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Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) testifies three times to Congress that the Contra resupply operation, exposed by the downing of a CIA transport plane (see October 5, 1986 and October 9, 1986), is not a US government operation. There is no coordination whatsoever from any government official (see Summer 1985, Mid-September 1985, October 1985, Late 1985 and After, February 7-8, 1986, May 16, 1986, July 1986 and After, September 19-20, 1986, September 25, 1986, and January 9, 1986), and no one in the government knows who organized or paid for the transport flight that was shot down.
'Not Our Supply System' - Abrams tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while he and other government officials are aware of the Contra resupply operation, “[i]t is not our supply system. It is one that grew up after we were forbidden from supplying the resistance, and we have been kind of careful not to get closely involved with it and to stay away from it.… We do not encourage people to do this. We don’t round up people, we don’t write letters, we don’t have conversations, we don’t tell them to do this, we don’t ask them to do it. But I think it is quite clear, from the attitude of the administration, the attitude of the administration is that these people are doing a very good thing, and if they think they are doing something that we like, then, in a general sense, they are right.” In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Abrams is asked by Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), “Can anybody assure us that the United States government was not involved, indirectly or directly, in any way in supply of the contras?” Abrams responds: “I believe we have already done that, that is, I think, the president has done it, the secretary has done it [Secretary of State George Shultz], and I have done it.… Now again, this normal intelligence monitoring is there, but the answer to your question is yes.” Abrams and CIA officials Clair George and Alan Fiers tell the same falsehoods to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “We don’t know,” Abrams asserts, “because we don’t track this kind of activity.”
No Knowledge of 'Gomez' - He also claims under questioning not to know the identity of “Max Gomez,” who he well knows is former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asks, “You don’t know whether or not [Gomez] reports to the vice president of the United States?” (see October 10, 1986). Both George and Abrams deny any such knowledge, though Abrams is highly aware of Rodriguez’s activities in El Salvador (he does not inform the committee of those activities). During the Congressional sessions, media reports identify Gomez as Rodriguez. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The Washington Post, having gotten wind of a secret fund transfer from a third-party nation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see August 9-19, 1986), reports that Saudi Arabia may be funding the Contras. (The Post’s sources are apparently unaware of the Brunei transaction.) Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who originated and facilitated the Brunei deal (see After May 16, 1986), is asked by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) during his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see October 10-15, 1986) if he or the CIA representatives accompanying him—Clair George and Alan Fiers—are aware of any third-party funding of the Contras, whether it be Saudi Arabia or anyone else. Abrams says, “No.” George, also aware of the Brunei transaction, says, “No.” Fiers, who was involved in discussions of the transactions, says, “No, sir.” Abrams adds, “I think I can say that while I have been assistant secretary, which is about 15 months, we have not received a dime from a foreign government, not a dime, from any foreign government.” He says that if the Contras have received funding from other nations, he is not aware of it. “The thing is I think I would know about it because if they went to a foreign government, a foreign government would want credit for helping the contras and they would come to us to say you want us to do this, do you, and I would know about that.” Abrams repeats the lie to the House Intelligence Committee. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) stumbles across the criminality of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) while investigating international drug trafficking as part of a congressional oversight committee. He soon starts a vigorous congressional investigation of BCCI, and New York district attorney Robert Morgenthau launches a vigorous investigation as well. (Tolchin 7/29/1991) However, Kerry’s and Morgenthau’s investigations are consistently stifled. Kerry will later say that, “with the key exception of the Federal Reserve, there was almost [no]… information or cooperation provided by other government agencies.” (US Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations 12/1992) Kerry will later conclude that the Justice Department in particular went to great lengths to block his and Morgenthau’s investigations “through a variety of mechanisms, ranging from not making witnesses available, to not returning phone calls, to claiming that every aspect of the case was under investigation in a period when little, if anything was being done.” After the Bank of England shuts down BCCI in July 1991 (see July 5, 1991), making big headlines, Under Assistant Attorney General Robert Mueller takes over Justice Department efforts on BCCI and assigns many new attorneys to the case. But Kerry will ultimately conclude that the indictments the Justice Department brings forth against BCCI after that time were narrower and less detailed than those of Morgenthau’s, and often seemed to be in response to what Morgenthau was doing. (US Congress 12/1992) Kerry submits his report on BCCI in December 1992, and after that investigations into BCCI peter out. President Bush will appoint Mueller to be director of the FBI shortly before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001).
In March 1991, Sen. John Kerry’s Senate investigation of the criminal Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) investigation hears about a secret CIA report on BCCI that was given to the Customs Service. Kerry’s office asks the CIA for a copy, but is told the report does not exist. After months of wrangling, more and more information about the CIA’s ties to BCCI comes out, and the CIA eventually gives Kerry that report and many other reports relating to BCCI. But crucially, the CIA does not share documents on CIA operations using the bank. Kerry’s public report will conclude, “Key questions about the relationship between US intelligence and BCCI cannot be answered at this time, and may never be.” (Corn 10/26/1992; US Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations 12/1992)
A group called “Republicans for Clean Air” begins running ads attacking Republican presidential candidate John McCain in New York. The ads accuse McCain of voting against alternative energy sources. At the same time, ads paid for by the campaign of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush accuse McCain of labeling breast cancer programs as wasteful. Governor George Pataki (R-NY) accuses McCain of voting “anti-New York” in the Senate, while Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) says McCain was wrong to vote for raising heating oil taxes, a major issue in cold-weather states such as New York. (Garrone 3/2/2000) The group also runs ads in primary states claiming that Bush, as Texas governor, passed laws intended to reduce air pollution in Texas by over a quarter-million tons a year. The evidence does not support the claim; what few anti-pollution laws have taken effect in Texas were written mostly by Democratic state legislators and signed into law, often reluctantly, by Bush.
RFCA Consists of Two Texas Billionaires - An investigation by the New York Times soon proves that “Republicans for Clean Air” (RFCA) is funded by Dallas billionaire Sam Wyly, a Bush supporter, who has contributed $2.5 million to the group. Wyly and his brother Charles Wyly, also a RFCA contributor, are the co-founders of Sterling Software in Dallas. They are also owners, founders, or executives in firms that own Bonanza Steakhouse, the “Michael’s” chain of arts and craft stores, the hedge fund Maverick Capital, and more. Both are heavy Bush campaign donors, having donated over $210,000 to the Bush gubernatorial campaigns. They are apparently the only two members of the RFCA. Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice says of Sam Wyly: “He’s one of the elite. He’s one of the movers and shakers. He’s very big money in the state.” McCain’s campaign accuses the Bush campaign of being responsible for the advertising, and says the Bush campaign is trying to evade campaign finance laws (see February 7, 1972 and May 11, 1992). The McCain campaign complains that the Bush campaign is using unethical and possibly illegal campaign tactics to “steal” the primary election by saturating New York, California, and Ohio with anti-McCain ads just days before the primary elections in those critical states. “There is no question in our campaign’s mind that the ads are being sponsored, coordinated, and managed by the George Bush for President campaign,” says McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis. “I think it’s incumbent on the Bush campaign to prove somehow that they are not involved in this incredible act.” Davis has no direct evidence for his claim, but cites what the Times calls “a tangle of personal, business, and political relationships between Mr. Wyly and his family and the Bush campaign to suggest that their interests were so close as to be indistinguishable.” One of those relationships cited by Davis is the fact that RFCA uses the same public relations firm, Multi Media Services Corporation, as Pataki, who chairs the Bush campaign in New York and who appears in Bush campaign ads. Bush himself denies any connection with RFCA, and says: “There is no coordination.… I had no idea the ad was going to run.” Wyly also disclaims any coordination with the Bush campaign. He says he laughed during the production of the commercials, and mused over how “surprised” the Bush campaign would be to see them on the airwaves. McCain uses the ads to draw attention to one of his favorite campaign themes, campaign finance reform. On a recent morning talk show, McCain said: “I think maybe the Bush campaign is out of money and somebody’s putting in $2 million to try to hijack the campaign here in New York. Nobody knows where it came from. [When McCain filmed the interview, Wyly’s identity had not been revealed.] We’ll probably find out, but probably too late. This is why campaign finance reform is so important.” (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000; Stevenson and Perez-Pena 3/4/2000; Oppel and Perez-Pena 3/5/2000; Ivins 3/6/2000; Scott E. Thomas and Danny Lee McDonald 4/2002; New York Times 8/23/2010) The press soon learns that Charles Wyly is an official member of the Bush presidential campaign, as a “Pioneer” donor, and has contributed the maximum amount under the law. (Stevenson and Perez-Pena 3/4/2000) It also learns that RFCA’s stated address is a post office box in Virginia belonging to Lydia Meuret, a consultant who runs a political action committee headed by Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX), a Bush ally. Meuret denies any connection between RFCA and Bonilla or Bonilla’s PAC, but admits she is a consultant to both. (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000)
'527' Group Operates in Campaign Finance Law 'Gray Areas' - RFCA is a “527” group (see 2000 - 2005); such groups operate in a “gray area” of campaign law, as the monies they use are not contributed directly to a candidate or a political party. However, they are banned from coordinating their efforts with candidate campaigns. Their ads must not make direct appeals to voters in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate. If they comply with this portion of the law, the donors behind the ads, and the amounts they contribute, do not have to be identified. The law does not even require the groups to declare their existence, as was the case for a time with RFCA. The Times reports, “While some of the groups behind issue advertising are vague about their membership, Mr. Wyly’s effort was a rare instance in which commercials were aired without any hint of their origin.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group advocating campaign finance reform, says of so-called “issue” ads such as these: “The secrecy aspects of this are taking campaign finance problems to yet another new and dangerous level. What we’re seeing here is the use of unlimited, undisclosed money to influence a federal election, and that’s totally at odds with the whole notion of campaign finance disclosure.” (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000; Ivins 3/6/2000; Broder and Bonner 3/29/2000; New York Times 8/23/2010) Progressive columnist Molly Ivins calls the RFCA ads examples of “sham issue” advertisements. (Ivins 3/6/2000)
Bush Claims RFCA Ads Not Helpful - After Bush secures the nomination over McCain, he tells a reporter, “I don’t think these [Republicans for Clean Air] ads are particularly helpful to me.” But Slate reporter Chris Suellentrop writes: “Of course they were helpful. Otherwise Bush would have called the group and told them to call off the dogs.” (Suellentrop 8/25/2000)
Wyly Brothers Will Fund 2004 'Swift Boat' Campaign, Later Charged with Securities Fraud, Insider Trading - A month after the ads air, Sam Wyly says he will no longer involve himself in politics. Wyly, who says he is a staunch environmentalist, says he admires Bush’s Democratic challenger, Vice President Al Gore (whom Wyly has called a regulation-happy environmentalist, and whom Wyly has considered attacking with television ads). Of his foray into the presidential campaign, Wyly says: “I learned from it. Many of you are aware of my recent foray into presidential politics. It is to be my last.” In 2004, the Wyly brothers will be two of the primary donors behind the “Swift Boat” campaign that will slander and impugn the character and military service of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). In 2010, the Wyly brothers will be charged with securities fraud and insider trading that netted them at least $581 million in illegal gains, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Ayres 4/5/2000; New York Times 8/23/2010)
President Bush gives a speech at the National Defense University outlining what he calls a “new strategic framework” for the nation’s strategic defense policy. “This afternoon, I want us to think back some 30 years to a far different time in a far different world,” he tells his listeners. “The United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a hostile rivalry.… Our deep differences were expressed in a dangerous military confrontation that resulted in thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at each other on hair-trigger alert. Security of both the United States and the Soviet Union was based on a grim premise: that neither side would fire nuclear weapons at each other, because doing so would mean the end of both nations.” Bush is referring to the concept of “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD, which has driven the policies of the US and the former Soviet Union since the 1950s. “We even went so far as to codify this relationship in a 1972 ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty (see May 26, 1972), based on the doctrine that our very survival would best be insured by leaving both sides completely open and vulnerable to nuclear attack,” he says.
