Monday, October 02, 2006

Another 60 Minutes infomercial: Woodward's State of Denial

The release of Bob Woodward's new book State of Denial is accompanied by an all-too-predictable ruckus. It follows the traditional CBS-Viacom-Simon & Schuster gameplan. First, use controversial (and difficult to fact-check) assertions to gain headlines in the Washington Post and its brethren. Second, employ 60 Minutes as a free infomercial; feature an interview with the author regarding the controversial claims. Third, sell lots and lots of books using all of the free marketing channels.

Simon & Schuster has employed this formula before. Richard Clarke's Against all Enemies in 2004 and Pervez Musharraf's In the Line of Fire (weeks ago) were exquisitely timed to coincide with an election cycle. Each used the 60 Minutes infomercial format, plenty of anti-administration rhetoric, and the usual accompanying drumbeat in the mainstream press to flog as many books as possible.

Woodward's central thesis is that things are getting worse in Iraq even though the administration claims things are better. He points to a so-called "secret" chart that shows attacks reaching almost 900 per week in Iraq, which Woodward claims are against U.S. troops.

As Mario Loyola points out, this chart is part of a publicly available DOD report called "Report on Stability and Progress in Iraq." On page 31 of the report, available via a Google search or by clicking the hyperlinked title, the word 'attacks' refers to all incidents (civilians, infrastructure, etc.). Page 32 of the report shows that, in fact, attacks against Coalition forces are markedly down since 2004. More importantly, there is a single problem province out of 18 (Anbar/Baghdad). The remainder of the country is largely operating without any marked violence.

Thus, Woodward's central statistic -- the blockbuster "revelation" breathlessly featured on 60 Minutes -- is utterly without merit. Other of the book's claims also have run into some problems on the fact-checking side:

* The book states Chief of Staff Andrew Card twice tried to get Rumsfeld fired, a claim which Card has vehemently denied and which doesn't appear to be corroborated in any written form

* George Tenet warned Rice two months before 9/11 of an imminent attack, but Woodward doesn't speculate on the Clinton administration's reaction to a similar report in 1998 ("SUBJECT: Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks") nor the rationale for Sandy Berger's theft and destruction of classified documents related to 9/11

* Woodward claims that Donald Rumsfeld didn't return Condi Rice's calls, which both parties deny.

Even the New York Times, no friend of the Bush administration, has reported upon multiple controversies associated with the book. For example, why weren't Washington Post employee Woodward's claims featured on page A1 as they were discovered -- if they were truly so incendiary? In other words, unless this is just another book-pitching exercise, why would anyone wait to publish a set of startling revelations?

From all appearances, this is just another example of an integrated marketing campaign where Simon and CBS (both of which operate under the Viacom corporate umbrella) provide support for flogging books. That CBS relentlessly hammers the Bush administration during an election cycle is beside the point. That Woodward's assertions are so easily dismissed with publicly available resources is the real surprise. But I suppose quality has never been a strong point of infomercials.

Oven-fresh good readin', just like Mama used to make:
Weekly Standard: Who's really in denial?
Wizbang: The 9/11 Bombshell that Wasn't"
Samantha Burns: OTA

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