Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bush and Nixon – two sides of the same bad coin

When the news is bad for the Administration it attacks the news media. It is a time honored tactic fine-tuned during the Nixon Administration. Whether the larger conflict is against Communists or terrorists, when government policies fail the Nixons and the Bushes of the world have learned there is mileage in the rabble-rousing ploy of linking critics with the nation’s enemies. There is no “agreeing to disagree” but only right-thinking people and enemies of the nation.

As the Bush Administration approaches its last two years in power the drumbeat against our free press becomes louder and louder. The Administration’s reactions to the recent revelations in a number of newspapers about the government’s tracking of international financial transactions of potential terrorist groups – something the Administration has been bragging about since September 11th as well as something certainly insinuated on the website of the international financial organization in charge of the transactions – is only the latest smear campaign. Those of us old enough to remember some of the shenanigans that happened domestically during the Cold War may notice something smells familiar.

David Remnick, in this week’s New Yorker, draws comparisons to the current Administration and the Nixon White House. He lays out a short history of the Bush Administration’s attempts to first manipulate and then attack the press. He writes,
In the past six years, the Administration and its surrogates have
issued a stream of disinformation about intelligence and Iraq; paid friendly
“columnists” like Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher tens of thousands of
dollars to parrot the White House line; accredited to the White House press
corps a phony journalist and ex-prostitute (Jeff “Bulldog” Gannon, a.k.a. James
Dale Guckert) as a reliable pitcher of softball questions; tightened Freedom of
Information Act restrictions; and pioneered a genre of fake news via packaged
video “reports.” The President has held fewer solo news conferences than any of
his modern predecessors. The Vice-President kept the Times reporter off his
plane because he didn’t like the paper’s coverage. The atmosphere, in general,
has been one of crude manipulation and derision. After Seymour M. Hersh
published, in this magazine, his third article on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal
in as many weeks, the Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita, overlooking the truth
of the reports, publicly declared that Hersh merely “threw a lot of crap against
the wall and he expects someone to peel off what’s real.” (Hersh’s articles, he
said, composed a “tapestry of nonsense.”)

In recent months, the critique has grown more ominous. Cheney and
other officials have attacked Dana Priest’s article in the Washington Post
detailing the rendition of prisoners to secret jails in Europe and James Risen
and Eric Lichtblau’s articles in the Times describing the government’s attempt
to fight terrorism with warrantless domestic wiretaps. Aping the spirit, if not
the élan, of his predecessor, Cheney called the articles disloyal, damaging to
national security, and undeserving of the Pulitzer Prizes they won.

Late last month, the Times published a long report by Lichtblau and
Risen on the C.I.A.’s and the Treasury Department’s monitoring of an
international banking database in Brussels to track the movement of funds by Al
Qaeda. The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times very quickly followed
with their own articles on the government’s monitoring of Al Qaeda’s financial
transactions, which has been an open secret ever since it was trumpeted
by––well, by George W. Bush, in mid-September, 2001. Infuriated that the editors
of the Times had not acceded to blandishments to kill the story, Bush and
Cheney, in a coördinated offensive, described the Times report as a disgrace
and, outrageously, as a boon to further terror attacks.

The Bush Administration can’t really believe that these newspaper
stories have undermined the battle against Al Qaeda; what’s more, it knows that
over the decades papers like the Times have kept many stories and countless
particulars secret when editors saw that it was in the interest of national
security and military safety to do so. The Times banking story disclosed no
leads, named no targets. To say that it risked lives is like saying that an
article revealing that cops tap phones to monitor the activities of the Mafia is
a gift to the Five Families of New York.

The Bush Administration knows very well what it is doing and in
what climate. The press––particularly the mainstream outlets the White House
finds most irritating––is in a collective state of anxious transition, hurt by
scandals (Congressman King was quick to mention Jayson Blair, the Times serial
fabulist), by the appearance of a blizzard of new technologies and ideologized
alternatives like Fox News, and by a general sense of economic, even
existential, worry. The era of hegemonic networks and newspapers, of supremely
confident Bradlees and Rosenthals, is a memory.

In the wake of the Administration’s record of dishonesty and
incompetence in Iraq and the consequent decline in the President’s domestic
polling numbers, it is not hard to discern why the White House might find a
convenient enemy in the editors of the Times: this is an election year. The
assault on the Times is a no-lose situation for the White House. The banking
story itself showed the Administration to be doing what it had declared it was
doing from the start: concertedly monitoring the financial transactions of
potential terrorists. At the same time, by smearing the Times for the
delectation of the Republican “base,” the Administration could direct attention
away from its failures, including, last week, the Supreme Court’s decision to
block its plans to try Guantánamo detainees before military

In the era of the Pentagon Papers, a war-weary White House went to
the courts to stifle the press. You begin to wonder if the Bush White House, in
its urgent need to find scapegoats for the myriad disasters it has inflicted, is
preparing to repeat a dismal and dismaying episode of the Nixon

You may read the entire article here.

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