Companion site:


Google search...


Daily Howler: We thought Gwen Ifill was the world's worst. Then we watched tape of Jon Meacham
Daily Howler logo
ANYWHERE ELSE, THEY’D BE FIRED! We thought Gwen Ifill was the world's worst. Then we watched tape of Jon Meacham: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 19, 2005

ANYWHERE ELSE, SHE’D BE FIRED: How easily can RNC spinners peddle pap to the NewsHour audience? Before we answer that question, consider how well Joe Scarborough performed last evening in Scarborough Country.

Temporarily freed from Aruba duty, Scarborough hosted a discussion of the Karl Rove leak. Predictably, Kelley Anne Conway began to spin. She made a ludicrous claim:

CONWAY (7/18/05): There is no evidence that anybody lied to Scott [McClellan]. And there is certainly no evidence that Karl Rove was a producer of any information. If anything, the two most recent news accounts about this issue suggest that Karl was the recipient of the information from a media source, not the producer of that information. And, look—
Say what? Rove wasn’t “the producer of that information?” The “two most recent news accounts” show this? In fact, one day earlier, on Meet the Press, Matt Cooper had said just the opposite. According to Cooper, when he spoke with Rove on July 11, 2003, Rove told him that Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA. And it was the first time he’d ever heard this, Cooper said; Rove had “produced (leaked) the information” to him. Conway’s statement didn’t make sense. And as any actual anchor would do, Scarborough called Conway on it:
SCARBOROUGH (continuing directly): Well, he produced—he produced it to Time magazine and Cooper, didn`t he?

CONWAY: No. There is no evidence of that. In fact, when Joe Wilson himself testified before the—

SCARBOROUGH: Where have I been?

CONWAY: Pardon me?

SCARBOROUGH: Where have I been? I mean, I am sorry. I thought I read the Time magazine article. I thought I saw Matt Cooper on Meet the Press this weekend saying that he got the information from Karl Rove.


SCARBOROUGH: I mean, was I—was it all a dream? Was it like the last season of Dallas?

“Where have I been?” Scarborough asked, openly mocking Conway’s statement. As any sensible host would have done, he quickly challenged what Conway had said, noting that Cooper just got through saying that Rove had “produced information.” Conway got to offer rebuttal, but her original claim had been sheer nonsense—and Scarborough quickly called her on it. It’s what you’d expect from a well-paid news anchor—unless, of course, you’re watching the NewsHour, and Ifill is there in the chair.

Scarborough functioned just as he should have. But how bad was it on last evening’s NewsHour? A few hours before that session with Conway, Ifill had interviewed RNC chairman Ken Mehlman. Ifill began by noting something Mehlman said on Meet the Press:

IFILL (7/18/05): You said over the weekend that there is—the information exonerates and vindicates, but it does not implicate Karl Rove. But it seems like the investigation isn't over. Isn't it a little soon to say that he is vindicated?
“The information exonerates and vindicates” Rove? On Sunday, thiis was an odd thing for Mehlman to say, mere moments after Cooper’s statement. But when he answered Ifill’s question last night, Mehlman recited the same absurd claim Conway would employ hours later:
MEHLMAN: If you think about it, what changed over the past week was that two pieces of information came out, they were both used as a way to smear Karl Rove.

And, in fact if you look at that information, the information says that Bob Novak's source was somebody else, not Karl Rove. And it says in the case of Matt Cooper, that Karl Rove discouraged Matt Cooper from writing a story, which in fact turned out to be the right thing to do because a lot of what Joe Wilson said was wrong.

But you hit the nail on the head. We can't prejudge this. We need to wait. We need to allow this prosecutor to do his job. And that's why I thought it was outrageous and wrong that folks were trying to prejudge it and smear Karl Rove last week.

According to Mehlman, “over the past week, two pieces of information came out”—and both pieces of information helped Rove’s case! In essence, this was the same absurd claim that Scarborough batted away hours later. But Ifill, as always, stared into air. Here was her hapless rejoinder:
IFILL (continuing directly): Isn't vindication—saying something is vindicated—isn't that pre-judging?
That was the best she could manage—and the result was predictable. Mehlman recited his absurd claim again—an absurd claim that never was challenged.

Incredibly, Ifill never noted the obvious; she never mentioned what Cooper had said on Meet the Press just one day before. Viewers kept hearing Mehlman say that the “new information” was helpful to Rove. Mehlman’s claim was absurd on its face—just as it was when Conway voiced it. But Scarborough quickly challenged the claim. As usual, Ifill let it stand.

