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March 28, 2004: Last Sunday Someone Spoke up... Press Coverage

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Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror
Richard Clarke
ISBN: 0743260244
Hardcover, 304 pages
Publication Date: March 2004
Publisher: The Free Press, Simon & Schuster (Viacom)
Barnes and Noble Sales Rank: 1
Amazon Sales Rank: 1

So this guy was the White House head of counterterrorism for eleven years – he did such work for Reagan, the first Bush, for Clinton for all eight years, and for the second Bush until he quit last spring.  And he’s ticked off.  He wrote a book about why.  He says awful things about the younger Bush and his crew, and he said them on national television last weekend. 

The best summary of the business, from Josh Marshall, is here:


The basics:

We seem to have a bit of a contradiction, don't we? 

Richard Clarke rolled out his book this evening on 60 Minutes, arguing, in brief, that the Bush administration put counter-terrorism and the hunt for al Qaida on the back burner prior to 9/11 and then after 9/11 immediately started focusing on Iraq even though there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11 or even al Qaida terrorism generally. 

Meanwhile, on the Washington Post op-ed page, Condi Rice has a lengthy column presenting what can only be called a very, very different picture. 

The new administration heeded the warnings of the outgoing Clinton administration and not only focused closely on al Qaida and the rise in chatter in the summer of 2001 but was actually preparing a much more aggressive approach than anything that had been considered previously.  What's more, the president himself sensed that not enough was being done and called for further scrutiny into the possibility of a domestic attack and a more aggressive plan to "eliminate" al Qaida. 

The president, in the telling of Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley, seems to have been more engaged, forward-thinking and insightful on this issue than literally any other major player on the administration's national security team. 

Even with all the vastness of the federal bureaucracy and the possible uncertainties of interpretation, there's no question that one of these two people -- Rice or Clarke -- is misleading us. 

Rice was (and is) the president's National Security Advisor.  Clarke was in charge of counter-terrorism policy at the National Security Council.  Nothing discussed by either on this issue should be a mystery to the other.  It's possible that neither is lying in a narrow factual sense.  But, at a minimum, one must be giving us a deeply partial and misleading account.


Well, yes. 

Question?  Is it the job of the press to dig around, gather facts, and point out who is more likely to be fibbing and spinning?  Or is it the job of the press to report no more than that “he said this” and on the other hand “she said that” – and stay away from digging around?  Anything else would be partisan and certainly not impartial and fair and balanced?  Perhaps so. 

One thinks of the old Watergate days when Woodward and Bernstein decided the former – digging around and exposing the truth – was what the press was supposed to do.  Times have changed.  Woodward last year published his book Bush at War - basically a puff piece on what a great guy Bush was and how he was really doing well.  Those days when he and his partner were on a crusade to “dig up the hidden” are far in the past.  These days the career bureaucrats have to do it themselves – first Paul O’Neill then Richard Clarke. 


Well, there’s more than these two as Eric Alterman pointed out this:


Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame, Max Cleland, Paul O’Neill, General Zinni, and Dick Clarke are all unpatriotic liars and weenies right?  Has to be true; otherwise, this administration is both incompetent and dishonest.  And that’s not possible.  I mean, on the one hand we have people who have given their entire careers to serving the American people and in many cases, paid dearly for it.  On the other, we have a guy who didn’t bother to show up for his cushy National Guard service during a war he supported, spent most of his first forty years drinking and carousing, and having been made wealthy by his father’s associates, fell into the job of president where he (undeniably) misled his country into a war based on falsified evidence.  Gee that’s a hard one.

… The Clinton administration is obviously not blameless in failing to pursue Al Qaida as it might have but let’s keep in mind that a) the Republicans were impeaching him for lying about sex, and b) when he did try to take action, these same accusers were accusing him of “wagging the dog.”  Interesting that Iraq hawks like Christopher Hitchens were then taking the Chomsky line that this attempt to attack al-Qaida was a politically-motivated crime against humanity. 


Well, that’s a little strident, but to the point.  Folks are jumping ship.  And the press is reporting that.  How could they not? 


The stories come to the mainstream reporters on a sliver platter. 


But what happened to investigative reporting? 

The folks who dig around these days are not with the mainstream press.  It seems to be the investigative bloggers on the net who do the heavy lifting now.  Some of us note things and try to stir the pot.  But others actually do digging and keep looking deeply into things.  Trent Lott would still be majority leader in the Senate had not he been hounded by web-heads finding this and that and posting his wacky (to be generous) comments.  These same “diggers” kept pulling up stuff about Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard – odd items found and other odd items missing.  There are more examples, but those will do to suggest something is afoot.  In such cases the mainstream press eventually checked out what these independent sources had found and started reporting it, always graciously acknowledging who did the research, but not getting their own hands dirty with the digging through details. 

That’s not what the mainstream press does these days.  One wonders why this is so. 

The big nationally know papers -- the New York Times, Washington Post/Boston Globe/Newsweek (same corporation), Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune (same corporation) -- and the national media -- CBS-Viacom, ABC-Disney, NBC-General Electric, CNN-Times Warner, Fox News-Murdoch News Corp – don’t do much investigative work any longer.  They simply note events, as a general rule.  Exposing what’s really going on is for them now the exception. 

The romantic notion that the press has as its core function to bring the real truth to the public and to keep our public officials honest is now a notion held only by the independents – ex-reporters and economists and whomever with their web logs, and by odd little magazines.  I guess that role has become too dangerous for what is now the “corporate press” – a group with masters who have other priorities and wish to please a very broad consumer public where the rule is “offend the most people the least.”

Well, CBS-Viacom did do this report on the new book Richard Clarke published.  And that is taking a bit of a chance.  Because what Clarke contends is, politically, white-hot.  And CBS-Viacom would not want to be seen as the tool of the Bush-haters – those people who hate America and side with the terrorists and would like it if Saddam Hussein were back in power.  You know who they are.  Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity call them traitors, guilty of treason – the liberals. 

Well, CBS-Viacom is safe.  They didn’t say what Clarke said was true.  They only reported that he said some things.  It’s not like they said they believed such things. 

Oh, and by the way,
here Rush Limbaugh points out that Clarke's book is being published by Simon & Schuster, a publishing company owned by Viacom, which in turn owns CBS, which owns 60 Minutes.  (Thanks to Billmon for pointing this out.) Rush’s idea is that this proves the whole business is just an attempt by CBS-Viacom to make some money, and thus this whole business should be dismissed as one more example of meaningless sales hype. 

So what things does Clarke say that we are being asked to believe, or in the case of Rush, being asked to dismiss? 

My favorite segment of what Clarke said on Sixty Minutes last night was this:


"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this. 

"I said, 'Mr.  President.  We've done this before.  We have been looking at this.  We looked at it with an open mind.  There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way.  I mean that we should come back with that answer.  We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look.  We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts.  We wrote the report.  We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report.  And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy.  It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer.  ...  Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the President saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion.  And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that.  I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't -- wouldn't like the answer."


Well, maybe Clarke made all this up and it didn’t really happen.  CBS claimed to have two or three folks who say it did happen, and one person who was actually there to witness the exchange.  Curious. 

And then there was this exchange over at the Pentagon, with Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld’s second in command:


Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we have to deal with al Qaeda.'

Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, said, 'No, no, no.  We don't have to deal with al Qaeda.  Why are we talking about that little guy?  We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!'

And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right.  There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."


Well, perhaps Clarke doesn’t remember clearly. 

Paul Wolfowitz may be “the prime architect and idea man of the second Iraq war.” Did he really spend the first eight months of the Bush administration focused on "Iraqi terrorism against the United States" – while all his own sources were reminding him that such terrorism simply didn’t exist.  Could be. 

How can one find out if all of this is true? 

Well, the commission on the 9-11 events had its hearings this week.  Most everyone from this administration and the last will testify – even the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, who previously refused, and Bush and Cheney who will only speak to the co-chairmen, informally, and not under oath, and for only an hour, or maybe a tad more if they really have to. 

That alone is a little off-putting.  But they’re busy guys.  Oh well. 

It will be interesting to hear what they have to say, and how the mainstream press reports it.  If there are more outrageous revelations, can the pres make such revelations seem bland and not threatening?  Perhaps so.  We’ll get more he-said she-said.  And not know just who is full of crap.  That is no longer he job of the press?  Was it ever?


Note: my friend, Rick-the-News-Guy, late of CNN and AP, will probably tell me I’m all wrong about the press.  And he’s buddies with all the key players.  And I’ll defer to him. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
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