Friday, November 04, 2005

Another edit

Paul Reynolds has added another edit to his column. In the portion that originally read:
Nor did he report any evidence that Iraq had approached Niger for a sale.
...It now reads:
Nor did he report any clear evidence that Iraq had approached Niger for a sale. [emphasis added].
This was added, I am led to understand, in order to account for the speculative nature of ex-Prime Minister Mayaki's claims to Wilson about Iraq's approach to him in 1999. By adding the word "clear", apparently Reynolds thinks that the sentence is more accurate and that it justifies his failure to mention the fact that Wilson's report to the CIA actually tended to support, rather than refute, the president's claim. Two problems.

First, I never said that the first version of the sentence was inaccurate at all. I simply said its inclusion was disingenuous. In the context of the surrounding text, the "report" to which Reynolds refers seems to be Wilson's NYT article. In that article Wilson made no reference whatsoever to the claim that Iraq had approached Niger. So, in fact Reynolds' new edit has actually made the sentence less accurate, as it implies that Wilson might have made mention of "unclear" evidence, when he didn't. Like I said, the subject of whether Niger had been approached by Iraq never came up in his article. So, even in its new form, the sentence remains disingenuous in precisely the same way as before.

However, it is possible, I suppose, that Reynolds is equivocating in his use of the word "report", and he actually means Wilson's report to the CIA, not his NYT article. If that is the case, then it is true that his sentence is now technically more accurate (indeed, it means the first version was simply false,) but it is no less misleading. By characterizing Wilson's CIA report in this weird way (is intelligence information only relevant if it is “clear evidence”?), Reynolds seems to be going out of his way to lead the reader to believe that the report tends to substantiate Wilson's accusations, even though we know that it absolutely does not, as the Senate intelligence report revealed.

In any event, all of this parsing of sentences is tedious and, ultimately, mostly beside the point. My real problem with Reynolds' article is that he fails to present all the relevant facts which would allow his readers to draw reasonable conclusions and judgments for themselves about the larger story. The parsing simply demonstrates how he has failed. He framed the Libby indictment within a false story line - Joe Wilson, whose honesty and motives we are given no reason to question, blew the whistle on the White House, and the White House's reaction to the honest whistleblower has got it into trouble - and then his audience was enticed to accept it as reasonable. Originally that was due mostly to factual errors. All that has happened since is that he has made a Herculean effort to correct the factual errors, while maintaining the original story line. For all his corrections and clarifications, however, the narrative remains a false one.

FYI, and to be fair, Reynolds has this to say about my claim that he has withheld relevant information:

I am not witholding anything. The narrative in my story however is limited to the outlines of the Wilson visit.

One step forward, two steps back

This is a long one.

In a series of e-mail exchanges, TAE has managed to convince Paul Reynolds that his article about the Libby indictments, which I critiqued several days ago, contained some factual errors. He has since altered the article (albeit with no indication whatsoever that a substantive edit has been made), for which I would like to commend him. Unfortunately I cannot do so.

The first change is relatively innocuous, although the new version is just as subject to criticism as the original. Recall that, with regard to reports that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger, Reynolds’ original article said:
The British government certainly believed the Niger report - and strangely enough after all that has happened, still does.
I criticized Reynolds for that “strangely” comment, which seemed clearly aimed at throwing doubt onto the assessment of British intelligence without reason. This is the altered version.
The British government certainly believed the Niger report, at least to the extent that Iraq had made approaches to Niger - and strangely enough after all that has happened, still does, even though the CIA does not.
Ah. It is “strange” that British intelligence stands by the intel since the CIA no longer does. But isn’t it just as “strange” that the CIA does not believe it when British intelligence still does? Just as before, Reynolds is clearly, if subtly, conveying his opinion that it is British confidence in, not CIA rejection of, the intel that his readers should question. Obviously his edit has not addressed my criticism at all.

You may be wondering why Reynolds added the bit in the middle, ie “at least to the extent that Iraq had made approaches to Niger.” That explanation is a bit more more complex and relates to his other edits.

