- - Sunday, May 17, 2015


Contrary to what they sometimes think of themselves, neither journalists nor intelligence agents are 10 feet tall. They’re usually intelligent, well spoken and often have sharp skills at what they do. But not always. Sometimes the best of them blunder at what they do best. Two examples are currently contributing to the buzz of the chattering class.

Jeb Bush, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination next year, committed a “gaffe” (the high-media word for blunder), when Megyn Kelly, one of the sharpest wits and prettiest faces of Fox News, asked whether, if he knew now what he didn’t know then, would Mr. Bush have advocated going to war in Iraq. He replied yes. Many Americans, perhaps most, now think the war was a mistake, and George W. Bush left office tarnished by memories of that war. The question is an important one for Jeb because his name is Bush, too.

But anyone listening closely to Miss Kelly would have heard, loud and clear, that Mr. Bush clearly misunderstood the “if” at the beginning of the question. In answering, he rightly recalled that others, including Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee, endorsed the invasion at the time when an endorsement actually mattered. Miss Kelly let the confusion pass rather than repeating the question for clarification. A smart lady like Miss Kelly surely noticed that Mr. Bush had misunderstood the question. Instead, she, with the help of many of her press colleagues, turned his answer into a “gotcha” moment. The Gaffe Patrol pounced with the usual fusillade of blanks.

Mr. Bush, who should have anticipated the question, has been chewing over the question and answer for a week, accompanied by the noise of nearly every talking head on television.

Meanwhile, the point of the controversy has been further distorted. Whether the Democrats — including those who, like Mrs. Clinton, went along with George W. with relish and enthusiasm — can now admit it or not, the war against Iraq was undertaken for a cause considered good and sufficient at the time. The war was not merely a whim of George W. Every intelligence agency in the West was convinced, firmly convinced, that Saddam Hussein was hotly pursuing nuclear arms to add to an inventory of weapons of mass destruction.

His use of poison gas on the Kurds and against Iran in a war stretching over nine years was ample evidence that he would likely have no reluctance to use weapons of mass destruction, and was looking for the ultimate weapon. There were stories that the Iraqis were looking for uranium. The spooks put 2 and 2 together and came up with 5. It was not for the first time.

Then the Gaffe Patrol was diverted to another target. George Stephanopoulos, once the talented pitch man for the Clinton administration, is an aggressive and effective television interlocutor now for ABC News, skewering politicians on the right, sometimes in the center, and even occasionally on the left.

He often appears evenhanded in his questions, but when he set out to skewer Peter Schweizer, author of “Clinton Cash,” a book examining the accumulation of millions by Clinton family foundation, he neglected to mention his own conflicts of interest. It turns out that not only did he emerge from the White House with his biases intact, but that he has contributed $75,000 to the Clintons. He made the ritual apology, and the network followed with the usual assurances that undying confidence in its star was intact. (Geraldo Rivera complained that ABC News sacked him for making a political contribution of only $200.)

We need intelligence agents, even if they aren’t 10 feet tall, and we need journalists who don’t have to be 10 feet tall. The rest of us are entitled to measure their credibility, depending on how they deal with their mistakes and biases. The Gaffe Patrol will no doubt be watching when Mr. Stephanopoulos asks Hillary a $75,000 question.

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