Dan Froomkin on the man who lies likes he breathes:
“Has Treasury Secretary Snow given you any indication that he intends to leave his job any time soon?”
Keil also tacked on a question about the economy. But Bush responded to his first question first: “No, he has not talked to me about resignation. I think he’s doing a fine job.”
At Tuesday’s press briefing , spokesman Tony Snow (no relation) confirmed that Bush had offered John Snow’s job to Goldman Sachs chairman Henry Paulson several days before the press conference, and the spokesman didn’t deny that Bush and his treasury secretary had talked about it.
So was Bush being intentionally deceptive?
Tony Snow’s response: “No, he said, ‘He’s not talked to me about resignation.’ That does not mean that there were not other discussions. I mean, it was artfully worded. . . . [T]he one thing you do not want to do in a situation like this is to start speculating about changes before the changes are ready to be made. Those do have impacts on markets, and you have to be responsible and cautious in the way you deal with them.”
Several White House correspondents dutifully reported Snow’s explanation — but neglected to note that it doesn’t wash.
First of all, Bush’s direct answer to the question of whether John Snow had given him any indication that he intended to leave his job was, “No.” Hard to get around that.
And what was supposedly so artful about Bush saying “he has not talked to me about resignation”? The spokesman acknowledged that Bush and Snow had some discussions, and that over some period of time Snow “had made it clear that he wanted to move on.”
So is the White House claiming that Bush was on solid ground because, in the direct Bush-Snow discussions, the word “resignation” literally didn’t come up? That they talked about Snow’s desire to leave and his succession, but not his “resignation”?
In the best-case scenario — and if you ignore the “No” at the beginning of Bush’s statement — Tony Snow’s description of what the president said as “artful” rests on hair-splitting wordplay at least as preposterous as any Clintonian parsing. Worst-case scenario, the spokesman was just spinning like a top — and the press corps, by and large, bought it.
Froomkin later gives examples of reporters who aren’t willing to call a spade a spade and instead split so many hairs that they end up with a bad toupee:
(John) Dickerson writes: “When a person hears a question, dissects it, and fashions an answer on the spot that deceives, it suggests a lot of practice and comfort with fibbing. This is a problem area for Bush: Fifty-six percent of the country does not find him trustworthy, according to recent polls .
But Dickerson, formerly a White House correspondent for Time, can’t quite bring himself to call it a lie: “A hat is artful. A toupee is a lie. Bush’s answer was toupee-like. Even if it was technically true that Bush had not talked to Snow about ‘resignation,’ the president knew his confected statement was deceptive. I’m reluctant to call it a lie, but the president abused our trust.”
From Eric Boehlert’s Lapdogs (yes, all of us cool bloggers are reading it because it may be the most indispensable book of the past six years):
Yet to hear Bush’s former flak Ari Fleischer tell it, the durable D.C. press corps is “one of the toughest, sharpest, most skeptical groups anyone will encounter.” Fleischer insists newsrooms feed off conflict: “Conflict is juicy, conflict sells, the public is interested in conflict, and the White House press corps respond by providing it.”
The MSM’s unique brand of journalism, unveiled just for Bush, represented precisely the kind of clubby, get-along reporting that would have been roundly mocked by journalists themselves just a few years earlier. During the Clinton years, the D.C. newsroom sin was to be seen as soft on Democrats — “a Clinton apologist” — and journalists went to extraordinary lengths to prove their mettle by staying up late chasing Whitewater rumors and trying to prove the White House gave away weapons secrets to the Chinese in exchange for campaign contributions. The phrase “double standard” barely begins to describe the titanic shift that occurred in how Bush and his Republican administration were covered by the suddenly timorous press corps. It’s hard to believe the Bush-era slumbering press was the same one that a decade earlier shifted into overdrive when bogus allegations flew that President Clinton caused commercial airplanes to back up at Los Angeles International Airport while he received a $200 haircut from a celebrity stylist aboard Air Force One in 1993. Federal Aviation Administration records later showed no such delays occurred, but that didn’t stop the Washington Post from referencing the silly incident fifty-plus times in less than thirty days, treating the hoax as a serious political story. (The Post staff managed to squeeze in nearly one hundred Clinton haircut references during the 1993 calendar year.) Then again, just four months into his first term, the Post published a lengthy, mocking feature on Clinton’s soft approval ratings. (“The Failed Clinton Presidency. It has a certain ring to it.”) Yet in 2005 when Bush’s job approval rating plunged into the 30s, the Post refused to print the phrase “failed presidency” to describe Bush’s second term. To do so would simply invite conservative scorn; something the newsroom seemed to go to extraordinarily lengths to avoid.
The results of Bush’s lies, and the people whose fail to call him out on it are devastating:
With his misrepresentations and false assertions, Bush has dramatically changed the nation and the world. Relying on deceptions, he turned the United States into an occupying power. Using lies, he pushed through tax cuts that will profoundly reshape the US budget for years to come, most likely insuring a long stretch of deficits that will make it difficult, perhaps impossible, for the federal government to fund existing programs or contemplate new ones.
Does Bush lie more than his predecessors, more than his political opponents? That’s irrelevant. He’s guiding the nation during difficult and perhaps perilous times, in which a credible President is much in need. Prosperity or economic decline? War or peace? Security or fear? This country has a lot to deal with. Lies from the White House poison the debates that must occur if Americans are going to confront and overcome the challenges of this century at home and abroad.
Presidential lying, in fact, threatens the country. To render informed and wise choices about the crucial and complicated controversies of the day, people need truthful information. The President is generally in a position to define and dominate a debate more than other political players. And a lie from the White House–or a fib or a misrepresentation or a fudged number–can go a long way toward distorting the national discussion.
Bush campaigned for the presidency as the fellow who would bring honesty back to the White House. During his first full day on the job, while swearing in his White House staff, he reminded his cadre, “On a mantelpiece in this great house is inscribed the prayer of John Adams, that only the wise and honest may rule under this roof.” But Adams’s prayer would once more go unanswered. There has been no restoration of integrity. Bush’s promise was a lie. The future of the United States remains in the hands of a dishonest man.
I guess a press that is unwilling to point out the lies about war and taxes and national security can’t be expected to get exercised by a little lie about personnel changes.
That would be silly.
(Liar design above compliments of APB: tasteful designs for a distasteful world)