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Print view: The Times described the attack on bin Laden. But did its report make sense?
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DO YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU READ IN THE PAPER! The Times described the attack on bin Laden. But did its report make sense? // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2011

Alan Simpson is forever/Ditto liberal acquiescence: The (apparent) cluelessness of Alan Simpson deserves a bit more attention.

On Tuesday, Ezra Klein authored a short, clear post concerning Simpson’s recent remarks—his clueless remarks about retirement age, longevity and Social Security. Simpson’s various remarks this week were profoundly clueless; often, they were just stupid. For Ezra’s short but simple post, just click here. (Ezra didn’t discuss all of Simpson’s remarks.)

Good lord! This same Alan Simpson was co-chair of Obama’s debt commission! Given his apparent cluelessness, you might as well put Donald Trump in charge of the Bolshoi Ballet.

But then, Simpson’s cluelessness about Social Security has pretty much been with us forever, voiced by a wide array of elite media figures. So has the liberal acquiescence which has given long and vigorous life to his well-scripted claims.

Alan Simpson’s bogus claims have been with us forever! Consider a session hosted by the late Tim Russert way back in May 2000.

From the mid-1990s on, Russert was Washington’s most influential newsman. He was the mayor of Washington’s news establishment. People still called Broder “the dean,” but that was a bow to the past.

Russert was lord of the guild. And when it came to Social Security, he never stopped pimping the silly claims Simpson has spewed on several occasions in the past year.

Let’s add to what Paul Krugman said in Monday’s column: Within our political culture, incomprehension among elites has been the norm for a very long time. There is no expectation of competence. And by the way: During this long period, “intellectual leaders” of the liberal world basically sat and stared as Simpson’s howlers were bruited all over the land. They stroked their ding-a-lings, kissed elite keister and let the garbage roll on.

For one sample of Russert’s work, consider his hour-long session with Joe Klein in May 2000.

Klein had just published a pointless novel, The Running Mate. As he appeared on Russert’s eponymous cable program, Candidate Bush was unveiling his plan to establish private accounts within Social Security—his plan for partial privatization of the venerable program.

After discussing Klein’s new book, Russert offered his standard rap about the dangers confronting Social Security. In the following passage, you will see him repeating the same stupid claims the hapless Simpson recited this week. And it gets worse: As Russert uncorked his various howlers, he and Klein despaired of the way Candidate Gore was opposing Bush’s brave bold necessary plan.

As he starts this exposition, Russert tells Klein, “The facts are simple.” And sure enough! As with Simpson’s recent bungling, Russert’s facts were very simple—and they were stupidly wrong:

RUSSERT (5/6/00): But the role of media becomes critical here, Joe Klein. The facts are simple. When Social Security began, Franklin Roosevelt, genius he— The life expectancy at that point was 63. He made eligibility for Social Security 65.

KLEIN: Right.

RUSSERT: It was a—was a very popular program. There were 45 workers for every retiree and—life expectancy was exactly that age! Now we're approaching two workers for every retiree. Life expectancy is 78 going, to 85. You're going to have 80 million people on Social Security and Medicare for about a fourth of their life, for three to 20 years.

Everyone knows that, and yet when you present it to Al Gore, he'll say, “No problem. I'll take the surplus and it'll pay for it.” Even his own secretary of the treasury written volumes of reports—trustees reports—will say, “No, it doesn't work that way.”

KLEIN: No, it doesn't.

RUSSERT: What is our job? Can we call time-out and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Vice President, it doesn't add up?”

After reciting a standard set of inaccurate and/or misleading “facts,” Russert asked a truly remarkable question. In essence, he asked if the press corps could stage an intervention with Candidate Gore—if they could step outside their traditional role and simply announce that Gore’s position was bogus. But then, the boys were making their partisan preference stunningly clear this day. Moments earlier, they had characterized Gore’s opposition to private accounts in this remarkable way:

KLEIN: The concern I have about the Gore campaign is that he has learned one lesson and he's kind of becoming a one-trick pony.

RUSSERT: Attack. Attack. Attack.

Mr. KLEIN: Attack. Attack.

RUSSERT: Governor Bush put forward a Social Security plan calling for a partial privatizing, and he attacks, saying that is risky. The fact is, President Clinton proposed taking parts of the Social Security trust fund and putting them in the stock market in his State of the Union message just, just a year ago. Yesterday, you had Pat Moynihan and, and Bob Kerrey and John McCain all coming out, saying, “Let's have a commission and this is an idea worth looking at.” Why—why, why does Gore just auto—almost knee-jerk attack, attack, attack?

For the record: Despite Russert’s misleading account, President Clinton’s earlier proposal wasn’t like Bush’s plan. (Gore opposed both proposals.) But Klein knew how to answer Russert’s question. Why did Gore “almost knee-jerk attack, attack, attack?”

“Well, because it's—it's, you know, scaring people about Social Security,” Klein directly replied.

