The only topics the Times ever covered with greater urgency than Halliburton and Harken Energy were prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and the Augusta National Golf Club's refusal to admit women members. If the Times had ever discovered a terrorist being tortured at Augusta, it would have had to cease operations and turn itself into “The Augusta Torture Hotline Formerly Known as ‘the New York Times.’ ”
I believe the reason the Harken Energy and Halliburton scandals never interested normal people was that there was absolutely no wrongdoing involving anyone at the White House. The only scandal was how much energy the mainstream media devoted to covering boring nonstories.
The corpus delicti of these media-hallucinated scandals was that George W Bush used to work for Harken and Dick Cheney used to work for Halliburton. It's not illegal to work for a living rather than be a “community organizer.” Paul Krugman, for example, used to work for Enron and currently works for the nation's leading clearinghouse for left-wing conspiracy theories. But Harken and Halliburton are corporations and as such are subject to reams of regulations and laws, which always gives liberals endless opportunities for overwrought stories with baseless accusations.
Even Krugman's fellow hysteric on the op-ed page, Frank Rich, admitted there was no suggestion of “any criminality” in Bush's dealings with Harken Energy or Cheney's with Halliburton. When America's leading drama queen thinks you're overreacting, you might be a few tweaks away from cool dispassion. Nonetheless, Rich said we still needed to know every little detail about Bush's and Cheney's employment with these companies because “of what they may add to our knowledge of the ethics, policies and personnel of a secretive administration to which we've entrusted both our domestic and economic security.”32 Would that liberals had used that standard to examine Barack Obama's dealings with Tony Rezko, William Ayers, and Jeremiah Wright!
After a year of Abu Ghraib–level coverage of Bush's and Cheney's dealings with Harken Energy and Halliburton, what we learned was: They had both behaved completely honorably. The Securities and Exchange Commission said so. Thank you, New York Times, for wasting months of our lives on that.
The phony Harken scandal was that Bush sold his stock in Harken in 1990 to pay off a loan used to buy the Texas Rangers. A few months after Bush sold his stock, the stock price dipped slightly. Then it went back up, until, just a year later, it was worth twice what Bush had sold it for. It's not illegal to own or sell stock, even if the price later declines. It's illegal to sell stock based on insider information. Because of the stock's subsequent price decline, Bush's sale of stock was exhaustively investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the early nineties. The SEC found that Bush had done nothing wrong. That is, if you don't include selling stock for half of what he could have gotten for it a year later.
As CNN's Brooks Jackson explained, “Internal SEC memos show that the career staff at the SEC concluded they couldn't come close to making a case against Bush.”33 The SEC's investigation of the sale concluded before Bush ever announced his first run for governor way back in 1993,34 but the media resurrected the sale as a major potential scandal during Bush's presidency—Questions Remain; Unresolved Issues Exist; Doubts Linger! No questions ever linger around Democratic scandals because no questions are ever asked.
The Clinton White House's illegal possession of 900 FBI files on American citizens, Krugman called piffle. But a twenty-year-old investigation, which resulted in Bush's complete vindication by the SEC and which requires a bottle of NoDoz to follow—that was a major scandal.
The phony Halliburton scandal was that Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive from 1995 to 2000, which at the time was not considered a crime. But on May 22, 2002, the New York Times published a frantic story accusing Vice President Cheney of dark conspiracies involving minor accounting changes made at Halliburton back in 1998. In response to the article, the SEC launched an investigation.35
NOTE TO READERS: SKIP THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH IF YOU ARE OPERATING HEAVY MACHINERY, DRIVING, OR IF YOU ARE NOT PRESENTLY TAKING AMPHETAMINES: The accounting change concerned the fascinating issue of how Halliburton recorded cost overruns on long-term construction projects. Because of disputes with customers over the cost overruns, the expense might not ever be fully recouped … zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Oops, sorry! How long was I out? Anyway, following the practice used by most publicly traded construction companies, Halliburton claimed as income money that it expected to receive based on an estimate of how the cost-overrun disputes would be resolved, but which it had not yet received.
After a two-year investigation, the SEC concluded that the accounting change was fine but Halliburton erred in not telling investors about the change sooner. Halliburton settled the case for $7.5 million, a piddling amount of money for both the multibillion-dollar corporation and for the SEC, which settled another case that week for $150 million. Business columnists called it a “wrist slap.”36
The SEC found absolutely no wrongdoing by Cheney and promptly issued a statement saying Cheney had cooperated “willingly and fully.”37 But the indisputable proof that Cheney had been completely exonerated was that Paul Krugman never mentioned the settlement. He just waited a few months, hoping no one had seen the news, before renewing his demand that Cheney be “confront[ed] over Halliburton.”38
In another column, Krugman complained that the press was refusing to report the problems with Iraq and Afghanistan and the Bush tax cuts—allowing the president to revel in media glory! Only Bush's “initial triumphs,” Krugman said, “get all the headlines.” At this point, you could knock me over with a feather: I had no idea liberals had any complaints with the Iraq War or Bush's tax cuts!
