Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Kerry on the new OBL video ...

In response to this tape from Osama bin Laden, let me make it clear, crystal clear. As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. They are barbarians. And I will stop at absolutely nothing to hunt down, capture or kill the terrorists wherever they are, whatever it takes. Period.

From the airport at West Palm.

Can you say 'cult of personality'?

Chris Suellentrop has a <$NoAd$>half bizarre/half chilling report from the campaign trail in Florida last night. It's about what seems to be a new feature of the Bush rallies: the pledge of allegiance to President Bush.

Here's Chris ...

"I want you to stand, raise your right hands," and recite "the Bush Pledge," said Florida state Sen. Ken Pruitt. The assembled mass of about 2,000 in this Treasure Coast town about an hour north of West Palm Beach dutifully rose, arms aloft, and repeated after Pruitt: "I care about freedom and liberty. I care about my family. I care about my country. Because I care, I promise to work hard to re-elect, re-elect George W. Bush as president of the United States."

I know the Bush-Cheney campaign occasionally requires the people who attend its events to sign loyalty oaths, but this was the first time I have ever seen an audience actually stand and utter one. Maybe they've replaced the written oath with a verbal one.

I believe in one father, one son and one other son, who's now governor of Florida, who will take over after this son retires from office in 2009.

Too bad the Bush team blew it at Tora Bora.

It's been more than three years. Why is bin Laden still on the loose?

So how does this new bin Laden tape play politically in the US?

I'm really not sure.

Republicans are already trying to play this, as Drudge says now on his site, as bin Laden "campaign[ing] against Bush."

A friend tells me that the Bush-propaganda-organ Fox News is calling it bin Laden's 'endorsement' of Kerry.

On the other hand, this cuts against the Bush administration's frequent suggestions that al Qaida has been routed or that bin Laden may in fact be dead.

Much depends of course on how the press plays it. I notice for instance that as of 4:37 PM on MSNBC the front page headline momentarily had bin Laden saying "Bush cannot protect America" before correcting it to read "neither Bush nor Kerry can protect America."

[ed. note: That observation is from a rushed clicking back and forth over their site. So let me make that subject to possible later correction. But that's how it appeared.]

Clearly, Kerry has to hit the ground with a tough and emphatic statement in response to this and gear up his team's operation to go head-to-head with what will no doubt be a desperate Bush campaign's effort to use this to connect Kerry and bin Laden to shift the pro-Kerry momentum of the race in the final days of the campaign.

It seems to me that Kerry should tell voters what he's been telling them for months. That he'll take the fight to bin Laden, that he won't get distracted the way the president has, and that the one thing this tape shows is that the president hasn't gotten the job done.

If he had, there'd be no bin Laden to be making these tapes.

With this morning's Di Rita press conference such a trainwreck, surely now must be time for a terror alert, right?

Release the hounds!

As I've noted a few times over<$Ad$> the course of the last week, there is a real fissure running between the uniformed military and the politicals in Di Rita's office over al Qaqaa.

And as was so often the case during the run-up to the war and since then, it's fallen to two reporters at Knight-Ridder -- Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay -- to bring us this part of the story.

While Di Rita and Co. were working on today's spin operation, this story went out on the KR newswire under Landay's byline.

Note this passage in Landay's piece ...

In a new disclosure, the senior U.S. military officer and another U.S. official, who also spoke on condition he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said that an Iraqi working for U.S. intelligence alerted U.S. troops stationed near the al Qaqaa weapons facility that the installation was being looted shortly after the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003.

But, they said, the troops took no apparent action to halt the pillaging.

"That was one of numerous times when Iraqis warned us that ammo dumps and other places were being looted and we weren't able to respond because we didn't have anyone to send," said a senior U.S. military officer who served in Iraq.

As Landay's sourcing makes clear, this was coming out of the career military, not from the president's appointees.

Earlier this year, Strobel and Landay won the Raymond Clapper Memorial award for their prescient reporting on the Iraqi WMD question. And in an article on the award, Strobel -- Landay's colleague -- described the methods behind much of their award-winning reporting ...

Strobel says their conclusions came from a lot of extra digging and source-building they were forced to do without the red-carpet access to high-level officials that some of the nation's top media outlets enjoy.

"Knight Ridder is not, in some people's eyes, seen as playing in the same ball field as the New York Times and some major networks," Strobel says. "People at the Times were mainly talking to senior administration officials, who were mostly pushing the administration line. We were mostly talking to the lower-level people or dissidents, who didn't necessarily repeat the party line."

Those sources, Knight Ridder Washington Editor Clark Hoyt adds, were "closest to the information."

"I'm not saying we didn't have any top-level sources," Strobel says, "but we also made a conscious effort to talk to people more in the bowels of government who have a less political approach to things."

Their effort paid off in the fall of 2002, when a story critical of the administration's case for war generated a small, but encouraging, response. "We got two or three unsolicited calls from people in government saying, 'You're asking the right questions. Keep it up,'" Landay recalls.


"As the pressure built on the administration and their case got shakier and shakier, there was obviously a lot greater stress, and there was some shouting that was done at us over the telephone," Hoyt says. Some of those calls came from well-known names in high places, Bureau Chief John Walcott adds, declining to drop any names.

Around that time, the White House turned up the pressure, Strobel says, and "tried to freeze us out of briefings."

Landay adds: "I think this administration may have a fairly punitive policy when it comes to journalists who get in their face. And if you talk to some White House reporters, there is a fear of losing access." He says that fear may have played into the relatively uncritical approach of news organizations like the Times.

A little shoe-leather goes a long way.

At a few minutes after noon, I'm watching Mr. Di Rita giving yet another round of spin about al Qaqaa. Uncharacteristically, he looked like he was on the verge of a panic attack through most of his introductory remarks. And with what followed, it's not hard to see why. The line Di Rita led off with (and I just jotted this down from hearing it once over the air, so perhaps I've got a word or two wrong) was this: "It has not been our desire to tell a particular story, only to tell the facts."


I believe this man protests too much.

The only thing accurate about this claim is that it's true that Di Rita has not been intent on telling a particular story. He's been willing to tell any story -- and has -- so long as it's a story that exonerates the White House. Even if it's a different story every day.

It's a touchy point. But it's time for someone to start making the point that the Pentagon Public Affairs office isn't supposed to be used as a formal arm of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. And for that matter if Di Rita's going to use it that way, he should at least be doing a better job of it.

Today Di Rita brought out an Army major who says his unit removed and destroyed roughly 250 tons of equipment, ammunition and explosives from somewhere in the al Qaqaa facility in early April 2003 -- that would be after the first US troops arrived but prior to the arrival of the news crew that apparently filmed much of the explosives on April 18th.

Was it the stuff in question? Di Rita kept trying to answer the questions on the major's behalf. But the major made clear that he had no idea. Did he see any IAEA seals? No, he said, he didn't.

The Fox reporter at the news conference tried to coax the major into saying more than he was saying. But to no avail. He would only say what he knew. And there was very little that he knew that pertained to the relevant question.

The other reporters on hand, apparently weary of being lied to all week, preferred to put their questions to the major directly, rather than to Di Rita. And he, the major, was straightforward enough to say that all he knew was that he had taken stuff from somewhere at al Qaqaa and destroyed it.

What does that mean? Almost nothing.

This was an unfortunate stunt, put on by Di Rita and the politicals at DOD Public Affairs. And given how it turned out, I suspect it's one they quickly regretted.

Aaron Brown valiantly tries to carry the CNN ball into the credibility endzone, only to get dragged back by unnamed goofball colleagues who put together this piece on the CNN website.

As many of you now know, Brown had former chief weapons inspector David Kay on his show this evening and gave a rather conclusive presentation about the significance of the videotapes shot by embeds with the 101st Airborne, which clearly show large quantities of the explosives in question at al Qaqaa as late as April 18th, 2003.

They even have footage of the IAEA seal being clipped off the warehouses as they're going in.

Listen to what Kay said when Brown asked him whether the debate over when the explosives were taken is now over ...

Well, at least with regard to this one bunker, and the film shows one seal, one bunker, one group of soldiers going through, and there were others there that were sealed. With this one, I think it is game, set, and match. There was HMX, RDX in there. The seal was broken. And quite frankly, to me the most frightening thing is not only was the seal broken, lock broken, but the soldiers left after opening it up. I mean, to rephrase the so-called pottery barn rule. If you open an arms bunker, you own it. You have to provide security.

Now, note one other thing. Kay is quite cautious in noting that it's only a slam dunk for the one bunker that appears in the video he's being shown.

But look at what one of the reporters who was there when the video was shot said earlier Thursday evening on Paula Zahn's show ...

Well, I should be clear. I don't think -- I'm not saying for a minute that I know that the munitions and the explosives that we stumbled upon were in fact the munitions or the explosives in question.

All I can say with certainty is that, on that day, there were bunker after bunker after bunker of explosives, tons of them, that were unguarded. We went in and looked at some of them. I don't have the sort of expertise to tell you whether or not those were exactly what they're talking about when they say that these -- how many odd tons of explosives went missing.

So, apparently, there was bunker after bunker with the same stuff Kay was sure about in the one bunker he saw video of.

And now look how CNN plays the story on their website in the early hours of Friday morning (emphasis added) ...

Two more bits of possible evidence surfaced Thursday in the mystery of the missing Iraqi explosives, but they appear to bolster two different scenarios as to what may have happened to the cache.

The Pentagon released a photo showing activity before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 outside a bunker at the weapons dump where nearly 380 tons of explosives reportedly disappeared.

While the photo might lend support to but does not prove the Pentagon's theory that the high-grade explosives were moved before the war, a videotape surfaced offering another scenario.

The video, shot by a crew from KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that was embedded with the 101st Airborne Division, showed barrels of explosives in unguarded bunkers in the Al Qaqaa complex on April 18, 2003, nine days after the fall of Baghdad.

It was unclear, however, if the explosives in the video were of the same types as in the missing cache.

The Pentagon evidence in question is a piece of aerial photography showing two trucks near an al Qaqaa bunker in mid-March 2003. That's it. As part of some larger argument or larger body of evidence this might be suggestive evidence. But alone it means next to nothing. On top of that, the highly-respected globalsecurity.org website says they're not even the right bunkers.

And yet to CNN, it's just a he said/she said, two "bits of possible evidence" as they put it, pointing to "different scenarios." And for them the aerial photos are actually the more probative evidence, as evidenced by the structure of the sentence in the third graf above.

And then there's that last line: "It was unclear, however, if the explosives in the video were of the same types as in the missing cache."


Who wrote that line and where do they get their information? Apparently not from CNN or ABC.

Listen to what Kay said when asked about this by Brown ...

AB: Was there anything else at the facility that would have been under IAEA seal?

DK: Absolutely nothing. It was the HMX, RDX, the two high explosives.

And then a moment later ...

HMX is in powder form because you actually use it to shape a spherical lens that is used to create the triggering device for nuclear weapons. And particularly on the videotape, which is actually better than the still photos, as the soldier dips into it, that's either HMX or RDX. I don't know of anything else in al Qaqaa that was in that form.

Whatever else you can say about him, David Kay knows a thing or two about this subject. And he seems positive.

And look what fellow inspector David Albright told ABC ...

Experts who have studied the images say the barrels on the tape contain the high explosive HMX, and the U.N. markings on the barrels are clear.

"I talked to a former inspector who's a colleague of mine, and he confirmed that, indeed, these pictures look just like what he remembers seeing inside those bunkers," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

The Times even has this from a piece that went up late Thursday evening: "Weapons experts familiar with the work of the international inspectors in Iraq say the videotape appears identical to photographs that the inspectors took of the explosives, which were put under seal before the war."

Apparently, at least three weapons inspectors -- probably more, including the Times -- are certain that's the material in question. But to the folks at CNN it's still an open question.

They seem to want to play by the White House rules, under which each separate ton of explosive material must be identified in videotapes from embeds and then certified as authentic by every conceivable expert under the sun before the president will have to admit that maybe something went wrong.

And of course no one can bring the issue up in a political context until the presidential commission Jeb Bush appoints in 2010 comes back with its final report two years later.

Late Update: As of this morning (10:03 AM), the CNN webscribes did a fairly aggressive edit on this piece. I've got to start saving copies of these articles before the inevitable switcheroo.


Clinton Postpones Trip To Charlotte

In a statement released Friday evening, Hillary Clinton's campaign announced that the Democratic nominee…