Joe Conason's Journal

Even though the White House designed and purchased the "Mission Accomplished" banner, it was only because the Navy asked them to, they say.

Published October 29, 2003 3:35PM (EST)

The banner stops here
When the president told the press yesterday that the sailors had put up that "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Lincoln last May, his statement may have been technically accurate.

Within hours after Bush pointed at those boastful sailors, his own spokesman admitted that the White House had, in fact, designed and purchased the gigantic banner. But it was all the sailors' idea (perhaps like those letters "sent" by the soldiers in Kirkuk to their hometown papers, at the behest of their commanding officer). "We took care of the production of it," Scott McClellan told CNN. "We have people to do those things. But the Navy actually put it up." So the Navy is responsible for the presidential photo-op triumphalism, right?

Actually, the White House role was perfectly ordinary. That banner had to have decent graphics, with colors coordinated to the commander in chief's outfit; and then it had to be hung properly for the cameras, and so on. All in all, an important, demanding mission that probably was outside the competence of Navy specialists on an aircraft carrier.

Later, a Pentagon spokesman helpfully confirmed that the Navy requested the banner's controversial wording. "The banner was a Navy idea, the ship's idea," according to Cmdr. Conrad Chun, who called the Associated Press to make sure everyone knew the facts.

Assuming that McClellan and Chun are truthful, the president's remark may not have been quite the "cheap little lie" that I described yesterday. He merely left out a few of the most important facts. Such parsing and spinning used to be derided by the mainstream press as "Clintonian," but then the previous president's fibs tended to be about very important matters (like sex).

A pungent e-mail I received this morning puts the White House version in perspective:

"What if the Navy had wanted to put up a 'Fuck You, Chickenhawk' banner? Are we really supposed to believe that the White House just handled the manufacture of the 'Mission Accomplished' banner but had nothing to do with its editorial content? The buck passing is truly amazing. It's not the White House's fault, it's the CIA's fault. It wasn't our idea, it was the Navy's. And on and on ..."

For additional perspective on the Bush administration's solicitous attitude toward the troops, the Center for American Progress offers a fact sheet (titled "Claims vs. Fact: Treatment of Troops at a Time of War") on its excellent new Web site.
[11:30 p.m. PST, Oct. 29, 2003]

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