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When India and Pakistan conducted their nuclear tests in 1998, even those of us who condemned them balked at the hypocrisy of Western nuclear powers.

Did you know that the mere act of asking what kind of warning members of
the Bush Administration may have received about a 9/11-like attack is
just clever hype by that sneaky liberal media conspiracy? So goes the
argument of the regular National Review seat on Communist News
Network liberal media program, Reliable Sources. Recently, host
(and Washington Post media reporter) Howard Kurtz decided to fill
the chair not with his favorite guest/source, NR editor Rich Lowry, or the much-invited NR
Online
editor, Jonah Goldberg, but with the relatively obscure
NR managing editor, Jay Nordlinger. Nordlinger explained, "The
story is surprisingly slight," blown up by a liberal media fearing Bush
was getting "a free ride." Give the man points for consistency. The Bush
White House's exploitation of 9/11 to fatten Republican coffers via the
sale of the President's photo that fateful day--scurrying from safe
location to safe location--was also, in Nordlinger's view, "another
almost nonstory."

Nordlinger's complaint echoed the even stronger contention of another
Kurtz favorite, Andrew Sullivan. The world-famous
gaycatholictorygapmodel took the amazing position that potential
warnings about a terrorist threat that would kill thousands and land us
in Afghanistan was "not a story" at all. Sounding like a Karl Rove/Mary
Matalin love child, Sullivan contended, "The real story here is the
press and the Democrats' need for a story about the war to change the
climate of support for the President."

But Sullivan at least deserves our admiration for expertly spinning
Kurtz regarding The New York Times Magazine's decision to cut him
loose. Echoing Sullivan's PR campaign--and with a supportive quote from,
uh, Rich Lowry--Kurtz framed the story entirely as one of Times
executive editor Howell Raines avenging Sullivan's obsessive attacks on
the paper's liberal bias. OK, perhaps the standards for a Post
writer tweaking the Times top dog are not those of, say, Robert
Caro on Robert Moses, but where's the evidence that Raines was even
involved? The paper had plenty of reasons to lose Sullivan even if his
stupendously narcissistic website never existed. Sullivan's Times
work may have been better disciplined than his "TRB" columns in the
notsoliberal New Republic (before he was replaced by editor Peter
Beinart) and certainly than the nonsense he posts online, but it still
must have embarrassed the Newspaper of Record. As (now Times Book
Review
columnist) Judith Shulevitz pointed out in a critique of his
"dangerously misleading" paean to testosterone, Sullivan was permitted
to "mix up his subjective reactions with laboratory work." Stanford
neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky told Shulevitz at the time, Sullivan "is
entitled to his fairly nonscientific opinion, but I'm astonished at the
New York Times." The Andrew Sullivan Principles of Pre-Emptive
Sexual Disclosure also embarrassed the magazine when he used its pages
to out as gay two Clinton Cabinet members and liberal Democrats like
Rosie O'Donnell. (I imagine he came to regret this invasion of privacy
when his own life became tabloid fare.) Meanwhile, Sullivan's
McCarthyite London Sunday Times column about September 11--in
which he waxed hysterical about the alleged danger of a pro-terrorist
"Fifth Column" located in the very city that suffered the attack--should
have been enough to put off any discerning editor forever. Yet the myth
of his martyrdom continues. Sullivan's website carries the vainglorious
moniker "unfit to print." For once, he's right.

* * *

Sorry, I know enough can be more than enough, but this quote of Sully's
is irresistible: "I ignored Geoffrey Nunberg's piece in The American
Prospect
in April, debunking the notion of liberal media bias by
numbers, because it so flew in the face of what I knew that I figured
something had to be wrong." When a conservative pundit "knows" something
to be true, don't go hassling him with contrary evidence. It so happens
that linguist Geoffrey Nunberg did the necessary heavy lifting to
disprove perhaps the one contention in Bernard Goldberg's book
Bias the so-called liberal media felt compelled--perhaps out of
misplaced generosity--to accept: that the media tend to label
conservatives as such more frequently than alleged liberals. Tom
Goldstein bought into it in Columbia Journalism Review. So did
Jonathan Chait in TNR. Howard Kurtz and Jeff Greenfield let it go
unchallenged on Communist News Network. Meanwhile, Goldberg admits to
"knowing," Sullivan style, happily ignorant of any relevant data beyond
his own biases. He did no research, he says, because he did not want his
book "to be written from a social scientist point of view."

