More Bushwa

As has been reported widely, President Bush had a rather noteworthy exchange with a reporter yesterday, during which he took umbrage at the actions of the terrorist-abetting news media in this country:

Q: Sir, several news organizations have reported about a program that allows the administration to look into the bank records of certain suspected terrorists. My questions are twofold: One, why have you not gone to Congress to ask for authorization for this program, five years after it started? And two, with respect, if neither the courts, nor the legislature is allowed to know about these programs, how can you feel confident the checks and balances system works?

THE PRESIDENT: Congress was briefed. And what we did was fully authorized under the law. And the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We’re at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America. What we were doing was the right thing. Congress was aware of it, and we were within the law to do so.

The American people expect this government to protect our constitutional liberties and, at the same time, make sure we understand what the terrorists are trying to do. The 9/11 Commission recommended that the government be robust in tracing money. If you want to figure out what the terrorists are doing, you try to follow their money. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. And the fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win this war on terror. [full text]

The brief press conference concluded with this inflammatory vignette. It is worth noting that, in his response, Mr. Bush did not in the least address the issue of how well (or poorly, as the case may be) “the checks and balances system works� at present. In addition, he apparently did not show a trace of irony when he categorized the behavior of the press (specifically, the New York Times) as “disgraceful.� Well, if anyone should know something about disgraceful behavior, it’s this law-flouting, war-mongering President. In response to his blame-the-media, cut-and-run-from-the-facts horse manure of a statement, Mr. Bush is taken to task today by Washington Post columnist, Dan Froomkin. An excerpt of the article, which is well worth reading in full, follows:

Nuke The Messenger

In accusing the press — and specifically, the New York Times — of putting American lives at risk, President Bush and his allies have escalated their ongoing battle with the media to nuclear proportions.

Here’s what Bush had to say yesterday: “We’re at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America.”

Here’s Vice President Cheney: “The New York Times has now made it more difficult for us to prevent attacks in the future.”

Here’s press secretary Tony Snow: “The New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public’s right to know, in some cases, might overwrite somebody’s right to live, and whether, in fact, the publications of these could place in jeopardy the safety of fellow Americans.”

It’s a monstrous charge for the White House to suggest that the press is essentially aiding and abetting the enemy. But where’s the evidence?

The White House first began leveling this kind of accusation immediately after a New York Times story revealed a massive, secret domestic spying program conducted without congressional or judicial oversight. See, for instance, Bush’s December 17, 2005 radio address, in which he said the disclosure put “our citizens at risk.”

But not once has the White House definitively answered this question: How are any of these disclosures actually impairing the pursuit of terrorists? Terrorists already knew the government was trying to track them down through their finances, their phone calls and their e-mails. Within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, for instance, Bush publicly declared open season on terrorist financing.

As far as I can tell, all these disclosures do is alert the American public to the fact that all this stuff is going on without the requisite oversight, checks and balances.
How does it possibly matter to a terrorist whether the government got a court order or not? Or whether Congress was able to exercise any oversight? The White House won’t say. In fact, it can’t say.

By contrast, it does matter to us. This column has documented, again and again , that when faced with a potentially damaging political problem, White House strategist Karl Rove’s response is not to defend, but to attack.

The potentially damaging political problem here is that the evidence continues to grow that the Bush White House’s exercise of unchecked authority in the war on terror poses a serious threat to American civil liberties and privacy rights. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that an American president used the mechanisms of national security to spy on his political enemies.

The sum total of the administration’s defense against this charge appears to be: Trust us. Trust that we’re only spying on terrorists, and not anyone else. But what if the trust isn’t there? And what if they’re breaking the law?

That’s why it’s better to attack. It makes for great soundbites. It motivates the base. And perhaps most significantly, it takes attention away from Bush’s own behavior. [full text]

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