April 2, 2004
Bush's Attack Puppy Nips at the Truth
by Maureen Farrell
"[F]or the Bush White House to be attempting to undermine my credibility is really sort of ironic . . . They're scrambling very hard . . .They have five or six people running around doing talk shows and trying to refute me and trying to besmirch me.. . . I knew before I wrote this book that the White House will let loose the dogs to attack me. That's what they're doing. That's what they did to Paul O'Neill when he told the truth." - – Richard Clarke, Larry King Live, March 24, 2004
Despite 30 years of service and Republican roots, Richard Clarke understood that once he published Against All Enemies, the Bush Administration would employ whatever thuggish tactics needed to preserve the national security mirage it had concocted. After all, anyone who’s ever tried to uncover this administration’s deceptions has either been publicly chided, fired or metaphorically crucified by the White House and its foot soldiers in the media.
Before Clarke’s excursion into the truth-teller’s hot seat, Ambassador Joseph Wilson experienced the most appalling example of the administration’s willingness to fight dirty when White House scorpions outed his CIA agent wife, in a felonious act of revenge. Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, former economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, former UN inspector Hans Blix, Medicare accountant Richard Foster and others have all experienced various degrees of Bush-based vindictiveness for putting honesty above mob loyalty. "This team is tough. You cross them and they go after you and raise questions about you and your credibility rather than what you have to say," Thomas Mann, a scholar with the Brookings Institution recently said.
And lest we forget, last year, as the war in Iraq got underway, the Washington Post offered a glimpse of the Mayberry Machiavellis’ reputation worldwide. "[T]he airwaves and editorial pages of the world have been full of accusations that President Bush and his administration are guilty of coercive and harrying behavior," Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei wrote. "Even in typically friendly countries, Bush and the United States have been given such labels this week as "arrogant bully" (Britain), "bully boys" (Australia), "big bully" (Russia), "bully Bush" (Kenya), "arrogant" (Turkey) and "capricious" (Canada). Diplomats have accused the administration of "hardball" tactics, "jungle justice" and acting "like thugs." [Washington Post] And remember the G8 Summit in Alberta, when Canadian officials accused "George W. Bush's entourage" of behaving "like bully-boy Texas cowboys"?
time around, as the firestorm rages around Richard Clark (and Bush’s
political future is officially at stake), the bullying seems more extreme.
A year ago, The Christian Science Monitor pretty much predicted that
something like this would happen. "If the US and its allies go to war
against Iraq, and it goes well, then the Bush administration is likely
not to face questions about the way it sold the war, the Monitor stated
on March 14, 2003. "But if war and its aftermath go badly, then the administration
could be under fire." Former U.S. ambassador Richard Parker explained
it further. "Going to war with improper public understanding is
risky," he said. "If it's a failure, and we get bogged down, this is
one of the accusations that [Bush] will have to face when it's all over."
And now, as Clark, O’Neill and other honest brokers level credible accusations, their willingness to withstand the heat is exactly what makes them dangerous. "The White House faces a grave and growing danger. Its attack machine is activated against Clarke, but, preferring character assassination over basic truth, it will be hard to sustain," fellow whistle blower and former Pentagon insider Karen Kwiatkowski, explained. "Clarke's public stance of honor and credibility has real staying power, and it has already inspired and heartened both new witnesses and the mainstream media to seek and reveal the truth."
"This truth is damaging to that single horse the administration is riding in this election race," she wrote, adding, "If the war on terror horse stumbles, the administration falls." [MilitaryWeek.com].
And that, of course, is why the attack on Clarke has been so vicious. "[T]he word is out in the White House to destroy me professionally," Clarke told Tim Russert on Meet the Press. "One line that somebody overheard was ‘he's not going to make another dime again in Washington in his life.’ . . . But this is not about me making money. It's about getting the truth out."
And truth-telling is the one sin that this White House cannot abide.
And so, big dogs Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice were unleashed on major venues while other propagandists began painting Richard Clark as a misogynistic, racist freak. "I think Condoleezza Rice was probably chomping at the bit, wondering why this angry, embittered, strange man with no personal life was in this misogynistic snit with her," Ann Coulter recently told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough.
"Congressman, do you believe, you're a sophisticated guy, do you believe
Meanwhile, a less visible attack puppy made the rounds on cable TV. In case you missed it, Deputy National Security Adviser for Communications Jim Wilkinson (once described in Newsweek as "the go-to guy when the White House needs information against its enemies" [TheExperiment.org]) took to the airways, and, with pamphlet in hand, appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews to do just that.