Unfortunately for Bernie, Nunberg discovered that alleged liberals are
actually labeled as such by mainstream journalists more frequently than
are conservatives. This is true for politicians, for actors, for
lawyers, for everyone--even institutions like think tanks and pressure
groups. The reasons for this are open to speculation, but Nunberg has
the numbers. A weblogger named Edward Boyd ran his own set of numbers
that came out differently, but Nunberg effectively disposed of Boyd's
(honest) errors in a follow-up article for TAP Online. In a truly
bizarre Village Voice column, Nat Hentoff recently sought to ally
himself with the pixilated Goldberg but felt a need to add the
qualifier, "The merits of Goldberg's book aside..." Actually, it's no
qualifier at all. Goldberg's worthless book has only one merit, which
was to inspire my own forthcoming book refuting it. (Hentoff
mischaracterizes that, too.) Meanwhile, the merits of Hentoff's column
aside, it's a great column.

* * *

Speaking of ex-leftists, what's up with Christopher Hitchens calling
Todd Gitlin and me "incurable liberals"? Since when is liberalism
treated as something akin to a disease in this, America's oldest
continuously published liberal magazine? Here's hoping my old friend
gets some treatment for his worsening case of incurable Horowitzism. (Or
is it Sullivanism? Hentoffism? Is there a Doctor of Philosophy in the
house?)

Meanwhile, I've got a new weblog with more of this kind of thing at
www.altercation.msnbc.com. Check it every day, or the terrorists
win...

OK, so maybe John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller are not the sharpest tools in the shed. How else to explain that, after September.

The question is not the 1970s cliché, What did the President know
and when did he know it? The appropriate query is, What did US
intelligence know--and what did the President know and do about that?
The flap over the August 6, 2001, intelligence briefing of George W.
Bush--in which he was told that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was
interested in hijackings and looking to strike the United States
directly--should not have focused on whether the President ignored that
information and missed the chance to prevent the September 11 strikes.
Still, a political dust-up ensued, as the White House, overreacting to
the overreaction of the Democrats, went into full spin mode. The crucial
issue was broached when National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
stated, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people
would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center."

Actually, it was predicted, and the recent hullabaloo called
attention to the sad fact that the Clinton and the Bush II national
security establishments did not heed hints going back to 1995. In that
year a terrorist arrested in the Philippines said bin Laden operatives
were considering a plot to bomb airliners and fly a plane into CIA
headquarters--information shared with the United States. Two weeks
before that arrest, Algerian terrorists linked to Al Qaeda hijacked a
plane, hoping to crash it into the Eiffel Tower (French commandos killed
the hijackers at a refueling stop).

From 1995 on, US intelligence and the military should have taken steps
to detect and prevent a 9/11-like scheme. There was enough information
in the system to cause the US air command to draw up plans for dealing
with an airliner-turned-missile and to prompt the CIA and the FBI (and
other intelligence outfits) to seek intelligence related to plots of
this type. Apparently nothing of the sort happened. Not even when
terrorism experts continued to raise airliner attacks as a possibility.
In 1998 terrorism analysts briefed Federal Aviation Administration
security officials on scenarios in which terrorists flew planes into US
nuclear plants or commandeered Federal Express cargo planes and crashed
them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, the
Capitol and other targets. In 1999 a report prepared for the National
Intelligence Council noted that Al Qaeda suicide bombers could fly an
aircraft filled with explosives into the Pentagon, CIA headquarters or
the White House.

In 2001 the FBI--not looking for signs of a suicide-bombing plot--failed
to recognize the significance of information its agents received while
investigating foreign students at a Phoenix flight school and Zacarias
Moussaoui, a French national enrolled in a Minnesota aviation school,
later charged with participating in the 9/11 conspiracy. In July Italian
authorities warned the United States that bin Laden agents might try to
attack Bush and other Western leaders at the Genoa summit using an
airliner.

