Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Condi Rice: Not a very good liar

  • Liars We Like

  • Condi's Not Good At It

    Let's be honest: We would be surprised if politicians did not to lie to us

    George W. Bush has told his share of whoppers, as did his father ("Read my lips -- no new taxes"). Both Bill Clinton ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman") and Ronald Reagan ("trees cause more pollution than automobiles do") were extremely accomplished liars -- indeed, there was almost a poetic beauty to their bullshit. The key to each of their fibbing ability was their personal charm; Reagan had his charismatic manner, while Clinton's style was to "feel your pain." Two fabulous fibbers, they were.

    Al Gore was also a liar, and not a particularly good one. While not as much a fibber as Clinton, or as bad as his opponents made him out to be. That "Gore claimed to have invented the internet" story? Turns out not to be true. Still, he told his fair share of lies, and streched the truth when convenient.

    When it suited them, JFK and LBJ were both full of it. There was some serious duplicity surrounding Ford's pardon of Nixon, which Ford never adequately explained to anyone's satisfaction. A quid pro quo was widely believed to have existed, and Ford's denials rang hollow. As to Richard M. Nixon himself -- please, don't even ask.

    Amongst the present administration, there are many highly accomplished and skilled prevaricators: Starting with the suave and polished Colin Powell. He's smooth, with a grace and presence that allows him to get away with the occasional mal mot. His U.N. testimony before the Iraq War, of course, turned out to be nearly all chicanery, but you almost sensed that he believed it. His U.N. presentation was, at the least, highly misleading, and makes one wonder what research Powell did to verify the veracity of his power points. But Powell was (likely) relying on other people's unproven assertions, and probably on purpose. That allowed Powell to act shocked (I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!) when the allegations proved false. As George Costanza noted, "its not a lie if you believe it."

    Dick Cheney is another highly accomplished liar. He has an awesome command of facts and figures, which he conveniently ignores when it suits him. His narratives, peppered as they are with details, have an air of authenticity to them regardless. He speaks in a very measured and confident tone. This allows him to get away with more than his fair share of misleading statements, distortions, and outright falsehoods. His lies are never erroneous, but are brazen and purposeful. Where Powell may blame someone else, all of Cheney's lies are his own.

    John Snow is also a decent liar -- at least better than Paul O'Neill was. Snow jobs, as they've come to be known, are the usual corporate hokum that you get within any large entity, and the US Government is as large as they come. Snow goes with the talking points, and states them forcefully. He's still pounding away on the Payroll/Household survey discrepancy, an issue which credible economists -- including Alan Greenspan and the BLS -- have already resolved. Snow hasn't gotten the memo yet that this is a dead issue. Right or wrong, he's still no point.

    Rumsfield is my favorite administration dissembler, mostly because he is so disarmingly blunt. He has a brusque, no nonsense manner which allows him to skate over the truth on a regular basis. Challenge him on anything factual or specific and he looks at you like you've got two heads. For a reporter, it must be a disconcerting sensation when the Secretary of Defense treats you like an idiot child. His forthright manner is endearing in a bizarre sort of way. Sure, he's Dr. Strangelove, but he's our Strangelove.


    In case you could not tell, I enjoy watching a good liar. I'm not particularly skilled at it (otherwise I would be in Sales.) In both my careers -- I was a practicing attorney before I joined the Wall Street crowd -- I've been witnessed some utterly astounding liars. Truly pathological, immoral, steal-grandma's-last-dime kinda liars. From a corporate viewpoint, I watch CEOs lie all the time. It requires a degree of finesse to balance the occasional "white" lie while still maintaining a reputation for veracity. That, in my opinion, is what separates the good CEOs from the truly great ones. There are obvious strategic advantages -- and pitfalls -- to lying, and most people lack the skill set to know how and when to selectively employ classic misrepresentation techniques.

    Which brings us to Condi Rice

    Of all the distorting, misleading prevaricators in the White House today, Condi is the least capable, least convincing, least likely to get away with a real humdinger.

    She's simply not that good at it.

    On 60 Minutes, she looked uncomfortable. She wasn't forceful or confident. Her answers seemed "legalistic" or at times, simply evasive. She often look away from the interviewer. Once or twice, I noted she was looking down and to the right -- often a good "tell" as to a lie. As a viewer, I very much got the sense she was not so much"recalling" specifics as much as creating them.

    Do not misunderstand this -- this was not due to a heightened sense of ethics or moral compulsion; She is simply not particularly talented in this department. She's an academic, not a Washington insider or politician. As such, she is not a very accomplished liar.

    What make her lies so much worse is that she keeps insisting on repeating things which are verifiably false. Its harder to accept falsehoods from a person when they keep rubbing your nose in statements which are demonstrably untrue.

    Her most glaring falsehood is the insupportable notion that "no one had any idea that commercial planes would be used as part of the attack." Condi has said this repeatedly. That's been shown to be false in several ways:

    All the way back on July 26, 2001, CBS reported that Attorney General John Ashcroft, on the advice of his FBI security detail, stopped flying on Commercial Aircraft. Previously, he had flown commercial, as did his predecessor, Janet Reno.

    An edict to the AG that he NOT FLY COMMERCIAL AIRCRAFT is solid evidence that the FBI knew that aircraft were a potential target. Given all the terrorist "chatter" which intelligence agencies have said existed in June and July of 2001, its clear that there was plenty of notice about commercial aircraft. (Not that "we" heard anything about it at the time).

    San Francisco Gate columnist Harley Sorensen reported the same on June 3, 2002. This is simply old news, still available on the web. It took me all of 30 seconds to find factual details on Condi's silly dissembling and refute them. It has to make you wonder why she would tell so obvious a lie -- one that is so easily and verifiably false. Only an extremely poor liar would do that; A Freudian would say she want to get caught. I have no idea what her motivation is, other than pointing out she is not a skilled prevaricator.

    The New York Times noted today that in an August 6, 2001, President Bush was told that Al Qaeda might seek to hijack aircraft. The 9/11 Commission has found that US intelligence agencies had some warning of terrorists using airplanes as missiles.

    That's before we even get to Richard Clarke's testimony about 1996 Atlanta Olympics security detail. He's commented that the security detail had fixed on ways to prevent aircraft from being flown into the Olympic stadium, creating a no fly zone, using helicopters, etc.

    There are witnesses named to this discussion. If Clarke is not telling the truth, then that should be easily provable. Get the Special Agent in charge of the Atlanta FBI Office in 1996, or Cathal Flynn, a retired Navy SEAL who ran FAA security. They are witnesses to this discussion, according to Clarke's book.

    If there's a moral to this story, its this: John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan -- accomplished liars, both -- accepted responsibility when things went terribly wrong. They didn't hide the truth, but accpeted it, even embraced it. JFK took full responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco; Reagan shouldered the blame personally for the 233 Marines who died when terrorists attacked their barracks in Beirut.

    For these acts of political responsibility and human decency, their approval ratings went up. There's a lesson in this for the present administration -- and perhaps for the the next one as well . . .

    On how terrorism was treated before Sept. 11 "The Bush administration saw terrorism policy as important but not urgent, prior to 9/11."
    -- From testimony for 9/11 Commission hearing, March 24, 2004
    "I would like very much to know what more could have been done given that it was an urgent problem."
    -- 60 Minutes, March 28
    On whether Bush pressured Clarke to find an Iraqi link to Sept.
    "I said, 'Mr. President, we've done this before… there's no connection.' He came back at me and said, 'Iraq, Saddam; find
    out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way."
    -- 60 Minutes, March 21
    "I have never seen the president say anything to people in an intimidating way to try to get a particular answer out of them."
    -- 60 Minutes, March 28
    On whether Rice had demoted Clarke "Rice decided that the position [Clarke held] of National
    Coordinator for Counterterrorism would also be downgraded."
    -- In his book, "Against All Enemies"
    "He wasn't demoted. We had a different organizational structure. Dick was still the national coordinator. He was still doing all
    of the things he had been doing."
    -- March 24 press briefing

    Source: WSJ


    Rice Leads Counterattack
    CBS 60 Minutes, March 28, 2004

    Ashcroft Flying High
    Jim Stewart
    CBS News, Washington, July 26, 2001

    Video: Ashcroft No Longer Flying Commercial Jets

    Heads-Up To Ashcroft Proves Threat Was Known Before 9/11
    Harley Sorensen,
    SF Gate, June 3, 2002
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2002/06/03/hsorensen.DTL

    Meet the Press,
    White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke
    March 28, 2004

    Mendacity Index: Which president told the biggest whoppers?
    The Washington Monthly, September 2003

    Posted at 06:35 AM in Media, Politics, War/Defense | Permalink

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    Felt obligated to point out here that Clinton in fact didn't lie when he said, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." Check the definition of "sexual relations" - it was a carefully constructed sentence designed to avoid telling the truth without actually lying. They never had intercourse, which is the strict definition of "sexual relations."

    Posted by: Bob Maurus | Mar 31, 2004 1:22:53 PM

    I don't buy that literal nonsense -- His intent was to decieve, and would have gotten away with it -- only no one believe him.

    When you stand in friont of your countrymen as President and make willfully misleading statements, that says something about your character and the type of leader you are.

    For Clinton, it was the lies about his peepee that got him into trouble.

    For Bush, lying during the State of the Union about Nigerian yellowcake uranium will be his legacy.

    Its not whether a statement is precisely and legalistically a lie -- its the intent to mislead. That's a problem in a country whose governmental system requires the consent of the governed.

    Posted by: Barry Ritholtz | Mar 31, 2004 2:20:33 PM

    More commentary on using commercial aircraft as weapons - James Pinketon writes in Newday today:

    "But, in fact, many had predicted such an attack, and some had even tried it. In Tom Clancy's 1994 novel, "Debt of Honor," a homicidal Japanese pilot crashes a 747 jetliner into the Capitol as the president is addressing a joint session of Congress.

    Later that same year, life imitated art when Algerian terrorists hijacked an Air France Airbus with the goal of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower; French soldiers stormed the plane at an airport refueling and so thwarted the attack. And in 1996, the Philippines broke up a plot to hijack 11 U.S. airplanes and crash them into American targets."


    Posted by: Barry Ritholtz | Apr 1, 2004 5:40:54 AM

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