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YOU KNOW THEM, AL (PART 2)! Kondracke and Matthews spin Gore’s speech—and Rice kisses up to Gwen Ifill:


WHAT MORT DOES BEST: Try to believe that it really has happened! Try to believe that your public discourse lies in the hands of store-bought men like Fox “all-star” Mort Kondracke. It happened on last Thursday night’s Special Report: Kondracke sat silent while his buddy, Fred Barnes, deceived viewers about the run-up to war in Iraq (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/8/03). And then Mort really let Gore have it! Try to believe that he said it:

BRIT HUME: Gore did say that it was a significant achievement to unhorse Saddam Hussein.

KONDRACKE: That was almost an afterthought in the speech. It came way in the end—a “by the way.” But this is a typical Gore exaggeration of the alleged exaggerations of the Bush administration. I mean, Saddam—the Bush administration never argued that, as a main point of the case, that Saddam definitely was involved in 9/11. They hinted at it.

Omigod! They only hinted! A brief aside: Except for his famous Lewinsky dodge, we never thought that President Clinton was especially “Clintonesque.” But get a load of the endless qualifiers that litter Kondracke’s statement! According to Kondracke, the Administration didn’t “argue,” “as a main point of the case,” that Saddam “definitely” was involved in 9/11. No, dear readers—they only hinted at it! Somehow, this is supposed to refute Gore’s claim—the claim that the American people received “false impressions” from the Admin on this matter. Later, Kondracke made it clear to Hume that he supports the Official Fox Thesis:
KONDRACKE: I’m arguing basically your point that in every case, Gore said that Bush had claimed something that he really hadn’t fully claimed. I mean the idea that Saddam was supported by bin Laden, there were hints that he in the administration—

HUME: Bin Laden was supported by Saddam.

KONDRACKE: Yes. And the administration said that he had terrorist connections because that there were al Qaeda people involved in Iraq and stuff like that. But they never made the case that there was a link, close link between the two of them. The Bush administration never said that Saddam was on the verge of giving weapons of mass destruction to Usama bin Laden. It was the case that he could, that he might someday. So, you know this is just Al Gore again, going over the top.

What a “Clintonesque” performance! Bush didn’t “fully” claim that Saddam had links—there were only hints, Mort again said. And Bush never claimed that there was a “close” link, or that Saddam was “on the verge” of action. Of course, Bush did say that al Qaeda was involved in Iraq “and stuff like that.” But surely no citizen could have gotten a “false impression” from that! Yes, Kondracke engaged in masterful clowning. But so it goes as store-bought pundits stuff big wads of cash in their pockets.

Because Kondracke was hardly the only scribe clowning in the wake of Gore’s speech. At Fox, they want their viewers to hear that Gore was wrong—that this was just his latest exaggeration—and store-bought fellows like Mort Kondracke know to go out there and spin it. (This is, of course, precisely the process Gore described in his speech.) But over at the inventive show Hardball, Chris Matthews had a different problem. Matthews opposed the war in Iraq. Beyond that, he has routinely said that the Bush Admin deceived the public about Iraq’s nukes. Indeed, after an introductory package by David Schuster, Matthews said that he agreed with everything Gore had said:

MATTHEWS: Robert Zimmerman is the Democratic strategist, and Jennifer Donahue is a political reporter in New Hampshire. Thank you both. Robert, let me ask about this. I thought the speech was very sharply written, very tough, and I agree with all of it, but I wonder if Al Gore should be making speeches like that on the eve a Democratic fight for the nomination. Do you think he should be?
Matthews “agrees with all” of Gore’s speech! But Matthews serves that conservative cable audience, and he likes the way cable money spends. He likes the way big wads of cash feel when they’re jammed in his pockets. So although he agrees with everything Al Gore said—Gore “accused the president of basically lying about the reasons for the war,” Matthews said—he didn’t dwell on the substance of Gore’s speech. Instead, he made this oddball statement:
MATTHEWS: Talk to me, both of you, about the psychology of the Democratic Party which I find very depressing. If George W. Bush—let’s be honest about this. Everybody watching, conservative, middle-of-the-road, or liberal—if the George W. Bush had won the popular vote by 600,000 votes in the last election, and somehow didn’t manage to become president because he didn’t win the electoral college, fair or not, he would have walked around the country in Texas as some sort of stud. He would have been the stud duck of the country. Everybody would have looked up to him and applauded wherever he went. He would have been the guy who got the most votes. Al Gore looks and acts like a guy who really, really did lose. He really did lose. And why is that? Because you know that Bush would have loved it. Bush would have had the most votes. He would have said, sure the guy gets the job, but I am the most popular guy in the country. Why is that?
Huh? Matthews never tried to explain his oddball premise—his claim that Gore, in contrast to a hypothetical Bush, “looks and acts like a guy who really did lose.” But as his puzzled guests tried to figure how to reply to such a weird question, Matthews—pandering for all he was worth—made his bizarre point again:
MATTHEWS: Yes, but why doesn’t he act like a guy who got the most votes in the last election? Why does he act like a loser?
Huh? As noted, Matthews never tried to explain this judgment. And oh yes, something else—he never spent a minute discussing the specifics of what Gore had said.

