Frank Rich fact checks the world; we fact check Frank Rich.
Mr. Rich opens with a great catch:
THE morning the Deep Throat story broke, the voice on my answering machine was as raspy as Hal Holbrook's. "I just want you to remember that I wrote 'Follow the money,' " said my caller. "I want to know if anybody will give me credit. Watch for the accuracy of the media!"
The voice belonged to my friend William Goldman, who wrote the movie "All the President's Men." His words proved more than a little prescient. As if on cue, journalists everywhere - from The New York Times to The Economist to The Washington Post itself - would soon start attributing this classic line of dialogue to the newly unmasked Deep Throat, W. Mark Felt. But the line was not in Woodward and Bernstein's book or in The Post's Watergate reportage or in Bob Woodward's contemporaneous notes. It was the invention of the author of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Marathon Man" and "The Princess Bride."
How about that? William Goldman. Is it safe?
A bit later, as he develops an boldly imaginative Nixon-Bush parallel, Mr. Rich's effort is not safe:
The main difference is that in the Nixon White House, the president's men plotted behind closed doors. The current administration is now so brazen it does its dirty work in plain sight.
In the most recent example, all the president's men slimed and intimidated Newsweek by accusing it of being an accessory to 17 deaths for its errant Koran story; led by Scott McClellan, they said it was unthinkable that any American guard could be disrespectful of Islam's holy book. These neo-Colsons easily drowned out Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, both of whom said that the riots that led to the 17 deaths were unrelated to Newsweek. Then came the pièce de résistance of Nixon mimicry: a Pentagon report certifying desecrations of the Koran by American guards was released two weeks after the Newsweek imbroglio, at 7:15 p.m. on a Friday, to assure it would miss the evening newscasts and be buried in the Memorial Day weekend's little-read papers.
Let's tackle this one falsehood at a time: "...led by Scott McClellan, they said it was
unthinkable that any American guard could be disrespectful of Islam's
Here is Scott McClellan on May 13:
...Now, in terms of the allegation that was made, that's something we take very seriously, too. And the Department of Defense is looking into it. I would also point out, though, that for these detainees at Guantanamo Bay, they are provided the opportunity to worship freely, including being given copies of the Koran so that they may worship freely.
Here is Condoleeza Rice, speaking to a Senate subcommittee on May 12:
Mr. Chairman, before I begin my actual testimony, I want to speak directly to Muslims in America and throughout the world. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is not now, nor has it ever been, nor will it ever be, tolerated by the United States. We honor the sacred books of all the world's great religions. Disrespect for the Holy Koran is abhorrent to us all.
There have been recent allegations about disrespect for the Holy Koran by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay and that has deeply offended many people. Our military authorities are investigating these allegations fully. If they are proven true, we will take appropriate action.
I can't guess how Mr. Rich got from "the Department of Defense is looking into it" to "unthinkable". [And yes, I know what McClellan said on May 16 - bring it on!]
Let's move on to "These neo-Colsons easily drowned out Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, both of whom said that the riots that led to the 17 deaths were unrelated to Newsweek."
Oh, dear - the "neo Colsons" include CNN, which cited the Pentagon assertion before rebutting it; the Washington Post, which implicated Newsweek in their lead paragraph; and the NY Times. Have the neo-Colson's swept the board?
Not exactly. Actually, there has been a plausible argument about the root causes and triggering events of these riots. In one sense, of course, Newsweek is not responsible for any deaths in these riots, unless one of their reporters beat a person to death with a rolled-up copy of the magazine - it was the people who brought the guns and started shooting that are responsible for the violence.
But in a more useful sense, the Newsweek articles seem to have played a triggering role. Here are Times and WaPo articles putting forward the view that demonstrations that might have peacefully protested the Koran desecration were hijacked by violent opponents of the Karzai government.
We have had fun with this question before - Kevin Drum strayed briefly from the Dem talking points before retreating with a "Just kidding" defense. (For pedants only - the quotes around "Just kidding" are intended to capture the generic nature of that defense, and not Mr. Drum's exact e-mail, which apparently included "sarcastic").
Here is a pretty good round-up of comments made by Administration
spokespeople neo-Colsons on the relationship between Newsweek and the riots. Scott McClellan is especially cogent on May 17. (Or do I only say that because he is making the same root causes/triggering events point I made?) David Frum describes how the Newsweek article was seized upon by political opportunists in Pakistan; here is a contemporaneous local account.
Well, let's see how the Mr. Rich's own NY Times is describing this now that the dust has settled - here we go from last June 4:
The investigation was started about three weeks ago after Newsweek magazine published an article asserting that a separate inquiry by the military was expected to find that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at the detention center. The magazine later retracted the article, but the assertion led to violence in the Muslim world that left at least 17 people dead.
Works for me, but that may just prove that the neo-Colsons are everywhere.
And the denouement: "a Pentagon report certifying desecrations of the Koran by American guards was released two weeks after the Newsweek imbroglio, at 7:15 p.m. on a Friday, to assure it would miss the evening newscasts and be buried in the Memorial Day weekend's little-read papers."
Timing is everything! Now, for the rest of us, the report came out last weekend, and June 3 was not Memorial Day (Frank couldn't remember Memorial Day - that's rich). Well, if Mr. Rich sat on a sneak preview for a week, that's news. Or maybe he thought the Pentagon timed the release to the timing of the Michael Jackson trial - the jury got the case last Friday, yes? C'mon, Frank, there must be a conspiracy here somewhere.
But what about the content - did anyone on the US side actually flush a Koran down a toilet, as Newsweek alleged? Or is Mr. Rich willing to move the goalposts so that, wherever Newsweek kicked this story, it cleared the uprights?
We will defer to Austin Bay on this point.
My suggestion to Mr. Rich and his many admirers - here is an opportunity to conform the lefty talking points a bit more closely with reality.