BY ROBERT STEINBACK
Knight Ridder Newspapers
(KRT) - I'm less intrigued by Karl Rove's ultimate fate than I am by how White House-allied strategists have responded to the scandal threatening to engulf him. Never before has the dark magic of the Republican spin machine - and the willingness of loyalists to embrace it - been so nakedly obvious.
This rare glimpse came courtesy the alternative Web site Raw Story, which obtained a copy of the "special" July 12 Rovegate edition of Republican National Committee's D.C. Talkers memo - the infamous party Talking Points sheet. View it at www.rawstory.com  (link is under "Blogs/Media").
It took two days for the RNC to figure out how to respond to the July 10 Newsweek report that Rove, often called the brains behind the presidency, indeed had spoken with Time reporter Matt Cooper about Valerie Plame, the CIA-operative wife of former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson had raised White House hackles in July 2003 with a New York Times essay asserting that he had personally debunked the claim President Bush used in that year's State of the Union address regarding Saddam Hussein's efforts to purchase weapons-grade uranium ore in Niger. Wilson believes his wife was outed in retaliation.
The 48-hour silence from the Right was almost deafening. White House spokesman Scott McClellan had no answers to offer at a July 11 press conference. But by the next day, the Right burst forth with its coordinated counterattack, based heavily on the Talking Points assertion that Rove was actually encouraging reporters not to fall for Wilson's purported lie that he had been sent to Niger by Vice President Dick Cheney.
The memo cites an interview Wilson did in 2003 with CNN's Wolf Blitzer in which Wilson said, "What they did, what the office of the vice president did, and, in fact, I believe it now from Mr. Libby's statement, it was probably the vice president himself ...''
But in the full transcript of the program (at http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0308/03/  le.00.html), Wilson states explicitly that Cheney didn't know Wilson was the one being sent to Niger. When Wilson's comment above is put back into context, it's clear he was only speculating that it was Cheney who had asked the CIA to send someone to check out the Niger story.
But it sure must have sounded good to the Right. The Wall Street Journal, in its July 13 editorial, hailed Rove for honorably attempting to save reporters from Wilson's alleged lie - the Talking Points' chosen spin. The Journal didn't explain why, if Rove was so concerned about setting the record straight, he didn't just hold a press conference rather than whispering in a few selected ears. Could it be because he knew what he was sharing was classified?
Talking points, generically speaking, are the inverse of analysis. To analyze, you assemble the known and circumstantial facts and apply logic to reach a conclusion. When using talking points, you start with the desired conclusion, and then - as the Downing Street Memo so elegantly phrased it - you fix the facts around the policy. You cherry-pick details. If necessary, you dissemble and distort.
The very first of the July 12 RNC Talking Points shows how, faced with crisis, the neo-con spinmeisters almost instinctively turn to attacking the critics' motives, in an attempt to deflect attention from the substance of their assertions. It reads, "Once again, Democrats are engaging in blatant political attacks." They're being - omigod - partisan!
But in what universe is being partisan, in and of itself, proof of a lack of credibility? And how can the accusation of "partisanship" taint one side but not the other?
It's a bit like a defense attorney asking for a mistrial because the prosecutor is trying to prove his client guilty. The very act of raising a challenge at all makes one partisan - the only way to avoid the label would be to acquiesce in all matters. Thus, we glean insight into this administration's core psychological makeup: In the neo-con mind, allies are supposed to back you without question, and the "partisan" opposition is discredited by nature. Get it? In the perfect neo-con world, there are no legitimate critics.
Being partisan doesn't necessarily mean you're incapable of seeking or discerning the truth. That's what analysis is all about; the talking points phenomenon flips analysis on its head. Talking points are designed to spin the opposition into irrelevancy, not to answer questions.
That may be the ultimate way in which the Bush administration has divided America: We've become a nation of those who ask questions versus those who avoid them.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Robert Steinback is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: One Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132, or via e-mail at email@example.com .
© 2005, The Miami Herald.
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