Saturday, November 05, 2005

Fact check: Malkin and O'Reilly

Well, I'm still awaiting my copy of Michelle Malkin's new book, Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild. So in lieu of any new data, I checked out her appearance on Bill O'Reilly's show [via Crooks and Liars] the other night, promoting her new smear job on the left. A couple of things she said were noteworthy:
What I do argue is that a lot of the violence, a lot of the paranoia, a lot of the conspiracy theories, a lot of this hatred that I talk about is not relegated to the fringes of the left, we are talking about, um, something that is permeating, a disease that is permeating the leadership, up to the top. You know, it wasn't just some fringe crackpot on some college campus who was suggesting on a radio station, for example, that President Bush was tipped off to 9/11. That was the head of the Democratic National Committee: Howard Dean.

Hm. The remarks she's referring to, evidently, are these, made by Dean on Dec. 9, 2003, in an exchange with radio host Diane Rehm:
Caller: "Once we get you in the White House, would you please make sure that there is a thorough investigation of 9/11 and not stonewalling?"

Dean: "Yes, there is a report which the president is suppressing evidence for, which is a thorough investigation of 9/11."

Rehm: "Why do you think he is suppressing that report?"

Dean: "I don't know. There are many theories about it. The most interesting theory that I've heard so far -- which is nothing more than a theory, it can't be proved -- is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis.

"Now, who knows what the real situation is? But the trouble is, by suppressing that kind of information, you lead to those kind of theories, whether or not they have any truth to them or not, and eventually, they get repeated as fact. So I think the president is taking a great risk by suppressing the key information that needs to go to the Kean Commission."

Now, you can interpret these remark any number of ways -- it's worth noting, at least, that he does not openly endorse the theory, but you can probably say, quite fairly, that it was irresponsible to bring the theory up without clearly disavowing it. Still, any fair reading of the entirety of his remarks has to recognize that what Dean was talking about was the way speculation runs rampant when the government doesn't properly investigate catastrophic events like 9/11 -- and when the administration stonewalls, as it was doing at the time. It was a valid point, badly put.

Six days later, Dean was asked on Fox News Sunday about this exchange:
WALLACE: The most interesting theory is that the president was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Why would you say that, Governor?

DEAN: Because there are people who believe that. We don't know what happened in 9/11. Tom Kean is trying to get some information from the president...

WALLACE: Do you believe that?

DEAN: ... which doesn't -- no, I don't believe that. I can't imagine the president of the United States doing that. But we don't know, and it'd be a nice thing to know.

WALLACE: I'm just curious why you would call that the most interesting theory.

DEAN: Because it's a pretty odd theory. What we do believe is that there was a lot of chatter that somehow was missed by the CIA and the FBI about this, and that for some reason we were unable to decide and get clear indications of what the attacks what were going to be. Because the president won't give the information to the Kean commission we really don't know what the explanation is.

Dean clearly said what he neglected to say, clearly at least, the first time: that he did not subscribe to this theory. He was asked about it at again a subsequent presidential debate in Durham, N.C.:
DEAN: Well, in all due respect, I did not exactly state that. I was asked on Fox fair and balanced news that... (laughter) I was asked why I thought the president was withholding information, I think it was, or 9/11 or something like that. And I said, well, the most interesting theory that I heard, which I did not believe, was that the Saudis had tipped him off.

We don't know why the president is not giving information to the Kean commission. I think that is supposed to be investigated by Congress. I think it's a serious matter. I agree with Wes Clark, the president is not fighting terrorism. And we need to know what went wrong before 9/11.

I did not believe, and I made it clear on the Fox News show that I didn't believe that theory, but I had heard that. And there are going to be a lot of crazy theories that come out if the information is not given to the Kean commission as it should be.

Now, these remarks garnered a lot of attention at the time -- he was, after all, asked about it on a televised debate -- and a lot of condemnation from mainstream Democrats, not to mention such "liberal" media outlets as Slate and Spinsanity.

So what was that about liberals never condemning any signs of kookery within their own ranks? Had Dean made clear at the outset what he evidently believed -- that this was an example of the kind of groundless conspiracy theories that harm the broader societal and national interests -- no one would have uttered a peep. He was criticized, fairly, for bringing such a theory up so neutrally, since doing so is irresponsible. And he was loudly and publicly spanked for it. But every politician commits gaffes, and Dean certainly was no exception; he corrected himself rather quickly in this case, and was thoroughly excoriated for it anyway.

Trying to suggest, as Malkin does now, that Dean actually believed this theory (and perhaps continues to do so) is simply false, and a smear. As is Malkin's claim that this case is more evidence that liberals tolerate conspiracy-theory mongering, when the broader liberal reaction in this case actually indicates the opposite.

Of course, rapping with O'Reilly, she had a sympathetic audience when it came to the subject of Howard Dean.

And, speaking of conspiracy theories, O'Reilly says this of Dean's assumption of the DNC chairmanship:
That was a backdoor deal.

Oh really? Last I checked, Howard Dean won the chairmanship because he picked up a large majority of votes of DNC members. What backroom deal was that, Bill? Or do you know some secret, blockbuster insider info about a ... conspiracy ... that none of the rest of us know?

Funny that Michelle, in the spirit of denouncing conservative extemism and wackery -- which she claims conservatives do -- neglects to denounce this bizarre conspiracy theory.

But then O'Reilly asks the million-dollar question:
O'Reilly: Do you see mainstream conservatives condemning Michael Savage?

Malkin: All the time.

O'Reilly: You do?

Malkin: Of course you do. In fact -- again, I think that this is something that the mainstream media does not recognize. It is in fact conservatives who are very outspoken in condemning fringe people, and people who are extremists on the right side of the aisle.

Malkin goes on to tout the Trent Lott case -- which was, if anything, the exception that proved the rule. Not to mention that the motives of many conservatives in dumping on Lott had more to do with internecine warfare within the GOP than any pure or enlightened motives. At the same time, Malkin seems oblivious to the significant role that liberals -- especially the liberal bloggers Josh Marshall and Atrios -- played in keeping the Lott story alive. It's not as if conservatives alone deserve credit for bringing Lott down.

But in the meantime, back to O'Reilly's question (and Malkin's response): People on the right condemn Michael Savage? Really? Who?

Please, Michelle, name one. And I mean one conservative of any significant standing who condemns Savage, not just meekly criticizes him.

How about you, Michelle?

A quick Google of your site reveals only four posts that include any mention of Savage, and most of those are in your comments (and those are all favorable mentions).

The one post you did write about Savage is actually in his defense.

Speaking of "unique levels of hypocrisy."

UPDATE: TBogg points out that Malkin also has a history of publicly discussing speculative theories (which turned out to be groundless) and giving them credence.

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