OUTSPINNING HUME! Brit admits that Bush is stretching. But at the great Times, hes just shrewd:
THURSDAY, AUGUST 12, 2004
IN RE ATROCITIES: Did John Kerry say, quote, I committed atrocities? as Sean Hannity now says almost every night? Not in the tape which Hannity plays, where Kerry says something almost totally different. (I personally didnt see personal atrocities. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/04.) But several readers sent us to Kerrys first Meet the Press appearance, on April 18, 1971. Heres the passage in question:
QUESTION (4/18/71): Mr. Kerry, you said at one time or another that you think our policies in Vietnam are tantamount to genocide and that the responsibility lies at all chains of command over there. Do you consider that you personally as a Naval officer committed atrocities in Vietnam or crimes punishable by law in this country?Here as elsewhere, Kerry says the policies followed in Vietnam were violations of international conventions and contrary to the rules of war. Asked about this statement thirty years later, he said he regretted some of the language he used, but stood by his judgments about those policies. But on Hannity & Colmes, Hannity wants his viewers connecting Kerry with the word atrocities. So he keeps saying that Kerry said quote, I committed atrocities, and pretending that he doesnt know what Kerry could have meant by that (slightly embellished) statement. Hannity just keeps playing dumb, as we saw when he jousted with Jeh Johnson on Monday. Should we get specificity? he asked. What atrocities, and why burn down villages? He asked these questions of Johnson again and again. But these questions were answered thirty-three years ago. Hannity knows all this, of course. But he wants viewers to think that he doesnt. (By the way: As Douglas Brinkleys Tour of Duty explains, Kerry and other officers complained persistently about these policies while they were still in Vietnam.)
Hannity understands what Kerry has said—that he followed routine U.S. policies which, he says he later learned, were contrary to international conventions. By the way: Many of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are saying these policies were not carried out by their division. Hannity might increase his viewers understanding if he would investigate that improbable claim, instead of pretending that he doesnt know what kinds of atrocities Kerry meant.
Kerry tempered his language long ago. But Hannity wants to stir the rubes, so he plays dumb on the air every night and throws harsh words in viewers faces. We saw the problem with democratization of media when OReilly ranted at Krugman last week. And we see the problem on Fox each night as Hannity plays dumb at 9 Eastern.
SPINNING NUANCE: John Kerry? Hes much too nuanced. Its a standard RNC talking-point—and there it is, nicely placed in a headline in todays New York Times:
NEW YORK TIMES HEADLINE For Now, Bush's Mocking Drowns Out Kerry's Nuanced Explanation of His War VoteNo, it doesnt get better than that—to get your spin-point right in a headline. But how dumb is your press corps willing to be? The new flap over Kerrys stance on Iraq provides a brilliant example.
What is Kerrys stand on Iraq? Readers, get ready for some real brain-work! Here goes: Kerry says Bush should have had the authority to go to war, but then went to war prematurely. Wow! Have you finished scratching your heads about all the nuance involved in that statement? Its hard to believe that any grown person could pretend that this is complex or confusing. But thats the official RNC line—Kerry is simply filled with nuance—and obliging scribes are typing it up, pretending this claim makes good sense. One of those puzzled scribes is Sanger, who scratches his head in todays piece about Kerrys nuanced explanation.
The catalyst for this latest show is a statement Kerry made on Monday. Heres what the solon actually said. Try to keep yourselves awake—youve heard this a thousand times previously:
KERRY (8/9/04): Yes, I would have voted for the authority [to go to war]. I believe it's the right authority for a president to have. But I would have used that authority as I have said throughout this campaign, effectively. I would have done this very differently from the way President Bush has.Readers, there it is again, that deeply nuanced explanation! Bush deserved to have the authority, but he used it unwisely! Readers, are you scratching your heads, burdened and baffled by all the complexity? If so, you just may have a future writing for the great New York Times.
Why has Kerrys statement produced a flap, since he has said the same thing many times in the past? In large part, its because of the way this statement has been framed in the press. In particular, the flap seems to turn, not on what Kerry said, but on what question he was answering. And depending on what news org you read, you seem to get a wide array of explanations of that.
To what question was Kerry responding when he made this familiar statement? Amazingly, no—we cant find a transcript of the question Kerry was asked. And you know what happens in situations like that—inventive journalists start embellishing! What was Kerry asked that day? Every news org seems to spell it out differently. Heres what Candy Crowley said in real time on CNN:
CROWLEY (4/9/04): Welcome back to Inside Politics. As we reported earlier, John Kerry, traversing the countryside, is in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. He was stopped by reporters and talked a bit. He was asked the question that George Bush put out there, which is, If you knew then what you now know, would you still have voted for the war on Iraq resolution?Was Crowley quoting the actual question? Theres no way to tell from this report. But according to Crowley, Kerry said he still would have favored the resolution if he knew then what he knows now. But in the next days Washington Post, Jim VandeHei improved on that framing:
VANDEHEI (8/10/04): Responding to President Bush's challenge to clarify his position, Sen. John F. Kerry said Monday that he still would have voted to authorize the war in Iraq even if he had known then that U.S. and allied forces would not find weapons of mass destruction.Of course, Kerry didnt actually say that, as we have seen—and VandeHei didnt quote the question. But he told readers that Kerry would have voted for the resolution even if he had known there were no WMD. Meanwhile, at the New York Times, Jodi Wilgoren spun it up even further:
WILGOREN (8/10/04): Senator John Kerry said Monday that he would have voted to give the president the authority to invade Iraq even if he had known all he does now about the apparent dearth of unconventional weapons or a close connection to Al Qaeda.According to Wilgoren, Kerry said he would have voted the resolution if he knew there were no WMD and no al Qaeda connection! Again, Kerry didnt actually say this—this is Wilgorens assessment of what he meant. But you cant determine if thats what he meant unless youre shown the actual question. And we cant find a single source that does that.