True, these leads were small pieces of data among the massive amounts of
material swept up by the sprawling intelligence system. But what's the
point of spending more than $30 billion annually on spies and high-tech
eavesdropping if the system can't sort out the valuable nuggets?
Hindsight is indeed easy. The Bush and Clinton administrations, based on
what's now known, don't deserve to be faulted for not discovering the
9/11 plot. But both failed to oversee the intelligence and
law-enforcement communities and make sure they were pointed in the right
direction.

There is evidence that the Bush team didn't move quickly on the
counterterrorism front. Newsweek reported that Attorney General
John Ashcroft prodded the FBI to concentrate on violent crime, drugs and
child porn more than on counterterrorism (a story the Justice Department
denied). And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld threatened to veto a move
that shifted $600 million from the anti-ballistic missile program to
antiterrorism. Was there a counterterrorism policy delay? Other
questions linger. In July 2001 Richard Clarke, then the National
Security Council official in charge of counterterrorism, put out an
urgent alert, placing the government at its highest state of readiness
for a possible terrorist attack. The alert faded six weeks later. What
triggered it? What caused the stand-down? Should there have been a
follow-up?

The multiple failures of policy, imagination and coordination over two
administrations should be investigated. To assign blame? Accountability
does have its place in a democracy. The public has a right to know who
messed up and to be assured that those who did aren't in a position to
commit further mistakes. The point, of course, is to learn from those
mistakes and to be able to tell the public the failures have been
addressed. Does the intelligence system deserve more billions, as Bush
has requested, without demonstrating that it can use the money wisely?

After 9/11 the Bush Administration didn't rush to examine what went
wrong. We're too busy fighting the war, it said, while urging Congress
not to pursue the matter. Belatedly, Congress authorized a joint
investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees, two
panels that traditionally have been cozy with the intelligence crowd.
That probe has gotten off to a terrible start--the investigators
fighting among themselves over whether to examine government failures or
to concentrate on how best to reorganize the intelligence system and
accusing the CIA and the Justice Department of not cooperating. One
positive consequence of the maelstrom over the August 6 briefing is that
it has prompted more calls for an independent commission, which Senators
John McCain and Joseph Lieberman have been advocating. Yet so far no
inquiry is committed to mounting a no-holds-barred examination and to
conducting as much of it as possible in public.

"I don't have any problem with a legitimate debate over the performance
of our intelligence agencies," said Vice President Cheney. But he has
opposed sharing the August 6 briefing with Congress. How can there be
worthwhile debate without information? After all, the recent tussle
began when the press sensed that the White House had withheld a
significant--or intriguing--fact. And how can there be information
without investigation? The issue is not what Bush knew--but why he
didn't know, and whether his Administration took sufficient steps before
and after that awful day to deal with the failings of the agencies that
are supposed to thwart and protect.

George W. Bush, it is true, did not create the FBI's smug, insular,
muscle-bound bureaucracy or the CIA's well-known penchant for loopy spy
tips and wrongheaded geopolitical analysis. But the President is now in
the political cross-hairs for the failures of these agencies in
identifying and understanding terrorist threats. And what's wrong with
that? Bush is President, after all, and it is mildly amusing to hear the
conservative claque plead excusable ignorance or the complexities of
governing as his alibi. The trouble is, this failure is too serious to
amuse. The ineptitude preceding September 11 arguably heightens the
gravest, most immediate threat to national security because, while the
dangers may lurk in the twilight zone, they can, as we learned, turn
real. Yet this nation is relying on two intelligence agencies that don't
even wish to talk to each other--and that not only failed to anticipate
September 11 but that have also failed to locate Osama bin Laden, the
man George W. Bush said he wanted "dead or alive," or to identify the
anthrax killer.

Instead of expressing a little executive impatience, even anger at
possible misfeasance, this President responds, once again, by calling
for more secrecy in government, more silence from his critics. And we're
not the only ones to suspect a connection between the cascade of
Administration warnings about new threats and its wish to turn the
public's gaze away from its shortcomings.