A lonely voice in the wilderness, Krugman attacked the menace of tax cuts, saying, “I could demonstrate [their] irrelevance by going through an economic analysis”—but he decided against it. So in that case, Krugman was victimized by his own shoddy reporting.39
The truth was, Americans supported the president's policies, so Krugman concluded the media weren't doing their job. For Krugman, there were only two possibilities—either (1) Americans wanted to burn Bush at the stake or (2) the press wasn't doing its job. How about the third, most obvious, possibility? Maybe people grasped the facts but weren't indignant?
Krugman also detected pro-Bush media bias in the media's coverage of Alan Greenspan's testimony on the Bush tax cuts and Social Security privatization plan. Despite the total blackout from the pro-Bush media, Krugman said, Greenspan had offered “caveats and cautions” about Bush tax cuts in 2001. And yet, Krugman harrumphed, “the headlines trumpeted Mr. Greenspan's support.” Then when the Fed chairman expressed general support for privatizing Social Security in 2005, Krugman noted that he also “went on to concede that the opponents of privatization” also had some points. But again, liberals were screwed over by the pro-Bush media: “The headlines didn't emphasize his concession that crucial critiques of the Bush plan are right.”40
Liberals are like people with stale breath who keep talking to your face at a party making the same boring point. You try to back away, maybe offer them an Altoid, but then they start whimpering and claim you're being mean to them. If New York Times columnists think they can't get their message out because of media bias, it might be time to consider whether the problem is that no one is buying the message.
Some will say it's unfair to attack a columnist with only nine readers (two if you don't count those identified by ACORN). Fair enough. But someone has to speak up on behalf of wasted Internet space used to post Krugman's column—maybe two columns—that run over and over and over again under different headlines. Moreover, Krugman must be promoting his theory of liberal media bias around the newsroom, because there's an epidemic of liberal journalists attacking the media for covering up Republican scandals. Perhaps it's not just an epidemic. It could be a pandemic. Ask anyone if the media is biased in favor of Republicans—and by “anyone,” I mean Dennis Kucinich.
Another story that the mainstream media d
Rich, who became qualified to comment on U.S. foreign policy, national security, and presidential politics after spending a childhood dancing his favorite numbers from Oklahoma! in his mother's panties and then spending twelve years reviewing theater for the New York Times, attacked Gannon for not being a “real newsman.” Not only that, but, Rich breathlessly reported, there were “embarrassing blogosphere revelations linking [Gannon] to sites like hotmilitarystud.com and to an apparently promising career as an X-rated $200-per-hour ‘escort.’ ”42 In Rich's estimation, $200 an hour was way too much to pay a male escort who wasn't Latino. Now, if there's anybody in this world who knows what a real man is, it's Frank Rich. But as for knowing what a real newsman is, that's another story.
Since he brought it up, let's compare the Jeff Gannon and Eason Jordan scandals in terms of newsworthiness. The big contretemps with Gannon was that he had supposedly operated a gay escort service, thereby cutting into the business of the Village Voice. Also—and this was the crux of the matter—Gannon was a Republican. Liberals think gay men should be Boy Scout troop leaders but are outraged that a gay man could be a Republican.
Apart from the media's lurid obsession with outing gay Republicans, this was a tough one to turn into a really big scandal inasmuch as, until liberals started attacking him, no one had heard of Jeff Gannon. But showing the industry and determination that gave us the famed reportage of Jayson Blair, the mainstream media claimed that Gannon was a White House plant. Times columnist Maureen Dowd, for example, griped that she had been rejected for a White House press pass “but someone with an alias, a tax evasion problem and Internet pictures where he posed like the ‘Barberini Faun’ is credentialed.”
If there's one thing Democrats are sticklers about, it's who gets into the White House. During the Clinton years, for example, you had to show press credentials, government-issued photo ID, or a thong. No exceptions!
The truth was, Dowd had been turned down for a permanent press pass. Gannon only had a daily pass, which virtually anyone can get, even New York Times fantasists. A daily pass and a permanent pass are altogether different animals. Editors at the Talon News Service probably would have caught an error like that.
The media's other excuse for leering over Gannon's apparent homosexuality was, as MSNBC's David Shuster put it, “the phony alias” he had used “to play journalist.” You can tell Shuster is a crack-erjack journalist because he uses phrases like “phony alias.”
Democrats in Congress actually demanded an investigation into how Gannon got into White House press conferences while writing under a pseudonym. Next up: Major investigations into the pen names of Wolf Blitzer (Ze'ev Barak), Bill Clinton (Billy Blythe), Geraldo Rivera (Gerald Rivera), Gary Hart (Gary Hartpence), John Kerry (John Kohn), Larry King (Larry Zeigler), George Orwell (Eric Blair), Michael Savage (Michael Weiner), and Randi Rhodes (it must be a doozy!)
Congressional Democrats also called on independent prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate Gannon. They claimed he was given access to classified information from sources within the government, which I believe would make Gannon what we used to call “a reporter.” As one New York Times article on the fake Gannon scandal said, “Two Democrats in Congress are pressing for investigations into how a Washington reporter who used a pseudonym managed to gain access to the White House and had access to classified documents that named Valerie Plame as a C.I.A. operative.”
