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March 27, 2004

Sigh...

After the Friedman business, I had a brief email exchange with the fellow who answers Okrent's email. Once it had been established beyond any remote possibility of doubt that the anecdote Friedman relayed was utterly fictional, I asked, "Can I tell my readers that a correction will be forthcoming?"

The reply, unfortunately, vanished in my email meltdown earlier this week, but to the best of my memory was as follows: "You may tell your readers that Mr. Okrent will address the issue of columnist corrections within the next two months."

Well, he's done so here, and it's pretty lame.

Of course they don't make the stuff up (at least the good ones don't). But many do use their material in ways that veer sharply from conventional journalistic practice. The opinion writer chooses which facts to present, and which to withhold.

For instance, Tom Friedman chooses to withhold from his readers the fact that his little story about the guy who lost his job and then made a fortune selling t-shirts joking about how he lost his job...was complete and utter bullshit. Never happened.

And this just leaves me scratching my head:

But if Safire asserts that there is a "smoking gun" linking Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, then even David Corn's best shots (which include many citations from Times news stories) aren't going to prove it isn't so. "An opinion may be wrongheaded," Safire told me by e-mail last week, "but it is never wrong. A belief or a conviction, no matter how illogical, crackbrained or infuriating, is an idea subject to vigorous dispute but is not an assertion subject to editorial or legal correction."

In other words, Safire just makes shit up, and the facts someone like David Corn may produce simply don't matter.

(My opinion is that Safire's head is embedded up his ass. Literally. Guy stumbles around doubled over, bumping into things all the time. Has to wear custom suits tailored to accomodate his peculiar condition. And since it's my opinion, it may be wrongheaded, but it can't be wrong.)

Shorter Times columnist correction policy: we don't have to, nyaah nyaah nyaah.

...from Okrent's sort-of-blog, here's what appears to be the official policy:

None of this is meant to suggest that columnist can pick or choose which errors to correct. They are expected to correct every error. Anyone who refused to fulfill this critical obligation would not be a columnist for The New York Times very long. And none of this is meant to suggest that the editorial page editor can use the policy to duck responsibility for inaccuracies on the page. Whenever an error is brought to the attention of one of the Times editors, it goes to me, and through me to the columnist in question. These are some of the top writers in American journalism. They take their reputation for accuracy very, very seriously.

Go read this, and decide for yourself if Friedman is "ducking responsibility for inaccuries" in his column. (He has yet to issue a correction, though I am reliably informed by two different sources that he is fully aware of this little post of mine.)

Then write Okrent. And op-ed editor Gail Collins. And tell them what you think of New York Times op-ed columnists who do not, in fact, seem to "take their reputation for accuracy very, very seriously" at all.

I'm confident Ms. Collins will be sympathetic, given her own statement of principle: "It is my obligation to make sure no misstatements of fact on the editorial pages go uncorrected."

...good email from a reader:

Agreed that the Safire assertion is bizarre.  To say, "I believe there's a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein," or even simply, "There's a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein" can probably meet Safire's 'can't be proven wrong' test.    But everyone knows what, "There's a 'smoking gun' linking Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein" means.  "Smoking gun" is taken by any reasonable reader to be a journalistic term of art that means there's some objective fact or even piece of physical evidence out there that anyone could examine.  And that's just not something you can state as a mere "belief" or "conviction" with nothing whatsoever to back it up.   These people are playing a cute little game with words wherein Mr. Okrent and Ms. Collins can claim concern journalistic "misstatements of fact."  But by the terms of the Safire Rule - which I take Okrent's statement to mean it's a view the Times endorses - hardly anything in an op-ed piece would rise to the level of a "statement of fact."  Oh, I suppose "the sun rises in the east" would constitute a statement of fact.    But then, Friedman is already clever enough to get around that problem.  Thus, if he writes:  
Yamini Narayanan . . responded with a revealing story:  "I just read about a guy in America who says that starting next year, the sun will rise in the west.  That means it will be daytime in America sooner, giving American workers a head start on the rest of the world (America being the ultimate 'western' country!) and thereby increasing the wealth of all Americans and erasing the hardship of any loss of jobs through offshoring!"

--then the "statement of fact" isn't about the sun rising in the west, is it?  It's only about Yamini Narayanan having read about the guy who says it will be rising in the west.  Nor would we even know whether it's Narayanan or the "guy in America" who's making economic claims for this geophysical shift.  And that probably gets to be a pointless argument pretty quickly, doesn't it? 

The bottom line is, if this is indeed the Times' last word on this issue, then they need to run a big disclaimer above every op-ed piece that states something like:

EDITOR'S NOTICE: Even though some of the things in the following column may sound to any reasonable reader like statements of objective "fact," everything that follows is actually nothing more than a statement of the author's "beliefs," which, while they may be illogical, crackbrained or infuriating, are nevertheless exempt in every respect from the Times' error correction policy.

Now, I should think that will give every Times columnist all the latitude they could ever hope for.  Of course, I won't bother reading them anymore - except to see what kind of BS the Trolls are currently feeding on.


Babbling Brooks

The link in a previous post to the Philadelphia Magazine article factchecking David Brooks inspired writer Rick Perlstein (who is an acquaintance of mine) to send the following note to Daniel Okrent at the Times. Since it is unlikely to ever see print there, I thought I'd at least reproduce it here:

Dear Mr. Okrent:

I ask that you read through this entire article, "Boo Boos in
Paradise," by Sasha Issenberg, in the April issue of Philadelphia
magazine. It's actually a remarkable piece of journalism criticism:

http://www.phillymag.com/ArticleDisplay.php?id=350

The mistakes the author reveals in David Brooks' (non-Times) articles
are bad enough. Worse, though, is Brooks' reaction when caught. To
wit:

I went through some of the other instances where he made
declarations that appeared insupportable. He accused me of being "too
pedantic," of "taking all of this too literally," of "taking a joke
and distorting it." "That's totally unethical," he said.

Now, to be fair to Brooks, Issenberg doesn't situate the context for
the "unethical" quote. I think it would be appropriate for you to ask
David Brooks to clarify exactly what this writer did that was
unethical. And, weighing that' response in the balance with Brooks'
apparent defense of jokes as reportorial method, it would be salutary
if you could work through the puzzle of whether Brooks has a point, or
if he is just thrashing about trying to defend the indefensible.

The integrity of the Times would certainly appear to implicated in the
answer.

Yours most truly,

Rick Perlstein

My guess...

...is that they're not going to pursue these perjury charges against Clarke. They'll find some excuse not to declassify his earlier testimony--if only we could, the American people would understand the truth, but you see, we just can't endanger national security--and hope that the idea of Clarke the Liar will take hold in the public mind, without any real evidence. Remember, they've been fighting declassification of parts of that earlier report tooth and nail--there's something there that could cut both ways.

Of course, we must also consider the possibility that Clarke did previously lie--on behalf of the Bush administration. Government officials have been known to do this on occasion. The only way someone is ever in a position to write a tell-all memoir is to have been a team player at some earlier point.

Nonetheless, Clarke's basic allegation, that the Bushies were too fixated on Iraq at the expense of the war on terror, is backed up by numerous sources. Via Paul O'Neill, we know that an invasion of Iraq was a priority from day one. And then there's Clarke's friend, former counterterrorism advisor Rand Beers, who resigned after 35 years of civil service, disgusted with Bush's I-lost-my-keys-in-the-alley-but-there's-more-light-under-this-streetlamp foreign policy. Which is why he now works for John Kerry, according to the Washington Post::

He had briefly considered a think tank or an academic job but realized that he "never felt so strongly about something in my life" than he did about changing current U.S. policies. Of the Democratic candidates, Kerry offered the greatest expertise in foreign affairs and security issues, he decided. Like Beers, Kerry had served in Vietnam. As a civil servant, Beers liked Kerry's emphasis on national service.

(Interestingly, Clarke was also close friends with John O'Neill, the FBI agent who resigned in disgust because he couldn't get anyone to take his concerns about al Qaeda seriously. O'Neill, as longtime readers of this site may remember, took a job as head of security at the World Trade Center one week before September 11, 2001, and was killed in the attacks.)

And of course, Clarke's story is also backed up by reality. The Bushies were fixated on Iraq at the expense of an effective counterterrorism strategy. Consider this nugget:

The fact that the Pentagon pulled the fighting force most equipped for hunting down Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan in March 2002 in order to pre- position it for Iraq cannot be denied.

Fifth Group Special Forces were a rare breed in the US military: they spoke Arabic, Pastun and Dari. They had been in Afghanistan for half a year, had developed a network of local sources and alliances, and believed that they were closing in on bin Laden.

Without warning, they were then given the task of tracking down Saddam. "We were going nuts on the ground about that decision," one of them recalls.

"In spite of the fact that it had taken five months to establish trust, suddenly there were two days to hand over to people who spoke no Dari, Pastun or Arabic, and had no rapport."

Along with the redeployment of human assets came a reallocation of sophisticated hardware. The US air force has only two specially-equipped RC135 U spy planes. They had successfully vectored in on al-Qaida leadership radio transmissions and cellphone calls, but they would no longer circle over the mountains of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

One question I have is: why has the Bush team's response to Clarke been so haphazard? They're obviously making it up as they go along--it's as if they had no idea Clarke was about to go public with these charges. Which is bizarre, given that his book had to be vetted by the government before it could be published--in fact, the timing of the book's release is apparently due to the fact that the vetting process held it up for an additional three months. They knew this was coming, and this hastily cobbled-together mudslinging fest is the best they could come up with?

I think it must be due to the insular world in which they operate. Going back to that Post article above--Beers was reluctant to discuss the inner workings of the White House, but his wife was more forthcoming:

"It's a very closed, small, controlled group. This is an administration that determines what it thinks and then sets about to prove it. There's almost a religious kind of certainty. There's no curiosity about opposing points of view. It's very scary. There's kind of a ghost agenda."

I think they are so out of touch with reality that they simply had no idea that Clarke's charges would resonate with the public. And when they realized that they had made a terrible miscalculation, they had to scramble. The Bush administration is, at the moment, an desperate animal with its back to the wall--and facing down such a creature can be a very dangerous way to spend your time. I suspect that Richard Clarke's rough ride is only beginning.

(Editing: the name of the FBI agent was, of course, John O'Neill, not Paul O'Neill.)

--------------------

March 26, 2004

If you enjoyed...

...my little mini-expose of Tom Friedman's use of a demonstrably false anecdote (still waiting for that correction!), you'll really, really enjoy this exercise in factchecking David Brooks (via Atrios):

There's just one problem: Many of his generalizations are false. According to Amazon.com sales data, one of Goodwin's strongest markets has been deep-Red McAllen, Texas. That's probably not, however, QVC country. "I would guess our audience would skew toward Blue areas of the country," says Doug Rose, the network's vice president of merchandising and brand development. "Generally our audience is female suburban baby boomers, and our business skews towards affluent areas." Rose's standard PowerPoint presentation of the QVC brand includes a map of one zip code -- Beverly Hills, 90210 -- covered in little red dots that each represent one QVC customer address, to debunk "the myth that they're all little old ladies in trailer parks eating bonbons all day." "Everything that people in my neighborhood do without motors, the people in Red America do with motors," Brooks wrote. "When it comes to yard work, they have rider mowers; we have illegal aliens." Actually, six of the top 10 states in terms of illegal-alien population are Red.

"We in the coastal metro Blue areas read more books," Brooks asserted. A 2003 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater study of America's most literate cities doesn't necessarily agree. Among the study's criteria was the presence of bookstores and libraries; 20 of the 30 most literate cities were in Red states.
"Very few of us," Brooks wrote of his fellow Blue Americans, "could name even five nascar drivers, although stock-car races are the best-attended sporting events in the country." He might want to take his name-recognition test to the streets of the 2002 nascar Winston Cup Series's highest-rated television markets -- three of the top five were in Blue states. (Philadelphia was fifth nationally.)

(By the way, the David Brooks piece from the Atlantic Monthly which the author dissects also serves as a launching point for a scathing essay by Thomas Frank in the new Harpers.)

But of course

The NY Times devotes an entire article to the dubious credibility of Ahmad Chalabi without mentioning that their own Judith Miller was one of the main promoters of his fanciful tales.

A full plate

Astute readers will have noticed that posting has been sporadic over the past weeks, and I'm afraid this is likely to continue for awhile. The House of Tomorrow is a busy place these days.

Credibility

Matt Yglesias in TAPPED:

As part of the pushback, the administration needed to make it clear that they had, in fact, been working diligently on counterterrorism. So they put an administration official out on background to tell the press about all the hard work he'd been doing in this field, and the briefing was duly written up. What we learn today is that the official in question was Clarke. If anything, this corroborates, rather than undermines, what Clarke's been saying over the past week. After all, he never denied that he was working hard on al-Qaeda issues; his charge is that his work wasn't being taken seriously by the higher-ups. The fact that, when pressed before to demonstrate that they were doing a good job on this issue, the person the White House turned to was Clarke -- and this supports Clarke's contention that he was waging a pretty lonely battle.

All this raises the larger question of what's the point of going after Clarke's credibility. Normally you go after someone's credibility because he's saying something and you're saying it isn't true. If you look at the officials who've testified under oath over the past two days, however, you'll see that they're all at great pains to avoid denying any of Clarke's specific allegations. Instead they, like Scott McClellan and the rest of the gang, spend a lot of time impugning Clarke's credibility. His credibility, however, isn't really at issue if they're not going to bother to come out and say which if the things he's saying aren't true. The only reasonable conclusion to draw from their failure to deny his charges is that the charges are true. This credibility business is just a smokescreen.

You do have to admire the extraordinary chutzpah of Bush administration officials, those paragons of truthfulness, calling someone a liar.

Turd Blossom

Bush Wars Blog has one of the best rundowns of Rove and his recent missteps I've seen anywhere. It's long, but well worth your time.

--------------------

March 25, 2004

For New Yorkers with a little free time today

Apparently Times Square is the place to be, four-ish.

It is to laugh

As you may have heard, Bob Kerrey excoriated Fox News during the 9/11 hearings yesterday, for violating a fundamental journalistic standard:

This document that Fox News earlier, this transcript that they had, this is a background briefing, and all of us who have provided background briefings for the press before should beware. Fox should say, "occasionally fair and balanced," after putting something like this out, because they violated a serious trust. All of us that come into this kind of an environment and provide background briefings for the press will always have this as a reminder that sometimes it isn't going to happen, that it's background. Sometimes, if it suits their interest, they're going to go back, pull the tape, convert it into transcript and send it out in the public arena and try embarass us or discredit us. I object to what they've done and I think it's an unfortunate thing they did.

Watching Fox immediately afterwards, you would have thought that this little scolding was the Big News of the day, overshadowing the specifics of Clarke's testimony entirely. Shepherd Smith interviewed Jeff Birnbaum about it, before noting, "For the record--always fair and always balanced!" And then, a few minutes later, to further prove their general fairness and overall balance, Neil Cavuto sat down with frequent Rush Limbaugh guest host Mark Levine:

CAVUTO: All right, let's talk about Clarke first. Now the release of these tapes come out in the middle of him bashing the Bush administration, how ill prepared it was for dealing with terror, what do you think the fallout is?

LEVINE: I think he's a disgrace. I think a year and a half ago, you guys have tapes, in which he did a press briefing, a backgrounder, in which he was praising Bush and condemning Clinton, and today he's testifying under oath I believe, condemning Bush and praising Clinton.

CAVUTO: Bob Kerrey said it was a mistake for that to be released and a mistake for Fox essentially to have released it.

LEVINE: Well who cares what Bob Kerrey says? I don't really care what Bob Kerrey says. I think the American people should have all the information, they should know about Richard Clarke. Richard Clarke is trying to take down the sitting Commander in Chief. Why shouldn't we know that he's completely changed his views over a year and a half time. So Bob Kerrey can have his views, his views will be expressed in this commissions report. And this whole commission has become a phony enterprise...

--snip--

I'll tell you what bothers me. Let's put aside politics for a minute. We have 150,000 men and women under (sic) uniform, who are in Afghanistan, who are in Iraq, who are in every hellhole on the face of this earth, defending this country. And what's the Congress doing? Attacking the president. What's this commission doing? Attacking the President. There should be no commission while we're at war!

