Joe Conason’s Journal

Today's lesson in doublespeak: Republican Sen. Wayne Allard on "privatization."


Now I understand
Senator Wayne Allard has settled that silly debate over the meaning of “privatization.” Although the Colorado Republican twice voted to require the diversion of Social Security funds into private accounts, he insists that such a proposal, no matter how specific, wasn’t really privatization. At the same time, however, his campaign is running an ad about Tom Strickland that says the Democrat “wanted to examine ‘alternative investment strategies,’” and concludes ominously: “Sounds like privatization.” Allard’s verbal squirming is the subject of a funny analysis in today’s Denver Post.

“Sylvia” and bias
The Miami Herald today explores allegations of bias on the part of TV journalist and moderator Michael Putney during the Bush-McBride debate. One key question: Did Bush somehow have an early look at the questions from Florida residents? Suspicions were raised when Bush addressed his answer on question No. 4 to “Sylvia,” the only problem being that Sylvia Scott of Miami had question No. 5. (In passing, the Herald also mentions this column, without noting that Putney’s explanation of Bush’s early reference to “Sylvia” was first published here. Incidentally WJXT has since added “Sylvia” to Bush’s answer in the “unofficial transcript” of the debate.)

I have no reason to think that Putney, long a fixture in Florida journalism, favors Republicans or Democrats — but a lot of readers who wrote in this week were angry over his conduct during the debate. Several took issue with Putney’s post-debate remark that the McBride campaign was “desperately trying to find a conspiracy,” when in fact the McBride campaign has said nothing about the Sylvia matter. “Such a line would be appropriate coming from Jeb’s campaign spokesman,” one reader noted, not a TV journalist who “didn’t do much of a job feigning impartiality during the actual debate, either.”

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Jersey jump
Anyone interested in how New Jersey Republicans reacted the last time a party wanted to substitute one candidate for another should click here.

That incredible shrinking uranium
By now you may have heard the reassuring news that the “weapons-grade uranium” seized by the Turkish police was only a tube full of harmless metal powder. Or you may not, because the story has had a quickly deteriorating half-life from the sensational headlines of a few days ago, and not every news source has caught up. The first ominous reports said that more than 15 kilos of highly enriched uranium, worth $5 million, had been seized on its way to Iraq in a taxi. Then the amount involved dropped to a few grams that might not be enriched. (The heavier reported weight had included the tube-shaped lead container, which had strange writing on it that said “Made in W. Germany” and “youranuom.”) Yesterday, a scientist at the nuclear research center in Istanbul gave a final analysis to the Anatolia News Agency: “We see that the substance is composed of zinc, iron, zirconium and manganese in shape of sand. It is definitely not a radioactive or hazardous substance.”

Meanwhile, the two men arrested with the lead pipe were released and have “disappeared.” So the chances that the origins of this hoax will ever be revealed are now conveniently small. Was it the work of a pair of clever Turkish con men? (Swindling Saddam’s agents sounds like a very unhealthy idea. Wouldn’t they examine the goods before handing over the $5 million? Wouldn’t they shoot someone who tried to sell them a handful of useless metallic dust?) Or was it a disinformation scheme concocted to further certain political aims?

A clue appeared two days ago in Kommersant, a Russian publication whose correspondent revealed what he had learned on the Debkafile Web site, which claims to have sources at high levels in various intelligence and military services (particularly the Israeli Mossad). According to Debkafile, “the uranium seizure resulted from a joint operation by the [Russian] Foreign Intelligence Service and the CIA which began at the start of August.” How interesting. After they played this hoax so big, why aren’t the media more curious about the perpetrators?

An admirable New Yorker
Jim Chapin died Monday, in a terribly sad and sudden loss to his family and his numerous friends — and to American public life, of which he was among the most astute observers. As historian, commentator and political advisor he enjoyed the kind of reputation that anyone would hope to earn. He was also respected and liked simply as a person, and valued as an active citizen. Like other members of his talented family, Jim Chapin devoted decades of work to World Hunger Year, an innovative charity founded by his late brother Harry. WHY has already posted a few warm tributes to him. There are sure to be many more.
[3:55 p.m. PDT, Oct. 2, 2002]

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