Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
It's not surprising that CBS News today announced that 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan and her producer Max McClellan were taking (or being forced to accept?) leaves of absence after an internal review confirmed the obvious: they had botched their now infamous Benghazi report and helped perpetuate a hoax crafted by Dylan Davies, a security consultant who claimed he had been at the compound the night of the attack.
The review's summary findings—which you can read here—note that the contradictions between the account Davies was peddling in public (via a book) and the information he provided to the FBI and the State Department were "knowable" prior to the airing of Logan's report. Logan and McClellan, the review found, "did not sufficiently vet Davies’ account of his own actions and whereabouts that night." No kidding. And the report suggests that Logan was driven by both a desire to find something new in a story already much covered and her belief that the Obama administration was misrepresenting the threat posed by Al Qaeda. This is damning: she failed to do a basic task of reporting and she might have had an agenda.
The review does not answer all the questions that popped up following the 60 Minutes report, especially this one: why the hell did CBS News continue to defend this story after evidence emerged that Davies had fabricated his tale? The summary findings note:
After the story aired, the Washington Post reported the existence of a so-called "incident report" that had been prepared by Davies for Blue Mountain in which he reportedly said he spent most of the night at his villa, and had not gone to the hospital or the mission compound. Reached by phone, Davies told the 60 Minutes team that he had not written the incident report, disavowed any knowledge of it, and insisted that the account he gave 60 Minutes was word for word what he had told the FBI. Based on that information and the strong conviction expressed by the team about their story, [CBS News chairman and 60 Minutes executive producer] Jeff Fager defended the story and the reporting to the press.
Hold on. One of the best newspapers in the world reports the existence of documentary evidence that blows the credibility of your super-duper source out of the water, and what do you do? You call the source and ask him if he told you the truth? When the source insists that he did, you take his word and stick to the story? This does not seem like best practices. The Post report should have triggered a five-alarm alert within CBS News. But this much-storied media institution seemingly brushed it aside. It was only after The New York Times told CBS News that it had discovered that Davies' account did not match what he had told the FBI that 60 Minutes kicked into action:
Within hours, CBS News was able to confirm that in the FBI's account of their interview, Davies was not at the hospital or the mission compound the night of the attack. 60 Minutes announced that a correction would be made, that the broadcast had been misled, and that it was a mistake to include Davies in the story.
In other words, the Times had to do CBS News' own job.
That might be the most embarrassing aspect of this episode. Logan and McClellan screwed up big time—and their motivations are fair game. But CBS News hung on to the Davies fiction after there was reason to suspect the network had been fooled and exploited. (The right-wing Benghazi truthers—this means you, Sen. Lindsey Graham—had jumped on the 60 Minutes report like fleas to a dog.) Did the brass at CBS News calculate that the network could ride out the storm? If so, they were thinking like political spinmeisters, not news people. That's a blemish that won't fade soon.
It's refreshing when a neoconservative says what he really wants. Hours after the Obama administration announced an interim agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program, John Bolton, the hawk's hawk of the neocon crowd (remember when he practically yearned for terrorists to blow up Chicago with a nuclear device to teach Barack Obama a lesson?), was busy penning a piece for The Weekly Standard decrying the deal as an "abject surrender" of President Obama to the mullahs of Iran. Bolton essentially makes the familiar (and hyperbolic) conservative case that any deal that does not start with Iran trashing all of its nuclear equipment is yet another Munich moment. From this perspective, there can be no bargaining with Tehran—that is, no diplomacy. The only acceptable path is absolutist demands from the United States and its allies and total capitulation from Iran. Now what are the odds of that yielding success?
Bolton is honest enough to acknowledge that talking, as he sees it, will lead to nothing but an Iran armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. Thus, his article ends with this assertion: "in truth, an Israeli military strike is the only way to avoid Tehran's otherwise inevitable march to nuclear weapons." Thank you, Ambassador, for such candor. He is acknowledging that from his perch there is nothing Obama can do short of giving Bibi Netanyahu the green light for a military assault on Iran. Consequently, Bolton's critique of the details of the negotiations deserves little attention, for he's set on war, not diplomacy—a view that may well be reflected throughout hawkish conservative circles.
If this is not enough to discount Bolton's take on the interim accord, there's also history. Prior to the US invasion of Iraq, he declared, "We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq," noting that the US role in Iraq after any invasion would be "fairly minimal." For years afterward—after no WMDs were found in Iraq—Bolton continued to claim the WMD case for that war was justified. Despite this lousy track record, Bolton, like other neocons, is hardly bashful when it comes to making dire statements about Iran's nuclear programs and dismissing ongoing efforts at peaceful resolution. But give him credit for being clear about his bottom-line: let's skip all the chatting and get right to war.
