3/10/2005

Doubting the NY Times' leak of the "secret" Bush tapes

Dare we say that the Times may have been "played" with these tapes? Har, har.
From Russ Baker of Guerrilla News:
Caution should certainly apply to the curious New York Times front-page exclusive from the Sunday of Presidents’ Weekend, containing excerpts from what are described as “secretly taped conversations” between then Governor George W. Bush and an “old friend.” Partially because it broke in the Times, partially because it involved “secret tapes,” the article became a minor sensation, and was picked up by major media worldwide, leading some broadcasts. With the growing evidence of the Bush Administration’s effort to control and spin the news, put out false stories and anoint fake reporters, it’s apparent that few insider “revelations” or leaks of any kind should be taken at face value. Put bluntly, we are being naïve if we do not at least scrutinize each new development for signs of chicanery from right-wing allies of the president, or even from the White House itself. According to the Times, Bush’s “old friend” Doug Wead secretly taped more than a dozen conversations with the then-Texas Governor between 1998 and 2000. Summarizing the most eye-opening material, the article notes that on the tapes Bush “weighs the political risks and benefits of his religious faith, discusses campaign strategy…and appears to have acknowledged trying marijuana.” On the surface, such topics promise at least insight and perhaps controversy. What one might say privately to a friend (in what the White House described as “casual conversations”) could indeed be of great interest. Such are the circumstances from which spring the juiciest of heartfelt confessions. But the supporting material turns out, almost uniformly, to cast Bush in an even better light than before the tape excerpts were released, offering almost exclusively self-flattering banter that positions Bush well as a thoughtful man who is in control, and contains what seem carefully crafted sentiments designed to address potential perception problems and to appeal to several crucial constituencies.
...The Times piece is stunning for its crucial omissions – which, cumulatively give us the entirely wrong impression of what is going on. Here are some facts that the writer, David Kirkpatrick, might have told readers but did not:
Wead is a longtime GOP propagandist. He penned campaign biographies for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
At the time of the taped conversations, Wead was one of the prime architects of the strategy to reposition Bush from a Texas moderate with bipartisan instincts to a darling of the national GOP’s indispensable Christian right.
Before and after the “secret” tapings, Wead was profiting handsomely from his ongoing association with the Bush family, with a lucrative career as a corporate consultant and international motivational speaker.
Wead was close with two key figures surrounding Bush – John Ashcroft and Karl Rove. The former Attorney General benefits enormously from the release of the tapes by being setup as an appealing future Supreme Court justice, and Rove, who had every reason to support their release as a classic fingerprintless positioning of his client, triangulating him trickily on a series of sensitive matters, including drug use, gay rights and his Christian Right base, is almost invisible.
...The entire newsworthiness of the tapes is that they were secretly made, without Bush’s permission. But whether that’s true or not, one might ask why Doug Wead would risk the White House’s ire by releasing these private conversations at this time without approval. Given the administration’s – and chief strategist Karl Rove’s – history of aggressively going after those who wrong it, how likely is it that Wead would needlessly put himself in such a dangerous position? It’s important to note that, according to the Times, Wead withheld some tapes, which he said were of a purely personal nature. Who, one wonders, was deciding what could and could not be released. (Wead later said he would turn over all of the tapes to Bush – and, several days later, the White House confirmed that the tapes were in the possession of Bush’s private counsel.)
Is it just possible that Wead had prior approval if not even encouragement from the White House to take his tapes to the Times? And if that is the case, is it also possible that the Times suspected as much but went along with the charade for its own reasons? One is tempted to think so, because everyone wins with this story — the White House, Wead and he New York Times.
Wead, like Karen Hughes and other advisers who have done books, would like to cash in on the relationship. As for the White House, might agreeing to the release of selected tapes after the election have served the dual purpose of correcting “negative” impressions of Bush while rewarding Wead? Bush’s lavish praise for Ashcroft on the tapes can only help to tee up a possible high court nomination should one be in the offing. The tapes, meanwhile, serve to distance Rove from Bush, presenting the highly dependent Bush as more of his own man precisely at a time when Rove has become more powerful than ever. They enhance Rove’s vision of a GOP Revolution lasting well beyond the current term, by advancing the cause of his friend and former employer, the highly controversial Ashcroft. And the Times’ publication of the tapes elevates Bush in the eyes of the Christian Right while tossing scraps to supporters who are socially more moderate. Finally, the tapes help the Times where it needs help the most—in the White House. Besides getting a “scoop” – the currency of the realm in the news business—the Times gets to address the crucial problem of White House access. During Bush’s first term, the paper was almost entirely shut out. The Wead revelations are only the latest in a series of recent front-page Times softball pieces about Bush’s friends – giving the definite impression that the paper will do what it takes to defrost the relationship with the White House. The Wead story, like the previous two front-page articles on Bush’s friends, purport to be pieces of trenchant journalism while blowing wet kisses over the White House fence.
Whether the White House deliberately suckered the Times or not, several parties clearly benefit from this peculiar exercise in front-page journalism. The Times got its ‘scoop.’ Wead got Presidents’ Weekend super-publicity for a potential bestseller. And the White House got a whole basket of goodies.
Not everyone gained —certainly not the increasingly hapless average American. As portrayed in the book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” by Thomas Frank, the public in recent years has been spun and spun and spun away from reality. We may not be in Dorothy’s Kansas anymore, but if even The New York Times seemingly can’t avoid getting taken in, we’ve got serious problems.

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