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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Class and the absence thereof with respect to the late Pres. Gerald R. Ford

The first vote I ever cast in a presidential election was for Gerald R. Ford in 1976. He'll be remembered as an honest and decent man — a class act whose presidential skills, if not equal to those of Ronald Reagan, at least looked considerably better by the end of Jimmy Carter's disastrous presidency.

It's ironic, then, that Bob Woodward and the Washington Post, who played such a substantial part in the political demise of President Ford's predecessor, have chosen the occasion of his death to publish a remarkably classless front-page "news report" breathlessly entitled "Ford Disagreed with Bush About Invading Iraq."

Explains Woodward: "The [July 2004] Ford interview — and a subsequent lengthy conversation in 2005 — took place for a future book project, though he said his comments could be published at any time after his death." One wonders if Woodward got that permission through a candid and honest request, which would have gone like this:

"Hey, Mr. President, I know that to induce your cooperation, I told you these interviews were intended for a reflective and in-depth book I'm planning to write some years from now. But actually, within hours of your death and before you've even been laid to rest, my newspaper and I plan to quote selectively and sensationally from anything you tell me for the deliberate purpose of trying to make the incumbent president look bad — since after all, you won't be around to refute my spin then. With respect to anything remotely critical or negative that you say about Dubya or Cheney or Rumsfield, I'm going to make out like this was you entrusting me to deliver on your behalf some important posthumous political message — maybe even a warning from beyond the grave! — to the whole American public. We'll pick that time to 'break' this 'news story' because that will be the moment of maximum good feeling toward you in the public's sentiments, and thus your comments as spun by us will do the maximum amount of damage to the current administration. Oh, sure, we've talked here for several hours over the course of two separate interviews over two years. But I'm going to pick out the seven sentences I like best, edit out anything and everything else that might have provided any context, and then put up a transcript and audio recordings of just those seven sentences on the Washington Post website as 'support' for my 'revelation.' Is that plan okay with you?"

Woodward shows that he can also selectively ignore major elements of history:

In the end, though, it was Vietnam and the legacy of the retreat he presided over that troubled Ford. After Saigon fell in 1975 and the United States evacuated from Vietnam, Ford was often labeled the only American president to lose a war. The label always rankled.

"Well," he said, "I was mad as hell, to be honest with you, but I never publicly admitted it."

Why would President Ford have been "mad as hell"? That's obvious to anyone who knows that the proximate cause of the fall of the South Vietnamese government in April 1975 was the refusal of the post-Watergate radical-dove Congress to continue the economic and indirect military aid that President Ford had urgently requested. That refusal led directly to what was, in my view, not America losing a war, but America's most shameful betrayal ever of an ally — but however it's characterized, the blame for it cannot be laid at President Ford's feet.

I'd wager that Woodward knows those facts, and that he knows that most Americans of this era don't. But is Woodward's disingenuous misreading of history important? Only if you expect, as I do, that the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will begin trying to run American foreign policy in Iraq and elsewhere through similar hyper-management of the military's purse-strings.

I'd make a wish that someone, someday, would selectively spin-quote Woodward to promote some politically nasty purpose within hours of his death, whenever that happens. But that would accord Woodward a degree of implied respect that he's long since forfeited. Gerald Ford was a dedicated and noble public servant who deserves to be honored and mourned. Bob Woodward is a worm who would begin gnawing his corpse before it's even in the ground.


UPDATE (Thu Dec 28 @ 6pm): Bill Bennett posted a very, very different reaction to the Woodward article over on The Corner (ellipsis in original):

[J]ust how decent, how courageous, is what Jerry Ford did with Bob Woodward? He slams Bush & Cheney to Woodward in 2004, but asks Woodward not to print the interview until he's dead. If he felt so strongly about his words having a derogatory affect, how about telling Woodward not to run the interview until after Bush & Cheney are out of office? The effect of what Ford did is to protect himself, ensuring he can't be asked by others about his critiques, ensuring that there can be no dialogue. The way Ford does it with Woodward, he doesn't have to defend himself ... he simply drops it into Bob Woodward's tape recorder and lets the bomb go off when fully out of range himself.

It's hard for me to imagine that Mr. Bennett would reflexively assume that Bob Woodward's participation in this was benign, altruistic, and unspun, but that President Ford's intent was to throw bombs, via Woodward, at the Bush-43 administration after President Ford's death. I believe that peddling that notion was precisely Woodward's and the WaPo's intention, but I'm surprised that Mr. Bennett would be so completely fooled by it.

NRO's Jonah Goldberg, meanwhile, posted a link to a Thomas DeFrank piece in today's New York Daily News that, as Mr. Goldberg points out, is "a good deal more nuanced than the Woodward version." It includes this (first bracketed portion and boldface mine, second bracketed portion in original):

Ford was a few weeks shy of his 93rd birthday as we chatted [during a May 2006 interview] for about 45 minutes. He'd been visited by President Bush three weeks earlier and said he'd told Bush he supported the war in Iraq but that the 43rd President had erred by staking the invasion on weapons of mass destruction.

"Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him," he observed, "but we shouldn't have put the basis on weapons of mass destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does [Bush] get his advice?"

I suppose I'm one of the most consistent supporters of the Bush-43 administration left in America. I'm the sort of person who'd respond to the late President Ford's question, for example, by pointing out that concerns over WMD were legitimate, but in any event they were only one out of a long list of justifications offered by the Bush administration and the Congress for overturning Saddam's regime.

But if a newspaper reporter were, for some odd reason, to spend two hours interviewing me about events since January 2001, I'm quite certain that at the end of the interview, that reporter could — if he were unscrupulous — extract at least seven sentences that he could post in partial-transcript form, and on the basis of which he could run a story breathlessly headlined: "Beldar Bashes Bush!" That, of course, would not be a newsworthy headline, and the deception not worth the reporter's or his newspaper's efforts. Unfortunately for President Ford's posthumous reputation with people like Mr. Bennett, however, that sort of ghoulish spin apparently was considered worthwhile by Woodward and the WaPo.

Posted by Beldar at 11:18 PM in Current Affairs, Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


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(1) antimedia made the following comment | Dec 28, 2006 12:38:40 AM | Permalink

So how do you REALLY feel about Woodward??? :-)

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Dec 28, 2006 1:18:17 AM | Permalink

One of my New Year's resolutions is: "Continue being subtle."

(3) dchamil made the following comment | Dec 28, 2006 8:56:54 AM | Permalink

Or, as Larry King would say, "After the break, let's try to draw Beldar out, find out what he really thinks."

(4) Mark L made the following comment | Dec 28, 2006 9:21:59 AM | Permalink

Hey, cut Woodward some slack. The guy is just not that bright -- and certainly not as devestating as he thinks he is. After all, this is the chump that let a pissed-off FBI agent roll him over Watergate. Woodward let the clown from the FBI conduct a bloodless coup d'etat -- and probably still doesn't realize that he and Berstein were used like a discarded kleenex by J. Edgar's man.

(5) DRJ made the following comment | Dec 28, 2006 8:07:31 PM | Permalink

Beldar, count me in as another American - strike that, a Texan - who believes in Bush's wars. It took me a long time to accept that our viewpoint might be in the minority. I still hold out hope that bogus polling and media spin has caused the American public to become disillusioned with Bush's desire to make a difference in the Middle East.

(6) jb made the following comment | Jan 1, 2007 8:46:29 PM | Permalink

I can't find the source or reference, but I read earlier today that one thing that made Gerald Ford's later years cheerier is that he lived long enough to see Chevy Chase become a forgotten has-been.

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