Reality Checks

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, September 17, 2004; 11:04 AM

To hear President Bush yesterday, things are looking up in Iraq, democracy is in full bloom in Afghanistan, and Sen. John F. Kerry wants to nationalize health care.

But today's media coverage suggests otherwise.

How Are Things in Iraq?

Reporters saw no sign yesterday that a new classified intelligence report predicting serious troubles ahead for Iraq has made any impression on President Bush.

Dana Priest and Jim VandeHei write in The Washington Post: "The White House, which had planned a vigorous election-season defense of its Iraq strategy next week, was forced into the debate yesterday. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the intelligence assessment 'states the obvious,' and he dismissed skeptics of the Iraq policy as 'pessimists and naysayers.' Bush, at a campaign stop, repeated his generally upbeat assessment of Iraq: 'Freedom is on the march.' . . .

"The president, whom polls show a majority of Americans trust more than Kerry to handle Iraq, talks frequently of how the United States is 'making progress' stabilizing the war-torn nation and setting the stage for its first democratic elections in January. Democrats point out that Bush rarely, if ever, talks about casualties, the spread of terrorism, kidnappings and beheadings, and the strength of anti-American insurgents in and around Baghdad. Instead, Bush focuses on steady resolve and the broader war on terrorism.

"Bush did not mention the intelligence estimate -- first reported Wednesday by the New York Times -- as he made three campaign appearances in Minnesota yesterday. But he again emphasized progress."

Tyler Marshall writes in the Los Angeles Times: "A combination of escalating bloodshed, gloomy assessments and deteriorating security conditions in Iraq are challenging the Bush administration's upbeat view of the struggle to establish democracy in the beleaguered Middle East nation.

"A growing sense of unease is visible among Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress as bombings and kidnappings continue to rise along with the death toll."

John King told Aaron Brown on CNN: "This president somehow manages to keep the upper hand in a political debate over Iraq that even many Republicans now concede this incumbent president should not be winning."

Powell Comes to the Defense

David R. Sands writes in the Washington Times: "Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday expressed strong disapproval of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's description of the U.S.-led war in Iraq as illegal, saying the comment was 'not a very useful statement to make at this point.' "

And Powell has an op-ed about Iraq in USA Today this morning: "Is success guaranteed? No. Is it going to be dangerous? Yes. But now is not the time to be faint of heart. Our task is important, and America will stay the course to see a free, peaceful and democratic Iraq."

How About Afghanistan?

David Brunnstrom reports from Kabul for Reuters: "At a campaign rally in Minnesota, President Bush hailed democratic progress in Afghanistan and plans for presidential elections next month as 'unbelievable.'

"Thousands of miles away in Afghanistan itself, security experts, independent analysts and candidates are equally amazed that the polls will go ahead on Oct. 9, in spite of insecurity and few guarantees that the vote will be free and fair.

"If anything were needed to stress the threat by Taliban and allied Islamic militants to derail the vote, it came shortly before Bush spoke on Thursday, when U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai survived an assassination bid in the city of Gardez."

On Health Care

Richard W. Stevenson and Robin Toner write in the New York Times: "Using terms reminiscent of Republican attacks on President Bill Clinton's ill-fated effort to reshape the health care system a decade ago, President Bush attacked Senator John Kerry's health care proposal on Thursday, saying 'it's a plan that is massive and it's big, and it puts the government in control of health care.'

"Mr. Bush's critique won applause from Republicans as he campaigned through Minnesota, a once reliably Democratic state that polls suggest is up for grabs in November. But his words drew a sharp rebuttal from the Kerry campaign, which said Mr. Bush was deliberately misrepresenting Mr. Kerry's plan, and from some independent analysts, who said the White House had little basis for its suggestion that Mr. Kerry was seeking to nationalize health care."

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post that the trip "inaugurated a major push to spend more time and money in opposition territory. . . .

"Bush is breaking a months-long pattern and going for a two-week stretch with no trips to the classic swing states of Ohio, Missouri or West Virginia. Instead, he is traveling to the Gore states of Minnesota and Wisconsin for events focusing on health care, education and women's issues."

Judy Keen writes in USA Today: "During a bus tour of Minnesota on Thursday, Bush exuded self-assurance. At a roundtable discussion on health care at a sports arena in Blaine, he prowled the stage with the sleeves of his blue shirt rolled up and a grin on his face. . . .

