Nobody loves a process whodunit like the Beltway press corps. Mostly because they're easy to cover and contain virtually nothing of lasting substance. Which means the Pelosi/torture story has become a D.C. blockbuster as far as the press is concerned. (The rest of the country? Probably not so much.)
But in order to keep the story afloat, key facts must be ignored. And (surprise!) they are. Perfect example today comes from Carolyn Lochhead at the San Francisco Chronicle, who adopts the prerequisite breathless tone to lay out the facts [emphasis added]:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is getting blog-thrashed daily over what she knew when regarding torture memos, a tempest that began, ironically, enough when her ally President Obama released the Bush torture memos and she upped the ante with her calls for a truth commission... In the end, it could all come down to Pelosi's statements versus CIA notes.
According to Lochhead it's those CIA notes that hold the key to Pelosi's future:
The worst-case scenario for her pits her word against CIA notes in suspect briefings that by their nature grossly limited Congressional oversight.
What does Lochhead then promptly fail to mention in her report? The fact that the head of the CIA informed Congress that the CIA notes in question may not be accurate or reliable. Isn't that sort of a key fact when claiming that a battle royal shaping up between Pelosi and the CIA notes?
Not according to today's press corps.
At least it worked in Philly, where the Inquirer turned to disgraced Torture Memo Man John Yoo to write a monthly column. Why would the newspaper want someone like Yoo to pontificate in its pages? According to today's report in the NYTimes, it's because the Inquirer was trying to counter claims that the paper has a liberal bias.
Score one for Newsbusters!
From the Times:
"There was a conscious effort on our part to counter some of the criticism of The Inquirer as being a knee-jerk liberal publication," [Inquirer editorial page editor Harold] Jackson said. "We made a conscious effort to add some conservative voices to our mix."
Guess that's why the Inquirer also tapped former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum to pen a column (at five times the normal pay rate), because the paper was trying to counter criticism from the right-wing. Nothing wrong with diversity on the Op-ed pages, although as Media Matters has noted, if U.S. newspaper lack an opinion voice there, it's a liberal one.
But also keep in mind that the Inquirer serves an hugely Democratic city in a state that, according to voting patterns, is galloping away from the GOP. But under pressure from the right, the Inquirer scrambles to hire a discredited voice like Yoo's, and a politician like Santorum, who PA. voters overwhelmingly rejected at the polls.
Meanwhile, our fave part of the Times article was this passage:
"What I liked about John Yoo is he's a Philadelphian," [publisher Brian] Tierney said. "He went to Episcopal Academy, where I went to school."
Yoo is perfect for the job because he went to the same exclusive, private high school as the publisher!
UPDATE: Philly's Will Bunch makes some important points.
I'm pretty sure "false" doesn't mean "well, we have no real way of knowing whether it's true or not, but for now, we lean towards thinking it probably isn't, though we reserve the right to change our minds later."
But that's what PolitiFact seems to think it means. The St. Petersburg Times fact-checking web site declares Nancy Pelosi's claim that the Bush administration didn't tell her it was using torture "false," though it pretty much acknowledges it lacks solid basis for doing so:
At PolitiFact, we normally would be reluctant to make a Truth-O-Meter ruling in a he-said, she-said situation, but in this case, the evidence goes beyond the competing accounts from Pelosi and Goss. We are persuaded by the CIA timeline, which the agency says is based on "an extensive review of (the CIA's) electronic and hardcopy files."
It's also important to note that the timeline that contradicts Pelosi was put together at the behest of an administration controlled by her own party. That document provides compelling -- albeit sparsely worded -- evidence that Pelosi's recollection is incorrect. There may be further evidence on this that emerges in the future. Rep, Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has asked Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and CIA Director Leon Panetta to release the CIA briefing notes that the timeline is based on. We reserve the right to change our ruling if new information emerges that contradicts the CIA timeline, but for now, we rule Pelosi's statement False.
Believe it or not, this actually overstates the evidence against Pelosi. Earlier, PolitiFact admitted that the CIA timeline does not directly contradict Pelosi:
Although Goss says waterboarding was part of the discussion, there's nothing in the CIA timeline that states it was specifically discussed in the briefing Pelosi attended. So if we stick strictly to public documents released so far, there's no conclusive evidence that Pelosi was briefed on waterboarding.