Gosh, if there's a better way to demonstrate your impartiality than to feature an interview with Mark Levine minutes after Clarke's testimony ends, I certainly can't think of it.

(Transcripts are mine, hence no links.)

Billmon has more thoughts about those leaked tapes here.

All better, more or less

I've deleted a couple of posts, regarding my email woes, because I'm getting innundated with responses. I've got a handle on it; thanks to everyone who helped out.

I did lose a couple weeks worth of email, though, so if you're one of the people who wrote in the last few days regarding speaking gigs, please email me again.

--------------------

March 23, 2004

Slime and defend

Well, if you've paid any attention today, you know we're going through the usual drill--same thing we went through with Joe Wilson and Paul O'Neill. He's disgruntled, he's only in it to sell books, the timing was political, yadda yadda yadda.

Atrios makes a good catch, which should (but of course won't) put of these canards to a merciful end:

On the Newshour, Richard Clarke just said that the publication of the book had been delayed for 3 months because the White House delayed clearing it for publication. So, if not for their meddling, it would have been before any reasonable person could have accused him of being "political" for releasing it during the election season.

As August notes, none of the talking points actually disprove anything Clarke said--they're just attempts to change the subject.

And Oliver Willis asks a good question: just how stupid are the Bushies, anyway?

Why would anyone suspect that Iraq was behind the attack? Iraq has never been in the business of launching attacks against Americans via terrorism, and the single instance of Iraq doing any kind of related plot was an assasination attempt on the former president who beat Hussein in a war! That targeting of an individual is a far cry from a mass casualty terror event.

Bush and his whole crew had and have a lot more information at their fingertips than any average citizen could ever dream of, but did YOU think on 9.11 - this must be Iraq? Even Libya was a more likely source of a terror attack than Iraq.

They're either incompetent or liars--actually, they're probably both. And the only reason we're still having this discussion is due to the fact that a lot of people just can't bring themselves to admit they were hoodwinked.

--------------------

March 22, 2004

Altercation

If you missed Eric Alterman's now-legendary appearance on Dennis Miller, you can watch it here. Miller really distinguishes himself. And not in a good way.

By the way, the audience you hear snickering in the background? They're being paid to attend.

(Alterman's got a new book out, which is presumably why he subjected himself to this crap. He was kind enough to send a copy over--I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it looks like it's worth your time.)

Clarke

Sadly, No has a transcript of the 60 Minutes interview. Some excerpts:

CLARKE: Well Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq and we all said, 'No no, al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan.' Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.' I said, 'Well there are lots of good targets in lots of places but Iraq had nothing to with it.'

LESLIE STAHL: You wrote you thought he was joking.

CLARKE: Initially I thought when he said there aren't enough targets in Afghanistan, I thought he was joking.

STAHL: Now what was your reaction to all this Iraq talk? What did you tell everybody?

CLARKE: What I said was, you know, invading Iraq or bombing Iraq after we're attacked by somebody else, it's akin to, what if Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor instead of going to war with Japan said, "Let's invade Mexico." It's very analagous.

* * *
CLARKE: 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.

STAHL: In other words, you did go back and look.

CLARKE: We went back again and we looked.

STAHL: You did. And was it a serious look? Did you really ... ?

CLARKE: 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 down to 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.' ...

STAHL: Did the President see it?

CLARKE: 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, Leslie, I don't think the people around the President show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he wouldn't like the answer [to].

And I agree with Billmon--this is a sublime exchange:

STAHL: Don't you think he handled himself and hit all the right notes after 9/11, showed strength, got us through it, you don't give him credit for that?

CLARKE: He gave a really good speech right after 9/11.

(Billmon also has a good backgrounder on Clarke here.

Meanwhile, Fightin' Joe Lieberman counsels caution and moderation:

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said yesterday he doesn't believe Clarke's charge that the Bush administration was focused more on Iraq than al-Qaida during the days after the terror attacks.

"I see no basis for it," Lieberman said on Fox News Sunday. "I think we've got to be careful to speak facts and not rhetoric."


--------------------

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