Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...


Friday, December 05, 2003  

I think we're going to have to institute a daily "dubious claims" tracker for the administration. Yesterday they tried to fob off a couple of whoppers. The first was in trying to cover up for a whopper they already told, so it's really a dubious claim about a prior dubious claim--as we're new at this, I don't know if that deserves its own department. I'll check around.

Dubious Claim 1: We thought it was a British Airways plane because the last time we were flying across the Atlantic, we saw one there, and anyway, the guy we talked to sounded like a limey.

This goes back to the great Thanksgiving PR debacle, when the White House tried to add a little more adventure to the adventure story it was writing. The indispensible Dana Milbank picks up the narrative:

The story gained altitude when White House communications director Dan Bartlett walked into the media cabin on the return flight from Baghdad and announced that Air Force One had come within sight of a British Airways flight over water. The British Airways pilot, Bartlett said, radioed to ask, "Did I just see Air Force One?," and, after a pause, the Air Force One pilot radioed back, "Gulfstream 5." After a long silence, Bartlett said, the British Airways pilot seemed to realize he was in on a secret and said, "Oh."

But Bartlett's story was no more real than the Thanksgiving turkey Bush posed with in Baghdad. We know this because British Airways, which actually does exist, didn't see Air Force One. Oops. Milbank continues,

The White House then brought out Version 2.0: Bartlett said the pilot of a British Airways plane had the conversation with air traffic control in London, not Air Force One, while the two planes were flying off the western coast of England just before daybreak. But British Airways said that did not happen either. And Britain's National Air Traffic Services agreed.

Wising up, the administration yesterday decided to be a bit more vague so that the pesky reporters couldn't check up. Here we go to Scott McClellan, sweating while he recites the official new story.

"The pilot of the aircraft asked whether the aircraft behind it was Air Force One. After consulting the flight plan of those aircraft in the sector at that time, the center responded that the aircraft was a Gulfstream V. NATS notes reports that U.S. officials have said that for security reasons, Air Force One had filed a flight plan which stated that the service would operated by a Gulfstream V."

So as they pointed out, it was a non-U.K. operator. What Colonel Tillman and the pilots on board Air Force One believed at the time when they heard the conversation was that it was a British Airways plane, because there had been a British Airways plane that had been in the vicinity of Air Force One on the way across. And Colonel Tillman -- and, in fact, they knew it was there because they had been using the call sign that British Airways uses when they communicate with the control center. Colonel Tillman and the pilots then heard the conversation, and to them the conversation sounded like it was coming from a pilot with a British accent. And so that's why they had concluded that it was a British Airways plane.

Got that?

posted by Jeff | 10:08 AM |
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