So, at one point, PolitiFact tells us that the CIA timeline does not say waterboarding was discussed in the meeting Pelosi attended. Later, in order to justify its conclusion that Pelosi's claim not to have been told about waterboarding is "false," PolitiFact tells us the CIA timeline "contradicts" Pelosi and provides "compelling" evidence that her memory is incorrect. Well, which is it?
The real problem here is PolitiFact's insistance on declaring Pelosi's statement "true" or "false," when the painfully obvious reality is that PolitiFact just doesn't know whether it is true or false. Other media would be wise to take PolitiFact's conclusion with a grain of salt.
Given that, as a government official, John Yoo was an architect of the Bush administration's torture policies and tried to secure for George W. Bush near-dictatorial powers, it probably goes without saying that he isn't much of a columnist.
Let's say it anyway.
Right out of the gate, in the first column in which Yoo is identified as a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, Yoo displays naked partisan hypocrisy, blasting President Obama for citing empathy as a quality a Supreme Court justice should possess after Yoo himself had praised Clarence Thomas for displaying that very quality.
Yoo then claims Obama is shifting his stance on empathy: "Obama's call for emotive judges contradicts his moderate campaign positions."
Shifting your position with the political winds, as Yoo has done, is one thing. Following such a shift with an attack on someone else for doing exactly what you have just done is taking partisan hackery to another level.
But that's not all! This is John Yoo we're talking about -- one of the villains behind the Bush administration's use of torture and its shameless power-grabs. You think he's going to stop at some hypocritical nonsense about "empathy"? No way.
Yoo went on to argue that Obama should not appoint an "activist" judge, thus mindlessly repeating the stupid talking point every Republican has used to attack every Democratic judicial nominee (actual or potential) since the dawn of time.
But in Yoo's case, the attack is particularly silly. See, right there at the end of Yoo's column, his bio line notes "He has served as a law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas." And Yoo has lavished praise upon his former boss. And Clarence Thomas is, by one measure, the single most activist member of the Supreme Court.
No, John Yoo probably can't do as much harm to America as a Phildelphia Inquirer columnist as he did as a government official. But that won't stop him from trying.
UPDATE: More from Yoo's column: "Obama could make a pick based solely on race or sex - though it's not clear why the most empathetic judges are minorities or women - to please parts of his coalition." Nobody wants Obama to make a pick "based solely on race or sex." Nobody. If Obama picked, for example, Yoo's unindicted co-conspirator Alberto Gonzales, for example, he'd have a bunch of unhappy liberals on his hands. It is, of course, too much to expect a man who argues in favor of torture and unchecked executive power to bother with niceties like accurately describing the positions of the people he is arguing with, but the slur that women and minorities don't care about qualifications shouldn't go unrebutted.
And more Yoo:
If Obama shoots for empathy ... he will give Senate Republicans yet another opportunity to rally around a unifying issue where they better represent the majority of Americans.
He's kidding, right? John Yoo doesn't even represent himself when it comes to whether judges should possess empathy. He thinks he's going to rally the majority of Americans to oppose empathy? Come on.
Appearing on MSNBC and defending her father's unprecedented campaign to smear the newly seated POTUS, something no exiting VP has ever done, (at least not in modern American politics), daughter Cheney claims there's a double standard because the press treats former VP Al Gore kindly, but not her father.
Addressing Post columnist Eugene Robinson, who has been critical of Cheney's anti-Obama publicity tour, Liz Cheney noted:
I haven't seen similar columns from you or anybody else saying things like, Al Gore should to back to Tennessee. Al Gore, somebody's who's very vocal and very much out there. So is there a double standard here. And should vice presidents only speak if they're saying something you agree with?
Al Gore is "out there" and "vocal," says Cheney, blissfully ignoring the fact that Gore waited nearly two years before he publicly criticized the Bush administration, whereas her father waited, what, two months?
But yeah, other than that, the comparison's a perfect one.