There you see the “Simpson howlers” being recited more than a decade agobeing recited by Washington’s most influential newsman. And even as Russert recited his time-honored groaners, he and Klein trashed Candidate Gore for refusing to respect their vast wisdom on this critical subject. We’ve discussed this Russert program many times in the past; for one example, see, THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/19/05. But go ahead—we dare you:

You can spend the whole weekend searching! Just try to find one of your “liberal leaders” criticizing what Russert said. And Russert said these things over and over again, for years—on Meet the Press, in presidential debates, in a wide array of forums. We often criticized these statements—and we did so inside a vast silence.

Why didn’t your liberal leaders speak? Please! They sold you out for an obvious reason. They sold you out because their careers came first—and because Tim Russert was powerful. They wanted to get on Meet the Press—or at least on Hardball, Jack Welch’s gruesome cable equivalent, a source of career advancement. Result: Those howlers got free rein for decades as your heroes looked on.

By the way, just a question: Was that Joan Walsh we spotted on Hardball, chuckling with Chris Tuesday night?

Liberal voters have been played this way for several decades. Simple story: Most liberal voters are too tribal to notice—and our leaders will never tell.

What’s the moral to this story? It’s much as Krugman said on Monday. Within the allegedly liberal world, these elites are still very much in charge. Their judgment is bad; their morals are worse.

They’re going to fail you again.

Further insight from Russert and Klein: As “liberal leaders” hid in the woods, the mainstream press spread Simpson’s howlers. Here’s one more exchange from that remarkable Russert program:

RUSSERT: Can Al Gore be successful in making George W. Bush a right-wing extremist on abortion, on gun control, on Social Security? Will it hold? Will it stick?

KLEIN: I think that he certainly hopes so, but—but I don't know that it'll stick. You know, the American people are really pretty hip and pretty sophisticated.

After spewing a set of the “Simpson howlers,” Russert explained what Gore was doing. He was trying to paint Candidate Bush as “a right-wing extremist on Social Security.”

Could he make it stick, the worried man asked. Luckily, Klein wasn’t sure he could. The people are just too smart!

Liberal leaders hid in the woods as this ludicrous jihad rolled on. American history was changed in the process—and the dead of Iraq stare up from the ground.

By the way, was that Joan Walsh we spotted on Tuesday night’s Hardball?

DO YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU READ IN THE PAPER (permalink): Do you believe what you read in the paper? On Tuesday, we read an account of the raid on bin Laden that didn’t quite seem to make sense.

The report was written by Schmitt, Shanker and Sanger; it led the New York Times front page. How did the raid on bin Laden take shape? This was the opening paragraph:

SCHMITT (5/10/11): President Obama insisted that the assault force hunting down Osama bin Laden last week be large enough to fight its way out of Pakistan if confronted by hostile local police officers and troops, senior administration and military officials said Monday.

Intriguing. According to unnamed officials, Obama “insisted” that the assault force had to be large enough to fight its way out of Pakistan if confronted.

That’s how the front-page report began. A bit later, the claim was fleshed out:

SCHMITT: Under the original plan, two assault helicopters were going to stay on the Afghanistan side of the border waiting for a call if they were needed. But the aircraft would have been about 90 minutes away from the Bin Laden compound.

About 10 days before the raid, Mr. Obama reviewed the plans and pressed his commanders as to whether they were taking along enough forces to fight their way out if the Pakistanis arrived on the scene and tried to interfere with the operation.

That resulted in the decision to send two more helicopters carrying additional troops. These followed the two lead Black Hawk helicopters that carried the actual assault team. While there was no confrontation with the Pakistanis, one of those backup helicopters was ultimately brought in to the scene of the raid when a Black Hawk was damaged while making a hard landing.

''Some people may have assumed we could talk our way out of a jam, but given our difficult relationship with Pakistan right now, the president did not want to leave anything to chance,'' said one senior administration official, who like others would not be quoted by name describing details of the secret mission. ''He wanted extra forces if they were necessary.”

Wow! According to this account, Obama insisted that the plan include four on-site helicopters, not two. And sure enough! One of those extra choppers ended up saving the day.

This report appeared on Tuesday morning. On Tuesday night’s Hardball, Chris Matthews marveled at Obama’s wisdom and insight. He thanked one guest, the Times’ David Sanger, for his “great reporting.” That said, Matthews and Sanger were a bit late to this particular party; the Obama administration had been advancing this account for more than a week by this point. Eight nights earlier, on Monday, May 2, Ed Schultz had hailed Obama for this same brilliant planning. In Schultz’s hagiographic account, Obama had amazed the brass with the depth of his wisdom and foresight. (For transcript, see below.)

Do you believe what you read in the paper? To us, that story didn’t quite seem to make sense. To our ear, the original plan described by the Times sounded like something straight out of the Keystone Cops. If the attack force was confronted, they were going to call for the back-up choppers—choppers the brass would have stationed ninety minutes away.

Do you believe what you read in the papers? If that really was the original plan, it sounds like something is badly wrong with our top military planners. Who in the world would devise a plan where the backup was so far away?

To us, that plan didn’t seem to make sense, though there may be some explanation. But no one asked Sanger about this point when he played Hardball that night. Increasingly, we live in a tribalized news environment. Hacks on Fox are paid big bucks to launch absurd attacks on Obama. On MSNBC, hacks are paid the same big pucks to swallow odd stories like this.

