Taking the Terror Threat Seriously - August 5, 2004 - TimesWatch.org

Times Watch for August 5, 2004

Taking the Terror Threat Seriously

Is the Times starting to take the current terror threat more seriously? A front-page story ("Qaeda Strategy Is Called Cause For New Alarm-Long-Planned Attacks Are Seen as Earmark.") suggests maybe it is. After a recent editorial and front-page headline denigrating the threat as being based on old information, today the Times acknowledges there may indeed be cause for alarm.

Reporters Eric Lipton and Benjamin Weiser outline the obsessive persistence of the terrorist group Al Qaeda, whose plans are often years in coming to deadly fruition: "They scouted the streets. They took photographs. They wrote detailed surveillance reports. And then, after five years of patiently waiting, Al Qaeda operatives carried out the devastating suicide truck bombing at the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in August 1998, killing more than 200 people and injuring thousands."

That kind of context is useful to have when Bush critics (and Times editorialists) try to denigrate the terror threats based on the information being "three to four years old." Indeed, reporters Lipton and Weiser write: "It is an appreciation of this modus operandi, which is evident in an examination of a decade's worth of plotting and action by Al Qaeda, that has so complicated the decision on how to respond appropriately to evidence that might be dated. Old information is not necessarily bad information. It might just be a hint of a plot that in a somewhat revised form was close to being carried out."

For more of Lipton and Weiser, click here.

" Campaign 2004 | Eric Lipton | Terrorism | Benjamin Weiser

"Terror Alerts" When Bush "Would Have Benefited"

Perhaps responding to criticism of a Tuesday editorial suggesting Bush was manipulating terror warnings for political reasons, the Times huge lead editorial on Thursday makes a feint toward empathy with Bush, but also keeps its suspicions up: "Our lives have changed so much since Sept. 11, 2001. We know that we may never again be free of the threat of terrorism. It's been a tough adjustment for everyone, and the burden on President Bush is especially heavy."The administration was obviously right to warn the country that Al Qaeda had apparently studied financial institutions in three cities with the idea of a possible attack. But the delivery of the message was confusing. The color-coded threat chart doesn't serve the purpose for which it was invented, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is hopeless as a public spokesman on this issue. The Bush administration needs to come up with a method of communication that informs the public in a calm, clear way. Perhaps most important, people need to be made totally confident that this critical matter is not being tangled up in the presidential campaign."

After suggesting that the terror-warning color bars have become a joke and should be junked, they get back to Bush-bashing: "Finally, there is the matter of politics. The Bush administration expressed outrage at the suggestion that there could be any politics behind any of its warnings, but the president has some history to overcome on this issue. There is nothing more important for Mr. Bush to do every day until Nov. 2 than to make it clear that he would never hype a terror alert to help his re-election chances. It is a challenge complicated by the fact that he is running on his record against terrorism and is using images of 9/11 and the threat of more attacks to promote his candidacy. The president's credibility on national security issues was gravely wounded by the way he misled Americans, intentionally or not, about the reasons for invading Iraq-including the suggestion that the war was part of the campaign against Al Qaeda."

Then they restate their Tuesday editorial accusation: "Some of the past terror alerts have seemed aimless and happened when the Bush administration would have benefited from a change in the political conversation."

The editorial concludes: "Americans are stone-cold serious when it comes to potential terror attacks-there is no need to worry about making them pay attention. We have learned since Sept. 11, 2001, to value every day in which nothing terrible happens as a gift and an opportunity. The Bush administration has been given the same blessing. Every morning the president and his deputies are challenged not only to renew their war against potential terrorists, but also to earn the confidence of the people they aim to protect."

Hold on a minute: The Bush administration "has been given" the blessing of nothing terrible happening since 9/11? Isn't there a slight possibility the Bush administration's anti-terror efforts may have contributed to that happy state of affairs?

The Times is trying to have it both ways: After accusing the administration of being overzealous in issuing terror warnings, the Times turns around and says the fact we haven't been attacked again is pure luck.

For the full editorial, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Editorial | Terrorism

No "W" in Wisconsin

From Kenosha, Wis., Stephen Kinzer and Todd Purdum (with additional reporting from across the country) file "An American Debate: How Severe the Threat?" and find lots of Bush doubters.

Judging by Thursday's story, Kenosha (or at least folks at Frank's Diner in Kenosha) isn't scared of a terror threat and wonder instead if Bush is manipulating people for political gain: "If the United States was in imminent danger of a terrorist attack and faraway financial institutions were supposed to be on high alert, there was no evidence of it at Franks Diner, a 78-year-old Kenosha institution where senators mix with regular folk and the prospect of another attack seemed just part of the background noise of daily life".Some version of that view was echoed at almost every table here as many patrons questioned whether the Bush administration was trying to manipulate the terrorist threat for political advantage."

As if such cynicism hasn't been encouraged by media skepticism over the timing of the terror warnings.

"With polls showing public doubts on topics like President Bush's veracity on the war in Iraq and whether the country is safer from terrorism as a result of that invasion, people of diverse ages, income and political persuasion interviewed in eight states expressed a wary mix of skepticism and resignation about the orange alert that has dominated headlines, newscasts and talk radio for three days."

