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Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Oldie Goldie

Andrew Northrup at The Poor Man, does an excellent job of deconstructing this Weekly Standard hit job on Clark (regarding his comments on Meet The Press about the effort to connect 9/11 with Saddam Hussein immediately after the attack on the WTC.)

However, it is important, I think, that we remember that this kind of parsing of extemporaneous speech to make it appear that someone is "slick," rather than just humanly imprecise is a Wurlitzer tactic that goes back to 1992. They take a comment and spread the idea throughout the media that it was deliberately misleading and further that it represents a character flaw on the part of the person who uttered it. Tucker and Sean and their ilk snidely hammer the accusation to a Dem talking head who then spends his entire time (when he isn’t being interrupted) explaining the statement to prove that the intent was not what these guys are saying it was.

We look defensive, they sound confident and the public is confused. Eventually they believe that there must be something to the charges because the endless parsing of it sounds lawyerly, desperate and boring. The charge gets dropped and another, similar, charge is leveled and the process begins again.

It is the death of reputation and credibility by a thousand small smears.

Therefore, I think we have to respond in two different ways to such charges. In print (and on blogs and elsewhere) we should analyze the charges in detail and keep an accurate, truthful record of the entire episode.
But, on television and for quotes in the print media, Democrats should never allow ourselves to get mired in such detail. We need to get past our need (as rational people) to defend with the facts and, instead, attack with the truth.

For instance, when a Democrat is confronted by Tweety or Scarborough about Clark’s “lie” on Meet the Press, he should not allow himself to get involved in the minutiae of the charge and instead should simply point out that it is well documented that the administration set out to tie Saddam to the WTC attack, without evidence, from the earliest hours of the event. Talk about the “unassailable” Bob Woodward’s account in Bush At War and Rumsfeld’s directive to “pull it all together” just 5 hours after the Pentagon was hit.

Of course, big shot Republicans put out the word all over the media about Saddam being behind 9/11. Everybody knows that. The TRUTH is that:

... Perle, Woolsey, Gaffney, and Kristol were using the same language in their media appearances on 9/11 and over the following weeks.

”This could not have been done without help of one or more governments,” Perle told The Washington Post on Sep. 11. ”Someone taught these suicide bombers how to fly large airplanes. I don't think that can be done without the assistance of large governments.”

Woolsey was more direct. ”(I)t's not impossible that terrorist groups could work together with the government...the Iraqi government has been quite closely involved with a number of Sunni terrorist groups and -- on some matters -- has had direct contact with (Osama) bin Laden,” he told one anchorman in a series of at least half a dozen national television appearances on Sep. 11 and 12.

That same evening, Kristol echoed Woolsey on National Public Radio. ”I think Iraq is, actually, the big, unspoken sort of elephant in the room today. There's a fair amount of evidence that Iraq has had very close associations with Osama bin Laden in the past, a lot of evidence that it had associations with the previous effort to destroy the World Trade Center (in 1993)”.

The “facts” in this matter are that Clark made an extemporaneous statement on television that has been widely interpreted incorrectly. He corrected it on the record. All of the Democratic candidates are going to do that from time to time; it is part of public speaking. But, using this minor bit of confusion to imply that he was untruthful or misleading is just another example of the Wurlitzer’s coordinated “dazzle ‘em with bullshit” attack strategy.

It is what killed Al Gore in the press last time and we simply have to stop letting them dictate the terms of the debate that way. One way to do that is to stop being defensive and stop miring ourselves in detail before the public. It makes us look geeky and weak next to the bellowing neanderthals. We must ignore their taunts and remind ourselves that going after our guy is calculated misdirection. We need to keep the audience looking at what we want them to see, and not let the other side direct the show.