Monday, May 30, 2005

On Hardball, Three Guests Gave Conflicting Answers, But Matthews Didn't Notice

JABBS often criticizes Chris Matthews, when the MSNBC host fails to identify conservative spin -- parroting it himself or not playing "hardball" when it comes from his right-skewing panels.

Matthews once lived up to his "hardball" persona. But MSNBC turned rightward after 9/11, canceling the higher-rated Phil Donahue in favor of the lower-rated Joe Scarborough, and adding conservative pundits Tucker Carlson and Monica Crowley. The MSNBC execs saw Fox News' ratings, and knew what to do. Go right, the MSNBC execs told Matthews, and he followed suit.

JABBS isn't suggesting Matthews is a conservative, but he's not a liberal either -- as conservative bloggers insist. Frankly, Matthews is best when he pits equal numbers of liberals vs. conservatives and tears holes in the various arguments. That's playing "hardball," and too often of late, Matthews hasn't been up to the task. His viewers suffer the results.

***

The gaping holes were evident during the May 25 show, a multi-faceted discussion on the 14 centrist Senators who brokered an end to the Democrats' filibuster of a handful of President Bush's judicial nominees.

One discussion point touched upon by three guests -- Sen. John Warner (R-VA), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and conservative pundit Tony Blankley -- dealt with the statement in the Constitution that the President seek the advice and consent of the Senate when preparing to nominate judges.

But Warner, Schumer and Blankley offered conflicting opinions of whether recent presidents -- Bush and Clinton -- have followed this constitutional guideline.

Here are the key quotes from Matthews' guests:

WARNER: "And I think our president has been — certainly with this senator, I‘ve had the opportunity to consult with him on judicial nominations. And I think perhaps it will broaden and in such a way that the — if there is a nominee for the Supreme Court, it is my hope and it would be good for the nation it would be a strong bipartisan vote."

Schumer, who wrote a letter to Bush last week urging him to consult with senators of both parties before submitting future judicial nominations, said this:

SCHUMER: "(W)hen President Clinton had to nominate two Supreme Court nominees, he regularly consulted a number of Republicans, including Orrin Hatch. He gave some names to Orrin Hatch and Orrin Hatch said, you‘re going to have trouble with those names. He gave others and Orrin Hatch vetted them and said, choose them. And Orrin Hatch actually ahead of time said that Breyer and Ginsburg would be acceptable choices to the Republican-controlled Senate."

Blankley, during a journalists' roundtable later in the show, said:

BLANKLEY: (T)hat hasn‘t been the practice in the recent past, that Clinton did not seek out our Republican support for Ginsburg before he nominated her, nor did we think he was obliged to."

But Matthews doesn't recognize the contradiction, responding:

MATTHEWS: There would have been a lot of judges on the Supreme Court who never would have gotten there had their names been floated beforehand, Clarence Thomas, perhaps, Robert Bork. Well, he never made it.

***

A good journalist would have realized the conflcting opinions of presidents seeking advice and consent on judicial nominees. But Matthews is more blowhard than journalist, and rather than play "hardball," he moves on to his next pre-scripted question.

A good journalist would have stepped in and asked Warner whether he knew of any Democrats who had consulted with Bush on judicial nominees, for no doubt he knew that Schumer was next on the show's docket, and that Schumer obviously didn't think Bush was seeking bipartisan advice. I'm guessing that had Matthews asked Warner the question, Warner would have admitted that Bush only consults with those he agrees with -- his fellow conservative Republicans (and Zell Miller).

***

If Matthews thought Schumer was lying when telling his anecdote about Clinton consulting with Orrin Hatch, he certainly didn't let on. That said, Matthews should have recalled Schumer's anecdote when Blankley contradicted it.

Is it just coincidence that both times Matthews failed to play "hardball" came when he was faced with comments from the right side of the aisle?

Don't think Matthews is prone to accepting conservative spin as fact? Fine. Then he's a lousy journalist. Remember, Matthews knows it's his job to fact-check. As said last month: "Otherwise, people assume, since I sat here and let somebody say something, it must be true."

***

For what it's worth, Blankley was part of a three-person roundtable that also included conservative New York Post columnist Deborah Orin, and Washington Post international affairs columnist David Ignatius.

Now, conservative bloggers will say that's fair, and likely the MSNBC bigwigs would, too. But go do a Google search of "David Ignatius, liberal," and you won't easily find that label -- from liberal or conservative writers. But for this panel to be fair, you would have to assume Ignatius was a liberal, and Mathews was one, too.

Too often, this is how panels are formed on Hardball. One recent study found the show's panels skewed right by a 3-1 margin. Yes, Matthews has liberals on his show, but if Blankley and Orin are two of the shows' conservative guests, common sense says the third guest should be a liberal pundit, such as Eric Alterman or Katrina vanden Heuvel.

But that wouldn't sit well with the MSNBC bigwigs.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

The press turnout for a May 23 Q&A with President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai was poor, but administration imagemakers came up with a novel response.

They backed the room with interns posing as reporters.

"That way it wouldn't look bad for the cameras," a White House insider told John McCaslin for his "Inside the Beltway" column in the May 24 Washington Times.

"A member of the press corps we spoke to yesterday equated reporters at such staged White House functions with 'props,'" McCaslin wrote. One reporter told McCaslin: "Since we can't ask questions, why schlep over there?"

The way McCaslin describes it, the result was a little ridiculous.

"(Y)ou had all these fresh young faces -- pretty blonde girls, and guys who haven't shaved -- nodding their approval as the president speaks."

***

You have to wonder what Bush's reaction was to all those subservient "reporters." You know, those imagemakers might be on to something ...

Don't be surprised if Bush's next "town hall" meeting -- already featuring a hand-picked audience listening to hand-picked questioners -- includes hand-picked "reporters," too, to spread the word about Social Security privatization.

Republican Who Coined Term "Freedom Fries" Regrets That ... And Regrets Iraq War, Too

Walter Jones, the Republican Congressman who led the fight two years ago to rename fries and toast at the Capitol in protest of the French-led opposition to war with Iraq, now says he regrets that fight, and the war, too.

Of the emotional fight to change cafeteria items at the Capitol to "Freedom Fries" and "Freedom Toast," Jones (R-NC), in a May 15 interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, said: "I wish it had never happened."

But that's not the only decision he regrets. Jones now says the U.S. went to war with Iraq "with no justification," and he's not shy about pointing fingers as to who's at fault. "If we were given misinformation intentionally by people in this administration, to commit the authority to send boys, and in some instances girls, to go into Iraq, that is wrong," he said. "Congress must be told the truth."

Jones, part of the Gingrich Revolution class of 1994, has fallen out of favor with the Bush administration. He has criticized Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others in the administration at public hearings. He voted against the President's most recent budget because of proposed cuts in veterans benefits.

But Jones sees this as the best way to serve his district, which has North Carolina's greatest number of military. He has lined the hallway outside his office with "the faces of the fallen." Jones told the News & Observer that he realizes his decisions have cost him influence, but that he can live with the consequences.

Friday, May 27, 2005

"Non-Partisan" Testimony Gets Edited By White House

When the Senate Democratic Policy Committee sought testimony from Derrick Max, the head of an organization advocating Social Security privatization, it expected him to support the Bush Administration.

But it didn't expect that his testimony would be edited by an administration official.

But according to a May 19 story in the Los Angeles Times, when Max e-mailed his testimony to the panel, he inadvertently included editing comments made by Andrew Biggs, an associate commissioner of the supposedly nonpartisan Social Security Administration.

The incident created a bit of foo-fah, with some Demcrats and others calling for an investigation. Not helping matters was that Max and the Bush administration didn't get their stories straight when discussing what changes were made to the testimony.

Max said the changes were "largely grammatical," but a White House spokesman told the Times that it had no problem reviewing Max's testimony for "accuracy."

Max is executive director of Alliance for Worker Retirement Security and the Coalition for the Modernization and Protection of America's Social Security, each of which describe themselves as nonpartisan.

But if the groups are independent, why did the White House get its fingerprints all over Max's testimony? And why is an official from the suppsedly nonpartisan Social Security Administration towing the administration's partisan line?

***

Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) wrote Social Security commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart on May 18, to investigate the matter and to report whether any statutes were breached. He told the Times that the activities violated statutes requiring the Social Security Administration to be "nonpolitical and nonpartisan."

"We have long suspected what's happening here," Dorgan told the Times. "These groups advertise across the country, presenting themselves as independent and representative of many voices. This shows that there is one ventriloquist for these groups, and he has an office at the White House."

***

In 1994, via a bipartisan effort led by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), Congress passed legislation to establish a three-person, independent oversight board for the Social Security agency, removing it from the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates as part of the politically minded White House.

***

The incident last week wasn't the first time the Bush administration has been charged with trying to turn the Social Security Administration into a partisan player in its efforts to promote the President's privatization plan.

