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Forever flushing

Flushing, the sequel

The fear of disapproving murmurs

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Morning-After Thrill

Date: 2/3/05
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

State of the Union   State of the Union

The day after the State of the Union address, Morning Edition was ready to pounce. NPR correspondents and experts from all fields of life scrutinized the President's speech for lies, errors, and mistakes. And, oh boy, did they find some!

"Do not let anyone mislead you," urged Bush, only to mislead the nation seconds later by claiming that the Social Security Trust Fund would be exhausted and bankrupt by the year 2042, at least this is the way that John Ydstie, NPR's economics correspondent, saw it:

The fund will not be exhausted in 2042. In fact, there will be enough social security taxes coming in to pay about 70% of promised benefits in 2042.

Of course, if the trust fund remains solvent as Ydstie argues, there would be no need to cut benefits. There is just no question that by 2042 the IOU's in the fund are gone and that the social security administration no longer has the revenues to pay the promised benefits. Any business that is no longer able to pay what it owes has to file for bankruptcy. The fact that it still can pay 70 cents to the dollar does not make the slightest difference.

The next statement that the truth squad hit on was Bush's promise to curb product liability lawsuits:

Justice is distorted and our economy is held back by irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims.

According to host Steve Inskeep, this statement "caught the ear" of John Cochran, staff reporter for the Congressional Quarterly. After remarking that either side in the debate does not know what's going on, Cochran — obviously not part of any side — assures us that lawsuits can't damage the economy at all.

And economists say if I injure you and I pay you a 150 dollars, what's lost? I don't buy a new suit, but you do!

This may be a hard sell for employees who get laid off when their company goes belly up or investors who may lose their life savings. Surely, if it doesn't matter who spends the money, then robbing a bank must be okay too. The only trouble with Cochran's new economic theory is that robbers and lawyers generally don't manufacture anything, at least not something that you and I want to buy. But, fortunately, we can buy all this stuff from China.

And so it went on.

From "no child left behind" (states might lower their achievement standards), to curbing congressional spending (discretionary spending is only a small part of the budget), to spreading democracy (the Syrian accountability act hath no teeth), one expert after the other has something to bitch about.

None of them is able to catch Bush in a lie, but they all have their own views of the State of the Union — generally a much bleaker and less optimistic one than the President's.

By now, fact checking after Presidential debates is a popular media pastime, but after a State of the Union speech it is still somewhat of a novelty. No other news organization does it and after Clinton was re-elected in 1997 even NPR abstained from doing it. In fact, I was unable to find a single instance during the Clinton years when NPR was fact-checking one of his addresses.

Earlier this year, All Things Considered asked English professor Allan Metcalf to listen to Bush's inauguration speech. While the other news organizations pondered the implications of the President's grand vision to spread liberty and democracy around the world, the professor pointed out the many occasions when Bush placed the emphasis on the wrong word or the wrong syllable.

Oh, what a thrill it must have been for NPR!

  • audio file A Review of Bush's inaugural performance [ATC, 1/20/05]
  • audio file Fact Check: State of the Union address [ME, 2/3/05]
  • John Ydstie, NPR Economics correspondent
  • Steve Inskeep, host of NPR's Morning Edition
  • Saturday (Morning After Thrill) is a piece by the English band Soulwax on a limited edition bonus CD of their album "Much Against Everyone's Advice." Yes, there are other ways to get a thrill.


Flushing, the sequel

Forever Flushing

Date: 6/1/05 & 6/2/05
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Force protection   Coast Guard patrolling GTMO

It must have been painful for NPR when Newsweek retracted the story about flushing a Qur'an (Koran) down the toilet, just because the anonymous sole source for that report — originally the magazine had claimed more than one — no longer was sure where he had read this. Until then, NPR had a heyday: the whole Islamic world was up in arms against the United States, effigies of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were going up in flames, and soon the imperialist army would be retreating from foreign lands!

Of course, the whole story was a bit outlandish: Gitmo cells equipped with super-sized flushing toilets? Why would a Muslim be more inclined to cooperate with interrogators after watching the holy book go down the drain? Didn't we know that al-Qaeda manuals instructed jihadists to invent such tales? And wherefrom the sudden sensitivity of a network that previously had hailed the picture of a crucifix floating in a jar of urine and the painting of the Holy Virgin Mary splattered with elephant dung as pieces of art?

The magazine's Koran story was different from all the other accounts of prisoner abuse peddled by detainees and human rights activists in that it asserted that the government itself had concluded that it was true. Now that Newsweek's deep throat had recanted, why would anybody continue to believe in the story? That is, anybody but NPR.

In a report about the use of anonymous sources prompted by the recent revelation that FBI man Mark Felt was the original deep throat, NPR's David FolkenflikŻalluded to the Newsweek flap:

Newsweek recently changed its policies on unnamed sources after it was blamed for deadly riots abroad. It had published a short article that cited evidence for the alleged mishandling of the Koran at the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The White House has condemned the story and reporter Michael Isikoff's lone anonymous source for THAT portion of the item backed down. The source told Newsweek he had seen evidence supporting the allegations, but no longer remembered precisely where. Newsweek retracted the story even as similar accounts emerged elsewhere from detainees.

No mention of the fact that Isikoff's anonymous source had claimed that a government investigation had confirmed the Koran abuse and that the "similar accounts emerging elsewhere" were the same allegations that the investigation had found lacking credibility.

Reporting about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's reaction to Amnesty International's startling accusation that the military detention centers are the "Gulag of our times," NPR's Jackie Northam was missing the point again. After airing AI's protestations that the Bush administration "does protest too much," she reminded the listener of the earlier Newsweek allegation:

In fact, it was just two weeks ago when there was another full-court press by the administration after Newsweek run a story about an interrogator flushing a Koran down the toilet. Newsweek came under a withering attack by administration officials. It retracted the story after it found it could not fully substantiate the facts. Last week military officials admitted that there were some cases where military police and interrogators at Guantanamo had mishandled the Koran.

Contrary to the impression that Northam tries to convey here, military investigators had in no way substantiated the Newsweek story. The mishandlings cited were minor violations of the very high standard of utmost respect for the holy book that the military had imposed on itself — nothing that comes close to defiling the Koran, not to speak of suspending the book in urine or decorating it with elephant dung. The only real act of disrespect for the book was committed by a detainee who ripped out pages of the Koran to stop up his toilet.

Had an interrogator done this, Northam and Folkenflik would have been dancing on the table.

  • audio file Use of anonymous sources under fire [ME, 6/1/05]
  • audio file Rumsfeld criticizes Amnesty International [ME, 6/2/05]
  • David Folkenflik, NPR Media and Arts correspondent
  • Jackie Northam, NPR National Security correspondent
  • Art Crime: The Holy Virgin Mary
  • SouthCom Showdown [Newsweek, 5/9/05]:
    Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell NEWSWEEK: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Qur'an down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash. […]

An update

In an incident that came closest to Newsweek's charge, a guard left his observation post, urinated outside a cell block, near an air vent, and the wind blew his urine through the vent. The detainee hit by the spray was given new clothing and a new Koran while the guard was reprimanded and reassigned to duties in which he no longer had contact with prisoners.

Of course, the administration could not have expected that the touchy-feely treatment of Gitmo detainees revealed in the report would win them many browny points with militant Islamists — or with the liberal media, for that matter. Joe Lockhart, President Clinton's former press secretary, commented on the investigation: "While [Newsweek] got an example wrong, they got the practice right."

A reader thought that I got my example wrong when I wrote that NPR hailed Serrano's "Piss Christ" as a piece of art. Indeed, there is no evidence that anyone at NPR considered the work great art. Even so, the network consistently defended the use of public funds for blasphemous art like this and dismissed criticism from North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as pandering to the religious right.


The fear of disapproving murmurs

Flushing, the Sequel

Date: 6/9/05
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

General Hood

Gen. Hood finds no evidence that guards flushed a Koran down a toilet [©Reuters]

Like an old philanderer or, for that matter, serial rapist, NPR couldn't help itself — even the modus operandi was the same. After alluding to calls of Democratic politicians for closing down the Gitmo facility and playing a piece of President Carter's speech at a recent human rights conference in which he bemoaned the alleged human rights abuses at the facility, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep reminded his listeners of the Newsweek story:

President Carter spoke after a Newsweek report that interrogators put a Koran in a toilet at Guantanamo as a way of pressuring detainees. Newsweek retracted that story, but the Pentagon later disclosed that American guards did kick, step on, or splash urine on the Koran.

Again, Inskeep gives the impression that Newsweek, in the end, turned out to be right. No mention of the fact that according to investigators the "splashing" of urine was accidental, caused by a prison guard who urinated outside a cell block, near an air vent. Other incidents in which the Koran was pissed on were perpetrated by disgruntled detainees.

Drenalin cartoon   ©A. Drenalin on Gitmo

I am not arguing that there were no abuses at Gitmo or, earlier, at Abu Ghraib prison, but they pale in comparison with the treatment of innocent civilians caught by Iraqi insurgents. Moreover, there is no evidence whatsoever that the administration directed, ordered, or condoned these abuses. To the contrary, Bush even proposed to bulldoze Abu Ghraib and replace it with a shiny new facility at taxpayers' expense, just because Private England had some fun with prisoners there.

When listening to NPR or watching military news briefings on CSPAN, I can't help but getting the impression that American journalists are obsessed with finding and apologizing for the slightest insult to Muslim sensibilities. This is particularly odd from a network that showed no compassion with Christian groups when they were complaining about offensive depictions of Jesus Christ and the Holy Virgin Mary. A bit more balance seems to be in order.

An update

There was never any chance that NPR — or liberals in general — would let go of Gitmo. The charges varied and, as is common in Washington these days, the fire was stoked by a steady flow of leaked documents. Even the Democratic leadership of the Senate got into the fray. Minority whip Richard Durbin held up a classified FBI report on the Senate floor detailing the alleged abuses at the Guantanamo detention camp.

If I read this to you and I did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis or Soviets in their Gulags, or some mad regime, Pol Pot or others, that had no concern for human beings.