Jack Kemp's recent passing reminded me of one of the more glaring examples of media double standards in the past few decades. What follows is "old news" in that it happened years ago, but it is new insofar as, to my knowledge, it has never been publicly discussed.
In 1987, as you probably know, Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Joe Biden included in his speeches a few lines originally written and spoken by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Biden attributed the lines to Kinnock.
Until, one day, he didn't - and his presidential campaign came crashing down. Here's how the Chicago Tribune described the Biden/Kinnock controversy last year:
Twenty years ago, Biden was, in a sense, the Obama of his time, a young turk of a politician with a gift for soaring, transcendental rhetoric. But his first bid for the presidency imploded in 1988 [sic] when he was accused of plagiarizing a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock that described the candidate's working-class roots. Biden was forced from the race after the campaign of eventual nominee Michael Dukakis circulated a videotape with Biden failing to give credit to Kinnock for a speech he gave in Iowa.
Biden, however, had credited Kinnock with the remarks in his other speeches, leaving many of his supporters at the time -- and long after -- feeling like Biden was pushed from the stage unfairly.
Nine years later, Jack Kemp was the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee. In that capacity, Kemp liked to tell the story of a boy in a Chicago public housing project who, upon being asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, gave a conditional reply: if he grew up, he would like to be a bus driver. The story wasn't Kemp's; it appeared in Alex Kotlowitz's book There Are No Children Here. And Kemp attributed it to Kotlowitz.
Until, one day, he didn't. Then, another day, Kemp explicitly claimed the story as his own. Then he did it again.
Here's how the Washington Post's Al Kamen described Kemp's speeches in an October, 1996 article:
As anyone who's played "telephone" can tell you, stories often change slightly with each retelling.
Take vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp's oft-used story about a 10-year-old boy at Chicago's Henry Horner public housing project. The little boy responded to a question from reporter Alex Kotlowitz about what he wanted to be when he grew up.
The boy said "if," not "when," he grew up, he wanted to be a bus driver.
In his acceptance speech in San Diego in August and a week later at a black journalists convention, Kemp said he read that account in Kotlowitz's 1991 book "There Are No Children Here."
By Sept. 30 in Palo Alto, Calif., Kemp dropped the middle man, Kotlowitz, and said he was at the project and "a little boy was asked . . . "
By Oct. 12, Kemp is talking directly to the child. "I was in Chicago at a public housing community," Kemp said in Stockton, Calif. "I asked a little boy what he wanted to be when he grew up." Later that day in Medford, Ore., he said: "We want a country in which no little boy ever again says to me, as he did in Chicago's Henry Horner public housing. . . . He said, 'Mr. Kemp, if I grow up . . .' "
Hey, much shorter and to the point in the revised version.
Joe Biden's presidential campaign pretty much ended the day he forgot to attribute a few lines to Neil Kinnock. Twenty years later, the media still brings it up. But nobody much cared that Jack Kemp repeatedly claimed Alex Kotlowitz' experiences as his own. That Post article by Al Kamen was, I believe, the only news report about Kemp borrowing the story.
Remember how Joe Biden has been ridiculed for the Kinnock speech? How Al Gore was ridiculed for (supposedly) taking credit for things he didn't do? Jack Kemp never got that treatment. In the Fall of an election year, just weeks before election day, the Republican Party's Vice Presidential nominee was caught doing pretty much exactly what Joe Biden had done - except Kemp was caught doing it repeatedly - and the media yawned. The Washington Post put it on page A19 - and that was more attention than anyone else gave it.
I imagine those who want to deny the existence of a double-standard will say "Ah, but there was video of Biden's comments, and an opposing campaign shared video with reporters. So of course it got more attention."
Well, there was video of Kemp's comments, and the opposing campaign circulated it to reporters.
I know this the same way I know about Kemp's borrowing of Kotlowitz's story: I was the person who discovered it. I was a researcher for the Democratic National Committee at the time, and I was watching a tape of Kemp's speech in Stockton when I noticed him telling Kotlowitz' story as though it was his own. We had tapes of the different versions of Kemp's speech; we shared them with reporters.
