March 25, 2004

Media Bias Watch

A couple Clarke-related beauts on tap today the day after his testimony.

First, this New York Times masthead which surely will be considered a classic in the anti-Bush genre.

Richard Clarke, fresh from his testimony, is portrayed as something of an angelic figure:

"Richard Clarke, the former antiterrorism chief in the Bush and Clinton administrations, opened his testimony by apologizing to the families whose loved ones died in the terror attacks. The government, Mr. Clarke said, had failed them, "and I failed you." He added, "We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed." It suddenly seemed that after the billions of words uttered about that terrible day, Mr. Clarke had found the ones that still needed saying....The only problem with his apology was that so few of those failures really seemed to be his."

Don't get me wrong--I think it's commendable for Clarke to have apologized to the 9/11 families.

But it's somewhat sleazy of the NYT to take his apology and then crudely intimate it was Bush and Co. that should have been doing the real apologizing.

Then there's this part of the masthead:

"Mr. Clarke is clearly haunted by the thought that if things had gone differently, the attacks might have been averted. That seems like the longest of long shots. But there are still plenty of questions to be answered about what happened, particularly about the apparent lack of urgency in the Bush administration's antiterrorism efforts before 9/11. The Clinton administration also made mistakes."

You don't say! Clinton committed errors as well? I mean, who would have thunk it?

In fairness to the Times, they make some of same points I made here (that the Bushies were probably too focused on state actors and that the Clinton Administration never got around to having a coherent, effective strategy on al-Qaeda).

But, in essence, they pretty much take Richard Clarke's testimony and turn it into their masthead (what about all the other testimony yesterday guys and gals?).

The bottom line on W. 43rd St. is thus: Clinton took al--Q seriously, Bush didn't.

And, frankly, I just can't take that spin seriously.

My view of much of the Clinton foreign policy during the 90s (the abject failure to intervene in Bosnia for 3 long years during the largest scale slaughters in Europe since the Nazis stalked the continent, the inaction in Rwanda, the bungling of Somalia and Haiti, and, yes, the episodic and disorganized and ultimately, of course, tragically ineffective combatting of al-Qaeda--after all, 9/11 was being planned well before Bush got into office) bring to mind this W. H. Auden poem that Andrew Sullivan had quoted back near 9/11:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odor of death
Offends the September night.

Amidst all the interns and IPOs it was difficult to concern oneself about genocides and brewing threats far from the shores of the distracted, buffoonish and solipsistic American polity of the 90s.

Oh, don't miss Dana Milbank in the WaPo either.

He's writing all about a cool as a cucumber star witness Richard Clarke:

"The gallery drew quiet when Lehman questioned Clarke. "I have genuinely been a fan of yours," he began, and then he said how he had hoped Clarke would be "the Rosetta Stone" for the commission. "But now we have the book," Lehman said, suggesting it was a partisan tract.

Clarke was ready for that challenge. "Let me talk about partisanship here, since you raised it," he said, noting that he registered as a Republican in 2000 and served President Ronald Reagan. "The White House has said that my book is an audition for a high-level position in the Kerry campaign," Clarke said. "So let me say here, as I am under oath, that I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one."

When Clarke finished his answer, there was a long pause, and the gallery was silent. Lehman smiled slightly and nodded. He had no further questions."

Milbank paints something of a showdown at the OK Corral here.

With Clarke, gun still smoking, silencing his critics with his deadpan answers and cool under fire.

But the stunned silence, if anything, was probably more a result of how breathtaking Clarke's deflection of Lehman's interrogatory was.

Lehman hadn't asked him if he was auditioning for a job with John Kerry, he asked thusly:

"Until I started reading those press reports, and I said this can't be the same Dick Clarke that testified before us, because all of the promotional material and all of the spin in the networks was that this is a rounding, devastating attack -- this book -- on President Bush.

That's not what I heard in the interviews. And I hope you're going to tell me, as you apologized to the families for all of us who were involved in national security, that this tremendous difference -- and not just in nuance, but in the stories you choose to tell -- is really the result of your editors and your promoters, rather than your studied judgment, because it is so different from the whole thrust of your testimony to us.

And similarly, when you add to it the inconsistency between what your promoters are putting out and what you yourself said as late as August '05, you've got a real credibility problem.

And because of my real genuine long-term admiration for you, I hope you'll resolve that credibility problem, because I'd hate to see you become totally shoved to one side during a presidential campaign as an active partisan selling a book."

Clarke answered this question by erecting something of a straw man argument.

Instead of directly addressing the credibility gap as between his previous statements/testimony and the allegations in his book (the thrust of the question)--Clarke instead takes a different tack.

He argues that--as he doesn't aspire to be John Kerry's terrorism tsar or such-- his motives simply can't be impugned.

So he discourses about a class he co-teaches at Harvard with a prof who moonlights for the Kerry campaign. Or he says he had "asked for a Republican ballot" during the 2000 Presidential election.

But who cares really?

The only time he tries to directly address the gaps in his statements between the book and pre-book (call it the B and P.B. eras)--well, per Clarke, all the differences simply result solely from Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.

So only Iraq (how convenient, politically and otherwise!) explains the meta-change in tone (even Clarke calls his B tone "strident").

But this too is a deflection.

Why?

Because Clarke didn't just change his tone between P.B and B--he changed the substance of his comments too.

If anything, therefore, the "stunned silence" Milbank describes resulted from how adeptly Clarke ignored the real thrust of Commissioner Lehman's query.

Put differently, the silent ohs and ahs were more in the nature, I'd wager, of awe-struck encomiums to Clarke's evasiveness.

Oh, and finally, don't miss what is surely the most nausea inducing sentence of the week penned by (who else?) Maureen Dowd:

"As the White House was sliming Richard Clarke, the 9/11 families were stroking him."

Gross, isn't it?

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who wrote in to tell me Dana Milbank is a man. I actually knew that--but the Dana part always throws me off. Apologies.

Posted by Gregory at March 25, 2004 09:47 AM
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