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Daily Howler: Wild embellishment is a character problem--if it's done by Dems
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ABOUT THOSE 29 HOURS! Wild embellishment is a character problem—if it’s done by Dems: // link // print // previous // next //

HOW SHOULD LIBERALS PROCEED: Joan Walsh was very forthcoming yesterday about her Thursday Hardball appearance. We exchanged e-mails with her about the show; we had planned to offer some further thoughts today about the way liberals might proceed in such absurd situations. How should liberal spokespersons act, when news orgs present them with such silly pseudo-issues? We think we all should be asking this question as Campaign 08 approaches.

But uh-oh! We’ve had a death in the HOWLER family (not in our own immediate family). For that reason, we’ll have to postpone this topic till Monday. But liberal spokespersons will be asked, many times, to discuss these silly topics—pseudo-topics which may be created by the use of truncated tapes. How should our smart, decent people proceed?

We thought Hardball’s conduct Wednesday night was appalling—and it presents a great challenge for liberals. Joan was very nice to respond. We hope you’ll throw your two bits in when we ponder this matter next week.

POST ECHOES HOWLER: As a general matter, when people tell us we’re always right, we modestly warn them against overstatement.

But this isn’t one of those mornings. This morning, our analysts chuckled as the Washington Post—on page one—caught up with our work from a few weeks ago. In a well-reported, coherent piece, Debbie Cenziper says what we said back then: It isn’t clear that there’s a textbook shortage in the DC schools at all.

Uh-oh! As you’ll recall, new superintendent Michelle Rhee was patrolling the warehouse a few weeks ago, finding dust in various places and vowing to solve a big problem. Textbooks weren’t reaching the schools on time, she said—and she swore that she’d handle it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/9/07). And you know how the Post behaves when it comes to low-income schools! Told to jump, the paper asked, “How high?” It splashed a big photo atop page one, and lionized Rhee in a jumbled report. We noted the problems with the report—and suggested the possibility that Rhee might even be solving a problem that didn’t exist.

Today, the Post—having done some subsequent reporting—suggests we may have been right. After saying it’s “impossible to know...if there’s a problem at all,” Cenziper reports what she found when she interviewed one-fifth of the system’s principals. Our analysts mordantly chuckled:
CENZIPER (8/24/07): Despite the lack of precise numbers, the chancellor has announced that more than half of the schools were missing required books, making the shortage one of the highest-profile issues for her administration. Yet principals interviewed by The Post in recent weeks—more than 30, or roughly one-fifth of the total—said they have what they need to open Monday.

Although some were waiting for a handful of books, often extra copies, many principals called this the smoothest delivery in years. Nearly 400,000 new textbooks were delivered in May—weeks early—after Clifford B. Janey overhauled the way the system orders books when he was superintendent.

"We got them so early this year, we were a little mind-blown," said Principal Veda Usilton at Garnet-Patterson Middle School.

Principal Shirley Jones of Meyer Elementary School said, "This has been the best year."
Other principals make similar statements in an accompanying graphic. In her next two paragraphs, Cenziper describes the comic-book way Rhee devised her original claims about the alleged textbook shortages. Soon, she types the tangiest statement, made by the head of a parents group:
CENZIPER: [T]he lack of a clear, school-by-school count frustrates some parents. Iris Toyer, head of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, said she contacted several schools after Rhee's announcement and could not find evidence of a sweeping shortage.

"In my most cynical perspective, it's good theater," she said. "You can create a problem and we solve it and we look good. But unless you can tell me specifically which schools are missing which books, I'm not sure that I can say you're doing a wonderful thing. . . . I'm just not that gullible."
What we said! But on Day One, the Post quite plainly was a bit “gullible.” To their credit, they amplify the story today with Cenziper’s make-up report. We’ll give the report a solid B-minus; we were forced to subtract one full grade because the work was handed in late.

To what extent do DC’s schools have their required textbooks? Like Cenziper, we still can’t say. Will Rhee turn out to be a good “chancellor?” We hope so; we have no idea. But the Post’s reporting was strikingly weak when Rhee staged that dramatic warehouse visit, heroically vowing to solve a problem which may not even exist. But then, this is sadly typical of the way big newspapers tend to cover low-income schools. They love to showcase their deep concern—by assigning their rookie reporters.

Meanwhile, that one huge question still hasn’t been asked:

If those new books are in DC’s schools, how many students can read them?

