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DOWNING STREET BOZO! Maybe now you’ll believe what we’ve said about former liberal Michael Kinsley: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2005

IT’S OVER: We retract every kind word about the New York Times’ David Herszenhorn; this front-page story couldn’t be more canned. Oh wait, yes it could—check this sad editorial. But then, minority children will always be toyed with. More later on in the week.

MILLER V. DEAN: Superlative spunk from Stephanie Miller, right at the start of this Howard Kurtz profile:

KURTZ (6/13/05): Stephanie Miller is watching Fox News, as she does every night, looking for laughs.

"It's like Comedy Central for liberals," says the Los Angeles radio host. "They don't know they're funny—they just are. It's a right-wing freak show."

Huzzah! It’s something liberals have to tell conservative voters—you’re being played for absolute fools, by a gang of liars, con-men and “freaks.” Yes, we’re in favor of tough, tough talk (see below)—as long as that talk isn’t stupid.

Which brings us around to Howard Dean, who has recently been an undisciplined nightmare. Note that Miller unloaded her insults on a small group of Fox hosts—not on Republican voters in general. We’ve been amazed at Dean’s clumsy statements—and at the vast array of Dems and libs who think that he’s been just superb.

When did Dems become so easy, that they can’t demand leaders who are tough and not-stupid? And are we wrong, or are bloggers starting to pander to the fire-breathing Dem herd? We cringed at this fawning from Kevin Drum, who surely understood his slick edit:

DRUM (6/11/05): What was it that Howard Dean said about Republican leaders? Oh yes: "A lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives."
But Dean didn’t say that “about Republican leaders.” He simply said it about “Republicans”—in fact, by clear inference, about Republican voters. Here’s what the firebrand actually said—and yes, it was totally stupid:
DEAN: The idea that you have to wait on line eight hours to cast your ballot in Florida, there's something the matter with that. Well, Republicans, I guess, can do that, 'cause there's a lot of them that have never made an honest living in their lives.
That’s an amazingly dumb thing to say, especially given the strength of the underlying issue. But for some reason, many Dems seem to think they can’t insist on tough and not-stupid, and pandering to “the base” has started on-line. Drum knew what Howard Dean really said. Good grief—do we faintly hear him saying it? Can you make it out, readers? Hey rubes?

Miller mocked a gang of Fox hosts—not Republican voters in general. In an amazing series of gaffes, Dean keeps refusing to draw the distinction. Our view? Your party chair can be as smart as your radio hosts. You have a right to insist on tough leaders—and on leaders who refuse to be stupid.

BY THE WAY: By the way, let’s adopt the Drum revision: Who are the “Republican leaders” who have never made an honest living? Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a former teacher and wrestling coach? Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a former heart surgeon? House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a former exterminator? Is that not making an honest living? We don’t know how it is in your hood, but when the bug man comes to our sprawling campus, all our analysts stand up and cheer. Is that what Dems really want to say? And why do Dems suddenly seem so intent on saying things that don’t quite make sense? When did Dems become intent on saying things that strike voters as stupid?

DOWNING STREET BOZO: Maybe now you’ll start to believe the things we’ve said about Michael Kinsley and, by extension, about the fops who are runing our mainstream press corps. In Sunday’s Post (and Los Angeles Times), Kinsley writes an astonishing column about the Downing Street memo. Do a gang of millionaire fops drive our discourse? In case you didn’t know that already, Kinsley sets out to prove it—in spades.

