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Tilting at Windmills

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February 13, 2010

THE MEDIA LOVES THOSE LOYAL BUSHIES.... When Scott Lemieux noted yesterday that the Washington Post had hired Marc Thiessen as a columnist, I thought there had to be some kind of mistake.

There are, of course, a limited number of slots for paid columnists at the Post, and it seemed hard to believe that the paper would hire George W. Bush's former chief speechwriter and then hire George W. Bush's other chief speechwriter. Fox News, maybe. But the Washington Post is supposed to have standards.

Alas, Lemieux's report was accurate. At the bottom of a Thiessen piece yesterday, there was text explaining that he "will be writing a weekly column for The Post."

This strikes me as noteworthy for two reasons. The first is that Thiessen is a truly awful choice. As Adam Serwer explained:

Thiessen ... has spent the entirety of his post-Bush administration career attempting to defend the use of torture by his former boss. I'd have to say the highlight would be the time he argued that torturing Muslim terrorist suspects was necessary because of their religion -- and since that column appeared in the Post, I'm guessing Hiatt thinks there's something to this. Clearly, Hiatt felt that between Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and Richard Cohen he still didn't have the whole "I heart torture" contingent covered.

Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said Thiessen deserves to be a paid columnist because he "makes some strong arguments" and "argues them forcefully." And which arguments would those be? His love of torture? His insistence, two days after the president's inauguration, that Obama is "proving to be the most dangerous man ever to occupy the Oval Office"?

I can appreciate "strong" and "forceful" voices as much as the next reader, but isn't there something to be said for morally defensible voices who also tell the truth?

The other thing to keep in mind here is that there's a remarkable revolving door between the mainstream media and the staff of the Bush White House.

It's been tough to keep up with all of them, but the list is getting pretty long: Dana Perino (Fox News), Michael Gerson (Washington Post), Mary Matalin (CNN), Sara Taylor (MSNBC), Tony Snow (CNN), Frances Fragos Townsend (CNN), Nicole Wallace (CBS News), Dan Bartlett (CBS News), Jeff Ballabon (CBS News), Tony Fratto (CNBC), Juan Carlos Zarate (CBS News), Karl Rove (Fox News, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal), and now Thiessen.

The revolving door is so intense, NBC News hired one of the former president's daughters, despite her not having any background in journalism at all.

Given the previous administrations' spectacular failures, it's tempting to think these former officials would stay out of the public eye. After all, haven't they done enough damage to the country already? Do we need to be reminded of their comical ineptitude while trying to keep up on current events?

Remember, conservatives are convinced that major news outlets were not only deliberately unfair to the Bush administration, but also hate conservatives. The media outlets presumably, then, keep hiring leading Bush administration officials as part of an elaborate ruse to throw us off their liberal trail.

The end of the Bush/Cheney era, alas, does not mean the end of loyal Bushies misleading the country. If there's a rational explanation for these bizarre media decisions, I'd love to hear it.

Steve Benen 11:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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Mr. Thiessen was on MSNBC yesterday morning and told Morning Joe that the Bush administration "had no idea who hit them" on 9/11. Um, what? Presidential Daily Briefing in August 2001 at the Crawford Ranch -- "Osama bin Laden intent on hitting US with airplanes"?

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on February 13, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, the revolving door -- looks so lousy when it is the thugs and idiots from the Bush admin.

Looks just as shitty when it's former Dims as propagandists for Corporate America...

Posted by: neill on February 13, 2010 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

You want an explanation? Howsabout the corporations/corporate media want to spread misinformation and lies to the American people to keep them uninformed, afraid and malleable to promote their own mostly self-promoting conservative agenda? Sound familiar...?

Posted by: BigRenman on February 13, 2010 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Bah. This is really grim. Being a war criminal is bad, evil, etc-- no doubt about that. Being an apologist for a war crimes is debased and corrupt-- no doubt about that. But hiring an apologist for war crimes as a weekly writer of "strong" and "forceful" opinions... Aughhh.

Posted by: MattF on February 13, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Working the refs. Getting the calls.

