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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Real War on Terror?

The PBS show Frontline is running a four-part series of programs on the changing relationship between the Presidency (the Bush Presidency in particular, obviously) and the press and the relationship between the press and the country as a whole.

Anyone with access to a big enough video library can compile sound bytes that seem to follow a story line. However, it's scary to hear how precisely on-message and choreographed they sound when you hear commentary from the Bush administration and the press at key milestones during the Bush presidency such as the energy task force of 2001, the WMD hysteria leading up to the Iraq invasion in April 2003 and the domestic spying story broken by the NYT.

The Frontline piece makes some pretty basic points:

1) The penchant for secrecy is a function of Bush's personality and of those with whom he surrounded himself, not the war on terror. The Administration began "fogging the lens" (the one we look in through and the one they look out through) the minute they took power. Ashcroft initiated a 180 degree change in policy regarding information sharing that basically changed from "share unless there's a good reason not to" to "unless we're legally required to, DON'T share any information." Bush signed an executive order extending the secrecy over archives of the Reagan administration that were set to be released in 2001.

2) The Bush Administration has been quite willing to essentially terrorize the press to stifle reporting. It threatened to jail reporters over leaks about the Balko baseball drug investigation that in fact came from the defendent's own lawyer. It rattled espionage laws over the head of the publisher of the NYT to try to squelch their reporting on NSA spying mechanisms.

By the time you finish watching this second show, a bitter irony becomes very apparent. Dick Cheney famously complained of the "chilling effect" that disclosure of his "energy task force" membership would have on the ability of the president (any president) to obtain advice in policy making. Essentially, the argument was George Bush -- man of letters, strategic thinker-er extraordinaire --would be hamstrung for creative input in solving our problems by a derth of experts willing to sign the official White House in/out log in exchange for bending his ear.

Uh huh.

Of course, we now know this administration not only did NOT have a variety of opinions coming in, they began erecting barriers from Day One to ENSURE no diverse ideas got in to distract them from their grim, bitterly cynical view of the people they were elected to govern and the world at large.

Kinda makes you rethink the whole scope of the war on terror. From the Bush Administration's perspective, we're all in the crosshairs. We've been there since January 20, 2001.