The boys on the plane and the sumptuous banquet: In this morning’s Washington Post, three scribes pen a front-page report about Bill Clinton’s deeply disturbing trip to Kazakhstan in 2005.
This new report may help us see the way our “press corps” works.
Ever so slowly, many years later, basic facts may emerge, or may seem to emerge, as the scribblers in our press corps keep telling their stories and tales. In this morning's report, this is the way the Post describes that famous ride on Frank Giustra’s jet—the famously luxurious jet Bill Clinton was supposed to have ridden in on.
Also, that sumptuous banquet, which takes on a different character as described by the Post:
HAMBURGER (5/4/15): In one case, [Giustra] finalized a massive transaction to buy uranium mines in Kazakhstan days after dining with that nation’s president, along with [Bill] Clinton and about 50 other guests.“The connection was first reported in 2008 by the New York Times?” Yes, it was—apparently, incorrectly!
Giustra had flown there days before Bill Clinton’s arrival, and the transaction received preliminary approval days after Clinton left—provoking questions about whether Clinton had assisted. The connection was first reported in 2008 by the New York Times.
Ever so slowly, basic facts may emerge, or may seem to emerge, in the press corps’ stories and tales. In this morning’s news report, the Post asserts that Giustra flew to Kazakhstan back in 2005 “days before Clinton’s arrival.”
That isn’t what the Times reported back in 2008. We were also struck by the Post’s account of the dinner the two men attended—a dinner which, according to the Post, was attended by fifty other guests!
That isn’t the way the story worked when “the connection was first reported in 2008 by the New York Times.” At that time, the story was larded with insinuations, based in part upon the idea that Clinton and his hapless friend jetted into Kazakhstan together looking to score a deal.
Below, you see the way Jo Becker started her original front-page report in the Times—a sprawling report which was, as we told you last week, a rather obvious, undisguised type of fairy tale:
BECKER (1/31/08): Late on Sept. 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra touched down in Almaty, a ruggedly picturesque city in southeast Kazakhstan. Several hundred miles to the west a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them.From that breathless story-telling, would a reader have dreamed that fifty other guests were present at the “sumptuous midnight banquet” to which the boys were “whisked away” upon the arrival of the jet plane they didn’t take together?
Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.
Upon landing on the first stop of a three-country philanthropic tour, the two men were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.
Mr. Nazarbayev walked away from the table with a propaganda coup, after Mr. Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader's bid to head an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy. Mr. Clinton's public declaration undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan's poor human rights record by, among others, Mr. Clinton's wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
Within two days, corporate records show that Mr. Giustra also came up a winner when his company signed preliminary agreements giving it the right to buy into three uranium projects controlled by Kazakhstan's state-owned uranium agency, Kazatomprom.
Using the skills of a Arabian story-teller, Becker made that midnight banquet sound like something it apparently wasn’t. Beyond that, it increasingly seems that Becker was simply wrong about her tale of the boys on the jet—a tale which heightened the sense that Clinton had swung the uranium deal, not his hapless friend.
Everybody makes mistakes, of course. In this case, Becker’s apparent mistake about the plane ride helped her pimp a tale she seemed eager to tell.
After that, ohourgod:
In January 2009, Becker’s apparent mistake was contradicted by Forbes, a rather well-known entity. But so what? Two weeks ago, she published a front-page “bombshell report.”
In that report, she simply put the two boys on the luxurious jet again!
Howard Dean’s suspicions were right about that “bombshell report.” Along with her original monstrosity in 2008, Becker’s “bombshell report” should be taught in journalism classes as an example of “sloppy,” or perhaps corrupted, pseudo-journalism.
In terms of its literary form, her original report was fairy tale all the way down—it was silly, targeted story-telling rather than news reporting. And good God! Two weeks ago, she was so clueless or insouciant that she simply repeated a factual claim which had been contradicted six long years before.
The apparent error about the jet plane is the smallest part of the apparent bad faith in the recent “bombshell report.” But ever so slowly, the facts may emerge, or may seem to emerge, when the guild keeps telling a story it likes.
Is the Washington Post correct in its account of the plane trip that wasn’t? We still can’t exactly tell you that! As we’ve long told you, actual facts play almost no role in the work of the “mainstream press corps.”
That said, the Times has now been contradicted by two major orgs about a factual claim it keeps using to pimp an insinuation. That said, does anyone think, for even a minute, that anyone is going to ask the Times to confirm or deny or perhaps correct its repeated claim?
And by the way:
Was the sumptuous midnight banquet really held at midnight? Sabrina Erdely invented all kinds of stupid shit to pimp her tale for Rolling Stone. Can you think of a reason to assume that the horrible Becker didn’t?
In many ways, Becker’s “bombshell report” bears the scent of Rolling Stone. She seems to have interviewed no one, and checked few facts, as she constructed her tale. The quality of her bombshell report is really defined by the reams of information she chose to ignore or omit, thereby driving the insinuations at the heart of her tale.
Back in 2008, her original news report was a third-grade web of insinuation. Her new “bombshell report” is every bit as bad.
Joining Forbes, the Washington Post has now contradicted that insinuation-laden “boys on the plane” assertion. Our prediction, reached at a 2 A.M. happy hour:
At the glorious New York Times, no one is going to care!