Political Animal


A TALE OF TWO MODERATES….Looks like those fabled moderate Republicans are holding firm after all:

Senate Republican leaders Friday unexpectedly pledged to limit President Bush’s tax cut to $350 billion, less than half the amount he had proposed to try to spur the economy.

….Angry House GOP leaders held a news conference to accuse Senate Republicans of violating an agreement to postpone a final decision about the tax cut’s size.

….The dispute within the GOP’s congressional ranks provided a rancorous, divisive coda to a day that should have been a legislative triumph for Republicans….House Republicans’ sense of betrayal was so bitter that they said the Senate’s action threw the party into disarray just as Congress was preparing to advance several core elements of the president’s domestic agenda. “This goes right to the heart of our ability to work together,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). “This is pretty serious and has serious long-term implications.”

….But as Senate GOP leaders struggled Thursday night to round up the votes to pass the compromise, they ran into stalwart opposition from two key moderate Republicans, Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. They remained committed to a tax cut of no more than $350 billion, and wanted assurances the reduction eventually worked out between the House and Senate would not exceed that amount.

How about that? Democrats are doing better at their filibuster of Miguel Estrada than the Republicans are in getting their tax cut passed. Who would have guessed it three months ago?

With any luck, George Bush will take his usual mature approach to “betrayals” like this and will refuse to invite Voinovich and Snowe to his next birthday party or something. Maybe they ought to have a little talk with Jim Jeffords.


A TALE OF TWO TOMS….House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay on April 3:

Nothing is more important in the face of war than cutting taxes.

House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay on April 12:

Unfortunately in this town we have people who will take advantage of even a war situation. We have people in this town that just cannot stop their appetite for spending.

Gee, Tom, it’s just terrible all those people who take advantage of war for political purposes, isn’t it?

Give me a break.


IS SADDAM HIDING OUT IN RUSSIA?….Arab News gives us the latest buzz in the Middle East about why Baghdad fell without a fight:

One theory is that Condoleezza Rice, in her meeting with Russian officials, was told that Saddam would be allowed to go into exile to Russia on condition that he ordered his officers not to resist and thus allow US forces an easy victory. This theory, along with many others, is all over Arab websites and Saudi gatherings.

That’s the internet for you. Any bets on whether we start getting rumors of sightings of Saddam sunning himself at some dacha on the Black Sea?

The rest of the story is about Al Jazeera. Apparently the Arab world is pretty honked off that they made it sound like Iraq was putting up a stiff resistance:

All along, both channels in their analysis were telling their viewers in the Arab world that the south had not fallen to the American and British forces, even a couple days before the capital itself fell. Reports continued about how pockets of resistance were giving the invading forces a hard fight and that Iraqis had not given up their positions in the city….Now that Baghdad has fallen, Saudis are in a dilemma. They are feeling betrayed by their Arab satellite channels who had kept them believing that the Iraqi resistance did have a chance to whip the American forces, they are also confused.

Them’s the breaks. Fox News may be slanted too, but they had the good fortune to be on the winning side. And we all know who writes the history books.

CNN AND IRAQ….Here’s a little

CNN AND IRAQ….Here’s a little story about how blogging can change your view of events. Maybe.

Eason Jordan, the chief news executive at CNN, wrote an op-ed yesterday in the New York Times about the problems CNN has had reporting news from Iraq over the past 13 years. He provided several examples of stories that were spiked because it would have put their own reporters in jeopardy if they had reported them:

For example, in the mid-1990’s one of our Iraqi cameramen was abducted. For weeks he was beaten and subjected to electroshock torture in the basement of a secret police headquarters because he refused to confirm the government’s ludicrous suspicion that I was the Central Intelligence Agency’s Iraq station chief. CNN had been in Baghdad long enough to know that telling the world about the torture of one of its employees would almost certainly have gotten him killed and put his family and co-workers at grave risk.

My first, top-of-the-head thought when I read this was to shake my head over what a horrible position CNN had been in. Obviously you don’t want to be responsible for putting your own people at risk of torture and death, but on the other hand Iraq is an important place and CNN was surely right to want to keep their Baghdad bureau open. This is the kind of decision all of us hope we never have to make ourselves.

I thought nothing more about it, but as I cruised through the blogosphere during the day I saw that this had become a big deal. Blog after blog was apoplectic about Eason’s story. There are way too many comments to link to here, but the general tone was that (a) CNN was deliberately trying to hide evidence of torture by Saddam’s regime, (b) they should have just pulled out of Baghdad, and (c) how can we ever trust anything they say again?

What was more surprising to me was that all these comments were on righty blogs, despite the fact that this hadn’t initially struck me as a left-right kind of story. So I thought about it some more. Here are a few comments:

  • The critics have a point: CNN didn’t make it clear in their earlier reporting that they were constrained in what they could tell. This surely hurts their credibility.

  • On the other hand, reporters frequently slant stories in order to protect access to sources. CNN’s actions may seem more egregious in the aftermath of a war, but this desire to protect access is pretty fundamental to journalists everywhere. This isn’t really big news.

  • I imagine every news organization did pretty much the same thing that CNN did. The only difference is that they haven’t fessed up to it yet.

  • CNN made a judgment that being able to report from inside Iraq was worth the downside that the realities of the situation imposed on them. Considering how important a story Iraq is, it’s not clear to me that this was the wrong decision.

  • Stories of Iraqi torture and other atrocities were widely reported. It’s not as if CNN had an exclusive story and chose to bury it.

Long story short, the value of the blogosphere to me was that it provided a view that hadn’t occurred to me, and one that I think was worth making. At the same time, however, it strikes me as overblown, mostly an attempt to prove that CNN is some kind of liberal shill ? which strikes me as odd given the breathless pro-war tone of their coverage over the past few weeks.

Journalistic objectivity is a worthy goal in many ways, but whenever you read or listen to the news you should be aware that reporters are only as good as their sources and frequently tilt their reporting to protect access to those sources. That’s just the way the game is played.

UPDATE: On the other hand, it’s true that in this interview from last October Jordan pretty clearly tries to claim that CNN wasn’t shading the truth just to please Saddam. Still, if you read the whole thing Jordan talks about “the realities on the ground,” about government censorship, about some of the things they did that got them kicked out of Iraq on occasion, and about his contention that “some light is better than no light whatsoever.”

CNN may have made the wrong call, but I’m still skeptical that, as Matt Welch puts it, “‘news bureaus’ in Baghdad and other totalitarian capitals (Havana, to name one) are actually propaganda huts, churning out what CNN producers call ‘sanctions coverage’ (pieces on the awful humanitarian toll of international economic sanctions), while refusing to report the awful truth.” I’m sure every journalist in these countries has to make compromises, but would we really be better off if we had no reporting from there at all?