Back in January, the New York Times reported that the Bush administration had pushed Social Security to undertake a "major effort to publicize the financial problems of Social Security and to convince the public that private accounts are needed as part of any solution."

That set off administration critics, including an executive with the American Federation of Government Employees, Dana C. Diggins, who told the Times: "Trust fund dollars should not be used to promote a political agenda."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Veterans, Feeling "Betrayed," Sue Rumsfeld

Residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home filed a class-action lawsuit against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claiming that under his watch, their care has suffered "drastic cuts."

"The residents are extremely upset and, quite frankly, confused by this treatment," Homer Rutherford, a retiree and spokesman for the plaintiffs, told Knight-Ridder Newspapers. "We feel betrayed."

The 16 plaintiffs, whose average age is 76 and whose average term of service is more than 20 years, claim in their suit that Rumsfeld is responsible for "drastic cuts" in their medical care. The plaintiffs say their suit, Cody et al v. Rumsfeld, which was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, is on behalf of some 1,000 residents at the Pentagon-managed facility.

The budget for operating the home has fallen from about $63 million last year to $58 this year, the home's chief financial officer, Steve McManus, told the Associated Press.

In the suit, the veterans claim they were promised "a model retirement community" when they moved in and were told that under the law the Defense Department was required to provide residents with "high-quality, on-site medical and dental care."

But, according to the suit, over the past two years the veterans have faced:

-- The closure of the facility's primary treatment room with its 24/7 physician on duty. According to the plaintiffs, anyone needing medical care after 4 p.m. must resort to a phone consultation with a nurse or an emergency call to 911. Should an emergency require off-site treatment, the residents say they must pay for transportation themselves.

-- Closure of the on-site pharmacy. Veterans are now sent to Walter Reed Army Hospital.

-- Elimination of on-site X-ray services. Veterans are now sent to Walter Reed Army Hospital.

-- A shortage of basic medical supplies.

-- Elimination of mortuary services.

The veterans told Knight-Ridder that the final blow was last week's announcement that Rumsfeld had included Walter Reed Army Hospital on its list of facilities to be shut down under its Base Realignment and Closures plan. When that closes, the veterans say, they will have to travel farther to commercial facilities for their pharmacy and x-ray needs.

***

The AP reports that the veterans want Rumsfeld to take advantage of a 1994 Congressional provision that gives the Pentagon authority in 1994 to increase one source of the home's operating funds -- a 50-cent-per-month payroll deduction paid by every enlisted member and warrant officer in the military.

Raising it to $1 per month would generate $7 million a year in new revenue, the suit says, and offset the Pentagon's budget cuts.

***

Rutherford told the AP that he had personally appealed to staff members of the House and Senate armed services committees to address the problem, but to no avail.

"This is why we're following through with this class-action suit," he said in a May 23 interview. "We feel we have nowhere else to go, and we feel that it is something that is vitally necessary for the health and welfare of the American veterans who are here at the home."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

And The Hits Just Keep On Coming ...

It took JABBS 231 days to reach 10,000 hits. Today, just 60 days later, JABBS has reached 20,000.

Thanks to Buzzflash, Crooks and Liars, Democratic Underground, The Opinion Mill, World O'Crap, Detached Observer and AOL Blogzone, among others, for highlighting various JABBS posts, and introducing new readers to this blog.

And thanks to our readers, and our lively commenters, too.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

"(Democratic leaders) cited a statement released (May 19) by Robert C. Pozen, a Massachusetts investment company executive whose proposal for altering the way future Social Security benefits might be calculated has become a model for part of Bush's own plan. In the written statement, Pozen called on Bush to consider giving up the centerpiece of the his Social Security proposal — the individual investment accounts funded by payroll taxes, also called 'carve-out accounts.'

'Given the lack of bipartisan support for carve-out personal accounts, the president should not insist on carve-out accounts if the Democrats support an overall legislative package for Social Security reform that is otherwise satisfactory to him," Pozen said.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) issued a statement lauding Pozen's comments, saying carve-out accounts would add to the federal debt while draining money from the Social Security system."

-- Los Angeles Times, May 20

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

JABBS Included In Graduate School Class on Politics and the New Media

JABBS is proud to say it is part of a George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management class, "Politics and the New Media."

The class studies the "use of new media in the communications between politicians and citizens, effects on political rhetoric, and quality of communications in contemporary politics."

One class requirement has students anonymously posting comments over the next 10 weeks on two blogs of different political persuasions, from a list of 84 liberal, centrist and conservative blogs. JABBS is among 24 liberal blogs. (Click here to read the list of 84 blogs).

The class is taught by Emilienne Ireland, who along with husband Phil Tajitsu Nash authored "Winning Campaigns Online: Strategies for Candidates and Causes." She is president of Nash Interactive, a corporate and political consulting firm based in Bethesda, Md.

JABBS is honored to be included in this demonstration of democracy in action, and welcome students' posts.

In Pitching Social Security Privatization, Bush Team Takes Orwellian Steps To Create The Right Image

It's no secret that President Bush likes to speak before partisan crowds. His "town hall" meetings, complete with backdrops featuring an Orwellian word or phrase, feature hand-picked crowds of loving supporters, many of whom are willing to sign loyalty oaths or help out on behalf of a given Bush program.

The Bush Administration doesn't want to risk facing embarrassing questions or (heaven forbid) booing from Democrats or out-of-step Republicans. To further stay "on message," it doesn't provide transcripts of events, during which such miscreants make themselves heard, on the White House website (for details, read this JABBS report).

As JABBS readers learned from GOP consultant Frank Luntz (for details, read this JABBS report): "A real town hall can be very dangerous if it gets out of control. A town hall that gets out of control, a town hall where the speaker cannot command the respect and the control of the audience, can look very bad on television."

In the same interview, Luntz talked about the need to create the right backdrop of people. "There he's got an African-American, he's got an Asian, there's your female he's got. It's one of everybody. It's almost like the rainbow, uh, wedding line."

Apparently, the Bush Administration has taken Luntz' words to heart as a team led by the President barnstorms the country, pitching its Social Security privatization plan.

A memo, circulated among Women Impacting Public Policy, illustrates the lengths to which the White House will go to create the right image.

"President Bush will be in Rochester, N.Y., for an upcoming event and has called on WIPP for help," said the memo to New York-area members, which was leaked to the Los Angeles Times for a May 20 story.

The memo went on to solicit several types of people, including a young worker who "knows that [Social Security] could run out before they retire," a young couple with children who like "the idea of leaving something behind to the family" and a single parent who believes Bush's proposal for individual investment accounts "would provide more retirement options and security" than the current system. These people, all to be under the age of 29, would then be called upon by the President, to lob softball questions representing various arguments Bush has been making to sell privatization to younger voters.

Yes, not only does the Bush administration want to have a hand-picked audience listening to a carefully tailored message, but it also wants hand-picked types of people to ask the right questions to help sell that carefully tailored message. I'm surprised the administration doesn't provide cue cards, too.

Of course, the people attending the "town hall" meetings don't know that the questioners have been screened so as to make sure the right questions are asked, and television audiences -- local news broadcasts and C-SPAN, for example -- don't know it either.

But now that the cat is out of the bag, journalists around the country should recognize these events for what they are: large propaganda events, in which hand-picked audiences listen to hand-picked questioners in order to hear the President offer answers using hand-picked information. These "town hall" meetings have no news value, and should be ignored by the mainstream press -- unless (heaven forbid) someone asks a question that wasn't hand-picked, or the President offers an answer he hasn't essentially given 50 times before.

***

How beautifully does the system work? While the Bush privatization plan has been met with a tepid response, it sure does provide some wonderful propaganda moments.

At an even in Milwaukee last week, this exchange was recorded by the Times, involving a hand-picked questioner and the President:

"You got any thoughts about Social Security?" Bush asked 22-year-old Concordia University senior Christy Paavola, one of five younger workers who appeared on stage with him at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

"Yes," Paavola said. "I don't think it's going to be there when I retire, which is really scary."

Many young people, the president commented, think they are paying into a retirement system that will never pay them back. He asked Paavola: "Got anything else you want to say?"

"I really like the idea of personal savings accounts," Paavola said.

"You did a heck of a job," Bush told her. "You deserve an A."

And you know, Paavola should get an "A," because she recited her lines as if she were reading cue cards. Bravo!

***

The woman's group, WIPP, helped find the five participants for the May 19 event. In addition to Paavola, Bush was joined in Wisconsin by a preschool teacher, a small business owner, and a dairy farmer and his wife, who worked as a bookkeeper in a bank. None was older than 27.

And if that's not a cross-section of society, what is? Oof.

Only in Bush's America.

Monday, May 23, 2005

... And Then Gets Side-Stepped As Moderate Senators Broker Compromise on Filibusters

A mix of 14 Democratic and Republican Senators brokered an 11th-hour deal this evening, clearing the way for the confirmation of several of President Bush's stalled judicial nominees, while still protecting the long-held rights of a minority-party filibuster.

Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, while maintaining that he remains opposed to some nominees likely to be confirmed, was receptive to the deal. "Checks and balances have been protected. The integrity of the Supreme Court has been protected from the undue influence of the vocal, radical right wing," Reid said.

But Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee saw the deal as falling short of his goal of winning yes-or-no votes for each of Bush's nominees. "It has some good news and it has some disappointing news," said Frist, who admitted he had been side-stepped by the dealmakers.

Under the terms, Democrats will allow final confirmation votes for appeals court nominees Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor. There is "no commitment" to vote for or against the filibuster against two other appeals court nominees, Henry Saad and William Myers. The agreement said future judicial nominees should only be filibustered "under extraordinary circumstances," with each senator holding the discretion to decide when those conditions had been met.

Leaders of both parties pledged to oppose any attempt to make changes in the application of filibuster rules -- seen as a victory for the Democrats.

Frist (Not So) Articulately Defends His Record On Filibusters ...

From the May 23 Senate debate on the need for a filibuster:

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): Isn’t it correct that on March 8, 2000, my colleague [Sen. Frist] voted to uphold the filibuster of Judge Richard Paez?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN): The president, the um, in response, uh, the Paez nomination -- we’ll come back and discuss this further. … Actually I’d like to, and it really brings to what I believe -- a point -- and it really brings to, oddly, a point, what is the issue. The issue is we have leadership-led partisan filibusters that have, um, obstructed, not one nominee, but two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, in a routine way.

***

In other words, Frist's rule is that filibustering one nominee is okay. Filibustering several nominees is a no-no. But doesn't that run counter to the idea of ridding the Senate of the filibuster option?

It should be noted that when Frist voted to filibuster, Paez’s nomination had been pending for four years. A press release issued the following day by former Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH), who organized the filibuster effort, read "Smith Leads Effort to Block Activist Judges."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Alternate Universe of Conservatives

"You know, James [Carville, co-host], of all the lousy issues you have, the lousiest is the debt. As Ronald Reagan once said, I don't worry about the national debt; it's big enough to take care of itself. As a matter of fact, it is smaller as a percentage of GDP than any of our other -- than it has ever been. This is a phony issue. That's not hurting us."

-- Robert Novak, on the May 18 edition of CNN's Crossfire

The national debt as a percentage of GDP has grown every year since President George W. Bush has been in office. In 2004, the $7.4 trillion national debt constituted 62.9 percent of GDP; in 2001 when Bush took office, the debt was 57.3 percent of GDP.

Also worth noting is that during Bush's first term, the national debt rose $1.57 trillion ($7.38 trillion in 2004, $5.81 trillion in 2001). During that same period, GDP rose just $1.61 trillion ($11.74 trillion ni 2004, $10.13 trillion in 2001).

In other words, the debt essentially grew dollar for dollar with the overall GDP during Bush's first term.

Bush's economic policy may be a lot of things. Fiscally conservative is not one of them.

By comparison, the debt grew by just $261 billion during President Clinton's second term ($5.41 trillion in 1997, $5.67 trillion in 2000), while GDP grew by $1.51 trillion ($8.30 trillion in 1997, $9.82 trillion in 2000). In that four-year period, GDP grew by nearly $6 for every $1 of additional debt.


-- Based on statistics tallied by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Stretching the Truth on Newsweek: Columbia Journalism Review Gets it Right (Part 3)

"In the Newsweek case, the White House's motivation is obvious: They would rather talk about the purported harm done by six inaccurate words in a Newsweek brief than talk about, for example, the 10 Guantanamo Bay interrogators who have already been disciplined for abuse of prisoners. Along the way, the White House managed to obscure the fact that Newsweek only retracted a statement about what a source expected an upcoming government report to say -- the magazine has taken no stance, now or then, on the question of whether or not any desecration of the Koran by interrogators took place."

-- Columbia Journalism Review's "CJR Daily," May 18, 2005

Friday, May 20, 2005

Stretching the Truth on Newsweek: The Mainstream Media Gets it Wrong, Too (Part 2)

Newsweek screwed up with its May 1 story saying that an American interrogator at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet

The initial buzz was that the story had led to anti-American violence in Afghanistan. But the storyline changed on May 12, when Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this:

MYERS: It's the -- it's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran -- and I'll get to that in just a minute -- but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that's -- that was his judgment today in an after- action of that violence. He didn't -- he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.

But the mainstream media* didn't seem to care what Myers said. It continued to go with the initial version of the story -- the one in which Newsweek's story was directly blamed for the violence.

For example:

-- On the May 16 edition of the CBS Evening News, Bob Schieffer said the Newsweek story "led to a week of violent anti-American demonstrations in Afghanistan in which at least 15 people were killed."

-- On the May 16 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, correspondent Barbara Starr said the article "touched off riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, leaving at least 15 dead," while host Wolf Blitzer declared: "Unfortunately, there are dead people out there as a result of that report."

-- On the May 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Brit Hume said: "The story triggered protests in which 17 died," and Fox News chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron similarly reported: "The story sparked violent anti-American protests in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories. Seventeen people were killed."

-- On the May 17 edition of NPR's Morning Edition, host Steve Inskeep noted that the Newsweek story "led to violent demonstrations in the Islamic world," while reporter Neda Ulaby reported that "reaction to the story was almost immediate: Riots exploded, and scores of people were injured. Fifteen people died."

-- In the May 17 edition of the Washington Post, media critic Howard Kurtz said: "The May 1 item triggered violent protests last week in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and other countries, in which at least 16 people were killed."


* With thanks to mediamatters.org

Stretching the Truth on Newsweek: McClellan Gets it Wrong (Part 1)

What was White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan thinking?

You no doubt are well aware of Newsweek's one bad source story, which said that an American interrogator at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. Newsweek offered a formal retraction of the May 1 story on May 16, although Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker told the Washington Post that the magazine is "still trying to ascertain" whether the Koran incident took place. Last year, four former British detainees charged in a lawsuit that Guantanamo guards threw prisoners' Korans into a toilet.

Newsweek's major mistake was to allege that the U.S. Southern Command had confirmed that an interrogator defiled the sacred Muslim text. The magazine's anonymous source -- incorrectly identified as "sources" -- later backtracked from the claim.

But while everyone admits that this was a case of sloppy journalism, take a look at what McClellan said May 17:

MCCLELLAN: The facts are very clear. This report was used in the region by people opposed to the United States to incite violence.

But are the facts that clear?

Here's what Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on May 12:

MYERS: It's the -- it's a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran -- and I'll get to that in just a minute -- but more tied up in the political process and the reconciliation process that President Karzai and his Cabinet is conducting in Afghanistan. So that's -- that was his judgment today in an after- action of that violence. He didn't -- he thought it was not at all tied to the article in the magazine.

***

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, in his on-line blog, called for McClellan's resignation.

"Newsweek’s version of this story has varied from the others over the last two years -- ones in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, and British and Russian news organizations --only in that it quoted a government source who now says he didn’t have firsthand knowledge of whether or not the investigation took place (oops, sorry, shoulda mentioned that, buh-bye)," he wrote.

Olbermann, referencing Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford, suggested: "The news organization (Newsweek) turns to the administration for a denial. The administration says nothing. The news organization runs the story. The administration jumps on the necks of the news organization with both feet -- or has its proxies do it for them. ... Ultimately, though, the administration may have effected its biggest mistake over this saga, in making the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs look like a liar or naïf, just to draw a little blood out of Newsweek’s hide."

***

And, just to prove this isn't a "liberal vs. conservative" issue, consider what conservative columnist David Brooks wrote in the May 19 edition of the New York Times.

"I click my mouse over to the transcripts of administration statements and I can't believe what I'm seeing," Brooks wrote. "We're in the middle of an ideological war against people who want to destroy us, and what have the most powerful people on earth become? Whining media bashers. They're attacking Newsweek while bending over backward to show sensitivity to the Afghans who just went on a murderous rampage."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Three Months Later, White House Press Office Has Not Released Documents on J.D. Guckert

The White House Press Office has not responded to a Feb. 10 request to turn over documents relating to the press credentials of J.D. Guckert (aka "Jeff Gannon").

The request was made by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). A copy of his letter to White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan can be found by clicking here.

Lautenberg aide Yuna Jacobson told JABBS yesterday that there have been "no new developments on the acquisition of related documents from the White House Press Office."

To use the popular parlance, I believe we have a filibuster.

Without the documents or other help from the White House Press Office, Lautenberg and other Senate Democrats can't undertake a thorough investigation into how Guckert received press credentials, which allowed him to ask questions of McClellan and in one case, President Bush.

A similar request for information, made April 25 by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) and Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), has also been ignored. Their letter can be found by clicking here.

