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Leading With The Left
May 14, 2004 PERMALINK
Yesterday, ABC's The Note wrote in awe of Dubya's incumbency advantages, topping its list with:
Big, bold gestures -- like today's headline-dominating Rumsfeld trip to Iraq -- are going to be possible all year.
But how bold, and how headline-dominating, was Rummy's trip?
The "secret trip" gambit can only be done so much.
And Dubya already did it, on a slow news day where it was sure to dominate.
This is not a slow news week, let alone day.
So even though the trip was top news, it won't have much multi-day value.
Furthermore, with Bush's approval firmly in the mid-40s, the media is less inclined to fawn.
It just wasn't over-the-top favorable, and therefore, is unlikely to change the overall dynamic of the Iraq coverage.
And it wasn't uniformly favorable.
Notably, NBC Nightly News did a relatively good job of not being spun.
It put Paul Wolfowitz's pathetic performance at a Senate hearing ahead of Rummy.
Where Wolfie painfully hesitated to answer Sen. Jack Reed's question: "A bag over your head for 72 hours? Is that humane?"
After an extremely long pause, and a scolding from Reed, he conceded it "strikes" him as "not humane".
The question was key because it has come out that such tactics are OK under current US guidelines.
And after airing that the vice-chair of the Joint Chiefs unequivocally stated that such a policy violated the Geneva Convention, NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reported the following:
MIKLASZEWSKI: ...Rumsfeld said Pentagon lawyers approved the techniques, and claimed the Geneva Convention is open to interpretation by each nation.
RUMSFELD: ...if you think about it, Geneva doesn't say what do you when you get up in the morning.
MIKLASZEWSKI: But the Geneva Convention specifically states that during interrogations prisoners "may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to any unpleasant...treatment of any kind."
Not bad for GE.
One part of Rummy's trip that seems to have received near-effusive treatment was his town hall with the troops.
ABC World News Tonight said, "they could not have found a more receptive audience" and NBC Nightly News said he got a "rousing welcome."
Both characterizations may well be accurate, but incomplete.
Rummy and Joint Chiefs Chair Richard Myers took a handful of questions from the troops, and the questions, taken from a Defense Dept. transcript, were very telling.
(There seems to have been microphone problems, resulting in several words being missed.)
Q: Mr. Secretary, you have said that you would like to reduce the number of troops in Iraq.
Instead, more troops are being sent over, and an increasing number of troops are reservists.
What will be -- (inaudible) -- and the fact that reservists who are involved in -- (inaudible).
Q: Sir, my unit, the 2nd Brigade -- (inaudible) -- Cav, we have five out of the six red zones in this country.
And with the up- armored humvees, the new -- (off mike) -- humvees they're bringing over with the -- (inaudible) -- those doors are not as good as the ones on the up-armored humvees -- (inaudible).
We even lost quite -- we lost some soldiers due to them, and we're trying to make a change -- (inaudible).
The question is, are we going to get more up-armored humvees?
And the second question I wanted to ask is, they have the new -- (inaudible) -- vests out that covers your -- (inaudible).
We need those because we have taken some casualties due to the shrapnel from IEDs going through the side. The front parts are good, but the sides are not.
Q: ...my question is, you testified in Congress just the other day, right before you flew out to see us...
...This is the second time you've testified this week, sir, for pay and allocations in the budget for the armed forces.
Do we foresee an increase across the board so we maybe get more additional -- armored kits, or armor, hazard pay, weapons, basic health and comfort items for soldiers overseas?
Q: ...my question is -- (inaudible). I've been deployed now for five months and I've been struggling to try to get my handicapped son some health care, some physical therapy.
And out-of-network issues are -- (inaudible) -- his progress. Sir, do you have -- (inaudible) -- help me get my son -- (inaudible)?
Interesting, considering that also yesterday, Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt reminded us:
In 2000, candidate George W. Bush blasted the Clinton military as "low on parts, pay and morale," vowing to replace "uncertain missions with well-defined objectives."
