FRIDAY, AUGUST 1, 2003
SAVING ADVISER CONDI: To all appearances, wind went out of the Perfect Storms sails as the press became more clear on the facts. By the start of this week, for example, most journalists had stopped referring to Bushs 16-word statement as false. Instead, it was being described as disputable, uncertain and thinly sourced, and that made the Storm much less Perfect. This led us to a hapless performance at Wednesdays press conference, in which scribes who had flogged the tale for several weeks couldnt even manage to ask specific questions about Iraq intel (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/31/03).
But in the course of pursuing this overblown tale, one remarkable story emerged. The story involved National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Why hadnt Condi Rice kept the disputed statement out of Bushs address? Incredibly, we were offered the following explanationsa study in massive incompetence:
But none of these questions occurred to Gwen Ifill as she helped whitewash Rice Wednesday night. Rice appeared on the PBS Newshour, eager to take some personal responsibility for that uncertain claim in Bushs speech. And, if Rice was eager to put the matter behind her, Ifill was eager to help Condi out. Her interview is a stunning example of insider press corps incompetence.
As she introduced her segment with Rice, Ifill sketched out the nagging problem. How did such an uncertain statement find its way into Bushs address? Ifill even asked a tangy question: Was it overlooked simply because the administration was anxious to bolster the case for war? After welcoming Rice to the show, she posed her opening question:
IFILL: So the first question becomes the one I just posed. Did you know, or should you have known, that the information that went into the presidents State of the Union speech regarding the purchase, or the efforts to purchase uranium in Niger or from Africa, another country in Africa, did you know that that information was not correct?Bumbling brilliantly, Ifill persisted in calling the 16-word statement not correct. But should Rice have known that the statement had been challenged? Of course she should have known! Indeed, she would have known if shed read the NIEthe one were told she didnt finish. She would have known if shed made modest efforts to pursue the uranium matter. But Rice isnt as high on personal responsibility as she might want the nation to think. As she gave her self-serving answer, she knew not to mention those facts:
RICE (continuing directly): When the line was put into the presidents State of the Union address and cleared by the Central Intelligence Agency, when I read the line I thought it was completely credible and that in fact it was backed by the agency.But should she have known that questions had been raised? Of course she should have known! But Rice took the conversation off in the weeds, discussing the presidents speech in October, and Ifill never asked the obvious questions. She never asked if an American presidents National Security Adviser should actually read crucial National Intelligence Estimates. And she never asked why Rice didnt seem to keep tabs on the uranium-from-Africa story.
As we noted at the time, the Washington Post showed excellent judgment in reporting the fact that Rice didnt read the Intelligence Estimate (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/21/03). On July 20, the Post made that story its top page one headline, suggesting surprise at the very idea that Rice blew off such a key report. But Untouchable Rice was never the target of the press corps Perfect Storm, and the press corpsno great readers themselvescompletely ignored this astonishing story. On Wednesday night, Ifill became the official vehicle by which Rice was allowed to get her tale over. Gwen Ifill never asked why Condi Rice doesnt read key reports. To scribes like Ifill, it makes perfect sense to think that Rice was so irresponsibleand so utterly clueless.
The Post put the story atop its page one. Scribes like Ifill knew to ignore it. Do you think that Ifill will ever ask the other key questions which go unexplored? In particular, why didnt State and CIA see through those crudely forged documents? A question like these simply begs to be asked. Any bets that Gwen Ifill will ask it?
What was the point of the Perfect Storm? Thats a question about press corps psychology. But a remarkable side-story blew through town in the course of that Perfect Storm. Condi Rice is inept, irresponsible? Gwen Ifill doesnt want you to know that.
ALL THIS MAKES PERFECT SENSE: To the press corps, all this makes Perfect Sense: