This guy strikes out so often...and yet he stays there at the top essentially in charge of U.S. foreign policy more than the Secretary of State or the Director of the CIA...or for that matter this particular president of the United States who leaves him there.
The Deputy and the Deadlines
By Al Kamen
Friday, June 25, 2004; Page A27
Been a bit of a rocky week for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz and the media.
He created a bit of a fuss Tuesday when he told the House Armed Services Committee about a heretofore overlooked factor hampering the U.S. effort in Iraq: a cowardly press corps.
"Frankly," Wolfowitz said, "part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad, and they publish rumors. And rumors are plentiful."
Wolfowitz didn't specify what rumors were published, most likely because it wouldn't do to repeat them. Nor did he mention the at least 30 reporters who have been killed covering the story since the war began or the others who have been injured or abducted.
For example, colleague Dan Williams reported recently from beautiful downtown Fallujah, where masked gunmen are in control and fundamentalist mullahs flog folks in the streets while asserting sharia.
Williams drove around town with an Iraqi interpreter, protected by his reporter's notebook, which usually stops gunmen in their tracks. (Some reporters also take tape recorders as backup protection.) Fortunately, he did have an armored SUV on the 35-mile drive back to Baghdad. That came in handy when a carload of gunmen overtook the SUV just outside town and blasted away with their AK-47s at close range (about 10 feet) during a long, high-speed chase. The SUV was hit by nearly 200 rumors.
Reporters are being advised by the military to restrict their movements, and their editors are demanding they exercise extreme caution. Frankly, part of their problem, to paraphrase the deputy secretary, is that the security situation, especially for Westerners, has deteriorated so badly in the last few months that it is getting a bit scary even for battle-hardened warriors such as Williams.
In contrast to the intimidated press, Wolfowitz is completely unafraid to leave the hotel. In fact, he travels about the entire country, as he did last week. Unlike reporters, however, who tend to travel on land, his feet never touched the ground except in a U.S. military base or secured zone.
Probably just for convenience, Wolfowitz prefers to travel by air, in a fleet of Black Hawk helicopters with several Apache attack helicopters -- bristling with machine guns, rockets and Hellfire missiles -- flying escort. Wolfowitz choppered from the secured airport to the secured Green Zone downtown, a distance of maybe 10 miles as the RPG flies. (Cabs are expensive.)
Heading north to Mosul? No problem, take a C-130 transport plane to the U.S. base and meet with Kurdish leaders in a totally secured area. Need to trek to Basra? The C-130's the way to go. Get some nice views of the country and a good feel for what Iraqis are thinking.
And even in Camp Victory or other bases, Wolfowitz would have a half-dozen or more security folks with automatic weapons ringing him on the tarmac plus a few Humvees with .50-cal. machine guns on top as he boarded the aircraft.
To his credit, Wolfowitz also went to Fallujah. Okay, so maybe, unlike Williams, he didn't try to chat with the folks hanging out there. No, he went by air to the U.S. base on the outskirts of town where Iraqis could come chat with him. No rumors hit the choppers on the way back to Baghdad.
Wasn't clear whether Wolfowitz thought the cowardly reporters included the dead ones.
On Wednesday afternoon, he appeared on MSNBC's "Hardball," where guest host Campbell Brown gave him ample opportunity to revise and extend his remarks. He went on criticizing the media for misreporting the news from Iraq and denied he had been "media-bashing."
But by yesterday afternoon, "the seriousness of my mistake" somehow had occurred to him. Wolfowitz wrote an open, one-page letter to "journalists covering Iraq" saying he felt "deep regret . . . that I did not instantly correct the record" at the hearing. "Just let me say to each of you . . . I extend a heartfelt apology and hope you will accept it."
Unclear what the odds are of that.
Press 1, Wolfowitz 0
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2004; 8:35 AM
Media Notes gets results.
I'm being facetious, of course, but I'm happy to report that Paul Wolfowitz has apologized for trashing the journalists in Iraq.
In yesterday's column, you may recall, I complained that "Paul Wolfowitz is basically accusing journalists of cowardice" and had insulted those who were working under constant threat of injury or death.