(At this point I need to make this clear. Since Reynolds edited his story without notifying readers what corrections he has made, the article as it originally appeared is now gone from the BBC’s website. This makes it difficult to quote the original article with complete and total accuracy. The quotes that follow which are said to be from his original, unedited version are cobbled from previous posts, e-mails, and my memory. If anyone sees any mistakes, or knows of any way to find a cached version of the original somewhere on the web so that I could verify their accuracy, I would be grateful if you would let me know.) (UPDATE: I now have a copy of the original version, and have inserted notes below where any substantive inaccuracies have occurred.)

In Reynolds’ original, he had claimed that:
In February 2002, Joseph Wilson, a former US ambassador was sent to Niger in West Africa to investigate intelligence that Iraq had tried to buy uranium yellowcake (compressed uranium ore) there.
After pointing out that British intelligence “strangely” still believes the report, he wrote:
But Mr Wilson did not believe it. He said it was a case of forged documents and had no merit.
Trouble is, this is all wrong. In the first place, Wilson did not say it was a case of forged documents. He merely cited, news reports claiming that the documents were “probably” forgeries, but admitted that he had never seen them.

Second, Wilson was sent to Niger in order to investigate a report that Iraq had actually bought uranium there, not that it had simply sought to buy it. But the claim which British intelligence “strangely” still believes, and which the president cited in the now controversial “16 words” from his state of the union speech, was precisely that – that Iraq had sought, not bought, uranium from Niger.

In Wilson’s infamous NYT piece in which he essentially accused the president of lying about the issue, Wilson specifically says that he concluded that it was “highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” But at no point does he indicate that he made any conclusions either way about the notion that Iraq had approached Niger in an attempt to buy uranium. And it is no wonder he didn’t, because, as the Senate investigation into pre-war intelligence has since discovered (see page 43), according to the CIA report of Wilson’s trip, he had a discussion with former Niger Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki in which Mayaki related an approach that had been made to him in 1999 by an Iraqi delegation. The delegation offered to “expand commercial relations” with Niger which, Mayaki told Wilson, he interpreted as an attempt to discuss the purchase of uranium yellowcake. In other words, despite his accusations in the NYT article, Wilson’s Niger mission did not suggest in any way that the president had lied, and in fact if the mission related at all to what the president had said, it actually tended to support it.

TAE pointed all of this out to Reynolds to show not only that Reynolds’ words were technically incorrect, but that it rendered his narrative to be essentially false, that narrative being that Wilson had simply criticized the president based on his own experiences, and had subsequently come under an attack and a “smear campaign”, as Reynolds quotes an amenable Democrat. This is a false reading of events. Wilson had disingenuously and falsely accused the president, not only pretending that certain evidence contradicted the president when in fact it did not, but he even withheld evidence from his article that actually supported the president's claim. Wilson was not a honest whistleblower, but was instead a political partisan distorting the truth in order to give his attack more weight. Surely these facts are relevant to garnering an understanding of and making judgements about not just Wilson himself but indeed the whole Plame/Wilson/Libby fiasco.

Reynolds has now changed the words so that they are no longer technically incorrect, but, regrettably, he has done so in such a way so as to maintain the false narrative. This is how the relevant passages now read (with changed or added portions in bold):
In February 2002, Joseph Wilson, a former US ambassador was sent to Niger in West Africa to investigate intelligence that Iraq had agreed the purchase of uranium yellowcake (refined uranium ore) there.

Since Iraq had no civilian nuclear programme, the supposition was that it was seeking a source of fuel for a military one.

The British government certainly believed the Niger report, at least to the extent that Iraq had made approaches to Niger - and strangely enough after all that has happened, still does, even though the CIA does not.

London used it in its intelligence dossier against Iraq. Mr Bush himself referred to it in his State of the Union address in January 2003. [
note: This sentence was in the original piece.]

But Mr Wilson said he found no evidence of any sale. In an article in the New York Times after the war he quoted news reports that documents purporting to show a sale were probably forged. Nor did he report any evidence that Iraq had approached Niger for a sale.

Nothing much might have happened had Mr Wilson not written that article. In it he stated: "A legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretences."
[note: this last sentence, although in bold, was contained in the original piece.]
Note how Reynolds still refuses to inform his readers of the known discrepancies between Wilson’s assertions, which Reynold’s readily trumpets, and the known facts about his trip, which he never mentions.