Posted by: buckyblue on February 13, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Mustang Bobby,

Yeah, but according to Candy Cotton Rice bin Laden didn't tell Bushit where and when he was going to pounce like any self-respecting terrorist would , as a matter of good form, do. So you see, Thiessen has a point. Unfortunately, it;s at the top odf his pointy little head which houses an even smaller pointy little brain. The Post, like all of corporate america is slowly ingesting all the news outlests and stocking them with people who eventually will drown-out all truth and replace it with FOX Noise-like information. We, Mustang Bobby, and all other clear thinkers , are screwed. Belgium. Belgium sounds really good. I bet PALINaroundwithterrorists, our next president elect won't nuke Belgium. At least not in the first round...

Posted by: stevio on February 13, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Lawrence O'Donnell worked over Mr. Thiessen on Morning Joe over his lies, and then continued taking him apart (without T) on Countdown. What a joke the WaPost has become.

Posted by: Hannah on February 13, 2010 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

and belgium has lots and lots of really good beer!

Posted by: mellowjohn on February 13, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

The real problem you have in your country is Corporate Capitalism who will destroy anything or anyone who gets in their way of ever more profits. Obama is a threat to their evil greed. Any 'social' program that he, or what is left of your Democratic party that advocates social programs that will benefit the majority of your citizens, is a threat to these profits. As a result, the media that the Corporation own hire the appropriate goons to do their bidding. And they pay them their millions so that they can be among the 'media elite'. As such it is then their 'hired' job to create a 'perceptual reality' in which the actual reality of anything, say your health reform bill, is undermined. The Corporations of course rely on the general stupidity of your citizens because in your country 'perception equals reality'. In other words a general reality among your citizens that is NOT ROOTED IN REALITY, BUT ROOTED IN DELUSIONS. Remember it was your Bruce Bartlett of CBS 'news', the former communication director for Bush, who said: "Reality is what we say it is". And there you have the very essence of your 'reality', a 'reality' created by the Corporations and the Media that they own. And your citizens, in general, are simply to stupid to understand that manipulation of their perceptions so that that these delusive perceptions equal 'reality'.

This is why the biggest ENEMY to your once great country is yourselves: your evil Corporations and the MEDIA THAT THEY OWN.

Posted by: blue on February 13, 2010 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

blue (above) is right except that Obama is not a threat but a palliative for the masses to offset the frustration generated by the last eight years.

No grand conspiracy, but that's how the game comes out. Might as well posit the existence of a grand conspiracy.

Posted by: gregor on February 13, 2010 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

"But the Washington Post is supposed to have standards."

And the evidence for domestic journalistic embed programs builds, be it official or not.

Posted by: Chris on February 13, 2010 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

I keep saying; "the Media has to prop up an adversary to the majority" or they wouldn't have anything to fill the 24 hr news cycle. It's where the Media has been ever since CNN came on the scene. It's their idea on how to create reader or listener interest. Fact is they only cater to the
worst in us.
When are we going to demand they ask: "What do you mean?" or "What would you do?" The refusal to follow up on interviews is deplorable.

Posted by: fillphil on February 13, 2010 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

The Post has gone to the dark side!

Posted by: antiquelt on February 13, 2010 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Would be interesting to see a similar comparison of former Clinton officials in the media in 2001.

One of the most galling aspects of that time was how the media completely flipped from being antagonistic to Clinton to the respectful deference they accorded the Bushies. It was almost as if they previous eight years were to be wiped clean from the national memory.

Posted by: andy on February 13, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

I have gradually eliminated watching most MSM coverage except Rachel Maddow and Fareed Zakaria. The combined IQ of the rest of the group is below double digits. I rarely read the WAPO anymore and the comments are generally pig fodder. All that 24/7 intensely insignificant news reporting has focused attention on constant petty repetition about nothing of interest punctuated by screeching matches and a "we'll have to leave it there folks..." Now if they'd all just plain leave and take that group of doddering old fools like McConnell, McCain and 2/3 of the Senate with them.