***

Here's what we know about J.D. Guckert:

Guckert, using the pseudonym Jeff Gannon, began writing stories for Republican website GOPUSA.com on Jan. 15, 2003. By his own admission, this was his first job in journalism. GOPUSA is headed by Texas Republican activist Bobby Eberle, a Bush delegate to the 2000 Republican National Convention.

According to C-Span, Guckert began attending White House press conferences in early February, 2003, and asked his first question on Feb. 28, 2003, more than a month before Talon News was created.

McClellan told Editor & Publisher that the White House considered GOPUSA.com, and later Talon News, to be legitimate news organizations, the reason they began issuing Guckert daily press passes.

"He faxed a letter in on his [GOPUSA] letterhead, they checked that it was a Web site he worked for," McClellan explained to E&P, referring to his staffers who handled such credentialing at the time. "There was a check to make sure it was a news organization and a news Web site. There was a determination made at that point [that it was legitimate]."

But the White House apparently did not realize that Guckert was using a pseudonym for nearly two years, McClellan admitted in an article earlier this year in the New York Times.

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told E&P that he was "so concerned about Talon News reporter James Guckert's potential ties to the Republican Party that he stopped calling on him at press briefings."

"I found out that he worked for a GOP site, and I didn't think it was my place to call on him because he worked for something that was related to the party," Fleischer told E&P.

Perhaps in response to Fleischer's concern, GOPUSA created Talon News on April 1, 2003.

Guckert continued to attend White House press conferences and regularly ask loaded questions until early this year, when he when he framed a Jan. 26 question to President Bush using an "irreverant" putdown from radio host Rush Limbaugh. That question raised eyebrows among liberal media critics, who began to dig into Guckert's background and the connections between Talon News and GOPUSA.

Soon thereafter, Guckert resigned, although he remains a fixture in Washington, appearing on various pundit shows and even attending a May 12 shindig supporting embattled Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX).

***

Lautenberg made his request for documents in February, shortly after the Guckert story exploded, yet more than three months later, the White House Press Office has done nothing.

Why? Perhaps because it hopes the story will go away. Perhaps because it knows there is no plausible explanation for how a "journalist" working for a Republican website and using a pseudonym could ask questions at a White House press conference.

For context, note that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in covering the Guckert fiasco, wrote on Feb. 17: "I was rejected for a White House press pass at the start of the Bush administration." (Note: She was seeking a permanent pass, not a regular daily pass like Guckert.)

Dowd went on to write: "At first when I tried to complain about not getting my pass renewed, even though I'd been covering presidents and first ladies since 1986, no one called me back. Finally, when Mr. McClellan replaced Ari Fleischer, he said he'd renew the pass -- after a new Secret Service background check that would last several months. In an era when security concerns are paramount, what kind of Secret Service background check did James Guckert get so he could saunter into the West Wing every day under an assumed name."

***

Then there's the Valerie Plame issue.

The fact that Guckert used a pseudonym and still was able to attend White House press conferences is baffling -- the White House vetting process is supposed to prevent this from happening.

But what makes the pseudonym issue worse is the fact that Guckert has boasted about receiving classified documents related to outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. Is Guckert telling the truth? House Democrats Conyers and Slaughter have sought to have the ongoing Plame investigation include questioning of Guckert.

But if it is true, mediamatters.org suggests it raises a number of questions:

-- What specific steps is President Bush taking to ensure that his administration never again illegally hands classified documents that reveal the identity of covert operatives over to someone using a pseudonym?

-- Given that Gannon was using a pseudonym, the administration official who apparently gave him the classified documents presumably did not know his true identity -- McClellan himself claimed he only "recently" became aware that Gannon is not his real name. What are the national security implications of someone running around the halls of the White House, using an assumed identity while talking to people with security clearance about CIA operatives?

(Note: A Freedom of Information Act request by Conyers and Slaughter found that Guckert entered the White House complex 196 times in two years, and attended 155 press conferences. The same request found that Guckert was allowed access to the White House 38 times when no public press events occurred. He also spent hours in the White House both before and after press events took place. But the White House hasn't answered an April 25 request from Conyers and Slaughter regarding who Guckert met on those occasions and what was discussed.).

-- Did Gannon's misrepresentation of his identity constitute a security breach?

But again, the White House Press Office isn't talking. Three months after Lautenberg's request for documents was made, the office hasn't responded.

Sounds like a filibuster to me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Alternate Universe of Conservatives

Conservatives say Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) is the victim of a liberal witch-hunt. Oh that liberal media bias, they claim.

Consider these statements from a May 12 Washington dinner in support of DeLay, broadcast on the May 15 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

BRENT BOZELL (Media Research Center): Ladies and gentlemen, this is a media out of control in their commitment to bringing down this man.

FORMER REP. BOB LIVINGSTON, (R-LA): The leadership of the other side working in conjunction with the press has tried to pile on Tom and ruin his reputation.

But imagine the conservatives' dismay after this exchange between Meet the Press host Tim Russert, liberal Washington Post columnist David Broder, and Paul Gigot, editor of the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page:

MR. RUSSERT: David Broder, has there been a cabal between the media and the Democrats to bring him down?

BRODER: Well, of course. And I was at the meeting myself where we got our orders to do this. No. No. I mean, Tom DeLay is in trouble because of things that Tom DeLay did. And he has a lot of loyalty and a lot of support that he's earned from his fellow conservatives, but the notion that this is some kind of a press liberal conspiracy just doesn't wash.

RUSSERT: Paul Gigot, you probably have the most influential page of opinion on the conservative side in the nation in the Wall Street Journal, and you've taken a much different attitude towards Mr. DeLay and his troubles. Let's read it. "Smells Like Beltway. The problem ... is that Mr. DeLay, who rode to power in 1991 on a wave of revulsion at the everyday ways of big government, has become the living exemplar of some of its worst habits. ... Rather than buck this system as he promised to do while in the minority, Mr. DeLay has become its undisputed and unapologetic master as Majority Leader. Whether Mr. DeLay violated the small print of House Ethics or campaign finance rules is thus largely beside the point. His real fault lies in betraying the broader set of principles that brought him into office, and which, if he continues as before, sooner or later will sweep him out." I take it you weren't invited to the dinner?

GIGOT: I didn't get the phone call from the Democratic leadership either, I must say.

***

Supporters of DeLay say, Oh that liberal media bias, when it comes to DeLay. But a liberal columnist and a conservative editorial page editor essentially came to the same conclusion.

They each blame DeLay.

The thing that conservatives like Bozell and Livingston don't understand about the "liberal" media is that, like a pack of wolves, it pounces on a scandal story and doesn't let go. Conservatives think the mainstream media is guilty of "liberal media bias" -- picking on conservatives unfairly.

But they forget how the media pounced on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. They forget that the "liberal" New York Times ran a front-page story about President Clinton's choice of tie, and whether it was sending a coded message to Lewinsky. They forget how the mainstream media pedded stories such as "Gore claimed to 'invent the Internet'" and "Gore lied about being the role model for Love Story," allowing conservative spin lines to replace the truth.

When it comes to DeLay, it's easy for conservatives like Bozell and Livingston to blame the media, because they can't accept the mountain of evidence -- receipts, canceled checks, etc. -- that have led to numerous bouts with the House Ethics Committee. Conservatives want to pretend it's all liberals and the "liberal" medai, forgetting the battles between DeLay and fellow Republicans, such as Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO).

Let's face it. Blaming the "liberal" media is a rallying call for conservatives like Bozell and Livingston. It motivates people to attend dinners for DeLay, such as the one on May 12, where patrons were served "filet mignon and salmon, topped off by frosted marble cake with chocolate hammers" -- a reference to DeLay's nickname. It raises money for defense funds. It keeps people angry.

***

One other note about the May 12 dinner: Among those in attendance was J.D. Guckert (aka Jeff Gannon), the one-time "conservative journalist" for Talon News.

The funny thing is, Guckert is no longer a journalist. He resigned from his post in February, after other journalists determined that Talon News was a phony media company (Gannon asked his first question of then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer over a month before Talon News was created as a front by Republican website GOPUSA.com), that Guckert had somehow used a pseudonym to gain access to the White House, and, by his own admission, had access to classified documents that named Valerie Plame as a C.I.A. operative.

Now, I understand that conservatives defend Guckert. And maybe that's why he was invited to the dinner, in which a fellow Texan was being honored. But doesn't it also suggest that conservative bigwigs know that Guckert was never a "journalist?"

To be sure, this isn't the first time that Guckert has been invited to a big conservative shindig. By his own admission, Guckert was also invited to the White House media Christmas parties in 2003 and 2004.

Monday, May 16, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

During its May 11 coverage of a small plane coming within three miles of Capitol Hill, Fox News Channel ran a "Fox News Alert" banner, which included the following messages*:

-- "White House and Capitol evacuated"
-- "U.S fighter jets over White House"
-- "Capitol Building evacuation ordered"
-- "Fighter jets tracking small plane 3 miles from Capitol"
-- "RNC headquarters evacuated"

The fifth alert item, about the Republican National Committee headquarters, is interesting. Seems the "Fair and Balanced" network failed to note that the Democratic National Committee headquarters was also evacuated.


