Thursday, January 05, 2006

David Ignatius on David Addington, special to Whatever Already!

A columnist who reports?! Is there such a species anymore?

David Ignatius devotes his entire column in a certain major newspaper to David Addington, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. In the process, David breaks more new ground on Cheney's office in a single column than the entire national reporting staff of the Washington Post had over the course of the last several months. And, although I am loathe to admit, has a lot of new, interesting stuff that even this blogger has missed in reporting this story during his day job.

The column is reproduced in its entirety below, copyright be damned!

Cheney's Cheney, By David Ignatius
Special to Whatever Already!

Who is David Addington? The simple answer is that he's Vice President Cheney's former legal counsel and, since the indictment and resignation of Scooter Libby in October, Cheney's chief of staff. But behind the scenes, the polite but implacable Addington has been a chief advocate for the interrogation and surveillance policies that have created a legal crisis for the Bush administration.

Addington, 48, is in many ways Cheney's Cheney. Like his boss, he has exercised immense power without leaving many fingerprints. He operates with a decorous, low-key manner, but colleagues say he can intimidate and sometimes bully opponents. Though working out of the relative obscurity of the vice president's office, he has been able to impose his will on Cabinet secretaries and other senior administration officials. His influence rests on two pillars: his unyielding conviction that the powers of the president cannot be abridged in wartime, and the total support he receives from Cheney.

Addington's relationship with Cheney developed during the 1980s, when the two learned the same hardball lessons about national security. Addington worked as an assistant general counsel at Bill Casey's no-holds-barred CIA from 1981 to '84, where a friend says he loved the culture of "go-go guys with a license to hunt." He got to know Cheney when he moved to Capitol Hill as a staffer for the House intelligence committee and later the Iran-contra committee. "David has seared in his mind the restrictive amendments tying the president's hand in funding the contras," remembers Bruce Fein, a Republican attorney who worked on the Iran-contra committee. Addington moved with Cheney to the Pentagon as his special assistant and later became Defense Department general counsel.

What drives Addington is a belief that the president's wartime powers are, essentially, unfettered, argues Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee who has attended highly classified briefings with him on detention and surveillance issues. "He believes that in time of war, there is total authority for the president to waive any rules to carry out his objectives. Those views have extremely dangerous implications." Harman's efforts to negotiate compromises with Addington on interrogation issues were rebuffed, she says, by his insistence that "it's dangerous to tie the president's hands in any way."

Friends and former colleagues describe Addington as a man who thrives on his invisibility. He lives in a modest house in Northern Virginia, takes the subway to work, and shuns the parties and perks of office. He usually has the same simple meal every day -- a bowl of gazpacho soup. Though born in Washington, he styles himself as a "rugged Montana man" in the image of his boss, and he has a photo in his office of Cheney shooting a gun.

Addington's role has been the hard man -- the ideological enforcer. Most mornings during the first term, he would join the staff meeting in the White House counsel's office -- and take potshots at anyone he regarded as insufficiently committed to the president's agenda. "It was very surprising if anyone took a position more conservative than David, and this was a very conservative office," recalls one former colleague. "He was the hardest of the hard-core."

A special target of Addington's needling during the first term was John B. Bellinger III, at the time the chief legal adviser to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Addington would attack any sign of caution or wariness from Bellinger about proposed policies, breaking in to say, "That's too liberal," or "You're giving away executive power," remembers a colleague. Bellinger is now Rice's legal adviser at the State Department.

Addington's most bruising fights have been with colleagues at the Justice Department and the Pentagon who challenged his views on interrogation of enemy combatants. He pushed Justice's Office of Legal Counsel to prepare a 2002 memo authorizing harsh interrogation methods. When that memo was later withdrawn, Addington was furious. Last year, he successfully blocked the appointment of one critic, Patrick Philbin, as deputy solicitor general, even though Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wanted him in that role. Also last year, Addington was so adamant in resisting the efforts of a Pentagon official named Matthew Waxman to limit interrogation that Waxman eventually quit and is now moving to the State Department.

"David is a fight-to-the-end kind of a guy," says one former colleague. "If you made it clear that you opposed him, he'd go to war with you. David was not an adversary you would want."

Even people who describe themselves as friends of Addington believe that he has damaged President Bush politically by pressing anti-terrorism policies to the legal breaking point. And for many Republicans who bear scars from Addington, his story raises the ultimate question about the Bush White House: Who's in charge here?

