Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Press & "Politicizing" Terrorist Deaths

Today, Simon Maloy over at Media Matters For America issued a minor takedown of some of the press tsk-tsk-ing at the Obama over "politicizing" the fact that it was he and his administration that found and killed Osama bin Laden. Various conservatives have gotten their panties all in a bunch over this and that mainstream "conventional wisdom" seems to be following along.

"It would be nice if the press, when wrestling with this narrative, could dive deep into their memories and travel all the way back to June 2006, when the government of Iraq announced that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, had been killed in an airstrike. The Bush White House and the Republican Congressional majority, facing terrible poll numbers and an angry electorate, were ecstatic at the news that one of the world's most wanted terrorists had met his end at American hands and immediately set to work politicizing his death."
Maloy then goes about detailing how Bush ace political strategist Karl Rove and Republican House leader John Boehner were urging Republicans to exploit Zarqawi's death in the coming congressional campaign.

It's a good, short-and-to-the-point piece and while one can understand the rationale for focusing on Republican efforts to exploit Zarqawi's death--it does offer a direct parallel to the present hoopla about Obama--I think the article does a bit of a disservice by focusing so narrowly on this.[1] When it comes to Republicans "politicizing" these War On Terror [tm] matters, there is a much bigger picture and the press reaction toward it has always ranged from complete indifference to active assistance.

Republicans began "politicizing" these matters from virtually the moment the planes hit the World Trade Center. This author wrote about this quite a bit in real time in various venues. Not just to tsk-tsk it but to point it out and wonder aloud at the implications of it.

Back on September 11, 2001, only a few hours after the first terrorist attack, anonymous "counterterrorism experts in the Pentagon" allegedly talked to Paul Sperry, from WorldNutDaily, and blamed Clinton for what had just happened. The article asserted that Clinton "never seriously considered" taking out bin Laden and that his administration merely encouraged and emboldened the terrorist mastermind.

Within days, Rush Limbaugh, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (Clown-CA) and Newt Gingrich were publicly singing the same tune. It became a very familiar one over time, part of the right's conventional mythology. In less than two years after the event, conservatives had already flooded the market with entire books--one after another--dedicated to or advancing the idea that Clinton was to blame for what happened. "Why America Slept," by Gerald Posner, "Breakdown," by Bill Gerz, Richard Miniter's "Losing Bin Laden," Rich Lowry's "Legacy," Chris Ruddy's "Catastrophe" and on and on.

Maloy slams Karl Rove for "busily and dishonestly trying to diminish" Obama's killing of bin Laden. Rove wrote a particularly slimy op-ed devoted to this theme in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. Back in January, 2002--on the same week the wreckage of the World Trade Center stopped smoldering--Karl Rove was in front of the conference of the Republican National Committee encouraging Republicans to exploit the terror attacks for political gain.
"'We can go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and hereby protecting America,' Rove told party leaders at the RNC's winter meetings in President Bush's home state."
This went virtually unreported at the time, even as prominent Democrats whined about it.[2]

By May 2002, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee were selling pictures of Bush made on Sept. 11th in order to raise funds for the party.

The next month, Bush political director Ken Mehlman managed to misplace a disc featuring a Powerpoint presentation he and Rove had prepared regarding that year's congressional elections. At the top of the list of suggestions for Republican candidates: "Focus on war." It urged GOP candidates to, among other things, "highlight fears of future terrorist attacks." It became available to the press but very little was ever made of it. What few stories appeared were mostly concerned with the revelation that the administrations' political team thought a few races around the country were tighter than they'd publicly acknowledged.

At the time, those in the Bush administration had their sights set on starting a war with Iraq and politicized it to the hilt. The invasion policy had a long pedigree--it was a set-in-stone done deal at least 5 months before the administration rolled out its "meticulously planned strategy" to sell the public on the war. The quote, there, is from the New York Times, where reporter Elisabeth Bumiller wrote about this marketing campaign in Sept. 2002. Bumiller's story was that the administration had concocted their sales pitch months earlier but had delayed launching it. A big part of that pitch, of course, was the idea that Iraq, because of its WMD programs, was an "imminent threat" to the U.S. but if those in the administration legitimately believed this, on what planet is it a responsible move for them to hold back on trying to sell the public on a preemptive attack? A really obvious question Bumiller didn't bother to ask. She, instead, acted as a stenographer for a lot of administration eye-wash about the timing and didn't raise a single question about the fact that it put the Iraq war debate squarely in the final stretch of that year's congressional campaigns.

When the administration unveiled its sales pitch, Republicans congressional candidates across the U.S. began using the Iraq "issue" as a club against their Democratic opponents. Bush used it to raise a tremendous amount of money and often gave his pitch for war from the many campaign stops he made on behalf of various Republican candidates. Prior to this, Bush had consistently opposed the creation of a Department of Homeland Security but seeing a useful issue during the campaign, he did a 180; came out in support of it and repeatedly used Democratic opposition to it to bash the parties' congressional candidates. At one of his campaign stops, Bush said Senate Democrats who oppose the department are "not interested in the security of the American people." Which was pretty much the theme of that entire campaign.

And so on.

In dealing with the present narrative about Obama "politicizing" his administration's successful killing of bin Laden, Maloy suggests it would be helpful if those in the press were to reflect on the Republican efforts to politicize Zarqawi's death in 2006. I think it would be helpful if they reflected on a great deal more than that.


[1] It's also worth noting that Republicans were only able to politicize Zarqawi's death in 2006 because of the refusal of the press to tell the public about a story that had broken two years earlier. The backstory: Bush and his underlings, in the buildup to war, had presented Zarqawi as an important al Qaida official who was operating inside Iraq, proof of the Iraq/al Qaida tag-team Bush was using to sell the war. In reality, Zarqawi was not, at that time, aligned with al Qaida--he was running his own rival terrorist group. He was operating in northern Iraq, a part of the country protected by the U.S. no-fly zone and outside the control of Saddam Hussein. He and his group were anti-Saddam. After the U.S. invasion, Zarqawi came down from the mountains, allied himself with al Qaida, became the leader of the anti-U.S. resistance and murdered hundreds of people. The big story that broke in 2004, the one that would have cut short those Republican efforts to make political hay from the fact that the administration had killed Zarqawi, was the revelation that, prior to the Iraq invasion, Bush had at least 3 opportunities to kill Zarqawi and had refused to pull the trigger, because the "president" wanted to use Zarqawi and his presence in Iraq as propaganda for the war, as I just described. NBC reported this in 2004. Instead of being a huge scandal, the rest of the press couldn't seem to care less about it.

[2] In another truly twisted story no one cares to acknowledge, Bush and bin Laden used one another for personal gain for years. Bin Laden's attack on the U.S. allowed Bush to build his presidency on the War On Terror [tm]. Bin Laden benefited from having an incompetent clown in the White House, one whose actions were a living, breathing recruitment tool for al Qaeda. Bin Laden even helped reelect Bush in 2004. It's another of those barely-covered stories.

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