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Just hours after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), he sees evidence that the pardon is even more unpopular than he had feared. The White House switchboard is flooded with “angry calls, heavy and constant,” as Ford’s lawyer Philip Buchen will later recall. The response, says resigning press secretary Jerald terHorst (see September 8, 1974), is roughly 8-1 against. TerHorst’s admission to the press that he is resigning over the pardon adds even more fuel to the blaze of criticism. “I resigned,” terHorst tells reporters, “because I just couldn’t remain part of an act that I felt was ethically wrong.” Reporters almost uniformly side with terHorst against Ford; as author Barry Werth will later write, “the press concluded intrinsically that terHorst’s act of conscience trumped the president’s.” TerHorst’s resignation is inevitably compared to Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” (see October 19-20, 1973), and engenders a similar avalanche of press criticism and public outrage. The day after, protesters greet Ford in Pittsburgh with chants of “Jail Ford!” Conservative columnist George Will writes, “The lethal fact is that Mr. Ford has now demonstrated that… he doesn’t mean what he says.” The New York Times calls the pardon a “profoundly unwise, divisive, and unjust act.… This blundering intervention is a body blow to the president’s own credibility and to the public’s reviving confidence in the integrity of its government.” Ford’s popularity plunges almost overnight from 70 percent to 48 percent; fewer than one in five Americans identify themselves as Republicans. Ford’s biographer John Robert Greene will write that journalists begin “treating Ford as just another Nixon clone in the White House—deceitful, controlled by the leftover Nixonites, and in general no different than any of his immediate predecessors.” Werth will conclude that Ford’s “self-sacrific[e]” is the political equivalent of him “smothering a grenade.” Nixon’s refusal to atone in any fashion for his crimes placed the burden of handling Watergate squarely on Ford’s shoulders, and that burden will weigh on his presidency throughout his term, as well as damage his chances for election in 1976. Ford will later write: “I thought people would consider his resignation from the presidency as sufficient punishment and shame. I thought there would be greater forgiveness.” (Werth 2006, pp. 328-332) Years later, Ford’s chief of staff, Dick Cheney, will reflect that the pardon should have “been delayed until after the 1974 elections because I think it did cost us seats [in Congress]. If you say that that is a political judgment, it’s true, but then, the presidency is a political office.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 27)
Famed Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn speaks at an AFL-CIO meeting in Washington. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), a hardline conservative hawk who, in the words of author J. Peter Scoblic, is “an absolutist who saw the Cold War as a struggle being waged on ‘every continent’ and who was eager to speak up ‘in favor of freedom and against Communism, wherever it was found,’” attempts to arrange a meeting between Solzhenitsyn and President Ford. Ford, with an upcoming trip to the USSR and a meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, refuses, fearing that meeting with Solzhenitsyn might sour the meeting with Brezhnev. (Ford overrides the arguments made by his chief of staff, Dick Cheney, who presses Ford to meet with the dissident.) Conservatives are outraged at what they see as naked political amorality—refusing to meet with a legitimate anti-Communist hero in order to placate a Communist leader. Conservative pundit George Will writes that the Ford White House is “showing a flair for baseness that would have stood them in good stead with the previous [Nixon] administration.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 76, 78)
US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a fundamental disarmament agreement. The two sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which has been stalled for years (see September 1981 through November 1983). The INF Treaty eliminates an entire class of intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles. It also provides for on-site verifications for each side (which agrees with Reagan’s signature quote, “Trust but verify”). And it marks the first real multi-lateral reduction of nuclear weapons, even if it is only a 5 percent reduction.
Strong Approval from American Public - Reagan’s approval ratings, weakened by public outrage over the Iran-Contra affair, rebound, and Gorbachev becomes a celebrity to many Americans (he causes a near-riot in Washington when, the day before signing the treaty, he spontaneously leaps out of his limousine and wades into the gathered crowd of well-wishers). Altogether, some 80 percent of Americans support the treaty.
Unable to Continue Longer-Range Negotiations - Reagan wants to build on the INF agreement to reopen the similarly moribund START negotiations (see May 1982 and After), but recognizes that there is not enough time left in his administration to accomplish such a long-term goal. Instead, he celebrates his status as the first American president to begin reducing nuclear arms by scheduling a visit to the Soviet Union.