The imperative now is to get a down-to-business accounting of the
negligence or inertia that preceded September 11--a systematic inquiry
that is not a headhunting exercise but could begin the long-overdue
reformation of FBI and CIA operating practices. Whether this is the
Congressional investigation already under way or a new independent
commission such as Senator Daschle wants, the results will be persuasive
only if the public learns a lot more, not less, about how to cope with
this new era of shadowy threats. Also needed are elected officials
willing to ask the Administration tough questions--fearlessly, in public
forums, with no thought as to whether Dick Cheney will brand them as
"irresponsible."

If Bush were a leader of more substance, he would understand that a
thorough ventilation is in his self-interest, both politically and
otherwise. His green-yellow-red warning code is already a joke. Should
terrorists indeed attack again, a rattled populace may begin to wonder,
What did the President know? Where was the Vice President hiding? If
Americans are going to have to live with uncertainty for a long time,
then the government owes them a grown-up conversation on the
complexities, what is known and knowable, what is not. People can handle
straight talk, but that's not what they are getting.

This President used last fall's tragedy to pump himself up as the
resolute warrior who tossed complexity into the trash can. Bush's
I'm-gonna-get-you rhetoric described an open-ended series of
battlefields ahead and did wonders for his ratings. But the complicated
counterrealities have already blurred that picture, just as the recent
revelations greatly diminish his luster as the straight-talking cowboy.
Now he wants Americans to appreciate the gray areas and accept that some
facts are unknowable. And please, don't ask any more questions of your
leader, because it's unpatriotic.

Just one question, Mr. President: What else didn't you tell us after
September 11?

For Senator Clinton to flourish a copy of the New York Post--the paper that has called her pretty much everything from Satanic to Sapphist--merely because it had the pungent headline "Bush Knew" is not yet her height of opportunism. (The height so far was reached last fall, when she said she could understand the rage and hatred behind the attacks on the World Trade Center because, after all, she had been attacked herself in her time.) But the failure of her husband's regime to take Al Qaeda seriously is the clue to the same failure on the part of the Bush gang.

Why public and press have a right to witness military tribunal proceedings.

During the long months of post-September 11 presidential invincibility,
no member of Congress climbed further out on the what-did-Bush-know-when
limb than Representative Cynthia McKinney. "We know there were numerous
warnings of the events to come on September 11," the Georgia Democrat
said in March. "What did this Administration know and when did it know
it, about the events of September 11? Who else knew, and why did they
not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered?"

The disclosure that President Bush was warned in August that Al Qaeda
was seeking to hijack domestic aircraft did not confirm all McKinney's
intimations--which extended to talk about how the Bush family might have
profited from the attacks. Yet she was freed to stake a claim of
vindication. "It now becomes clear why the Bush Administration has been
vigorously opposing Congressional hearings. The Bush Administration has
been engaged in a conspiracy of silence. If committed and patriotic
people had not been pushing for disclosure, today's revelations would
have been hidden by the White House."

McKinney's initial calls for an investigation of what Bush knew prompted
a storm of criticism. "McKinney has made herself too easy a target for
mockery," Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page editor
Cynthia Tucker announced in April. "She no longer deserves serious
analysis." After Bush aides condemned McKinney's "ludicrous, baseless
views," National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg diagnosed
her as suffering from "paranoid, America-hating, crypto-Marxist
conspiratorial delusions." Barely a month after the McKinney-bashing
peaked, however, the Journal-Constitution headline read: "Bush
warned by US intelligence before 9/11 of possible bin Laden plot to
hijack planes," while Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman
Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, said, "I believe, and others
believe, if [information on threats] had been acted on properly, we may
have had a different situation on September 11."

There were no apologies to McKinney. Brushing aside complaints from
Atlanta civil rights activists, Georgia Senator Zell Miller continued to
characterize his fellow Democrat as "loony." McKinney's critics kept
exploiting the opening she gave them with her unfounded rumination on
the prospect that something other than ineptness might explain the
Administration's failure to warn Americans about terrorist threats. But
her willingness to go after the Administration when few Democrats dared
earned her folk-hero status among dissenters from the
Bush-can-do-no-wrong mantra: The popular democrats.com website now
greets visitors with a We Believe Cynthia icon.

