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OUTSPINNING HUME! Brit admits that Bush is “stretching.” But at the great Times, he’s just “shrewd:”

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 didn’t see personal atrocities.” See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/11/04.) But several readers sent us to Kerry’s first Meet the Press appearance, on April 18, 1971. Here’s 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?

KERRY: There are all kinds of atrocities, and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free-fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50 caliber machine guns, which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search-and-destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare, all of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this is ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.

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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t. (By the way: As Douglas Brinkley’s 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 doesn’t 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 O’Reilly 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? He’s much too “nuanced.” It’s a standard RNC talking-point—and there it is, nicely placed in a headline in today’s New York Times:

NEW YORK TIMES HEADLINE For Now, Bush's Mocking Drowns Out Kerry's Nuanced Explanation of His War Vote
No, it doesn’t 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 Kerry’s stance on Iraq provides a brilliant example.

What is Kerry’s 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? It’s hard to believe that any grown person could pretend that this is complex or confusing. But that’s 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 today’s piece about Kerry’s “nuanced explanation.”

The catalyst for this latest show is a statement Kerry made on Monday. Here’s what the solon actually said. Try to keep yourselves awake—you’ve 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.

And my question to President Bush is, Why did he rush to war without a plan to win the peace? Why did he rush to war on faulty intelligence and not do the hard work necessary to give America the truth? Why did he mislead America about how he would go to war? Why has he not brought other countries to the table in order to support American troops in the way that we deserve and relieve a pressure from the American people?

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 Kerry’s statement produced a flap, since he has said the same thing many times in the past? In large part, it’s 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 can’t 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. Here’s 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? There’s 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 day’s 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 didn’t actually say that, as we have seen—and VandeHei didn’t 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 didn’t actually say this—this is Wilgoren’s assessment of what he meant. But you can’t determine if that’s what he meant unless you’re shown the actual question. And we can’t find a single source that does that.

Today, David Sanger feigns confusion about John Kerry’s “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 isn’t what Kerry said (quote above)—but is that what he actually meant? Such a statement would be a bit strange; after all, it’s hard to imagine holding a vote if we knew those things in 2002. But is that what Kerry actually meant? As matters stand, there’s 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 Sanger’s 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 Bush’s latest clowning. On Tuesday, Bush was out playing the rubes, pretending that Kerry had said things he didn’t 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 (8/11/04): Well that line got a big cheer, as you saw yesterday when the president said it. But what Senator Kerry has said is not quite as the president has characterized it...Basically what Kerry has said, correct me if I'm wrong, is, Look, I would have wanted the authority if I'd been president. That's why I voted to grant this authority to go to war to the president...But he said he would have used it differently. He would have used it to as more of a lever for diplomacy. He would have used it to bring more allies aboard. He would have used it to as a threat behind inspections, to leave them going longer.

But the question is, the Bush camp knows what it's doing here. They know that they're stretching what the senator has said in trying to keep this the subject for the day. What about all this?

Hume acknowledged the obvious—Bush has been “stretching.” (And note: He explained Kerry’s “nuanced” stance rather easily.) But in the Times, we learned something quite different. George Bush? He’s not “stretching”—he’s “shrewd!”

AND WHEN DID WOLF KNOW IT: On Monday, CNN’s 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 Kerry’s “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 Bush’s veto threat.

But as it turns out, Blitzer did know about Bush’s 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 didn’t like. But by now, Bush was saying he’d 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?

POWELL: Yes, it is. The president feels very strongly that it should be a grant. We need to get this country up and running quickly. And I was quite taken, at the Madrid conference I attended, where the U.N. representative, Mark Malloch Brown, from the U.N. Development Program, said it should be a grant. We need this infusion of dollars as we structure, over a longer period of time, the influx of grants and loans on a long-term basis.

Bush’s threat was “hard-and fast,” Powell said! If the bill was passed with loans, Bush was going to kill it.

Let’s say it again: There was nothing wrong with Bush’s preference for grants. There was nothing wrong with his veto threat, either. But there is something wrong with Bush’s 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 Bush’s 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. That’s 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 shouldn’t be asking this question?