Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

KRISTOF’S CHOICE! Bush misled the nation into war. But people! Don’t call it a lie!


KRISTOF COVERS HIS EARS: We tend to agree with Nicholas Kristof; in an ideal world, we’d like people to be more careful about their use of the L-word. As we’ve noted in the past, it’s hard to know if someone is lying (if someone has made a knowing misstatement). Indeed, professional communicators almost never tell “lies;” in most cases, it’s perfectly easy to mislead the public without making flat misstatements of fact. Beyond that, use of the L-word tends to sidetrack debate; we end up fighting about the word, not about the misstatement in question. And rhetorically, there’s rarely a need to go to the L-word; other constructions can be just as effective, but don’t cause the problems we’ve listed.

Having said all that, we were amazed by Kristof’s column in Wednesday’s Times, “Calling Bush A Liar.” How dainty are the sensibilities of the people who type today’s op-ed pages? Kristof thinks lefties should stop calling Bush a “liar;” as noted, we’re generally inclined to agree. But how dainty and delicate is this man’s reasoning? Here is his central construction:

KRISTOF: In fact, of course, Mr. Bush did stretch the truth. The run-up to Iraq was all about exaggerations, but not flat-out lies.
Incredible, isn’t it? According to Kristof’s own account—an account that is stronger than any we’d offer—President Bush has indeed “stretched the truth.” Indeed, according to Kristof’s stinging analysis, the run-up to our war in Iraq was “all about exaggerations!” But what has the pundit concerned this week? He’s really concerned because some people dare to list such exaggerations as “lies.” According to Kristof, you and yours were misled into war! But he’s upset by the choice of words of those who would pipe up in protest.

How weak-minded is our pundit corps in the face of problems like this? Kristof displays almost all his group’s failings. As we’ve noted so many times, your pundit corps simply loves to read minds. In fealty to this hapless tradition, Kristof goes inside Bush’s head:

KRISTOF: Mr. Bush’s central problem is not that he was lying about Iraq, but that he was overzealous and self-deluded. He surrounded himself with like-minded ideologues, and they all told one another that Saddam was a mortal threat to us. They deceived themselves along with the public—a more common problem in government than flat-out lying.
Kristof reassures us about men in power. But how does he know that Bush and his team “deceived themselves along with the public?” How does he know that, in various cases, they didn’t engage in “flat-out lying?” Meanwhile, though Kristof conjures only two possibilities, why can’t we imagine that a third (or a fourth; or a fifth) thing occurred? For example, why isn’t this also possible—why isn’t it possible that Bush decided the war in Iraq was vitally important to the nation’s interest, and felt he had to cut a few corners to get the public to go along? Why isn’t it possible that Cheney thought this, and felt he had to deceive Bush? We don’t have the slightest idea how Kristof is able to read Bush’s mind. But mind-reading is what the man’s cohort does. So he mind-reads, in a way that is soothing.

What else does Kristof’s cohort do? Of course! They love to recite their group’s Scripted Tales—especially Official Pleasing Stories crafted by their guild’s leaders. And this morning, Kristof types a Tired Old Saw. “Insults and rage impede understanding,” he warns. Then he hands us a scripted impediment:

KRISTOF: Bob Woodward's latest book underscores that Mr. Bush actually believed that Saddam did have W.M.D. After one briefing, Mr. Bush turned to George Tenet and protested, “I've been told all this intelligence about having W.M.D., and this is the best we've got?'' The same book also reports that Mr. Bush told Mr. Tenet several times, ''Make sure no one stretches to make our case.”
Pathetic! Like other good boys did a few months ago, Kristof regurgitates these mandatory Bush-friendly scenes—scenes which actually made little sense in Woodward’s book, for reasons we explained in some detail (for example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/26/04). Meanwhile, he also knows which scenes to omit; he fails to cite the earlier, lengthy passages where Woodward explicitly says that Bush and Cheney began grossly overstating the WMD intel in August 2002 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/28/04). Has Kristof actually read Woodward’s book? Or did he just read his cohort’s abridgments—abridgments which featured the pleasing scenes he dumps on us again? We don’t have the slightest idea. But Kristof’s knowledge of this book is on the Weekly Reader level. He knows the book’s Official Bites. Robotic, he types them again.

And oh yes, one other key trait—Kristof’s cohort never mention its own role in our national nightmares. Early on, the scribe complains about what happened to poor old Bill Clinton:

KRISTOF: In the 1990's, nothing made conservatives look more petty and simple-minded than their demonization of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who were even accused of spending their spare time killing Vince Foster and others. Mr. Clinton, in other words, left the right wing addled. Now Mr. Bush is doing the same to the left.
But was it just “the right wing” who demonized Clinton? We seem to remember Kristof’s own paper (Jeff Gerth) inventing the seminal Whitewater hoax, a hoax the Times hasn’t tried to explain. And Kristof’s paper was eager to serve when the demonization was transferred to Gore. In fact, it was Kristof’s own paper (Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Melinda Henneberger) which invented the ludicrous Love Story flap, a bit of clowning which was endlessly dumped on Gore’s head, and it was Kristof’s own paper (Katharine “Kit” Seelye) which somehow managed to “misquote” Gore about the Love Canal nonsense. (For a week, it refused to correct its “misquotation,” saying it only got one word wrong!) But all of that is wiped away when scribes like Kristof recall recent years. They know—they know it deep in their gut—that what they did must never be mentioned. It’s always others—the right wing—who were addled. Their cohort served, all along.

