AND WHY DIDNT COHEN KNOW IT? At long last, Fitzgerald expressed his view—and the press corps failed to report it: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 26, 2007
EVERYTHING HE NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT WARMING SHE (SIC) LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN: We saw, too late, that our Brother Drum had issued a fatwa about that Post column. Emily Joffes piece on global warming was literally so inane Im speechless, Drum wrote. Can someone please give it the mockery it deserves?
Mockery wont be our argot today; well speak the cool, clear language of reason. But we continued to think about Yoffes column after we posted yesterdays HOWLER. We think its so bad—and so deeply instructive—that it does deserve second-day treatment.
Clueless along the Potomac: Writing on the Posts op-ed page, Yoffe discussed global warming—a subject she seemed to know little about. Before proceeding, lets make one thing clear—wed love to see the Post flesh out various aspects of warming science. As weve said before, wed love to see the Post examine the likelihood that rising temperatures will cause the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets to break off or melt, producing the rise in sea levels portrayed in Al Gores film. Wed like to see possible time frames discussed for this cataclysmic possible event. Beyond that, wed love to see the Washington Post explore the most basic finding of the recent IPCC report—the finding that more than half of warming in the past fifty years has resulted from human activity. Questions: How much more than half of this warming has been caused by human activity? And what sorts of non-human causes have produced the rest of this warming?
These questions would occur to almost anyone—unless they work at the top of our press corps. For those people, a different thought obtains: Who in America is least qualified to comment on global warming science? And how can we get that persons thoughts into a high-profile venue?
Looking for the worlds least qualified observer, the Post op-ed page found Yoffe. Her silly musings were fed to the public through yesterdays op-ed column.
And make no mistake—Yoffe seems to be deeply clueless about basic warming science. Persistently, she offered a skeptical thought—perhaps current forecasts of warming are wrong. That is always possible, of course. But her efforts to flesh out her thought were routinely embarrassing:
YOFFE (6/25/07): Since I hate the heat, even I was alarmed by the recent headline: "NASA Warns of 110-Degrees for Atlanta, Chicago, DC in Summer." But I regained my cool when I realized the forecast was for close to the end of the century. Thanks to all the heat-mongering, it's supposed to be a sign I'm in denial because I refuse to trust a weather prediction for August 2080, when no one can offer me one for August 2008 (or 2007 for that matter).Well guess that we dont have to tell you how cosmically dumb that comment is. But Yoffes grasp of the science—of the basic logic of same—rarely surpassed this. At the Post, this somehow made her the perfect person to expostulate about this crucial topic.
Also lazy: But then, Yoffe didnt confine herself to claims that warming projections may be wrong. She also lodged a more primal complaint: Al Gore has been scaring the children! Trashing Gore from her second paragraph on, Yoffe claimed that The Zealous One has been giving kids bad dreams. No major scientific skill is required to explore a claim like this. But even here, Yoffe was too lazy—and too g*dd*amn dumb—to go beyond efforts like this:
YOFFE: [A] recent New York Times profile of Gore tells that we are to be flooded with "An Inconvenient Truth." It is going to be shown in schools; book versions for children and young adults and a children's television show are planned. The global Live Earth concerts scheduled for July 7 are expected to raise millions, going to a three-year public relations effort, headed by Gore, to deluge us with bad news.Really? An Inconvenient Truth will be shown in schools? But what kinds of schools will be showing the film? If the film is shown to seniors in high school, will that scare first-graders? And, if a version of Gores book is prepared for kids, will the book be too scary? Or will its contents be age-appropriate? Yoffe is too lazy to wonder or say, although these questions require little knowledge of science. The claim that kids are being scared is a claim shes actually able to judge. But shes too goddamn lazy—too disinterested; too empty—to make any real effort.
But so it goes in todays high-end press corps. Gore has spent the last thirty years acquiring the knowledge of which she complains. Yoffe, by contrast, is too goddamn lazy to research the simplest complaints.
Class traitor: But as we noted in yesterdays post, Yoffe shows skill in one key area; shes skillful with the Gore-trashing imagery which has been in high demand at the Post. Her references to Gore are all sardonic or critical, and they litter her column, appearing in five different paragraphs in a 12-paragraph piece. [E]xtinction might be preferable to the future Gore envisions, she wittily says in her second graf. Soon, shes discussing how Gore like to talk about Nazis, and shes suggesting that Crazy Old Gore may not have his science straight. And of course, Al Gore has been scaring the children! How strange! In the past year, Gore has been honored around the world for his decades-long quest on this topic. But Yoffe cant find one good word to say—and she churns a long string of derisions.
What can explain such an odd blend of themes? We dont have the slightest idea. But make no mistake: In the upper regions of the Post, Al Gore is just a troubling class traitor; the paper has derided him, in endless inane ways, over the past several months. Magooistic instincts have seized the great journal, to the point where Outlook devoted a piece to the claim that Gores untidy new book lacks footnotes; somehow, the writer had failed to note the books twenty pages of end-notes. But as ludicrous as that offering was, the publication of Yoffe may have been even dumber. Could anyone in the fifty states be less qualified to speak on this topic? At todays Post, sheer ignorance doesnt matter—as long as the writer understands the language with which traitors to class interests are bashed. Truly, this seems to be the language this powdered newspaper now loves.