Posted by: DTR on February 13, 2010 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

When Bush was installed by the U.S.Supreme Court the Corporate Media instantly began it's propaganda efforts on behalf of the Corporations that owned the media to begin with. Instantly, all the cable 'news' channels went into that 2 to 1 ratio where for every Democrat there had to be 2 Repiglicans. If it were not for the Corporate Media there would not have been the Iraq War. Remember Scott McClellan himself said the media 'was actively complicit' in creating the Iraq War. Think about that. If the Corporate Media has been objective and honest there would not have been that war. And the thousands of American military lives would not have been lost, and all the family members and lives destroyed due to the vet coming home with ptsd, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and of course the billions of dollars spent. WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED if the Corporate Media had been honest and objective. Instead they were actively complicit.

And they are just as 'actively complicit' now is deceiving the American population in how they manipulate public perception in how THEY PRESENT THE NEWS. It's in how it's presented that correlates to the manipulation of perceptions that then correlate to how and why the public in general can come to believe in the opposite of something that is actually the reality, or true.

And this is done because of the Corporate agendas that dictate what is reported, what is not, and most importantly HOW IT IS PRESENTED.

Posted by: stormskies on February 13, 2010 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

"The Post has gone to the dark side!"
Posted by: antiquelt on February 13, 2010 at 12:10 PM

That happened a very long time ago.

"It was almost as if they previous eight years were to be wiped clean from the national memory."
Posted by: andy on February 13, 2010 at 12:12 PM

Well, yes, but you'll notice that they've done exactly the same thing w/Obama & Bush.
So everything balances out, and they're completely consistent.
(I have an employee like that; he leaves early to balance out showing up late.)

Posted by: smartalek on February 13, 2010 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

It's only online, but Katrina vanden Heuvel is getting a weekly column at the Post (Tuesdays). FYI, not that this is meant to contradict Steve's point here.

Posted by: jhm on February 13, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, Steve! The MSM wants another Republican back to cut the taxes on the multi-million dollar salaries. And they look at Fox and whisper to each other: "Bring back the Bushies! There's gold in dem thar hills!"

Posted by: E L on February 13, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Taking in Bill Kristol after the NYT cut him loose as a party hack was one thing, but the Thiessen appointment goes too far. Nothing justifies having TWO former Bush speechwriters in the WaPo bull-pen, and I do mean bull. Something is going on at the paper that needs looking into.

It's possible that Hiatt is simply a disgrace, but I suspect it's something simpler, like money. FOX News lost half a billion dollars in its first five years. Conservative media pays because there are right wing billionaires that support it. The Post may be looking for new dollars it thinks will come from taking a more conservative line.

But this Thiessen thing is an absolute outrage as anyone who has watched that dough-faced, ugly, smiling f*** on air knows. The way in Thiessen equated the experience he gained from four "trips" to Iraq with the insights gained from months of day to day on-the ground reporting by CNN's Mike Ware, and then dismissed Ware's observations about the impact of American torture policy on the viciousness of fighting on the ground, was simply breathtaking in its arrogance and stupidity. A stunning example of the party apparichnik mind in action.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 13, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

So seek out the Post's advertisers, contact them, and let them know that continuing to associate themselves with right-wing propaganda from the Post will lose your business. It's really the only way to be heard nowadays.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on February 13, 2010 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

argues them forcefully?

Well, I suppose if you can't argue them well then being forceful is the next best thing?

Not that it worked for Andrew Dice Clay, of course. But I digress.

Posted by: biggerbox on February 13, 2010 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Just so people know, I am not Dan Bartlett and I have never worked for George W. Bush. Nor are we related.

Posted by: Bruce Bartlett on February 13, 2010 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

It is because the media is controlled by the same national security/corporate interests that controlled the Bush administration. It isn't that these media outlets are hiring loyal Bushies, it is that the loyal Bushies were loyal NS/corporatists and this is their reward, they continue to be in the service of the same agenda in or out of office. The degree to which they are welcomed in the media represents the degree to which journalism is effectively dead in this country. Co-opted by its owners.

Posted by: SW on February 13, 2010 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

It really is the thing that Eisenhower warned us about. But then it is just so out of style to worry about history.

Posted by: SW on February 13, 2010 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

With the near demise of the Moonie contollex Washigton Times, the Post is angling for their market share. The addition of Thiessen only proves thiis.

Fuck the Post. I cancelled my subscrition a couple of years ago and only use copies I sometimes find at work as fire starter for my woodstove.

Posted by: Steve on February 13, 2010 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Historically, there used to be both left and right-wing papers. We could try to legislate against human nature, and prevent the right-wing media from supporting and sheltering their own. Or we could break up the big media corporations so there is diversity again. It won't reduce the number of right-wing voices, but it will give them real competition.

Posted by: TomB on February 13, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

"But the Washington Post is supposed to have standards."

I'm sure they're pleased that you think they have standards, but what is the evidence for it?

For example, here's a standard: Don't make up quotes. Doesn't that seem like a fundamental standard, if you're a newsie? Or at least, a reasonable standard? But Ceci Connolly is still with the Post.

The Post Likes It This Way. Like the old joke about the hunter and the bear, obviously they're not really in it for Teh Journalism.

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on February 13, 2010 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

"The other thing to keep in mind here is that there's a remarkable revolving door between the mainstream media and the staff of the Bush White House." -SB

I think that has been evolving over the past 20+ years or so, maybe started at the end of the Reagan era when the media was entering it's uber conglomerate merger mode, was not that the time of the deregulation of that market? Seems many of the MSM talking heads and or 'pundits' were at one time some kind of a Washington insider or another. Also seems they remain so in a way... hell, they know where things are buried, and they know what to not bring up...in other words, what is debatable and what is not to be mentioned. Works out great for the status quo, as it has worked out swell for the careers of those in big business media people and their politico's, as they trade places... especially as the malfeasance, theft and deceit gets deeper each year. Not so good for us working people paying for most of this, one way or another. The ice gets thinner every year.

Posted by: H.Finn on February 13, 2010 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Save Ezra Klein's blog, WaPo doesn't get my clicks anymore--and hasn't for a long time.

Posted by: Chris on February 13, 2010 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, the Washington Post has not had standards in so long I can't even remember when they did.

Posted by: Danny Gail McElrath (Ms) on February 13, 2010 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

This is what happens when we fail to impeach politicians who lead us into war with lies.

Their followers believe the lies were truths, and they continue to propogate them as truths.

Posted by: Doug on February 13, 2010 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps these excuses for litter box liners keep hiring conservatards because liberals stopped reading their drivel some time back.

Posted by: candideinnc on February 13, 2010 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

the post is a wasteland. Its been a republican propaganda tool JUST LIKE FOX for years. Why anyone would be surprised at this or wring their hands about it is surprising.

Posted by: pleuge on February 13, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

This is what happens when we fail to impeach politicians who lead us into war with lies.

Their followers believe the lies were truths, and they continue to propogate them as truths.

so true.

The biggest crime obama has perpetrated on America is that by not prosecuting the criminals of the bush administration, obama has ensured that the next republican administration will be even bigger criminals. Just follow the chain:

nixon and watergate - a breakin

reagan and Iran contra - lying to congress to hide outlawed activities

bush the lesser - illegal invasions, crimes against humanity, indefinite detention, illegal spying on Americans

The pattern is clear as a bell: each successive republican administration engages in ever greater criminal activity. With obama failing to hold anyone accountable for their criminality, he guarantees that the next republican administration will be a crime spree of unimaginable proportions.

Posted by: pluege on February 13, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Let the liberal blogosphere BUY a majority interest in the friggin' Washington Post is what I say. Then Mr. Hiatt can be told his services are no longer required. Amen to that.

The market capitalization of the Post is $3.4B. At about $400/share that is approx 84M shares.. Do you think there are forty million people, give or take a few, with $400 to dump into a holding company to take a controlling interest in the Post?

I got my $400 ready ...

Posted by: LarryK on February 13, 2010 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

I think its just a mater of time before the great re-imagining of the Bush presidency begins in earnest.

Posted by: Saint Zak on February 13, 2010 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Where is the Saudi link?

Posted by: Bob Johnson on February 13, 2010 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

LarryK: I'm with you. I got $400.

Posted by: csmith on February 13, 2010 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

My Wash Post subscription went dark almost ten years ago. The paper is establishmentarian and, worse, boring. Compared to the NYT and the WSJ, a mediocrity.

Posted by: DBuck on February 13, 2010 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, they gave Katrina V-H an online only column to make up for it.

Posted by: Flamethrower on February 13, 2010 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

Fred Hiatt is specifically a pimp for the neocon/corporate/superwealthy complex out there. Anyone know more about him in particular? I get tired of just hearing general laments and general explanations - where's the deeper scoop, the deep dirt?

Posted by: delver on February 13, 2010 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

Why isn't there a an organized boycott of WaPo by progressives? The DC area is a pretty progressive metro area as a whole -- the vast bulk of its readership can't approve of the once-great paper's rightward slide. I know WaPo's circulation has been falling -- like that of most newspapers -- but there needs to be a plunge in circulation accompanied by an organized, well-publicized campaign for Fred Hiatt's head (or whoever it is who makes these decisions). And there needs to be a plunge in their web traffic, too.

Posted by: Jasper on February 13, 2010 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

"... the propaganda campaign against our creative people is so intense, so pure, and so relentlessly across-the-board, that it simply cannot be an accident. The correlation is just too perfect.

Somebody wants us to fail."
-- David Brin, at

Posted by: Hank Roberts on February 13, 2010 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

Posted today to the Post's comments section for Thiessen's column (and it is only one of many similar posts):

The more I think about the decision by the Washington Post to give this torture apologist, this despicable, detestable human being a forum, the more angry I become.

There can be no doubt that torture is illegal under both the Geneva Conventions and the Convention On Torture. Yet the Post finds it is necessary to give him a platform to argue his views? This man deserves to be shunned by decent, civilized society, yet the Post finds his presence a positive thing for its newspaper?

Now comes word from Fred Hiatt that Thiessen was given a column because he ”makes some strong arguments” and “argues them forcefully.” Under this rationale, there are others who also deserve a column in the Post. Is there no one out there with the courage to defend child molesters? Someone who can make a strong, forceful argument that rape victims and those who are victims of domestic violence actually had it coming? What about Holocaust apologists? Are they the next to be given a platform for their strong arguments? There is not a qualitative difference here, just a quantitative one, so surely Holocaust defenders deserve the chance to be heard.

I’ve got a better idea. What about the Post giving a column opposite Thiessen’s each week to the victims of torture? There are at least 10 documented dead, without trial or even charges, whose relatives might appreciate an opportunity to enlighten the Post’s readers about their feelings. What about the German who was held and tortured in Albania for six months for the bad judgment of having the same name as a wanted terrorist? Perhaps he might like to tell his story. Those who were beaten, subject to sleep deprivation, close confinement and electric shock, then later released from Gitmo for lack of evidence might also like to speak in a strong, forceful way. Those who were snatched by the CIA through extraordinary rendition and sent to third-country black sites and had their torture outsourced to real experts might like to have their say also.

There is no rational reason for a major American newspaper to give a forum to Marc Thiessen. If he has anything important to say, I suggest he say it first to a federal grand jury empanelled to investigate charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against him and those in his administration who authorized, carried out or provided legal justification for torture.

Posted by: KeninTenn on February 13, 2010 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

Blue, I don-t know which country you are from, I-m an expat and have been for 22yrs. I left when the MSM joined the MIC/petroleum Mafia. Every thing you said, fascism is unbecoming to the US!!! Corporatism/FACISM HAS KILLED THE US. You probably don-t know that US is an OCCUPIED COUNTRY............occupied by the financial manipulators of the planet, but controlled by BLOODYISRAEL.

Posted by: rose hunter on February 14, 2010 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK



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