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PROPAGANDA, PSEUDO-LIB STYLE! Marshall was flatly wrong about Roberts. After that, things just got worse: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2005

KRISTOF’S YEAR-OLD BREAD: We have often discussed the press corps’ self-dealing. In today’s New York Times, Nick Kristof defines it. Kristof complains that the press corp has failed to cover the ongoing genocide in Darfur. In the process, he offers this self-portrait:
KRISTOF (726/05): This is a column I don't want to write—we in the media business have so many critics already that I hardly need to pipe in as well. But after more than a year of seething frustration, I feel I have to.
In Kristof’s view, this column was called for a year ago—but he didn’t write it, out of deference to his tribe’s interests. A genocide was occurring, and the press was ignoring it. But Kristof didn’t say so in print, because it might help his gang’s critics! Honest to God, it’s hard to imagine a more open statement of corruption than the one Kristof lays on himself. Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo! His colleagues might not have liked it had he stated his views—his views about ongoing murder.

For more of the press corps’ world-class self-dealing, read William Safire’s answers to Russert about the Plame leak case this Sunday. Safire approaches this matter from one angle only—what does it mean for me and my colleagues? For years, we’ve told you about this astounding self-dealing, self-dealing which achieves an exaggerated form because the press corps controls the public discussion. Offering year-old bread about what he views as mass murder, Kristof shows us, all too plainly, how this rank process works.

Kristof wouldn’t discuss ongoing genocide—because it might affect the group’s interests. And you thought your favorite career liberal scribes would discuss that two-year War Against Gore? The war which totally changed our politics? Which led us straight into Iraq?

COVERING RUSSERT: That said, is the press corps covering for Nantucket’s Tim Russert? Here’s the first paragraph of Michael Isikoff’s new piece about the Plamegate probe:

ISIKOFF (8/1/05): A deal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald cut last year for NBC "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert's testimony may shed light on the emerging White House defense in the Valerie Plame leak case. The agreement between Fitzgerald and NBC avoided a court fight over a subpoena for Russert's testimony about his July 2003 talk with Dick Cheney's top aide, Lewis (Scooter) Libby. The deal was not, as many assumed, for Russert's testimony about what Libby told him: it focused on what Russert told Libby. An NBC statement last year said Russert did not know of Plame, wife of ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, or that she worked at the CIA, and "he did not provide that information to Libby."
Note how Isikoff turns to paraphrase when he describes what NBC said. But here’s the actual text of that NBC statement: "Mr. Russert told the special prosecutor that, at the time of that conversation [with Libby], he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative, and that he did not provide that information to Mr. Libby.” That is a very narrow statement; narrowly read, it doesn’t rule out the possibility that Russert knew that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/05). Had Russert heard that? Did he ask Libby about it? We don’t have the slightest idea. But NBC’s statement was narrowly drawn, and Isikoff’s paraphrase is simply inaccurate. Let’s repeat: We don’t know what Russert knew, or what he may have said to Libby. But as we watch this part of the story unfold, we can’t help wondering if Russert’s the one whose cover will never be blown. As Kristof shows in this morning’s piece, the group tends to do things like that.

Special Report: Propaganda, pseudo-lib style!

PROPAGANDA, PSEUDO-LIB STYLE: As readers may have noticed, we’ve been troubled by the slide-toward-propaganda of Josh Marshall’s once-superlative work. Yesterday, Josh provided the latest examples—a set of propagandistic (but outraged) posts about Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts.

Josh’s first post was short and sweet. Unfortunately, it was also baldly inaccurate. Yep—it was just flat-out wrong:

MARSHALL (7/24/05): On CNN today, Sen. Roberts (R) said Valerie Plame couldn't be covert since she was working at CIA headquarters at the time her identity was exposed. Ex-CIAer Larry Johnson says otherwise.
Josh linked to this Sunday post, in which Johnson made the same basic claim: “Today, while appearing on CNN's Late Edition, Roberts repeated the specious claim that Valerie Plame could not be undercover because she went to work everyday at CIA Headquarters.”

Unfortunately, these claims about Roberts were flatly inaccurate. What did Roberts actually say about Plame’s status? Here are the first two Q-and-A’s on this general subject from Sunday’s Late Edition. Wolf Blitzer spoke with Roberts and with Dianne Feinstein:
BLITZER (7/24/05): Welcome back to Late Edition...How big of a deal, in your assessment, is the fact that the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak of that covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame? Is this a big deal in your opinion, releasing the identity of an undercover CIA officer?

