By Thomas Lang
Slate took on Gen. Wesley Clark on Monday of this week, and proceeded to shoot itself in the foot. Writer Chris Suellentrop’s rounded up six Clark quotes that he felt demonstrate Clark’s “propensity for speaking imprecisely off the cuff.” The article, which ran in Slate on Monday, January 12th, preludes each Clark statement with a newspaper-type headline.
More often than not, it is Suellentrop’s headlines that seem written “imprecisely off the cuff,” not Clark’s statements.
The headline that accompanies Suellentrop’s first quote reads “Bush was ‘warned’ about 9/11?” Yet, two sentences into Clark’s statement from January 6th it’s apparent that Suellentrop’s headline does not match Clark’s rhetoric. Clark stated that Bush was warned about Osama Bin Laden and subsequently failed to develop a plan to protect the United States from any attacks Bin Laden may have in the works. He says nothing about Bush receiving specific information about the 9/11 attacks: “President Bush didn’t do his job as commander in chief in the early months of his administration. He was warned that the greatest threat to the United States of America was Osama Bin Laden, yet on the 11th of September in 2001, the United States had no plan for dealing with the threat posed by Osama Bin Laden. “
A more accurate headline: “Pre-9/11 — Bush ‘warned’ about Bin Laden threat.”
Suellentrop imprecision reappears in his second headline, “Bush “never intended” to get Osama Bin Laden?” In fact, Clark’s statement charged Bush with failing to dedicate the necessary resources for a successful Bin Laden manhunt. Clark charged that this oversight occurred because Bush was focused on removing Saddam Hussein from power: “We bombed Afghanistan, we missed Osama Bin Laden, partly because the president never intended to put the resources in to get Osama Bin Laden. All along, right after 9/11, they’d made their mind up, I guess, that we were going to go after Saddam Hussein. That’s what people in the Pentagon told me. And they capped the resources, stopped the commitment to Afghanistan, and started shifting to prepare to go after Saddam Hussein.”
A more appropriate headline: “Where’s Bin Laden? - Bush diverted resources to Saddam.”
Campaign Desk is not alone in this reaction to Suellentrop’s column. Josh Marshall, on his blog TalkingPointsMemo.com, has a similar critique.
The danger is that Suellentrop’s illusions, masquerading as headlines, could be picked up by other media outlets and echoed across the web. In fact, that process has already begun. NewsMax.com, a conservative political news outlet, posted a feature article with the headline, “Clark: Bush ‘Never Intended’ to Get Bin Laden.” That article was nothing more than a carbon copy of Suellentrop’s piece with a dollop of added bias.
You can check out the rest of Suellentrop’s article here. Just be sure to carefully read the text that follows the headlines.Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.