Today, David Sanger feigns confusion about John Kerrys nuanced explanations. Our view? If he wants to see the work of jumbled minds, he ought to look around on the bus. Or take a good look in the mirror.
WHAT SHOULD NEWS ORGS ACTUALLY DO: Duh! They should try to clarify what Kerry said. Did Kerry really mean he would have voted for the resolution if he knew there were no WMD and no Iraqi tie to al Qaeda? No, that isnt what Kerry said (quote above)—but is that what he actually meant? Such a statement would be a bit strange; after all, its hard to imagine holding a vote if we knew those things in 2002. But is that what Kerry actually meant? As matters stand, theres no way to tell. Would it kill these reporters to ask? Or would that just be far too nuanced?
A DIRTY LITTLE SECRET: This morning, Sanger admits a dirty little secret. But he does so very late in his article:
SANGER (pgh 20 of 24): In fact, in interviews since the start of the year, Mr. Kerry has been relatively consistent in explaining his position.No shit, Sherlock! Indeed, Kerry has said the same thing again and again. And if one simply goes by his quote, he said the same thing again Monday.
OUTSPINNING HUME: The Times panders to Bush throughout Sangers piece, from the headline right down to the expert who is quoted. Only one savant is cited. We think you can spot the key word:
SANGER (8/12/04): 'Kerry has always had this vulnerability of looking flip-floppy on the issue and Bush is using this very shrewdly, said Walter Russell Mead, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. He added Being silent on the question makes him look evasive, and saying something, anything, gets him in trouble with one side of his party or another.How many ways can a newspaper pander? The Times puts the word nuanced right in its headline. And Sanger gets flip-flop into his piece by quoting an expert who said it.
Yes, Sanger just happened to choose an expert who thought Kerry looked floppy and Bush looked shrewd. But over at Fox, in striking contrast, a Big Scribe was honest about Bushs latest clowning. On Tuesday, Bush was out playing the rubes, pretending that Kerry had said things he didnt on Monday. Indeed, Brit Hume just flat-out said so, chatting last night with the all-stars:
BUSH (shown on videotape): [Kerry] now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq. Knowing everything we know today, he would have voted to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. I want to thank Senator Kerry for clearing that up.Hume acknowledged the obvious—Bush has been stretching. (And note: He explained Kerrys nuanced stance rather easily.) But in the Times, we learned something quite different. George Bush? Hes not stretching—hes shrewd!
AND WHEN DID WOLF KNOW IT: On Monday, CNNs Wolf Blitzer seemed deeply kerflubbled by something Kerry rep Susan Rice said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/04). Rice mentioned a notable fact. Bush constantly trashes Kerry for voting against that $87 billion funding bill—the one the Congress passed last October. But six days after Kerrys no vote, Bush began threatening to veto the bill! Had Kerry failed to support the troops by his vote? Bush was willing to veto the very same money! But Blitzer seemed to lack basic facts. Wolf seemed puzzled when Rice said he should ask about Bushs veto threat.
But as it turns out, Blitzer did know about Bushs threat, back when the threat was driving the action. (A HOWLER reader sent us the cite.) Last October, Blitzer interviewed Colin Powell—nine days after Kerry voted no on a form of the bill he didnt like. But by now, Bush was saying hed veto the bill if it passed in a form which he disfavored. In particular, Bush said he would veto the bill if its $20 billion in reconstruction money was made in the form of loans, not grants. And Blitzer knew all about the threat. Indeed, he asked Powell about it:
BLITZER (10/26/03): As you know, the Senate wants half of that $20 billion to be in the form of loans, half in grants. The House says all of it should be in the form of outright grants. The president is threatening to veto the entire $87 billion unless all of that $20 billion is a grant. Is that a hard-and-fast position, as the House and Senate conferees resolve this issue?Bushs threat was hard-and fast, Powell said! If the bill was passed with loans, Bush was going to kill it.
Lets say it again: There was nothing wrong with Bushs preference for grants. There was nothing wrong with his veto threat, either. But there is something wrong with Bushs dissembling when he goes out on the campaign trail. Bush trashes Kerry, every day, for voting against one form of this bill. There's nothing complicated about supporting our troops, Bush says. But alas! This statement is plainly fake, given Bushs own veto threat. Given the way Bush keeps pounding this point, is it time for Wolf Blitzer to notice?
Final note: We need to get [Iraq] up and running quickly, Powell said. Thats why Bush insisted the money should be in grants. But a year has gone by, and almost none of this money has been spent. Any chance that Kerry (and others) were right when they said they wanted a plan before they gave Bush the $20 billion? And now that he knows the facts once again, can someone explain why Blitzer himself shouldnt be asking this question?