Disagreement equals dishonesty
In other cases, The Daily Mislead has made accusations of dishonesty that might be serious, but the only evidence MoveOn marshals for its cause is highly subjective.
For example, the October 14 Mislead opens with the following statement: "Despite President Bush's rhetorical claim that 'the best safeguard against abuse is full disclosure,' Republican Senator Arlen Specter compares the lack of candor from the Administration about the Patriot Act to 'a big black hole.'" Why should we believe Specter's accusation? MoveOn doesn't tell us. It also notes that, "Fellow Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says 'it's like pulling teeth to get answers' from Attorney General John Ashcroft about whether the Justice Department may be using the Act to justify wrongful handling of Americans detained simply on suspicion of terrorist connections." The Mislead then notes that Ashcroft has testified before Congress three times since early 2002, while Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld did so 12 times, but fails to grapple with potential reasons for the difference, such as the war in Iraq.
These are subjective accusations against the President, not serious analyses of dishonesty. The October 1 Mislead makes a similarly absurd claim, stating that, "On Tuesday members of the Iraqi Governing Council contradicted Secretary of State Colin Powell's optimistic timetable for self-government, saying it could take up to 18 months to ratify a constitution, thus extending the U. S. occupation into 2005. This is far longer than senior administration members suggested just last week but is exactly what President Bush's father warned might happen." That the Bush administration disagrees with the Iraqi Governing Council about the timetable for the occupation and that this claim contradicts a statement by George H.W. Bush Sr. in a 1998 book are not in themselves evidence of dishonesty, though, just disagreement.
Trying isn't good enough
Another favorite tactic of the Mislead has been to blast the administration for promises it was unable to fulfill or policy plans that changed due to altered circumstances. In essence, these supposed examples of dishonesty actually consist of outcomes the Bush administration cannot realistically control.
The very first Mislead, from September 15, included such an attack, nothing that Bush said his "first goal is an economy that [will] employ every man and woman who seeks a job." MoveOn then attacked the President because the economy had lost approximately 2.5 million jobs since Bush came into office. The fact that the economy has not created jobs, however, is not evidence that Bush didn't attempt to spur job creation through his economic policies.
Similarly, the Misleads from September 29 and October 3 attack the administration for not reaching the job creation goals it offered in support of its tax cut plans. And in perhaps the biggest stretch of all, the October 24 Mislead implied that a Bush pledge to crack down on corporate leaders who violate the public trust was broken by an internal memo at military contractor Haliburton, which is obviously not proof of deception by the administration.
Bad facts and bad logic
Worst of all, the Mislead occasionally engages in deception of its own, citing inaccurate or misleading evidence or publishing articles that do not even include accusations of dishonesty by the Bush administration.
The November 25 Mislead analyzed the situation in Iraq and accused Bush of dishonesty because "President Bush yesterday said that we 'put the Taliban out of business forever' - taking credit for supposedly ridding the world of the terrorist regime." It goes on to describe "The President's declarations that the challenges in Afghanistan are over." But the November 24 speech quoted in the Mislead is all about the ongoing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In it, Bush makes clear that Taliban is still a threat and that challenges remain in Afghanistan, saying, "We are fighting the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other parts of the world so we do not have to fight them on the streets of our own cities." Bush is clearly acknowledging the continued turmoil in Afghanistan, which consists in part of fighting remnants of the Taliban regime.
On September 19, the Mislead cited a quote by Vice President Cheney on NBC's "Meet the Press" in March when he said "we believe [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons." It notes that six months later, Cheney said, "I misspoke." But despite the Mislead's title, "Bush Administration Spends Week Retracting Assertions about Saddam's Threat to the U.S.," the evidence actually suggests that Cheney did simply misspeak. In the same interview, Cheney referred to Iraq's attempts to reconstitute its "nuclear program," and said Iraq had "pursued" nuclear weapons and that "We know he's out trying once again to produce nuclear weapons." In context, Cheney was clearly referring to Iraq's attempts to obtain nuclear weapons, not alleging it possessed them at the time.
At times, the Mislead's arguments verge on irrelevant, because there's simply no logic to support a claim of Bush administration dishonesty. The November 6 Mislead, for instance, is about the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers was considering canceling a no-bid contract extension with Haliburton. It contains no evidence at all that anyone in the Bush administration was involved in the overcharges that led to the potential cancellation. And on November 14, the Mislead attacked Bush administration changes in overtime rules that some analysts said would lead to millions of workers losing their right to overtime pay. The evidence that this is dishonest is a quote in which the President promoted his tax cut plan because it returns money to the American people. The idea that Bush's support for tax cuts means that he should support any plan that would lead to workers being paid more is absurd on its face.
Adding deception, not fighting it
Although it occasionally contains legitimate instances of Bush administration dishonesty, The Daily Mislead is primarily a vehicle for MoveOn's partisan attacks on the president. There's nothing inherently wrong with partisanship, but framing these attacks as objective analysis of dishonesty is highly deceptive.
The Daily Mislead is just one more example of how partisans eager to exploit the public's frustration with actual dishonesty by their leaders systematically conflate disagreement with deception. Until we recognize the difference, it will be hard to sort out truth from fiction.
Correction 11/9 7:33 AM EST: Bush's November 24 speech in which he said we "put the Taliban out of business forever" was incorrectly labeled as a November 6 speech in the original version of this column.
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-Spinsanity on attacks on George W. Bush
-Spinsanity on George W. Bush
-Unreliable quotations (Brendan Nyhan, 7/7/03)
-Foul cry (Ben Fritz, 7/1/02)
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