Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Misdeeds of the Agnew Legacy

A few days ago I mentioned the AP witchhunt orchestrated by various right-wing bloggers, a scandal otherwise known as 'Jamilgate'. Jay Rosen of Press Think has an excellent observation about this tendency of the right to tear down legitimate media as not only a crass act of destruction but a legacy of denial and victimization that goes back to the Goldwater campaign of '64 and famously embodied in the words of former VP Spiro Agnew.
Jay Rosen:

About “the rightosphere’s Jamail Hussien witch hunt,” Digby said: “It’s an ugly story all around.”

Well, I agree. But when I sat down to think about the story, I didn’t start with Jamil Hussein, or the AP’s reporting, or the right-wing bloggers and their misdeeds, or even the larger shame of the cultural right’s attack on the press. In my own sorting through what USA Today called “the running six-week battle between bloggers and the Associated Press over the wire service’s report of sectarian violence in Iraq,” I started, not with the episode itself, but with the way we went into Iraq: on bad intelligence and cooked books and a phantom plan for the peace.

Leaps to large conclusions from thin and miserable facts are routine in the established record of how it happened. Discredited sources left in because they were critical to a faltering case— also routine. And we know maybe ten percent of what will soon emerge when the record of those years (2002-04, especially) comes out through Congressional oversight, memoir-writing, the Libby trial, score-settling among the key players and the inevitable decline of the President’s power and reputation as he lurches on to the end.

The intelligence fiasco in the build-up to the invasion is an exceedingly ugly story and rather than receding into the past, its significance grows every day. It’s like the decomposing body under the expanding executive house. More keeps coming out about the fraudulent case for war, and the consequences of having only an imaginary plan for the occupation.

For Bush supporters who soldier on, the choices resemble what the go-getters from Enron faced: confront the bad accounting that’s gone on for years or adopt even more desperate measures to conceal losses and keep your hand alive. But if the AP had fabricated a source and relied on that source 60 times, maybe the tables could be turned again and the reckoning put off.

That a day of reckoning for the children of Agnew was overdue amid the mess in Iraq was the point of Rich Lowry’s column for The National Review on Dec. 19th. Speaking to fellow conservatives (and directly to warbloggers, I thought…) Lowry started slowly: “The conservative campaign against the mainstream media” has certainly “scored some notable successes.” Dan Rather’s national guard investigation and Newsweek’s Koran desecration story are mentioned. (And how great would it have been to add the Jamil Hussein saga?)

He’s right: we’ve had a conservative campaign against the mainstream news media. But has this campaign been good for conservatives? Not in Iraq. “The mainstream media is biased, arrogant, prone to stultifying group-think and much more fallible than its exalted self-image allows it to admit,” Lowry wrote. “It also, however, can be right, and this is most confounding to conservatives.”

That such a discovery—hey, the press can be accurate, people—would be confounding to conservatives is important to know. I give Lowry a lot of credit for saying that. (Prompting Ed Morrissey to agree.) For it shows how far things had gotten.

In their distrust of the mainstream media, their defensiveness over President Bush and the war, and their understandable urge to buck up the nation’s will, many conservatives lost touch with reality on Iraq. They thought that they were contributing to our success, but they were only helping to forestall a cold look at conditions there and the change in strategy and tactics that would be dictated by it.

Yes, and by helping to forestall that cold look they were helping to create the huge failure that our policy in Iraq has become.
full text here.

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