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Deborah Howell and Fred Hiatt: Fact Free and Loving It

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I go back and forth on the Deborah Howell conundrum — ignorant or craven?  I always find myself touching down on the Upton Sinclair quote:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

And so we find ourselves with Lil’ Debbie, failing to disappoint with this week’s excuses about last week’s Fred Hiatt column:

The Post editorially has supported the war, and the purpose of the editorial — headlined "A Good Leak" — was to support that leak as necessary to show that the president had reason to believe that Iraq was seeking uranium.

Yes, we know you have a lot invested in your warmongering.  It has no doubt paid the giant cocktail weenie bill for years.  But the fact is that there was no reason for the president to believe Iraq was seeking uranium at the time. Do we have to go through this again?  I guess so.  Joe Wilson’s oped appeared on July 6, 2003.  Five days later, on July 11 2003, George Tenet had to admit Wilson was right and there was no credible reason to believe as of January, 2003 when the President gave the State of the Union address that the 16 words had any validity; indeed, that’s why Tenet said they never should have been included in the first place.

Only this last week we learned what they knew then, but what we didn’t know —  the National Intelligence Council had delivered a definitive judgment in January of 2003 that the claims weren’t credible.  It appeared in the Post on the same day Hiatt’s editorial did.  Lil’ Debbie claims Hiatt had not read Gelman and Linzer’s piece at the time he wrote his editorial, not that it would have made any difference (her words not mine — facts obviously have no place within the bubble world of the Post’s editorial page).  But by the time Howell was scribbling her excuses for Hiatt she most certainly had read it.  What it said:

Tenet interceded to keep the claim out of a speech Bush gave in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, but by Dec. 19 it reappeared in a State Department "fact sheet." After that, the Pentagon asked for an authoritative judgment from the National Intelligence Council, the senior coordinating body for the 15 agencies that then constituted the U.S. intelligence community. Did Iraq and Niger discuss a uranium sale, or not? If they had, the Pentagon would need to reconsider its ties with Niger.

The council’s reply, drafted in a January 2003 memo by the national intelligence officer for Africa, was unequivocal: The Niger story was baseless and should be laid to rest. Four U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge said in interviews that the memo, which has not been reported before, arrived at the White House as Bush and his highest-ranking advisers made the uranium story a centerpiece of their case for the rapidly approaching war against Iraq.

How could even she write something so staggeringly dishonest  as "the president had reason to believe that Iraq was seeking uranium" when she admits in the same piece that this was staring her right in the face?  I mean, WTF?  What does it take to get through to these people?  There were no attempts to purchase uranium from Niger and the President knew it, even by the Post’s own reporting.  How much simpler can we possibly make it?

But wait, now how much would you pay:

The editorial said Bush "clumsily" handled the leak, leading to Democrats’ "hyperbolic charges of misconduct and hypocrisy." (Don’t expect newspapers to editorialize against leaks.)

Don’t expect newspapers to editorialize against leaks?  But that’s exactly what Hiatt did:

Rather than follow the usual declassification procedures and then invite reporters to a briefing — as the White House eventually did — Vice President Cheney initially chose to be secretive, ordering his chief of staff at the time, I. Lewis Libby, to leak the information to a favorite New York Times reporter. The full public disclosure followed 10 days later. There was nothing illegal or even particularly unusual about that, nor is this presidentially authorized leak necessarily comparable to other, unauthorized disclosures that the president believes, rightly or wrongly, compromise national security.

Hiatt buys right into the official GOP narrative that the President’s leaks are okay but that the NSA leaks to the New York Times reporters are "unauthorized" and of a whole different beast that could endanger national security.  The Justice Department is hunting for James Risen’s head in order to make him turn over his sources and Hiatt gives this the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  What does this say to people who might be thinking of whistleblowing to the Post?  Fuck you, you bunch of traitors, we’ll hand you over like a carnival prize?  

Lil’ Debbie again:

The passage in the Post editorial that sent war critics round the bend was this one: " . . . Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

I’m sure it did.  She then goes on to not address this point at all, except to get into Hiatt’s shopworn and downright wrong invocations of British intelligence at the time that the White House used to parse excuses for itself.  They knew there were no attempts to buy Niger uranium.  Both Howell and Hiatt keep trying to distract the argument by making it about Joe Wilson’s report, but it’s not about Wilson’s report.  The administration knew, completely independent of Wilson, that there were no attempts to buy Niger Uranium.

Colin Powell:

"The CIA was pushing the aluminum tube argument heavily and Cheney went with that instead of what our guys wrote," Powell said. And the Niger reference in Bush’s State of the Union speech? "That was a big mistake," he said. "It should never have been in the speech. I didn’t need Wilson to tell me that there wasn’t a Niger connection. He didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. I never believed it."

How many new and different ways do I have to find to say this?  

More Howell:

It would have been helpful if the editorial had put statements about Wilson in more context — especially the controversy over his trip and what he said.

No.  No, it wouldn’t have, and I’m going to tell you why Deb.  Not that it will matter, but I’m going to do it anyway.

The attempt by the Administration to smear Joe Wilson was a pure Rovian effort to distract from the fact that he was right.  Any attempt to pass off those smears three years later is an utterly dishonest and reprehensible journalism practice.  It isn’t journalism at all, it’s thuggery.  People often ask why I don’t get into debunking the claim of "Wilson’s wife sent him to Africa."  Know why?  Because suddenly I’m arguing about Pat Roberts and what a hopeless hack and Bush Administration tool he is and I’m off the main point, the only point — Joe Wilson was right.  There is no getting around it and any other discussion trivializes and distracts from the greater truth about the thousands of people who lay dead because a nation was lied into war.  There were no attempts to buy Uranium from Niger, and everything else — to paraphrase a great man — is just an attempt to throw sand in the Umpire’s eyes.

Some readers think it’s a scandal when two parts of the newspaper appear to be in conflict with each other, but it’s not that unusual that reporting — particularly in news and editorial — will depend on different sources. It happened again last week when an editorial and a story gave different estimates for how long it might take Iran to build a nuclear bomb.

No, Deb, that’s not what people were upset about.  What enraged them was the complete fact-free vacuum that Hiatt seems to be locked in.  Even as he tries to excuse the paper’s history as supreme war pimp he does so in denial of the facts not only in the Gellman and Linzer article but of virtually all the reporting that’s been done on the topic by everyone short of the Moonie Times.  

Debbie falls back once again on the intellectually lazy "well, everyone’s upset so we must be doing something right" hokum. Yes, she’s an idiot.  But she’s quite useful to the Post.  Anyone with even a bit more intelligence would have a hard time getting all that insufferable, senseless drivel onto the page.  And as they struggle to justify the blood on their own hands, that’s an opiate for which they seem to have a relentless hunger.

Small wonder. 

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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