Spinsanity debate: Franken vs. Lowry
Al Franken on Rich Lowry's Legacy - Paying the Price for the Clinton Years
March 15, 2004
The genesis of all this - reviewing each other's books here on Spinsanity - can be found in Chapter 38 of my book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
Rich followed with this ridiculous column.
And the story of our subsequent agreement to review each other's books can be found on the National Review website.
There. Now you're all caught up. But in summary: Rich said on C-SPAN that Democrats had sissified politics; I challenged him to a fight in my parking garage; he demurred like a little girl; I wrote about the incident honestly in my book; he wrote a column that gave his readers a totally misleading characterization of my book, which he later admitted he hadn't read; I challenged Rich to another fight; he demurred again, but challenged me to a contest of ideas. So here we are.
Let me say a few personal things before I start. I now like Rich. Not that much. But I like him. We've had a number of conversations recently, and I can tell you that Rich is smart. And he actually has something of a sense of humor, though not as a writer - every attempt at humor in his book is of the sarcastic, yet jokeless, variety that conservatives tend to favor.
Now, it is all too easy to disparage a writer's abilities by pulling an isolated weak joke or an uncharacteristically lame bit of prose. So here I've included two full contiguous paragraphs from page 12 of Legacy to illustrate this flat, witless brand of sarcasm, which permeates the book:
To this day, they [the Clintons] express outrage that they had to battle a political opposition, and use it as an excuse for their failures. Hillary notes darkly that the protests that dogged her "Health Security Express" in 1994, when she toured to promote her health-care plan, were "[n]either random nor spontaneous." Organized protests? Of a major piece of legislation - crafted by Hillary? What had the United States come to?
Similarly, Clinton's defenders save their most fervent indignation in the Lewinsky scandal for the fact that two conservative lawyers helped Paula Jones make her legal arguments, and two women worked to expose the fact that the president was using a twenty-two-year-old White House intern for oral sex. What could these people have been thinking? Didn't they know Clinton had been to Oxford, to Yale, and signed the Family and Medical Leave Act? If this didn't exempt him from the law and allow him to have his way with White House personnel with impunity, well the nation didn't know what was good for it.
Wow. That's awful.
Still, I have found that Rich does get humor, which is something that isn't true of many movement conservatives, such as, say, Sean Hannity. And unlike Hannity, Lowry's prose is not pitched to mindless idiots. When not trying to be funny, Rich is quite a good writer and would be a pleasure to read if his content were not so fundamentally dishonest.
More of that in a bit. Let me first hearken back to the origin of our dispute and point out the irony that this book is infused with Lowry's assertion that Democrats have feminized American politics and that Clinton himself personifies that feminization.
-p. 16 - "Clinton seemed such a good fit for the 1990's because it was a time of plenty, a time of excess, a time of denuded masculinity and of regnant sentimentality...Clinton's generation had moved beyond the sterner model of manhood, emphasizing duty and sacrifice, that had characterized the generation that won World War II. They had been in therapy, were open to sharing their feelings, and were understanding and sensitive to a fault."
-p. 102 - "Liberals sought to smooth away America's ruggedness, reducing its freedom via regulation (in the health-care initiative especially) and its penchant for risk-taking and aggression (in the fight over the military and in the related struggle over gun control)." [As if mixing aggression and guns is a good idea.]
-p. 5 - "Clinton was a weak person, and so ultimately a weak president. His weaknesses related to the kind of man he was. If Clinton's presidency was 'post-greatness - on a determinedly minor key - it also was 'post-masculine.' Clinton was the new, sensitive man elevated to high office: sentimental and easily moved to tears, undisciplined and self-indulgent, endlessly and thoughtlessly expressive, schooled in the language and attitudes of therapy, fundamentally out of sympathy with that center of another, different kind of masculinity, the military. He was a soft man for a soft age."
And so, it is the thesis of Legacy that Clinton's weakness, his very lack of masculinity, was his undoing as a leader.
And yet, this is an author whose dedication reads:
To Mom and Dad
Who surrounded me with books and love
Who laughs more than anyone I know
Is it just me? But doesn't an author so obsessed with masculinity owe it to his readers to explain who Robert is?
Now, onto the basic problem of Legacy, the first sentence of which reads: "This book was prompted by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack." It is "the mustard seed of this book" that 9/11 (among a host of other bad things) was the legacy of Bill Clinton's eight years in office. Conversely, the book argues that for anything good that happened during those years, the credit belongs elsewhere - mainly to Ronald Reagan.
