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New York Sun reporter Josh Gerstein, in an analysis of the Lewis Libby trial, says the jury has a “plethora of reasons to acquit Libby” if it chooses to do so. Gerstein runs through the defense’s attempts to paint Libby as having tremendous memory problems (see February 13, 2007), and reminds readers that the memories of several government witnesses have been challenged by the defense (see January 23-24, 2007, January 24-25, 2007, January 24, 2007, January 25-29, 2007, January 29, 2007, January 30-31, 2007, January 31, 2007, February 1-5, 2007, February 7-8, 2007, February 13, 2007, and February 14, 2007). The defense has also offered three different theories to explain Libby’s prosecution, including his victimization by reporters, the CIA, and State Department, and White House officials attempting to protect deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. “You throw out as much as you can, hoping to get one juror,” says criminal defense lawyer Edward Hayes. “People like conspiracy theories.” Another defense lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, says: “It’s not inconceivable you could get a couple of jurors to say, ‘I don’t think he’s guilty because of memory. We all forget some things.’ A couple of jurors might not like that argument but might be persuaded by the suggestion he’s a sacrificial lamb and the administration is protecting Rove.” On the other hand, the defense’s “scattershot approach” might make the jury lose faith in its arguments. Branfman says: “I think you have to be very careful throwing defenses into a case. [Prosecutor Patrick] Fitzgerald is going to look at the number of defenses and comment on that. If something was made in their opening statement and they didn’t deliver, he has the right to comment on that.” And Hayes adds that the defense should be careful in suggesting that all the prosecution witnesses are “out to get” Libby: “What you can’t do is argue that every single witness is a bad person, lying, and out to hurt somebody. That’s just too much.” Most of the defense lawyers interviewed by Gerstein say they agree with the defense’s decision not to allow Libby to testify. Brafman agrees with an argument recently advanced by conservative columnist Byron York (see February 15, 2007), that the jury had already heard Libby’s testimony through audiotapes of his previous testimony to a grand jury (see February 5, 2007 and February 6, 2007), and to allow Libby to restate his earlier testimony and be cross-examined again would be “superfluous and perhaps reckless.” Gerstein concludes with praise from Brafman about lead defense attorney Theodore Wells. “Ted Wells is probably one of the most eloquent criminal defense lawyers in the United States. He’s a very charming man,” Brafman says. “He’ll probably deliver one of the best summations anyone has ever seen in any case.” [New York Sun, 2/16/2007]
Neoconservative John Podhoretz, writing for the New York Post’s editorial page, provides much of the information the defense had attempted unsuccessfully to raise during the Libby perjury trial about NBC reporter Tim Russert (see February 14, 2007). Podhoretz is referring to a stipulation the jury heard in final testimony, written by former FBI agent John Eckenrode, who interviewed Russert about his knowledge and potential involvement in the press exposure of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see November 24, 2003). In the interview, Russert said he did not speak to then-White House official Lewis Libby about Plame Wilson, and did not inform him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, though he could not rule it out completely. Libby has told both the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and a grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Russert gave a deposition for that same grand jury (see August 7, 2004) and testified in Libby’s trial (see February 7-8, 2007) that he was sure he never spoke to Libby about Plame Wilson. Podhoretz writes: “The question is: How could Russert’s memory of his July 2003 conversation with Libby improve over time? If he wasn’t sure about the details in November 2003, how could he be so certain about them when testifying before a grand jury in 2005? And be even more certain testifying in court in 2007? Should the jury believe Russert’s words now—or take more account of his words in November 2003?” (Podhoretz errs in stating Russert gave the deposition in 2005; he gave that deposition in August 2004.) Podhoretz then advises the Libby defense lawyers to use the apparent contradiction in their closing arguments, which are coming up in a matter of days: “The stipulation will allow the defense to make a strong case in closing arguments next week that Russert’s initial description of the phone call needs to be taken very seriously. The prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The stipulation casts doubt on Russert’s firm testimony.” Podhoretz believes that the issue can likely lead the jury to find that it cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Libby perjured himself. Podhoretz concludes by misrepresenting Russert’s statement to Eckenrode: according to Podhoretz, all it took was a single phone call from the FBI for Russert to breach his professional ethics by revealing information about sources to Eckenrode, when in reality Russert told Eckenrode he did not learn of Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby, and battled the subpoena that compelled his testimony for the grand jury (see May 13-20, 2004, May 21, 2004, May 21, 2004, June 2004, June 2, 2004, and June 4, 2004). Podhoretz concludes, “[M]aybe, just maybe, Russert’s original words from November 2003—words he should never have spoken in the first place—will help get my friend Scooter out of his disgraceful mess.” [New York Post, 2/16/2007]
Former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who trained with outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), pens an angry rebuttal of former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing’s critique of the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see February 18, 2007). Johnson accuses Toensing of “plumbing new depths of delusion and crazed fantasies,” notes that her op-ed should have been titled “I Am Ignorant of Basic Facts,” and excoriates the Washington Post for printing it. Johnson directly refutes two of Toensing’s strongest rejoinders: Plame Wilson was not a covert agent and Joseph Wilson misled the public about his trip to Niger, his report on his findings, and his public discussions of his wife’s CIA status. [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007] In 2007, Plame Wilson will add, “Toensing apparently hadn’t been following the trial very closely, or else she would have known that each of her ‘charges’ had been refuted in ample documentary and witness testimony.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Johnson writes: “Valerie Plame was undercover until the day she was identified in Robert Novak’s column. I entered on duty with Valerie in September of 1985. Every single member of our class—which was comprised of case officers, analysts, scientists, and admin folks—were undercover. I was an analyst and Valerie was a case officer. Case officers work in the Directorate of Operations and work overseas recruiting spies and running clandestine operations. Although Valerie started out working under ‘official cover’—i.e., she declared she worked for the US government but in something innocuous, like the State Department—she later became a NOC aka non official cover officer. A NOC has no declared relationship with the United States government. These simple facts apparently are too complicated for someone of Ms. Toensing’s limited intellectual abilities.” Johnson also notes that he and his fellow CIA veterans Jim Marcinkowski, Brent Cavan, and Mike Grimaldi, accompanied by another CIA veteran who declined to be identified, appeared on ABC News in 2003 and verified Plame Wilson’s covert status (see October 22-24, 2003). And the facts introduced into evidence in the Libby trial show that at least four White House officials—Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003), and Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003)—told journalists that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent. The result was not only Plame Wilson’s exposure as a former NOC agent but the exposure of her NOC cover company, Brewster Jennings (see October 3, 2003). Johnson writes, “That leak by the Bush administration ruined Valerie’s ability to continue working as a case officer and destroyed an international intelligence network.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007] Plame Wilson will dismiss Toensing’s claim about her covert status as “dead wrong,” and ask a simple question: since Toensing is not a CIA employee herself, how does she know what Plame Wilson’s status was? [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Joseph Wilson - Johnson notes that Toensing alleges an array of impropriety on Joseph Wilson’s part. Johnson counters that Toensing suffers from an apparent “reading disability.” The facts are plain: Vice President Dick Cheney asked his CIA briefer for information on the Iraq-Niger uranium claim in early February 2002 (see 2002-Early 2003 and (February 13, 2002)), and the CIA asked Wilson to investigate the matter a week later (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Johnson writes: “Joe was a natural choice for the job. He had headed up the Africa desk at the National Security Council, he had served as an ambassador in West Africa, and had saved American lives from Saddam [Hussein] during the first Gulf War (see August 6, 1990 and September 20, 1990). He was not chosen by his wife, Valerie Plame. She only wrote a memo, at the behest of her boss in the Counterproliferation Divison of the Directorate of Operations, identifying Joe’s qualifications (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). And she was asked to inform her husband about the CIA’s interest in him going to Niger to help answer a request from Vice President Cheney, who wanted to know if there was any truth to reports that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger.… Valerie was not in the room when the decision was made nor was she in an administrative position with the clout to send her husband on such a mission.” This set of facts was confirmed by a memo from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR—see June 10, 2003) introduced during the trial. Johnson writes: “Too bad Ms. Toensing did not take time to read the CIA report produced from Mr. Wilson’s trip. He made it very clear in that report that Iraq had not purchased or negotiated the purchase of uranium.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007]
Limitations of IIPA - Plame Wilson will write of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, “If anything, her rantings pointed out the shortcomings of the bill she helped author—that is, the difficulty of prosecuting someone who had violated the law and passed along the covert identity of an operations officer to someone who did not have a security clearance.” Whether such an officer is currently overseas when their cover is blown is irrelevant, Plame Wilson will note; “[w]e use such things as alias passports, disguises, and other tradecraft secrets to do this. It’s called clandestine operations. Just as a general is still a general whether he or she is in the field or serving at the Pentagon, an operations officer by definition has responsibilities that don’t vanish depending on location.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292]
Jury Tampering? - Johnson writes that Toensing’s op-ed is so obviously another attempt to defend Libby, Cheney, and other White House officials, and to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s and the Wilsons’ credibility, that it can legitimately be considered an attempt at jury tampering—an attempt to influence the jury deciding Libby’s guilt or innocence. Johnson asks: “Just days before the Libby jury retires to consider a verdict, why was Toensing allowed to publish an article rife with lies and misstated facts? Why does the paper that played a key role in exposing the tyranny of Richard Nixon now allow this shallow woman to smear prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald?”
Public Service - According to Johnson, Fitzgerald has performed a public service in exposing the lies of Cheney, Libby, and others in the White House. “Cheney and Libby feared what the American people might do if they discovered they had been lied to about the case for war in Iraq. Now there is no doubt. They did lie and these lies have been exposed. Unfortunately, the Victoria Toensings of the world seem hell bent on perpetuating the lies and living in the delusional world that it is okay to out an undercover CIA officer during a time of war. While Toensing has the right to be wrong, we ought to ask why a paper with the reputation of the Washington Post is lowering its journalistic standards, ignoring ethics, and enabling the spread of lies. I think the owner of the Washington Post has some ‘splaining’ to do.” [Huffington Post, 2/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Washington Post, Counterproliferation Division, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Brewster Jennings, Brent Cavan, Ari Fleischer, Victoria Toensing, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Larry C. Johnson, Karl C. Rove, Mike Grimaldi, Jim Marcinkowski, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Victoria Toensing, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post structured to imitate a legal indictment. Toensing asks if anyone can explain “why Scooter Libby is the only person on trial in the Valerie Plame [Wilson] leak investigation?” (The Washington Post, which publishes the op-ed, does not disclose Toensing’s own ties to Libby’s defense—see March 23, 2005. [Washington Post, 2/18/2007] Neither does it disclose the longtime personal relationship between Toensing, her husband Joseph DiGenova, and columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 292] Neither does it disclose Toensing’s frequent criticisms of the investigation, including her position that the CIA and/or Joseph Wilson is responsible for outing Plame Wilson, and her belief that the entire trial is invalid (see November 2-9, 2005, November 3, 2005, November 7, 2005, and September 15, 2006).) Toensing dismisses the arguments laid out by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, lied to grand jurors (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) in order to keep secret a White House conspiracy to besmirch the reputation of White House critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Toensing calls the Libby indictment a “he said, she said” case based on conflicting testimony from other people. She proceeds to lay out her own “indictments”:
Patrick Fitzgerald - for “ignoring the fact that there was no basis for a criminal investigation from the day he was appointed,” for “handling some witnesses with kid gloves and banging on others with a mallet,” for “engaging in past contretemps with certain individuals that might have influenced his pursuit of their liberty, and with misleading the public in a news conference because… well, just because.” Toensing argues that Fitzgerald should have known from the outset that Plame Wilson was never a covert agent, and if he didn’t, he could have merely asked the CIA. Toensing writes, “The law prohibiting disclosure of a covert agent’s identity requires that the person have a foreign assignment at the time or have had one within five years of the disclosure, that the government be taking affirmative steps to conceal the government relationship, and for the discloser to have actual knowledge of the covert status.” Toensing is grossly in error about Plame Wilson’s covert status (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, and September 6, 2006). She also insinuates that Fitzgerald has two conflicts of interest: one in prosecuting Libby, as Fitzgerald investigated the Clinton-era pardon of financier Marc Rich, who was represented by Libby, and another in moving to jail reporter Judith Miller for refusing to provide evidence (see July 6, 2005) because Fitzgerald had subpoenaed Miller’s phone records for another, unrelated prosecution. Toensing questions Fitzgerald’s grant of immunity to former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see January 29, 2007), and complains that Fitzgerald allowed NBC News bureau chief Tim Russert to be interviewed with his lawyer present (see August 7, 2004), while columnist Robert Novak “was forced to testify before the grand jury without counsel present.” She concludes by accusing Fitzgerald of “violating prosecutorial ethics by discussing facts outside the indictment during his Oct. 28, 2005, news conference” (see October 28, 2005).
The CIA - “for making a boilerplate criminal referral to cover its derriere.” The Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, was never violated, she asserts, because Plame Wilson was never a covert agent. Instead of handling the issue internally, Toensing writes, the CIA passed the responsibility to the Justice Department by sending “a boiler-plate referral regarding a classified leak and not one addressing the elements of a covert officer’s disclosure.”
Joseph Wilson - for “misleading the public about how he was sent to Niger, about the thrust of his March 2003 oral report of that trip, and about his wife’s CIA status, perhaps for the purpose of getting book and movie contracts.” Toensing writes that Wilson appeared on Meet the Press the same day as his op-ed was published in the New York Times, and told host Andrea Mitchell, “The Office of the Vice President, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip there.” Toensing accepts Cheney’s denial of any involvement in Wilson’s trip and his denial that he was ever briefed on Wilson’s findings. Toensing argues that Wilson lied when he told other reporters that he was sent to Niger because of his “specific skill set” and his connections in the region (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and not because his wife sent him (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). Toensing uses portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee report to bolster her claim (see June 11, 2003 and July 9, 2004). She also challenges Wilson’s assertions that his oral report on his trip was not classified (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), March 8, 2002, and March 5, 2002). And she accuses Wilson of “play[ing] coy” about his wife’s CIA status.
The Media - for “hypocrisy in asserting that criminal law was applicable to this ‘leak’ and with misreporting facts to wage a political attack on an increasingly unpopular White House.” Major newspapers have “highfalutin’, well-paid” lawyers who should have known better than to let their clients call for special investigations into the Plame Wilson leak. The media has consistently “display[ed] their prejudice in this case.”
Ari Fleischer - “because his testimony about conversations differs from reporters’ testimony, just as Libby’s does.” Fleischer testified under oath that he revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to two reporters, Time’s John Dickerson and NBC’s David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson denies it and Gregory refuses to comment. Fleischer testified he did not tell the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus about Plame Wilson’s identity, contradicting Pincus’s own testimony that Fleischer did, indeed, ask repeatedly about the Wilsons (see January 29, 2007 and February 12, 2007). Because Fleischer “contradicted Pincus as materially as Libby contradicted Russert or Time’s Matthew Cooper,” he should be indicted as well. Instead, Fitzgerald gave Fleischer immunity in return for his testimony (see February 13, 2004). In that case, Toensing argues, Fitzgerald should indict Pincus insamuch as his testimony differs from Fleischer’s.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - for not publicly revealing that he was perhaps the first to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003). Armitage also discussed his FBI interview with his then-subordinate, Marc Grossman, the night before Grossman was due to meet with FBI investigators (see June 10, 2003).
The US Justice Department - for “abdicating its legal and professional responsibility by passing the investigation off to a special counsel out of personal pique and reasons of ambition.” Both then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and his deputy, James Comey, could have asked the CIA to confirm Plame Wilson’s covert status, Toensing writes. She also insinuates that Comey acted improperly in giving the investigation to Fitzgerald, “a former colleague and one of his best friends.” [Washington Post, 2/18/2007]
Refutation - Toensing’s arguments are refuted by former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who accuses Toensing of attempted jury tampering (see February 18, 2007).
Entity Tags: John Dickerson, Valerie Plame Wilson, US Department of Justice, Victoria Toensing, Walter Pincus, John Ashcroft, David Gregory, Andrea Mitchell, Ari Fleischer, Central Intelligence Agency, Tim Russert, Senate Intelligence Committee, Washington Post, Richard Armitage, Larry C. Johnson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Judith Miller, Joseph C. Wilson, Joseph diGenova, James B. Comey Jr., Robert Novak, Matthew Cooper, Office of the Vice President, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Marc Rich, Marc Grossman
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Peter Zeidenberg (left) and Patrick Fitzgerald outside the courthouse during the Libby trial. [Source: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst]After some final sparring between opposing counsel, the prosecution makes its closing argument in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial. Assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg opens with a lengthy presentation summing up the prosecution’s case against Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Evidence Proves Libby Lied to FBI, Grand Jury - According to Zeidenberg, the evidence as presented shows that Libby lied to both the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and the grand jury empaneled to investigate the Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). He lied about how he learned about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, who he spoke to about it, and what he said when he talked to others about Plame Wilson. A number of witnesses, including NBC reporter Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007), testified about Libby’s discussions to them about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby forgot nine separate conversations over a four-week period, Zeidenberg says, and invented two conversations that never happened, one with Russert and one with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper. “That’s not a matter of forgetting or misremembering,” he says, “it’s lying.”
No Evidence of White House 'Scapegoating' - The defense argued in its opening statement that Libby was being “scapegoated” by the White House to protect the president’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove (see January 23, 2007). No witness, either for the prosecution or the defense, referenced any such effort to scapegoat Libby. The defense may have promised evidence showing such a conspiracy to frame Libby, but, Zeidenberg says, “unfulfilled promises from counsel do not constitute evidence.”
Libby Learned of Plame Wilson's Identity from Five Administration Officials in Three Days - Zeidenberg then walks the jury through the testimony as given by prosecution witnesses. Both former State Department official Marc Grossman (see January 23-24, 2007) and former CIA official Robert Grenier testified (see January 24, 2007) that Libby had badgered Grossman for information about former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson (see May 29, 2003), and Grossman not only told Libby about Wilson and his CIA-sponsored trip to Niger, but that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see June 10, 2003 and 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Zeidenberg notes, “When Grossman told this to Libby, it was the fourth time, in two days, that Libby had been told about Wilson’s wife.” Libby had learned from Vice President Cheney that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official (see (June 12, 2003)). Two hours after Libby’s meeting with Grossman, Grenier told the jury that Libby had pulled him out of a meeting to discuss Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). During that impromptu discussion, Grenier told Libby that Wilson’s wife was a CIA official. Libby then learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Cathie Martin, Cheney’s communications aide (see 5:25 p.m. June 10, 2003 and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). Martin, who testified for the prosecution (see January 25-29, 2007), learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from CIA press official Bill Harlow. Zeidenberg ticks off the officials who informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status: Cheney, Grenier, Martin, and Grossman. (Zeidenberg is as yet unaware that Libby had also heard from another State Department official, Frederick Fleitz, of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—see (June 11, 2003)). On June 14, Libby heard about Plame Wilson from another CIA official, briefer Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003), who has also testified for the prosecution (see January 24-25, 2007). Schmall’s testimony corroborates the testimony from Martin, Grossman, and Grenier, Zeidenberg asserts.
Leaking Information to Judith Miller - On June 23, just over a week after learning Plame Wilson was a CIA official, Libby informed then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 23, 2003). Why? Zeidenberg asks. Because Libby wanted to discredit the CIA over what Libby saw as the agency’s failure to back the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMDs. Miller is the sixth person, Zeidenberg says, that Libby talked to about Plame Wilson. Miller also testified for the prosecution (see January 30-31, 2007).
Told Press Secretary - On July 7, Libby told White House press secretary Ari Fleischer about Plame Wilson (see 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003). Fleischer, under a grant of immunity from the prosecution, also testified (see January 29, 2007). By that point, Wilson had published his op-ed in the New York Times (see July 6, 2003), a column the administration considered to be highly damaging towards its credibility. Libby told Fleischer that the information about Plame Wilson was to be kept “hush hush.” However, Zeidenberg says, it is likely that Libby intended Fleischer to spread the information about Plame Wilson to other reporters, which in fact he did (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Fleischer is the seventh person that evidence shows Libby spoke to concerning Plame Wilson.
Conferring with Cheney's Chief Counsel - The eighth person in this list is David Addington. At the time, Addington was Cheney’s chief counsel; after Libby stepped down over being indicted for perjury and obstruction (see October 28, 2005), Addington replaced him as Cheney’s chief of staff. Addington also testified for the prosecution (see January 30, 2007). Libby asked Addington if the president could legally declassify information at will, referring to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Libby planned on leaking NIE material to Miller on July 8 (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003).
Leaking Classified Material to Miller - As stated, Libby indeed leaked classified material to Miller, during their meeting at the St. Regis Hotel. The “declassification” was highly unusual; only Cheney, Libby, and President Bush knew of the declassification. Libby again told Miller of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and this time told her, incorrectly, that Plame Wilson worked in the WINPAC (Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control) section of the agency. Cheney and Libby chose Miller, of all the reporters in the field, to leak the information to, Zeidenberg says; in her turn, Miller went to jail for almost three months rather than testify against Libby (see October 7, 2004). That fact damages her credibility as a prosecution witness.
The Russert Claim - Zeidenberg then turns to NBC’s Russert, who also testified for the prosecution (see February 7-8, 2007). Zeidenberg notes that after lead defense attorney Theodore Wells initially asserted that neither Russert nor any other reporter testifying for the prosecution was lying under oath, Wells and other defense attorneys cross-examined Russert for over five hours trying to prove that he indeed did lie. Libby claimed repeatedly to the grand jury that Russert told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 10 or 11, 2003), an assertion Russert has repeatedly denied. Zeidenberg plays an audiotape of Libby’s grand jury testimony featuring Libby’s assertion. Libby, Zeidenberg states, lied to the grand jury. Russert never made any such statement to Libby. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007] The defense tried to assert that Russert lied about his conversation with Libby because of some “bad blood” between the two. However, “evidence of [such a] feud is completely absent from the trial.” And if such a feud existed, why would Libby have chosen Russert to lie about before the jury? Such an assertion is merely a desperate attempt to discredit Russert, Zeidenberg says.
Matthew Cooper - Zeidenberg then turns to former Time reporter Matthew Cooper, another recipient of a Libby leak about Plame Wilson (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003). Cooper also testified for the prosecution (see January 31, 2007). When Libby told the grand jury that Cooper asked him about Plame Wilson being a CIA official, and Libby said he responded, “I don’t know if it’s true,” Libby lied to the jury. Zeidenberg plays the audiotape of Libby making the Cooper claim. Had Libby made such a statement, Cooper could not have used it as confirmation of his own reporting. Cooper did indeed use Libby as a source for a Time article (see July 17, 2003). Cooper’s testimony is corroborated by Martin’s recollection of the Libby-Cooper conversation. Zeidenberg says: “Martin was present. She never heard any of what you heard Libby just hear it. She never heard, ‘I don’t know if it’s true.’ If she had heard it, she would have said something, because she knew it was true.”
FBI Agent Bond's Testimony - Zeidenberg briefly references testimony from FBI agent Deborah Bond (see February 1-5, 2007), who told the court that Libby may have discussed leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Bond’s testimony corroborates the prosecution’s assertion that Libby attempted to obscure where he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity.
Grounds for Conviction - Zeidenberg reminds the jury of the three separate instances the prosecution says are Libby lies, then tells them if they find any one of the three statements to be actual lies, they can convict Libby of perjury. “You don’t have to find that all three were false beyond reasonable doubt,” he says. “You have to unanimously agree on any one.” Of the two false statements Libby is charged with making to investigators, the jury need only find one of them is truly false.