Who is left to ask obvious questions? Perhaps Sanger’s story does make sense—but no one bothered to ask. On MSNBC, this story was simply used as propaganda for a wondrously insightful Dear Leader. Consider the way “Beer Hall Eddie” had played it eight nights before.

As noted, administration officials were advancing this story long before the New York Times ran it. On Tuesday, May 3, Time’s Michael Scherer offered this post on the magazine’s Swampland blog:

SCHERER (5/3/11): On Tuesday, White House officials began to offer more details on exactly how Obama had shaped the final assault plan. In particular, the President, they said, urged the Pentagon to revisit the number of helicopters it planned to bring into Pakistani airspace on the mission. One of those extra helicopters later played a role in the mission.

The president made his concerns known in a briefing about 10 days before the assault on the bin Laden compound. According to senior aides, Obama felt that the special operations COA, or course of action, was too risky. Under the COA at that time, only two helicopters would enter Pakistani airspace, leaving little backup if something went wrong. “I don’t want you to plan for an option that doesn’t allow you to fight your way out,” the President told operational planners at the meeting, according to the notes of one participant.

So the plan was revised. Ultimately, four helicopters flew into Pakistani airspace, including two refueling helicopters that carried additional personnel. In the end, the extra forces didn’t need to fight their way out of the compound, but a backup helicopter did play a key role in the operation. One of the two primary assault helicopters, an HH-60 Pave Hawk lost its lift, landed hard and had to be destroyed. The backup landed to lift its passengers to safety. “The President created the ‘fight your way out’ option,” explained an administration official.

Is that what happened? It could be. To our ear, the story doesn’t get fully implausible until we add the claim that the brass felt the need for back-up—but stationed it ninety minutes away. At any rate, someone had already given this account to Ed Schultz on Monday, May 2. That evening, in a remarkably propagandistic rant, he made the president sound like Jesus amazing the elders in the temple.

Schultz cited no source for his detailed report. “Il Duce” simply strutted about, showering praise on his deeply astounding Dear Leader:

SCHULTZ (5/2/11): I have great respect for the way the president has done this, because some of the details that are coming out are so doggone interesting. This guy that didn’t have any military experience had to make some pretty tough calls.

The president was offered four options here. He could have bombed the target. He didn’t want to do that because that of course would have ruined all of the evidence and, of course, we’ve got to have proof that Osama bin Laden is dead, and it would have killed a lot of innocent people, and this president was very concerned about that.

He could have done a clandestine operation, didn’t want to do that.

He could have joined in and done a joint operation with the Pakistanis. But the way things have been going, you know what? He just didn’t want to outsource this one.

He turned to those great kids that you saw. He turned to those kinds of Americans to say, “You know what? You got to do this job. We are focused as a country. We’re focused as a military. I’ve told you on the campaign trail that we are going to get Osama bin Laden. This is the time. This is the moment. This is the chance. And we’re going to move forward and do it—just like we said we were going to do it as Americans.”

You know what that is, folks? That’s leadership. That’s guts. But it’s leadership at its finest hour.

And so the president said, “No. What we’re going to do is we’re going to go with the SEALs. The SEALs are going to get it done.”

So the Special Ops team conducted two rehearsals on April 7 and April 13. And the commander reported back to the commander-in-chief, said, “This will work. This will work.”

The president said, “Well, you know, what are you going to do if a chopper goes down? Think about that.”

The guy that doesn’t have any military experience asks the critical question? “OK. You’re going in with a couple choppers, or one of them. What if it doesn’t work? What’s your back-up plan?”

He knew.

That was President Obama’s concern. He said, “What if one of the choppers failed?” He asked his comrades, the commanders, to come up with a fight-your-way-out plan.

Now on the campaign trail, they were saying that he was going to cut and run. On the campaign trail, they said that this man didn’t have the experience. He didn’t have the country on a war footing. He didn’t understand the war on terrorism.

But at that 11th hour, he asked the critical question, “How are you going to fight your way out? What are you going to do if this happens?”

No, this is leadership. There’s no question about it.

That narrative comes straight out of North Korea. In this narrative, Dear Leader simply “knew.”

We don’t mean this as a criticism of Obama, except to the extent that he is advancing this hero tale. We don’t mean this as a criticism of the SEALs, or of the military planners. We offer this as a portrait of the drift of our “news” establishment. Let’s review:

The New York Times reported a puzzling tale—a tale that didn’t quite seem to make sense.

The Times does that fairly often, of course. But no one asked the obvious questions about this front-page report. Within our emerging news culture, slightly peculiar reports like this are wholly for propaganda now. One side invents absurd attacks. One side invents hero tales.

Beer Hall Eddie pimped this tale exactly as a Dear Leader would want it. Eight nights later, the eternally clueless Matthews had no idea that he was eight days late with a pleasing tale.

Beer Hall Eddie this Tuesday: This past Tuesday night, Schultz staged another set of reports straight out of a mid-century beer hall. We’ll have to give details another day, but the man is a born beer-hall strutter.

It’s striking to think that a lot of liberals may want their “news” this way.