OxBlog

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

# Posted 8:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TALKING POINTS FOR RUMSFELD: On Sunday morning, the SecDef did back to back interviews with Face the Nation on CBS and This Week on ABC. Before getting to what Rumsfeld said, let me give ABC and CBS some advice on how to catch up to Tim Russert and NBC in the Sunday morning race for the gold: Make transcripts available in HTML format. CBS provides a PDF version of the text, which means that all of the quotes below were retyped by yours truly, rather than cut and pasted. In contrast, ABC has the chutzpah to assert that viewers should have to pay for transcripts.

Anyhow, the real issue here is the SecDef and how he ought to strengthen his arguments for the administration's strategy in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the first question Rumsfeld got from both George Stephanopoulos on ABC and Bob Schieffer on CBS was "What do you say to Congressman Murtha?" Rumsfeld clearly had his talking points ready since he gave the exact same response to both questions.

The core of Rumsfeld's response was the idea of empathy. He told Schieffer,
"Try to put yourself in the shoes of other people...Put yourself in the shoes of the Iraqis, the Iraqi people, who've risked their lives to run for public office and to go out and vote."
That's a solid point, although altruism isn't exactly the philosophy one associates with Rumsfeld. The SecDef did a little better with Stephanopoulos, however. On ABC, he told the audience to empathize with American soldiers on the ground "who believe that [their mission] is a noble cause, which it is". And of course, on both ABC and CBS, Rumsfeld cleverly turned the empathy prism around and asked the audience how the insurgents might feel if they knew that all they had to do to defeat the United States was run out the clock.

Yet perhaps because Rumsfeld is such a blunt person who has never been comfortable with the artificial etiquette of network television, the SecDef seems to delight in making outrageous statements that have the unfortunate effect of calling his perception of political reality into question. For example, before directly answering Stephanopoulos's question about Murtha, Rumsfeld insisted that Murtha's protest isn't that significant because there have always been those who wanted to bring the troops home -- in WWII, in Korea and in Vietnam.

In WWII? I'll assume that Rumsfeld is right and that someone must've called for an early exit from the Second World War. But do you know how comparing Iraq to WWII sounds? Ridiculous. Period. As for Korea and Vietnam, the analogy to Iraq shouldn't comfort the administration at all.

Moving on, the next big question Rumsfeld had to address was the issue of whether the Iraqi army will ever be ready to take over from us. To my surprise, Schieffer didn't even try to challenge the SecDef's assertion that there are now 212,000 members of the Iraqi security forces. But Stephanopoulos immediately shot back that only 700 are ready to fight on their own. To which Rumsfeld replied:
"Oh, George, that is a red herring that people have been flopping around here for weeks."
You should really listen to the podcast to hear the tone of voice Rumsfeld used to say that. He sounded like a Jewish mother who'd just been told her only son was becoming a Catholic.

Anyhow, Rumsfeld's first substantive point in response to the question was pretty good: The Iraqis are already fighting hard all across the country and taking very heavy casualties. But then the SecDef once again decided he wasn't going to play by the rules. When Stephanopoulos stated that even the best 20,000 Iraqis "can take the lead in a battle but need to be heavily supported by US forces", Rumsfeld responded:
Most of our forces need support. Most of NATO forces need support.
Say what you will about the Belgians and the Dutch, I'm pretty damn sure the Iraqis are nowhere close. And comparing American soldiers to the Iraqis? Huh???

Although quite proficient at pre-emptive warfare, I think the SecDef might do well to practice the art of pre-emptive question-swatting. Everywhere you look, it gets reported that only one Iraqi battalion, or around 700 troops, is ready to fight on its own without the Americans. That number is down from three battalions a couple of months ago.

Now, Rusmfeld may be right that the number who can fight independently isn't the best indicator of progress. But I think it looks very bad for him or the President to say that there are 212,000 Iraqis ready to go, then get confronted with the 700 figure and admit that it's accurate. Just say up front that more and more Iraqis are approaching self-sufficiency.

With regard to question-swatting, Rumsfeld should also know what's going to happen everytime he insists that the American mission in Iraq is making significant progress. The interviewers will immediately fire back with questions about the persistence of American casualties and about the number of suicide bombs. On CBS, Rumsfeld made a decent come back by arguing that Zarqawi's slaughter of the innocent actually costs him more supporters than it gains.

But the key point is that it looks bad to start out optimistic and then be reminded of everything going wrong. Instead, administration officials should begin by showing that they understand public and media concern with the mission's steep cost in American lives and the persistence of terrorism in Iraq. But. But guerrillas wars are won politically, not on the battlefield. Thus, the indicator that really matters is that Iraq is going from
A successful election in January to a drafting of a constitution, to a referendum on the constitution with the biggest turnout anyone could've imagined, and the Sunnis participating...In less than a month there'll be an election. And then there will be a new government that will be in place for a period of time. That's progress. That's significant progress.
Yes, yes it is. But that message won't get through until administration officials are more candid about the persistence of casualties and terrorism, so that journalists can't chalk up easy debating points by reminding them that things aren't perfect.
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# Posted 8:39 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLOGGERS' NIGHT OUT: Last evening I had the pleasure of having dinner with Kevin Drum, Henry Farrell, Laura Rozen and Jim Henley. If I didn't have to run out the door to work, I might share with you a little more about what these blogospheric titans are like in person. (On deep background only, of course, lest I be subpoenaed).

For the moment, what I will do is highly recommend the Bistro D'Oc, where the five of us had dinner. As you might gather from the name, it's a great little French place just across the street from Ford's Theater on 10th St. between E & F. Bon appetit!
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Sunday, November 20, 2005

# Posted 9:15 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OCCASIONALLY, OXBLOG FULFILLS ITS CAMPAIGN PROMISES: I think I figured the code for comments. Let me know if you have any problems. Now I'm gonna start working on trackbacks.

Btw, we will be using word verification to limit spam. If that doesn't work, then we'll have to come up with a Plan B.

UPDATE: For the moment, if you just want to read the comments instead of adding one of your own, click the "#" next to the time stamp on the top of any post. If you click the "comments" link, it will take you to the comment-making page. If I fix this problem, I will let you know.

UPDATE: Fixed!

UPDATE: Detailed comments are welcome. Reproducing publications from elsewhere in their entirely is a nuisance. Comments are not Xerox machines!
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# Posted 8:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOT A MANDATE. A "MAN DATE":
Simply defined, a man date is two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports. It is two guys meeting for the kind of outing a straight man might reasonably arrange with a woman.
Yikes! I just prefer to go out with my gay friends. There's no sexual tension there, because they could all do so much better than me. (Hat tip: The lovely SC)
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# Posted 8:37 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WOODWARD: Michael Stickings of The Reaction has a very thorough round-up of commentary about Bob Woodward's sudden decision to go semi-public with his private store of information about Plamegate.
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# Posted 7:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FROM THE ARSENAL: Democracy Arsenal is one of the best foreign policy blogs on the web. If you're liberal, this is where you'll find your best arguments. If you're conservative, this is where you go to find your best opposition, most often unencumbered by partisan blather.

Of course, any liberal site so willing to buck the conventional wisdom is occasionally going to say things that antagonize its friends and vindicate its critics. For example, Suzanne Nossel recently pointed out one of the most implausible but least noticed things that Jack Murtha has been saying: Leave Iraq now, but "go back in, in case there's more terrorist activity." Hmmm...

Of course, the price conservatives have to pay for such pleasant heresies is the obligation to take Suzanne and her colleagues more seriously when they say things conservatives don't want to hear. For example, Suzanne has been watching carefully for any signs that the Bush administration wants to follow the Nixon/Kissinger precedent in South Vietnam by building up our proteges in Iraq just enough to ensure that they don't crumble too soon after we withdraw.

Am I persuaded? No, I am not. But it is an important argument to have with a talented counterpart. Nixon and Kissinger were self-avowed realists who rejected the importance of moral considerations to the making of foreign policy. Bush is a relentless idealist, regardless of what you think of his ideals. Naturally, liberals suspect that all of his idealistic rhetoric is nothing more than a front for a self-interested agenda. And before accepting that Bush is sincere, one must hear that argument out.

Of course, DA is still a blog and not a chemistry textbook, so sometimes it can be quite snarky and that snark is quite partisan. (Who knows, maybe chemistry textbooks are snarky too. I haven't read one since high school.)

The bottom line here is that I don't think you'll find a liberal foreign policy blog with a lower ratio of rhetoric to substance. If you do, tell me about it.
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# Posted 4:15 PM by Patrick Belton  

WHAT'RE A FEW DETAILS BETWEEN FRIENDS WATCH: The Times (U.K.) conflates two positions held by the former President Bush, as director of central intelligence and as U.S. envoy to Beijing, by referring to 'his CIA job in Beijing'. But I'm sure they're more accurate with the other details, the ones we can't check so easily.
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# Posted 3:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SULLIVAN ON MURTHA: Given that Andrew's stance on the both the war and its politics tends tends to defy easy categorization in terms of left and right, I thought it would be interesting to see if he has come down in the same place as I have on the Murtha story.

Well, not exactly the same place, but close. First of all, we agree on two major points. The first is that Murtha has the wrong plan. As Andrew writes:
It's not intellectually easy to continue supporting a war when you've lost faith in the honesty and competence of the president who's leading it, but what choice do we have? There are other good people struggling to make this work: Casey, Rice, Khalilzad, McCain; and the thousands of troops who are risking their lives in this project. They key is to grasp how little we know, how badly we've screwed up, but also not to throw in the towel when, in fact, there is still a chance for leveraging the current situation to our and to Iraqis' advantage.
The second is that certain Republicans (think Jean Schmidt) have launched apalling attacks on Murtha's integrity. Andrew differs slightly on that second point, since is he is more inclined than I am to believe that Schmidt's attack is typical GOP behavior.

I'd say the one major point of disagreement between myself and Andrew is that he seems to reject the idea that all of the hype about Murtha is a manufactured story. For example, Andrew criticizes Glenn for trying to spin the Murtha story as old news. Well, that's my spin as well, so I guess Andrew and I will have to disagree on this one.

But what matters more is our agreement on the substantive issue of what to do about Iraq.
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# Posted 2:02 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ALL MURTHA ALL THE TIME: Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but I am extraordinarily frustrated by the way that almost every major media outlet is spinning Murtha's "conversion" as a major blow to the war effort.

Anyhow, all I want to in this post is take a somewhat closer look at what Murtha said in an interview with CNN (Hat tip: GP) in May 2004, shortly after he first described the war as "unwinnable". Here goes:

MURTHA: But if you listen to what Shinseki said, we needed several hundred thousand. And then Wolfowitz said, Secretary Wolfowitz said, we only need 30,000 and the oil is going to pay for it. Now, these young people over there fighting deserve better than that. They deserve a plan not based on what we have available, but based on the need in the war. And that's not what we're planning to.

[LOU] DOBBS: Some may not be entirely aware that you are one of the strongest, stalwart supporters of our troops, of our military in Congress, in either house of Congress.

But can we realistically -- and this is a huge issue I know that you've also struggled with -- in the war against terror, against the impact it would have not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East, is withdrawal of U.S. force from Iraq a truly viable choice?

MURTHA: Well, let me put it this way. We can struggle along with the number of people we have...We've spent $200 billion in this fight in Iraq and it wasn't supposed to cost us anything. So when you say, it is realistic to pull out? It would be an international disaster I think if we pulled out. But the alternative is, we're going to struggle along, get more and more young people killed...

DOBBS: Congressman, as you talked about this and you used the expression, we're fighting this war on the cheap. $200 billion, estimated $60 billion just for current military operations in Iraq alone per year. It's hardly on the cheap. You're also talking, as General Shinseki advised, really tripling the number of U.S. troops as the first choice that you would make, tripling it which one would assume would triple the cost. At some point doesn't someone in Congress or this White House or this Pentagon, somewhere in Washington have to understand that we are embarked upon an absolutely mindless ratio of expenses to a result, and that we have to come up with new strategies? Is there anyone in the Pentagon, is there anyone in the White House, to your knowledge, and Congress trying to bring costs and effective results into line?

MURTHA: Well, I keep telling them, you have to be more realistic about our goals...

DOBBS: Congressman, let me ask you this. Directly as you possibly can. Is it time, in your judgment, for the United States to leave Iraq?

MURTHA: Well, it would be disastrous if we were to leave under those circumstances without making every effort... Lou, you have to go back to the original planning. You have to look at there should have been a couple hundred thousand people. They said you only need 30,000 people. You have to look at not having enough people. That's the first plan...

DOBBS: Excuse me, Congressman. I hate to interrupt. We're really out of time. Let me ask you for a short, straightforward statement. You've offered two choices, in your judgment. Either increase troops or get out. Which is your preferred policy choice?

MURTHA: My preferred case is to increase the number of troops and provide the military security, which will give us a chance that Iraq could become an independent country and move on from the war that we've been involved in.

At first glance, one might say this excerpt vindicates the media's decision to cover Murtha's conversion as a major change of heart. After all, what Murtha is calling for here -- an extraordinary increase in US manpower -- is the polar opposite of withdrawal.

But on the other hand, Murtha seems to recognize that this kind of increase in manpower is simply impossible. Thus, the real choice to be had is between withdrawal -- an "international disaster" -- and "struggl[ing] along, get[ting] more and more young people killed.

But what is the point of struggling along in an unwinnable war with mounting casualties? Murtha's logic clearly points to withdrawal as the least-worst option. But he wasn't ready to say it in May 2004, so he kept his options open by going on record in favor of the impossible option, a Shinseki-style occupation.

So, yes, one can argue that Murtha's decision to call for a withdrawal is news. But it is hardly a revelation.
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Saturday, November 19, 2005

# Posted 10:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A USEFUL WEBSITE: National Atlas.gov has maps of each congressional district, plus maps of the fifty states divided by district.
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# Posted 10:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COMPARING THE RESOLUTIONS: Gary Farber compares Murtha's proposal to the GOP version that got voted on yesterday. According to Gary, no one should dare say that the two are the same. As far as I can tell, the main difference is as follows -- The GOP version says that "that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." Murtha's version says that
The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.
Btw, the roll call on the GOP version is here. Three cheers for Cynthia McKinney and her two brave colleagues for voting "aye"!

Also, Joe Gandelman argues that the GOP shot itself in the foot by drawing even more attention to Murtha, giving anti-war Dems a highly visible platform, and exposing some of their own members as malicious and small minded.

Just to underscore the importance of that last point, who was the only GOP representative to get a soundbite on NBC Nightly News after the debate? You guessed it: Jean Schmidt.

And of course, Murtha himself got more great coverage from NBC. At the end of her segment on the House debate, Andrea Mitchell asked:
Why is one congressmen's call for withdrawal so powerful? Because people on both sides of the debate think that if the president has lost John Murtha, he could lose the nation.
You can't pay for coverage like that.
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# Posted 10:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HARDBALL AS SOFTBALL, PART TWO: In addition to John Murtha, John Kerry also got the kid glove treatment from Chris Matthews. Reprinted below is a complete list of the questions Matthews asked Kerry on Thursday. Maybe someone can help me figure out which one the hardballs are:
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Senator Kerry, for having us to your Capitol office. You made a very strong statement in a press release last night. You said, “It‘s hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq than Vice President Cheney.” Why‘d you say that?

MATTHEWS: Are you surprised that the president himself went after you personally last Friday?

MATTHEWS: What‘s the difference between what you believe Dick Cheney had in hand when he pushed for the war, and what you had in hand when you voted to authorize the president‘s use of force if necessary?

MATTHEWS: Why did they have their [inaudible] on the war, that they would [inaudible] this sort of thing?

MATTHEWS: So it was ideology rather than fear of an attack by Saddam Hussein in this country?

MATTHEWS: Last night Vice President Cheney said there were a few opportunists, he called them, back home who are suggesting that our GIs were sent into battle for a lie. Is that a fair characterization of what you are saying?

MATTHEWS: Right. What do you think of General Casey—George Casey
saying that it could take—it takes on average nine years to defeat an insurgency? That‘s a hell of a benchmark. Are we willing to stay for nine years?

MATTHEWS: Should we be there in any form nine years from now, still having military troops in Iraq, nine years from now?

MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back with more with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Senator John Kerry.
Do you have a sense now that so much information is getting out now about the, really, questions—and they‘re hard questions—about the WMD case, the connection with 9/11, all the interesting finessing that went on before the war. Do you think if it had, the public would have been better off with an election where they knew more?

MATTHEWS: Would they have voted differently?

MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s so long ago. I mean, you voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force if necessary. And then in the 2004 election, for two years, everything seemed to be under wraps.

And it‘s only now, post-election, that this stuff is getting—was there an attempt to keep everything really secure, these cases for war that turned out to be questionable—solid and secure for all these months? Why are we getting the information now?

MATTHEWS: In the fall of 2001, right after 9/11, we all knew by reading the newspapers, and even more, that al Qaeda had locations in Somalia, Sudan, the Philippines, and of course, in Afghanistan.

Why didn‘t the United States Senate say, why don‘t we track down al Qaeda, get that job done while we pacify some of the Arab world, instead of going out and starting a war in Arabia—in Iraq, that‘s probably caused us more terrorism?

MATTHEWS: Are you still right?

MATTHEWS: How did you react when you read that that woman in Fallujah and her husband—he had come back with some bodies of people who were killed as we were retaking Fallujah that time.

They go into Jordan and they try to blow up a hotel, because she‘s angry about the way we treated her hometown in Fallujah. Are we creating more terrorists?

MATTHEWS: Does the president believe, watching him all these years, that there‘s only—it‘s like an ethnic group. There‘s a certain number of people who are terrorists, and we simply have to wipe them out and we win the war. Does he look at it that way?

MATTHEWS: No, do you look at it that way?

MATTHEWS: The president‘s been very tough on the Democratic opposition and that‘s fair enough. That‘s the way it works. It‘s a debate. But you had the Republican majority operate this week to go along with a resolution which is a bit watered down from your sides, but what did you take from that Republican majority resolution this week on the war in Iraq? What‘s the message to the president?

MATTHEWS: Are you surprised that Jack Murtha, the Congressman from Pennsylvania, he‘s such a pro-military guy, another combat veteran from Vietnam, coming out so emotionally today, saying we basically have to get the troops out. This is not where we should be.

MATTHEWS: But why would a guy who‘s so fond of military say let‘s get out guys out?

MATTHEW: Senator, thank you for joining us on HARDBALL.
I don't know what Chris Matthews earns, but NBC could pay me half as much to help John Kerry recite his talking points. By the way, here are some gems from Kerry that Matthews didn't challenge:
KERRY: I think that the decision was fundamentally made that [the administration] wanted to remake the Middle East, remove Saddam Hussein, have a foothold in that part of the world, and they naively and inaccurately believed the intelligence people like Chalabi and others...

KERRY: The weapons of mass destruction were a legitimate concern. I am not saying—and I said it on the floor of the Senate. I stand by what I said on the floor of the Senate. Saddam Hussein who was allowed to develop these weapons, or if he grew his arsenal, was a threat to the United States...

KERRY: Now, you know, the fact is, that during the election, I pointed out the failure of Tora Bora. And I think I was the first United States senator to stand up and say this administration allowed Osama bin Laden to escape through their clutches...
Well, at least he's more reasonable than the senior senator from Massachusetts.
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# Posted 9:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HARDBALL: MAYBE THEY SHOULD CALL IT "SOFTBALL": The transcripts for Friday don't go up until Monday, but you can listen to Chris Matthews' interview with John Murtha via podcast. (URL: http://podcast.msnbc.com/audio/podcast/MSNBC-Hardball.xml)

Actually, it isn't right to call it an interview, since Matthews let Murtha ramble on with his usual talking points for five or six minutes in response to Matthews' opening question. Then Matthews tucked in a few quick questions at the end, which were softer than softballs:
MATTHEWS: Mr. Murtha, I've known you for years, I really like you, but you've always been a hawk, you've always been a defense defender, big defense spending, big support for the Pentagon, known as the soldier's friend, why are you against this war in Iraq now?

MURTHA: Well, I've come to the conclusion, Chris, after visiting Iraq two months ago, and listening to the commanders, who obviously say what the White Hosue wants them to say, but they don't say it with the enthusiasm... [Five minutes of rambling without interruption.]

MATTHEWS: I've only got a minute, Congressman, I've got to ask you one last question. When you say redeployed beyond the horizon rather than pull out, does that mean pull our troops back from the cities into camps? Into barracks? What does it mean actually?

MURTHA: No, Chris, what I'm saying is redeploy them outside Iraq...I'm convinced that we need to redeploy outside the country as quickly as practical and safe for the troops.

MATTHEWS: How's that different from what the Republicans are pushing, this kind of bogus resolution they're pushing today?

MURTHA: It's ridiculous. It's an immediate withdrawal without any kind of plan at all. All they're trying to do is prove to the American people a political message.

MATTHEWS: Is this some Mickey Mouse trick of theirs? How would you describe it?

MURTHA: This is exactly what it is, and it's infuriating to me...For them to bring up a resolution today just to discredit what I've done is really reprehensible.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, have a nice weekend sir. Thank you for coming on.
Two things to notice. First, Matthews' introduction of Murtha perpetuates the myth that a renowned hawk has suddenly turned against the war. A renowned hawk is what Murtha is, but as many, many bloggers pointed out immediately after Murtha made headlines, he's been saying exactly the same thing about Iraq for more than a year now. This is a manufactured story.

Second of all, it is remarkably disingenuous for Murtha to talk about how his recent visit to Iraq changed his mind about the war. If you listen to the full interview, he also lists a number of other recent data points as contributing factors. In other words, Murtha himself is now peddling the myth of his sudden conversion from hawk to dove. Karl Rove would be proud.

CLARIFICATION: The next-to-last sentence in the previous paragraph clearly suggests that Murtha is being disingenuous, perhaps even dishonest. However, I would like to add some nuance to that point.

Even though Murtha was on the brink of coming out in favor of withdrawal almost a year and a half ago, his did not do so, instead calling for the impossible option of a Shinseki-sized occupation.

Thus, some new consideration must have convinced Murtha that now was the time to go all out and demand an ASAP withdrawal. But the considerations Murtha cited in response to Matthews' question were hardly new: too many insurgent attacks, not enough troops, and the unpopularity of the occupation forces.

So it's not really clear at all what led Murtha to change his official position. One might infter that it was fatigue -- eighteen more months of the same problems as before, with another thousand American soldiers killed in action. That's not unfair.

And if one were in Murtha's position, and one perceived oneself as having had a major change of heart, and one were asked by an interviewer to explain that change of heart, one probably wouldn't start out by saying "Well, Chris, nothing really changed. I just got sick of seeing more of the same."

So let me take back the comparison between Murtha and Rove. That was mostly meant as a provocation to Murtha's fans, anyhow.

The real issue here is that the media have fallen so completely for the "hawk becomes dove" storyline that Murtha's comments, in that misleading context, seem to be much more disingenuous than they really are.
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# Posted 7:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

ALAN CLARK DIARIES QUOTE OF THE DAY: From my present bedtime reading, courtesy of one of this blog's favourite drinking partners.
John Pilger, querying AC about British involvement in the arms trade: 'I read that you were a vegetarian and you are seriously concerned about the way animals are killed. Doesn’t that concern extend to the way humans, albeit foreigners, are killed?'

AC: Curiously not, no.
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Friday, November 18, 2005

# Posted 10:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WE USED TO CALL THAT RED-BAITING: Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) conveyed the following sentiment from a Marine colonel:
"He asked me to send Congress a message — stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message — that cowards cut and run, Marines never do," Schmidt said.
That is disgusting. Moreover, it is exactly what Democrats want to hear. They want to believe that Murtha's critics are venal and small-minded, rather than opposed to the Pennsylvania's Democrat's bad facts and flawed logic. Rep. Schmidt should be ashamed of herself.

I should also point out that I first saw the quote from Rep. Schmidt on Michelle Malkin's blog, where it was reposted without any criticism. I hope that Michelle will correct that mistake.

UPDATE: Political Teen (via MM) has a video of Rep. Schmidt's statement. Sadly, PT seems to think this sort of ad hominem attack is a good thing.
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# Posted 9:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DUE RESPECT FOR MURTHA'S RECORD:
"We have nothing but respect for Congressman Murtha's service to his country," White House communications director Nicolle Wallace told NBC's "Today" show Friday. "And I think he spoke from the heart yesterday. We happen to have a real serious policy disagreement with him."
Absolutely correct. But it is also important to point out, as Joe Malchow does (with perhaps a little more vitriol than necessary), that Murtha has been speaking out against the war for some time now.

He called for a strict timetable for withdrawal this past June and called the war "unwinnable" in May of 2004. Thus, the flurry of media coverage surrounding yesterday's speech -- including the lead story on NBC Nightly News -- is somewhat inappropriate. Murtha's record as a hawk is real, but it is in the past.
And it is past I am quite familiar with as a result of my doctoral dissertation. In the 1980s, Murtha was one of very few Democrats who consistently supported Ronald Reagan's controversial policies toward El Salvador and Nicaragua. At the time, there was no better test of a congressman's hawkishness. But now it is seems like ancient history.

UPDATE: Jason Broander has live-blogged tonight's debate about withdrawal, provoked by Murtha's comments.

UPDATE: Instapundit has multiple posts making the same point as Joe, i.e. that Murtha has been against the war for some time now. Glenn also links to this post from GatewayPundit, which drives home the fact that if journalists made a little more use of LexisNexis that wouldn't get so many things wrong.
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# Posted 9:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOHN MURTHA: "WE HAVE BECOME THE ENEMY": From an interview with Margaret Warner of PBS on Thursday evening:
I believe we've done everything we can do. I believe we have become the enemy. And I'll tell you this: The Iraqis are not going to do the fighting unless we turn it over to them...

You have got to remember, Margaret, there was no terrorist activity in Iraq at all before we went in there...

We're the enemy. We're reason they're -- we're the ones they're attacking for heaven's sake. We're the only thing that could unify the Iraqis.
From the WaPo article "Three Bombings in Iraq Kill More than 90":
BAGHDAD, Nov. 18 -- Suicide bombers killed at least 90 worshipers Friday inside two Shiite Muslim mosques northeast of the capital near the Iranian border, and a pair of car bombs outside a Baghdad hotel that houses foreign journalists destroyed a nearby apartment building and left several more people dead.
No, we are not the enemy. Those were not American mosques that the terrorists bombed today. They were Iraqi mosques. Shi'ite mosques. Muslim mosques.

Rep. Murtha is also incorrect to say that the Iraqis are not fighting themselves. They need us there, but even more of their soldiers and policemen are dying, in addition to the thousands of Shi'ites murdered by terrorists.

Yet Rep. Murtha is right that there were no suicide bombings in Iraq before our soldiers arrived. That is because when the Sunnis held power, their secret police could bring their victims to their torture chambers. Now they have to slaughter women and children in public.

I believe that Rep. Murtha's opposition to the war rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of what is happening in Iraq. Murtha is a tremendous public servant, but on the issue of the war, his facts and logic are profoundly flawed.
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# Posted 7:56 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO IS JOHN MURTHA? The top headline in this morning's WaPo reads "Hawkish Democrat Joins Call for Pullout." It doesn't say "Rep. John Murtha Joins Call for Pullout" because even those who read the paper every day probably have no idea who he is. So who is this unknown man whose change of heart is the biggest news of the day? I think Rod Dreher at NRO provides a pretty good answer:
Don't know how many of you caught Rep. John Murtha's very angry, very moving speech just now in which he called on the White House to institute an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. CNN didn't air the entire thing, but as I listened to it, I could feel the ground shift. Murtha, as you know, is not a Pelosi-style Chardonnay Democrat; he's a crusty retired career Marine who reminds me of the kinds of beer-slugging Democrats we used to have before the cultural left took over the party. Murtha, a conservative Dem who voted for the war, talked in detail about the sacrifices being borne by our soldiers and their families, and about his visits out to Walter Reed to look after the maimed, and how we've had enough, it's time to come home...

I'm sure there's going to be an anti-Murtha pile-on in the conservative blogosphere, but from where I sit, conservatives would be fools not to take this man seriously. (Hat tip: KD)
It would seem that conservatives aren't exactly following Dreher's advice, since
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) declared: "Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans. To add insult to injury, this is done while the president is on foreign soil."
That's low. There is a case to be made on the merits and that certainly isn't it. First and foremost, Murtha and others who want to withdraw have no good ideas for how to prevent a post-withdrawal Iraq from becoming another pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Murtha said that
All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free. Free from United States occupation. I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process for the good of a “free” Iraq.
Absolutely not. The signal that our withdrawal will send is that terrorists can defeat a superpower. That is the signal we sent when we withdrew from Lebanon in 1983. That is the signal we sent when we withdrew from Somalia in 1993. This time, nothing will change.

And if terrorists -- Al Qaeda or Ba'athist -- can defeat a superpower, what possible incentive will they have to come to terms with the unprepared Iraqi army we have left behind?

Which brings is to an ethical question: What about our obligation to the people of Iraq? It would be nothing short of cruel to liberate them from Saddam only to abandon them now. Remember, they are also sacrificing their sons and daughters every day for the cause.

The Shi'ites and Kurds -- the overwhelming majority of the people of Iraq -- share our vision of Iraq's democratic future. That is the foundation of victory.
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

# Posted 8:56 AM by Patrick Belton  

BIRD FLU UPDATE: Not for reading in public places. Unless it's all right to laugh out loud in yours, of course.
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# Posted 8:38 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG REVIEW OF BOOKS: The first in, we hope, a recurring feature here on OxBlog....


My FBI : Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton,
and Fighting the War on Terror
by Louis J. Freeh
St Martin’s Press. 352 pp. $25.95.

Memoir is the literature of memory. When private and public memory touch, we have history’s first draft. The story of the Clinton administration has now been recounted by the president, the first lady, its two Secretaries of State, its first Secretary of Labor, its second Secretary of Treasury and its final Secretary of Energy. It is told here by its FBI director.

Suffice it to say at the Clinton administration’s going-down party there were no choruses sung of ‘for Freeh’s a jolly good fellow.’ The feelings were cordially requited. Mr Freeh is not a reticent man, and some hint of his sentiments toward his former employer comes across in this catalogue: ‘farcical,’ ‘unedited,’ ‘a bad movie,’ and, the unkindest blow, ‘master politician.’ It was not always this way. Freeh, impressed by Clinton’s charm and knowledge of the Bureau on their meeting, tells an anecdote of a jovial Clinton cross-examining one of the Freeh children, and writing a birthday note to another. Clinton, for his part, described Freeh as a law enforcement legend. But as in all love affairs, the end result was heartbreak and recrimination on both sides. The now-infamous White House pass which Freeh returned in late 1993 presaged the fall; by the time a special prosecutor was appointed for Whitewater, he would join that other judge Kenneth Starr as Clinton’s great adversary in Washington.

There was also the matter of a Bureau to run. He had been preparing to run it his entire life. Coming from a working-class Catholic background, he tellingly viewed the FBI as ‘a calling.’ Joining the Bureau after law school, he left it in 1981 for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York. He worked closely with assassinated Sicilian judge Giovanni Falcone on the prosecution of Salvatore Catalano and Gaetano Badalamenti, in these mafia cases finding a natural idiom of tough-talking street-smart wisecrackers on both offence and defence. (‘Some of the goons we dealt with were genuinely funny, some of them genuinely warm’: he never speaks so warmly about politicians.) He rounded out this gestation with a brief tour as a federal judge in the Southern District. His tenure would include not only the investigation of a president, but his search for the Iranian and Hezbollah operatives behind the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings on Saudi soil, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. It is remarkable then that he did it so badly.

The classic criticisms are those of Richard Clarke and Ronald Kessler, supplemented by the report of the 9/11 Commission.* These ranged from the comparatively sanguine (though dedicated, his skills did not match the job; a former field agent, he micromanaged individual cases rather than leading a Bureau; not using a computer personally and in technology preferring a Smith & Wesson, he failed to grasp the importance of databases and computers for the FBI); to the damning (his managerial style was arrogant and cronyish; incompetent, he survived only because of a hobbled administration and the patronage of a Congress for whom he served as a penetration agent). He became well known in forays up Capitol Hill for ritual penitence for Bureau failures, subsequent deflection of guilt onto insufficient budget and staff, and at end walking away graced with a larger budget from Congress (which increased by 65 per cent during his tenure). The Commission found that while he increased the number of legal attaché offices abroad, there was no significant resource shift under him to counterterrorism, nor did field offices much view terrorism as a priority. Information systems were poor, intelligence collection ineffective, and the Counterterrorism Division he created faltered with paltry resources and mediocre analysts; his deputy, misinterpreting a 1995 Department of Justice guideline, informed agents that too much information sharing within the Bureau could be a career stopper. For Kessler, each of the FBI's embarrassments during his tenure is directly attributable to him; and his successor could not find a church willing to accept the Bureau’s 286 and 386 computers. For Clarke, he ignored terrorism and the bureaucratic reform and technological provision of his bureau, preferring instead to micromanage high-profile cases, and in the process inflicting serious damage to each. In Khobar, he depicts Freeh as an ingénue credulously duped by the fawning attentions of a Prince Bandar, and oblivious to broader containment policy against Iran conducted by the administration’s foreign policy levels. Freeh maintained a low profile after September 11, having left the directorship in late June to return to private life.

To those who had looked to this memoir to provide melodic counterpoint to these criticisms, this book will come as some disappointment. He describes his term blandly, reciting Bureau accomplishments in the argot of a press release. Nor should one look to this book for competing evidence to a reading of Freeh’s directorship as the spurning of lesser temptations as Osama Bin Laden to pursue what in different circumstances or lesser pages one might refer to as his Moby Dick, a president’s sex life. For rebuttal, Freeh offers us no more than to accuse Clarke of ‘bad facts, no access’ and of being a ‘second-tier player,’ and he makes no mention of the 9/11 Commission report whatever. The ‘second-tier player’ parry is less than effective given that in the text of the report Freeh receives five mentions, to Clarke’s forty nine (Freeh’s including one for being present at a briefing and two incidental mentions for remaining in the Bush administration, and then retiring). It is not Clarke who here appears as a bit player. Instead of answering his critics, Freeh then presents the Agincourt finger to the very public he took an oath to protect.
‘I never during my public service or afterward felt the slightest inclination to respond to the group of witless and mostly idle FBI critics who all believe they should lead this important government agency but would not have the fortitude or skill to do so. This assortment of knuckleheads—who inhabit government roles in some cases but mostly just stand on the sidelines—are wont to tell the real athletes, coaches, and referees what should be done in the arena without ever having put on a jersey themselves.’
One presumes he means us. But that’s just the point: ‘My FBI,’ it wasn’t, and no quantity of loyalty or distinguished service changes that fact. One gets the sense Freeh prefers to take his American people as a mass to be protected by heroes of integrity, rather than citizens who might ask questions. This is the arrogance of office. His critics anyway were not convinced. During the writing of this review, Kessler commented to me that Freeh was ‘diverting attention from his colossal mismanagement of the FBI, and the fact it almost disintegrated under his leadership, by taking pot shots at Clinton.’ Clarke was somewhat more succinct: ‘I am not going to comment on Freeh's statements except to say that anyone interested in the truth can read the 9/11 Commission Report, with which I agree.’

Much more fun to slough blame. Like a dull boxer punching blind in all directions, we learn Clinton’s vertebra and not the chief domestic counterterrorist agency is at fault for 9/11: ‘what we lacked was the spine’ to take on Osama more directly. (Ironically, it was precisely Freeh’s sparring partner Clarke who after the Cole attack laid out the administration’s most formal proposal for an ultimatum to the Taliban to be backed up by argument of arms.) We learn the Wen Ho Lee debacle was not his fault but the New York Times’s and the ‘gods of political correctness.’ With Richard Jewell, this time it’s the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that’s culpable. Without self-consciousness he then complains ‘Washington is never short of politicians willing to off-load their own share of the blame.’

More interesting, though, is the glimpse here provided into the psychology of the last FBI director, what Freeh was in Freeh’s eyes. At times to his own mind he appears the Capetian St Louis, the stud-saint: ‘Maybe I was, in Clinton’s eyes, too much the altar boy I once had been.’ He notes to us his record of ‘winning convictions in some of the office’s highest-profile cases, in the nation’s highest-profile venue.’ And then the dual brag: ‘Just about the only times I ever took off the gun were when I slept – and then it was on the nightstand, just a hand’s reach away – and the early morning, when I went jogging.’ As a card-carrying ghostwriter, it was Howard Means’s task to edit away much of this, including such passages as ‘the brothers made a serious effort to involve us in good works … in my case, with spectacular results.’ Perhaps Freeh is not so full of himself; but it is how he permitted himself to be represented in these pages. The heroism of the passengers of September 11’s United 93, ordinary citizens who saved Washington, was of quieter stuff.

This tough guy self image is directed against somebody. He defines himself against Clinton like the inverse cut-out in a wax mould. His moral, which he does not risk repeating so infrequently we forget it, is ‘how politics can sometimes destroy judgment and corrupt moral sense.’ It’s the moral of most of his anecdotes, from a drug case tried before him compromised by a lying witness to a small kindness he once did for a mobster he was arresting. ‘Politics’, we are given to understand, is generally a prefiguring code word for Clinton; and ‘integrity’, for himself. It is thus a chillingly low blow when he cites the Holocaust as an example of politics overwhelming the police power. Future historians may find intriguing the disjunct between his self-definition as a ‘straitlaced Catholic kid, raised to respect authority’, and disdain for his boss. Amateur psychologists could sense a connection between the self-pitying turn of soul that produced the chapter title ‘You’re not really college material’ and the resentment and hatred toward privilege embodied in Clinton. The irony of course is that Clinton’s origins were as humble, and lay much farther from Manhattan; there may be here the makings of a play rather better than this memoir.

His relationship to the FBI – ‘my FBI’ – fits in somewhere here. In his more reflective moments, he tells us of a Bureau that has grown reactively more than logically, its powers granted more as corrective than preventative. He feels strongly about creation of an American MI-5 (‘loony notion’); which not wholly tangentially, would largely be carved out of the FBI. But in other paragraphs the book carries the misflavour of such saccharine declarations as ‘FBI agents – even just two of them – can make a difference.’ One gathers we’re meant to congratulate, or perhaps hug them. The FBI is a player in a tale that is culture wars all the way down: ‘I never learned to do good ol’ boy. My part of New Jersey is a long way from Hope, Arkansas.’ While at Rutgers more privileged students protested the Vietnam war, the prospective director was ‘paying for all those course hours myself.’ He says of his assistant U.S. attorneys, but could have been speaking of Clinton, ‘even Yale Law graduates need lots of watching.’ Rutgers, he remembers revealingly, ‘topped Princeton 6-4’ in the first American football fixture. Freeh’s gentlemanly respect for an adversary, so evident with mobsters, disappears when the adversary does not speak the demotic of the New York City streets.

When Clinton is off stage, he often writes with real feeling. He writes appealingly about his family’s history. His most engaging moments deal with anecdotes about New Jersey childhood and mob-busting. Among his other redeeming features, he is a resolute New Yorker. One gets the feeling he might be a nice enough man, if you could keep him away from Clintons. Students of the administration will learn in office his confidantes were the first President Bush, William Webster, and Robert Fiske from the SDNY attorney’s office. Similarly for his relationships with other members of his administration: he cordially dislikes Jim Woolsey, and unsuspensefully, Clarke. He liked George Tenet, John Deutch, Condoleezza Rice, Rudolph Giuliani, Bernie Nussbaum (to whom he owed his job), along with Gore, Ken Starr, and Attorney General Reno (with whom his relations were purportedly icy, but who comes in for kind words here). He also likes wise guys, and dead people (inevitably ‘heroes,’ more so if they might prefer him to Clinton.)

Mr Freeh may well be a delightful man, but he has written here an ugly book of political score settling. What is still worse, he has not even settled them very well. One wonders whether leading with the Khobar Towers is an attempt to outhawk his critics for September 11. Doing so at any rate produces a distorted narrative timeline in which Louis Freeh: 1. investigated the Khobar Towers against the frustrations of a president who preferred Saudi book money, 2. was born in New Jersey, and so forth. He criticises Clinton for seeking to get closer to the Iranians; Freeh by contrast had wanted to get closer to the Saudis. The Iranians had killed Americans; the Saudis were arguably about to. From the subtitle, one might still be left with the grudging impression the ordering of words reflects their hierarchy in the mind of the author as officeholder. There is no note of apology carried in the sentence, ‘Before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the largest single area of responsibility for the Bureau was white-collar crime.’ This from a director who in a moment of truly bureaucratic dullness of imagination claimed on 60 Minutes that even with adequate intelligence that did not specify date and time, nothing could have been done to prevent the September 11 hijackings. (The increased checks at airports, passengers will be gratified to know, are apparently for show.) When he writes ‘That’s what we learned on 9/11: al Qaeda is not the Cosa Nostra, and Osama bin Laden is not a John Gotti or a Ted Kaczynski,’ he means I.

As a personal recounting of a journey through a career in the FBI and federal bench, Mr Freeh’s memoir invigorates. As a rebuttal of serious criticisms levied at Director Freeh in the wake of September 11th in the report of the 9/11 Commission and writings of those who served in government with him, it disappoints badly. The book is also riddled with grapeshot of minor inaccuracies; Zug, for instance, is not in the Alps. Memory is truth’s cousin, with a complicated relationship; it is famously unfaithful as politicians. To return in the end to the author’s ensign allegation, in the director’s words,
The story that came back to me, from ‘usually reliable sources,’ as they say in Washington, was that Bill Clinton briefly raised the subject [of the Khobar Towers] only to tell the crown prince that he certainly understood the Saudis’ reluctance to cooperate. Then, according to my sources, he hit Abdullah up for a contribution to the still-to-be-built Clinton presidential library.
What is clear from this passage is the following: 1. Louis Freeh was not in the room. 2. We do not know who was in the room (except it was not Freeh). 3. For all we know from the account he has given us, Mr Freeh heard this off a gentleman at a bar. No one has stepped forward to confirm the story’s authenticity. Coming from someone who has just told us he did not hold a White House pass, this sounds suspiciously like bad facts and no access. One wants to retort to the frequently engaging street-wise New York investigator: C’mon, Judge. You gotta give us better than that.

* Against All Enemies, by Richard Clarke, Free Press, 2004; Inside the FBI, by Ronald Kessler, St Martin's, 2002
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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PARSING THE SENATE: Joe Gandelman takes a closer look at exactly what the Senate voted for today.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

# Posted 11:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FEINGOLD VS. HILLARY: Michael Crowley at TNR has a must-read article on Russell Feingold's emeriging leadership of the anti-war movement and its challenge to Hillary Clinton's front-runner status. Here are some samples, but you've got to read the whole thing:
Last month, Cindy Sheehan, the bereaved mother crusading against the Iraq war, posted an open letter on the website of left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore. Her latest target wasn't the man she staked out last summer--George W. Bush--but the new villain of the antiwar left: Hillary Clinton. Sheehan's letter excoriated Clinton for backing the Iraq war and for her refusal to call for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops. "That sounds like Rush Limbaugh to me. That doesn't sound like an opposition party leader speaking," Sheehan wrote. "I think [Clinton] is a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys."...

Feingold had never visited Iraq before, and he was appalled by what he saw there. "We couldn't stay overnight in Iraq," he said recently. "We couldn't drive from the airport to the Green Zone. When we went to the Green Zone, the helicopters had to go just over the palm trees so they wouldn't get shot down. We never got to go out to see the rest of Baghdad, because they couldn't take us out safely. We wore flak jackets and helmets in the Green Zone. And people are worried about chaos if we leave?"

Conditions in Iraq are certainly nasty. But Feingold has long harbored wariness about U.S. military action. When Republicans forced a 1995 Senate vote to cut off funding for U.S. military forces in Bosnia, for instance, he was the sole Democrat to join 21 conservatives in support of the resolution. As other Democrats waxed idealistic about human rights, Feingold fretted about Vietnam parallels and worried that "our attempting to police the world threatens our own national security."...

In reality, [Feingold's] odds of winning the Democratic nomination are slim anyway. What Feingold can do is make life miserable for the other Democrats who seek it. Dean didn't defeat Kerry, after all. But he was the proximate cause for Kerry's vote against the $87 billion war appropriations bill--a vote that haunted Kerry in the general election. In 2008, perhaps Feingold will play the role of Dean to Clinton's Kerry, battering her image and dragging her further left than she can afford to go.
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# Posted 11:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOHN COLE RESPONDS to my post about patriotism and dissent.
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Monday, November 14, 2005

# Posted 9:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SCORECARD: INSTAPUNDIT VS. KEVIN DRUM. In the post below, I agree with Glenn and Tom that lying about the war is unpatriotic. But Glenn also makes a different argument about patriotism, with support from John Cole. Cole writes, and Glenn concurs, that
Painting as unpatriotic those individuals who change their opinions simply for political reasons is wholly appropriate, and that is what Glenn stated. Reynolds is not, as Kevin Drum would have you believe, simply calling anyone against the war or anyone who believes that the the reasons used to go to war were inaccurate ‘unpatriotic.’
It is wrong and offensive to argue that simply changing one's opinion is unpatriotic, regardless of the motive.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that most Democrats have come out against the invasion only because of the polls. This fact may demonstrate that the Democrats have no ideas of their own about foreign policy, but it isn't immoral. Public opinion has a democratic legitimacy of its own. Therefore, it is in no way unpatriotic for elected representatives to change sides in order to satisfy their constituents.

In democratic systems, there is an enternal tension between representation in terms of doing what the people want and representation in terms of doing what one believes is right. The role of politicians is to balance these competing demands on their allegiance.

This argument does not, however, contradict my assertion below that if the Democrats are consciously lying about the origins of the war, then one may consider them unpatriotic. The right to change positions does not entail a right to lie in order to defend that change of positions.

The reason, I think, that Kevin and Glenn are getting so angry at one another is that they are conflating these two arguments. Kevin paraphrases Glenn as saying that
Democrats who claim that George Bush misled us into war are being unpatriotic.
At times, Glenn makes it clear that it is not the Democrats' claim per se that is unpatriotic, but rather the fact that it is false. Yet Glenn is also responsible in part for the confusion, since his initial post simply said that
The White House needs to go on the offensive here in a big way -- and Bush needs to be very plain that this is all about Democratic politicans pandering to the antiwar base, that it's deeply dishonest, and that it hurts our troops abroad.
So what's wrong here? The pandering? The effect on the troops? Or the dishonesty? I hope that my efforts to explicate the differences between these arguments has shed some light on a very important debate.
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# Posted 8:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"IF THE DEMOCRATS ARE LYING, THEN THEY REALLY ARE UNPATRIOTIC": That is the basic argument that Glenn makes here, and that Tom Maguire has aptly summed up by observing that

I believe there is a substantial difference between "Your false charges are undermining the troops" and "Your criticism is undermining our troops".
I agree with this argument in the abstract, although I don't think that it justifies what George Bush said. For Bush to be in the right, it should be transparently clear that his opponents are lying. I would argue that while the Democrats may not be telling the truth, it is not intentional. Instead, they have succumbed to confusion, short-sightedness, and unthinking resentment of the President.

Now I recognize that numerous conservatives see the case against the Democrats as black and white. Even according to Kevin Drum, who has lashed out at Glenn for slandering the Democrats' patriotism,

Liberals, for their part, need to accept the obvious: in 2002, virtually everybody believed Iraq had an active WMD program. The CIA believed it, as their October NIE made clear:
Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons....Iraq has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons....has largely rebuilt missile and biological weapons facilities.... has begun renewed production of mustard, sarin, GF (cyclosarin), and VX....most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf war.
The British believed the same thing. The Germans and French believed it. Former Clinton administration officials believed it. Lots of Democratic members of congress believed it. They were all wrong, it turned out, but they weren't lying. The simple fact is that virtually everyone who had access to the full range of classified intelligence at that point in time thought Iraq had an active WMD program.
Kevin adds that Bush lied in order to make his argument more persuasive, but that is secondary (and debatable). The key point is that leading Democrats supported the war because the evidence said Saddam had WMD. As Kevin pointed out long ago in an excellent post, opponents of the war argued that invading Iraq was a bad idea in spite of Saddam's possesion of WMD. For the Democrats to argue now that they supported the war because they were tricked is disingenuous at best.

Even Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus, the WaPo correspondents whose "Analysis" column distorted the President's statments, admit in that selfsame column that

The administration's overarching point is true: Intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and very few members of Congress from either party were skeptical about this belief before the war began in 2003. Indeed, top lawmakers in both parties were emphatic and certain in their public statements.
So what am I holding out against? When not just conclude that the Democrats are lying and therefore unpatriotic? I guess it turns on the Democrats' precise words. John Edwards wrote in yesterday's WaPo that
The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda...

The information the American people were hearing from the president -- and that I was being given by our intelligence community -- wasn't the whole story. Had I known this at the time, I never would have voted for this war.
Going back to another post from Kevin, I think it's fair to suggest that the administration may have withheld certain information and/or misrepresented it. This missing information wouldn't have done much to disrupt the overwhelming consensus that Saddam had WMD, but it justifies saying that we didn't have the "whole story".

So what Edwards is doing here isn't lying, but rather relying on rhetorical sleight-of-hand. He points to the missing information, but totally ignores the overwhelming evidence which suggested Saddam had WMD and which was the basis of his support for the war.

This is playing dirty, but not lying. Or am I just splitting hairs? I guess where I come down on this whole issue is that attacking an opponent's patriotism is so serious that it shouldn't be done unless the case for the prosecution is open and shut. Period.
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# Posted 7:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ATTACKING THE DEMOCRATS' PATRIOTISM: WRONG. What the President said was wrong in both senses of the word. It was wrong because it was unethical and it was wrong because it did far more damage to the President than it did to his opponents.

Well aware of how provocative his message was, Bush prefaced it by saying that "it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war." He nonetheless concluded that
The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will.
The first thing Bush should have known was that these two sentences would become the next day's headlines, overshadowing all of the other important messages in his long (50 minutes) and otherwise well-crafted speech.

The next thing Bush should have known is that the media instinctively side with those who have their patriotism questioned. It doesn't matter that Bush avoided using harsh words such as 'treasonous' or 'unpatriotic'. He was setting himself up for a fall.

If the President had been wiser, he would've focused on a simple and straightforward message: that the Democrats are lying. Bush was in a very good position to claim the moral high ground in spite of lesser flaws in the administration's case for war, such as the aluminum tubes debate.

But now the discussion has become about whether Bush went too far instead of about whether the Democrats are lying. The strongest point in Bush's favor is, of course, the Democrats' own lavish statements about the threat Saddam Hussein presented because of his weapons of mass destruction.

In his speech, Bush quoted John Kerry' statement that
"When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security."
In its major story on the speech, the WaPo at least noted this critical aspect of Bush's argument and republished half of the quote from Kerry. In contrast, the NYT made no mention of the Kerry quote, although it did report with consummate detachment that
Mr. Bush asserted that Democrats as well as Republicans believed before the invasion in 2003 that Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons.
As if it were only an "assertion" that the Democrats believed Saddam had WMD. But this is what happens when a president attacks his opponents' patriotism. The substance of his arguments gets ignored.

Often, the substance of a president's argument gets ignored even when he comports himself with greater decorum. But this time the president had a strong hand to play, and he could've thrown the Democrats back on the defensive if he hadn't let his anger get the better of him.
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# Posted 6:12 PM by Patrick Belton  

I REALISED I WAS ANGRY, so I took out my pen and began to write.

My first banlieue article hits the press today. Please let me know what you think!
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# Posted 12:57 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DOES THIS MAN LOOK SERENE TO YOU?
(And, no, I'm not cherry-picking. I got this photo from the Washington Post website 20 minutes ago. Click here and go to photo #9.)
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# Posted 12:31 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOURNALISTS KOWTOW TO McCAIN: Take a look at the transcript [.pdf] from yesterday morning's Face the Nation. Almost every question for John McCain was a total softball. Here's my favorite:
[BOB] SCHIEFFER: Senator, if there's anybody in this country that's an expert on prisoners of war -- I mean you spent about five years in that hotel run by the Vietnamese in Hanoi. Why do you feel so strongly about [torture]?
Even though I am a very, very, very big fan of McCain, there's really no excuse for this kind of pandering. It's not as if Bob Schieffer and Elisabeth Bumiller don't know how to ask tough questions. They do it all the time. But McCain gets a pass.

One reason for that pass is that journalists like to use McCain as a foil for Bush. They bring him on the show or do an interview because all they really want is for a popular Republican to contradict the president. In other words, they're not interested in taking a careful look at exactly what McCain thinks and why.

But you also have to consider McCain's reputation as a straight-shooter. He makes journalists feel that he'll give them the truth even if they don't ask tough questions or lay elaborate traps, a la Tim Russert. In addition, McCain cultivates an aura of self-awareness that journalists' value tremendously. Consider this:
Ms. BUMILLER: Senator, let me ask you about a recent poll that shows you neck and neck with former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for the Republican nomination, and you're just edging out Hillary Clinton for the presidency. When are you going to make a decision and what is your thinking right now about a campaign?

