London Terror Bombing: Tony Blairs Bitter Harvest?
In his story titled 4 Blasts, and Blairs Rising Star Runs Into a Treacherous Future, reporter Alan Cowell wrote from London that Rarely has it been so true and so bloodily so as in the past 24 hours of Prime Minister Tony Blairs roller coaster ride from triumph to tragedy.
Within hours of the violence, Cowell forecast political doom for Blair with an admittedly crude analysis: Perhaps the crudest lesson to be drawn was that, in adopting the stance he took after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Blair had finally reaped the bitter harvest of the war on terrorism - so often forecast but never quite seeming real until the explosions boomed across London. Finally? Was Cowell just waiting with bated breath for the bombings to ruin Blairs political standing? And why would a newspaper located in Manhattan blame terrorist bombings on the leaders whove vowed to fight the terrorists? Is Cowell or the Times suggesting the duck-and-cover Madrid model is the way to deal with train bombers?
Even the Tube bombings were another rich opportunity for Cowell to break out again with the poodle mockery: The war in Iraq has been increasingly unpopular here, with taunts that Mr. Blair had become President Bush's poodle. The anger about Iraq led to Mr. Blair's shaky showing in the May elections: a third term with a severely reduced majority. Now, as long predicted and feared, his support of the war appears to have cost British lives at home. Thursday was a day of rallying behind the leader, but there were indications that the bombing could take a political toll.
Apparently for Cowell, that wave of approaching popular revulsion was personified by George Galloway, so extremely left-wing he was thrown out of the Labor Party: No mainstream politician would say so out loud, but George Galloway, the maverick, onetime Labor legislator who had met with Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war, had no hesitation. We argued, as did the security services in this country, that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attack in Britain, he said. Tragically, Londoners have now paid the price of the government ignoring such warnings. Cowell was kind enough to notice this was the extreme: That was not the general political line, of course. But it was the Times line.
On National Review Onlines The Corner, John Hood noted that other British politicians were creating a buzzsaw of criticism for Galloway. Said one Labor pol: I thought George had sunk to the depths of sickness in the past but this exceeds anything he has done before. You would think an MP whose constituency borders on Aldgate East's first thoughts would have been with the victims of these horrific attacks and the emergency services. His few remaining friends will turn away in horror from this intervention.
For the full Cowell report, click here.
Judy Miller Jailed By The Right Thing At Last
When the Valerie Plame scandal first erupted in 2003, over whether someone leaked to Robert Novak the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame in violation of the law, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced he would handle the probe in-house without a special counsel.
The Times editorial page erupted on October 3, 2003 that this was a bad idea from the Attorney General: Mr. Ashcroft has chosen a risky course. He has to allow his lawyers to conduct their work unfettered. Mr. Bush has promised full cooperation. Any hint of political interference by Mr. Ashcroft or obstructionism from the White House would be disastrous and would leave the president and his aides at the mercy of Congressional Democrats, who would surely respond swiftly and angrily.
To be fair, the Times tried to suggest it wasnt out of character for them to be rooting for a prosecutor: As members of a profession that relies heavily on the willingness of government officials to defy their bosses and give the public vital information, we oppose leak investigations in principle. But that does not mean there can never be a circumstance in which leaks are wrong - the disclosure of troop movements in wartime is a clear example. There are important First Amendment issues at play. But in writing this law, Congress specifically barred prosecuting a journalist who got the name of a covert operative from a government official. Consistent with that, the Bush administration should not use the serious purpose of this inquiry to turn it into an investigation of Mr. Novak or any other journalist, or to attempt to compel any journalists to reveal their sources. The Justice Department should focus its attention on the White House, not on journalists.
But how would Fitzgerald or any other special counsel find the allegedly criminal leaker without the journalists revealing sources?
The Times could have listened to Georgetown professors Viet Dinh (a former Ashcroft deputy) and Neal Katyal, who warned on the Times op-ed page on the same day of what might happen: Leak investigations often drag on endlessly and rarely culminate in indictments. They can demoralize government staff members, who often must take several polygraph tests. They also have a chilling effect on reporters and columnists, who face tremendous pressure from the government to reveal their sources. In a case like this one, where national security concerns may be pitted against the First Amendment freedom of the press, it is important that the investigation proceed carefully and methodically and with accountability. So far, there is absolutely no reason to think that the Justice Department is incapable of handling it.
But what was the most amazing (and no doubt regretted) crusading editorial for eventually putting Miller in jail came on December 31, 2003, suggesting Ashcroft had finally gotten it right by naming a special counsel. The editorial was titled The Right Thing At Last. Its hard not to reprint the whole delicious thing, touting Fitzgerald as the right respected career prosecutor for the job, so heres most of it:
After an egregiously long delay, Attorney General John Ashcroft finally did the right thing yesterday when he recused himself from the investigation into who gave the name of a C.I.A. operative to the columnist Robert Novak. Mr. Ashcroft turned the inquiry over to his deputy, who quickly appointed a special counsel. There was little chance of a credible outcome for the investigation as Mr. Ashcroft had originally chosen to run it: under his personal supervision, using Justice Department lawyers whose futures are dependent on his good graces. Even the normal investigative units of the F.B.I. would have been cut out of the loop.
