The Problem Is Blair, Not Andrea Mitchell

Even President Obama’s new director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, wrote in a memorandum to his staff last week that “high value information came from interrogations in which these methods were used[] [. . .] Mr. Obama and most of his top aides have argued that the use of those methods betrayed American values — and anyway, produced unreliable information.” -NYTimes

Via Atrios (whose title is completely misleading in this context), Media Matters attempts to whitewash the outrageous comments from Obama Director of National Intelligence, and in the process, unfairly criticize NBC News' Andrea Mitchell (who, Gawd knows, has received much merited criticism from MM in the past). Media Matter discredits its body of sound work with these contortions on Blair's behalf. MM writes:

[C]ontrary to Mitchell's suggestion that Blair supports the use of "the Bush policies" while Obama has "reject[ed]" them, according to the blog of the U.S. Naval Institute, in the April 16 letter that was sent "to the Intelligence Community workforce," Blair made clear he opposes the use of such techniques, which he called "graphic and disturbing."

(Emphasis supplied.) But Mitchell reported no such thing, and in fact, MM's truncated quote of Blair's statement about the techniques being "graphic and disturbing" is the real distortion. More . . .

MM, to its credit, later reports the actual words used by Mitchell:

MITCHELL: And the Obama administration's own director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, wrote his employees last week that the interrogations produced high-value information. And he said he did not fault those who made the decisions at the time.

But Blair left those controversial comments out of public statements he issued at the same time. Tonight, a senior official told NBC News Blair does not back away from his private comments, even though they appear to differ from the president's rejection of the Bush policies. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.

This report is not only accurate, it even underplays the real discord between President Obama and Blair. In fact, it is Media Matters who used truncated and misleading quotes to suggest Blair and Obama were on the same page. For example, MM, in its first reference to Blair's statement, in order to criticize Mitchell, truncates the following Blair quote:

Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing. As the President has made clear, and as both CIA Director [Leon] Panetta and I have stated, we will not use those techniques in the future. I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past, but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given."

MM ignores Blair's statement that he does not "find fault" with the architects of the torture policy, which does indeed stand in marked contrast with President Obama's stated views:

What makes the United States special and what makes you special is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy, even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when its expedient to do so....

Clearly President Obama, in marked contrast to Blair, does find fault with the architects of the torture policy. Moreover, unlike Blair, Preisdent Obama, especially when a candidate for President, categorically argued that torture was ineffective, in contradiction to Blair's statement that torture yielded high value information.

Media Matters, which does such invaluable work, damages its credibility here trying to criticize Mitchell for accurately reporting on the dissonance between President Obama and DNI Blair. It is shooting the messenger for accurately reporting the unpleasant message - Dennis Blair rationalized the torture policies of the Bush Administration. Bad work by Media Matters.

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    I do not (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by lilburro on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:48:18 AM EST
    for the life of me, understand why Blair had to even say that stuff about "high value information."  He doesn't substantiate it and it comes across as just appeasing people who don't want to be told they are torturers.

    Meanwhile, Ali Soufan, former interrogator of Zubaydah, wrote a great editorial about how torture did NOT work and produced NOTHING. If anyone missed it, please check it out.

    MM also criticizes the NYT the same way they do Mitchell here.

    It was an irresponsible and (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by inclusiveheart on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:52:25 AM EST
    clearly political opinion based on nothing imo.

    People have already started to build the timeline and it looks like the actionable and reliable intelligence was gathered prior to the torture sessions - not afterwards.


    Thanks. This whole "outsourcing" (none / 0) (#5)
    by oculus on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:52:57 AM EST
    concept is most troubling.

    It really is (none / 0) (#10)
    by lilburro on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:09:14 AM EST
    but with Cofer Black in the house, I find it highly unlikely that it is all the contractors' fault.

