Admittedly, July 4th probably isn’t the best day to turn to the pages of your local newspaper in search of hard-hitting journalism. But still, there’s a certain threshold reporting shouldn’t fall below, even on a lazy national holiday. Yesterday, the Washington Post missed that threshold by about a mile with a puff piece about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that was about as insightful as the average Jon Friedman column.
The inspiration for the piece was clearly an opinion poll taken last month that found Rice’s job approval rating to be 20 percentage points higher than that of the president, a phenomenon due, according to the Post, to Rice’s “ability to avoid being identified with the administration’s most unpopular decisions. Although she was Bush’s national security adviser during the Iraq invasion, a large percentage of those surveyed — including opponents of the war — say she had little or nothing to do with the problems in Iraq.”
While Rice indeed might not be “identified” with Iraq among a part of the populace at large, she sure is up to her neck in it.
In September 2002 for instance, there was the matter of those aluminum tubes that Saddam Hussein purportedly had — the ones that Rice claimed were “only really suited for nuclear weapons programs.” Turns out she was wrong, and evidence shows that she knew it. As the New York Times reported in October 2004, “almost a year before, Ms. Rice’s staff had been told that the government’s foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were for nuclear weapons … The experts, at the Energy Department, believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets.” (A recent MediaMatters report documents the many suspect statements Rice has made over the years and makes the case that, despite the Post’s fawning, she is a front-runner in the Iraq falsehood sweepstakes.)
And then there’s the matter of Rice’s flatly false contention in a March 22, 2004 Washington Post op-ed that, “No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration” when Bush assumed office in January 2001 — a claim that was obviously meant to excuse the administration from blame for the 9/11 attacks. However, as the 9/11 Commission reported, on January 25, 2001, Richard Clarke, who served as a senior White House counterterrorism official under presidents Clinton and Bush, handed a package to Rice, entitled “Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al Qaeda: Status and Prospects,” that, according to the commission, “reviewed the threat and the record to date, incorporated the CIA’s new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options.” Sounds like a plan to us.
But instead of looking at her record, the Post’s July 4 puff piece tells us that when Rice travels overseas, her office arranges for local pop stars and celebrities to meet her at the airport, to ensure that her arrival makes the news. We also find out that when Esquire magazine asked more than a thousand men to tell them what “notable woman” they’d want to have dinner with, Rice came in at number one.
What’s puzzling is that the Post itself has printed long stories detailing the many falsehoods Rice has tossed out there over the years. But now, nothing.
To be sure, we certainly weren’t expecting a hit piece when first perusing the story, since it was obvious that it was little more than holiday filler. But still, we didn’t expect the Post to obscure recent history and whitewash inconvenient facts, all to tell us that “Rice routinely wears expensive and flashy designer outfits in her travels.” This is a waste of time, space and the talents of Glenn Kessler, the unfortunate reporter assigned to produce this oddly tabloid drivel.
Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.
We expect the Post to aim much, much higher.