A Different Threat - Times have now changed: “Today, the sun comes up on a vastly different world.… Today’s Russia is not yesterday’s Soviet Union.… Yet, this is still a dangerous world, a less certain, a less predictable one. More nations have nuclear weapons and still more have nuclear aspirations. Many have chemical and biological weapons. Some already have developed… ballistic missile technology.… And a number of these countries are spreading these technologies around the world. Most troubling of all, the list of these countries includes some of the world’s least-responsible states. Unlike the Cold War, today’s most urgent threat stems not from thousands of ballistic missiles in the Soviet hands, but from a small number of missiles in the hands of these states, states for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life.” Bush cites the example of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who, he says, could have forced a very different outcome to the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After) had he “been able to blackmail with nuclear weapons.” Hussein is an exemplar of today’s hate-driven dictators, Bush asserts: “Like Saddam Hussein, some of today’s tyrants are gripped by an implacable hatred of the United States of America. They hate our friends, they hate our values, they hate democracy and freedom and individual liberty. Many care little for the lives of their own people. In such a world, Cold War deterrence is no longer enough.”
ABM Treaty Now a Hindrance to US Security - “To maintain peace, to protect our own citizens and our own allies and friends, we must seek security based on more than the grim premise that we can destroy those who seek to destroy us,” Bush says. “Today’s world requires a new policy, a broad strategy of active non-proliferation, counter proliferation and defenses.… We need new concepts of deterrence that rely on both offensive and defensive forces. Deterrence can no longer be based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation.… We need a new framework that allows us to build missile defenses to counter the different threats of today’s world. To do so, we must move beyond the constraints of the 30-year-old ABM Treaty. This treaty does not recognize the present, or point us to the future. It enshrines the past. No treaty that prevents us from addressing today’s threats, that prohibits us from pursuing promising technology to defend ourselves, our friends and our allies is in our interests or in the interests of world peace.… We can, and will, change the size, the composition, the character of our nuclear forces in a way that reflects the reality that the Cold War is over.” Bush is heralding his intention of withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty (see December 13, 2001). Bush says of the treaty: “We should leave behind the constraints of an ABM Treaty that perpetuates a relationship based on distrust and mutual vulnerability. This Treaty ignores the fundamental breakthroughs in technology during the last 30 years. It prohibits us from exploring all options for defending against the threats that face us, our allies and other countries. That’s why we should work together to replace this Treaty with a new framework that reflects a clear and clean break from the past, and especially from the adversarial legacy of the Cold War.” (Bush 5/1/2001; CNN 5/1/2001; Scoblic 2008, pp. 171-172)
An Old Response to a New Threat - Author J. Peter Scoblic later calls Bush’s rationale “disingenuous.” He explains: “Conservatives had wanted to field missile defenses ever since the Soviet Union had developed ICBMs.… But somewhat paradoxically, following the collapse of the Soviet Union—and with it the likelihood of of a missile attack—conservative calls for missile defense increased” (see September 27, 1994). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 171-172) Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace calls Bush’s proposal “tragically mistaken.” (PBS 5/1/2001) Senator John Kerry (D-MA), an outspoken opponent of Bush’s foreign policies, says: “This is essentially a satisfy-your-base, political announcement. It serves no other purpose.” (Sanger 5/1/2001)
Congressional Democrats are highly critical of President Bush’s proposal to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and instead implement a “new strategic framework” for the US’s defense against nuclear weapons (see May 1, 2001). Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says: “Many in the administration… argue that deploying an ineffective defense can still be an effective system simply because it would cause uncertainty in the minds of our adversaries. That position is based on the flawed assumption that a president would be willing to gamble our nation’s security on a bluff, and that no adversary would be willing or able to call such a bluff. Instead of increasing our security, pursuing a strategy that cannot achieve its goal could leave our nation less secure and our world less stable.” Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), an acknowledged expert on US defense capabilities, says, “To abandon the ABM with the hope to get that [missile defense] capacity somewhere down the line would damage the security interests of the United States.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) notes: “If you can’t shoot down 100 percent of them [nuclear missiles], you haven’t gotten rid of mutually assured destruction. And if you can, you set off an arms race to develop a capacity that can’t be touched by a missile defense system.” Perhaps most disparaging is a comment by Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) who says that the new missile defense systems under consideration are “more appropriate to [film studio] Dreamworks and [film director] Steven Spielberg than to actual implementation.” (Nuclear Age Peace Foundation 5/2/2001)
Brian Sullivan, a retired Federal Aviation Administration risk management specialist, writes a letter to Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), concerned about an alarming lack of security at Boston’s Logan Airport. Flights 11 and 175 take off from Logan on 9/11. (Maguire 9/14/2001; Ridgeway 9/15/2004) The previous night a local TV station aired a report of an undercover investigation, which found that, nine times out of 10, a crew was able to get knives and other weapons through Logan’s security checkpoints, including the ones later used by the 9/11 hijackers. Sullivan writes: “With the concept of jihad, do you think it would be difficult for a determined terrorist to get on a plane and destroy himself and all other passengers? Think what the result would be of a coordinated attack which took down several domestic flights on the same day. With our current screening, this is more than possible. It is almost likely.” Following his letter, Sullivan has a videotape of the TV investigation hand-delivered to Kerry’s office. (Sullivan 6/17/2002; 9/11 Commission 2/11/2004, pp. 4; Sperry 3/15/2004) After 9/11, Kerry will say that his response was to pass the letter and videotape to the General Accounting Office, and consequently it began an undercover investigation into the matter. (Maguire 9/14/2001; Mooney and Brelis 9/15/2001) Sullivan will confirm Kerry having responded to his letter, and having asked the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General to look into the matter. He comments, “I think Sen. Kerry did get it to the right people and they were about to take action.” (Hansen 9/16/2001) However, in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election where Kerry is the Democratic candidate, Sullivan will accuse him of having done “the Pontius Pilate thing and passed the buck.” An article in the right-wing New York Post will claim that Kerry’s only response to Sullivan was a brief letter towards the end of July 2001, and says Sullivan’s letter to him had made clear that the Department of Transportation was ineffective in responding to complaints about security problems. (Sperry 3/15/2004)
A new advertising and poster campaign attacking pro-choice Catholic senators harks back to the dangerous “Deadly Dozen” campaign of 1995 (see 1995 and After), according to pro-choice advocates. The 1995 advertising and poster campaign targeted over a dozen health care and abortion providers, usually listing their names, addresses, and telephone numbers. The new campaign is by the American Life League (ALL—see 1979), an anti-abortion organization centered in Stafford, Virginia. Both the 1995 and the current campaigns feature “Old West” themed posters. ALL’s posters provide photographs of a dozen pro-choice US senators under the announcement, “Wanted For Fradulently Claiming Catholic Faith”; like the earlier campaign, the senators are branded as “The Deadly Dozen.” The senators pictured include Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Tom Daschle (D-SD), John Kerry (D-MA), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The campaign calls for bishops to refuse communion to the senators. Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation says she is appalled by ALL’s choice of slogans. “This type of language is associated with violence,” she says. “Seven people lost their lives as a result of this type of verbiage. What is the American Life League thinking?” The new ad campaign is running in selected newspapers, including the Washington Times and The Wanderer, a weekly Catholic newspaper in Massachusetts. A new round of posters is planned, targeting, among others, Governor Gray Davis (D-CA) of California and other California pro-choice lawmakers, according to ALL official Joseph Giganti. Giganti says ALL is opposed to violence and calls comparisons between his organization’s campaign and the 1995 campaign “reckless and careless.… Our ads don’t refer to being wanted dead or alive; it is referencing the fact abortion kills. We are simply saying, if you are in fact Catholic, how can you continue to support abortion?” Giganti blames pro-choice groups for “purposely… misinterpret[ing]” the campaign and using it “as a stepping stone to voice their own opinions.” At least 11 Catholic diocesan newspapers have turned down the ads. “The kind of advertising they are doing is inflammatory,” says Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “It could incite someone, set someone off. But the more dominant issue is that they will disgust people. This ad will only reinforce pro-choice. People who have mixed feelings about abortion, people who are moderates will be turned off by the advertisements.” A spokesman for one targeted senator, Christopher Dodd (D-CT), says of the campaign: “There is no place in America for personal attacks on those with whom one disagrees. Ultimately, Senator Dodd’s religious views are a personal matter between him and God.” (Life 1/22/2003; Smith 4/21/2003)
Recent remarks by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) alleging that granting rights to homosexuals would also grant Americans the right to commit incest, child rape, and bestiality (see April 7, 2003) draw heavy criticism from both pro-gay organizations and political opponents. Winnie Stachelberg of the gay advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign says: “Senator Santorum’s remarks are deeply hurtful and play on deep-seated fears that fly in the face of scientific evidence, common sense, and basic decency. Clearly, there is no compassion in his conservatism.” Stachelberg asks Republican Congressional leaders to repudiate Santorum’s remarks. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) calls on Santorum to resign as chairman of the Republican Senate Caucus, the number three position in the GOP leadership; Santorum does not do so. The DSCC’s Brad Woodhouse says, “Senator Santorum’s remarks are divisive, hurtful, and reckless and are completely out of bounds for someone who is supposed to be a leader in the United States Senate.” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says Santorum’s position is “out of step with our country’s respect for tolerance.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA), a Democratic presidential contender, criticizes the White House for not speaking out against Santorum’s statements, saying, “The White House speaks the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism, but they’re silent while their chief lieutenants make divisive and hurtful comments that have no place in our politics.” Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean (D-VT) joins in calls for Santorum to step down from the RSC post, saying: “Gay-bashing is not a legitimate public policy discussion; it is immoral. Rick Santorum’s failure to recognize that attacking people because of who they are is morally wrong makes him unfit for a leadership position in the United States Senate. Today, I call on Rick Santorum to resign from his post as Republican Conference chairman.” Patrick Guerriero of the Republican pro-gay group, the Log Cabin Republicans, says that Santorum should either apologize or step down from his post as RSC chair: “If you ask most Americans if they compare gay and lesbian Americans to polygamists and folks who are involved in incest and the other categories he used, I think there are very few folks in the mainstream who would articulate those views.” Santorum’s remarks make it difficult to characterize the GOP as inclusive, Guerriero adds. (Loughlin 4/23/2003; CNN 4/23/2003) Guerriero later tells a gay advocacy newspaper: “Log Cabin Republicans are entering a new chapter. We’re no longer thrilled simply about getting a meeting at the White House. We’re organized enough to demand full equality. I’ve heard that vibration since I’ve been in Washington—that people in the party are taking us for granted. To earn respect, we have to start demanding it.… One of the most disappointing things about this episode is that we’ve spent a lot of time with the senator trying to find common ground. This is how he repays us? There is a sad history of Republican leaders choosing to go down this path, and he should’ve known better.” Another, less prominent Republican pro-gay organization, the Republican Unity Coalition, denounces Santorum’s views but stands by his right to hold them. (Bull 6/10/2003) Some Republican senators join in criticizing Santorum. Susan Collins (R-ME) says Santorum’s choice of words is “regrettable” and his legal analysis “wrong.” Olympia Snowe (R-ME) says, “Discrimination and bigotry have no place in our society, and I believe Senator Santorum’s remarks undermine Republican principles of inclusion and opportunity.” Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) says: “I thought his choice of comparisons was unfortunate and the premise that the right of privacy does not exist—just plain wrong. Senator Santorum’s views are not held by this Republican and many others in our party.” Gordon Smith (R-OR) says that “America and the Republican Party” no longer equate “sexual orientation with sexual criminality. While Rick Santorum intended to reiterate the language of an old Supreme Court decision, he did so in a way that was hurtful to the gay and lesbian community.” And John McCain (R-AZ) says: “I think that he may have been inartful in the way that he described it. I believe that—coming from a person who has made several serious gaffes in my career—that the best thing to do is to apologize if you’ve offended anyone. Because I’m sure that Rick did not intend to offend anyone. Apologize if you did and move on.” (Salon 4/26/2003) The only openly gay member of the House of Representatives, Barney Frank (D-MA), says of Santorum: “The only surprise is he’s being honest about it. This kind of gay bashing is perfectly acceptable in the Republican Party.” Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), calls Santorum’s remarks “stunning” and adds: “Rick Santorum is afflicted with the same condition as Trent Lott—a small mind but a big mouth. [Gandy is referring to Lott’s forcible removal from his position as Senate majority leader in 2002 after making pro-segregation remarks.] He has refused to apologize and Republican leaders have either supported or ignored Santorum’s rants blaming societal ills on feminists, liberals, and particularly gays and lesbians. Far from being a compassionate conservative, Santorum’s lengthy and specific comments expose him as abusive, intolerant, and downright paranoid—a poor combination for a top Senate leader.” (People's World 5/7/2003)
