Joel Mowbray reports: Conning Congress and Condi

Joel Mowbray ([email protected]) writes:

Al-Hurra’s news director, Larry Register, was indignant after the March 12 publication of my column in the Wall Street Journal, which detailed how he had turned the U.S. taxpayer-financed Arab TV network into a platform for Islamic terrorists.
In a meeting with Capitol Hill staffers demanding answers days later, Register was very clear that he was as surprised as anyone that the network, on December 7, was airing a live speech from Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah. He assured them that only part of the speech aired before cutting away.
It was a very vivid memory–and a provably false one. DVDs of the broadcast provided to Congress establish that Al-Hurra carried the entire speech, an hour and eight minutes overall. The network never cut away.
Register was not alone in duping Congress. His direct boss, Brian Conniff, was in on the ruse. If anything, Conniff might have managed to lie more often to more people about the Nasrallah incident than Register has.
Between them, Register and Conniff have hoodwinked Secretary of State Condi Rice, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), and Congress. They have done so orally and in writing.
And the lies have not been limited to the Nasrallah imbroglio.
The routine lack of candor has no doubt slowed efforts aimed at meaningfully reforming Al-Hurra, which likely is precisely why Register and Conniff have been feeding others false information.
While Register can’t get a free pass, it appears the driver of much of the dishonesty emanating from Al-Hurra is his direct boss, Conniff, the president of the network’s parent company, the Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN).
To anyone who has known or worked with Conniff, this would come as a shock. Conniff, 57, is well-liked by folks on both sides of the aisle, and he’s described as an unusually likeable and effective career bureaucrat. Though Conniff was personally responsible for hiring Register, it’s baffling that someone with such a sterling reputation would defend the embattled news director as strenuously as he has–especially by being less-than-truthful in the process.
The most breathtaking display of dishonesty came in a memo penned by Conniff on February 17 to BBG Chairman Ken Tomlinson, and cc’d to the entire board. It was a defiant response to concerns Tomlinson had raised about the one problem of which the board was aware before my March 12 column, the airing of Nasrallah’s speech in December.
“We actually carried approximately 45 to 50 minutes of a 90 minute speech followed by a guest who rebutted what Nasrallah said,” Conniff wrote. (To read about the true nature of the commentary that followed, see my Wall Street Journal column from last week.)
Perhaps he decided that, in a memo to the board overseeing Al-Hurra, a guess would be sufficient. But there are three reasons that the misstatement likely was not innocent:

1) A partial broadcast is materially different than a complete one, so how could he confuse that basic distinction?
2) In the briefing packet given to Rice for her testimony, for which Conniff was ultimately responsible, the length of the broadcast was pegged at “30 minutes,” not “45 to 50.” Why the change? A different guess? It couldn’t have been from checking the archive, that’s for sure. (Rice’s misleading Congress was discussed in detail in last week’s column.)
3) In written answers accompanying DVDs of various broadcasts submitted to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month, Conniff stated, “a significant segment of the speech was carried before it was dropped.” Why couldn’t he bring himself to tell the truth when handing over the evidence that belied his previous assertions? Did he think Congress was too lazy or too stupid to insert a DVD and fast-forward?

In a theme he sounded again in his written answers to Congress, Conniff wrote in his memo to Tomlinson and the board, “We have used that incident to reinforce to our staff our policy that we do not provide uncontrolled airwaves to extremists.” If that’s true, why was there not even a single memo or e-mail to that effect, as Conniff admitted in his answers to Congress? Conniff’s answer to Congress was that “Register has repeatedly told the morning editorial meetings that there will be no further live coverage of Hassan Nasrallah.”
But asked if they had heard such a message in the weeks following Nasrallah’s December 7 speech, several Al-Hurra staffers said no. Perhaps Conniff felt that he could fudge to Congress and the BBG on a point where there was no hard evidence to condradict him.
Hard evidence does exist, though, to disprove a written response Conniff had provided to Congress. When asked point blank if Register had approved the interview of the al Qaeda operative who had said that 9/11 brought him joy because it “rubbed America’s nose in the dust,” Conniff wrote flaty, “Register did not approve the news/package interview of Mohieddin Khan[sic].” He described the interview as “an unfortunate lapse.”
E-mails sent by Register, however, prove that while the interview was “unfortunate,” it was no “lapse.”
In an e-mail sent to Register and dated November 23, three days before the interview aired, the subject line started, “EX-QAEDA.” Register replied, “This is an interesting story. We should follow it as best we can.” Two days later–responding to an e-mail about the “X-GITMO” person–he confirmed his approval by writing, “If we can do these stories it would be great. I like them.”
Conniff might try to defend himself by saying that he himself had been lied to. But given his repeated inability to tell the truth, why should anyone believe him?
With Congress ratcheting up the pressure on Register, it appears that the Al-Hurra news director’s days are numbered. Even if Register is fired, though, Conniff’s mere survival would send an unmistakable signal that there is no consequence to lying to everyone from the secretary of state to Congress.
Is that the message that Congress and the Bush administration want to send?

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