Fred Hiatt’s Most Shameful Moment

I’ve basically been at the point where very little that shows up in The Washington Post, especially on the Op-Ed page, surprises me anymore. I’m not really sure how Fred Hiatt views his job responsibilities, but it’s been clear for some time that the practical impact of whatever it is Hiatt thinks is that conservatives can expect to tell pretty much any lie they want and have it published by Hiatt. That extends to regular columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer, and to guest submissions from Repulican politicians like Sarah Palin and Sen. Lamar Alexander. I imagine that Hiatt views this as “presenting all sides,” but of course all that is doing is muddying the waters for the readers, especially when the writers are telling verifiable lies. Whatever it may be, the Post has not been a publication primarily concerned with informing its readers for quite some time.

But when Hiatt actually hired Marc Thiessen to write a weekly column, I suspected Thiessen would actually find a way to drag the paper lower. Thiessen is a former Defense Department speechwriter whose only real claim to fame is having written an entire book vociferously defending the use of torture. Indeed, Thiessen is the guy who argued that torturing Muslim detainees was absolutely necessary so that they could achieve compliance with their religious beliefs in talking to interrogators. Thiessen’s premise has been the subject of fierce push back from actual Army interrogators, but he’s a moral monster who likes the idea of being able to brutalize people, if only by proxy, so of course that doesn’t make much difference. Before being hired by Hiatt, Thiessen’s most prominent interaction with the Post was taking to its pages to claim that the waterboarding of Khalid Mohammed had thwarted the plot to bomb the Library Tower, even though that plot had been foiled before KSM was even captured, a fact that was noted by The Washington Post’s sister publication, Slate. This, of course, hasn’t stopped Thiessen from repeating the claim.

Today, however, Thiessen and Hiatt have outdone themselves with what may be the most despicable thing I’ve ever seen run in a major newspaper. Thiessen is defending Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol’s attack on Justice Department lawyers who had represented suspected terrorists detainees in the past, a position that basically no one in the conservative legal community has yet stood behind. Here’s Thiessen:

Would most Americans want to know if the Justice Department had hired a bunch of mob lawyers and put them in charge of mob cases? Or a group of drug cartel lawyers and put them in charge of drug cases? Would they want their elected representatives to find out who these lawyers were, which mob bosses and drug lords they had worked for, and what roles they were now playing at the Justice Department? Of course they would — and rightly so.

So right off the bat, we already have a mischaracterization. “Mob lawyers” are most often members of the criminal organization themselves, albeit somewhat at a distance. They aid and abet the operation’s illegal activity, and are actively sympathetic to the business. So right at the outset, Thiessen is constructing a comparison designed to make the reader think of the lawyers as actively sympathetic to terrorists, something, incidentally, that even Cheney and Kristol won’t openly claim they’re doing.

Yet Attorney General Eric Holder hired former al-Qaeda lawyers to serve in the Justice Department and resisted providing Congress this basic information.

Again, Thiessen chooses to call the attorneys “al Qaeda lawyers” instead of “lawyers who represented suspects,” in order to plant the impression of people actively working for al Qaeda, as opposed to lawyers fulfilling what they believe to be a civic duty to provide a defense for the accused.

Yet for raising questions, Cheney and the Republican senators have been vilified. Former Clinton Justice Department official Walter Dellinger decried the “shameful” personal attacks on “these fine lawyers,” while numerous commentators leveled charges of “McCarthyism.”

Of course, what Thiessen doesn’t note is that the condemnation of Cheney and Keep America Safe has been basically universal, with such noted liberal luminaries as Ted Olsen and Ken Starr leading the pitchforked mob. The response to Cheney has not been one of partisan rancor, but rather legal professionals of all political persuasions responding to an attack on fundamental principles of their profession and the American legal system.

Where was the moral outrage when fine lawyers like John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Jim Haynes, Steve Bradbury and others came under vicious personal attack? Their critics did not demand simple transparency; they demanded heads. They called these individuals “war criminals” and sought to have them fired, disbarred, impeached and even jailed.

This is where the column really goes off the rails, because while Thiessen is very good at selecting his words and rhetorical framing (he isa speechwriter, after all), the fact that he’s looking for a ridiculous premise at the outset leaves him grasping for a comparison that is just so self-evidently absurd that any self-respecting, non-propaganda outfit would have squashed this column immediately. To wit, it should be clear that there’s absolutely nothing similar about the accusations Liz Cheney is directing at the attornies in question and what Yoo, Bybee, & co. did. Cheney is asserting that, because an attorney represented a detainee accused of a certain crime, that must mean that they’re sympathetic to those people and the cause of which they’re accused, and therefore we can’t trust them to hold jobs in the Justice Department. Yoo, Bybee, etc., on the other hand, are accused of actually breaking the law in facilitating and implementing the use of torture. Calling this an apples to oranges comparison would be giving it too much credit.

Some defenders say al-Qaeda lawyers are simply following a great American tradition, in which everyone gets a lawyer and their day in court. Not so, says Andy McCarthy, the former assistant U.S. attorney who put Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind sheik,” behind bars for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

And this is the giveaway. Whatever McCarthy may have to say, that Thiessen has chosen to quote him and describe him in this manner exposes the column as abject dishonesty, propagand in its most undiluted form. For one thing, there’s the fact that McCarthy is a raving lunatic, birther, and all around radical too extreme even for Rich Lowry and most of the other writers at The Corner to stand. But even more basic than that, McCarthy is the originator of the “al Qaeda seven” attack. For Thiessen not to disclose that, and especially to paint McCarthy as simply some sort of detached expert on the question, is an indescribale breach of ethics, a blatant attempt to mislead, not persuade, readers, and so unbelievably ham-fisted and obvious that I can’t believe for a second that no one at the Post noticed it.

The entire column is nothing but a string of lies, false equivalencies, and misrepresentations. Thiessen quite transparently wrote this with the intent of misleading the reader. There’s simply no other way anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes following the issues in question could interpret the article without straining credulity to the max. It also, I should hope, represents a low point, thus far, in the moral degeneration of the Post. And at this point, I think we can safely say that the Post is into the territory heretofor occupied by The New Republic; where the overall direction of the publication’s management begins to tain everyone involved in the publication. In the same way I feel that Jon Cohn, Jon Chait, Michelle Cottle, and the other wonderful writers at TNR nonetheless have to carry the stain of working for Marty Peretz, at this point Ezra Klein, Steve Pearlstein, Eugene Robinson, and any other decent employee of The Washington Post nevertheless has to live with the stain of association with Fred Hiatt, Marc Thiessen, Charles Krauthammer, etc, so long as they accept a paycheck from Kaplan.

Greenwald has more.

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