Santorum: AP Story 'Misleading' - Santorum says the Associated Press story reporting his remarks was “misleading,” and says he was speaking strictly about a recent Supreme Court case striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law. “I am a firm believer that all are equal under the Constitution,” he says. “My comments should not be construed in any way as a statement on individual lifestyles.” When questioned by a gay Pennsylvanian about his remarks, he says his words were “taken out of context.” (The questioner says to Santorum: “You attacked me for who I am.… How could you compare my sexuality and what I do in the privacy of my home to bigamy or incest?” Santorum denies being intolerant of homosexuality, but repeats his stance that if states were not allowed to regulate homosexual activity in private homes, “you leave open the door for a variety of other sexual activities to occur within the home and not be regulated.”) However, CNN reports that, according to unedited excerpts of the audiotaped interview, “Santorum spoke at length about homosexuality and he made clear he did not approve of ‘acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships.’ In the April 7 interview, Santorum describes homosexual acts as a threat to society and the family. ‘I have no problem with homosexuality,’ Santorum said, according to the AP. ‘I have a problem with homosexual acts.’” (Loughlin 4/23/2003; CNN 4/23/2003) In an interview on Fox News, Santorum says: “I do not need to give an apology based on what I said and what I’m saying now—I think this is a legitimate public policy discussion. These are not, you know, ridiculous, you know, comments. These are very much a very important point.… I was not equating one to the other. There is no moral equivalency there. What I was saying was that if you say there is an absolute right to privacy for consenting adults within the home to do whatever they want, [then] this has far-reaching ramifications, which has a very serious impact on the American family, and that is what I was talking about.… I am very disappointed that the article was written in the way it was and it has been construed the way it has. I don’t believe it was put in the context of which the discussion was made, which was rather a far-reaching discussion on the right to privacy.” (Salon 4/26/2003; Fox News 4/28/2003)
Bush Defends Santorum - After three days of remaining silent, President Bush issues a brief statement defending Santorum’s remarks, calling Santorum “an inclusive man.” In response, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) issues the following statement from chairman Terry McAuliffe: “President Bush is awfully selective in which American values he chooses to comment on. Rick Santorum disparaged and demeaned a whole segment of Americans and for that President Bush praises him. Three young women in the music business expressed their views and it warrants presidential action. I would suggest that rather than scold the Dixie Chicks (see March 10, 2003 and After), President Bush would best serve America by taking Rick Santorum to the woodshed.” (People's World 5/7/2003; Bull 6/10/2003)
Other Support - Some senators come to Santorum’s defense. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) says in a statement, “Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) blames the media for the controversy, saying: “He’s not a person who wants to put down anybody. He’s not a mean-spirited person. Regardless of the words he used, he wouldn’t try to hurt anybody.… We have 51 Republicans [in the Senate] and I don’t think anyone’s a spokesman for the Republican Party. We have a double standard. It seems that the press, when a conservative Republican says something, they jump on it, but they never jump on things Democrats say. So he’s partly going to be a victim of that double standard.” Santorum’s Pennsylvania colleague, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), says, “I have known Rick Santorum for the better part of two decades, and I can say with certainty he is not a bigot.” Asked if Santorum’s comments will hurt his re-election prospects, Specter says: “It depends on how it plays out. Washington is a town filled with cannibals. The cannibals devoured Trent Lott without cause. If the cannibals are after you, you are in deep trouble. It depends on whether the cannibals are hungry. My guess is that it will blow over.” Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) says, “Rick Santorum has done a great job, and is solid as a rock, and he’s not going anywhere.” A number of Republican senators, including Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), the only openly gay Republican in Congress, refuse to comment when asked. (Salon 4/26/2003) Gary Bauer, a powerful activist of the Christian Right who ran a longshot campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, says that “while some elites may be upset by [Santorum’s] comments, they’re pretty much in the mainstream of where most of the country is.” (Bull 6/10/2003) The conservative advocacy group Concerned Women for America says Santorum was “exactly right” in his statements and blames what it calls the “gay thought police” for the controversy. Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council agrees, saying, “I think the Republican Party would do well to follow Senator Santorum if they want to see pro-family voters show up on Election Day.” (Loughlin 4/23/2003) Joseph Farah, the publisher of the conservative online news blog WorldNetDaily (WND), says that Santorum was the victim of a “setup” by the Associated Press, and Lara Jakes Jordan, the reporter who wrote the story should be fired. Santorum’s remarks “were dead-on target and undermine the entire homosexual political agenda,” Farah writes. “Santorum articulated far better and more courageously than any elected official how striking down laws against sodomy will lead inevitably to striking down laws against incest, bigamy, and polygamy. You just can’t say consenting adults have an absolute right to do what they want sexually without opening that Pandora’s box.” He accuses the AP of launching what he calls a “hatchet job” against Santorum, designed to take down “a young, good-looking, articulate conservative in the Senate’s Republican leadership.” The AP reporter who interviewed Santorum, Lara Jakes Jordan, is, he says, “a political activist disguised as a reporter.” Farah notes that Jordan is married to Democratic operative Jim Jordan, who works for the Kerry campaign, and in the past Jordan has criticized the AP for not granting benefits to gay domestic partners. Thusly, Farah concludes: “It seems Mrs. Jordan’s ideological fervor is not reserved only for her private life and her corporate politicking. This woman clearly ambushed Santorum on an issue near and dear to her bleeding heart.” (Farah 4/28/2003)
White House communications director Dan Bartlett holds a staff meeting to coordinate officials’ responses to controversial news items, particularly to the recent White House admission that the Iraq-Niger uranium claim had been “erroneous” (see July 8, 2003). Among the participants is new White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Although the next presidential election is not until November 2004, McClellan will later write that the White House exists in a permanent “campaign mode,” and Bartlett’s prime focus is to ensure the White House “win[s] every news cycle” and contributes to the “broader [re-election] strategic plan.”
Turning Debate Away from Iraq-Niger, onto War on Terror - As McClellan later observes, “We needed to refocus the debate [away from the Iraq-Niger uranium claim and onto] the larger strategic framework—the big picture of national security that the president would relentlessly push during the re-election campaign against his eventual opponent, [Senator] John Kerry.” The message Bartlett outlines is simple: the president’s obligation is to protect America from terrorists and outlaw regimes. This is done by staying “on the offensive,” as McClellan will later write, “ending threats by confronting them. And a peaceful, freer, and more stable Middle East is key to our own safety and security. Our job was all about keeping the focus on national security and specifically the war on terrorism, which would become the central theme of the president’s re-election campaign. In this context, the war in Iraq was not only justifiable but essential… we were fighting a broad war on terror in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Coordinating 'Message Push' with Congressional Republicans, Media Conservatives - The “message push” is coordinated with “Republicans in Congress and allies in the media, such as conservative columnists and talk radio personalities [who are] enlisted in the effort and given communications packets with comprehensive talking points aimed at helping them pivot to the message whenever they could. Daily talking points and regular briefings for members and staff would be provided, and rapid, same-news cycle response to any attacks or negative press would be a top priority—an effort Bartlett had spearheaded during the 2000 campaign. It was a determined campaign to seize the media offensive and shape or manipulate the narrative to our advantage.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 174-175)
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who earned accolades from former President George H. W. Bush for his bravery in standing up to Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Gulf War (see September 20, 1990) and journeyed to Niger to find out the truth behind the allegations of Iraqi attempts to purchase uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), says that he is publicly supporting Senator John Kerry (D-MA) for president. Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson have been the victims of Bush administration smear attacks since Wilson published an op-ed debunking the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003). Most notably, Plame Wilson was publicly identified as a covert CIA agent, apparently by two White House officials (see July 14, 2003). (Leiby 10/1/2003)
Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002) enlists a friend, MIT graduate student Jared Schrieber, to email MIT linguistics and philosophy professor Noam Chomsky. Tillman wants to set up a meeting with Chomsky, an opponent of the Bush administration’s war on terror and someone Tillman has long admired. Later, Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, will say that Tillman and Chomsky were to meet after her son completed his military tour of duty in July 2005, a meeting later confirmed by Chomsky. (Fish 4/2006) After Tillman’s death (see April 23, 2004), it will emerge that, like his brother Kevin, a philosophy major, he read widely and was known to family and friends as a deep and independent thinker. Russell Baer, a fellow Ranger who served with the brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan, will recall Tillman saying of the Iraq war, “this war is so f_cking illegal.” His mother will state that, while feeling that the Afghan war was “justified by the September 11 attacks,” her son was against “the whole Iraq war.” Further, a soldier who requests anonymity will say that Tillman “urged him to vote for Bush’s Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Senator John Kerry.” (Collier 9/25/2005; Smith 9/11/2006) Ann Coulter, conservative political commentator, and Sean Hannity, co-host of the Fox News show Hannity & Colmes, will dispute reports that say Tillman respected Chomsky, endorsed Senator John Kerry, or opposed Bush. “I don’t believe it,” Coulter will say. “I don’t believe it either,” Hannity will agree. (Media Matters 9/24/2005; Zirin 10/24/2005)
George W. Bush gives the third state of the union address of his presidency. He states that the Iraq Survey Group found “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities” in Iraq and claims that had his administration “failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction program would continue to this day.” (Drogin and Goetz 11/20/2005) Throughout his address, Bush plays down the WMD issue, which had driven his rhetoric before the invasion (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Now he focuses on the “liberation” of Iraq. He also challenges those who, like Democratic presidential frontrunner John Kerry (D-MA), advocate using law enforcement methodologies over military methods to combat terrorism. “I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all,” he says. “After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that this speech is the opening salvo in the Republicans’ strategy of “characterizing political opponents as less manly than the Top Gun president.” (Rich 2006, pp. 114)
President Bush gives a rare interview to a television show, NBC’s Meet the Press. Bush holds the interview, conducted by Tim Russert, in the Oval Office. (CNN 2/9/2004)
Admits Iraq Had No WMD - Bush concedes that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, but defends his decision to invade it, saying, “Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I’m not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman.” He admits, “I expected to find the weapons.” He continues, “I’m sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid but analysts from other countries thought were valid.” And Iraq “had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum.” But even without proof of Iraqi WMD, Bush says the stakes were so high that “it is essential that when we see a threat, we deal with those threats before they become imminent.” Inaction in Iraq “would have emboldened Saddam Hussein. He could have developed a nuclear weapon over time.” Bush seems surprised when Russert asks if American soldiers had in fact been welcomed as “liberators” in Iraq, as some in his administration had predicted. “I think we are welcomed in Iraq,” he says. “I’m not exactly sure, given the tone of your questions, we’re not.” Resistance there is not surprising, Bush says, because “there are people who desperately want to stop the advance of freedom and democracy.” (NBC News 2/8/2004; McClellan 2008, pp. 202-203)
