Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Monica and the Plame case (you think I'm kidding!)

Not surprisingly, the Establishment press coverage of the Libby verdict has been sub-standard. Here's a one account, In public's mind, White House is guilty by Marc Sandalow San Francisco Chronicle 03/07/07. Here are the second and third paragraphs of the story:

Whether the vice president's former chief of staff gets 25 years in prison or even a presidential pardon after his conviction Tuesday for lying and obstructing justice is of little consequence to most Americans.

What will endure is damning testimony that confirms the public's worst fears about the Bush administration's behavior during the lead-up to the war in Iraq and its truthfulness since then.
Let's give Sandalow dredit for getting to the central issue of the deceptions leading to the Iraq War in above the fold.

But think of what that first sentence says. One of the highest officials in the US government was just convicted of four felonies committed in attempting to hide the guilt of those who outed an undercover CIA officer working on gathering intelligence Iran's "weapons of mass destruction" programs, the same Iran against which the administration has been threatening war for months. And Sandalow tells us that most citizens just don't give a [Cheney].

Why is he making such an unlikely claim? Is there some polling data on which he's relying? It seems more like he's telling us that we should know that is as savvy as a Washington reporter like him wouldn't bother caring about such high-level felonies.

Not a very good start. Keep in mind that the general press corps script on this one was that the case was never terribly important, in part for self-serving reasons.

But then the story picks up a bit. Paragraphs four and five say:

The monthlong trial established beyond a reasonable doubt that White House officials at the highest level conducted a campaign to discredit those who questioned their declarations about Iraq's weapon capabilities - declarations that turned out to be wrong.

And the testimony showed that President Bush either was lying about the White House's role in outing a CIA officer at the center of the scandal or was kept in the dark by top aides who defied his orders to come forward.
Fair enough. And those paragraphs all appeared on page 1 above the fold. And the following paragraphs are pretty decent descriptions of the actual news about the verdicts.

When we get to the background, things get a bit fuzzier:

The circumstances involved former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger in 2002 to gather evidence regarding allegations that Saddam Hussein was purchasing enriched uranium and other materials there needed to build a nuclear bomb in Iraq. Wilson, dispatched by the CIA, quickly determined that the charges were not credible and informed the administration. He was surprised to hear Bush repeat the allegations during his 2003 State of the Union Address and wrote an op-ed piece in New York Times in the summer of 2003 titled "What I didn't find in Africa."
It may sound like nit-picking to say that the statement Wilson "informed the administration" about the results is misleading because he actually reported back to the CIA. "Administration" is sometimes used in a broader sense, but usually it is applied to the political appointees of the Presidential administration. It's more than a nit in this case because Joe Wilson's critics in attempting to discredit him by making a big deal over the fact that he "lied" when he said that his report went to Dick Cheney. Cheney's office had requested information on the Niger reports, and Wilson said he assumed that the information was forwarded back to Cheney. Although I believe he was once quoted as saying he knew Cheney got the report, he made it clear in other accounts that he assumed that without knowing for sure if that was the case.

The article concludes as follows:

The trial showed the extent to which senior Bush aides, including Cheney, were alarmed at Wilson's public rebuke of their assertions about Iraq's nuclear weapons. Among the evidence submitted was a copy of Wilson's op-ed piece with Cheney's notes scribbled in the margin demanding to know if Wilson's wife had sent him there on a "junket."

"Clearly Cheney understood immediately that this article could produce a cascading political crisis for the White House," [Jonathan] Turley said of the evidence. "The trial revealed a surprising level of both hysteria and hypocrisy in the White House."

The White House was not the only institution tarnished in the trial. The witnesses included at least nine prominent Washington journalists, whose testimony made plain the cozy relationship between some top administration officials and the reporters who cover them.

"This is a quintessential Washington morality play where there are no redeeming characters," Turley said.
At the very end, we get a brief mention of revelations of press dysfuntion that the trial produced. And that followed immediately by a vague quote that says, well, gee, it's one of those Washington things that you hicks out there in the public wouldn't understand - And please don't ask us about that "cozy relationsip" because that's one of those things of which we normally do not speak.

This article is even sadder,
Libby Verdict Brings Moment Of Accountability by Peter Baker Washington Post 03/07/07. Ah, you say, surely an article with this headline will touch on the issue of press accountability? Well, if you believe in the Easter Bunny and the WMD's in Iraq, I can see how you might think that.