To this end Lowry essentially assembles a laundry list of charges already heaped against Clinton, organizing them into three sections:
1. Politics and Policy, in which we learn that Clinton took no political risks (universal health care, anyone?), and was not responsible for eight years of unprecedented economic growth, eight straight years of reduction in crime, and turning record deficits under Bush into record surpluses which the next Bush would squander.
2. Scandal and Law, in which we get yet another rehash of Monica and the impeachment, plus a recitation of campaign finance violations from 1996, (including the contention on page 138 that Clinton just raised too much money).
3. Foreign Policy, in which we trace 9/11 back to the weakness of Clinton's policies in Somalia, the Balkans, Israel, and his total inaction on international terrorism.
All of this is done with a massive citation of sources, a number of which, when tested, are actually at odds with what Lowry claims they say.
Take for example Lowry's criticism of SCHIP (the State Children's Health Insurance Program), Clinton's program to expand Medicaid coverage for children.
The generous federal subsidy encouraged states to maximize their health benefits, essentially extending a federal entitlement to children living in families with incomes roughly 200% above the poverty line. Muting the program's effectiveness, many families simply dropped their private coverage to pick up the government insurance instead.
His citation is to an analysis of North Carolina's SCHIP program in 2000, which clearly states that the program was limited to children residing in families with income below 200% of the federal poverty level, not 200% above the poverty line. Now that may have just been an innocent mistake. But instead of the "many" families which Lowry claims dropped their private coverage for government insurance, a study by the Cedil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC-Chapel Hill found that out of a survey of 371 parents only 2 dropped their private coverage to qualify for SCHIP. (Source [282K Adobe PDF file])
Worse, Lowry goes onto say that "Coverage of children in low-income families was still lower in 1999 than it had been in 1995." What Lowry fails to tell the reader is that money was first appropriated for SCHIP in 1998. In 1998 25.2% of low-income children were uninsured. In 2001 (the last year that data is available), 21.3% of low-income children were uninsured. The percentage of low-income children that were uninsured decreased each year the program was in effect during the Clinton years.
So while it may be accurate to say that the coverage of children in low-income families was lower in 1999 than it had been in 1995, it is absolutely, and probably deliberately, misleading.
Similarly, when Lowry asserts on page 53 that "In terms of test scores, the national picture across the 1990s was basically flat," what he cites is a press release about a study that tracked educational performance from 1976-1999. That release includes the statement that between 1979 and 1999 "test scores have remained relatively stagnant."
But that is not what Lowry claims in the text. In fact, test scores went up during the '90s because they went down in the '80s, during the Reagan-Bush years. According to the Dept. of Education, for example, 50% of 4th graders were below basic in math in 1990, but only 31% were below basic in 2000. 12% of 4th graders were proficient in math in 1990 and 23% were proficient in 2000. The same pattern holds true in reading and in SAT scores.
Some of us in this trade of shaping political opinion shade our arguments by being a tad selective when citing data. But we have to be careful. In a number of cases, Lowry's selectivity becomes somewhat offensive, and in one case in particular, downright disgraceful.
On page 120, in an attempt once again to make some odd point about manliness, Lowry writes, "On September 11, it was men who trudged up into the burning twin towers. There were no female casualties among the 343 firefighters who died that day." While that is true, Lowry clearly had to make the choice to leave out these three women (two police officers and one EMT) who died rescuing people from the WTC on 9/11:
"Two years before Kathy Mazza charged into Tower One as part of Sept. 11's rescue effort, she stood in the Oval Room on the 43rd floor, being honored as New York City's Basic Life Support Provider of the Year."
"The call for help went out and emergency medical technician Yamel Merino, 24, responded, becoming one of the first rescue workers to enter the burning World Trade Center."
"Twice during her police career, Moira Smith plunged herself into disaster scenes, repeatedly pulling out the maimed and wounded only to turn around and selflessly return to the danger. She emerged from the first disaster -- the Aug. 27, 1991, subway crash in Union Square in which five were killed and more than 130 hurt -- with the Police Department's Distinguished Duty Medal for saving dozens of lives and earning the respect of her fellow officers. The second time -- the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center -- she never made it out.
