In his Blogometer column yesterday, the National Journal’s excellent William Beutler took note of John Fund’s Political Diary item on Senator Reid and our post on it. The report on which Fund’s item was based reads:
Speaking Wednesday on News 4’s Nevada News Makers, Reid says he was informed today that Bin Laden may have died in the October temblor.
“I heard today that he may have died in the earthquake that they had in Pakistan, seriously.” Reid says that if that is the case, “that’s good for the world.”
I’ve omitted the links in Beutler’s item, but here is what he wrote in its entirety:
On 11/29, WSJ’s John Fund reported in the subscriber-only “Political Diary” that Senate Min. Leader Reid said on 11/23 to a NV NBC affil. about the recent Pakistan earthquake: “I heard that Osama bin Laden died in the earthquake, and if that’s the case, I certainly wouldn’t wish anyone harm, but if that’s the case, that’s good for the world.” Local NBC affil. KRNV has the video. That section was reprinted at the RNC’s GOP.com (as linked above) and conservative bloggers went with it, asking questions like this reader letter at Power Line: “What does Harry Reid know that we don’t? If there is something to this, why is Harry Reid leaking sensitive national security information before our intelligence agencies have anything to say? If there isn’t, why is Harry Reid spreading falsehoods and hearsay?” Conservative Varifrank posts a few “loose lips sink ships” type WWII-era posters. Betsy Newmark asks: “If senators can’t be trusted with top secret information, they won’t be able to perform their Constitutional obligations to oversight of the Executive branch. They must be trusted to keep their big yaps shut. And this guy goes off blabbing to the local news station!” Michelle Malkin has a roundup of reax, as does Pajamas Media.
Fact check: NV columnist Jon Ralston notes in his subscriber-only Flash: “By the way, all the senator said was that NPR had been reporting that Bin Laden may be dead and if so…” (11/29). Among the few liberal bloggers checking in with the story, Dave Weigel came closest: “Am I missing something? A lot of people were speculating that bin Laden died in the Pakistan earthquake. If you hear Reid’s entire quote, it sounds like he was going off those speculations — he actually said ‘I heard today’ that he may have died, which is a little less loaded than the ‘had been informed just that day’ James Bond spin John Fund takes on it.”
Beutler’s fact check is limited to the analysis of Jon Ralston and Dave Weigel. But who’s to check them? John Fund writes:
There is no indication on the tape that Reid said he had gotten it from news reports. The assumption that everyone drew from it was that he was doing more than passing on rumor…the summary from Channel 4 in Reno said he had been informed…(Nevada News Makers.com has the actual tape.)
In the NPR report Reid might be referring to…there is a line in there of pure speculation…but Reid used the word “seriously” on air…The point in my piece stands. Reid is the Minority Leader and clearly left the impression he had been briefed on this matter…
The man isn’t a security menace as much as he is a foolish loose cannon.
The gist of Ralston’s and Weigel’s point seems to be that, even though Reid serves in a position that gives him access to classified information and intelligence briefings, when he speaks on matters of great moment we are to think of the alienated Everyman of “A Day in the Life”: “I heard the news today, oh boy…”
UPDATE: David Weigel writes:
Since you discussed my blog post on Harry Reid’s Osama-earthquake quote (and sent some snark in my direction), I wanted to take the time to explain why I think John Fund is wrong.
– Fund’s first story on Reid in Political Diary was sloppy and misstated the quote. Fund had Reid saying “I heard that Osama bin Laden died in the earthquake.” The actual quote, as you can see from the video, was “I heard today that he may have died in the earthquake that they had in Pakistan, seriously.”
– In his email to you (that’s what I assume your Fund quotes came from), Fund explains where he got the detail that Reid “had been informed just that day” about Osama – from the Nevada channel’s website and their description of the video. Like the slightly altered version of the quote, this casts doubt on how much attention Fund was paying to Reid’s interview.
– Also in his email, Fund gives some reasoning that he didn’t use in his column or his original version of the Reid quote – “Reid used the word ‘seriously’ on air.” But what does that prove? Reid is talking with two interviewers. When one interviewer compared Dick Cheney’s poll numbers to bin Laden’s (which prompted Reid’s quote), the other turned around and looked at him perplexedly, then turned back to Reid. We don’t see their faces when Reid is talking, but it looks like when he says “seriously,” he’s reacting to their skeptical looks. Right after Reid says “seriously,” the first interviewer says, “Really?” Does he mean “seriously, I have secret sources” or “seriously, that’s what I heard on the news”? That’s a fair question, but it’s a question, and not the silver bullet Fund describes it as.
It’s odd that I’ve gotten involved in this at all – my first post was a lark (if you check it I talk about Reid a few grafs after I discuss the finale of an NBC reality show). But since you argue it’s silly to assume Reid could talk speculatively about issues like this, I return to the point I was originally making: What motivates someone to assume criminal behavior from Reid here? To begin with, if our intelligence had learned that Osama bin Laden was dead, why would they brief the Senate Minority Leader and not broadcast this information worldwide? We learned immediately of the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, and of the death or capture of any al Qaeda leader of note. Unconfirmed reports of the death of Zarqawi are leaked by media in Iraq every few months, and the government takes a little while to debunk them. The original theory from the Fund column and the blogs that linked to it, that Reid might be disrupting intelligence agencies’ plans to use this info to “sift out electronic intercepts,” seemed fishy at best.
The issue of whether Reid should discuss his theories on bin Laden at all is less interesting to me. In any case, that’s where I’m coming from.
Brian Maloney also comments in “Harry flaps his trap.”