To read more about Addington, click here. I highly recommend this story as well. What is a blog for, after all, if not to promote one own's work?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bill (Sixty Percent) O'Reilly, media watchdog

Geraldo Rivera and Bill O'Reilly held a symposium on Fox tonight discussing media ethics. (No joking.) "Did we make any mistakes?", asked Geraldo. If Fox had it wrong, Geraldo declared, then "everyone had it wrong." Geraldo noted that since many of the nation's leading newspapers went with"big screaming headlines" that the miners had been found alive, it was unfair to hold Fox accountable for going with the same bad information. Since everyone had it wrong, by his logic, Fox had done nothing wrong.

To his credit, Bill O'Reilly was having none of it: "Standards today are just not what they were ten years ago," he declared. O'Reilly has a point: Ten years ago, he was not on the air. On the other hand, Geraldo was in his prime... promising us the secrets of Al Capone's vault.

A final note: If you don't know why I have nicknamed Bill O'Reilly, Bill "Sixty Percent" O'Reilly, you should be spending more time watching Letterman than reading blogs. (Not to alienate any of the six readers of this blog.) Note to other bloggers: If you follow my lead, and call O'Reilly, 'ol Sixty Percent from now on, the nickname will stick.

America Mourns With Anderson Cooper

Twelve of the thirteen miners in Sago, West Virginia have now been found dead. The original mine explosion that led to their deaths was so loud that it was heard five miles away.

The grieving by the families will be much more muted and quiet. But not so the strangers: the cable newsmen and out-of-town “journalists” will now share their own grief not only with the family members, but also their demographically correct audiences:

America will mourn with Anderson Cooper.

Last night, after learning that he had been incorrectly reporting for three hours the "miracle" of the miners being alive, Cooper became pale, before declaring himself "at a complete loss for words."

That was last night. Cooper may have been at a loss for words last night, but if his past on-air behavior is a guide, he will not be at a loss for tears tonight.

America will once again mourn with Anderson Cooper.

And then America will mourn with Geraldo Rivera.

Earlier this morning, I watched Geraldo on Fox, already emoting; if he has no news to report, he does have his emotions to share with us all, until he is somewhere else soon emoting about something else. At the end of his brief segment, Fox’s anchor-of-the-moment thanked Geraldo for his “truly heartbreaking words” before noting that Geraldo was the host of Fox’s own "Geraldo At Large" program. No opportunity should ever be lost to promote the brand.

And it will not be long, of course, before Bill O’Reilly screams at someone. Accountability at last!

It has become fashionable of late for journalists to “emote” on television. The empathetic, caring Anderson Cooper has replaced the laconic and ironic and ratings-challenged Aaron Brown.
Geraldo Rivera is back, bigger than ever. And Bill O'Reilly is outraged as usual.

During Katrina, reporters didn’t just report, they got mad! Reporters who once feared for their jobs if they asked a tough question at a presidential press conference were now publicly castigating public officials as they appeared on their programs.

The public had long ago come to view the media as another entrenched and privileged interest group protecting other elite and entrenched interest groups. What a better way to dispel such a belief than with a little emoting and yelling.

But there are a few problems with this new media paradigm. Being outraged after the fact, for instance, is not the same as journalists doing their jobs. As it turns out, the mine in which the twelve miners were killed had been cited for safety violations no fewer than 273 times over the course of the last two years.

According to this newspaper report:

In the pat two years, the mine was cited 273 times for safety violations, of which about a third were classified as “significant and substantial,” according to documents compiled by the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration(MHSA), a designation reserved for serious safety infractions for which the operator had either already been warned, or which showed "indifference or extreme lack of care."

"That is a very high number, and it is usually indicative of a very poor safety record," Oppegard said… [Many] inspection reports over the past two years fault the mine for "combustibles," including a buildup of flammable coal dust and a failure to adequately insulate electric wires. Sparks from electrical equipment can ignite coal dust and methane gas, triggering fires and explosions…

Although no miners were reported killed at the mine since at least 1995, 42 workers and contractors were injured in accidents since 2000, records show…

Some serious accidents caused no injuries. For example, in the past year, large sections of the mine's rocky roof collapsed on at least 20 occasions but not when workers were in the affected tunnels. Some of the collapsed sections were rocky slabs as long as 100 feet. The most recent roof collapse occurred on Dec. 5, less than a month before Monday's explosion.

J. Davitt McAteer, who headed MSHA during the Clinton administration, said he was troubled by an apparent spike in accidents and violations that occurred beginning about two years ago. "The violations are not the worst I've ever seen -- and certainly not the best -- but I'm concerned about the trend and the direction they're going in. It's an indication to those running the operation that you've got a problem here."

All of the above information about the safety violations at the Sago mine have long been public record. Anyone could have called up MSHA and had a set of their records in the mail the next day. Or checked the internet. So many government regulatory documents are posted on the web that one does not even have to leave their house to do much of their work anymore.

Anderson and CNN could have done a story on mine safety, the lives of miners, and the federal regulations of the agencies involved, weeks ago… months ago… or years ago. But they didn’t and won’t. That takes enterprise and reporting and investigation. Emoting is so much easier, cost-effective, and profitable.

Anderson Cooper and Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly, of course, also have the opportunity in the future to investigate mine safety, the federal regulation of the mining industry, or even stories about everyday life in today’s Appalachia. But don’t count on it. They will move on to the next tsunami, or hurricane, school shooting, or whatever else-—“on- the- scene” reporting—-in the process making the next mining accident all the more possible. If one does happen, they will be on the scene once again, publicly emoting every last ten-cents-worth of bling-bling emotion.

An iconic moment in television coverage was when Walter Cronkite, tears welling up in his eyes, had to take off his glasses to inform the nation that John F. Kennedy had been pronounced dead. Decades later, the late Peter Jennings, for one brief moment, on Sept. 11th lost his composure, and with tears welling up in his eyes suggested that those watching might want to call their children and see if they were alright. The reason we remember those moments is because it was rare for either anchorman to lose their composure. And we knew that they for real.

Anderson Cooper and Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly we know not to trust, however. They, too, have emotions, but there is a promiscuity, and dare say, even a vulgarity, to their emotions. Their tears and anger are displayed so frequently and shared with so many that in the end they become meaningless. Their television shows will move somewhere else, and the families of the Sago miners will be alone--or finally left alone--to grieve.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Jack Abramoff pleads out to three felonies. Findlaw has posted his plea agreement online. Josh Marshall provides the context. Peter Stone, who is writing a book on Abramoff, files this story. And John Dickerson provides some of the back story and tells us who is at risk and who isn't becaue of the plea bargain.

Digby, though, is a must-read with this post on the media coverage.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Special Holiday Issue, Jan. 1, 2006

This blog wishes to welcome into the world Max Fitzgerald Froomkin. The formal anouncement can be found on Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing blog. Dan provides this information on his blog: Max was born the day after Christmas, on Dec. 26. The only other information Dan provides is that at birth, Max weighed in at nine pounds, seven ounces. (Why is the baby's weight so important? Imput from any of my five readers welcome... My guess is that, well, there is not a log of other information known about any new-born, being just newly born and all, and having not really done much of anything quite yet. Other than the weight, except for the name, time of birth, that the mother is doing well, what other information is there to provide? Or maybe it is just a custom. Someone out there educate me.)

Some other known information: Max Fitzgerald Froomkin is no relation to Patrick Fitzgerald. But Max's mother, Paige, is also a well regarded federal prosecutor, who works on civil rights cases. So Happy Christmas and Chanukah and New Year's, Max... and Dan.. and Paige... if Dan and Paige have any time to still be reading blogs! And we would also like to send happy holliday wishes to Pat Fitzgerald; and to show we are bipartisan, also best holiday wishes to Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

It is interesting to observe which blogs Dan refers us to while he is taking a blogging hiatus: one of them is also one of this blog's favorites, Firedoglake, the proprietors of which are Jane Hamsher and friends. Happy holidays, Jane! To show we are bipartisan, we are also sending out holiday wishes to... Powerline! On second thought, that's not going to happen. But another of this blog's favorite blogs is Just One Minute, which I think is conservative, and so we send out holdiay well wishes to them.

A couple of things to say about Max Fitzgerald Froomkin:

To all of Max's relatives, future playmates and classmates, girlfriends and someday work colleagues, the fact that Max was born the day after Christmas does not mean you get him one gift for both his birthday and Christmas, or both his birthday and Chanukah.

Those who perpertrate such acts are ordinarily people born in, say, June or August. One can imagine their outrage when their birthday comes around, in say June or August or whenver, and we blow them off by saying, "Hey, dude, we took care of you around Christmas."

My own interest here is that my own birthday is around Christmas. Dec. 20, to be precise. (And for those of you who forgot, it is not too late to wish me well, or give me a gift... and, please, don't tell me the gift is for both Chanukah and my birthday.)

All of us born around Christmas and Chanukah carry around with us the lifelong emotional pain of being shortchanged on gifts and presents and the such. I myself have even considered going to a support group, but the one around where I live meets on the same night for my lactose intolerant support group.

(I personally am not lactose intolerant, but simply enjoy the camraderie and community of those who are.
And please, no jokes about the lactose intolerant. It is bad enough to be lactose intolerant, without having to face the intolerance of others as well!)

For those of you who do not take seriously this issue of those of us with birthdays around Christmas who get short-changed in the gift department, I refer you to an MIT study which has determined that over the course of a lifetime, someone born around the same time of Christmas receives, on average, about $13,624 less in gifts over the course of a lifetime.

Finally, John Harris, send Paige and Dan a card!