Special report: Only Dems!

PART 3—ABOUT THOSE 29 HOURS: If it weren’t so sad, it would just be funny. In Campaign 2000, the mainstream press corps invented a demon—a delusional Big Liar, Candidate Gore. And uh-oh! Since Gore wasn’t actually uttering whoppers, the press corps had to invent his lies for him! As early as March 1999, the mainstream press corps was claiming, en masse, that Gore had authored the following tales. The word “liar” was being thrown all around. In the end, it decided the election:
Al Gore said he invented the Internet.
Al Gore said he inspired Love Story.
Al Gore said he grew up on a farm.
The “farm chores” nonsense was such a big hoax that even the press corps finally dropped it, after trashing Gore with it for months. It was replaced, in late 1999, by an iconic, press-devised groaner which maintained the Rule of Three:
Al Gore said he invented the Internet.
Al Gore said he inspired Love Story.
Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal.
Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal! That new “lie” was based on a straight misquotation, later acknowledged by the Times and the Post. But so what? This nonsense continued for twenty straight months—and in the end, it sent Bush to the White House. Slowly, of course, the mainstream press has begun to admit that these claims were all bull-roar. Al Gore never said he invented the Internet! The Post’s Michael Grunwald finally said so, in July of last year (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/25/06). But wouldn’t you know it? Grunwald forgot to say why his paper had told the world different, for years.

At any rate, the mainstream press corps invented a liar; they let us know how troubled they were by his disturbing, wild lies. Al Gore even lies when telling the truth would be good enough! A pseudo-psychiatrist, Newsweek’s Bill Turque, authored this groaner in late 1999; delighted journalists pimped it widely. Gore was delusional, they sadly agreed. They worried hard about a liar—a liar whose troubling lies they themselves had invented.

But everyone knows it: The press corps hates liars! Unless his name is Rudy Giuliani—and unless his lies are real!

Because if it weren’t so sad, it would simply be funny—the way Giuliani has now embodied the charges the press corps made up about Gore. Equally funny: The way the press corps looks away when Republican hopefuls have “character problems.” It’s now a matter of Hard Pundit Law: Character problems are only for Dems. Republican hopefuls don’t have them.

Consider what happened when Tucker Carlson raised the question of Rudy’s embellishments.

For the record, Rudy hadn’t been embellishing about something minor—he’d been embellishing about 9/11, the most sacred event in our recent history. And on the front page of the New York Times, Russ Buettner had laid it all out; on three occasions, Rudy has vastly embellished his own heroism, making himself the Ground Zero hero (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/07). And we couldn’t help noting here at THE HOWLER: This was exactly the type of conduct the press corp had claimed to abhor in Al Gore! In that case, they had to make up the lies; in this case, the lies were just flat-out real. But we had seen no one say boo about this until Tucker Carlson chose to ask, on this Tuesday’s program:
CARLSON (8/21/07): Rudy Giuliani has stayed atop of polls of Republican voters thanks largely to his image. Americans think they know Rudy Giuliani. They see him as a mayor who stood tall after 9/11. But could he be overplaying his hand when it comes to those tragic days? Possibly.

First, Giuliani had to backtrack after comparing himself to rescue workers that toiled at Ground Zero. Now we learn from the fervently left-wing, but occasionally accurate, that Giuliani actually spent more time cheering on the Yankees than he did at the World Trade Center site. He even crossed the country to watch them play.

Does it matter? Or should Giuliani’s polished persona—could it possibly lose its luster? Here to tell us, Mort Zuckerman and Rosa Brooks.
Does it matter? Back in 1999, the press corps yodeled, screamed and howled when Gore was said to be embellishing. And now, it was plain that Giuliani had vastly misstated the facts. How badly had he overstated? These are embarrassing facts:
BUETTNER (8/17/07): On at least three occasions, in responding to accusations that the city failed to adequately protect the health of workers in the wreckage, he has boasted that he faced comparable risks himself. In one appearance he declared that he had been in the ruins ''as often, if not more'' than the cleanup workers who logged hundreds of hours in the smoldering pile.

Another time he brushed aside safety claims by asserting that his long hours at the site had left him susceptible to ''every health consequence that people have suffered.''

So, how much time did Mayor Giuliani spend at ground zero?

