December 10, 2002
The Washington Post Goes Over the Top

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz Dana Milbank [oops] goes a little over-the-top in comparing Karl Rove first to the homicidal maniac character played by Kevin Kline in the movie "A Fish Called Wanda," and second to Stalin's pet dog prosecutor at the Moscow show trials, Andrei Vyshinsky... DiIulio Saga Highlights Primacy Placed on Secrecy:

DiIulio Saga Highlights Primacy Placed on Secrecy

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 10, 2002; Page A27

"My criticisms were groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples. I sincerely apologize and I am deeply remorseful."

-- Former Bush White House official John DiIulio last week after calling Bush political aides "Mayberry Machiavellis."

"I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact, was in no way fair comment, and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my remarks may have caused you, or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat such a slander at any time in the future."

-- John Cleese, while being dangled from a window by Kevin Kline in the 1988 film "A Fish Called Wanda."

"I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organizer, second only to Trotsky, of that bloc whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organizer of Kirov's assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us; Stalin warned us scores of times; but we did not heed these warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky."

-- Soviet official Gregory Zinoviev, before his execution in 1936.

The apology issued last week by John DiIulio, which echoed White House press secretary Ari Fleischer's denunciation of his remarks as "baseless and groundless," is destined for the Pantheon of Famous Recantations. It sent the grassy-knoll crowd into a frenzy: Did Bush aides threaten DiIulio's employer, the University of Pennsylvania, with loss of federal funds? Did the Huntsman family, Bush friends and big Penn donors, threaten to cut off the school?

Writing in the Philadelphia Daily News yesterday, DiIulio offered a less sinister explanation. Acknowledging that his recantation was a "verbatim" replica of Fleischer's charge, DiIulio said his father taught him to apologize "on your knees, or not at all. In other words, whether completely culpable or not, and whether there are complicated mitigating if not exonerating motivations and circumstances or not, you do not express honest, heartfelt remorse for wrong by quibbling over how the wronged person or persons characterize it."

The irony of DiIulio's recantation is he wound up rewarding an information control system he decried in his now-infamous e-mail to an Esquire magazine writer. "Bush staff, not just senior political adviser Karl Rove, came from Texas tightly knit and hyper-determined to protect the president and prevent the types of internal policy debates that beget bad press," he wrote in the e-mail. "They staffed and organized themselves accordingly, thereby limiting leaks -- but also eliminating efforts to devise social welfare initiatives in accordance with the president's compassion vision."

These are heady times for Rove and the political aides who have been quite successful at limiting scrutiny of White House operations. Yesterday, the administration scored a huge victory when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the congressional General Accounting Office to see which outside groups met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force. And public access to White House information was hobbled Friday when a federal appeals court blocked a public release of energy task force documents ordered by a lower court.

The administration has been making other decisions that limit the release of information. Late last month, the American Educational Research Association and a dozen other groups complained that the Bush Education Department called for removal from its Web site of information that "does not reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administration."

The complaint was similar to one from Democratic lawmakers who wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson in October complaining that government Web sites removed fact sheets about the effectiveness of condoms and sex education programs.

The latest flap came last week, after the Justice Department warned that new grants to "first responders" to terrorist attacks would be delayed. The day that newspaper reports appeared, the letter announcing the delays disappeared from the agency's Web site. The link to the letter was restored after Democrats protested. Justice said it was a technological glitch.

Posted by DeLong at December 10, 2002 11:00 PM | Trackback

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Is Dana Milbank a pen name for Howard Kurtz?

Posted by: on December 10, 2002 11:16 PM

Milbank has written some rather harsh (though generally accurate and funny) things about the Bush White House. On the secrecy front, the administration deserves every bit of the minimal criticism it has received. In the long run, I think swimming upstream against the increased availability and diffusion of information is a losing strategy. What disturbs/amuses me is the muted response from conservatives concerned about constraining government power. The instances cited in Milbank's column make charges of liberal condescension ring rather hollow to me.

Posted by: on December 11, 2002 07:42 AM

Maybe Mr. DiIulio should have also taught to stand by what he believes...

Posted by: Emma on December 11, 2002 07:45 AM
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