As noted, Kinsley discusses the famous Downing Street memo; in it, a top adviser to Tony Blair seems to say that President Bush had decided on war with Iraq as early as July 2002 (and was “fixing” the facts and the intel accordingly). The memo appeared on May 1 in the Times of London; concerned citizens have been dissecting it from that day to this, even as the Washington press corps struggled to avoid all discussion. (Panel discussions about Kerry’s grades at Yale were far more germane.) But good news! The great Kinsley has finally read the whole memo! Drink in the sheer condescension as he explains why he did:

KINSLEY (6/12/05; pgh 1): After about the 200th e-mail from a stranger demanding that I cease my personal coverup of something called the Downing Street Memo, I decided to read it. It's all over the blogosphere and Air America, the left-wing talk radio network: This is the smoking gun of the Iraq war. It is proof positive that President Bush was determined to invade Iraq the year before he did so. The whole "weapons of mass destruction" concern was phony from the start, and the drama about inspections was just kabuki: going through the motions.
At the Times, Daniel Okrent always seemed to think it was beneath his dignity to receive e-mails from the herd, and Kinsley betrays the same condescension, grumping about the effort required to get him to do his job. Only after receiving demands from hundreds of “strangers” did he do what any citizen would; only then did he bother to read “something called the Downing Street Memo,” the locution he uses to show his disdain for the people who asked him to function. And if you don’t find yourself struck by Kinsley’s bald condescension, we hope you’ll find yourself insulted when you read his account of the memo’s contents. “I don’t buy the fuss,” Kinsley writes. Then he starts to explain why that is:
KINSLEY (2): Although it is flattering to be thought personally responsible for allowing a proven war criminal to remain in office, in the end I don't buy the fuss. Nevertheless, I am enjoying it, as an encouraging sign of the revival of the left. Developing a paranoid theory and promoting it to the very edge of national respectability takes a certain amount of ideological self-confidence. It takes a critical mass of citizens with extreme views and the time and energy to obsess about them. It takes a promotional infrastructure and the widely shared self-discipline to settle on a story line, disseminate it and stick to it.
There you start to have it, readers! If you think the Downing Street memo may show or suggest that Bush was determined to invade Iraq early on, you have “a paranoid theory” and “extreme views”—and “the time and energy to obsess about them.” (This distinguishes you from Kinsley, who didn’t have the time or energy to read the memo until forced.) Indeed, throughout his piece, Kinsley keeps saying that you’re an “extremist” with “extreme views” if you’re bothered by this memo’s contents. Maybe now you’ll believe what we’ve told you about this bizarre, fallen man.

Because omigod! Fairly quickly, Kinsley begins to explain what the memo said. Try to believe that Kinsley was once the brightest scribe in all Washington:

KINSLEY (4): [The memo is] a report on a meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and some aides on July 23, 2002. The key passage summarizes "recent talks in Washington" by the head of British foreign intelligence (identified, John Le Carre-style, simply as "C"). C reported that "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy...There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."

(5) C's focus on the dog that didn't bark—the lack of discussion about the aftermath of war—was smart and prescient. But even on its face, the memo is not proof that Bush had decided on war. It says that war is "now seen as inevitable" by "Washington." That is, people other than Bush had concluded, based on observation, that he was determined to go to war. There is no claim of even fourth-hand knowledge that he had actually declared this intention. Even if "Washington" meant actual administration decision makers, rather than the usual freelance chatterboxes, C is saying only that these people believe that war is how events will play out.

We agree: This memo doesn’t “prove” that Bush had already decided on war. By its nature, the memo is a limited document. It’s a short summary of that Blair staff meeting, written by Blair aide Matthew Rycroft; in the part of the memo under discussion, Rycroft is summarizing what “C” (actually, Sir Richard Dearlove) said when he reported to Blair on his recent trip to Washington. Given all that, there’s room for error when we interpret this memo. Rycroft could be misconstruing what Dearlove actually said in the meeting. And even if Rycroft captured Dearlove’s meaning, Dearlove could simply be wrong in his assessment of what he heard in Washington. Meanwhile, Rycroft’s memo is pithy, and therefore unclear. Did he really mean that Dearlove had said that Bush was faking (“fixing”) the facts about Iraq? The memo can’t explain its own meaning, and it can’t serve as a transcript of the meetings Dearlove attended. But the D-Street memo plainly suggests that Bush had already decided on war, and it plainly suggests the possibility that the Bush Admin was jiggering facts to promote this decision. Kinsley is right—this pithy memo “is not proof that Bush had decided on war.” But for reasons that are perfectly obvious, serious citizens have found it disturbing.

That said, how absurd is Kinsley’s attempt to wish away this memo? In the New York Times, Douglas Jehl described the Washington meetings on which Dearlove was reporting to Blair. Dearlove “had met in Washington with senior American officials, including George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence,” Jehl reported—and his account is not in dispute. But Kinsley, engaging in world-class clowning, acts as if Dearlove was sent to DC to hang out at Starbucks and eavesdrop on locals. In the passage above, Kinlsye wonders if Dearlove was simply discussing things he had heard from “the usual freelance chatterboxes.” As he continues, Kinsley’s clowning on this matter reaches the point of pure insult:

KINSLEY (6): Of course, if "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," rather than vice versa, that is pretty good evidence of Bush's intentions, as well as a scandal in its own right. And we know now that this was true and a half. Fixing intelligence and facts to fit a desired policy is the Bush II governing style, especially concerning the war in Iraq. But C offered no specifics, or none that made it into the memo. Nor does the memo assert that actual decision makers had told him they were fixing the facts. Although the prose is not exactly crystalline, it seems to be saying only that "Washington" had reached that conclusion.
Readers, if you don’t feel insulted by nonsense like that, you ought to stop reading altogether. Could a high school sophomore get away with such blather? In fact, Kinsley’s claim here is simply inaccurate. In fact, the text of the memo doesn’t say that “Washington” had reached the conclusions in question; the memo simply doesn’t say who had reached these conclusions (text below). But again, Dearlove had been sent to Washington to meet with Tenet and other high officials. Unless Sir Richard has fried his brains, he wasn’t reporting what he heard when he rode around Washington on the Metro, and he wasn’t telling Blair what five-out-of-six House interns now thought. Yes—Sir Richard Dearlove had gone to DC to meet with “actual decision makers.” It’s absurd to think that the Downing Street memo concerns someone else’s great thoughts.

Nor is it likely that Dearlove was telling Blair what Americans journalists thought. But as he continues, Kinsley moves on to that absurd notion. Try to believe that he wrote this:

KINSLEY (6): ...Although the prose is not exactly crystalline, it seems to be saying only that "Washington" had reached that conclusion.

(7) And of course Washington had done so. You don't need a secret memo to know this. Just look at what was in the newspapers on July 23, 2002, and the day before. Left-wing Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer casually referred to the coming war against Iraq as "much-planned-for." The New York Times reported Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's response to an earlier story "which reported preliminary planning on ways the United States might attack Iraq to topple President Saddam Hussein." Rumsfeld effectively confirmed the report by announcing an investigation of the leak.

There! According to Kinsley, Dearlove was actually telling Blair what “[l]eft-wing columnist Robert Scheer” thought! And he was telling Blair about a report in the New York Times—information he only could get by spending a few days in Washington.

Kinsley’s piece is insulting and mad, from its start right on to its finish. But then, this is the man who had never heard of PNAC (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/05), and this is the man who gets his economic information from “Meathead,” at Hollywood parties (same link). Given Kinsley’s serial cluelessness, are you really surprised that he had to be bullied by 200 strangers before he would even read this memo? That he offers open resentment against those who asked him to read it? That he calls them “extremists” for being disturbed by the memo, or that he offers this bizarro account of what Dearlove was saying to Blair? And do you start to see that we were right when we told you that Kinsley has crashed and burned—that he is now just another Millionaire Fop, just one more in the bizarre gang of hacks who run America’s “press corps?”

