Among other fun verbal paradoxes Devo delivered over the years, the song “Enough Said” from New Traditionalists contained this gem: “The next thing I say to you will be true / The last thing I said was false.” That song popped into my head when I wrote the headline for this item, although in thinking about it, I don’t think it actually has much to do with what I’m about to say.
No, what I really wanted to mention was David Kay’s preliminary report to Congress, and the way his remarks are being spun this way and that, and the way an abbreviated version of some piece of information (a headline, say), represents a golden opportunity to misrepresent that something.
Hm. Let me give a more concrete example of what I mean. Back in April, as our boys were swooping down on previously inaccessible document troves in Baghdad, the good little minions at the Daily Telegraph ran the following story: Bush always suspected Saddam was behind 9/11. Which would have been quite a story, don’t you think? Except that wasn’t really what the article was about. No, it was about a bunch of documentation allegedly showing high-level cooperation between Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda, with said documentation having been allegedly discovered by Telegraph reporters rummaging through the wreckage of the Iraqi intelligence service’s headquarters. That, too, would have been pretty newsworthy if it had held up to scrutiny, but apparently it didn’t. At least, it seems to have subsequently disappeared from public discussion.
But back to the headline. At one point, the piece made the following, unsourced assertion:
In the days immediately following the attacks, President George W Bush confided to colleagues that he believed that Saddam was directly involved in the attacks. “He probably was behind this in the end,” he said.
The article pretty much says nothing else about that. But that’s the part they chose to put in the headline. Cool, huh?
Fast-forward to the recent delivery of US weapons inspector David Kay’s preliminary report to Congress. You can read the whole thing, thanks to the helpful webmasters at the CIA, who have run the transcript of Kay’s statement under what I assume was its original title: STATEMENT BY DAVID KAY ON THE INTERIM PROGRESS REPORT ON THE ACTIVITIES OF THE IRAQ SURVEY GROUP (ISG) BEFORE THE HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE, THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS, SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEFENSE, AND THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE.
Heh. In order to be effective at drawing in readers, a headline probably should distill things down a bit more than that. Unless your aim is to discourage people from reading your statement, since the statement itself consists of a rambling, hyper-detailed account that seeks to obscure, rather than highlight, its central point. I think maybe David Kay has been visiting Kuro5hin, where the following piece is currently prominent: HOWTO: write bad documentation that looks good.
But even thus obscured, David Kay’s statement still reveals that actually, he hasn’t found any of those WMD that Hussein was supposed to possess at the time of the invasion. For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, Beltway Bandit offers a nice summary that ties in the report’s key passages with pre-invasion statements by the administration: Comparing Bush regime rhetoric on Iraq to reality.
Nonetheless, righties are spinning as hard as they can to avoid answering the question of whether the Bush people were criminally dishonest (because they sold the public on a pre-emptive war using intentionally doctored WMD evidence) or criminally inept (because their own ideological reality filters caused them to misinterpret that evidence). Like Andrew Sullivan, who writes (in Read the report):
The administration claimed that Saddam had used WMDs in the past, had hidden materials from the United Nations, was hiding a continued program for weapons of mass destruction, and that we should act before the threat was imminent. The argument was that it was impossible to restrain Saddam Hussein unless he were removed from power and disarmed. The war was legally based on the premise that Saddam had clearly violated U.N. resolutions, was in open breach of such resolutions and was continuing to conceal his programs with the intent of restarting them in earnest once sanctions were lifted.
Oh, that’s what the president was saying a year ago at this time. Silly me. I must not have been paying attention. Thanks for clearing that up for me, Mr. Sullivan.
Rev. Donald Sensing comments on the Sullivan story, helpfully putting the gist of the argument in his headline: Kay report upholds administration position. Hmm. I suppose that would depend on what your definitions of “upholds,” “administration,” and “position” are. See also Sensing’s subsequent entry, in which he outlines his theory that it was all the CIA’s fault: The administration, Iraqi WMDS, and the cause of war.