Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Politico’s Dylan Byers has a hint of what’s going to come out in Columbia Journalism School’s review of the Rolling Stone UVA story, and it’s not going to be pretty:

The highly anticipated review of Rolling Stone’s disputed story about a University of Virginia gang rape was submitted to the magazine this week, the On Media blog has learned, and its contents are apparently quite damning.

The review, which was submitted by Columbia Journalism School dean Steve Coll, is significantly longer than the original 9,000-word article, sources with knowledge of its contents said. They also said the review offered a blunt indictment of Rolling Stone’s reporting and its violation of journalism ethics. A significant portion of the review is slated to run in the magazine next month, they said.

  • The Hunt for MH370: Courtney Love is all over this story, offering her own analysis of satellite imagery as to the possible location of the plane. Internet hilarity predictably ensues.
  • Photographing Chernobyl: Interesting read and amazing photographs of the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster by Gerd Ludwig, who has made multiple reporting trips there over the past two decades. You can also support Ludwig’s upcoming photo book by donating via his Kickstarter page.

The Obama campaign released this simple but brutal ad yesterday: A series of headlines from recent weeks about Romney’s tenure at Bain, outsourcing jobs, and use of offshore tax havens, set to audio of Romney’s off-key performance of “America the Beautiful” at a campaign event in Florida last January. TPM’s David Kurtz compares this ad to the Lyndon Johnson campaign’s now legendary “Daisy” ad from the 1964 election.

The Atlantic’s James Fallows appeared on NPR yesterday to discuss the ad, and during the course of that conversation, the comparison was made between what Obama is doing to Romney now to what the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Republican operatives did to John Kerry’s military record in Vietnam during the 2004 Election. An excerpt from that conversation:

FALLOWS: It has. And I think it’s worth focusing on why this is such a potential problem for the Romney campaign. The entire reason behind his campaign through the last year in the Republican primaries and now in the next four months in the general election is that America has business problems. He is a businessman, therefore, he’s the right person for the job.

And what the Obama campaign is doing on the basis of this Bain imbroglio is something similar to what George W. Bush was doing to John Kerry back in 2004 in the episode known as swiftboating. And by that, I mean making something that a candidate has assumed to be his strength, which, in John Kerry’s case was his military background, into a weakness.

RAZ: And so if the Obama campaign can make Mitt Romney’s business background not the presumed basis of his campaign, but instead a source of controversy, a source of potential weakness for him, that really does make problems in the campaign for the Romney team.

So if the Obama campaign is swiftboating, as you say, Mitt Romney – I mean, one of the criticisms of John Kerry was that he didn’t respond to this back in 2004, and Romney is only started to respond to it.

FALLOWS: Exactly. And I should make clear, in saying swiftboating, I’m not asserting that these are false accusations. I’m just saying they have this jujitsu effect. And it’s actually surprising the Romney team is not better prepared for them than it is. Number one, because they’ve had the last eight years since the John Kerry episode. Number two, over the last year, this is what Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and others were using as their angle of attack on Mitt Romney’s business background too.

Fallows’s analogy of the Bain attack being political jiujitsu by turning a candidate’s strength into a potential liability is correct. However, there are a few other reasons why the swiftboating analogy is not accurate here that are worth pointing out (Full disclosure/background: I reviewed hundreds of pages of military records for Kerry and others while working at CNN during the course of the Swift Boat controversy as it was playing out in 2004.)

  • After having reviewed multiple incident reports and service records obtained independently through Freedom of Information Act requests, documents filed contemporaneously at the time backed Kerry’s version of the events, every single time. In other words, the underlying basis for challenging Kerry’s service record was entirely false. In Romney’s case, independent reporting of multiple news organizations, as well as Bain Capital’s SEC filings and his 2002 testimony before the Ballot Law Commission in Massachusetts are the basis for questioning his version of events.
  • The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were an independent 527 group. This ad – and the entire strategy of attacking Romney’s record at Bain – was a direct hit organized by the Obama campaign.
  • Romney was attacked for his Bain record during the 2012 Republican primaries. He could have put a lot of these issues to rest if he had put the information out there months ago. Kerry’s military service was never challenged during the Democratic primaries, and did not become an issue until the Swift Boat group started running ads shortly after Kerry accepted his party’s nomination.
  • His continued refusal to release tax returns beyond 2010 is also compounding the problem. Also consider that when Romney was being vetted to be John McCain’s possible running mate back in 2008, he gave the McCain campaign 23 years’ worth of tax returns. Even though his tax returns and the end of his tenure at Bain are two completely separate issues, the Obama campaign has effectively joined them together at the hip. In this respect, Romney’s response is similar to Kerry’s refusal to release his full personnel and medical file (Standard Form 180) back in 2004.

The Obama campaign has effectively turned Romney’s record in the private sector – in his words, one of the main reasons why he should be elected president – into a liability. However, after looking at everything the Swift Boat campaign did to John Kerry, the analogy should end there. Romney’s current problem is almost entirely of his own making – the conflicting answers he’s given in the past and last week, as well as the SEC documents and his own refusal to release more tax returns.

Update: Business Insider compares Romney’s handling of the Bain questioning to Bill Clinton’s infamous and widely mocked “the meaning of the word ‘is'” during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Update II: Fallows has written a blog post elaborating on his swiftboating comments during the NPR interview. The whole thing is worth a read.

Update III: Another Kerry 2004/Romney 2012 comparison that has nothing to do with swiftboating –  both candidates used the same slogan, “Believe in America.”