Another reason to sign the Resign Rummy petition.
May 13, 2004 PERMALINK
Yesterday, LiberalOasis noted that Fox's Fred Barnes praised Sen. James Inhofe remark that he was "more outraged by the outrage than...by the treatment" of Iraqi prisoners, because he "caught where public opinion is now."
Is Barnes in touch with real America (as he has "proven" in the past)?
Or he is just another big-city elitist, wishfully projecting his views on the electorate?
And it looks like Barnes' assertion is just more city-slicker blather.
Though there's a catch.
The Pew poll (Bush approval 44%, by the way), taken May 3-9, found only a minority felt the coverage was "too much":
The Gallup poll (Bush approval 46%), taken May 7-9, asked a slightly different question: did the media act "responsibly or irresponsibly"?
Responsibly -- 55%
In both cases, majority "outrage" at the media coverage is unquestionably not present. Sorry Fred.
Now, for the catch.
The CBS poll released late yesterday (Bush approval 44%), shows more of a split on the too much/too little coverage question:
This poll was slightly more recent than the others, but it was a rush job: taken on a single day, May 11, with a much smaller sample size.
So the results may be relatively flimsy.
But taking the results at face value, while factoring in those of the previous polls, the CBS poll probably does not signal rising "outrage."
More likely, it signals fatigue.
This is not a pleasant news story.
It's not a perversely fun whodunit like Chandra Levy or Laci Peterson, or a celebrity train wreck like Michael Jackson or Kobe Bryant.
This is simply disturbing and uncomfortable, and many people won't want to give it sustained attention.
That's the tough nut for those looking to push the issue and connect the dots to those in the Pentagon. (Sign the petition.)
The media will stay on top of this as long as they have to, as long as high-profile GOPers keep bucking the White House, and shoes keep dropping.
But once the market research shows that consumers are tired of the story, editors will move on given the opportunity.
May 12, 2004 PERMALINK
I think the guy that really caught where public opinion is now about this whole thing was Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma who said he was "outraged by the outrage."
Outraged by the excessive press coverage, and hand-wringing and breast-beating of the press. And I think that's what most people feel.
[Inhofe is] in for it because a lot of these people think he's just an Okie from Oklahoma and an unsophisticated conservative hick, which is all a bunch of BS. What you're hearing here is courage.
Cindy Shea, 41, who works in advertising in Edmond, Oklahoma, said of Inhofe's comments:
"I wouldn't say those are Oklahoma values. ... I don't think Oklahomans believe in injustice to anybody. I don't think the treatment there is reflective of the values held by the majority of Americans.
"I think what happened there is horrendous. It's the biggest mess ever."
The White House is still unable to instill party discipline and coordinate a sound message on the prison abuse scandal.
And when there's no leadership at the top, folks like Inhofe take matters in their own hands, and make everything worse.
While the Bushies have been insisting that the abuse is antithetical to American values and not Pentagon policy, and some GOP senators stressing the need for a thorough investigation, Inhofe chose to lambaste everyone taking this seriously.
Inhofe said he's "more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment," and he scoffed at those who try to expose and prevent abuse:
I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying.
Those two realize that Inhofe risks making their party look like the Mean & Nasty Party, not the Compassionate Conservative Party Bush still tries to portray.
(Not that Inhofe didn't try to show compassion: "I would guess that these prisoners wake up every morning thanking Allah that Saddam Hussein is not in charge of these prisoners.")
Inhofe was alone yesterday in making such impolitic comments.
But he was not alone in using yesterday's hearing to attack Sen. John Kerry.
Inhofe submitted for the record a Kerry "solicitation" -- an email criticizing Bush's and Rumsfeld's handling of the scandal that had a standard "Donate Now" button at the bottom.
He indicated that he also more "outraged" by the email than the abuse itself, as it was one of the "political agendas that are being served by this."
Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO, also at the hearing, said he was "appalled." House Majority Leader Tom DeLay called it "disgusting" in the W. Times.
