Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I'm stunned by the Talk Back under the last article I ran about the brewing controversy over comments made by Bill Maher on PI and the response from the White House. I'm equally stunned by the e-mail I've gotten. Some of you seem incapable of understanding a simple difference between agreeing with what Bill Maher said and defending his right to say it. There are a number of issues here, including what rights (if any) you have as a corporate employee, what responsibility you have as a broadcaster in times like these, and just how does context affect and influence your reaction to something reported.
Many of you complained that we ran a link to Maher's complete comments, but no link to the complete comments of Ari Fleischer's response. Well, leave it to BasicAlias, the one who first reported on all of this, to come back with a report that raises more questions than it answers. There is some serious doublespeak revving up over this, and it makes me uncomfortable. Check out the report...
Dear Harry, Moriarty and El Cosmico:
Hi, this is Basic Alias again. I have a follow-up to my story on the Bill Maher controversy that you're not going to believe. If you decide not to put it on-line, I'll just put it in the original story's Talk-Back. Either way, you gotta read this, 'cause I'm still surprised at what I found.
It all started with the Talk-Back posts for my original story. A couple of people had pointed out that I hadn't shown Fleischer's statement in its original context like I'd done for Bill Maher. I wrote back and said that I had wanted to but I didn't know where to find a transcript of Fleischer's statements.
Lucky for me, someone did. Last night I got an e-mail from Two-Gun Qui-Gon, who was kind enough to send me...
...which showed the complete transcript to Ari Fleischer's Sep. 26th daily press briefing. So I scanned down to where he's asked about Maher's comments and it turned out that the Talk-Backers were right: there was more to Ari's comments than what I wrote. A lot more. Here's the portion of the press brief where Fleischer was asked about Maher:
Q: As Commander-In-Chief, what was the President's reaction to television's Bill Maher, in his announcement that members of our Armed Forces who deal with missiles are cowards, while the armed terrorists who killed 6,000 unarmed are not cowards, for which Maher was briefly moved off a Washington television station?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not discussed it with the President, one. I have -
Q: Surely, as a -
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting there.
Q: Surely as Commander, he was enraged at that, wasn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting there, Les.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the press reports about what he said. I have not seen the actual transcript of the show itself. But assuming the press reports are right, it's a terrible thing to say, and it unfortunate. And that's why there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to the people in his own party. There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.
That's right folks. Ari hadn't read the transcript either. He only knew about the two sentences as a sound bite. But here's the weird part: according to this transcript, Ari never said that Americans should "watch what they say." This confused me. I knew I'd copied it off of salon.com correctly, so I checked...
Here's the entire paragraph the quote is in:
"It's a terrible thing to say, and it's unfortunate," Fleischer said. "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is."
So did he say it or didn't he? I went to Google.com and ran a search for the words fleischer and maher. I found two news stories that referenced that portion of Fleischer's answer. The first was from e-online.com, which in an article marked "White House Politically Corrects Maher" claimed he did say "watch what they say." The second was from whitehouse.gov, which had the entire press briefing transcribed. They quoted him as not saying it, same as usnewswire.com.
So now I had two sources who had the quote as part as part of a story, and two other sources who didn't have the quote as part of a transcript. I needed a tie-breaker. I needed concrete proof.
I needed c-span.org.
Click here. Run a search for Fleischer. You'll be led to a RealVideo file of the complete Sep. 26th press briefing with Ari Fleischer. Fast-forward to 30:35:00 and the question is asked. I listened to it twice:
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the press reports about what he said. I have not seen the actual transcript of the show itself. But assuming the press reports are right, it's a terrible thing to say, and it unfortunate. And that's why there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to the people in his own party. There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is.
He DID say it! Fleischer did say that people should "watch what they say!"
I was amazed. Hell, I figured that the web-sites that had printed the entire transcripts would be the ones that got it right. And then it hit me:
Whitehouse.gov is the web-site for the White House. That means that THE OFFICIAL WEB-SITE FOR THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA MIS-QUOTED THEIR OWN SPOKESMAN!!!
(For anyone wondering, yes, you may laugh now.)
Or cry. - Moriarty
I don't know what to make of this. To be fair, it's entirely possible that the person who transcribed it for the web-site made a goof. Human error is always a factor, as well as a proud American excuse. But still, isn't it odd that this particular quote, which pissed off so many Talk-Backers, was the one left out of the transcript? Especially in light of the White House currently under attack for allegedly lying to the press, in particular with their claim that Air Force One was a target of the terrorists?
This is all I have for now. My next step is two-fold. First, I'm going to contact usnewswire.com and see if they got their transcript directly from the White House. Secondly, and I can't believe I'm writing this, I'm going to e-mail the White House and see if they can explain why the quote is missing.
This has been Basic Alias, reminding everyone who'll listen that when all around you are losing their head, check yours.
P.S. Do you think I should change my Talk-Back name to Deep Throat?
I consider it an act of patriotism to openly discuss these things at this moment. I consider it deeply unpatriotic to attack someone because their viewpoint doesn't jibe with yours right now, to try and shut them down or muzzle them because you don't see eye to eye. I'm hearing partisanship creep back into Washington as people attack other people unless they offer blanket, unquestioning support to Bush and his cabinet at the moment. No questions are being tolerated, no hesitations allowed for. Instead, we are hearing talk of National Identification cards and the Office for the Homeland Defense.
And we are being told by spokesmen for the White House to watch what we say. We are being admonished not to use one of the things that makes us great. We are being told not to use our voices. And if you don't think it matters, and if you don't think these things snowball, and if you don't think overreaction is a possibility at a time like this, go back and watch your DUCK SOUP or your DR. STRANGELOVE and remember that no matter how bizarre art attempts to paint human behavior, it inevitably falls short of reality. This time, we are just being told to watch what we say. And we're being told by someone who will edit transcripts of events in order to make the permanent record more palatable. It's doublespeak. And when I hear the American public being told to watch what it says... when I feel like someone's telling me that I am not allowed full and free use of my voice... well, I'm using mine, and I'm giving BasicAlias a place to use his, and even if Bill Maher was a total jackass to Harry on his show, I would offer this forum to Maher himself if he was booted from ABC. I'd offer it because I feel that's a more patriotic act than sticking a flag on my car. Liberty is only valuable for those who use it. And remember...
We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia.