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05/31/2005

Winning one for the shredder

Shredded_paper

Arthur Andersen has at last been vindicated by the Supreme Court in the Enron case. The justices unanimously ruled that Andersen's obstruction-of-justice conviction in June of 2002 was improper, because the instructions given to the jury were too vague.

Government attorneys argued that Andersen should be held responsible for instructing its employees to "undertake an unprecedented campaign of document destruction."

But in his opinion, Rehnquist noted that jurors were instructed to convict Andersen if the accounting firm had an "improper purpose," such as an intent to impede or subvert fact-finding in an "official proceeding." He noted jurors were instructed to convict, even if Andersen mistakenly thought it was acting legally.

At trial, Andersen argued that employees who shredded tons of documents followed the policy and there was no intent to thwart the SEC investigation.

The probe into Andersen led to just one guilty plea, from the firm's former top Enron auditor, David Duncan. But the conviction of the Chicago firm forced it to surrender its accounting license and stop conducting public audits. Some 28,000 workers had to find other jobs, and the company was left a shell of its former self.

A ruling against Andersen would have had onerous consequences for businesses, whose discarding of files is an everyday occurrence. Experts say companies would have to keep all files for fear that any disposal, however innocent, could subject them to potential prosecution.

According to Andersen attorneys, notes and drafts of documents were thrown away under the firm's document-retention policy in part because they were preliminary and could have been misconstrued.

Andersen's appeal was backed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. It argued in a friend-of-the-court filing that broad characterization of "obstruction" used in the jury instructions would also unfairly punish criminal attorneys who advise their clients to withhold evidence in legal ways.

Such a broad reading could open defense lawyers and others to prosecution if they merely advise clients of their rights to assert legal privileges or review document retention policies, the criminal defense group said.

White Collar Crime Prof Blog has more in-depth analysis.

Andersen's vindication comes too late, of course, to save the jobs of the 28,000 employees who were forced to hit the pavement when the firm collapsed.

Let's hope that this ruling causes the Justice Department to think twice before they embark on another witch hunt simply to help prove the Bush administration isn't in the pocket of the corporate "fat cats."

Posted by Rodger on May 31, 2005 at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/20/2005

"100 different ways" to slander a soldier

Soldiers

Poor Linda Foley.

She just can't seem to understand why so many people "on the right" are upset with her.

A story by Joe Strupp in Editor & Publisher—"Guild Chief Under Fire for Comments About Attacks on Journalists in Iraq"—tells her tale of woe:

Linda Foley, national president of The Newspaper Guild, drew strong criticism today from some conservative groups for comments she made last Friday about the killing of journalists in Iraq. Foley said, among other things, that she was angry that there was "not more outrage about the number and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it's just a scandal."

Okay, wait a sec. Let's deconstruct Strupp's lead for a moment.

"Some conservative groups"? What groups? The ACU? The National Taxpayers Union? Project 21? The Heritage Foundation? What little criticism I've seen on this subject has come from individuals, not groups.

And since when do only conservatives get upset about unsupported charges coming from people in high places who should know better? I seem to recall that it wasn't only conservatives who were upset with Eason Jordan over his January remarks at Davos. Two of the most liberal members of Congress joined in the almost universal outrage.

But it wasn't her concern about the supposed "cavalier nature of the U.S. military" toward journalists that produced the outrage. It was her unsupported contention that journalists are "being targeted for real, um … in places like Iraq …. They target and kill journalists…uh, from other countries, particularly Arab countries like Al -, like Arab news services like Al-Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios with impunity …."

The controversy isn't over a "cavalier attitude" toward journalists; it's about a very serious charge—repeated three times—that our military is "targeting" (a word which by its nature implies malice aforethought) journalists to be killed. This charge has not been substantiated by any evidence Ms. Foley has so far produced. And that, Mr. Strupp, is what's kicked up all the fuss.

The story continues:

Last month, Foley sent a letter to President Bush criticizing the U.S. investigation into the deaths of journalists in Iraq.

The backlash became so severe Thursday that staffers at Guild headquarters in Washington, D.C., stopped answering the phone because of abusive phone calls and "people screaming at us," Foley said. Instead, callers were required to leave messages on voice mail and await a return call.

"We don't want people to be subjected to that kind of abuse," Foley said, adding that the angry calls began early Thursday. "It is annoying, but it isn't deterring us from doing what we have to do."

Okay, I'll admit it. I posted the telephone number of Newspaper Guild here yesterday, along with a link to Ms. Foley's email address. I requested that those who contacted her be polite. I suspect that most of them were. I certainly can't imagine that this website (or the few other blogs who may have listed the number) could have produced a volume of abusive calls sufficient to shut down the Guild's phone system. But then again, Ms. Foley seems to be the sort who reads a man-bites-dog story and assumes people are biting dogs all over the place.

Anyway, thankfully, the call volume isn't deterring the Guild from "doing what we have to do," which to judge from Ms. Foley's recent remarks mainly appears to be (1) inveighing against the evils of corporate media; and (2) maligning the reputation of the U.S. military.

The calls were apparently in reaction to comments Foley made during a panel discussion at the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis on May 13. There she offered a lengthy commentary on corporate ownership of media, and she refuted certain criticism of journalists. During that session, she also briefly discussed deaths of journalists covering the war.

Foley's comments, which she says have been distorted, have already drawn the ire of several conservative news organizations, including NewsMax.com, The Washington Times, and Sinclair Broadcasting, charging that she accused the U.S. forces of deliberately targeting journalists.

"She also briefly discussed deaths of journalists covering the war." Yes, it's true that her slander of the military was only incidental to her fulminations about the dangers of "corporate journalism." But her comments were very clear, and they have not been taken out of context. There is simply no other way to read or interpret what she said last Friday—namely, that the U.S. military is deliberately targeting journalists, primarily foreign journalists, for killing in Iraq.

Eight paragraphs into the article, Strupp finally gets to the money quote:

According to a video of the session available on the conference's Web site, her only comments on this specific subject were:

"Journalists are not just being targeted verbally or politically. They are also being targeted for real in places like Iraq. And what outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there's not more outrage about the number and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it's just a scandal."

"It's not just U.S. journalists either, by the way. They target and kill journalists from other countries, particularly Arab countries, at news services like Al Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios, with impunity. This is all part of the culture that it is OK to blame the individual journalists, and it just takes the heat off of these media conglomerates that are part of the problem."

"Her only comments on this specific subject …"? Admittedly, it's not enough material for a speech at the National Press Club, but—speaking as a professional here—I'd have to say two paragraphs are more than sufficient to make an inflammatory (not to mention baseless) charge.

A NewsMax.com story charged that Foley had accused U.S. soldiers of "committing atrocities without offering any evidence to back the charge up." Mark Hyman, a Sinclair commentator, called her comments "irresponsible" and "horrible allegations." Several critics immediately compared her criticism to the case of Eason Jordan, the former CNN executive who resigned after suggesting that U.S. military personnel may have targeted journalists in Iraq.

Foley told E&P Thursday that her words were taken out of context by critics and said her original intent was to discuss how journalists are often scapegoated for their coverage. "This was almost an aside," she said. "But it is true that hundreds of journalists are killed around the world, and many have been killed in Iraq."

Okay, let's be clear. The deliberate assassination of a journalist is a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention, so the term "atrocity" isn't hyperbole in this context. Accusing someone, whether an institution or an individual, of war crime is a "horrible allegation." Doing so without adducing any evidence is "irresponsible." So what is being "taken out of context" here?  The fact that the remarks were made as "almost an aside" in no way mitigates their force—or Ms. Foley's irresponsibility in making them.

As for the notion of "a culture that it is OK to blame the individual journalists" and that allegedly ignores the supposed evils of "media conglomorates," what could Ms. Foley possibly be talking about? Amazon lists 283 "corporate media" titles—only a handful of which are favorable to (or even neutral about) their chosen subject. I find hardly any that attack "individual journalists"—unless you expand your definition of journalist to include Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore.

When asked if she believed U.S. troops had targeted journalists in Iraq, she said, "I was careful of not saying troops, I said U.S. military. Could I have said it differently? There are 100 different ways of saying this, but I'm not sure they would have appeased the right."

The subject at issue, of course, isn't whether or not "the right" should have been "appeased." It's whether charges of war crimes should have been made—against the "U.S. military" or against "the troops" is a distinction without a difference here—in the absence of any evidence to support those charges. And in this she's correct: There 100 different ways of making a slanderous accusation—none of them acceptable to those on the receiving end of the slander.

She did point out that those who bombed the Al Jazeera studios in Baghdad in 2003 had the coordinates of the television station, "because Al Jazeera had given it to them and they bombed the hell out of the station. They bombed it knowing it was the Al Jazeera station. Absent any independent inquiry that tells the world otherwise, that is what I believe."

Her comments at the conference followed the letter she sent last month to President Bush criticizing the U.S. investigation into the deaths of journalists in Iraq, including several during an attack on the Palestine Hotel in 2003.

In that attack, two journalists—one form Spain and the other from Ukraine—were killed. She also noted the bombing of the Al Jazeera office the same day, in which a reporter died. "Neither of these attacks has been independently investigated nor have the deaths been properly explained to the satisfaction of the victims' families, their friends and their colleagues," the letter said, in part.

It's one thing to allege that journalists may have been inadequately safeguarded in a war zone; it's quite another to charge that they were deliberately targeted. Ms. Foley and Mr. Strupp—who fails in his own journalistic responsibility to point out this distinction—are embarked on an exercise in damage control. (Interestingly, Mr. Strupp appeared last night on "The O'Reilly Factor" to defend Ms. Foley. Among his many misrepresentations on the program—which you can find here—was the astonishing contention that it was "unclear" whom the "they" in Ms. Foley's remarks about "targeting" referred to.)

Tragic accidents—including civilian deaths and friendly-fire incidents—are an inevitable part of warfare, even in an age of computer targeting and precision-guided bombs. But to assume malice on the part of military toward journalists or other civilians—in the absence of credible evidence to the contrary—constitutes leap in logic that is the province of agitprop, not  journalism.

That Ms. Foley should be in the position of representing more than 34,000 journalists and other newspaper professionals is a sorry reflection on the state of the news business.

UPDATE: More at MediaSlander.

Posted by Rodger on May 20, 2005 at 08:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

05/19/2005

Eason, we hardly knew ye …

Linday_foley_1

Do journalists, editors and media executives actually bother to follow the news? Was Newsweek reading their own reporting when CBS had to retract its infamous Memogate story on "60 Minutes Wednesday" (a program, by the way, the network has just cancelled)?

And you have to wonder where Linda Foley, president of the Newspaper Guild, was last February 11, when bloggers helped convince Eason Jordan to resign from CNN over unsubstantiated charges he made at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the U.S. military was targeting journalists for execution in Iraq. We never got to see the video of his remarks—not for lack of trying—but multiple eyewitness accounts offer a pretty fair idea of what it would have contained.

Anyway—apparantly heedless of Jordan's example—Foley got up in front of an audience (complete with video cameras) at the 2005 National Conference for Media Reform [sic] to level essentially the same unsubstantiated smear against our men and women in uniform:

Journalists, by the way, are not just being targeted verbally or … ah, or … ah, politically. They are also being targeted for real, um…in places like Iraq. What outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there's not more outrage about the number, and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq.

They target and kill journalists…uh, from other countries, particularly Arab countries like Al -, like Arab news services like Al-Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios with impunity ….

This is taken directly from video aired by Sinclair Communications' commentator and v. p. of corporate communications Mark Hyman ("The Point"). Here's a direct link to his commentary and the relevant video (in .wmv format). For the ambitious, an hour-long video of the entire session is available for download (a 51.5 MB, zipped Quicktime file) here.

Like Eason Jordan, Nik Gowing and their ilk, of course, she produces not a shred of evidence to support her scurrilous allegations.

In case you think Ms. Foley's remarks may have been taken out of context, here's another version:

Another trend that needs to be reversed is the targeting of journalists. they have become a target from the right of the political spectrum. They are blamed for many ills they just report on. We have to be careful we don't fall into that trap. What is happening in media is not the fault of individual journalists. What's wrong is the systematic corporate disillusion of what we know is credible reporting and journalism.

Journalists are not just being targeted politically and verbally, but for real, in places like Iraq. There's not enough outrage towards the blatant kiling of journalists in Iraq. Not just from the US, but other countries, especially Arab countries, targeting and blowing up their studios with impunity. It takes the heat off the media conglomerates who are the heart of the problem.

This is taken from what appear to be a copy of her prepared remarks, as posted on the Conference's  blog.

Foley also references the "targeting" issue in this April 15 commentary on the Guild website.

Both the Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists sent letters April 8 to President George Bush, calling on the administration to “heed the requests from journalists around the world for an independent investigation into the record number of deaths among media staff covering the war in Iraq.” The Pentagon’s report on the shelling at the Palestine Hotel, wrote TNG-CWA President Linda Foley, “has been inadequate and unconvincing, raising more questions than it resolved.”

Needless to say, this little campaign has excited some interest in the Arab world.

Here, by the way, is a link to Linda Foley's email address. Or you can reach her at the Newspaper Guild's offices at 202-434-7177.

I'm sure she'd appreciate hearing your thoughts. (Please be polite.)

To quote the refrain of a famous antiwar anthem:

Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

HT: Junkyard blog. Further thoughts on this topic can be found at The Dusty Attic, Brain Droppings, My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, The Jawa Report, The Blue State Conservatives and OpinionBug. I'm sure there will be many more blogs to follow.

UPDATE: The Washington Times has also picked up on the story. (HT: Beth at My Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.) So has Cybercast News Service.

UPDATE: Captain Ed has now stepped into the ring as well: "One would think that key figures in the communication industry would be more careful in how they express themselves." So has the Blogfather and Kevin Craver Rathergate.com. And more Foley bloggers are swarming. Can Hewitt, Powerline, Michelle Malkin and company be far behind?

UPDATE: More here … and at MediaSlander.

Posted by Rodger on May 19, 2005 at 08:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Getting Nixon

Bernstein__woodward

For those of us old enough to remember the slogan "Dick Nixon before he dicks you,"  Newsweek's Toiletgate story has a weary familiarity about it—right down to the anonymous "Deep Throat" source at its center.

So let me make one thing perfectly clear: This is a determined effort by a liberal mainstream press to relive its Finest Hour and bring down another second-term Republican President. Moreover, the MSM is determined to do so by any means necessary, even if that means, repeatedly and unabashedly, fabricating stories out of whole cloth.

As Ausin Bay notes:

"Vietnam-Watergate" is a tired and phony game, but for three decades it's been the spine of the New York-Washington-Los Angeles media axis. Its rules are simple and cynical. Presume the U.S. government is lying—particularly when the president is a Republican. Presume the worst about the U.S. military—even when the president is a Democrat. Add multicultural icing—allegations by "Third World victims" are given revered status, while U.S. statements are met with arrogant contempt.

The formula was created long ago; the only thing that ever changes is the casting. And, of course, the MSM has to fill in some "additional dialogue" for the villians of the piece. Consider this exchange between Scott McClellan and The New York Times' Elizabeth Bumiller on Tuesday:

Bumiller: Are you asking them [Newsweek] to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you're saying here?

McClellan: Elisabeth, let me finish my sentence. Our military—

Bumiller: You've already said what you're—I know what—how it ends.

We all know how Bumiller & Co. would like to end it—the Big Story, that is.