"Bush was peppy when he popped into the Brick House Deli in Anoka, mugged for cameras with owner Angel Howell's 8-month-old daughter, Kate Lynn, and ordered an egg salad sandwich. 'Fire one up,' he said. He settled for chicken salad when he was told egg salad wasn't on the menu."

Lawrence Schumacher writes in the St. Cloud Times News: "The faithful who heard President Bush's 'with me or against me' campaign speech Thursday at Dick Putz Field knew exactly which side they chose.

" 'I vote for Mr. Bush because he does everything he feels,' said Toan Q. Tran, a Vietnam veteran from Vietnam who saw the first presidential visit in St. Cloud's history."

Jim Ragsdale, Bill Salisbury and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger write in the St. Paul Pioneer Press: "Bush's references to 'the culture of life' and to the role of marriage -- allusions to his opposition to abortion and support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- produced a huge cheer in St. Cloud, a culturally conservative bastion."

Here's the text of Bush's speeches in St. Cloud, Blaine and Rochester.

No Questions

From yesterday's press gaggle.

"Q Scott, the President hasn't taken questions from the press in a number of days now. It seems like an unusually long stretch for him, he usually tries to do a pool spray every few days. Will he be talking to us soon? And why the --

"MR. McCLELLAN: It's something we always look at and consider. We always look at opportunities for the President to take questions. We're in the process of looking at some interviews, one that we're finalizing up now. There are a lot of different ways the President takes questions. He tends to take questions on a regular basis. Obviously, we've been through a pretty hectic period, with the Republican National Convention and the post-convention travel period, where he's been talking directly to the American people about his agenda.

"But it's something we're always looking at and considering opportunities for him to take questions. . . .

"Q The question simply is, why the change? Why isn't he talking to us?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I just pointed out that we've been through a very hectic period with the Republican National Convention and the post-convention travel period, where he's been talking directly to the American people about his agenda. Obviously, we're coming into the heat of the campaign and the President is reaching out to the American people to talk to them about his agenda. There are different formats he's doing that in and -- but, certainly, I hear what you're saying, as well and that's something we're always taking a look at and considering."

Any guesses what McClellan meant by "different formats"? Has he been reading Doonesbury?

Meanwhile, starved for answers, one member of the press corps spoke up during Bush's photo-op visit to that Minnesota deli. "What's the biggest threat to the world today?" Bush was asked. The pool report notes that Bush "did not respond in any way."

Plame Watch

Adam Liptak and Robert Pear write in the New York Times: "A federal district judge in Washington has ordered a reporter for The New York Times to testify before a grand jury investigating the disclosure of the identity of a covert C.I.A. officer.

"In a decision dated Sept. 9 and released yesterday, the judge, Thomas F. Hogan, said the reporter, Judith Miller, must describe any conversations she had with 'a specified executive branch official.' The judge said Ms. Miller had received subpoenas issued by a special prosecutor investigating 'the potentially illegal disclosure of the identity of C.I.A. official Valerie Plame.' "

Here's the text of the opinion.

Hogan writes: "Although Ms. Miller never wrote an article about Ambassador Joseph Wilson or his wife Valerie Plame, she contemplated writing one."

And, he writes: "The information requested from Ms. Miller is very limited, all available means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony is necessary for the completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt."

Liptak and Pear also note: "Some federal officials who spoke to reporters about Ms. Plame have apparently signed forms releasing the journalists from any pledges of confidentiality.

"Mr. Freeman, the Times Company lawyer, said: 'Our understanding is that the consent was coerced and that government employees could have been fired if they did not sign the forms. So those waivers do not affect the essence of the confidential relationship between reporter and source.' "

That's the first I've heard of anyone signing releases. Perhaps we'll hear more soon.

Poll Watch

Susan Page writes in USA Today: "President Bush has surged to a 13-point lead over Sen. John Kerry among likely voters, a new Gallup Poll shows."

Here are the results of the poll, which shows Bush's approval rating at 52 percent.

But the Pew Research Center reports that its "polling this past week finds that Bush's edge over his Democratic rival has eroded."

Confused? Join the club.


Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times: "A new report on Iraq's illicit weapons program is expected to conclude that Saddam Hussein's government had a clear intent to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons if United Nations sanctions were lifted, government officials said Thursday. But, like earlier reports, it finds no evidence that Iraq had begun any large-scale program for weapons production by the time of the American invasion last year, the officials said. . . .