Strange messenger: Final point: How strange a messenger is Yoffe? Quite strange. Consider two angles.
First, how poorly qualified was Yoffe to discuss a scientific topic like warming? In this recent piece for Slate, Yoffe discussed her mathematical cluelessness. Hoping to keep pace with her daughters fourth grade math, Yoffe enrolled in a math prep course. Examined for her knowledge of math, she tested out at a low grade:
YOFFE (11/14/06): The placement test was to determine at what grade level my education would start...My instructor, Lopa Shah, sat down next to me with my results. The red pencil marks that covered it, indicating wrong answers, were a remembrance of things not passed. Flunking math tests was such a regular part of my childhood that I have lived the rest of my life trying to avoid anything numerical. (I wouldn't dream of doing my own taxes. I've never tried to balance my checkbook. I can barely make change.) There were 60 questions on this test, and I got 15 of them wrong, placing me at the 2A level. What grade was that? I asked Shah.At first glance, Yoffes presentation doesnt seem to make sense; for reasons we wont elaborate, its hard to imagine a placement test in which only 15 errors (out of 60 questions) would place the test-taker at such a low level. But at any rate, Yoffe was recently telling the world that she cant make change or balance a checkbook—and that she tests on first-grade level in math. Frankly, this may not be the perfect person to publish on the science of warming (and the clumsiness of her musings on warming suggests her weakness in math and logic). Would anyone but the powdered Post fail to see the problem here? Could anyone but our upper-end press corps publish this person on warming?
But Yoffes piece is odd for a second reason. As noted, she directs sardonic jibes at Gore from paragraph 2 right on to the end. This seems odd—for the following reason. On November 7, 2000 (Election Day), Slate ran an intriguing piece; its various writers told the world who they were voting for, and why. Yoffe thinks Gore is a kooky dope—now. But back then, she said she was voting for Gore because—well, heres what she wrote:
YOFFE (11/7/00): [Im voting for] Gore because: the environment, the economy, the courts, funding for family planning here and abroad, stem-cell research. George Bush is indifferent to so much of what the presidency entails: policy, politics, working hard. No matter how good his advisers, a president has to weigh their often competing advice and make his own judgment. Bush either is incapable of or uninterested in informing himself so that he can ask the right questions in order to make independent decisions. Al Gore has proved that he can.Back then, Yoffe vote for Gore—and his work on the environment was Reason One! Today, the accuracy of Gores environmental work has never been clearer—and Yoffe shows up in the Washington Post, writing a piece which mocks his Nazi-bashing ways from its start right to its end.
What happened to Yoffe? We dont have a clue. But the story here is the Washington Post, not Yoffe herself. Yesterdays column was a groaning embarrassment—unless youre part of a powdered elite whose leading goal is spreading the word about those damn class traitors. Global warming? The forecasts may be wrong! Gore himself? Lets face it, hes weird! Those messages ran all through Yoffes piece—and sure enough, it made perfect sense to the Post. Everything Fred Hiatt needs to know about warming, he can learn from a Gore-bashing scribe whose math skills tested out at first grade.
FOR THE RECORD: The scary headline Yoffe quoted (see above) didnt appear in a mainstream press organ; it appeared at an obscure (to us) web site. Heres an actual CBS story about that NASA report.
...AND WHY DIDNT RICHARD COHEN KNOW IT: Richard Cohen seemed majorly clueless (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/25/07). All the way back on May 25, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had made an official filing in the Scooter Libby case. Legally, had Valerie Plame been covert? At long last, Fitzgerald offered his judgment on that long-debated question:
FITZGERALD (5/25/07): [I]t was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute (Title 50, United States Code, Section 421) as a covert agent whose identity had been disclosed by public officials, including Mr. Libby, to the press.Of course, Fitzgerald can be wrong in his reading of a statute. But he also filed an Unclassified summary of Valerie Wilsons CIA employment and cover history which seemed to support and amplify his judgment. A few days later—still late in May—Fitzgeralds filings became public knowledge (details below). A long debate had been fleshed out a bit. Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, had always believed that Plame was covert under terms of the relevant statute. The point had been hotly debated for years. Fitzgeralds judgment had now become public.
But so what? Four weeks later, on June 19, the Posts Richard Cohen staged in an on-line chat in which he made two striking statements. I really don't think that anybody thought Valerie Plame fit the legal definition of covert, he said. A bit later on, he flatly said this: In fact she wasnt covert.
In fairness to Cohen, he seemed to mean that none of the leakers had thought that Plame was a covert agent. (He didnt say why he held this view. At THE HOWLER, we have no idea what they thought.) But why would Cohen continue to say that Plame just flat-out wasnt covert, even after Fitzgerald expressed his contrary judgment? Could it be that Cohen didnt know about the gumshoes legal filings? Suspecting the answer might even be yes, we tasked a team of skillful analysts with the knotty conundrum.