ROBERTS: Why yes, it is a big deal. And in the Intelligence Committee, we're going to go into quite a series of hearings in regards to cover. You cannot be in the business of outing somebody, if that's the proper word.

BLITZER: I ask the question because some are suggesting she really wasn't under cover any more. She had been working at the CIA in nonproliferation. She really wasn't a technical—

ROBERTS: There's a five-year period, OK? And whether or not that five-year period had been reached or not is still questionable. And I must say, from a common sense standpoint, driving back and forth to work to the CIA headquarters, I don't know if that really qualifies as being, you know, covert. But generically speaking, it is a very serious matter although it obviously dovetails now into the issue of the day in regards to Karl Rove and the First Amendment, and all of that.

Sorry. Plainly, Roberts did not say that “Plame couldn't be covert since she was working at CIA headquarters.” He plainly said, two separate times, that he “didn’t know” if Plame was covert—that it was “still questionable.” Specifically, Roberts was referring to Plame’s status under the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the statute which includes the five-year provision to which he referred in his second answer. (Under the narrow terms of that statute, a “covert” agent must have been posted overseas at some point during the prior five years.)

Roberts does seem to have his thumb on the scale here, for reasons we will detail below. But no; Roberts plainly didn’t say that Valerie Plame “couldn’t be covert.” Johnson’s initial post was just wrong. So was Josh’s restatement.

A quick note on methodology: Normally, when we flatly misstate what someone has said, we issue a correction. But in the world of propaganda, we do something entirely different; we pour additional fuel on the fire. So it was with Josh’s second, longer post, a post filled with name-calling rants and odd speculations—and empty of relevant information. In this second post, Josh makes name-calling accusations against Roberts—accusations he makes no real attempt to justify. This is the soul of propaganda. Can’t you just hear him? Hey rubes!

A BIT OF BACKGROUND INFORMATION: Before we examine that second post, let’s establish a bit of background about the statutes under which the Plame legal probe may be proceeding.

The legal probe of the Plame leak began with a formal complaint from the CIA in late September 2003. Immediately, newspapers began to cite that 1982 statute. “The Intelligence [Identities] Protection Act, passed in 1982, imposes maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and $50,000 in fines for unauthorized disclosure by government employees with access to classified information,” Mike Allen wrote in the Washington Post on 9/28/03 (this was the Post’s initial report on the new probe). But as far as we can see, no one ever specifically said that this statute formed the basis of the CIA’s complaint. And five days later, the Post was discussing a second statute. Dan Eggen did the honors:

EGGEN (10/3/03): The act of identifying Plame could be a felony violation of the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which shields covert operatives, as well as portions of the 1917 Espionage Act, which forbids the unauthorized release of classified information.
Five days after its initial report, the Post was mentioning two different statutes under which the leak probe might proceed. From that day to this, Bush allies have preferred to discuss the 1982 statute, because it’s fairly easy to claim that Plame wouldn’t be covered by its detailed provisions. But could a leaker be pursued under the 1917 statute? That has always been a possibility, too. When Roberts referred to the 1982 statute, he was narrowing the conversation, and thereby putting his thumb on the scale—and Blitzer should have challenged him on that. But that is like asking a camel to fly—or a propagandist to stop his base clowning.

Will Patrick Fitzgerald charge someone with a crime for leaking Plame’s CIA status? Here at THE HOWLER, we simply don’t know. But as has long been perfectly obvious, it’s possible that Fitzgerald has rejected use of the 1982 statute, and turned to the 1917 law instead (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/05). In the current Newsweek, Isikoff suggests this may have occurred—and reports that the CIA’s initial complaint didn’t mention the 1982 statute:

ISIKOFF (8/1/05): Fitzgerald has been said to be investigating whether any aides violated the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act—which makes it a felony to disclose the identity of a covert CIA employee: it requires showing the violator knew the agent's undercover status...But the CIA's initial "crimes report" to the Justice Department requesting the leak probe never mentioned that law, says a former government official who requested anonymity because of the confidential material involved. Fitzgerald may be looking at other laws barring the disclosure of classified info or the possibility that current or former White House aides made false statements or obstructed justice.
At this point, no one really seems to know what statute Fitzgerald may be pursuing. It’s possible he’s using the 1982 statute—the one Bush defenders prefer to discuss. But it’s possible he’s using the earlier law. It’s been possible right from the start.