"President Bush, who has said Iraq posed a threat to the world whether or not it possessed illicit weapons, will probably draw attention to the conclusion that Mr. Hussein sought to acquire illicit weapons. His political opponent, Senator John Kerry, who has accused Mr. Bush of misleading the country into war, will probably highlight the conclusion that Iraq had not begun a large-scale production program."

More Guard Records Coming?

Matt Kelley writes for the Associated Press: "A federal judge has ordered the Pentagon to find and make public by next week any unreleased files about President Bush's Vietnam-era Air National Guard service to resolve a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The Associated Press.

"U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. handed down the order late Wednesday in New York. The AP lawsuit already has led to the disclosure of previously unreleased flight logs from Bush's days piloting F-102A fighters and other jets.

"Pentagon officials told Baer they plan to have their search complete by Monday. Baer ordered the Pentagon to hand over the records to the AP by Sept. 24 and provide a written statement by Sept. 29 detailing the search for more records."


Sylvia Moreno writes in The Washington Post about Bill Burkett, who has been named in news reports as a possible source of the disputed "60 Minutes" documents.

Burkett, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard, told several reporters last winter "that he believes Bush aides ordered the destruction of portions of the president's National Guard record because they might have been politically embarrassing."

Michael Hedges writes in the Houston Chronicle: "Bill Burkett, who has emerged as a possible CBS source for disputed memos about President Bush's Guard service, has a long history of making charges against Bush and the Texas National Guard."

Bill Sammon writes in the Washington Times: "The White House yesterday slammed CBS anchorman Dan Rather for offering President Bush campaign advice and for relying on the 'feelings' of a Bush critic to impugn his military record.

"Ending a weeklong reluctance to wade into the debate over whether Mr. Rather used forged documents to criticize Mr. Bush's service in the National Guard, White House press secretary Scott McClellan adopted a more aggressive stance yesterday."

Kelley Shannon writes for the Associated Press: "A former Texas Air National Guard official who served at the same time as President Bush says he believes the bigger story about gaps in Bush's service is being overlooked in disputes over the validity of certain Guard documents. "

Today's Calendar

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush is dusting off his fund-raiser-in-chief hat and resuming the task of collecting campaign cash for himself and other Republican candidates. . . .

"Bush [attends] a Republican Party fund-raiser at a Washington hotel before another at the Charlotte, N.C., home of C.D. Spangler Jr., a retired banker and former president of the University of North Carolina system. "

In between, Bush will hold an event to talk about the benefits to women of his policies on comp time, job training, welfare-to-work, medical malpractice lawsuits and other issues.

Bush then heads to his family's compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, for the weekend.

"He leaves Sunday to visit hurricane-ravaged Alabama and Florida before returning to Washington.

"The hastily arranged Gulf Coast visit forced aides to shelve plans for Bush to attend a NASCAR race and campaign event in New Hampshire on Sunday. The campaign event in Derry, N.H., is now scheduled for Monday."

Intel Watch

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "The White House submitted to Congress on Thursday its proposed version of legislation to establish the job of a powerful national intelligence director, calling for the spy czar to have somewhat less power than some lawmakers and members of the independent Sept. 11 commission had hoped."

Protester Watch

Adam Nichols writes in the New York Daily News: "The angry mother of a soldier killed in Iraq was cuffed and arrested yesterday after demanding to know from First Lady Laura Bush why her daughters weren't serving in the war.

"Sue Niederer, 55, of Hopewell, N.J., interrupted a campaign speech by the First Lady while wearing a T-shirt with the words 'President Bush You Killed My Son.' "

"She was charged with trespassing as she spoke to reporters after leaving the rally in a firehouse in Hamilton, N.J."

Jackie Calmes notes in the Wall Street Journal: "The official White House transcript of the speech notes applause 39 times, laughter once and four chants of 'Four more years,' but not the interruption.

Protester Watch, II

Bloggers of the pro-Bush persuasion, including Instapundit, have been furiously linking since last night to this photo, showing three-year-old Sophia Parlock crying while seated on the shoulders of her father, Phil Parlock, after having their Bush-Cheney sign torn up by Kerry-Edwards supporters in West Virginia.

But now, anti-Bush blogger Atrios, himself reproducing a post from Rising Hegemon, points out that Parlock has something of a history. "Amazingly, for the past three presidential elections he's managed to convince reporters that he's gotten attacked and gotten his signs stolen and destroyed. What are the odds?"

© 2004