Saturday, May 29, 2004

Ashcroft caught red handed

Six weeks ago, we noted the War Coverage had shifted dramatically. If you want to know how far that shift has progressed, consider the coverage of Attorney General John Ashcroft's transparently bogus "terrah alert" news conference.

Not only did the media see through the partisan political gambit, but they called him out on it:

-Newsweek: Overreaction? Not everyone thought Ashcroft?s warning justified

-Newsday: Terror warning surprises Homeland Security Dept.

-NYT: As Ashcroft Warns of Attack, Some Question Threat and Its Timing

-Washington Post: Ashcroft Assailed on Terror Warning

Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post went beyond a mere story on it. He did a full round up on the incredulous reactions to it: Terror Warning Timing Questioned rounds up the usual suspects:
"We don't take much at face value here in Washington, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the Bush administration's warning of a possible terror attack yesterday was greeted with skepticism in some quarters.

Could it have been an attempt to change the subject away from the grim news from Iraq and the president's drooping poll numbers?"

Let's review:
o No upgrade in alert status:
o News conference based only on old Intel -- no new findings or significant increase in chatter;
o Dept of Homeland Security knew nothing about it -- until it hit the TV.
Nah, Ashcroft is such an honorable guy he would never take advantage of people's fears by falsely claiming a terror threat was building for mere political reasons, 2 days after the President's polling numbers hit the nadir of his term.

Froomkin's Washington Post article is richly linked and annotated at WaPo:

On CBS's "Early Show" today, Thalia Assuras says: "The question is whether politics played a role. After all, the threat level, despite all the 'credible intelligence chatter' has not been raised. . . .

"We've heard it all for months now: The U.S. is a target for terrorists. So why this latest frenzy?"

Richard W. Stevenson and Eric Lichtblau write in the New York Times: "[S]ome opponents of President Bush, including police and firefighter union leaders aligned with Senator John Kerry, the expected Democratic presidential candidate, said the timing of the announcement appeared intended in part to distract attention from Mr. Bush's sagging poll numbers and problems in Iraq.

"The administration did not raise the terrorist threat advisory from its current level of elevated, or yellow, and the White House said Mr. Bush would not alter his schedule because of security concerns."

CNN's Dana Bash told Judy Woodruff yesterday: "Judy, as far as their motives go, the Bush team certainly is well aware of the fact that people are questioning their motives and that there's a perception that perhaps that there was a political motive out there.

"As a matter of fact, they understand it is, people think, perhaps to change the subject on Iraq. I talked to an official about Iraq earlier, called the official and started asking questions about that. And sarcastically the official said, 'Why are you calling me about this? Don't you know that we changed the subject?'"

Here's an excerpt from a Live Online with Dana Priest of The Washington Post yesterday:

"Bethesda, Md.: Do you see a manipulation in the timing of the administration's terror warnings -- that they tend to come when things are going badly in Iraq or some other aspect of American politics?

"Dana Priest: I'm very suspicious, especially of the 'election threat' -- so we didn't write this story for a while, in order to ask a wider range of people and certainly enough non-political types to feel certain we were not being spun."

Marc Sandalow writes in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Attorney General John Ashcroft's solemn announcement that al Qaeda planned to attack America in the next few months seemed to provoke as much skepticism as fear Wednesday, raising doubts as to whether any terror warnings will be taken seriously in the heat of an election campaign. . . .

"But with an election five months away and polls showing President Bush's approval ratings slipping below 50 percent on most policy matters except fighting terror, there was rampant speculation that politics had prompted the announcement, thrusting the president's best issue back onto the front page.

Sandalow writes that "the nation's ambivalence was evident on television screens, where cable stations screamed out 'Breaking News' to report the threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack while the broadcast networks did not interrupt their daytime soap operas to carry the news conference live.

In a column, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write that "U.S. intelligence officials were privately divided about whether the government had obtained any fresh information that justified such an extraordinary public announcement."

Richard B. Schmitt and Josh Meyer write in the Los Angeles Times that "White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan denied that politics was involved. 'The president believes it's very important to share information appropriately,' McClellan said. 'We do that in a number of ways when it comes to looking at the threats we face here in the homeland.'"

See Froomkin's column for all of the annotations and links.

Nothing like a partisan hack putting re-election ahead of the Nation's Security.

Posted at 09:20 AM in Current Affairs, Politics, War/Defense | Permalink


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