columns like those of Dowd and the Post’s Richard Cohen today—columns which don’t even bother sorting out matters of simple chronology. Five years after the war resolution; four years after the war began; three years after Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack—these columnists still don’t bother to get their chronologies straight. Instead, they work from their cohort’s key scripts. Colin Powell is finer than Tenet, by far! And: Tenet is better than Cheney!

How lazily does our pundit corps reason? Consider Dowd’s third paragraph—a graf which is perfectly accurate:
DOWD: If Colin Powell and George Tenet had walked out of the administration in February 2003 instead of working together on that tainted U.N. speech making the bogus case for war, they might have turned everything around. They might have saved the lives and limbs of all those brave U.S. kids and innocent Iraqis, not to mention our world standing and national security.
That is certainly true; in February 2003, resignations by Powell and Tenet would have shaken the cosmos. But here is Dowd’s very next graf. If you work hard, yes—you can defend it. But in truth, it doesn’t really make sense:
DOWD (continuing directly): It would certainly have been harder for timid Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards, to back up the administration if two members of the Bush inner circle had broken away to tell an increasingly apparent truth: that Dick Cheney, Rummy and the neocons were feverishly pushing a naive president into invading Iraq with junk facts.
But by light-years, the main way those “timid Democrats” “backed up” the Admin was by their vote for the war resolution—a vote which occurred in October 02. Nothing they did after February 03 really helped Bush take us to war. Dowd’s reasoning is quite lazy here—but it lets her slam all the usual suspects. It lets her assert her cohort’s great tenet: Everyone’s fake except me!

Everyone’s fake except me—and General Powell, that is. Dowd’s reasoning continues to be weak and lazy as she plows on:
DOWD (continuing directly): General Powell counted on Slam Dunk—a slender reed—to help him rid the speech of most of the garbage the Cheney office wanted in it. Slam, of course, tried to have it both ways, helping the skeptical secretary of state and pandering to higher bosses. Afterward, when the speech turned out to be built on a no-legged stool, General Powell was furious at Slam. But they both share blame: they knew better. They put their loyalty to a runaway White House ahead of their loyalty to a fearful public.
Powell “counted on” Tenet, she says. He “was furious” with Tenet when his speech turned out wrong. But how does she know that Powell behaved in good faith, then became furious later? In fact, Woodward’s book seems to show Powell playing fast and loose with the facts as she assembles his UN presentation. But Dowd is typing her gang’s favorite script, in which Powell is always assumed to be innocent. How does she know that Powell was furious? Simple! Because Powell said!

But then, this is what we constantly get from these slackers, even concerning the most serious matters. Indeed, we had a similar reaction to key parts of Cohen’s column, in which he discusses Dennis Kucinich’s attempt to impeach Dick Cheney.

We semi-agree with Cohen’s conclusion, in which he says that Kucinich is the only current candidate “who articulates a genuine sense of betrayal” over the nonsense which took us to war. But Cohen reasons weakly and lazily too, and his chronologies are just as broken as Dowd’s. Early on, he quotes Condi Rice, still playing the fool this past Sunday:
COHEN (5/2/07): Kucinich details the many statements Cheney made that turned out to be factually wrong. For instance, he quotes Cheney as saying, "We know they [the Iraqis] have biological and chemical weapons," which of course, they didn't. Still, that was excusable, since it was early in the game and little contradictory evidence was being presented. As Condi Rice said Sunday, "When George [Tenet] said 'slam dunk,' everybody understood that he believed that the intelligence was strong. We all believed the intelligence was strong.”
Groan! There was Rice, again pretending that Tenet’s “slam dunk” remark—made in late December 2002—convinced the White House that Saddam had those weapons. This Bush-friendly narrative entered the scene via Woodward’s book, but it never made a lick of chronological sense; by December 2002, Cheney and Bush had been touring the country for four solid months, asserting, without any qualification, that Saddam had those weapons and wanted to use them against the U.S. and its allies. No, the “slam dunk” narrative never made any sense; Bob Schieffer should have challenged Rice to explain it (sample question below). But expecting Schieffer to challenge Rice is like expecting your favorite house cat to fly. Once again, Schieffer let the “slam dunk” narrative stand—and Cohen reinforced it this morning. Then, like Dowd, he went on to offer a chronology that’s insultingly lazy:
COHEN (continuing directly from above): But in Cheney's case, the slam-dunking went on and on—way past the point where it was possible anymore to believe him. He continued to insist that Saddam Hussein had high-level contacts with al-Qaeda—“the evidence is overwhelming,” he once said—while others in the government not only knew that the evidence was not overwhelming but that it hardly existed. It was the same with Cheney's insistence—not just wrong, but irrefutably so—that Hussein "has weapons of mass destruction," and "[t]here is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us." The percussive march of these statements is so forceful, one after another after another, that it suggests Cheney wanted war no matter what.
It’s true; long after Tenet’s presentation, Cheney did go on insisting that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction—and that he’d use them against the U.S. and our allies. But Cohen is so g*d-d*m lazy he can’t even bother to give real examples. The statement we highlight in the passage above was made in August 2002, as Kucinich lays out in his articles of impeachment, the source from which Cohen says he is working. This was the start of the Bush Admin’s push—long before Tenet spoke at that now-famous meeting. Even now, three years after Woodward’s book, Cohen’s too lazy to get his chronologies right. Kucinich lays out all the facts—and Cohen’s too lazy to respect them.

On Friday, we’ll revisit the “slam dunk” anecdote—the powerful anecdote which played a large role in Bush’s 2004 re-election. The anecdote never made any real sense—but the press corps faithfully yelled it about when it appeared in Woodward’s book, in April 2004. Tenet told Bush that it was a slam dunk! And: Bush warned Tenet not to stretch the intelligence! This inane story never made any sense—but it spread all through the press corps (with very little push-back from liberals). It helped re-elect Bush in 2004—and it’s still being trafficked today.

Readers, Cheney and Bush began pimping Saddam’s nukes in August 2002. On what basis did they make their statements? The press corps has never bothered to ask them. Instead, the press corps bought the ludicrous claim that Tenet convinced Bush by yelling “slam dunk”—at a meeting which occurred four months after the big push began. Your press corps was too lazy, in 2004, to sort through Woodward’s broken chronology. And three years later, they still can’t be bothered. Dowd insists that poor Powell got played—and Cohen’s still propping up Rice.

COMING FRIDAY—HOWLER HISTORY: That “slam dunk” anecdote never made sense—except as a route to election.

WHAT SCHIEFFER SHOULD HAVE ASKED: Duh! Here’s what Darling Condi said—and what Schieffer should have asked:
RICE (4/29/07): When George said "slam dunk," everybody understood that he believed that the intelligence was strong. We all believed the intelligence was strong. The sad fact of how all of this has gotten talked about is that there was a problem with intelligence, but it wasn't just a problem with intelligence in the United States. It was an intelligence problem worldwide. Services across the world thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations thought that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction or it would not have had these draconian sanctions that were being levied against Iraq.

SCHIEFFER REVISED: Madame Secretary, you often say that George Tenet’s “slam dunk” comment convinced everyone that Saddam had WMD. But that meeting occurred in late December 2002—and Bush and Cheney had begun declaring, without qualification, that Saddam had weapons four months before that. You yourself began making these claims in September—three months before that meeting with Tenet. Weren’t you all overstating the level of certainty in the intelligence? And why do you refer to the “slam dunk” meeting when it plainly wasn’t the source of the Bush-Cheney claims?