Conservative Opposition - Hardline conservatives protest Gorbachev’s visit to Washington, and the signing of the treaty, in the strongest possible terms. When Reagan suggests that Gorbachev address a joint session of Congress, Congressional Republicans, led by House member Dick Cheney (R-WY—see 1983), rebel. Cheney says: “Addressing a joint meeting of Congress is a high honor, one of the highest honors we can accord anyone. Given the fact of continuing Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, and Soviet actions in Africa and Central America, it is totally inappropriate to confer this honor upon Gorbachev. He is an adversary, not an ally.” Conservative Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Committee is more blunt in his assessment of the treaty agreement: “Reagan is a weakened president, weakened in spirit as well as in clout, and not in a position to make judgments about Gorbachev at this time.” Conservative pundit William F. Buckley calls the treaty a “suicide pact.” Fellow conservative pundit George Will calls Reagan “wildly wrong” in his dealings with the Soviets. Conservatives gather to bemoan what they call “summit fever,” accusing Reagan of “appeasement” both of communists and of Congressional liberals, and protesting Reagan’s “cutting deals with the evil empire” (see March 8, 1983). They mount a letter-writing campaign, generating some 300,000 letters, and launch a newspaper ad campaign that compares Reagan to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Senators Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Steven Symms (R-ID) try to undercut the treaty by attempting to add amendments that would make the treaty untenable; Helms will lead a filibuster against the treaty as well.
Senate Ratification and a Presidential Rebuke - All the protests from hardline opponents of the treaty come to naught. When the Senate votes to ratify the treaty, Reagan says of his conservative opposition, “I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting an understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the superpowers.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 142-145)
As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 143-145)
Conservative columnist George Will lambasts the Gore presidential campaign for trying to “steal” the presidential election through unwarranted legal manipulation (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and November 9, 2000). Will begins his Washington Post column by comparing the Gore request for recounts to “the blue dress,” a reference to President Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and accuses Democrats of “complaining that the Constitution should not be the controlling legal authority” over elections. Will continues: “The mendacity of Al Gore’s pre-election campaign is pertinent to the post-election chaos. He ran with gale-force economic winds at his back, and with a powerful media bias pulling him along.… Even on election night: by calling Florida for Gore before all Floridians had voted, the networks almost certainly hurt Republican turnout in Florida, and out West” (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000). Will does not mention Fox News’s inaccurate call of Florida for Bush (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and November 7-8, 2000). Gore is attempting to steal the election because of his “corrupt… hunger for power” and his “serial mendacity,” Will states, accusing Gore of “desperately seeking lawyering strategies and a friendly court to hand him the presidential election.” He is, Will states, the quintessential liberal, attempting to impose his will “through litigation rather than legislation. Liberalism’s fondness for judicial fiat rather than democratic decision-making explains the entwinement of the Democratic Party and trial lawyers.” Will ridicules reports that the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” may have denied Gore votes (see November 9, 2000), and calls Democrats’ questioning of that ballot “sinister.” The claims that Palm Beach voters were confused by the ballot are, Will writes, “baseless.” Will says that the November 17 addition of absentee ballots (see November 18, 2000), with their “large military, hence Republican, component,” will almost certainly lock down the Florida vote for Bush. However, Will writes, “Gore operatives probably will still toil to delegitimize the election. Their actions demolish the presidential pretensions of the dangerous man for whom they do their reckless work.” Will concludes: “All that remains to complete the squalor of Gore’s attempted coup d’etat is some improvisation by Janet Reno, whose last Florida intervention involved a lawless SWAT team seizing a 6-year-old [referring to Cuban-American youngster Elian Gonzales, whom Reno ordered to be sent back to Cuba with his father instead of being allowed to remain in the US with a group of more distant relatives]. She says there is no federal role, but watch for a ‘civil rights’ claim on behalf of some protected minority, or some other conjured pretext. Remember, Reno is, strictly speaking, unbelievable, and these things will continue until these people are gone.” (Will 11/12/2000) The progressive media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) will note, “The comment about a ‘protected minority’ seems to be a reference to the complaints of voter fraud and intimidation coming from African-American communities in Florida” (see November 7, 2000). (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
The candidates for governor of Maryland, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Robert Ehrlich, hold a debate in the Murphy Fine Arts Building on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore. After the debate, allegations surface that Democratic supporters of Townsend threw Oreo cookies at Michael Steele, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Steele is African-American; to label an African-American an “Oreo” is to say that he, like an Oreo cookie, is black on the outside and white on the inside. It is considered a significant racial slur. The allegations are published by, among other sources, the conservative Washington Times, largely relying on reporting by S.A. Miller, who writes multiple stories concerning the alleged incident.