Sen. McCAIN: Those polling numbers are wonderful for the ego, and mine is sizable, but the fact is, they're [a result of] name ID.
A lot of scholars have observed that Ronald Reagan made journalists like him by being self-deprecating. But McCain takes this a very important step further by being self-aware, for example talking about his own ego.

In an earlier post about spin doctors, I argued that self-awareness is the attribute that journalists value most highly. One might object that the cost of being that honest is greater than the benefits. After all, look at what journalists did to Howard Dean after "the scream".

However, McCain's success demonstrates that you can be a media darling for years on end if you know how to play your cards right. What I really want to know is whether McCain will keep getting the kid glove treatment once he is actually running against a Democrat for president.

In the primaries, I'd say it's a foregone conclusion that McCain will get better press coverage than any of his opponents. But in a general election, journalists will begin to realize -- subconsciously, in most cases -- that giving McCain good coverage may actually result in the Republicans holding onto the White House.

Until now, lionizing McCain has had minimal costs. I can't wait to see what happens when the rubber hits the road.
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# Posted 12:01 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MONEY HAS VALUE, BUT IT IS NOT A VALUE: After talking to Ken Mehlman, Tim Russert spoke with Howard Dean. In contrast to Mehlman, Dean did a much better job of seeming honest and straightforward, even if I disagreed with just about everything he said.

I think Dean did a better job of seeming honest because he often really is. But I also began to get the sense that Dean has become too comfortable with the Beltway regimen of giving talking points instead of answers. Like Mehlman, Dean sometimes rushed to reel off what sounded like a clever answer instead of taking Russert's questions seriously.

I guess Dean has found himself between a rock and a hard place. The media adored him at first then punished him for being too forthcoming. Now he may be too well-prepared and not spontaneous enough. Then again, what politician has discovered the Golden Mean of both disarming candor and message discipline? Answer: John McCain.

Anyhow, what I wanted to do in this post is look at one specific answer that Dean gave to Russert:
MR. RUSSERT: The other issue that the Republicans still have the upper hand with Democrats, strong moral values; 35 percent see the Republicans are better on that issue. Only 18 percent of Democrats. And maybe that's why we're hearing radio ads like this that the Tim Kaine, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and governor-elect in Virginia, ran for his campaign. Let's listen.
(Audiotape, Tim Kaine for governor advertisement):

MR. TIM KAINE: The Bible teaches us we can accomplish great things when we work together. I'm Tim Kaine and I've devoted my life to bringing people together to get things done. ... I'm conservative on personal responsibility, character, family and the sanctity of life. These are my values, and that's what I believe.

(End audiotape)
MR. RUSSERT: And then John Kerry, last week, talking about the budget, said it was immoral; "There is not anywhere in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, anything that remotely suggests--not one miracle, not one parable, not one utterance--that says you ought to cut children's health care or take money from the poorest people in our nation to give it to the wealthiest people in our nation."

Are the Democrats now trying to embrace Christ, embrace moral values, because they see themselves on the wrong side of that issue?

DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, there's a fair number of Jewish Democrats who I don't think are going to embrace Christ. But I think we all embrace the teachings of morality and of embracing people and of tolerance and of inclusion. And what I encourage people to do, I was--we played a big role in Tim Kaine's campaign. It was a great campaign. He was a wonderful candidate. We funneled a lot of money into the party to try to be helpful and so forth. And he is a great candidate for America in the terms of how he campaigned. He spoke of his faith.

I don't think that people who are not comfortable speaking about their faith should speak about their faith. But I think we all should speak about our values. I think one of the mistakes we've made is to not understand that most Americans believe that moral values include making sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night. The Republicans are cutting the school lunch program. We want to make sure that everybody in America has health insurance. That's a moral value. The Republicans are kicking people off their health care. So there is a--we win when we debate about moral values. We ought to talk about our values. Tim Kaine did it. I don't think that's the only reason he won, but that's certainly one of them.
That was a cute answer about Jewish Democrats not embracing Christ. But it is also an indication of how most Democrats' immediate response to religious rhetoric is to start worrying about who it excludes.

Notice how Dean immediately recast Kaine and Kerry's embrace of Christ as an embrace "of tolerance and of inclusion." Dean seems to be missing the much bigger point that excessive talk about tolerance and inclusion is precisely what's responsible for making it seem that the Democrats have no fixed values.

Also notice how, in the second half of his answer, Dean equates a concern for values with school lunch programs and health care policy. Yes, there is a moral element to providing food and medicine for the needy. But what the Democrats never seem to get is that voters with an interest in values are concerned precisely about those issues that can't be resolved by spending more money.

When Democrats translate values into money, it reinforces their image as the party that ignores the spiritual dimension of life and responds to every challenge it faces with a reflexive desire to tax and spend.

Now, I do appreciate the Democratic dilemma here. If the party wants to establish itself as the party of values, it can't really do that by touting its pro-choice and pro-gay rights agenda, because "values voters" tend to be pro-life and uncomfortable with gay rights.

I won't pretend that I have a good answer for the Democrats. But I would say that the party needs to think long and hard about its core values, so it doesn't have to fall back on economic answers to ethical questions.
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Sunday, November 13, 2005

# Posted 11:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOOD SPIN DOCTORS DON'T SOUND LIKE SPIN DOCTORS: After talking to King Abdullah, Tim Russert had conversations first with Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the RNC, and then Howard Dean, chairman of the DNC (but who needs no introduction).

If you just read the transcript, I don't think you'll get a good sense of just how defensive and disingenuous Mehlman sounded -- and this is coming from someone who agrees with almost everything Mehlman said.

Some of the best advice I've gotten about job interviews is to pause before answering every question. The point is to show the person doing the interview that you're really thinking about the substance of their question. In fact, it is a good idea to take advantage of that pause to really think about the question and how to be most responsive to it before firing off your preferred answer.

Mehlman did exactly the opposite. He rushed to answer every question Russert threw at him but evaded the questions' actual substance. For example:
MR. RUSSERT: But isn't there a cloud over the Bush presidency because of Iraq? The administration said he was reconstituting his nuclear program. Not true. It said there would be vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Not true. He said we'd be greeted as liberators. Not true. Isn't Iraq a political problem for this president?

MR. MEHLMAN: Ultimately, Iraq's not about--should not be about domestic politics. Iraq's about our national security. And on September 11th, we learned that we need to think first and foremost about protecting America. And while wars...

MR. RUSSERT: But there's no linkage between Iraq and September 11th.

MR. MEHLMAN: Well, the lessons...

MR. RUSSERT: Saddam Hussein was not involved in September 11th.

MR. MEHLMAN: Well, the lesson of September 11th is we're not going to wait.
If I were going to write a how-to manual for spin doctors ("Spin Doctoring for Dummies?") its first principle would be that journalists value self-awareness above all else. Journalists see themselves as being the only profession committed to exposing the manipulation inherent in everything about politics. Thus, they tend to show the most respect to those who are also willing to talk about politics as a game. Conversely, journalists resent most those who play the game without admitting what it is.

When you get a question like the one Russert asked Mehlman above, the first thing to do is acknowledge the question's premise: "Yes, Tim. I can see how someone might think that the absence of WMD in Iraq lends credibility to the Democrats' accusations. But if you take a closer look, you'll see that..."

Journalists think of themselves as committed to carefully weighing all of the evidence for and against everything. Therefore, politicians and their spokesman must, at minimum, go through the motions of showing uncertainty and weighing the evidence.

At times, the journalist's brand of uncertainty can border on the pathological. George Bush could never have discovered the importance of moral clarity by taking lessons from journalists. But I firmly believe that even if he advocated the exact same policies, Bush could get much better coverage from journalists if he presented his arguments in the style with which journalists are comfortable.
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# Posted 9:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOR GOD SAKES, RUSSERT, ASK THE KING A QUESTION ABOUT DEMOCRACY: I may wish I were Tim Russert, but that won't stop me from criticizing him. This morning, Meet the Press somehow managed to get an exclusive interview with King Abdullah of Jordan. As usual, Russert sought to lay a trap for his guest. But it was the wrong trap.

Instead of asking Abdullah why he continues to rule with an iron fist while democracy awakens in Lebanon and Iraq, Russert instead tried to force the king to admit that he was much more pro-American than his subjects.

Well, obviously. But the real question is, what should Abdullah and America do about it? George Bush argues consistently but controversially that bringing democracy to the Muslim/Arab world will transform its peoples' attitudes towards the United States of America.

Bush's critics that the liberalization of Muslim/Arab dictatorships may accomplish nothing more than bringing jihadist regimes to power. I disagree, but it is a very important point to discuss in detail.

