Thursday, December 01, 2011

White House goes after Mark Landler's reporting

Focusing on 'trainers' and spin. Yesterday's snapshot opened with:

In what will hopefully be a front page piece on tomorrow's New York Times, Mark Landler reports that Nouri announced today that "he was open to the eventual return of American troops as trainers." That, of course, is not new. It's long been noted by the Iraqi press, you've had people with State of Law explaining that Nouri needed to be able to say he got all the troops out (and we've noted that Barack needed to pretend on that point as well). So welcome to the party, the appetizers and salad are gone, we just finished the entrees but maybe we can re-slice the dessert for your late arrival?
Mark Landler's piece will be an important one in tomorrow's paper and I applaud him for it but if it just doesn't feel all that amazing to me it's because we've been going over this now for almost two months while others have been silent or lied. Or while others have offered fantasies of Barack Obama.
One of the few not serving up fantasies of rainbows and lollypops was Spencer Ackerman. He writes for Wired and my thoughts on Wired are known but he gets credit for what he did. He gets a link today because a friend called in a favor. He's covering what Nouri said and also what Joe Biden, US vice president, said. And offering, "If Biden gets his way, then U.S. troops returning to Iraq next year won't just be training their Iraqi counterparts, even if that's how Maliki sells it to a skeptical Iraqi populace."

After that went up, Marcia called to inform that she'd used the Spencer Ackerman link and he'd rewritten the post and was disowning the reporting, etc. I didn't have time to read it myself (we were about to speak) and I just laughed. I'm still laughing.

Did Mark Lander and the New York Times walk back their reporting? Nope.

This morning, I had time to read Ackerman's post which now bemoans (unnamed) reporting and basically exists to pull the threads on his own previous post.

I'm not surprised by Ackerman's actions and not just because Wired, as I've noted many times before, is far too close to the US government.

Read the snapshot. The press release further on down from the White House. I was pissed about that. To include that and focus on Iraqi women -- and I've had them on hold all month so November was not ending without them getting serious attention (they last received serious attention in the November 9th snapshot) -- meant that an important release on veterans was put on hold, Bradley Manning was put on hold (since he'd been noted in both of yesterday morning's entries, I was okay with that), that two Congressional hearings we attended yesterday were put on hold, that the Syria thing was put on hold (despite my promises all week to a friend that I would include something from Sam Dagher's Wall St. Journal report on the issue -- I'll try to do it by Friday), Camp Ashraf was put on hold and more.

I was so mad because I had agreed to repost whatever the press release was.

About two hours after Lander's article went up online at the New York Times' website, I got the call I mention from a friend in the administration. Am I planning on noting the Lander article? I should know that the Lander article isn't correct, I should know . . . And on and on it went after I said I would probably open with it. I went over all the Arabic sources that backed up what Lander was saying. I was then given a list of statements that I should include in the snapshot. I asked, "Am I naming you?" No. Well I'll include anonymous remarks when they question the administration but I'm not going to include anonymous remarks from the administration that tear apart a new report. Back and forth bickering ensued and might have gone on longer but I had to get off the phone. I had other calls coming in and other calls to return and a limited amount of time before the next hearing started. Okay, okay -- I'm told -- will I include a press release from the White House? Will I include another opinion? I always say it doesn't have to just be my opinion, will I include it? "A press release on Iraq?" I asked. Yes. Okay, fine. E-mail it to the public account or to my personal account and I'll include it.

That afternoon, I'm dictating the snapshot and we've got Bradley Manning as the topic when I say hold on and ask my friend to check for the White House press release which I'd forgotten. The thing was huge.

As a result we had to drop a number of things. That pissed me off.

But that's all we did.

I don't know if Spencer Ackerman made calls or if Spencer Ackerman was called. But regardless of who initiated contact, I'm sure he got a very hard press from the White House. During the call, I thought I was just having a typical conversation with a friend, nothing any different than usual. We argued about this and that (Iraq) and I didn't think much of it.


I think the White House is very worried about Mark Lander's report. I don't think I took the report seriously enough. My apologies to Mark Lander. For me, it didn't *read* that revolutionary because the details have been addressed over and over in the Iraqi press. Most Americans don't see that because most Americans don't read Arabic. There was the Senatte Armed Services Committee hearing but every major US outlet reported it wrong -- except Lander's paper in a piece filed by Elisabeth Bumiller. To me, my attitude was, "It's about damn time someone pick up on this." And my apologies to Mark Lander for not stressing the revolutionary nature of his report (I mean "revolutionary" in terms of revealing -- I'm not using the term as a synonym for "radical").