'War of Choice or War of Necessity?' - Russert continues to ask about the choice to invade Iraq, and at one point asks Bush whether it was a “war of choice or a war of necessity?” Bush responds: “That’s an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It’s a war of necessity. In my judgment, we had no choice, when we look at the intelligence I looked at, that says the man was a threat.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Bush asks him about the question after the interview, and that Bush was “puzzled” by the question. “This, too, puzzled me,” McClellan will write. “Surely this distinction between a necessary, unavoidable war and a war that the United States could have avoided but chose to wage, was an obvious one that Bush must have thought about a lot in the months before the invasion. Evidently it wasn’t obvious to the president, nor did his national security team make sure it was. He set the policy early on and then his team focused his attention on how to sell it. It strikes me today as an indication of his lack of inquisitiveness and his detrimental resistance to reflection, something his advisers needed to compensate for better than they did. Most objective observers today would say that in 2003 there was no urgent need to address the threat posed by Saddam with a large-scale invasion, and therefore the war was not necessary. But this is a question President Bush seems not to want to grapple with.” (NBC News 2/8/2004; McClellan 2008, pp. 202-203)
Bush Says Congress Saw Same Intelligence He Did - Asked whether Congress would have authorized the invasion (see October 10, 2002) if he had explained that, while Iraq may not have possessed WMD, Hussein should be removed because he was a threat to his people, Bush replies, “I went to Congress with the same intelligence Congress saw—the same intelligence I had, and they looked at exactly what I looked at, and they made an informed judgment based upon the information that I had.” Two of Bush’s presidential rivals dispute Bush’s assertion. Senator John Edwards (D-NC) says Bush’s statement that Congress saw the same intelligence information as he did is a “big leap.” Edwards adds: “I’m not certain that’s true. I know the president of the United States receives a different set of information than we receive on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and he receives more information, which he should.” And front-runner Senator John Kerry (D-MA) accuses Bush of backpedaling on the messages he gave Americans to justify going to war. “George Bush needs to take responsibility for his actions and set the record straight,” he says. “That’s the very least that Americans should be able to expect. Either he believed Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, or he didn’t. Americans need to be able to trust their president, and they deserve the truth.” (Knowlton 2/8/2004; NBC News 2/8/2004; CNN 2/9/2004)
Confident of Winning Re-Election - Bush tells Russert that he is confident he will win re-election: “I don’t intend to lose.… I know exactly where I want to lead the country. I have shown the American people I can lead.… I want to lead this world to more peace and freedom.” (Knowlton 2/8/2004; NBC News 2/8/2004; CNN 2/9/2004)
Defends Economic Policies - Bush defends his economic policies, and says that even though under his watch the US has run up a $521 billion deficit and lost 2.2 million jobs, his administration’s policies are more restrained and fiscally sound than those of his predecessor. “I have been the president during a time of tremendous stress on our economy and made the decisions necessary to lead that would enhance recovery,” he says. “The stock market started to decline in March of 2000. That was the first sign that things were troubled. The recession started upon my arrival.” Conservative critics of his administration’s spending, including the Heritage Foundation and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, are “wrong,” he says. “If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined. The other thing that I think it’s important for people who watch the expenditures side of the equation is to understand we are at war… and any time you commit your troops into harm’s way, they must have the best equipment, the best training, and the best possible pay.” (NBC News 2/8/2004; CNN 2/9/2004)
The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) issues a press release condemning the presidential candidacy of General Wesley Clark. The church declares: “Gen. Clark opposed fags and dykes in the military BUT when he decided to run for President on the Democratic ticket he groveled like a mangy dog to the FagiNazis running the Democratic Party, and promised to lift the ban on gays in the military. His Christ-rejecting, God-hating Jew blood bubbled to the surface. Yes, like his boss [Senator John] Kerry [the leading Democratic presidential candidate], Clark is a Jew. That these two turds are Jews would not matter except when they ask for supreme political power and spit in the Face of God, pushing for same-sex marriage, threatening to bring down God’s wrath on us as on Sodom then some inquiries are in order. Beware! Jews killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. Apostate fags and Jews certains [sic] to bring God’s wrath.” (Anti-Defamation League 2012)
At a town hall event in Florida, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry reportedly says, “I’ve met foreign leaders who can’t go out and say it all publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, you gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy [President Bush], we need a new policy, things like that.” White House officials and conservative pundits immediately attack Kerry for his remarks, with Secretary of State Colin Powell telling a Fox News audience: “I don’t know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about. It’s an easy charge, an easy assertion to make, but if he feels that’s [an] important assertion to make, he ought to list names. If he can’t list names, then perhaps he ought to find something else to talk about.” The White House issues a statement saying: “If Senator Kerry is going to say he has support from foreign leaders, he needs to be straightforward with the American people and state who they are.… Or the only conclusion one can draw is he’s making it up to attack the president.” Bush himself says, “If you’re going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts.” Over a week after Kerry’s remarks are published, the pool reporter who reported the original remark, Patrick Healey of the Boston Globe, reports that Kerry did not say “foreign leaders,” but “more leaders” (see March 15, 2004). The correction does little to blunt the criticism of Kerry, who does not directly challenge the assertion, but calls his choice of words “inartful.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will note: “Had this journalistic blunder created a firestorm of controversy around a Republican Party nominee, the conservative opinion leaders would have minimized the damage to their candidate by crying ‘media bias.’ The Democrats didn’t have a comparable argument in their arsenal.” (Johnson 3/15/2004; Associated Press 3/15/2004; Fox News 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 4-5)
Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healey corrects his earlier report that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry claimed “foreign leaders” were privately backing his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Healey, after reviewing the audiotape of Kerry’s remarks, now reports that Kerry did not say “foreign leaders” but said “more leaders,” likely referring to members of Congress. Healey’s correction does little to quell the heavy criticism from the White House and conservative media pundits, who are excoriating Kerry for claiming the support of foreign heads of state without naming them. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 5)
During a campaign stop, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is questioned by Pennsylvania voter Cedric Brown, who demands that Kerry identify the “foreign leaders” he reportedly claimed support his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Kerry responds: “I’ve met with lots of foreign leaders, but let me just say something to you, sir. Just a minute. Just a minute,” gesturing to the audience to allow Brown to continue speaking. “I’m not going to betray a private conversation with anybody and get some leader—they have to deal with this administration” (see March 15, 2004). Brown then accuses Kerry of colluding with those unnamed foreign leaders to “overthrow” the Bush presidency. The exchange becomes somewhat heated, with Brown calling Kerry a “liar” and asks if he secretly met with the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, an assertion advanced by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh (see March 17, 2004). The exchange lasts for about eight minutes. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will perform an in-depth analysis of the media coverage of the Kerry-Brown exchange, and determine that while the mainstream media (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others) generally cover the exchange by reporting both sides fairly evenly (ABC’s coverage tilts towards favoring Kerry’s point of view while CBS’s gives Bush the advantage—see March 15, 2004), the conservative media they analyze (Limbaugh, Fox News, Fox’s Hannity & Colmes, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page) report the story from Brown’s viewpoint, and work to both denigrate Kerry and marginalize mainstream reporting. (Johnson 3/15/2004; Wilgoren 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 5-6)
A Wall Street Journal editorial, responding to reports that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has accepted private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After), accuses Kerry of making private, secret deals with those leaders. “Who are these foreign leaders, and what is Mr. Kerry privately saying that makes them so enthusiastic about his candidacy?” it asks. “What ‘new policy’ is he sharing with them that he isn’t sharing with Americans?” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 17)
ABC News and Fox News are the only major news networks to broadcast a “hard news” report on the day’s exchange between Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and voter Cedric Brown (see March 15, 2004 and After).
CBS: Advantage Bush - CBS gives a brief synopsis of the exchange; neither NBC nor CNN devote much air time to the story. CBS anchor Dan Rather sums up the exchange by providing a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Kerry’s supposed claim of unnamed “foreign leaders” supporting his bid for the presidency (see March 8, 2004 and After and March 15, 2004) and the Bush campaign’s implication that Kerry is lying; the Kerry campaign’s response; and White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s insistence that Kerry either “name names” or admit to “making it up.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write, “By sandwiching the Kerry perspective between an opening and closing statement focused on the Bush perspective, the CBS piece creates a net advantage for the Republicans.”
ABC: Advantage Kerry - The ABC report, by reporter Linda Douglass, goes further in asking about the Bush campaign’s motives in attacking Kerry, and asks if the Bush campaign is not trying to deflect attention from reports about Bush administration misrepresentations about the true costs of its Medicare plan (see June 2003). ABC anchor Elizabeth Varga opens by noting the Bush campaign’s “extraordinary” attack on Kerry’s “credibility,” leading into Douglass’s report, which summarizes the “foreign leaders” controversy, reports the Kerry-Brown exchange, observes that the Kerry campaign is “sidestep[ping]” the accusations that he is lying about the foreign leaders claim, and notes that Kerry accuses the Bush campaign of trying to divert attention from the Medicare controversy. Douglass concludes, “Seven months before the election, the campaign seems to be all about credibility.”
Fox News: Heavy Attack against Kerry - Fox News anchor Brit Hume begins his report by saying, “John Kerry still won’t say who those foreign leaders were, whom he claims are back—who he claims are backing him for president.” The Fox report, by Carl Cameron, begins by claiming Kerry is being “[b]attered for refusing to name foreign leaders that he claims want President Bush defeated,” says Kerry is trying to “get back on offense” by attacking the Bush administration’s failure to fully fund firefighters (an attack “few Americans believe,” Cameron asserts), and notes that Bush defenders accuse Kerry of “voting against the troops” by opposing the $87 billion to stabilize and complete the post-Saddam Iraq occupation. Cameron then quotes unnamed Republicans as calling Kerry an “international man of mystery,” a disparaging comparison to the Austin Powers movie satire, “for his various un-backed-up charges” about the foreign leaders’ support. Cameron ends the report by playing a snippet from the Kerry-Brown exchange where Kerry demanded Brown identify himself as a “registered Republican” (he does not air Brown’s response where he admits to being a Bush supporter) and with the White House’s assertion that “Kerry is making it up to attack the president.” Fox twice has Brown appear as a guest on its news broadcasts. In one, Brown says Kerry “didn’t appear to be honest” during their conversation, says, “I think Senator Kerry betrayed our country,” and calls for a congressional investigation into Kerry’s supposed claim of having “secret” deals for foreign leaders’ backing.
Television Coverage Analysis - Authors Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The strategic frames of Fox and ABC differ. On Fox, Kerry is cast as ‘battered’ and on the strategic defensive (‘Kerry tried to get back on offense and tried to turn the tables on his inquisitors,’) [emphasis added by authors]. By contrasts, ABC situates Kerry as a contender who is ‘determined not to give ground on the war over who is more truthful.’ On Fox, Kerry’s attack is portrayed as an attempt to ‘get back on offense,’ whereas the Bush response is portrayed as motivated by outrage.” Fox “focuses on Kerry’s credibility, while ABC centers on charges and countercharges about the relative truthfulness of Bush and Kerry.” Douglass attributes claims of truth or falsity to the respective campaigns, but Cameron makes blanket assertions—unattributed value judgments—about Kerry’s supposed dishonesty.
Print Media - The print media shows much of the same dichotomy in covering the Kerry-Brown exchange as do ABC and Fox. The Washington Post gives Brown a chance to again accuse Kerry of lying, but calls him “a heckler… who interrupted Kerry’s comments on health care, education and the economy to raise questions about the assertion of foreign endorsements.” The Los Angeles Times describes Brown as “abruptly” shouting over Kerry, and, when the audience tries to shout Brown down, shows Kerry asking the audience to allow Brown to speak. In these and other accounts, Jamieson and Cappella will note, “Kerry’s questioning of the questioner is set in the context of Brown’s interruption, inflammatory charges… and verbal attacks on Kerry.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page joins Fox News in ignoring Brown’s initial interruption and verbal assault on Kerry (see March 15, 2004), and instead focuses on what the Journal’s James Taranto calls “Kerry’s thuggish interrogation of the voter.” Taranto also directs his readers to coverage by Fox News and Limbaugh, who himself accuses Kerry of “browbeating” Brown.