And RNC Chair Ed Gillespie told NBC Nightly News:
I think it's inappropriate to take images like that and exploit them for fundraising purposes.
So there's definitely some coordination.
But it's possible that a distracted White House didn't directly approve the move, or at least, didn't give it much thought.
Because it teed themselves up for a hypocrisy smackdown.
NBC not only aired the Kerry campaign rebuttal that the Bushies have been exploiting 9/11 in ads and fundraising pitches for some time.
But it also turned to Center For Public Integrity's Charles Lewis, who was set up as "a frequent critic of both campaigns," to note the Republicans had "an extraordinary amount of chutzpah to cry foul over this."
So, two weeks after the story broke big, the party's response remains disorganized, discombobulated and discordant.
All the more reason for Dems to keep the pressure on.
As part of that effort, the DCCC launched yesterday "The Rumsfeld Wire", keeping track of relevant blog news and commentary.
And its petition drive for Rummy's resignation continues. Click here to sign.
May 11, 2004 PERMALINK
When you're truly sorry, you realize you did something wrong, and you change your behavior.
When you fake being sorry, you just feel you got caught doing what anyone else would do in your position, and you change nothing.
Supposedly, what Don Rumsfeld (and Richard Myers and the other top brass), apologized for was not fully going public.
I deeply regret the damage that has been done...to the president, the Congress and the American people[.]
I wish I had been able to convey to them the gravity of this before we saw it in the media.
The key words are "had been able".
He did not say "I wish I conveyed". He claimed he was unable to, that it was somehow out of his hands.
His answers under Senate questioning bore that out.
At one point he said:
We did not release the Taguba report to the press. That was done by someone to release, against the law, a secret document.
That's how it surprised everyone. It shocked the Congress. It shocked me. It shocked the president. It shocked the country.
In effect he was saying, I was trying to keep this stuff quiet for the good of the country, but some bastard screwed me.
Later, Rumsfeld's fellow witness Lt. Gen Lance Smith echoed the sentiment, in his exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham:
GRAHAM: Did it dawn on you that when you saw these photos, "We're in a world of hurt. This is going to look bad"?
SMITH: Certainly, sir, if those were released we certainly --
At that point, Graham cut Smith off. But his point was already clear.
This was going to look bad "if those were released". So we didn't release them.
That was the mentality then, and it still is now.
Also at the hearing, Rumsfeld talked about the pictures that had not yet gone public:
If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse. That's just a fact.
Actually, it's not a fact. It was not a fact then. It is not a fact now.
If the pictures were released by the military, all of them, back in Jan., we would have shown that we were facing the problem head on.
Then, the White House line about how we handle these things differently than dictators might have had some resonance.
At minimum, you wouldn't have had this scandal-fueled media frenzy, because there'd be no possibility of cover-up.
What about now?
As several Senators seem to grasp, to continue to sit on graphic evidence is just to ask for a protracted scandal cycle and further erosion of credibility.
Sen. John McCain said it best on Fox News Sunday:
To hold back these pictures, or to hold back the videos and only show them to members of Congress or something like that, first, is foolish, because they'll leak out.
But second of all, it is sending the wrong signal.
It's continued secrecy that will make matters worse, not full disclosure.
Yet, as Talking Points Memo noted, the Administration is trying to only show Congress the photos and video in a "restricted environment".
You do that because you don't trust Congress not to leak, and you don't want the public to see what they see.
Perhaps they will come to the conclusion that they have no other choice but to go public, perhaps under pressure from Congress.
But based on their own comments, and their actions to date, Rumsfeld and his crew aren't the least bit sorry they tried to keep things quiet, only that they failed.
And if they continue to refuse to learn any lessons, they will only drag out this mess to their own detriment, the nation's and the world's.
May 10, 2004 PERMALINK
Last week's I-haven't-read-the-report-yet Sunday show tour didn't go so well, so this week, the Bushies ducked all the shows.
In turn, they lost all control of the message; they had few surrogates willing to carry their water.
That is not to say that the knives were out either.