For 50 years, the murder of President John F. Kennedy has prompted dark suspicions about what led to those tragic moments in Dallas' Dealey Plaza. Hidden-hand theories about the assassination fueled numerous movies and books in the years that followed and shaped a national culture of conspiracy. The Oswald-didn't-do-it (or didn't-do-it-alone) theory is the granddaddy of conspiracy theories; it paved the way for alternative (and sinister) explanations for a variety of events, including the assassinations or RFK and MLK Jr. and the 9/11 attacks. The JFK theorizing—which, in certain cases, posits that a cabal of government evildoers schemed the most notorious crime of 20th-century America—made The X Files possible.
Like many late-year boomers, I grew up fascinated by the speculation, poring over the latest "revelations" and initially believing the worst—at one point, when I was 13, my best friend and I called Parkland Hospital in Dallas and asked to be connected to the wing where the supposedly still-alive Kennedy was being housed—but I came to conclude that much of the conspiracy-mongering was bunk. In Slate, Fred Kaplan does an excellent job chronicling his own similar trajectory, so I won't detail my conversion. But as I spent more time investigating and reporting national security matters, I came to the realization that government officials, spies, and operatives tend not to be sufficiently competent to pull off the murder of a president (with a well-placed patsy as the fall guy!) and then mount a subsequent and wildly effective cover-up. Still, I've resisted getting drawn too far into the Kennedy conspiracy debates—a true black hole. But if you're asking, I do believe that Kennedy was likely killed as the result of underhanded alliances and government misdeeds. It's just that what transpired was more nuanced than a CIA-Mafia-Castro-Soviet-Lyndon-Johnson plot.
Bill Clinton did it again. On Tuesday, he interjected himself into the ongoing political tussle over the implementation of Obamacare by declaring that President Barack Obama "should honor" his "commitment" to allow people to hang on to their preexisiting health insurance plans. With this comment, the Secretary of Explaining Stuff gave ammo to the foes of Obamacare, and he, unintentionally or not, undermined a core element of the health care law. And, no surprise, he kicked off a spasm of speculation among the politerati: What are the Clintons up to? Will Hillary, if she runs for president, distance herself from the White House? Will she somehow suggest she's more competent than Obama? All this commentary was to be expected. There's something about the Clintons that encourages folks to sniff out clever schemes, intricate plots, and self-serving conniving.
But there's a basic fact that cannot be escaped: The Clintons need Obamacare to succeed. Just look at the chart in the video below:
After Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, he placed his wife in charge of health care reform. (It was part of the two-for-one deal.) And she subsequently unveiled a complicated reform plan that was quickly dubbed Hillarycare by Republicans and conservatives. The Clintons did seem to have a decent amount of political momentum on their side, and their GOP foes, fretting about being rolled, initially entertained the crazy idea of working with the White House to hammer out compromises and shape the legislation a bit more to their liking. Then came Sen. Arlen Specter, a cantankerous Pennsylvania Republican (who years later would switch parties). He hit the Senate floor with charts—complicated wire diagrams that appeared nearly impossible to sort out—that purportedly showed that Hillarycare would create a bureaucratic nightmare. It looked incomprehensibly complicated.
Meanwhile, Rep. Dick Armey, a leading House Republican, created his own chart:
Armey's office captioned the chart, "Simplicity Defined." Dole showcased it in his 1994 response to Clinton's State of the Union address.
After first toying with a get-along strategy for dealing with Hillarycare, the Republicans mounted a fierce opposition against it, and these charts fueled that effort (along with the Harry and Louise ad campaign orchestrated by the health insurance industry). Waving these charts, the GOPers succeeded in killing Hillarycare—and, decrying the Clintons' health care proposal, they went on to seize control of the House in the 1994 midterm elections.
Hillarycare ended up a political failure and set back the cause of health care reform for nearly two decades. It's not an episode that Hillary Clinton would want discussed during a 2016 presidential campaign. If Obamacare thrives, there will be no reason to look back to Hillarycare and drag these charts out of the dustbin of history. But should the Affordable Care Act falter or collapse, a question will loom: What would Hillary do about health care? Her past record would be raked over and that would likely not boost her presidential prospects. Having screwed up in the early 1990s, could she argue that she would do a better job in reforming the health care system than Obama?
It would be best for a Clinton 2016 campaign for health care to be off the table—with no need to revisit all this inconvenient ancient history. That means she and Bill should be hoping that the implementation of Obamacare proceeds well—and they should do all they can to encourage that. So Bill Clinton ought to coordinate (closely) with the White House on what stuff he should be explaining. It's not only the president's political fortunes that are tied to Obamacare.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Martin Bashir and Joy Reid this week about why New Jersey governor Chris Christie is under fire from his own party despite his conservative credentials. Watch here: