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WEAPONS OF MISDIRECTION (PART 1)! Bush’s critics are asking real questions. David Rosenbaum wants them to stop:

MONDAY, JUNE 23, 2003

BEND IT LIKE ROSENBAUM: Did George W. Bush mislead the country in the run-up to Iraq? Serious people are asking that question. Then there are people like the New York Times’ David Rosenbaum. His lead article in Sunday’s “Week in Review” was a study in slick misdirection.

Read Rosenbaum’s article—and study his steps. As we’ll see in the next few days, others are taking the same slick approach to this serious question.

Step 1: Set up the straw man. Instantly, Rosenbaum fashions a straw man. Here is his opening paragraph:

ROSENBAUM (pgh 1): The hunt for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq has been fruitless. The tax cut turns out to give no break whatsoever to millions of low-income taxpayers. In the view of some Democrats, President Bush has been lying about these and other matters, the way Lyndon B. Johnson lied about Vietnam, Richard M. Nixon about Watergate and Bill Clinton about his sex life.
“In the view of some Democrats, Bush has been lying” about WMDs, the scribe says. That statement is essentially false. Very few major Dems have ever said that Bush “lied” about this matter. How can we prove that few Dems have said it? Because Rosenbaum doesn’t cite one example. Here are the three “examples” he cites in his next three paragraphs:
ROSENBAUM (pgh 2): For instance, Senator Bob Graham of Florida, the former chairman of the Intelligence Committee and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, accused Mr. Bush of “a pattern of deception and deceit” on Iraq.

(3) An antiwar organization,, ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times last week suggesting that “young men and women were sent to die for a lie.”

(4) The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal research group, said of Mr. Bush’s statement that all income tax payers would benefit from his tax cut, “Such claims are not accurate.”

Rosenbaum quotes one Democrat, Bob Graham—and Graham doesn’t use the L-word. But no matter. The straw man has been set in place, and Rosenbaum moves to destroy him.

Step 2: Knock down the straw man. Democrats say that Bush has been lying? But that’s not true, Rosenbaum says:

ROSENBAUM (pgh 5): In fact, a review of the president’s public statements found little that could lead to a conclusion that the president actually lied on either subject. But more pertinent than whether the president told the literal truth is what factors he stressed and which ones he played down.

(6) Certainly, a strong argument can be made that he exaggerated the danger posed by banned Iraqi weapons when he was trying to convince the country and Congress of the need for a pre-emptive strike and that he overemphasized the benefits to people of modest means when he was trying to sell his tax cut.

According to Rosenbaum, there is little evidence that Bush “actually lied.” Bush probably “exaggerated” certain things, and he probably “overemphasized,” Rosenbaum says. But that, of course, is just what major Dems (and others) have accused him of doing! In these key paragraphs, Rosenbaum agrees with what major Dems have said, while pretending that he has refuted them.

Do you think we’re being unfair to Rosenbaum? Check out his groaning third step:

Step 3: Say that everyone does it! Bush probably did exaggerate, Rosenbaum admits. But so what? Everyone does it!

ROSENBAUM (7): Mr. Bush is not alone in selective emphasis. Robert Dallek, the presidential historian, recalled that in the 1940 election campaign, President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted he would not take America into war unless this country was attacked by a foreign power. Toward the end of the campaign, when his Republican opponent, Wendell L. Willkie, seemed to be gaining, Roosevelt simply dropped the “unless” line.

(8) When presidents are trying to make fundamental changes in national policy as Mr. Bush is, said Donald F. Kettl, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, “they’ve got to find a way that’s powerful and persuasive and politically attractive and tap into what the public can grab.”

Bush has engaged in “selective emphasis.” But so what? FDR did the same thing! Finally, a helpful professor is called in to say that presidents “have got to” do this.

So let’s see. Bush didn’t lie, like Dems have said. No, he just exaggerated. And other presidents have done the same thing—indeed, a president has to! Finally, Rosenbaum applies the coup de grace, right at the end of his article:

ROSENBAUM (pgh 21): The question on Iraq…is whether Mr. Bush stepped across the line dividing acceptable politicking from manipulation. Some critics hold that Mr. Bush twisted intelligence to conform with his policy goals. This can probably be answered conclusively only by historians when all the evidence and consequences are known.
Did Bush “twist intelligence?” We won’t know for years. Translation? Don’t even ask.

Does Rosenbaum really reason this poorly, or has he simply gone in the tank? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But we do know this: Many people are asking real questions about this president’s actual conduct. Others peddle cheap misdirection. Add Rosenbaum’s name to that list.

TOMORROW: Rosenbaum skips the actual questions real critics have actually asked.

TIME FLIES WHEN YOU’RE PEDDLING SPIN: Question: Was it only three years ago that Rosenbaum’s paper was

ing Gore for his troubling “exaggerations?” Back in 1999 and 2000, the Times despised exaggeration so much that it was even willing to make up exaggerations, then pretend that Gore had said them! Now, the paper has changed its view. Suddenly, the practice is A-OK. As a matter of fact, everyone does it!

Again, if you think we’re misstating the thrust of Rosenbaum’s piece, here’s the synopsis that appeared in yesterday’s NYT web edition:

NEW YORK TIMES SYNOPSIS: A review of President Bush’s public statements found little that could lead to a conclusion that he actually lied about weapons of mass destruction or tax cuts.
Parsing carefully, the Times says there is little evidence that Bush “actually lied.” Very few Dems have said that he did—unless you count Rosenbaum’s straw man.

