Times Watch for June 18, 2004
Dick Cheney Takes On "Outrageous" NYT
David Sanger and Robin Toner's front-page story Friday is headlined "Bush and Cheney Talk Strongly of Qaeda Links With Hussein." More accurate would be something like "Cheney Castigates NYT." Then again, the vice president hasn't been too impressed with Times headlines as of late.
The story opens: "President Bush and Vice President Cheney said yesterday that they remain convinced that Saddam Hussein's government had a long history of ties to Al Qaeda, a day after the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks reported that its review of classified intelligence found no evidence of a 'collaborative relationship' that linked Iraq to the terrorist organization. Last night Mr. Cheney, who was the administration's most forceful advocate of the Qaeda-Hussein links, was more pointed, repeating in detail his case for those ties and saying that The New York Times's coverage yesterday of the commission's findings 'was outrageous. They do a lot of outrageous things,' Mr. Cheney, appearing on 'Capital Report' on CNBC, said of the Times, referring specifically to a four-column front page headline that read 'Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie.' Mr. Cheney added: 'The press wants to run out and say there's a fundamental split here now between what the president said and what the commission said.' He said that newspapers, including the Times, had confused the question of whether there was evidence of Iraqi participation in Sept. 11 with the issue of whether a relationship existed between Al Qaeda and Mr. Hussein's regime."
Later, Sanger and Toner note Cheney returned to his criticism of the Times. When host Gloria Borger started to defend the press, by saying it was making a distinction between Iraq-Al Qaeda ties in general and Iraq-Al Qaeda ties to 9/-11 in particular, Cheney responded: "No, they're not. The New York Times does not. 'The Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Ties,' that's what it says. That's the vaunted New York Times. Numerous-I've watched a lot of the coverage on it and the fact of the matter is they don't make a distinction. They fuzz it up. Sometimes it's through ignorance. Sometimes it's malicious. But you'll take a statement that's geared specifically to say there's no connection in relations to the 9/11 attack and then say, 'Well, obviously there's no case here.' And then jump over to challenge the president's credibility or my credibility."
The hard copy of the Manhattan Late Edition (not yet online) includes a paragraph, perhaps added later by an editor, defending the paper's coverage and insisting the Times did too cover the administration's side of things: "The article in The Times yesterday noted that the White House said Wednesday that it did not see the commission's report as a contradiction of past statements by Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, and the article reported that the White House said the administration had always been careful not to suggest that it had proof of a tie between Mr. Hussein and Sept. 11. Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, was quoted in the article reinforcing those points. The Times's coverage of the Iraq-Al Qaeda issue was consistent with that of other large newspapers."
Of course, media watchers know that coverage "consistent with that of other large newspapers" says little about whether the story was balanced or not.
In a quote not in Sanger and Toner's story, Lee Hamilton, the Democratic co-chairman of the 9-11 commission, also thinks the media has overblown things. Hamilton is quoted by Andrew Sullivan as saying: "I must say I have trouble understanding the flack over this. The Vice President is saying, I think, that there were connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government. We don't disagree with that. What we have said is what the governor just said, we don't have any evidence of a cooperative, or a corroborative relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and these al Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States. So it seems to me the sharp differences that the press has drawn, the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me."
Republican commission member John Lehman echoed that criticism in an interview for CNN's Inside Politics, and brought up the Times' coverage. Lehman was asked by host Judy Woodruff about Bush's claim of a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. Lehman responded: "No, the President"s correct. And the commission yesterday said exactly that. What the commission also said was there was no evidence of collaboration on any of the attacks against the United States. But we had previously pointed out that, particularly in Sudan, there is very hard evidence of collaboration on the X gas and other evidence, and additional contacts between Saddam's intelligence service and al Qaeda in the assistance in training in weapons, chemical and biological weapons, anthrax manufacture, and that's what we had in our report yesterday, but unfortunately, the New York Times sort of highlighted only one half of that."
For the rest of Sanger and Toner on the Cheney-Bush counterattack on the media, click here.
" Al Qaeda | Dick Cheney | Headlines | Iraq War | David Sanger | Terrorism | Robin Toner
Jehl Calls Bush Into Question Over 9-11
Douglas Jehl pens a slanted "News Analysis" of the aftermath of the 9-11 report in Friday's paper, headlined "Questioning Nearly Every Aspect of the Responses to Sept. 11 and Terrorism," a bland title that does no justice to the slant of the story.