But so it goes at the hapless NewsHour when Lehrer or Ifill sit in the chair. Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, instantly challenged Conway’s assertion. Ifill—supposedly bright and impartial—was too dim (or too store-bought) to challenge Mehlman. One day after Cooper said that Rove had leaked the news to him, Ifill sat silent while Mehlman said that all recent news had helped Rove.

In other industries, people this inept get fired. But in the press corps, things are different. In the modern American press corps, losers like this get paid large salaries to sit in our most honored chairs. We thought Ifill was hopeless last night—and then we played tape of Jon Meacham.

LET’S PLAY TEE-BALL: When Conway made her ludicrous claim, Scarborough jumped right into her face. But here’s the question Ifill asked after Mehlman repeated his claim:

IFILL: Do you think this investigation and this debate is all political?
Could anyone lob a softer pitch? In fact, this was tee-ball—no pitches allowed! (Also note her ridiculous opening reference to the Rove matter as a “summer scandal.”) Last night, we thought Ifill was the world’s worst. But then we played tape of Jon Meacham.

ANYWHERE ELSE, HE’D BE FIRED: Indeed, how inept is your millionaire press corps? Earlier that day, Newsweek managing editor Jon Meachman discussed the Rove leak case on the Imus program. Indeed, Meacham discussed the topic for an excruciating fifteen minutes (and twenty seconds), giving one of the most uninformed presentations we’ve ever seen, on any topic. What would you say if we told you that Meacham didn’t know when Wilson made his trip to Niger—that he thought Wilson had gone to Niger after Bush said his “16 words” in the 2003 State of the Union? Since Wilson’s trip occurred in February 2002—a full year before Bush made his speech—you’d probably think that we were kidding. But no! As the wandering, formless segment dragged on, it became abundantly clear; Meacham thought that Wilson’s trip was commissioned post-war, in 2003, as the lack of WMD in Iraq began to emerge as a major issue. (As we’ll see, Meacham even scorned the CIA for failing to send Wilson at an earlier date, “before we had begun a war based partly on this.”) Anywhere else, such posers get fired—but that doesn’t happen in our press corps. In our press corps, people like Meacham go on TV to speak with hosts who are even more clueless than they are—to spend fifteen minutes (and twenty seconds) jumbling all the facts of the case.

No, Meachman didn’t even know the basic chronology of Wilson’s trip! He didn’t even understand the simplest facts of this major case! But before we savor that world-class howler, let’s look in on more of the ignorance he displayed in this inexcusable outing—in the type of inept performance that gets you fired almost anywhere else.

One hardly knows where to begin, but let’s go ten minutes into the segment. Imus, frustrated, tried to get Meacham to answer a basic question—a question he delivered in rambling form, consistent with his own screaming ignorance:

IMUS (7/18/05): So my other question is—well then, who sent Joe Wilson? If Cheney’s office said they didn’t send him to Niger; and George Tenet and the CIA says they didn’t send him; and the information is that his wife, who was a covert agent having something to do with WMDs, authorized the trip—well, she isn’t operating in a vacuum! I mean, who, who—somebody had the idea to send him there and, and called over to the CIA, I guess, or someplace, and said, “Let’s get somebody down to Niger and find out what’s going on.” Well, who was that? Who did that?
The question is perfectly easy to answer, since there’s almost no dispute about it. No, there is no “information” which says that Plame “authorized” Wilson’s trip to Niger, although Imus, dumbly, didn’t know this. But the general question—Who sent Wilson?—has never really been in dispute. As Wilson explained in his original New York Times column, Cheney’s office had asked the CIA about an alleged uranium transaction in Niger; in response, the CIA’s Counterprofileration Division—the office in which Wilson’s wife worked—decided to commission a fact-finding trip to investigate the matter. Wilson explained that in his original column (although he didn’t mention his wife); last year’s Senate Intelligence report described the same chain of events. Except for fringe questions about Plame’s role, this matter has never been in dispute. But Imus still didn’t know who sent Wilson, and neither, it seemed, did Jon Meacham:
MEACHAM (continuing directly): My best guess is that it did come out of the bureaucracy of the CIA, and it may have, it could have originated with the wife.
His “best guess?” What an insult to Imus’ audience! There was no need to offer “guesses;” last summer, the Senate Intelligence Committee reported that Wilson’s trip came “out of the bureaucracy of the CIA,” just as Wilson said in his original column. Only the minutia of Plame’s role have produced a small, largely pointless dispute. But Meacham simply didn’t know this—didn’t know these butt-simple facts. Indeed, after a bit of pointless “reasoning,” he restated his brilliant conclusion:
MEACHAM: So I think it came out—it probably came out of the CIA, which is supposed to vet all of this.
Meacham “thinks” it “probably” came out of the CIA—a matter no one has ever disputed! Maybe he can offer other “best guesses”—that he “thinks” Niger is part of Africa, or, perhaps, that the C in CIA “probably” stands for Central. In no other industry can people this clueless continue to work at all, let alone prosper. But there he was on a major show, ten minutes into a formless discussion, showing the world that he still doesn’t know the most basic facts of this case.

