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Daily Howler: Matthews and Allen were totally clueless about Joe Wilson's report
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CLUELESS AND CLUELESSER (PART 1)! Matthews and Allen were totally clueless about Joe Wilson’s report: // link // print // previous // next //

CLUELESS AND CLUELESSER (PART 1): Seven years later, we still marvel at the press corps’ twin vices—their lack of basic preparation and their innocence of even elementary knowledge. Last night, our analysts came right out of their chairs as Chris Matthews and the Post’s Mike Allen discussed the Plame case on Hardball. Early on, Matthews raised a question—a question that has long had him puzzled. But alas! He showed no sign of knowing the official answers to his question—official answers that have long been a part of the public record:
MATTHEWS (7/28/05): What I never understood was, according to the New York Times...the reason Joe Wilson, the former ambassador, was sent down to Niger is because the Vice President raised the question with the CIA, “Is there anything to this story”—obviously, he’s a hawk and wanted to believe there was something to it—“that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from the government of Niger?” And I always wondered: How come, if the CIA sent Joe Wilson down there to check that out because the Vice President asked the question, why didn’t they go back to the Vice President with an answer? I don’t get it!
“I never understood.” And: “I don’t get it.” Truer words were never spoken!

Let’s ignore Matthews’ aside about Cheney’s “obvious” motive for raising this question. (Any responsible public official would have wanted the uranium report checked out.) But poor Matthews! He has “never understood” why the CIA didn’t report to Cheney about Wilson’s trip. “I always wondered” about it, he said. “I don’t get it!” he heatedly said as he closed. But of course, he also doesn’t seem to have read last year’s Senate Intelligence report, which gives a perfectly plausible answer to this question—an explanation sourced to the CIA, which we have recently learned is always truthful and sincere in its public statements. (Note: “Plausible” doesn’t mean “true.”) Why didn’t the CIA report to Cheney? Here’s the official explanation:

INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE REPORT (page 46): Because CIA analysts did not believe that the report [about Wilson’s trip] added any new information to clarify the issue, they did not use the report to produce any further analytical products or highlight the report for policymakers. For the same reason, CIA’s briefers did not brief the Vice President on the report, despite the Vice President’s previous questions about the issue.
A bit more detail: According to the committee report (page 43), Cheney had specifically asked for a briefing on this topic “in early March 2002;” on March 5, Cheney’s morning briefer was instructed to tell him that the Nigerien government “said it was making all efforts to ensure that its uranium would be used for only peaceful purposes.” By coincidence, Wilson was debriefed about his trip later that very same day (he had returned from Niger on March 4). According to the committee report, Wilson reinforced what Cheney had already been told in his debriefing on March 5, and his report was viewed as largely redundant. For these reasons, the CIA “did not use the report to produce any further analytical products or highlight the report for policymakers.” In short, the CIA felt Wilson’s report was more of the same. In its formal conclusions, the committee judged that the CIA should have issued a specific report to Cheney about Wilson’s trip.

So there it is; that is the official explanation as to why Cheney wasn’t briefed. The explanation is perfectly plausible (“plausible” doesn’t mean “true”), and the explanation has been on the record for slightly more than a year. But Matthews, who has “always wondered” about this matter, didn’t show the slightest sign of knowing about this official explanation. And sure enough! When Allen responded, he didn’t show any sign of knowing about it either:

ALLEN (continuing directly from Matthews, above): Well they could well have. But that doesn’t mean that they accepted the answer. And what this shows—
In response to Matthews, Allen started to speculate; maybe Cheney’s office did get a report, he said, but simply chose not to believe it. This flies in the face of the official explanation—an explanation neither man showed any sign of knowing about. And then more! Matthews’ response to Allen was a masterwork of varied illogic—and Allen then proved that our major scribes are as clueless and uninformed as anyone on the face of the earth:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Well, if the Vice President got an answer, then he should have acted on it and told the President not to include it in his speech. That’s the problematic area, the “big if.”

ALLEN: Well, I mean, what we see is that there’s a germ of accuracy in what Joe Wilson has been going around saying, the that the Vice President sent him. Yes, the Vice President didn’t personally send him, maybe he didn’t even know who went. But you can see where Joe Wilson got the idea.

Let’s put Matthews’ multi-layered illogic to the side, and bask in Allen’s consummate cluelessness. First, he repeats an inaccurate RNC spin-point, saying that Wilson “has been going around saying that the Vice President sent him.” Then, having uttered this factual howler, Allen magnanimously begins to explain why Wilson has been “going around” with this story: “You can see where Joe Wilson got the idea,” the scribe big-heartedly says. But readers, everyone has long agreed on where Joe Wilson “got the idea;” everyone agrees that Cheney’s office queried the CIA, which then sent Wilson on the trip. As far as we know, no one has ever disputed what Wilson said about this in his New York Times op-ed: “The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.” According to Wilson, that’s where he “got the idea” about the involvement of Cheney’s office, and as far as we know, no one has ever disputed him on this. But so what! Allen is still completely clueless about this matter, a matter on which all parties agree. He’s still misstating what Wilson said, then dumbly speculating as to why Wilson said it. But so it goes in the Washington press corps. We’ve watched this for the past seven years.

Is it possible? Can you find humans in any profession as clueless and unprepared as these scribes? If engineers built their bridges the way these foppists assemble their “stories,” every bridge in the world would have collapsed and your car would be sitting in some murky bay. (You’d probably be trapped inside it.) But so what? What we saw in this hapless exchange is all too typical of our millionaire press corps. Lazy, inept, uninformed, wholly clueless, they stumble from fancy soiree to fancy soiree—and from bungled narrative to bungled narrative. Last night, Matthews and Allen were totally clueless—ignorant of basic matters that have been on the record for more than a year. “I never understood,” Matthews said. Chuckling grimly, our analysts agreed.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Omigod! Karen Tumulty broke in at this point—and the Time scribe had done basic homework!

