"Media Matters"; by Jamison Foser

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER
This Week:

The Note's faith-based defense of the Bush administration

ABC's Tapper asks the right questions -- on his blog

New evidence that Bush administration is spying on innocent Americans

Quote of the Week Year

The conservative movement has been very effective attacking the media (broadcast and print) for its liberal biases. The refusal of the media to disclose and discuss the ideological leanings of reporters and editors, and the broader claim of objectivity, has made the press overly anxious, and inclined to lean over backwards not to offend critics from the right. In many respects, the campaign against the media has been more than a victory: it has turned the press into an unwilling, and often unknowing, ally of the right.

-- Building Red America author and former Washington Post reporter Thomas B. Edsall

The Note's faith-based defense of the Bush administration

In the latest in a series of scathing criticisms of the Bush White House from its former employees, David Kuo, the former deputy director of the administration's office of faith-based initiatives, contends in a new book that the White House used religious conservatives for political purposes, but mocked them as "nuts" behind their backs. The Los Angeles Times reported:

In the book, Kuo, who quit the White House in 2003, accuses Karl Rove's political staff of cynically hijacking the faith-based initiatives idea for electoral gain. It assails Bush for failing to live up to his promises of boosting the role of religious organizations in delivering social services.

White House strategists "knew 'the nuts' were politically invaluable, but that was the extent of their usefulness," Kuo writes, according to the cable channel MSNBC, which obtained an advance copy.

"Sadly, the political affairs folks complained most often and most loudly about how boorish many politically involved Christians were.... National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as 'ridiculous' and 'out of control.' ''

MSNBC Countdown host Keith Olbermann has reported additional details from Kuo's book:

Kuo also writes that the White House was more concerned with the appearance of doing something. He says the faith-based office wasn't even set up during the 2001 transition after the end of the Clinton administration. It was not set up until Mr. Bush took office and Karl Rove gave a transition volunteer less than one week to roll out the entire faith-based initiative.

The volunteer asked Rove how he should do that without a staff, without an office, without even a plan. According to Kuo, quote, "Rove looked at him, took a deep breath, and said, 'I don't know. Just get me a f-ing faith-based thing, got it?" unquote. After that, it was easier to push faith-based legislation rather than faith-based funding, because legislation was a cheaper way to show the president was supposedly doing something.

Bush assistant Margaret Spelling, now the secretary of education, asked Kuo for legislation and said she didn't care what kind. "Any kind of faith bill would do," he writes.

Kuo's book isn't the first time he -- and his former boss -- have indicated that the Bush administration used religious conservatives for their political clout, but didn't -- or wouldn't -- actually deliver on their promises to the constituency.

Though Kuo's new comments are consistent with those he has previously made, ABC News' political tip sheet The Note promptly denounced them -- and mocked other news organizations for paying them any attention. According to The Note:

The liberal Old Media's breathless reaction to David Kuo's book notwithstanding, the Bush Administration has close ties to religious conservatives -- and the White House Office of Political Affairs is a taxpayer-funded operation that -- under presidents of both parties -- works on political affairs.

The Note's pronouncement may seem strange -- it reads, after all, like a defensive statement issued by the White House in order to quell concerns among religious conservatives that they aren't taken seriously and quash questions from those concerned with the ethics of a taxpayer-funded political operation. But The Note is just getting started: Later, they take the gloves off, mocking the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times for taking the Kuo story seriously:

David Kuo (re)writes history:

Cribbing off of MSNBC and exuding no incredulity, the Los Angeles Times goes all breathless over the David Kuo book. LINK

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times mails in his own account. LINK

The Note's allegation that Kuo is rewriting history simply isn't supported by ... well, by history.

In August 2001, John DiIulio abruptly resigned his position as head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, a position he was given after helping President Bush during his 2000 presidential campaign. While describing himself as a supporter of the president, DiIulio explained to journalist Ron Suskind that in the Bush White House "everything -- and I mean everything" was run by the "political arm," and that policy simply wasn't taken seriously.

DiIulio told Suskind, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. ... What you've got is everything -- and I mean everything -- being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

Dilulio explained:

[O]n the so-called faith bill, they basically rejected any idea that the president's best political interests -- not to mention the best policy for the country -- could be served by letting centrist Senate Democrats in on the issue, starting with a bipartisan effort to review the implementation of the kindred law (called "charitable choice") signed in 1996 by Clinton.

[...]

[T]hey winked at the most far-right House Republicans who, in turn, drafted a so-called faith bill (H.R. 7, the Community Solutions Act) that (or so they thought) satisfied certain fundamentalist leaders and beltway libertarians but bore few marks of "compassionate conservatism" and was, as anybody could tell, an absolute political non-starter. It could pass the House only on a virtual party-line vote, and it could never pass the Senate, even before Jeffords switched.

