Joe Conason's Journal

How long will the White House counterterrorism chief stay? Plus: Ann Coulter's publisher considers a correction.

By Salon Staff

Published August 6, 2002 4:02PM (EDT)

Job security
How long will Richard Clarke wait before resigning? The position of the National Security Council's counterterror chief -- a nonpartisan official who has served in the White House since the first Bush presidency -- must be difficult now that his tragically unheeded warnings and plans have been detailed in Time magazine. Some of what Time reports about Clarke's efforts appeared months ago in the Washington Post, but the newsweekly's version is more pointed. The few direct quotes from him in the Time epic are anodyne -- as when he says that the dithering policy review on the al-Qaida threat ordered by Condi Rice in early 2001 moved forward "as fast as could be expected." The story, however, portrays Clarke "livid with frustration" over the nine-month delay in approving his plan. If the White House suspects that he was the main source for Time, the only reason Clarke won't be ousted is because of what he might say were he able to speak freely.

Crony catering
Among the stellar chapters of the president's business career, his stint in the airline catering industry is certainly the most neglected. Today David Ignatius glances back at Caterair, a defunct purveyor of inedible in-flight meals that once boasted George W. Bush as a director. A more familiar name than Caterair to aficionados of Bush family finances is that of its former corporate parent, the Carlyle Group. For a few years before Caterair collapsed under the weight of junk financing and mismanagement, George W. collected director's fees and stock options courtesy of Fred Malek, the old Nixon fixer who had served Poppy during the 1988 campaign. As Ignatius recalls, the younger Bush suddenly dropped Caterair from his résumé when he ran for Texas governor in 1994. The company's burgeoning debt and nonexistent profits wouldn't have burnished the image of a "successful businessman." The best quote is a 1991 vintage beauty uttered by Malek: "I thought George W. Bush could make a contribution to Caterair. He would be on the board even if his father weren't president."
[2:52 p.m. PDT, Aug. 6, 2002]

Spoiling the party
Democrats sound more confident lately about winning back the House of Representatives after eight years of Republican control, and while the generic polls are encouraging, it remains an uphill climb. The most important reasons are money, and money, as GOP leaders and consultants have come very close to admitting in recent days.

A politician's candor always increases in direct proportion to proximity to retirement. That must be why Dick Armey, the departing house majority leader, so openly discussed his party's version of pork-barrel politics with the A.P. "There is an old adage. To the victor goes the spoils," he said, explaining why Republican districts have received an average of $600 million more annually than Democratic districts since the Republican takeover. (By the way, that is nearly 18 times the partisan disparity that existed -- in the opposite direction -- when Democrats last ran the House.) It was good of Professor Armey to share his governing philosophy with us now, even if he and his pals Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay forgot to mention their partisan budgetary objectives when they were promoting the Contract With America in 1994. But their libertarian admirers may be disappointed to learn that these great statesmen were more focused on redistributing wealth upward than in reducing the size of government.

That redirection of public treasure surely gives Republican incumbents a lift among their supporters and constituents, who only hate government when the federal largesse is going to somebody who needs it more. Despite that advantage, and the redrawing of election districts by GOP-dominated legislatures, Adam Nagourney quotes two smart Republican consultants saying that the Democrats just may have a shot in November. What is likely to protect the tiny Republican margin is that there are few competitive races, and that his party's incumbents are, as one of the consultants tastefully puts it, "well-funded."

Stop the presses
Exciting news for Ann Coulter fans: Her editor at Crown Publishers says that they are in deep consultation with the wacky winger about correcting at least one atrocious slander in her bestselling book of that title. Doug Pepper of Crown told me that they are examining the accuracy of her charge that those liberal elitists at the New York Times didn't give NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt's death front-page coverage until two days after the crash that killed him. "I'm talking to Ann about this," he said, adding that "I don't know if it's an actual error." In order to ascertain the facts about the Earnhardt passage, said Pepper, they have ordered an "actual copy" of the February 19, 2001, paper.

According to Nexis -- the online data service that Ann herself claims to have used in compiling her copious footnotes -- the Times published a Page 1 story on the day after Earnhardt's death by Robert Lipsyte, one of its most distinguished writers. "It will absolutely be fixed for the next printing," Pepper pledged, if the paper copy matches the Nexis citation.

This could be the beginning of a heavy workload for the Crown cleanup crew, assuming that they sincerely intend to amend Coulter's text to reflect facts rather than prejudices. All nonfiction books contain mistakes (including mine), but the Earnhardt blooper is only one of many blatant, inarguable errors made by Coulter (to put it more politely than she would).

Fortunately for Pepper, the hardworking researchers at Spinsanity, the Daily Howler and the American Prospect's daily Weblog Tapped have thoughtfully provided copious guidance. Mining this vein of hilarity has become a cottage industry on the Internet. Will somebody please give Pepper a Nexis subscription and a shovel?
[9 a.m. PDT, Aug. 6, 2002]

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