The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Converge on One Story

The echo chamber is vibrating with full force after yesterday’s distortion of Gen. Wes Clark’s 2002 testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, courtesy of the Republican National Committee, as passed along as gospel by Matt Drudge. At one point in Drudge’s piece, as CampaignDesk has already pointed out, he manufactured a single quotation with an ellipse that jumps 11,500 words.

That’s bad. But, worse, the false reporting has already leaped into the mainstream. Yesterday, Democratic Presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman repeated Drudge’s error in a press release he issued highlighting Clark’s distorted testimony.

A number of reporters joined the chorus, passing along Drudge’s misrepresentations without reading the full transcript. The Associated Press and Reuters both repeated the excerpts of Clark’s testimony without noting the true context, and the Washington Times copied the Drudge charge practically verbatim, taking note of Clark’s denial but quoting an anonymous “Democratic strategist” suggesting Clark “got an extra pass [from the media] because he was a general.”

Thankfully, some reporters did get out their shovels and Campaign Desk applauds their efforts. Dana Hull and Drew Brown of Knight Ridder released a story late last night with a headline challenging the RNC release. Hull and Brown report, “The complete transcript of Clark’s Sept. 26, 2002, testimony, however, reveals that Clark didn’t endorse Bush’s policy during the congressional hearing, and that the Republican charge is based on selected excerpts of his remarks.”

By morning most of the major newspapers including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Boston Globe ran pieces reflecting the whole story. That is, as the Washington Post article notes, “The full transcript, however, showed that the RNC was selective in its choice of excerpts: While Clark indicated force might be necessary, he also said it should be a last resort and questioned Bush administration claims that Saddam Hussein had strong ties to al Qaeda.”

—Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.