Saturday, February 10, 2007

Getting Feith: Emily Litella, ace reporter for the WaPo, says "never mind"

Last night I was in the middle of preparing a piece about the Washington Post article that described the Pentagon's sharp criticism of Douglas Feith for giving too much credence to some faulty prewar intelligence reports of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda.

Rearching the post was interesting, as research often is. It lead me to read quite a bit of background about Feith and his detractors, including this New Yorker piece by Jeffrey Goldberg, written in May of 2005, which contained the following interesting passage:

[Feith's] detractors see him as an ideologue who manipulated intelligence to bring about the invasion of Iraq. His main nemesis on Capitol Hill, Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told me that Feith deceived not only the White House but Congress as well.

Remember, this was written nearly two years ago. Carl Levin has apparently been Feith's Inspector Javert for quite some time. The current WaPo story featured Carl Levin in his new role as Armed Services Committee Chairman, finally able to stick it to Feith via this Pentagon report.

I discovered many other choice tidbits along the way: a much-reported (originally by Bob Woodward in Plan of Attack) quote from Tommy Franks that Feith was the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth.

But then, in his own autobiography, Franks had written that he was only quoting others, and that what he actually had said was: Word is going around that Feith is the fucking stupidest..."

The whole tale was replete with that sort of thing. But one fact became crystal clear: Feith had annoyed people--angered them, even--with a personal style described as arrogant. That made him the fall guy for everyone, since there were plenty of mistakes and errors to go around--as there are in any war and occupation, especially one of this complexity. Those in Pentagon, State, the CIA, and the Department of Defense could say, who, me? No, not me; him! And Feith seems to be the favorite "him" to blame.

Perhaps where there's smoke, there's fire. Perhaps Feith really is--if not the fucking stupidest man on the face of the earth (remember, I'm just quoting here)--then perhaps the fucking stupidest man in the Pentagon, State, the Department of Defense, and the CIA.

Somehow, though, I doubt it. I bet there's at least a couple who are stupider (ah, yes, and maybe women, too).

Feith doesn't sound especially stupid to me in the New Yorker article--but then again, I haven't ever worked for him. He's quoted there as saying that, prior to the invasion, his group drew up all sorts of dire contingency plans for postwar Iraq, but that the military didn't listen. For example, he warned them to prepare for serious looting in the aftermath, although his warnings were apparently disregarded by Franks.

Feith also proposed--well, let's hear the stupidest man on earth tell it himself:

...a plan to train five thousand Iraqi exiles to accompany American troops in the invasion. Feith and Perle, who supported the idea, claimed that centcom subverted the plan. “Central Command saw the training of Iraqis as a pain in the ass,” Perle said... Feith did not argue that a force of Iraqi exiles would be a panacea, but he said that they could have aided in translating, in guiding, and in vetting local officials.

Well, although I agree it's no panacea, I've heard stupider thoughts, I must say.

While I was mulling over all this furious buckpassing, I came across another error. This one had nothing to do with Iraq, however. It had to do with the story itself. The Washington Post had printed a correction, and it's a whopper. It turns out that the Pentagon report in question had contained very few of the reported quotes about Feith, and none of the most serious ones.

In a correction almost as long and involved as the original article (okay, that's hyperbole; but it's plenty long and plenty involved) the Post said that the most critical quotes attributed to the Pentagon report had actually been issued by none other than Feith's old nemesis himself: Carl Levin.

It's a little unclear how reporters Walter Pincus and R. Jeffrey Smith could have gotten the story so very wrong. Did Levin make the incorrect attibution himself? Or did they rush to print without exercising due diligence, or even minimal diligence? Or all of the above? How could they have mistaken Levin's report for the Pentagon's? After all, this is the Washington Post, not a blog; I bet they don't work in their pajamas. But this error makes it seem as though they were writing in their sleep.

I'll resist any "stupidest man on the face of the earth" jokes. But I won't resist an Emily Litella reference: "never mind" seems to be the name of the game.

And I wonder how many who read the original story will ever hear of the correction?

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