Yep! To Michael Kinsley, you’re an “extremist” with “a paranoid theory” and “time to obsess” if the Downing Street memo disturbs you. And if you write and ask him to please do his job, you’ll be met with his high condescension. But inevitably, this is the attitude that obtains when we empower a millionaire press corps—a national press whose opinion leaders are almost all multimillionaires. Indeed, when an e-mailer asked the Post’s Robert Kaiser why the Post was avoiding this topic, he got this f*ck-you back-talk too. But so it will go if a millionaire class is allowed to run our national discussion. Marie Antoinette would have understood Kinsley. We hope that our readers do too.

TOUGH LITTLE RICH BOY CALLS NAMES: Note the way Kinsley name-calls throughout. Air America is a “left-wing talk radio network.” Robert Scheer is a “left-wing columnist.” Are you troubled by the memo? That makes you an “extremist” with “a paranoid theory.” Here at THE HOWLER, we stay away from “right-wing” and “left-wing” ourselves, since the locutions provide more heat than light and imply an obvious criticism. But when you see Kinsley name-call “left-wing” in this manner, do you see what we told you last week in answer to the Kevin Drum question? Why do today’s “TV liberals” argue so poorly? Because these people aren’t “liberals” at all! Michael Kinsley is a millionaire fop. Reread his column, then tell us he isn’t.

FOR THE RECORD: Here’s the part of the memo which describes what Dearlove (“C”) reported to Blair:

DOWNING STREET MEMO: C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
The passage starts, “C reported on his recent talks in Washington”—his talks with Tenet and other high officials. Do you believe that Dearlove was telling Blair what “the usual chatterboxes” were saying in Washington? According to the memo, Dearlove reported that “[t]he NSC had no patience with the UN route.” According to Michael Kinsley, of course, Dearlove may have picked this up while lounging at his hotel’s rooftop pool. How long will a free people put up with the Kinsleys—with a tribe of poodles who deride them for caring and insult them with garbage like this?

COMING NEXT WEEK: We still plan to revisit Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack in light of the Downing Street memo. But we want to prep a bit more. We expect to start typing next week.

Special report—Sunday, pundit Sunday!

PART 1—ALL IN THE FAMILY: We’ve said it now a thousand times: If they didn’t exist, you couldn’t invent them. Yesterday, on Meet the Press, Tim Russert quoted Hillary Clinton, who had actually dared to criticize the flawless press at a Monday evening fund-raiser. ''It's shocking when you see how easily they fold in the media today,” Clinton had said. ''They don't stand their ground. If they're criticized by the White House, they just fall apart. I mean, c'mon, toughen up, guys. It's only our Constitution and country at stake.”

Yes, Clinton had dared to challenge the press. So Russert did what any good hack would do—he asked four people from the press to “evaluate” Clinton’s assertion! A broadcaster would be laughed off the air if he took this approach with some other sector—if he asked a panel of HMO execs to debate HMOs, for example. But this has long been standard procedure for the self-dealing fops we still describe as a “press corps” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/30/00). America’s journalists like to control the public discussion about their own conduct; they like to keep it “all in the family.” But this foppish approach only shows how soft and weak they actually are. On Sunday, as they answered Clinton’s charge about softness, they instinctively showed she was right!

And by the way, does anyone else on the face of the earth actually argue this oddly? The Wall Street Journal’s John Harwood cleared his throat first. Just try to believe where he went:

