AESOPS PRESS CORPS! The Washington press corps loves a good fable. That may explain some Wilson coverage: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2005
CHEERING DIGBY: Our analysts stood and cheered for Digby as he showed—like Krugman before him—how easy it is to stand and state the most obvious fact on earth:
DIGBY (10/20/05): After eight long years of being fed the juiciest tabloid lies from a masterful Republican disinformation campaign and a group of friendly GOP special prosecutors, the media became joined with the Republican establishment and took on its cheap ethics and ruthless attitudes. They began to identify with them. They helped them destroy Bill Clinton's reputation and piled-on to keep Al Gore from the presidency with a puerile smear campaign which they admitted to waging just because they found it amusing. And when George W. Bush became president, their condescending refrain to the majority of the country who didn't vote for him was "get over it.As Krugman did in the Times last Friday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/14/05), Digby stated an obvious fact: The mainstream press ran a crackpot, two-year War Against Gore, and—given the narrow way Campaign 2K was decided—this two-year, puerile smear campaign almost surely put Bush in the White House.
Yes, this is an obvious fact. Youd have to be a fool not to know it. But try to find a member of the liberal elite who is willing to say this in public! Uh-oh! The War Against Gore was waged by the mainstream press—by the Washington Post, by the New York Times, by DC insiders like Russert and Matthews—and it was completely tolerated at the time by the liberal/progressive press—by the New Republic, the American Prospect, the Washington Monthly, the Nation. For that reason, career liberals pretend, to this very day, that this two-year war didnt happen; they refuse to discuss it, even today. They even pretend that the Bush campaign convinced the country that Gore was a liar! This is blatantly, absurdly untrue. But it helps their careers and their party invites when they so despicably say it.
Weve often quoted what Joe Scarborough said about this matter on Hardball. He spoke in November 2002, as the press was conducting another wave of attacks against Crackpot Gore:
SCARBOROUGH (11/18/02): I think, in the 2000 election, I think [the press corps] was fairly brutal to Al Gore. I think they hit him hard on a lot of things like inventing the Internet and some of those other things, and I think there was a generalization they bought into that, if they had done that to a Republican candidate, Id be going on your show saying, you know, that they were being biased.Indeed! If the corps had done anything like that to Bush, youd be hearing about it every day, even now. Youd have heard about it every day in real time. In the year 2050 (and beyond), your grand-kids would be hearing it still.
But the boys and girls at the Prospect, the Monthly, the New Republic, still refuse to tattle about it. Their eyes are set on those big-bucks careers. Krugman, then Digby, showed that truth can be easy. But to these boys and girls, truth is hard.
Postscript: When did the media admit to waging [the War Against Gore] just because they found it amusing? The date was October 10, 2000. You know what to do: Just click here, then scroll down to Howler History.
CRUCIAL WARNING: Warning! Nothing that follows addresses the question Patrick Fitzgerald is now mulling: Did Rove or Libby (or anyone else) commit a crime in the outing of Plame? To the contrary: What follows is an attempt to determine why the press corps covered Joe Wilson as it did. You still get to think that Roves a big crook. Warning! Repeat: Crucial warning!!
AESOPS PRESS CORPS: This morning, its the New York Times David Johnston who misstates the basic facts in the Approved Current Manner:
JOHNSTON (10/21/05): [Joe] Wilson had become an irritant to the administration in the late spring and early summer of 2003 even before he went public as a critic of the war in Iraq by writing a July 6, 2003 Op-Ed article in The New York Times.Ah, the joys of confabulation! According to Johnston, Wilson wrote that he was sent to Niger to check out reports which suggested Iraq might have tried to purchase uranium ore from Niger. But that isnt what Wilson wrote at all! Heres what Wilson actually wrote in the Times about the report which led to his trip:
WILSON (7/6/03): In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake—a form of lightly processed ore—by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office.What did Wilson actually write? According to Wilson, he was sent to check out a report of an actual sale. He judged that, due to international supervision, it was highly doubtful that any such sale could have taken place. (Fuller text below.)
Well assume that Wilson was right about that. (No one has seriously challenged the professionalism of his actual report.) But when we understand what Wilson actually wrote, we see that his famous New York Times column didnt really contradict what Bush said in his State of the Union Address. Bush had said that the Brits had learned that Iraq had sought uranium in Africa. Wilsons column merely said that a sale hadnt likely occurred. So no, there wasnt a contradiction. But to this day, scribes like Johnston shave the facts to paper over this unpleasant problem. This morning, Johnston adjusts what Wilson wrote. In so doing, he creates a sharp contradiction which never quite occurred—and he heightens a standard press drama.
Yep! Bush said Iraq sought uranium from Niger. Wilson said a sale couldnt likely take place. But from Day One, the press corps acted as if Wilson had flatly contradicted Bushs troubling statement. Why exactly did they do that? Well offer two possible answers.
First, your press corps loves fables. Once theyve made a general judgment, they tend to adopt some Simple Tale which illustrates the judgment theyve reached. By July 2003, the press corps had begun to accept an obvious fact—the Bush Admin had fixed the intelligence in the run-up to war in Iraq. Having finally come around to this view, the corps began to seek a Simple Story which would convey this (accurate) judgment. Wilson debunked Bushs claim felt real good. Result: To this day, theyve been misstating facts to punch up this desired contradiction.
But there may be a second reason for the way the corps pimped this faux contradiction. That involves the bogus story Wilson had been telling the press in the two months before he went public.
