April 02, 2004

Bush's Latest Abuse of Power Fails to Rouse the Washington Media

It's the Media, Stupid...and yet, despite the
complicity, timidity and moral directionlessness of
the "US mainstream news media," there is an electoral
uprising coming in November...if we have an
election...

Sidney Blumenthal: This selective declassification
signaled to professionals in government that anything
they said to reporters could be held against them if
they ever in the future contradicted the Bush line.
Yet not one news organization tried to uphold the old
rule by threatening to reveal sources of
off-the-record briefings unless the White House
reverted to the accepted convention that makes
informed journalism possible. ...The Clarke episode is
symptomatic of a systematic abuse of power. Reality is
raw and dangerous to report - better to laugh along.

Break the Bush Cabal Stranglehold on the "US
Mainstream News Media," Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)


http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0401-06.htm

Published on Thursday, April 1, 2004 by the
Guardian/UK
The White House has the Last Laugh: Bush's Latest Abuse of Power Fails to Rouse the Washington Media

by Sidney Blumenthal

Within hours of the testimony of Richard Clarke, the
former counterterrorism chief, before the 9/11
commission, where Clarke discussed how resources spent
on the Iraq war undermined the war on terrorism,
President Bush acknowledged that Saddam Hussein's
weapons of mass destruction - the rationale for the
war - remained absent. Bush's admission took the form
of a comic monologue before about 1,000 black-tied
members of the Radio and TV Correspondents'
Association gathered for its annual dinner. The lights
dimmed and Bush presented a slide show of himself
peering out of windows and looking under furniture in
the Oval Office. "Those weapons of mass destruction
have got to be somewhere ... nope, no weapons over
there ... maybe under here?"

With each gag the press corps roared. Bush was acting
as the college fraternity house president he once was
and the journalists as pledges eager for acceptance by
the Big Man on Campus. "I'm the commander - see, I
don't need to explain - I do not need to explain why I
say things," Bush told Bob Woodward in 'Bush at War'.
"That's the interesting thing about being president."

Through its laughter the press corps didn't grasp that
the joke was on them. The problem is not that Bush's
jest was inappropriate and tasteless - the widow of
David Bloom, the NBC reporter who died in Iraq, had
tearfully preceded Bush on the platform. It is not
that much of the media, including elements of the
quality press, had been complicit in the choreographed
disinformation campaign in the rush to war. Rather, it
is that the press is accepting of Bush's radical
undermining of the long-established arrangements of
Washington, including the demotion of the press's own
role by breaking the off-the-record rule in order to
have a weapon to use against Clarke. The implicit deal
that the press thought it had with the Bush White
House, as with previous White Houses, has been
broken-unilaterally, like other policies.

The new rules of the game are that there are no rules
of the game. In the preface of his book' Against All
Enemies', Clarke wrote that he expected an assault on
his reputation from the "Bush White House leadership"
that was "adept at revenge".

Clarke had observed the politics of intimidation
become standard operating procedure. The former
ambassador Joseph Wilson, who, at the administration's
behest, looked into the claim that Saddam was seeking
uranium in Niger and concluded it was bogus, was
subjected to a sustained attack that included outing
the identity of his wife, a covert CIA operative. Paul
O'Neill, a former secretary of the treasury, had
revealed that an invasion of Iraq was being pushed
from the earliest days of the administration, and he
instantly became the target for personal vituperation.
Richard Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for
Medicare and Medicaid Services, was threatened that if
he told Congress the actual cost of Bush's Medicare
bill while it was being considered, he would be fired.
So Clarke knew the new rules.

Throughout the long day that ended with the
president's WMD joke, the White House directed strikes
on Clarke's integrity. It declassified an
off-the-record background briefing given by Clarke in
2002, when he had been ordered to put a "positive
spin", as he put it, on Bush's pre-September 11
terrorism record in response to a critical report in
Time magazine. The White House press secretary read
out portions of the briefing out of context.
Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser whose
neglect of terrorism was among Clarke's revelations,
summoned reporters to her office to point to the
background briefing and call his story "scurrilous".

While she was putting a stiletto into Clarke, the
background briefing paper was shuffled by her press
office to Fox News to broadcast as Clarke testified.
Republican members of the 9/11 commission waved the
paper at him, and much time was taken up by his
explanation of how, as a staffer, he had been acting
properly, like a lawyer representing a client, and why
his briefing was not at odds with his information now.


This selective declassification signaled to
professionals in government that anything they said to
reporters could be held against them if they ever in
the future contradicted the Bush line. Yet not one
news organization tried to uphold the old rule by
threatening to reveal sources of off-the-record
briefings unless the White House reverted to the
accepted convention that makes informed journalism
possible.

The Clarke episode is symptomatic of a systematic
abuse of power. Reality is raw and dangerous to report
- better to laugh along.

Sidney Blumenthal was senior adviser to President
Clinton and is Washington bureau chief of Salon.com

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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Posted by richard at April 2, 2004 02:00 PM