Sunday, October 09, 2005

Speaking of the Filter

Frank Rich is en fuego with his column this week in the Sunday NYTimes (which is unfortunately, behind the Times Select firewall; if you have access, here's the link). It's a rangy article in the tradition of the grand (and aptly oft-used for this administration) "pulling the curtains to reveal the wizard" theme, touching on everything from Harriet Miers to "Brownie" to Karen Hughes' trip to the Middle East. But he pulls all the fictions together nicely, and it serves as a nice addendum to the previous post

 
Beware of leaders who drink their own Kool-Aid. The most distressing aspect of Mr. Bush's press conference last week was less his lies and half-truths than the abundant evidence that he is as out of touch as Custer was on the way to Little Bighorn. The president seemed genuinely shocked that anyone could doubt his claim that his friend is the best-qualified candidate for the highest court. Mr. Bush also seemed unaware that it was Republicans who were leading the attack on Ms. Miers. "The decision as to whether or not there will be a fight is up to the Democrats," he said, confusing his antagonists this time much as he has Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

Such naked presidential isolation from reality was a replay of his response to Hurricane Katrina. When your main "objective sources" for news are members of your own staff, you can actually believe that the most pressing tragedy of the storm is the rebuilding of Trent Lott's second home. You can even believe that Brownie will fix it. The truth only began to penetrate four days after the storm's arrival - and only then, according to Newsweek, because an adviser, Dan Bartlett, asked the president to turn away from his usual "objective sources" and instead watch a DVD compilation of actual evening news reports.

Mr. Bartlett's one desperate effort to prick his boss's bubble notwithstanding, the White House as a whole is so addicted to its own mythmaking prowess that it can't kick the habit. Seventy-two hours before Ms. Miers was nominated, federal auditors from the Government Accountability Office declared that the administration had violated the law against "covert propaganda" when it repeatedly hired fake reporters (and one supposedly real pundit, Armstrong Williams) to plug its policies in faux news reports and editorial commentary produced at taxpayers' expense. But a bigger scandal is the legal propaganda that the White House produces daily even now - or especially now.

As always, much of it pertains to the war in Iraq. On Sept. 28, to take one recent instance, the president announced the smiting of a man he identified as "the second most wanted Al Qaeda leader in Iraq" and the "top operational commander of Al Qaeda in Baghdad." As New York's Daily News would quickly report, the man in question "may not even be one of the top 10 or 15 leaders." The blogger Blogenlust chimed in, documenting 33 "top lieutenants" of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who have been captured, killed or identified in the past two and a half years, with no deterrent effect on terrorist violence in Iraq, Madrid or London. No wonder the nation shrugged at the largely recycled and unsubstantiated list of 10 foiled Qaeda plots that Mr. Bush unveiled in Thursday's latest stay-the-course Iraq oration.
 


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