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Commentator in sheep's clothing

Ellsberg's new spy friend

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Elementary! My Dear Watson!

Date: 12/1/03
Show: Morning Edition & All Things Considered (NPR)

Two U.S. military convoys were ambushed on Sunday after dropping of newly printed Iraqi currency at two banks in the central Iraqi town of Samarra. Soldiers said that many of the attackers were wearing the black uniforms of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen militia. According to U.S. estimates, 54 insurgents were killed during the fighting; five troops and one civilian were wounded on the American side.

Samarra victim   Iraqi victim [©Aljazeera.Net]

While other news outlets covered the military press briefing and talked to soldiers participating in the fighting, NPR dispatched its contract reporter Ivan Watson to Samarra to tell the Iraqi side. After shortly reviewing what the U.S. military said about the events, Watson comes to the heart of his story:

The Iraqis drew a different picture.

A very different picture, Bob.

They're describing a protracted gun battle yesterday afternoon, but they all insisted that the US forces were not being shot at. They said that lines of American military vehicles came rolling into town and, in some cases, driving over and crushing vehicles. I did see evidence of that. And, then, they said that the American forces opened fire indiscriminantly in crowded market places. At the hospital doctors said they had more than fifty wounded and they said that most of them were children and women, for instance, women finishing a shift at the local pharmaceutical factory. They say there were at least seven killed and some of the casualties were said to include Iranian pilgrims who were visiting a holy shrine in that town that also suffered some damage as a result of the shooting.

Later that day, on ATC, Watson included the voices of Iraqi town's people. One Iraqi seems to admit that the Americans were attacked first, but by a much smaller number than the Americans were saying: "maybe, maybe, one or two or five or 10." A doctor at the hospital who didn't want to give his name claimed that 95% of the wounded were children and old people.

Watson seems to be unfazed by the many contradictions and the shear idiocy of some of the claims. Why would the soldiers shoot indiscriminantly at crowds if not being shot at? Even if they did, how is it possible that only children and women were among the victims? Even the worst shot will hit the target at least once in a while!

According to Iraqis, many of the victims were injured or killed by American mortar rounds. Doesn't Watson know that mortars are the weapon of choice of the insurgents, that the convoys didn't carry mortar launchers with them? He seems to believe that U.S. tanks — without provocation — ran over vehicles and crushed them ("I did see evidence of that"). Didn't it occur to him that there might be another explanation, as Staff Sgt. Bruce Jones pointed out in an interview with CNN:

These guys were trying to throw vehicles in the way, taxi cabs, a couple of white pickup trucks and everything, to actually block the roads as we tried to egress out with the convoy.

There is nothing wrong with telling the Iraqi side of the story, though I would wish that Mr. Watson would be a little less gullible. The U.S. military itself raised questions about its credibility when it reported varying numbers of casualties among the insurgents, first 54, then 46, and finally 54 again. Of course, the soldiers were in unfriendly territory and didn't want to stick around for a more accurate body count, one that might have included them. The problem is that NPR tells only one side of the story, the enemy side. Up to the moment that I am writing these lines, NPR has not interviewed a single U.S. soldier that was involved in the Samarra fighting.

An update

It didn't take him too long: while the rest of the media showed pictures of dancing Iraqis celebrating the capture of Saddamn Hussein, terrible Ivan rushes to Tikrit to find people that are a little bit more sympathetic to him. Though a recent poll showed that only one in 100 Iraqis want their former leader back, Watson only meets people that mourn his demise.

Incidentally, he also uncovers an American war crime: an older man in the hospital tells him that his nephew, after being stopped by American soldiers, is shot three times:

… and when he came out of his car to see what's going on - he just was rising his hands - they shot him through his left hand, and he fell down, and when he fell down [uh, uh] he was a black soldier, he came over him, and between three meters he shot two shots more in his chest.

It doesn't matter that there is absolutely no corroboration of the account; in fact, it is rather doubtful that the uncle himself was an eyewitness to the shooting.

  • audio file Tikrit Site of Pro-Saddam Rally [All Things Considered, 12/15/03]


Ellsberg's new spy friend

Kevin Phillips: Commentator in Sheep's Clothing

Date: 2/9/04
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Boy, did Kevin Phillips have a great month.

First, he is all over the public airwaves because he trashed the Bushes in his new book "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush." Moreover, he appeared twice on Morning Edition with his political commentary. I have not heard from him this much since years ago when he was paired with Cokie Roberts on Morning Edition for a weekly review of the political events of the day. I remember him well because I was always confused about whether Phillips was a Democrat or a Republican. After all, the host usually introduced him as Republican strategist, but it was he who attacked the Republican administration most of the time.

