Right Hook

Novak, Norquist and Lowry lead the Clinton-bashing revival; Limbaugh lies about the 9/11 report. Plus: Torture at Abu Ghraib is just fine with Trent Lott.

Mark Follman
June 24, 2004 2:33AM (UTC)

With the release of the 957-page "My Life," it was inevitable. While some made a thin pretense of taking the high road this week, most right-wingers zeroed in on Bill Clinton's sexual foibles and scandals.

CNN pundit Tucker Carlson kicked off his own new PBS show "Unfiltered" on Friday by hosting former special prosecutor and Clinton nemesis Ken Starr.


CARLSON: What precisely did Clinton do wrong? Boil it down. You didn't boil it down. It is not so clear what Clinton did wrong. He lied about sex. Maybe you should write a book and explain.

STARR: I don't want to reduce it to a butcher sticker -- a bumper sticker. The facts in the report, it has been called "the Starr Report," I called it "the referral." The facts are there. People can see the facts. I don't think the facts have been seriously called into question. There are issues of motivations and the like. The facts are the facts. In my worldview you should know the truth. You deal with the truth. I think it shall set you free.

Carlson's CNN colleague and syndicated columnist Robert Novak was considerably less restrained on NBC's "Meet the Press." Novak was instrumental in helping the Bush White House trash the career of CIA operative Valerie Plame last year, but national security issues didn't figure into his discussion of Clinton's eight years in the White House.


NOVAK: I don't think, from what I know of the book and from what I've heard on the interviews, that he's at all honest. He gives the impression that this Monica Lewinsky -- I wouldn't call it an affair -- this episode was an aberration, that it was something that -- he did it because he could do it, when his whole life was a life of lecherousness. He doesn't admit the conduct he had as governor, the conduct he had as president of the United States with other women. He can't. I mean, then he would really say that -- then he would have to lay it all out on the table. But when people accuse the vast right-wing conspiracy of being unfair to the president because of this one misstep with this young woman, I think that's a misapplication, a misimpression being given, because I think he had a consistent record of unacceptable behavior.

To the disbelief of Time magazine's Joe Klein, Novak later pressed the long-discredited notion that Clinton may have been behind the deaths of numerous people connected to the Whitewater case.

NOVAK: I don't believe that the Whitewater case was ever fully investigated. People died. The judge that was going to get information out was not questioned.


KLEIN: People died?

NOVAK: And as a matter of fact, Joe, I believe that Bill Clinton beat the rap on Whitewater and I think Ken Starr failed on that.

Meanwhile, Republican power broker Grover Norquist told the New York Times that Bush backers need to do a better job of exploiting Clinton's return to the spotlight -- by forgetting about Monica. According to the Times, Norquist said attacking Clinton's personal life isn't helpful to Bush or conservatives, and that "the discussion of Clinton's book offer[s] Republicans another chance to blame him" for the Sept. 11 attacks.


"Somebody had to step out and say there were eight years of neglect and eight years of destruction of our intelligence capabilities. If Clinton comes out with a book whitewashing, ignoring and lying about what happened, then it is fair comment."

"It isn't necessary for anybody to put out a press release for the first question in everybody's mind to be, what does he say about Monica Lewinsky? If somebody leaps up to ask it, everybody's reaction will be, the right is obsessed with Monica Lewinsky."

Ignoring Norquist's advice, National Review editor Rich Lowry was hungry to delve into the former president's libido. Dan Rather's Lewinsky-laden "60 Minutes" interview with the former president gave Lowry plenty of grist.


"First of all, the interview reminded me of how Clinton has a real winsome way about him. I know he drives some conservatives nuts (especially with mannerisms like those pursed lips when he said how much he hates the nickname 'Slick Willie'), but there is a reason he always thought he could talk his way out of any problem.

