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LIASSON AMONG THE STARS! Fred and Brit pimped those WMD—and Mara pulled her punches: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, JUNE 23, 2006

HOW HE GOT THERE: How did George Bush ever get to the White House? Someone should write a book on the subject, which has become so historically significant. But wait a sec—somebody already has! We’ll postpone our book pitch to next week, when we’ll spend several days on the subject.

LIASSON AMONG THE STARS: People are laughing at Rick Santorum for his recent remarks about WMD. Has the US found WMD in Iraq after all? In today’s New York Times, Scott Shane does some quick debunking:

SHANE (6/23/06): Two Republicans, Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania held a news conference on Wednesday to announce that, as Mr. Santorum put it, ''We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.''

American intelligence officials hastily scheduled a background briefing for the news media on Thursday to clarify that. Hoekstra and Mr. Santorum were referring to an Army report that described roughly 500 munitions containing ''degraded'' mustard or sarin gas, all manufactured before the 1991 gulf war and found scattered through Iraq since 2003.

Such shells had previously been reported and do not change the government conclusion, the officials said.

As Shane notes, Santorum’s claim comes “[m]ore than a year after the White House, at considerable political cost, accepted the intelligence agencies' verdict that Mr. Hussein destroyed his stockpiles in the 1990's.”

But Santorum and Hoekstra aren’t alone in pimping these rusted old weapons. On Wednesday evening, Brit Hume’s “all stars” took a pass at this topic on Special Report. How foolish have Hume’s pundit panels become? As if determined to embarrass himself, Fred Barnes kicked things off thusly:

BARNES (6/21/06): ...These are weapons of mass destruction. But it is hard to explain why the administration didn't play this up. I know they say now that these are not the weapons we were referring when we talked about WMD and that was one of the justifications for going into Iraq. But they are weapons of mass destruction; we know Saddam lied about it. We know there are more around Iraq and I think it is significant.

Now, perhaps the administration just—they think they weathered the debate over WMD not being found there immediately and don't want to return to it again because things are otherwise going better for them. And then there's this, I think, mindless resistance to releasing any classified documents from Iraq, which the Weekly Standard and the Congressman Hoekstra and others, including all the way up to the president, had to beat the Defense Department into begin releasing them.

It would be hard to overstate the foolishness of Barnes’ comments. NPR’s Mara Liasson is the Hume panel’s “sane one.” But at moments like this, when the bullroar gets thickest, she often seems reluctant to deal. On Wednesday, she seemed reluctant to speak with full frankness in the face of this utter Fox nonsense:
LIASSON (continuing directly): Well, if they think that they've weathered this debate, they've thought that since 2003, since these have been discovered since 2003. I mean, you've got a debate inside the Republican Party here about whether this—

HUME: Well no, they've been discovered since May of 2004 according to this document.

LIASSON: All right, May of 2004. But the point is that they've had a long time to decide whether they wanted to release—

HUME: Well, can you think of a good reason for not making this information public?

LIASSON: Because they don't think it's important, I guess. I mean—

HUME: I know, but that's not a good reason for not letting people know they're there....Why not just put the information out? That's a little puzzling.

LIASSON: This is, although they have been secretive about plenty of things.

But there’s absolutely nothing “puzzling” about this “secretive” conduct, about which Mara was “guessing.” These degraded, pre-1991 weapons have nothing to do with the claims which led the US to war in Iraq. Hyping this info would prove no point, and would only subject the Bush Admin to further attacks on a punishing subject. Polling shows that the public believes that the Admin lied about WMD in the run-up to war in Iraq. It isn’t “puzzling” to see them avoiding this topic. In fact, they’d be fools to discuss it.

But Barnes and Hume kept playing it dumb, and Liasson seemed unwilling to say how foolish their discussion actually was. Semi-sane Mort Kondracke took his turn—and Hume just continued pressing:

KONDRACKE (continuing directly): Right. Look, whatever they know about this subject they ought to get out, just so we know what they knew and what they didn't know. Or what the proof is.

HUME: Or what they found or what they didn't find.

KONDRACKE: Now based on what we know—and we don't, obviously, don't know everything—it does not appear that these constitute the vast horde, the tons and tons and tons of chemical weapons that the administration was using as its justification for going to war, the unaccounted, you know, vast quantities that they had. So, I'm—you know, I would guess that if this came out and people started saying, you know, “Aha, there were weapons of mass destruction there,” then the opponents of the policy would say “Yeah, but that doesn't count for that.”

HUME: You had the—the confident assertion has been made by critics, I can think of—it rings in my ears, John Kerry saying, they said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there were none.

KONDRACKE: Right.

HUME: Well, there weren't none, were there?