And what better case in point than Jordan? Russert could've challenged Abdullah to give his people the freedom they deserve. Or he could've asked Abdullah whether the only alternative to his rule is a jihadist republic. Either way, Russert missed a critical opportunity.
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# Posted 7:58 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LOVING THE BAD OLD DAYS: An author reflects on the East Village before gentrification. I grew up toward the western side of Village and think that the entire neighborhood has improved immeasurably since I was young. Starving artists may no longer be able to afford a Village rent, but revolutionaries should be thinking about the future instead of trying to preserve the past.
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Saturday, November 12, 2005

# Posted 5:49 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG'S IDEAS ARE MUCH BETTER THAN ITS TECHNOLOGY: In a futile bid to enter the 21st century of home computing, I made an attempt last night to upgrade my laptop from Windows 98 Second Edition to Windows XP. In some respects, the effort was successful. But now my computer is burdened with a tragic flaw worthy of Shakespeare.

Although I can connect to the Internet thanks to my trusted Linksys G wireless card, the connection fails every few seconds. And then returns. And then fails. And then returns. And so on and so forth.

On the bright side, I can check my e-mail and do other basic tasks. But any program that requires sustained connectivity -- iTunes, for example -- is now semi-functional at best.

Just now, I spent an hour and forty-five minutes on the phone with Microsoft technical support. I must admit, I'm very impressed that the technical rep kept up a positive attitude for the entire time I was talking to her. But I think I would've accepted a lesser attitude in exchange for a solution to my problem.

On the off chance that any of you have endured a similar problem while upgrading to XP, please let me know. Until then, I will attempt to maintain my sanity via the continuous consumption of alcohol.
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# Posted 3:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

HAD I BEEN A ROUNDHEAD, I would undoubtedly have finished my thesis by now.
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# Posted 3:00 PM by Patrick Belton  

PARIS MOMENT: So, shortly after filing Article the First from my cafe yesterday evening and prior to heading to my friend's temporarily ceded flat by Gare St-Lazare to begin work on the second, I was contemplating the inexhaustible number of ways nice crepes were nicer than nasty ones, and in particular, those freely growing on the street to ones housed in restaurants, so nice and so deeply a life-changing crepe experience that I suspected mine of containing not only oeuf, lard, but also liquified crack cocaine (ed: heroin - more upmarket!). My thought was on these weighty and important mysteries when I ended up, in a Parisian moment out of a genre film, meeting an Algerian secretary Salima and a postman named Thierry, neither of whom knew each other but who like me had congregated to listen to a subway musician from Brittany non-Spears play Breton bagpipes. We started talking, mostly when a panhandler asked me for change, I pretended only to speak Mandarin Chinese, and Thierry the postman helpfully translated.

OxBlog (in Mandarin): very nice music, isn't it
Panhandler (in French): money, please
Helpful Pausing Postman: this gentleman is wondering if you happened to have a euro.
OxBlog: it's a very intriguing proposition, but I'm not yet convinced.

Algerian Secretary then exited from the crowd to join this interesting conversation and perhaps offer Arabic translation services. It was, after all, a Friday in Paris, and no one seemed terribly eager to make the subway connection to leave it and go home. So, I suggested to the Postman and the Secretary that we go out for a drink, not solely because it seemed like the sort of random and aesthetic thing one does in Paris. As we wondered through the rues of the northern 8eme, the Secretary then shared her ambition to become a jazz singer and started demonstrating by singing us jazz standards, as we walked out toward adventure, fraternité and the Guinness which upon learning my name my comrades fretted I must instantly be given as a matter of the greatest urgency, or likely death would result. We paused by the nice gentleman speaking about Jesus so the Secretary could share that as an entirely assimilated Algerian, she didn't like the Qur'an at all on literary grounds, and much preferred the Bible of the Christianity to which she converted so that as a better assimilated Frenchwoman, she would instead have it as the religion she didn't believe in.

After much adventure, the scene ended up as follows.

parisienne: you're depressed. i can see it in your eyes.
oxblog: no. it's just 4 am, it's cold and raining on the champs, and i'm in shirt sleeves.
parisienne: tell me about all this pain of yours.
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Friday, November 11, 2005

# Posted 2:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

"JESUS CHRIST, WHOM I WORSHIP": There's often a lot of talk among Democratic strategists about how to break the Republican monopoly on religion-in-politics. A perennial suggestion for the Democrats is to talk about religion in a positive manner, in order to avoid the coastal condescension that inhabits most liberal criticism of conservative evangelicals.

But what would it sound like for a Democrat to talk about religion in a positive and persuasive manner? All too often, calculated efforts to talk positively about religion come across as just that -- calcuated. (For example, take a look at Hillary Clinton's ostentatious but maddeningly vague references to religious values in her autobiography.)

But a few days ago, I was listening to Brian Williams talk to Jimmy Carter on C-SPAN. The subject was Carter's new book, Our Endangered Values. While talking about the separation between church and state, Carter referred in passing to "Jesus Christ, whom I worship."

Carter's total comfort and sincerity with these words is what Democrats are searching for.
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# Posted 2:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE SOFT BIGOTRY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS: Earlier this week, I had a good bit of fun at Ted Kennedy's expense. But is it really fair to pick apart Kennedy's statements without subjecting Republican senators to the same scrutiny?

For example, Tom Coburn talked to Tim Russert just after the end of Russert's discussion with Ted Kennedy. Russert immediately tripped up the Oklahoma Republican by pointing out his promise to oppose any Supreme Court nominee who refused to outlaw partial-birth abortion. But then after Alito was nominated, Coburn declared his opposition to any single-issue litmus test.

If I felt like it, there's plenty more in the Coburn interview to poke fun at. But what it comes down to is that Kennedy has a reputation as a man of principle and a deep thinker, whereas the media tends to portray Coburn as a not-all-there extremist (except when Coburn criticizes the Bush's profligate spending).

All I can promise is that if the media starts heralding Coburn as a genius, OxBlog will be the first to expose his idiocy.
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# Posted 1:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

RETURN TO FALLUJAH: Bing West is a former Marine and assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration who went with the Marines into Fallujah. He has now written a harrowing account of the violent, house-to-house battles for control of that city. A while back, West got the chance to talk about his book on After Words, the book discussion show on C-Span 2.

Thanks to the magic of podcasting, I got to listen to West even though I missed the original broadcast. (The URL for the After Words podcast is: <http://www.c-span.org/podcast/aw_feed.xml>. For a full list of C-Span podcasts, click here.)

West describes the intensity of the battles for Fallujah in a way that makes you tense and angry just listening to him. In urban combat, there is no choice but to go house to house, fighting at almost point-blank range. Each house is a darkened maze that renders every soldier in it vulnerable to brutal surprise. As West wrote last month in the WaPo,
Fallujah first leaped to national attention last November when it became the scene of the fiercest urban combat in the past 35 years. During that battle, 100 Marine squads engaged in more than 200 firefights inside small, dark cement rooms against suicidal jihadists. A single such ferocious gunfight between police and gangs anywhere in America would receive overwhelming and immediate press attention. The Marines did that 200 times in one week in Fallujah.
But the courage and competence of the US Marines gets little attention because it is so commonplace. We faithfully count the number of soldiers killed in Iraq, but give little recognition to their incredible heroism and bravery. Perhaps that would be a better way to honor their sacrifice.
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# Posted 1:19 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TWO VERSIONS OF TRUTH ON THE SAME PAGE OF THE WaPo: On the front page of Wednesday's "C" section, Howard Kurtz wrote about Mary Mapes, the CBS producer responsible for the fiasco involving fake documents about young Dubya's service in the National Guard. According to Kurtz, Mapes
Ladles out plenty of blame but largely defends what she still considers a fair piece of reporting, although an independent panel accused CBS of having "failed miserably" to authenticate the documents before rushing the story to air.
Now, if you follow Kurtz's story to its end on page C12, you will notice that there is a second, entirely separate discussion of Mapes' book by Paul Farhi, who writes that:
It's entirely possible that Mapes was wrong -- very wrong -- about Bush's military record. But that's still only theoretical...

The "independent" panel that CBS hired to look into the story (composed primarily of lawyers, not journalists, and co-chaired by a former Republican attorney general) cast plenty of doubt on the story and CBS's handling of it. But it never said the report was baseless, never accused Mapes or Rather of political bias or called the memos fraudulent.
Now back to Kurtz:
Linda Mason, a CBS News senior vice president, said Mapes was fired because "her basic reporting was faulty. She relied on documents that could not be authenticated -- you could never authenticate a Xeroxed copy. She led others who trusted her down the wrong road." ...

Three of CBS's own document experts say they had warned CBS they could not authenticate the memos. Mapes's source for the documents, former National Guardsman Bill Burkett, later admitted lying about who had given him the memos said to have been written by Bush's long-dead Guard commander.
Personally, I trust Kurtz's account more than Farhi's. Kurtz covered this story from the beginning and constantly provides first-rate coverage of the media. Plus, my own knowledge of the situation suggests that Kurtz is right. But some people will believe Farhi, because he is also a WaPo staff writer who covers the media.

The bottom line here is that journalists have a habit of presenting their own subjective, sometimes wild, interpretations as the unvarnished truth. It is precisely that habit that got Mary Mapes into so much trouble.
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