Tuesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
February 17, 2004 7:20PM (UTC)

The capacity to make an excuse for war
The Boston Globe debunks President Bush's latest explanation for why we went to war with Iraq the oft-repeated assertion in his interview with Tim Russert on Feb. 8 that Saddam had "the capacity to make a weapon" of mass destruction. "Prewar Iraq was highly unlikely to produce a device that could easily inflict mass casualties former weapons inspectors and former national security officials say." Bush cites former chief weapons inspector David Kay in his current rhetoric. "David Kay did report to the American people that Saddam had the capacity to make weapons," Bush said on Meet the Press. "Saddam Hussein was dangerous with weapons. Saddam Hussein was dangerous with the ability to make weapons." But the Globe says: " Kay did not describe Iraq's production capacity so clearly in either his interim public report last fall or in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 28. In an interview last week, he told the Globe that although Iraq had pesticide equipment that could be switched to produce fine-grain anthrax in a lab, it would have remained a challenge to deliver it in a way that would inflict mass casualties."

More Globe: "Vincent Cannistraro, a former head of the CIA's counterterrorism unit and a former director of intelligence for the National Security Council, noted that Bush has been accused of exaggerating intelligence before the war by taking shards of analysis that included conditions and hedged suspicions about what Iraq might be harboring -- then representing it as a certainty. Cannistraro said Bush's description of Kay's postwar findings is also a questionably aggressive interpretation of the evidence."

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"It's not as flatly wrong, but it is misleading," Cannistraro said. "To translate knowledge . . . to capability, that's inaccurate because knowledge can be, 'Yeah, I know how to do this.' But having the capability of doing this requires the acquisition of a lot of component parts you don't have."

Kerry's red state challenge
The Washington Post turns an eye to the general election battle of Kerry vs. Bush and concludes that Kerry has a "daunting challenge" in "a race that will test whether a liberal New Englander and member of the Washington elite can attract support in the more conservative swing states that cost Democrats the White House in 2000 Kerry has yet to prove he can reach far enough beyond an obviously energized Democratic base to the swing voters in Ohio, West Virginia, Missouri, Florida or other states that Bush won narrowly and where the election is likely to be decided in November." As for the Bush camp's "Dukakisizing" of Kerry making him out to be a soft on crime, big on taxes Massachusetts liberal, the president's advisers latest line is that Democrats would be lucky to have Michael Dukakis around again. "This idea of Dukakis, Dukakis, Dukakis -- we're not going to run against him as Dukakis," one senior Bush adviser told the Post. "Dukakis was an outsider and mainstream compared to Kerry. We're going to run against him as John Kerry. Look at Dukakis's positions on what he did as governor. He was a real outsider who could make an argument about change and doing things that were fiscally conservative. John Kerry has none of that."

But in a debate in Wisconsin on Sunday night, Kerry said he's ready for the GOP attack. "I've been in public life since I was about 27 years old. I have been in very visible, tough races in the course of my life. I am ready for what they throw at me."

Kerry and Dean's critical relationship
The Baltimore Sun looks at what role Howard Dean might play in the Kerry campaign and the general election, even as Dean insists he's staying in the race after what appears to be a certain loss in today's Wisconsin primary. How Kerry and Dean mend their relationship and fuse their support and money-raising machines will have a major impact on how the general election plays out, the Sun notes.

"The most critical decision John Kerry has to make in the next month is what his relationship with Howard Dean will be," Elaine Kamarck, senior adviser in Al Gore's 2000 campaign, tells the Sun. "Because the only potential he has for getting us within striking distance of the Republicans' money is to somehow convert that Dean fund-raising machine into a generic Democratic or Kerry machine. "I don't know if that's possible," she added. "But the delicate relationship between Dean and Kerry is going to be very, very critical to the question of whether Kerry has the resources to compete with Bush."

The terms of a Dean-Kerry alliance won't be clear until and when the former Vermont governor ends his presidential run. Dean said again on Monday that he would "absolutely not" quit the campaign if he lost in Wisconsin. "But top aides have already departed his Burlington, Vt., headquarters. Others are expected to quit tomorrow," the Sun says. Dean's national chairman, Steve Grossman left the campaign on Monday after saying publicly he would reach out to Kerry if Dean lost the Wisconsin primary.

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'I assumed the media would ignore lies'
The New York Times is among the news organizations to carry the public denial from a 27-year-old woman who was the subject of a tawdry rumor campaign last week that she had an affair with John Kerry.

"While there was no independent evidence to support it, the rumor has had a vibrant life on the Internet, on talk radio, and in the foreign news media, especially in Australia and England, since it was first reported Thursday by the Drudge Report Web site. It has received far less attention in the mainstream American news media. Denials from Mr. Kerry on the radio program of Don Imus on Friday, and later during a session with reporters, were reported by some American television news organizations and newspapers, including The New York Times." In her statement on Monday, Alexandra Polier said she came forward because she was frustrated by the attention the rumor was continuing to receive. "Because these stories were false, I assumed the media would ignore them," she wrote in her statement. "It seems that efforts to peddle these lies continue, so I feel compelled to address them."

5 rules for covering the 2004 campaign
Perhaps the restraint demonstrated by most mainstream news organizations in not running with Matt Drudge's Kerry-intern rumors last week is a good omen for 2004 campaign coverage. In the March 1 issue of the American Prospect, Eric Alterman and Michael Tomasky find other encouraging signs that the political media won't succumb to "schoolyard silliness" as it did during the 2000 campaign. In just the first week of February, they point out: "the media started raising new questions about the justification for the Iraq War; broke an important story about the administration knowing last fall that the Medicare bill would cost $134 billion more than it let on to its employers (the public); broke another about a probe of alleged bribes at Dick Cheney's Halliburton; and finally, led by The Boston Globe's Walter Robinson, started to take a semi-meaningful look into George W. Bush's disputed National Guard record."

"Don't start dancing to the music just yet, though. Bad habits die hard, and we've all come to expect too little genuine journalism and far too much of what might be called 'journalism-related program activity.' This is what we got back in 2000, when Al Gore was deemed a lying SOB for statements he made that were wholly accurate. (Gore did play a large role in creating the predecessor to the Internet, he did hold the hearings that 'discovered' contamination at Love Canal, and his only mistake regarding that most crucial of 'lies' about who inspired the characters in Erich Segal's Love Story was accurately recalling a decades-old mistaken story in The Tennessean.) Remember, he was running against a guy who couldn't remember a year of his military service or anything connected with a million-dollar bailout he received regarding a fishy stock sale during which he was privy to inside information about the same stock's likely collapse. But hardly anyone thought those questions worth examining."

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Alterman and Tomasky offer the following rules the political media should follow to redeem itself after its performance in 2000: "Go beyond the 'he said, she said' and tell us what you believe to be true and important about a story. Challenge the master narrative with genuine investigative reporting. Show proportionality in covering controversies. A little solidarity on behalf of the truth, please. Don't let non-news organs drive the news cycle."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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