Friday, November 19, 2021

Inside the Bush Spin-and-Noise Machine: Using a Terror Threat to Unite the Party around the President

This is a lightly edited excerpt from a post I wrote in August, 2006.


Let's take a ride inside the Republican Spin-And-Noise Machine, courtesy of Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times:

In Wake of News, a Plan: Uniting Party and President

One week ago, President Bush and his political aides were facing the most daunting election-year landscape of his presidency.

Their party was splintered over Mr. Bush’s proposed immigration overhaul and uncertain about the political effect of violence in Iraq. Even with the White House working to bring Republicans together behind the president’s agenda, several candidates were making public shows of establishing their distance from him and his sagging approval ratings.

That picture of Republican disunity eased dramatically this week with the defeat on Tuesday of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut and the news on Thursday that Britain had foiled a potentially large-scale terrorist plot.

The White House and Congressional Republicans used those events to unleash a one-two punch, first portraying the Democrats as vacillating when it came to national security, and then using the alleged terror plot to hammer home the continuing threat faced by the United States.
Did you catch that? NYT said "alleged terror plot". Does that tell us something important? Is this article going to give us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Well, not exactly. But watch this: If you read between the lines, you can see the whole gory plan laid bare -- from one end to the other.
By the time the president’s top political strategists met at his ranch on Friday for an annual summer fund-raiser, the events had given them an opportunity to pull together the Republican Party as it headed toward the home stretch of the campaign, rallying once more around Mr. Bush’s signature issue, the fight against terrorism.
Rallying around the signature issue. Imagine that.

None of it was accidental, was it? They try to spin it as if it were just one of those fortunate coincidences that come along every now and then, just another "trifecta" ... But was it really?
The entire effort was swiftly coordinated by the Republican National Committee and the White House, using the same political machinery that carried them to victory in 2004. It began in the days before the anticipated loss of Mr. Lieberman, a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq, to Ned Lamont, a vocal war critic whose victory Republicans used to paint Democrats as “Defeatocrats.”

That word originated in a White House memorandum by Mr. Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow, suggesting ways to frame the debate, that was shared with officials, including Ken Mehlman, the Republican chairman, and Karl Rove, the president’s top strategist.

The effort continued with the news of the British intelligence breakthrough, with the message that the plot had highlighted the stakes of a fight that the Democrats, according to Republicans, were not equipped to face.
If the Democrats are truly not equipped to face this fight, does it make sense to ask: Why not? Is it because the administration has been confining all the top-level intelligence to a very small circle of "insiders", while giving everyone else, especially Democrats and the media, lie after lie after lie?

Maybe even despite all that, some Democrats are starting to wake up. Maybe they've been emboldened by the result from Connecticut. One can only hope...
But Democrats, seeing a political opportunity, began to focus on national security, making a vigorous case this week that the Republicans were mismanaging the war and making the country more vulnerable to attack.

“If the Republican Party thinks this is a good political issue for them, they are mistaken,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
We don't hear lines like this often enough.

I think every prominent Democrat should memorize it -- and five or six variations on the same theme.
And a top Republican strategist cautioned that the party’s candidates still faced serious challenges in states where the war and Mr. Bush were overwhelmingly unpopular.

But at the very least, news of the plot helped the White House and the Republican Party achieve something they have struggled to do all year: bring the party forcefully together with the president.
Think of that! Here were two events that should have fractured the party even further: First, their favorite faux-Democrat lap-dog was defeated by a candidate they had done their best to smear. Then this terror-plot spin-game, so blatantly obvious that even a frozen blogger couldn't help but notice it was bogus.

How sick can you get? This was helpful to the party? And what does that tell you?
The plan came together at the same time that Mr. Bush and his top security aides, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney, were being intensively briefed on the unfolding British investigation. That led Democrats to charge that the White House had actively used the plot to its political advantage.
It wasn't only Democrats making that charge, of course. Plenty of other people noticed, too. The White House wasn't the only player actively using the plot to its political advantage, either.
“For people to suggest there was somehow a larger, coordinated effort between the Lieberman loss and the disruption of the terror plot is just absurd,” said Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican Party.
Well... that's what they always say. Whenever an accusation is just too spot-on to refute, they call it "absurd".

Brian Jones is a spokesman for the Republican Party for a reason. He knows what to say when he's cornered.