A complete record of Mr. Giuliani's exposure to the site is not available for the chaotic six days after the attack, when he was a frequent visitor. But an exhaustively detailed account from his mayoral archive, revised after the events to account for last-minute changes on scheduled stops, does exist for the period of Sept. 17 to Dec. 16, 2001. It shows he was there for a total of 29 hours in those three months, often for short periods or to visit locations adjacent to the rubble. In that same period, many rescue and recovery workers put in daily 12-hour shifts.
Ouch! And, for reasons we can’t explain, Buettner was rather kind to Giuliani. According to Buettner, Giuliani spent 29 hours at Ground Zero over the three-month period in question. But here’s what the AP’s Karen Matthews quoted Giuliani saying on September 11, 2006—the fifth anniversary of the attacks. For clarity, we’ll quote at some length:
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (9/12/06): Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who led New York through the horror of the 2001 attacks, said his health and that of his wife and aides could have been affected from exposure to toxic smoke from the burning World Trade Center.

"I spent as much time here as anyone," Giuliani said Monday, the fifth anniversary of the attacks. He said others potentially at risk included his wife, Judith; his spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel; and two deputy mayors.

Giuliani said anyone whose health suffered from work at the trade center site is "entitled to the same support, the same assistance and the same help that the families got who lost loved ones here."

Giuliani spoke to reporters after presenting checks totaling $60,000 to trade center victims' charities from former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel's foundation.

Asked about former federal Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman's recent assertions that responsibility for providing masks to workers on the debris pile lay with the city, Giuliani said, "We certainly gave people instructions that they should wear masks."

"I was here five, six times a day for four months," Giuliani said. "I kind of thought of it as living here. And there were times when I wore a mask when you got near the pile. Times when I didn't. Those were the instructions. I don't remember that from EPA, though. What I remember from Christie Whitman is her saying that the air was fine."
"I was here five, six times a day for four months?” Go ahead—compare that claim to what Buettner found when he examined that “exhaustively detailed account from his mayoral archive.”

Has Rudy been gilding the lily a tad? When Democrats do this, the press corps goes wild; indeed, they even invented Gore’s “lies” (embellishments; exaggerations) so they could voice their vast disapproval. But what did Zuckerman say to Tucker? We’re forced to defer until Monday.

ABOUT WAYNE BARRETT: The question of Rudy’s truthfulness was raised by the Village Voice’s Wayne Barrett in this report on August 7. We’ll now advise readers that they should be careful about accepting Barrett’s claims.

Barrett’s report produced little pundit reaction, just like Buettner’s report from last Friday. But Buettner’s piece is well reported. Barrett’s is quite slippery.

Barrett’s report bears a pleasing headline: “Rudy Giuliani's Five Big Lies About 9/11.” But to see how slippery the gentleman is, consider his most dramatic presentation, the one with which he starts. Barrett is quoting Giuliani in a recent appearance at a Maryland synagogue:
BARRETT (8/7/07): "As United States Attorney, I investigated the Leon Klinghoffer murder by Yasir Arafat," he told the Jewish audience, referring to the infamous 1985 slaying of a wheelchair-bound, 69-year-old New York businessman aboard the Achille Lauro, an Italian ship hijacked off the coast of Egypt by Palestinian extremists. "It's honestly the reason why I knew so much about Arafat," says Giuliani. "I knew, in detail, the Americans he murdered. I went over their cases."

On the contrary, Victoria Toensing, the deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department in Washington who filed a criminal complaint in the Lauro investigation, says that no one in Giuliani's office "was involved at all." Jay Fischer, the Klinghoffer family attorney who spearheaded a 12-year lawsuit against the PLO, says he "never had any contact" with Giuliani or his office. "It would boggle my mind if anyone in 1985, 1986, 1987, or thereafter conducted an investigation of this case and didn't call me," he adds. Fischer says he did have a private dinner with Giuliani in 1992: "It was the first time we talked, and we didn't even talk about the Klinghoffer case then."

The dinner was arranged by Arnold Burns, a close friend of Fischer and Giuliani who also represented the Klinghoffer family. Burns, who was also the finance chair of Giuliani's mayoral campaign, was the deputy U.S. attorney general in 1985 and oversaw the probe. "I know of nothing Rudy did in any shape or form on the Klinghoffer case," he says.
This sounds good—but it’s amazingly slippery. Last year, Barrett covered the same material in a separate report in the American Prospect. In that report, he calls this “The Achille Lauro Lie.” But his work in that piece was textbook-slippery, like his recent work in the Voice. After hours of researching these two reports, we still aren’t sure what the lie is.

