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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Eric Boehlert has a new book out claiming--don't laugh--that the press has been too deferential to President Bush. Today Salon publishes an exerpt from that book.

Thirteen days before he announced United States-led coalition forces had begun the war to "disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger," President Bush on the evening of March 6, 2003, strolled into the East Room of the White House at 8:02 p.m. for a rare press conference -- just his eighth since taking office. With war looming, the evening was clouded in a strange dynamic. Perhaps trying to shake off allegations of being a cowboy charging towards war, Bush appeared oddly sedate throughout the prime-time appearance, talking slowly and in a pronounced hush. His low-key approach was mirrored by the ninety-four equally somnambulant reporters assembled that night in the East Room who meekly walked through the motions with Bush.

If anxious viewers at home were hoping for some last-minute insight from Bush to help ease their doubts about the imminent war, why it had to be fought now, and why so many of the United States' longtime allies around the world refused to support it, those viewers were likely disappointed as the president stuck to his well-worn talking points ("Saddam Hussein has had twelve years to disarm. He is deceiving people"). And for any viewers who held out hope that members of the assembled mainstream media (hereafter, "MSM") would firmly, yet respectfully, press Bush for answers to tough questions about the pending invasion, they could have turned their TVs off at 8:05 p.m.

The press corps's barely-there performance that night, as reporters quietly melted into the scenery, coming at such a crucial moment in time remains an industry-wide embarrassment. Laying out the reasons for war, Bush that night mentioned al-Qaida and the terrorist attacks of September 11 thirteen times in less than an hour, yet not a single journalist challenged the presumed connection Bush was making between al-Qaida and Iraq, despite the fact that intelligence sources had publicly questioned any such association. And during the Q&A session, nobody bothered to ask Bush about the elusive Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind whom Bush had vowed to capture. Follow-up questions were nonexistent, which only encouraged Bush to give answers to questions he was not asked.

Yes, and they also forgot to ask him about his service in the Texas Air National Guard as well. But what about the 13 mentions of Al Qaeda and 9-11? Let's count them and see if there's some presumed connection between Al Qaeda and Irag:

1. This has been an important week on two fronts on our war against terror. First, thanks to the hard work of American and Pakistani officials, we captured the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks against our nation. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed conceived and planned the hijackings and directed the actions of the hijackers. We believe his capture will further disrupt the terror network and their planning for additional attacks.

No connection to Iraq alleged.

2. If the world fails to confront the threat posed by the Iraqi regime, refusing to use force, even as a last resort, free nations would assume immense and unacceptable risks. The attacks of September the 11th, 2001 showed what the enemies of America did with four airplanes. We will not wait to see what terrorists or terrorist states could do with weapons of mass destruction.

No particular connection drawn between Iraq and Al Qaeda. They are certainly compared.

3. Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Iraq is a country that has got terrorist ties. It's a country with wealth. It's a country that trains terrorists, a country that could arm terrorists. And our fellow Americans must understand in this new war against terror, that we not only must chase down al Qaeda terrorists, we must deal with weapons of mass destruction, as well.

Here's where Boehlert undoubtedly shouted "Jackpot!" Of course the last sentence draws a distinction between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

4 & 5. Saddam Hussein is a threat to our nation. September the 11th changed the strategic thinking, at least, as far as I was concerned, for how to protect our country. My job is to protect the American people. It used to be that we could think that you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his type of terror. September the 11th should say to the American people that we're now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization could be deployed here at home.

Saddam, 9-11, Saddam, 9-11. You could see how a particularly gullible person would draw the connection. Boehlert, who obviously feels the American people are ignorant rubes (he's trying to sell them snake oil), undoubtedly would say this proves his point.

6. We do communicate a lot, and we will continue to communicate a lot. We must communicate. We must share intelligence; we must share -- we must cut off money together; we must smoke these al Qaeda types out one at a time. It's in our national interest, as well, that we deal with Saddam Hussein.

He mentioned Al Qaeda and Saddam in the same paragraph. Clearly he's drawing connections. Yes, the "as well" part indicates that they are two separate matters, but Bush lied! Thousands died!

