Still Harping on Bush's Terror-Warning Timing - August 9, 2004 -

Times Watch for August 9, 2004

Still Harping on Bush's Terror-Warning Timing

Two stories on Sunday focus on the timing of the latest terror alerts. David Johnston and Richard Stevenson's "With New Alert, New Attention for Ridge" put homeland security secretary Tom Ridge on the defensive: "Defending his handling of the announcement, Mr. Ridge said Al Qaeda's standard operating procedure involved lengthy surveillance of a target long before it attacked".Among many of the administration's critics and even, to a more limited degree, among some of its allies, Mr. Ridge's performance was seen as fueling disbelief and cynicism. 'This episode certainly undermines the credibility of Secretary Ridge whether it was his fault or not,' said Joe Lockhart, who was press secretary to President Bill Clinton. 'He was the guy who stood up there and omitted some pretty important facts.'"

(Isn't a former Clinton press secretary an odd place to turn for a lecture on administration veracity?)

On the same page, Eric Lichtblau and Eric Lipton's "Alert Shows New Strengths But Weaknesses Remain" continues to blame the Bush administration for spreading cynicism about terror alerts (as if the Times itself hasn't done its part to foster such feelings): "Terrorism experts said the Bush administration may have also hurt its own cause and inspired public skepticism this week in how it alerted the public to the possible attacks. Administration officials did not acknowledge until Monday, a day after declaring a 'high risk' of attacks against financial sectors, that much of the new intelligence was based on reconnaissance missions by Qaeda operatives three or four years ago. 'It is hard to understand why they felt something was going to happen in an imminent way,' said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mayor Anthony Williams in Washington, where officials set up roadblocks and inspected vehicles around targeted buildings."

The Times still leaves open the possibility Bush may have used the latest terror threat for political purposes: "The conflicting views of what took place this week-a vigorous response to a looming danger, or a knee-jerk overreaction driven by political calculations as much as practical ones-may be impossible to reconcile, given that much of the intelligence that has been disclosed is murky, and that presumably there is more that remains hidden from public view."

For the rest of Johnston and Stevenson, click here.

For more from Lichtblau and Lipton, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | David Johnston | Eric Lichtblau | Eric Lipton | Tom Ridge | Richard Stevenson | Terrorism

"In Blow to Bush"."

David Leonhardt's lead story Saturday on the latest disappointing job figures is headlined: "Slow Job Growth Raises Concerns On U.S. Economy." The headline to the online edition is much blunter and more partisan: "In Blow to Bush, Only 32,000 Jobs Created in July."

Leonhardt lets us know this is bad news for Bush: "For President Bush, the new evidence creates a nettlesome political situation, making it harder for him to cite strong job gains as proof that the tax cuts he championed at the start of his term were the best cure for the economy's problems. The weak increases of the last two months now mean that Mr. Bush is highly likely to stand for re-election with an employment level lower than it was on his Inauguration Day. That would be the first time that has happened since 1932, when the country was mired in the Depression and enduring far worse job losses than any it has experienced recently."

For the rest of Leonhardt on the latest job numbers, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Economy | Employment | Headlines

Kerry's Campaign Trail "Bounce"

David Halbfinger fills his Monday "campaign notebook" with anecdotes from the Kerry campaign. Relying on piecemeal evidence, he sees a successful Kerry roll-out: "The polls may not show much of a post-convention bounce for Mr. Kerry, but his crowds tell a different story. Before the convention, he only rarely drew more than a few thousand people to a rally. Since setting off from the convention in Boston, though, his events have consistently been mob scenes, with or without his running mate-and with or without Ben Affleck, who accompanied him for the first two days of the trip. In Harrisburg, Pa., on July 30, more than 15,000 people mobbed the Capitol plaza. In Grand Rapids, Mich., home of the Republican former president Gerald R. Ford, Mr. Kerry drew close to 10,000 people near where President Bush had attracted just 4,500 a few days before. Mr. Kerry has taken note of the crowds and seems energized by them. 'I can talk through a storm,' he said in Dubuque, Iowa, in a gym crammed with 5,000 as it rained outside. 'I can talk up a storm!'"

Halbfinger might be passing on a little Kerry campaign spin. Judging by other news reports, Bush's late-July appearance in Grand Rapids was limited to the Ford Fieldhouse on the campus of Grand Rapids Community College, a gym which only holds 4,000 people anyway.

For the rest of Halbfinger's campaign notebook, click here.

" Campaign 2004 | David Halbfinger | Sen. John Kerry | Michigan

David Kirkpatrick's Churchgoing Habit

Another month, another story by David Kirkpatrick Monday, questioning the propriety of churches and preachers voicing support for the Bush campaign. In "Churches See an Election Role And Spread the Word on Bush," is another iteration on the theme.