They would end it in disgrace, with a helicopter lifting off the roof of an American embassy in some Third World country or from the South Lawn of the White House.

The basic William Goldman screenplay hasn't changed since the Seventies: Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, threatened at every turn by evil Republicans, tenaciously expose the sordid truth and wind up toppling the powerful.

CREEP P.R. Man: For twenty years, the Eastern liberal press has been trying to smear Dick Nixon. Fortunately, the American public is too smart to be fooled by …

White House Spokesman: I have been reliably informed by John Dean that no one connected with the White House …

Some of us recall how those sentences ended too.

Dick Nixon before he dicks you.

Posted by Rodger on May 19, 2005 at 01:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/16/2005

Never mind …

Emily_litella

Newsweek has resorted to the Emily Litella defense in its reporting of the Koran desecration scandal at Gitmo. "We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."

In this morning's Washington Post (Newsweek's sister publication) Howard Kurtz reports:

Editor Mark Whitaker expressed regret over the item in the magazine's "Periscope" section, saying it was based on a confidential source—a "senior U.S. government official"—who now says he is not sure whether the story is true ….

"Just as citizens," Whitaker said, "we feel badly about the fact that there's been a rash of violence …. Clearly, that was not our intent in publishing what we thought was a solid news item …."

The fallout here is starting to build, and Dan Klaidman, Newsweek's Washington bureau chief, was doing cable news interviews yesterday, describing the story as "an honest mistake."

Said Whitaker: "I suppose you could say we should have foreseen the consequences of the report, but we didn't."

But, as Richard Weaver once put it, ideas do have consequences—even (and maybe especially) the paranoid fantasies of irresponsible journalists. And, pace Mr. Whitaker, those consequences are usually quite predictable, as they were in this instance. An item in an internationally-read news magazine isn't the flap of a butterfly's wings in Tahiti setting off tornadoes in Texas.

And the butterflies of Newsweek continue to flap their wings furiously.

Under the leadership of assistant managing editor Evan Thomas (with help from Sami Yousafzai in Peshawar, Ron Moreau and Zahid Hussain in Islamabad and Eve Conant and Andrew Horesh in Washington), the magazine is going all out to justify its shoddy reporting—and further fan the flames of anti-Americanism across the Islamic world.

To wit:

Given all that has been reported about the treatment of detainees—including allegations that a female interrogator pretended to wipe her own menstrual blood on one prisoner—the reports of Qur'an desecration seemed shocking but not incredible ….

Newsweek was not the first to report allegations of desecrating the Qur'an. As early as last spring and summer, similar reports from released detainees started surfacing in British and Russian news reports, and in the Arab news agency Al-Jazeera; claims by other released detainees have been covered in other media since then ….

More allegations, credible or not, are sure to come. Bader Zaman Bader, a 35-year-old former editor of a fundamentalist English-language magazine in Peshawar, was released from more than two years' lockup in Guantánamo seven months ago. Arrested by Pakistani security as a suspected Qaeda militant in November 2001, he was handed over to the U.S. military and held at a tent at the Kandahar airfield. One day, Bader claims, as the inmates' latrines were being emptied, a U.S. soldier threw in a Qur'an. After the inmates screamed and protested, a U.S. commander apologized. Bader says he still has nightmares about the incident.

Newsweek's "apology," then, consists in setting its own inacccurate story in the context of similar stories of questionable pedigree. The British, the Russians, Al-Jazeera … hey, they're all doing it, right?

The aforementioned Richard Weaver once wrote (quite presciently in this instance):

It is the nature of arguments based on testimony and authority to have no intrinsic force; whatever persuasive power they carry is derived from the credit of the testifier of the weight of the authority. People who have been taught to venerate the Bible will be moved by a Biblical proposition; a proposition from the Koran would have little if any power to move them, though it would carry weight with a Moslem. In using such arguments it is accordingly essential to keep in mind the credit of the source of testimony and the status of the authority. Testimony is usually well regarded if the one offering it is in a position to know the facts and if he is disinterested with reference to the outcome of the argument.