In his original, he had erroneously characterized Wilson’s mission and conclusions. Having fixed that, he now equivocates on exactly what the president referred to in his SOTU speech. He says the president referred to “it”, namely the Nigerian report. What did the report say? Well, follow the text back and you discover “it” must refer to “the intelligence that Iraq had agreed to the purchase of urnanium” (emphasis added). But as we know, that is wrong. The president did not claim that a purchase had been agreed. Sure, Reynolds did note the distinction between an actual purchase and having simply “approached” Niger, but he did so with regard to what British intelligence “strangely” still believes, not with regard to what the president spoke about in the SOTU. Reynolds seems curiously reluctant to allow the gap between what the president said and what Wilson claims to have debunked to become apparent. Why?

And, in the event that you are aware of what the president actually said, Reynolds does attempt to paper over the discrepancy by adding “Nor did he report any evidence that Iraq had approached Niger for a sale.” This is, of course, entirely disingenuous. Wilson did not address the issue at all in his NYT article, having focused strictly on the absence of evidence for a purchase. Indeed, Reynolds could just as sensibly have said “Nor did he report any reason to doubt that Iraq had approached Niger for a sale.” Why did he choose one instead of the other? Presumably because the former suits his desired narrative while the latter does not.

More importantly, though, why didn’t Wilson report any evidence that Iraq had approached Niger, given that he had in fact uncovered such evidence from Mayaki? Reynolds doesn’t even allow his audience to know of that evidence, much less question why Wilson left it out of his article.

Finally, he adds the actual accusation that Wilson made against the president. “A legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretences.” [note: he did not add it. It was in the original piece.] Given Reynolds’ leading presentation to that point, and just as significantly given what he has withheld, the otherwise uninformed reader will naturally conclude that Wilson had presented that legitimate argument. But as we know, he did not. He did not present one single substantive argument that could be said to substantiate the charge. Still, Reynolds leaves his audience to believe that Wilson's claims had at least some basis in fact.

Reynolds’ original article contained clear factual errors which allowed a false narrative to be developed around Joe Wilson’s role in the whole Plame/Libby affair. This is not a narrative distinct to Reynolds or the BBC. This is the way the mainstream media almost universally is presenting this story. It is unfortunate that, having admirably acknowledged the errors, Mr. Reynolds has seen fit to correct the story not in such a way so as to present all the relevant facts, but instead in such a way so as to maintain the false narrative.

Is this what we pay taxes for?

Thursday, November 03, 2005


The other day I sent an e-mail to Paul Reynolds seeking a response to the following:

In his press conference, Patrick Fitzgerald explicitly disavowed the notion that the indictments [of Scooter Libby] reflected in any way on the Iraq war or justifications for it. He said:

"This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel….The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction.

And I think anyone's who's concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn't look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that."

How do you square what he said with the claim in your recent article that the indictments "raise serious questions about how the Bush administration sought to justify the war against Iraq?

This was his response:
I'm not getting into [it]. Otherwise this could go on indefinitely. I would simply add that prosecutors necessarily have a narrow focus. He could hardly say it was a political prosecution.
He later added:
Prosecutors talk simply about indictments. Journalists (and bloggers) can range more widely.
Make of that what you will. I would only point out that the issue of a "political prosecution" is a non sequitur. Even a non-political prosecution can provide insight into or raise political controversies, and Fitzgerald explicitly rejected the notion that his indictments did so with regard to the war...a rejection, it should be added, that is fully vindicated by a reading of the indictments.

Just the cold, hard facts

Scooter Libby goes to court today to be arraigned, which naturally is getting big play on the BBC. The theme of the day seems to be the idea that, if Libby were to be convicted, Bush will pardon him. On the BBC's website Justin Webb says, in unverifiably, if typically, vague language, that "It is widely believed" that Libby would be pardoned by Bush in the event of a conviction. I'm guessing that "widely" encompasses little more than Webb's fellow hacks and DNC activists. And then making an appearance on Radio Four's Today program this morning while displaying the objectivity and moderation we've come to expect from him, Webb was unable to suppress a chortle as he described the presidential power of pardon as a "banana republic rule."

Not long after, on Radio Five Live, reporter James Weston (sp?) informed listeners that, although he had only "just been reminded" (by Webb, perhaps?) of the possibility of a presidential pardon, his own sage judgement was that it was "quite likely" to happen.

So to sum up: If the Libby case actually goes to trial, and if Libby is then convicted, and if he then gets sentenced to jail time, and if Bush is still in office when it finally concludes (Weston reminds us of how slowly the wheels of justice turn in the US), then it is "widely believed" by some unspecified group of people that it is "quite likely" that Bush will pardon Libby.

Far be it for the BBC to engage in idle speculation.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

New hype to old news

What is it with some reporters and their need to breathlessly create, enhance, and otherwise infuse their stories with false drama and tension? We saw it the other day with Paul Harris and his ridiculous attempt to portray the appearance of comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam as a troubling new development and an indicator of how bad things are have gotten for the president. Never mind the fact that comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam have been ubiquitous almost since the day the allies set foot on the sands of Iraq.

Today we get Matt Frei from the BBC giving us not only his usual "objective" (cough, cough) look at Washington, but also teeing up this howler about Iraq:
There is no obvious exit strategy, and the spectre of civil war, once deemed unthinkable is now considered probable.
I'm hardly in a position to place odds on an Iraqi civil war breaking out, but the notion that such a thing has ever been "unthinkable" is ludicrous. Warnings about a looming civil war were wheeled out even before the Vietnam comparisons were, and have been with us ever since.

In March 2003, before Saddam had even lost power, this report from the Sydney Morning Herald warned that an uprising against Saddam:
...has the potential to explode into a civil war between the Shiite and Kurdish majority ethnic groups and Saddam's minority Sunnis, which many analysts fear could erupt before the coalition can impose law and order on Iraq."
In August 2003, Frei's fellow British journalist, America-hating Robert Fisk, wrote an article headlined "Unless The White House Abandons Its Fantasies, Civil War Will Consume The Iraqi Nation."

Three months later, Paul McGeough was telling us that "US exit may lead to Iraqi civil war."

In July '04, in an article titled "Civil War in Iraq?", William S. Lind brushed aside the "continuing" question of whether a civil war would occur in Iraq by claiming that it was already occurring.

All this, by the way, from a 5 minute search through Google. Once deemed unthinkable? By who and when? I'm guessing that sometime next summer Frei will note the sudden and ominous new development of accusations that Bush lied us into war.

BTW, also included in Frei's latest is a bizarre reference to "America's obsession with bipartisan politics - an instinct rooted in the devastation of the Civil War." Does anyone have the slightest idea what he is talking about?

Small but important

More sloppy reporting that leads to precisely the wrong impression of what the Supreme Court is supposed to be doing, this time from the BBC.
The judges are deciding whether to let a small congregation in New Mexico worship with hallucinogenic tea.
No, they are not deciding that at all. They are deciding whether the federal government’s attempts to prevent the use of the tea under the Controlled Substances Act are compatible with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment.

I realize this sounds picayune and pedantic. But I think it is important that the media not plant the false notion that the court is, or is supposed to be, judging the value of the law. The way that the BBC has framed the issue, one would think that the Court is sitting around debating the social pros and cons of worshippers getting high. They are not, or at least they should not be. They should simply be judging whether or not the law is compatible with the constitution.

The blind BBC

The BBC reports on the Senator Harry Reid’s call yesterday for a secret session of the Senate. Naturally, its narrtive is informed by Democratic talking points:
The secret debate is being seen as a big coup for the Democrats - who are in a minority in both Houses of Congress - and a sign of their new-found confidence after the indictment last week of Vice-President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby.
Ah, “being seen”, those weasel words cherished by opinionated but, er, “objective”, reporters far and wide.

Seen by who? Well, no doubt liberals and their pliant cheerleaders in the press corp saw it as a "big coup" and a sign of "new-found confidence". Conservatives, the opinions of whom the BBC seems totally unfamiliar, saw it a bit differently.