Media Strategies to Denigrate Kerry - Jamieson and Cappella will write, “Specifically taken together, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Sean] Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages marshaled four strategies to marginalize Kerry and undercut his perceived acceptability as a candidate for president: extreme hypotheticals [i.e. Kerry’s supposed ‘secret meeting’ with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il—see March 17, 2004 ], ridicule, challenges to character, and association with strong negative emotion.” Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example, characterize Kerry’s response to Brown as “yelling” and “thuggish,” while other media outlets report Kerry’s response as generally restrained and civil, and Brown as the one shouting and angry. (Johnson 3/15/2004; Gold 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 5-17)
Vice President Dick Cheney weighs in on on the controversy surrounding Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s supposed acceptance of private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After). At an Arizona fundraiser, Cheney says: “[I]t is our business when a candidate for president claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders. At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to them that makes them so supportive of his candidacy.” (Fox News 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 18-19)
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh joins the Wall Street Journal in demanding that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry name the foreign leaders who have supposedly secretly endorsed his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After, March 15, 2004, and March 15, 2004). Limbaugh goes further than the Journal by stating that he believes Kerry’s foreign endorsers are enemy heads of state. “[L]et’s name some names,” he says. “Bashar Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Il in North Korea.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The assertion was ridiculous on its face, and Limbaugh undoubtedly knew it was. Underlying Limbaugh’s trope is the assumption that any leader who would criticize US policy must be an enemy of the country.” Jamieson and Cappella will extend their argument by writing: “Importantly, introduction of the names of villainous foreign leaders exemplifies a rhetorical function that Limbaugh and the conservative opinion hosts serve for the Republican Party: expanding the range of attack by marking out extreme positions that by comparisons make the official position of the Republican candidate or party leaders seem moderate. At the same time, if some in Limbaugh’s audience take the allegation of actual talks with heads of outlaw states serious, as [conservative voter Cedric] Brown appeared to (see March 15, 2004 and After), then the association reinforces, if it does not actively shape, that person’s view that Kerry’s assumptions are extreme and disqualify him from serious consideration as a presidential contender.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 19)
Some are shocked and outraged by President Bush’s jokes about missing WMD during a recent black-tie dinner thrown by the media industry (see March 24, 2004).
John Kerry - Bush’s challenger for the presidency, John Kerry (D-MA), calls Bush’s attitude towards the sacrifices made by the troops “stunningly cavalier,” and adds: “If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he’s even more out of touch than we thought.… Unfortunately for the president, this is not a joke.… 585 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last year, 3,354 have been wounded and there’s no end in sight. George Bush sold us on going to war with Iraq based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But we still haven’t found them, and now he thinks that’s funny?” (BBC 3/26/2004; Teather 3/26/2004)
Al Sharpton - Another Democratic presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton (D-NY), says Bush’s joke is “one of the most despicable acts of a sitting president.” Sharpton continues: “Well, that’s not a joke to us, Mr. Bush. Five hundred soldiers lost their lives, looking for weapons that weren’t there. Billions of taxpayer dollars were spent looking for weapons that weren’t there.”
Veteran - Iraq war veteran Brad Owens says: “War is the single most serious event that a president or government can carry its people into. This cheapens the sacrifice that American soldiers and their families are dealing with every single day.” (BBC 3/26/2004; Associated Press 3/26/2004)
Jerrold Nadler - Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calls Bush’s performance “out of line and in poor taste.… It’s disgusting that during his little performance on stage, the president seemed to forget that people are dying in Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction he lied about.” (Bazinet 3/25/2004)
Dead Soldier's Father - Jorge Medina, whose son Irving Medina was slain in Iraq, retorts: “This is disgraceful. He doesn’t think of all the families that are suffering.… I think this is very distasteful for all of the families who lost a child or parent or relative in Iraq. You know, these men—are liars, bold-faced liars—and I believe that he doesn’t care about the soldiers, and he doesn’t care about the lives who are lost there.… It’s wrong for the soldiers, we are not honoring the soldiers that way. We’re making fun of why they died.” (Democracy Now! 3/26/2004)
DNC Chairman - Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “This is a very serious issue. We’ve lost hundreds of troops, as you know, over there. Let’s not be laughing about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction.… They’re not there. That is the issue. We should not take it to a new step to make fun of the situation.”
Administration Response - The White House insists that Bush was merely poking fun at himself. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refuses to comment on Bush’s presentation, noting that he was not in attendance. (BBC 3/26/2004; Associated Press 3/26/2004)
The Seattle Times publishes several photographs of flag-draped coffins bearing US troops killed in Iraq. The Times is the first newspaper to defy the Pentagon’s ban on such photos appearing in the news media. The photos were taken on April 7 by Tami Silicio, a contract cargo loader for Maytag Aircraft. The photos show caskets being loaded onto a transport plane in Kuwait. “The way everyone salutes with such emotion and intensity and respect,” she says in the Times article accompanying the photo. “The families would be proud to see their sons and daughters saluted like that.… So far this month, almost every night we send them home.… It’s tough. Very tough.” The photo publication provokes a round of criticism from White House officials, who claim the ban is to protect the sensibilities of the families of the fallen, as well as supportive statements from, among others, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Fired over Photos - Days later, both Silicio and her husband, David Landry, another contract worker for Maytag, are fired over the photo controversy. Concurrently, a Web site called the Memory Hole publishes over 300 such photos, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request (Bernton 4/18/2004; Goodman 4/30/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 123) , and provoking more government protests (see April 14, 2004 and After). Many of the Memory Hole photographs were taken at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. (Voice of America 4/23/2007)
Silicio's Photographs to Honor War Dead, Not to Make Political Statement - Silicio’s friends describe her as not particularly involved in politics; Silicio herself says of one particularly stark photo she took: “The picture is about them, not me, about how they served their country, paid the price for our freedom, and the respect they receive on their way home from our military personnel at our air terminal.… I guess my feelings were so built up—my heart was so full of grief. And it came out in the picture.” Of the war, she says: “Our sons and daughters are over there now—and we need to support them. On the other hand, I think we should try to find a solution to the conflict other than killing each other.” (Bernton and Rivera 4/26/2004) She describes herself as feeling “like I was hit in the chest with a steel bar and got my wind knocked out” over being fired. “It wasn’t my intent to lose my job or become famous or anything,” she says. (Bernton 4/22/2004)
'Don't Look' - Shortly after the photos are published, columnist Ellen Goodman writes: “We have shown images of concentration camps and killing fields. The media are full of violence. The recurring question—often unanswered—is how to show that war is hell without the hellishness. Is it wrong to be restrained? Is it invasive, exploitive or honest to show war as horrific? In such a context, how on earth can there be any doubt about showing a sanitized, symbolic array of 20 coffins in a plane or dozens in an aircraft hangar during a month when a hundred Americans are lost? Has our government flunked the confidence test? The disconnect between home front and war front is still enormous. This is a war that demands little sacrifice from civilians. Now those who have made what everyone knows is the ultimate sacrifice are coming home through Dover. And we are asked only one thing: Don’t look.” (Goodman 4/30/2004)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces that it will not permit pharmacies to sell the emergency contraception drug “Plan B” without a prescription. The drug is a “morning-after” birth-control drug that prevents fertilization and the implantation of the embryo. The agency explains to the manufacturer of the drug, Barr Pharmaceuticals, that the government is worried about the possibility that teenaged girls might not understand how to correctly use the drug without a doctor’s advice. The FDA’s decision is in direct contradiction of a federal advisory panel’s 23-4 decision to recommend approving the drug for over-the-counter sales, including to teenagers, without a doctor’s approval. The FDA’s staff recommended that the agency follow the panel’s recommendation. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Normally, agencies such as the FDA base their decisions on the information provided by their expert advisory panels—but, strangely, not this time.” A spokesman for the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) says: “By overruling a recommendation by an independent FDA review board, the White House is putting its own political interests ahead of sound medical policies that have broad support. This White House is more interested in appealing to its electoral base than it is in protecting women’s health.” James Trussell, director of the office of population research at Princeton University and a member of the advisory board, says, “The White House has now taken over the FDA.” Numerous women’s groups accuse the FDA’s political appointees of overruling the experts in order to please social conservatives who believe that the “Plan B” drug encourages promiscuity and is a form of abortion. In the following months, a lawsuit will be filed to have the FDA’s decision overturned (see January 21, 2005 and After). (Harris 3/7/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 300-301)
Conservative radio host Michael Savage marks the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education by saying, “Everything about [the case] is sickening.” Savage criticizes President Bush for “trying to outmaneuver [Democratic presidential candidate John] Kerry on the race issue” by being photographed “hugging people of color” at a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Savage calls the idea that there is racism in America “left-wing brainwashing.… [W]hat, racism still exists? Well okay, where does it still exist? Can you tell me of some minority here who can’t get ahead in this country if he’s smart, or she’s smart, and she pushes, as much as a white person?… In fact they’re given priority treatment everywhere, you know that.” Savage calls a recent claim by Kerry that schools remain underfunded and divided by income “rubbish, pure rubbish,” and implies that African-American children will perform at lower levels than their white counterparts no matter how equal funding is: “I can show you one minority school after another, with more funding per capita than surrounding, suburban white schools, and the kids still do badly. Okay? Take that—put that in your pipe and smoke it, and go explain it to yourself, because I know the reasons why.” (Media Matters 5/21/2004)
The General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the Bush administration broke two federal laws as part of its publicity campaign to promote its new Medicare prescription drug policies. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) illegally spent federal monies on what amounts to covert propaganda in producing and distributing “video news releases,” or VNRs, to local television news broadcasters around the country that were designed to look like objective news reports (see March 15, 2004). The GAO findings do not carry legal weight, because the GAO acts as an adviser to Congress. The viewers in the more than 40 cities who saw the reports did not know they were watching government-produced videos anchored by public relations “flacks” paid by HHS who were not real reporters. The VNRs have only fueled criticism of the Medicare prescription drug coverage program, which gives private health care firms and prescription drug companies a much larger role in providing and setting prices for Medicare recipients’ prescriptions. Democrats have long insisted that the law cripples Medicare beneficiaries’ ability to receive low-cost prescriptions in favor of funneling Medicare dollars into the pharmaceutical companies’ coffers; with the GAO findings, Democrats now say that the government used illegal propaganda tactics to “sell” the citizenry on the new program. The administration has already admitted that the program will cost hundreds of billions of dollars more than originally claimed. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) calls the videos “another example of how this White House has misrepresented its Medicare plan.” Kerry’s Senate colleague, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), says: “The new GAO opinion is yet another indictment of the deception and dishonesty that has become business as usual for the Bush administration. It was bad enough to conceal the cost of the Medicare drug bill from the Congress and the American people. It is worse to use Medicare funds for illegal propaganda to try to turn this lemon of a bill into lemonade for the Bush campaign.” The Bush administration continues to insist that the VNR program is legal. “GAO opinions are not binding on the executive branch. That’s an opinion of the GAO. We don’t agree,” says HHS spokesman Bill Pierce, who justifies the VNR usage by pointing to their ubiquitous usage in corporate settings. Asked if he understands that a viewer might be angry at being led to believe that the VNRs were real news stories, Pierce replies, “If I’m a viewer, I’d be angry at my television station.” (Goldstein 5/20/2004; Kemper 5/20/2004)
