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.
In politics, hyperbole is routine. It's common for campaign ads to praise a candidate as a savior or denigrate a contender as the destroyer of worlds. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers regularly claim that a particular piece of legislation will yield everlasting rainbows—or bring about complete devastation. President Barack Obama has been hailed by fans as a champion of hope and change and declaimed by foes as a secret, foreign-born, America-hating Muslim socialist bearing a covert plot to weaken the nation he leads. But every once in the rare while, hyperbole is warranted. And as the fierce mud-wrestling over Obamacare continues, it's not going too far to say that this clash is darn close to a life-and-death battle between the Democrats and Republicans. Which explains why the conflict is not ending, even as the White House patches up the glitchy Healthcare.gov website. Tea party leader Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is still tweeting out daily his demand for a full repeal of Obamacare, and Obama, as he is demonstrating at a White House event on Tuesday afternoon, is revving up the White House sales campaign for the Affordable Care Act.
With the website somewhat functioning, the fundamental debate over Obamacare resumes, and this debate pits the basic philosophy of each party against the other. Ever since becoming tea partyized, the Republican Party has essentially stood for one notion: Government is the problem. After the economic crash of 2008, Republicans tended to blame Washington's federal budget woes—not the actions of Wall Street dealers and schemers—for the financial calamity that sent the economy into the most severe recession since the Great Depression. They saw little need for government action to re-regulate the financial shenanigans that led to millions of Americans losing their jobs and homes. And they fiercely opposed the idea that government should stimulate the collapsing economy. The tea party victory of 2010 pushed the GOP further in this direction, with new Republican legislators obsessively peddling a single-minded agenda: Big government must be crushed. Obamacare, naturally, was the main target of this ideological wrath. So much so that this year, House Speaker John Boehner was outmaneuvered by Cruz-inspired tea party back-benchers determined to shut down the government to thwart health care reform law.
Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Daily Beast columnist Michael Tomasky this week about public opinion of Obamacare following last month's setbacks. Watch here:
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.