GOPers all refrained from calling for Rumsfeld's resignation, even though several voiced criticism or frustration.
The closest one came to pushing out Rummy was Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), on CBS' Face The Nation:
...let's get the facts before we indict Secretary Rumsfeld...
...But, yes, I think it's still in question whether...Rumsfeld and, quite frankly, General [Richard] Myers can command the respect and the trust and the confidence of the military...
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who received much attention for his stiff questioning of Rummy Friday, didn't go as far on Fox News Sunday.
He noted that he did not get satisfactory answers about the chain of command in the prison system.
But he also said he appreciated his apology and that "it would be terribly premature to call for his resignation at this time."
On NBC's Meet The Press, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) went light on Rummy:
I think Secretary Rumsfeld should stay if he believes he can be effective. I think he can be effective.
But Graham went out on limb to attack Dick Cheney:
Something that was said, attributed to the vice president -- I don't know if it's true or not -- really bothers me. Says, "Get off his back."
Senator [John] Warner's hearing is not being on Secretary Rumsfeld's back...The Congress has an independent duty to find out what happened in that prison...
...Nobody's on their back. We're doing our job.
And Graham also undercut the White House line that this is an isolated incident, instead calling it a "system failure".
Also on MTP, Sen. Warner, who was clearly angry at Rumsfeld early last week, but not at Friday's hearing, tried to lower the temperature:
Don Rumsfeld, is a man of conscience. He's strong. He's effective and I can continue to work with him, I assure you...
...To pull out the top man at this time and try and go through the complicated procedures of clearances, finding a new individual...bringing in that new individual staff in the few months before the election -- someone better weigh that carefully against these calls for his resignation.
What does all that mean?
First, Bush's "chide Rumsfeld" gambit worked.
He was able to direct the heat away from himself and onto a guy who could absorb it without breaking.
However, keeping the GOP Congress at bay is not the same as having it under your control.
On Sunday, there was no coordinated GOP message, and pretty much no pro-Bush message at all.
The senators called their own shots and generally sought to subtly show off their independence from the White House.
If these guys felt confident that the Bushies would be around in 2005, that wouldn't be happening. They'd be a little more worried about the repercussions.
QUICK HITGive Fox News Sunday some chutzpah points for going ahead with its anti-Nightline response, its "tribute" to the Iraq war entitled "What We've Accomplished".
Host Chris Wallace, in his intro, defensively noted that some wrote in to accuse him of "pushing the White House agenda."
He responded that since he asked tough questions about the prison abuse scandal in the previous segment, he clearly wasn't.
Then he proceeded to.
In irony-free fashion, Wallace said our successes included:
-- Ending the systematic torture and murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
-- Ending the threat that weapons of mass destruction will be developed and used.
-- Iraqis charged with crimes now have rights that would have been laughed at under the old regime.
-- There's also something approaching freedom of the press...the coalition has shut down only two papers...
Fox's chutzpah had limits. They didn't bother to post "What We've Accomplished" on the network's website.
The New American Devil's Dictionary: Part 3
ADAM SMITH: Generic term for any one of the damn Smiths.
AMBASSADOR: The formal and original spelling of a word meaning one who achieves greatness through threat of announcing one's illegitimate parentage. Now often shortened to "A BASTARD."
APATHY: A word now fallen into disuse due to a lack of concern for it.
ATHEISTS: People whose views are so potentially devastating by nature of the logic of their ideas, persuasive abilities and pure common sense that even in democracies their voices must be silenced, their role in society shunned, and their ability to serve in government outlawed. Typically known to eat the living, but may be seen feasting on corpses in times of drought.
BIAS: The means by which pundits convert otherwise excellent raw data into meaningless gossip.
COMPLACENCY: The skillful art of doing nothing while maintaining the pretense of doing very little.
DEADBEAT DAD: A father whose sperm is characterized by a unique genetic flaw that results in the inverse relationship between flagella speed and familial responsibility.