Not only that, but it reflected neither the president's own previous rhetoric on the idea, nor any of the actual empirical evidence that recommended policies promoting greater public/private partnerships involving community-serving religious organizations. I said so, wrote memos, and so on for the first six weeks. But, hey, what's that fat, out-of-the-loop professor guy know; besides, he says he'll be gone in six months. As one senior staff member chided me at a meeting at which many junior staff were present and all ears, "John, get a faith bill, any faith bill." Like college students who fall for the colorful, opinionated, but intellectually third-rate professor, you could see these 20- and 30-something junior White House staff falling for the Mayberry Machiavellis.

[...]

The "faith bill" saga also illustrates the relative lack of substantive concern for policy and administration. I had to beg to get a provision written into the executive orders that would require us to conduct an actual information-gathering effort related to the president's interest in the policy. With the exception of some folks at OMB, nobody cared a fig about the five-agency performance audit, and we got less staff help on it than went into any two PR events or such. Now, of course, the document the effort produced (Unlevel Playing Field) is cited all the time, and frames the administrative reform agenda that -- or so the Mayberry Machiavellis had insisted -- had no value.

So, nearly four years ago, the man Bush chose to run his faith-based initiative told the world that political considerations, not policy goals, drove everything the White House did. He said that the Bush White House didn't care about substance; he was simply told to "get a faith bill, any faith bill" so it could be used for political purposes.

In February 2005, Kuo himself wrote in an article for Beliefnet.com that congressional Republicans' "snoring indifference" hindered faith-based efforts -- and that the Bush White House didn't care about actually funding faith-based initiatives; they were simply interested in the PR value of them. "The Faith-Based Office was the cross around the White Houses' [sic] neck showing the president's own faith orientation. That was sufficient," Kuo wrote. "I left the White House in December 2003. By that time, I'd grown quite frustrated with White House and Congressional approaches to faith-based issues and I let those in power know it."

So there you have it: The former director and deputy director of Bush's faith-based initiative office have both long said that the Bush administration wasn't serious about the substance of the program -- that it was simply a political effort.

Yet The Note asserts that Kuo's current comments -- which are consistent with his own previous comments and those of DiIulio -- are an effort to rewrite history. Just what history is The Note talking about?

Maybe the writers of The Note are swayed by the portrayal of White House senior adviser Karl Rove's outreach to religious conservatives in the pages of The Way To Win: Taking the White House in 2008 (Random House, October 2006), co-written by Note creator and lead author Mark Halperin. The Way To Win presents Rove as a modern-day philosopher-king, a towering intellect and serious policy thinker who successfully forged real relationships with religious and social conservatives. As evidence, The Way To Win quotes Rove's "longtime friend Richard Land, the leader of the conservative evangelical Southern Baptist Convention" and conservative activist Paul Weyrich, who said of Rove: "I'd send him an email at 5 o'clock Sunday morning and would have an answer by 7:30. He never failed to respond, even when he was on Air Force One. I got swifter answers from him than I do from my own staff."

But Weyrich -- who is credited with coining the phrase "Moral Majority" and founding the organization of the same name with Rev. Jerry Falwell -- lends some support to Kuo's suggestion that many in the Bush White House, Rove included, put politics ahead of policy. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Weyrich said Kuo, while still a White House official, told him of frustrations that the faith-based program had become entangled in politics. The initiative had been a signature proposal by Bush in the 2000 campaign but lost momentum amid partisan battles on Capitol Hill and the intense focus on security after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Weyrich said that Bush and many of his aides were genuinely interested in the program. But, he added, "I don't have any illusions about Rove. I think that he advocates conservatism because he believes it's the way to win."

Incredibly, The Way to Win cites Rove's study of DiIulio's work as evidence of the political operative's policy gravitas -- without mentioning DiIulio's statements about the Bush-Rove White House's aversion to the same.

[Rove's] sensibility flowed from a lifetime of reading serious books; indeed, he probably has worked his way through more weighty volumes than any other political strategist in the country. He had studied and been influenced by such conservative intellectuals as Myron Magnet, Richard John Neuhaus, and John J. DiIulio Jr.

Suddenly it seems clear what The Note must be referring to when it accuses Kuo of rewriting history: the sycophantic history journalists like Halperin have written for Karl Rove. The awe with which the nation's leading political journalists regard Rove simply can't be overstated; their portrayal of him recalls journalist Michael Barone's famous description of former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY): "The nation's best thinker among politicians since Lincoln, and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson."

Though Rove has led the Bush White House's policy and political efforts, and though both of those efforts have been unmitigated disasters in recent years, Halperin and company seem unable (or unwilling) to consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Rove is simply a very smart man and very good political strategist -- and, like all such people, is quite imperfect.

Halperin and his colleagues have spent years portraying Rove as not only a political magician (today's edition of The Note contains this characteristically awe-struck ode to Rove's political prowess: "In a move of classic Rove politics, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out press releases in almost every Senate race in the country yesterday ... ") but as a serious policy thinker whose policy expertise has helped forge invaluable relationships with, among others, religious conservatives. No wonder they are so quick to denounce Kuo's comments as an effort to rewrite history. They wrote the deeply flawed first draft of that history.

ABC's Tapper asks the right questions -- on his blog

Last Friday, ABC News' Jake Tapper raised an important point on his blog. Tapper noted that in recent days, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner (R-VA) had delivered a "bleak assessment" of the situation in Iraq and that the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Joe Biden (DE), said that two Republican senators had told him that they will break with the Bush administration's Iraq strategy after next month's elections, when "the need to protect the president will be nonexistent."

To which Tapper wondered:

Assuming Biden's tale is correct, it will be interesting to see which Republicans wait until after November 7 to break ranks with the White House on Iraq.

I wonder how a Senator who opposes the current Iraq war policy -- but hasn't stated so publicly -- calculates how many lives it's acceptable to have killed pursuing that policy before stating his opposition to it ....for the sole purpose of protecting his political party in an election.

How do you do the math on that?

Holding the Senate is worth, say, 500 dead? One thousand? How many US troops? How many wounded?

How do you justify it in your head?

"Well, my opposition won't change much on the ground there in the short term, anyway"...?

"I oppose the policy, but I don't want President Bush to get miffed at me for helping the Democrats sweep Connecticut"...?

God, sometimes it's hard to work in this town and not grow deeply cynical.

Those are all excellent questions -- and a refreshing break from the cynicism that all too often causes political reporters to speculate about the political effects of such decisions, rather than focusing on the human effects.

Just this week, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that "[a]s many as 654,965 more Iraqis may have died since hostilities began in Iraq in March 2003 than would have been expected under pre-war conditions."

Also this week, the top U.S. military spokesperson in Iraq said armed attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqis in Baghdad have increased by more than 40 percent since summer -- and that the military expected the violence to continue to increase. Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted that the U.S. strategy of training Iraqi police and soldiers hasn't worked, adding that death squads continue to roam the city at night.

The British army commander said British forces in Iraq are making the situation worse -- a conclusion similar to that recently reached by U.S. intelligence agencies -- and that the British military should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems."

Reuters reported that U.S. military casualties in Iraq have "surged," with at least 44 American troops killed so far in October, putting this month on pace to be the deadliest for U.S. forces since January 2005. And, according to The Boston Globe, "The Army is making provisions to keep at least 140,000 troops in Iraq through 2010."

All of that in just one week.

How many people have to die so Republicans don't have to admit what a large majority of Americans already believe: that the Iraq war was a horrible mistake, born of Bush administration dishonesty, that has not made America safer?

We were glad to see Tapper raise questions like this on his blog. It's time for him -- and his colleagues -- to raise them on television and in newspapers, as well.

New evidence that Bush administration is spying on innocent Americans

For months, we've been critical of the media's mindless repetition of the Bush administration's spin that its warrantless domestic wiretapping operation targets only terrorists, and that Democrats who oppose the program oppose "listening in on terrorists."

The reality is simple: No Democrat of any significance has ever said that the United States should not listen in on terrorists. Many of them have opposed the administration's specific policy of conducting extended surveillance in America without obtaining warrants to do so.

Military documents revealed October 12 illustrate the need for such checks on the Bush administration. The New York Times reported:

Internal military documents released Thursday provided new details about the Defense Department's collection of information on demonstrations nationwide last year by students, Quakers and others opposed to the Iraq war.

The documents, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, show, for instance, that military officials labeled as "potential terrorist activity" events like a "Stop the War Now" rally in Akron, Ohio, in March 2005.

The Defense Department acknowledged last year that its analysts had maintained records on war protests in an internal database past the 90 days its guidelines allowed, and even after it was determined there was no threat.

[...]

A document first disclosed last December by NBC News showed that the military had maintained a database, known as Talon, containing information about more than 1,500 "suspicious incidents" around the country in 2004 and 2005. Dozens of alerts on antiwar meetings and peaceful protests appear to have remained in the database even after analysts had decided that they posed no threat to military bases or personnel.

The evidence is clear: The Bush administration is spying on its political opponents, on people who pose no threat to America but merely disagree with Bush policy. There should never be another news report that quotes or references Bush's claims that Democrats don't want the government to monitor terrorists without noting that, in fact, what people are concerned about is the Bush administration's use of the Defense Department to keep tabs on its political opposition, and similar naked abuses of power.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.