While there is a continuous stream of citations throughout Legacy, they disappear at curious times. On page 14, Lowry spends three full paragraphs painting Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelley, as a slut. Of William Blythe, the traveling salesman who died in a car accident before Clinton was born: "There is doubt whether he was actually Clinton's father." We learn that "The flirtatious Virginia eventually remarried" Roger Clinton and then hear about "the promiscuity and sexual intrigue that surrounded Virginia." Not a citation on any of these.
Understanding then that Lowry's reliability is at best suspect, let's get into the meat of the book. Particularly the claims that Clinton caused 9/11 and that he was not responsible for the economic good times of his Presidency.
In his chapter on the economy, Lowry chastises those who present an "infantile view of economics - that Bill is responsible for everything." Then he goes on to commit the same sin himself to draw the opposite conclusion - that Clinton was responsible for nothing. In an attempt to explain away any influence Clinton or his economic strategy may have had on the economy, Lowry bends and breaks the facts over and over again.
Lowry begins by arguing that "Clinton's economic record has benefited from two big lies. The first is the dishonest picture Clinton painted of the American economy in 1992."
The problem is that in 1992 there was extremely high unemployment and deficits were projected to grow to unprecedented levels. Consider that:
-The unemployment rate hovered between 7.6%-7.8% during the summer of 1992. Even when Clinton took office the unemployment rate was 7.3%. In New York state it was at 8.3%; in California at 9.7%. (Bureau of Labor Statistics: national data, state data)
-GDP growth was recorded as negative in the quarter in which Clinton took office. (Bureau of Economic Analysis - Note that a periodic data revision recently changed that quarter's data to minimally positive.)
-Growth forecasts worsened through 1992. The Blue Chip consensus forecast for 1993 GDP growth consistently worsened throughout 1992. The forecasts for 1993 only started to become more optimistic in December - after the election. (Blue Chip Economic Indicators)
-In 1992, the deficit was $290 billion. When Clinton took office, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting that it would grow to $455 billion by 2000. (CBO, "The Economic and Budget Outlook: Fiscal Years 1994-1998," January 1993)
If Clinton was painting a dishonest picture of the economy, then the following people must be liars as well:
-Bruce Steinberg, Merrill Lynch: "The economy is comatose and shows only the faintest signs of life right now." [quoted in the Washington Post, 9/26/92]
-James Cooper and Kathleen Madigan, Business Week: "To be sure, President-elect Bill Clinton inherits a struggling economy." [11/23/92]
-Charles Krauthammer: "The most recent economic news points to the possibility that the country may be heading for a triple-dip recession. Historians may look back on the Bush presidency as the beginning of a Great Recession, a period of prolonged economic stagnation." [Chicago Sun Times, 7/12/92]
Lowry states: "The other lie is that his 1993 economic package transformed the federal budget, and hence the American economy." Really?
Then why did Alan Greenspan say in February of '96 that the 1993 Deficit Reduction plan was "an unquestioned factor in contributing to the improvement in economic activity that occurred thereafter."
And why would Business Week have written in May of '97 that "Clinton's 1993 budget cuts, which reduced projected red ink by more than $400 billion over five years, sparked a major drop in interest rates that helped boost investment in all the equipment and systems that brought forth the New Age economy of technological innovation and rising productivity."
Lowry bizarrely points to the fact that Greenspan later increased interest rates as a way of fending off inflation in a raging economy as evidence of the failure of the Clinton economic package:
Because the entire premise of the Clinton 1993 budget was lowering long-term interest rates, the fact that rates went up after its passage puts Clinton boosters in the odd position of arguing its benefits came before it actually passed...This is truly voodoo economic, attributing magical power to a budget before it became law...
Evidently, Rich completely missed the "Rational Expectations" revolution of the 1970s led by conservative University of Chicago economists. The idea that people respond to events when their expectations change - before they actually happen - is an absolutely standard notion of modern economics. But in his "infantile" desire to deny Clinton any credit, Lowry mocks this uncontroversial principle. Take these examples from before Clinton's package was passed:
-Washington Post, 1/26/93: "The market continued to respond favorably to Clinton's promises to reduce the deficit and to Greenspan's latest comments. Since election day, interest rates on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes and 30-year bonds have dropped by about half a percentage point."
-Wall Street Journal, 2/24/93: "The spectacular bond market rally accelerated yesterday, with long-term Treasury bond yield plunging to another record low as investors rushed to embrace President Clinton's economic package."