And to this day, as far as I can tell, there has been only one news report that has so much as mentioned Kemp's appropriation of Kotlowitz' experiences at Henry Horner.
Now, for the record, I don't think Kemp's use of Kotlowitz' story should have been an international scandal that dogged him for decades. Politicians give a lot of speeches and tell a lot of stories; it's inevitable that things are going to get jumbled from time to time. I assume Kemp made an honest mistake. It may well be that one blurb deep within the Washington Post was all the coverage Kemp's mistake deserved. But that's certainly not how the media treated Joe Biden, or Al Gore when he (supposedly) took credit for the experiences of others (see: Love Story, Love Canal.)
Talk about being unqualified for the job. But in the wake of the Wanda Sykes (zzzz) controversy, the right-wing has morphed into a Victorian outpost, where people just don't say those kinds of things.
At the WSJ, James Taranto is quite upset that liberals (including that "smug" Obama!) laughed at two jokes that Taranto and the rest of the GOP humor police have decided should not have been laughed at.
Taranto then unintentionally provides some comic relief himself as he patiently explains why the Limbaugh jokes were so awful:
Why do liberals find this joke funny when they should find it embarrassing? The answer, it seems clear, is that this is an example of shock humor: a genre that relies on the frisson of violating taboos. By our count, Sykes runs afoul of five taboos in her Limbaugh joke: She equates dissent with treason. She likens a domestic political opponent to a foreign enemy. She makes fun of the disabled (Limbaugh's past addiction to painkillers would entitle him to protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act). She makes light of a form of interrogation that some people consider torture. And she wishes somebody dead.
The comedy gold, of course, is that Taranto unwittingly describes, point-for-point, the Rush Limbaugh show as its been heard for nearly two decades. But over that 20 years time, how many times has Taranto taken to the Op-ed town hall to tsk-tsk Limbaugh's brand of hateful humor? This is just a guess, but I'm guessing it's a bullseye: ZERO.
When Limbaugh or the GOP Noise Machine equates dissent with treason, likens political opponents to a foreign arm, mocks the disabled (paging Michael J. Fox), makes fun of interrogation and wishes somebody dead, it's funny and insightful. But when a liberal comedian does it, guess what? It's the end of the world as we know it.
Thanks for the hollow lecture, James, but we'll pass.
In 2007, Media Matters released a study showing that newspapers run far more columns by conservative syndicated columnists than by progressives:
Sixty percent of the nation's daily newspapers print more conservative syndicated columnists every week than progressive syndicated columnists. Only 20 percent run more progressives than conservatives, while the remaining 20 percent are evenly balanced.
In a given week, nationally syndicated progressive columnists are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of 125 million. Conservative columnists, on the other hand, are published in newspapers with a combined total circulation of more than 152 million.
But, as the news that the Philadelphia Inquirer has hired John Yoo as a columnist reminds us, the numbers only tell half the story. There's a huge qualitative difference between the conservatives given newspaper columns and their progressive counterparts as well. The conservatives tend to be more partisan, more aggressive, and more reliable advocates for their "team."
The Washington Post employs as a columnist Bill Kristol, a hyperpartisan neocon Republican strategist who has been a key player in GOP efforts to block health care and start unnecessary wars. Who is supposed to be Kristol's counterpart? Richard Cohen, who opposes affirmative action, supports torture, and attacked liberals who opposed Kristol's war in Iraq?
On the right, the noxious Karl Rove and the monstrous John Yoo have high-profile columns. Who on the left is even remotely comparable to these two? Nobody with the platform they have, that's for sure.
It should be obvious how this skews the public discourse: the leftmost voices in the media are fairly moderate, while the rightmost voices are bloodthirsty war criminals advocates of unnecessary wars and immoral torture enhanced interrogation*.
Actually, as Cohen reminds us today, many of the supposedly "liberal" columnists favor baseless wars and torture, too. When the people major newspapers try to pass off as their liberal columnists support the policies of Karl Rove and John Yoo, it really shouldn't be much of a surprise that eventually papers would go straight to the source and hire Rove and Yoo themselves.