Did Giuliani “investigate the Leon Klinghoffer murder?” We don’t know, but we’ll guess that he did. Careful! In these two reports, Barrett seems to conflate three separate entities: Giuliani’s alleged investigation; Toensing’s investigation, which resulted in a criminal complaint; and the 12-year lawsuit against the PLO which was run by Burns and Fischer. We have no doubt that Barrett is quoting all the principals accurately. But as Barrett notes in passing the Prospect piece, Toensing actually “investigate[d] the Palestinian leader who organized the Achille Lauro hijacking, Abu Abbas.” Nothing she says necessarily contradicts Giuliani’s claim that he investigated Arafat. (Arafat was never charged in this crime; it seems he wasn’t directly involved.)

Meanwhile, if you read Barrett’s text in the Village Voice carefully, Fischer and Burns both seem to be saying that Giuliani wasn’t involved in the Klinghoffer family’s 12-year lawsuit—but that isn’t what Giuliani said, either. Did Giuliani investigate Arafat’s possible role in the Klinghoffer murder? We don’t know, but after reading Barrett’s account of the matter in these two reports, we’d have to say we have rarely seen work that is quite so slippery. Ed McMahon, how slippery is he? Here’s how Barrett framed this matter in his Prospect piece:
BARRETT (9/06): As early as his 1989 mayoral race, Giuliani branded his Democratic opponent, David Dinkins, "soft on terrorism" because Dinkins wouldn't oppose an Arafat visit to the United Nations. Giuliani claimed that his hatred of Arafat stemmed from the days when "I investigated Arafat for his alleged involvement in the murder of Leon Klinghoffer." He was referring to the 1985 murder of a New York businessman aboard the Achille Lauro, an Italian ship hijacked off the coast of Egypt by Palestinian extremists. The killing was so savage—the wheelchair-bound, 69-year-old Klinghoffer was shot in the head and dumped in the Mediterranean—that, as Klinghoffer's daughter would later say, it "put a face" on terrorism in the American mind. Giuliani has repeatedly cited his supposed work on the Klinghoffer case since the 1980s, even including it in Leadership.

Yet in truth, there was never any criminal investigation by Giuliani or the Justice Department that directly implicated Arafat in the Klinghoffer killing. Giuliani's friend and mentor Arnold Burns, who was associate attorney general in Washington when the Achille Lauro case was reviewed there and who argued a civil case on behalf of the Klinghoffer family before the U.S. Supreme Court after he left government, says Giuliani was never involved with it. Burns, the finance chairman of Giuliani's first campaign for mayor in 1989, added, "I know of nothing Rudy did in any shape or form on the Klinghoffer case." Jay Fischer, the Klinghoffer family attorney who spearheaded their litigation for 12 years and eventually won a monetary settlement with the PLO, says he "never had any contact" with Giuliani or anyone in his office about the case.
Note how the second highlighted statement fails to contradict the first. In the highlighted quote, Giuliani only claims that he “investigated Arafat for his alleged involvement;” he doesn’t claim that this investigation “directly implicated Arafat.” (Indeed, his use of the word “alleged” suggest that it actually didn’t.) But this type of slippery pseudo-contradiction typifies Barrett’s report in the Voice. Other claims in this report also break apart when they’re checked. Some of Barrett’s claims may have merit. But we’d say that readers should be very careful in using Barrett’s reports.

A few comments:

Barrett’s report in the Village Voice has produced very little big pundit reaction. Conceivably, this could mean that some major pundits know that Barrett is unreliable. But there’s an irony here, of course. This is quite typical of the work which was aimed at Candidate Gore for two years. In that case, pundits ran as fast as they could to repeat every bogus accusation.

Second, we note an irony in Barrett’s new report. Here’s what Giuliani told that Maryland audience last month: "As United States Attorney, I investigated the Leon Klinghoffer murder by Yasir Arafat." But Arafat didn’t murder Klinghoffer, a point about which Giuliani was more careful when he spoke, in that earlier quote, about Arafat’s “alleged involvement.” If Gore had said that, the press would have yowled; they would have screamed and yelled and yipped about the way he was embellishing his accomplishments (again!). Yep! Rudy pumped his role up a bit in that misstatement to that Maryland audience. And Barrett, finding misstatements everywhere else, didn’t even notice.