 

I can’t believe Politico published this with a straight face [emphasis mine]:

A senior Romney strategist said Thursday that the campaign had a plan and wouldn’t be distracted from implementing it, despite pressure from outsiders. The strategist called the new charges part of an old line of attack that had already been thoroughly aired.

“We went through this in the primary,” the adviser said. “You have a lot of people inside the Beltway, who like to sit back and be armchair quarterbacks, strategists who talk to you and don’t go on the record. We have a plan. We know what the plan is, and we’re going to implement the plan.”

So the Romney strategist who won’t go on the record bashes other strategists for not going on the record? See if you can make sense of that one…


NBC and Fox News project Gingrich as the winner. CNN has not made a projection yet.

Update: The Associated Press calls the race for Gingrich at 7:25. Still no projection from CNN.

Update II: At 7:35, CNN projects Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina primary.

While the administration and the media have focused much of the public’s attention on the intelligence gold mine recovered by Navy SEALs during the Osama bin Laden operation, it is important to remember a less dramatic, but important angle that both the government and the press can look into: the financial lifeline that allowed the Al Qaeda leader and his family to build and live in that compound for years.

Al Qaeda has demonstrated it has the knowledge and savvy to use the financial and banking system to achieve its ends. The 9/11 plot, which investigators believe cost the organization between $400,000-500,000 to carry out, was financed almost entirely by Al Qaeda using a combination of cash couriers, conventional wire transfers and banking methods in the United States and overseas. Reforms implemented in the aftermath of 9/11 have made it more difficult to use a financial or banking institution to launder or transfer funds for nefarious purposes. By focusing on the compound, investigators may be able to collect more information about Al Qaeda, which could potentially be just as promising as any of the data from the raid.

Anyone who has ever bought a property or built a home knows that the entire process is inherently a team sport, requiring the participation of multiple individuals to see through to the end.  Simply put, Osama bin Laden couldn’t have bought the land, filed the paperwork, hired people to design and build the compound, overseen the construction, set up heating, water and electricity, and pay for bills, taxes and living expenses by himself. At every step of the way, he needed intermediaries to do it on his behalf and pay for the goods received or services rendered. Separating the individual components necessary to build that compound and make it function may uncover possible Al Qaeda operatives, calculate the costs, and possibly get a sense of the organization’s financial state at the time the compound was being built and while bin Laden was living there.

According to property records obtained by the Associated Press, a man named Mohammed Arshad bought adjoining plots of land in 2004-2005 to build the compound for $48,000.   Two of the plots were purchased using an unidentified middleman who may have passed them on to Arshad – one of several possible aliases he used – who may have been bin Laden’s courier that inadvertently tipped off U.S. intelligence officials to the location and existence of the compound.

The courier and his brother who lived in the compound are literally a dead end from an interrogation perspective – both men were killed during the raid. However, the money trail may still yield promising leads.  Unless the plots of land were bought using cash, there would have been some type of transaction involving at least one financial institution, whether it was paid as a wire transfer or a check.  Following the money from the transaction to its original source may yield more leads: the name or alias of an operative or holding company, contact information, or other persons who helped to facilitate the deal.

After the acquisition of the land, it would have been necessary to hire professionals to design and build the compound, meager as it was. Gul Mohammed, identified by The Sun as the builder of the compound, was quoted by the tabloid saying he never saw bin Laden or knew he was living there, and described the oversight of the project saying, “Only one or sometimes two would come to supervise my work – and they never cared about money.” Unless Al Qaeda was somehow able to keep the job in house with someone affiliated with or trusted by the organization, checking with architects, contractors, or construction firms in Abbottabad or nearby cities may generate even further leads on the amount of money paid and who – possibly the courier and his brother based on media accounts by the previous owners of the land and the builder – was responsible for overseeing the entire project.

Although photographs of the compound and the video of Bin Laden watching himself on TV show that it was far from luxurious, housing and feeding as many as three dozen people required some basic utilities for the compound, specifically water, electricity and heating.  A private or government-owned utility company presumably would have been responsible for installing the necessary infrastructure during the construction process, and would have issued bills and collected revenues from one of the residents or an intermediary.

Moreover, the courier or another person may have had to pay some type of taxes on the property, on a one-time or recurring basis. If so, corresponding records might exist for the compound in a federal or local tax agency in Pakistan.

By taking these possible leads, in conjunction with accounts from local merchants who provided goods and services to the residents of the compound, it may be possible to calculate an estimate for how much it cost Al Qaeda to build and maintain the property. This information, if cross-referenced with previously available intelligence about the organization or some of the new material obtained during the raid, could help government officials create a picture of Al Qaeda’s financial structure and health during the past few years. By doing so, it may be possible to better assess its capability to carry out an operation or to function as an organization.

Bin Laden had been living there for at least five years, President Obama told 60 Minutes, and he didn’t do it alone: “We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don’t know who or what that support network was.” Excluding the question of whether or not anyone in the Pakistani government was involved, the existence of the compound alone and all that was necessary to build it and keep it operational for its residents proves bin Laden had a support network in his personal circle for his immediate daily needs.

To use an old cliché, money makes the world go round. Support networks for any criminal or terrorist organization require money to function.  Looking into how much it cost to build this compound and where the money came from could yield more leads on Al Qaeda worth pursuing.  Such information may contribute to achieving President Obama’s objective of “badly disabling” the group, because history has shown that understanding and disrupting the financial lifelines of criminal or terrorist networks can be just as damaging to them as bombs and bullets.

The New York Post must have had a field day putting together this front page…