October 27, 2004

The Political Art of Shifting Blame

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I have written before about the political art of shifting blame to others: when you've made a colossal blunder and it threatens your political career or agenda, if reporters ask you if you made an error, then twist the question to make it appear like they are blaming an honorable group of people. Reagan did this when the Marine barracks were blown up in Lebanon, making it appear that any accusation of wrongdoing was equal to dishonoring the soldiers who died, saying their deaths were in vain. In my prior article on the subject, I noted that a FOX reporter tried the same thing on Wesley Clark, implying that if Clark said that Iraq was a sideshow and Bush was missing the real target in Afghanistan, that was equal to belittling the troops in Iraq.

The Bush campaign is in full-gear blame-shifting mode this week. First was the criticism that Bush outsourced the hunt for bin Laden to the local warlords, who let bin Laden escape. Searching for a way to dismiss this cogent and damaging criticism, Bush said:

Now my opponent is throwing out the wild claim that he knows where bin Laden was in the fall of 2001, and that our military passed up the chance to get him in Tora Bora. This is an unjustified criticism of our military commanders in the field. This is the worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking.
In other words, if there was a blunder made, it wasn't me, it was the generals. And how dare he criticize the generals!

But they didn't stop there. Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the RNC, sent out a mass email to millions of people, claiming that the ultra-super-liberal media was at it yet again, daring to report that the explosives in Iraq were looted after the invasion, when in fact American troops found the cache had been looted already, on Saddam Hussein's watch, and that an NBC News crew had confirmed it, therefore making Kerry's criticism and the press coverage of it a howling outrage.

Of course, he was wrong: the troops only stayed at al Qaqaa for the night, they did not look for the weapons (and would not have been qualified to make that determination anyway), and the NBC crew in fact contradicted the claim that the explosives had been found already missing. CNN's report of the NBC team and the soldiers finding the weapons gone was not even based on an NBC report, it was in fact based on a Matt Drudge story, and we all know how reliable he can be. Josh Marshall is all over the story.

But the point in this entry is that Gillespie used this blame-shifting technique; note carefully the words in bold, as well as Gillespie's careful use of quotation marks:

John Kerry seized on the New York Times headline to launch a political attack on President Bush, saying U.S. troops "failed to guard those stockpiles" and that is "one of the great blunders" of the war.

Senator Kerry and the New York Times leave the impression that these weapons went missing recently and U.S. troops were derilict in their duty to guard the stockpile — neither of which is true.

Not only does this shift the blame to the troops instead of the president, but it also carefully misquotes Kerry, whose original quote was:
After being warned about the danger of major stockpiles of explosives in Iraq, this president failed to guard those stockpiles. ... Now we know our country and our troops are less safe because this president failed to do the basics, this is one of the great blunders of Iraq, one of the great blunders of this administration. The incredible incompetence of this president and this administration has put our troops at risk and put this country at greater risk than we ought to be.
Notice Gillespie's careful and intentional editing of Kerry's quote, cutting it off just so he can take the blame Kerry puts squarely on Bush, and make it appear like Kerry is criticizing the troops. When in fact, Kerry not once said it was the fault of the troops, and quite clearly blamed the Bush administration, not once but repeatedly--kind of hard for Gillespie to miss.

We know these people are lying bastards, folks... but it's hard not to use even stronger language when you see such blatant lies such as these--not to mention cowardly attempts to hide behind honorable people in order to save your own sorry political ass.

Posted by Luis at October 27, 2004 06:17 PM