MRCWatch Dept. - It started this morning, the 11th anniversary of the terror attack on the U.S., when, rather than following the general media trend of constant content-free wallowing in oh-so-solemn misery over the memory of those attacks, the New York Times actually decided to use the occasion for some serious journalism on the subject and ran an op-ed by former Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald.
It’s been a matter of public record for more than 8 years that
then-“President” Bush was given a warning about a coming terrorist
attack in a briefing by the CIA on 6 Aug., 2001. The content of that
briefing was reflected in its title, “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in
U.S.” It included information that a group of bin Laden operatives were
in the U.S., that there may be preparation for a plane hijacking, that
there had been surveillance of buildings in New York. Bush’s response
was to take a long vacation and 36 days later, the terrorists struck.
Eichenwald’s piece in today’s Times, "The Deafness Before the Storm,"
outlines how that 6 Aug. briefing was only one of many early warnings
the Bush administration ignored. The intelligence community had, in
fact, spent 3 months before that briefing repeatedly and vehemently
warning the “President” about an impending strike, all to no avail.
The Newsbusters immediately recognized the explosive potential of the piece. Their response began early today, with an uber-short piece by Mark Finkelstein. His spin:
"For the New York Times, what better way to
observe the 11th anniversary of 9-11 than by exploiting it for political
purposes and seeking to blame George W. Bush?"
The reader will render whatever judgments he will about a writer from the resolutely Bush-supporting Newsbusters accusing anyone else of "exploiting" 9/11 "for political purposes." Of Eichenwald’s information, Finkelstein says
"Its gruel is thin when it comes to actually assembling a
case of any real Bush-administration negligence. And that is the best
evidence that Eichenwald and the Times were not motivated by any sincere
desire to review the historical record with the goal of preventing
future lapses. Rather, this is cheap political exploitation and
finger-pointing at its basest."
And that’s pretty much it. Finkelstein suggests its a slim case, then
makes no case for it being so or for it being inaccurate in any
particular. He simply attributes to it "low partisan purposes" without
offering the first shred of evidence for this and leaves it at that.
That wasn’t enough, so Newsbusters returned to it a little later in an article by Matthew Balan,
who wrote about Eichenwald's appearance on CBS This Morning. Balan's
opening, echoing Finkelstein, says the morning show was hosting
Eichenwald "eight weeks before the presidential election," an utterly
gratuitous notation intended to suggest a political motive where none is
in evidence. Balan called Eichenwald's article a "finger-pointing
op-ed" and said Eichenwald was promoting a "new Bush-bashing book,
where he hinted at the supposed religious extremism of the former
President during the lead-up to the Iraq war." So the author is probably just
some anti-Christian bigot trying to sell his book. Balan asserts that
John Miller, a former assistant director of national intelligence,
"tossed cold water on Eichenwald's accusations," which is a most curious characterization for what Miller actually said. In reality, Miller supported Eichenwald's "accusations":
"Well, I think what Kurt [Eichenwald] has stumbled into
here is a bit of a well-worn path. We knew some of that. What he has
added is the granularity of the actual memos and some of the actual
words that were–that were there in front of the White House and the
national security team. But, you know–and Richard Clark, who is the
national security adviser for terrorism, in his book, 'Against All
Enemies', he said all the lights were blinking red, and we were pushing
this in front of Condi Rice every day and it was hard to get any
priority on this. In George Tenet’s book, he details the briefings they
were given. So, some of this we knew and… there’s some of it in terms of
the level of detail we didn't know."
Newsbusters' third bite of the apple came a little over an hour
later in the form of a Clay Waters article about the original Times
op-ed. Waters cites Eichenwald's conclusion that Bush’s reaction to what
he was being told, for months, by the intelligence community "reflected
significantly more negligence than has been disclosed" and counters:
"Eichenwald's evidence of Bush's 'negligence'? Well, just
trust him. The information is not public, and what he offers from his
perusal of classified briefings is pretty thin"
The information "is not public," of course, because the Bush
administration intentionally concealed it. Eichenwald did what
journalists are supposed to do, what they should have been doing 11
years ago: he dug it up and put it before the public. Real journalism
of this sort is a rare thing in "journalism" today and, being
absolutely essential to the sound functioning of a democratic society,
merits praise. But because, in this case, it makes a significant
right-wing public figure look significantly bad on a significant issue,
Waters greets it with that snide remark, "Well, just trust him." Later,
he notes that "Eichenwald is making the liberal media rounds," by which
he means CBS This Morning, not any part of the actual liberal
media--this, in Newsbusters-speak, is meant to impugn Eichenwald's
Waters' most remarkable moment comes when he quotes heavily from
Eichenwald's piece, showing that the intel community had, indeed, been
warning Bush about an attack for months, then, astonishingly, writes:
"As demonstrated, Eichenwald is suspiciously low on specifics to back his hyped-up accusation of Bush 'negligence.'"
I suppose one could call that the "don’t believe your lying eyes"
defense. With "suspiciously," he manages to smear Eichenwald and, one
supposes, he hopes no one notices the absurdity of berating the reporter
for failing to provide extensive details in a brief op-ed. The article
was based on research conducted for a book--those details will be forthcoming.
Waters writes that eight years earlier, when the memo of that damning 6 Aug. briefing was released, "several Times
stories hit President Bush for allegedly missing clues to 9-11, despite
the memo's distinct lack of detail." The notion that the memo lacked
detail is tendentious, at best. As subsequent information--including
today’s Times op-ed--has made abundantly clear, that briefing, to the
extent that it was generalized, was so only because of Bush’s complete
failure to demand investigation of the warnings he was being repeatedly
given for a period of months. Bush, when faced with these warnings,
didn’t try to get to the bottom of them. He didn’t put the government on
high alert. He chose, time and time again, to do nothing.
No one could deny this is a remarkable story. It’s an important
historical story. It’s a story that raises all sorts of questions. For
political reasons, though, the Newsbusters gang is not only completely uininterested but thinks it proper to repeatedly attack, without any
real basis, the integrity of both the reporter who has gone through the
trouble to dig it up and inform we, the people, of it and the news
outlets who have given him the space to do so.[*] All three Newsbusters
articles suggested it was particularly inappropriate to carry the story
on the anniversary of 9/11; all three made it plain their authors
thought it was inappropriate to cover it at all. Newsbusters, the
spirit of Anti-Journalism.
A personal note: I’m probably among the most vehement of the sane
critics of the Bush administration (excluding, by "sane," nutty
conspiracists or those who treat facts as optional) but I’ve always
been quite critical of those who wanted to assign what I considered to
be an inordinate amount of blame to the Bush administration for failing
to prevent the terror attacks on the U.S. A terror plot happens between a
few people sitting in a room somewhere in the world and there's simply
no reasonable expectation that any government will be able to prevent
all the mayhem that can ensue from that. Insisting on the expectation
that it do so merely creates a rationale for an increasingly repressive
government. In the end, that can't make anyone any safer but it can
make everyone a lot less free. Bush’s actions prior to 9/11 were
idiotic, totally irresponsible and negligent on a scale the subsequent
carnage suggests was absolutely criminal and it is an important matter
that should be documented. But ultimately, Bush is only human and the
government he ran only a government.