Compared to Peter Baker's Post story, Marc Sandalow and the Chronicle provided us with a sterling specimen of crusading journalism.

But let's give Baker's story credit. It's not until the fifth paragraph that he brings up Monica Lewinsky! Let me channel the Daily Howler for a moment and say, just try to believe he typed this!

"This has been a huge cloud over the White House," said Ed Rogers, a Republican lobbyist close to the Bush team. "It caused a lot of intellectual, emotional and political energy to be expended when it should have been expended on the agenda. They're never going to fully recover from this. If you're looking at legacy, this episode gets prominently mentioned in every recap of the Bush administration, much like Iran-contra and Monica Lewinsky."

The Libby case never reached the level of those scandals, of course, but it became a proxy for many in Washington eager to re-litigate the origins of the Iraq war. If Libby lied about his role in the CIA leak case, critics eagerly used that to reinforce their argument that Bush led the nation to war on false pretenses, in effect attacking the centerpiece of his presidency. (my emphasis)
Still channeling the Howler: gave into the empty soul of your press corps. The Libby case never reached the level of Bill and Monica's sad little affair with those blow jobs! At this point in the story, neither of the words "Iraq" or "war" have been mentioned. But we've got Monica and those blow jobs! He does work "Iraq war" into the sentence where he tells us the Plame case isn't anywhere near as serious as Bill Clinton's pecker.

How did the Iraq War happen? How did the Supreme Court hand the Presidency to Dick Cheney and George Bush after they lost the 2000 election? A huge part of the reason is that this foolish nonsense is what passes for "journalism" in the leading lights of the American press.

Libby lied as part of the effort to out an undercover CIA agent gathering intelligence on Iranian WMD. All in an effort to cover up the manufacture of phony intelligence. Intelligence used to justify invading another country. An invasion which besides being an illegal "preventive war" is also pretty much the worst foreign policy disaster in the history of the United States.

But that's not nearly as important as Bill and Monica to the Washington Post. I'm beginning to think some of the more science-fiction type explanations for our "press corps" are more plausible than more conventional ones. Maybe "reporters" like Peter Baker are actually malfunctioning software programs. Or maybe exotic being from outer space have done a "body snatcher" number on replaced all the homo sapien reporters in Washington. Those explanations have a lot to recommend them!

Since I'm counting paragraphs, Baker's story first quotes Bush on accountability. The next direct quote is in paragraph five, and that's from "Republican lobbyist" Ed Rogers, who is the one who brings up Monica. In paragraph six, we learn:

If Libby lied about his role in the CIA leak case, critics eagerly used that to reinforce their argument that Bush led the nation to war on false pretenses, in effect attacking the centerpiece of his presidency. (my emphasis)
I'm thinking the space-alien body-snatcher scenario is the more likely explanation.

Having assured us that the case is far less important than blowjobs and having explained that the critics of Libby are slavering partisans, in paragraph seven we get a vague quote from John Kerry, who is identified as "Bush' Democratic challenger in 2004".

That pretty much gives you the drift of the whole story. There's more bits of similar fun. Ex-Cheney staffer Mary Matalin is outraged that Scooter was prosecuted for committing felonies to refute "a demonstrable partisan liar", presumably meaning Joe Wilson. You know, the guy who didn't think a phony claim about yellowcake in Niger should be used to jusify invading another country. Baker cautions those wildly partisan Democrats against demanding too much "accountability" from the Cheney-Bush adminstration. In case you blipped over it the first time, we get another mention of Monica.

I wish that Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby would bite into the press fiasco over the Plame case. Ironically, he's in a bit of a dilemma in that regard himself. He got out there fairly early on arguing that the Plame case wasn't going to be that big of a deal and that Joe Wilson was one figure on which the dominant press spin for once tilted in favor of the Democrats, and used it as an example of how we needed to be critical-minded about sloppy reporting even when it seems to help the Dems for the moment.

Good point, bad example to try to make the case. In fact, the Plame case has turned out to be a very significant story. It has been one of our most important windows into the manufacture of phony intelligence in the run-up to war, to the ruthless and lawless tactics of the administration against domestic critics and to the continuing dysfunction of the press. Somerby just called that one poorly, I'm afraid.

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