Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Fisking Olbermann

"Dare I suggest that Hatcher and friends read Olbermann's blog today?" asks PBryon in reference to yesterday's post. You may dare suggest, and I for one took you up on your suggestion. So here is his take (italics) and my comments. As an intro, it seems to me that Olbermann is argument number 1 for not talking politics with strangers - when he was an ESPN sportscenter guy, his smugness was funny; now that he is a political commentator, he's just an idiot. I suppose some out there probably hold the same opinion of me.

SECAUCUS — I smell something — and it ain’t a copy of the Qu’ran sopping wet from being stuck in a toilet in Guantanamo Bay. It’s the ink drying on Scott McClellan’s resignation, and in an only partly imperfect world, it would be drifting out over Washington, and imminently.
Last Thursday, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Donald Rumsfeld’s go-to guy whenever the situation calls for the kind of gravitas the Secretary himself can’t supply,
told reporters at the Pentagon that rioting in Afghanistan was related more to the on-going political reconciliation process there, than it was to a controversial note buried in the pages of Newsweek claiming that the government was investigating whether or not some nitwit interrogator at Gitmo really had desecrated a Muslim holy book.

Look at the fancy spelling of Koran - how culturally sensitive! Olbermann thinks Rumsfeld lacks gravitas? That's a big comment for a wisecracking loonie who thinks the Republicans rigged the election in Ohio. If there's anything Rumsfeld has, its gravitas. And if there's one word I hate - its gravitas. And if the interrogator had not desecrated the Koran, he is still nevertheless a nitwit - by the structure of his sentence it would seem so.

But Monday afternoon, while offering himself up to the networks for a series of rare, almost unprecedented sit-down interviews on the White House lawn, Press Secretary McClellan said, in effect, that General Myers, and the head of the after-action report following the disturbances in Jalalabad, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, were dead wrong. The Newsweek story, McClellan said, “has done damage to our image abroad and it has done damage to the credibility of the media and Newsweek in particular. People have lost lives. This report has had serious consequences.”

Appealing to Myers is the ultimate grab a Pope quote when his view on an issue qualifiedly supports yours, but paint him as an extremist nutcase in those cases where he unequivocally is against you. Myers seems to be the only one other than Olbermman who espouses the view that the riots were unrelated to the Newseek article. Can anyone claim that this incident hasn't damaged the credibility of the media and Newsweek even if this report is unconnected to the riots. And one suspects that the point of running with the story was to do damage to at least the Bush administration, which the press seems to think they can do without doing damage to the gains we've made in that region. An Afghan doesn't see it as an issue where all that needs to happen is to elect John Kerry and the Korans will remain out of the toilet.

Whenever I hear Scott McClellan talking about ‘media credibility,’ I strain to remember who it was who admitted Jeff Gannon to the White House press room and called on him all those times.

Go back and read the transcript from Clinton's first press conference post-impeachment, and with few exceptions, what you'll see is questions from the "credible, non-Jeff Gannon media" that are so sycophantic that it was clear that most in the room shared the view of one female writer, who penned that she would gladly provide Clinton fellatio in exchange for (insert favored policy here), except for the fact that most in that room would have done it independent of any favored policy he endorsed. Here is the truth - most reporters fit the facts to their theory and not the theory to their facts, and so as much as Jeff Gannon may have tossed softballs, the "when did you stop beating your wife" questions from the others in the room are no more credible.

Whenever I hear this White House talking about ‘doing to damage to our image abroad’ and how ‘people have lost lives,’ I strain to remember who it was who went traipsing into Iraq looking for WMD that will apparently turn up just after the Holy Grail will — and at what human cost.

Yada yada yada. I have tackled that argument so many times before, why bother again. Hitler didn't have WMDs either - was World War II a mistake on our part.

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). All of its other government connections — the ones past which it ran the story — have gone from saying nothing like ‘don’t print this, it ain’t true’ or ‘don’t print this, it may be true but it’ll start riots,’ to looking slightly confused and symbolically saying ‘Newsweek? Newsweek who?’

Look, I had even read prior to the Newsweek report of the claim and it was reported that a prisoner flushed the Koran himself to try to clog the toilet, presumably so he could fill his cell with his own excrement to remind him of home. With that floating out there, why run with the story? Even with that not out there, even if the information was credible, why run with the story. Would Newsweek run with a story that says Salman Rushdie is handcuffed to a boiler in a given location? As Olbermann points out, even if it did happen, it was likely the result of a nitwit interrogator - how is this big news? But of course the image they are trying to portray and have been trying to portray from Abu Ghraib on is that it's systematic abuse. And again, they fail to understand that a cheap shot at Bush hurts American interests.

Whatever I smell comes from this odd sequence of events: Newsweek gets blasted by the White House, apologizes over the weekend but doesn't retract its story. Then McClellan offers his Journalism 101 outdoor seminar and blasts the magazine further. Finally, just before 5 p.m. Monday, the Dan Rather drama replaying itself in its collective corporate mind, Newsweek retracts.

I’m always warning about the logical fallacy — the illusion that just because one event follows another, the latter must have necessarily caused the former. But when I wondered tonight on Countdown if it applied here, Craig Crawford reassured me. “The dots connect.”
The real point, of course, is that you’d have to be pretty dumb to think that making a threat at Gitmo akin to ‘Spill the beans or we’ll kill this Qu’ran’ would have any effect on the prisoners, other than to eventually leak out and inflame anti-American feelings somewhere. Of course, everybody in the prosecution of the so-called ‘war on terror’ has done something dumb, dating back to the President’s worst-possible-word-selection (“crusade”) on September 16, 2001. So why wouldn’t some mid-level interrogator stuck in Cuba think it would be a good idea to desecrate a holy book? Jack Rice, the former CIA special agent and now radio host, said on Countdown that it would be a “knuckleheaded” thing to do, but “plausible.”