Whether their source was "in a position to know the facts" or "disinterested with reference to the outcome of the argument" seem to be matters of scant concern, however, for the journalists at Newsweek.

Posted by Rodger on May 16, 2005 at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/13/2005

Freakonomics, blogging and bad chicken

Rubberchickenbig

If you haven't read Freakonomics, I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to grab a copy this weekend. (Should you find yourself unwilling to plunk down $17.13 on my recommendation alone, then read this review of it by my friend Dean Barnett—the artist formerly known as James Frederick Dwight.)

Suffice it to say that if they taught economics this way in college, everyone would major in it. Reading Freakonomics is sort  of like watching "Numb3rs," except that co-authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner actually take the trouble to explain the math.

One of the ancillary benefits of the book's surprising success—and perhaps one reason for it—is that the authors have created a blog that's every bit the intellectual equal of this one—and a hell of a lot funnier. Let's hope they keep it up even after Freakonomics slips off The New York Times bestseller list.

A recent post by Stephen J. Dubner will serve as a case in point: "Why pay $36.09 for rancid chicken?"

He tells a tale we've all experienced—inexpressibly bad restaurant food and an insufficiently apologetic waitstaff.

My chicken, when it arrived, didn't look good but I took a bite. It was so rancid I had to spit it out into a napkin. Absolutely disgusting gagging rotten rancid. I summoned the waitress, a young and pretty redhead, who made a suitably horrified expression, then took the food away and brought back a menu.

The manager appeared. She was older than the waitress, with long dark hair and a French accent. She apologized, said the chefs were checking out the dish now, trying to determine if perhaps the herbs or the butter had caused the problem.

I don't think so, I told her. I think your chicken is rotten. I cook a lot of chicken, I said, and I know what rotten chicken smells like. Trilby [Dubner's dining companion] agreed: you could smell this plate across the table, probably across the restaurant.

The manager was reluctant to concede ….

And thereby hangs the real tale, as Dubner spins it into an exercise in applied game theory.

Just then the waitress brought the check. It was for $31.09. Perhaps out of shyness, or haste, or—most likely—a desire to not appear cheap (when it comes to money, things are never simple), I blurted out Option 2: Please see what the manager "can do about the check." The waitress replied, smiling, that we had already been given the two glasses of wine for free. To me in particular this felt like slim recompense, since it was Trilby who had drunk the wine while it was I who still radiated with the flavor of rancid chicken. But the waitress, still smiling, duly took the check and headed toward the manager. She zipped right over, also smiling.

"Considering what happened with the chicken," I said, "I wonder what you can do about the check."

"We didn't charge you for the wines," she said, with great kindness, as if she were a surgeon who had thought she would have to remove both my kidneys but found instead that she had only had to remove one.

"Is that the best that you're prepared to offer me?" I said ….

She looked at me intently, still friendly. Here she was making a calculation, preparing to make the sort of slight gamble that is both financial and psychological, the sort of gamble that each of us makes every day. She was about to gamble that I was not the kind of person who would make a scene. After all, I had been friendly throughout our dilemma, never raising my voice or even uttering the words "vomit" or "rancid" aloud. And she plainly thought this behavior would continue. She was gambling that I wouldn't throw back my chair and holler, that I wouldn't stand outside the restaurant telling prospective customers that I'd gagged on my chicken, that the whole lot was rancid, that the chefs either must have smelled it and thought they could get away with it, or, if they hadn't smelled it, were so detached from their job that who knows what else—a spoon, a sliver of thumb, a dollop of disinfectant—might find its way into the next meal. And so, making this gamble, she said "Yes": as in Yes, that is the best that she was prepared to offer me. "All right," I said, and she walked away. I left a $5 tip—no sense penalizing the poor waitress, right?—walked outside and put Trilby in a cab. The manager had gambled that I wouldn't cause trouble, and she was right.