A few others took umbrage at the deputy defense secretary's remarks, including the New York Times' Maureen Dowd ("Attack of the Wolfman") and CNN's Aaron Brown and Christiane Amanpour, who spoke of risking her own life and accused Wolfowitz of "character assassination." But the comments drew surprisingly little press coverage overall.
I couldn't understand why as savvy a player as Wolfie would say on the Hill: "Frankly, part of our problem is a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and they publish rumors."
Afraid, when journalists there are risking their lives? Rumors, when he offered no evidence of that?
To his credit, Wolfowitz has now said he's sorry in a clear and unambiguous way.
"Unfortunately, in meaning to convey my frustration about the erroneous coverage of one particular news story, the statement I made come out much differently than I intended," he said in a letter yesterday. "And while I know reporters understand better than most that sometimes the best of intentions and the most elaborate of preparations can't prevent error, that doesn't for a moment change the seriousness of my mistake or the deep regret I feel that I did not instantly correct the record.
"Just let me say to each of you who have worked so hard and taken such risks to cover this story, I extend a heartfelt apology and hope you will accept it. I understand well the enormous dangers that you face, and want to restate my admiration for your professionalism, dedication, and yes, courage. I pray that you all may return safely."
The prez is drawn deeper into the case involving Joe Wilson and his wife, as the Boston Globe notes:
"Federal prosecutors interviewed President Bush yesterday for the criminal investigation into who in his administration leaked the name of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame to a newspaper columnist last summer.
"Accompanied only by his private lawyer, Jim Sharp, former assistant US attorney for the District of Columbia, Bush met with US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago in the Oval Office for about an hour and 10 minutes, according to White House press secretary Scott McClellan. He was not under oath during the interview.
"Legal specialists said the president's meeting with criminal prosecutors probably does not mean that Bush is a target of the investigation."
Another poll, this one in USA Today, finds sinking support for the war:
"Most Americans now say that sending U.S. troops to Iraq was a mistake, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll finds. For the first time, a majority also says that the war there has made the nation less safe from terrorism."
The figures: 54 percent say Iraq was a mistake, and 56 percent say it's made us less safe.
"Even so, Bush is doing better against Democrat John Kerry, perhaps because of brightening views of the economy. Among likely voters, Bush leads Kerry 48% to 47%, with independent candidate Ralph Nader at 3%. Three weeks ago, Kerry led 49% to 43%."
A Bush comeback!
Gore is beating up on his 2000 opponent again, says the Los Angeles Times:
"Comparing President Bush to Julius Caesar, former Vice President Al Gore warned today that the president's accumulation of power since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks threatened the foundations of American democracy. . . .
"In remarks sure to fuel the controversy, Gore accused Cheney and Bush of deliberately misleading the American public on connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
"Gore accused them of doing so 'because if Iraq had nothing to do with the attack or the organization that attacked us, then that means the president took us to war when he didn't have to.' "
The Philadelphia Inquirer marvels at the transformation:
"This time Al Gore is unplugged. He's the unfettered Bush-basher he dared not be four years ago as a presidential candidate. Moderate and independent voters are not his audience now. Leave those to John Kerry. Gore's preaching to the true believers.
"Consider his blistering address yesterday at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington: Under President Bush, the 'systematic abuse of the truth and institutionalization of dishonesty [are] a routine part of the policy process.'
"Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad is 'the Bush gulag.'
"The administration's official and unofficial 'rapid response' defenders against critical news media are 'digital brownshirts.'
"Turns out Al Gore didn't need feminist author and campaign adviser Naomi Wolf's earth tones to project a more aggressive alpha male personality."
Guess things change when you don't have to worry about winning elections.
Cheney catches a break at the high court:
"The Supreme Court held Thursday that a lower court had acted 'prematurely' when it rejected a request from Vice President Dick Cheney to block disclosure of records from his energy policy task force," the New York Times says.
"In a vote of 7 to 2, the court sent the case back to a federal appeals court, a decision that will defer any resolution of the politically sensitive lawsuit until after the November elections. The lawsuit had the potential to embarrass the administration, especially given Mr. Cheney's former role as chief executive of Halliburton and the close ties of other administration members to the energy industry. . . .
"Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion, implicitly but not definitively, rejected the Bush administration's position that the vice president's activities should not be subject to pretrial discovery at all."