We thought their findings were striking. On May 25, Fitzgerald made an important statement—he always believed that Plame was covert under terms of the statute, he said. But Fitzgeralds statement was barely mentioned in the work of the mainstream press. Was Cohen still ignorant, four weeks later? Given the way these dandies work, its could really that he was.
How rarely did the mainstream press corps mention Fitzgeralds important new filings? Citations were few and far between. The question had been debated for years. When Fitzgerald finally stated his view, the mainstream press didnt care.
The Washington Post: Lets start with Cohens own Washington Post. Yes, you could have learned a bit about Fitzgeralds filing—if you waited two weeks, and read this piece, by reporter Carol Leonnig, inside the June 10 Outlook section. Two weeks after Fitzgeralds filings, they were finally described in the Post—a bit. Leonnig discussed five myths about Libbys trial. Here was Myth #1:
LEONNIG (6/10/07):Even here, Leonnig failed to report Fitzgeralds statement of his own view of the matter. (Instead, she accepted the CIAs view of the case as if it just had to be accurate.) Meanwhile, the CIA report which Leonnig cited was, in fact, a little bit slippery; it implied that Plame had worked overseas in the previous five years, but didnt literally say so. But readers of the Washington Post finally read a modest account of the Fitzgerald filings. But uh-oh! As far as we can tell, this is the only time the Post has ever discussed these filings. As far as we can tell, the Post has never reported, to this day, Fitzgeralds statement about his own legal judgment. To this day, Post readers have never been told that Fitzgerald thought it was clear, right from the start, that Plame was a covert agent.
The New York Times: The New York Times was a bit more clear, but you had to read carefully there as well. On June 1, Adam Liptak included the following passage near the end of a page 18 report:
LIPTAK (6/1/07): On Friday [May 26], the special prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, submitted an unclassified summary of Ms. Wilson's ''C.I.A. employment and cover history'' to the judge who will sentence Mr. Libby.Like Leonnig, Liptak didnt report Fitzgeralds statement of his own view about this matter. As best we can tell, this is the only place the Times ever discussed these filings. As far as we can tell, you have never heard about Fitzgeralds statement of his own view if you rely on the Times or the Post.
Newsweek/Time: At Newsweek, Isikoff and Hosenball told the whole tale on May 29—on-line, not in the actual magazine. They included this passage, in which they described Fitzgeralds statement of his own view:
ISIKOFF/HOSENBALL (6/29/07): It was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute—the Intelligence Identities Act—as a covert agent whose identity had been disclosed by public officials, including Mr. Libby, to the press, Fitzgerald wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed late last Friday night.Again, Fitzgeralds judgment is subject to challenge. But his statement is an important new fact in this case. You could learn about it—if you read this on-line Newsweek account. As far as we can tell, nothing about this has ever been published in Time or Newsweeks weekly editions.
The Associated Press: As far as we can tell, the AP has never reported the contents of Fitzgeralds filings.
TV/cable/NPR: As far as we can tell, the contents of these filings has not been reported on CNN or on the Fox News Channel (whose pundits continue to say that Plame wasnt covert).On MSNBC, you might have heard what Fitzgerald said—if you watched every show and listened to every word. For example, Isikoff made this brief report on the June 5 Hardball:
ISIKOFF (6/5/07): The whole case was muddy from beginning to end. I mean, nothing was clear-cut about it. The theories that partisans on both sides started with didn`t really pan out. When you—you know, the original theory of the critics on the left was that this was all one big White House conspiracy. That wasn`t exactly the case, especially when we disclosed that it was actually Richard Armitage at the State Department who was the original source for Robert Novak. So that kind of put a cloud in that picture.Chris Matthews excitably changed the subject, but at least the matter had been briefly reported. On June 18, David Shuster, guest-hosting on Tucker, offered this brief account:
SHIUSTER (6/18/07): The other argument that has been made repeatedly is some defenders of Scooter Libby say, oh, well, Valerie Plame, she was not covert. And yet in this latest round of documents, we find out that, yes, Valerie Wilson was covert. She was a covert agent. And what we also find out is that Patrick Fitzgerald never got enough of a look at the act of leaking information about a classified agent to make a judgment call about whether to charge somebody with that.We can find no sign that this matter has ever been discussed on NPR, or on any broadcast network. We can find no sign that it has ever been cited on Countdown.
How strange is Americas public discourse? For years, people argued about the question: Was Valerie Plame a covert agent under terms of the IIPA? Late in May, Fitzgerald finally stated his view; he said it was clear, from the start, that she was covert. But he might have well have said this on Mars for all the coverage it received. On June 19, Richard Cohen conducted an on-line chat—and he still was saying, flat-out, that Plame hadnt been covert.
What didnt Richard Cohen know? And why didnt Richard Cohen know it? Its quite possible that Cohen didnt know what Fitzgerald said about Plame. Like you, he lives in a very strange world, a world where facts are more likely to be ignored than to be reported.
TOMORROW—REPORTING RUDY: What didnt the New York Times know? And when didnt the New York Times know it?