Kevin Phillips   [©PBS] Kevin Phillips

The mantle of Republican strategist still serves him well selling books — at least, this is the impression that you may get when reading the glowing reviews of enthusiastic readers of the American Dynasty posted on Amazon's web site:

A devastating indictment, not from typical left-wingers, but from a Republican. Phillips obviously hits a nerve, given the ignorant vitriol spewed by obviously biased right-wingers who will never admit that their Emperor has no clothes — despite Phillips' thoroughly documented book.

Talk about a wolf in sheep's clothing!

In his latest commentary for Morning Edition, Phillips scolds President Bush for naming retired Federal Judge Laurence Silberman as one of the two co-chairs of the nine-member independent commission charged with investigating intelligence failures before the war in Iraq. Phillips is fuming:

It really is a little hard to believe how of all the Republicans George W. Bush could have appointed to co-chair the new CIA investigation he wound up picking Laurence H. Silberman, a lawyer and senior Federal Appeals Court judge.

What makes Judge Silberman such an unbelievable choice or, as Bob Edwards put it in his lead-in, a man with a checkered past? According to Phillips there are two reasons: first, in 1980 Silberman attended one of the "October Surprise" meetings where an Iranian representative discussed what Iran would want in exchange for keeping the hostages a little longer. The second is that Silberman was one of the judges who overturned Oliver North's Iran-Contra conviction.

For die-hard lefties, any one of these offenses would be enough to disqualify the Judge for the position of a dog catcher, but for the rest of us this is not so obvious. While conspiracy theorists may believe that the October Surprise is a fact of life, the story has all the trappings of an urban legend. How is it possible that none of the participants ever came forward and fessed up to this dastardly deed? How come that the Iranian Mullahs never confirmed any of this? Are they still in bed with the Republicans or, perhaps, the Bush family? The second charge has even less merit. Oliver North's conviction was overturned by the Federal Appeals Court because his testimony before the Senate Select Committee was protected by a grant of immunity. As the Independent Counsel himself wrote in his report:

The most serious obstacle to North's prosecution was the immunity grant extended him by the Select Committees that in 1987 investigated the Iran/contra matter. North's nationally televised testimony under that grant of use immunity, which guaranteed that nothing he told Congress could be used against him in a criminal proceeding, greatly complicated Independent Counsel's investigation and raised serious questions as to whether North could ever be tried.

I don't mind that Kevin Phillips has changed his political stripes since working for Nixon's presidential campaign in 1968. After all, we all grow older and, on occasion, wiser. What I resent is that Phillips still uses he same "fallen angel from the Republican heaven" shtick after more than thirty years and that the network is a willing accomplice in this fraud.

  • audio file Commentary: Bush's Iraq Probe Panel [Morning Edition, 2/9/04]
  • audio file Political Commentator Kevin Phillips [Fresh Air, 1/29/04]
  • Leigh Bureau, an agency for public speakers, peddles Kevin Phillips as one of the nation's most perceptive thinkers, reviewers have called him our "modern Thomas Paine."
  • Books and Ideas: The Identity Crisis of Kevin Phillips
    In this 1990 piece for Fortune magazine Walter Olson seems to be on to Kevin Phillips' shtick.
  • The October Surprise Theory
    In "Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia" Daniel Pipes nicely summarizes the overwhelming historical evidence against the October Surprise.

An update

Later during the same week, two of his colleagues at the Los Angeles Times chimed in. Unlike Phillips, however, David G. Savage and Tom Hamburger disclosed the source of the garbage they were hurling at the judge: David Brock's [in]famous book "Blinded by the Right."

David Brock

David Brock in an interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg [©NPR Online]

I don't know whether Edwards would ever call him that, but Brock certainly deserves the label of a "checkered past." His original claim to fame was that of a right-wing hit man, spreading lies about President Clinton and Anita Hill. Once the mainstream media caught on to him, he started writing equally slanderous stuff about people on the right, needless to say, with the same high regard for the truth and facts. Obviously, Brock's credibility depends on whom he is slandering.

If you detect a pattern here — you're not alone.

  • audio file Interview with David Brock [All Things Considered, 7/2/01]
  • David Horowitz: Believe David Brock at your own risk [Salon, 4/17/02]
  • In an article on the Silberman appointment for the LA Times [Few Impartial on Panel Co-Chair, LA Times, 2/11/04], Savage and Hamburger cite what seems to be a conspiratorial candle-light dinner between Reagan's "spy chief" William J. Casey, North, and Silberman. In a subsequent article, the dinner is described more accurately as a large public meeting in which Casey was the featured speaker and Silberman the master of ceremonies. "There were hundreds of people there" Silberman is quoted, "I never met Oliver North." Unfortunately, neither article is available on the web.