In his front-page story, Kirkpatrick notes of the conservative Midwest churches he profiles: "But all of the clergy members also expressed a fear of letting partisanship distract from their spiritual mission. They also worried about endangering their churches' tax-exempt status. The tax code restricts churches and other charitable organizations from engaging in partisan politics, although church leaders can speak about social issues and register voters. All of the pastors said they neither expressly endorse political candidates from the pulpit nor permitted explicit campaigning within their churches, no matter how clear they felt the implications of their religious teachings to be."

It's a theme Kirkpatrick raises about every three weeks: He covered the same ground July 2 with "Bush Appeal To Churches Seeking Help Raises Doubts," on June 18 with "Bush Allies Till Fertile Soil, Among Baptists, for Votes," and on June 3 in another front-page story, "Bush Campaign Seeking Help from Congregations."

Well, at least he didn't interview Barry Lynn again.

For the rest of Kirkpatrick on churches and Bush, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Christianity | Churches | David Kirkpatrick | Religion

Maureen Dowd, on Another Planet

Maureen Dowd is out promoting "Bushworld," her new collection of Times columns, which focus mainly on Bush and the cabal of "neocons" that pushed the country into Iraq.

Last Friday Dowd explained the book's title to Today show host Katie Couric: "In this book Bushworld is presented as a sort of perverse theme park, where we've been taken on this really scary ride. With lots of oedipal loop de loops, and it's a dark, bizarro world where everything is the opposite of the way it appears. For instance, the Bushes are still claiming that they've made the world safer for [sic] terrorism, even though there are more terrorist acts. They're still expecting to find WMDs. They are still claiming that there's a collaborative relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq, when now the 9/11 Commission said it's with Iran. So everything is sort of bizarro world there".I think you can appreciate what an astonishing story it is that a group, a small group of neo-cons who had never been to war themselves, would take over the entire apparatus of the federal government and hijack the war on terror."

"Bushworld" is not a complete collection of Dowd columns. Judging by a quick flip, Dowd's infamous May 14, 2003, column that dishonestly deleted part of a Bush quote to make the president look clueless about the Al Qaeda threat is missing.

" Books | "Bushworld" | Columnists | Katie Couric | Maureen Dowd

Freaked-Out Librarians vs. Patriot Act

Reporter Timothy Egan takes seriously the view of some easily spooked librarians in Sunday's "Sensing the Eyes of Big Brother, and Pushing Back-Towns Speak Up Against Patriot Act."

Egan writes ominously: "In the last two months, a small window has opened into just how the government may be using the most contentious parts of the law, and it has revealed enough information to stoke fresh fears in civic forums, in Congress, the capitals of four states-Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont-and among librarians".Librarians are so riled about that provision of the Patriot Act-Section 215-that they plan a nationwide survey to see whether reading and Internet habits have changed because of it. And in Congress, a vote to knock out that section fell one vote short of passage on July 8".Last September, Attorney General John Ashcroft, in trying to quell what he called 'baseless hysteria,' declassified some data and said the government had not once used the law to go into libraries. 'No one's reading habits have been reviewed,' Mr. Ashcroft said, adding, 'charges of abuse of power are ghosts, unsupported by fact or example.' His assurance did little to curb opposition, and town-hall-style resolutions against the law have only picked up steam. Part of the problem may be because of the official secrecy that is welded to so much of the law, making it difficult to assess its use or effectiveness."

Egan then lends some credence to the librarian's paranoid charges: "Whether federal agents are monitoring reading habits or not, the newfound power to do so has already had an effect on how people use their libraries, Ms. Sheketoff, the library association official, said, citing evidence from fellow librarians. Many libraries have posted notices saying that because of the law, they cannot protect the privacy of patrons' reading habits. 'If you live in Detroit, and have olive skin, are you going to go into the library and check out a book on the Koran?' Ms. Sheketoff asked."

For the rest of Egan on liberal community opposition to the Patriot Act, click here.

" Civil Liberties | Timothy Egan | Patriot Act | Terrorism

Bush Administration Slurps Up Coal Aid

Monday's front-page story by Christopher Drew and Richard Oppel Jr., "Friends in the White House Come to Coal's Aid," is a relatively balanced look at the Bush administration's relationship with the coal industry. But the front-page picture caption accompanying the story reads: "An explosion in 2001 in this Alabama coal mine left 13 miners dead."

A casual reader might think that some regulation rescinded by the Bush administration had something to do with the explosion. But as the actual article explains, the Alabama tragedy is something the Bush administration is working to prevent from happening in the future: "[Head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration David Lauriski] cited a revamping of evacuation procedures after an explosion killed 13 miners in Alabama in 2001, and requirements that workers be told about the presence and dangers of hazardous chemicals."