Defense Assertions - Zeidenberg turns to Libby’s main defense, that he was so overwhelmed with important work as Cheney’s chief of staff that it is unreasonable to expect him to remember the details that he is accused of lying about (see January 31, 2006). Zeidenberg says the trial has elicited numerous instances of conversations Libby had, for example his conversation with Rove about Robert Novak (see July 8 or 9, 2003), that he remembered perfectly well. Zeidenberg then plays the relevant audiotape from the grand jury proceedings. Why is it, he asks, that Libby can remember that conversation so well, but consistently misremembered nine separate conversations he had about Plame Wilson? “When you consider Libby’s testimony, there’s a pattern of always forgetting about Wilson’s wife,” Zeidenberg says. Libby remembered details about Fleischer being a Miami Dolphins fan, but didn’t remember talking about Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about the NIE with Miller, but not Plame Wilson. He remembered talking about declassification with Addington, but not Wilson’s wife. Zeidenberg calls it a “convenient pattern,” augmented by Libby’s specific recollections about not discussing other issues, such as Cheney’s handwritten notes about Wilson’s op-ed (see July 7, 2003 or Shortly After). The defense also claims that Libby confused Russert with Novak; Zeidenberg puts up pictures of Russert and Novak side by side, and asks if it is credible to think that Libby made such a mistake. The entire “memory defense,” Zeidenberg says, is “not credible to believe. It’s ludicrous.” Libby was far too involved in the administration’s efforts to discredit Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). [Associated Press, 2/20/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Motive to Lie - Zeidenberg addresses the idea of motive: why would Libby lie to the FBI and the grand jury, and why nine government witnesses would lie to the Libby jury. “Is it conceivable that all nine witnesses would make the same mistake in their memory?” he asks. Not likely. It is far more likely that Libby was motivated to lie because when he testified to FBI investigators, he knew there was an ongoing investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. He knew he had talked to Miller, Cooper, and Fleischer. He knew the FBI was looking for him. He knew from newspaper articles entered into evidence that the leak could have severely damaged Plame Wilson’s informant network and the Brewster Jennings front company (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). Even Addington’s testimony, about Libby asking him about the legality of leaking classified information, is evidence of Libby’s anxiety over having disclosed such information. And Libby knew that such disclosure is a breach of his security clearance, not only risking his job, but prosecution as well. So when he is questioned by the FBI, he had a choice: tell the truth and take his chances with firing and prosecution for disclosing the identity of a covert agent, or lie about it. “And, ladies and gentlemen,” Zeidenberg says, “he took the second choice. He made up a story that he thought would cover it.” And when caught out, he claimed to have forgotten that he originally knew about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby, Zeidenberg says, “made a gamble. He lied. Don’t you think the FBI and the grand jury and the American people are entitled to straight answers?” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
No Conspiracy, Just a Lie - Zeidenberg concludes by telling the jury that there was no grand White House conspiracy to scapegoat Libby, nor was there an NBC conspiracy to smear him. The case is just about Libby lying to federal authorities. “When you consider all the evidence, the government has established that the defendant lied to the FBI, lied to the grand jury, and obstructed justice.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Matthew Cooper, Peter Zeidenberg, Theodore Wells, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, Marc Grossman, Robert Grenier, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Frederick Fleitz, Judith Miller, Bush administration (43), Bill Harlow, Ari Fleischer, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Craig Schmall, David S. Addington, Joseph C. Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Bond, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Defense lawyer Theodore Wells makes his closing argument to the jury, as Judge Reggie Walton looks on. [Source: Art Lien / Court Artist (.com)]Defense lawyer Theodore Wells makes his team’s closing argument in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial. Wells is following a two-hour closing argument by assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007). [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Indignation - Wells begins by saying he finds Zeidenberg’s arguments so incredible, he thinks he might be drunk. “[I]t sure sounded like I said a lot of things I could not deliver on,” he says. Court observer Marcy Wheeler, notating the arguments for the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes that while Zeidenberg came across as dispassionate and methodical, Wells’s tone is indignant and charged with emotion. In her book Fair Game, former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson later describes Wells’s demeanor as “over the top, emotional… stalking the courtroom and changing the pitch and cadence of his voice like a seasoned Baptist preacher.” Wells says he will refrain from besmirching Zeidenberg’s character over some of the claims made in his argument, “because I don’t want to be personal.” Wells says that in the grand jury proceedings where Libby allegedly lied under oath (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), lawyers asked “the same question time after time after time,” causing Libby to stumble and misstate himself. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 293; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Revives Claim of Libby Being 'Scapegoated' - Wells denies claiming the existence of a White House conspiracy to “scapegoat” Libby in his opening statement (see January 23, 2007), saying he instead merely put into evidence the so-called “meat grinder” note from Vice President Dick Cheney that asserted it would be unfair to protect White House official Karl Rove and sacrifice Libby (see October 4, 2003). (Wells is misstating the contents of the note; it does not mention Rove at all.) Instead of lying, Wells says, Libby was “fight[ing] to get clear,” fighting to save his credibility after White House officials “blew him off.”
'He Said, She Said' - Wells asserts Libby’s complete innocence of all the charges brought against him, and says the entire body of evidence amounts to nothing more than a case of “he said, she said,” indicating that witnesses contradicted and disputed one another. Libby’s recollections, Wells says, are different from those of the reporters who testified for the prosecution. None of the charges pertain to Libby’s conversations with the White House officials who testified for the prosecution. The question hinges on whether Libby lied about his conversations with reporters Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, and Robert Novak. One of the charges, hinging on Libby’s statements about his conversation with Miller, is no longer in contention. Of the conversation with Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), Wells says Libby was truthful when he told Cooper he “didn’t know” whether Plame Wilson was a CIA official or not. The evidence supports Libby’s position, Wells says.
Tim Russert - Wells turns to NBC reporter Tim Russert, whom Libby claimed told him about Plame Wilson being a CIA official (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Russert either lied under oath, Wells says, or had a major memory lapse. Because of what Wells calls Russert’s contradictory testimony, that “in and of itself is reasonable doubt,” and grounds for acquittal. The prosecution is flatly wrong in its timeline of events. It is almost certain Russert read Robert Novak’s column naming Plame Wilson as a CIA official on July 11, 2003, after it was issued on the Associated Press wire (see July 11, 2003), and informed Libby of that fact during their conversation shortly thereafter. Perhaps Russert merely misremembered the dates or the events of his discussion with Libby, Wells says, but his testimony was wrong. “You cannot convict Mr. Libby solely on the word of this man,” he says. “It would just be fundamentally unfair.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Associated Press, 2/20/2007]
Presumed Innocent - Wells admonishes the jury not to forget that Libby is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Libby didn’t testify (see February 13-14, 2007) because the defense is not required to prove the innocence of the accused. The only question, Wells states, is whether Libby is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Did the government prove that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? Wells says no. He then ticks off the five counts of criminal behavior that Libby is charged with, and links each one of them to either Russert, Cooper, or both. In the instances of both reporters, Wells says, there is doubt as to their recollections and therefore doubt as to whether Libby lied about his conversations with them. Wells calls it “madness… that someone would get charged with this.” If Libby misstated himself, Wells says, he did so with good intentions, with a good-faith effort to tell the truth. There was no “deliberate, purposeful intent to lie.” Wells walks the jury through his version of events, which he says proves Libby told the truth to the best of his ability throughout. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Jeffress - William Jeffress, another defense attorney, takes up the defense’s closing argument after lunch. Wheeler writes that his demeanor is far calmer and reasonable than Wells’s emotional presentation. Jeffress says that common sense alone should lead the jury to find that Libby either told the truth as he understood it or merely misremembered as an honest mistake. The case, he says, is about memory first and foremost. Libby may have misremembered, Jeffress says. The reporters who testified may have misremembered. It is plausible to think that Libby learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status in June 2003, told some government officials, then in the crush of events, forgot about it until July, when he learned it again from Russert. Jeffress walks the jury through a timeline of how reporters learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from various government officials other than Libby, and says some of them, particularly former press secretary Ari Fleischer, may well have lied under oath to cover themselves (see January 29, 2007). Jeffress plays selections from Libby’s grand jury testimony to bolster his arguments about the various reporters learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from other officials.
Motive to Lie? - Libby had no motive to lie, Jeffress asserts. He was never charged with violating the statutes covering the exposure of a covert intelligence agent (see May 10, 2006). No one has testified that they knew without a doubt that Plame Wilson was covert, though the prosecution implied it more than once. If newspaper articles claimed that Plame Wilson was covert, those articles cannot be taken as factual; many articles and op-eds asserted that Plame Wilson was never covert. “It remains far from clear that a law was violated.” And Libby had no way to know that Plame Wilson was herself covert. No one, not Libby or any other government official who exposed Plame Wilson’s identity, lost their job over exposing her CIA status.
Judith Miller - Jeffress again turns to the issue of reporters’ credibility, beginning with Miller. Her testimony (see January 30-31, 2007) was, he says, marred with mistakes and failures of memory, even going so far as testifying, when she spoke to the grand jury, that she had not learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby (see September 30, 2005), and then reversing that claim in subsequent testimony (see October 12, 2005). “Pretty amazing, a person testifying about this after not remembering for two years,” Jeffress observes. As Libby kept no notes of his conversations with Miller, he has only his word to refute her claims. Miller, Jeffress says, is an unreliable witness.
Matthew Cooper - Jeffress, who is running out of time for his portion of the close, turns to Cooper. The difference between Libby’s recollection of events and Cooper’s is, Jeffress asserts, the difference that the government wants the jury to convict on three separate charges. Yet Cooper never wrote about Plame Wilson until after her status was made public. Libby did not serve as a source for his reporting (see July 17, 2003). And as with Miller, Cooper’s testimony proved his failure to keep accurate notes (see January 31, 2007).
Cathie Martin - Jeffress moves quickly to address the testimony of Cathie Martin, then a communications aide to Cheney (see January 25-29, 2007). Martin testified that Libby’s version of his telephone conversation with Cooper was incorrect, and as she was there for the conversation, her testimony is accurate. However, Martin misremembered the number of calls made (two, not one) and did not hear Libby’s side of the conversation accurately. She had no way to know what Cooper was saying on the other end.
Jeffress Concludes - Jeffress concludes by telling the jurors that they are the first people to examine the case “through the lens of a presumption of innocence.” The prosecution, he says, has not proven the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. “It’s not even close.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Wells Continues - Theodore Wells once again addresses the jury. He has less than an hour to finish. He refers back to the “meat grinder” note from Cheney that proves, Wells says, Libby did not leak classified information (see June 27, 2003, July 2, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Wells also revisits his claim that Libby was “left out to dry” by other White House officials. He disputes the timeline of events from the prosecution, again attacks the credibility of prosecution witnesses such as Russert and Fleischer, and calls the prosecution’s evidence “circumstantial” and unconvincing. He even disputes that Libby was involved in any effort to discredit Joseph Wilson, or that there even was an effort among White House officials to do so. As he reaches the end of his time, Wells’s demeanor once again begins to exhibit agitation and indignation, and he calls the idea that Libby, whom he says devoted himself to serving the Bush administration, committed a crime in that service “outrageous.” He revisits the contention that Libby’s memory was faulty and failed him at inopportune times, calls the courtroom a “laboratory of recollection,” and asks the jurors if they can emphathize with Libby’s forgetfulness. He reminds the jury of former Cheney aide John Hannah’s claims to that effect, and his testimony to Libby’s stressful job (see February 13, 2007). Libby, Wells says, deserves the “benefit of the doubt.” Wells admits that Libby “made mistakes” in his grand jury testimony, but those mistakes were honest “misrecollect[ions].” During his final minutes, Wells becomes emotional, breaking into tears and imploring the jurors not to sacrifice Libby because they might disapprove of the Bush administration or the war in Iraq. “This is a man with a wife and two children,” he says. “He is a good person. He’s been under my protection for the past month. I give him to you. Give him back! Give him back to me!” Wells sits down, sobbing. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Associated Press, 2/20/2007; Washington Post, 2/21/2007; New York Sun, 2/21/2007]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Ari Fleischer, Marcy Wheeler, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Judith Miller, John Hannah, William Jeffress, Karl C. Rove, Tim Russert, Matthew Cooper, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Novak, Theodore Wells, Peter Zeidenberg, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Lead prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald delivers the rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument (see 11:00 a.m. February 20, 2007) in the final stage of the Lewis Libby perjury trial. Fitzgerald is transformed in his rebuttal, from the dispassionate, methodical presence he has displayed throughout the trial into a figure of outrage and scorn. He virtually leaps from his seat to rebut the defense’s argument, shouting: “Madness! Madness! Outrageous!” Tightening up somewhat, he tells the jury that in the defense’s characterization, “The government has brought a case about two witnesses, two phone calls. And they just want you to speculate. The defense wishes that were so. Saying it loudly, pounding the table, doesn’t change the facts. Let’s talk about the facts. Let’s get busy.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Salon, 2/22/2007] Progressive blogger Jane Hamsher, who is present in the courtroom, describes Fitzgerald’s rebuttal as “lacerating and precise, speaking so quickly that the court reporter couldn’t catch up. His command of the material was a bit daunting, able to recall voluminous evidentiary document numbers simply by looking at some chart in his own brain.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 293; Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Nine Versus One - The case is anything but a “he said, she said” situation, as defense attorney Theodore Wells characterized it during his portion of the closing argument. It is, Fitzgerald says, about nine different people having one version of events, and Libby alone with a markedly different version. Fitzgerald focuses on NBC reporter Tim Russert, whom the defense spent a lavish amount of time and attention attempting to discredit. Instead of Russert being such an impeachable witness, Fitzgerald says, “I’ll tell you that Russert alone can give you proof beyond reasonable doubt.” And even without Russert’s testimony, there is plenty of evidence to convict Libby of perjury and obstruction. Fitzgerald refutes Wells’s contention that all of the prosecution witnesses had faulty memories, telling the jury: “I submit you can’t believe that nine witnesses remembered 10 conversations exactly the same wrong way.… It’s not one on one. It’s not, ‘He said, she said.’ Nine witnesses can’t all misremember.” He addresses the defense’s contention that Valerie Plame Wilson was not important, calling that characterization a “myth” and stating that to the Bush administration, “she wasn’t a person, she was an argument, she was a fact to use against [her husband Joseph] Wilson.” Fitzgerald quickly runs through the prosecution’s structure of events as laid down by its current and former administration witnesses and even some defense witnesses. The documents entered into evidence corroborate the prosecution’s contention that to Libby and his boss Vice President Dick Cheney, both Wilson and Plame Wilson were “hugely important.” Libby was “wrapped around the issue of who told him. He’s wrapped himself around the issue of Valerie Wilson.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
'Cloud over the Vice President' - Fitzgerald focuses on Cheney, saying: “There is a cloud over the vice president. He wrote on those columns. He had those meetings. He sent Libby off to the meeting with Judith Miller where Plame was discussed. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed justice. That cloud is there. That cloud is something that we just can’t pretend isn’t there.” Libby was “not supposed to be talking to other people,” Fitzgerald says. “The only person he told is the vice president.… Think about that.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; Salon, 2/22/2007; Murray Waas, 12/23/2008] Plame Wilson will later write, “He suggested that [Cheney] was, at a minimum, complicit with Libby in the leak of my name.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 293]
Defense Objection - Fitzgerald lists example after example of Libby’s memory being far better than the defense describes. In the process, he tells the jury that Libby must have known Plame Wilson’s role at the CIA was important, and therefore something he was unlikely to forget, because he was “discussing something with people that could lead to people being killed.… If someone is outed, people can get in trouble overseas. They can get arrested, tortured, or killed.” Fitzgerald’s implication is clear: Plame Wilson was a covert agent. The defense objects, citing Judge Reggie Walton’s ruling that neither the prosecution nor defense will refer to Plame Wilson’s covert status. Fitzgerald tells the jurors they should think about the “people being killed” scenario to understand Libby’s “state of mind,” but they should not draw any conclusions about “whether it’s true or false.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; National Review, 2/21/2007; New York Sun, 2/21/2007]
No Conspiracy, Just Lies - The things Libby remembered best were the things we all remember best, Fitzgerald says: items that are unique, items that are important, and items that make you angry. The Plame Wilson identity issue, he says, was all three to Libby. His memory did not let him down. Instead, Fitzgerald says, Libby lied under oath. “He made his bet, planted his feet, and stuck. From then on he told the same story.” There is no conspiracy to scapegoat Libby, he reiterates (see January 23, 2007). There is just Libby, lying to protect his job and his freedom from imprisonment. “You know you’re not surprised on Thursday, if you gave it out Monday and Tuesday, you weren’t surprised.”
Conclusion - “Don’t you think the American people are entitled to answers?” Fitzgerald asks. “Don’t you think the FBI deserves straight answers?… He threw sand in the eyes of the FBI. He stole the truth of the judicial system. You return a verdict of guilty and you give the truth back.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007]
Judge Instructs Jury on Fitzgerald's Argument - After Fitzgerald concludes, Walton tells the jury: “I’m going to give you another cautionary. The truth of whether someone could be harmed based upon the disclosure of people working in a covert capacity is not at issue in this case. Remember what I have told you several times. Mr. Libby is not charged with leaking classified information.” Walton is referring to Fitzgerald’s implication that Plame Wilson was a covert CIA official. Walton dismisses the jurors for the day, and tells them that tomorrow they begin their deliberations. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/20/2007; National Review, 2/21/2007]
Media responses to the closing arguments in the Libby trial (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007, 11:00 a.m. February 20, 2007, and 3:00 p.m. February 20, 2007) are strong and varied.
'Strongest Arguments Yet' of Cheney's Complicity - New York Sun reporter Josh Gerstein writes that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s “explosive” statements were his “strongest arguments yet” that Vice President Dick Cheney directed former chief of staff Lewis Libby to out CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. Libby was “not supposed to be talking to other people,” Fitzgerald said. “The only person he told is the vice president.… Think about that.” [New York Sun, 2/21/2007]
Fitzgerald Put 'Vice President on Trial' - Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff writes, “Fitzgerald pretty much made it clear to the jury that Libby, in the prosecution’s mind, was protecting the vice president of the United States.” Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News adds: “I think Fitzgerald and his fellow prosecutors put the vice president on trial, even though he was not charged with anything. But he was very much front and center in this trial from start to finish.” [Washington Post, 2/21/2007]
Fitzgerald 'Sinister,' 'Overcaffeinated'; Wells 'Erratic' - Conservative columnist Byron York is somewhat taken aback at Fitzgerald’s focus on Cheney, calling Fitzgerald “quite sinister” in his statements about Cheney’s apparent complicity in the leak. York sums up the two sides’ arguments and presentational styles. He calls both sides “uneven,” and says that defense attorney Theodore Wells’s performance “was erratic, sometimes appearing to defend his own honor more than his client’s, and sometimes brilliantly dismantling the credibility of key prosecution witnesses.” York writes that Fitzgerald “seemed overcaffeinated and overreaching, perhaps overwhelming the jury with the minutiae of the case.” He concludes, “How their closing summations will play with jurors is anybody’s guess.” [National Review, 2/21/2007]
Praise for Wells - The Washington Post’s Linton Weeks is more complimentary of Well’s closing statement. Weeks’s analysis of Wells’s close is similar to the glowing profile published by the New York Times earlier in the trial (see February 10, 2007). He portrays Wells as “tall, athletic, mustachioed—like a fighter imaging the bout to come,” and possessed of “an inner toughness of someone who will use any combination of punches to win big.” He notes that Wells paused during the proceedings to check on his elderly mother, watching her son from a wheelchair in the courtroom aisle. Though Weeks writes that Wells had “moments [that] seemed out of sync,” hurrying through a PowerPoint slide presentation, “[a]t other times, he was impressive, trying to convince the jury that the prosecution was attempting to ruin Libby based on a few conversations with reporters.” Weeks quotes one of Wells’s colleagues, Washington lawyer Stanley Brand, as saying Wells “has a wonderful demeanor… a master tactician… a bulldog, but in a gentle way.” Brand calls Wells “one of the five best trial lawyers in the country.” Weeks then spins an admiring biography of the “tough defense attorney who has mastered the balance between easygoing and hard-charging,” and uses Wells’s high school and college football career upon which to hang his final metaphor: “There in the middle of the courtroom, Wells was playing center again, helping call the plays and protecting the guy with the ball. Laughing in the beginning, crying in the end.” [Washington Post, 2/21/2007]
Sincere and Insincere Emotions - Author Marcy Wheeler, writing for the blog FireDogLake (see February 15, 2007), says that assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg baited Wells into going into a sincere rage at the beginning of his argument. In the first portion of the prosecution’s close, Zeidenberg told the jury that Wells had not proven the White House conspiracy he alleged, and, Wheeler writes, Wells spent the first 20 minutes of his closing argument defending his trial strategy. “This was real rage,” she writes, “but it was rage in the service of Ted Wells, not rage in the service of Scooter Libby.” By goading Wells into losing his composure and defending his own actions, Wheeler writes, Wells was forced to rush his climactic argument. Wheeler says that Wells “really does have a schtick, one that the journalists who have seen him before all recognize. He finishes the rational part of his case. Then he spends the last 20 minutes or so summoning rage for his client. He brings all the emotion summoned for his client to a crescendo. And then he weeps, demonstrating clearly to the jury how deeply he believes that his client has been wronged.” But because Wells wasted the first 20 minutes defending his own actions, he “had no time to get into character, and he went immediately from a rushed but rational argument about memory into his emotional appeal.… [C]ompared to the real rage Wells had shown earlier in the day, it looked fake. Utterly, completely fake. Because Wells reacted to Zeidenberg’s barbs, he showed the jury true emotion that made all his elaborate schtick—the thing that Wells does best, normally—look like an act.” Moreover, Fitzgerald was able to mock the outrage that Wheeler believes to be “schtick” (see 3:00 p.m. February 20, 2007) all the more effectively because he almost never raised his voice or displayed any passion throughout the trial. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/21/2007]
Facts vs. Emotion - Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton administration adviser who has written a book critical of the Bush administration, writes that the prosecution depended largely on a structure of facts and evidence, while the defense relied much more on emotional appeals to the jury. He writes, “[T]he final argument on behalf of Scooter Libby was Libby’s last disinformation campaign.” Of the defense’s attacks on the credibility of news reports and the journalists who make them, Blumenthal writes: “This extraordinary defense—that nothing in any newspaper can be considered true—was the reductio ad absurdum of the Bush administration’s use and abuse of the press corps. Having manipulated it to plant stories on weapons of mass destruction to legitimize the Iraq war, Libby, who was centrally involved in those disinformation efforts, was reduced to defending himself on the basis that newspapers cannot be trusted to publish the truth.” Of Fitzgerald’s pronouncement of a “cloud” over Cheney, Blumenthal writes that “Fitzgerald made clear that he believed that Cheney was the one behind the crime for which he was prosecuting Libby. It was Cheney who was the boss, Cheney who gave the orders, and Cheney to whom Libby was the loyal soldier, and it is Cheney for whom Libby is covering up.” [Salon, 2/22/2007]
Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Linton Weeks, Josh Gerstein, Byron York, Thomas DeFrank, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Sidney Blumenthal, Reggie B. Walton, Stanley Brand, Michael Isikoff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Peter Zeidenberg
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The Washington Post publishes a speculative article about the possible reactions that will ensue if Lewis Libby is acquitted. An acquittal, the article states, would be severely damaging to the reputation of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has for years been lambasted for trying a case that some believe should never have been brought to court. Attorney Robert Mintz says, “The stakes are enormously high.” If Fitzgerald loses this case, he says, “some will say he lost his way in his search for truth, just another case of a prosecutor who sets off and thinks they can’t come back unless they have a prosecution, no matter how trivial.” Fitzgerald’s reputation as a non-partisan prosecutor will be tarnished, Mintz notes. Other lawyers say Fitzgerald had a duty to bring the case to trial. Former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) says that no matter what the verdict, Fitzgerald will be judged as a prosecutor run amok who chased petty political crimes “to the ends of the Earth.… He had to realize early on that the matter he was appointed to investigate was not a crime. He should have put his little papers in his briefcase and gone back to Chicago.” Thompson sits on the board of the Libby Legal Defense Fund (see After October 28, 2005). [Washington Post, 2/22/2007]
Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway. [Source: Camera (.org)]Boston Globe columnist H. D. S. Greenway writes that the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007) has revealed “the astonishing lengths to which Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration went to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson for his 2003 claim that the administration had been dead wrong about Saddam Hussein trying to buy material from Niger to make nuclear weapons. The intensity and single mindedness of this pursuit leapt out from the testimony.” Greenway calls the decision to “out” Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA agent in their attempt to impugn Wilson’s character an act of “desperation,” and “the intensity of the Wilson smear campaign… obsessive.” He writes, “The concept that she had sent her husband to Niger on some kind of boondoggle, instead of to investigate the Saddam sale, is bizarre in the extreme.” Most importantly, the trial revealed the lengths the White House went to protect both the case for going to war in Iraq and “Cheney’s connection to flawed intelligence. There you have it. In the most dysfunctional administration of our time, the vice president’s office felt free to use classified information to bolster a false impression of Saddam’s nuclear capabilities—going to absurd lengths to keep the truth from the American people and perhaps even the White House.” The real reason for war was to begin the neoconservative plan for remaking the Middle East to conform to their vision; the real reason for smearing Wilson was that he exposed that underlying rationale for war. Greenway concludes: “Everybody now, hawks and doves, even the neo-cons, agree that the Bush administration mismanaged the Iraq war. But what Americans need to realize is that the whole concept of attacking a country in order to remake it into America’s image is horribly wrong and counterproductive in the extreme—not just its faulty execution. The Libby trial jury is still out at this writing, but the concept that he could forget conversations he made on the excuse that he was too consumed with the plans for war is something I have trouble believing. At the time discrediting Wilson was Libby’s war.” [Boston Globe, 2/27/2007]
Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, now a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a frequent guest on news talk shows, writes a brief and angry response to the news that Lewis Libby was convicted of four felony charges (see March 6, 2007). Frum writes, “The man who actually did the leaking continues to earn millions of dollars, go out to dinner, and be respectfully quoted by attentive journalists,” referring to former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003). “Scooter Libby is publicly branded an oath-breaker on the basis of diverging recollections. Yet it was the man who set this case in motion, former ambassador Joe Wilson, who was caught in lie after lie by the Senate Intelligence Committee.” Frum is referring to Republican addendums to the committee’s 2004 report on Iraqi WMD, many of which have been proven false (see July 9, 2004). Lashing out further, Frum writes: “Now we remember why Democrats are so much more eager than Republicans to criminalize politics: Because they know that the ultimate power over the lives and liberties of the contestants is held by juries drawn from the most Democratic jurisdiction in the country. Would Scooter have been convicted—would a prosecutor ever have dared to try him—if the capital of the United States were located in say Indianapolis?” Frum concludes with a demand for a presidential pardon, writing: “It all makes you think: President Bush should have pardoned everybody involved in this case on the day Patrick Fitzgerald sent Judith Miller to jail. But it’s not too late: Pardon Scooter now.” [National Review, 3/6/2007] The National Review editors issue a similar condemnation of the trial and a demand for a presidential pardon (see March 6, 2007).
Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto joins his conservative colleagues at the National Review in calling the Lewis Libby trial verdict (see March 6, 2007) a “travesty” (see March 6, 2007 and March 6, 2007). Libby should never have been prosecuted at all, Taranto writes, and calls the courtroom proceedings a “show trial” that will allow “partisans of [war critic] Joseph Wilson [to] use the guilty verdict to declare vindication” (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). Like the National Review writers, Taranto insists that the trial proved Libby’s innocence, not his guilt; proved that Wilson, not the White House, lied about Iraqi WMDs (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002, Mid-January 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, and July 6, 2003); proved that Valerie Plame Wilson was not a covert agent for the CIA (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, and September 6, 2006); and proved that no one from the White House leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to columnist Robert Novak (see June 19 or 20, 2003, June 27, 2003, July 2, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 8, 2003, 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 10, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, July 14 or 15, 2003, and July 17, 2003). The entire case against Libby was “a tissue of lies,” Taranto argues. No one committed any crimes, he continues, and calls special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald “an overzealous prosecutor, one who was more interested in getting a scalp than in getting to the truth of the matter.” Libby could have avoided being prosecuted and convicted merely by refusing to “remember” anything under questioning, Taranto says, and concludes, “Therein lies a lesson for witnesses in future such investigations—which may make it harder for prosecutors to do their jobs when pursuing actual crimes.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/6/2007]
Within hours of the four guilty verdicts against Lewis Libby being handed down (see March 6, 2007), former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing publishes a brief article on the Web site of the National Review, a conservative news and opinion publication, delineating the arguments behind a possible appeal of the verdicts. Toensing was a signatory of a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Libby (see March 23, 2005), and has written numerous articles attacking the prosecution and disparaging the trial (see November 2-9, 2005, November 3, 2005, November 7, 2005, September 15, 2006, and February 18, 2007). She writes that the trial verdicts “make… no logical sense, but that won’t bother the legal notions of an appellate court.” Toensing represents the verdicts as the jury finding that Libby lied to a grand jury about his conversation with Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but did not lie about the same conversation to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003). Toensing opines that “[t]he court punished Libby for not taking the stand,” which she says made Judge Reggie Walton “furious” and led him to limit Libby’s use of his “memory defense” (see February 12, 2007). She also objects to Walton’s refusal to allow the defense to attack NBC reporter Tim Russert for apparent contradictions in his testimony (see February 14, 2007). And she falsely states that Walton repeatedly allowed special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to characterize CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson as “classified” or “covert” during the trial, saying such characterizations were “highly prejudicial”; in reality, Walton prohibited the jury from hearing testimony that would confirm or deny Plame Wilson’s classified status, and supported a defense objection to Fitzgerald’s implication to such a status during his closing argument (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007). Toensing notes that Fitzgerald did call Plame Wilson “classified” in a press conference held after Libby’s conviction was declared in the court, and reiterates her argument that exposing Plame Wilson’s CIA status does not constitute a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. [National Review, 3/6/2007] Ten days after Toensing’s article, Plame Wilson will confirm to Congress that she was a covert CIA official (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, and September 6, 2006) up to the moment she was exposed by columnist Robert Novak (see March 16, 2007).
The New York Post joins the National Review (see March 6, 2007 and March 6, 2007) in demanding an immediate presidential pardon for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The Post accuses “Democrats and Bush-bashers in the media” of “chortling with glee” over the guilty verdicts, and says special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald now “has a high-level scalp on his belt,” Libby’s. The Post joins many other conservative media pundits and publications in asking why Libby was prosecuted for leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) when the first admitted leaker was another government official, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003). (The Post fails to note that Armitage admitted to his leak—see October 2, 2003—while Libby committed perjury and obstruction of justice in his untruthful denials of leaking Plame Wilson’s identity—see October 14, 2003, November 26, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004.) Instead, the Post writes, the entire investigation and trial was about “[s]coring points against [President] Bush. That much is obvious, given prosecutor Fitzgerald’s conduct during Libby’s trial.” The Post charges Fitzgerald with being “blatantly political” in charging Vice President Dick Cheney with orchestrating the leak and violating the court’s orders not to discuss Plame Wilson’s covert status (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007). It paints the jury as “wholly confused,” and writes that perhaps the jury was less interested in issuing a fair verdict for Libby and more interested “in just going home.” The Post exhorts President Bush to pardon Libby, and writes: “Sure, he’d take a lot of political heat for it. But Libby was in the dock because of politics—and turnabout is fair play. Free Scooter Libby.” [New York Post, 3/7/2007]
Fred Thompson. [Source: Politico]Former US Senator Fred Dalton Thompson (R-TN), who plays an executive district attorney in the popular television crime drama Law and Order, writes a column for the National Review ironically titled “Law and Disorder,” lambasting the Lewis Libby trial verdict (see March 6, 2007). Thompson, who has aspirations to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, says that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald “look[ed] like a man who has dodged a bullet and is ready to get out of town” after his post-verdict press conference. Thompson labels the trial verdict a “sorry state of affairs” and says Libby was convicted for two reasons.
Justice Department 'Folded under Political and Media Pressure' - First, “the Justice Department folded under political and media pressure because of the Plame [Wilson] leak and appointed a special counsel,” thus “abdicat[ing] their official responsibility” to refuse to investigate the leak. Secondly, “[t]he Plame/Wilson defenders [referring to Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson] wanted administration blood because the administration had had the audacity to question the credibility of Joe Wilson and defend themselves against his charges.” The Justice Department, “in order to completely inoculate themselves, gave power and independence to Fitzgerald that was not available to Ken Starr, Lawrence Walsh, or any prior independent counsel under the old independent counsel law. Fitzgerald became unique in our judicial history in that he was accountable to no one. And here even if Justice had retained some authority they could hardly have asked Fitzgerald why he continued to pursue a non-crime because they knew from the beginning there was no crime.” Thompson writes that, once appointed special counsel, “Fitzgerald began his Sherman’s march through the law and the press until he thought he had finally come up with something to justify his lofty mandate—a case that would not have been brought in any other part of the country” (Thompson is referring to Washington, DC, which many conservatives consider an unusually liberal area of the nation; presumably he is arguing that the jury was unduly comprised of liberals—see January 16-23, 2007). The media, Thompson writes, was by then “suffering from Stockholm syndrome—[t]hey feared and loved Fitzgerald at the same time. He was establishing terrible precedent by his willingness to throw reporters in jail over much less than serious national security matters—the Ashcroft standard! Yet Fitzgerald was doing the Lord’s work in their eyes. This was a ‘bad leak,’ not a ‘good leak’ like the kind they like to use. And it was much better to get the Tim Russert and Ari Fleischer treatment than it is to get the Judith Miller treatment [referring to Russert’s supposed ‘preferential treatment’—see February 14, 2007 and February 16, 2007—Fleischer’s grant of immunity—see February 13, 2004—and Miller’s jailing for contempt—see July 6, 2005]. Fitzgerald paid no price for his prosecutorial inconsistencies, his erroneous public statements, or his possible conflicts of interest. And now they get to point out how this case revealed the ‘deep truths’ about the White House.”
2004 Testimony from Libby Undermined Claim of Innocence - The second reason Libby was convicted, Thompson writes, was his decision to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury “without counsel… with this controversy swirling around him while trying to remember and recount conversations with various news reporters—reporters who he knew would be interviewed about these conversations themselves” (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). (Libby is himself a lawyer, and spoke with White House counsel before testifying.) Libby’s decision to testify without the presence of counsel, says Thompson, is the action of “a man with nothing to hide… who doesn’t appreciate the position he is in or what or whom he is dealing with.” Libby was convicted out of actions stemming from his own “naivety” (sic), Thompson writes. [National Review, 3/7/2006]
The Wall Street Journal joins the National Review (see March 6, 2007 and March 6, 2007), the New York Post (see March 7, 2007), and a law professor whom the Journal published in today’s editorial pages (see March 7, 2007) in demanding that President Bush pardon convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The Journal’s editorial board hopes that “Bush will realize that this case was always a political fight over Iraq and do the right thing by pardoning Mr. Libby.” Like its fellow conservative pundits and media outlets, the Journal calls the conviction “a travesty of justice,” and writes that the Libby defense team “seems to have blundered by portraying Mr. Libby as the ‘fall guy’ for others in the White House. That didn’t do enough to rebut [special counsel Patrick] Fitzgerald’s theory of the case, and so the jury seems to have decided that Mr. Libby must have been lying to protect something. The defense might have been better off taking on Mr. Fitzgerald for criminalizing political differences.” Libby was “convicted of telling the truth about” Joseph and Valerie Plame Wilson “to some reporters (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) but then not owning up to it.” The Journal believes Libby “tried to cooperate with the grand jury because he never really believed he had anything to hide” (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). The entire case was brought, the Journal avers, to attack the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq. The Bush administration bears its own culpability, the Journal says, for not “confront[ing] Mr. Wilson’s lies head on” and instead becoming “defensive,” allowing “a trivial matter to become a threat to the administration itself.” The White House should not have allowed then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself from the investigation (see December 30, 2003) and let the Justice Department appoint Fitzgerald to investigate the leaks. “Mr. Libby got caught in the eddy not because he was dishonest but because he was a rare official who actually had the temerity to defend the president’s Iraq policy against Mr. Wilson’s lies.” The Journal also criticizes “most of our brethren” in the media for “celebrating the conviction… because it damaged the Bush administration they loathe.” It concludes by asserting, “The time for a pardon is now.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/7/2007]
Constitutional law professor Ronald D. Rotunda, a former fellow at the conservative Cato Institute, publishes an editorial in the Wall Street Journal outlining an argument in favor of pardoning convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). President Bush has the absolute power to issue a pardon, and Rotunda writes that “[i]n the unusual circumstances of this case, a presidential pardon is appropriate,” even before an appeal is filed. Rotunda bases his arguments for a pardon on similar assertions that other Libby supporters have made: no laws were broken in the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA official; Plame Wilson and her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, “appeared to revel in the publicity” (see July 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003); former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, not Libby, first leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to a reporter (see June 13, 2003); and the guilty verdict hinged on the differing memories of the various participants in the White House leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity. In addition, according to Rotunda the charges against Libby were an “abuse” of the perjury statutes, and the verdict works to “normaliz[e] the criminalization of policy differences.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/7/2007; George Mason University, 2009]
Denis Collins, in a photo taken shortly after the Libby verdict was rendered. [Source: CBS News / Crooks and Liars]New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd prints a column based on an interview with Denis Collins, a juror in the Lewis Libby trial (see March 6, 2007). Dowd knows Collins from grade school as well as being journalists together, though Collins worked at the Washington Post as a sportswriter and Metro reporter while Dowd worked the same stints at the now-defunct Washington Star. Collins is tired of being interviewed by one reporter and media host after another, to the point where he has already posted his diary of his time on the jury on the Web, been interviewed by Larry King, and been reviled by Rush Limbaugh. Collins recalls that most of the jury felt Libby was relatively “small beer” compared to more high-level White House officials also involved in leaking the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. “He’s too many steps away from the king,” Collins says. “One of the jurors said, ‘He was too busy looking out for No. 1; he should have been looking out for No. 2 and then he wouldn’t have gotten in trouble.’ One of the witnesses told us that Libby spent more time with [his former boss, Vice President Dick] Cheney than he did with his own wife and kids.” Collins says that by far the most damaging testimony came from the prosecution’s government witnesses and not the reporters who took the stand. Asked how he would feel if Libby was pardoned, Collins replies: “I would really not care. I feel like the damage has been done in terms of his reputation and the administration’s reputation.” Collins is equally ambivalent about calls for Cheney to resign or be fired, saying: “Here’s the thing: Libby followed Cheney’s instructions to go talk to reporters, but there’s no evidence at all that Cheney told him to lie about it. So the question is, was Libby just kind of inept at getting this story out?” [New York Times, 3/8/2007]
Columnist Robert Novak, who first publicly exposed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official in 2003 (see July 14, 2003), weighs in on the Lewis Libby felony convictions (see March 6, 2007). Novak accuses Democrats of trying to gin up “another Iran-Contra affair or Watergate” by demanding an investigation of the Plame Wilson leak, and of being after “much bigger game” than Libby—particularly Vice President Dick Cheney or White House political strategist Karl Rove. Novak then claims he played “but a minor role in [Libby’s] trial,” testifying only that he did not discuss Plame Wilson with Libby (see February 12, 2007). “Other journalists said the same thing under oath,” Novak writes, “but we apparently made no impression on the jury.” Novak goes on to say that “[t]he trial provided no information whatsoever about Valerie Plame [Wilson]‘s status at the CIA at the time I revealed her role in her husband’s mission. No hard evidence was produced that Libby was ever told she was undercover. [Special counsel Patrick] Fitzgerald had argued that whether or not she was covert was not material to this trial, and US District Judge Reggie B. Walton had so ruled.” (Novak’s statement contradicts former Justice Department official Victoria Toensing’s assertion that Fitzgerald repeatedly told the jury of Plame Wilson’s “classified” or “covert” status, even though Novak slams Fitzgerald for “referr[ing] to Mrs. Wilson’s secret status” during his closing statement—see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007). Novak denies revealing former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as one of his sources for his Plame Wilson article (see July 8, 2003), saying that Fitzgerald already knew that Armitage was one of his sources (see October 2, 2003). He writes that he assumed Fitzgerald’s knowledge “was the product of detective work by the FBI”; he did not know that Armitage had “turned himself in to the Justice Department three months before Fitzgerald entered the case, without notifying the White House or releasing me from my requirement of confidentiality” (in 2006, Novak wrote that he did name Armitage as a source—see January 14, 2004). Novak writes that President Bush “lost control of this issue when he permitted a special prosecutor to make decisions that, unlike going after a drug dealer or Mafia kingpin, turned out to be inherently political.” He concludes: “It would have taken courage for the president to have aborted this process. It would require even more courage for him to pardon Scooter Libby now, and not while he is walking out of the White House in January 2009.” [Washington Post, 3/8/2007]
Mona Charen. [Source: News New Mexico]Conservative columnist Rich Lowry, who often writes for the National Review, writes a harsh denunciation of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in a syndicated column picked up by, among other media outlets, the Salt Lake Tribune. Lowry begins by joining other conservatives in calling for a presidential pardon for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8, 2007, and March 9, 2007), but quickly pivots to an all-out attack on Fitzgerald’s integrity as a prosecutor and on the jury that convicted Libby. Fitzgerald “had sufficient evidence to convince a handful of people drawn from Washington, DC’s liberal jury pool that Libby was guilty,” Lowry writes, and states, without direct evidence, that even the jury “didn’t believe Libby should have been in the dock in the first place.” Lowry echoes earlier arguments that Valerie Plame Wilson was exposed as a CIA official by her husband, Joseph Wilson (see November 3, 2005 and Late August-Early September, 2006), who, Lowry writes, should have known that once he wrote a column identifying himself as a “Bush-hater” (see July 6, 2003), questions would inevitably be asked as to why someone like him would be sent on a fact-finding mission to Niger. Lowry also echoes the false claim that Plame Wilson sent her husband on the mission (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). “Fitzgerald let himself become an instrument of political blood lust,” Lowry writes. If Democrats and other opponents of the Bush administration want to “score points against ‘the case for war,’” Lowry writes, the way to do that “is through advocacy [and] political agitation,” not by “jailing [Vice President Dick Cheney’s] former chief of staff. This is the very definition of the criminalization of politics. If the other party occupies the White House, each side in our politics is willing to embrace this criminalization, even if it means doing violence to its own interests and principles.” [Salt Lake Tribune, 3/8/2007] A day later, Lowry’s National Review colleagues, Mona Charen and Thomas Sowell, echo Lowry’s charge that Fitzgerald’s investigation “criminalized politics.” Charen goes somewhat further, labeling Fitzgerald “Ahab” in reference to the obsessed whale-boat captain of Moby Dick, and compares the Libby trial with the alleged perjury committed by former President Clinton in a sexual harassment lawsuit, where Clinton denied having an affair with a White House intern. Sowell dismisses the entire leak investigation as a great deal of nothing, and writes that Libby’s life has been ruined so that “media liberals” can “exult… as if their conspiracy theories had been vindicated.” [National Review, 3/9/2007; National Review, 3/9/2007]
Washington Times editor Wesley Pruden calls on President Bush to immediately pardon convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), calling Libby’s prosecution “malicious” and Patrick Fitzgerald a “rogue prosecutor.” Bush could turn the guilty verdict “into a Democratic debacle” by “appealing successfully to the American spirit of fair play.” Pruden asserts, without evidence, that the jury has said “they had to put clothespins on their noses to return guilty verdicts.” But Bush, like other Republican presidents, lacks boldness, and makes the perpetual mistake of being too “nice” to “the enemy,” the Democrats. Once Bush explains his pardon to the American citizenry, “they would applaud settling the account,” Pruden writes. The only criminals in the entire affair are Fitzgerald and “the judges who let him get away with” prosecuting Libby. Pruden lambasts Republicans such as Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) who counsel caution about issuing a pardon. Pruden concludes, “A pardon, now, would right a grievous government wrong.” [Washington Times, 3/9/2007]
Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez extends the recent spate of conservative attacks on the integrity of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the aftermath of the Lewis Libby trial verdict (see March 6, 2007). Echoing columns by other conservative pundits and editorial boards (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8-9, 2007, and March 9, 2007), Chavez accuses Fitzgerald and even “some jury members” of having inappropriate “motivations” to wreak harm on Libby’s former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney. Fitzgerald was either a deliberate or an unwitting tool of “virtually everyone on the left and much of the press” to pursue the leak of official Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status in an attempt to go after Cheney, a pursuit Chavez calls a “vendetta.” Chavez concludes: “It is clear that from the beginning, Fitzgerald’s only interest was in directly implicating the vice president in the leak. When he was unable to do so, he decided to punish Scooter Libby for protecting his boss.” [Post Chronicle, 3/11/2007] Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn joins Chavez in denouncing Fitzgerald, calling the prosecution “perverse” and a “mockery” of justice, and accusing Fitzgerald of deliberately attempting to besmirch the White House by prosecuting Libby. He concludes by saying that Fitzgerald’s conduct during the entire investigation and trial was a “disgrace.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 3/11/2007]
Drudge Report logo. [Source: Wikimedia (.org)]The Drudge Report, a conservative news Web site often touted as “the most successful independent news site on the Web,” vastly inflates its claims of readership, according to the Valleywag technology blog. The Drudge Report is operated by Matt Drudge and an assistant, and claims (as of February 2007) to have a readership of around 1.2 million unique visitors a month. However, Drudge and marketing research firm Comscore are apparently inflating the figure by as much as 2,000 percent. Drudge uses what Web site owners call a “meta-refresh,” which automatically “refreshes” a Web page already loaded in a user’s browser. Most sites let a user refresh the page on their own, but many news sites assume that visitors leave their sites open for hours, and have the site refresh on a periodic basis. Drudge has his site automatically refreshed 20 times an hour, or once every three minutes—a refresh rate considered quite aggressive in news site circles. Technical reporter Nick Denton writes: “What’s the effect on the site’s traffic? Each refresh counts as a new pageview, whether or not the user is watching, or the window remains visible. And there must be plenty of these inattentive readers: one site owner I know experienced a 20 percent jump in traffic after he introduced, as an experiment, an automatic refresh every half hour. Drudge loads anew every three minutes.” Denton concludes that while Drudge’s site is undoubtedly quite popular, his readership claims have been “hyped up to the point of misdirection.” [ValleyWag, 3/12/2007; FireDogLake, 3/12/2007]
A CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that almost 70 percent of Americans believe the president should not pardon convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007). The results show that 69 percent oppose a pardon and 18 percent favor a pardon. Also, 52 percent believe that Libby’s former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, was involved in covering up the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. Twenty-nine percent disagree. [CNN, 3/12/2007] A poll published four days later by Gallup shows that 67 percent of those polled believe President Bush should not pardon Libby, and 21 percent believe that he should. The Gallup poll shows that 34 percent of Republicans support a pardon, along with 21 percent of independents and 11 percent of Democrats. [Gallup Poll News Service, 3/16/2007] Hours after the CNN poll comes out, NBC reporter and MSNBC commentator Andrea Mitchell, who was tangentially involved in the Libby case (see October 3, 2003 and February 12, 2007), tells a viewing audience: “[P]olling… indicates that most people think, in fact, that he should be pardoned. Scooter Libby should be pardoned.” [Eschaton, 3/12/2007]
Valerie Plame Wilson testifies before the House Oversight Committee. [Source: Life]The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing about the ramifications of the Lewis Libby guilty verdict (see March 6, 2007) and the outing of former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Plame Wilson is the star witness, and for the first time publicly discusses the leak and her former status as a covert agent. As earlier revealed by authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn in their book Hubris, Plame Wilson was the covert operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI), a section of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), which itself is part of the agency’s clandestine operations directorate. Indeed, as Libby special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has already stated, the fact of her employment with the CIA was itself classified information (see October 28, 2005). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 299; Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Republican Attempts to Close Hearing Fail - Tom Davis (R-VA), the committee’s ranking Republican, attempts to close Plame Wilson’s testimony to the public on the grounds that her statements might threaten national security. “It would be with great reluctance, but we have to protect confidential information,” he says. Politico reporter John Bresnahan describes Davis as “clearly unhappy that the hearing is taking place at all, so his threat has to be viewed in that context.” Davis goes on to say: “We are mining something that has been thoroughly looked into. There are so many other areas where [Congressional] oversight needs to be conducted instead of the Plame thing.” The hearing will remain open to the public. [Politico, 3/14/2007]
Pre-Testimony Jitters - In her book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls the jitters she experiences in the hours leading up to her appearance before the committee. She had tried, in the days before the hearing, “to think of every possible question the committee could throw at me.… I had to be sharp to avoid giving any information that the CIA would deem sensitive or classified. It was a minefield.” She is relieved to learn that CIA Director Michael Hayden has met with committee staffers and, she will write, “explicitly approved the use of the term ‘covert’ in describing my cover status.” She will write that though she still cannot confirm the length of her service with the CIA, she can “at least counter those who had suggested over the last few years that I was no more than a ‘glorified secretary’” (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). [Wilson, 2007, pp. 299]
CIA Confirmed Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Before Plame Wilson testifies, committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) reads a statement saying that she had been a “covert” officer” who had “served at various times overseas” and “worked on the prevention of the development and use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States.” Waxman notes that the CIA had cleared this statement. And during subsequent questioning, committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) reports that Hayden had told him, “Ms. Wilson was covert.” [Nation, 3/16/2007; Think Progress, 3/16/2007; FireDogLake, 3/16/2007; Christy Hardin Smith, 3/16/2007]
Confirms Her Status in CPD - Plame Wilson testifies that she is still bound by secrecy oaths and cannot reveal many of the specifics of her CIA career. However, she testifies, “I served the United States of America loyally and to the best of my ability as a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.” She says, “In the run-up to the war with Iraq, I worked in the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA, still as a covert officer whose affiliation with the CIA was classified.” She also notes that she helped to “manage and run secret worldwide operations.” Prior to the Iraq war, she testifies, she had “raced to discover intelligence” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. “While I helped to manage and run secret worldwide operations against this WMD target from CIA headquarters in Washington, I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence.” Those trips had occurred within the last five years, she says, contradicting arguments that she had not functioned as a covert agent within the last five years and therefore those who revealed her identity could not be held legally accountable (see February 18, 2007). “Covert operations officers, when they rotate back for temporary assignment in Washington, are still covert,” she says. Furthermore, far from her identity as a CIA agent being “common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit,” as some have alleged (see September 30, 2003, July 12, 2004, and March 16, 2007), she testifies that she can “count on one hand” the number of people outside the agency who knew of her CIA status before her outing by White House officials. “But, all of my efforts on behalf of the national security of the United States, all of my training, and all of the value of my years service were abruptly ended when my name and identity were exposed irresponsibly.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 300-302; Nation, 3/16/2007; Mother Jones, 3/16/2007] During this portion of testimony, Davis repeats an assertion that neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney were aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status during the time of her exposure. [FireDogLake, 3/16/2007]
'They Should Have Been Diligent in Protecting Me and Other CIA Officers' - Plame Wilson testifies that, as the Libby trial progressed, she was “shocked and dismayed by the evidence that emerged. My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in both the White House and the State Department. All of them understood that I worked for the CIA, and having signed oaths to protect national security secrets, they should have been diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer.” Many agents in CPD are covert, she says, and thusly, officials such as Cheney and Libby, who knew she worked in that division, should have been careful in spreading information about her.
'Grave' Damage to National Security - Plame Wilson says she cannot be specific about what kind of damage was done by her identity being revealed (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006); the CIA did perform a damage assessment, but did not share the results with her, and that assessment is classified (see Before September 16, 2003). “But the concept is obvious,” she says. “Not only have breaches of national security endangered CIA officers, it has jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents who in turn risked their own lives and those of their families—to provide the United States with needed intelligence. Lives are literally at stake. Every single one of my former CIA colleagues, from my fellow covert officers, to analysts, to technical operations officers, to even the secretaries, understands the vulnerability of our officers and recognizes that the travesty of what happened to me, could happen to them. We in the CIA always know that we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies. It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover… for purely political motives.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 300-302; Nation, 3/16/2007] She refuses to speculate as to the intentions of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove in exposing her identity (see July 10, 2005). [FireDogLake, 3/16/2007]
Politicization of Intelligence Dangerous, Counterproductive - Plame Wilson decries the increasingly partisan politicization of intelligence gathering and presentation under the Bush regime, saying: “The tradecraft of intelligence is not a product of speculation. I feel passionately as an intelligence professional about the creeping, insidious politicizing of our intelligence process. All intelligence professionals are dedicated to the ideal that they would rather be fired on the spot than distort the facts to fit a political view—any political view—or any ideology.… [I]njecting partisanship or ideology into the equation makes effective and accurate intelligence that much more difficult to develop. Politics and ideology must be stripped completely from our intelligence services, or the consequences will be even more severe than they have been and our country placed in even greater danger. It is imperative for any president to be able to make decisions based on intelligence that is unbiased.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 300-302; Nation, 3/16/2007]
No Role in Deciding to Send Husband to Niger - Plame Wilson discusses the persistent rumors that she dispatched her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Such rumors imply that Wilson was unqualified for the mission, and was sent by his wife for reasons having to do with partisan politics and nepotism (see July 9, 2004). Plame Wilson testifies that she had no authority to send her husband anywhere under CIA auspices, that it was a co-worker’s suggestion, not hers, to send her husband (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), and that her participation was limited to writing a note outlining her husband’s qualifications for such a fact-finding mission (see Fall 1999 and February 13, 2002). She testifies that a colleague had been misquoted in an earlier Senate Intelligence Committee report in saying that she proposed her husband for the trip, and that this colleague was not permitted to correct the record. [FireDogLake, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Further Investigation Warranted - After Plame Wilson concludes her testimony, Waxman declares: “We need an investigation. This is not about Scooter Libby and not just about Valerie Plame Wilson.” Journalist David Corn concurs: “Waxman was right in that the Libby trial did not answer all the questions about the leak affair, especially those about the roles of Bush administration officials other than Libby. How did Cheney learn of Valerie Wilson’s employment at the Counterproliferation Division and what did he do with that information? How did Karl Rove learn of her CIA connection? How did Rove manage to keep his job after the White House declared anyone involved in the leak would be fired?… What did Bush know about Cheney’s and Rove’s actions? What did Bush do in response to the disclosure that Rove had leaked and had falsely claimed to White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he wasn’t involved in the leak?” Republican committee members are less sanguine about the prospect of such an investigation, with Davis noting that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had already conducted an investigation of the leak. Corn writes: “Not all wrongdoing in Washington is criminal. Valerie Wilson’s presence at the hearing was a reminder that White House officials (beyond Libby) engaged in improper conduct (which possibly threatened national security) and lied about it—while their comrades in the commentariat spinned away to distort the public debate.” [Nation, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Joint Task Force on Iraq, David Corn, George W. Bush, Henry A. Waxman, Elijah Cummings, Valerie Plame Wilson, Counterproliferation Division, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Karl C. Rove, Tom Davis, Michael Hayden, Joseph C. Wilson, John Bresnahan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michael Isikoff, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Lawyer Victoria Toensing, who, as journalist David Corn will write, has served as “a point-person for the Libby Lobby, denouncing special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation of the Plame leak, and deriding his indictment of… Libby” (see February 18, 2007), testifies to the House Oversight Committee about the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. Toensing is following testimony from Plame Wilson herself (see March 16, 2007). Contradicting the former CIA agent, Toensing argues that the entire investigation was specious, that—despite all evidence to the contrary (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, April 2001 and After, and February 18, 2007)—Plame Wilson was never a covert agent and therefore no one could have violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) in revealing her identity to the press. Toensing even testifies that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first printed Plame Wilson’s name in his column, didn’t identify her as a covert agent, but that identification was made by Corn in his own column (see July 16, 2003). Corn will call the allegation “a canard that some Republican spinners have been peddling for years, in an attempt to get Novak off the hook while muddying the waters.” Corn will note that once Novak published Plame Wilson’s name, her “cover was destroyed; her career was ruined; her operations and contacts were imperiled to whatever degree they were imperiled.” Corn wrote two days later that her outing was “a potential violation of the law” and that Novak may have violated the IIPA. Corn noted in the article that Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson, refused to confirm or deny his wife’s CIA status. Corn’s article raised the possibility that Plame Wilson had been a covert agent, but presented it as mere speculation. He will write, “In the column, I even raised the possibility that Novak had botched the story and that ‘the White House has wrongly branded’ Valerie Wilson ‘as a CIA officer.’ Bottom line: I did not identify her as a ‘covert’ officer or any other kind of CIA official. I merely speculated she was a NOC. That speculation was based on Novak’s column. And given that Novak had already IDed her as a CIA ‘operative on weapons of mass destruction’ (which happened to be a ‘covert’ position within the agency), her cover—whether nonofficial or official—was blown to smithereens by the time I posted my article.” Corn calls Toensing’s allegation “a desperation-driven and misleading act of hairsplitting” designed to deflect responsibility away from Novak and the White House. Therefore, Corn will write, Toensing has lied to Congress. [Christy Hardin Smith, 3/16/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007]
Toensing Lies about IIPA - Corn will note that Toensing is also lying when she insists that no one ever violated “her” law, the IIPA (which Toensing helped write). In her testimony, she says that to be a covert agent under the IIPA, an agent would have to live outside the US. Corn will note that the law makes no such distinction. The two criteria for an agent to be “covert” under the IIPA are: that person’s “identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information” and that the officer has to be “serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States.” Because Plame Wilson testified earlier in the day that she indeed served overseas as a covert agent within five years of her outing by Novak, she is indeed covered by the IIPA. Corn will write: “Toensing is free to maintain that the law ought to cover only those officers residing overseas as part of a long-term foreign assignment. But that is not what the act says. By stating that the act defines a ‘covert agent’ as an officer residing abroad (as opposed to an officer who had ‘served’ overseas), Toensing misrepresented the law to members of the committee.”
Lying to Congress Is a Crime - Corn will write, “As a lawyer, Toensing is probably aware that knowingly making a false statement to a Congressional committee conducting an investigation or review is a federal crime. (See Title 18, Section 1001 of the US Code.) The punishment is a fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years. To say that I identified Valerie Wilson as a ‘covert’ officer is to make a false statement.” Committee chairman Henry Waxman is apparently unconvinced of Toensing’s honesty; when he concludes Toensing’s session, he says, “Some of the statements you’ve made without any doubt and with great authority I understand may not be accurate, so we’re going to check the information and we’re going to hold the record open to put in other things that might contradict some of what you had to say.” [Nation, 3/19/2007]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Henry A. Waxman, David Corn, Bush administration (43), House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Victoria Toensing, Intelligence Identities Protection Act, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions enters into force. In accordance with the ratification procedure, this happens three months after 30 countries deposited their instruments of ratification at UNESCO. UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura notes, “None of UNESCO’s other cultural conventions has been adopted by so many states in so little time.” The 30 countries are Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Guatemala, India, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Peru, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Togo. By the time it comes into force, 22 more countries have deposited their ratification instruments at UNESCO. [UNESCO, 3/2007]
Former Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet says his newspaper did not bow to government pressure in choosing not to run a story about allegations by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009, December 15-31, 2005, and February 11, 2006 and After). In an ABC News report on Klein’s allegations of AT&T’s complicity with the National Security Agency (NSA) to illegally conduct warrantless electronic surveillance against American citizens, Klein says that the Times bowed to government pressure from the then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and the then-Director of the NSA Michael Hayden. Baquet, now the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, says that while he spoke to both Negroponte and Hayden about the story, “government pressure played no role in my decision not to run the story.” Instead, Baquet says he and managing editor Doug Frantz decided “we did not have a story, that we could not figure out what was going on” based on Klein’s highly technical documents. Baquet says Times reporter Joseph Menn disagreed with his decision, “and was very disappointed.” Klein’s story was published in the New York Times in April 2006 (see April 7, 2006 and April 12, 2006). [ABC News, 3/26/2007] Klein will later write that Baquet’s explanation is an “absurd and flimsy excuse,” and will say it is obvious that the Los Angeles Times “capitulated to government pressure.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 62]
Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, who falsely told reporters that captured Private Jessica Lynch “fired her weapon” at her captors “until she had no more ammunition” in initial military press briefings (see April 3, 2003), discusses his misleading statements with staffers of the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the possibility that the US military used the Lynch story as propaganda (see April 24, 2007). Thorp, who was later promoted and became the chief public relations officer for then-Joint Chief Chairman Richard Myers, writes: “As I recall, this was a short interview and media desperately wanted me to confirm the story that was running in the States.… I never said that I had seen any intel or even intimated the same.… I may have said I am familiar with ‘the reports’ meaning the press reports, but as you can see I did not confirm them.… We did have reports of a battle and that a firefight had occurred.… That is what I stated.” Thorp says he does not recall ever seeing any classified battlefield intelligence reports concerning Lynch, and says he does not now remember if his remarks were based on such reports. When asked if he knew at the time that Lynch had, in fact, not gotten off a shot at her attackers, Thorp replies, “I would absolutely never, ever, ever, ever say anything that I knew to not be true.” At the time of the Lynch rescue, the chief public affairs official for CENTCOM briefings was Jim Wilkinson, the director of strategic communications for CENTCOM commander, General Tommy Franks. Wilkinson tells the committee that he was not a source for the media reporting concerning Lynch, and that he didn’t know any details of her capture and rescue: “I still, to this day, don’t know if those details are right or wrong. I just don’t know. I don’t remember seeing any operational report.” Thorp and Wilkinson claim not to know who provided such misleading information to reporters. And neither can explain why initial reports were relatively accurate (see March 23, 2003) but subsequent reports were so suddenly, and so luridly, inaccurate. [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
French investigative journalist Guillaume Dasquie writes an article for Le Monde detailing the extensive knowledge obtained by the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) about al-Qaeda between July 2000 and October 2001. The article is based on a series of DGSE reports leaked to Dasquie about al-Qaeda’s funding (see July 24, 2000), aerial photographs of Osama bin Laden (see August 28, 2000), and al-Qaeda threats against the US (see Between September 2000 and August 2001), including aircraft piracy. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 7/4/2007]
Jessica Lynch testifies before the House Oversight Committee. [Source: Shawn Thew / epa / Corbis]The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing focusing on misleading and false information provided to the press following the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, and the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq (see March 23, 2003, April 1, 2003, and June 17, 2003).The committee focuses on how and why misinformation on the two incidents was disseminated, by whom, and if anyone in the Bush administration has been, or will be, held accountable. Lynch testifies that she is there to address “misinformation from the battlefield,” and notes, “Quite frankly, it is something that I have been doing since I returned from Iraq.” Lynch says that while she was being transported out of Iraq to a hospital in Germany: “tales of great heroism were being told. My parent’s home in Wirt County was under siege of the media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting. It was not true. I have repeatedly said, when asked, that if the stories about me helped inspire our troops and rally a nation, then perhaps there was some good. However, I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary. People like Lori Piestewa and First Sergeant Dowdy who picked up fellow soldiers in harms way. Or people like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales.” She concludes: “I had the good fortune and opportunity to come home and I told the truth. Many other soldiers, like Pat Tillman, do not have the opportunity. The truth of war is not always easy to hear but it is always more heroic than the hype.” [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007; House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007 ]
Tim Russert. [Source: Huffington Post]NBC political analyst and “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert is interviewed by PBS’s Bill Moyers about the apparent self-censorship and cooperation of the news media with the Bush administration after 9/11 (see February 25, 2003, September 10, 2003, April 25, 2007, and April 25, 2007). Russert says that he realizes top-level government officials are usually not the best sources of objective information (see April 25, 2007). “Look, I’m a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work ‘em very hard. It’s the mid-level people that tell you the truth.… [T]hey’re working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and political officials.” Moyers responds, “But they don’t get on the Sunday talk shows” (such as Russert’s “Meet the Press”). Russert answers, “No. I mean, they don’t want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out sometimes their bosses and other public officials.” Moyers asks, “What do you make of the fact that of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department?” Russert’s answer is much less direct: “It’s important that you have an opposition party. That’s our system of government.” Moyers presses, “So, it’s not news unless there’s somebody…” and Russert interjects, “No, no, no. I didn’t say that. But it’s important to have an opposition party, your opposing views.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Phil Donahue. [Source: Museum of Broadcast History]Former MSNBC talk show host Phil Donahue, whose show was cancelled less than a month before the Iraq invasion because network executives feared he was “too liberal” for its viewers (see February 25, 2003), reflects on his show’s cancellation in an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers. “[I] just felt, you know, what would be wrong with having one show a night, you know, say, ‘Hold it. Wait a minute. Can we afford this? Do we have enough troops? And what about General Shinseki (see February 25, 2003)? And where are all—you know, what is Guantanamo?’ I mean, ‘What’s wrong with this?’ I thought people who didn’t like my message would watch me. Because no one else was doing it. That’s why, I couldn’t get over the unanimity of opinion on cable. The drum was beating. Everybody wanted to bomb somebody. And I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute.’ So here I go, I mean fool that I am, I rushed in.” Donahue recalls the strict ground rules that he worked under: “You could have the supporters of the president alone. And they would say why this war is important. You couldn’t have a dissenter alone. Our producers were instructed to feature two conservatives for every liberal.” Moyers says, “You’re kidding.” Donahue replies: “No, this is absolutely true… I was counted as two liberals.… I had to have two… there’s just a terrible fear. And I think that’s the right word.” Moyers recalls the words of Erik Sorenson, then the president of MSNBC, who said, “Any misstep and you can get into trouble with these guys and have the patriotism police hunt you down.” Donahue agrees: “He’s the management guy. So his phone would ring. Nobody’s going to call Donahue and tell him to shut up and support the war. Nobody’s that foolish. It’s a lot more subtle than that.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Peter Beinert. [Source: ViewImages.com]New Republic editor Peter Beinert, described by PBS host Bill Moyers as a “liberal hawk,” recalls his experience as one of the television news shows’ “hottest young pundits” in the months before the war. Beinert accused opponents of the war of being “intellectually incoherent,” and echoed administration talking points about Iraqi nuclear weapons. In an interview, Moyers asks Beinert, “Had you been to Iraq?” Beinert answers, “No,” and Moyers asks, “So what made you present yourself, if you did, as a Middle East expert?” Beinert responds: “I don’t think that I presented myself as a Middle East expert per se. I was a political journalist. I was a columnist writing about all kinds of things. Someone in my position is not a Middle East expert in the way that somebody who studies this at a university is, or even at a think tank. But I consumed that stuff. I was relying on people who did that kind of reporting and people who had been in the government who had access to classified material for their assessment.” Beinert confirms that most of his information came from government and government-associated sources, and from other reporters and columnists, and almost by necessity, his commentary was much more reflective of government and pro-war viewpoints than it should have been: “Where I think I was tragically wrong was not to see in February, March 2003 after we got the inspectors back in on the ground and we began to learn much more about what had been going on in Iraq than we had known in 2002 when we had no one on the ground that that assumption was being proven wrong.… I think the war has been a tragic disaster. I mean, the Americans killed, the Iraqis killed. It’s true, life under Saddam was hell. But can one really say that life for Iraqis is better today?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
In a PBS interview conducted by Bill Moyers, former CBS news anchor Dan Rather discusses how he and other journalists had difficulty separating their emotion and patriotism from their news coverage after the 9/11 attacks. Moyers plays some clips of Rather in the days after the attacks, including the now-famous declaration, “George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions and you know, as just one American wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where” (see September 17-22, 2001 and April 14, 2003), and then says, “What I was wrestling with that night listening to you is: once we let our emotions out as journalists on the air, once we say, ‘We’ll line up with the president,’ can we ever really say to the country, ‘The president’s out of line’?” Rather replies: “Of course you can. No journalist should try to be a robot and say, ‘They’ve attacked my country, they’ve killed thousands of people but I don’t feel it.’ But what you can do and what should have been done in the wake of that is suck it up and say, okay, that’s the way I feel. That’s the way I feel as a citizen, and I can serve my country best by being the best journalist I can be. That’s the way I can be patriotic. By the way, Bill, this is not an excuse. I don’t think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war. There were exceptions. There were some people, who, I think, did a better job than others. But overall and in the main, there’s no question that we didn’t do a good job.… We weren’t smart enough, we weren’t alert enough, we didn’t dig enough, and, we shouldn’t have been fooled in this way.”
'Lazy' Networks Relied on Analysts Rather than Investigations - Rather adds that his and every other network became lazy in just calling on so-called “experts” as pundits and commentators, without caring that their experts made up a cadre of pro-war, pro-administration shills. Moyers plays a quote from former CNN news chief Walter Isaacson, who said: “One of the great pressures we’re facing in journalism now is it’s a lot cheaper to hire thumb suckers and pundits and have talk shows on the air than actually have bureaus and reporters. And in the age of the Internet when everybody’s a pundit, we’re still gonna need somebody there to go talk to the colonels, to be on the ground in Baghdad and stuff and that’s very expensive.” Rather says: “Reporting is hard. The substitute for reporting far too often has become let’s just ring up an expert. Let’s see. These are experts on international armaments. And I’ll just go down the list here and check [neoconservative administration adviser] Richard Perle.… This is journalism on the cheap if it’s journalism at all. Just pick up the phone, call an expert, bring an expert into the studio. Easy. Not time consuming. Doesn’t take resources. And if you’re lucky and good with your list of people, you get an articulate person who will kind of spark up the broadcast.”
Rather, Others 'Just Blew with the Wind,' Says Author - Author and media commentator Norman Solomon says: “I think these [network] executives were terrified of being called soft on terrorism. They absolutely knew that the winds were blowing at hurricane force politically and socially in the United States. And rather than stand up for journalism, they just blew with the wind. And Dan Rather and others who say, yeah, you know. I was carried away back then. Well, sure. That’s when it matters. When it matters most is when you can make a difference as a journalist.” Rather seems to agree. “Fear is in every newsroom in the country,” he says. “And fear of what? Well, it’s the fear it’s a combination of: if you don’t go along to get along, you’re going to get the reputation of being a troublemaker. There’s also the fear that, you know, particularly in networks, they’ve become huge, international conglomerates. They have big needs, legislative needs, repertory needs in Washington. Nobody has to send you a memo to tell you that that’s the case. You know. And that puts a seed in your mind; of well, if you stick your neck out, if you take the risk of going against the grain with your reporting, is anybody going to back you up?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Bob Simon. [Source: CBS News]Veteran CBS war correspondent Bob Simon discusses the media’s enthusiasm for a war with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion, and its credulity, with PBS host Bill Moyers. [PBS, 4/25/2007] CBS News describes Simon as “the most honored journalist in international reporting.” A regular contributor to CBS’s flagship news program 60 Minutes, Simon has won 18 Emmy awards and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in September 2003. [CBS News, 6/8/2007] He did one of the first broadcast news examinations of the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts to sell the war with Iraq to the American public. [CBS News, 12/6/2002] Simon says that foreign journalists had a perspective that Washington-based journalists did not. “From overseas we had a clearer view,” he explains. “I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.” Moyers asks: “Absurdity. The Washington press corps cannot question an absurdity?” Simon replies: “Well, maybe the Washington press corps based inside the belt wasn’t as aware as those of us who are based in the Middle East and who spend a lot of time in Iraq. I mean when the Washington press corps travels, it travels with the president or with the secretary of state… [i]n a bubble. Where as we who’ve spent weeks just walking the streets of Baghdad and in other situations in Baghdad just were scratching our heads. In ways that perhaps that the Washington press corps could not.” Simon and his camera crew had been captured and brutalized by Hussein’s forces for 40 days during the 1991 Gulf War, and, Moyers notes, Simon “was under no illusions about Saddam Hussein.… It didn’t make sense to Simon that the dictator would trust Islamic terrorists.” Simon explains his reasoning: “Saddam as most tyrants, was a total control freak. He wanted total control of his regime. Total control of the country. And to introduce a wild card like al-Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn’t believe it for an instant.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
CNN’s Walter Isaacson recalls the mindset in much of the media during the months preceding the Iraq invasion. In an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers, Isaacson notes that there was a great deal of censorship in the media, both self-imposed and from corporate executives reaching down into the newsrooms. Stories critical of the Bush administration or the war were not well tolerated, Isaacson recalls. “[T]here was even almost a patriotism police… sort of picking anything a [CNN international reporter] Christiane Amanpour (see September 10, 2003) or somebody else would say as if it were disloyal. There was a real sense that you don’t get that critical of a government that’s leading us in wartime… big people in corporations were calling us saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’” The compliant Isaacson sent his staff a memo reminding them not to focus on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, saying it seemed “perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” He also ordered his reporters to “balance” stories on civilian casualties with reminders of the 9/11 attacks. Isaacson recalls, “I felt if we put into context, we could alleviate the pressure of people saying, ‘Don’t even show what’s happening in Afghanistan.’” [Unger, 2007, pp. 254; PBS, 4/25/2007]
Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. [Source: PBS]John Walcott, the bureau chief of Knight Ridder Newspapers (now McClatchy), recalls that he and his colleagues did not believe the Bush administration’s assertions of the connections between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. “It was not clear to us why anyone was asking questions about Iraq in the wake of an attack that had al-Qaeda written all over it,” he recalls. He assigned his two top foreign affairs and national security reporters, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, veterans with more than 40 years’ experience between them, to investigate the claims. Strobel recalls, “We were basically, I think, hearing two different messages from—there’s a message, the public message the administration was giving out about Iraq—it’s WMD, the fact there was an immediate threat, grave threat, gathering threat—but that was so different from what we were hearing from people on the inside, people we had known in many cases for years and trusted.” Strobel and Landay learned from reliable sources inside the US intelligence community that few outside the White House believed the assertions of an Iraq-9/11 connection. “When you’re talking to the working grunts, you know, uniform military officers, intelligence professionals, professional diplomats, those people are more likely than not—not always, of course, but more likely than not—to tell you some version of the truth, and to be knowledgeable about what they’re talking about when it comes to terrorism or the Middle East, things like that,” says Strobel. He and Landay wrote numerous articles detailing the skepticism about the administration’s claims, but, in many cases, editors chose not to use their work. “There was a lot of skepticism among our editors because what we were writing was so at odds with what most of the rest of the Washington press corps was reporting and some of our papers frankly, just didn’t run the stories,” Strobel says. “They had access to the New York Times wire and the Washington Post wire and they chose those stories instead.” Walcott explains his own rationale: “A decision to go to war, even against an eighth-rate power such as Iraq, is the most serious decision that a government can ever make. And it deserves the most serious kind of scrutiny that we in the media can give it. Is this really necessary? Is it necessary to send our young men and women to go kill somebody else’s young men and women?”
Outside the Beltway - Knight Ridder did not have newspapers in either Washington or New York City, and therefore was viewed by many insiders as “out of the loop.” Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus says: “The administration can withstand the Knight Ridder critique because it wasn’t reverberating inside Washington. And therefore people weren’t picking it up.” Walcott describes Knight Ridder as “under the radar most of the time.… We were not a company that, I think, Karl Rove and others cared deeply about, even though in terms of readers, we’re much bigger than the New York Times and the Washington Post. We’re less influential. There’s no way around that.” Strobel half-humorously asks: “How many times did I get invited on the talk show? How many times did you [Landay] get invited on a talk show?” Landay replies: “You know what? I’ll tell you who invited me on a talk show. C-SPAN.”
Self-Doubts - Strobel says of that time period: “But there was a period when we were sittin’ out there and I had a lot of late night gut checks where I was just like, ‘Are we totally off on some loop here?‘… ‘Are we wrong? Are we gonna be embarrassed?’” Landay adds, “Everyday we would look at each other and say—literally one of us would find something out—and I’d look at him and say, ‘What’s going on here?’” Media analyst Eric Boehlert says: “But I think it’s telling that they didn’t really operate by that beltway game the way the networks, the cable channels, Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Washington Post. They seem to sort of operate outside that bubble. And look at what the benefits were when they operated outside that bubble. They actually got the story right. What’s important is it’s proof positive that that story was there. And it could have been gotten. And some people did get it. But the vast majority chose to ignore or not even try.” Former CNN news chief Walter Isaacson confirms the solid reporting of Strobel and Landay: “The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, ya know, that intelligence is not very good. We should’ve all been doing that.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Walter Isaacson, Warren Strobel, Newsweek, Eric Boehlert, John Walcott, C-SPAN, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Jonathan Landay, Karl C. Rove, New York Times, Time magazine, Knight Ridder Newspapers
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Michael DeLong. [Source: PBS]Retired Marine Lieutenant General Michael DeLong, the author of A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, writes of his involvement with the Jessica Lynch case (see March 23, 2003), and his decision not to award her the Medal of Honor. DeLong was the deputy commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar from 2001 through 2003. In his words, “I represented the military in dealing with politicians regarding the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch in Iraq, and thus I can speak with authority about what really happened after her maintenance convoy got lost near Nasiriya[h] in 2003 and she was taken prisoner.” DeLong writes to refute allegations that the military deliberately distorted the story of Lynch’s capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003, April 1, 2003, and April 3, 2003) for its own purposes. Instead, he says, the story became distorted because of what he calls “overzealous politicians and a frenzied press.” According to DeLong, CENTCOM told the press exactly what it had learned of Lynch’s capture within hours of the incident. He writes, “The initial reports from the field regarding Private Lynch stated that she had gone down fighting, had emptied her weapon and that her actions were heroic.” Shortly after her rescue, when the media was still telling stories of her heroism under fire and her wounding by gunfire (see April 7, 2003), politicians from her home state of West Virginia began calling for the military to award Lynch the Medal of Honor. DeLong writes that he halted that process, aware that “initial combat reports are often wrong” and that all such stories must be “thoroughly investigate[d].” Lynch herself was still suffering from “combat shock and loss of memory,” forcing the military to look to “other sources” for all the facts. DeLong recalls “many heated discussions” with the politicians’ Congressional liaison, who pressured DeLong to give Lynch the medal before all the evidence had been collected. He writes, “The politicians repeatedly said that a medal would be good for women in the military; I responded that the paramount issue was finding out what had really happened.” Indeed, he writes, the initial reports were wrong (see June 17, 2003). “Her actions were understandable and justifiable, but they could not be labeled heroic. (It’s important to make clear, too, that Private Lynch has never claimed to be a hero. As she told Congress earlier this week (see April 24, 2007), the ‘story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting’ was not true.)” DeLong writes: “None of us were in it for the publicity: we did it to save a comrade. Period.” He claims that Task Force 20, who executed the rescue mission, “decided to film it on their own.” He is glad they made the film of the rescue “not for publicity purposes, but because that film can now be used to train soldiers.” DeLong concludes: “A nation needs heroes. Hero-making in itself os not a bad thing. But hero-making without grounds is. In the case of Ms. Lynch, overzealous politicians and a frenzied press distorted facts.” [New York Times, 4/27/2007]
John Baptiste, appearing on a CBS News broadcast. [Source: CBS News]CBS News fires retired Army Major General John Batiste as a paid “military analyst” after Batiste takes part in an advertisement that criticizes the Iraq strategy of President Bush. CBS says Batiste’s participation violates the network’s standards of not being involved in advocacy. CBS spokeswoman Linda Mason says if Batiste had appeared in an advertisement promoting Bush’s policies, he would have been fired as well. “When we hire someone as a consultant, we want them to share their expertise with our viewers,” she says. “By putting himself… in an anti-Bush ad, the viewer might have the feeling everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn’t seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss.” Batiste retired from the military in 2003, and since then has been an outspoken critic of the conduct of the war. In the advertisement, for the VoteVets Political Action Committee, Batiste said: “Mr. President, you did not listen. You continue to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps. I left the Army in protest in order to speak out. Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women.” [United Press International, 5/11/2007; CBS News, 5/11/2007] Two days after the ad aired, CBS fires Batiste. [Oregon Salem-News, 5/16/2007] Batiste, an Iraq veteran who describes himself as a “diehard Republican,” tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that he and his colleagues at VoteVets are “patriots… VoteVets is not an antiwar organization. We’re focused on what’s best for this country. We’re focused on being successful and winning the effort against global terrorism.” He says he agreed to make the ad with VoteVets “because I care about our country, and I care about our soldiers and Marines and their families.” He says that because he is retired, he has the freedom to speak out. [MSNBC, 5/10/2007] The progressive political organization MoveOn.org calls the firing “censorship, pure and simple.” The Oregon Salem-News notes that CBS routinely employs analysts and commentators who advocate for the Bush administration, including former White House communications director Nicolle Wallace, who is, the Salem-News writes, “known for using her position to push White House talking points.” Wallace is also a consultant for the presidential campaign for Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and according to the Salem-News, CBS did not object when Wallace appeared on its broadcasts to promote his candidacy. [Oregon Salem-News, 5/16/2007] Batiste is not a participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to promote the Iraq war that uses retired military officers as “independent analysts” to echo and elaborate on Pentagon and White House talking points (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and May 1, 2008).
Entity Tags: CBS News, George W. Bush, John Batiste, Bush administration (43), Linda Mason, John McCain, Move-On [.org], Nicolle Wallace, VoteVets, Keith Olbermann
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, in another of his now-famous broadsides against feminists (whom he routinely calls “femi-Nazis” and characterizes as “anti-male”), says: “I blast feminists because they’re liberal. Feminism is liberal. It screwed women up as I was coming of age in my early twenties.… It changed naturally designed roles and behaviors and basically, they’re trying to change human nature, which they can’t do.” Limbaugh’s “Life Truth No. 24” states that “feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to society.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, in their book Echo Chamber, will note, “There is apparently no comparable movement to facilitate the social integration of unattractive men.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 103]
Norman Pearlstine. [Source: Norman Pearlstine.]Norman Pearlstine, the former editor of Time magazine and the person who made the final decision to cooperate with the prosecution in the Lewis Libby perjury trial by turning over notes from former Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 1, 2005), writes a column for Time outlining how he feels the trial of Libby (see January 16-23, 2007 and March 6, 2007) did serious and possibly permanent damage to the mainstream media, much of that damage self-inflicted. Pearlstine begins by echoing many conservative writers in saying that “[w]hile the administration’s behavior was tawdry, there was no proof that intelligence laws had been broken or that an investigation was necessary.” Unlike many conservative pundits and publications, Pearlstine does not lambast special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, instead observing that “once convinced that Libby (but not [White House political strategist Karl] Rove) had lied under oath, the prosecutor argued that he had no choice but to indict, charging Libby with perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of justice.” Pearlstine says that whatever Fitzgerald’s intentions, he incited a “First Amendment showdown” with the press: “By issuing subpoenas that required reporters to betray their sources, Fitzgerald created the showdown.” Pearlstine says that because Fitzgerald won the court battles to force journalists to testify about their sources, “[s]ome ugly truths emerged about one of the biggest problems with Washington journalism—a symbiosis between reporters and sources in which the reporters often think that it is their first job to protect their sources and that informing the public comes second.” Pearlstine is critical of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who went to jail rather than reveal her sources to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see July 6, 2005). It was clear during Miller’s testimony that her record-keeping was sloppy and disorganized (see January 31, 2007), and that she was all too willing to cooperate with Libby to the possible detriment of her reporting, as when she agreed to obfuscate his identity by identifying him as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a senior White House official (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Pearlstine writes, “It was a telling example of her willingness to breach journalistic ethics in order to coddle close sources.” Pearlstine concludes by observing that because Fitzgerald was so successful in compelling journalists to reveal their confidential sources, other lawyers will seek to do the same. “Journalism and the public interest will suffer,” he writes. Pearlstine advocates the legislative passage of a federal shield law to protect journalists and their sources. [Time, 5/31/2007]
James Marks. [Source: Military Information Technology]CNN fires one of its “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), retired Army general James “Spider” Marks, for using his position to help secure government contracts for his business. In 2004, Marks was hired as an analyst by CNN; about the same time, he took a senior management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job is to land military and intelligence contracts. As per CNN’s requirements, Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil. But he was not required to describe what his job entailed, and CNN did not check any further. “We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN will admit in a written statement. For himself, Marks will say that it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil is about landing government contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he will say. But CNN will deny being aware of McNeil’s military business or what Marks does for the company. Marks was bidding on Pentagon contracts at the same time he was analyzing and commenting on the Pentagon’s military strategies for CNN, a clear conflict of interest. CNN will say that Marks should have been disqualified from working for the network as an analyst. During the summer and fall of 2006, for example, Marks regularly commented on the conditions in Iraq—lavishing glowing praise on the US military and the White House—while working to secure a $4.6 billion Pentagon contract for McNeil. In December 2006, Marks became president of a McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract. Marks will claim that he kept his analysis separate from his contracting work—“I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest”—but when CNN learns about his role in landing the contract, the network fires him. CNN will say, “We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Alexis Debat. [Source: PBS]Conservative security consultant Alexis Debat, a former French military official often used by ABC News and other US media outlets, admits that he published an interview with Democratic senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama that he never conducted. In the interview, Obama supposedly said that Iraq was “already a defeat for America” and that the US has “wasted thousands of lives.” Debat claims that he signed off on the article, published in the Summer 2007 issue of the French magazine Politique Internationale, but did not write it, instead farming it out to a freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, and having it published under Debat’s name. Sherman concocted the interview, says Debat, who says both he and Obama are victims. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007] “Rob Sherman asked me to remove his name from the interview, and my mistake was to put my name on it,” says Debat. [ABC News, 9/12/2007] “I was scammed. I was very, very stupid. I made a huge mistake in signing that article and not checking his credentials.” [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
Greenspan: No Such Interview - Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on September 7 that an interview with him, conducted by Debat and published in the same magazine, also never happened. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
Many US Officials Also Not Interviewed - Hours after Obama’s campaign disavowed the Debat interview, numerous other US politicians and business figures also say they were victimized by fake interviews supposedly conducted by Debat. Those figures include former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Politique Internationale editor Patrick Wajsman says “This guy is just sick,” and says his magazine is removing all of Debat’s work from its Web site. Annan’s deputy communications director, Stephane Dujarric, says he warned the magazine that the Annan interview was a fabrication back in June 2005, and said that if the magazine published it—which it did—Annan’s office would “denouce the interview as a fake. This was not some obscure guy. This was the sitting secretary-general of the UN, and the magazine was told it was a fake.” Nevertheless, ABC News and Politique Internationale continued to rely on Debat as a source of information and a regular contributor of “interviews” with a variety of influential Americans. The magazine published a second interview with Annan earlier this year, but it, too, was a fabrication, apparently culled from a speech Annan gave at Princeton University. Wajsman calls the publications of the Annan interviews either a “technical” error or a misunderstanding. “I was a victim of this man. I had no reason to suspect someone like him could lie,” Wajsman says. So why did Wajsman continue to rely on Debat after the UN protests? “Everybody can be trusted once,” Wajsman says. “He seemed to be well-connected in Washington, working for ABC and the Nixon Center.” Debat admits he never interviewed any of the above-named figures, but explains: “The magazine asked me to send questions. They got the answers, and then I edited and translated them and put my name on it.” Wajsman retorts, “That is an outright lie.” [ABC News, 9/13/2007]
Debat Frequent Source of Unreliable Information on Iran - Debat has been a frequent source of incendiary information and commentary about the US’s need to invade Iran; on September 2, The Times of London published commentary from Debat in which he claimed the US is planning massive, systematic air strikes against Iran, and called it a “very legitimate strategic calculus” (see Late August, 2007). Recent reports have claimed that an organized campaign to insert reports and commentary in the US and European media drumming up support for a US attack against Iran is being orchestrated by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
Debat Falsified University Record - Debat’s other reports are now being scrutinized for possible fabrications. ABC News fired Debat in June 2007 after finding that Debat lied about his background: Debat claimed he has a Ph.D from the Sorbonne, when in fact he does not. (Debat claims he earned his Ph.D, but the university hasn’t granted him the degree because of an “administrative issue.”) ABC’s chief investigative reporter Brian Ross, who has worked closely with Debat and has high praise for his work, now says: “I was angry with him because it called into question, of course, everything he had done. He could never satisfy us that he had the Ph.D.… I was very upset.” Debat has specialized in reports on terrorism and national security for the last six years. ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schnieder says that while it has so far verified all of Debat’s reporting: “There are some very serious questions about exactly who he is and how he works. We want nothing more than to get to the absolute bottom of that.” Debat directed the terrorism and national security program from Washington’s Nixon Center, a conservative think tank set up by former President Richard Nixon. He wrote for the conservative political journal National Interest, which is chaired by Henry Kissinger. Debat has now resigned both positions. His position as a regular contributor to Politique Internationale has also probably ended, Debat admits. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
'Never Spoke with Your Alexis What's-His-Name' - The French magazine Rue 89 exposed Debat earlier this week, calling him a “strange character” and questioning his credibility. It interviewed the purported freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, who is not a journalist but a radio talk show host in Chicago; according to Sherman, he “never spoke with your Alexis what’s-his-name.” It also reports that Debat once claimed to have earned a Ph.D from Edenvale University, in Britain, an institution that does not exist. He has also claimed to be the director of the scientific committee for the Institut Montaigne in Paris, which denies Debat ever worked with it; he has appeared on French television news claiming to be a former social worker and to be a former French commando who fought against Serbian soldiers in Yugoslavia, claims which have not been confirmed. As for his service in the French military, the French government confirms that Debat indeed held a desk job in its Ministry of Defense for a few months. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
'Lone Wolf' or Disinformation Source? - Philadelphia Daily News journalist Will Bunch observes: “[T]here are two radically different ways to look at this scandal. Either Debat is a lone wolf, a deluded self-aggrandizer whose main agenda is promoting himself. Or he is acting in his role at the Nixon Center as a conduit, spreading information and occasional disinformation at the behest of others.” [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
ABC News Also to Blame - Reporter Laura Rozen, a regular contributor to numerous high-end US media outlets such as the Boston Globe and Mother Jones, is unforgiving of both Debat and ABC News: “My own feeling as primarily a print world reporter… is that it is deeply problematic for a news organization to have a paid source/consultant to sometimes put on the reporter hat and act as the reporter too.… Seriously, imagine if a New York Times reporter put an ex-NSC or CIA operative on the payroll for about $2,000 to $4,000 a month as a source, cited in articles as a source, and then sometimes let him or her report news stories with a byline, without glaringly indicating to readers what was going on. But this is what ABC was doing with Debat. ABC must have known they were stretching the rules on this one. For instance, their consultant Richard Clarke is never presented as the reporter. But ABC changed the rules in the Debat case, presumably because he was bringing them such sexy scoops, that they loved flacking at the time. Now they insist the scoops were solid, but Debat misrepresented his credentials. They’re blameless.… [D]id ABC bend the rules by paying a source who also served as their reporter while having a full time appointment elsewhere, smoothing over any complications by calling him an all purpose ‘consultant?’ How much did Brian Ross approve the unusual arrangement and independently verify the information Debat was bringing from the dark corners of Pakistan? [If] Debat faked interviews for a French journal, what was to keep him from faking interviews that informed multiple stories for ABC? I find it implausible that ABC has independently re-reported all that stuff so quickly and determined it’s kosher.” [Laura Rozen, 9/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Politique Internationale, Philadelphia Daily News, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Will Bunch, Stephane Dujarric, Patrick Wajsman, William Gates, Nixon Center, Richard M. Nixon, Michael R. Bloomberg, Brian Ross, Barack Obama, ABC News, Alexis Debat, Alan Greenspan, French Ministry of Defense, Colin Powell, Nancy Pelosi, Laura Rozen, London Times, Jeffrey Schnieder, Henry A. Kissinger, Kofi Annan
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Former ABC News source and sometime reporter Alexis Debat, whose career as a media commentator and information source is in shambles due to his exposure as a fabricator of numerous interviews with US political and business figures (see September 12, 2007), has a number of close ties with US neoconservatives, according to research by Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch. Debat has had a strong influence on the US media’s slant on both the Iraq occupation and the envisioned war with Iran, particularly with his frequent contributions to ABC News reports and commentary. Debat has also provided sensational, and often unconfirmed, “information” about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several “scoops” from Debat and published by ABC News about Pakistan had to be either corrected or suffered contradiction by Pakistani officials. Debat also has close, if murky, ties with a number of prominent neoconservatives and right-wing Middle East figures. Iranian-born Amir Taheri was listed as an editor of Debat’s primary European press outlet, Politique Internationale, from 2001 through 2006. Taheri’s work has been promoted by a New York public-relations firm, Benador Associates, which specializes in Middle Eastern affairs and boasts a number of neoconservatives on its website, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and former CIA director James Woolsey. Taheri is often published in newspapers owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. And, like Debat, Taheri’s work has been called into question in recent years. A May 2006 column printed in a Canadian newspaper that alleged Iran was forcing Jews and other religious minorities to wear colored badges was proven false. And a 1988 book by Taheri, Nest of Spies, purporting to give inside details about Islamic terrorism, has been shown to contain a raft of inaccuracies and misstatements. Taheri’s connections with Benador gives him prime entry to conservative media outlets, which seem to sometimes ignore the rampant problems with his reporting. [Attytood, 9/14/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Amir Taheri, Alexis Debat, ABC News, Benador Associates, James Woolsey, Politique Internationale, Will Bunch, Philadelphia Daily News, George W. Bush, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Perle
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence, Domestic Propaganda
The Washington Post’s editorial page, headed by Fred Hiatt, denounces Iran’s “race for a bomb,” writing: “[T]he danger is growing that the United States and its allies could face a choice between allowing Iran to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear weapon and going to war to prevent it. The only way to avoid facing that terrible decision is effective diplomacy—that is, a mix of sanctions and incentives that will induce [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s superiors to suspend their race for a bomb.… Even if [Iran] provides satisfactory answers, its uranium enrichment—and thus its progress toward a bomb—will continue. That doesn’t trouble [the IAEA’s Mohamed] ElBaradei, who hasn’t hidden his view that the world should stop trying to prevent Iran from enriching uranium and should concentrate instead on blocking US military action… European diplomats say they are worried that escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, if fueled by more sanctions, could lead to war. What they don’t make clear is how the government Mr. Ahmadinejad represents will be induced to change its policy if it has nothing to fear from the West.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen writes: “Sadly, it is simply not possible to dismiss the Iranian threat. Not only is Iran proceeding with a nuclear program, but it projects a pugnacious, somewhat nutty, profile to the world.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
After spending a year traveling through the Middle East and writing about his experiences, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland says there is an “unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.” He adds: “That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion.… [T]ime is running out on the diplomatic track.” In late October, Hoagland dismissed Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s doubt that Iran would be able to turn enriched uranium into a usable weapon (see October 26, 2007) as “implausible.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
In light of the just-released National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iran stopped research on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), Editor and Publisher’s Greg Mitchell notes that many media pundits have “promoted [the administration’s] line” of Iran’s imminent emergence as a nuclear threat. He comments: “Many in the media have made [such] claims, often extravagantly, which promoted (deliberately or not) the tubthumping for striking Iran.… [T]oo many in the media seemed to fail to learn the lessons of the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure—and White House propaganda effort—and instead, were repeating it, re: Iran. This time, perhaps, we may have averted war, with little help from most of the media. In this case, it appears, the NIE people managed to resist several months of efforts by the administration to change their assessment. If only they had stiffened their backbones concerning Iraq in 2002.” Three pundits—David Brooks (see January 22, 2006), Thomas Friedman (see June 2007), and Richard Cohen (see October 23, 2007)—managed to, in Mitchells’s words, at least “back some kind of diplomacy in regard to Iran, unlike many of their brethren.” Others were more forceful in their calls for action, including the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland (see November 4, 2007), the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol (see July 14, 2006), and the Post editorial page (see September 26, 2007). Mitchell notes that many of these pundits are regulars on television news and commentary programs. [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
Fox News pundit Sean Hannity derides the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). Hannity goes further than many of his fellow conservatives (see December 3-6, 2007), and claims that the NIE is not only wrong, but is the same as the erroneous 2005 NIE on Iran which claimed that Iran was mere months away from producing a nuclear weapon. “The headlines that we’re reading about the NIE are misleading,” Hannity declares. Discussing the NIE with his guest, former UN ambassador and leading neoconservative John Bolton, Hannity says, “[S]ubstantively you’re pointing out that the NIE report in 2005 and the one in 2007 are basically the same. And you say, moreover, the distinction between military and civilian programs is highly artificial.” Bolton says in reply, “They’re still doing it, building up an inventory.” [Fox News, 12/7/2007] Hannity and Bolton misconstrue the two NIEs. Some of the differences:
The 2005 NIE assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons,” while the 2007 NIE assessed “high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”
According to the 2005 NIE, “Iran could produce enough fissile material for a weapon by the end of this decade.” The 2007 NIE concludes, “[T]his is very unlikely.” [USA Today, 12/4/2007]
Hannity’s co-host, moderate Alan Colmes, says of the NIE’s findings, “They’re very clear. They [Iran] halted their covert weapons program in 2003. It’s very clear.” Hannity dismisses Colmes’s assertion by retorting, “He doesn’t get it.” [Fox News, 12/7/2007]
The New Republic writes a January 8, 2008 article detailing years of racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and far-right conspiratorial content in the newsletters of libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX—see 1978-1996). [New Republic, 1/8/2008] Hours after the article is published, Paul issues a statement, which reads in part: “The quotations in the New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed. I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts. In fact, I have always agreed with Martin Luther King Jr. that we should only be concerned with the content of a person’s character, not the color of their skin.” After citing his admiration for another civil-rights era icon, Rosa Parks, Paul continues: “This story is old news and has been rehashed for over a decade. It’s once again being resurrected for obvious political reasons on the day of the New Hampshire primary [where Paul is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination]. When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit. Several writers contributed to the product. For over a decade, I have publically taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.” [Reason, 1/8/2008] Most reactions are strongly negative. Nick Gillespie of the libertarian magazine Reason calls the newsletters’ content “stunning,” “odious,” and “jaw-dropping.” Gillespie adds: “I don’t think that Ron Paul wrote this stuff but that really doesn’t matter—the newsletters carried his name after all.… It is hugely disappointing that he produced a cache of such garbage.” He calls Paul’s response “unsatisfying on about a thousand different levels.” [Reason, 1/8/2008] Radley Balko, also of Reason, writes that he “find[s] the prospect that Paul never read the newsletter implausible.” Reason senior editor Brian Doherty, who wrote a recent cover story enthusing over Paul’s candidacy, now writes that Paul’s “campaign’s reaction to this has been politically disastrous and given the third-rail nature of accusations of racism, Ron Paul’s campaign was likely fatally wounded.” [New Republic, 1/15/2008] David Boaz, a senior official of the libertarian Cato Institute, notes that Paul’s response indicates he is essentially unfit to be president, seeing as Paul’s defense has been, “I didn’t know what my closest associates were doing over my signature, so give me responsibility for the federal government.” Boaz writes that few at the Cato Institute were supportive of Paul even before the newsletters’ content became widely known: “We had never seen the newsletters that have recently come to light, and I for one was surprised at just how vile they turned out to be. But we knew the company Ron Paul had been keeping, and we feared that they would have tied him to some reprehensible ideas far from the principles we hold.” Paul may well have not written the newsletters, Boaz notes, “[b]ut he selected the people who did write those things, and he put his name on the otherwise unsigned newsletters, and he raised campaign funds from the mailing list that those newsletters created. And he would have us believe that things that ‘do not represent what I believe or have ever believed’ appeared in his newsletter for years and years without his knowledge. Assuming Ron Paul in fact did not write those letters, people close to him did. His associates conceived, wrote, edited, and mailed those words. His closest associates over many years know who created those publications. If they truly admire Ron Paul, if they think he is being unfairly tarnished with words he did not write, they should come forward, take responsibility for their words, and explain how they kept Ron Paul in the dark for years about the words that appeared every month in newsletters with ‘Ron Paul’ in the title.” Boaz notes that while many Paul supporters are angrily speculating about “conspiracies” leading to the expose of the newsletters (see January 12-15, 2008), they are not denying that Paul’s newsletters actually contained that content. Because of the content of these newsletters, Boaz writes, Paul “and his associates have slimed the noble cause of liberty and limited government.” [Cato at Liberty, 1/11/2008]
Roy Greenslade, a media commentator with The Guardian, wonders why the US media is ignoring revelations by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, who says that there are links between US officials and the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring (see January 6, 2008 and After). Greenslade also quotes former Pentagon whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg: “For the second time in two weeks, the entire US press has let itself be scooped by Rupert Murdoch’s London Sunday Times on a dynamite story of criminal activities by corrupt US officials promoting nuclear proliferation. But there is a worse journalistic sin than being scooped, and that is participating in a cover-up of information that demands urgent attention from the public, the US Congress and the courts.” Greenslade calls it a “very hot story” and “world exclusive,” and says it “should surely have been taken up by mainstream newspapers in the United States.” [Guardian, 1/22/2008] One of the few US media outlets that picks up the story initially is Fox News, which reports on one of the claims made in the Sunday Times—that the FBI has denied it has a file on the nuclear smuggling case in response to a Freedom of Information Act, whereas Edmonds says it does have the file, as does a document signed by an FBI official that has been obtained by the Sunday Times (see January 20, 2008). [Fox News, 1/20/2008] The Dallas Morning News will also reprint a section of an article about Edmonds in February. The article was originally written for the American Conservative Magazine by former CIA officer Philip Giraldi. [Dallas Morning News, 2/17/2008]
Center for Public Integrity logo. [Source: Center for Public Integrity]The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization, releases an analysis of top Bush administration officials’ statements over the two years leading up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Significance - Analysts and authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith state that the analysis proves that the Bush administration engaged in deliberate deception to lead the country into war with Iraq, and disproves the administration’s contention that its officials were the victims of bad intelligence. CPI states that the analysis shows “the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” According to CPI’s findings, eight top administration officials made 935 false statements concerning either Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, between September 11, 2001 and the invasion itself. These statements were made on 532 separate occasions, by the following administration officials: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Foundation of Case for War - These deliberate falsehoods “were the underpinnings of the administration’s case for war,” says CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg. Lewis says, “Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” According to the analysis, Bush officials “methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.” The falsehoods dramatically escalated in August 2002, just before Congress passed a war resolution (see October 10, 2002). The falsehoods escalated again in the weeks before Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and Powell’s critical presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). All 935 falsehoods are available in a searchable database on the CPI Web site, and are sourced from what the organization calls “primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.” CPI finds that “officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.”