Lowry then proceeds to credit Ronald Reagan with the '90s boom.
The American economy had been shifted into a fundamentally different gear by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s...In a straight-on decade-to-decade comparison, the 1980s and 1990s look very similar...Upon taking office, Clinton was well positioned to take advantage of the 1980s, Part II.
There's no real argument to support this - just the bald statement.
Here's how Robert Rubin addresses this infantile view in his new book In an Uncertain World: "A number of supply-siders advanced the theory that the boom of the 1990s was a delayed reaction to Reagan's 1981 tax cut. My response was that you might as well give credit to Herbert Hoover."
To say that in a straight comparison the '80s and '90s "look very similar" is as disingenuous as saying, "If the 1980s 'left the poor behind,' so did the 1990s," which Lowry wrongly asserts on page 75. In fact, unlike the '80s, the widespread income growth of the '90s translated into deep reductions in poverty. In 2000, the poverty rate was its lowest since 1974. The black poverty rate fell to its lowest on record, as did Hispanic poverty. Child poverty was at its lowest since 1978, with black child poverty falling to the lowest in history. [Source: Data from Census Bureau]
In fact, the '80s and '90s looked quite different. During the Clinton administration, there was double-digit growth in income for families in every quintile, including 23.6% for the bottom quintile and 17.6% for the second quintile. During the Reagan-Bush years, the average family in the bottom two quintiles actually lost income (-13.3% and -3.7%, respectively). [Source: Data from Census Bureau]
And speaking of Bob Rubin, Lowry blithely dismisses "the administration's repeated international financial bailouts [which] saved American brokerage houses and investors from the consequences of their irresponsible gambles in overseas markets." Rubin spends the first 38 pages of In an Uncertain World describing in harrowing detail how the Clinton administration averted disaster (an estimated 700,000 jobs lost in the U.S., a 30% increase in illegal immigration, etc. [p. 19]) by lending Mexico $20 billion from the Executive branch's Exchange Stabilization Fund. The picture that emerges of Clinton is of a deeply engaged president with great substantive understanding, and tremendous political courage. When polls showed the American public opposed to helping Mexico by a margin of 79 to 18 percent (p. 24), Clinton pulled the trigger rather than let Mexico go into default. In the end, Mexico completed its repayment over three years ahead of schedule, paying $1.4 billion in interest and leaving the ESF with a profit of $580 million dollars above what the fund would have earned in U.S. Treasury notes. (p. 34-35)
But let's return to "the mustard seed" of this book, that: "On September 11 Clinton's most important legacy arrived in horrifying form." To make this case, Lowry indulges in sourcing so breathtakingly dishonest that it would make Ann Coulter's Adam's apple swell with pride.
Take, for example, this assertion in the chapter significantly titled "His Presidency": "His (Clinton's) schedule was so chaotic he couldn't receive a regular morning CIA briefing." Lowry's citation is a document from the Center for the Study of Intelligence by John L. Helgerson entitled "CIA Briefings of Presidential Candidates 1952-1992." Lowry's evidence appears to come from this sentence: "It was a continuing challenge to fit the intelligence briefings into the Governor's always-hectic schedule." (italics mine)
But the smoking gun, the mother of all duplicitous citations, comes at the end of the book, where he writes:
A war plan to eliminate al Qaeda would have to wait for a new president.
September 11, 2001, of course, changed the realm of the possible in
counterterrorism. But a military plan was wending its way to President
Bush even before the attacks. The plan was designed to eradicate al Qaeda,
supporting the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and potentially using American
air strikes and special operations assaults in Afghanistan.
To support this assertion, Lowry's only citation is an August 12, 2002 Time magazine article written by Michael Elliot and a host of other researcher/writers. This is the very article that explains how the plan Lowry refers to was created by Clinton's counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke at Clinton's behest, explicitly presented to Condoleezza Rice during a transition meeting and then buried under a sea of bureaucracy by the Bush administration.
As the Time article says:
Since the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000 - an
attack that left 17 dead - [Clarke] had been working on an aggressive
plan to take the fight to al Qaeda. The result was a strategy paper that
he presented to Berger and the other national security 'principals' on
December 20 .
Yet Lowry never mentions the genesis of the plan, the strategy paper created by Clarke during the Clinton administration, deliberately giving his readers the false impression that it was hatched during the Bush administration.
