Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I was not able to see the documentary ("A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media") that Sinclair Broadcasting ran yesterday evening. But contrary to my (I believe well-founded) skepticism, the piece was apparently relatively even-handed. A sampling of comments from a number of right-wing sites suggests they thought Sinclair caved. And this exhaustive summary/commentary of the program from DailyKos makes it sound like the final product was -- hard as it is for me to believe -- relatively even-handed. It even included, it seems, some significant portions of Going Upriver, the Kerry-friendly documentary now in theaters.

Now, Sinclair will undoubtedly try to make out like that got a bum rap all along, like they'd planned to be fair and balanced, shall we say, from the get-go.

But that is, in a word, crap.

Sinclair planned to use their hold over airwaves around the country to turn an hour of prime-time broadcast time over to an anti-Kerry informercial put together by a group that has now merged with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. My sense was always that they knew they'd take some hit but were willing to take it in part because of their ideological stance but even more because they thought they'd be made whole through (de)regulatory payback after a Bush victory.

But they got more than they bargained for. A lot more.

Thousands of individuals across the country started organizing a boycott of Sinclair's local advertisers -- the heart of their business. And the stock price commenced a rapid descent. I don't have at my fingertips the precise numbers. But I think the company lost something like $100 million in market capitalization, or 20% of the stocks value, in little more than a week. (ed.note: please check other sources for exact amounts).

This was then compounded by a cluster of inter-related lawsuits, which would not have been possible had it not been for the predicate created by the boycott and the related stock price drop.

Eventually, Sinclair saw the writing on the wall -- penciled in by major institutional shareholders, I suspect -- and cried 'uncle.' It was all quite a feat, seeing as it mixed together the actions of policy luminaries like former FCC Chair Reed Hundt, existing activist groups like Media Matters, the absolutely invaluable work that went into the Sinclair Boycott website and mainly an army of political junkies around the country who didn't want to see this election gamed by a gaggle of jokers in Maryland who thought they could trifle with American democracy with impunity.

Last night when discussing the White House's truth-bending revisionism on Tora Bora, I wrote that I had been "pretty skeptical of the Bush team's revisionism on this count since the outlines of the Kerry critique have been a commonplace in national security and counter-terrorism circles for literally years."

You'll remember that what I'm referring to here as 'Kerry's critique' is the charge that the US let bin Laden get away at Tora Bora because we 'outsourced' the job to local warlords and militiaman. The Bush campaign is now calling that a lie. Dick Cheney says it's "absolute garbage" and the campaign has enlisted retired general and now Bush surrogate Tommy Franks to help back their case.

Now Steve Soto points out one more reason why I and others who've followed this story for years were so skeptical.

Look at the lede of this Washington Post article from April 17, 2002 ...

The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda, according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge.

That really says it all.

And there's more.

Was bin Laden there, a claim Cheney and the Bush campaign now discount or treat as mere speculation?

Again from the Post: "Intelligence officials have assembled what they believe to be decisive evidence, from contemporary and subsequent interrogations and intercepted communications, that bin Laden began the battle of Tora Bora inside the cave complex along Afghanistan's mountainous eastern border."

The article goes on to say that though the administration had never publicly acknowledged that bin Laden slipped the noose in this way, "inside the government there is little controversy on the subject."

Then the paper quotes a government official "giving an authoritative account of the intelligence consensus," who says that, "I don't think you can ever say with certainty, but we did conclude he was there, and that conclusion has strengthened with time."

And as to the issue of 'outsourcing'?

One more time from the article ...

After-action reviews, conducted privately inside and outside the military chain of command, describe the episode as a significant defeat for the United States. A common view among those interviewed outside the U.S. Central Command is that Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the war's operational commander, misjudged the interests of putative Afghan allies and let pass the best chance to capture or kill al Qaeda's leader. Without professing second thoughts about Tora Bora, Franks has changed his approach fundamentally in subsequent battles, using Americans on the ground as first-line combat units.

In the fight for Tora Bora, corrupt local militias did not live up to promises to seal off the mountain redoubt, and some colluded in the escape of fleeing al Qaeda fighters. Franks did not perceive the setbacks soon enough, some officials said, because he ran the war from Tampa with no commander on the scene above the rank of lieutenant colonel. The first Americans did not arrive until three days into the fighting. "No one had the big picture," one defense official said.

I quote here at length for a simple reason, to make a simple point. Though we cannot in the nature of things have absolute certainty about bin Laden's whereabouts, there is little doubt that bin Laden was there. We had a "reasonable certainty" he was there when the critical decisions were being made. And subsequent intelligence has only tended to confirm that belief. As to the issue of 'outsourcing,' the claim is unquestionably true. And it is widely believed that this was a key reason for the failure to capture bin Laden.

One might well argue, we hadn't hunted a bin Laden before. And I don't mean that flippantly. Had the Afghan tribesmen killed OBL in those hills, the decision might have seemed an inspired one, since it no doubt saved American lives. Perhaps a Gore or a Kerry administration would have made the same mistake.

What you simply cannot say is that the whole thing never happened. And yet that is precisely what the president and the vice president are now doing: Simply denying everything. Who you gonna believe? Me or your lyin' eyes?

They are, in old fashioned English, lying.

And the major news outlets covering the campaign -- as nearly as I've seen so far -- are just treating the disagreement as a he said/(s)he said in which both sides' arguments have equal merit.

Sums up the whole campaign.

Let the harassment begin!

It's an unlovely fact. But it's a key Republican strategy, in almost every closely-contested election, to deny as many people as possible the right to vote. True enough, it's not wholly an equal opportunity affair. Voting for Republicans is generally encouraged. But since high turn-out elections almost always favor Democrats, Republicans often use a mix of voter suppression tactics to nudge the totals back in the other direction. (NewDonkey had some choice comments on this from a few days ago, which I commend to you.)

This is an ugly topic we've been writing about at TPM for years. And in tomorrow's New York Times we find what can only be called a refershingly straightforward account of how this tactic will be used ten days from now in Ohio.

The state Republican party has recruited thousands of poll watchers, to be paid $100 each, to challenge as many newly registered voters as possible. Not surprisingly, they're concentrating the poll watchers in inner-city neighborhoods of Cleveland, Dayton and other cities.

To justify these tactics, the delightful James P. Trakas, party co-chair in Cuyahoga County, told the Times: "The organized left's efforts to, quote unquote, register voters - I call them ringers - have created these problems."

Definitely give this article a read.

This is a complicated topic that we'll be returning to repeatedly and elaborating on before election day. But what's afoot right now in Ohio isn't that complicated.

I was going to call this post, with a touch of drama, The Final Lie.

But who am I kidding? The Bush team has plenty of time to tell lots more lies between now and election day. And they no doubt will. And if, God forbid, the president wins, they'll have four more years of lie opportunities after that.

Still, this one is significant. So here goes.

In recent weeks John Kerry has been pressing the claim that the US had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001 but let him slip the noose in part because we 'outsourced' the job to local warlords who had little allegiance to the US and their militiamen who had little incentive to get themselves killed in a battle to the death with a bunch of hardened al Qaida terrorists.

That's a tough charge for the Bush team. And over the last week they've been claiming -- by various arguments -- that it simply isn't true.

We have no idea if bin Laden was there at all, they say. And nothing was outsourced.

On Tuesday Gen. Tommy Franks -- the former CENTCOM CINC who, remember, is now working as a Bush surrogate -- wrote a column in the Times in which he said ...

We don't know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.

As for 'outsourcing' Franks says that that's not true either. We were relying on locals because they knew the terrain so well and they worked in tandem with US special forces and precision air strikes.

Then on Tuesday afternoon Dick Cheney picked up the baton and said Kerry's claims were "absolute garbage. It's just not true." There was "speculation about where Osama bin Laden might have been" there. But no more.

So what's the story exactly?

I was pretty skeptical of the Bush team's revisionism on this count since the outlines of the Kerry critique have been a commonplace in national security and counter-terrorism circles for literally years.

Now al Qaida expert Peter Bergen has a new piece up on his site which makes it pretty clear that this new claim is about as factual as most things the Vice President says.

Bergen is CNN's terrorism analyst, one of the few western reporters ever to interview bin Laden in person, and he goes back to Afghanistan pretty frequently and has interviewed many of the folks who were there.

Bergen notes that at the time -- not now that the presidency is on the line, but at the time -- a Pentagon official gave a widely-quoted background briefing in which he said that there was a "reasonable certainty" that bin Laden was in fact there, a judgment based on contemporaneous radio intercepts. Bergen also discusses interviews with other witnesses and al Qaida associates that point strongly to the conclusion that he was there. "In short," says Bergen, "there is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time."

Bergen also addresses the 'outsourcing' issue.

On the basic question of whether the US missed a key opportunity to bag bin Laden in Tora Bora, Bergen says Kerry's claim is not 'garbage' but "an accurate reflection of the historical record."

It's always going to be difficult to prove definitively that bin Laden was there at the time in question. But then that's part of the price of not having caught him. Most evidence points pretty clearly to the conclusion that he was there. And the consensus of experts seems to be that he was. But it's politically damaging. So the Bush campaign just says it's not true.

Last week we brought you the news that Larry Russell, head of the South Dakota GOP's get-out-the-vote operation (Republican Victory Program) had resigned along with several of his staffers amidst a burgeoning vote fraud scandal.

The Bush campaign promptly brought Russell and several of his newly-resigned staffers to Ohio to run the get-out-the-vote effort there.

Now South Dakota officials have charged six of Russell's South Dakota staffers, including at least three he brought with him to take care of business in Ohio.

Perhaps they can push extradition back past election day.

Leave no fraudster behind (LNFB)!

Let the Bush slime commence! Campaign Extra on the Bush campaign's hideous new ad.

Special Late-Breaking Bush Slime Update: After having watched this ad, as opposed to the still shots, I have to say that I didn't find it all that effective. I can't point to any one thing; it's just not that scary, not even that effective by the special standards used to evaluate lying right-wing slime and scare-mongering, a whole artform worthy of careful critical study.

In some ways actually, the piece typifies the administration. The entire ad is built around an entirely intentional and fairly transparent attempt to deceive viewers.

The centerpiece of the ad is the claim that "even after the first terrorist attack on America," John Kerry tried to gut spending on intelligence.

Everything about the statement and the context is meant to communicate the impression that they mean after 9/11. But they don't. They mean after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. And even the alleged cuts they're talking about are basically a lie too, for reasons you can see here.

That really does capture the whole Bush administration right there: trying to scare people by tricking them into believing something they know isn't true.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not naive enough to believe that that kind of lie can't be effective. I just don't think it's used all that effectively in this ad. The forest motif isn't all that chilling -- though it may appeal to certain aspects of the Bush hunter-gatherer mindset. And even the wolves aren't as frightening as they might be. I'll bet even my dog Simon -- who's now bulked up to about 7 pounds -- could hold his own with these guys. At least for a while.

Another good candidate for Karl Rove Dirty Tricks Watch.

And here I think we may have a serious contender. Someone in Columbus Ohio seems to be calling voters, impersonating an employee from the local election board, and telling folks that the location of their precincts has been changed. The recipients of the calls seem to be disproportionately elderly.

This one's right out of the Karl Rove playbook. I'm making this the top contender so far, though I'm sure there'll be many more. Of course, maybe I'm not given enough credit to Rove's Sproul operation. Have to give it some thought.