Tuesday, November 06, 2007

 

Russert Misleads On Thompson

That's the overly-kind headline in this post describing how Tim Russert purposely misquoted Fred Thompson on MTP. It should have read, "Russert Lies About Thompson."

Russert (very) occasionally practices solid journalism, such as asking Hillary! about hiding her White House communications with Bill from the public until after the 2008 election. But watching his interview with Fred Thompson on Sunday, I was reminded again how Russert will dishonestly mangle the facts, the truth and the English language itself in service to his "gotcha" brand of pseudojournalism:

Here's what Russert said:

RUSSERT: You were in Iowa, and you’re talking about Saddam Hussein, and you said, it was, "He was certain former Iraqi leaders Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a point of contention in the four and a half years since the war began. ‘We can’t forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there, he clearly had'" "'WMD. He clearly had, 'the beginnings of a nuclear program,' Thompson told the audience of about 60 at a Newton cafe."

The Duelfer Commission, David Kay, all the weapons inspectors said they did not find any WMD. And yet you’re—you seem to be raising the whole herring again...

THOMPSON: No, no, I’m not...

RUSSERT: ...of chemical, biological and nuclear.
However, the story in question, which appeared in the Des Moines Register, actually quoted Thompson saying that Saddam "had had" WMD and the beginning of a nuclear program, not that he "had" them at the time of the invasion as Russert's reading of the article suggested. Here's the exact quote:
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson said Monday he was certain former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a point of contention in the 4 1/2 years since the war began.

“We can’t forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there, he clearly had had WMD. He clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program,” Thompson told an audience of about 60 at a Newton cafe.
Russert showed the exact quote from the article on screen while asking the question, but changed "had had" to "had" in reading it for his audience (click the netcast link here and go to 13:40). Thompson, of course, denied the allegation.
The exact quote, including Thompson's proper use of the past perfect tense "had had", was shown on the screen even as Russert purposely misread it to Thompson before going off on him. The moment was reminiscent of Olbermann's (feigned) indignant attack on Rudy for saying something he didn't say, which device appears to have become perfectly acceptable to the leftwing mediocracy.

Tim Russert is a lawyer. It is clear to anyone familiar with his testimony in the Plame fiasco that he knows full well how to parse words and use nuance to his advantage; he knows the language, and knows what he's doing with it. So I don't believe for a second that something that was so obviously designed to prejudice his audience against Thompson's honesty and judgement was a simple mistake of omission on Russert's part. Conversely, it speaks volumes about Thompson's character that he was not the least bit put off the beam by Russert's ploy, and in fact did not allow Russert to get away with it.

Russert's mischaracterization of Thompson's recent comments on AQI and bin Laden as "trivializing" them are particularly indicative of his dishonesty, by which Russert trivializes his own role as a journalist, especially one who arrogates to himself the authority and judgement to publicly vet Presidential candidates in a time of war.

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