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Quotes of the week
[I]f Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you [San Franciscans] up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead."
"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover [Pennsylvania]: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city. ... God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in his eye forever. ... If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them."
With every week bringing new indications that the American people don't approve of or trust their commander in chief, news organizations continue to turn a blind eye toward the obvious questions that this distrust raises.
The Associated Press reports: "Two crucial pillars of President Bush's public support -- perceptions of his honesty and faith in his ability to fight terrorism -- have slipped to their lowest point in the AP-Ipsos poll. ... [S]ix in 10 now say Bush is not honest, and a similar number say his administration does not have high ethical standards."
And, as we noted last week:
[T]he latest Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 55 percent of Americans think that "in making its case for war with Iraq," the Bush administration "intentionally misled the American public."
And the latest CBS News poll found that 64 percent of Americans think the Bush administration was "mostly lying" about or "hiding important elements" of what they knew about weapons of mass destruction.
And the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll found that, by a margin of 53-45, most Americans think the Bush administration did "deliberately mislead the American public about whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction."
And yet news organizations ignore, both in the polls they conduct and in the news reports they publish and broadcast, seemingly obvious follow-up questions about the effects of this widespread distrust of President Bush and of the belief that his administration was dishonest about the reasons for the Iraq war.
News organizations don't ask, for example, whether people are less likely to believe the administration if it argues that military action against another nation is necessary.
Instead, they treat public opinion about the Bush administration's honesty as a political challenge, as something with primarily partisan political effects. But when the majority of the American people think their president is dishonest and has already deliberately misled the nation into war once, that has profound national security implications that demand attention from the media. If, as a result of their belief that the administration was deliberately misleading about Iraq, people won't believe the administration in the future, that makes America less safe.
It wasn't long ago that some of America's leading news organizations thought that a president's deception was cause for resignation. The Chicago Tribune, for example, called for Bill Clinton's resignation in a September 15, 1998, editorial. One reason the Tribune gave was that Clinton's statements about the Monica Lewinsky matter would make it difficult to trust him in the future: "Who will know when he's telling the truth and when he's not, whether he's being sincere or play-acting, whether his word is his bond or just another artful dodge?"
That's a question news organizations should start asking again: "Who will know when he's telling the truth and when he's not?"
Instead of asking who will know when Bush administration figures are telling the truth, some high-profile reporters are making excuses for their failure to do so.
As we noted last month, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank recently described White House press secretary Scott McClellan as a "good and decent guy" -- even while conceding that McClellan was lying to the American people. Now, CBS reporter John Roberts has joined in, saying that -- though he hasn't told the truth about the Plame affair -- McClellan is a "truth-teller." Appearing on the November 6 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, Roberts told host Howard Kurtz that McClellan was just doing his job when he passed on false information to the American people.
Incredibly, Roberts defended McClellan's decision not to come clean by saying that McClellan needs the "pretty good job" of White House press secretary because he has "a mortgage, he has got a wife, probably a family coming down the road at some point":
KURTZ: John Roberts, do you believe that Scott McClellan owes the press and the public an apology for his -- what turned out to be misleading denial in the CIA leak case?
ROBERTS: Well, you know, Howie, I may be one of the people in the minority, but I think that he's getting a really rough deal on this. You know, he doesn't go out and free-lance this stuff. He is given his talking points every morning. He is given his walking papers. And he goes out there, and he tries to faithfully articulate whatever it is that the White House tells him.
Obviously in October of 2003, he got some pretty bad information. Is it his fault that he conveyed that information? I don't think so. I think the people who are at fault are -- the ones at fault are the ones who gave him what now appears to be bad information.
Now, of course, McClellan could do what some people might think to be the honorable thing and say, "I'm not going to take this any more, I'm going to quit." But he has got a pretty good job, by and large. He has got a mortgage, he has got a wife, probably a family coming down the road at some point, and I don't think he wants to give up a lucrative job like that.
So I think that Scott -- you know, I have known him for a number of years now. I have got a pretty good working relationship with him. I think that he is a truth-teller. I think he is a stand-up guy. And I just think that he was just told to carry somebody else's water, and it just turned out that that water was foul.
Roberts's sympathy for McClellan's financial future is kind, but we suspect that whenever McClellan leaves the government payroll, he's in for a substantial increase in salary.
In the wake of Democrat Timothy M. Kaine's election to be the next governor of Virginia -- a state George Bush carried in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections -- Republicans have been furiously spinning, actually claiming Kaine's win points to problems in the Democratic party. And some news outlets are playing along.
The Washington Post, for example, concluded:
Democrats may also have to learn some of the lessons from Tuesday if they hope to capitalize on Bush's weakness and make themselves competitive in red states as well as blue states. In Virginia, victorious candidate Timothy M. Kaine ran a campaign at odds with the strategy of many traditional Democrats, one that focused on religion and values and that appealed as much to swing voters as to the party's base.
Kaine's campaign highlighted tensions within the Democratic Party over whether to pursue a strategy designed largely to energize its left-leaning, antiwar, grass-roots base or move to the center, emphasize cultural issues to neutralize the GOP's advantage there, and talk bread-and-butter issues such as education and economic growth.
The Post offered not a single example of a "traditional Democrat" who doesn't try to appeal to "swing voters." Nor did the Post explain how talking about education is inconsistent with efforts to "energize" the party's "left-leaning" base; education has been a key component of the left's agenda for as long as anyone can remember. Instead, the Post simply created broad caricatures of the "left" and "traditional Democrats" and "the center" in order to emphasize "tensions" between those caricatures.
The Post continued:
Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said that Kaine adopted a strategy sharply at odds with the approach of leading national Democrats, including the one that was enunciated by Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean during his unsuccessful campaign for the party's 2004 presidential nomination.
Kaine "did not say, 'I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,' " Mehlman said, referring to language Dean used in his own campaign. "He said, 'I represent the Mark Warner wing of the Democratic Party.' Quite the opposite. ... The Potomac River divides a Democratic Party catering to the MoveOn wing versus a Democratic Party centered in the Mark Warner wing." Indeed, Kaine's success owed less to dissatisfaction with Bush and more to satisfaction with Warner's tenure as governor.
Curiously, the Post offered no support for its suggestion that Kaine's victory had little to do with dissatisfaction with Bush. In fact, just two days earlier -- before the results of the election were known -- the Post seemed to suggest just the opposite:
In jumping into the Virginia governor's race just 10 hours before polling booths open, President Bush put his credibility on the line last night and ensured that the results will be interpreted as a referendum on his troubled presidency.
Even in a traditionally Republican-leaning state such as Virginia, polls register disenchantment with Bush's leadership, and Kilgore has had trouble running against national headwinds.
That Virginia would come to figure so prominently for Bush underscores the depth of his political problems. A year after Bush won the state by nine percentage points, just 44 percent of Virginians surveyed by The Washington Post last month approved of his job performance, while 55 percent disapproved. Nearly half of Virginia voters said a Bush endorsement would make them less likely to vote for Kilgore, compared with a quarter who said it would make them more likely to support the Republican candidate.
David Albo, a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates who narrowly won his re-election campaign, certainly doesn't seem to agree with the Post's post-election spin that Kaine's win had little to do with Bush's unpopularity. The Washington Times reported on November 10:
President Bush's sinking popularity helped seal Democrat Timothy M. Kaine's victory in Virginia's gubernatorial election Tuesday, politicians and pollsters said yesterday.
"We know that George Bush is just killing us," said Delegate David B. Albo, a Republican who narrowly defeated his Democratic challenger in Fairfax County. "His popularity just brought the ticket down. There's no other way to explain it."
Scott Rasmussen, president of the New Jersey-based polling firm Rasmussen Reports, said the voters who made up their minds just before Election Day -- about 12 percent of voters -- favored Mr. Kaine by 15 percentage points.
That suggests some voters were turned off by a last-minute visit by Mr. Bush on Monday on Mr. Kilgore's behalf. A Rasmussen survey of Virginia voters found that 51 percent approved of the president's performance. Nationally, Mr. Bush has registered a 37 percent approval rating.
"It was not a good year to run as a Republican in Virginia," said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University, adding that the Bush visit "probably backfired" and spurred Democrats to get out the vote.
While the Post painted a bizarre picture of the Democratic Party in which talking about education and appealing to the "left-leaning" base are somehow inconsistent, two National Public Radio (NPR) reporters falsely described Kaine's position on abortion in order to suggest that Kaine is an atypical Democrat.
First, on the November 10 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition, national political correspondent Mara Liasson described Kaine as "pro-life" -- an inexplicable and incorrect description of someone who has said abortion should be legal:
LIASSON: To get over those obstacles, Democrats say they'll be trying to apply some lessons of the off-year elections. In Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine got a huge boost from the popularity of outgoing governor Mark Warner. But he also ran as a centrist, pro-life Democrat who could talk openly about his religious faith -- attributes that might help Democrats win in other red states.
The next day on Morning Edition, NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty described Kaine as someone who "opposes abortion in a party that supports it." This wildly overstates the difference between Kaine, who does not personally like abortion but thinks it should be legal and most Democrats, who do not like abortion but think it should be legal.
As Media Matters explained:
[O]ne can simultaneously oppose abortion and support legal access to abortion procedures. By mischaracterizing Kaine's position, Liasson and Bradley falsely suggest that the two are irreconcilable. In fact, Kaine's articulation of his views of abortion echoes that of other prominent Democrats. As president, Bill Clinton famously declared that abortions should be "safe, legal, and rare." Speaking before NARAL Pro-Choice America on January 22, 1999, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) said: "I have met thousands and thousands of pro-choice men and women. I have never met anyone who is pro-abortion. Being pro-choice is not being pro-abortion."
We've previously noted The Hill's description of those who think abortion should be legal as "pro-abortion." The absurdity of Liasson's description of Kaine goes even further: if someone who thinks abortion should be legal is described as "pro-life," how would Liasson describe someone who thinks abortion should be illegal?
While serving on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, current Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito issued rulings in cases involving two financial companies with which he held accounts -- despite the fact that, during his confirmation hearings for the appeals court post, Alito promised the Senate that he would recuse himself from such cases.
During his 1990 confirmation, Alito told senators he would recuse himself from any cases involving mutual-fund operator Vanguard Group, brokerage Smith Barney Inc., and his sister's law firm. But Alito issued rulings in a 1996 case involving Smith Barney and a 2002 case involving Vanguard. At the time of the Vanguard ruling, Alito held at least $390,000 in Vanguard mutual funds, according to The Washington Post.
Alito's failure to recuse himself from the case not only means he issued rulings affecting companies with which he had hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments, it also constitutes a violation of the promise he made to the U.S. Senate -- the very body now considering his nomination to the Supreme Court.
But CNN host Soledad O'Brien missed the point entirely, ignoring the fact that Alito broke his promise to recuse himself from such cases and downplaying the size of his $390,000 investment in Vanguard mutual funds. On the November 11 edition of CNN's American Morning, O'Brien asked:
O'BRIEN: Doesn't it bode poorly for Democrats when you say this is the smoking gun you're coming up with, something over a relatively small investment in Vanguard, which legally, technically, he didn't have to recuse himself from anyway?
$390,000 is a "relatively small investment"?