MSNBC: Nancy Pelosi’s Phantom Vindication

Anyone searching for an explanation of why the mass media’s coverage is typically so far off-base could begin with Howard Fineman’s performance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night.

Olbermann, who never lets any facts interfere with his political grandstanding, was busy misrepresenting the CIA’s reaction to the letter seven Democrats wrote to director Leon Panetta. (Read the details in today’s lead story on Panetta briefed the House Intelligence Committee on June 24 about a defunct program he had just learned about, and which he said the CIA had not fully disclosed before. The media have breathlessly reported this is an admission that the CIA had misled, or even lied to, Congress for eight years. The previous evening, Andrea Mitchell told Olbermann, “The CIA and Leon Panetta are not acknowledging, in any fashion, that he testified that there was any misleading of Congress. That is not true.” Nonetheless, Olbermann reported the letter and Panetta’s non-response as an admission of deception.

After interviewing one of the letter’s authors, Olbermann asked Howard Fineman if Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had been “vindicated” in claiming the CIA had not told her about waterboarding and that the Agency lies to Congress “all the time.” Fineman immediately responded, “Yes! Yes, she’s been vindicated, no question about it.”

The chief problem with this is, as Andrea Mitchell told Olbermann the night before, the program in question had nothing to do with waterboarding, interrogation techniques, or Pelosi, and thus provided no vindication for Pelosi’s claims whatsoever. It was, at most, an indication Congress had not been briefed on one minor program that was never made operational, not that the CIA regularly lies to innocent San Francisco leftists. Somehow, Fineman used one assertion to prove an entirely unrelated conclusion, which happened to match his political views.

This was an encore performance for Olbermann’s audience, which was treated to a similar journalistic sleight-of-hand from Fineman’s colleague at Newsweek, Michael Isikoff, last week. Isikoff maintained the fact that President Bush and Vice President Cheney had had a conversation about another topic somehow proved that they coordinated the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name from antiwar conservative Richard Armitage to antiwar conservative Robert Novak.

These are no anonymous left-wing bloggers. Fineman is Newsweek’s Senior Washington Correspondent and Columnist, senior editor and deputy Washington bureau chief”; Isikoff is one of the publication’s most prominent reporters.

Their fact-free assertions should make one question all Newsweek’s output.

This story originally appeared on Friday, July 10, 2009, on NewsRealblog.