The story goes further afield: "In Cleveland, Bryan Kupetz, a registered independent who operates a hot dog stand, echoed a view that might have seemed outlandish only a short time ago. 'So much of the counterterrorism thing is political,' Mr. Kupetz said. 'I wouldn't be surprised if they caught Osama bin Laden two days before the election. Absolutely I think Bush is using the war on terrorism to his advantage.'"

And the idea that Bush has Osama stashed away somewhere is not "outlandish" right now?

When some Bush supporters are finally cited, the Times tips us off with this helpful description: "People in Pensacola, a bastion of Bible Belt conservatism where President Bush crushed Al Gore by a nearly two-to-one margin in the 2000 election, argued in similar terms." (Incidentally, Kenosha, Wis., went to Gore in 2000 by 51%-45%, but the Times didn't find that worth mentioning.)

The Times takes care to work in an Abu Ghraib reference and a real blast from the past, Enron: "While Mr. Bush has long benefited from his image as a straight talker, polls have shown an undercurrent of doubt about his veracity, beginning with his answers on the Enron scandal two years ago and continuing through to the Iraq war and the prisoner abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. When the public was asked in late June in a New York Times/CBS News poll whether or not Mr. Bush was telling the truth about the war in Iraq, only 18 percent of Americans said he was telling the entire truth, 59 percent said he was mostly telling the truth but was hiding something and 20 percent said he was mostly lying."

For the rest of the story from Kinzer and Purdum on the campaign trail, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Enron | Stephen Kinzer | Todd Purdum | Terrorism | Wisconsin

Who'd Have Guessed: WV Republicans Still Like Bush

Elisabeth Rosenthal visits a strongly Republican West Virginia town in Wednesday's "A 19th Century G.O.P. Bastion Holds Firm," which opens: "It has been a rough year for the Bush administration by some measures, with criticism from the Sept. 11 commission, prison scandals in Iraq and a flat economy at home."

She's batting about one-for-three there (and that's giving her the obligatory Abu Ghraib reference). The 9/11 report has been embraced by the Bush administration and pretty much failed to deliver the expected pointed criticism of Bush, instead citing more general failures of government during the Clinton and Bush years. And the economy has been in recovery since mid-2003, as a chart from an op-ed piece by former Treasury Secretary George Shultz in that same day's Times shows.

Rosenthal presses on: "But here in the remote hills of northeastern West Virginia, most people have a hard time imagining a candidate better than the incumbent, who they say shares their values in a way no Democrat ever could".People in this part of the country like and respect George Bush. Although a record percentage of Americans now say the country is moving in the wrong direction, and Mr. Bush is being lampooned in 'Fahrenheit 9/11,' here he is still regarded as a hero and a statesman."

For the rest of Rosenthal in West Virginia, click here.

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | "Fahrenheit 9/11" | Michael Moore | Elisabeth Rosenthal | West Virginia

Celebrating a "Joyous Cultural Pep Rally" for Lefties

What does Marxist playwright Tony Kushner have to do to get in the NYT? Just about anything, really. The Times runs another front-page Arts story on Kushner, this time about a performance/fundraiser for the left-wing group MoveOn.org.

In "The Dead and Dostoyevsky, in a War With Bush," arts reporter Randy Kennedy notes Wednesday: "It might not have swayed many swing voters: a playlet in which a man portrays Laura Bush, talking passionately about Dostoyevsky and moral relativity to the ghosts of Iraqi children, cursing occasionally and revealing at one point that she sometimes calls her husband 'the Chimp.' ('You know, those ears,' the character of the first lady says, smiling impishly.) But at a benefit performance Monday night at the American Airlines Theater, this extended scene by the playwright Tony Kushner served as the backdrop for a kind of joyous cultural pep rally for those who want to see Mr. Bush turned out of office. The scene, from a planned longer work to be called 'Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy,' was also part of a continuing effort by the liberal activist online group MoveOn.org to try to harness the arts more firmly to its political cause and to mend what the group sees as a rift between populist politics and popular culture."

But Kushner is not a "populist" but a Marxist who lauds the Communist Manifesto and wants someone to "redeem Marx from the mess Stalinism made of Marx." One who's he's been mentioned over 400 times in the paper since 1996.

For the rest of Kennedy on the MoveOn.org fundraiser, click here.

" Arts | Campaign 2004 | Randy Kennedy | MoveOn.org | Tony Kushner

Bored In The U.S.A.

"Writer and performer" Bruce Springsteen pens a rather bland op-ed for Thursday's New York Times about the October launch of the "Vote for Change" concert tour, showcasing Springsteen and other liberal performers like R.E.M. and the Dixie Chicks aiming to defeat Bush.

Springsteen writes: "Personally, for the last 25 years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics. Instead, I have been partisan about a set of ideals: economic justice, civil rights, a humane foreign policy, freedom and a decent life for all of our citizens. This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out".We ran record deficits, while simultaneously cutting and squeezing services like afterschool programs. We granted tax cuts to the richest 1 percent (corporate bigwigs, well-to-do guitar players), increasing the division of wealth that threatens to destroy our social contract with one another and render mute the promise of 'one nation indivisible.'"

Minus the cute, self-deprecatory remark about rich guitarists, Springsteen's piece is sufficiently conventional to have been taken straight from DNC talking points.

For Springsteen's op-ed, click here.

" Arts | Campaign 2004 | Music | Opinion | Bruce Springsteen