Meanwhile, anyone who’s investigated the release of Clarke’s book, (originally planned for Christmas, 2003), realizes that the White House itself is responsible for much of the timing, just as anyone who’s been following ways the Bush Administration has been capitalizing on Sept. 11 can’t help but be amazed by Wilkinson’s gall. Nearly a year ago, Newsweek revealed that there are several ways to "profit" from 9/11. "Even as White House political aides plot a 2004 campaign plan designed to capitalize on the emotions and issues raised by the September 11 terror attacks, administration officials are waging a behind-the-scenes battle to restrict public disclosure of key events relating to the attacks," Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball wrote. [MSNBC]
When asked if he believed Clarke was telling the truth in Against All Enemies, Wilkinson replied, "I believe when I go to try to find the book, I’ll probably most likely find it in the fantasy fiction section," which is also appalling, given that Wilkinson promoted the "Al Gore invented the Internet" distortion, served as the point man for the Jessica Lynch rescue and, like his hero George Bush, played military dress up for the cameras. (Though a civilian, Wilkinson reportedly wore a military desert camouflage uniform to work when he "managed" the press at the media center in Doha, Qatar [Minneapolis Star Tribune]).
Fantasy fiction, indeed.
When Matthews asked about the infamous situation room conversation in which President Bush reportedly intimidated Clarke and pressured him to find evidence linking 9/11 to Iraq, Wilkinson stammered, "I think the American—we have no record that that occurred."
This lie, like many before it, has also been laid to rest. As Josh Marshall recently wrote, "staff members now tell reporters, ‘We are not denying such a meeting took place. It probably did.’" [TalkingPointsMemo.com])
Finally when Matthews asked Wilkinson, "Does the president send the word through his staff to you that [the conversation with Clarke] didn‘t happen?, Wilkinson responded, "But let’s move to the real issue.. . . ." And with that, Wilkinson shifted into character assassination mode, using that favorite GOP ploy -- painting Clarke as a crazy conspiracy theorist.
"Clarke also talks about his belief that bin Laden may be somewhere chanting and exerting mind control over American leaders," Wilkinson told Matthews. "This is really some strange stuff, "X Files" type stuff that we’re seeing in some of these writings." [MSNBC]
Meanwhile, on CNN, Wilkinson cozied up to Paula Zahn and Wolf Blitzer, repeating many of these ridiculous assertions word for word. "[Clarke is] talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and bin Laden has a mystical mind control over U.S. officials," Wilkinson told Blitzer, citing and misrepresenting a Washington Post article and Clarke’s words [Washington Post] before saying, once again, "This is sort of "X-Files" stuff." [CNN]
But aside from being a spinning wunderkind, who exactly is Jim Wilkinson? Forever seared into the American psyche as the spokesman for GOP Miami-based protesters clamoring to stop the Florida ballot re-count during the 2000 election, the Texas-bred Wilkinson was also Gen. Tommy Frank's top spokesperson at the media center in Doha, Qatar.
On the eve of the war in Iraq, BuzzFlash wondered how Wilkinson’s spinmeister techniques would influence coverage of the war in Iraq [BuzzFlash.com] -- and that concern proved warranted. "On one hand, you have [Kate] Adie, a respected veteran BBC journalist saying she's ‘seen a complete erosion of any kind of acknowledgment that reporters should be able to report as they witness’ and on the other, you have a former spokesman for the Republican National Congressional Committee directing fat and happy correspondents. What is wrong with this picture?" we asked on March 17, 2003.
By Oct., 2003, the New York Observer provided an answer. Citing the Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Kevin Diaz’s complaint that reporters were "basically a studio audience to make it look like a real press conference," the Observer revealed Wilkinson’s media management style. "Early in the morning of March 20, hundreds of reporters, producers and cameramen stood around the warehouse drinking coffee and watching the war on CNN, the BBC, Al-Jazeera and Fox. They then turned to Mr. Wilkinson and his team of public-affairs officers for background."
‘They’re showing the war starting, and we turned to our minders and we said, ‘The war is starting, right?’ said Harvey Rice, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. ‘They said, ‘Sorry, we can’t tell you—we don’t want to endanger the lives of our troops.’
This, mind you, was while reporters were watching live coverage of the war on TV.
Meanwhile, The Nation’s Michael Massing explained: "When a short clip was aired showing US soldiers being greeted by waving children, a journalist from Chinese state television sitting next to me snorted, ‘What propaganda!’ (And he should know.)"