Breakdown - The tally of falsehoods is as follows:
Bush: 260. 232 of those were about Iraqi WMD and 28 were about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.
Powell: 254, with 244 of those about Iraq’s WMD programs.
Rumsfeld and Fleischer: 109 each.
The analysis only examines the statements of these eight officials, but, as CPI notes, “Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.”
An 'Impenetrable Din' - Lewis and Reading-Smith write that the “cumulative effect of these false statements,” amplified and echoed by intensive media coverage that by and large did not question the administration’s assertions, “was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” CPI asserts that most mainstream media outlets were so enthusiastically complicit in the push for war that they “provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Lewis and Reading-Smith conclude: “Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?” [Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin approvingly calls the study “old-fashioned accountability journalism.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Lewis, Center for Public Integrity, Bush administration (43), Bill Buzenberg, Ari Fleischer, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Dan Froomkin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Mark Reading-Smith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
New evidence emerges proving that, despite earlier denials, a senior press officer was closely involved in writing the British government’s September 2002 dossier that claimed Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see September 24, 2002), a claim then known to be false. John Williams, then the director of communications at the Foreign Office, was granted access to secret intelligence as he helped prepare an early draft of the dossier (see September 10-11, 2002). Williams was a former political editor of the Sunday Mirror, a British tabloid newspaper. According to a document that until now has been suppressed by the Foreign Office, Williams was given the same access to classified information as the primary author of the dossier, then-Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett. The Foreign Office document is only now being made available because an information tribunal reviewing pre-war intelligence ordered its release. Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the Williams document was not used as the basis for the “Scarlett dossier.” However, during the Hutton inquiry, Scarlett referred to the “considerable help” Williams had given him in writing the dossier. Additionally, Williams took part in Cabinet Office meetings on the dossier. The document refers to Iraq having missiles capable of “threatening NATO,” including Greece and Turkey, a claim repeated in the published dossier. It also states that there was “compelling evidence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” That phrase was used in all three drafts of the dossier, though it was well known by that time that the claims of Iraqi-African uranium deals were based on forged documents. Some of Williams’s more extravagant language was not used. His draft begins: “Iraq presents a uniquely dangerous threat to the world. No other country has twice launched wars of aggression against neighbours.” Someone else wrote in the margin: “Germany? US: Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico.” William Hague, the Conservative Party’s shadow foreign secretary, says the Williams document is “further evidence that spin doctors, not intelligence analysts, were leading from the first in deciding what the British people were told about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.” [Guardian, 2/19/2008]
In remarks to the National Religious Broadcasters Association, President Bush misrepresents two important aspects of the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Misrepresenting the 'Surge of Their Own' - Referring to the so-called “surge” of US troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007), Bush says: “As you can imagine, during that period of time a lot of folks were wondering, is America going to stay with us? Do they understand our deep desire to live in freedom? Can we count on them? And when they found out they could, they launched a surge of their own. Increasing numbers of Sunni leaders have turned against the terrorists and begun to reclaim their communities… . Folks who were involved in the insurgency have now decided they want to be a part of their government… . I strongly believe the surge is working, and so do the Iraqis.” Bush is referring to the Iraqi counterattack against al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist terrorists—the so-called “Anbar Awakening.” He is wrong in saying that the Iraqis “launched a surge of their own” in response to the US troop escalation. The “Iraqi surge” against al-Qaeda in Iraq predates the US surge by months. In fact, two years before the “Iraqi surge,” Bush had rejected offers of similar assistance from Sunni leaders eager to bring Sunni-led terrorism in Iraq to a close. Instead, the Sunni leaders took action without US approval. Bush is now linking the Sunni initiative to the US “surge,” and in the process misrepresents both the chronological chain of the events and the forces driving the “Iraqi surge.”
Misrepresenting the Effectiveness of the US 'Surge' - Bush also says that some US forces are coming home as “a return on our success” in the surge. That implies that because the “surge” is successful, Bush and US military commanders are beginning to bring some troops home. “And as a return on our success, as we get more successful, troops are able to come home,” he says: “They’re not coming home based upon defeat, or based upon opinion polls, or based upon focus groups, or based upon politics. They’re coming home because we’re successful.” In reality, Bush has been quite reluctant to bring any troops home, only grudgingly giving way to the recommendations of US commanders such as General David Petraeus, the head of military operations in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus, Fallon, and other US military commanders have long said that the surge is designed to be temporary, with drawdown dates of early 2008 built into the planning from the outset. [Salon, 3/11/2008]
John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, speaking to reporters in Amman, Jordan. [Source: Raw Story]Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, repeatedly conflates the two main warring branches of Islam in statements made while visiting the Middle East. The quickly planned trip was designed to showcase McCain’s foreign policy sagacity, and contrast him with his Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), whose relative lack of experience in foreign policy is being negatively portrayed by the McCain campaign.
Allegations of Cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda - McCain twice says while in Jordan that it is “common knowledge” that Iran, a Shi’ite-led theocracy, is training al-Qaeda terrorists and sending them into Iraq to wreak havoc. Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization. Sunni Muslims have contended for primacy with Shi’ite Muslims for centuries; much of the violence in Iraq is between Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents. “We continue to be concerned about Iranian[s] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,” he says in one instance, and adds: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” His traveling companion, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), whispers a correction in McCain’s ear, and McCain promptly corrects himself, “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”
Criticism of McCain - The Democratic National Committee responds to McCain’s statements by saying: “After eight years of the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, McCain’s comments don’t give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward. Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn’t understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground.” [New York Times, 3/18/2008; Raw Story, 3/18/2008]
Previous Similar Comments - McCain made a similar statement the day before while calling in to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, saying, “As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.” Hewitt did not correct the error. [Town Hall (.com), 3/17/2008] And on February 28, McCain told an audience in Texas, “But al-Qaeda is [in Iraq], they are functioning, they are supported in many times, in many ways by the Iranians.” [ThinkProgress (.org), 3/20/2008] McCain’s own campaign notes that McCain “immediately corrected” the error—a misstatement, as McCain made the mistake three different times in two days—and attacks the Democrats for McCain’s blunder by stating, “Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief.”
Media Reaction - Many in the mainstream media forgive or ignore McCain’s repeated gaffe. The Atlantic Monthly’s Marc Ambinder calls it “momentary confusion” on McCain’s part, again ignoring the fact that McCain made the same mistake three times in two days. [Atlantic Monthly, 3/18/2008] ABC’s Jake Tapper blames the blunder on “jet lag.” [ABC News, 3/18/2008] Both the Associated Press and CNN misreport McCain’s statement. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou inaccurately reports that McCain “voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight US troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to ‘expedite’ a flow of foreign fighters.” [Associated Press, 3/18/2008] And CNN’s Emily Sherman rewrites McCain’s statement, reporting, “During a press conference in Amman, Jordan, the Arizona senator also said there is a continued concern that Iran may be training Iraqi extremists in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq.” [CNN News, 3/18/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, Marc Ambinder, CNN, Hillary Clinton, Alfred de Montesquiou, Associated Press, Barack Obama, Democratic National Committee, Emily Sherman, Hugh Hewitt, Jake Tapper
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
US News and World Report interviews three US soldiers once held captive in the first days of the Iraq invasion: Private Jessica Lynch, Specialist Shoshana Johnson, and Private Patrick Miller. Lynch was captured and held for nine days in an Iraqi hospital before being rescued (see June 17, 2003); her story was quickly inflated by military public relations officials and eager media representatives into a fabricated tale of torture and derring-do (see April 3, 2003). Johnson and Miller received much less press coverage during their 22 days in captivity. Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, then a captain and a senior military spokesman, told reporters when Lynch was rescued that “she fired until she had no more ammunition.” That report was untrue. Thorp now says, “There was never, ever any intentional deception involving Lynch.” But the Pentagon and the news media alike were hungry for a telegenic hero, he notes. “That’s America. We want heroes, in baseball, in politics, in our day-to-day life.” [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008] Thorp, now a rear admiral, became the top public affairs official for then-Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers. [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Lynch: Weathering the Controversy - Lynch, who has weathered years of controversy about her unwitting involvement in a Pentagon PR campaign, is not convinced that there was no deception, as Thorp insists. “They wanted to make people think that maybe this war was a good thing,” she says. “Instead, people were getting killed, and it was going downhill fast. They wanted a hero.” All three say that they were no more heroic than any of the soldiers who fight every day. “It’s nice that people remember and stuff, but the way I look at it was I was just doing my job as a soldier,” says Miller, whom Lynch has cited as displaying outstanding bravery the day of their capture. Johnson adds: “I think we tossed around the hero word a little too much. I got shot and caught, and that’s it. [T]here are loads of soldiers out there who deserve all the props, and they don’t get enough.” Lynch, who was discharged from the Army months after her rescue (see August 22, 2003), does not watch television coverage of the war. “Honestly, it’s hard; it’s depressing,” she says. Five years after her capture, she still faces numerous physical disabilities and more surgery in the weeks and months ahead.
Miller: Wants to Return to Iraq - Miller, who shot several Iraqi soldiers before being, in his words, “gang-tackled” and captured, is still in the Army, having refused a medical discharge and needing to continue his wife’s medical insurance coverage. He recalls one conversation with an Iraqi during his captivity: “There was one who asked me why I came to Iraq, and I told him that I was told to come. He was like, ‘Why didn’t you just tell them no?’ I told him that if I tell them no, I go to jail. He couldn’t understand that.” Miller, now a staff sergeant, wants to return to Iraq, though Army regulations forbid a soldier once kept as a POW from returning to the country of his capture.
Johnson: Permanent Disability - Like Miller, Johnson’s captivity was relatively uneventful. She recalls one doctor in particular, “an old man with two wives and 11 children, who was really nice to me.” He protected her during her stay, even sleeping outside her door. “I don’t know if he thought somebody would come in, or something would happen to me,” she says. “When people start talking to me about Islam, that’s who I think of—a very nice man who took a big chance.” Johnson was going to write a book about her captivity, but her publishers backed out after Johnson did not give them the story they wanted. “They wanted this really religious book,” she says. “I’m a Catholic and my faith is important to me, but as a single mom with tattoos, I can’t be writing a book telling people how to live their life.” Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she has succeeded in winning permanent disability status from the Army after a long, bitter struggle (see October 24, 2003). She is raising her 7-year old daughter, studying to be a caterer, and says that in general she is coping well. [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008]
In an interview given during his trip to the Middle East, Vice President Dick Cheney insists that the “surge” (see January 10, 2007) in Iraq is working: “On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.” When asked how his assessment of success jibes with polls that show two-thirds of Americans oppose the war—“Two-thirds of Americans say it’s not worth fighting,” interviewer Martha Raddatz points out—Cheney replies, “So?” Raddatz asks: “So? You don’t care what the American people think?” Cheney replies: “No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.” [ABC News, 3/19/2008; New York Times, 3/19/2008] Multiple polls show a relatively steady decrease in public support for the Iraq war, and for the presence of US troops in Iraq, since early highs in March 2003 when the US launched its opening attacks (see March 19, 2003). [Mother Jones, 3/19/2008]
Responding to Vice President Dick Cheney’s dismissal of Americans’ lack of support for the Iraq war with the reply, “So?” (see March 19, 2008), a reporter says to White House press secretary Dana Perino that, contrary to Cheney’s assertions of “fluctuations in the public opinion polls,” “It’s not that there’s been fluctuations in polls; it’s been different degrees of opposition to the war. So is the vice president saying it really does not matter what the American public thinks about the war?” Perino responds: “No, I don’t think that’s what he’s saying.… But what he went on to say is that [the] president should not make decisions based on polls.” Another reporter observes: “The American people are being asked to die and pay for this, and you’re saying they have no say in this war?… Well, what it amounts to is you saying we have no input at all.” Perino replies: “You had input. The American people have input every four years, and that’s the way our system is set up.” [White House, 3/20/2008] According to polls conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland, 94 percent of US citizens believe that “leaders should pay attention to the views of the people as they make decisions,” and 81 percent say leaders “should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public’s views.” Steven Kull, the director of PIPA, notes: “While Americans do not say that leaders should always follow the will of the public, they do think that American leaders should be considerably more responsive to the people and should even pay attention to polls. Dismissing the public as irrelevant and incompetent only contributes to already low levels of trust in government.” [World Public Opinion (.org), 3/21/2008]
Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy, a study of the military’s influence on the US media and American public opinion, observes that while some commercial news networks are pointed out as unduly biased in favor of the administration’s viewpoint on Iraq, National Public Radio (NPR) is often viewed as a source of left-wing, anti-administration opinion. Solomon shows that just the opposite is usually the case. He begins by noting an NPR reporter’s comment on the Iraqi government’s large-scale military assault against Shi’ite insurgents in Basra today: “There is no doubt that this operation needed to happen.” Solomon writes, “Such flat-out statements, uttered with journalistic tones and without attribution, are routine for the US media establishment.” Solomon observed in the documentary film made from his book: “If you’re pro-war, you’re objective. But if you’re anti-war, you’re biased. And often, a news anchor will get no flak at all for making statements that are supportive of a war and wouldn’t dream of making a statement that’s against a war.” Solomon says that after considerable examination of NPR’s flagship news programs, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” “the sense and sensibilities tend to be neatly aligned with the outlooks of official Washington. The critical aspects of reporting largely amount to complaints about policy shortcomings that are tactical; the underlying and shared assumptions are imperial. Washington’s prerogatives are evident when the media window on the world is tinted red-white-and-blue.” Like other news networks, NPR routinely uses Pentagon-approved “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to give commentary and analysis that is almost always supportive of the administration’s Iraq operations and strategies. Solomon writes: “Such cozy proximity of world views, blanketing the war maker and the war reporter, is symptomatic of what ails NPR’s war coverage—especially from Washington. Of course there are exceptions. Occasional news reports stray from the narrow baseline. But the essence of the propaganda function is repetition, and the exceptional does not undermine that function. To add insult to injury, NPR calls itself public radio. It’s supposed to be willing to go where commercial networks fear to tread. But overall, when it comes to politics and war, the range of perspectives on National Public Radio isn’t any wider than what we encounter on the avowedly commercial networks.” [CommonDreams (.org), 3/27/2008]
David Petraeus. [Source: Princeton ROTC]General David Petraeus, the newly named commander of CENTCOM and the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East, takes time out from testifying to Congress to speak in a conference call to a group of the Pentagon’s carefully groomed “military analysts,” whom it uses regularly to promote the occupation of Iraq and sell the administration’s Middle East policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, tells Petraeus to “keep up the great work.” In an interview, Garrett reaffirms his intention to continue selling the occupation of Iraq: “Hey, anything we can do to help.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Author and former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that he is angered, but not particularly shocked, at the US mainstream media’s failure to provide in-depth, extensive coverage of the recently released 2003 torture memo (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008) and another memo asserting that the Bush administration had declared the Fourth Amendment null and void in reference to “domestic military operations” inside the US (see April 2, 2008). Greenwald also notes the lack of coverage of a recent puzzling comment by Attorney General Michael Mukasey about 9/11 (see March 27, 2008). Instead, Greenwald notes, stories about the Democratic presidential campaign (including criticism over Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and Obama’s recent bowling scores) have dominated press coverage. According to a recent NEXIS search, these various topics have been mentioned in the media in the last thirty days:
“Yoo and torture” (referring to John Yoo, the author of the two memos mentioned above)—102.
“Mukasey and 9/11”—73.
“Yoo and Fourth Amendment”—16.
“Obama and bowling”—1,043.
“Obama and Wright”—More than 3,000 (too many to be counted).
“Obama and patriotism”—1,607.
“Clinton and Lewinsky”—1,079. [Salon, 4/5/2008]
(For the record, on March 30, Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania during a campaign stop, in the company of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). Newsmax is among the many media outlets that provided play-by-play coverage of Obama’s abysmal performance on the lanes—he scored a 37. The site reported that Obama lost “beautifully” and was “way out of his league.”) [NewsMax, 3/31/2008]
Media Attacks Obama's 'Elitism' - The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz gives over much of his column to a discussion of Obama’s eating and bowling habits, making the argument, according to Greenwald, that Obama is “not a regular guy but an arrogant elitist.” Kurtz defends his argument by compiling a raft of “similar chatter about this from Karl Rove” and others. Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson spent a week’s worth of columns calling Obama’s bowling his biggest mistake, a “real doozy.” MSNBC reported that Obama went bowling “with disastrous consequences.” Greenwald notes that the media “as always,” takes “their personality-based fixations from the right, who have been promoting the Obama is an arrogant, exotic, elitist freak narrative for some time.” In this vein, Time’s Joe Klein wrote of what he called Obama’s “patriotism problem,” saying that “this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right.” Greenwald notes, “He trotted it all out—the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama’s angry, America-hating wife, ‘his Islamic-sounding name.’” Greenwald calls the media fixation on Obama’s bowling and his apparent failure to be a “regular guy” another instance of their “self-referential narcissism—whatever they sputter about is what ‘the people’ care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance. They don’t need Drudge to rule their world any longer because they are Matt Drudge now.” [Salon, 4/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey, Matt Drudge, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, MSNBC, Joe Klein, Barack Obama, Bob Casey, Jr, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Glenn Greenwald, Margaret Carlson, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, Howard Kurtz, NewsMax
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
Ruth Conniff. [Source: PBS]Columnist and veteran news commentator Ruth Conniff writes in the Progressive that she is disturbed both by the news that senior Bush officials signed off on the use of specific torture methods against al-Qaeda suspects in US custody (see April 2002 and After), and by the fact that the mainstream media, with notable exceptions, has virtually ignored the story. Between this story and the follow-up that President Bush himself knew of the discussions and approvals (see April 11, 2008), Conniff asks: “Why is this not bigger news? Remember when the nation was brought to a virtual standstill over Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern? We now have confirmation that the president of the United States gave the OK for his national security team to violate international law and plot the sordid details of torture. The Democrats in Congress should be raising the roof.” [Progressive, 4/14/2008]
Author and civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes of today’s revelations about the Pentagon’s six-year Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) that the new information serves as “a far greater indictment of our leading news organizations than the government officials” who actually perpetrated the program. Greenwald writes: “In 2002 and 2003, when Americans were relentlessly subjected to their commentary, news organizations were hardly unaware that these retired generals were mindlessly reciting the administration line on the war and related matters. To the contrary, that’s precisely why our news organizations—which themselves were devoted to selling the war both before and after the invasion by relentlessly featuring pro-war sources and all but excluding anti-war ones—turned to them in the first place.” The New York Times, which published the expose, still relies on the same military analysts for commentary and insight about the war in Iraq who are revealed as Pentagon supporters in its own reporting. And considering the reporting from five years previously (see March 25, 2003 and April 19, 2003), Greenwald notes that neither the Times nor anyone else should be particularly shocked at the unveiling of such a propaganda operation. What Greenwald does find “incredible” is the refusal of the news organizations to comment on the Times story. “Just ponder what that says about these organizations,” Greenwald writes: “[T]here is a major expose in the [Times] documenting that these news outlets misleadingly shoveled government propaganda down the throats of their viewers on matters of war and terrorism and they don’t feel the least bit obliged to answer for what they did or knew about any of it.” Only CNN provided any substantive response, but denied any knowledge of their analysts’ connections to either the Pentagon or to defense firms. Greenwald concludes, “The single most significant factor in American political culture is the incestuous, extensive overlap between our media institutions and government officials.” [Salon, 4/20/2008]
Neoconservatives Max Boot and John Podhoretz weigh in on the New York Times story exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Boot writes that the program is nothing more than “the Pentagon tr[ying] to get out its side of the story about Iraq to the news media.” “[I]t’s no secret,” he writes, “that the Pentagon—and every other branch of government—routinely provides background briefings to journalists (including columnists and other purveyors of opinion), and tries to influence their coverage by carefully doling out access. It is hardly unheard of for cabinet members—or even the president and vice president—to woo selected journalists deemed to be friendly while cutting off those deemed hostile. Nor is it exactly a scandal for government agencies to hire public relations firms to track coverage of them and try to suggest ways in which they might be cast in a more positive light. All this is part and parcel of the daily grind of Washington journalism in which the Times is, of course, a leading participant.” Boot believes he has found “the nub of the problem” further into the article when reporter David Barstow wrote that the Pentagon’s operation “recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism.” Boot retorts, in a backhanded criticism of the Times’s patriotism: “[I]t’s one thing to subvert one’s country and another thing to subvert the MSM [mainstream media]. We can’t have that!” Boot concludes: “The implicit purpose of the Times’s article is obvious: to elevate this perfectly normal practice into a scandal in the hopes of quashing it. Thus leaving the Times and its fellow MSM organs—conveniently enough—as the dominant shapers of public opinion.” [Commentary Magazine, 4/20/2008] Writing for the influential conservative blog PowerLine, Boot’s fellow neoconservative John Podhoretz echoes Boot’s dismissal of the Times’s expose: “Barstow’s endless tale reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs, courted them and served them extremely well, in hopes of getting the kind of coverage that would counteract the nastier stuff written about the Defense Department in the media.” [Think Progress (.org), 4/20/2008]
Katrina vanden Heuvel. [Source: PBS]The editor of The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel, pens an incensed op-ed about the Pentagon’s recently revealed propaganda campaign designed to manipulate public opinion concerning Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Vanden Heuvel calls the operation “an all out effort at the highest levels of the Bush administration, continuing to this day, to dupe, mislead and lie to the American people—using propaganda dressed up and cherry-picked as independent military analysis.” Vanden Heuvel calls for an “investigation by all relevant Congressional committees—from Intelligence to Armed Services. The networks must also be held accountable for their role in duping Americans.” She writes that networks should immediately “fire those analysts who concealed their links and then refuse to hire analysts, military or other, without full conflict of interest disclosures. (They should also open up the airwaves, which belong to the people, to a full range of views!)” The analysts themselves “should be hauled up before the judgment of the institution they claim to revere and represent. [T]hese corrupt men… violated a sacred trust, putting their wallet, their access and the Pentagon above their duty and honor to the men and women they claim to revere.” [Nation, 4/20/2008]
Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times receives 8,000 pages of Pentagon e-mail messages, transcripts and records through a lawsuit. It subsequently reports on a systematic and highly orchestrated “psyops” (psychological operations) media campaign waged by the Defense Department against the US citizenry, using the American media to achieve their objectives. At the forefront of this information manipulation campaign is a small cadre of retired military officers known to millions of TV and radio news audience members as “military analysts.” These “independent” analysts appear on thousands of news and opinion broadcasts specifically to generate favorable media coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance. The group of officers are familiar faces to those who get their news from television and radio, billed as independent analysts whose long careers enable them to give what New York Times reporter David Barstow calls “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” However, the analysts are not nearly as independent as the Pentagon would like for Americans to believe. Barstow writes: “[T]he Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.… These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.”
Administration 'Surrogates' - The documents repeatedly refer to the analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who can be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.” According to the records, the administration routinely uses the analysts as, in Barstow’s words, “a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents.” When news articles revealed that US troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor (see March 2003 and After), a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues, “I think our analysts—properly armed—can push back in that arena.” In 2005, Ten analysts were flown to Guantanamo to counter charges that prisoners were being treated inhumanely; the analysts quickly and enthusiastically repeated their talking points in a variety of television and radio broadcasts (see June 24-25, 2005).
Ties to Defense Industry - Most of the analysts, Barstow writes, have deep and complex “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.” The analysts and the networks almost never reveal these business relationships to their viewers; sometimes even the networks are unaware of just how deep those business connections extend. Between then, the fifty or so analysts “represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.” Some of the analysts admit to using their special access to garner marketing, networking, and business opportunities. John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including from Iraq. In company promotional materials, Garrett says that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Garrett’s access and experience helps him “to know in advance—and in detail—how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies. Garrett calls this an inevitable overlap between his various roles, and says that in general, “That’s good for everybody.”
Exclusive Access to White House, Defense Officials - The analysts have been granted unprecedented levels of access to the White House and the Pentagon, including:
hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including many with power over contracting and budget matters;
private tours of Iraq;
access to classified information;
private briefings with senior White House, State Department, and Justice Department officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Conversely, analysts who do not cooperate take a risk. “You’ll lose all access,” says CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist Jeffrey McCausland.
Quid Pro Quo - Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colenel Timur Eads, who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a rapidly growing military contractor, later says, “We knew we had extraordinary access.” Eads confirms that he and other analysts often held off on criticizing the administration for fear that “some four-star [general] could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’” Eads believes that he and the other analysts were misled about the Iraqi security forces, calling the Pentagon’s briefings about those forces’ readiness a “snow job.” But Eads said nothing about his doubts on television. His explanation: “Human nature.” Several analysts recall their own “quid pro quo” for the Pentagon in the months before the invasion (see Early 2003). And some analysts were far more aboveboard in offering quid pro quos for their media appearances. Retired Army general Robert Scales, Jr, an analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio, and whose consulting company advises several firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, asked for high-level Pentagon briefings in 2006. In an e-mail, he told officials: “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit. I will do the same this time.”
Repeating White House Talking Points - In return, the analysts have, almost to a man, echoed administration talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, even when some of them believed the information they were given was false or inflated. Some now acknowledge they did so—and continue to do so—for fear of losing their access, which in turn jeopardizes their business relationships. Some now regret their participation in the propoganda effort, and admit they were used as puppets while pretending to be independent military analysts. Bevelacqua says, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, calls the campaign a sophisticated information operation aimed, not at foreign governments or hostile populaces, but against the American people. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he says (see Late 2006). The Pentagon denies using the military analysts for propaganda purposes, with spokesman Bryan Whitman saying it was “nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people.” It is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department,” Whitman says. And other analysts, such as McCausland, say that they never allowed their outside business interests to affect their on-air commentaries. “I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland says. Some say they used their positions to even criticize the war in Iraq. But according to a close analysis of their performances by a private firm retained by the Pentagon to evaluate the analysts, they performed to the Pentagon’s complete satisfaction (see 2005 and Beyond).
Enthusiastic Cooperation - The analysts are paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance by the networks, but, according to the transcripts, they often speak as if the networks and the media in general are the enemy. They often speak of themselves as operating behind enemy lines. Some offered the Pentagon advice on how to outmaneuver the networks, or, as one said to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some alerted Pentagon officials of planned news stories. Some sent copies of their private correspondence with network executives to the Pentagon. Many enthusiastically echoed and even added to administration talking points (see Early 2007). [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Several analysts say that based on a Pentagon briefing, they would then pitch an idea for a segment to a producer or network booker. Sometimes, the analysts claim, they even helped write the questions for the anchors to ask during a segment. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Consequences and Repercussions - Some of the analysts are dismayed to learn that they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents, and some deny that their Pentagon briefings were anything but, in the words of retired Army general and CNN analyst David Grange, “upfront information.” Others note that they sometimes disagreed with the administration on the air. Scales claims, “None of us drink the Kool-Aid.” Others deny using their access for business gain. Retired general Carlton Shepperd says that the two are “[n]ot related at all.” But not all of the analysts disagree with the perception that they are little more than water carriers for the Pentagon. Several recall being chewed out by irate defense officials minutes after their broadcasts, and one, retired Marine colonel Wiliam Cowan of Fox News, recalls being fired—by the Pentagon, not by Fox—from his analyst position after issuing a mild criticism of the Pentagon’s war strategies (see August 3-4, 2005). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Thomas G. McInerney, Stephen J. Hadley, Timur Eads, wvc3 Group, William Cowan, Robert Scales, Jr, US Department of Defense, Robert Bevelacqua, Robert Maginnis, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, CBS News, CNN, Carlton Shepperd, David Barstow, David Grange, Bush administration (43), Bryan Whitman, Fox News, Jeffrey McCausland, Alberto R. Gonzales, New York Times, Donald Rumsfeld, National Public Radio, Kenneth Allard, John Garrett, NBC, Rick Francona
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
CNN media critic Howard Kurtz writes a scathing op-ed expressing his dismay at the extent of the Pentagon’s secret propaganda operation to sell the Iraq war, and its use of retired military officers to promote its agenda and make its case on nightly news broadcasts (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Kurtz observes: “It’s hardly shocking that career military men would largely reflect the Pentagon’s point of view, just as Democratic and Republican ‘strategists’ stay in touch with aides to the candidates they defend on the air. But the degree of behind-the-scenes manipulation—including regular briefings by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials—is striking, as is the lack of disclosure by the networks of some of these government and business connections. With an aura of independence, many of the analysts used their megaphones, and the prestige of their rank, to help sell a war that was not going well.… [T]he networks rarely if ever explored the outside roles of their military consultants.” While both the Pentagon and the various networks have defended their use of the military analysts, and the networks have tried to explain their failure to examine their analysts’ connections to an array of defense firms—“it’s a little unrealistic to think you’re going to do a big background check on everybody,” says Fox News executive producer Marty Ryan—the reality, as Kurtz notes, is far less aboveboard. Kurtz adds, “The credibility gap, to use an old Vietnam War phrase, was greatest when these retired officers offered upbeat assessments of the Iraq war even while privately expressing doubts,” a circumstance reported on the part of numerous analysts in the recent New York Times expose. [Washington Post, 4/21/2008]
The Pentagon’s program for using “independent military analysts” to shape public opinion on the various news broadcasts and editorial pages (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) continues. According to New York Times reporter David Barstow, under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the analysts still get weekly briefings from senior Pentagon officials, though they no longer have the kinds of regular meetings with Gates that they had with Rumsfeld. And the networks continue to broadcast interviews and segments with the analysts on a regular basis. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
In the hours following the New York Times’s article about the Pentagon’s propaganda operation using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), a number of press officials express their concerns over the operation and the media’s role in it. The report “raises a red flag,” says Cox Newspapers bureau chief Andy Alexander. The editorial page editors at the Times and the Washington Post, both of which have published op-eds by some of the same retired officers cited in the Times story, say the report raises concerns about such access. The Times’s editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, says, “It makes you suspicious, absolutely.” Rosenthal’s bureau printed at least nine op-eds by some of the generals cited in the report. “When generals write for you now, you have to look at that. But you have to do that anyway. Anybody who participated in that program has to be scrutinized more closely.” Rosenthal’s counterpart at the Post, Fred Hiatt, whose pages have run at least one such op-ed, says, “Retired generals are entitled to speak out like anyone else, but I would have the same expectation of them to disclose anything that might be relevant.” He goes on to defend the Post op-ed, written by retired general Barry McCaffrey, saying that McCaffrey’s words demonstrate his independence from the propaganda operation. Rosenthal also defends his paper’s publication of the nine op-eds and also states that the writers clearly demonstrate their independence. Rosenthal refuses to divulge the names of eight of the nine op-ed authors. Neither the Times nor the Post ever disclosed the close ties their writers maintained with the Pentagon, nor did they disclose their ties to an array of military contractors. Rosenthal says that such connections are irrelevant because their op-eds were not necessarily about Iraq: “There is no instance in which a general who attended a briefing at the Pentagon repeated it on our Op-Ed pages.” He also says that none of the authors have any conflicts in their business relationships. The Times will probably continue to use retired officers for commentary, Rosenthal says. McClatchy News bureau chief John Walcott says that as long as the public knows who is writing a particular op-ed and what their connections are, publishing material from retired military officers is acceptable: “The reader is entitled to know where this or that commentator is coming from on an issue. It doesn’t necessarily disqualify them from commentating, it must be transparent.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/21/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Andy Alexander, Andrew Rosenthal, Barry McCaffrey, Bush administration (43), Cox Communications, Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, McClatchy News, New York Times, John Walcott
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Defense Secretary Robert Gates urges retired officers serving as “independent military analysts” for the news networks to make it clear that they are speaking for themselves, not their military services, in supporting political candidates, giving opinions, or providing commentary. Gates’s remarks come on the heels of a New York Times report that documents an overarching propaganda campaign by the Pentagon to use such “independent” analysts to promote the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Gates says he sees nothing wrong with the Pentagon briefing such retired officers to prepare them for their network appearances. “I did read the article,” he says. “And frankly, I couldn’t quite tell how much of it was a political conflict of interest or a financial conflict of interest. The one service they owe everybody is making clear that they’re speaking only for themselves.” His main concern, he says, is “when they are referred to by their title, the public doesn’t know whether they are active duty or retired officers because those distinctions tend to get blurred.” [Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2008]
New York Times reporter David Barstow discusses his recent article about the Pentagon’s covert propaganda operation using “independent military analysts” to shape public opinion about the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Barstow explains that the Times took “so long” to report the program because “it took us two years to wrestle 8,000 pages of documents out of the Defense Department that described its interactions with network military analysts.” The Pentagon refused to turn over any documents until losing in federal court; even then, it failed to meet a number of court-ordered deadlines to produce the documents. It was only after the judge in the case threatened to sanction the department that the Pentagon finally turned over the documents. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Matthew Yglesias, the associate editor of the Atlantic Monthly, notes that the Bush administration and Defense Department have very good reasons for instituting a systematic campaign of media manipulation and disinformation about their Iraq policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Yglesias writes, “If you think, as John McCain and George Bush and about 30 percent of Americans do, that an indefinite American military operation in Iraq is a good idea then you need to engage in a lot of propaganda operations. After all, realistically we are much more likely to leave Iraq because politicians representing the views of the 70 percent of the public who doesn’t think that an indefinite American military operation in Iraq is a good idea than we are to be literally driven out by Iraqis who oppose the US presence.” [Atlantic Monthly, 4/21/2008]
The Boston Globe publishes an editorial criticizing the Pentagon and the media alike for the Pentagon’s recently revealed Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The operation “is no subtle attempt to influence public opinion,” the Globe editors write. “It is a government program to corrupt the free flow of information that serves, in a healthy democracy, to inoculate the public against official lies, bad policy, and misbegotten wars.” The editorial is harshly critical of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s use of “independent” military analysts to spread his praises through the media (see April 14-16, 2006), calling it “a tactic more suitable for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In fact, the Pentagon’s manipulation of the media has been more deft than the Kremlin’s because it was better hidden.” The editorial concludes, “In the end, the government’s disguised lies have done more damage to American democracy and the national interest than to any foreign enemy. History’s epitaph for the Pentagon’s psywar operation will be: ‘We fooled ourselves.’” [Boston Globe, 4/22/2008]
William Arkin. [Source: New York Times]Washington Post columnist William Arkin writes that from 1999 until late 2007, he was a military analyst for NBC News, “one of the few non-generals in that role.” Arkin writes that he worked with several generals retained by NBC and MSNBC, “and found them mostly to be valuable.” Arkin writes that “[t]he problem is not necessarily that the networks employ former officers as analysts, or that the Pentagon reaches out to them. The larger problem is the role these general play, not just on TV but in American society. In our modern era, not-so-old soldiers neither die nor fade away—they become board members and corporate icons and consultants, on TV and elsewhere, and even among this group of generally straight-shooters, there is a strong reluctance to say anything that would jeopardize their consulting gigs or positions on corporate boards.”
McCaffrey a Consistent Voice of Criticism - Retired general Barry McCaffrey (see April 21, 2003) stands out in Arkin’s recollection as one of the most consistent critics of the Pentagon, “and to this day he is among the most visible of the paid military analysts on television.” Arkin recalls McCaffrey as well-informed and sincere, but writes that “much of his analysis of Iraq in 2003 was handicapped by a myopic view of ground forces and the Army, and by a dislike of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that was obvious and outspoken. (To be fair to McCaffrey, few former or active duty generals read the war or its aftermath correctly.)”
Analysts 'Invaluable' during Hostilities - In 2003, the reporters and camera crews embedded in the particular military units “gave an almost-live view of a war at the tactical level.” The generals were on the air to make sense of the ground-level tactical information, and translate it into a more general understanding of events and strategies. “The generals would use their knowledge and plumb their contacts to get a sense of what the divisions and corps and the coalition formations were doing at a higher level.” Arkin writes that, considering the obfuscation and deliberate deception routinely practiced by Rumsfeld and US commander General Tommy Franks, “the generals were invaluable. When they made the effort, they could go places and to sources that the rest of us couldn’t. That the Pentagon was ‘using’ them to convey a line is worrisome for the public interest but not particularly surprising.”
Pushing the Pentagon's Viewpoint - Arkin continues: “On the war itself—on the actions of the US military in March and April of 2003—there was an official line that was being pushed by the Pentagon and the White House. I’m not convinced that the generals (at least those who were serving at NBC) were trumpeting an official line that was being fed to them, but neither am I convinced that their ‘experience’ or professional expertise enabled them to analyze the war any better than non-generals or the correspondents in Washington or out in the field.” McCaffrey stands out in Arkin’s mind as one analyst who “publicly lambasted the war plan—during a time of war! In the grand scheme of things, though, I’m not sure that McCaffrey was right—and I’m not sure that having more troops then, given our assumptions about what would happen in postwar Iraq and our ignorance of the country and its dynamics, would have made much of a difference. In other words, we still could have won the battle and lost the war.”
Diminished Value as Occupation Continued - Once “major” fighting was over and other issues besides battlefield outcomes dominated the news—the disastrous occupation, the developing insurgency, the torture of prisoners—“the value of the American generals as news commentators diminished significantly,” Arkin writes. “They were no longer helping us to understand battles. They were becoming enmeshed in bigger political and public policy and partisan battles, and as ‘experts’ on the military, they should have known better not to step too far outside their lane. The networks should also have known this, and indeed they did learn eventually, as there are certainly far fewer generals on the payroll today than there were at the height of the ‘fighting.’”
A Broader Perspective - Arkin concludes: “It’s now clear that in the run-up to the war, during the war in 2003 and in its aftermath, we would have all benefited from hearing more from experts on Iraq and the Middle East, from historians, from anti-war advocates. Retired generals play a role, an important one. But for the networks, they played too big of a role—just as the ‘military’ solutions in Iraq play too big of a role, just as the military solutions in the war against terrorism swamp every other approach.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
Peter Hart. [Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer]Following up on the New York Times’s story of the Pentagon “psyops” campaign to manipulate public opinion on the Iraq war in 2002 and beyond (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), Democracy Now! examines the almost-total lack of antiwar voices “analyzing” the Iraq war and occupation on the mainstream news broadcasts and in the nation’s newspapers.
Disdain for Democracy - Retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught at the National War College, says the program—which is still in effect—shows a “painful… disdain of the Pentagon for democracy.… They don’t believe in democracy. They don’t believe that the American people, if given the truth, will come to a good decision. That’s very painful.” He is disappointed that so many retired military officers would present themselves as independent analysts without disclosing the fact that they were (and still are) extensively briefed by the Pentagon and coached as to what to say on the air. The networks and newspapers function as little more than cheerleaders for the Pentagon: “[t]hey wanted cheerleaders, and they could have—without knowing the background that the analysts were being given inside information, they wanted cheerleaders, and they knew that cheerleaders gave them access.”
Media Complicity - Peter Hart, a senior official of the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), says that the Pentagon’s propaganda operation isn’t as shocking to him and his organization as is the level of complicity and enthusiasm from the news media. “They didn’t care what military contractors these guys were representing when they were out at the studio,” Hart says. “They didn’t care that the Pentagon was flying them on their own dime to Iraq. Just basic journalistic judgment was completely lacking here. So I think the story is really about a media failure, more than a Pentagon failure. The Pentagon did exactly what you would expect to do, taking advantage of this media bias in favor of having more and more generals on the air when the country is at war.”
Psyops Campaign - Gardiner says that the way he understands it, the Pentagon’s psychological operations (psyops) campaign had three basic elements. One was “to dominate the news 24/7.” They used daily morning briefings from Baghdad or Kuwait, and afternoon press briefings from the Pentagon, to hold sway over televised news programs. They used embedded journalists to help control the print media. A Pentagon communication consultant, public relations specialist John Rendon, said that early in the program, the Pentagon “didn’t have people who provided the context. We lost control of the military analysts, and they were giving context.” The Pentagon quickly began working closely with the networks’ military analysts to control their messages. The Pentagon’s PR officials rarely worked with analysts or commentators who disagreed with the administration’s stance on the war, Gardiner says, and that included Gardiner himself. “People that were generally supportive of the Pentagon were the ones that were invited.” Gardiner notes: “We’re very close to violating the law. They are prohibited from doing propaganda against American people. And when you put together the campaign that [former Pentagon public relations chief] Victoria Clarke did with these three elements, you’re very close to a violation of the law.” [Democracy Now!, 4/22/2008]
Barry Sussman. [Source: Nieman Watchdog]Former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman, the head of the Nieman Watchdog project at Harvard University, asks a number of pertinent questions about the recently exposed Pentagon propaganda operation that used retired military officers to manipulate public opinion in favor of the Iraq occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Sussman notes that “[t]he story has implications of illegal government propaganda and, possibly, improper financial gains,” and asks the logical question, “So what happened to it?” It is receiving short shrift in the mainstream media, as most newspapers and almost all major broadcast news operations resolutely ignore it (see April 21, 2008, April 24, 2008, and May 5, 2008). Sussman asks the following questions in hopes of further documenting the details of the Pentagon operation:
Does Congress intend to investigate the operation?
Do the three presidential candidates—Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Republican John McCain, have any comments (see April 28, 2008)?
Since the law expressly forbids the US government to, in reporter David Barstow’s words, “direct psychological operations or propaganda against the American people,” do Constitutional attorneys and scholars have any opinions on the matter? Was the operation a violation of the law? Of ethics? Of neither?
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created the Office of Strategic Influence in 2001 (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), which was nothing less than an international propaganda operation. Rumsfeld claimed the office had been closed down after the media lambasted it, but later said the program had continued under a different name (see February 20, 2002). Does the OSI indeed still exist?
Did the New York Times wait an undue period to report this story? Could it not have reported the story earlier, even with only partial documentation? Sussman notes: “Getting big stories and holding them for very long periods of time has become a pattern at the Times and other news organizations. Their rationale, often, is that the reporting hasn’t been completed. Is reporting ever completed?”
Many of the military analysts cited in the story have close ties to military contractors and defense firms who make handsome profits from the war. Is there evidence that any of the analysts may have financially benefited from promoting Pentagon and Bush administration policies on the air? Could any of these be construed as payoffs? [Barry Sussman, 4/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Free Press, Office of Strategic Influence, Nieman Watchdog, Donald Rumsfeld, David Barstow, Barry Sussman, Barack Obama, John McCain, US Department of Defense, New York Times, Hillary Clinton
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Ike Skelton. [Source: Washington Post]Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says he is angered by the allegations of a secret Pentagon propaganda operation using retired military officers as supposedly independent media analysts (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). “There is nothing inherently wrong with providing information to the public and the press,” Skelton says. “But there is a problem if the Pentagon is providing special access to retired officers and then basically using them as pawns to spout the administration’s talking points of the day.” Skelton adds that he is deeply disturbed by the ties between the retired officers and various defense contractors. “It hurts me to my core to think that there are those from the ranks of our retired officers who have decided to cash in and essentially prostitute themselves on the basis of their previous positions within the Department of Defense,” he says. [Stars and Stripes, 4/26/2008]
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) asks five different television news networks for explanations of their roles in the Pentagon propaganda operation recently revealed by the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). DeLauro sends letters to Steve Capus, the president of NBC News; David Westin, president of ABC News; Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports; Roger Ailes, president of Fox News; and Jim Walton, president of CNN News Group. Her letters, which use fundamentally the same wording, conclude: “When the American people turn on their TV news, they expect coverage of the Iraq War and military issues to be using analysts without conflicts of interests. When you put analysts on the air without fully disclosing their business interests, as well as relationships with high-level officials within the government, the public trust is betrayed. Now that the full extent of the Department of Defense’s domestic propaganda program has been revealed, I strongly encourage you to make the necessary policy changes to ensure proper vetting of those you wish to put on the air so that the viewers can get the objective analyses they deserve.” [US House of Representatives, 4/24/2008] As of mid-May, only two of those networks—CNN and ABC News—will respond to DeLauro (see May 2, 2008 and April 29, 2008).
Entity Tags: Rosa DeLauro, David Westin, CNN, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, Roger Ailes, Jim Walton, US Department of Defense, New York Times, Steve Capus, Sean McManus, NBC
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Paul Hodes. [Source: Washington Post]US Representative Paul Hodes (D-NH) asks Congress to investigate how the Pentagon may have improperly influenced so-called “military analysts” to give inaccurate information to the press (see Early 2002 and Beyond). [Associated Press, 4/25/2008] In a letter to Representative John Tierney (D-MA), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Hodes asks for hearings on the program as recently revealed by the New York Times (see April 20, 2008). “If these reports are true,” Hodes writes, “it is unacceptable that the Bush administration would attempt to manipulate the public with false propaganda on matters of war and our national security.” He adds: “A hearing also could examine whether some of these analysts were given military contracts with the Defense Department in exchange for reading Bush administration talking points on the public airwaves. The issue at stake here is the public’s right to the truth about our security, our military, and what their government is doing.” [US House of Representatives, 4/24/2008] The House will pass an amendment prohibiting the Pentagon from conducting propaganda operations and requiring the General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate the program (see May 22, 2008).
PBS reports on the recent revelations about a Pentagon propaganda operation that uses retired military officers as “independent military analysts” to further its goal of promoting the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Reporter Judy Woodruff notes, “And for the record, we invited Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and NBC to participate, but they declined our offer or did not respond.” Neither does the Pentagon send anyone to take part in the report. Woodruff discloses that PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer put five military analysts on retainer in 2003, but says that none of them attended Pentagon briefings while being paid by PBS, as so many of the other network analysts did.
Selling and Managing the War - The Center for Media and Democracy’s John Stauber says, “[S]hame on the networks who were duped this way that they didn’t show up to defend or explain their actions.” Stauber calls the Pentagon operation “a psyops campaign, an incredible government propaganda campaign whereby Donald Rumsfeld and Torie [Victoria] Clarke, the head of public relations for the Pentagon, designed a program to recruit 75, at least 75 former military officers… most of them now lobbyists or consultants to military contractors, and insert them, beginning in 2002, before the attack on Iraq was even launched, into the major networks to manage the messages, to be surrogates. And that’s the words that are actually used, ‘message multipliers’ for the secretary of defense and for the Pentagon. This program continues right up to now.” Stauber says that the Pentagon program is patently illegal (see April 28, 2008), though the Pentagon may dispute that contention. “It is illegal for the US government to propagandize citizens in this way,” he says. “In my opinion, this war could have never been sold if it were not for this sophisticated propaganda campaign. And what we need is congressional investigation of not just this Pentagon military analyst program, but all the rest of the deception and propaganda that came out of the Bush administration and out of the Pentagon that allowed them to sell and manage this war.”
Full Disclosure Needed - Former ABC news correspondent Robert Zelnick, now a professor of journalism at Boston University, says the only thing that surprised him about the New York Times report that broke the story was its length. Zelnick says that when he covered the Pentagon: “I often sought information from retired generals and admirals and colonels because I knew they were well-informed. I knew they kept in touch. I knew they had drinks at the Army-Navy Club. I know they went to Army-Navy football games on special trains together. I knew that many of them were serving as what we called Beltway bandits or consultants.” Zelnick says: “[I]f you have an admiral on who is or a general who is currently a consultant to the Pentagon, that should be disclosed right at the top of the interview. But we don’t—as networks, we didn’t have these people on because they were neutral; we had them on because they knew what they were talking about. They had spent their lives in military affairs.” Zelnick says that to conclude the Pentagon actually “recruited” analysts for ABC or another network or cable broadcaster is an overgeneralization; the Pentagon merely “recommended, perhaps, former generals or admirals to the various networks and, once they had them, they kept them informed. And I think that’s to the good. It meant that more information was available. If occasionally a general or an admiral or a colonel who was retired and used in this fashion allowed himself to be dictated to, that’s his fault. And I think any solid news person or executive editor running one of these programs would have discerned that early on and quit using him.”
'Agents of Pentagon Propaganda' - Stauber retorts that he is “shocked to hear Bob Zelnick depict and misrepresent what’s going on here. And I have to wonder, Professor Zelnick, if you even read the New York Times article very closely. This is an instant where these people were recruited by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld as agents of Pentagon propaganda and inserted into the networks. Now, you can fault—and we should fault—the networks for not vetting these people properly, for not being much more careful about their credentials. But the fact is this program began with the Pentagon, with the Bush administration, recruiting these people to be their surrogates. And those are the words that the internal documents used. This is the Pentagon Papers of this war.” Zelnick responds that the networks had just as many analysts on their payrolls during the 1991 Gulf War, “[s]o it was something that the networks perceived was in their own interest to develop these kinds of contacts. And it was in their interest. It certainly was in my interest as a Pentagon correspondent.” Zelnick says that while the networks should always disclose their analysts’ business connections with whatever defense firms they represent, “what do we expect these guys to do after 30 or 40 years in the service, during which time they’ve risen to the ranks of the most senior officers? We would expect them to wind up as consultants or, as I said, we call them Beltway bandits. I just don’t get upset over something that’s completely natural, completely to be expected, and widely known throughout the industry.” Stauber disputes Zelnick’s characterization, and notes that the structure of the operation was guided from Rumsfeld and Clarke, not from the networks initiating contact with the Pentagon on behalf of their military analysts. “The flow was illegal government propaganda, recruiting these people, and inserting them into the news, and then hiring a company to measure and quantify how good a job they did of selling the war and managing press and public opinion. This is Goebbels-like.” [PBS, 4/24/2008]
Entity Tags: Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Robert Zelnick, US Department of Defense, Judy Woodruff, Donald Rumsfeld, Center for Media and Democracy, CNN, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, John Stauber, New York Times, MSNBC, NBC, Public Broadcasting System
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
The Center for Media and Democracy’s John Stauber and author Sheldon Rampton lambast the Pentagon for its recently revealed propaganda program that, in their words, “embed[s] military propagandists directly into the TV networks as on-air commentators” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). But Stauber and Rampton are even more critical of the media’s refusal to deal with the story. They note, “In 1971, when the [New York] Times printed excerpts of the Pentagon Papers on its front page (see March 1971), it precipitated a constitutional showdown with the Nixon administration over the deception and lies that sold the war in Vietnam. The Pentagon Papers issue dominated the news media back then. Today, however, [New York Times reporter David] Barstow’s stunning report is being ignored by the most important news media in America—TV news—the source where most Americans, unfortunately, get most of their information. Joseph Goebbels, eat your heart out. Goebbels is history’s most notorious war propagandist, but even he could not have invented a smoother PR vehicle for selling and maintaining media and public support for a war…”
Journalistic Standards Violated - According to the authors, the news outlets who put these analysts on the air committed “a glaring violation of journalistic standards.” They cite the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, which enjoins journalists and news outlets to:
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived;
Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility;
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity;
Disclose unavoidable conflicts;
Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable;
Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage; and
Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money.
Networks' Silence a 'Further Violation of Public Trust' - The networks who used these analysts observed none of these fundamental ethical guidelines. “They acted as if war was a football game and their military commentators were former coaches and players familiar with the rules and strategies,” Stauber and Rampton write. “The TV networks even paid these “analysts” for their propaganda, enabling them to present themselves as ‘third party experts’ while parroting White House talking points to sell the war.” Stauber and Rampton call the networks’ decision to almost completely ignore the story a further “violation… of the public trust…” They fix much of the blame for the Iraq debacle on the media, noting that the war “would never have been possible had the mainstream news media done its job. Instead, it has repeated the big lies that sold the war. This war would never have been possible without the millions of dollars spent by the Bush administration on sophisticated and deceptive public relations techniques such as the Pentagon military analyst program that David Barstow has exposed.” [PRWatch, 4/25/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph Goebbels, Society of Professional Journalists, New York Times, John Stauber, David Barstow, Center for Media and Democracy, Nixon administration, Sheldon Rampton, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
The Pentagon temporarily halts its program of briefing “independent military analysts” for their appearances on US television news broadcasts after a New York Times article alleges that the military analysts are part of a systematic propaganda and disinformation campaign (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The announcement comes from Robert Hastings, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Hastings says he is concerned about allegations that the Pentagon’s relationship with the retired military officers may be improper, and is reviewing the program. “Following the allegations, the story that is printed in the New York Times, I directed my staff to halt, to suspend the activities that may be ongoing with retired military analysts to give me time to review the situation,” Hastings says. He says he did not discuss the matter with Defense Secretary Robert Gates before making his decision. [Stars and Stripes, 4/26/2008; New York Times, 4/26/2008]
Rosa DeLauro. [Source: Washington Post]A group of Democrats in Congress, dismayed and angered by recent revelations of a secret Pentagon propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion regarding Iraq (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and April 24, 2008), calls for explanations from the parties involved. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asks Defense Secretary Robert Gates to investigate the program. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) writes to the heads of the five major television networks, asking each to provide more information about their practices for vetting and hiring so-called “independent military analysts” to provide commentary and opinion about Iraq and other US military operations and strategies. DeLauro writes, “When you put analysts on the air without fully disclosing their business interests, as well as relationships with high-level officials within the government, the public trust is betrayed.” [New York Times, 4/26/2008] Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct its own investigation. Kerry asks for “the names of all senior Pentagon officials involved in this effort, and the extent of that effort; [t]he extent of the contact between Pentagon officials and the military analysts in question regarding what was said by the analysts over the public airwaves”; what financial interests the analysts had “that were in some way linked to their analysis, including a list of federal contracts that are in any way linked to the companies that employ any of the analysts in question”; to what extent those financial interests were used by Pentagon officials “to promote misleading, inaccurate or false information through the media”; how much, if any, of those interests were disclosed to the media outlets and to the public; if the propaganda program is in any way illegal; what procedures ensure that the analysts aren’t using their access to further their own business interests; and what steps Congress and the Pentagon can take “to ensure that this type of effort is not repeated.” [Senator John Kerry, 4/28/2008]
Authors and columnists Diane Farsetta and Sheldon Rampton show that the Pentagon’s recently revealed covert propaganda program using “independent military analysts” to promulgate Pentagon viewpoints about Iraq and the war on terror (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) is “not only unethical but illegal.”
Congress Prohibitions Since 1951 - According to every appropriations bill passed by Congress since 1951, “No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress.”
Congressional Research Service Finds Government-Funded Propaganda Illegal - A March 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service defines “publicity or propaganda” as either “self-aggrandizement by public officials… purely partisan activity… covert propaganda.” Farsetta and Rampton explain, “By covert propaganda, GAO [the Government Accountability Office] means information which originates from the government but is unattributed and made to appear as though it came from a third party.” The GAO has determined that government-funded video news releases (VNRs) are illegal when an agency such as the Defense Department fails “to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story [and thusly] misleads the viewing public by encouraging the viewing audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual—the essential fact of attribution is missing.” Farsetta and Rampton argue that the supposedly “independent” commentary by the complicit analysts is little different from the VNRs. The GAO has also noted, “The publicity or propaganda restriction helps to mark the boundary between an agency making information available to the public and agencies creating news reports unbeknownst to the receiving audience.”
Justice Department Finds Propaganda Cannot be Funded by Government - And in 2005, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) found that after the Bush administration had been caught paying pundits to write op-eds favorable of administration policies, “OLC determined in 1988 that a statutory prohibition on using appropriated funds for ‘publicity or propaganda’ precluded undisclosed agency funding of advocacy by third-party groups. We stated that ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties’ would run afoul of restrictions on using appropriated funds for ‘propaganda.’” Farsetta and Rampton write: “The key passage here is the phrase, ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties.’ As the [New York] Times report documented in detail, the Pentagon’s military analyst program did exactly that.” [PRWatch, 4/28/2008]
Pentagon Says Program Legal - Former Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says the program is simply a “mirror image” of the Pentagon’s program of embedding journalists with combat units in the field, and Pentagon spokespersons insist that the program was merely to ensure that the US citizenry was well informed about the war. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama. [Source: Boston Globe]Two of the three major presidential candidates speak out against the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion about Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Clinton - Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says the program raises questions of “credibility and trust at the Pentagon,” and calls for an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general. The Clinton campaign says that, considering the Bush administration’s record on intelligence and misinformation, an investigation of the operation is necessary to determine how the Pentagon manipulated the “commentary of putatively independent television military analysts” for “‘selling’ the Iraq war and our country’s defense policy now.” The campaign also says that “serious questions” have been raised “about the potential linkage of government contracts to favorable public commentary by military analysts.”
Obama - Democratic Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) says he is “deeply disturbed” that the administration “sought to manipulate the public’s trust,” and says the program “deserves further investigation to determine if laws or ethical standards were violated.” The Obama campaign calls for “greater transparency to ensure that those who lobby the Pentagon are not rewarded for favorable commentary about the administration’s policies.”
McCain - Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has as yet said nothing about the program. [Nation, 4/28/2008]
Fox News graphic illustrating the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Depicted on the left is Frederick Douglass, the civil rights champion who did not debate Abraham Lincoln. [Source: Huffington Post]Fox News reports that presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has challenged fellow candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) to a “Lincoln-Douglas style” debate. Clinton is referencing the classic two-person debates between Senate candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas of 1858. However, Fox News, on its Fox and Friends morning broadcast, reports on Clinton’s challenge. It illustrates its report with a picture of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the former slave who is considered the “father” of the American civil rights movement, but who never ran for the Senate. Two MSNBC news and opinion shows—Verdict with Dan Abrams and Countdown with Keith Olbermann—later report Fox News’s choice of illustrations. Abrams will observe that the Fox News hosts “don’t even seem to know that the wrong Douglas is up” during their broadcast. Apparently Fox News never acknowledges or corrects the error. [Crooks and Liars, 4/29/2008; Huffington Post, 5/7/2008]
Brian Williams. [Source: The Onion.com]NBC News anchor Brian Williams staunchly defends NBC’s use of two military analysts, Barry McCaffrey and the late Wayne Downing, in his response to recent stories about the Pentagon’s well-orchestrated propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Bush administration’s agenda in the mainstream media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Williams notes that he quickly became friends with both analysts, and toured Iraq four times with Downing. Williams says that neither Downing nor McCaffrey ever “gave what I considered to be the party line,” and both, particularly McCaffrey, often criticized the administration’s policies in Iraq. He calls them “tough, honest critics of the US military effort in Iraq,” “passionate patriots,” and “honest brokers” of information. He says that when they went to the Pentagon for briefings, “[t]hey never came back spun, and never attempted a conversion.” He calls them “warriors-turned-analysts, not lobbyists or politicians.” Williams also lauds a third military analyst, retired Army colonel Jack Jacobs. Jacobs, a Medal of Honor winner, is a “rock-solid” analysts who “has never hesitated to take a whack at the Pentagon brass.” After his defense of NBC’s analysts, Williams writes: “I think it’s fair, of course, to hold us to account for the military analysts we employ, inasmuch as we can ever fully know the ‘off-duty’ actions of anyone employed on an ‘of counsel’ basis by us. I can only account for the men I know best. The Times article was about the whole lot of them—including instances involving other networks and other experts, who can answer for themselves. At no time did our analysts, on my watch or to my knowledge, attempt to push a rosy Pentagon agenda before our viewers. I think they are better men than that, and I believe our news division is better than that.” [MSNBC, 4/29/2008]
Author Tom Engelhardt explores the connections between the retired military analysts recently exposed as part of a Pentagon propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion regarding the war and occupation of Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and “America’s General,” David Petraeus. Petraeus, slated to become the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), has long been a media darling, Engelhardt notes. For the last three years, Petraeus has been touted as virtually the only hope for an American victory in Iraq. Engelhardt writes, “Petraeus is the president’s anointed general, [President] Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.”
Petraeus Turns to Analysts to Promote Surge - In the New York Times article exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008, one event has as yet gotten little attention: the fact that when Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his first acts was to meet with a group of the Pentagon’s military analysts (see January 2007). Engelhardt explains, “In other words, on becoming US commander in Iraq, he automatically turned to the military propaganda machine the Pentagon had set up to launch his initial surge—on the home front.” Petraeus was by then a willing, and a key, participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which itself dovetailed with the Bush administration’s attempt to market the escalation of US troops—the “surge” (see January 10, 2007)—as the latest attempt to turn the corner in Iraq. President Bush himself was, by that point, “a thoroughly tarnished brand,” Engelhardt writes, not the person to launch such a marketing campaign.
Petraeus Is Administration's "Face" - Bush and the Pentagon both looked to Petraeus, who quickly “became the ‘face’ of the administration (just as American military and civilian officials had long spoken of putting an ‘Iraqi face’ on the American occupation of that country).” In the following months, Bush cited Petraeus over 150 times as part of his attempts to paint the US occupation as a success. Petraeus himself quickly turned to the Pentagon’s cadre of retired military officers, now network analysts reliably providing the administration’s talking points on the news broadcasts, to help him promulgate the surge. Engelhardt notes that one of those analysts, retired Army general and ABC News analyst Jack Keane, was himself the co-author of the “surge” strategy (see January 2007). Between the president, the administration officials, the military analysts, and the enthusiastic media reporters and talking heads, establishing the surge as a putative success and Petraeus as a name brand with a positive image was achieved in relatively short order. [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
David Westin. [Source: ABC News]ABC News president David Westin responds to a letter from Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) demanding an explanation of his network’s involvement in the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 24, 2008). Westin says that ABC employs two of the military analysts cited as being part of the Pentagon operation, retired Army General Jack Keane and retired Army Major General William Nash. Westin acknowledges that Keane was one of the architects of the Bush administration’s “surge” in Iraq (see January 2007), and says, “On several occasions when General Keane appeared in an ABC News program we specifically disclosed to our audience his position as an (unpaid) adviser on the subject.” Westin concludes, “From what I know of our reporting involving our military analysts, I am satisfied that ABC News has acted responsibly and has served its audience well.” [Westin, 4/29/2008 ]
Author Tom Engelhardt, reflecting on the recent exposure of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), writes that this is but one of possibly many such operations. The others, if they exist, remain to be exposed. The military analysts operation is “unlikely to have been the only one,” Engelhardt writes. He has his suspicions:
Selling the 'Surge' - “We don’t yet fully know the full range of sources the Pentagon and this administration mustered in the service of its ‘surge,’” he writes, though he notes how quickly General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, was to turn to the analysts for support in their nightly news broadcasts (see April 29, 2008).
Sunnis and Shi'ites - Engelhardt notes that it is possible that a similar propaganda campaign helped transform Iraqi Sunni insurgents into heroes—“Sons of Iraq”—if they joined the “Awakening” movement, or members of “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” if they did not join the movement. Similarly, it may have been a propaganda campaign that encouraged the media to quickly label every Shi’ite rebel as an Iranian agent.
Iran's Influence - “We don’t know what sort of administration planning has gone into the drumbeat of well-orchestrated, ever more intense claims that Iran is the source of all the US’s ills in Iraq, and directly responsible for a striking percentage of US military deaths there,” Engelhardt writes. The New York Times recently reported that, according to “senior officers” in the US military in Baghdad’s Green Zone, 73% of attacks on US troops in the past year were caused by roadside bombs planted by so-called “special groups,” a euphemism for Iraqi Shi’ites trained by Iran.
Guided Tours - Many influential Washington insiders have been given carefully orchestrated tours of Iraq by the Pentagon, including former military figures, prominent think tank analysts, journalists, pundits, and Congressional representatives. Many of them have been granted a special audience with Petraeus and his top commanders; many have subsequently lauded the “surge” (see January 10, 2007) and praised the US policies in Iraq.
Successful Marketing Campaign - Engelhardt writes, “Put everything we do know, and enough that we suspect, together and you get our last ‘surge’ year-plus in the US as a selling/propaganda campaign par excellence. The result has been a mix of media good news about ‘surge success,’ especially in ‘lowering violence,’ and no news at all as the Iraq story grew boringly humdrum and simply fell off the front pages of our papers and out of the TV news (as well as out of the Democratic Congress). This was, of course, a public relations bonanza for an administration that might otherwise have appeared fatally wounded. Think, in the president’s terminology, of victory—not over Shi’ite or Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but, once again, over the media at home. None of this should surprise anyone. The greatest skill of the Bush administration has always been its ability to market itself on ‘the home front.’ From September 14, 2001, on, through all those early ‘mission accomplished’ years, it was on the home front, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, that administration officials worked hardest, pacifying the media, rolling out their own “products”, and establishing the rep of their leader and ‘wartime’ commander-in-chief.” [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
Second Author Concurs - Author and Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald concurs with Engelhardt. Greenwald writes, “It should also be noted that this military analyst program is but one small sliver of the Pentagon’s overall media management effort, which, in turn, is but one small sliver of the administration’s general efforts to manipulate public opinion. We’re only seeing these documents and the elaborate wrongdoing they establish because the [New York Times] was so dogged in attempting to compel the [Pentagon] to disclose them, even while the Pentagon fought tenaciously to avoid having to do so, to the point where they were threatened with sanctions by a federal judge. But this is just one discrete, isolated program. Most of what this government has done—including, certainly, its most incriminating behavior—remains concealed by the unprecedented wall of secrecy behind which this administration operates.” [Salon, 5/12/2008]
Five retired military officers respond harshly to a recent New York Times article that revealed a systematic propaganda operation conducted by the Pentagon and carried out, in part, by retired military officers serving as military analysts for the print and broadcast media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). All five have performed as analysts for a variety of US media outlets; some still do. The five are:
Retired Air Force general Thomas G. McInerney;
Retired Army general Paul Vallely;
Retired Navy captain Charles Nash;
Retired Marine lieutenant colonel William Cowan; and
Retired intelligence officer Wayne Simmons.
Intelligence Summit Members - All five are part of an organization called the International Intelligence Summit, which describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-profit, neutral forum that uses private charitable funds to bring together intelligence agencies of the free world and the emerging democracies.” McInerney and Vallely are executive board members, as is retired Navy commander Richard Marcinko, author of the Rogue Warrior series of pulp fiction novels.
Criticism of NYT Article - The five accuse the Times article, by reporter David Barstow, of “malign[ing] virtually all military analysts, accusing some of being tools of a Pentagon propaganda machine,” an assertion that they state “is flatly wrong.” They state: “We have never stated anything about defense or national security that we did not believe to be true. Equally important, we also have served the essential wartime function of helping civilians be better informed about our military, our enemies, and how the war is being conducted.” They note that some of them had “similar arrangement[s]” with the Clinton administration.
'Unconscionable Libel' - They accuse Barstow of reporting “old news,” and call his assertion that they “intentionally misled the American people for partisan political purposes or some quid pro quo personal gain… an unconscionable libel of our honor and long service to this nation.” They explain their participation in Pentagon public relations briefings as stemming from the Pentagon’s belief that “we had the credentials to do so as military professionals,” and argue, “When it comes to discussing needs and tactics of the US military, who is better suited to give advice and reliable commentary on war and peace issues than those who have spent so much of their lives in this profession?” They assert their belief that the US must “defeat Radical Islam which threatens our nation and the Free World,” and say that they “will continue to speak out honestly to the American people about national security threats” because it is “our duty.” [Tom McInerney, Paul Vallely, Charles Nash, Bill Cowan, and Wayne Simmons, 4/2008]
Reporter Eric Brewer asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about recent reports of the Pentagon’s systematic propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion about the war in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). After briefly summarizing the story, Brewer asks, “[D]id the White House know about and approve of this operation?” Perino stumbles through her initial response before recovering: “Look, I didn’t know—look, I think that you guys should take a step back and look at this—look, [the Defense Department] has made a decision, they’ve decided to stop this program (see April 26, 2008). But I would say that one of the things that we try to do in the administration is get information out to a variety of people so that everybody else can call them and ask their opinion about something. And I don’t think that that should be against the law. And I think that it’s absolutely appropriate to provide information to people who are seeking it and are going to be providing their opinions on it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those military analysts ever agreed with the administration. I think you can go back and look and think that a lot of their analysis was pretty tough on the administration. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk to people.” [White House, 4/30/2008; Raw Story, 4/30/2008]
Bush, wearing his flight suit, before giving the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Helen Thomas, the grande dame of Washington reporters who is not popular with the Bush administration, asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about the five-year anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Thomas asks, “How does the president intend to commemorate ‘Mission Accomplished’ after five years of death and destruction?” Perino responds with the explanation that the banner was merely to acknowledge the completion of the mission of the aircraft carrier on which the ceremony was conducted. “President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said ‘mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission,’” Perino says. “And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.” [CBS News, 10/29/2003; White House, 4/30/2008]
The memo from Rumsfeld to Hadley. [Source: Department of Defense] (click image to enlarge)White House Press Secretary Dana Perino denies that the White House had any prior knowledge of the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). A reporter asks, “Did the White House know about the program?” Perino answers, “I just said: no.” [Raw Story, 5/14/2008] But a memo in the Pentagon’s own “document dump” about the program (see May 9, 2008) proves otherwise. A July 12, 2005 memo from Donald Rumsfeld to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley reads, “Attached is a summary of the effects of the military analysts we took down to GTMO [Guantanamo] earlier this month.” Rumsfeld was presumably referring to the Pentagon-sponsored trip to Guantanamo (see June 24-25, 2005 that was carefully analyzed for its effects in manipulating the media (see June 24, 2005). [Rolling Stone, 5/15/2008]
Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, in his book What Happened, provides his observations on the so-called “liberal media.” McClellan writes: “I’m often asked about the ‘liberal media’ critique. Is it true? Is the problem with Washington in part a result of the fact that left-wing journalists are, in effect, at war with conservative politicians and trying to bring them down? My answer is always the same.”
Less Pronounced Leftward Tilt to Reporting - “It’s probably true that most reporters, writers, and TV journalists are personally liberal or leftward leaning, and tend to vote Democratic,” he writes. “Polls and surveys of media professionals bear this out (see February 24, 2009). But this tilt to the left has probably become less pronounced in recent years, with the ascendancy of a wider variety of news sources, including Fox News.… And more important, everything I’ve seen, both as White House press secretary and as a longtime observer of the political scene and the media, suggests that any liberal bias actually has minimal impact on the way the American public is informed.” McClellan notes that, in his opinion, “the vast majority of reporters—including those in the White House press corps—are honest, fair-minded, and professional. They try hard to tell all sides of the stories they report (see March 6, 2003), and they certainly don’t treat information or statements coming from a conservative administration with excessive harshness or exaggerated skepticism. And even when a bit of bias does seep through, I believe the public sees it exactly for what it is.”
Press Corps 'Too Deferential to the White House' regarding Iraq - McClellan writes: “We in the Bush administration had no difficulty in getting our messages out to the American people. If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war with Iraq. The collapse of the administration’s rationale for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should have never come as such a surprise. The public should have been made much more aware, before the fact, of the uncertainties, doubts, and caveats that underlay the intelligence about the regime of Saddam Hussein. The administration did little to convey those nuances to the people; the press should have picked up the slack but largely failed to do so because their focus was elsewhere—on covering the march to war instead of the necessity of war. In this case, the ‘liberal case’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”
'Liberal-Oriented Media ... a Good Thing' for Countering Right-Leaning Administrations - He continues: “I’ll even go a step further. I’m inclined to believe that a liberal-oriented media in the United States should be viewed as a good thing. When I look back at the last several presidential administrations—the two Bushes, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford—I see conservative/centrist leaders, either right of center or just left of center, who pursued mainstream policies designed to satisfy the vast bulk of middle-class American voters. All of these presidents were at least moderate on economic policy, generally pro-business in their orientation, and within the mainstream in most other issues, from foreign policy to education to the environment. And the Congressional leaders they worked with were, generally speaking, from the same mold—conservative or centrist. Over the past 50 years, there have been no flaming liberals in positions of greatest power in American politics.”
'Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable' - “Under these circumstances, a generally liberal or left-leaning media can serve an important, useful role,” McClellan writes. “It can stand up for the interests of people and causes that get short shrift from conservative or mainstream politicians: racial and ethnic minorities, women, working people, the poor, the disenfranchised. As the old saying goes, a liberal reporter ought to take up the cause of ‘comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,’ speaking out on issues that otherwise would be neglected or ignored, exposing wrongdoing, and helping to keep the powerful in government and business honest.”
Welcomes 'Skeptical, Untrusting' Media - McClellan continues: “Furthermore, I welcome media that are skeptical and untrusting. The more so the better—as long as they are honest and fair. Those who are in positions of power should have to continually earn the trust of the governed. They should be constantly challenged to prove their policies are right, to prove they can be trusted, and to prove they are accountable. That is the way we are more likely to get to the important, sometimes hard truth.”
Fixation on 'Controversy' Obscures 'Larger Truths' - He concludes: “So I don’t agree with those who excoriate the ‘liberal media.‘… The real problem with the national media is their overemphasis on controversy, the excessive focus on who is winning and who is losing in Washington, and the constant search for something or someone to pick on and attack. These bad habits too often cause the larger truths that matter most to get lost in the mix.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 156-158]
Steve Sailer. [Source: Steve Sailer / VDare (.com)]An email makes the rounds of the Internet claiming to “prove” President Obama is a racist by “quoting” him directly. The quote, supposedly from Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father, reads, “I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother’s race.” (Obama’s mother was white.) The quote actually comes from a March 2007 article in American Conservative magazine that reads: “In reality, Obama provides a disturbing test of the best-case scenario of whether America can indeed move beyond race. He inherited his father’s penetrating intelligence; was raised mostly by his loving liberal white grandparents in multiracial, laid-back Hawaii, where America’s normal race rules never applied; and received a superb private school education. And yet, at least through age 33 when he wrote Dreams from My Father, he found solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against his mother’s race.” The author of the article was Steve Sailer, who according to right-wing terrorism expert David Neiwert, has long claimed that Obama is a racist, and has often misquoted Obama or fabricated quotes from him to prove his point. (Sailer once called Obama a “wigger,” combining the word “white” with a well-known racial slur.) Neiwert calls Sailer “a racist, a white supremacist in pseudo-academic clothing.” Sailer’s 2007 article prompted fellow American Conservative writer Alexander Konetzki to leave the magazine; Konetzki explained at the time, “I realized that, in addition to the racist associations he employs, Sailer frequently quotes Obama out of context and makes assertions about Obama’s racial identity that the book flatly contradicts.” [American Conservative, 5/26/2007; PolitiFact, 5/19/2008; David Neiwert, 6/12/2008] Sailer is also a frequent contributor to the openly racist VDare (.com) Web site and blog. [Steve Sailer, 10/20/2008]
Former CBS News president Andrew Heyward calls the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda program for the promotion of the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) “a deliberate attempt to deceive the public,” adding, “Analysts whose real allegiance was to the Pentagon and who apparently were given at least special access for that allegiance were presented as analysts whose allegiance was to the networks and, therefore, the public.” Heywood left CBS News in 2005. Former Army Major General John Batiste calls the operation “a very deliberate attempt on the part of the administration to shape public opinion.” Batiste, who commanded an infantry division in Iraq before retiring from the military in 2005 to speak out against Bush administration policies in the Middle East, was an analyst for CBS News for a brief time. However, unlike the analysts in the propaganda operation, Batiste was never invited to any Pentagon briefings and thus not exposed to the full brunt of the Pentagon’s public relations messaging offensive. “It also sounded to me as if they were parroting administration talking points,” he says. “It sounded very much to me like I was up against an information operation. I had no idea that it was so extensive.” National Public Radio’s managing editor, Brian Duffy, says that in light of the revelations about the propaganda operation, NPR is reviewing its policies towards using retired military officers as analysts and “asking more rigorous questions about anyone that we’re paying as a consultant.” [PBS, 5/1/2008]
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