James Taranto sees it as "base rallying stunt" aimed at playing to the "demoralized" "angry left" which had the effect of completing Bush's recovery from the Miers debacle.

John Podhoretz, while calling it "politically canny", thinks it is a desperate attempt to stop the momentum which is "shifting the president's way with shocking speed" and to prevent the Plame issue from "being consigned to the ash-heap of history."

Jonah Goldberg sees it as "desperate attempt to make every day Fitzmas" by demanding a "do-over" on the already completed pre-war intelligence investigation.

This is not to say the Cons aren't placing their own spin on it all. But it seems to me that the BBC ought to seek out more than just the daily DNC press release before announcing to its viewers how things are “being seen” in Washington.

(BTW, although not specifically attributed to anyone, it will come as no surprise to TAE readers that the BBC's buffoon in America, Justin Webb, seems to have been the source of for this report.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

And so it begins...

The nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court is sure to provide plenty of examples of journalists supplying the UK with uninformed, warped, or otherwise confused and confusing analysis of both the nominee and the US judicial process in general. Today Tim Reid of The Times kicks it off with his article on the nomination.

Noting the case that is certain to be the cornerstone of Democratic opposition to Alito (as did the BBC yesterday), Reid attempts to explain Alito’s position in a Pennsylvania abortion notification case, part of the well known Planned Parenthood v Casey case that eventually made it to the Supreme Court in 1991. Reid says:
Although it is not clear if he would vote to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that gives women a constitutional right to abortion, Mr Alito did argue in 1991 that a woman should notify her husband before she seeks an abortion, a stance rejected by the Supreme Court.
This is quite wrong. Alito absolutely did not argue that a woman should notify her husband before she seeks an abortion. Such an issue was never before him as a judge. The issue before him was whether a state law which contained such a requirement was permissible under the constitution. He voted and argued that it was permissable, not that it should be law.

This distinction is highly important, and anyone who fails to grasp its importance will inevitably fail to understand the very essence of conservative jurisprudence (and will, hence, not do it justice when ostensibly informing other people about it.) Arguing that a law is permissible under the constitution does not mean that one agrees with the substance of the law under question. Whether or not it "should" be law is not the a decision that judges can legitimately make. That is what we have elected representatives for.

What a judge might personally consider to be appropriate law, in other words, is not always constitutional, while what a judge might personally consider to be inappropriate law is not always unconstitutional. Conservative jurists, unlike their liberal brethren, tend to recognize the fact that they do not exist to do the “right” thing, they exist to follow the constitution. In contrast liberal jurists embrace the ridiculous notion of a “living constitution", because it allows them to justify whatever decision will provide the “right” outcome, regardless of what the words in the constitution actually say and mean. Hence we get rulings based not on the words of the constitution, but rather on ridiculous things like "penumbras, formed by emanations" of the constitution.

There is a famous anecdote about the well known Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes. After having lunch with the equally famous, and prophetically named, Judge Learned Hand, Hand is reported to have bid Holmes farewell by saying “Do justice, sir, do justice.” Holmes stopped, turned to Hand and said, “That is not my job. It is my job to apply the law.”

Keep this in mind the next time you read that Alito is “pro-life” or “anti-abortion” or “anti-gay marriage”. As far as his decisions go, we know nothing about whether he is any of these things. All we can possibly glean from those decisions is whether or not he is in favor of applying the words in the constitution as they are written, or whether he is favor of applying the constitution as he wishes it were written.

Reid’s mischaracterization of Alito’s ruling is a good reminder to be very wary about accepting at face value what is being reported in regards to Alito's positions.

BTW, one intersting aspect of the above quote from Reid is the portion in which he said that the Roe v Wade decision "gives a woman a constitutional right to abortion." This is more true, and revealing, than I suspect Reid knows. The thing is, constitutional rights are supposed to be granted by, well, the constitution, not 9 lawyers dressed in black robes.

We must ask the question

Whatever else Patrick Fitzgerald’s announcement of indictments last week against Scooter Libby may have accomplished, they have shown definitively how little the facts matter to the way in which the liberal-left frames its version of events.