The so-called president knows it too but he doesn't always get it quite right.

Remember when he was confronted about his alleged foreknowledge of 9/11? What did he say then?

"That's an absurd assinuation."

But I digress.
Administration officials said that those who had been briefed on the plot had not expected any arrests for several days, well after the initial political fallout of the Lieberman campaign would have played out.
What do you expect them to say? That those who were briefed on the plot demanded arrests as soon as they needed another smoke-screen to hide behind?

And why would they say that? Why would they start telling the truth now? They probably don't even know how to do it anymore, if indeed they ever did.

But every time they deny something, without really refuting it, the non-refutation denial goes halfway to confirming the assertion. And then there's the between-the-lines thing. Read very carefully, my friends.
But in several interviews, the officials said the attacks had reinforced arguments they had devised to meet Mr. Lieberman’s expected defeat.

Officials said they had identified a Lieberman loss as a potential watershed moment that could reinforce the Democrats’ antiwar message — and scare Republicans out of taking White House advice to embrace the war in Iraq and national security in general. That advice was wearing thin as the death toll in Iraq continued to climb.
No kidding. Not to mention the fact that the country is starting to wake up to certain other inconvenient truths.

At a Republican gathering in Minneapolis on Aug. 4, Duf Sundheim, chairman of the California Republican Party, said that national security had “been a great issue for the Republican Party over a long time, and there’s still a good choice between the two parties. But what changes the dynamic is the current situation in Iraq. It dissipates it.”

Still, last weekend, Republican officials said, as the Lieberman loss seemed a certainty, the Republican National Committee and the White House began working to bring the party together on a message that the Democratic Party was taking a hard turn toward the antiwar left.
As I pointed out last week, they could hardly admit that the Democratic voters of Connecticut had made a choice, could they? Oh no, this single electoral result had to be painted as a change of direction for the entire Democratic Party. And why? Because they can get away with any lie they choose to tell? Or because they think we're all so stupid we can't tell the difference between Connecticut and the USA?
The Republican talking points, reviewed by Mr. Rove and Sara Taylor, the White House political director, went out to state committees across the country, with statements like “Ned Lamont’s victory over a distinguished public servant like Joe Lieberman represents the end of a tradition of proud Democrat leaders in the mold of F.D.R., Harry Truman, Scoop Jackson and J.F.K.”
Right. And we believe this. Even though it makes no sense at all, and even though we know they despise all the historical Democrats -- especially FDR and JFK -- whenever they’re not trying to use their names to dupe current Democrats. Sure thing, Mr. Rove. We believe you this time!

And Joe Lieberman is a distinguished public servant. Right. Gotcha, Karl.

It may not be within the NYT's jurisdiction to point out how little sense these statements make. Maybe the Times is content -- or compelled -- to simply lay Republican talking points on the table without comment, and allow you to draw your own conclusions. But in this case the conclusion is not too difficult to draw, is it?
Mr. Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, led the “Defeatocrats” charge in a speech on Wednesday in Ohio, a key swing state.
A key swing state? Is this 2004 again?

And really, "Defeatocrats"? Are we reduced to name-calling as a debating tactic now?

They might as well just shout "Your mother wears Army boots" and be done with it.

They might as well start throwing their shoes.
In Crawford this week, Mr. Snow told reporters there were two approaches to fighting terrorism: “And in the Connecticut race, one of the approaches is to ignore the difficulties and walk away.” He added, “Now, when the United States walked away, in the opinion of Osama bin Laden in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that Americans were weak and wouldn’t stay the course, and that led to Sept. 11.”
Of course this is more manure than you can lift with a single pitchfork. There are more than two ways to fight terrorism. Only one of them has been tried in the last five years and it clearly isn't working very well. But then again they have changed the definition of terrorism so many times, it's hard to know what they mean when they say "terrorism" nowadays. A partially frozen and fully cynical mind might suggest that this was part of the plan.

Furthermore, we still have no idea what led to Sept. 11. We don't even know what happened on the day, much less what led up to it. Maybe if they ran a decent, open investigation -- dropped all the state secrets claims and rescinded all the gag orders -- maybe then we might find out some of the history behind it. But at the moment, we simply don't know. To pretend we do -- and to use this pretense to smear political opponents -- strikes me as the height of dishonesty. But then again what else is new?