MUST-SEE NYT: This morning, a second Big Pundit notes the sheer absurdity of the Gray Davis recall. And needless to say, it’s another conservative—the New York Times’ William Safire! Remember—“liberal” pundits are much too scared to state the obvious about this recall (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/17/03). Only conservatives are free to say how disturbing the idea really is. Meanwhile, Katharine Seelye is back! Gore’s tormentor flogs Dean’s appearance on yesterday’s Meet the Press. As you know, “Kit” always has a spin to sell; this morning, her message is Dean kept evading. In SeelyeWorld, Dean “equivocated,” “sidestepped” and guessed” in response to Russert’s “intense questioning.” In August 2000, the Financial Times told it straight about Seelye, saying that, among Gore reporters, she was one of “the most hostile to the campaign, doing little to hide [her] contempt for the candidate.” It’s bad, bad news for American politics if Seelye is back on the trail.

The Daily update (Bending history, part 3)

REVELS WITH CHARLIE: Mike Barnicle has no idea what the fuss is all about. On last Thursday’s Hardball, he asked John Fund and Margaret Carlson to help him sort things out:

BARNICLE: I mean, John, help me out here. And Margaret, help me out here. I realize I’m stupid, but I’m not dumb. I just don’t get this whole thing about conservative media hammering liberals and liberals have no place to vent or no place to go. What’s the deal?
Barnicle said he just didn’t get the complaints about conservative punditry. And then, he did the thing he does best. He engaged in a numbingly stupid discussion—with all three pundits taking turns mocking slow-talkin’ Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/20/03).

Fakers like Barnicle will always pretend they don’t understand what they’re doing. But if Barnicle wants to see what the fuss is about, he should review an embarrassing Charlie Rose program from only a few nights before. On Monday evening, June 9, the “liberal” Rose invited two “liberal” pundits to discuss Hillary’s Clinton’s new book, Living History. The mockery of Clinton was long and loud. Indeed, it showed the prevailing contours of America’s deeply dysfunctional—and thoroughly store-bought—gang of celebrity pundits.

For reasons best known to him and his staff, Rose asked two loud Clinton-bashers to help him discuss the new book. Quickly, the

talk started:

ROSE: Chris [Matthews], tell me what you think of the book.

MATTHEWS: Well, I think the book is evidence of why the police always want to interview the suspects as quickly as possible. You don’t want to leave them a lot of time to rehearse their answers…

On the tape, Rose chuckles audibly as his guest compares Senator Clinton to a police suspect. But let’s face it. When you book

like Matthews onto your show, you pretty much get what you paid for:

MATTHEWS (continuing directly): …and in this case, you’re dealing with the Menendez Brothers of American politics, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and although each is in separate cells, politically speaking, they do communicate, obviously.
On the tape, Rose can be heard laughing hard as Matthews compares the Clintons to murderers. Trust us. If you want to lose every last shred of respect for Rose, we suggest that you check out this program.

As you listen, all three pundits make a standard admission—they haven’t read Clinton’s book. Perhaps that explains something else that you’ll hear—a wide range of misstatements about that volume. (Warning: Don’t believe a thing you hear if you review this tape.) Raucous laughter greets mocking misstatements as Rose and his guests play the fool for the rubes. And of course, Standard Press Spin-Points are deftly delivered. The dumbness reaches its high-water mark when Margaret Carlson recites this key script:

CARLSON: Hillary has long been a victim. She always says she doesn’t want to be, and she’s very proud. But remember, she was a victim of the tabloid press during Gennifer Flowers. She was a victim of the New York Times during Whitewater. She was a victim of a governor who only made $35,000 a year so she had to engage in cattle futures. There’s just this sense that people, you know, are always unfairly characterizing the Clintons and then they’re having to fight back against their politically-motivated accusers without ever a sense that some of it they brought on themselves.
Don’t forget: This assessment is offered by a pundit who makes it clear, early on in the session, that she has only “knifed through” the book “for the good parts.” But why should total, complete, screaming ignorance stop Carlson from reciting Prime Spin? In this bite, Carlson expresses a Standard Press Spin-Point: Hillary blames it all on her enemies. But in the seventeen minutes they spend with Rose, Carlson and Matthews make no attempt to evaluate Clinton’s actual charges. For example, here’s something she says about Whitewater:
CLINTON (page 194): Whitewater never seemed real because it wasn’t.
Wow! Could that be true? “The name Whitewater came to represent a limitless investigation of our lives that cost the taxpayers over $70 million for the Independent Counsel investigation alone and never turned up any wrongdoing on our part,” Clinton writes. “The purpose of the investigations was to discredit the President and the Administration and slow down its momentum. It didn’t matter what the investigations were about; it only mattered that there were investigations.” On Charlie Rose, Carlson complains that Clinton won’t acknowledge that “in a sense they brought [Whitewater] on themselves.” But how exactly did the Clintons do that? Carlson forgets to tell us. And by the way, could it be true? Did the New York Times bungle Whitewater? Having raised the point, Carlson makes no attempt to address that matter, either. In fact, Hillary Clinton was “a victim of the New York Times during Whitewater” (although those are Carlson’s words, not Clinton’s). But a servant to power like Margaret Carlson will never say something like that on the air. Carlson enjoys a well-paid career. She has no plan to attack press corps power.

The rancid program comes to an end with more open mockery by Matthews. The pundits enjoy a few last laughs as Hardball’s harlequin caps his performance:

MATTHEWS: Don’t you get the feeling that sooner or later they’re going to be doing Love Letters on Broadway? Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. Now, on their final tour of America, you know, they’ll be doing the Triple-A cities in, say, the year 2040. The last tour of the Clintons!
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Rose—his program now a joke—laughs and laughs at his guest’s lively wit. Meanwhile, Barnicle has no earthly idea what all the fuss could be about. “Help me out here,” he says to his guests. “I just don’t get this whole thing about conservative media hammering liberals.”