First Iteration: Oreos 'Distributed' among Audience Members - The source is Ehrlich’s campaign spokesman Paul Schurick, who tells a Baltimore Sun reporter that he saw Democrats in the audience distributing Oreo cookies. Schurick initially makes no mention of anyone throwing cookies. One day after the event, Steele is quoted by the Sun as talking about the Townsend supporters in the crowd and what he terms “race-baiting” by her campaign, but says nothing about Oreos. On October 14, Weekly Standard columnist Jeffrey Goldberg repeats as fact Schurick’s allegations about Oreos being passed out at the debate. On October 21, syndicated conservative columnist George Will repeats the story, adding that “[s]ome of the audience had distributed Oreo cookies to insult Ehrlich’s running mate.”
Second Iteration: 'Townsend Supporters Threw Oreo Cookies' - The same day as Will’s column appears, the Sun and the Associated Press report that Ehrlich told an audience at a Jewish day school that “Townsend supporters at the debate threw Oreo cookies” at Steele. The next day, the Salisbury, Maryland, Daily Times reports that “the Ehrlich campaign” claimed “protesters at the debate threw Oreo cookies at Steele.” The Washington Times reports Ehrlich’s claims on October 29. The Washington Post reports on October 31 that Townsend supporters “mocked” Steele by bringing Oreo cookies to the gubernatorial debate. On November 2, the London Times reports as fact that Steele “was bombarded with Oreo cookies” at the gubernatorial debate. Miller later tells other reporters that, while in attendance at the debate, he saw Steele get hit with the cookies. On November 22, the Capital News Service will report that Steele later “said an Oreo cookie rolled to his feet during the debate.”
Reporter Retracts Claim - But in November 2005, after Steele announces his candidacy for Maryland’s gubernatorial position (see November 2005), Miller will tell a reporter for WTOP news radio, Mark Segraves, that he could not swear in court that anyone actually threw cookies because he did not, in fact, see it happen, though he had reported several times that he witnessed just such events. Times managing editor Fran Coombs will issue a denial that Miller ever spoke to Segraves or anyone else from WTOP, but will confirm that Miller did not, in fact, attend the debate. Coombs will tell WTOP that the Times stands behind its reporting, regardless of whether Miller’s claims are true or not, and will say that the reported Oreo incident is a diversion from the real story of a double standard on racism in the Democratic Party.
Third Iteration: Steele Just Saw 'One or Two' Oreos at His Feet - Steele will tell Segraves that he was never struck by any thrown cookies. “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them,” he will say. By November 15, the Associated Press will report that Ehrlich says “he did not personally see cookies thrown at Steele because he was on stage,” and “said he doesn’t know who might have thrown them.”
Fourth Iteration: Steele Says Oreos 'Tossed in His General Direction' - Around the same time, the Associated Press will also report that, according to Steele, “Oreo cookies were tossed in his general direction as he left the debate at Morgan State University,” including two that “rolled up” next to his shoe. The stories are dramatically different, and quite contradictory. Steele’s November account differs from Schurick’s account and his own previous statements.
Fifth Iteration: Oreos 'Thick in the Air Like Locusts' - In the Sun’s 2005 report, Schurick is quoted as saying: “It was raining Oreos. They were thick in the air like locusts. I was there. It was very real. It wasn’t subtle.” Sometime in late 2002, Ehrlich will tell a radio audience that his father was struck in the head by a cookie, though, according to the WBAL report at the time, “Schurick would not make Robert L. Ehrlich Sr. available for an interview.”
No Mention in Reporting after Debate, No Video Evidence - In November 2005, the Baltimore Sun will report that no newspaper or television reports mentioned any such incident in their initial reporting of the debate, and although four local television stations recorded the debate, no video of any such incident exists.
