Thursday, August 16, 2007

Political CSI - The Next Hurrah

On television's CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) investigators gather unlikely evidence and with nifty technology and meticulous computer calculations miraculously find the invisible clues that solve the crime.

Our political situation for many people is like a messy crime scene. We know things have happened, but the evidence is scattered all over the room. Instead of a careful CSI investigation, we get the political spin machines creating the stories that will explain events in their clients' favor.

One of the political blogs I keep going back to is "The Next Hurrah." Blogger Empty Wheel (Journalist Marcy Wheeler) leads a group of smart people, many attorneys, who do political CSI. They take court documents, sometimes articles, and other bits of evidence into their blog-lab and break it down into little pieces to figure out what the missing words are likely to be, to find the inconsistencies, and to recreate the whole event. The commenters add sources of new information, ask questions challenging someone's hypothesis, and articulate other possible interpretations. Yes, there is a clear liberal bias - except for their resident mole Jodi - but the basic bias is for logic, consistency, and sniffing out lies.

An Example of Political CSI: Today, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers released notes, including a log kept by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller about the hospital visit to attorney general Ashcroft by Gonzales and others to get him to approve the surveillance program. You can see the actual document here, thanks to TPM's link.

Below, Empty Wheel is parsing FBI Director Mueller's log of the events to see what is implied by what is and is not said. Readers of the blog are assumed to know who all these people are.

Monday 3/1/04, 1700: Meeting with Comey in his office.

This was actually before the meeting at which Comey and Ashcroft decided not to reauthorize the program, which he said occurred on March 4, the same day Ashcroft was hospitalized. That means two things--Comey was not acting AG when the meeting occurred, and that it happened before the final decision was made. Note that Mueller draws a line after this entry, suggesting some kind of separation between this meeting and subsequent meetings.

Tuesday 3/9/04, 1000: Meeting with Fedarcyk, Pistole, Caproni (and perhaps Wainstein and Gebhardt).

These were then all top FBI people, most with a focus on counter-terrorism--Wainstein is now the AAG in charge of Counter-Terrorism. Fedarcyk, who has since retired, was quoted after Mueller's testimony as suggesting Mueller was "throwing Gonzales under a bus."

Mike Fedarcyk, a retired senior FBI official called Mueller's shot at Gonzales a "jawdropper inside the bureau."

Mueller, who was not in the hospital room, spoke to Ashcroft right after Gonzales left and testified he took notes about the incident. Fedarcyk said that appeared to be insurance against a White House counterattack.

"Usually you take notes to protect yourself. He used them to throw Gonzales under the bus. That's huge," Fedarcyk said.

"This is not partisan politics. It's a bold, strategic, calculated move."

Presumably, this meeting served to finalize the FBI position on what they needed from the program, just before Mueller went and represented the FBI's position at a White House meeting on this.

Tuesday 3/9/04, 1200: Meeting at Card's office, VP, [CIA Deputy Director] McLaughlin, [NSA Director] Hayden, Gonzales and others present.

Note that it appears Meuller was there, but Comey was not, which suggest they thought of Mueller, but not Comey, as a key member of National Security policing.

Unlike on CSI, just a short snippet won't solve the problem. The real work takes much more work. To see how this analysis continues go to The Next Hurrah.

CSI has become an immensely popular television show. That suggests that there is broad public interest in the solving of puzzles through detailed and painstaking testing of different possibilities. So the real question is how do we make the type of political CSI that's in "The Next Hurrah" as interesting to the general public as CSI the television show is?

I'm not sure. In CSI the tv show, there's a crime and the CSI team is trying to find who committed the crime. This is the basic good guy, bad guy story. Easy for the audience to grasp. They don't have to understand all the technical wizardry the lab techs perform. It's like magic where they quickly flash shots of high tech machines and cool microphotos and presto they have solved the case. Since the audience is rooting for the 'good guys' to catch the 'bad guys,' they're willing to accept that all the technology really did prove the guilt. In fact there is a backlash against the show in the law enforcement field because juries now have unrealistic expectations of what the police should be able to prove. Another criticism of CSI listed by Wikipidia is "the level and gratuitousness of graphic violence, images, and sexual content" which surely helps with ratings.

Actually, on a simplistic level, I think Michael Moore and Al Gore perhaps gave us models of how political CSI could be popularized. You need an interesting and/or compelling narrator who will tell the viewers what is happening. You need some jarring contrasts between what people say publicly and what they do privately, and you need good graphics. It also helps for the narrator to expose some personal story. At this point The Next Hurrah is only aimed at wonks. Others probably would wonder whether these folks aren't counting angels, but I think it is more like the CSI team taking a hair from the crime scene and from that hair identifying the killer. The people want to understand and those who do need to hook up with those who know how to communicate those complex linkages to the general public who don't have the time, skill, or patience to pore over these details.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.