According to the August 12th article cited by Lowry, Clarke's plan was an ambitious one: break up al Qaeda cells and arrest their personnel; systematically attack financial support for its terrorist activities; freeze its assets; stop its funding through fake charities; give aid to governments having trouble with al Qaeda (Uzbekistan, the Philippines, and Yemen); and, most significantly, scale up support for the Northern Alliance and putting Special Forces on the ground in Afghanistan. As a senior Bush administration official says in the August 12th article, Clarke's plan amounted to "everything we've done since 9/11."
Clinton's far-reaching plan to eliminate al Qaeda root and branch was completed only a few weeks before the inauguration of George W. Bush. If it had been implemented then, a former senior Clinton aide said in the Time article, "we would be handing [the Bush administration] a war when they took office." Instead, Clinton and his national security team decided to turn the plan over to the Bush administration to carry out.
Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger arranged ten briefings for his successor, Condoleezza Rice, making a special point of attending the briefing on terrorism. There he told Rice, "I believe that the Bush administration will spend more time on terrorism in general, and on al Qaeda specifically, than any other subject." According to the Time article, Berger then left the meeting, and Clarke proceeded to describe in detail his plan to Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
All this, plus the tragic story of how the Bush administration then proceeded to drop the ball, is there in the August 12th article, which, remember, is the only citation Lowry makes for his important, yet deliberately misleading, point.
9/11, in fact, is the legacy of the Bush administration. I make this case in Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them using the August 12th Time article as one of my sources. In that article, we learn that outgoing Clinton officials felt that "the Bush team thought the Clintonites had become obsessed with terrorism."
The Bushies had an entirely different set of obsessions. Missile defense, for example. Don Rumsfeld threatened a presidential veto when Congress tried to take $.6 billion for counterterrorism out of his beloved $200+ billion missile defense. Ashcroft turned down continued FBI requests for more field agents, translators, and intelligence analysts to improve the FBI's capacity to detect foreign threats.
Meanwhile, Clarke (he was kept on by Rice as the NSC head of counterterrorism) was desperately pushing his plan, which had been moved to the bottom of the Bush administration's priority list, right below protecting the public from giant meteors.
The Bush administration totally ignored the Hart-Rudman report issued in February 2001, which warned of catastrophic mass-casualty attacks and called for better information sharing among all federal intelligence agencies. Instead, Bush waited till May 8, 2001 to announce a new counterterrorism task force led by Vice President Cheney. Bush said that he himself would "periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts." Bush never chaired such a meeting, probably because Cheney's task force never actually met.
No wonder the Bush administration has fought every investigation into 9/11 and continues to withhold documents from the Kean Commission.
Matthew Yglesias, critiquing Legacy for The American Prospect, raised the question whether National Review (of which Rich acted as associate articles editor from 1993 through 1994, then national political reporter until he was named editor in charge for the entire magazine in November, 1997, serving in that capacity since) ever urged the Clinton administration to do anything substantially different at the time. It did not.
Lowry wrote a response to Yglesias on the National Review website, which he sent to me recently, after I asked Lowry much the same question. The webpage includes Rich's response and an offer to buy Ann Coulter's book Treason, Sean Hannity's Let Freedom Ring, and a Regnery book about Clinton called Dereliction of Duty, all for one dollar. It also contains an ad for Laura Ingraham's ridiculously sorry book Shut Up and Sing (see the hilarious review from Publishers Weekly) and one for Legacy, with the line, "Bill and Hillary Clinton don't want you to read this book."
In his response, Lowry cites a National Review editorial that Yglesias had omitted from his critique. Here it is - what Lowry calls "our main statement of editorial policy on the [Cole] matter":
The Cole may not be the equivalent of Desert One, a debacle that symbolized a perilous decline of American power. But the backdrop to the attack is troubling nonetheless. Such a sophisticated terrorist operation typically depends on well-developed networks for support, and that no word had trickled out to U.S. intelligence is another sign of declining American prestige in the region. The Gulf War coalition against Iraq has almost entirely collapsed, and America's credibility has been frayed by its periodic and ineffectual cruise-mssile attacks against Saddam. To restore America's reputation in the Gulf, the next president will have to adopt a tougher strategy toward the Iraqi regime. But it would be a good first step to hunt down the perpetrators of this crime, and send them quickly to oblivion.
That was it. Catch the perpetrators. No mention of how. And the National Review never said another thing about how to respond until after 9/11.
