Monday, October 31, 2005

Russert Watch: The Comeback

Published on Monday, October 31, 2005 by the Huffington Post
 
by Arianna Huffington
 

Thank God this whole Libby thing is finally over, and Bush can "focus on some big issues," "overcome the energy prices," become a "foreign policy big-stroke leader," "restore trust," "re-establish that presidential leadership that the whole country looks for," and "bring some people who are going to bring some new ideas."

The Bush White House is on its way to a clean start. How do I know this? Easy. I watched Meet the Press while my partner, Kenny Lerer, watched "Pet Keeping." I learned nothing, as Steve Lovelady explains in CJR Daily, about Russert's role in Libby's pending trial. But I learned a lot about how President Bush can put this whole little affair behind him and "repair his second term."

The suggestions from the first segment's guests -- three former White House Chiefs of Staff, Ken Duberstein, Hamilton Jordan and Leon Panetta, and historian Michael Beschloss -- on how Bush should change course barely even matter, since the defining characteristic of his presidency is his inability to change course. (Unless he runs out of road, as he did on social security and Harriet Miers.)

But the Scooter Libby case has just begun (for the latest potential indictment in Cheney's office read Murray Waas and Paul Singer at the National Journal), and it is intricately linked to a war which continues to go from bad to worse. Yet such is the bubble that many Washington journalists and political operatives live in that today's show was like watching a bunch of people play "fantasy baseball." I'm sure it's fun, but it doesn't change the real game.

For a look at what the non-fantasy world is like, I kept clicking on HuffPo's homepage, where I could read Lawrence O'Donnell ("As long as Karl Rove stays in the White House... the Bush presidency will remain a powerless gang that couldn’t shoot straight."), Nicholas Kristof ("If Mr. Cheney can't address the questions about his conduct... then he should resign. And if he won't resign, Mr. Bush should demand his resignation."), Jonathan Alter ("Fitzgerald was wrong on one count, at least metaphorically. 'This indictment is not about the war,' he said. Oh, yes, it is."), David Remnick ("In his anger, and after all his many failures, the President, quite suddenly, seems unpopular, alone, and adrift."), and Frank Rich ("Watergate's dirty tricks were mainly prompted by the ruthless desire to crush the political competition at any cost... but this administration has upped the ante by playing dirty tricks with war.")

Ultimately, as Rich writes, the Libby indictment is just "one very big window" into what we've just begun to put together: "the full history of a self-described 'war presidency' that bungled the war in Iraq and, in doing so, may be losing the war against radical Islamic terrorism as well."

This is what this case is about, no matter how much White House apologists want it to be about a White House aide being busted for a "technicality." And they will no more be able to spin this away than they've been able to spin away the consequences of a disastrous war.

Fantasyland continued in the second segment, a roundtable featuring Judy Woodruff, David Brooks, David Broder and William Safire. (Tim really sets a well-balanced table, doesn't he?) Safire spent most of the segment looking down -- at what, I have no idea. Though if I were repeating such absurd talking points as his, I would not want to look anyone in the eye either.

And what's up with David Brooks? Has he switched to writing fiction for the New York Times? (He's hardly alone -- the New Yorker had better watch its back.)

"But listen, nobody's going to remember most of the details of this six months from now. ... What Fitzgerald showed, you know, he was in there for 22 months. He had full cooperation from everybody."

Full cooperation? FULL COOPERATION? Fitzgerald's main witnesses litigated their refusal to cooperate all the way to the Supreme Court. And false statements, perjury and obstruction of justice hardly indicate "full cooperation." Indeed, as Fitzgerald put it, it was like the umpire getting "sand thrown in his eyes."

Tim, of course, could not be bothered to challenge any of this. In the same way that he left unchallenged the untruths coming out of the mouth of Bill Safire, who was still identified as a New York Times columnist. I guess this refers to his language column in the Times magazine, unless being a NYT columnist is like being an ambassador, and you get to keep the title for life -- which would be particularly apt for Safire, since being an ambassador from the administration, and from Millerland, is exactly what he was doing today. "What the special counsel found," he said, "is that law was not broken."

As Safire surely knows, Fitzgerald found that perjury and obstruction-of-justice laws were broken, and was prevented from finding out if the Intelligence Identities Protection law was broken because of the small matter of sand being thrown in his eyes.

And for anyone wondering why someone "as smart and as organized as Scooter Libby" (Broder's words) would perjure himself, the answer is that maybe, just maybe, he was covering up a crime.

Unchallenged and emboldened, Safire went on: "The wonderful thing about American attention and media coverage, is the narrative has to change. ... And so the story will be the comeback." Safire's proposed new narrative, along with the comeback, is that the economy is "booming."

Here are some quick facts that Russert could have brought up to dispel the Safiric, let-them-eat-cake notion of a booming economy:

"Consumer confidence dropped, home sales were down and the number of people who lost their jobs because of Hurricane Katrina climbed above the half-million mark....Pension funds are going bankrupt, health care costs and gasoline prices are soaring and jobs are being shipped overseas."

So in what universe is the economy's performance as stellar as Safire would like us to believe? In the same universe, it turns out, in which Judy Miller is "a tough-minded, hard-driving investigative reporter who did wonderful work" and whose critics don't like her because she's "a tough-minded, hard-driving investigative reporter who did wonderful work."

Yes, that's right, Bill. The reason why Miller will not return to the New York Times, the reason why five of the six WMD stories the Times had to apologize for had her name on them, the reason why editor after editor is now running away from her is her wonderful, tough-minded, hard-driving reporting.

Toward the end of the show, summing up its "comeback" tone, was this question from Russert: "If the president does try to recover, does try to reach out, will the Democrats join with him or will they resist him?"

So there you have it. If those damn Democrats stop resisting the president, he will quickly get out of rehab and we can all look forward to a big-idea, booming, bipartisan second term. Except, that is, for the war and all those pesky people who don't like being lied to about the war, and don't like senior administration officials perjuring themselves to cover up their lies about the war.

For everyone else -- you heard it on Meet the Press first -- things are going to be A-OK.

© 2005 The Huffington Post

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