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Profile: Joe Conason
Joe Conason was a participant or observer in the following events:
The New York Post has a banner headline on May 16, 2002. [Source: New York Post]The Bush administration is embarrassed when the CBS Evening News reveals that President Bush had been warned about al-Qaeda domestic attacks in August 2001 (see August 6, 2001). [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Washington Post, 5/16/2002] CBS’s David Martin reports: “The president’s daily intelligence brief is delivered to the president each morning, often by the director of central intelligence himself. In the weeks before 9/11 it warned that an attack by Osama bin Laden could involve the hijacking of a US aircraft.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 113] Bush had repeatedly said that he had “no warning” of any kind. Press secretary Ari Fleischer states unequivocally that while Bush had been warned of possible hijackings, “[t]he president did not—not—receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers.” [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Washington Post, 5/16/2002] “Until the attack took place, I think it’s fair to say that no one envisioned that as a possibility.” [MSNBC, 9/18/2002] Fleischer claims the August memo was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike the US,” but the real title is soon found to end with “Strike in US” [Washington Post, 5/18/2002] The Guardian will state a few days later, “[T]he memo left little doubt that the hijacked airliners were intended for use as missiles and that intended targets were to be inside the US.” It further states that, “now, as the columnist Joe Conason points out in the current edition of the New York Observer, ‘conspiracy’ begins to take over from ‘incompetence’ as a likely explanation for the failure to heed—and then inform the public about—warnings that might have averted the worst disaster in the nation’s history.” [Guardian, 5/19/2002] Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will point out in 2008: “The [CBS] report left much open to question. Was it suggesting that the president had received info that should have led him to act? Was it just a possible warning sign, like many others that may have gone unheeded? Or was it something else, possibly a nonspecific bit of intelligence from years earlier?” McClellan will write that the uncertainty “mattered little to Democratic leaders in Congress. They saw an opportunity to attack the president’s strong suit—his leadership in the war on terrorism—and cut into his enormous popularity ahead of the midterm elections that coming November.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 113]
Progressive columnist Joe Conason questions the ability of many mainstream reporters and government observers to understand the underlying reality behind the Plame Wilson identity leak. He writes that “[t]he latest developments in the case… proved once more that the simplest analysis of facts is beyond the grasp of many of America’s most celebrated journalists.” The recently published book Hubris, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, reveals that the then-Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, was apparently the first White House official to reveal the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson to a reporter (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003). Unlike two other White House leakers, Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) and Lewis Libby (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), Armitage was not sold on the idea of the Iraq invasion. Because of these facts, Conason writes, many journalists and observers have decided that Rove and Libby are both “guiltless” of any criminal or underhanded conduct, “that there was no White House effort to expose Ms. Wilson, and that the entire leak investigation was a partisan witch hunt and perhaps an abuse of discretion by the special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald (see February 6, 2007). The same pundits now proclaim that Mr. Armitage’s minor role somehow proves the White House didn’t seek to punish Valerie Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, for his decision to publicly debunk the presidential misuse of dubious intelligence from Niger concerning Iraq’s alleged attempts to purchase yellowcake uranium.” Conason writes that to draw such conclusions is simple-minded. “It’s a simple concept—two people or more can commit a similar act for entirely different reasons—but evidently it has flummoxed the great minds of contemporary journalism.” Armitage let Plame Wilson’s identity slip in what was apparently a gossip session. Rove and Libby, on the other hand, “sought to undermine Joe Wilson’s credibility—and perhaps to victimize him and his wife—by planting information about Valerie Wilson with two reporters.” Fitzgerald understands the difference in motivation between Armitage and Rove/Libby, Conason writes, but many journalists seem not to understand that difference. “It is a simple matter,” Conason concludes, “and yet still too challenging for the national press to understand.” [New York Observer, 9/10/2006]
Liberal author and columnist Joe Conason says that conservatives accusing Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) of stealing the election from opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) should show genuine evidence of voter fraud “or shut up.” Franken was recently declared the winner of the US Senate race by a narrow margin of votes (see January 5, 2009). Conason cites a raft of radio and television talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and conservative billionaires such as Richard Mellon Scaife, who have been “scream[ing] that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving, and cheating his way to victory” without advancing any proof, and “in plain contradiction of the available facts.” Conason writes, “Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign ‘cheated’ in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced, and free from partisan taint.” Conason cites claims by Limbaugh on January 5 that Franken “stole the race,” and quotes Limbaugh as saying on that same broadcast: “They are stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody’s nose. They are counting absentee ballots [which election officials are required to do by law].… They’re counting votes twice—votes that were rejected, all kinds of things [which election officials ordered after determining that some votes were rejected wrongly]. That’s just—the Democrats are stealing the election up there.” (The material in brackets is inserted by Conason.) Conason goes on to quote Republican political consultant Dick Morris, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show on January 7 and claimed: “I think there’s funny business—funny business going on in Franken’s thing. Sure, he’s cheating, and sure that Minnesota’s doing it for him. I mean, there’s no question that there’s cheating going on.… This is outright larceny. This is just a total theft.” Conason calls Morris’s accusations “incendiary,” and notes that like Limbaugh, Morris advanced no evidence to support his claims. As for O’Reilly, he has written columns on Newsmax asking readers to donate to the Republican National Lawyers Association to “stop Franken from stealing the election”; that organization is raising money to assist in Coleman’s election lawsuit (see January 7, 2009). Conason writes that the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan entity that decided the race in Franken’s favor, was “impeccably nonpartisan,” and continues, “Nobody in their right mind in Minnesota believes that the board was biased.” He cites conservative blogger Scott Johnson as saying: “There was no noticeable partisan division among the board. Minnesotans are justifiably proud of the transparency and fairness of their work.” Conason concludes: “In essence, [the right-wing pundits] have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don’t, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.” [Salon, 1/9/2009]
Progressive author and columnist Joe Conason writes that if the Democrats’ attempt to reform health care fails, “much of the blame rests on our political culture’s empowerment of deception and ignorance. Fake erudition is revered, every hoax is deemed brilliant, and prejudice is presented as knowledge—while actual expertise is disregarded or devalued.” Conason points to two conservative commentators as primary founts of destructive misinformation: neoconservative publisher and cable news pundit William Kristol, and health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009), whom Conason names as “the right-wing celebrities who worked so hard to kill the Clinton reform plan” in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). Conason labels McCaughey as “the source of the ‘elderly euthanasia’ hoax now circulating on the Internet, talk radio, and in right-wing media, which claims that Democratic health bills will force old, ill Medicare recipients into making plans for their own deaths” (see July 28, 2009). A thorough debunking of her claims by a variety of Congressional and media sources (see July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, and Late July, 2009) has done little to derail the impact on the media, and on the citizenry, that McCaughey’s claims are having. McCaughey’s falsehoods are being heavily, and effectively, promoted by Kristol and other conservative pundits (see July 17, 2009) on Fox News and other media outlets. Conason notes that Kristol, interviewed by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, admitted that the government provides “first-class” healthcare to American soldiers and senior citizens (in the form of the Veterans Administration and Medicare) before trying, and failing, to back away from the admission. [Salon, 7/31/2009]
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