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Ari Saeed al-Sahhaf

By Brian Morton | Posted 5/7/2003

The brother of your intrepid columnist here at Animal Control, like many Americans, is fascinated with the former Iraqi minister of information, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, for his masterful prevarication in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. We have been sent any number of e-mails pointing to the phenomenon of the Cult of al-Sahhaf--Web sites and stories of various and sundry press flacks and public relations professionals marveling at the Iraqi's total and utter commitment to remaining "on message."

Much as we're all for expanding the need for cross-cultural education among our fellow countrymen, we feel that, in the spirit of U.S. Rep. Bob Ney's (R-Ohio) idea to rename french fries "freedom fries," we also need to honor America's own chief dissembler, the president's official bullshit artist, the esteemed Ari Fleischer.

Fleischer is no flamboyant poet, no lyrical liar like al-Sahhaf--the needs are much different when you're the mouthpiece for a Texan with a "gentleman's C" in spoken English. Al-Sahhaf comes from the land of Arabian Nights, so phrases like, "We will drag the drunken junkie nose of Bush through Iraq's desert, him and his follower dog Blair," are really of no use in an American policy-making setting.

No, Fleischer is the master of the subtler arts of mendacity: changing the subject, stretching the definitions of words, reclassifying the parameters of debate, and, of course, the nondenial denial and the ever-popular flat out untruth.

Newsweek.com made the comparison between Fleischer and al-Sahhaf on April 21, saying, "When it comes to entertainment, Fleischer is on his way to matching the Iraqi information minister." When asked about the president's reaction to the pyrotechnically homophobic remarks made by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who was commenting on a gay-rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Fleischer said the president doesn't typically comment on cases before the Supreme Court.

As Newsweek.com put it, "When the reporter pointed out that Bush had spoken out quite a lot about the Michigan affirmative-action case currently before the court, Fleischer said, 'That's why I said--typically.'"

Later on, Fleischer added that the president thinks Santorum is "an inclusive man." Your jaw drops in wonder, doesn't it? Santorum is "inclusive" the way Byron De La Beckwith was "tolerant" or Jerry Falwell is "noncontroversial" or Rush Limbaugh is "slim."

On Oct. 11, 2000, during the run-up to the presidential election, George W. Bush said--and you probably remember this--he was no fan of "nation building." His exact words were, in fact, "I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I'm missing something here. I mean, we're going to have kind of a nation-building corps from America? Absolutely not."

But Fleischer says that never happened. As The Washington Post's Al Kamen wrote Feb. 28, "yesterday White House press secretary Ari Fleischer proved the critics wrong once again. 'During the campaign, the president did not express, as you put it, disdain for nation-building,' he said. So there you have it."

Kamen has become, along with the Post's Dana Milbank, kind of a chronicler of various al-Sahhaf--sorry--Ari-isms (something less polite company might call "lies") from over the years. Take Kamen's report from the beginning of the war. "Reporters also asked about Bush's Sunday statement that aid would begin moving into southern Iraq in 36 hours. Fleischer said, 'We didn't expect the--the Iraqis to cease caring about their own people, to cease feeding their own people, to put up impediments to the humanitarian relief supplies,' such as laying mines."

Kamen writes, "Moments later, a reporter asked [Fleischer] about 'your comment before about how you didn't expect the Iraqis to interfere with humanitarian aid. . . . '"

"'I didn't say that,' Fleischer said."

Milbank raised White House ire last October with a piece titled "For Bush, Facts Are Malleable." In it, Milbank wrote that the White House once admitted the president was "imprecise," while noting the administration still stood by its words--imprecise as they were. Fleischer's take on it, according to Milbank? "'The president's statements are well documented and supported by the facts,' Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer said. 'We reject any allegation to the contrary.'"

After all, later on he can deny the existence or credibility of those "facts" supporting the statements.

So far, Fleischer has managed not to get tied to any one legendary gymnastic phraseology the way famed former Nixon spokesman Ron Ziegler was hoodwinked into saying, "This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative." But the fact remains that this is an administration for whom the press is only useful inasmuch as a lap dog can be trained not to drool while fetching the morning paper. So Fleischer apparently has full approval from his superiors to deny, dissemble, distort, equivocate, exaggerate, evade, invent, fib, prevaricate, and pretend to his heart's desire--so the president doesn't have to do it for him.

After all, this White House now knows that it can hold as few news conferences as it wants, allow only its pet reporters to ask questions (calling on the patsies at Fox News!), and no one cares.

So really, al-Sahhaf? He's a piker. All hail our own Minister of Disinformation, Ari Fleischer. After all, he'd only deny it.

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