Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Smoking gun or steaming pile?

Some Democrats seem disappointed that no one has yet found the first. But the Enron scandal and its consequences for the Bush presidency seems much more like the second. Sometimes what makes a scandal truly damaging isn't this or that particular thing you did wrong as being in close proximity to something really nasty and unpleasant. And President Bush and his top brass look like they're closed off in the Oval Office with ... well, something really nasty and unpleasant.

Some Republicans are beginning to realize this.

Give it time. Give it time.

Wow. Great reaction so far to our new feature, Ari Fleischer Ridiculous Misstatement Watch (TM). Thankfully, given the subject matter we're not worried about lacking material for future installments.

Now, a few quick points. TPM may seem omniscient, I grant you. But he can't be everywhere. He can't watch Fleischer's every move. He needs help.

Now there are a lot of DC journos who read TPM, even a few in the White House press corps.


Now, not every foolish lie can be shoe-horned into a story. But don't let it go to waste. Send it as an anonymous tip to TPM.

More later on what makes a perfect candidate for Ari Fleischer Ridiculous Misstatement Watch (TM).

Two cheers for Tim Noah. And complete agreement regarding celebrity historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

As regular readers know, I'm always trying to put my history doctorate to some use on TPM. (Well, okay, in a few months it'll be a history doctorate. But then historians in the public square seem to play pretty fast and loose these days. So maybe it's okay to just say it's a doctorate?)

Anyway, Doris Kearns Goodwin and plagiarism.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I think mistakes can be made either through innocence or sloppiness or disorganization. I think one can have a sentence or a phrase of someone else's bubble back into one's consciousness a few months later and not remember it's not yours. As I wrote then, I think this should be called misdemeanor plagiarism. Worthy of a good whack on wrist, but not a firing or a career-ending offence.

What drives me &$#%#*$ nuts, though, is when TV historians have the unmitigated gall to say that this is actually okay to do. It's not. No one has ever said that it is okay to do. Not until Steve Ambrose at least.

As Noah points out (as long as we're being fastidious with handing out credit, the Kearns story was broken by Bo Crader in the Weekly Standard), Kearns says that you can lift a few sentences or a whole graf as long as you toss the author a bone in the form of a footnote.

It's not. For better or worse, I was trained as a professional historian. And no one thinks this is true. Footnotes are about ideas and sources, not prose. That's why we have quotes. What people do sometimes wonder about is if you are very heavily reliant on someone else's ideas and merely toss them a footnote. At some point that crosses the line too. Not into plagiarism, but at least into scholarly inappropriateness.

No one thinks a footnote covers stealing prose.

There should be a reckoning for this sort of gall and deception.

Even more clues that Ken Lay was in the running for a variety of cabinet and ambassadorial appointments. (See this earlier post for speculation about why this may matter.) In addition to the possible posts noted on Monday, this article from a year ago in Business Week says Lay was being considered for Treasury.

Wouldn't that have gone well.

I like Don Rumsfeld too, but ... Well, a few folks have fallen for this press release from the Sec Def's office calling out a bunch of big media outlets for getting it wrong about whether or not he owned Enron stock.

He doesn't mention Talking Points (sniffle, sniffle), but the list would have included us too since we reported that Rummy owned a bit of the 'Ron back on January 2nd.

First let's stipulate that whether Rumsfeld owns a few shares of Enron really doesn't matter to this whole scandal. But let's look at the dispute, which doesn't take much more than some elementary logic to unpack and see that Rumsfeld -- or more likely his flack -- is full of it.

Rumsfeld's press release starts off by saying ...

Mr. Rumsfeld does not own any shares in Enron.

Contrary to the Associated Press, Washington Times, USA Today and New York Times stories, to the best of his knowledge he has never owned shares in Enron, and definitely has not since he divested most of his holdings on reentering government in January 2001. Prior to joining the government, Mr. Rumsfeld had funds managed by professional money managers, including index funds, so it is conceivable that one of those funds may have owned shares in Enron, but not to his knowledge. At present, he has a blind trust and is not aware of the investments in the trust.

Wow! Sounds pretty good. Rumsfeld didn't own any Enron stock.

But wait. There's another paragraph.

Mr. Rumsfeld's accountant advises that for a period of time, until immediately after Mr. Rumsfeld was sworn in as Secretary of Defense, Mrs. Rumsfeld had an investment with an organization that designed a fund to replicate the S&P 500 index, and that for a period Enron was a component of that fund, along with several hundred other securities. As an investor in that fund, Mrs. Rumsfeld owned 100 shares of Enron stock before Mr. Rumsfeld came into the government.
Okay, so wait.

Apparently Rummy's accountant chimed in between the writing of the first and second grafs. Disclosure statements sometimes don't make clear (in fact, theirs did not) whether a husband or a wife owns stock. And the general theory underlying the laws assumes, rightly, that it doesn't matter whether it's you or your spouse, etc.

The next paragraph goes on to say that soon after Rummy became Sec Def, he and his wife divested themselves of various holdings including the Enron stock. Then there's this kicker.

The Associated Press, Washington Times and the New York Times stories all cited the Center for Public Integrity as a source. USA Today cited its own research. All were inaccurate. To the best of our knowledge, none of the news organizations contacted Mr. or Mrs. Rumsfeld to determine the accuracy of their stories.
Actually the news outlets were relying on the facts generated by the Center for Public Integrity and they did try to check, but to no avail, as their response to Rumsfeld makes clear.

TPM on Rumsfeld: love the talk, love the camp, hate the crap (and the flack).

The word has been out for a while that Ari Fleischer is one of the more feckless and incapable press secretaries any White House has had in some time. And that's saying something, because to date Fleischer has really never had a challenging situation to deal with. So, say what you will about Dee Dee Myers' chaotic tenure as White House Press Secretary in the early Clinton years, but she had a lot on her plate.

Could Enron be the scandal that convinces the adults in the White House that the president needs to hire a pro to do his spinning for him?

Can Ari Fleischer tell the truth? Let's make this the first installment of the Ari Fleischer Ridiculous Misstatement Watch.

Here's an exchange from today from Fleischer's daily Enron beating ...

QUESTION: The question is, does he [President Bush] feel that he [Ken Lay] should have the sort of access that he's had? Or does he believe that there ought to be more campaign finance reform?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that access should be across the board. And that's why the Sierra Club, for example, as you know, met repeatedly with the energy task force.

Wow, Sierra Club met with the Energy Task Force. Who knew?

Actually, The Sierra Club never met with the Energy Task Force while it was task-forcing. It was only after the Task Force had released its report that the Vice President agreed to meet with Sierra Club representatives to hear their gripes. So basically after it was no longer a task force at all.

Is this a lie?

Okay, quick TPM quiz. Who's the most execrable Larry King Live guest who's made three appearances or more since September 11th?

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York?

John Walsh of America's Most Wanted?

Or Chas Grimaldi, the reformed serial-killer who now lectures around the country to audiences of adolescent sociopaths on how to reform their lives before it's too late?

Okay, I admit it. I made up Chas Grimaldi. But, you know, I couldn't come up with a third person who was equally loathsome. And someone you'd also expect to see on Larry King Live.

Here's an angle no one seems to have given much attention.

After President Bush's election, Ken Lay's name was tossed around as being in the running for a number of potential administration appointments, including Secretary of Energy (Gas Daily, January 5th, 2001) and the Ambassadorships to Great Britain (Times of London, Jan 29th, 2001, February 5th, 2001) and Mexico (Dallas Morning News, March 30, 2001). Obviously, it didn't happen.

Why? (As the Enron ad campaign might say.)

Perhaps it just didn't pan out. Maybe Lay decided he didn't want the job.

But could Lay have been vetted and come up wanting? Could the White House have done a background check and come across some uncomfortable findings? Could Lay have been gracious enough (in that heart-to-heart potential nominees have with high-level officials or presidential confidants) to let on that there might be trouble on the horizon?

Note to White House press corps: this one's on me.

PS. Special thanks to TPM reader WB for putting me on this trail.

No more on Krugman and Enron here in these pages -- barring some new facts or interesting tidbits. But allow me to briefly touch on one point. The criticism of choice now seems to be that Krugman's disclosure of being on an Enron advisory board was not enough, since it didn't make clear this was a paid position.

But this is foolish.

Who serves on any corporate board without pay? No one. These are paid positions, period. Salary. Consulting fees. 'Honoraria.' Whatever! Folks get money.

Do people do enough to earn the money? That's another matter.

Should the companies' fiduciaries keep a tighter check on the purse strings? Maybe.

But are they paid? Always.

Is pro-market capitalist TPM the only one who knows this? TPM-sponsored classes in corporate governance and culture?