As Yglesias points out, the fact that this single paragraph was the 11th of an 18-paragraph summary of the week's events shows that writing about terrorism was not exactly the magazine's top priority in 2000. Yglesias writes:
Mention of the Cole bombing was buried beneath such items as a defense of racial profiling, condemnation of Dick Cheney's relatively moderate views on homosexuality, a lament on the weakness of Rick Lazio's New York Senate campaign and a plug for a pro-voucher ballot proposition.
The fact of the matter is that the Clinton administration put more focus on and devoted more resources toward fighting terrorism than any administration before it, and unquestionably more than the Bush administration did before September 12, 2001.
Clinton more than doubled spending on counterterrorism and more than tripled FBI spending for this purpose. Using all the tools at its disposal, and often in concert with other intelligence agencies throughout the world, the Clinton administration captured, prosecuted, and convicted the perpetrators of the first WTC bombing and thwarted several potential terror attacks on the U.S., including: attacks on other NYC landmarks in 1993; a plot to bomb nearly a dozen American planes from the Philippines over the Pacific in 1995 and to assassinate the Pope; a plan to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Albania; and several targets during the Millennium period.
In fact, writing in December of 1997, National Review heaped praise on the Clinton administration for its record on counterterrorism:
America's impressive record of catching terrorists is helping to keep their activities to a minimum.
The capture of America's most wanted terrorist was another triumph in a long string of generally unrecognized successes for American lawmen and policymakers in the war on international terrorists. In the last decade incidents of terrorism have declined sharply, from an average of 616 a year in the 1984-88 span to 389 a year in the 1992-95 span. A major reason is that the world now knows that Uncle Sam has both a long memory and a long arm and will spare no effort to catch and punish those who commit terrorist acts against Americans.
The State Department through patient but persistent negotiations has created a growing web of international cooperation that includes ten international conventions and treaties covering aircraft hijacking and attacks on ships, diplomats, United Nations personnel, and the like. Terrorists today know there are not many places to hide.
The U.S. successes in tracking international terrorists and bringing them to the bar of American justice represent a major triumph. Congress provided the statutes and the money, and the State Department, FBI, and CIA have collaborated effectively to strike telling blows on the war on terrorism.
If the Clinton administration had ever been tempted to ease off on its fight against terror, it might have been after reading its press in National Review.
But what specifically of Afghanistan? Well, crazily enough, National Review actually championed the Taliban!
I have mightily encouraged by the victories of the Taliban Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan, which promised to upset the Greater Russian imperialists and bring an American pipeline project one step closer to reality. As we go to press the Talibans have suffered a reverse, but don't give up on them yet.
-John Dizard, National Review (6/16/97)
The Taliban, who are the Islamic militants, are not the anti-American Shi'ite variety you get across the border in Iran. They are much closer to the Sunni Islamic fundamentalists of Saudi Arabia, with whom the U.S. has been able to deal quite satisfactorily over the years. Taliban are unpopular with the urbanites of Kabul and with the New York Times, and with feminists, who don't like their admitted repressive strictures on women. But the areas outside Kabul controlled by the Taliban are a lot more peaceful than when they were controlled by bandit groups.
-John Dizard, National Review (11/25/96)
In other words, while I and my crazy New York Times-reading feminist friends were participating in teach-ins against the Taliban (in one I played the celebrity spokesman for the Taliban), National Review was touting how these nuts were making the Afghani countryside "more peaceful."
There is so much more in Legacy that is flat-out dishonest from a journalistic point of view. Lowry, for example, often cites The Age of Sacred Terror by former Clinton NSC staffers Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. But then on page 311 of Legacy Lowry portrays as fact a meeting between Clinton and Crown Prince Abdullah about the Khobar Towers that is totally at odds with Benjamin and Simon's version of the same meeting. Lowry on page 311:
In a meeting that was supposed to be devoted to pressuring the Saudis on Kobar, Clinton got weepy when Crown Prince Abdullah expressed support for him in the Lewinsky affair and didn't push the Saudi hard. Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Freeh that the White House wanted to avoid confrontation with Iran at all costs, even if it meant ignoring the Khobar Towers attack.