7. I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat to the American people. I believe he's a threat to the neighborhood in which he lives. And I've got a good evidence to believe that. He has weapons of mass destruction, and he has used weapons of mass destruction, in his neighborhood and on his own people. He's invaded countries in his neighborhood. He tortures his own people. He's a murderer. He has trained and financed al Qaeda-type organizations before, al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

We know this is true; for one thing Saddam offered $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel.

8 & 9. And we live in a dangerous world. We live in new circumstances in our country. And I hope people remember the -- I know they remember the tragedy of September the 11th, but I hope they understand the lesson of September the 11th. The lesson is, is that we're vulnerable to attack, wherever it may occur, and we must take threats which gather overseas very seriously. We don't have to deal with them all militarily. But we must deal with them. And in the case of Iraq, it is now time for him to disarm. For the sake of peace, if we have to use our troops, we will.

No particular link drawn other than the obvious; that Saddam could fund another 9-11.

10 & 11. Hutch, I think, first of all, it's hard to envision more terror on America than September the 11th, 2001. We did nothing to provoke that terrorist attack. It came upon us because there's an enemy which hates America. They hate what we stand for. We love freedom and we're not changing. And, therefore, so long as there's a terrorist network like al Qaeda, and others willing to fund them, finance them, equip them -- we're at war.

And so I -- you know, obviously, I've thought long and hard about the use of troops. I think about it all the time. It is my responsibility to commit the troops. I believe we'll prevail -- I know we'll prevail. And out of that disarmament of Saddam will come a better world, particularly for the people who live in Iraq.

No linkage drawn or implied.

12. But I want to remind -- remind you what I said before. There is a huge cost when we get attacked. There is a significant cost to our society -- first of all, there is the cost of lives. It's an immeasurable cost -- 3,000 people died. This is a significant cost to our economy. Opportunity loss is an immeasurable cost, besides the cost of repairing buildings, and cost to our airlines. And so, the cost of an attack is significant.

13. I couldn't find #13, although there are a couple places where I could see Boehlert arguing the connection was made.

More important, just how deferential are the questions? I see a lot of questions where the reporters seem to be begging the president to give Saddam more time.

Ron Fournier: And what harm would it do to give Saddam a final ultimatum? A two- or three-day deadline to disarm or face force?

Dick (no last name given): And in relation to that, today, the British Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, suggested at the U.N. that it might be time to look at amending the resolution, perhaps with an eye towards a timetable like that proposed by the Canadians some two weeks ago, that would set a firm deadline to give Saddam Hussein a little bit of time to come clean. And also, obviously, that would give you a little bit of a chance to build more support within the members of the Security Council. Is that something that the governments should be pursuing at the U.N. right now?

Others focus endlessly on the opposition to the war, both by foreign governments and antiwar activists.

Jim Angle: And if I may, during the recent demonstrations, many of the protestors suggested that the U.S. was a threat to peace, which prompted you to wonder out loud why they didn't see Saddam Hussein as a threat to peace. I wonder why you think so many people around the world take a different view of the threat that Saddam Hussein poses than you and your allies.

Terry Moran: In the past several weeks, your policy on Iraq has generated opposition from the governments of France, Russia, China, Germany, Turkey, the Arab League and many other countries, opened a rift at NATO and at the U.N., and drawn millions of ordinary citizens around the world into the streets in anti-war protests. May I ask, what went wrong that so many governments and people around the world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power?

Bill Plante: And if war is inevitable, there are a lot of people in this country -- as much as half, by polling standards -- who agree that he should be disarmed, who listen to you say that you have the evidence, but who feel they haven't seen it, and who still wonder why blood has to be shed if he hasn't attacked us.

Mark Knoller: Mr. President, are you worried that the United States might be viewed as defiant of the United Nations if you went ahead with military action without specific and explicit authorization from the U.N.?

April (No last name given): Mr. President, as the nation is at odds over war, with many organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus pushing for continued diplomacy through the U.N., how is your faith guiding you? And what should you tell America -- well, what should America do, collectively, as you instructed before 9/11? Should it be "pray?" Because you're saying, let's continue the war on terror.

Somebody named Hutch: Thank you, Mr. President. As you know, not everyone shares your optimistic vision of how this might play out. Do you ever worry, maybe in the wee, small hours, that you might be wrong and they might be right in thinking that this could lead to more terrorism, more anti-American sentiment, more instability in the Middle East?

So the notion that the press were a bunch of lapdogs just eager to be petted here seems a bit far-fetched.
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