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Daily Howler: Kristol played killjoy for those on the right. We were shocked when a smart liberal wouldn't
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IN SEARCH OF A LIBERAL KILLJOY! Kristol played killjoy for those on the right. We were shocked when a smart liberal wouldn’t: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 18, 2005

LINK TO THE PAST: Due to scheduling blunders, we posted our Saturday report this morning. You know what to do— just click here.

KILLJOY KRISTOL: When the Fox “all-stars” gather, the “facts” can be strained. On Fox News Sunday, Nina Easton had a remarkably odd account of Matt Cooper’s new revelations:

EASTON (7/17/05): If you dial this back a bit, a couple years, when this was first reported, the news reports portrayed it as administration officials out there peddling a story to undermine Joe Wilson.

Well, it turns out that Karl Rove, who was supposed to be frog- marched out in handcuffs, according to Joe Wilson, a couple years ago, in fact, is a secondary source. He's sort of the "Yeah, I heard it too" source for these reporters.

And in fact, Matt Cooper, this morning, says there are other sources that he didn't talk about in his Time magazine piece today but did disclose to the grand jury. So I think the spotlight's been on Karl Rove, but we still don't know who the primary source of these stories was.

Say what? According to Easton, “it turns out that Karl a secondary source.” And: “We don’t know who the primary source of these stories was.” But in the Time piece to which Easton referred, Cooper specifically says just the opposite; he specifically says that he learned from Rove that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA! But so it goes when the “all-stars” gather. Needless to say, no other panelist challenged Easton’s remark. Guest host Brit Hume stared into air.

So it goes when the “all-stars” gather— except, fairly often, when it comes to Bill Kristol. On yesterday’s program, Kristol went off the reservation again. Like other “all-stars,” Easton was saying that Rove wouldn’t likely be indicted. But Kristol took the kill-joy route. Kristol wasn’t so certain:

KRISTOL (continuing directly): We know very little. That's the truth. We know a few leaks by lawyers who have an interest in leaking certain material. Fitzgerald has said absolutely nothing. They've kept pretty good secrecy on a huge amount of the grand jury testimony. People have testified repeatedly before the grand jury. Fitzgerald has had access to e-mails and phone records.

Fitzgerald is a serious guy, and I think he is pursuing this investigation in a very big way. And I kind of doubt he would be doing this if he didn't think that he would be indicting someone at the end of the day.

Later, Kristol played kill-joy again. Fred Barnes asserted that Plame wasn’t “covert” under terms of that widely-discussed 1982 statute. But Kristol said that might not matter:
KRISTOL: Remember, knowingly revealing classified information is a felony. It doesn't have to be this 1982 law. I mean, what if someone said to someone— this is the worst case for the White House— what if someone in the White House said, "Hey, I hear his wife works at the CIA." Well, that's not public. You can't say that. And then you say it. I guess Fitzgerald could claim that that would be knowingly revealing classified information.

I just think we don't know— we know so little about what has been testified to at the grand jury. Fitzgerald knows an awful lot. And that's what strikes me the most, when you really read into the case. We have no idea if Rove, incidentally, is particularly in Fitzgerald's gun sights or whether others are.

While other “all-stars” churned Rove-friendly stories, Kristol— omigod!— was prepared to consider “the worst case for the White House.”

Kristol made an excellent point when he stressed how little the “all-stars” really know. As Kevin Drum aptly noted several times last week, we’ve seen an absurd degree of speculation based on tidbits of alleged information— unconfirmed tidbits brought forward by interested parties. Few of us have any idea what is happening inside the grand jury. But while other “all-stars” flogged party lines, Kristol was willing to consider the worst. That’s how serious analysts work. Kristol played killjoy. Good for him!

IN SEARCH OF A LIBERAL KILLJOY: But where are the liberal killjoys? Last Friday, Paul Krugman complained, in his New York Times column, that we’re now “living in a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth.” He explained more specifically what he meant:

KRUGMAN (7/15/05): [W]e’re not living in the America of the past, where even partisans sometimes changed their views when faced with the facts. Instead, we're living in a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth. In particular, there are now few, if any, limits to what conservative politicians can get away with: the faithful will follow the twists and turns of the party line with a loyalty that would have pleased the Comintern.
Throughout his column, Krugman complained about the politicization of facts by conservative partisans. And he noted some of the ways this has been seen in the case of Wilson and Rove. “One after another, prominent Republicans and conservative pundits have declared their allegiance to the party line,” he said. “They haven't just gone along with the diversionary tactics, like the irrelevant questions about whether Mr. Rove used Valerie Wilson's name in identifying her...or the false, easily refuted claim that Mr. Wilson lied about who sent him to Niger. They're now a chorus, praising Mr. Rove as a patriotic whistle-blower.”

