WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2003
THERE YOU WENT AGAIN: Amazing! HOWLER readers staged a Tuesday tantrum, forced to read offensive material that could be interpreted as vaguely semi-supportive of Bush! Indeed, yesterdays e-mails showed how hard our readers are willing to work if they have a worthwhile project. Yesterdays project? Readers set out to prove that conduct which was repulsive when done to Clinton and Gore is highly correct when done to Bush. HOWLER readers worked extra-hard, trying to defend the indefensible.
Our entire staff is on the road today, so we can only provide a truncated HOWLER. But what follows is a general reply to your letters of outrage and complaint.
What was wrong with the articles we criticized yesterday? Lets make this as simple as possible. If youre going to accuse public officials of conducting a hoax (Nicholas Kristof), you cant refuse to publish their explanation (Kristof) and you cant bury their explanation at the end of a long, front-page article (the Post). You cant pretend you dont know what theyve said. And no, you cant make the kind of factual presentation made on Monday nights Hardball:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Well, the big thing about this issue, I think, has been overlooked. Its not a question of whether the president was given wrong material to use in his speech. The question is, Who is calling the shots? Who in this government is deciding what is being said to the American people and to the world about what the United States believes was the threat from Saddam Hussein? Do we have a Ted Baxter in the White House?Matthews questions would have made sense, but it seemed that he had been off the planet during the previous week. According to the Bush Admins repeated explanations, if Bush did ask about that speechif he did ask, How do we know this?he would not have been told that Iraq had attempted or had, in fact, bought nuclear materials from the governor of Niger. According to repeated Admin explanations, Bush would have been told that British intelligence says that Saddam sought uranium from several countries in Africa. But, like many pundits and reporters this week, Matthews has simply disappeared the Bush Admins explanation. Maybe he doesnt know what the Admin has said. Maybe hes creating a simpler, pleasing story. (He did just that, again and again, in his endless attacks against Clinton and Gore.) But lets say it again: As a matter of fairness and intellectual integrity, you cant accuse public officials of conducting a hoaxyou cant accuse them of being Ted Baxterunless youre willing to report their explanation for the conduct you criticize. If something is wrong with their explanation, then by all means, feel free to say that. But Matthews either didnt know what the Admin has said, or he chose to pretend that he didnt. This was endlessly done to Clinton and Gore. You loved it when we complained about that. Yesterday, you found yourselves deeply outraged.
Once again, heres what the Admin has said about Bushs 16 word statement:
Readers, those were simply horrible pieces which we critiqued in yesterdays HOWLER. And theres no excuse for that silly presentation on Hardball (Matthews made similar presentations last night). Meanwhile, the irony here must be apparent. While Matthews accuses Bush of not knowing his brief, it is Matthews who seems unaware of basic facts. Rice and Rumsfeld were everywhere last weekend, saying that the 16 words were not about Niger. Maybe Matthews was at the beach. Like Ted Baxter, he seems deeply clueless.
Gee! We wonder if Matthews is simply reading what his handlers put up on his screen
HOWLER HISTORY: Were puzzled by our readers outrage over our fairly obvious comments. In fact, we have routinely criticized unfair coverage of Bush in the past. It doesnt happen very often, but when it does, weve incomparably spoken.
Some examples: When the press corps swooned for McCainand semi-slimed Bushwe laughed at the fickle Frank Bruni (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/18/00). When Bruni and Berke tried to punish Bush for defeating McCain, we chastised their ridiculous conduct (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/16/00, and the days that followed). For three weeks in August/September 2000, the press corps actively turned on Bush, the only time they did so in the campaign; at the time, our lead articles were written for SpeakOut.com, but we spent a week attacking this coverage. Last summer, when pundits spun some Harken facts, we spoke up about that as well.
Sorry, kids. Bush has gotten absurdly favorable press, during his campaign and during his presidency. No one has pointed that out more than we have. But when hes been slimed, weve spoken up. And guess what? The same hapless people who slimed Bill and Al were spinning Bush this past Monday. Maybe you want to give these scribes to power to pick and choose their facts. But we think that would be very foolish. What happens when journalists are given that power? Review the past five years of work about the spinning of Clinton and Gore.