Well-informed liberals should know these things. But if liberals prefer to be propagandized, they can always turn to the slip-sliding Marshall. He’ll rant and rail, and he’ll call lots of names, and he’ll keep his rubes deep in the dark.

PORTRAIT OF A LICKSPITTLE: As noted, Marshals’s posts about Roberts began with a claim that was blatantly false. But soon there followed a longer post, in which Marshall announced “what a sad state we’ve come to” and savaged Roberts, “the lickspittle from Kansas” about a set of hearings he’ll soon be convening. Roberts announced and described those hearings in that first Q-and-A to Blitzer. Once again, here’s the full extent of what Roberts said about them:

BLITZER (7/24/05): Welcome back to Late Edition...How big of a deal, in your assessment, is the fact that the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak of that covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame? Is this a big deal in your opinion, releasing the identity of an undercover CIA officer?

ROBERTS: Why yes, it is a big deal. And in the Intelligence Committee, we're going to go into quite a series of hearings in regards to cover. You cannot be in the business of outing somebody, if that's the proper word.

That was it! That was the full extent of what Roberts said about those future hearings! But this sent Josh into a name-calling, deeply uninformative rant—a rant he introduced thusly:
MARSHALL (7/25/05): But now there will be congressional hearings into whether the CIA does a good enough job at protecting the “cover” of its agents in its Directorate of Operations.

It's necessary to unpack this one to see just what a lickspittle the Senator from Kansas really is.

But Josh, alas, did little “unpacking.” Instead, he did a lot of uninformative yelling—yelling in which he played his readers for a gang of barefooted rubes.

How absurd was Marshall’s “analysis?” He started with this four-paragraph screed in which he seems to say this: If the CIA makes a claim, the claim must be sincere and accurate:

MARSHALL (continuing directly): For two years now defenders of the White House have been arguing that Valerie Wilson (nee Plame) wasn't “outed” or damaged in any way because she wasn't really covert in the first place. The arguments have been various: she was a glorified secretary, she hadn't kept her status a secret, she hadn't been abroad recently enough, she worked at Agency headquarters, etc. etc. etc.

There's always been a ready answer to the toadies peddling these excuses. No one on the outside really knows the details of Plame's service. By definition, her superiors at the CIA do. And they wouldn't have made a criminal referral if the law didn't even apply to the person in question.

In other words, either this whole debate about her status is rendered moot by the original CIA referral to DOJ, or you must believe that the referral was knowingly fraudulent.

Those who are so Bush-true as to hypothesize that the CIA made a knowingly fraudulent referral would have to contend with the fact that the Bush Justice Department and then later Patrick Fitzgerald both concluded that the referral was a valid one.

Have we reached the point where we’re all six years old? Josh’s reasoning is straight from the sand box. First, Josh insists that the CIA wouldn’t act in bad or limited faith—wouldn’t have made a criminal referral if they weren’t sure that the statutes apply. As a general matter, this theory is straight from Neverland (although we have no reason to question the CIA’s sincerity in this case). Of course the CIA sometimes advances shaky or bogus claims to pursue its own advantage; only a child wouldn’t know that. But Josh says this particular CIA claim just has to have been in good faith.

Second, Josh says you have to think the CIA referral was “knowingly fraudulent” if you think that the statutes might not apply. That claim is also completely absurd. Duh! The CIA could sincerely believe that the statutes apply—and a prosecutor could sincerely conclude they were wrong! We have no reason to think that has happened here; if we had to bet, we would guess that Fitzgerald will pursue a criminal charge about the leak. But Josh’s reasoning is straight from the tooth fairy. Indeed, it’s the kind of “reasoning” that typically backs loud, dumb, inane propaganda.

As he continues, Josh makes another silly presentation—then offers a nasty, mind-reading account of what Roberts plans to do with those hearings:

MARSHALL (continuing directly): The only other possibility—one which I've referred to jokingly in the past—is to argue that she wasn't covert enough. That is to say, maybe she was covert to the CIA. But she really wasn't covert up to the standards of say, Bill Safire or Tucker Carlson or Bill O'Reilly.

