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THEY SOMETIMES INVENT YOUR FIRST TIME! The Times and the Post misstated baldly about their new target, Pelosi: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2009

They sometimes invent your first time: On the one hand, the sweep of Nancy Pelosi’s accusation against the CIA was almost surely unwise. (And perhaps unplanned.)

On the other hand, the New York Times led yesterday’s news report with a claim which is simply untrue. This bungled claim constitutes a key part of the rolling indictment now forming against Pelosi.

In a more rational world, it’s the job of journalists to challenge false claims. In this instance, the Times led its report with a false accusation—a type of claim journalists luvv in stories of this kind.

The problem began in the opening paragraph of Carl Hulse’s news report. Hulse presented his central claim: In Thursday’s press conference, Pelosi had said something “for the first time.” She had never said this before, Hulse informed the world:

HULSE (5/15/09): The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, acknowledged for the first time Thursday that she knew by early 2003 that the Central Intelligence Agency had subjected terror detainees to waterboarding but saw little recourse to challenge the practice except by achieving Democratic control of Congress and the White House.

Ms. Pelosi offered her account at a tense news conference as she was pressed for a full accounting of when she became aware that the Bush administration had sanctioned harsh interrogation techniques.

“Pelosi Says She Knew of Waterboarding by 2003,” said the headline on Hulse’s report. She was saying this “for the first time,” his opening paragraph said.

Later, Hulse restated his central claim, making it more clear in the process. This is the first time Pelosi has said this! In the biz, such troubling conduct by a pol is known as “rolling disclosure:”

HULSE: Ms. Pelosi was present at a C.I.A. briefing in September 2002 that a recently released C.I.A. account says included discussion of techniques that ''had been used'' against a terrorism suspect.

That briefing was the only one that Ms. Pelosi attended in person, and on Thursday, she repeated her assertion that the only mention of waterboarding during the session was that while it was deemed to be legal, the technique was not being used.

''We later find out that it had been taking place before they even briefed us about the legal opinions and told us that they were not being used,'' she said.

But she went on to acknowledge for the first time that she had been told five months later, in February 2003, that top lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee had been briefed on the use of tough interrogation methods on terror suspects, including waterboarding..

Again, Hulse said Pelosi was saying this “for the first time.” But Hulse’s claim is flatly wrong. What are the actual facts?

In Thursday’s press conference, Pelosi did make the statement Hulse describes about what she learned in February 2003. But she plainly wasn’t saying this “for the first time.” As Hulse notes in his report, these CIA briefings first became news in December 2007. At that time, Pelosi issued a formal statement—the first statement she’d ever made on this topic. In this, the full text (link below), Pelosi said the same damn thing she said in Thursday’s press conference:

PELOSI (12/9/07): On one occasion, in the fall of 2002, I was briefed on interrogation techniques the Administration was considering using in the future. The Administration advised that legal counsel for the both the CIA and the Department of Justice had concluded that the techniques were legal.

I had no further briefings on the techniques. Several months later, my successor as Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, was briefed more extensively and advised the techniques had in fact been employed. It was my understanding at that time that Congresswoman Harman filed a letter in early 2003 to the CIA to protest the use of such techniques, a protest with which I concurred.

That was Pelosi’s original statement about these CIA briefings. Plainly, Pelosi said Harman was told in early 2003 that the techniques were being used—and that she herself knew about it. “It was my understanding at that time that Congresswoman Harman filed a letter” of protest, Pelosi said. “I concurred” with the protest, Pelosi said, using the past tense.

Let’s state the obvious: This is the same darn thing Pelosi said on Thursday. The central claim of Hulse’s report was simply wrong. Plainly, Pelosi wasn’t making this statement “for the first time.” Apparently, Hulse didn’t know this.

Pelosi did make, or seem to make, some sweeping accusations on Thursday—accusations which were almost surely unwise, and possibly unintended. It’s one thing to say you were inaccurately briefed; it’s another thing to say what Pelosi seemed to say—that this error by the CIA was intentional, part of a sweeping pattern of conduct on the agency’s part. It’s hard to prove such a sweeping accusation. It’s impossible to do so without creating a giant public discussion, the type of discussion which gobbles up everything else in its path.

That said, journalists love the claim of “rolling disclosure” in a matter like this (though only if they want to make some pol a target, of course). Such belated disclosure is taken as a sign of the targeted pol’s bad faith. It’s a sign that the target had something to hide, that she wouldn’t be truthful until she was forced. Mainstream journalism of the 1990s is littered with episodes of this type. (We’ve recently been working on a remarkable case from June 1999, one small but punishing part of the life-changing War Against Gore.)

Sad but true: When “journalists” get somebody in their sites, they simply luvv making this type of claim. Recent history teaches a grisly lesson: Even when rolling disclosure hasn’t occurred, “journalists” will sometimes pretend otherwise. They will sometimes ignore the very reports they themselves have typed in the past, so much do they want to pretend that their target never said this before. (Ceci Connolly’s ears may be burning. But many others were involved in that remarkable episode from June 1999.)