The Bush administration, pressured by increasingly harsh condemnations from the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry, grudgingly agrees to consider opening bilateral talks with North Korea over that country’s restarted nuclear program. Previously, the US had been one of six nations involved in such negotiations, which have gone nowhere in large part due to US intransigence (see August 2003). The Bush administration has also insisted on the importance of Chinese involvement in the talks, which serves to raise China’s profile in the region and lower the US’s. Bush officials offer North Korea a deal in which that nation would provide an accounting of all its nuclear facilities; in return the US would broker a resumption of fuel oil shipments to the North by South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia, and would consider drafting security assurances (see December 12, 2003) and lifting economic sanctions. Instead of accepting, North Korea chooses to wait and see if Kerry can oust President Bush from the White House. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 242)
Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, finally accepts the fact that he cannot successfully spin or browbeat the commission staff into reporting links between Iraq and al-Qaeda as factual (see July 12, 2004). His most recent efforts to rewrite a report claiming such links was thwarted by angry commission staffers (see January 2004), and for months he has dodged charges that he is a White House “plant,” there to ensure the commission makes the kind of conclusions that Bush officials want it to make. Now, he finally admits that there is no evidence to support the claim of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, although there was some minor contact. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The intelligence showed that when bin Laden wanted to do business with Iraq, Iraq did not want to do business with al-Qaeda…. Saddam Hussein saw [Osama] bin Laden… as a threat to his own very brutal and very secular rule in Iraq.” The widely reported story about 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi spy in Prague (see April 8, 2001 and September 14, 2001) has been examined and re-examined, and found to be unsupported (see December 2001). Zelikow is forced to admit the reality of the situation. Shenon will write: “Even if he wanted to, there was little Zelikow could do to rescue the administration now…. If Zelikow tried to tamper with the report now, he knew he risked a public insurrection by the staff, with only a month before the commission’s final report was due.” Bush officials are horrified at the prospect of the commission reporting flatly that there are no verifiable links of any kind between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Since the failure of the US to find WMDs in Iraq, the Bush administration has shifted its rationale for invading that nation—now it was a punitive measure against one of the backers of the 9/11 attacks, and senior Bush officials, most notably Vice President Cheney, have been advocating that point for over a year. (Shenon 2008, pp. 381-385)
The Justice Department announces to the press they have thwarted an imminent terror plot to bomb malls in Ohio. A Somali native residing in Ohio is charged with plotting to blow up a Columbus shopping mall. It is alleged that he was part of a group of al-Qaeda operatives. Attorney General John Ashcroft says, “The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an al-Qaeda cell which allegedly included a Somali immigrant who will now face justice.” The man, Nuradin Mahamoud Abdi, is alleged to have obtained refugee documentation under false pretenses and to have attended terrorist training camps in Ethiopia. Although authorities would not state how many were involved in the plot, they do name admitted al-Qaeda member Iyman Faris as a co-conspirator (see Mid-March 2003). Faris, serving a 20-year sentence for providing material support to terrorism and conspiracy to provide material support, plead guilty in May 2003 to plotting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and to providing sleeping bags, mobile phones, and cash to al-Qaeda operatives. He later withdrew this plea, but was subsequently convicted. (CBS News 6/14/2004) Later it is revealed that Abdi had been arrested November 28, 2003, for his connections to terrorism, so there is nothing “imminent” in the case. Court papers filed by the government allege the existence of a plot from March 2000. His indictment isn’t announced until June 15, 2004, and it makes no mention of the shopping mall plot publicly announced the day before. (Perry 6/15/2004) The Justice Department announcement comes as Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry leads President Bush by seven points in early Ohio polls. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 )
The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) attempts to rebut a 60 Minutes appearance by former President Bill Clinton by buying television time to accuse Clinton of leaving the US unprepared for the 9/11 attacks. Clinton appears on the CBS newsmagazine to discuss his upcoming autobiography, My Life. In the book, Clinton says that CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) helped to create the Whitewater scandal that plagued his second presidential term and led to his impeachment by the Republican-led House of Representatives. Bossie has published a book, Intelligence Failure, blaming the Clinton administration for leaving the country vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks. Bossie recently told an interviewer that he has been working on “uncovering the truth” about the Clinton administration for a decade. “I am going to make sure people remember the facts, not just what he wants people to remember,” he said. Bossie’s organization runs a commercial in several markets listing a number of terrorist attacks during Clinton’s two terms, and accusing Clinton of leaving the nation unprepared for the 9/11 assault. The CU refutation is just one of a number of conservative attacks on Clinton over his book, possibly because Clinton shows signs of being willing to join Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on the campaign trail. A number of conservatives are advising the Kerry campaign to keep its distance from Clinton. (Kirkpatrick and Seelye 6/21/2004)
David Bossie (see May 1998), the head of the conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU), accuses liberal filmmaker Michael Moore of improper involvement in the presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Moore and the production company Lions Gate have released a new documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, that is highly critical of the Bush administration (see June 25, 2004). Bossie says the film’s commercials, airing on network and cable television, are little more than campaign commercials devised to attack President Bush and assist Kerry. One commercial shows Bush on the golf course, talking about terrorism. In the clip, Bush tells a group of reporters, “We must stop these terrorist killers,” then turns his back, hefts his golf club, and says, “Now watch this drive.” The New York Times writes that “[t]he scene is one of many featured in the film that paint the president as cavalier, cynical, and insincere in the war against terrorism.” Republicans have for the most part ignored the film until recently, when ads for the film began drawing what they consider unwarranted attention. Bossie says: “There’s only a very small percentage of Americans that are going to go and see this movie. A much larger number are going to be bombarded by these political ads run by Michael Moore, potentially all the way through the election.” CU has run ads supportive of Bush (see (May 11, 2004)). Bossie has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking that agency to classify the film’s ads as political, and restrict their broadcast according to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003). The law says that if found to be political, the ads must not be aired within 30 days of the start of the Republican National Convention on August 30. Legal experts say the FEC is unlikely to rule on the complaint for months, and even if the agency finds the ads to be political, the film could qualify for an exemption from the restrictions for news and commentary. Tom Ortenberg of Lions Gate says, “If we are still running television ads [by July 30], we will make certain that they are in full compliance with any and all regulations.” If they must remove Bush from the ads to remain in compliance, Ortenberg says “we can market this film without him.” Ortenberg denies that the ads have any political agenda. (Rutenberg 6/27/2004) After Lions Gate agrees not to show ads for the film after July 30, the FEC will dismiss the complaint (see August 6, 2004).
On July 6, John Kerry named John Edwards as his running mate. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) This produced a slight increase in the opinion polls and a media focus on the Kerry campaign. (MSNBC 6/4/2007) Two days later, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warns that “Al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.” (Department of Homeland Security 7/8/2004) Officials cite “alarming” intelligence about a possible al-Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall and admit they are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of an attack. Officials point to the recent Madrid train bombings as an attempt by al-Qaeda to influence the political process in a democratic nation (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Intercepted chatter leads one analyst to say, “they want to interfere with the elections.” It is reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze the necessary legal steps that would permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. (Isikoff 7/19/2004) The head of the US Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., confirms he has written to Tom Ridge to discuss this prospect. (MSNBC 6/4/2007) Soaries notes that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001 was suspended by the State Board of Elections after the attacks, “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.” Soaries advises Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress that would grant such power to the DHS. DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says, “We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election.” (Isikoff 7/19/2004) A top European spy says of the threat, “I am aware of no intelligence, nothing that shows there will be an attack before the US presidential election.” No attack will materialize and no further information on the threat will be presented to the public. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) Ridge will later concede that he had no “precise knowledge” of the attack he warned against, and he never made plans to raise the color-coded threat level. (Rich 2006, pp. 146)
On July 8, 2004, the New Republic predicts a “July surprise” from the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign involving the arrest of a high-value target in Pakistan by the end of the month. The magazine reports that in the spring of 2004, the administration increased pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, all believed to be hiding in Pakistan. Bush officials such as CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his assistant, Christina Rocca, State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, and others all visited Pakistan in recent months to urge Pakistan to increase its efforts in the war on terrorism. The New Republic comments, “This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November.” Bush spokespeople deny that the administration exerted any such pressure. But according to one source in the Pakistani ISI, “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the US administration to deliver before the [upcoming] US elections.” Another source in the Pakistani Interior Ministry says, “The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections.” And another ISI source says that the Pakistanis “have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must.” The Pakistanis have even been given a target date, according to the second ISI source: “The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ISI director Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq’s] meetings in Washington.” The source says that a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that “it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July”—the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. One Pakistani general said recently, “If we don’t find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess [relating to A. Q. Khan] up our _sshole.” The Bush administration apparently is using a carrot-and-stick approach to make sure such an arrest takes place on schedule. The New Republic observes: “Pushing Musharraf to go after al-Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president’s reelection is at stake.” (Judis, Ackerman, and Ansari 7/29/2004) Pakistan will announce the capture of al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on July 29, just hours before Democratic presidential John Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The authors of the New Republic article will claim vindication for their prediction (see July 25-29, 2004).