Reading Spencer Ackerman's piece, the rewrite that the link now goes to? I see that he's included some statements by the White House. (On yesterday's phone call, I heard similar remarks to those quotes that Ackerman's included but I wasn't speaking with Tommy Vietor or any "spokesperson.") I imagine he got a hard sell. I don't know if he felt he was getting a hard sell at the time or not. (I only realized I might have gotten a hard sell when Marcia called last night and reading Ackerman's post really drove home what a hard sell it was.) Ackerman includes Vietor disputing Lander's report (without naming Lander which is sort of cheap and tacky, the White House knew Lander's name on the phone with me yesterday). But even with those quotes from Vietor it really doesn't change anything.

I don't know if I'm being clear. Ackerman's report includes disputing quotes from Vietor. Those are claims. There's nothing that proves Lander's reporting wrong. (Nor was it wrong.)

While dictating yesterday's snapshot, there were three paragraphs that got pulled. I was explaining how Ackerman's claims about the negotiation process through October didn't make sense to me and I wish they were somehow sourced. I decided to pull that because it took off on a tangent and wasn't all that important.

Now it is important. Briefly, I noted that Ackerman may think Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman are liars (I don't know that he does think that) but if he's not listening to what they're saying -- including what they've stated publicly -- then no wonder he doesn't get the negotiation process correct. What's clear with the repost is that all of Ackerman's information comes from the White House. It's also clear that if he reads Arabic, he doesn't bother to follow media in Arabic -- he's completely wrong in both chronology and message in terms of the Iraqi Parliament. But it is a nice little fantasy of what the White House would like America to think about the negotiations.

McCain believes that the White House tanked the negotiations intentionally. I see why he has that opinion, he can lists the reasons for it and it's his conclusion. I disagree with him based on what I've heard from Democratic senators, friends in the State Dept, a friend at DoD and friends in the administration. The White House tanked the negotiations but did so due to incompetence. They got caught up in the weeds and had no real grasp of what a SOFA was -- and refused to listen to Joe Biden who was the highest level expert on SOFAs in the administration (he held hearings on the SOFA in 2008 while chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). They got up in the mistaken notion that they needed Parliament for the document to be legal. Even when it was explained that that wasn't the case, even when the legal opinion was rendered, they stuck to that insisting it would make it 'safer' and they'd get extra credit for dotting all the Is and crossing all their Ts. It was insanity.

Now John McCain may be right and I may be wrong. But John McCain can tell you why he feels the way he does and I've explained many times what I'm basing my conclusions on.

Ackerman's presenting a minor voice in the White House that's less than honest when he 'explains' what happened with the negotiations. I'm far to the left of Ackerman, but I don't have a 'purity' basis when it comes to information. I will and do ask anyone, "Why did this happen?" Possibly having started at a partisan journal, it's not yet occurred to Ackerman that you can't just get information from one political side or one political source?

I'll criticize him harshly for not having a grasp on the negotiations. But in terms of his grabbing a string and pulling apart his own handiwork at the request of the White House?

They were doing a hard press yesterday trying to convince many people to ignore Mark Lander's report while they tried to discredit it. Leaving aside Wired issues, it was probably very difficult for a number of people to stand strong. I'm stubborn. It doesn't bother me. The reason Iraqi women were going to be noted at length again this month? The same reason I let Third repost the entire thing at their site. (I don't care if others repost outside the community. In terms of Third, I'd prefer not to be reposted there unless others in the community are also reposted there.) As Mike explained weeks ago:

This is huge at Third. It's a repost of C.I. from the Wednesday snapshot last week. Jim says today the stats are off the charts on this one and so are the e-mails. And his point? He told me that there were some e-mails last week griping that C.I. was focusing on women. Where as, at Third, the thing was an immediate hit with no criticism. That goes to the different audiences Jim had told me about yesterday.

Oh, you don't want to read about Iraqi women here? You want me to find another topic? Well then you can be damn sure you're going to read about Iraqi women here. You can be damn sure I'm not going to shut up on the subject just because several e-mails come in insisting the topic is "boring" or "unimportant."

Tell me not do something and you'll find out just how poorly I take orders. But not everyone's the same way and a lot of people find comfort in going along, they find acceptance. I'm not surprised that, under a hard sell from the White House, Spencer Ackerman buckled, was charmed or persuaded. Only he knows which. I'm not going to yell at him or scream about it or curse it. It is what it is.

But Mark Lander's reporting still stands.

[Note: Title corrected. I mispelled -- misnamed! -- Mark Landler in the title. My apologies. Juggling phones and attempting to type.]