Of course, Meacham had showcased his world-class cluelessness right at the start of his ramble. At the two-minute mark, Imus asked him an obvious question—then had to poke and prod and pester as Meacham tried to slip-slide past his ignorance. Picture a clueless college kid trying to fake a term paper:

IMUS: OK, well, let me jump in here. So Joe Wilson sa[id] that Vice President Cheney and the CIA asked him to go to Niger and check this out?

MEACHAM: Well, that was the implication. So one of the key—

IMUS: Well, what do you mean, the “implication?” What did he say?

MEACHAM: Yeah—in the New York Times piece, and I think in the subsequent media thing, he was saying, “Look, they wanted me to go see what was happening there.” So one of the key—

IMUS: Who was “they?” Who did he mean by “they?”

MEACHAM: The Office of the Vice President. You know, which would be Cheney, might have been Scooter Libby, basically that pro-war group around Cheney...

Meacham tried to keep things vague. But despite his best efforts, he was finally pushed into reciting the RNC script—Wilson kept saying that Cheney had sent him. (According to Meacham, Wilson said this in the Times and “in the subsequent media thing.”) At best, this statement is severely unfair; at worst, the statement is simply false. But so what? Meacham tried to keep it vague, but, eventually, badgered by Imus, the parson was forced into error.

And beyond that, yes, it finally became clear—shortly after the ten-minute mark! How completely clueless was Meacham? This clueless—he actually thought that Wilson’s trip had been commissioned in the spring of 2003, after the war in Iraq was over. He had seemed to imply this at the two-minute mark, bringing our analysts out of their chairs; discussing the political fall-out in the spring 2003 as the WMD failed to turn up, Meacham said that Wilson had “undertaken a mission to go to Niger and discover if these 16 words were true.” Since Wilson’s trip occurred a full year before those 16 words were spoken, it seemed that Meacham was working from a bogus chronology—but even we couldn’t quite believe that the parson could be this clueless. But later, as he gave that brilliant “best guess,” his confusion became all too clear:

MEACHAM: My best guess is that it did come out of the bureaucracy of the CIA, and it may have, it could have originated with the wife.

IMUS: Who asked them to do it, the CIA?

MEACHAM: Well, they were trying—remember, everything was falling apart. So they’ve got to—now, one would hope that they would have undertaken this, done their homework before we had begun a war based partly on this. But things were beginning to very explicitly disintegrate and these documents were—it turned out they’d been faxed through Italy, remember this?—on the uranium. So I think it came out—it probably came out of the CIA, which is supposed to vet all of this.

Speaking about the Wilson trip, Meacham confirmed his world-record ignorance. “One would hope that they would have undertaken this, done their homework before we had begun a war based partly on this,” he haplessly said. In fact, the CIA did this part of “their homework” in February 2002—more than a year before the war. At this point, the earlier suggestion became quite clear; Meacham simply didn’t know when Wilson’s trip to Niger had occurred. But so what? He spent fifteen minutes on a major program spreading confusion about the topic. Our millionaire pundits don’t have to know. They get paid just to blather.

EPILOG: Perhaps because it takes one to know one, Meacham trashed the CIA for their sheer stupidity. Just after his remarkable statement about the CIA’s belated “homework,” the parson pundit lowered the boom on the group which did its homework a year before the war began. Imus complained that he would have sent a “spook,” not a former ambassador to “an idiotic country like Gabon.” And sure enough! From his spot atop Clown Olympus, Meacham thundered judgment:

MEACHAM: You’re making one fundamental mistake, which is that you’re applying rational thinking and logic to the workings of the United States government.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Could a person this stupid and irresponsible get a good job anywhere else? Anywhere else, such losers get fired. But in the “press corps,” they’re paid fat salaries—to make complete jokes of your lives.