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Ari Fleischer Calls for a Return of Jeff Gannon

Remember Jeff Gannon? He was the gay sex worker who invented a news outlet that joined the White House on daily press passes for two years. He would routinely bail press secretaries Ari Fleischer or Scott McClellan out of tough jams. He was (literally) exposed after he asked President Bush a question about working with Senate Democrats that invoked a fake Rush Limbaugh attack on Harry Reid and had the punch line, “How are you going to work – you’ve said you are going to reach out to these people – how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” People started looking into him, his media outlet, and the graphic advertisements for him on line to understand why such a prop was part of the White House press corps. That led to discoveries that White House visitor logs showed him not checking out overnight (though Gannon denied any sleepovers) and allegations of plagiarism.

In short, Gannon is an example of the kind of poor vetting that happens with a press office tries to set up more puff coverage for itself.

Well, Ari Fleischer wants Gannon back.

Less than two months ago, Fleischer (who was investigated for his role in the leak of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity) argued, of Trump’s threat to jail Hillary, “Winning candidates don’t threaten to put opponents in jail. Presidents don’t threaten prosecution of individuals. Trump is wrong on this.”

A month later he attempted a last minute, chronologically-challenged self-rehabilitation, claiming he would not vote for Trump.

I was supposed to be a delegate to the GOP convention, but I decided not to go. I’d vote for Trump, but I wasn’t going to sing his praises. It felt rude to go to Cleveland and say negative things about him on the air. I watched from home, and I said at the time that I still wanted him to win but doubted he could.

Then Trump lost control of himself and his message. He veered recklessly off track, attacking an American judge for his Mexican heritage, criticizing a war hero’s family, questioning the legitimacy of the election and otherwise raising questions about his judgment. If this race were about change, Clinton or policy, Trump could win it. But he made it about himself. Because he is one of the most unpopular people ever to run for president, that was a big mistake.

[snip]

I will vote for Republicans up and down the ballot. But when it comes to the presidency, I’m going to leave my ballot blank.

Now Ari’s back, calling on the Trump White House to admit more Jeff Gannons.

The briefing room itself, the place where reporters sit, and the adjacent space in which they are provided offices reflect the power of the mainstream press, based largely on the media-consuming habits of the American people from decades ago. The Associated Press, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News, for example, sit in front-row seats that have their names on them. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the Washington Post and NPR sit right behind them. While approximately 750 reporters hold White House credentials, the briefing room holds 49 seats, and they are occupied overwhelmingly by mainstream media reporters, with barely any assigned to the new dot-com world.

The White House press secretary used to decide who got what seats, but this authority was given to the White House Correspondents Association in the middle of the George W. Bush administration. Nothing prohibits the incoming administration from taking it back. The valuable West Wing real estate occupied by the White House press corps isn’t the property of the press. It belongs to the U.S. government.

Note, this seems to be an outdated notion, as outlets like Yahoo, HuffPo, Politico, and Buzzfeed are respected members of the White House press corps.

Ari goes on to suggest the dot-com problem is really an ideological one.

It isn’t only Trump who is complaining. A September Gallup poll showed that trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” had dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history. An October Pew poll showed that only 5% of the public report they have a “great deal” of confidence in the news media, while 61% have “no confidence” or “not much confidence,” a level surpassed only by the low regard the public has for elected officials.

Reporters are aware of these surveys, but they don’t change. They remain mostly liberal and largely made up of the same elites who couldn’t imagine Mr. Trump winning the nomination, let alone the presidency.

Interjection: it pains me, because I graduated from the same elementary school as Fleischer, that he doesn’t realize that if only 5% of the public has confidence in the press, then the problem is not that they are too liberal or are mean to Donald Trump. Here’s Ari again:

Too many live in a bubble in which they talk mainly to similar-minded journalists. They fail to understand that the combination of ideological bias and the loss of public confidence makes them vulnerable to the changes President Trump might seek.

In every era, the nation needs a fair and vigilant press to check the power of the president. Presidents might not like it, but it serves the country well. The daily briefing by the press secretary has long been a TV show, not a serious briefing, but it is still worth the effort. The mainstream media have a role to play, and so do a lot of other outlets. But when the press is too liberal or unfair, the media themselves put what they do at risk.