Eyewitnesses: Nothing Was Thrown - The Sun will report the operations manager of the Murphy Building at Morgan State, Vander Harris, as saying nothing of the sort occurred: “It didn’t happen here,” he will say. “I was in on the cleanup, and we found no cookies or anything else abnormal. There were no Oreo cookies thrown.” Several attendees at the event will tell the Sun that while some disruptive behavior occurred, no one threw anything at Steele nor anyone else. Morgan State spokesman Clint Coleman will say: “There were a lot of things, disturbances, by this group of outsiders who were bent on disrupting the debate. But I never actually saw Oreo cookies being thrown at him.” As for “raining Oreos,” Coleman will say, “I can tell you that did not happen.” Neil Duke, who moderated the event for the NAACP, will say he never saw any cookies thrown at Steele. “Were there some goofballs sitting in [the] right-hand corner section tossing cookies amongst themselves and acting like sophomores, as the legend has it?” Duke will say. “I have no reason to doubt those sources; I just didn’t see it.” And Wayne Frazier, the president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association, will say he saw Steele walk into the auditorium that evening, but saw no Oreos. “I was there the whole time and did not see any of the so-called Oreo cookie incident,” he will say. “It could have happened and I didn’t see it, but I was in the auditorium from start to finish.” (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
Conservative columnist George Will calls two anti-war House Democrats “American collaborators” working with Saddam Hussein, either implicitly or directly. Will singles out Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA) and David Bonior (D-MI) for criticism because of their opposition to the impending Iraq invasion. Will compares the two to World War II propaganda maven William Joyce, the British citizen who earned the sobriquet “Lord Haw Haw” for his pro-Nazi diatribes on the radio, and goes on to observe that McDermott and Bonior provided a spectacle unseen by Americans “since Jane Fonda posed for photographers at a Hanoi anti-aircraft gun” during the Vietnam War. McDermott and Bonior became a target for Will’s wrath by saying they doubted the Bush administration’s veracity in its assertions that Iraq has large stashes of WMD, but believed Iraqi officials’ promises to allow UN inspectors free rein to look for such weapons caches. “I think you have to take the Iraqis on their value—at face value,” McDermott told reporters in recent days, but went on to say, “I think the president [Bush] would mislead the American people.”
Leninist 'Useful Idiots' - After comparing the two to Joyce and Fonda, Will extends his comparison to Bolshevik Russia, writing: “McDermott and Bonior are two specimens of what Lenin, referring to Westerners who denied the existence of Lenin’s police-state terror, called ‘useful idiots.’” Will also adds UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in this last category, compares Annan with British “appeaser” Neville Chamberlain for good measure, and labels him “Saddam’s servant.”
Slamming Democrats for Not Supporting War - Will saves the bulk of his ire for the accusations by McDermott and Bonior that Bush officials might be lying or misrepresenting the threat of Iraqi WMD, and adds former Vice President Al Gore to the mix. “McDermott’s accusation that the president—presumably with Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, and others as accomplices—would use deceit to satisfy his craving to send young Americans into an unnecessary war is a slander licensed six days earlier by Al Gore,” Will writes. Extending his comparisons to the Watergate era, Will adds, “With transparent Nixonian trickiness—being transparent, it tricks no one—Gore all but said the president is orchestrating war policy for political gain in November.” Will accuses Gore and other Democrats of what he calls “moral infantilism” because they voted to support the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act (see October 31, 1998). Will returns to his complaints about the Democratic congressmen in his conclusion: “McDermott’s and Bonior’s espousal of Saddam’s line, and of Gore’s subtext (and Barbra Streisand’s libretto), signals the recrudescence of the dogmatic distrust of US power that virtually disqualified the Democratic Party from presidential politics for a generation. It gives the benefits of all doubts to America’s enemies and reduces policy debates to accusations about the motives of Americans who would project US power in the world. Conservative isolationism—America is too good for the world—is long dead. Liberal isolationism—the world is too good for America—is flourishing.” (Will 10/1/2002)
Conservative Washington Post columnist George Will claims that documented voter fraud took place in the 2002 Wisconsin gubernatorial campaign, when a Democratic candidate’s campaign attempted to buy the votes of a group of mentally challenged citizens (see October 22-31, 2002). Will cites a new book, Stealing Elections, by John Fund, as his source. For his part, Fund cites an unsigned Wall Street Journal op-ed as his source in the book. Fund served on the Wall Street Journal editorial staff in 2002, and may well have written the editorial himself. Neither Fund nor Will reveal to their readers that the voter fraud allegations were found baseless (see November 2, 2002). According to Fund’s book as quoted by Will, a local television station “filmed Democratic campaign workers handing out food and small sums of money to residents of a home for the mentally ill in Kenosha, after which the patients were shepherded into a separate room and given absentee ballots.” Fund’s description is almost entirely inaccurate, as documented by local news stories that followed the initial reporting. (Will 10/24/2004; Maloy 10/25/2004)