How good does cable money spend? How good does it feel when it’s stuffed in your pocket? Well, look what Matthews will do to get it! According to Matthews, “Al Gore said today that George W. Bush has basically deceived the American people with false reasons for war, with false economic information.” Al Gore “accused the president of basically lying about the reasons for the war.” And Matthews “agrees with all of it,” he said! But who was “the loser” in all this? Of course! Although Gore was right—and Bush was a criminal—Matthews asked his befuddled guests to explain why Gore seemed like such a loser! But so it goes as men like Matthews stuff that cable dough deep in their souls. Our question: When modern crackpots speak of treason, is there any reason why cogent people shouldn’t think of a man like Chris Matthews?

TOMORROW: Ifill and Murray—skillful pros—knew to avoid what Gore said.

MUST-READ WP: As we told you, those aluminum tubes played the key role in the spinning of Iraq’s nukes. Yesterday, the Washington Post published a detailed, front-page study of this seminal matter. Other news orgs are taking a pass on Bush-on-Iraq—after all, the aluminum tubes aren’t as entertaining as that dusty side road in Niger, with its honest ambassador and its crudely forged documents. But Bush-on-Iraq is a serious story, and the Post seems to be the only paper that still has the will to pursue it.

MINUTE RICE: It’s like the old saying about New England weather—if you don’t like Condoleezza Rice’s latest story, just wait a minute. Last month, the White House said Rice didn’t know that the State Department had objections to the uranium-from-Africa story. And why didn’t she know about those objections? Simple—she hadn’t read the entire National Intelligence Estimate from October 2002 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/21/03). But last Thursday, Rice was interviewed again by Gwen Ifill, this time at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention in Dallas. During a Q-and-A session, Ifill read a question from the Boston Globe’s Derrick Jackson, and Rice served up a new story:

IFILL: One more on that point from Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe who asks: “You have admitted responsibility for not having read the CIA memo warning that the information that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa was not solid. If you had read the memo, how would that have changed your position on weapons of mass destruction?”

RICE: First of all, the memo that people are referring to is a set of clearance comments on a speech the president gave in October. So let’s be very clear on what this memo was. And it was a clearance memo that cleared some 20 or more items. I don’t remember reading the memo and probably in the normal course of things I would not, because when George Tenet said, “Take it out,” we simply take it out. We don’t need a rationale from George Tenet as to why to take it out.

I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.

Needless to say, Ifill made no attempt to follow up on Rice’s statement. More specifically, Ifill didn’t ask about the change in the official White House account. After all, if Rice did read the NIE, then she must have known that the State Department objected to the uranium story. Any real journalist would have asked her about it. But as we saw in her recent NewsHour session with Rice, Ifill is a pure press corps shill (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/1/03).

Needless to say, Rice and Ifill continued the mutual panderthon they staged on that July 30 NewsHour. Here’s one part of their Dallas exchange. Get your barf bags ready:

IFILL: Someone said to me last week, after you said that you took responsibility for—as the president said he took responsibility for [the 16 words]—that you actually got off easy; that George Tenet, the CIA director, fell on his sword in a very public, spectacular fashion; that Stephen Hadley, your deputy, went in front of the hordes of White House press corps and they picked him apart, and that you got to come out and say, “Oh, sorry,” and disappear behind a curtain. Did you get off easy?

RICE: You know what, Gwen, I don’t think being with you on the Lehrer Report was disappearing behind a curtain by any stretch of the imagination.

Gag us! But for the record, things were even worse when Rice was introduced. Here were the good doctor’s comments:
RICE: Thank you very much. I’d like to thank Gwen for that wonderful introduction. And even if you aren’t getting invited, I can tell you that she is, in fact, an excellent cook. I’ve been able to partake of that since I’ve been in Washington.
So Ifill provides home cooking off the air, too! Can anyone offer a clearer picture of our deeply compromised press corps culture? Meanwhile, let’s note where the rubber meets the road. Jim Lehrer sits on his ass while fraternization—followed by roll-over interviews—makes a sick joke of his program. Ifill-on-Gore tomorrow.