The following community sites -- plus Cindy Sheehan and -- updated last night and this morning:

Today's snapshot will hopefully have time to include a House hearing and a Senate hearing from yesterday. The Senate hearing was the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of that Committee and her office notes:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 (202) 224-2834

VETERANS: Senator Murray Chairs Hearing to Question VA Officials on Unacceptable Waiting Lines for Mental Health Care

Survey of mental health providers shows continuing serious delays for mental health care at providers across the country, Murray questions top VA mental health officials on causes and efforts to address this problem

HEARING VIDEO: “VA Mental Health Care: Addressing Wait Times and Access to Care”

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, held a hearing focusing on the long wait for mental health care at some VA facilities across the country. The hearing, which comes at a time when as many as 18 veterans are committing suicide each day, was a chance for Senator Murray to question the VA on a survey she requested of mental health providers who indicated that in many areas of the country wait times far exceeded the VA’s mandated 14 day window. The survey also showed that 70 percent of providers said they did not have adequate staff or space to meet the mental health care needs of the veterans and 46 percent said the lack of off-hour appointments prevented veterans from accessing care.

“The VA can and must do much better,” said Senator Murray. “And I’m pleased to say that since I asked for the survey, they’ve taken some steps in the right direction. However, this problem isn’t going anywhere and there is much more to be done. And with another announcement yesterday of 33,000 troops coming home by the end of next year from Afghanistan - the demand for care will only swell. We need to meet the veteran’s desire for care with the immediate assurance that it will be provided – and provided quickly.”

Senator Murray heard testimony from providers about the challenges they face in getting patients into care – including from Dr. Michelle Washington, Coordinator, PTSD Services and Evidence Based Psychotherapy, Wilmington, DE VA Medical Center, who was representing the American Federation of Government Employees. Dr. Washington spoke to the daily frontline barriers she and fellow VA mental health providers encounter at our VA facilities.

In addition, Senator Murray heard testimony from:

· Mary Schohn, PhD, Director, Mental Health Operations, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs

· Charles W. Hoge, MD, Col. U.S. Army (Ret.)

· Barbara Van Dahlen, PhD, Founder and President, Give an Hour

· John Roberts, Executive Vice President, Mental Health and Warrior Engagement, Wounded Warrior Project

The full text of Senator Murray’s statement follows:

“Welcome to today’s hearing to examine the barriers our veterans are facing in seeking mental health care. Today’s hearing builds upon our July hearing on the same subject. At that hearing, the Committee heard about two servicemembers, who – even after attempting to take their own lives – had appointments postponed and difficulties cutting through the red tape in order to get care.

“I know that - like me - many on this committee were angered and frustrated by those stories. And I’m glad that today we’ll have the opportunity to both get more information and answers on why these delays persist.

“Today, we will hear from providers about the challenges they face in getting patients into care – including from Michele Washington who has been brave enough to come forward to give us a true sense of the daily frontline barriers at our VA facilities. We will also hear about the critical importance of access to the right type of care - delivered on time - by qualified mental health professionals.

“At our hearing in July I requested that VA survey their frontline mental health professionals about whether they have sufficient resources to get veterans into treatment. The results that came back to me shortly after were not good: of the VA providers surveyed, nearly 40 percent said they cannot schedule an appointment in their own clinic within the VA mandated 14 day window, 70 percent said they did not have adequate staff or space to meet the mental health care needs of the veterans they serve, and 46 percent said the lack of off-hour appointments prevented veterans from accessing care.

“The survey not only showed that our veterans are being forced to wait for care – it also captured the tremendous frustration of those who are tasked with healing veterans. It showed wide discrepancies between facilities in different parts of the country – including the difference between access in urban and rural areas. And it provided a glimpse at a VA system that 10 years into war is still not fully equipped for the influx of veterans seeking mental health care.

“The VA can and must do much better. And I’m pleased to say that since I asked for the survey, they’ve taken some steps in the right direction. They have worked to hire additional mental health staff to fill vacancies. They have increased their staffing levels of the Veterans Crisis Line and the Homeless Call Center. And they have made VISN directors accountable for more standards of access to care. These are positive steps, but there is much more to be done – as we will undoubtedly see today.

“You know, just yesterday, before this hearing, I looked through the most recent statistics on PTSD that the VA had provided my office. They showed what we all know – this problem isn’t going anywhere.

“As thousands of veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan – you can see the number of PTSD appointments steadily rise each quarter. And with another announcement yesterday of 33,000 troops coming home by the end of next year from Afghanistan - the demand for care will only swell. This should not come as shock to the VA. And it should not cause the waiting line for care to grow.

“Especially at a time when we are seeing record suicides among our veterans – we need to meet the veteran’s desire for care with the immediate assurance that it will be provided – and provided quickly.

“We can’t afford to leave them discouraged that they can’t find an appointment. We can’t leave them frustrated. We cannot let them down. We need to fix this now. The VA has had a decade to prepare. Now is the time for action and for effective leadership.

“I look forward to hearing from all our witnesses today and I hope that this hearing is another step to increased accountability of our efforts to provide timely mental health care.

“And with that, I turn it over to Ranking Member Burr.”


Meghan Roh

Deputy Press Secretary

Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray



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