    Your link to the other MM report (none / 0) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:54:43 AM EST
    fals to acknowledge that Dennis Blair has handed the Roight its most powerful ammunition. By deciding to attack Mitchell instead of objectively understanding the damage wrought by Dennis Blair, they have compromised their own credibility and not addressed the real issue.

    In the original NYT article (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by inclusiveheart on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:49:59 AM EST
    from yesterday the person who gave the reporter the unredacted memo was characterized as someone who disagrees with Obama's policy.  A lot of people have taken that to mean that the source did not support releasing the memos.  mcjoan and I had a discussion about it yesterday.  She read the paragraph to mean that whomever put this out there was trying to undermine Obama - like a "Cheney mole".  I on the other hand think that's somewhat possible, but question why someone who supports Cheney would want to put someone as obviously sympathetic to Cheney like Blair at risk within the Administration.  I am more inclined to think that the source is trying to undermine Blair because they disagree with the sentiments he expressed in his memo.  It is important to keep in mind that Obama's policy has changed rather significantly between April 16 and today.  Last week he was going to forgive and forget and this week he's having to walk that back.  So a critic of which policy is a fair question to ask at this point I think.

    It isn't really clear what's going on with this source, but I think a lot of the left blogs sort of latched onto that one line "critic of Obama's policy"; and whether it was conciously or unconciously they treated the source as hostile to Obama in their responses to the story.  So it isn't all that surprising to see even Media Matters going after Mitchell if they are suspicious of the source in the White House.

    has anyone said (none / 0) (#2)
    by Capt Howdy on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:49:43 AM EST
    "prove to me it was effective?"

    Wanna bet (none / 0) (#7)
    by andgarden on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 10:56:25 AM EST
    that MMFA thinks its role is now to protect the President?

    I hope not (none / 0) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:03:11 AM EST
    If they ever criticize him (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by andgarden on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:10:17 AM EST
    or anyone in his administration, I will be quite surprised.

    Let us note (none / 0) (#9)
    by Steve M on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:05:11 AM EST
    this dissenting view:

    In an interview with Vanity Fair last year, the F.B.I. director since 2001, Robert S. Mueller III, was asked whether any attacks had been disrupted because of intelligence obtained through the coercive methods. "I don't believe that has been the case," Mr. Mueller said. (A spokesman for Mr. Mueller, John Miller, said on Tuesday, "The quote is accurate.")

    I guess Bush's FBI director "can't handle the truth" as one of our commentors likes to say.

    Ali Soufan's editorial (none / 0) (#11)
    by lilburro on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:09:54 AM EST
    that I link to above is even clearer on the subject.  

    Tell it to Blair (none / 0) (#13)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:13:41 AM EST
    Let's be factual (none / 0) (#14)
    by NYShooter on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:51:37 AM EST
    Blanket statements like, "torture doesn't work," simply is inaccurate. Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn't.

    A fairer statement would be, "since torture does not always elicit truthful information, its use, besides being anathema to our values, and a violation of numerous national & international laws, should be deemed "unreliable," and thus, "off-the-table."  

    It always comes down to the question, "What kind of country do we want to be?"

    "Miranda," in spite of cries that we were "handcuffing" the police, and making their jobs more difficult, actually had the opposite effect. It made the police having to become better trained, more analytical, and more professional. At the same time it helped instill in them the concept that the Constitutional rights enjoyed by all Americans are inviolate.

    Basically, torture is like the polygraph; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Only stupid, lazy (and sadistic?) people want to use it.

    We're better than that.

    It doesn't work (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:53:07 AM EST
    precisely because you never know when it actually worked.

    What is so hard to understand about that?


    Not sure.... (none / 0) (#16)
    by NYShooter on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 11:59:38 AM EST
    are you actually agreeing with me?



    No (none / 0) (#17)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 12:04:51 PM EST
    whew! (none / 0) (#18)
    by NYShooter on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 12:09:31 PM EST
    I feel better now...

    The blanket statement (none / 0) (#19)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Apr 23, 2009 at 12:15:57 PM EST
    works just fine. Because torture does not work.