* With thanks to mediamatters.org

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Alternate Universe of Chris Matthews

Is Chris Matthews a liberal? Conservatives say, "Look at his resume," and point with glee at his work with Tip O'Neill and Jimmy Carter.

But JABBS readers know better. They know that what really matters is what comes out of Matthews' mouth night-in and night-out. (Click here to read JABBS' five-part series.)

People who believe Matthews is a liberal also believe Ann Coulter "is more likely to offer jokes than fury," J.D. Guckert is a legitimate journalist, and George W. Bush is a "progressive" on the environment.

For if Chris Matthews was such a liberal, why would he rant about Sen. Hillary Clinton's possible guilt by association with regard to a crooked fund-raiser, when the trial judge, and even the case's prosecutor, had made it clear that she was completely innocent.

When it comes to former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Clinton (D-NY), guilt-by-association is a hallmark of the loony right -- the forces who in the 1990s, with money from loony right billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, undertook the "Arkansas Project," to go after every half-baked rumor about the Clintons. Guilt-by-association was what fueled numerous books by the loony right -- books based on rumors and half-truths which upon further investigation proved false, no matter how many times Gary Aldrich, Carl Limbacher or R. Emmet Tyrell Jr., bring them up.

***

Before the fund-raiser, David F. Rosen, went on trial, prosecutor Peter R. Zeidenberg exonerated Clinton. "You will hear no evidence that Hillary Clinton was involved in any way, shape or form," he told the jury in Federal District Court.

U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz said: "This isn't a trial about Senator Clinton. Senator Clinton has no stake in this trial as a party or a principal."

Zeidenberg said Rosen tried to keep Clinton's campaign from discovering how much money was donated to cover the costs of the August 2000 star-studded event at the heart of this criminal case. The reason: Rosen was afraid he would be fired.

Rosen is facing three counts of causing false statements to be filed to the Federal Election Commission, all involving the costs of the gala, a concert and dinner with President and Mrs. Clinton.

***

The court case began on May 11, but "insiders" like Matthews should have known in advance -- it wasn't a secret -- that the prosecution was not going after Sen. Clinton.

But that didn't stop Matthews from doing his best Sean Hannity imitation on May 10, throwing out lots of -- for lack of a better term -- conservative spin on the pending trial.

Matthews spoke with Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley and Time contributing editor Margaret Carlson. We have to assume, yet again, that Matthews was uninterested in having a representative of the liberal press -- someone from the Nation, for example -- as part of the discussion. What would have made sense, of course, would be to have Blankley up against Joe Conason or Gene Lyons, each of which have written books about right-wing attacks against the Clintons.

In what world is Matthews considered a liberal? Conservatives look at Matthews' resume and declare him a liberal, forgetting that he once said on the air that he "hated" Hillary Clinton, or that he once told Trent Lott, again on air, that Lott was representative of his audience.

Matthews made it clear how he felt from the start:

MATTHEWS: It‘s a long way from here to 2008 and Hillary running for president, having a major investigation of a fund-raiser where it looks like somebody gave her an extra $800,000 secretly. And, sure, her claim is that she didn‘t know about it. And this guy is on trial for knowing about it. Where does it put her?

Scoff, scoff. The "liberal" has spoken, right conservatives?

Amazingly, Blankley offered an out for Clinton, only to have Matthews raise that guilt-by-association cloud again:

BLANKLEY: But it would amaze — it would amaze me if Hillary personally got on the phone and transacted any of these deals or if she personally e-mailed any comments about the $800,000. Whatever this town may suspect, because she‘s a micromanager, she might know, I would be amazed if there‘s any evidence directly. And, at the worst, it would be her word against Rosen‘s. And tie goes to the big shot.

MATTHEWS: So, it‘s not—you‘re saying—and I‘m asking this open-mindedly—it‘s unfair to suspect that, when she goes to a fund-raiser that costs over $1 million to put on, to think it was done for well less than half than that? She could reasonably assume it was just an economy evening?

BLANKLEY: Well, look, what you can reasonably assume. The point is, in law, you have to have evidence. I would be amazed if there‘s any evidence. Therefore, politically, I don‘t think this is a big deal. Now, if there‘s evidence, that‘s another matter.

MATTHEWS: Well, why does Tom DeLay get in trouble because somebody used the wrong credit card on some trip he went on and he wasn‘t aware of whose credit card paid for the trip?

BLANKLEY: As you understand, that‘s the way—that‘s the way this town works. A conservative Republican is going to get it from the media. And a Hillary is not. We know that.

MATTHEWS: You really mean it‘s that bad?

BLANKLEY: I really mean that. Yes.

***

Yes, Matthews sure is a "liberal." After Blankley, the conservative, twice offers that Clinton is innocent, Matthews segues into another Hannity trick: comparing apples to oranges.

Is it fair to compare a Clinton fund-raiser to the actions of Rep. DeLay (R-TX)? Of course not.

Did someone "use the wrong credit card"? That would suggest an innocent action by DeLay. In fact, according to an April 24 story in the Washington Post, DeLay's airfare for trips to England and Scotland in 2000 was charged to an American Express card issued to Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist at the center of a federal criminal and tax probe.

DeLay's expenses during the same trip for food, phone calls and other items at a golf course hotel in Scotland were billed to a different credit card also used on the trip by a second registered Washington lobbyist, Edwin A. Buckham, according to receipts documenting that portion of the trip.

House ethics rules bar lawmakers from accepting travel and related expenses from registered lobbyists. DeLay has said that his expenses on this trip were paid by a nonprofit organization and that the financial arrangements for it were proper. But the evidence suggests DeLay was lying.

Is that the equivalent of Clinton's situation, where she has been exonerated by the trial judge and the prosecutor? Or course not. And certainly Matthews, the "liberal" and Washington insider, knew that. But that doesn't stop him from throwing out a conservative spin line to the masses.

***

One other line caught my eye as complete conservative spin.

BLANKLEY: Scandals about Hillary doesn‘t grab the media the way scandals about DeLay grab the...

Amazingly, Carlson didn't come to Clinton's defense. I wonder how that jells with the conservative belief that Time is a liberal publication, even after it made Coulter a cover-girl.

CARLSON: Oh, no. I think scandals about Hillary really grab the media. I just think it‘s — when it is campaign finance reform, it doesn‘t work as well as a trip on a golf course.

***

The idea that Tom DeLay has received more media attention than Hillary Clinton is another conservative spin line. To assume that, one has to buy into the whole concept of "liberal media bias" among the mainstream press.

The truth is, DeLay has been subject to multiple Congressional investigations -- led by both Democrats and Republicans -- having been charged with alllowng lobbyists pay for travel expenses, funnelling money from political action committees to his wife and daughter, having corporations donate to his campaign, and a host of other charges.

Those who suggest DeLay has been a victim of Democratic witch hunts probably haven't talked with Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), who the Republican leadership had removed from the House Ethics Committee earlier this year because Hefley wasn't willing to overlook DeLay's various charges.

Clinton has been subject to multiple witch-hunts, including the "Arkansas Project" and mutliple "Whitewater" investigations -- all of which have found the Clintons innocent. The loony right rumored she was responsible for "murdering" White House attorney Vince Foster, even after his 1993 death was ruled a suicide via several investigations, including one conducted by Kenneth Starr.

But the "poor Tom DeLay" line dovetails nicely with the conservative myth of "liberal media bias," and the conservative dream that Hillary Clinton will be found guilty of something.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Senate Commerce Committee Hears Testimony on Propaganda Disclosure Legislation

The Senate Commerce Committee today heard testimony on proposed legislation that would require disclosure of government propaganda.

As reported earlier this week by JABBS), the "Truth in Broadcasting Act," authored by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John Kerry (D-MA), would establish permanent federal law that video news releases (VNRs) and other prepackaged propaganda would include a disclaimer that would run continuously throughout the pieces.

Today's hearing included comments from Jonathan S. Adelstein, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, Susan Poling, managing associate general counsel of the Government Accountability Office, Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, and Judith Turner Phair, president and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America.

Everyone seemed to agree the Bush administration was wrong to send out unidentified VNRs to local news stations. The only difference of opinion was how to deal with such propaganda -- government regulation or self-regulation?

"The issue of concern with pre-packaged news stories is that, absent proper disclosure, listeners and viewers may believe that these stories are produced by bona fide news organizations, rather than third-parties who may have a vested interest in the content of the story," said Adelstein. "The seriousness with which this committee is treating this matter is entirely consistent with the historical concern of the committee and Congress as a whole."

Adelstein said that pre-packaged news stories -- VNRs -- are attractive to busy newsrooms that are "trying to fill longer news windows with fewer journalistic resources."

