Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

SAVING ADVISER CONDI! Condi Rice didn’t do her job. Gwen Ifill doesn’t want you to know that:


SAVING ADVISER CONDI: To all appearances, wind went out of the Perfect Storm’s sails as the press became more clear on the facts. By the start of this week, for example, most journalists had stopped referring to Bush’s 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 Wednesday’s press conference, in which scribes who had flogged the tale for several weeks couldn’t 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 hadn’t Condi Rice kept the disputed statement out of Bush’s address? Incredibly, we were offered the following explanations—a study in massive incompetence:

  1. We were told that Rice hadn’t read last October’s National Intelligence Estimate. The report was 90 pages long, and Rice didn’t read to the end.
  2. We were told that, because she hadn’t read the NIE, she didn’t know that the State Department considered uranium-from-Africa “highly dubious.”
  3. We were told that, because she hadn’t read memos from George Tenet in October 2002, she didn’t know that the CIA had concerns about uranium-from-Africa too.
  4. We were given to believe that she hadn’t learned about these concerns in any other manner.
  5. We told that Rice, like the rest of the intelligence community, didn’t know that those crudely forged documents were, in fact, crude and forged.
In our view, these representations are simply astonishing. Is it possible that Rice really didn’t read the full text of a major intelligence estimate? Is it possible that she really didn’t know about objections to uranium-from-Africa? And how can it be that she didn’t know that the Niger docs were crudely forged? Thinking that Iraq might have sought up to 500 tons of uranium, didn’t she ask that relevant agencies examine the relevant documents?

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 Bush’s 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 Bush’s 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 president’s 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 she’d read the NIE—the one we’re told she didn’t finish. She would have known if she’d made modest efforts to pursue the uranium matter. But Rice isn’t 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 president’s 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 president’s speech in October, and Ifill never asked the obvious questions. She never asked if an American president’s National Security Adviser should actually read crucial National Intelligence Estimates. And she never asked why Rice didn’t 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 didn’t 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 corps—no great readers themselves—completely 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 doesn’t read key reports. To scribes like Ifill, it makes perfect sense to think that Rice was so irresponsible—and 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 didn’t 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? That’s 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 doesn’t want you to know that.

ALL THIS MAKES PERFECT SENSE: To the press corps, all this makes Perfect Sense:

  1. Condi Rice didn’t read the National Intelligence Estimate.
  2. George Tenet didn’t read the State of the Union Address.
  3. Colin Powell’s State Department didn’t check out those crudely forged documents.
To the press, all this makes perfect sense. None of this is worth checking further. Perhaps you can see why we urged you to realize that, whatever was driving the Perfect Storm, the press corps wasn’t “finally doing its job” and wouldn’t pursue the real stories.