Screeching and mashing bananas: Banana republics are often fueled by the things which don’t get said.
Last evening, Wolf Blitzer didn’t speak up when two of his guests made obvious misstatements. This morning, Scott Shane didn’t list the (frequently crazy) accusations still being made against Rice.
Yesterday, Maureen Dowd did. Dowd had spoken to Susan Collins, the deeply troubled Republican senator from Maine who is up for re-election, not that that matters a whit. According to Dowd, Collins had a list of questions which had her troubled in mind.
In this passage, Dowd described Collins’ first question:
DOWD (11/218/12): Collins drew up a list of questions to ask Rice at their one-on-one hourlong meeting slated for Wednesday. She wants Rice to explain how she could promote a story “with such certitude” about a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Muslim video that was so at odds with the classified information to which the ambassador had access. (It was also at odds with common sense, given that there were Al Qaeda sympathizers among the rebel army members that overthrew Muammar el-Qaddafi with help from the U.S.—an intervention advocated by Rice—and Islamic extremist training camps in the Benghazi area.)Already, Dowd was making little sense. In fairness to Dowd, it's amazing to see how much confusion can be crammed into just one paragraph.
That passage is puzzling in various ways. Banana republics are like that.
Before we consider Collins’ first question, was Maureen Dowd herself making sense in that passage? According to Dowd, Rice’s story on September 16 had been “at odds with common sense,” since there were “Islamic extremist training camps in the Benghazi area.”
But Rice had used that very word—“extremists”—to describe the people who launched the attack. Meanwhile, why wouldn’t “al Qaeda sympathizers” take part in a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Muslim video?
On the day of the Benghazi attack, al Qaeda sympathizers were taking part in such demonstrations all over the Muslim world.
Alas! That single paragraph by Dowd is loaded with claims and implications which are hard to parse, make little sense and stand unsupported by evidence. But let’s try to get back to the list of questions which had Susan Collins so troubled.
Did the senator’s first question make sense? Here it is, as described by Dowd:
She wants Rice to explain how she could promote a story “with such certitude” about a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Muslim video that was so at odds with the classified information to which the ambassador had access.
Question: Was the story Rice told on September 16 “at odds with the classified information to which the ambassador had access?” Dowd made no attempt to explain what that claim means. What was the classified information which contradicted the ambassador’s story?
Dowd made no attempt to say. We were asked to buy this on faith.
At any rate: As we noted yesterday, this first question from Collins doesn’t seem to make sense. When Rice appeared on those Sunday shows, she spoke with almost no “certitude” about the Benghazi attack. Again and again, she said her assessments were preliminary—that she was waiting for the full investigation.
Dowd didn’t seem to know that. She simply accepted this hackneyed script from the troubled Collins. She bought this bullshit on faith.
Did that first question from Collins make sense? As presented by Dowd, it pretty much didn’t. But Dowd eats bananas for all three meals. She moved to Collins’ next question:
DOWD (continuing directly): The F.B.I. interviewed survivors of the attack in Germany and, according to some senators, had done most of the interviews of those on site by Sept. 15, the day before Rice went on TV, and established that there was no protest. Collins wants to learn if the F.B.I. had failed to communicate that, or if they had communicated it and Rice went ahead anyway?Had Rice been told there was no demonstration? That’s a perfectly valid question. But note how weak the evidence is suggesting that Rice had been told.
“According to some senators”—now there’s a very weak standard of proof!—the FBI had done most of the relevant interviews by September 15.
Uh-oh! That means that the relevant interviews were still being conducted as Rice went on air. Why would we think that the FBI had even formulated its conclusion by that time, let alone sent it to Rice?
Collins’ third question was the dumbest one yet. The question is so dumb it squeaks. But banana mashers aren’t able to notice. If they noticed, they wouldn’t care:
DOWD (continuing directly): When Rice heard the president of the Libyan National Congress tell Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation,” right before her appearance, that 50 people had been arrested who were either foreign or affiliated with or sympathized with Al Qaeda, why did she push back with the video story? “Why wouldn’t she think what the Libyan president said mattered?” Collins wondered.At this point, decent folk will avert their gaze from the manifest dumbness of Collins (and Dowd). That quotation from Collins is dumb beyond dumb, but its sentiment can be answered:
Why didn’t Rice agree with what the Libyan president said? Perhaps because his statements didn’t agree with the state of U.S. intelligence? Perhaps because U.S. intelligence still doesn’t seem to agree with his claims? (For more on this topic, see our next post.)
She should have agreed with the Libyan president! This has been the dumbest complaint against Ambassador Rice from the start. But Maureen Dowd was happy to type it, along with this account of Collin’s fourth question:
DOWD (continuing directly): Why did Rice say on ABC News’s “This Week,” that “two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security”? Rice was referring to the two ex-Navy SEAL team members who were C.I.A. security officers working on a base about a mile away. “They weren’t there to protect Ambassador Stevens,” Collins said. “That wasn’t their job.”There are very few words for the soul-crushing dumbness of that. Why did Rice say that “two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security?” Perhaps because two of the four Americans who were killed were there providing security? It’s true—the two men weren’t there to protect Ambassador Stevens. But as you can see just from reading Dowd’s paragraph, that isn’t what Rice said.
In fairness to Collins, there is no transcript of her session with Dowd. It may be that her remarks made more sense before they went through the soul-crushing process of being reworked by Dowd. In fairness, we can imagine Collins’ consternation as Dowd leaped from bar to bar inside her cage at the Times, cramming bananas into her ears and her mouth, screeching loudly and baring her teeth at each new accusation.
We’ll guess that Collins maintained a brave front in the face of this puzzling conduct by Dowd. But we are here to judge the press—and Dowd’s column about this important subject makes almost no sense at all.
Reading Dowd’s column, you get this picture of Collins’ heartfelt concerns:
She wants to know why Rice spoke “with such certitude”—although Rice expressed almost no certitude on those Sunday programs.
She wants to know if Rice had been told that there was no demonstration—although she seems to have no evidence that Rice had been so told.
She wants to know why Rice didn’t accept the claims of the Libyan president. (The answer to that is blindingly obvious.) She wants to know why Rice made an accurate statement about two of the men who were killed.
What does it mean to have a banana republic press corps? Dowd is very influential—she has been so for many years. She’s also a visible basket case—although members of the guild will never betray this knowledge.
That column by Dowd is a screeching mess. She went over her own cliff a long time ago.
Inside a banana republic, careerists agree not to see such things. Regular people will read Dowd's columns and imagine that they make sense.
Next: The Libyan president