Friday, October 14, 2016

Is Dean Baquet Dumb?

I'm serious.  Dean Baquet is the editor of the New York Times.  I've often been critical of the Times because of the paper's bias, as well as the general incompetence and credulous nature of its reporters.   But I've just read an interview with Baquet by Ken Doctor of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard that's left me wondering if Baquet is ignorant or whether he just lives in a bubble where people say the same nonsense to each other over and over again until it becomes accepted as the truth.  I was alerted to the interview by an article at Powerline but found their summary so startling that I was unwilling to accept it as accurate until reading the interview myself.

("Stop me if you've heard this before", Dean Baquet from Nieman Lab

Two factual assertions Baquet references in the course of the interview raise the question of how smart he actually is.  The first is this comment:
The dirty secret of news organizations — and I think this is part of a story of what happened with Bush and the Iraq war — [is that] newspaper reporters and newspapers describe the world we live in. We really can be a little bit patriotic without knowing it. We actually tend to believe what politicians tell us — which is a flaw, by the way. I’m not saying that with pride. The lesson of the Iraq war, which I think started us down this track, was that I don’t think people really believed that the administration would actually lie about the WMDs, or that they would say the stuff so forcefully.
Who really believed that Colin Powell would get up in front of the United Nations, a guy who was known for integrity? I think that was a shock to the system.
Ah, the old Bush lied gambit!  Except we now know that is not true, as every investigation, even by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, concluded President Bush did not lie about the intelligence.  The question of lying is separate and distinct from whether Bush's decision on going to war was correct and about the competency of his plans for its conduct and the aftermath.  On those issues, I think him a failure and he deserves plenty of blame, though also some credit for ultimately deciding to proceed with the Surge, which President Obama cited in 2011 for bringing the security and stability to Iraq that enabled him to withdraw American forces.  What Baquet repeats is simply a Progressive talking point without a shred of actual factual support.  It's a myth.  This is from a journalist?

Here's some analysis by some other political leaders who had access to the same intelligence:

And remember Joe Wilson, of the "missing 16 words" and Valerie Plame fame, who became a Democratic hero for claiming the Bush Administration lied about Saddam's pursuit of nuclear weapons (the Senate Intelligence Committee found that Wilson was the one lying)?  Less well known is that Wilson gave a talk in 2002, opposing the planned invasion, in part on the grounds that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons that would inflict enormous casualties on American soldiers (Al Gore took the same position).  I guess everyone lied.

The second is this passage:
I was either editor or managing editor of the L.A. Times during the Swift Boat Incident.  Newspapers did not know — we did not quite know how to do it. I remember struggling with the reporter,  Jim Rainey, who covers the media now, trying to get him to write the paragraph that laid out why the Swift Boat allegation was false…We didn’t know how to write the paragraph that said, “This is just false.”
For those of you who may not remember, the "Swift Boat Incident" or Swiftboating as Democrats liked to call it, was in their version the slandering of Presidential candidate John Kerry's Vietnam War record during the 2004 campaign.  If you notice, Baquet refers to its as an "allegation".  In the preferred liberal summary, the Incident was about mischaracterization of Kerry's record as a Swiftboat commander during the war and the awarding of his combat medals.  In reality, the television ads by Swift Boat Veterans For Truth focused primarily on Kerry's alleged treasonous actions in carrying out secret negotiations with the communist government of North Vietnam and in denouncing his fellow soldiers for atrocities in front of the U.S. Congress, a denunciation used by the communists as justification for torturing American POWs.  All of this is completely true.

A secondary theme was an attack on Kerry's claim, made on the floor of the Senate, that he spent Christmas on his Swift Boat in Cambodia, in what would have been an illegal incursion at the time, a demonstrably false claim.  The final claim was that his actions in combat were not deserving of his medals and that he had manipulated the system to obtain them.  This claim is controversial and the only one of by the Veteran's group which may not be accurate (unfortunately the Wikipedia entry on this topic focuses almost exclusively on this last point and is very one-sided).

When YouTube first became available several years ago, I went back and found the original Swiftboat ads.  Unfortunately, they are not all still available but my fragmentary notes indicate that six of them focused on Kerry's post service actions - negotiating with the enemy, his Congressional testimony and throwing the ribbons from his medals away in a protest.  Two others and part of a third dealt with his Christmas in Cambodia fabrication and one part of one raised the question of the validity of his medals.  I view all except the last as fair game.  Here are the ads that I have been able to relocate here, here, here, here, here and here.

The Swift Boat Veterans were a coalition of two groups.  The first were POWs, held in North Vietnam under brutal conditions, who deeply resented John Kerry's support for the enemy.  The second were members of the Swift Boat unit who had served with, before or after Kerry.  The leader of the second group was John E O'Neill, who had debated Kerry on the Vietnam War back in 1971 on the Dick Cavett show.  I happened to see O'Neill on C-Span during the 2004 campaign.  In response to a question he referred to President Bush as "an empty suit".  This was always about John Kerry, not Bush.

By mischaracterizing the substance of the Swiftboat attacks and turning them into merely a dirty political tactic, Democrats and their media accomplices sought to avoid dealing with the substance raised by the ads; Kerry's statements after his service disparaging the U.S and his fellow servicemen and the question of why so many people disliked the man.  I was still reading the Times back then and the Swift Boat ads were out there for weeks before it wrote a word about them.  It was as if it was awaiting instructions from the Kerry campaign about what to do.  Finally, the Kerry campaign responded and the Times printed a front page story but as it was mostly an attack by Kerry without a full explanation of what the controversy was about it must have been very baffling for most readers.  In any event, Baquet appears to have fallen for this hook, line and sinker.

Strangely enough, during the 2004 campaign there was an incident that really was what Democrats call Swifboating; the attempted smear of George W Bush by 60 Minutes and Dan Rather over his service in the Texas Air National Guard (TANG) during the Vietnam War.  You want to know how bad TANG was?  Let's do a thought experiment.
Brett Hume at Fox News reports a story a few weeks before the 2004 election, claiming John Kerry got his Vietnam War medals under false pretenses as a way to get sent home early from the war and avoid further combat because he was a coward.

Hume's main source for the story is a Republican politician in Massachusetts who is also a Vice-Chair for the Bush reelection committee, a fact not disclosed in the story.

The politician's daughter has denounced his story about Kerry as a lie, but this does not appear in the story.
No one who actually served with Kerry confirms the story.
Brett Hume's son has been working on fundraisers for the Republican party in Massachusetts.

The Fox News producer of the segment knows beforehand that the charges of cowardice were false and that Kerry volunteered to remain in Vietnam.

Before the segment aired, the Fox News producer calls the Bush campaign to give them a heads up that it would be running.

And, most importantly of all, it turns out the key document, supposedly created in 1973, is of doubtful provenance, with the person providing it to Fox giving three different stories of how he obtained it and then turns out it was created with the 2003 version of Microsoft Word!
Everything I've just outlined is accurate except for substituting Fox for CBS, Kerry for Bush, and changing the circumstances slightly to match Kerry's history.  How do you think the New York Times would have covered this story?   We would have never heard the end of it and TANGing would now be a common term for disreputable political smear campaigns.

I've come to expect "Bush lied" and accusations of "Swiftboating" from people who don't know much.  I didn't expect the editor of the New York Times would be one of them.  He seems like someone with very little intellectual curiousity.

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