Sadly that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.

You might think this is a little bit over the top, but apparently not for David Welna who narrated the segment [and, later, his heart-felt apology].

Durbin kit   Dick's interrogation kit [©Cox&Forkum]

I don't want to beat up on Welna who, for all I know, may be a very nice guy, nor do I want to make fun of Senator Durbin who has his sane moments, except when he compares US interrogators with Nazi, Soviet, and Pol Pot thugs. Instead, I will present you with the hard evidence for such abuses that Time magazine uncovered from timely leaked interrogation logs.

Here is the worst that Gitmo detainee 063 had to endure:

21 December 2002
2223 [military time]: As I began to inform the detainee of the changes the Saudi government has been making in order to support the efforts of peace and terror free world I began to engage closeness with the detainee. This really evoked strong emotions within the detainee. He attempted to move away from me by all means. He was laid out on the floor so I straddled him without putting my weight on him. He would then attempt to move me off of him by bending his legs in order to lift me off but this failed because the MPs were holding his legs down with their hands. The detainee began to pray loudly but this did not stop me from finishing informing the detainee about the Al Qaeda member, Qaed Salim Sinan al Harethi aka Abu Ali, that was killed by the CIA.

To put the log entry into proper context, you need to know that the interrogator was female and that prisoner 063 was the 20th hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was supposed to be with the al-Qaeda terrorists that hijacked United Airlines flight 93 and crashed it into the Pennsylvania countryside. The CIA now believes that the flight was headed for the White House.

I asked my wife whether I could join al-Qaeda, but she said no.

  • audio file Senate debates treatment of detainees [ME, 6/17/05]
  • audio file Durbin apologizes for Guantanamo remarks [ME, 6/22/05]
  • David Welna, NPR Capitol Hill correspondent
  • The comparison that ends the conversation [WP, 6/22/05]
  • Extracts from an interrogation log [Time, 6/12/05]
    Click here if the article is no longer available on the website
  • Inside the wire at Gitmo [Time, 6/12/05]
    Click here if the article is no longer available on the website
  •, a site run by equal-opportunity slanderer David Brock, argues that the real torture was the involuntary administration of 3½ bags of infusion fluid. In the medical profession this is considered a life-saving procedure for a person that is in a severly dehydrated state as al-Qahtani was.


Christmas in Bethlehem

The Fear of Disapproving Murmurs

Date: 7/15/05
Show: Morning Edition (NPR)

Don Gonyea   [©NPR] Don Gonyea

Don Gonyea's report for Morning Edition about President Bush's reluctance to speak at the NAACP is a fine example for the sly and deceptive way with which NPR is reporting the news. Gonyea, who is NPR's White House correspondent, isn't lying here, he selectively omits facts that are at the heart of the story. Here is how the segment is introduced by Morning Edition host Renée Montagne:

President Bush, once again, has declined to address the Nation's largest and most prominent African American organization. The NAACP wrapped up its annual convention yesterday in Milwaukee. Mr. Bush is the first President in more than seven decades never to appear before the group while in office.

The phrase while in office is critical here. Bush did address the 2000 NAACP convention, but that was when he was running for President. Gonyea picks up the storyline:

Five years in a row now, President Bush has had something else to do instead of attending the annual NAACP gathering. That streak has encouraged speculation about the President's apparent reluctance — certainly it's no secret the group has been openly hostile to Mr. Bushes policies. Perhaps, he even recalls the group loudly booing and jeering his father, then Vice-President Bush, at the convention back in 1983.

Gonyea goes on to say that Bush speaks to Black organizations, but only in settings which are "more welcoming," such as the luncheon of African American entrepreneurs in Indianapolis that he attended instead. Of course, this was a not-so-subtle reminder that the President likes to speak before friendly audiences, be it soldiers, police, businessmen, or political supporters. In contrast, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman went straight into the lion's den and, though he encountered some "disapproving murmurs" and boos during his speech, won points just for showing up.

Is the President afraid of disapproving murmurs?

Maybe so, but why is Bush still having White House press conferences although the Washington press corps is everything but friendly? At a recent such event, Gonyea heckled Bush so much that political commentator Cal Thomas, syndicated newspaper columnist and host of Fox News Channel, dryly remarked:

If you didn't know the guy was from NPR, you might have guessed from the tone and ideology behind his question that he works for Al-Jazeera…

Why, then, is Bush stubbornly refusing to go?

The answer is plain for anyone who followed the 2000 Presidential campaign. Bush accepted an invitation to speak at the NAACP convention, despite misgivings he may have had about the way that his father had been treated. Bush got booed and heckled, as he should have expected. What Bush could not have anticipated is that a group of Texan delegates called him everything from racist to homophobe at an hastily arranged press conference, just one hour before he was scheduled to speak. Bush fell for it once, I doubt that he will fall for it again. Call him stubborn if you will.

There is no doubt in my mind that Gonyea knew of Bush's appearance at the 2000 convention and the press conference. I suppose, Gonyea did not want to mention this because doing so would have spoiled his favorite pastime — making the President look bad.

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Revised 7/14/05