One of the more pathetic spectacles available in today’s media is the propensity of the tribe of broadcast journalists to interview each other about events, systems and areas of expertise of which they have only a limited grasp. I suppose that tendency is thought of among them as a sign of confidence in their role as protectors of the public good, but the truth is that the bloviations of a lot of journalists are usually sadly demonstrative of ignorance of anything but their trade. There are many exceptions, and I am proud to know a lot of those dedicated and knowledgeable souls. They struggle against a heavy institutional burden.
Members of Congress, their staffs and the press are (with exceptions) often are so poorly grounded in the underlying matter of their stories that they are very easily manipulated and deceived by anyone who cares to do so. The White House, the Department of Defense, the State Department, various lobbies, and just about anyone who has an assured manner and credentials can use the broadcast and print press to "project" whatever they want through the media.
When you add to that a use of the real power which the state has over the corporate media through the implicit and sometimes rather explicit threat of denial of access to people and stories and therefore a threat to the "bottom line" then it becomes child’s play to use them as ventriloquist’s dummies. Unfortunately, the public media are not immune to similar "control" since they are dependent on public funding controlled by political appointees.
This combination of media people’s ignorance of "real life" and the ease with which they are manipulated gives a certain zany quality to the spectacle of a panel discussion in which they clearly think that they have some special insight into the march of history.
Tonight, Time Russert moderated a panel made up of Russert, Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory and Pete Williams. In the course of this discussion the group gravely asserted that Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger was obviously a "nepotistic" fraud because Wilson’s wife worked in the staff section at CIA responsible for sending him on the trip, and that, in essence, it was his wife who had sent him on the trip.
This is clearly a White House/RNC talking point.
It was said in the panel, without contest that this trip was a "boondoggle," implying, at least to me, that the Wilson family budget benefited from this trip through payments to Wilson for his services. In fact, Wilson was not paid for the trip. The CIA covered his expenses, but they did not pay him a fee. This was "pro bono." His wife "sent him" on the trip? I do not wish to denigrate Mrs. Wilson’s career attainments, but the fact is that she lacked the authority to do that. What seems to have happened is that when the issue of sending someone to Niger to investigate the uranium issue was under discussion she, at some point, pointed out that her husband, a retired career diplomat, had experience in both Iraq and Niger and might serve this purpose. Someone followed up on that hint. What a surprise!!
It was said in the panel that Wilson lied in his book and in his now famous New York Times oped piece. I have read his book, talked to him, read his oped, and It does not seem to me that he lied. I would accept the charge that his language was not always as precise as it might have been, but, in its essence it seems to me that his reporting was correct. He said that the VP was responsible for his mission to Africa. Since Cheney’s question to a CIA briefer was ultimately responsible for his trip, it is reasonable that Wilson might have thought that Cheney had asked that someone should go find out if there was anything to the "yellow cake" story. This is lying? Wilson also has written that he learned that there had been no serious attempt by Iraq to obtain in Niger the uranium ore needed to press forward their putative nuclear weapons program. He was correct. An Iraqi trade mission had, in 1999 approached (through intermediaries)the Nigerien government of the day to inquire if they would be interested in expanded "trade." Wilson was told that the Niger government had perceived this as referring to uranium and in light of UN sanctions had said no. The US ambassador in Niger told the SSCI the same story as did the report of a US Marine four star general sent to investigate the same thing. Nevertheless, the panel confidently, and egregiously, asserted as the basis of discussion that Wilson was a liar. This assertion was on the basis of the judgments of the Republican Party dominated Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program before the first Gulf War. It was within a couple of years of producing a first detonation when the dictator Saddam, caught up in the arrogance of power, so stupidly invaded Kuwait. Nevertheless, the Iraqis had not had a nuclear weapons program since the UN inspection regime had destroyed it in the early ’90s by tearing it up "by the roots" all over the country. Those who participated in that process either directly or by providing the inspectors with "directions" as to where to look, know that this is true. When US forces reached central Iraq in ’03 they found that several tons of old yellow cake in sealed plastic barrels had been in storage for a decade. The Iraqis had had no use for it because they had not had a nuclear program for that long.
In a process reminiscent of the "schlocky" old German painting of a group of dogs sitting around playing cards, the panel of "NBC’s Dream Team" as Russert called them held forth on the iniquity of Ambassador Wilson and the excesses perpetrated on media/government relations by Patrick Fitzgerald, but more on this last "issue" tomorrow.