This ... is CNN


Geraldine Sealey
April 2, 2004 10:03PM (UTC)

In his New York Times column today Paul Krugman lets Wolf Blitzer have it again. To recap the Blitzer-Krugman flap: In his column last week, Krugman cited a comment Blitzer made on CNN, sourcing unnamed White House officials, that former counterterrorism chief and White House critic Richard Clarke had a "weird" personal life. Blitzer took issue with Krugman's column, and defended his citing of anonymous sources in a smear of Clarke by saying he was referring to comments made two days prior on CNN by National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson. Here's what Wilkinson said: "He sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden, and bin Laden has a mystical mind control over U.S. officials. This is sort of 'X-Files' stuff."

Krugman went to the source of Wilkinson's allegation, on page 246 of Clarke's book "Against All Enemies." Clarke wrote: "Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed It was as if Usama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush."

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Krugman writes: "That's not 'X-Files' stuff: it's a literary device, meant to emphasize just how ill conceived our policy is. Mr. Blitzer should be telling Mr. Wilkinson to apologize, not rerunning those comments in his own defense. Look, I understand why major news organizations must act respectfully toward government officials. But officials shouldn't be sure as Mr. Wilkinson obviously was that they can make wild accusations without any fear that they will be challenged on the spot or held accountable later."

So, just to make sure we're on the same page here: An administration official on Blitzer's show questions Clarke's sanity by distorting something in his book about Bush's policy toward Osama bin Laden. The smear goes unchallenged. Two days later, Blitzer refers to smear but in such vague terms that viewers can only imagine just what "weird" behavior Clarke is up to. When challenged by Krugman, Blitzer defends himself using videotape of original smear, again without challenging it. Let's see if Wolf responds to Krugman's latest column in any appropriate way. Like, say, with an apology.

Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has another good post on this whole fiasco, saying: "People like Blitzer have to decide what to do about this White House. Wilkinson laughed in Blitzer's face when he peddled his fake, phony spin. But the Bush aide also did something more serious -- he laughed in the face of Blitzer's viewers. The time has come for people like Blitzer to decide what to do about that."

As long as we're on the subject of CNN -- and speaking of X-Files -- this thing with David Letterman just gets weirder. As we told you Thursday, Late Night host David Letterman is feuding with CNN over a video of a boy yawning behind the president at a recent speech. After airing Dave's original clip of the kid, CNN said the White House called to say Dave doctored the video. (Dave didn't doctor it. It happened. The kid was yawning. Watch the slideshow.) Then CNN backtracked, saying some CNN employee mistakenly thought the White House called, but it didn't. But Dave isn't buying CNN's story, and says he believes the White House did, in fact, call CNN to make false allegations about him. This is from the Late Night newsletter Wahoo Gazette:

"Something strange is going on, and Dave smells a cover up. CNN is now saying the White House never called them. But why would CNN say the White House HAD called if the White House never did? Hmmm. And Dave reveals that our source, a very good source, confirms the White House DID call the CNN. Hoo boy, this is getting interesting. While Condoleezza Rice is testifying in front of the 9/11 Commission, perhaps she can shed some light on this as well. Perhaps the White House truly believes the kid wasn't there due to faulty intelligence."

The whole thing is really kind of funny, even if it makes CNN look pathetic. Krugman, for his part, sees something more sinister at work: A pattern of CNN running willy-nilly with information from anonymous White House officials, and getting themselves into a pickle -- and misinforming however many thousands of Americans watching -- when the information turns out to be flat wrong. Krugman writes: "There's no excuse for disseminating unchecked rumors because they come from 'the White House,' then denying the White House connection when the rumors prove false. That's simply giving the administration a license to smear with impunity."

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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