And this, understand, is the premise of the new Roberts' hearings. Was she really covert enough? And does the CIA really know how to define “covert”. Asked about a bankrobber caught red-handed outside the bank, Sen. Roberts response would be to say, "But how much real claim did the bank have to that money? Did they really earn it? And what did they do to protect it?”

Regarding that utterly silly first paragraph, a paragraph larded with names of prime demons: It’s entirely possible that Plame was “covert” under CIA regs, but wasn’t “covert enough” to meet the tests laid out by the 1982 law. People who have argued that claim have argued a perfectly plausible point—unless you love silly propaganda. Again, Isikoff suggests that this claim was actually right—that Fitzgerald is using the 1917 law because Plame wasn’t “covert enough” to satisfy the 1982 statute. But Josh’s second paragraph virtually defines the meaning of the ugly word “propaganda.” Based on one tiny Q-and-A with Blitzer, Josh explains “the premise of the new Roberts hearings” in the most unflattering way he can manage. Roberts is a balls-out crook, Josh says. And he knows it because—well, because he just knows it! Again, based on nothing beyond that one spare Q-and-A, Josh concludes with this:
MARSHALL: The only reason Chairman Roberts now wants hearings into this question is that it might generate more fodder for excuse-making for those who will climb any mountain and ford any stream to avoid holding any of the president's lieutenants to account.

Sen. Roberts has turned the Intel Committee into an arm of Karl Rove's political operation. In the truest sense of the word, Sen. Roberts is a hack, a shame to his office.

Yes, Roberts seemed to have his thumb on the scale when he cited that 1982 law. But is it fair to conclude that he only wants hearings for the reasons Josh describes? And by the way, who has Josh disappeared from his story? Let’s take a further look at that session with Blitzer—the interview to which Josh didn’t link so he readers couldn’t read it for themselves. (Josh linked to a New York Times report about the interview, not to the interview itself.)

WHAT DID ROBERTS (AND FEINSTEIN) SAY: Liberals get to feel very holy as Josh’s rant reaches its end. “The only reason Chairman Roberts now wants hearings into this question is that it might generate more fodder for excuse-making,” the excited mind-reader tells us. Indeed, Roberts “has turned the Intel Committee into an arm of Karl Rove's political operation. In the truest sense of the word, Sen. Roberts is a hack, a shame to his office.” But is that a rational, fair assessment, based on the morsel of information included in the Blitzer interview? Because Josh didn’t link to the actual transcript, his readers couldn’t judge what Roberts said for themselves. But though Roberts seemed to have his thumb on the scale when he cited the 1982 law, he repeatedly said, throughout this session, that the outing of Plame was unacceptable. Again, here was the first iteration:

BLITZER (7/24/05): How big of a deal, in your assessment, is the fact that the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak of that covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame? Is this a big deal in your opinion, releasing the identity of an undercover CIA officer?

ROBERTS: Why yes, it is a big deal. And in the Intelligence Committee, we're going to go into quite a series of hearings in regards to cover. You cannot be in the business of outing somebody, if that's the proper word.

The outing of Plame “is a big deal,” Roberts said. “You cannot be in the business of outing somebody.” In the second Q-and-A, he said it is a very serious matter” to out an agent, although he said he didn’t know if Plame was technically “covert:”
BLITZER: I ask the question because some are suggesting she really wasn't undercover any more. She had been working at the CIA in nonproliferation. She really wasn't a technical—

ROBERTS: There's a five-year period, OK? And whether or not that five-year period had been reached or not is still questionable. And I must say from a common sense standpoint, driving back and forth to work to the CIA headquarters, I don't know if that really qualifies as being, you know, covert. But generically speaking, it is a very serious matter although it obviously dovetails now into the issue of the day in regards to Karl Rove and the First Amendment, and all of that.

Later, after trashing Wilson’s credibility, Roberts said Feinstein had been “exactly right” in an earlier comment:
ROBERTS: Now, I'm not going to say anymore about that because that's one issue. I want to know basically who assigned [Wilson] and what role [Plame] played. And then obviously we want to find out exactly what happened in regards to her covert status.

Now, we're going to have to wait on that in regards to the special prosecutor. But overall, Dianne is exactly right. If we're in the business now where somehow, through some means, a covert officer working in the CIA, if that becomes public, that just can not happen. And so that is why the committee is going to be so aggressive in really taking a look at it.

