Thursday, July 14, 2005

More on How the Right Lies to Protect Their Treasonous Crony
From TomPaine.common sense

Saving Karl Rove
Paul Waldman
July 14, 2005

Paul Waldman is a senior fellow with Media Matters for America and a senior contributor to The Gadflyer.

Every administration has its share of scandals to deal with, and every one handles them in a slightly different way (of course, it helps if your party controls both houses of Congress, so there will be no pesky Congressional investigations to deal with). But the Bush administration’s furious effort to save Karl Rove and justify the outing of a covert CIA operative is a remarkable case study in misdirection, a campaign whose scaffolding of spin is plain for all to see.

Listen to the party hacks and conservative pundits and you can hear an endlessly repeated version of the talking points issued by the Republican National Committee. ( You can see them here, courtesy of Raw Story).

When we unpack its elements we can see not only the state of the art in political damage control but the tools that allow the Republicans to come out on top again and again when controversy rears its ugly head.

Step 1: It’s not really about us, it’s about them.

This is one of the fundamental divides between the two parties today, something Republicans understand and Democrats don’t: If the controversy is about you, you lose; if it’s about your opponent, you win. So when Democrats responded to Karl Rove’s slander about their response to 9/11 by saying that they supported the war in Afghanistan, they were making the mistake of arguing about whether they were or weren’t a bunch of wimps. Every time one of these controversies erupts, the Republicans always make it about Democrats: Who they are, what they’ve said and what they’ve done.

So now when Republicans talk about Rove, we hear the phrases “angry left” and “smear campaign” repeated over and over, as they argue that this is all a tempest in a teapot being drummed up by those mean liberals. Apparently, Democrats are angry that national security would be compromised to punish a Bush administration opponent—go figure.

But the real target of the spin effort is Joe Wilson. As the Republicans understand, if they can get everyone to talk about whether Wilson should have been sent to Niger, whether he should have contributed to the Kerry campaign, or whether a Republican Senate report did or did not contradict him, pretty soon no one will be talking about Karl Rove anymore. Which brings us to…

Step 2: Lie through your teeth.

Republicans have argued that Valerie Plame was not a covert agent (she was), and some have even suggested that Iraq really might have been seeking uranium from Niger, something even the Bush administration has admitted is false. But much of their arguments centers on the utterly phony claim that Karl Rove was trying to stop Matthew Cooper from writing about Wilson because Wilson had claimed that Vice President Cheney sent him to Niger. Wilson never said any such thing; he said that the vice president’s office asked the CIA to investigate the uranium claim, and the CIA asked him to take part in that investigation. Spinner after Republican spinner has lied about this, trying to paint Rove’s outing of Plame as “discouraging a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise,” as RNC chairman Ken Mehlman put it.

Step 3: Argue the semantics, or, it depends on what the meaning of “identify” is.

More than once, Karl Rove has denied being the leaker. But when we look at his past comments, we see an attention to semantic detail that is reminiscent of no one so much as our last president. “I didn’t know her name and didn’t leak her name,” he said. In other words, I did not have naming relations with that woman.

Others are echoing this line. “There’s no evidence at all that he ever used her name,” said Newt Gingrich. And even some reporters seem to be accepting this as a reasonable defense. David Sanger of The New York Times reported that the fact that Rove revealed Plame’s identity but not her name “could save his job” if President Bush decides it allows him to worm out of his pledge to fire the leaker.

In fact, the statute in question makes it illegal not to reveal an agent’s name, but “any information identifying such covert agent.” But whether Rove can be convicted in a court of law is a relatively minor point; he revealed the identity of a covert CIA operative for the purpose of a political vendetta. He may be able to avoid jail time if he didn’t know she was undercover, but his actions were no less deplorable or harmful to American national security.

A year ago, President Bush was asked whether he would fire anyone who leaked Plame’s name; Bush responded, “Yes”; Scott McClellan has said the same thing more than once. But on Monday, Fox News’ Carl Cameron, who surely must be the administration’s favorite reporter, tried to give the president some wiggle room by claiming that Bush “never actually said the word ‘fired,’ but that is what some reporters and Democrats seem to expect.”

This is all beginning to sound familiar.

Step 4: It’s all partisan politics.

When Richard Clarke revealed that the Bush White House virtually ignored the issue of terrorism in the months leading up to 9/11, the White House decided to attack the messenger and paint him as a partisan Democrat in the hopes that doing so would convince the press to report the story as just one more partisan squabble. The effort was largely successful, and the same template is being applied here.

“The Democrats are engaging in blatant partisan political attacks,” said Ken Mehlman. “They're just playing partisan politics,” said Dennis Hastert’s spokesperson. The press will dutifully play along by reporting the conflict in he said/she said, style, giving all claims—even blatantly false ones—equal weight, lest they be accused of “bias.” The public, seeing yet one more case of partisan bickering, lines up with whichever party they have more sympathy for, and the substance of the wrongdoing begins to fade away. As The Christian Science Monitor wrote, “At this highly partisan time, much of the public will likely glaze over at the appearance of yet another bout of wrangling in Washington on an issue that does not directly affect them.” The public may well glaze over—but only if the press plays their part in Republican spin.

Politics By Other Means

Reporters have long gazed in wonderment at Rove, passing on even his most transparent attempts at shaping news coverage as cleverly discovered insights into the White House’s closely guarded strategies. But is it possible that the “Boy Genius” who bestrides our political world like a colossus could have been so utterly stupid as to compromise national security for no reason other than punishing someone who had the temerity to criticize the administration? Apparently so.

As Ron Suskind wrote two years ago, “In conversation with scores of people who know him, the assessment ultimately is the same: For Karl Rove, it’s all and only about winning. The rest—vision, ideology, good government, ideas to bind a nation, reasonable dissent, collegiality, mutual respect—is for later.” James Moore and Wayne Slater, authors of Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential came to the same conclusion. “He seemed to be driven by a roaring internal engine to control every disagreement, rule every dispute, and dominate every contest,” they wrote. “In everything he did, Karl Rove wanted to win.”

And winning alone has never seemed enough for Rove. The opponent must not simply be defeated but utterly destroyed, both personally and professionally. Suskind reports waiting outside Rove’s door in the White House for an interview, and hearing Rove issue a tirade about a political operative who had displeased him. “We will fuck him,” Rove said, “Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!”

As Joshua Green recently reported in The Atlantic Monthly , a campaign Rove ran for an Alabama judicial candidate featured a whisper campaign spreading rumors that the opponent was a pedophile. “What Rove does,” said one campaign consultant who had opposed Rove, “is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship.”

Rove tried to do something similar to Joe Wilson, but in the process he endangered national security—a fact no amount of spin will conceal. As George H.W. Bush once said, “I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the names of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors.”

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