The change was announced by the newly appointed Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who turned the case over to a respected career prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago. Mr. Fitzgerald is charged with finding out who violated federal law by giving the name of the undercover intelligence operative to Mr. Novak for publication in his column
There are still serious questions about the investigation, the most immediate of which is whether Mr. Comey will give Mr. Fitzgerald true operational independence. Mr. Comey must also allow Mr. Fitzgerald to use the full powers of a special counsel, including the ability to seek Congressional intervention if he finds his investigation blocked by a government official or agency.
We may never know what damage was caused by Mr. Ashcroft's delay of nearly two months in taking the proper action. Further time will now be lost as Mr. Fitzgerald gets up to speed on the investigation. In his announcement, Mr. Comey said that Mr. Ashcroft was displaying "an abundance of caution" in recusing himself from the case. But that sort of care would have mandated the appointment of a special counsel from the start. Yesterday's developments left open the possibility of what we feared all along: that Mr. Ashcroft's extremely tight political bonds with President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, the chief White House strategist, inevitably conflicted with an investigation into whether someone at the White House, perhaps acting with institutional sanction, had revealed the name of a C.I.A. operative for political reasons.
The Times endorsed the right thing but now tries to ignore that their editorial page carried the wrong facts. Last July, Plames husband Joe Wilson was exposed by the Senate for lying in his claims that his CIA wife wasnt really involved in getting him selected for the Niger mission, and William Safire called him on it. In August, the Times was facing the Fitzgerald probe, and the whole editorial apparatus had to turn its earlier passion for Patricks probe on its head.
Bob Herberts Plame Pain
On October 3, Times columnists Bob Herbert and Paul Krugman railed against the Plame leakers. Krugman said the leakers were felonious and unpatriotic. Herbert was hopping mad: The vicious release to news organizations of the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer could serve as a case study of the character of this administration. The Bush II crowd is arrogant, venal, mean-spirited and contemptuous of law and custom.The problem it faces now is not just the criminal investigation into who outed Valerie Plame, but also the fact that the public understands this story only too well. Deliberately blowing the cover of an intelligence or law enforcement official for no good reason is considered by nearly all Americans, regardless of their political affiliations, to be a despicable act. Herbert touted a solid majority for what would become the Patrick Fitzgerald probe: According to an ABC-Washington Post poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans believe a special counsel should be appointed to investigate the leak.Now that so much has gone haywire - Iraq, the economy, America's standing in the world - the tough questions are finally being asked about President Bush and his administration.
On Thursday, a now-puzzled Bob Herbert addressed the Judy Miller jail term on the far-left Pacifica radio show Democracy Now.
Herbert proclaimed: Well, the longer I stay in this business, the more I feel like Im in Never-Never Land. Stories used to be reasonably easy to cover. First, thanks for having me on the show this morning. I really appreciate it. But, you know, you look at this, and this is a problem that was created by the administration. The identity of this woman was disclosed. Robert Novak wrote a column about it. Matthew Cooper wrote a story about it. Judith Miller never wrote about it, and its Judith Miller whos now gone to jail. What is going on here? Whats wrong with this picture? Its craziness.
Herbert felt Judy had no optionif you start betraying sources, you can no longer function in this business. Then he broke out the pom-poms for his employers: Another thing is, when you work for an organization like The New York Times or any large organization, you know, youre annoyed by this, youre annoyed by that. You complain, you know, its sort of like the nature of humanity. But I must say that the way the Times has handled this and the way Judy Miller has behaved is a case where it makes you really proud to be part of an organization. I think The New York Times is standing really tall today.
Herbert is still focused on the original crime in the column of Robert Novak, as if he is somehow supposed to go to jail right next to Miller: Well, you know, I'm not sure I would expect Novak to step forward and do at least what I would perceive to be the right thing, but it is astounding in the community of journalism that you would have someone who essentially is responsible for the story - I mean, it was his story and, you know, the fallout falls on everybody else. I mean, somebody used the term collateral damage. And that's exactly what this is like. It's bizarre.
Left out of all the talk of heroic stonewalling for the public interest is the point that Herbert and the Times have been every bit as partisan and political as their adversary Novak. They thought of the Plame-leak scandal as an ideological opportunity to shrink public approval of the Iraq war, and sink Karl Rove, or Scooter Libby, or in their most dearly held dream, unseat President Bush.
- Tim Graham, filling in for Clay Waters