He opens: "For most of 2002, President Bush argued that a commission created to look into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks would only distract from the post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism. Now, in 17 preliminary staff reports, that panel has called into question nearly every aspect of the administration's response to terror, including the idea that Iraq and Al Qaeda were somehow the same foe. Far from a bolt from the blue, the commission has demonstrated over the last 19 months that the Sept. 11 attacks were foreseen, at least in general terms, and might well have been prevented, had it not been for misjudgments, mistakes and glitches, some within the White House. In the face of those findings, Mr. Bush stood firm, disputing the particular finding in a staff report that there was no 'collaborative relationship' between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organization. 'There was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda,' Mr. Bush declared."
Jehl dredges up old skirmishes and use them to put Bush in a bad light: "With its historic access to government secrets, the panel was able to shed new light on old accountings, demonstrating, for example, that Mr. Bush himself, in the weeks before the attack, had received more detailed warnings about Al Qaeda's intentions than the White House had acknowledged."
Jehl is evidently referring to the infamous President's Daily Briefing memo of August 6, 2001. After it was declassified, Jehl wrote in the April 11 Times: "In a single 17-sentence document, the intelligence briefing delivered to President Bush in August 2001 spells out the who, hints at the what and points toward the where of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that followed 36 days later. Whether its disclosure does lasting damage to Mr. Bush's presidency and re-election prospects may depend on whether the White House succeeds in persuading Americans that, as a whole, its significance adds up to less than a sum of those parts." The PDB itself is substantially more vague than Jehl's breathless account indicates.
Jehl continues with an inference the Bush administration is reluctant to admit to past failings: "At a briefing, a senior White House official sought again to turn away attention from the past. 'The real issue is how do we move forward,' the official said. 'We've made a lot of changes since Sept. 11, because this country was simply not on war footing at the time of the attacks.' In the studies, Mr. Bush in particular has come off as less certain and decisive than he has portrayed himself. The final report, issued on Wednesday, reminded Americans that Mr. Bush remained in a classroom in Florida for at least five minutes after the second jet struck the World Trade Center, in what he told the panel was an effort 'to project calm' for a worried nation."
After a one-sentence detour that admits the panel criticized the Clinton administration as well, Jehl returns to the multi-level Bush blaming: "On Thursday, it was Mr. Bush's self-image of being calm under fire that came under scrutiny, with a portrayal of a White House that was slow to respond as the attacks unfolded. Starker still were preliminary staff conclusions on Wednesday that took aim at the assertions made by Mr. Cheney, in particular, of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda in connection to Sept. 11, including what the White House has repeatedly said might well have been a meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta, the chief hijacker, and a senior Iraqi intelligence officer. Much of the support for the American invasion of Iraq last year was based, polls have suggested, on a perception that Mr. Hussein and his government were behind the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Bush acknowledged last fall that there was no evidence of such ties, but it was a perception that the White House never actively sought to squelch."
Then Jehl portrays Bush on the defensive [actually, both Bush and especially Vice President Cheney have been on the attack regarding misleading press coverage of the report]: "With the commission staff's saying it did not believe that the Prague meeting had occurred and that there was no evidence of links between Al Qaeda and Iraq in connection with the attacks, Mr. Bush on Thursday sounded very much on the defensive. 'This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and Al Qaeda' he said. The sole example he cited of 'numerous contacts' between Mr. Hussein and Al Qaeda was a meeting between a senior Iraq intelligence agent and Mr. bin Laden in Sudan in 1994, one that the commission said appeared to have gone nowhere."
If he wanted more, Jehl could have read the report itself-or his paper's own front-page story from Thursday. While zealous on Bush's alleged "contradictions," the story notes the report cites "evidence of repeated contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the 90's."
For the rest of Jehl on the 9-11 report and Bush, click here.
" Al Qaeda | George W. Bush | Iraq War | Douglas Jehl | PDB | Terrorism
Taking the Times' Line On Iraq as Vietnam
Sarah Boxer's report in Thursday's Arts section, "Finding Echoes of Iraq War In a Film About Vietnam," finally makes explicit what the Times has been aching to do for over a year: Explicitly link Iraq to the "quagmire" of Vietnam.