Until now.

The restaurant, should you care to note, is called French Roast, and is on the northeast corner of 85th and Broadway, in Manhattan.

Last I checked, the roast chicken was still on the menu. Bon appetit.

Game, set and match, Dubner.

The Prisoner's Dilemma was never half as amusing as this.

Buy the book. Bookmark the blog. And don't forget to enter the t-shirt contest.

You could be a winner.

Posted by Rodger on May 13, 2005 at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

05/11/2005

Minutes of the Judson Welliver Society

Rumsfeld_ford_cheney

Fellow blogger Bernard Higgins just tipped me off to this story on the FOXNews website by Catherine Donaldson-Evans on the evolving tradition of presidential speechwriting.

As Ms. Donaldson-Evans notes, the function is a comparatively recent one.

Speechwriters and their craft are actually a fairly new trend, and presidents up through Woodrow Wilson—a historian and a writer by trade who was in office from 1913 to 1921—basically wrote their own remarks. The first official speechwriter was "literary clerk" Judson Welliver, who began working under President Warren G. Harding in March of 1921.

"Presidents didn't give many speeches until the early 20th century," Ribuffo said. "Wilson could be his own speechwriter not only because he was a writer but because he didn't have to give any speeches. Now it would just be impossible."

No president from Thomas Jefferson to William Howard Taft addressed Congress in person, and what are now known as State of the Union speeches used to be written reports.

The speeches of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served from 1953 to 1961, filled only 6,618 of the Public Papers of the President, as opposed to those of Clinton, which took up 15,669 pages, according to Americanpresident.org.

My own boss, President Gerald R. Ford, also managed to fill up some 6,000 pages in the two years and five months he spent in the Oval Office, fewer than a dozen of which were shaped by this hand.

Here's one of my favorite bits (from page 908 of Volume II):

It is through the free exchange of varied ideas that real wisdom—the kind of wisdom enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights—is attained. And as all of us approach our Bicentennial, I believe we can be proud that, in spite of the follies of a few individuals, relatively speaking, the collective wisdom of democracy has managed to prevail ….

Just to clarify the record, President Ford added the "relatively speaking" part.

As Ms. Donaldson-Evans so tellingly observes, it's the President who makes the speechwriter, not the other way around.

Posted by Rodger on May 11, 2005 at 05:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

05/10/2005

Smoking gun?

G5_155mm_towed_howitzer_1

The ninth installment of the Rafidan videos is out, and it's a doozy.

(Download file here in .wmv format.)

It features a memorandum of understanding signed by the late Dale Stoffel and a formidable trio of power brokers: Ghazi Allawi (cousin of Iyad, who was kidnapped and released by a previously-unknown terrorist group, Ansar al-Jihad, in Baghdad last November), Mohammed Chalabi (nephew of Ahmed and former CEO of the Petra Banking International Corporation) and Ahmet Ersavci (a Turkish arms dealer).

Here's the memo (click image to enlarge):

R913_1

(There's no mention, interestingly, of Lebanese intermediaries Raymond Zayna and Mohammed abu Darwish, who prompted Stoffel's alleged whistleblowing last November, just prior to his murder by another previously-unknown group, Brigades of the Islamic Jihad, last December 8.)

The video begins:

Due to the Political Situation, we have decided to release now the actual contract of this gang of thieves, how they divided the amounts and how this crime started.

Oh Iraqis of Iraq, Stand between the Euphrates & the Tirgis and shout till the deaf listens well, Today our subjects are two heads, to treachery and lowness they reach, they have entered with the occupiers, Our army and our weapons to them were enemies, thay have prepares matters for the army's dismantling, They have appointed the Zionists as their masters, and Stoffel a Prophet!

(Full transcript is here.)

Curiously, neither the MSM nor the Kos crowd have taken much interest in a story that ties a U.S. arms broker, with ties to high-ranking members of Congress, directly into business dealings with two of postwar Iraq's preeminent political families.

