THURSDAY, JUNE 26, 2003
THE PRESS CORPS NEW STANDARDS: Did the Bush Admin mislead the public in the run-up to Iraq? Almost surely, the discussion will labor along, with a handful of pundits asking real questions and others trying to misdirect you. Ackerman and Judis lay out the real questions real critics have actually asked. But then, the shills are out there too. Theyre struggling hard to direct you away from reviewing those actual questions.
But, as they try to misdirect your gaze, defenders of Bush are presenting a theme which puts the modern press to a comical test. The president didnt lie, these Bush-shills proclaim. They say that Bush only exaggerated.
We saw David Rosenbaum make this claim in last Sundays New York Times. Bush didnt actually lie, the scribe saidalthough a strong argument can be made that he exaggerated. But Rosenbaum hardly seemed upset about that. Indeed, all presidents do that, he said. In fact, U.S. presidents have to. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/23/03.)
Bush didnt liehe only exaggerated. In fact, Rosenbaum wasnt the first Bush shill to present this pleasing construction. In his June 8 Washington Post op-ed, Robert Kagan sang the song too. There is something surreal about the charges flying that President Bush lied when he claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Kagan thundered. But he acknowledged a possible lesser offense. [T]he Bush administration may haverepeat, may haveexaggerated, he went on to say. Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan recited the script in his eponymous weblog this Tuesday. Bush didnt liehe exaggerated:
SULLIVAN: The good news for the president is that the left is still obsessing about his lies and his stupidity. The question of lying, however, is obviously an important one. Did, on current evidence, the president deliberately mislead the public on the imminence of the threat of WMDs under Saddam? Ive read a lot of critiques nowand it seems obvious that a few parts of the administrations multi-faceted and drawn-out case for deposing Saddam were, to put it kindly, hyped. But the evidence unearthed by The New Republics estimable John B. Judis and Spencer Ackerman ultimately amounts to an argument that the administration exaggerated the intelligence estimates on Iraqs nuclear capacity and its ties to al Qaeda.Bush didnt liehe only exaggerated. This pleasing construction is being peddled wherever Bush Spin is now sold.
Bush didnt liehe only exaggerated. This laughable construction lets us watch the press corps reveal its true character. After all, we all remember the principled corps which brought us Campaign 2000! From March 11, 1999 right on through November 2000, that press corps was troubled by a great, mighty theme: Al Gore has a tendency to exaggerate! They flogged this theme for twenty straight months, never failing to worry hard over Gores very troubling inclination. Indeed, exaggeration bothered the press corps so much, they even engaged in pre-emptive behavior; they simply invented a string of exaggerations and pretended that Al Gore had said them! Meanwhile, dime-store psychiatrists like Newsweeks Bill Turque explained what the troubling tales really meant. For twenty straight months, your press corps pretended to be deeply disturbed by this problem.
How much did they hate exaggeration? On October 6, 2000, Richard Berke of the New York Times wrote what was roughly the three millionth article about Gores very-troubling tendency. Early on, he quoted Dick Cheney, who was puzzled and saddened by Gores misstatements. And Berke went academic-shopping, coming up with a quote that he liked:
BERKE: Robert Schmuhl, a professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame, said Mr. Gore should take greater care to watch what he says.We might think of Gore as prone to exaggeration? The press had been peddling that turkey for years as Schmuhl recited these words of concern! Surely, one thing was abundantly clear: No one would ever want a president who was prone to exaggeration. The Washington press corps had made itself clear about this great, mighty theme.
But now, we have a sitting president who has seemed to mislead us in many ways. These apparent misstatements havent been conjured by the pressand they dont involve such ludicrous questions as how Erich Segal wrote Love Story. As Sullivan notesand he defends Bushit seems obvious that a few parts of the administrations case for deposing Saddam were, to put it kindly, hyped. And thats how it seems when you put it kindly. Given the serious subject involved, others will be more severe.
As weve said, the corps made it clear, several years ago, that they simply hate exaggeration. But now, theyll likely make something else clear; youre going to see them make it clear that theyre owned by the RNC. Your major pundits will run and hide, struggling not to observe what has happened. Bush-shills will say that he only exaggerated. And Big Pundits will cower and hide.
Well close this day with a note to Tim Russert, hailed by the press for his tough-talking ways. Tim! As Ackerman and Judis make fairly clearly, major Bush figures went on Meet the Press, and while there, more or less lied in your face. So let us close with this uplifting question: When do you plan to confront them?
PONTIUS SULLIVAN: Washing his hands like Pontius Pilate, shifting shapes like the Grand Inquisitor, Andrew Sullivan wriggles away from examining what The Admin may have done. Lets run through his statement again:
SULLIVAN: The question of lying is obviously an important one. Did, on current evidence, the president deliberately mislead the public on the imminence of the threat of WMDs under Saddam? Ive read a lot of critiques nowand it seems obvious that a few parts of the administrations multi-faceted and drawn-out case for deposing Saddam were, to put it kindly, hyped. But the evidence unearthed by The New Republics estimable John B. Judis and Spencer Ackerman ultimately amounts to an argument that the administration exaggerated the intelligence estimates on Iraqs nuclear capacity and its ties to al Qaeda.He walks us through an ancient garden. The question of lying is important, he says. Did the president deliberately mislead us? he asks. But instead of trying to answer that question, he smuggles in some slicker concepts. Information was hyped, were told. And he slip-slides to a hazy conclusion: The Bush Admin only exaggerated. But as everyoneincluding Sullivanknows, when public figures exaggerate and hype, the public is often completely misled. Indeed, Ackerman and Judis say thats what happened. In some cases, the administration may have deliberately lied, they conclude. But at any rate, Bush has engaged in a pattern of deception concerning the most fundamental decisions a government must make He deceived Americans about what was known of the threat from Iraq and deprived Congress of its ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to take the country to war. Bush deceived Americans, the pair say. But so what? Pilates like Sullivan, serving Rome, sell this: He only exaggerated.
The Daily update
STALE FIELDS: In this mornings Washington Times, Suzanne Fields offers a well-worn complaint. Elite, snobby liberals think cons are just stupid! Youve heard it recited a thousand times. Snore! Heres Fields recitation:
FIELDS: A fascinating discussion rages at Tech Central Station, a Web site where free markets meet technology. Readers are responding to a column with the title, Why Liberals Think Conservatives Are Stoopid, by Keith Burgess-Jackson, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, who argues that liberals who depict conservatives as dull-witted, of low intelligence and perversely wrong, merely prefer the ad hominem attack to a rational discussion of issues they are afraid theyll lose. He notices that Dwight Eisenhower, Dan Quayle, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, winners all, are invariably described as dunces.As we said, youve heard this canned groaner a thousand times. But why might some liberals think that cons are just stoopid? Maybe theyve been reading Fields columns! In todays piece, she cites Jay Leno as a political expert, and seems to present high Regnery sales as a marker of accuracy and authority. Meanwhile, she presents a jumble of rumor and misinformation about Al Gores alleged desire to be a network television chief. Why do some libs have such thoughts about cons? Maybe Fields should accept some responsibility. Maybe Fields stop playing the victim.