The occasion was a repertory screening in Manhattan of the 1974 left-wing anti-war documentary "Hearts and Minds." Describing the film, Boxer writes: "There was one veteran after another, comparing bombing to singing an aria or playing a game. And there were the bewildered Vietnamese watching their homes torched with Zippo lighters and railing pathetically against Nixon's bombs: 'What did I do to you that you come here and kill my daughter? She was only a little schoolgirl.' 'Hearts and Minds' won an Academy Award for best documentary feature of 1974. Instead of an acceptance speech, Mr. Schneider, whom Mr. Davis called the Michael Moore of his day, read a statement from the provisional Vietnamese government. After Mr. Schneider spoke, Frank Sinatra (reading a statement written by Bob Hope) apologized for it. Today the film has not lost any of its punch. Now the punch is packed with new meaning. 'Quagmire,' 'hearts and minds' and 'liberating the people' are all back. A little more than a year ago, Ari Fleischer, President Bush's press secretary, said, 'Slowly but surely, the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people are being won.'"
Boxer lets the movie's director Peter Davis ramble: "'We were lied to in both wars.' The Gulf of Tonkin incident was used to justify deeper American involvement in Vietnam, he said, just as fears about weapons of mass destruction were used to justify invading Iraq. And as with Vietnam, Mr. Davis said, 'we did not trouble ourselves to learn about Iraq,' or at least the policy makers did not. 'It is a short trip between Saigon and Baghdad,' he said."
She ends: "Those in the crowd seemed angrier than Mr. Davis. They wanted to talk about the land mines left behind and the long-term effects of Agent Orange on the children. They wanted to know what had become of the bombers and pilots. And how is it, they asked, that after 30 years the United States finds itself in yet another quagmire?"
For the rest of Iraq as Vietnam, click here.
" Sarah Boxer | Iraq | Movies | Vietnam
"Moved" by Whitewater's "Dignified Victim," Susan McDougal
In Friday's Film in Review, reviewer Dave Kehr takes on the pro-Clinton, anti-Ken Starr documentary "The Hunting of the President," based on the book of the same name by liberal journalists Joe Conason and Gene Lyons.
Kehr says the documentary "takes us back to a simpler time-the late 1990's, when all Americans had to worry about was their president's sexual indiscretions. A currently popular bumper sticker reads, 'When Clinton Lied, Nobody Died,' a statement whose tone now seems as full of futile nostalgic yearning as a plea for the Dodgers to come back to Brooklyn."
Kehr notes that "the film suggests that Mr. Clinton's peccadilloes were nothing compared with the vast, unethical lengths to which his enemies were willing to go to discredit him. Using research gathered by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons for their book of the same name, 'The Hunting of the President' does a credible job of documenting the 'vast right-wing conspiracy' that Hillary Rodham Clinton said was ranged against her husband."
Having signed on to the theme of the "vast right-wing conspiracy," Kehr then compares anti-Clinton figures to characters out of the paranoid creations of left-wing filmmaker Oliver Stone: "At times, 'The Hunting of the President,' which opens today in New York, takes on the paranoid cast of an Oliver Stone political thriller, particularly when it's dealing with the shadowy Arkansas organization of Clinton haters called ARIA (Alliance for the Rebirth of an Independent America). Figures like Larry Case and Larry Nichols, who stage-managed the Gennifer Flowers revelations, would be right at home among the New Orleans lowlifers of Mr. Stone's 'J. F. K.'"
Kehr admits to being moved by the "dignified victim" Susan McDougal, who blames the dead guy for everything: "Among observations from cable news regulars like Jeffrey Toobin, James Carville and Paul Begala, [Ed. Note: Carville and Begala were Clinton advisors at the time of the investigations, not some neutral duo of "cable news regulars"] 'The Hunting of the President' offers interviews with figures closely involved with the Clinton investigations, including, most movingly, Susan McDougal, the Whitewater figure who declined to cooperate with Kenneth Starr and went to jail. She appears here as a dignified victim, quietly placing the blame for the Whitewater mess (whatever it was) on her late, estranged husband, James McDougal."
For the rest of the review of "The Hunting of the President," click here.
" Bill Clinton | Dave Kehr | Susan McDougal | Movies | Whitewater