What is Roberts’ attitude here? According to Roberts, the outing of a covert officer “just can not happen.” Indeed, that’s why the committee is going to be so aggressive in its upcoming hearings. And Feinstein was “exactly right,” Roberts said. For the record, here’s the statement the lickspittle was praising:
BLITZER: The fact that the CIA asked for this criminal investigation, this probe into who leaked [Plame’s] name to Bob Novak, what does that say to you, Senator Feinstein?

FEINSTEIN: Well, it says to me that the CIA values this as extraordinarily important. If they can't protect their agents, they can't survive as an agency. And I've been distressed to even see in the newspapers, I believe this morning, about what some of the undercover placements were, listing them rather generically.

According to Feinstein, the CIA regards the leak of Plame’s name as “extraordinarily important.” And: “If they can't protect their agents, they can't survive as an agency.” Moments later, Roberts said that statement was “exactly right.” To Marshall, of course, this meant one thing. It meant that Roberts had decided to “turn the Intel Committee into an arm of Karl Rove's political operation.” Mind-readers are always able to come up with judgments like that.

What does Roberts plan to do with these hearings? We don’t have the slightest idea, and we wouldn’t attempt to tell you. But mind-reading Marshall has no such qualms. His first post about Roberts was flat-out wrong, and his second post was pure propaganda. Indeed, this is the type of stupid work that has always characterized propaganda. For the past twenty years, this kind of blatant, balls-out stupidity has ruled the roost on the talk-show right. Now the virus is coming to you, in name-calling posts that are utterly foolish. As liberals, do you really want to be fools? You’re getting the chance to find out.

DISAPPEARING DIANNE: Marshall never mentioned Feinstein. Our question: How could Roberts run hearings in the manner described with eight famous Democrats right there to confront him? As he did in a post last week, Marshall disappeared the Dems. It’s easier to demonize Roberts if you forget to say that eight major Dems are working right there alongside him.

By the way, there were some intelligent questions to be asked about the substance of this interview. Consider this odd passage, involving both Feinstein and Roberts:

BLITZER: Have you been briefed—has the committee been briefed by the CIA about the potential damage that has been done, if any lives have been endangered, her contacts, undercover spies, if you will, as a result of [Plame’s] name being made public?

FEINSTEIN: I have not been briefed.

BLITZER: [To Roberts] Have you been briefed on that?

ROBERTS: We are going to have those hearings—or those briefings, pardon.

BLITZER: But have you received a preliminary assessment of damage? Because usually when someone has been exposed like this, they do a damage assessment.

ROBERTS: I'll tell you what we have done in the 511-page document that we've released from the WMD report: We went into considerable detail in regards to the veracity of Admiral Wilson's testimony.

BLITZER: Ambassador Wilson.

ROBERTS: Pardon me. Admiral. All of a sudden, I've got him in a different, you know, category.

Surprising, isn’t it? Feinstein said she hadn’t been briefed. Roberts dumbly changed the subject—and Blitzer compliantly allowed him to do it. Our question: Why hasn’t Feinstein insisted on being briefed, two years after this incident occurred? But you won’t read such questions from Marshall, because Marshall is propagandizing on behalf of the Dems. Treating you like utter fools, he keeps disappearing the Dems altogether, the better to make a Vile Demon of Roberts. But then, this it the way it has always been done: Their tribe is evil, our tribe is pure. Propagandists always type it like this. Can’t you just hear them? Hey, rubes!

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING: Some of you won’t like this report. Our suggestion: Go back to the start. That first post about Roberts was blatantly wrong. Do you enjoy being told what’s plainly untrue? You have the perfect right to such pleasure. But let’s use its name: Propaganda.

FOR LOVERS OF IRONY ONLY: For lovers of irony, here’s the start of Johnson’s post:

JOHNSON (7/24/05): I guess Senator Pat Roberts believes that if he repeats a lie long enough it eventually becomes true. While it is one thing for a political bag carrier like Ken Mehlman to be woefully ignorant about CIA practices and procedures, it is downright alarming that Senator Roberts can be so misinformed. Today, while appearing on CNN's Late Edition, Roberts repeated the specious claim that Valerie Plame could not be undercover because she went to work everyday at CIA Headquarters.
Go ahead, lovers—drink it in! Johnson accused Roberts of “repeating a lie”—then flatly misstated what Roberts had said! Tribalists live for baloney like this. Increasingly, Marshall’s readers now get it.