HARWOOD (6/12/05): I'm sure glad she added "with all due respect" to that statement. [appreciative chuckles] Look, people in politics, when their point of view is not prevailing, tend to get frustrated with the messenger. I don't think anybody can say that throughout the 2004 campaign that the faults of the Bush administration were not front and center in that campaign, even the issue that we've been talking about recently, the Downing Street memo, the whole issue about whether intelligence was fixed to support the Iraq War. That was substantially what the 2004 campaign was about: Did we rush to war?
Readers, did he really say that? Did he really describe the Downing Street memo as “the issue we've been talking about recently?” Tell us he didn’t really say it! As many folk watching the show surely knew, ombudsmen at a string of big news orgs have recently criticized the national press for failing to cover the Downing Street memo! But so what? Like the perfumed flunky he’s willing to be, Harwood made this press corps failure Exhibit A in his brief against Clinton’s claim! And matters only went downhill from there. Failing to note the sheer absurdity of his first pundit’s puzzling comment, Russert turned to his most famous poodle. And the huffing Pundit Dean made things worse:
BRODER: The shortsightedness of Mrs. Clinton's complaint is illustrated by this morning's Washington Post. The front-page story on another memo, this one to Tony Blair's government, about the lack of planning in our government for the postwar period in Iraq. Who does she think is doing this work if not investigative reporters? Give us a break!
Earth to Broder—the DSM was a memo “to Tony Blair’s government,” just like the memo in yesterday’s Post. But let’s leave this odd remark to the side and zero in on a bit of chronology. Clinton voiced her complaint Monday night. Three weeks earlier, on May 15, Post ombudsman Michael Getler had already devoted his weekly column to the Post’s failure to cover this matter. Four weeks after Getler’s column (six weeks after the memo appeared), it finally made the Post’s front page—and Broder thought that this delayed coverage somehow spoke against Clinton’s point! Anyone else would have seen this thing different; the memo only made the front page in response to complaints from Clinton and others. But that, of course, would make Clinton right. So Broder was willing to huff and puff and demand that she “give us a break.”

Who but a tired old Stalinist clique could imagine responding to Clinton this way—restricting its panel to members only, then citing as evidence in their favor a point on which they had recently failed? But that’s the way privileged cliques always work if they can keep it all in the family—if they’re given veto power over the things that get said. And for the record, this gang of “liberal” Washington journalists didn’t seem happy with Clinton in general. Here was Russert’s very first question. Note Broder’s off-point reply:

RUSSERT: Welcome all. Interesting week in national politics. Hillary Clinton Monday in New York at a fund-raiser had this to say: "There has never been an administration, I don't believe, in our history more intent upon consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda. I know it's frustrating for many of you. It's frustrating for me. Why can't the Democrats do more to stop them? ... I can tell you this: It's very hard to stop people who have no shame about what they're doing. It is very hard to tell people they are making decisions that will undermine our checks and balances and constitutional system of government who don't care. It is very hard to stop people who have never been acquainted with the truth."

David Broder, is Hillary Clinton drawing the line here?

BRODER: She's drawing the line, but she could usefully spend some time in the history books if she thinks that this is unique, to see an administration trying to consolidate power to move its agenda. That is standard procedure. Where she is right, I think, is that it is difficult for the Democrats these days to find a platform and a set of statements and messages that give them any real leverage against the Republicans.

Broder was huffing even before the question of the press came up; indeed, he snidely told the New York solon to “spend some time in the history books.” But note how Broder fails to speak to Clinton’s actual statement. Clinton didn’t say “that this is unique, to see an administration trying to consolidate power to move its agenda.” Duh! Needless to say, that’s done all the time. But Clinton had actually said something different—she had said that no administration had ever been “more intent upon consolidating and abusing power to further their own agenda.” To speak to that, you’d have to discuss some alleged abuses—alleged abuses which Clinton had mentioned. But that would mean mentioning allegations against Bush. So Broder responded to something simpler, to something HRC hadn’t said. Why, you could almost say that the Pundit Dean “folded.” You could almost say the Dean “fell apart.”

Is it true, what Clinton said about todays press? “If they're criticized by the White House,” do they really “just fall apart?” The brave boys and girls of Russert’s panel kept the discussion all in the family. And they showed an odd impulse throughout the day’s panel—an impulse to go after Clinton and Dean, and to pretty much “fall apart” when asked to critique mighty Bush.

TOMORROW—PART 2! Soft soap about Bush! And coming: The Chris Matthews (gong) Show!