Wilson wrote his famous op-ed in early July 2003. But in May and June of that year, he backgrounded some high-profile pieces about his trip—pieces which flatly misstated the facts, but presented a clear-and-pleasing contradiction. For example, heres part of Nicholas Kristofs op-ed piece from May 6 of that year. Wilson later told Vanity Fair that he was the source for the column:
KRISTOF (5/6/03): Consider the now-disproved claims by President Bush and Colin Powell that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger so it could build nuclear weapons...This account is highly dramatic—but its utterly bogus. In fact, Wilson never saw those famous forged documents; in fact, no one in the U.S. government had seen the docs at the time of his trip. No one knew whose signatures were on the documents—and Wilson didnt make the report which Kristof described. Wilson didnt debunk the forgery, as he made clear in his own later column. But Kristofs column, though factually fake, told a highly dramatic tale, in which a fearless envoy debunked a forgery—and Bush just kept on citing it anyway. This created the illusion of a sharp contradiction—a clear-cut, perfect drama. And so did Walter Pincus piece in the Washington Post, another (bogus) report for which Wilson was the source:
PINCUS (6/12/03): [T]he CIA in early February 2002 dispatched a retired U.S. ambassador to the country to investigate the claims, according to the senior U.S. officials and the former government official, who is familiar with the event. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity and on condition that the name of the former ambassador not be disclosed.Again, reporters heard a dramatic story, in which the ambassador performed a clear-cut debunking of some forged documents—documents Wilson never saw. When he was interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wilson acknowledged that he was the source for this Pincus report—and he offered laughable reasons for his apparent misstatements (text below). Meanwhile, Kristof published a follow-up column. His original column had been blatantly wrong, as Wilson of course had seen when he read it. But to all appearances, the honest ambassador never clued Kristof. The new column was dramatic, but wrong once again:
KRISTOF (6/13/03): The agency chose a former ambassador to Africa to undertake the mission, and that person flew to Niamey, Niger, in the last week of February 2002. This envoy spent one week in Niger, staying at the Sofitel and discussing his findings with the U.S. ambassador to Niger, and then flew back to Washington via Paris.A highly dramatic, clear-cut debunking—but one that is based on fake facts. Ditto for the account given by Judis and Ackerman when they discussed the honest ambassador in a New Republic cover story released on June 23:
JUDIS/ACKERMAN (6/30/03): In his State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, Bush introduced a new piece of evidence to show that Iraq was developing a nuclear arms program: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. ... Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide."In this passage, Judis and Ackerman misstate what Bush said in his State of the Union; Wilson cant be faulted for that. But they too reported the bogus story in which the honest ambassador—now a prominent diplomat—provided a clear-cut debunking of those famous forged documents.
In fact, those documents had been forged—but Wilson himself never saw them, played no role in their debunking. But so what? Somehow, Kristof/Pincus/Judis all heard a fake tale—a pleasing tale, with direct, clear-cut debunking at its core. But then, everybody in the press had been hearing this pleasing story at the time Joe Wilson went public. Wilsons own Times column was more circumspect; it didnt repeat these howling misstatements. (See above. Finally speaking on the record, Wilson expressly said that he hadnt seen the forged documents.) But perhaps it took a bit of time for the press to notice an awkward fact—Wilsons column didnt really contradict what Bush had said in his State of the Union. The press had been hearing Hero Tales of direct debunking for months. Perhaps they didnt notice, right off the bat, that Wilsons column was somewhat less dramatic.
Aesops press corps loves a good fable. For two months, Wilson—on background—had offered just that. At any rate, the press corps was beginning to look for a tale which would illustrate their (accurate) new conclusion: Bush misled us on the way into war. But right up to this very day, Wilsons contradiction doesnt quite parse. Result? To this day, scribes misstate what Wilson said. It builds a more dramatic tale, in which contradictions are more direct. But thats what Aesops press corps typically does when it decides to convince us rubes of the truth of its latest Group Judgment.
In this case, their judgment was accurate. They just chose a rather weak tale with which to convey that new judgment.
WHAT WILSON SAID IN HIS COLUMN: Here is Wilsons fuller account of what he found in Niger:
WILSON (7/6/03): In late February 2002, I arrived in Niger's capital, Niamey, where I had been a diplomat in the mid-70's and visited as a National Security Council official in the late 90's...But Bush never said a transaction took place! From that day to this, Aesops press corps has bent, shaved and rearranged facts to create a direct contradiction.
WHAT WILSON TOLD THE SENATE COMMITTEE: According to the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wilson acknowledged that he was the source of the Pincus report. Why then did Pincus think that Wilson had debunked the forged documents? Prepare to avert your gaze:
SENATE INTELLIGENCE REPORT (page 45): The former ambassador said that he may have misspoken to the reporter when he said he concluded the documents were forged. He also said he may have become confused about his own recollection after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in March 2003 that the names and dates on the documents were not correct and may have thought he had seen the names himself.The IAEA debunked the docs, not Wilson. But egad! According to Wilson, he may have confused his own work with that of the IAEA! Avert your gaze in embarrassment as you ponder how Kristof, Pincus and Judis/Ackerman came to write those bogus reports—reports which helped prepare the way for Wilsons not-contradictory column.
FOR LOVERS OF IRONY ONLY: Kristofs initial, factually flawed column was headlined, Missing in Action: Truth. Judis and Ackermans lengthy report was headlined thus: The First Casualty.