A THREE-CHARACTER PLAY: What will Pat Roberts do with those future Intelligence Committee hearings? We don’t have the slightest idea (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/27/05). But since this hubbub all began with Roberts’ appearance on Late Edition, we’d suggest that you look at that session as a three-character play.

On the liberal web, analysts have mind-read Roberts’ plans for those hearings and trashed him for the vile things he said about Plame. But let’s examine the work of the other two players in Sunday’s discussion—Wolf Blitzer and Dianne Feinstein.

As we have noted, Roberts had his thumb on the scale when he discussed Plame’s undercover status (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/05). Once again, here’s what he said in response to Blitzer’s question on this subject:

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.

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.

Presumably, Roberts was putting his thumb on the scale when he cited that “five-year period”—a key provision of the narrowly-drawn, 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Presumably, Roberts knew there were other statutes that might be involved in prosecution of the Plame outing—and presumably, he knew that an agent can be “covert” even if she works at Langley. As a matter of fact, we wouldn’t swear that Roberts understood these matters. But especially in the case of the 1982 statute, we’d assume that he had his thumb on the scale—that he knew his remarks were misleading.

But then, over the past few months, every Republican has had his thumb on the scale with regard to that 1982 statute. It’s standard; every Republican has suggested that Karl Rove couldn’t have committed a crime because that statute is so narrowly drawn. Ideally, it would be better if they didn’t do this, since this presentation has been misleading. But why have RNC types been free to make this misleading presentation? Simple! Because of the other playersd involved—because of the Blitzers and Feinsteins.

Let’s start with Blitzer. In an ideal world, he would have challenged Roberts’ statement about the 1982 statute. In an ideal world, he would have said something like this in response to his guest:

WHAT BLITZER MIGHT HAVE SAID: But Senator Roberts, the CIA asked for a criminal probe of this matter, saying that Plame was a covert agent. And that “five-year period” to which you refer is part of just one narrow statute; aren’t there other laws banning disclosure of classified information under which the leak of Plame’s name could be a criminal act?
It’s true—Plame may not be “covert” under the terms of that narrow 1982 statute. But that ain’t the only statute out there. Roberts had his thumb on the scale when he cited it, and Blitzer should have pointed out that.

Of course, expecting our “journalists” to function that way is like asking the sun to set in the north. No, they simply don’t do that. In this case, what did Blitzer do? He threw to Feinstein, seeking her response—and in fairness, he did set her up:

BLITZER (continuing directly from Roberts, above): The fact that the CIA asked for this criminal investigation, this probe into who leaked her name to Bob Novak, what does that say to you, Senator Feinstein?
Omigod! In fact, he set her up pretty good! Blitzer mentioned the CIA complaint, although he didn’t flesh out the logic his question implied. What should Feinstein have said in reply? In an ideal world, the fiery Dem might have said something like this:
WHAT FEINSTEIN MIGHT HAVE SAID: Wolf, it’s important for everyone to understand—the CIA asked for a criminal probe of this matter, saying that Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson’s wife, was a covert agent. And that “five-year period” to which Pat Roberts just referred is only part of one narrow statute. In fact, there are other laws banning disclosure of classified information under which the leak of Plame’s name may well have been a crime. We have to wait for the special prosecutor, but it’s important for people to understand—the CIA has said that Plame was covert; the CIA filed a criminal complaint about the leak of her name; and Patrick Fitzgerald may end up finding that a serious crime was committed in this case.
Of course, expecting Feinstein to act this way is like asking the sun to set in the south. Instead, the somnolent solon offered this vague, snore-inducing response:
FEINSTEIN (responding directly to Blitzer, above): 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.
Huh? No one on earth understood that last sentence, and her opening was vague and uninformative. She didn’t counter Roberts with the most direct points: The CIA has said that Plame was covert, and that disclosure of her name may have been a crime. But then, this lazy, who-gives-a-fig approach is typical of the Dem message machine. Why are RNC spokesmen free to spread a range of misleading points? (To spread these points to willing vessels like Allen?) Simple! Because players like Feinstein roll over and die—and because players like Blitzer don’t challenge.

In this case, the greater fault lies with Feinstein. In fairness, Blitzer set her up pretty good—and, as usual, she failed to deliver. But all across the liberal web, we hear screaming about this statement by Roberts—and nothing at all about Feinstein and Blitzer. Yes, the world would be a better place if Roberts hadn’t put his thumb on the scale. But he was able to do so because of the other two players—most specifically, because of Feinstein’s weak effort.

As usual, Feinstein rolled over and died. But all across the liberal web, you hear about one player only—Vile Roberts. Why do you hear so much about Roberts and so little about Blitzer and Feinstein? In the case of individual sites, we can’t say. But some bloggers work for (or kiss up to) the Dems, and they don’t like to challenge the lazy response of utterly hapless players like Feinstein. Meanwhile, some of them want to be guests on cable themselves—so they rarely speak ill of the Blitzers.

So when you visit some fiery sites, you receive a one-track message. You’re invited to contribute to“epithet lists” about Vile Roberts—and you’re handed tortured, sooth-saying tales about the vile things he plans for the future. But you don’t hear a word about his hapless enablers. But readers, can you hear something else at work here? Can’t you just hear it? Hey, rubes?