The indictments, of course, all allege essentially the same crime, namely that Libby lied to both the FBI and the grand jury in its investigations into the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA employee. Notably, the indictments do not charge Libby, or anyone else, with deliberately leaking her status contrary to the law, nor did the investigation draw any conclusions whatsoever about the controversy over the British intelligence claim that Saddam had sought to buy uranium in Niger, which was the basis for Joe Wilson’s attack on the administration’s justifications for the war. To put it plainly, following Fitzgerald’s investigation and the indictments, we are no more informed about the validity of the British intelligence claims, or the Bush administration’s understanding of those claims, than we were last week, last month, or last year.

And, just in case journalists had a hard time figuring out for themselves that his investigation had nothing to say on that topic, Fitzgerald made a very explicit point about it in his press conference, saying that:

This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel….The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction.

And I think anyone's who's concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn't look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that.

It is difficult to see how that can be misinterpreted. Even a dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks reporter ought to be able to grasp its meaning.

Yet, in the wave of analysis that has followed, we have seen the liberal-left media trying to lead its audience to draw precisely the opposite conclusion. As I have already pointed out, the BBC’s Paul Reynolds wrote that “[The indictment of Lewis Libby] raises serious questions about how the administration sought to justify the war against Iraq.” And The Guardian’s Paul Harris claims that “[The Plame investigation] goes to the heart of the Iraq issue: was intelligence deliberately misused to railroad American into believing Saddam Hussein was a direct threat?”

Yesterday The Guardian’s Gary Younge took this deception even one step further. He claims that “Fitzgerald’s investigation…[lays] out in clear detail the proof for some of the central criticisms the liberal-left has asserted about the Bush administration over the past five years.” Specifically, he claims that the investigation has proven “that the case for the invasion of Iraq was built on a lie.” This is, of course, ludicrous.

These people are not, I don’t believe, stupid. It cannot be the case that they have misunderstood or misinterpreted the investigation and its results, especially in light of Fitzgerald’s own words clearly disavowing the conclusions they then go on to make. Are they, then, knowingly deceiving their audiences in the pursuit of a larger political agenda? This is the question that must be asked given the standard to which journalism at the likes of the BBC and The Guardian has descended.

Younge’s efforts to deceive his readers are particularly egregious, and the slippery mischaracterizations numerous. Detailing the “proof” that has allegedly been laid out by the investigation, he claims that:
Valerie Plame was a covert CIA agent.
This was not established by the investigation, and is still in doubt. Fitzgerald explicitly refused to confirm that she was covert, referring to her status as merely “classified”. She may have at one time been a covert agent, but the relevant issue is whether or not she still was in 2003. Again, that she was covert at the time is in much doubt.

Younge says:
Joseph Wilson was sent on a CIA-sponsored trip to investigate whether Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons. Wilson concluded that this was unlikely…
This is simply false. According to Wilson’s own article, he was sent to Niger to investigate whether Iraq had bought uranium yellow cake. He concluded that “it was highly doubtful that any transaction took place.” He did not conclude that Iraq did not try to buy it, which is what the British intelligence report referenced by Bush had claimed. And according to the Senate investigation into the matter, his report back to the CIA even tended to heighten suspicions there that just such an attempt had indeed been made. As it happens, British intelligence continues to stand by the claim to this very day.

Hence, when Younge uses Wilson’s reported doubt to conclude that the White House was a “willful perpetrator of a known falsehood” in trumpeting the British intelligence claim, it is in fact he who is guilty of that charge. He has cleverly juxtaposed Wilson’s doubt about one thing with Bush’s assertion about another, and pretended that they refer to the same thing, thus enticing his readers to share in his false conclusions.

It is the height of irony, then, that Younge goes on to trash the “supine character of America’s mainstream media in the run-up to the war.” Specifically, he condemns NYT reporter Judy Miller for agreeing to identify Libby as “a former hill staffer”, which he had been at one time, rather than a “senior administration official”. Says Younge:
I once played centre forward for Cygnet Rovers of Stevenage. But to cite me as "a former footballer" would, in most instances, be as true as it is misleading.
Ah yes, misleading reporting. Something with which Younge is demonstrably, and intimately, familiar. The atmosphere at The Guardian is as thick with hypocrisy as it is with deception.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Harris giving Webb a run for his money.

