Bolstered by boosterism

Today’s Washington Post has this front-page headline: “Framework of Clarke’s Book is Bolstered.” Doing the “bolstering” are two of the Post’s biggest Democratic party boosters — Walter Pincus and Dana Millbank. I’ll leave it to Rocket Man to do the definitive dissection of their story, but here are a few things I noticed. First, the front-end of the story is mostly about whether Clarke’s testimony before the 9-11 commission is consistent with his testimony in 2002 to a joint congressional committee. If one looks at the story carefully, the honest answer must be that Pincus and Millbank don’t know. The 2002 testimony is classified. Pincus and Millbank rely on “dozens of declassified citations” and the recollection of a committee staffer who heard the testimony. But the staffer, it turns out, heard only some of Clarke’s 2002 presentation and, without a transcript, could not reach “a final conclusion” as to whether even the portion she heard was fully consistent with what Clarke said last month. One can’t possibly conclude that the two sets of testimony are consistent based on excerpts and the inconclusive views of someone who was not present for the whole hearing in 2002. But the authors nonetheless want the reader to conclude just that. Ultimately, they hide behind the claim that “any differences [between the two sets of testimony] are matters of emphasis, not fact.” If true, that would save Clarke from perjury charges, but it would hardly show that he wasn’t doing some serious spinning last month.
Pincus and Millbank also state that “the broad outline of Clarke’s criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, [and] congressional and commission investigators.” But they don’t tell us what they think constitutes “the broad outline of Clarke’s criticism,” nor do they explain how it has been “corroborated.” And they omit entirely any mention of the clear contradictions between Clarke’s testimony last month and his interview with Jim Angle of Fox News, as well as inconsistencies noted by Charles Krauthammer between Clarke’s 2004 testimony and an interview with PBS’s “Frontline” in 2002.
While ignoring Clarke’s interview transcript, Pincus and Millbank are happy to rely on President Bush’s alleged admission to Bob Woodwardthat he didn’t feel the same sense of urgency about Osama bin Laden before 9-11 as afterwards. But if Bush stands accused of being more concerned about bin Laden after he pulled of 9-11 than before, then I think we can all agree that he is guilty as charged and send the commission home. I understand the “framework of Clarke’s book” to be about something more than that unremarkable claim, namely alleged negligence on the part of the Bush administation and its alleged failure to match the vigilence of Bill Clinton’s. If that framework that has been bolstered, Pincus and Millbank don’t show how.

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