Dan Kennedy picks up on an AP report "that Americans Coming Together (ACT), a liberal independent organization working to defeat George W. Bush, has hired some ex-cons to help with its door-to-door canvassing.
"Is this a good idea? Well, giving former inmates a chance to earn a living certainly doesn't sound like such a bad thing to me. But that's not the point. You could think it's a terrible idea and still shake your head at this story. The AP's David Lieb calls ACT 'crucial' to Kerry's hopes. . . .
"But wait! Farther down, Lieb adds this:
" 'Although it works against the re-election of President Bush, ACT is an independent group not affiliated with Kerry's campaign -- federal law forbids such coordination. Yet ACT is stocked with veteran Democratic political operatives, many with past ties to Kerry and his advisers.' Allison Dobson, a spokeswoman with the Kerry campaign, said there is no coordination with ACT, and of the policy: 'We're unaware of it and have nothing to do with it.'
"This isn't even guilt by association -- it's guilt by non-association.
"Not surprisingly, the Boston Herald goes huge with this, blowing out the front with a headline that screams 'CROOKS FOR KERRY.'"
The New Republic's Jason Zengerle takes a step back in examining the whole Fahrenheit phenomenon:
"Michael Moore has made a career of being on the outside looking in -- particularly when his work has brought him to Washington. Virtually every one of the filmmaker's visits to the nation's capital, it seems, has included an excursion into the halls of power to ambush members of the city's political elite and then, after the desired chaos has ensued, to be escorted to the street by someone in a uniform.
"But Wednesday night the city's political heavyweights -- well, the Democratic ones, at least -- greeted Moore with open arms as they turned out en masse for the Washington premiere of his new film Fahrenheit 9/11. Packing the Uptown Theater to the rafters, about 800 people -- including South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle, Florida Senator Bob Graham, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, to name just a few of the prominent Democrats in attendance -- took in Moore's two-plus hours of Bush-bashing, applauding throughout and giving Moore a standing ovation when it was over.
"Even Moore seemed a bit taken aback by the Democratic establishment's effusive embrace. . . .
"Once upon a time, of course, the Democratic establishment kept Moore at arm's length, deeming him too controversial and mercurial to be of much political use. But those days are gone. Earlier this year Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark shared a stage with Moore at a campaign rally in New Hampshire, at which Moore questioned Bush's National Guard service, branding him a 'deserter.' And while the press pounced on Clark for standing by Moore while he made such a harsh -- and factually inaccurate -- criticism of Bush, Democrats couldn't help but marvel at how Moore single-handedly revived the issue of Bush's military service, injecting it into the campaign, where it remains to this day. Now that Moore has come out with a film that's filled with a slew of harsh -- and, in some instances, unfair -- criticisms of Bush, Democrats are giddy about how Moore and his movie might affect the presidential election."
National Review's Byron York does the fact-checking thing:
"Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says he believes radical filmmaker Michael Moore's assertion that the United States went to war in Afghanistan not to avenge the terrorist attacks of September 11 but instead to assure that the Unocal Corporation could build a natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan for the financial benefit of Vice President Dick Cheney and former Enron chief Kenneth Lay."
"McAuliffe and a number of other prominent Democrats attended a screening of Moore's new documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, at the Uptown Theatre in Washington Wednesday night. McAuliffe called the film 'very powerful, much more powerful than I thought it would be.' When asked by National Review Online if he believed Moore's account of the war in Afghanistan, McAuliffe said, 'I believe it after seeing that.' The DNC chairman added that he had not heard of the idea before seeing the movie, but said he would 'check it out myself and look at it, but there are a lot of interesting facts that he [Moore] brought out today that none of us knew about.' . . .
"Fahrenheit 9/11 devotes a significant amount of time to a fantastical theory that the war in Afghanistan was not part of a wide-ranging U.S. retaliation for the terrorist attacks of September 11, but was in fact undertaken for the financial benefit of Texas oil interests, specifically the vice president and Kenneth Lay."
LAT columnist Patrick Goldstein (sorry, no link available) finds Moore stretching the truth when he says he was banned by Bill O'Reilly and Jay Leno. As for the film's approach to facts, I thought this exchange was telling:
"Q: You mock the 'coalition of the willing' by only showing the tiny countries that have voiced support. But you leave out England, Spain, Italy and Poland. Why?