DESERTION: The fifth course 1st Lt. George W. Bush ordered at a restaurant to celebrate his 31st day away from the military without leave, thought to be a mousse.
EVIL: The actions of people who show the disrespectful arrogance of disagreeing with one's beliefs.
FAMILY VALUES: Once meaning the morals and ethics of the familial archetype; now considered to mean the accounting of one's inheritance.
FCC: Acronym standing for Federal Communication Commission, a government organ that spends taxpayer dollars censoring the word "organ."
FREE MARKET: Contrary to assumption, a rather expensive market.
FUCK: Considered the most obscene word in American English, it is rarely spoken in polite circles, but uttered with abandon at the nation's finest country club golf courses.
GRASSROOTS: In nature, the bits of plant life closest to the dirt, and therefore most difficult to see; in politics, the bits of humanity that are just as overlooked as their flora equivalents.
GROUND ZERO: A term once used to define the impact point of the fallen Twin Towers, but now taken to describe the means by which errant thinking is converted into national policy, through the expedient use of public despair.
HANNITY: A funny children's word which rhymes with sanity, but that's it.
HILLARY: Common mispronunciation of the quaint word PILLORY, a wooden device used to humiliate someone publicly.
INTELLECT: The portion of the human brain that has evolved most recently, and is therefore used the least effectively.
IS: A word that belies definition for all but Zen practitioners and independent counsels.
JOHN F. KERRY: A pale and awkwardly amateurish imitation of JOHN F. KENNEDY.
KEYNESIAN: An economic philosophy that requires government to take an active role in something it knows absolutely nothing about.
LAW: An element on the periodic table that bears amazing properties. It is flexible in almost all environments, but which will react to applied force depending on the user: for some, it will break without effort; for others, it cannot be broken no matter how much pressure is placed upon it. The basic properties are not yet fully understood, and a pure specimen has not yet been observed; largely theoretical.
LEGISLATION: A written account of the orgies of the damned.
LIBERATION: An act of pure irony in which a nation frees its neighbors from oppressions that are otherwise endorsed the home country, such as human rights abuses, fixed elections, violations of international law, constitutional neglect and religious intolerance.
MARXISTS: A dwindling group of political activists known primarily for their attempts to foist poor fashion sense and droll demeanor on society as a whole. Despite much public crying for revolution and other physical activities, Marxists are also most obvious by their dislike of exertion, a fact for which their declining numbers are almost singly responsible. Having begun to show similar tendencies, the Democratic Party is now largely considered Marxist.
MEDIA: The protagonist of Euripides' play, a creature that turns on its children and slays them, or any entity that consistently betrays those that need it most.
NADER: A contemporary contraction of the phrase "nay-sayer," or one who makes hay by saying nay all day, maybe for pay.
PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY: The responsibility one has for the consequences of one's actions, excepting those actions that are the result of advice from cabinet members, orders from superiors, voices from God, demands of shareholders, or campaign promises.
PRIVATIZATION: A movement to convert elements of the social contract into profitable enterprises for the individual. The term takes its name from the metaphoric sensation of being kicked in the privates.
PROLIFERATION: The expanding of any unwanted thing; in contemporary usage, the word applies to such things as nuclear weapons, communists, Chinese babies, Russian mail order brides or labor unions.
STOCK MARKET: The place in which souls are offered for sale.
UNFORTUNATE: Those that are not blessed with the same level of intelligence, grace, and humility as you or, more specifically, I.
VETERANS: A word used to describe patriots whose fifteen minutes are officially up.
WELFARE: Formerly a word used to define the state of concern for others, now used to describe the filthy, scum-ridden slackers who demand the attention, finances and support of others.
WORKING MOM: A person, usually but not specifically of the feminine sex, whom has found satisfaction in her ability to perform multiple tasks and responsibilities and thus boasts of her achievements incessantly; her remaining energies are typically expended by ignoring the same work contributed by women of previous generations, all of whom lacked the title.
Mark Spittle is one half of the political satire duo Spittle & Ink. He is a former Washington lobbyist and congressional assistant.
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