Of course, a comical part of Kristof’s piece is its recent discovery of deep concern about the use of that troubling L-word. The delicate scribe is quite concerned about its use in this election. But four years ago, the naughty word was tossed like confetti. Recall, for example, the headline on a June 16, 1999 New York Post editorial. AL GORE, LIAR, the headline screamed. And recall a bit of the political porn the editors peddled that day:

NEW YORK POST (6/16/99): This is hardly the latest of Gore's fibs and flubs. Remember his claim that he and his wife, Tipper, were the models for the couple in Erich Segal's “Love Story”? (Segal said they weren't.) His "memory" of spending his youth on a farm? (The son of a U.S. senator, he was raised in Washington's Fairfax Hotel.) And on "Larry King Live," he said he was instrumental in inventing the Internet. (The Internet was "invented" eight years before Gore entered Congress.)
Yes, that was June 1999—with seventeen months of this clowning ahead. But there you see the Love Story nonsense—the gift of Kristof’s own newspaper. (Do facts matter? Segal defended Gore’s statements in this flap, although a cleverly couched story by Henneberger, in the Times, made many people think different.) And there you see the screaming nonsense about the farm chores and the fancy hotel. (Gore’s statements were perfectly accurate.) And there you see “invented the Internet,” being flogged by a gang of eds who lacked the slightest grasp of their subject. (Gore’s comment was made to Wolf Blitzer, not King. And the editors put “invented” in quotes, the one word Gore never said.) Yes, this grinding nonsense was dumped on Gore’s head for the full twenty months of the White House campaign, under endless GORE, LIAR headlines. But did the delicate Kristof speak up then, helping us gaze on his fine sensibility? No; his guild was happy with these stupid events. The L-word seemed to be just fine then, when good boys like Kristof knew to keep quiet. (So did scribes who now clog the web.) Only now, a good boy still, does he find that the word is corrupting.

So measure the heft of the delicate boys who make their living in this strange guild. Kristof, by his own account, thinks Bush misstated the nation into war. The run-up to war was “all about” these misstatements. But what has the delicate pundit concerned? He’s disturbed by the naughty people who slightly misspeak about Bush’s misconduct! He covers his ears when they use that bad word. The E-word would be more correct.

A LONG LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE TRIVIAL: One other trait of Kristof’s guild—their almost total inability to separate the serious from the trivial. According to Kristof, Bush misstated the nation to war. But as he continues, he helps us see that the prez isn’t really a liar:

KRISTOF: In fact, of course, Mr. Bush did stretch the truth. The run-up to Iraq was all about exaggerations, but not flat-out lies. Indeed, there's some evidence that Mr. Bush carefully avoids the most blatant lies—witness his meticulous descriptions of the periods in which he did not use illegal drugs.

True, Mr. Bush boasted that he doesn’t normally read newspaper articles, when his wife said he does. And Mr. Bush wrongly claimed that he was watching on television on the morning of 9/11 as the first airplane hit the World Trade Center.

The weirdness of that is hard to convey. Yes, Bush misstated us into a war. But he tried not to lie on another occasion, when he was asked about his past drug use, and we’re quickly asked to consider his statements about whether or not he reads the newspaper! Meanwhile, Kristof’s guild belly-ached for years because they said Gore overstated his role in Love Story! Overstating Love Story? Bad, very bad. Misstating the nation into a war? Please, people! Don’t use the L-word!

We’ve told you before, again and again, this oddball guild can’t really be human. The chips in their heads aren’t perfected yet, so “reasoning” like this does keep intruding. But don’t worry! All the rest of the Stepford Scribes have been programmed not to notice these glitches. And no one will notice until, one day, all their chips are at last perfect.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Four years ago, the notion that Gore had “exaggerated”—in a fleeting comment about a movie!—made him unfit to serve in the White House. The guild obsessed on the problem for two solid years. With Bush, though, “exaggeration” turns out to be fine; after all, it isn’t a “lie.” Last June, the Post also peddled this clownish distinction. We asked you to gaze on the press corps’ new standards. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/26/03.

JOE SCARBOROUGH’S RUBIFICATION PROGRAM: With his gruesome work about Fahrenheit 9/11, Joe Scarborough is becoming cable’s most grisly demagogue. Yes, there seem to be problems with Moore’s sprawling film, but Scarborough’s blatant deceptions are impressively insolent. Increasingly, you live in a type of Bosnia, where each group feels free to invent its own facts. We hope to get to his work tomorrow, when we also expect to consider Richard Cohen’s piece from today’s Post.