No question— conservatives pundits recited bogus claims last week, as they’ve done for years and years. But today we ask a further question— is a similar habit of thought developing now on the left? Over the weekend, we were especially surprised— no, we were shocked— by a particular Josh Marshall post. Quite rightly, Josh is a prime liberal leader; for that reason, we’re especially troubled when we start to think that Josh’s work might be helping produce “a country in which there is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth.”

We refer to this Saturday post by Josh, which attempts to explain (away) an obvious mistake Joe Wilson made all through 2003. Throughout that year, Wilson insisted that Dick Cheney had surely seen an official report about his trip to Niger. He was “absolutely convinced” of this, Wilson said on Meet the Press the day his New York Times op-ed appeared. Throughout the year, Wilson battered Cheney for daring to say that he hadn’t seen such a report. By now, pretty much everyone, including Wilson, agrees that no such report went to Cheney’s office. In his post, Marshall was explaining (away) Wilson’s mistake.

Because remember— in the America Krugman described, your side can never be wrong about anything; your side can’t make a mistake. “There is no longer such a thing as nonpolitical truth,” Krugman complained; indeed, “the faithful will follow the twists and turns of the party line with a loyalty that would have pleased the Comintern.” We think it would be a tragic mistake for liberals to begin behaving this way— but we were forced to think of Krugman’s description when Marshall explained (away) Wilson’s error.

Why did Wilson turn out to be wrong on this matter? Why didn’t the CIA send a report about his trip to Cheney’s office? Marshall asked this question in his post, saying “this actually is a relevant fact in understanding the story.” Then he gave the following answer— an answer which really did shock us:

MARSHALL (7/16/05): The explanation confected by the authors of the SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] report was the rather contradictory one that either Wilson's trip generated no substantive information or that it in fact tended to confirm suspicions of an illicit uranium traffic between the two countries. No one who's looked at the evidence involved believes that. Nor is that cover story compatible with the CIA's subsequent and repeated attempts to prevent the White House from using the Niger story.
Why didn’t the CIA send a report? We’ll summarize Marshall’s full answer below. But according to Marshall, the authors of last summer’s SSCI report “confected” a “cover story” when confronted with that question. Just how fake was their “cover story?” This fake: “No one who’s looked at the evidence” believes at least one part of their story! Josh goes on to explain his claim further (see below), but that’s his claim about the Senate report. And that’s the claim that we found shocking— and the claim that recalled Krugman’s piece.

Why was Josh’s claim so shocking? Because of what he didn’t tell readers. After all, who were the authors of that “confected” “cover story?” The SSCI report was unanimously presented by seventeen senators, eight of whom are major Democrats. According to Marshall, here are eight of the people who “confected” a “cover story” to help undermine Wilson— a story that no one believed:

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN)
Senator John Edwards (D-NC)
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
That’s right. Among others, Dick Durbin confected that cover story— the cover story no one believed. So did Carl Levin— and so did John Edwards! Edwards was running for VP at the time, trying to unseat the Bush White House. But he too confected a story that no one believed— a tale designed to damage Joe Wilson and prop up that self-same Bush White House.

Yes, we were shocked by that paragraph. In fact, the unanimous Senate report is perfectly plausible on this matter. According to the Senate report, the CIA judged that Wilson’s report didn’t add “substantial new information” to the mix; as a result, the CIA didn’t brief Cheney about it (see page 46 of the report). Yes, this story is perfectly plausible (read the whole passage), and all eight Democratic senators affirmed it. But Marshall told readers that this was a “confected” “cover story,” a cover story that “no one believed.” But he didn’t mention the confecters’ names. He didn’t mention that Durbin was one of the confectioners, or that Ron Wyden was another.

If you read Josh’s whole post, you’ll see how he builds his alternate theory; it’s based on a comment from a single anonymous source in a single Washington Post report. An anonymous “senior CIA analyst” made the following statement to the Post’s Walter Pincus about the way pre-war intel was handled: "Information not consistent with the administration agenda was discarded and information that was ‘consistent’ was not seriously scrutinized.” That quote seems fine to us as a general matter. But after citing it, Marshall concludes that, when the CIA failed to brief Cheney, this was yet another case in which unfriendly info was dumped. It can’t be that Wilson simply made a mistake when he voiced his “absolute certainty.” No, Josh concludes that Wilson’s initial judgment made perfect sense— but the CIA went into the tank, and the Senate committee confected a cover. This explains (away) Wilson’s repeated mistake. Remember: In the world Krugman described, the partisan’s allies must be right every time. And the faithful “will follow the twists and turns of the party line with a loyalty that would have pleased the Comintern.”

In fact, it would take an act of major loyalty to believe Josh’s thesis— to believe that eight Dem senators “confected” a “cover story” designed to undermine Wilson’s reputation. In his column, Krugman described a kooky world— the kooky world of the recent pseudo-con right. But are liberals and Dems heading down that road too? We see more signs of that slide every day— and we think it would be a vast error.

VISIT THEIR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Here’s the link to the Senate report. For separate links to separate sections, you know what to do— just click here.