Dating back to the Radio Act of 1927, Congress has required that radio and television broadcasters disclose when programming is sponsored, and the identity of that sponsor.

"As a result, for over sixty years, our rules have required a disclosure to be made, in the case of controversial issue or political programming," Adelstein said.

***

VNRs have recently been in the news, with questions arising about the appropriateness of the Bush administration using pre-packaged news without clear disclosure of the government's role in creating the VNRs.

The Justice Department (for) and the GAO (against) reached different legal conclusions regarding the use of pre-packaged news without proper disclosure. Adelstein said the FCC has no jurisdiction regarding propaganda laws, and therefor has taken no position on it.

But Adelstein reiterated the FCC's on-going policy regarding disclosure, and said the Lautenberg/Kerry legislation "would be an effective complement to our existing sponsorship identification rules."

***

Poling provided the reasoning behind the GAO's conclusion earlier this year that the Bush administration was using VNRs as "covert propaganda."

"The target audience -- the viewing public -- was unaware that the material was produced by the government," Poling said. "The story packages were clearly designed to be aired exactly as the agency produced them and were intended to resemble traditional news stories. They were narrated by government contract personnel who portrayed reporters and included suggested anchor lead-in scripts, announcing it as a news story by the purported reporter, which facilitated the unaltered use of the story package."

In the GAO's opinion, "the story packages contained no statement or other reference to alert television viewers to the fact that the agency was the source of the purported news story," she said. "These characteristics may lead viewers to believe, wrongly, that the piece was an actual news story produced by the local television station and narrated by a real reporter. Therefore, we concluded that the prepackaged news stories constituted covert propaganda."

***

Cochran, of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, suggested the industry should not be punished for the "mistakes of the few," and favored allowing the industry to regulate itself, within the framework of the association's disclosure guidelines.

Also siding against the legislation was Phair, of the Public Relations Society of America. Like Cochran, Phair agreed with the need for disclosure, but disagreed with the legislation's provision that VNRs be identified with a disclaimer that would run continuously throughout the piece.

"Disclosure to the public is ultimately the responsibility of broadcasters," Phair said, offering a comment reminiscent of one made by President Bush last month.

Another Paid Propagandist for Bush?

It's hard to believe, but another paid Bush propagandist has been discovered.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the Agriculture Department, paid freelance writer Dave Smith at least $7,500 in 2003 to write articles for hunting and fishing magazines describing the benefits of an expanding program that oversees wildlife habitat and the environment. Three articles were published, but only one identified Smith as being as working for the conservation service.

The information was discovered in documents obtained by the Washington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The drip, drip, drip of propaganda continues from this administration. Rather than coming clean and admitting all of their paid propagandists, the administration gets embarrassed over and over again.

Smith is the fourth "journalist" to be exposed as a result of media scrutiny. (To read about other paid Bush propagandists, click here).

In January, President Bush spoke out against the practice of hiring such "journalists," admitting his administation had been wrong. "Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet," he said at a news conference.

At that time, JABBS asked why, given the president's statement, the administration couldn't come clean and reveal all payments to all "journalists." More than three months later, the question remains.

***

Smith wrote five articles, but got only three published before joining the conservatiion service as a biologist in its Missoula, MT, office.

David Gagner, the conservation service's chief of staff, said no one on the service's communications staff was capable of spreading the word about the expanding program.

Makes you wonder who does the hiring at the Agriculture Department.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Six Months After The Election, Ridge Admits Terror Threat Level Raised Unnecessarily

Former Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge told Washington reporters yesterday that he often argued with administration officials about the need to put the U.S. on high alert for terrorist attacks.

Ridge, who resigned Feb. 1, was quoted by USA Today saying he wanted to "debunk the myth" that his agency was responsible for repeatedly raising the alert under a color-coded system he unveiled in 2002.

"More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it," Ridge was quoted by USA Today. "Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don't necessarily put the country on (alert). ... There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, 'For that?' "

***

Now he tells us. A lot of good it does Americans ... six months after the presidential election.

According to USA Today, Ridge said he was often over-ruled on decisions regarding the terror alert system. Given his public clashes with former Attorney General John Ashcroft, one has to assume that it was Ashcroft who over-ruled him (and subsequently took the lead role in press conferences.)

It raises a lot questions, such as: Why didn't Ridge have final say over what was, essentially, a homeland security decision?

***

So was raising the terror threat level purely political strategy -- an effort to scare the American people into re-electing President Bush? There's certainly anecdotal evidence pointing critics in that direction.

You need to check out this chart. which suggests alerts came after drops in Bush's approval ratings. The alerts become more frequent as the election grows near.

Ashcroft was, of course, king of the "well-timed" press conference. He paraded out names of terror suspects who had been in custody for months -- such as the nut who said he wanted to blow up an Ohio mall. Ashcroft also had a tendency to talk up the arrests of those with Arab or otherwise foreign-sounding names, while not publicizing other arrests, such as those involving fringe right anti-government terror threats.

Even then, critics could see that the press conferences were often based on flimsy intelligence. Last June, for example, Ashcroft claimed that “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that Al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States” between then and the November election? The "credible intelligence," it was later learned, came from Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, who among other things, took credit for the blackout in the Northeast in 2003.

But Ridge -- the same Ridge protesting now -- was often standing by Ashcroft's side during those bogus press conferences and, if you believe Ridge, questionable announcements to raise the terror threat level.

***

Unfortunately, USA Today's short article doesn't go into much depth -- no one else is quoted, for example. The only other article I could find on the forum was an even shorter piece in the Washington Post, and that doesn't even mention Ridge's comments on disagreements in the intelligence community. (A variation of that story, in which Ridge defends the color-coded terror alert chart, appeared in other newspapers, such as Newsday.)

So much for "liberal media bias," huh?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

"At two hearings of the House Homeland Security Committee last month, Rep. John Linder (R-GA) blasted federal spending that focuses on 'looking for toenail clippers and box cutters.'

'It is my view that no airplane will ever hit a commercial building - which is the only value [terrorists] have in taking out large numbers of people,' he said at an April 27 hearing. He added that 'passengers won't allow that to happen.'

'And if an airline is blown up in the air, that is a very bad circumstance for 200 or 300 people, but it is not a catastrophe,' Linder said. He made similar remarks April 13 to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff."

-- New York Daily News, May 4, 2005


(Note: Linder spokeswoman Gretchen Learman later acknowledged to the Daily News that Linder's comments were insensitive.)

Former Bush EPA Chief to Lobby for Questionable Chemical Company

Christine Todd Whitman, much criticized during her tenure as President Bush's head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is now going to lobby on behalf of a chemical company that has been subject to multiple EPA enforcement actions.

In a way, it's ironic. When Whitman spun for Bush, she was criticized for favoring corporate interests over individual interests, most notably with regard to air quality in Lower Manhattan following the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Both during her term as EPA chief and after leaving her post in 2003, Whitman has talked a good game -- spinning herself as a different kind of Republican. But now, given a chance to follow up on that post-administration promise, Whitman plans to spin ... for a corporate interest.
Whitman's first client is FMC Corp., a chemical company negotiating with the EPA over the cleanup of arsenic-contaminated soil at a factory near Buffalo, N.Y. Joining Whitman at her new firm is her chief of staff at the EPA, Eileen McGinnis, and Jane Kenny, an EPA administrator under Whitman.

Based in Philadelphia, FMC makes chemicals and pesticides around the world, generating revenues of about $2 billion a year. It is responsible for 136 Superfund sites across the country and has been subject to 47 EPA enforcement actions, according to the EPA. During the past seven years, it has spent more than $16.5 million on lobbying, mostly for environmental and Superfund issues, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Eric Schaeffer, who worked under Whitman as director of EPA's office of regulatory enforcement, told the Newark Star-Ledger: "It's discouraging to see top officials move so quickly to the corporate side ... to nip at the heels of rules they just wrote."

***

Why is not surprising that Whitman would lobby on behalf of a chemical company with a questionable past?

Schaeffer, who resigned from his post in 2002, told the Star-Ledger that under Whitman, "there was too much inside corporate access to the EPA."

***

Whitman once suggested Bush was a "progressive" on the environment. But according to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Bush administration oversaw more than 430 major environmental rollbacks.

"This administration has simply stopped enforcing the law—or rewritten the laws to accommodate polluters," Kennedy told Outside magazine during a November, 2004, "debate" with Whitman.

Whitman's response didn't contradict Kennedy's assessment on environmental rollbacks. Instead, she offered this from Bush's industry-friendly playbook: "We need to recognize that, while enforcement is important, we're beginning to get an environmental ethic in this country now. People are expecting good environmental behavior from the major companies."

That comment essentially repeated the Republican spin she gave in a 2003 interview with Gannett News Service. Discussing working with the business community, she said: "It's recognizing that if you let the private sector have a little flexibility in reaching the (clean air and water) goals, they'll probably get there faster."