As President Bush attempts to recast the Iraq invasion from being a military strike designed to eliminate the looming threat of Iraqi WMD into a larger strategy of bringing peace to the Middle East (see July 12, 2004), Vice President Dick Cheney adds a second thrust to the assertion by accusing Democrats of “trying to rewrite history for their own political purposes” when they criticize the administration for going to war based on flawed intelligence. Referring to Democratic presidential contenders Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John Edwards (D-NC), who received some of the same intelligence reports the White House did before the war, Cheney says: “Now it seems they’ve both developed a convenient case of campaign amnesia. If the president was right—and he was—then they are simply trying to rewrite history for their own political purposes.” The Kerry campaign retorts that Bush and Cheney “are the ones with amnesia.… It’s as if they’ve forgotten that their go-it-alone foreign policy has made America bear the overwhelming share of casualties and costs in Iraq,” according to a campaign spokesman. (Goldstein 7/13/2004)
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a high-level al-Qaeda operative from Tanzania suspected of participating in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, is captured in Gujrat, Pakistan, after a violent standoff with Pakistani police. (CNN 8/3/2004) Ghailani’s arrest is publicly announced on July 29, four days later. The announcement by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Faisal Hayat is made in an unusual late-night press conference that takes place just hours before John Kerry accepts the Democratic nomination for president. (Haqqani 8/17/2004) Pakistani authorities say the announcement of Ghailani’s arrest was delayed four days because of the need to confirm his identity before making the proclamation. (BBC 7/30/2004) But former Pakistani official Husain Haqqani later claims the announcement was timed to upstage the Kerry speech. (Haqqani 8/17/2004; United States Conference on International Religious Freedom 6/30/2005) An article in the New Republic published earlier in the month reported that the Bush administration was asking Pakistan to make high-profile arrests of al-Qaeda suspects during the Democratic National Convention in order to redirect US media attention from the nomination of John Kerry (see July 8, 2004). (Judis, Ackerman, and Ansari 7/29/2004) John Judis, who co-wrote the article predicting such an arrest, says the day after the arrest is announced, “Well, the latest development pretty much confirms what we wrote in the article, which is that there was pressure for Pakistan to produce a high-value target during the last 10 days of July and to announce that arrest.” He also asks why is it “they announced [the arrest] at all? Because when you have somebody who’s been in hiding since 1998, they have an enormous amount of information and contacts. By announcing this guy’s arrest, what you do is you warn off everybody who’s been associated with him from the last five or six years. You tell them that they better get their act together or they are going to be found. So, there’s some, really a lot of questions of why they announced this thing when they did.… It may be in this case that we—that we, and the Pakistanis got somebody and prematurely announced this person’s arrest in order to have an electoral impact.” (Democracy Now! 7/30/2004)
The Republican National Committee (RNC) requires supporters to sign a “loyalty oath” to President Bush before distributing tickets to a rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, featuring Vice President Dick Cheney. The rally takes place on July 31. Anyone who is not a verifiable Republican contributor or volunteer must sign the following oath before receiving their tickets: “I, [full name]… do herby (sic) endorse George W. Bush for reelection of the United States.” The form warns that signers “are consenting to use and release of your name by Bush-Cheney as an endorser of President Bush.” The RNC says the “loyalty oaths” are designed to keep “hecklers” out of the rally, and a local official says a “Democrat operative group” was trying to infiltrate the limited-seating event. The Washington Post later reports that the local GOP refused to give tickets to even uncommitted voters who wanted to hear Cheney speak. The presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) has long charged that the Bush campaign routinely screens attendees of Bush’s speeches. A spokesman for the Kerry campaign says Democrats would not impose any sort of loyalty requirements on people attending their nominees’ speeches. The Post notes that at a recent Kerry appearance in New Mexico, a group of young men in the crowd began chanting “Viva Bush!” during Kerry’s speech. (Milbank 8/1/2004)
The Bush administration issues a terror alert in the wake of the Democratic presidential convention, which ended on July 29, 2004. New Code Orange alerts are put into effect for New York City, Newark, and Washington, DC. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says, “Now this afternoon, we do have new and unusually specific information about where al-Qaeda would like to attack.… Compared to previous threat reporting, these intelligence reports have provided a level of detail that is very specific. The quality of this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information.… As of now, this is what we know: reports indicate that al-Qaeda is targeting several specific buildings, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the District of Columbia; Prudential Financial in Northern New Jersey; and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York.” (Department of Homeland Security 8/1/2004; Eggen and Priest 8/3/2004) But Ridge fails to mention that the so-called “casing disks” are from 2000 and 2001, nor does he discuss the fact that the decision on whether to issue the alerts had been hotly debated by officials over the weekend. Within 24 hours, the age of the intelligence is leaked, causing a controversy about the merit and urgency of the orange alert. (Suskind 2006, pp. 325-326) The next day it will be revealed that the warning was based on information from the computer of recently captured al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan (see August 2, 2004). President Bush and his top advisors learned of the arrest and subsequent “turning” of Noor Khan just the day before. They decide to publicize an alert based on data captured with Noor Khan, even though doing so could jeopardize a sting operation launched just days earlier in which Noor Khan is contacting dozens of al-Qaeda operatives around the world (see July 24-25, 2004). (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004) But even though Khan was arrested just weeks before, one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert says, “There is nothing right now that we’re hearing that is new. Why did we go to this level?… I still don’t know that.” Homeland Security officials admit that that there is no indication that any terrorist action was imminent. “What we’ve uncovered is a collection operation as opposed to the launching of an attack,” says one. However, administration officials insist that even three-year-old intelligence, when coupled with other information about al-Qaeda’s plans to attack the US, justifies the security response in the three cities. President Bush says of the alerts, “It’s serious business. I mean, we wouldn’t be, you know, contacting authorities at the local level unless something was real.” A senior counterterrorism official says, “Most of the information is very dated but you clearly have targets with enough specificity, and that pushed it over the edge. You’ve got the Republican convention coming up, the Olympics, the elections…. I think there was a feeling that we should err on the side of caution even if it’s not clear that anything is new.” (Eggen and Priest 8/3/2004) Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean says he worries “every time something happens that’s not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism. It’s just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there’s some of both.” But conservatives defend the alert and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry swiftly moves to disassociate his campaign from Dean’s remarks. (Conason 8/4/2007) Author William Rivers Pitt points out that Laura Bush and daughters Barbara and Jenna make high-profile visits to the Citigroup Center in New York City on the first day of Ridge’s new orange alert. Noting this was one of the target buildings, Pitt asks, “George W. Bush sent his entire family to the very place that was supposedly about to be blown to smithereens?” Pitt concludes, “Bush and his administration officials are using terrorism—the fear of it, the fight against it—to manipulate domestic American politics. They are, as they have every day for almost three years now, using September 11 against their own people.” (Pitt 8/4/2004)
Former Pakistani government official Husain Haqqani says that Pakistan, not the US government, may have originally leaked the news to the international press that Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant for the US and Pakistan, was a double agent (see August 2, 2004). The leak of Khan’s identity ruins his capability to provide information about al-Qaeda and allows senior al-Qaeda operatives to escape arrest. Haqqani writes that there are two possible reasons for Pakistan’s decision to leak such damaging information: either Pakistani officials were eager to demonstrate their success in penetrating al-Qaeda, or, more likely, that Pakistan wanted to curb the inroads being made into al-Qaeda in order to keep the terrorist group safe and functional. A second leak, from Pakistani intelligence officials like the first, fingered US officials for the leak. The US government accepted the responsibility for outing Khan because, Haqqani writes, administration officials were complicit in the leak, and because the Bush administration is involved in a twisted, mutually duplicitous relationship with the Musharraf regime of Pakistan: “ostensibly driven by the mutual desire for security, there is clearly a political element to the relationship related to the survival of both the Bush and the Musharraf governments.” (Haqqani 8/17/2004) On August 6, 2004, former President Bill Clinton accused the Bush administration of essentially contracting out US security and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Pakistan in its zeal to wage war in Iraq (see August 6, 2004). One consequence of the decision to subcontract the hunt for members of al-Qaeda to Pakistan is that the terrorists appear to be regrouping and regaining in strength. (Eggen and Lancaster 8/14/2004) Haqqani believes that the two have mutual political concerns: while Pakistan cooperates, to a point, in hunting down al-Qaeda members, the government of Pervez Musharraf is more secure. In return, Pakistani officials, known for their reticence, have lately been unusually forthcoming in issuing well-timed reports designed to help Bush’s re-election efforts. For instance, on July 29, just hours before John Kerry’s speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Pakistan’s interior minister, Faisal Hayat, held an unusual late-night press conference announcing the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the man wanted for the 1998 terrorist bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see July 25-29, 2004). (Haqqani 8/17/2004)
Sproul & Associates, a Republican-financed consulting firm, contracts a temporary employment agency in West Virginia to hire people to register only Republicans. The hirees are provided with scripts that encourage deceptive practices and are told little about the consulting firm for whom they will be working. One of those initially hired for the job is Lisa Bragg, a 37-year-old resident of St. Albans. Responding to an ad for a “customer service” position, she visits Kelly Services, a national temp agency, in August 2004 and is offered a job. At first, the company doesn’t provided any details about the job. But the next day, when she attends an orientation, she learns that she will be registering Republican voters. Though another voter registration group in the same community which registers people of all political persuasions pays canvassers only $5.50 an hour, this job is paying $9 an hour. She and the other applicants will be canvassing at One Stop convenience stores throughout the Charleston region. According to a script provided by Kelly Services, the canvassers will approach One Stop customers and ask whether they support George Bush or John Kerry. If they indicate that they plan to vote for Bush, the canvassers should ask if the person is registered to vote and then offer a voter registration card if the person answers no. However, if the person is a Kerry supporter, they should only say thank you and provide the person with a registration card if asked. If anyone asks questions, the firm advises, “Only state you are there to conduct a simple field poll to see what neighborhood support is… a nonpartisan registration drive” If the person becomes angry, they should quietly listen and remember, “The goal is to register Republicans and to remain positive.” The canvassers are also told that people will be checking up on them in the field. Bragg later says in interviews with the press that she thinks the purpose of the monitoring was to make sure the canvassers keep to their script and avoid registering Democrats. The script is printed on Sproul & Associates and America Votes letterhead. But Sproul & Associates is not affiliated with America Votes. Kelly Services does not divulge information about Sproul to the canvassers. According to Bragg, instead the temp agency advises,“[T]he less you know about the company, the better off you are, especially if the media would come asking questions.” Bragg, a Democrat, declines the job and instead tells her story to the Charleston Gazette and Salon. (Searls 8/20/2004; Manjoo 10/21/2004)
Three psychologists, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenburg, and Tom Pyszcznyski, conduct an experiment on 131 students at Rutgers University. All 131 are registered to vote and say they intend to vote in the upcoming presidential election. A control group registers a 4-1 preference for Democrat John Kerry over President Bush, a Republican—an unsurprising result given the relatively liberal makeup of the student body. However, among the students who are subjected to so-called “mortality reminders”—subliminal flashes of the phrases “911” and “WTC” in between word associations—the preference is 2-1 for Bush. (Unger 2007, pp. 318; Judis 8/27/2007)
ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) launches a campaign to register thousands of new voters in Florida, using a referendum that would raise the state’s minimum wage as a method to drum up support. One study shows that the referendum, if enacted, would raise salaries among the working poor by $443 million. A coalition driven by ACORN registers some 210,000 new voters, mostly in urban areas, before Election Day. Opponents of the referendum—mostly business leaders and Florida Republicans—fight back by mounting an ad campaign comparing the effect of the raised minimum wage to the devastation wrought by Florida’s recent hurricanes, and labeling it a “job killer.” They also level accusations of voter fraud, accusing the coalition of filing thousands of fraudulent registrations. National and state Democrats are hesitant to embrace the referendum, even though some polls show that as many as 81 percent of Floridians support it. Presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) rarely mentions the referendum during his campaign swings through the state. Although Kerry loses Florida and Republicans win a majority of the Congressional elections, the referendum wins in a landslide, garnering 77 percent of the votes cast and winning in every county, including the conservative counties in the Panhandle. In 2010, author John Atlas will write, “Kerry made the fatal mistake of not publicly embracing the minimum wage ballot.” (Atlas 2010, pp. 112-114)
Vice President Dick Cheney says that a victory by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in the upcoming election will put the US at risk of another “devastating” terrorist attack along the lines of 9/11. Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards, calls Cheney’s remarks “un-American.” Cheney tells a group of Republican supporters in Iowa that they need to make “the right choice” in the November 2 election. “If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we’ll get hit again—that we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States,” Cheney says. “And then we’ll fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset, if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts and that we’re not really at war. I think that would be a terrible mistake for us.” Edwards responds: “Dick Cheney’s scare tactics crossed the line.… What he said to the American people was that if you go to the polls in November and elect anyone other than us, and another terrorist attack occurs, then it’s your fault. This is un-American. The truth is that it proves once again that they will do anything and say anything to keep their jobs.” Edwards says that a Kerry administration “will keep the American people safe, and we will not divide the country to do it.” Cheney spokeswoman Anne Womack says Cheney’s comments merely reflect “a difference in policy” between the Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards tickets, and adds: “This is nothing new. This is nothing inconsistent with his views. This is an overreaction to something we have used repeatedly and consistently. This is something that both the president and vice president have talked about consistently, the need to learn the lessons of 9/11. He was not connecting the dots.” Later, Womack complains that Cheney’s remarks were taken out of context: “If you take the whole quote, the vice president stands by his statement. But if you just take a chunk, that’s not what he meant.” (CNN 9/7/2004)
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) to advertise on television its upcoming film Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die, a documentary that the group intends as a refutation of the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The FEC also refuses to allow CU to pay to run the film on television. The FEC bases its decision on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold—see March 27, 2002), and its restrictions on nonprofit groups such as CU using unregulated contributions to pay for “electioneering communications” to be shown within 60 days of a federal general election. CU would broadcast the film in late September, less than 60 days before the November 2 elections. CU argued, unsuccessfully, that it is a member of the news media and therefore can use a legal exemption provided for news, commentary, and editorial content. In a 4-0 vote, the FEC rejects the argument, saying that CU intends to buy air time instead of being paid to provide content, and that its primary function is as an advocacy group and not a film production organization. FEC vice chair Ellen L. Weintraub, one of the commission’s three Democrats, says: “You don’t want a situation where people are airing campaign commercials and they are exempt from commission rules because they are considered a media event. The danger is that the exemption swallows the rules.” CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he is “clearly disappointed” with the ruling, and adds, “They [the FEC] want to limit free speech, and that’s what this issue is about for us.” The company marketing Fahrenheit 9/11 was not allowed to run advertisements promoting the film within 60 days of the elections, and a CU complaint against that film was dismissed after its distributors promised not to air such advertisements (see August 6, 2004). CU has helped fund the publication of a book by Bossie attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), and has released numerous documentaries attacking the Clinton administration and the United Nations. The current film contains some material attacking Kerry, though that material is not the primary focus of the film. Bossie says the group will attempt to show the film in theaters to paying audiences within a few weeks (see September 27-30, 2004). (Justice 9/9/2004; Tierney 9/30/2004)
The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” (Tierney 9/30/2004) In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” (Kennicott 10/22/2004) TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” (McDonagh 10/2004)
In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. (Franks 10/19/2004) Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” (Knight Ridder 10/30/2004) Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. (Bergen 10/28/2004) In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). (Spiegel 1/3/2006) In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” (Clarke 6/20/2006) In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).