I’ve been pondering for a while now how to approach this Paul Harris article from yesterday’s Guardian/Observer. It simply begs to be taken apart, but it is so utterly over-the-top and ridiculous, I have to wonder whether it really merits any attention. Consider, for example, the first two paragraphs of the piece:
On Monday evening last week, as darkness descended on the capital, smartly dressed FBI agents moved quietly through the leafy Washington neighbourhood of Georgetown. They knocked on doors, questioning several residents about how well they knew Valerie Plame, the exposed CIA agent at the heart of a scandal that has rocked the Bush administration to its foundations.

These are times of deep crisis in America. The stunning image of FBI agents scouring the most exclusive suburbs of Washington, just a mile or so from the White House, sums up the mood of fear, paranoia and siege mentality now gripping the Bush administration.
Deep crisis! Like, you know, the Civil War, the Red Scare…and Scooter Libby’s perjury? I mean, this reads almost like a mocking caricature of the exaggerated drama, suspense, and tension through which reporters so often try to frame their stories. Could anyone really be taken in by this idiocy?

Alas, ultimately Harris makes claims and insinuations that simply must be debunked. Like:
Brent Scowcroft, a close confidant of Bush's father, has also gone public. He last week slammed the war in Iraq and revealed the younger Bush had not spoken to him in two years.
Of course, Scowcroft has been critical of the war since before it even happened, and indeed he seems to be making October denunciations of Bush policy an annual event. But Harris pretends it’s all a big, shocking new development.

In typical Guardian style, he laces nearly every reference to conservatives with the pejorative “radical”, just to be sure the audience knows how to feel about them. Parroting what has become the standard Democratic talking point, he puts Bush’s woes over the Miers nomination down to “radical right-wing conservatives”. You know, radicals like George Will and the staff at National Review, all of which in reality pretty much personify and define the very essence of establishment conservatism in the US.

Harris says of the demise of the Miers nomination:
The radical right movement, with its agenda on abortion rights and social issues such as gay marriage, will now have to be placated.
Thus Harris characterizes the majority of the nation as the “radical right”.

Naturally, no treatment of Bush would be complete without the standard mention of the media-fabricated “milestone” in Iraq:
[The 2,000th American death in Iraq] was a grim milestone and one that the Bush administration had long dreaded.
I don’t know how much or how long the administration actually dreaded this arbitrary “milestone”, and I highly doubt Harris actually does either. But I’d be willing to bet that it can’t possibly be as much or as long the likes of The Guardian have looked forward to it.

And speaking of Iraq, how about this wholly ridiculous assertion in yet another attempt to present "nothing new" as "a shocking new development":
The 'V word' - comparing Iraq to Vietnam - is no longer taboo in Washington.
Which would imply that until recently it was taboo. I guess someone probably should have told that to Ron Hutcheson of Knight Ridder, who was writing as early as September 2003 that “Some See Troubling Parallels Between Iraq and Vietnam”. Senator Max Cleland also seems to have been unaware of this recently removed taboo, writing an article (free registration required) about “Mistakes of Vietnam repeated with Iraq”, also in September 2003. So too William Greider, who wrote an article in The Nation in April 2004 titled “Iraq as Vietnam”. Also in April 2004, the John F. Kennedy Library sponsored a debate between David Halberstam and Jon Lee Anderson over, as you might have guessed, the question “Is Iraq Vietnam?” In August 2004, the Associated Press pointed out that “Iraq-Viet War coincidences noted”. Then in December 2004, Slate violated the taboo by writing that "Iraq 2004 Looks Like Vietnam 1966."

Quite a taboo, huh? Is Harris as ignorant of reality as he seems, or is he really that contemptuous of his readers?