In this most puzzling of murder mysteries, that may be the biggest mystery of all.

UPDATE: Some excellent analysis of the Stoffel affair can be found here. I don't think the the Daily Kos crowd will be especially pleased with the conclusions, however. But, hey, what would you expect from a bunch of "Zionists" and "neocons"?

Here's the money quote:

DEBKANet-Weekly’s most exclusive sources tie the killing firmly to Iraq. Those sources have found out that Stoffel‘s complaints referred specifically to the vanished $300 million. We also traced the destination of the transferred cash to the Al Madina bank in Beirut.

This discovery has cast the entire conspiracy in a new, explosive direction in view of the history of that bank which we have dredged up.

In January 2003, two months before the Iraq war, the powerful Syrian security chief General Ghazi Kenaan who has since been appointed interior minister, sent the head of Lebanese security services General Jamil Sayyad over to Baghdad on a mission to advise Saddam to transfer the national reserve and his personal fortune to the Al-Madina Bank. The Iraqi ruler consented. Since his overthrow, ex-Baath loyalists have been drawing on funds from that bank to sustain the guerrilla war against US forces in Iraq.

The Stoffel affair and the suspected kickback scheme hatched in Baghdad via a Lebanese middleman smack of Saddam’s methods—if not his hand. They touch ultra-sensitive wires in Syria and Lebanon as well as Baghdad through a common hub, the Al-Madina Bank.

Stoffel clearly suspected that moneys due to him were siphoned off by a government member in Baghdad. Was it a coincidence that the wayward $300 million was transferred to Al Madina Bank only days after his death?

Did a portion reach Baathist controllers of the guerilla war in Syria and Lebanon—either as a kickback or as a fee for staging the murders of the two Americans?

None of these questions has been answered five months after the event. But Iraqi Islamist insurgents are using the unsolved mystery as a propaganda bonanza with which to hammer the Americans, including the President, and show up the incoming non-Sunni interim regime in Baghdad as made up of politicians on the take.

As readers who've been following my posts on this story might expect, I think the DEBKA guys are right on the money. (HT: Thomas Melssen)

Posted by Rodger on May 10, 2005 at 11:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

05/06/2005

I'd rather be catblogging …

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But, unfortunately, I came across another cache of Dale Stoffel videos and documents, courtesy of our friends at the so-called Mujahideen Central Command.

There are four more "Rafidan" videos available for download (in Windows Media format):

Rafidan 5

Rafidan 6

Rafidan 7

Rafidan 8

A transcript of Rafidan 6 (in Microsoft Word format) is available here.

There are also two MCC videos unrelated to the Stoffel incident, which may shed some further light on the MCC's political agenda:

MI-8

Mahdi Army

The first of these videos further documents the shootdown last month of a Russian Mi-8 helicopter by terrorists, killing all nine defense contractors aboard. (The pilot, Lyubomir Kostov, actually survived the crash, only to be murdered in cold blood by the terrorists. This was memorialized on a video later released by the Islamic Army in Iraq.) The second looks to be a generic propaganda video for the insurgency.

Like the previous Stoffel videos, the current crop includes more documents and photographs taken from Stoffel's laptop. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

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I haven't had time to try to make sense of this material yet, but I'll be adding my thoughts as I get time to sift through the latest trove.

Comments, as always, are welcomed.

Posted by Rodger on May 6, 2005 at 11:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/05/2005

Arianna Huffington, cyberslut

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She admits it herself:

I've got a confession to make. I'm talking weak-in-the-knees infatuation. But it's not Brad or Orlando or Colin or any of the cinematic hunks du jour who have set my heart aflutter. No it's Atrios and Kos and Joshua Micah Marshall and Kausfiles and Kevin Drum and Wonkette. Bloggers all. Yes, when it comes to the blogosphere, I'm a regular cyberslut.

A cyberslut, Arianna? Or just the ordinary garden variety?

Posted by Rodger on May 5, 2005 at 10:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)