In the world of love and romance, it’s said that you always remember your first time. In modern pseudo-journalism, they sometimes invent a pol’s first time, erasing her real first time in the process. For whatever reason, that’s what Hulse plainly did in yesterday’s bungled report.

Many others are making the same bungled claim, building the fury against Vile Pelosi. It’s a type of claim modern “journalists” love. Absent extensive rolling correction, this claim is likely to spread.

About that press release: The press release from 2007 can be seen at Pelosi’s web site (click here). For those who have suspicious minds, the same text appears in the Nexis archives in real time, dated December 9, 2007. The full text was posted in real time by at least two different news services.

Quite gruesome/The Post did it too: Horrible. The Washington Post did the same thing. In one way, the Post was far worse.

Small improvement: Paul Kane didn’t start his Post report with the “first time” charge. But he got to it fairly quickly, in his fourth paragraph:

KANE (5/15/09): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday charged the CIA with knowingly misleading members of Congress about the interrogation practices, even as she acknowledged for the first time that she learned six years ago that waterboarding was being used on detainees.

At least he held off until paragraph four. But in another way, the Post was far worse than the Times.

Prepare to see the way the “press” reinvents the facts of your world.

Accompanying Kane’s report, the Post presented a set of four statements by Pelosi—three past statements, plus a clip from Thursday’s press conference. The statements can be seen on-line under the title, “Pelosi’s Statements Regarding ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.’” To see them accompanying Kane’s report, just click here.

The first of these statements comes from Pelosi’s original statement—that press release for December 2007. For some reason, the Post has dated it incorrectly—December 12, not December 9. But the Post has done something worse to this, Pelosi’s original statement. The Post has dropped the last sentence from the statement—the sentence where Pelosi specifically said that she learned, “in early 2003,” that the enhanced techniques were being employed.

That’s right. The Post dropped the sentence where Pelosi said she learned in 2003. Then Kane reported, at the top of page one, that Pelosi never said this before.

How did this bit of slick reinvention occur? We can’t answer that question; Kane may not have been involved in compiling that group of four statement. But this is a very common pattern from past coverage of Clinton and Gore. Earlier statements are air-brushed away. Then, outraged journalists rail at the fact that Clinton or Gore—or now Pelosi—never made this statement before!

It’s hard to believe your world functions this way. But this is the way your world works. Sadly, we now have reams of pseudo-progressives who are happy to play the same way.

The political price: What political price will Democrats pay for Pelosi’s sweeping accusation? Consider Pat Oliphant’s new cartoon, which appears in this morning’s Post. Too gaze on it, just click here.

The cartoon is called “The Pelosi Position.” Pelosi is shown smoking a large joint marked “Torture.” She’s making a familiar statement: “But I didn’t inhale.”

Translation: Pelosi’s sweeping charge is reactivating press/pundit frameworks from the Clinton era. This has been obvious watching cable. Oliphant spells it out nice and clear.

During the 1990s, Clinton—then Gore—were portrayed as feckless dissemblers, “willing to do and say anything.” You couldn’t believe a thing they said! Clinton had said that he didn’t inhale—and Gore had said he invented the Internet! In June 1999, Hillary Clinton even said she was a childhood fan of the Cubs and the Yankees! Earlier profiles seemed to show this was true. But so what? The press called her every name in the book (links below). As they’d done throughout the era, the corps was prepared to pretend.

You couldn’t believe a thing Big Dems said; Big Dems were feckless dissemblers. (If the press corps had to dissemble to “prove” it, dissemble the press corps would.) Given Obama’s impressive demeanor and unusual background, this framework has been dying on the vine this year. But it still lurks inside these idiots’ heads. Pelosi made a sweeping accusation this week—and the framework returned from the closet.

A few guesses about the political price to be paid:

The hubbub will make it slightly harder for Obama to nominate Sotomayor (as opposed to a more “traditional” choice like blonde Diane Wood). But Obama will nominate Sotomayor anyway. Because of the hubbub—and the reactivated frameworks—the nomination fight will be a bit harder. Obama, and his party generally, will lose a bit of political capital in the form of a few ratings points.

This makes the health care fight a bit harder. Does the public plan therefore come out? These are the political problems we sometimes create when we scream our deepest beliefs, as progressives have begged Obama to do all through the course of this year.

Jonathan Turley just can’t understand why Obama won’t scream long and loud, just like him. Then again, the heartfelt professor already has good health care.

About the Cubs and the Yankees: In June 1999, Hillary Clinton said she loved the Cubs and the Yankees as a child. Earlier profiles seemed to suggest that this was true—but the corps called her every name in the book. It triggered an established framework, you see. Send your own kids to another room. Then, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/16/08.

In 2007, they took a turn with this bullroar again. This time, their clowning may have been even dumber. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/2/07. The n-word even got used this time! (When trashing Clinton, as when trashing Gore, the n-word was “Nixonian.”)

This is the way they portrayed Big Dems right up through Obama’s nomination. Under Obama, these frameworks had been dying on the vine. In the last day or two, they are back.