It's a statement that makes Republican donors happy, but has never been supported by facts. No industry study has agreed with the Bush assessment that industry moves faster when facing voluntary, rather than government standards.

***

No matter how great her prowess as a lobbyist, nothing Whitman does now will compare to the spinning she did after the collapse of the World Trade Center.

On Sept. 18, 2001, Whitman issued this statement:

"Given the scope of the tragedy from last week, I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C., that their air is safe to breath[e] and their water is safe to drink," Whitman wrote. "We are very encouraged that the results from our monitoring of air quality and drinking water conditions in both New York and near the Pentagon show that the public in these areas is not being exposed to excessive levels of asbestos or other harmful substances."

But according to a 2003 report issued by the EPA's Office of Inspector General, EPA's Response to the World Trade Center Collapse: Challenges, Successes and Areas for Improvement: "(EPA) was not able to make health risk evaluations for exposures in the first couple of days because of the lack of monitoring data. For several pollutants of concern, sampling did not begin until September 16, and in many cases the results were not known until after the September 18 press release was issued."

EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley suggested in a 2003 interview with Lisa Myers of NBC News that the Whitman statements showed more interest in calming financial markets than accurately relating health risks:

MYERS: Was it misleading for EPA to tell the people of New York that their air was safe to breathe when they didn't have all the tests in yet?

TINSLEY: Yes. We think that people rely on EPA to give it accurate, complete information about environmental and human health aspects of its program.

MYERS: Do you have any idea why these press releases were made more optimistic and less cautionary?

TINSLEY: EPA’s chief of staff at the time we did our work (McGinnis) said that her opinion was that it was important to get workers back to work and to have a positive impact on Wall Street. And that was what influenced the collaborative process.

MYERS: So eagerness to get workers back on Wall Street took precedence over giving complete environmental information?

TINSLEY: That would be what I would infer from the information that we received from the EPA employees.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Senate Hearing Thursday to Discuss Propaganda Disclosure Act

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the proposed Truth in Broadcasting Act -- legislation that would require the Bush administration to disclose itself as the source of propaganda, such as "video news releases" (VNRs) and other prepackaged news stories.

The legislation, authored by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John Kerry (D-MA) would establish permanent federal law that government VNRs and other prepackaged news would include a disclaimer that would run continuously throughout the piece

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has ruled that the administration's use of "prepackaged news stories" was illegal "covert propaganda" because the government's role was not disclosed to viewers. But on March 11, two administration officials -- Joshua B. Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Steven G. Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department -- said in memos that it was ok for federal agencies to feed TV stations prepackaged news stories that do not disclose the government's role .

President Bush has offered three different opinions on the administration's use of propaganda, most recently suggesting that rather than the government disclosing itself as the author of propaganda, "it's incumbent upon people who use them to say, this news clip was produced by the federal government."

"Our government should not be in the business of fooling the public with fake news stories," Lautenberg said in a statement last week. "If President Bush wants to promote his views, he can do that, but he should not hide behind fake reporters to get his message out. The President already has the 'Bully Pulpit' -- he shouldn't need to use puppets pretending to be reporters."

The committee hearing can be watched via webcast.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Former CIA Agent's First-Hand Account of Tora Bora Suggests Kerry Was Right Last Year. Bush Was Not.

On this morning's edition of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert interviewed Gary Schroen, a CIA officer for 32 years and author of "First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan."

Schroen provided a first-hand account of the U.S. efforts to capture Osama bin Laden in December of 2001, at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. That account suggests that statements made during last year's presidential campaign by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) were accurate, and statements by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and General Tommy Franks were inaccurate.

Here's a transcript:

RUSSERT: In December of 2001, the battle of Tora Bora. This is what you write. "In early 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the battle of Tora Bora and the subsequent escape of Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahari, CIA and specially trained U.S. military Special Operations units began to organize teams in the provincial areas east and south of Kabul, along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan."

You have no doubt that bin Laden escaped at Tora Bora?

SCHROEN: No doubt at all. When the first film -- videotape that was made -- that he made afterwards shows him that he was holding his left side and was probably wounded there in the battle, but every bit of information we had at the time indicated that he had escaped and moved into the Waziristan area which is south of Peshawar.

RUSSERT: How did he get away?

SCHROEN: We had done -- followed the same lead we had taken since September of '01 in defeating the Taliban. We were attacking with U.S. military forces against the al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, and we hired local tribal leaders to guard the escape routes into Pakistan. Unfortunately, many of those people proved to be loyal to bin Laden and sympathizers with the Taliban and they allowed the key guys to escape.

RUSSERT: In the heat of the presidential campaign in 2004, John Kerry as part of his stump speech in effect would say things like this. Let's watch.

(Videotape, October 30, 2004):

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA): As I have said for two years now, when Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda were cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, it was wrong to outsource the job of capturing them to Afghan warlords who a week earlier were fighting against us.

(End videotape)

RUSSERT: Should we have had more U.S. troops in Afghanistan circling Tora Bora to prevent his escape?

SCHROEN: In hindsight that would have been ideal. We fought a special operations war. It was CIA and Army Green Berets on the ground directing the bombing campaign. It was only late in the campaign that U.S. ground forces came in, and the evolution, I think, simply we didn't take it far enough. If we'd have had one more battle after Tora Bora, we probably would have gotten it right.

RUSSERT: Again, in October of 2004, in the presidential campaign, after John Kerry made those charges, General Tommy Franks offered this observation. "We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. ... Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp."

You just disagree with that?

SCHROEN: I absolutely do, yes.

RUSSERT: And President Bush and Vice President Cheney all quoted General Franks, saying: "We don't know if bin Laden was at Tora Bora." You have no doubt.

SCHROEN: I have no doubt that he was there.

***

As last year's election grew close, Kerry apparently felt he was getting traction with his charges about "outsourcing" in Tora Bora. The Bush-Cheney '04 reaction was to incorrectly label Kerry a flip-flopper. Sadly, some news reporters (and the entire conservative wing of the blogosphere) bought the GOP spin line.

The basis of the alleged flip-flop came from a Kerry appearance on CNN's Larry King Live, on Dec. 14, 2004, just days after the battle of Tora Bora, and three days before it was known that the U.S. had "outsourced" the effort.

Kerry was answering a call-in question from a viewer: "Why they don't use napalm or flamethrowers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan."

KERRY: "Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way."

But when Bush spoke in October 25, 2004, he shortened Kerry's statement and failed to note its context, saying:

BUSH: (O)n national TV, he said this about Tora Bora: "I think we've been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way."

CNN's John King and NBC's David Gregory, in separate reports on Oct. 25, each reported on Bush's charge of a Kerry flip-flop, and each quoted the president, but neither bothered to relate that Bush took Kerry's quotes out of context.

King said: "President Bush today in his speech is quoting something very different Senator Kerry said back in the fall of 2001." But then he repeated Bush's quotation of Kerry, apparently failing to view the entire interview to see if the quote was taken out of context.

Gregory noted: "Today, the Bush campaign tracked down an interview Kerry gave at the time, praising the effort to find bin Laden at Tora Bora." But it would appear Gregory never bothered to review the interview himself.

***

The irony of Russert's interview today is that he, too, was guilty of buying into GOP spin and charging Kerry with being a flip-flopper on Tora Bora). Kerry is still waiting for a correction from Russert.

On the Oct. 31, 2004 edition of Meet the Press -- two days before the election, but six days after Bush had taken Kerry's comments out of context -- Russert, grilling former Senator Bob Kerrey, brought up the "Tora Bora flip-flop":

RUSSERT: In December of '01, Senator, John Kerry was on CNN after Tora Bora. He was being asked about this [bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora]. He said, “I think our guys are doing a superb job. I think they've been smart. I think the administration leadership has done it well. We're on the right track.” Why the change? Politics?

Unsatisfied with Kerrey's defense of Kerry -- did Russert actually expect Bob Kerrey to be able to reference a three-year-old interview by John Kerry? -- Russert repeated the incorrect charge:

RUSSERT: But it was after Tora Bora and he seemed to be praising them back then and now he’s ...

***

Stereotypes, unfortunately, can sometimes dictate news coverage. The mainstream media bought into the "Kerry is a flip-flopper" line in 2004, just as easily as it had bought into the "Gore is a liar," smear campaign of 2000. But in regard to Tora Bora, it seems the mainstream media never seriously considered the possibility that "Bush is a liar."

The Alternate Universe of Conservatives

WHAT THE PRESIDENT SAYS

"Torture is never acceptable ... nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture."

-- President Bush, quoted in the New York Times, January 27, 2005

WHAT CONGRESS SAYS

“The policy of the United States not to expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the United States.”

-- Section 2242 of the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act, 1998

"Makes the statutory restriction on removing an alien to a country where the alien's life or freedom would be threatened inapplicable to those aliens who have engaged in, or are likely to engage in, certain terrorist activity."