Benjamin and Simon on page 302 of The Age of Sacred Terror:
Thus, when Clinton met with Crown Prince Abdullah in Washington in the fall of 1998 he was, unusually, tougher than his talking points. He told Abdullah that the future of U.S. Saudi relations would be affected by Saudi cooperation on the case and that the time had come to mover forward. At the same time, Bandar continued to feed Freeh's sense that he alone cared about Khobar's dead. He told Freeh, Walsh writes, that the crown prince was persuaded "that the case was no longer of great importance to the United States."
Not only does Lowry present what he knows to be a totally suspect version of the meeting as the truth, he also knows the source of these discrepancies and does not report them to his reader. The Saudis, according to Benjamin and Simon, were playing FBI director Louis Freeh against Clinton and fed Freeh the Legacy version of the meeting. By the way, the weepy Clinton with Abdullah story was used by Regnery in its promotional materials for the book.
In Lowry's column "Al Franken's Lying Lies" he upbraids me for relying on incomplete information in order to create an untrue impression. (Remember, this is the column in which Rich characterized my book as "a loosely knit collection of anecdotes padded out with cartoons" without actually having read it.)
Yet in Legacy Lowry makes a bald statement about Clinton's post-presidency which is just plain untrue and which was clearly written with no attempt at verification. Lowry writes: "Clinton maintains he has too many legal bills to do anything other than rake in cash, making the vacuity of his early post-presidency - like so much else - purportedly all Ken Starr's fault." There is, of course, no citation of this nonexistent statement. And when I asked Rich what he relied on for his depiction of Clinton's post-presidency, he told me he could not recall the research he had done on the matter, though he assured me that he had done some.
The fact is that Clinton's post-presidency has included an impressive number of philanthropic projects, the most important of which is his foundation's fight against HIV/AIDS. As the Wall Street Journal wrote this January, "Former US President Bill Clinton's foundation, which launched its HIV/AIDS Initiative little more than 18 months ago, has quickly become a major force in fighting the pandemic." The foundation has helped cut the price of medicine for people with AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean by up to half and has cut the price of AIDS tests for them by up to 80 percent. (Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2004) That means up to 5 million people will be able to benefit from life-saving treatment in the next five years.
In Rich's column, "Al Franken's Lying Lies," the incomplete information upon which I relied was not checking to see whether Rich had continued writing about the horrible feminizing of our culture by Democrats. Lowry says that he had indeed continued writing about the topic, "most recently in a piece knocking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for his recent resort to quick (and probably fake) public tears."
Which brings this full circle. What is manliness? I am finishing this overlong review on a plane from Iowa, where John Kerry just won the caucuses. I asked Rich after reading that column if he knew how Kerry had won his Silver Star in Vietnam. Rich did not.
Here is the citation received by the man who supposedly resorted to quick (and probably fake) public tears.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Coastal Division ELEVEN engaged in armed conflict with Viet Cong insurgents in An Xuyen Province, Republic of Vietnam on 28 February 1969. Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY was serving as Officer in Charge of Patrol Craft Fast 94 and Officer in Tactical Command of a three-boat mission. As the force approached the target area on the narrow Dong Cung River, all units came under intense automatic weapons and small arms fire from an entrenched enemy force less than fifty-feet away. Unhesitatingly Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY ordered his boat to attack as all units opened fire and beached directly in front of the enemy ambushers. This daring and courageous tactic surprised the enemy and succeeded in routing a score of enemy soldiers. The PCF gunners captured many enemy weapons in the battle that followed. On a request from U.S. Army advisors ashore, Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY ordered PCF's 94 and 23 further up river to suppress enemy sniper fire. After proceeding approximately eight hundred yards, the boats were again take under fire from a heavily foliated area and B-40 rocked exploded close aboard PCF 94; with utter disregard for his own safety and the enemy rockets, he again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only ten feet from the VC rocket position and personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy. Upon sweeping the area an immediate search uncovered an enemy rest and supply area which was destroyed. The extraordinary daring and personal courage of Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire were responsible for the highly successful mission. His actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
During the action, Kerry shot a VC holding a B-40 rocket launcher, saving the lives of his men. (Douglas Brinkley, Tour of Duty, p. 295)
That is manly. Writing a dishonest book is not.
Update 3/19 2:10 PM EST: Lowry has posted an article-length response to this article on National Review Online.
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-The editors respond to Al Franken and Rich Lowry (Ben Fritz, Bryan Keefer and Brendan Nyhan, 3/17/04)
-Rich Lowry on Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them - A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (3/15/04)
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