Mainstream media coverage conveys the impression that the Administration’s attacks on the New York Times were motivated by the paper’s 3,550-word story detailing US attempts to track terrorist financing methods, published despite an official request for self-censorship. In fact, they constitute another front in the Bush (& Co.) war on the press. And once again many members of the media have enlisted as apparatchiks in undermining their own putative profession, preferring ideology to independence and access to accountability.
Remember: The Administration has been bragging about its post-9/11 money-tracking efforts for years. The UN Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Group discussed it in its December 2002 report to the Security Council, and former State Department official Victor Comras explained that “the information was fairly well known by terrorism financing experts back in 2002.” “Quite frankly, I don’t think the terrorists were tipped off to anything,” said Ron Paul, like Bush a Texas Republican.
The reason that publishing the new details in the Times piece may have been a more difficult call than, say, the Times story on the Bush illegal domestic spying program–which it held for more than a year–is that unlike almost everything the Bush Administration does, instead of being arrogant and incompetent it’s actually a good idea. Arguing for publication, however, would be the charge of honest journalism not to mention the program’s potential for abuse, the Administration’s lack of respect for constitutional niceties in its implementation and its demonstrated proclivity to lie to the public about virtually everything.
None of these nuances play much of a role in our benighted public discourse. Cheney called the decision to publish “offensive.” Bush called it “disgraceful.” Rumsfeld claimed the article would “cause the loss of American lives,” and the crowing for editor Bill Keller’s head has been nonstop as the right-wing echo chamber has ratcheted up its typical “work the refs” attack-machine into a furious frenzy of phony froth. New York Republican Representative (and IRA supporter) Peter King called for the Times to be prosecuted for violating the 1917 Espionage Act. Two hundred and twenty House members–including every Republican but Christopher Shays–voted to condemn it.
They were quickly joined by a group of conservative journalists and pundits who apparently prefer a Soviet-style political discourse to the kind envisioned by America’s Founders. National Review editor Rich Lowry called upon the government to jail the reporters involved if they refused to reveal their sources, and the Review demanded that the White House revoke the Times‘s press credentials. Heather MacDonald, writing in The Weekly Standard, called the Times “a national security threat…drunk on its own power and…antagonistic to the Bush administration.” Talk-show host Melanie Morgan said she’d have “no problem” if Keller were “sent to the gas chamber” for treason. And the always reliable David Horowitz insisted that the Times was purposely inviting assassination attempts against Cheney and Rumsfeld in its–I kid you not–travel section. (Even Rumsfeld was apparently in on it, however, having approved the photographs of his home for the offending article. These conspiracies can get real complicated…)