At one point, New York Magazine’s Michael Wolff asked, "Why should we stay? What’s the value to us for what we learn at this million-dollar press center?" and other reporters applauded, though Wilkinson was reportedly furious. "He was very pugnacious about the whole thing. ‘Why don’t you go home? You’re nothing. You’re finished,’" Mr. Wolff recalled being told. "He was a professional little shit." [New York Observer]
Which, of course, could be why Wilkinson is a Bush Administration rising star. And according to a variety of reports, his recent accomplishments reveal plenty. Consider the following:
1999: "Packaged and promoted" the distortion that Al Gore claimed to have ‘invented the Internet.’
2000: Showed up in Miami to defend the GOP protesters trying to shut down the Florida recount. "These demonstrations were clearly designed to intimidate and to prevent a simple count of votes from going forward. This is a time to honor the rule of law, not surrender to the rule of the mob," Sen. Joe Lieberman said, in a statement that’s proven prescient. [CNN]
Sept. 2001: Helped arrange George Bush’s Sept. 14, 2001 PR visit to Ground Zero.
2001-2002: Managed "Coalition Information Centers" during the war in Afghanistan.
As Newsweek's Martha Brant put it, Wilkinson was part of the group "who brought you the war in Afghanistan--or at least the accompanying public-relations campaign."
March, 2003: Managed hundreds of international correspondents covering the war out of the U.S. media center in Qatar. "It was a very well-designed, well-executed effort to control the information," New York magazine’s Michael Wolff explained. "Wilkinson was, I think, instrumental. He certainly represented himself as the brains of the operation."
April, 2003: Hyped the Jessica Lynch saga. "In the early hours of April 2, correspondents in Doha were summoned from their beds to Centcom, the military and media nerve center for the war," The Guardian explained. "Jim Wilkinson, the White House's top figure there, had stayed up all night. ‘We had a situation where there was a lot of hot news,’ he [recalled] "The president had been briefed, as had the secretary of defense."
The journalists rushed in, thinking Saddam had been captured. The story they were told instead has entered American folklore. Private Lynch, a 19-year-old clerk from Palestine, West Virginia, was a member of the US Army's 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company that took a wrong turning near Nassiriya and was ambushed. . .
Releasing its five-minute film to the networks, the Pentagon claimed that Lynch had stab and bullet wounds, and that she had been slapped about on her hospital bed and interrogated." [The Guardian]
Much of the account, we now know, was based on staging and lies, but Wilkinson’s comment, "America doesn't leave its heroes behind" provided one of the war's most memorable quips.
July, 2003: Helped promote the idea that Uday and Qusay Hussein’s deaths could ease the guerrilla-style insurgency against U.S. troops. [CNN]
Aug. 2003: Named communications director for the 2004 Republican National Convention. [Washington Post] and by Nov, 2003, was busy at work. "Already, Jim Wilkinson, director of strategic communications at US Central Command in Doha, Qatar (the operation that gave the world the Jessica Lynch rescue), has moved to New York to head up media operations for the Republican National Convention, Naomi Klein wrote. [The Guardian]
"It will be the second time reporters will be meeting the Bush approach to keeping them at bay, the second time they will have met Jim Wilkinson and his embed philosophy, his briefings, his allotments of new and interesting camera angles, and his approach toward a war room," the New York Observer’s Ben Smith explained
March, 2004: Served as Bush’s attack puppy, nipping at the truth.
And there you have it.
"I think that this is part of a general pattern of the White House and the Republican National Committee and the president's re-election committee distributing talking points like that to senators and to press and to media trying to make me the issue and trying to engage in character assassination," Richard Clarke told Tim Russert. [MSNBC]
"You know, they’re trying to divert attention from the issues that I am raising and that other people are raising in the 9/11 Commission process," Clarke told Larry King. "The issue is -- could the Bush administration have done more prior to 9/11? The second issue is, what did it do after 9/11? Did it fight the war on terror well or did it not? Did it divert attention and actually hurt the war on terror by fighting an unnecessary costly diversionary war in Iraq? That's what we should be talking about and the White House, obviously, doesn't want to talk about that." [CNN]
And so Clarke, like Paul O’Neill, is bringing these issues to the forefront, and could, in time, become the next Daniel Ellsberg.
"In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy," Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote, in his Pentagon Papers case opinion. "The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell."
Read Justice Black's statement in light of Jim Wilkinson’s role in Qatar, and you’ll get an idea of how far we’ve fallen.
But, of course, Wilkinson is consequential only if his tactics work. In the end, nearly everything revolves around Americans’ willingness to see past the smoke and mirrors. Will truth-tellers like Clarke be embraced or rejected? Will we welcome the truth or do we, in fact, prefer our government to protect us from it?
way we answer such questions will determine whether or not the Founders’
vision survives. And if America will once again live up to its reputation
as "the land of the free and home of the brave."
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original