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Saturday, December 01, 2007


The Washington Post and "he-said, he-said" journalism

Most of you have no doubt heard the basic story. Here's the lead paragraph from today's Washington Post:
Former White House aide Karl Rove said yesterday it was Congress, not President Bush, who wanted to rush a vote on the looming war in Iraq in the fall of 2002, a version of events disputed by leading congressional Democrats and even some former Rove colleagues.
Immediately, the Post wants us to forget the idea that there is some actual truth; no, it's just one guy says one thing, some other guys say something else. Actually, it's even more than that, since the "guys" are almost always (and are always in this particular story) Republicans and Democrats. The idea that an Independent, or a non-political professor, or a journalist, or someone who doesn't have a horse in the race, might have something to say, is simply out of bounds. It's like journalists feel constrained by the American judicial system, which is based on the premise that the truth is best arrived at by two adversaries arguing opposite poles of a case, rather than an independent attempt to discern the truth.

Not until the eighth paragraph of the article do we finally read this:

News accounts and transcripts at the time show Bush arguing against delay. Asked on Sept. 13, 2002, about Democrats who did not want to vote until after the U.N. Security Council acted, Bush said, "If I were running for office, I'm not sure how I'd explain to the American people -- say, 'Vote for me, and, oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I'm going to wait for somebody else to act.'"
So really all the extraneous stuff about what one or another Democrat or Republican have to say today is completely irrelevant - we know what the truth is, and we know Rove was simply lying (and not, as Andrew Card tried to excuse him, simply "getting his mouth ahead of his brain," since he was talking about something that's in a book he's written, a point which, by the way, the Post omits). This could have been a one paragraph article: "Karl Rove said this. The truth is this."

Not that I want to defend Democrats, who, while they weren't the initial instigators of the invasion of Iraq, were certainly part of parcel of its genesis and implementation - Bush couldn't have done it without them. But given that this is an article about Rove's lie, it's interesting that the Post tries to excuse the lie with the "everybody's doing it" line:

The fresh clash over the five-year-old vote made plain how political leaders on all sides are trying to shape the history of that moment. Former president Bill Clinton this week asserted that he flatly opposed the war from the beginning, a contention challenged by a former White House official who briefed him at the time.
This really was a gratuitous swipe at Clinton and a poorly-concealed attempt to excuse Rove, but once again the Post frames its rebuttal as yet another "he-said, he-said" battle of claims. But, as with Rove, that's irrelevant, because once again there's plenty of documentary evidence. For more on Clinton's lie, read FAIR's analysis which provides that evidence (like this Guardian op-ed written by Clinton days before the invasion). As an aside, when you read that article, note that Clinton's prognostication abilities* were even worse than Rumsfeld and Cheney's: "military action probably will require only a few days." Good one, Bill.

*Actually, it's hard to know what these people actually believed. Selling the invasion to the American public required that it be portrayed as a quick and low-cost adventure. Whether they actually believed this was likely, I wouldn't care to say.

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