In his State of the Union address, President Bush insists that his authority to wiretap Americans’ phones without warrants (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) is validated by previous administrations’ actions, saying that “previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have.” He fails to note that those presidents authorized warrantless wiretaps before court orders were required for such actions (see June 19, 1972 and 1973). Since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed (see 1978), no president except Bush has ever defied the law. Law professor David Cole calls Bush’s assertion of authority “either intentionally misleading or downright false.” Fellow law professor Richard Epstein predicts that the Supreme Court will strike down any such assertions, if it ever addresses the issue. “I find every bit of this legal argument disingenuous,” he says. Even many conservatives refuse to support Bush, with columnist George Will calling his arguments “risible” and a “monarchical doctrine” that is “refuted by the plain text of the Constitution.” David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, says the legal powers claimed by Bush and his officials can be used to justify anything: “Their argument is extremely dangerous.… The American system was set up on the assumption that you can’t rely on the good will of people with power.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist says flatly, “There is no excuse for violating the rule of law.” And former Justice Department official Bruce Fein says Bush and his officials have “a view that would cause the Founding Fathers to weep. The real conservatives are the ones who treasure the original understanding of the Constitution, and clearly this is inconsistent with the separation of powers.” Even former George H. W. Bush official Brent Scowcroft says that Bush’s interpretation of the Constitution is “fundamentally in error.” (Savage 2007, pp. 203-204)
Conservative columnist George Will writes that he is reconsidering his earlier support for the Iraq occupation. Will writes that the Bush administration’s relentless rhetoric of victory “just around the corner” and the necessity to “stay the course” is increasingly based on supposition and wishful thinking, and is contradicted by the facts. “Almost three years after the invasion, it is still not certain whether, or in what sense, Iraq is a nation,” Will writes. “And after two elections and a referendum on its constitution, Iraq barely has a government.” The government is riddled with corruption that, in correspondent Lawrence Kaplan’s words, “would have made South Vietnam’s kleptocrats blush.… [C]orruption has helped drive every public service measure—electricity, potable water, heating oil—down below its prewar norm.” The country is torn apart by sectarian violence that cannot be dismissed or negated by US rhetoric. Will concludes that “all three components of the ‘axis of evil’—Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—[are] more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002.” (Will 3/2/2006)
On ABC’s This Week morning talk show, an array of political commentators from around the political spectrum unite in condemning radio host Rush Limbaugh’s three-day tirade against Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke over her stance on contraception coverage (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012). Perhaps the most surprising statements come from conservative columnist George Will, who not only slams Limbaugh’s comments, but criticizes Republicans for not coming out more strongly against Limbaugh (see March 2, 2012, March 2, 2012, and March 2, 2012). “Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh,” Will says. “[House Speaker John] Boehner comes out and says Rush’s language was inappropriate. Using the salad fork for your entrée, that’s inappropriate. Not this stuff. And it was depressing because what it indicates is that the Republican leaders are afraid of Rush Limbaugh. They want to bomb Iran, but they’re afraid of Rush Limbaugh.” Will says that it is the duty of Republican leaders to keep Limbaugh in line: “It is the responsibility of conservatives to police the right and its excesses, just as the liberals unfailingly fail to police the excesses on their own side.” ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd agrees, saying that Republican leaders fear criticizing Limbaugh because they believe what Dowd calls the “myth” of Limbaugh’s powerful influence among Republican voters (see January 1993, October 16, 2001, December 17, 2004, July 2008, and January 28-29, 2009). “I think the problem is the Republican leaders, Mitt Romney and the other candidates, don’t have the courage to say what they say in quiet, which, they think Rush Limbaugh is a buffoon,” Dowd says. “They think he is like a clown coming out of a small car at a circus. It’s great he is entertaining and all that. But nobody takes him seriously.” Peggy Noonan, an advisor to former President George H. W. Bush, calls Limbaugh “crude, rude, [and] piggish” on the same broadcast (see March 4, 2012). (Stephanopoulos 3/4/2012; Legum 3/4/2012; Horsey 3/5/2012)
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