As Republican officeholders echoed the talking points around the nation, Mr. Cheney set up an unusual conference call with reporters from his vacation home in Wyoming. He said Mr. Lieberman’s defeat had sent a signal to “al-Qaeda types,” who, he said, “clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task.”

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said in a statement to supporters that it was “disgraceful” that Mr. Cheney’s comments had come after he had been briefed on the British investigation.
Cheney's comments were disgraceful, regardless of when he learned about the British investigation. But let's not dwell on that; there's plenty of spin still to come.
Mr. Snow said Friday: “He did not know that there was an operation that was to take place.”

Yet by Thursday afternoon Congressional Republicans had already issued a flood of e-mail messages hailing the breakup of the plot, and crediting the administration’s anti-terror effort.
Oh what a tangled web they weave ... and in my view, Jim Rutenberg has done a good job of bringing us through the tangled skein, so far.

The standard denials are printed verbatim, without comment, whether they make sense or not, whether they reflect known realities or not. So it's not as honest as it seems. But it's better than nothing. And it did say "alleged".
Congressional officials said they were acting on their own, not on guidance from the White House.
Sure. Right. Spin me another one. We've just been reading about how the talking points were disseminated. Why do they keep lying about this? Are we really supposed to believe it?

And why does the New York Times print every lie that comes along? Are we supposed to laugh?

Some of these questions are rhetorical, of course, but others are serious. How do they decide how many lies to include? Do they count the paragraphs? Or do they count the lies? Do we need X lies for every X true assertions? Or is it X false-paragraphs for every X true-paragraphs?

Whatever they count, somebody (Rutenberg?) clearly decided they needed another lie at this point, so now he gives us this one:
“We really knew instinctively what we wanted to say,” said Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for the House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois.
Yeah, sure you did, Ron. We believe everything that Dennis Hastert says, and we believe everything that he tells you to go out and say too, Ron. Really. You're fooling all of us over here. You believe me, Ron, don't you?
Party officials said that they had no plans to issue statements about the plot until late in the day, after the Democrats had criticized the Republicans as mismanaging national security.
Finally! Here it is: the Republican strategy in a nutshell: Wait until the Democrats criticize the way you've been bungling national security, then deliberately bungle yet another national security threat, then turn around and claim that your opponents are soft on national security, weak on defense, friends of al-Qaeda, yada yada yada.

Do you see that? Do you understand how it works?

Spin it counterclockwise for a change and it all makes sense. Finally. Doesn't it?

We will never again be fooled by manipulations such as this one -- Never again, right?

If we shake ourselves out of our artificially-induced terror-stupor, we might just surprise a few Republican talking-point generators.

They're counting on this one working for quite a while.
Republicans said they expected their arguments to carry through next week — when Mr. Bush is to meet with counterterrorism and Homeland Security Department officials — and Democrats are girding for more of the same around the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
It looks to me as if they've got it all figured out: As long as we can keep worrying about the "alleged bomb plot" for the next few weeks, we won't have to worry about anything else until early next month, when we'll be able to start worrying about Osama bin Laden again for a while. And eventually we won't know anything about anything, but we'll all be worried sick. Or standing in long lines at airports. Or not!

The final paragraph shows a master spinner at work, for sure, for sure:
But even Republicans acknowledged that the climate was unpredictable. “When something like this happens it just sort of sweeps across the political landscape and changes things,” a senior Republican official said. “The pendulum can swing very quickly on it because there are events out of your typical political control.”
First of all, who is this "senior Republican official"? Could it be the master weaver himself, the spider in the middle of the tangled web? The man described by Larisa Alexandrovna as the "morally bankrupt, soulless, intellectually perverted campaign manager with the highest security clearances, working out of the seat of power, using government agencies and resources at his disposal"? Well, why not? It sure sounds like him, doesn't it? And that may be the nicest thing anyone has ever said about Karl Rove.

Meanwhile, what does Jim Rutenberg mean when he says "even Republicans acknowledged that the climate was unpredictable"???

To me, that final paragraph should say:

"Republicans, of course, claim the climate is unpredictable. They don't want us to notice how they manipulate everything, even risking our national security in favor of their own agenda. They don't want us to see arrests in "alleged terror plots" as being under their "typical political control." But they admit these things in other contexts, as you can see -- if you pay attention to the true-paragraphs of this article, and if you ignore the false-paragraphs."

But the New York Times would never say that, would they?