"Moore: This film exists as a counterbalance to what you see on cable news about the coalition. I'm trying to counter the Orwellian nature of the Big Lie, as if when you hear that term, the 'coalition,' that the whole world is behind us."
I'm going to close today's installment with some exchanges about journalism -- particularly, whether we're gradually moving toward red media and blue media, as partisans pick the outlets that reinforce their views. (Perhaps the trend even extends to filmmaking -- "Fahrenheit 9/11" for the left and "The Passion" for the right.) There is something bothersome about this, as if each group is limiting its exposure to what might be contrary views.
Newsweek and Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson picks up the theme:
"Up to a point, conservative talk radio and Fox represent a desirable backlash against the perceived 'liberal bias' of network news and mainstream media. I've worked in the mainstream press for 35 years. Editors and reporters reflexively deny a liberal bias, even though many ordinary people find it and mainstream newsrooms are politically skewed. Here are the latest Pew figures: 7 percent of national reporters and editors are conservative (a fifth the national rate), and 34 percent are liberal (almost twice the national rate). Most reporters I know believe fiercely in being fair and objective. Still, the debate over 'what's news and significant?' is warped. Talk radio and Fox add other views.
"But the sorting of audiences by politics also poses dangers -- for the media and the country. We journalists think we define news, and from day to day, we do. Over the longer run, that's less true. All news organizations must satisfy their audiences. If they don't, they go out of business. . . . If liberals and conservatives migrate to rival media camps, both camps may ultimately submit to the same narrow logic: like-minded editors and reporters increasingly feed like-minded customers stories that reinforce their world view. . . .
"It will be a sad day when we trust only the media that voice our views."
That column brought a dissent from American Prospect's Nick Confessore:
"Let me get this straight. Conservatives set up media that deliberately plays to conservative listeners, demonstrably slants the news in ways that flatter the ideologies and wishes of the Republican Party, and, predictably, garner an audience that slants heavily to the right. Yet such putative 'liberal media' as NPR and CNN have roughly equal numbers of liberal, moderate, and conservative viewers.
"Doesn't that suggest they do a much better job of reporting the news straight? And doesn't that suggest that the problem here is not symmetrical, as Samuelson -- and many other news reporters and pundits -- like to believe?
"Samuelson worries, facetiously, that 'the partisan drift may grow because distrust is spreading.' Baloney. Here's your problem, dude: Conservatives media institutions, such as Fox and the Washington Times, ostentatiously disdain the conventions of objective journalism, while the entire conservative political and media class expend enormous amounts of energy mau-mauing mainstream media outlets that do try to report the news straight.
"It's part of the broader conservative political strategy of labeling anything not explicitly conservative as 'liberal,' and then applying pressure on the institution at hand -- a newspaper, a think tank, or what have you -- to 'balance' by becoming more conservative. And the strategy also helps convince grassroots conservatives that the Establishment is out to get them, building the audience for ideological media outlets while working the mainstream media to get more favorable coverage from them."
Washington Monthly Editor Paul Glastris is upset about the way the national press has been "describing the polarization of our political culture over the last few years. It is a cliché to observe that the parties have drawn further apart, the center no longer holds, and partisans on both sides have withdrawn further into mutual loathing and ever more-homogenous and antagonistic groupings.
"Where the analysis goes wrong is in its assumption, either explicit or implicit, that both parties bear equal responsibility for this state of affairs. While partisanship may now be deeply entrenched among their voters and their elites, the truth is that the growing polarization of American politics results primarily from the growing radicalism of the Republican Party."
Um, didn't a Democrat just file an ethics complaint against Tom DeLay? The Dems, after all, spend a lot of time punching back. Anyway, Glastris continues:
"This is the sort of reality that most journalists know perfectly well to be true but cannot bring themselves to say, though this increased polarization drives them crazy. . . .
"As practiced by the modern press, 'objective' journalism requires avoiding the appearance of favoring one party over the other -- even when the facts merit such a treatment. That's why, when news stories discuss polarization, they bend over backward to avoid laying the 'blame' on the political right."