Shoot the messenger

Dateline: 19 September 2007

Democrats and their operatives outside Congress have discovered a solution to “a real big problem”. The problem is the one I wrote about a few weeks ago. It is the ‘problem’ of increased democracy, security and human rights in Iraq. It is the ‘problem’ of America making small, but real, progress in the War on Terror. The solution is a mixture of denial and personal attacks on the messenger.

Denial, because they simply deny the facts on the ground. The war is going badly as viewed from the offices of The New York Times. If the view from Iraq is different then Iraqis, and others who are actually in Iraq, must be wrong.

But the politics of personal destruction constitute another key way to confront this ‘problem’. The target for these personal attacks is the respected General, David Petraeus. Partisan operatives – such as Times columnist Paul Krugman – have been painting Petraeus as a liar for some weeks. They started long before the content of his report came to light.

This is utterly damning. The campaign started before the report was presented. Which leads to the question, how did the media know Petraeus was going to present an optimistic report? A few months ago it was widely expected that his report would be, at best, mixed. But the expectation began to gather pace over the summer that it would be largely positive. This is when Jim Clyburn, Democratic Whip in the House of Representatives, began to worry that good news for his country would be ‘a real big problem’ for his party. That tells us a lot about his priorities.

But this expectation of a positive report began to gather pace because of the facts on the ground. Anbar province has seen a dramatic change in its security situation because of changed tactics since Petraeus arrived in Iraq.

So left-wing thinking seems to have gone like this: We know that things are improving in Iraq; Therefore we know that Petraeus will report that things are improving. Therefore we must call Petraeus a liar.

This is the big hole in their argument. They are calling him a liar, but if he was actually lying his testimony would have come as a surprise. It is because he is telling the truth that they knew in advance what he would say, and could begin the personal attacks early.

That The New York Times is part of a partisan campaign against Petraeus seems to be clear. It is not just opinion columnists who are participating. There is some evidence that the corporation that owns the paper itself is acting as a party shill.

Activist group MoveOn took a full page advert in The Times attacking Petraeus. They paid just $65,000 – a massive discount of $102,000 against the normal price. This is, in law, a donation in kind to a PAC from a corporation, which is illegal. The paper claims that the reduced price is in fact normal for advocacy groups when an advert is placed on a standby basis. That means they do not guarantee placement on any particular day. Yet it is clear that MoveOn was given a strong indication that their advert would run on the exact day they wanted: the text of the advert itself referred to Petraeus giving evidence to Congress that day, not some time that week.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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