One of the most under-publicized analyses of 9/11 concludes that Osama Bin Laden assumed that the attacks on the U.S. would galvanize Islamic anger towards this country, and they'd overthrow their secular governments and woo-hoo we've got an international religious war. Obviously it didn't happen. It didn't even happen when the West went into Iraq. But if stuff like the Newsweek version of a now two-year-old tale about toilets and Qu’rans is enough to set off rioting in the streets of countries whose nationals were not even the supposed recipients of the ‘abuse’, then weren’t those members of the military or the government with whom Newsweek vetted the plausibility of its item, honor-bound to say “you can’t print this”?
Or would somebody rather play politics with this? The way Craig Crawford reconstructed it, this one went similarly to the way the Killian Memos story evolved at the White House. The news organization 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.

That’s beyond shameful. It’s treasonous.

Well, Craig Crawford confirmed the conspiracy theory, what else do you need? Who in the hell is Craig Crawford. I really don't understand these paragraphs. Becuase a member of the government, not necessarily a political appointee, is the source of the faulty information, the Bush administration is the de facto source of the information? And they were setting up Newsweek for political gain? Because Bush is planning to run in 2012? And then he offers up that this is similar to the way we set up Rather in memogate? This guy is a lunatic, pure and simple.

It’s also not very smart. While places like the Fox News Channel (which, only today, I finally recognized — it’s the newscast perpetually running on the giant video screens in the movie “1984”) ask how many heads should roll at Newsweek, it forgets in its fervor that both the story and the phony controversy around it are not so cut-and-dried this time.
Firstly, the principal reporter on the Gitmo story was Michael Isikoff — “Spikey” in a different lifetime; Linda Tripp’s favorite journalist, and one of the ten people most responsible (intentionally or otherwise) for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Spikey isn’t just a hero to the Right — the Right owes him.

He's no hero to the right, he's a guy who reported a story that was newsworthy. This one wasn't. Why do I owe it to him to buy the second in exchange for the first? Maybe the better way to look at it is that he owes the Left, and he's paying his dues now.

And larger still, in terms of politics, this isn't well-defined, is it? I mean Conservatives might parrot McClellan and say ‘Newsweek put this country in a bad light.’ But they could just as easily thump their chests and say ‘See, this is what we do to those prisoners at Gitmo! You guys better watch your asses!’

Sounds like he's trying to convince himself that the comments aren't about politics, but because he can't ever give the benefit of the doubt to this administration, the fact that there are supposed political drawbacks to slamming Newsweek makes the move even more political. It's the logic of the insane.

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. Either way — and also for that tasteless, soul-less conclusion that deaths in Afghanistan should be lain at the magazine’s doorstep — Scott McClellan should resign. The expiration on his carton full of blank-eyed bully-collaborator act passed this afternoon as he sat reeling off those holier-than-thou remarks. Ah, that’s what I smelled.

The Reuters report I read on the story had no quotes from McClellan to the effect that the deaths in Afghanistan should be lain at the magazine's doorstep. He said it damaged relations and had serious consequences. That's it. Indisputably true. And even if he had made the larger claim, there is a bevy full of trial lawyers who contribute hansomely to the Democratic party whose actions would no doubt show agreement. But Olbermann is part of the ethical media, so McClellan must have said it, right?


Blogger Incredible Dirigible said...

You're right, Hatch. Olbermann was funny during his days as an ESPN commentator & pitchman for Boston Market.

He's not funny anymore.

Your retort was great & I wish he could read it over a chicken club carver or whatever Boston Market calls their sandwiches nowadays.

11:39 AM  
Blogger pbryon said...

I'm too busy today to be more wordy, but I think the best point that Olbermann makes is that if administration/defense people knew that this would cause a violent uproar in the Afghan Muslim community (and being there, they should have a clue), why didn't they ask that it not be run, for just those reasons?

I think its a legit question, and one I hadn't seen asked before. To me, it lends credence to the argument that this violence wasn't all the cause of the article.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

In response to PBryon, I don't know that the administration had a chance to ask that it not be run - I think that assumes that the source let everyone know what he told Newsweek, or that Newsweek came to the administration and informed them, both highly unlikely. And suppose that they asked them not to run it, but said they can't reveal the proof that it is false due to the classified nature of the report. Do you really think Newsweek would say OK? If so, I have a synagogue in Saudi Arabia I'd like to sell to you.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To quote this week's Newsweek, "Newsweek National Security Correspondent John Barry, realizing the sensitivity of the story, provided a draft of the Newsweek item to a senior Defense official asking, "Is this accurate or not?" The official challenged one aspect of the story: the suggestion that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, sent to Gitmo by the Pentagon in 2001 to oversee prisoner interrogation, might be held accountable for the abuses. Not true said the offical (the item draft was corrected to reflect that). But he was silent about the rest of the item." This is clear proof that Newsweek will change its articles based on input from the administration.

In fairness, the Newsweek article continues, "The official had not meant to mislead, but lacked detailed knowledge of the SouthCom report."

My read on this is that Newsweek made an unfortunate but understandable error that was neither malicious or negligent. Similarly, it also seems that the administration didn't intentionally let Newsweek run a bad story, either.

All that said, one brief inflamatory item in an American magazine doesn't cause deadly riots unless problems had been simmering for a some time.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

How can anyone quote Newsweek now? (Ha Ha). Thanks for the information - it's amazing what a couple of facts will do. And I do agree - that a few lines in a weekly magazine can tipoff such activity may be a case of troublemakers looking for an excuse to cause some mayhem.

2:16 PM  

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