December 4, 2005

The Projo's Dueling Impressions of Joe Wilson

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over the past several days, the Projo has printed contrasting views on Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador and Bush adminstration critic who lectured at Brown University on Wednesday evening. A Saturday editorial focused on Mr. Wilson’s latest instances of not telling the truth while on the public stage...

Mr. Wilson told Brown that Saddam had not bought uranium from Niger. He did not tell Brown that he had told the CIA (and subsequently the Senate) that Saddam had tried to buy uranium. He told Brown that Mr. Bush had lied in his 2003 State of the Union address. He didn't tell Brown that the president had said only that Saddam had tried to buy uranium. He also did not tell Brown that his wife had recommended that the CIA send him to Niger.
The final sentence from the excerpt is at odds with Elizabeth Gudrais’ report on Wilson's lecture from Thursday’s paper…
Wilson was sent not because of vicarious clout with the CIA, as his detractors have claimed. "I had served as ambassador to another French-speaking, uranium-producing country," he said, going on to cast himself as a trusted friend of officials in Niger, thanks to his role in crafting U.S.-Africa policy, and in nourishing Niger's fledgling democracy, late in his diplomatic career.
Taking advantage of a spousal recommendation certainly seems to qualify as using “vicarious clout” to get an assginment. Are we witnessing open disagreement between the reporters and the editorial writers of the Projo? As exciting as that might be, I suspect what we are really witnessing is a blown punctuation mark in Gudrais' article. By standing it alone, the Projo presents the first sentence from the above excerpt as generally accepted knowledge. Change the period at the end of the first sentence to a comma, however, and the first sentence becomes part of Wilson's statement, instead of an accepted fact.

Charles Bakst, on the other hand, makes it clear that he has no problem with the issue of Wilson's credibility. This is from Bakst's column in Sunday's Projo...

In a nutshell, Wilson, 56, represents truth, and his main message this night was the importance of telling it as it is, even if you or your spouse have to pay a price, because democracy depends on citizens informing themselves and holding government officials accountable.
A good message, in the abstract. Maybe at some point in the future, Mr Wilson will pay heed to it. It is well established that Joseph Wilson has been less than truthful in his public pronouncements, including the Brown lecture. Don't take my word for it; read Saturday's Projo editorial page. For a bit more detail, here is the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, as quoted in the Weekly Standard
On at least two occasions [Wilson] admitted that he had no direct knowledge to support some of his claims and that he was drawing on either unrelated past experiences or no information at all.

For example, when asked how he "knew" that the Intelligence Community had rejected the possibility of a Niger-Iraq uranium deal, as he wrote in his book, he told Committee staff that his assertion may have involved "a little literary flair."

Joe Wilson doesn't represent truth; Joe Wilson represents the belief that some causes are so important, truth must be discarded to advance them. He is just another pol advancing an agenda using any means, honest or not, that he thinks he can get away with. Charles Bakst has a long and distinguished career of taking such politicians to task. What leads Mr. Bakst to believe that Joe Wilson's continuing problems with truth-telling are not worth reporting in a column about Joe Wilson?

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I'm not sure a comma would modify those sentences as you suggest. In fact, as an editor, I'd find a comma inappropriate without a leading clause such as "he said." The period isn't what makes the difference.

There are any number of ways to have made clear that the sentence was not a statement of fact, but a paraphrase of Wilson's own remark. Look, even, at the editorial paragraph from which you quote: "Wilson told Brown..."

What causes the most difficulty, it seems to me, is the beginning of the paragraph with his proper name, which offsets the sentence dramatically from the immediately subsequent quotation, which starts with "I." It reads as if the content derives from different sources. The "not because" construction also muddies the paragraph, because one expects to find a "but because" that never arrives.

I'd have edited the first sentence as follows:

On whether he was sent because of vicarious clout with the CIA, Wilson contradicts his detractors.
Posted by: Justin Katz at December 4, 2005 7:55 PM

I think both sentence are poorly constructed. However, with the inclusion of not in both of them, they are not, in my opinion, contradictory.

Posted by: Suzanne Morse at December 12, 2005 6:33 PM