This was a nutty claim circulating on the left-wing blogs, which the Times had apparently lifted without one iota of independent investigation.43 It turned out Gannon's suspect references to classified material came from documents that had been printed in the Wall Street Journal weeks earlier. Democrats in Congress were demanding that the independent counsel investigate how Jeff Gannon managed to get his hands on information that millions of people had already read in the Journal.44 We're working on a number of different theories, but the most promising scenario so far is “bought a copy at a newsstand.”
Once the smoke had cleared from the media hate campaign against Gannon, Gannon's only remaining offense was that he might be gay. Gannon didn't write about gays. No “hypocrisy” was being unveiled. He wasn't caught in Central Park at 3:40 A.M. with a rope tied from his neck to his genitals and methamphetamine in his pocket, as a certain CNN journalist was in 2008.45 The entire scandal that Frank Rich complained was not getting enough attention was that Gannon was a gay Republican. (Because if there's one thing Frank Rich can't abide, it's a gay man who's too scared to come out of the closet.)
The episode with Eason Jordan, chief news executive at CNN was arguably a bigger story. On January 27, 2005, in front of an international audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jordan made the astonishing assertion that the U.S. military was targeting journalists for assassination. Jordan's remarks drew gasps from the crowd—and slaps on the back from the anti-American Europeans and Middle Easterners.
This incident, which Rich said sparked a “media frenzy,” was not reported at the time by the New York Times.
On February 1, 2005, after a number of conservative blogs picked up on the story, CNN issued the following statement, defending Jordan:
Many blogs have taken Mr. Jordan's remarks out of context. Eason Jordan does not believe the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists. Mr. Jordan simply pointed out the facts: While the majority of journalists killed in Iraq have been slain at the hands of insurgents, the Pentagon has also noted that the U.S. military on occasion has killed people who turned out to be journalists. The Pentagon has apologized for those actions.
Mr. Jordan was responding to an assertion by Cong. Frank that all 63 journalist victims had been the result of “collateral damage.”46
The CNN statement did not bestir the New York Times to report the burgeoning scandal. In the Times's defense, the newsroom was gearing up for its usual wall-to-wall National Gay Valentines Day coverage at this point.
Jordan issued his own statement, saying, “I have never once in my life thought anyone from the U.S. military tried to kill a journalist. Never meant to suggest that.” He added, “Obviously I wasn't as clear as I should have been on that panel.”47
The New York Times still did not report the story. Perhaps Times reporters were hot on the story of another all-male golf club somewhere in America.
The statements from both CNN and Jordan quickly became inoperative as various people who were present at the Davos panel gave accounts at odds with Jordan's version.
Liberal Democrat Barney Frank, who was on the panel with Jordan, said he was “agog” at Jordan's remarks48 suggesting that “it was official military policy to take out journalists.”49 Frank said he had asked Jordan “to basically clarify the remarks. Did he have proof and if so, why hadn't CNN run with the story?”50 According to Frank, Jordan then “modified” his statement to say that it was only some U.S. soldiers, “maybe knowing they were killing journalists, out of anger.”51
Jordan had described one particular case in which American troops imprisoned an Al Jazeera reporter, taunting him as “al Jazeera–boy” and forcing him to eat his shoes. A producer for Al Jazeera later denied the story.52 This is what's known in the news business as a story “unraveling.”
When Frank got home from Davos, he called Jordan, asking for more information and offering to hold a congressional investigation if there was any truth to the allegations. Frank said he never heard back from Jordan.53
Guess whether the New York Times reported the Eason Jordan story yet. No, but this time it was possibly owing to an important break in the Harken Energy scandal that week: Still No Proof of Bush Wrongdoing. Folks, a newspaper is only so big. I mean, whe
David Gergen, a longtime friend of Jordan's who had moderated the Davos panel, said he, too, had been “startled” by Jordan's claim and had also immediately asked him to clarify his remarks. Jordan began to speculate, so Gergen decided to shut the panel down because “the military and the government weren't there to defend themselves.”54 Again the Times did not run with the story.
Democratic senator Chris Dodd, who had been in the audience, had his office release a statement saying that he, “like panelists Mr. Gergen and Mr. Frank—was outraged by the comments. Senator Dodd is tremendously proud of the sacrifice and service of our American military personnel.”55
The New York Times still did not report the story. Even I will admit, at this point, the Times’s silence was starting to look fishy.
On February 11, 2005, Jordan resigned from CNN “to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy.”56
At long last, the New York Times reported on Eason Jordan's remarks at Davos in a demure Business section article explaining why he was resigning after twenty-three years at CNN. The Times was not alone in refusing to sully its pages by mentioning the mushrooming scandal engulfing CNN's chief news executive. A major player in American news had accused the U.S. military of intentionally killing journalists. But apart from opinion columns and enraged letters to the editor, that was considered newsworthy by fewer than a dozen U.S. newspapers.57