Bad breath

Ellsberg's New Spy Friend

Date: 2/25/04
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Unless you are a regular visitor of one of the many blame-America-first web sites, you probably don't know who Katharine Gun is. So, let me bring you up to speed:

Ms. Gun is a Chinese language specialist at Britain's General Communications Headquarters who just days before the Iraq war leaked an internal memo to the British tabloid press. At the time, Tony Blair was at an all-time low in public opinion polls and any information that had the potential of further damaging his approval ratings was eagerly snapped up by the press.

In the memo, Frank Koza, regional chief of the American National Security Agency, NSA, was asking analysts from friendly services to share with him information on members of the United Nations Security Council that were critical for the upcoming council vote on Iraq. Though Koza didn't explicitly say "go out and spy on security council members," this was generally the way the British press and opponents of the war were reading the memorandum.

Daniel Ellsberg   Daniel Ellsberg [unattributed]

Neither the NSA nor the British intelligence ever confirmed the authenticity of the document, but the fact that Gun was fired from her job and the government considered charges against her was all the proof that the anti-war crowd needed to have. Naturally, the American Left joined the fray; Noam Chomsky, Molly Ivins, Daniel Ellsberg, and Best Actor Sean Penn rallied to the support of their newly-found British spy friend and accused the Bush and Blair administrations of bugging the offices of the United Nations. The sweet smell of Watergate and Vietnam was in the air — could impeachment of the President be next?

This is where NPR comes in. Invited by Morning Edition to comment on Katharine Gun's arraignment hearing, Ellsberg reminds the listener that his leaking of the Pentagon Papers started a chain of events which, in the end, forced Nixon to resign. His greatest regret, the celebrated anti-war hero admitted, is that he waited too long as a more timely disclosure of the papers could have prevented the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution from ever making it out of the Senate Committee. Gun tried to stop an illegal war before it had started, which makes her act of defiance even more heroic.

Ellsberg's commentary is remarkable in more than one respect. He hardly talks about Katharine Gun; his main concern seems to be with his legacy as anti-war hero and his part in bringing down the Nixon administration. Moreover, by the time the commentary was broadcast, the prosecution had already dropped the charges against Gun. Finally, it is hard to believe that NPR would invite a guy like Ellsberg on the program. While the Left may consider him a hero, legally he is a traitor. The only reason why Ellsberg is not in jail today is that the courts dismissed the case against him because of governmental misconduct — among others, a break-in into the office of his psychiatrist — not because he was found innocent. But, of course, Ellsberg is an icon of the American Left who had recently written a book which needed some peddling over the airways.

  • audio file Commentary: Daniel Ellsberg on leaking documents [Morning Edition, 2/25/04]
  • Molly Ivins: Call Me a Bush-Hater [The Progressive, November 2003]
  • Noam Chomsky: Bush may invent another threat [Al-Jazeera, 10/30/03]
  • Sean Penn: Open letter to Bush [Black Flag, November 2002]
  • Michael Young: The Devil and Daniel Ellsberg [Reason, June 2002]
  • Here's the text of the memorandum as published by the Guardian:

    From: FRANK KOZA, Def Chief of Staff (Regional Targets)
    Sent on Jan 31 2003 0:16
    Subject: Reflections of Iraq Debate/Votes at UN-RT Actions + Potential for Related Contributions


    As you've likely heard by now, the Agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR of course) for insights as to how to membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies, etc - the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises. In RT, that means a QRC surge effort to revive/ create efforts against UNSC members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea, as well as extra focus on Pakistan UN matters.

    We've also asked ALL RT topi's to emphasize and make sure they pay attention to existing non-UNSC member UN-related and domestic comms for anything useful related to the UNSC deliberations/ debates/ votes. We have a lot of special UN-related diplomatic coverage (various UN delegations) from countries not sitting on the UNSC right now that could contribute related perspectives/ insights/ whatever. We recognize that we can't afford to ignore this possible source.

    We'd appreciate your support in getting the word to your analysts who might have similar, more in-direct access to valuable information from accesses in your product lines. I suspect that you'll be hearing more along these lines in formal channels - especially as this effort will probably peak (at least for this specific focus) in the middle of next week, following the SecState's presentation to the UNSC.

    Thanks for your help
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Revised 5/6/04