-- Section 3031 of the 9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act, 2004

"The Administration strongly opposes section 3032 of the bill. The Administration remains committed to upholding the United States’ obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Consistent with that treaty, the United States does not expel, return, or extradite individuals to countries where the United States believes it is more likely than not they will be tortured."

-- White House statement on the act, October 7, 2004

"Replaces section 3032 by substituting language providing that aliens who are barred from restriction on removal and who are ordered removed can be detained pending removal, in the Secretary of Homeland Security's nonreviewable discretion. The replacement language also requires the Secretary of State to ensure the protection of an alien barred from restriction on removal, who has been ordered removed but otherwise given protection under the immigration law, prior to that alien's removal."

-- Notes on House/Senate compromise of bill, signed into law December 17, 2004

No changes were made to the provision in section 3031.

WHAT THE MEDIA SAYS

"Basically, the National Security Council gave us the mission, take down these cells, dismantle them and take people off the streets so they can't kill Americans. They just didn't give us anywhere to take the people after we captured."

-- Michael Scheuer, former CIA official under the Bush administration, speaking to CBS' 60 Minutes about deportation of terror suspects to Egypt and Jordan

"(T)here is growing evidence that the United States has sent terror suspects to Uzbekistan for detention and interrogation, even as Uzbekistan's treatment of its own prisoners continues to earn it admonishments from around the world, including from the State Department.

Seven months before Sept. 11, 2001, the State Department issued a human-rights report on Uzbekistan. It was a litany of horrors. The police repeatedly tortured prisoners, State Department officials wrote, noting that the most common techniques were 'beating, often with blunt weapons, and asphyxiation with a gas mask.'

Separately, international human-rights groups had reported that torture in Uzbek jails included boiling of body parts, using electroshock on genitals and plucking off fingernails and toenails with pliers. Two prisoners were boiled to death, the groups reported. "

-- Seattle Times, May 1, 2005

"Rendition was originally carried out on a limited basis, but after September 11th, when President Bush declared a global war on terrorism, the program expanded beyond recognition—becoming, according to a former C.I.A. official, 'an abomination.' What began as a program aimed at a small, discrete set of suspects — people against whom there were outstanding foreign arrest warrants — came to include a wide and ill-defined population that the Administration terms 'illegal enemy combatants.' Many of them have never been publicly charged with any crime. Scott Horton, an expert on international law who helped prepare a report on renditions issued by N.Y.U. Law School and the New York City Bar Association, estimates that a hundred and fifty people have been rendered since 2001. Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, said that a more precise number was impossible to obtain. 'I’ve asked people at the C.I.A. for numbers,' he said. 'They refuse to answer. All they will say is that they’re in compliance with the law.'"

-- New Yorker magazine, February 14, 2005

WHAT JABBS SAYS

Somebody is lying.

Friday, May 06, 2005

When Is Political Humor Not Funny? When It's (Wrongly) Taken Seriously

Political humor is essentially criticism with entertainment. But when humorous lines are presented in a serious context, something's wrong.

Yet on two occasions this year, members of the conservative "media" have done just that -- taken what was originally a joke or putdown, and used it in a serious context. Perhaps these "media" types -- radio host Janet Parshall and the infamous J.D. Guckert (aka Jeff Gannon) -- didn't check the context of the original statements, or perhaps they were so desperate for damning material that they didn't care. Neither has apparently apologized, although some conservative blogs who made similar mistakes have offered corrections.

***

Parshall, on the May 2 edition of Janet Parshall's America, falsely accused Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) of promoting herself as an evangelical Christian. But as first reported by mediamatters.org, the source of Parshall's accusation was a humorous column by Rob Long on National Review Online, in which Long "quoted" a fake bulletin from a fictitious church.

PARSHALL: "Hillary's already calling herself an evangelistic -- evangelical Christian. And last time around, she was Jewish. So before it's all said and done, she will be an evangelical Jewish Muslim. Trust me."

What Long's Nov. 16, 2004 column: "As you know, I consider myself an evangelical Christian, really a Christian conservative, if you want to know the truth, so it's nice to be 'home' again in the South, which I really consider my quote-unquote home even though I live in New York most of the time. Well, Washington, D.C., most of the time, actually, but if I'm not there I'm in New York, of course, but always thinking about being here, in the South, my spiritual home, where I shared so many wonderful evangelical ... moments and ... events. Can you read that back to me?"

After Long's piece appeared, several conservative blogs posted the fake Clinton quotes as real. Some, like Blogs for Bush, issued corrections.

But Parshall, who claims to reach 3.5 million listeners each week, has yet to correct her misuse of humorous material.

***

Gannon, the discredited fake "journalist" who turned out to be a paid operative of the Texas GOP, brought widespread attention to himself in January when he framed a question to President Bush using an "irreverant" putdown from radio host Rush Limbaugh.

At a Jan. 26 press conference, Gannon asked: "Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy: Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and [Senator] Hillary Clinton [D-NY] was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there's no crisis there. You've said you're going to reach out to these people. How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"

Reid, of course, never made a reference to soup lines. As Limbaugh said that day, "Uh, Harry Reid never said 'soup lines.' ... (H)is question ... is a repeat, a rehash, of a precise point I made on this program yesterday."

The sad thing is that, although Guckert was roundly criticized for this -- the question led many media critics to look into Guckert and his employer, Talon News -- Limbaugh was flattered my Guckert's mistake, because it meant he was listening to his show.

"I'm not upset by this, folks. I'm honored. I'm thrilled," said Limbaugh.

***

Then there's Ann Coulter, who thinks people take her statements too seriously.

In Time magazine's flattering April 25 cover story on the conservative pundit, reporter John Cloud makes several similar points about Coulter:

-- "Coulter's speech was part right-wing stand-up routine."

-- Quoting her friend, Miguel Estrada, saying: "Most of the time, people miss her humor and satire and take her way too literally."

-- "[I]n person, Coulter is more likely to offer jokes than fury."

One of the reasons Cloud, and Time, were so heavily criticized is that it's easy to say something was meant to be funny after the fact. When former Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization" a year ago, people took him seriously. A day later, he told the Associated Press: "I was making what I now know was a bad joke; it was a poor choice of words." On his radio show, Michael Savage sounds serious enough when he calls Muslims "bomb-tossers," but in interviews after the fact suggests this is an example of his "wit."

When Cloud provides the excuse that Coulter should not be taken so seriously by liberals, it opens the door for questioning everything she says. Since she doesn't preface comments by announcing them as humorous, what can we make of her outragous statements.

For example, was Coulter being funny when, in her book Slander, she wrote: "After Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion contrary to the clearly expressed position of the New York Times editorial page, the Times responded with an editorial on Thomas titled 'The Youngest, Cruelest Justice.' That was actually the headline on a lead editorial in the Newspaper of Record. Thomas is not engaged on the substance of his judicial philosophy. He is called 'a colored lawn jockey for conservative white interests,' 'race traitor,' 'black snake,' 'chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom,' 'house Negro' and 'handkerchief head,' 'Benedict Arnold' and 'Judas Iscariot.'"

The paragraph makes it sound as though the New York Times was guilty of some horrible name-calling. But the Times never said any of those things. Was Coulter being funny? Or was she just being a bad "conservative journalist"?

As exhaustively researched by dailyhowler.com:

Who actually called Thomas a “house Negro?” Royce Esters, little-known head of the Compton, California, NAACP, in 1991 (quoted in Emerge).

Who actually called Thomas “a colored lawn jockey for conservative white interests?” The Manchester Union-Leader attributed that insult to the (unnamed) head of the Maryland NAACP in early 1997. So did Perry Morgan, in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

Who actually called Thomas a "chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom," and a “handkerchief head?” Spike Lee, 1991, quoted in U.S. News & World Report. “I think Malcolm X, if he were alive today, would call Thomas a handkerchief head, a chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom."

Who actually called Thomas a “black snake?” The claim has often been attributed to Thurgood Marshall, derived from the 1991 press conference at which the aging Marshall announced his retirement. He doesn't mention Thomas by name, but the conventional wisdom was that he was referring to Thomas, who was expected to be nominated.

MARSHALL: I mean for picking the wrong Negro and saying, "I'm picking him because he is a Negro." I am opposed to that. My dad told me way back that you can't use race. For example, there's no difference between a white snake and black snake; they'll both bite.

Who actually called Thomas a “race traitor?” In 1998, Thomas was called a “race traitor” by James Albrook in the New Pittsburgh Courier.

***

Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Lewis Black, George Carlin ... you know what you are getting when you listen to these people.

But Janet Parshall and J.D. Guckert never recognized that they were quoting "humorous" statements out of context. And what are Coulter and Savage's listeners and readers to do? Should we take everything these conservative pundits say with a grain of salt? Assume every outrageous statement is meant as humorous?

With all these context questions, none of them are doing us any favors.

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