I don’t know what changes President-elect Trump will make, but he has extraordinary latitude. If he decides to go around the press entirely, abolish the daily briefing, give seats to different reporters, appoint a combative press secretary, or not take a press pool with him to dinner, the reason he’ll be able to get away with it is because the mainstream media lost the trust of the American people.

The push for the White House to reclaim authority granted to WHCA around the time Gannon was exposed is the most ironic aspect of this call from Fleischer.

But the utter lack of self-awareness is the most important.

After all, one of key reasons no one trusts the media anymore is because the media’s credulity about Iraq War claims — helped along by “combative press secretary” Ari Fleischer — led to their discredit. It’s not so much no one trusts the media because they are liberal, to the extent that is true. It has more to do with the fact that the last Republican Administration to inhabit the White House did so much to turn the press into willing collaborators.

David Petraeus’ Defense Attorney Argues Mistress-Biographers Have More Legal Privilege than Defense Attorneys

In a letter to the NYT complaining that the paper compared his client, David Petraeus, with Stephen Kim and John Kiriakou, defense attorney David Kendall implicitly makes the argument that mistress-biographers have a better recognized privilege to access classified information than defense attorneys. (h/t Steven Aftergood via Josh Gerstein)

Now, far be it for me to criticize Kendall’s lawyering ability. After all, his firm, Williams & Connolly, has developed quite the expertise for getting well-connected Republicans off for leaking covert officers’ identities, having done so for Ari Fleischer, Dick Cheney, and now David Petraeus.

But his letter is ridiculous on both the facts and his rebuttal of the comparison, at least as it pertains to John Kiriakou.

First, Kendall omits key facts in his depiction of Petraeus’ crimes.

General Petraeus’s case is about the unlawful removal and improper storage of classified materials, not the dissemination of such materials to the public. Indeed, a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement and signed by both General Petraeus and the Justice Department makes clear that “no classified information” from his “black books” (personal notebooks) that were given to his biographer, Paula Broadwell, appeared in the biography.

He notes the plea deal “makes clear that ‘no classified information’ from his ‘black books’ … appeared in the biography.” That’s a very different thing than claiming that no classified information Petraeus shared with Broadwell appeared in her fawning biography of his client — and the record seems to suggest that it does.

Kendall also neglects to mention that this case is also about his client, just days after applauding Kiriakou’s plea, lying to the FBI. While, through the good grace of Kendall’s lawyering, Petraeus has gotten off scot free for a crime that others do years of prison time for, Petraeus nevertheless admitted that he committed that crime.

Indeed, as Abbe Lowell has made clear, that’s what prevented Kim from getting precisely the sweet deal that Petraeus has gotten, his alleged lies to the FBI.

But I’m even more disgusted by Kendall’s cynical treatment of Kiriakou’s crime.

By contrast, Stephen J. Kim arranged for the publication of highly sensitive classified information from an intelligence report on North Korea’s military capabilities, and John C. Kiriakou revealed the identities of covert C.I.A. agents, a betrayal of colleagues “whose secrecy is their only safety,” in the words of a government attorney.

[snip]

Reporters, like biographers, are frequently given access to sensitive information on the understanding that they will not publicize it, and it is hypocritical for The Times to argue for leniency for Mr. Kim and Mr. Kiriakou and harshness for General Petraeus.

Note how Kendall doesn’t describe to whom Kiriakou “revealed the identities of covert C.I.A. agents” [a factual error — Kiriakou was only accused of leaking one covert officer’s identity]? The answer is he revealed the identity of a torturer to a journalist who was working for defense attorneys defending people that torturer had tortured.

Now, clearly, Kendall does defend the right of journalists to receive such classified information if they don’t publicly disclose it. That’s what he argues Petraeus’ mistress has done (the evidence notwithstanding). So according to Kendall’s lawyering, providing that covert officer’s identity to a reporter who didn’t disclose it publicly — which is what happened in Kiriakou’s case —  should have gotten Kiriakou probation.

Ultimately though, Kendall doesn’t even deal with the fact that, whatever scant privilege journalists and mistress-biographers have been granted in this country, defense attorneys have generally been granted more, for good reason. Thus, by all measures, Kiriakou made no worse, and arguably a much more legally defensible disclosure of a CIA officer’s identity than the multiple covert officers’ identities Petraeus exposed to his mistress and anyone else who decided to peruse his unlocked desk drawer.

I mean, I never really expect people in Petraeus’ vicinity to do anything but fluff his reputation; Petraeus has an infallible ability in eliciting that from people he permits to get close (or closer, in the case of Broadwell).

But I am rather surprised that a defense attorney is arguing he should have fewer privileges than a mistress-biographer.

Yesterday’s Some-Sayers Have Become Today’s Fact-Checkers

Paul Krugman makes a very good argument why the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney are necessary.

There is, predictably, a mini-backlash against the Obama campaign’s focus on Bain. Some of it is coming from the Very Serious People, who think that we should be discussing their usual preoccupations. But some of it is coming from progressives, some of whom are apparently uncomfortable with the notion of going after Romney the man and wish that the White House would focus solely on Romney’s policy proposals.

This is remarkably naive. I agree that the awfulness of Romney’s policy proposals is the main argument against his candidacy. But the Bain focus isn’t a diversion from that issue, it’s complementary. Given the realities of politics — and of the news media, as I’ll explain in a minute — any critique of Romney’s policies has to make use of his biography.

The first point is that voters are not policy wonks. They do not go to the Tax Policy Center website to check out distribution tables. And if a politician cites those distribution tables in his speeches, well, politicians say all kinds of things.

Nor, alas, can we rely on the news media to get the essentials of the policy debate across to the public — and not just because so many people get their news in quick snatches via TV. The sad truth is that the cult of balance still rules. If a Republican candidate announced a plan that in effect sells children into indentured servitude, the news reports would be that “Democrats say” that the plan sells children into indentured servitude, with each quote to that effect matched by a quote from a Republican saying the opposite.

He’s right. While I alluded to this in my post on Glenn Kessler’s changing belief in the seriousness of SEC filings, it deserves exposition directly. Glenn Kessler, back in the days when it was time to distinguish Gore’s economic plans from Bush’s, back in the days when it was time to consider whether Bush’s huge tax cuts would serve the interest of the country, committed just that kind of journalistic sin.

I pointed to this May 3, 2001 story, titled, “Some See Deficiencies in Bush’s Budget Math,” as just one example. It cited Rudolph Penner as the only expert speaking in any way supportively of Bush’s tax cut.

This fiscal situation, despite the uncertainties, is extraordinarily good.

But of course, Penner doesn’t actually say the tax cut is a good idea, just that Bush effectively inherited a good fiscal situation from Clinton.

Kessler then goes on to provide a bunch of anonymous quotes from Bush officials about the tax cuts–many admitting they’re not providing a full picture of the cuts and budget increases–as well as Ari Fleischer providing an excuse for why Bush didn’t include the cost to privatize social security in his estimates.

Which leaves this as the only non-Administration quote in support of the tax cuts.

“Look, [the spending ceiling is] going to hold because you have a different team,” said Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.). “We’ve got the president in town.”

Compare that to evidence like this:

“The president is proving his critics right,” said William G. Gale, a budget expert at the Brookings Institution. “The ink isn’t even dry on the tax cut, and he’s already moving ahead on Social Security and defense. The president’s budget adds up only if you think the government will not do anything other than it has been doing.”

[snip]

One budget expert calculated that just the $100 billion in tax refunds will result in $73 billion in additional interest payments over the next 11 years. The entire tax cut would increase interest costs by about $400 billion, thus reducing the surplus by $1.75 trillion.

The budget agreement would increase spending on annually funded federal programs in fiscal 2002 by 4.9 percent, or about $667 billion, slightly higher than the 4 percent sought by the president. The rest of the nearly $2 trillion federal budget goes to pay for programs whose costs can’t be easily reduced — Social Security and Medicare, and interest payments on the national debt.

And while Kessler likely didn’t stamp that case with the “Some Say” headline, he failed to do what a journalist presenting such evidence should have: said clearly that Bush’s budget numbers didn’t add up, even before you accounted for the increases in defense and social security spending Bush planned (to say nothing of unexpected expenses like post-9/11 Homeland Security and two wars).

Mind you, that wasn’t the only version of such a story Kessler wrote. He also wrote the following “Some Say” stories:

May 3, 2000: Candidates Duel Over Tax Cuts; Gore and Bush Trade Analytical Shots, Seeking an Imprimatur of Fiscal Responsibility

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