In Georgia, where McKinney faces a July primary challenge from a former
judge who labels her "off-the-wall and unproductive," a recent
Journal-Constitution headline read, "Revelations Give Boost to
McKinney." Letters to the editor, even from former critics, hail her
prescience. And Georgia Democratic Representative John Lewis, who once
steered clear of McKinney's call for an investigation, says, "I hate to
put it in this vein, but she may have the last laugh."

Quick, pinch me--am I still living in the same country? Reading and
watching the same media? This "Bob Woodward" fellow who co-wrote a tough
piece in the May 18 Washington Post demonstrating that the
now-famous August 6 presidential daily briefing, contrary to
Administration officials' claims about its contents, actually carried
the heading "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S."--is this the same
Bob Woodward who co-wrote the Post's infamous "Ten Days in
September" series earlier this year, the ur-document of George W. Bush's
Churchillization? And this "Michael Isikoff," sharing a byline on the
eye-opening May 27 Newsweek cover story that shreds the
Administration's "we did everything we could" line of defense--is this
the Isikoff who four years ago defined national security in terms of
dress stains and cigar probes? One begins to suspect that unbeknownst to
all of us, the terrorists have indeed struck--the Washington, DC, water
supply.

An overstatement, to be sure. But it does seem to be the case that
wherever this potentially incendiary story leads, from fog of
unprovables to hot smoking gun, one change has already taken place
because of it that is well worth marking. For the first time since
September 11--or, arguably, since ever--the press corps appears ready to
expend more effort poking holes in the vaunted Bush Administration spin
operation than admiringly limning it. More to the point, Is a new
skepticism stirring around such heretofore Teflonized officials as
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice? Before her May 16
damage-control press conference, Rice was probably the Administration's
leading untouchable. After it ("I don't think anybody could have
predicted these people would...use an airplane as a missile," a
statement left bleeding on the floor after a pile of evidence came
forward showing plenty of people were predicting precisely that), her
status has taken a major hit. So, as Professor Harold Hill might put it,
certain wooorrrrdds are creeping into the media vocabulary--words
like "serious credibility gap," in the Newsweek piece.

It's been a long time coming. If anything "un-American" happened after
September 11, it was the triumph of the notion--propounded by the
Bushies, reinforced by the major media and far too readily accepted by
cowardly Democrats--that "patriotism" somehow equals "support the Bush
Administration." CBS's Dan Rather said it recently in an interview with
the BBC: "Patriotism became so strong in the United States after 11
September that it prevented US journalists from asking the toughest of
the tough questions about the war against terrorism," adding, "I do not
except myself from this criticism." The genuflection sometimes reached
levels that we might call comic, except that there's nothing comic about
a "free" press choosing to ape state-owned media, throwing rose petals
at the feet of officials from the most unilateral and secretive
Administration in modern American history ("sixty-nine years old, and
you're America's stud," Meet the Press's Tim Russert once said to
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld).

One is not quite ready to say, on the evidence of several days' worth of
stories, that this sorry era is over just yet. The New York Times
and the Washington Post both ran editorials on May 17 that were
something short of being full-throated calls for investigation; from the
right-wing papers, the predictable yelping about how it's really
Clinton's fault.

All this will probably continue, but at least now it appears that it
will be offset by some post-post-9/11 aggression. It will be interesting
to watch what leads the media now follow and how far they follow them.
For example, some reports--originating with the BBC but picked up in a
few minor US outlets--indicate that US intelligence agents were told to
back off the bin Laden family and the Saudi royals soon after Bush
became President. Reporters might also look into the way the
Administration declined to continue a process of tightening overseas and
offshore banking regulations begun by the Clinton Administration in an
effort to track down narcotics traffickers and terrorists. The Bush
people acted partly at the behest of Texas Senator Phil Gramm, which
means partly at the behest of Enron--and which may have ended up helping
terrorists.

"Connecting the dots" has become the operative cliché about
whether intelligence officials should have been able to put together the
various pre-9/11 clues they received. Now, maybe the media will start
connecting some dots of their own.

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