"All the childhood stuff also sets conservatives' teeth on edge, but it is all true. No, it doesn't excuse anything, but as Clinton said last night, it does explain a lot. The fact is that Clinton is a very weird man with quite serious 'issues,' to use the jargon, and that affected his presidency in many ways -- from his odd secret relationship with Dick Morris, to his desperate need for approval in the polls, to his fling with Monica Lewinsky, and so on."

Like Robert Novak, Lowry declared that Clinton is almost certainly guilty of wholesale womanizing.


"He was smart last night to say at some point that he didn't want to talk about his personal life anymore besides Monica, since he can't tell the truth about any of the other women. He can be relatively forthright about Monica (although I doubt he comes clean in his book about when their relationship started -- well before they were 'friends'), since he had already been forced to confess before by the stain on her dress. But it would be too painful and too embarrassing to his supporters to admit that something like what Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey described actually happened -- as it almost certainly did."

Lowry concluded that Clinton couldn't always score, even though he really wanted to.

"Indeed, Clinton's explanation of why he carried on with Monica -- 'because I could' -- sheds light on his M.O. How do you find out if you can or not? You push yourself on a woman very aggressively. It just happened that with Jones and Willey he 'couldn't,' although he certainly tried."


For his part, Atlanta radio host and zealous Clinton foe Neal Boortz took a reprieve from the infidelity theme to spell out a devious Clinton plot against John Kerry.

"Bill Clinton says he does not believe that President Bush went to war in Iraq over oil or for imperialist reasons, but out of a belief that large quantities of weapons of mass destruction were unaccounted for. In other words, Slick Willie is backing President Bush over Iraq.

"You do know exactly why he is doing this, don't you? ... The reason Bill Clinton is supporting Bush on the war is the same reason he is coming out with his book at the same time The Poodle is running his campaign. And that is to do all that he can to ensure the defeat of John Kerry for president so his wife can run in 2008 ...

"If Kerry wins in 2004, he'll run for re-election in 2008. This means The Hildabeast would be running against an incumbent. If he loses in 2008, that would give The Hildabeast a shot in 2012, but what if he is re-elected? That means Kerry's VP choice would run for election in 2012, denying Hillary again, meaning she'd be on the sidelines for a very long time. And the Clintons like the sidelines about as much as I like driving on a two-lane road behind a minivan."


Rush reinvents the 9/11 report
A key part of the Bush administration's case that Iraq and al-Qaida were dangerously in cahoots rested on the assertion that lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Saddam's intelligence agents in Prague not long before the attacks. The bipartisan 9/11 commission discredited that assertion last week in a staff statement: "We have examined the allegation that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague on April 9. Based on the evidence available -- including investigation by Czech and U.S. authorities plus detainee reporting -- we do not believe that such a meeting occurred."

Radio host Rush Limbaugh, however, offered a different version of the 9/11 commission's findings during his June 17 broadcast:

"The [9/11 commission] report said that Mohamed Atta did meet with an Iraqi Intelligence Agency, or agent, in Prague on April 9th of 2001. We've known this for a long time."

Even so, on the same broadcast, Limbaugh parroted the administration line that the Bush White House never tried to link 9/11 to Saddam.


"Bush and Cheney have never, ever linked 9/11 to Iraq and Al-Qaeda. There are countless bits of evidence of connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, but nobody in the administration ever said there was to 9/11."

Al-Jazeera: Nazis on speed?
Never mind the acclaimed new documentary film "Control Room"; Army veteran and New York Post contributor Ralph Peters says Arabic satellite news station Al-Jazeera is the ultimate outlet for U.S. hatred in the Middle East.

"Al-Jazeera is so bigoted and morally debased that its reporters and producers delight in Coalition casualties, in dead Iraqi doctors and engineers and (above all) in dead Kurds. Al-Jazeera not only encourages the assassination of American soldiers, but pulls out all the stops to excite anti-U.S. hatred throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

"The response of our own officials in Iraq? Al-Jazeera is only exercising freedom of the press. Isn't that why we fought to bring down Saddam? This is idiocy, a perverse political correctness based upon a rejection of common sense ...


