Friday, July 11, 2003

Well, as Calpundit pointed out, Time magazine has done an excellent job of ensuring that the yellowcake story does have some legs, even with Tenet "falling on his sword". The story is continuing, but the question remains... what is the story, really?

In my opinion, (as I've mentioned earlier) it isn't Bush's lies about that subject, or their relationship to war, or even the public's reaction. It's the media, appropriately enough, that is the true story here. The story is in their willingness to explore these sorts of question; when they discover something, it's also in their reluctance to simply regurgigate the President's spin, as had been the case in the past. While the story is often (and, in my opinion, erroneously) framed as a Bush v. Democrats issue, the fact that the issue is making it onto the cover of Time and into the pages of newspapers shows a media that is, perhaps, more willing to attack Bush. In fact, in many respects it is the covers and headlines that are key- as others have pointed out, many people pay more attention to the headline than they ever do the article, and the headlines have been predominantly uncritical of Bush even when articles include critical elements. (The controversy over the CBS "lied" headline also centers around this point- that they felt confident enough to overstate instead of massively understate speaks volumes)

This means that what happens with "yellowcake" is in many respects unimportant, although I certainly think that Bush and his advisors knew full well that the CIA had disputed (if not debunked) all of the acknowledged British intelligence sources. (I also think they also know what the word "learned" means, and when to use it, and that it carries with it the ring of revealed truth and not repeated hearsay, as is the argument we so often hear). This issue is only one of many, and there will be others even if yellowcake fades into the aether.

Fortunately, the Bush administration appears unwilling to let it die. Their protestations that "the information is accurate" reminds me of the story of the failing candidacy of a Canadian wanna-be Prime Minister, the Progressive Conservative Bob Stanfield. Stanfield was a good speaker, a decent person by all accounts, got decent press, and was giving Pierre Trudeau a run for his money. Stanfield ruined it all, however, when he managed to fumble a football during a game of catch while some quick-witted journalist snapped a picture of the event. The picture of Stanfield fumbling the ball became front-page news, was played up by his opponent (Pierre Trudeau) and was a key element of his defeat, as Stanfield's opponents continually referred to him "dropping the ball".

Here's the thing. The problem was not Stanfield fumbling the ball, or the picture. The problem was that shortly after the picture was taken, Stanfield and his campaign staff kept on trying to prove that Stanfield could play football just fine. They insisted that it was a one-time thing, that it was unimportant, that he played catch and caught the ball all the time. It went to the point of Stanfield's people showing pictures of him catching footballs! None of it worked, however- every time they tried to respond, it just meant that damnedable picture got one more airing, and Stanfield looked that much worse. The problem was that the best way to handle this story would have been to let it die, but by going back to it over and over again they just made things worse, until they eventually lost the election.

That is exactly how the Bush administration is handling the Yellowcake disaster. The squadron of advisors fanned out across the Sunday morning talk shows were making two points: that the story was unimportant, and that the information may well have been accurate anyway. Both are ludicrous. The second obviously conflicts with know facts and past spin, but the former is even worse. It has a fundamental contradiction at its core: why on earth would they be spending so much time talking about it if it were a "dead issue"? Why not let Tenet bleed from that self-inflicted wound, and do what it takes to let the story die and move on to something else? Talk about another issue, make an announcement, invade someone (this is Bush)... but just do something else. Instead, they're "pulling a Stanfield"... they're not only trying to say that they can play football just fine, but that it's not important that Bush didn't catch that football. Every time they do, the media is going to think that the story is that much more important... and with every story that the public sees, reads, and hears, they are going to think that this issue is that much more important.

Honestly, Rice and Co. have done the Democrats and Bush critics in general a huge favor. If they were smart, they would have talked about something else. As it is, they've ensured that everybody will show that dropped football just one more time. Dean, Kerry, Gephardt and Co. are no Trudeaus (who is?) but Bush is turning himself into quite a Stanfield.

No comments:

Post a Comment