It’s sad to see Hume perform this way. Hume is knowledgeable, smart and experienced, and he has a good sense of humor. When Special Report first came on the air, it could have been a valuable program. But over the years, this program—especially its “all-star” panels—increasingly turned to this kind of clowning. Hume degraded himself Wednesday night. And Barnes ended up in this sad state of chemical decomposition:
KONDRACKE (continuing directly): Well, there weren't none, but there weren't the horde—the vast stores that we were lead to believe that there were there, that the administration went to war because of.

BARNES: Yeah, but—that may be their thinking. But that—I think that makes no sense, because they didn't find all they said were going to be there, they thought would be there, that they can't release information about these? Because this does destroy the argument made by many that there were zero weapons of mass destruction there. Now we know there are some. Are these nuclear weapons? No, they're not nuclear weapons, but they are something and they are weapons of mass destruction.

“All I'm saying if the White House felt this was a big discovery, they would have talked about it,” Liasson soon said, underplaying nicely. Which led Barnes to this foolish posture:
BARNES: Mara, you've never been one that leaned heavily on what the White House thought as being the right thing and justifying something. The fact that they haven’t released these doesn't mean they're not important.

LIASSON: I'm not saying that. I'm saying that the—

BARNES: The White House must have a reason.

LIASSON: Look, no what I'm saying is, clearly there's a debate inside the Republican Party, all of whom you would think are on the same side about this war. The White House has made a decision that this would not help its case to release it. I think that's fascinating.

But this isn’t “fascinating” at all. In fact, the Bush White House would have to be nuts to call attention to these pointless “discoveries”—and surely, Liasson knows that. But as the “all-stars” pondered this pointless topic, the True Believers kept pretending it mattered, and Liasson kept pulling her punches. But then, this pattern has played out over the years as Special Report has devolved into a “wing-nut” program. Hume’s panels are skilled at offering psychiatric diagnoses of Dems—and at presenting ludicrous “analyses,” like the one offered Wednesday night. And uh-oh! Too often, Liasson seems reluctant to deal when the “all-stars” make fools of their viewers.

A PERHAPS TOO-CONVENIENT DEBATE: In his new film, An Inconvenient Truth (director: Davis Guggenheim), Al Gore critiques the way climate change has been discussed in the press. In the Boston Globe, Christopher Shea summarized Gore’s presentation:

SHEA (4/9/06): Al Gore, for instance, includes some trenchant journalism criticism in his forthcoming documentary on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth." Gore cites work by the UC-San Diego science historian Naomi Oreskes, who examined 928 abstracts of peer-reviewed articles on global warming published from 1993 to 2003. Oreskes found that precisely none of those articles questioned either that global warming exists or that humans contribute to it. Nevertheless, Gore laments, most news stories about global warming quote a skeptic.
More specifically, Gore cites a 14-year survey of articles about global warming in four major newspapers—the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. According to Gore, this study found that 53 percent of the newspaper articles gave equal weight to what he calls “the scientifically discredited view that human beings play no role in global warming.” According to Gore, the debate has ended in the scientific literature—but has remained quite vibrant in the mainstream press. “No wonder people are confused,” Gore says about this in his book.

Like you, we don’t know the science well enough to evaluate this pair of studies. But we recalled that part of Gore’s film when we read the Post and the Times this morning. Yesterday, a National Academy of Sciences panel ratified the findings of a major climate study. But in both the Post and the Times, this study was dubbed “controversial” right in the opening sentence, and climate dissenters got plenty of space to voice their views on the subject—thereby extending the “controversy.”

We don’t know the science well enough to judge the work of Andrew Revkin (in the Times) or Juliet Eilperin (in the Post). But just last month, Eilperin penned a cheerful profile of “global warming satirist” Roy Spencer, who has launched a “spoof” web site about warming “because he thinks people are overreacting to the threat of climate change.” Spencer, a research scientist at the University of Alabama, turned up that night as a principal source for an hour-long Fox News Channel report—a report which presented only the dissenting view on warming. And wouldn’t you know it? As Eilperin noted in passing, the good-natured Spencer’s humorous site is “funded in part by ExxonMobil.”

In that profile, Eilperin gave us the smiling face of industry-funded dissent. And just one week later, the Post put a second industry-funded dissenter, Fred Smith, on its Sunday magazine cover. That lengthy profile, by Joel Achenbach, was fairly deflating—but it did appear beneath this rather striking synopsis:

WASHINGTON POST (5/28/06): As evidence mounts that humans are causing dangerous changes in Earth's climate, a handful of skeptics are providing some serious blowback
Industry-funded warming skeptics are still getting plenty of ink in the Post. We can’t really judge this morning’s reports. But seeing Gore’s film made us wonder.