More on Plame:
Politically, it is Iraq that gave birth to Plamegate, the investigation into who leaked the identity of Plame to reporters, apparently to smear her husband, ex-diplomat Joseph Wilson, who had become a critic of the build-up to war.
Notice how in Harris’ retelling, it is no longer an allegation, but is instead “apparent” that Plame’s name was leaked in order to “smear” her husband. How it is possible to “smear” someone with the truth, Harris doesn’t say.
That investigation has now spread its tentacles all over the administration.
If, that is, you consider one administration official to be “all over” the administration.
In fact, it goes to the heart of the Iraq issue: was intelligence deliberately misused to railroad Americans into believing Saddam Hussein was a direct threat?
If it is true that the investigation goes to the “heart of the issue”, one wonders, then, why the lead investigator, Patrick Fitzgerald, said in his press conference that:

This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel….The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction.

And I think anyone's who's concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn't look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that.

I guess Harris must have missed that part.
The tough Brooklyn-born prosecutor, who made his name investigating the Mafia, has said his probe is not yet over. The shadow of Plamegate has not lifted from the White House. For Rove - and perhaps many other officials - Plamegate is in danger of becoming an agonising political death.
Again, it might have been useful had Harris actually listened to Fitzgerald’s press conference. What he actually said is that, while the investigation is not yet finished, the “bulk” of the work is over, it would be “very rare” to end the investigation after bringing charges, and that therefore the continuation of the investigation should be viewed as simply the “ordinary course” of events. In other words, don’t read too much into the fact that the investigation has not officially ended.

Instead Harris’ maintains his hopes - and passes them on to his readers as though they are reasonable - that Rove, not to mention “many other officials”, might go down in flames over Plame. Can you say wishful thinking?
There are even whisperings of Cheney stepping down to be replaced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Did I say wishful thinking? How about delusional. (Although I suspect Rice as an incumbent VP is the last thing that Democrats want to see as they look towards 2008.)

At one point Harris actually claims that “It is hard to overstate the depths of Bush's political crisis.”

And yet, using the seemingly limitless depths of his imagination along with his lack of concern for truth or accuracy, that is precisely what Paul Harris had managed to do, in spades. Perhaps he is intent on vying against Justin Webb for most shameless journalist in Britain.

Webb never ceases to amaze

Justin Webb continues his quest to prove that he has no sense of embarrassment.

A TAE reader points us to Webb's latest "From Our Own Correspondent" contribution, in which he claims, in all seriousness, that:
I know you'd never heard of [Scooter Libby] till last week but he's the fourth most powerful man in the world: it goes Bush, Cheney, Rove, Libby.
Listening to Webb's political analysis is starting to feel like listening to a singer whose total lack of musical talent is matched only by a complete absence of self-awareness about that talent. It is painful and cringe-inducing. I find it amazing that even the BBC, as bad as it is, sees fit to employ this buffoon.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Libby's import

Obviously the scalp that most of the media was hoping for in the whole Plame imbroglio was that of Karl Rove. In their almost certain disappointment that Rove remains unindicted, reporters have been left to focus on the man who was indicted, Scooter Libby.

The BBC has described Libby in one article as "much more important than his bland title of chief of staff to the vice-president suggests."

In its profile of Libby, the Beeb said that in addition to being an "arch conservative" (has the BBC ever used the phrase "arch liberal"?) he has "been involved in almost every major decision made by the Bush administration."

In Paul Reynolds' piece Libby was a "key official" who "has been an integral part of a central core of officials who drove the policy toward Iraq."

Indeed, Libby was such a "key official" and so important in driving Bush policy that in the 5 years of Bush's presidency, BBC online has mentioned his name, well, um, exactly zero times prior to September 30, at which point his role in the Plame affair became public.


Paul Reynolds has responded to my critique of his latest column. Scroll down to the fifth comment. My response follows.

Worth every The Guardian's pocketbook?

For the second time in a week, The Guardian has puckered up and planted on nice juicy one right on the BBC's backside. On Wednesday, The Guardian editorial board was singing the praises of the BBC's World Service while lamenting the absence of additional funding for it.

Today, The Observer it yet again pontificates on the worthiness of the BBC, with an editorial headlined:

Worth every penny
The BBC still delivers the goods

An interesting choice of words. One can't help but wonder whether this was an unconscious reference to the amount of money the BBC spends on recruitment advertising in The Guardian.