"When I toured al-Jazeera's studios in January, the lack of interest in objective reporting was startling. All the staff cared about was popularity and power. It was unreality TV at its worst. They bragged about their technology ('Better than the BBC!') and their influence, but never mentioned integrity, veracity or responsibility. It was the Nazi propaganda ministry on amphetamines."

Though it was widely reported that hundreds of Iraqi civilians died in Fallujah during the heavy fighting between U.S. Marines and insurgents earlier this year, Peters argues that al-Jazeera invented the collateral damage, and sent the Bush administration fleeing for cover.

"By alarming our closest allies with staged footage and Big Lies, al-Jazeera drove the Bush administration to retreat from Fallujah -- creating a terrorist city-state, a plague boil on the body of free Iraq. Al-Jazeera triumphed by inventing tales of slaughtered infants and rabid attacks on civilians. We let them get away with it unchallenged."

Peters hints that it may soon be time to prepare Guantánamo for a new batch of prisoners.

"Al-Jazeera has become the most powerful ally of terror in the world -- even more important than Saudi financiers ... Soon enough, we ourselves may need to recognize that 'journalists' with deadly agendas should be classified as enemy combatants ...

"Apologists for al-Jazeera are legion, of course. Even though the network never seriously criticizes Arab terrorists, Arab hate speech, torture by Arab governments, Arab corruption or Arab atrocities ... In the end, the most tragic factor of all is that, while al-Jazeera prompts the murder of individual American soldiers, it's simultaneously poisoning the entire Arab world by reinforcing the fatal Arab addiction to blaming others for every home-brewed disaster."

"We can kill a lot of them"
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and formerly the majority leader, shared a few thoughts about Iraq with reporter Deborah Solomon in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

SOLOMON: How do you think the war in Iraq is going?

LOTT: There are terrorists in Iraq who have been drawn into that part of the world. Every day we eliminate some of them; that's one more that won't be coming here.

SOLOMON: What do you mean by eliminate them? Where are the terrorists and insurgents going to go?

LOTT: Well, they are going to be killed. When they attack our troops, 20 or 30 or 40 at a time are being eliminated.

SOLOMON: We can't kill everyone who hates America!

LOTT: We can kill a lot of them, particularly when they try to kill us.

Lott also elaborated as to why he has no problem with the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison.

SOLOMON: You recently created a stir when you defended the interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib.

LOTT: Most of the people in Mississippi came up to me and said: "Thank goodness. America comes first." Interrogation is not a Sunday-school class. You don't get information that will save American lives by withholding pancakes.

SOLOMON: But unleashing killer dogs on naked Iraqis is not the same as withholding pancakes.

LOTT: I was amazed that people reacted like that. Did the dogs bite them? Did the dogs assault them? How are you going to get people to give information that will lead to the saving of lives?

Lott is apparently unfamiliar with the details of the U.S. Army's widely circulated Taguba report, which describes, in addition to beatings and sodomy perpetrated by U.S. soldiers at the prison, "using military working dogs to intimidate ... and actually bite a detainee." This isn't terribly surprising: He refused to join fellow U.S. lawmakers in viewing more evidence from Abu Ghraib during congressional hearings in May, telling the New York Times: "I've already seen enough. Why would I want to go see a bunch of perverted pictures?"

But if he's irked by the media's focus on the torture scandal, Lott is overjoyed by the gilding of the late President Reagan.

SOLOMON: You worked closely with President Reagan. Do you think his funeral has been overblown?

LOTT: I think Ronald Reagan was the best president of the last century.

SOLOMON: Some members of Congress would like to see Alexander Hamilton pushed off the $10 bill and Reagan's face installed in his place.

LOTT: I am an advocate of having a gold dollar with Reagan's picture on it, and calling it the Ronnie. The Canadians have the Loonie, and we can have the Ronnie.

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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