New York Times columnist William Safire accuses the Kerry-Edwards campaign of trying to use homophobia in its attempts to defeat the Bush-Cheney ticket. Safire notes that in a recent debate, vice-presidential candidate John Edwards “smarmily compliment[ed]” Vice President Dick Cheney and his family for their acceptance of their openly gay daughter, Mary Cheney. Though Safire acknowledges that Cheney has referred to his daughter as gay several times before, until Edwards’s comment, “only political junkies knew that a member of the Cheney family serving on the campaign staff was homosexual… the press—respecting family privacy—had properly not made it a big deal.” Safire says Edwards’s remark was planned and orchestrated by the Kerry campaign debate preparation team, and says that Kerry’s recent reference to the Cheneys’ “lesbian” daughter was a deliberate and “sleazy” attempt to foment anti-gay sentiment against the Republican ticket, particularly among Bush supporters. Safire notes that because of the Bush administration’s support for anti-gay legislation, the Kerry campaign has declared Mary Cheney “fair game” for bringing up the administration’s opposition to gay rights. Safire also says that the term “lesbian” is itself an anti-gay slur. (Safire 10/18/2004) Safire does not note the repeated denials by the Kerry campaign that any such orchestration took place, or that the campaign intends to do anything besides highlight the Bush presidency’s opposition to gay rights; some of those denials were reported by the Times itself. On October 16, Kerry said of Edwards’s comment: “It was meant as a very constructive comment, in a positive way. I respect their love for their daughter and I respect who she is, as they do.… I think it was a way of saying, ‘Look, she’s who she is.’ I have great respect for her, great respect for them. It was meant constructively in terms of their love and affection for a person who is who she is.” Kerry and his aides have repeatedly denied any such orchestration as Safire alleges. “There were dozens and dozens of hours about how to discuss Social Security, Iraq, and other issues,” says campaign strategist Joe Lockhart. “There was no discussion of this.” (Wilgoren 10/16/2004) Knight Ridder has reported that a “senior Kerry adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity because the campaign didn’t want to fan publicity on this topic,” said that Kerry’s mention of Mary Cheney “was not a prepared riff.” Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog organization, notes that contrary to Safire’s assertions, many voters already knew that Mary Cheney was gay long before the debates. A search of a commercial news database shows 432 results for “Cheney” and “gay daughter.” Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz has written that the fact of Mary Cheney’s homosexuality is “hardly a state secret.” (Media Matters 10/18/2004)
In a two-pronged attack on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft cast aspersions on Kerry’s ability to fight terrorism, with Ashcroft leaving the impression that God will withdraw his protection from the US if Kerry becomes president. Cheney tells a campaign audience in Ohio that one day soon the US might face terrorists “in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us,” including a nuclear bomb. Cheney says: “The biggest threat we face now as a nation is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us—biological agents or a nuclear weapon or a chemical weapon of some kind—to be able to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.… You have to get your mind around that concept.” Cheney questions Kerry’s strength of character and resolve to face such a possibility: “John Kerry would lead you to believe he has the same kind of view that George Bush has, that he would be tough and aggressive. I don’t believe it. I don’t think there’s any evidence to support the proposition that he would, in fact, do it.” A Kerry campaign spokesperson retorts that Cheney “has the audacity to question whether a decorated combat veteran who has bled on the battlefield [Kerry] is tough and aggressive enough to keep America safe.… He wants to scare Americans about a possible nuclear 9/11 while the Bush administration has been on the sidelines while the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, have increased.” Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards, notes: “You don’t keep this country safe by giving a speech. You keep it safe by what you do.” As for Ashcroft, he tells an audience at the US Chamber of Commerce that God has protected the nation from another 9/11-like attack. “For three years, our nation has been blessed,” Ashcroft says. “But the hand of Providence has been assisted by the dedicated men and women of the Department of Justice. In three years, we have compiled a record of achievement that is impressive by peacetime standards.” (Archibold 10/19/2004) The New York Times will later chide Ashcroft “for suggesting that God had spared America from an attack since 9/11 because President Bush’s team was assisting ‘the hand of Providence,’” and Cheney for being “irresponsible” and “reckless” in “suggesting that a vote for Mr. Kerry is a vote for the terrorists.” The Times writes that a large “part of the government’s role is to maintain the highest possible level of credibility. Turning our fears about a terrorist attack into just another campaign commercial undermines this trust and makes us all more vulnerable.” (New York Times 10/21/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 147)
The CIA analyzes bin Laden’s new speech, which was released four days before the US presidential election (see October 29, 2004), and concludes that it improves George Bush’s reelection chances. According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA, which has “spent years… parsing each word of the al-Qaeda leader,” knows that “bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons—and those reasons are debated with often startling depth inside the organization’s leadership.” The analysts conclude that “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the president’s reelection.” Deputy Director John McLaughlin says in a meeting analyzing the speech, “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the president.” CIA deputy associate director Jami Miscik similarly comments, “Certainly, he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.” However, the CIA does not discuss why bin Laden wants Bush to stay. Suskind will write, “But an ocean of hard truths before them—such as what did it say about US policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected—remained untouched.” CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen will later say: “It was sad. We just sat there. We were dispirited.” Several National Security Council members have already reached the conclusion that bin Laden’s presence on the international stage helps Bush (see October 29, 2004). Both presidential candidates condemn bin Laden. John Kerry says, “As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden.” George Bush says, “Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 335-6) Several commentators believe the intervention will help Bush, for example:
Veteran journalist Walter Cronkite says, “I have a feeling that it could tilt the election a bit. In fact, I’m a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.” (CNN 10/29/2004)
Roger Simon of US News and World Report says, “I don’t have any trouble parsing out who this helps. I think this is an enormous boost for George Bush.” (CNN 10/29/2004)
MSNBC host Chris Matthews says, “The big thing in politics, of course, is picking the right topic… This creates a terrible situation for the challenger, because it seems to me that Karl Rove has his finger on this.” (MSNBC 10/29/2004)
MSNBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell says, “It makes it harder for Kerry, and it shifts the subject matter back to what George Bush is strongest on. So the Bush people may not say that they are happy about this, but I’m sure that they could not be more pleased that this is the subject of the closing days. How do you say October surprise? This is one that could benefit the president.” (MSNBC 10/29/2004)
CNBC co-host Lawrence Kudlow says, “It will play into Bush’s hands.… it falls into Bush’s lap. And unlike 2000, I think it’s the kind of thing that will cause the remaining undecided voters in the next 72 hours or so to break for Bush.” (Luntz et al. 10/29/2004)
Weekly Standard staff writer Stephen Hayes says, “I think that, as most people have indicated, that is likely to help President Bush.” (Luntz et al. 10/29/2004)
Other commentators from across the political spectrum who suggest the speech will help Bush include Fox News correspondent Major Garrett, Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle, Time magazine correspondent Karen Tumulty, former plumber G. Gordon Liddy, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, the Cook Political Report editor and publisher Charlie Cook, Washington Post journalist Jeffery Birnhaum, and Roll Call executive editor Morton Kondracke. (Wilson et al. 10/29/2004; Wilson et al. 10/29/2004; CNN 10/29/2004; Luntz et al. 10/29/2004; Buchanan et al. 10/29/2004) Some right wing commentators suggest that the tape will help Kerry, including Fox News political commentator Dick Morris, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and author Peggy Noonan. (Gibson 10/29/2004; Wilson et al. 10/29/2004; Fox News 10/29/2004; Fox News 10/29/2004) A Newsweek poll shows that Bush’s lead increases after the tape is released and, after the election, John Kerry, the losing Democratic candidate, will attribute his failure to bin Laden’s intervention: “We were rising in the polls until the last day the tape appeared. We flat-lined the day the tape appeared, and went down on Monday.” (Sherwell 11/1/2004; MSNBC 1/30/2005) George Bush will also agree that the tape helped, saying, “I thought it was going to help. I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush.” (Reuters 3/1/2006)
Four days before the presidential election in the US, Osama bin Laden releases a new video in which he addresses the US people and alludes to his role in 9/11. The tape was handed to an employee at Al Jazeera’s bureau in Islamabad, Pakistan, on the day it was broadcast. (MSNBC 10/30/2004)
Bin Laden Had Idea of 'Destroying Towers in America' - In his strongest admission yet that he was involved in planning 9/11, bin Laden says, “Allah knows that the plan of striking the towers had not occurred to us, but the idea came to me when things went just too far with the American-Israeli alliance’s oppression and atrocities against our people in Palestine and Lebanon.” After likening the US and Israel to “a crocodile devouring a child,” he continues, “As I looked at those destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me to punish the oppressor in kind by destroying towers in America, so that it would have a taste of its own medicine and would be prevented from killing our women and children.” He attempts to isolate the US from other Western countries, pointing out that “security is one of the pillars of human life” and that al-Qaeda has not attacked Sweden, for example, because Sweden has not attacked the Middle East. “If the US leaves Muslims alone, they will leave it alone.”
Criticizes Bush's Inaction on 9/11 - Bin Laden is critical of President Bush and his inaction on 9/11, saying: “It did not occur to us that the commander in chief of the American armed forces would leave fifty thousand of his citizens in the two towers to face this great horror on their own, just when they needed him most. It seems that a little girl’s story about a goat and its butting was more important than dealing with airplanes and their butting into skyscrapers.” He comments that the Bush administration favors certain corporations and has mismanaged public funds: “To some analysts and diplomats, it seems as if we and the White House are on the same team shooting at the United States’ own goal, despite our different intentions.” He concludes: “I say unto you in truth that your security lies not in the hands of Kerry, Bush, or al-Qaeda. It lies in your own hands, and whichever state does not encroach on our security thereby ensures its own. Allah is our master; you have none. Peace be upon those who follow true guidance.” (Laden 2005, pp. 237-244)
Speech Will Benefit Bush - Despite the criticism of Bush in the speech, most commentators think it will actually help Bush get reelected. For example, Time magazine correspondent Karen Tumulty says: “I find it hard to find any way that this helps John Kerry. What we’ve seen over and over and over again is that when terrorism is the topic, and when people are reminded of 9/11, Bush’s numbers go up.” (CNN 10/29/2004) The CIA also concludes this is what bin Laden intended (see October 29, 2004). And on this evening, an aide brings up the new bin Laden video tape to Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, who is with the president in Ohio, campaigning for the election. “This has the feel of something,” Rove says slowly, “that’s not gonna hurt us at all.” (Draper 2007, pp. 263)
In a New York Times editorial printed one day before the presidential election, columnist William Safire implies that Osama bin Laden is trying to influence the American electorate to vote against President Bush and for his challenger, Democratic candidate John Kerry. Safire writes that bin Laden’s recent message to American voters (see October 29, 2004) proves that “his intercession in our election” has not yet been “as successful as his pre-election panicking of Spain’s voters,” referring to a recent election where Spanish voters repudiated the conservative incumbent and elected a more liberal choice. Safire says bin Laden has echoed themes from Kerry’s campaign, specifically Kerry’s frequent assertions that Bush has not been truthful with the American people, and says the Islamist figure “delight[ed]” in the anti-Bush film Fahrenheit 911. Safire says that bin Laden’s apparent calls for some form of reconciliation or an easing of armed conflict between al-Qaeda and the West is his attempt to persuade Americans that voting for Kerry will bring about peace in the Middle East. “Generals do not call for a truce when they’re winning,” he writes. “Only warriors thrust on the defensive become conciliatory, hoping that negotiations will give them time to regroup and resupply. Bin Laden’s vain hope seems to be that the defeat of Bush will give him time to buy or steal a horrific weapon as an ‘equalizer.’” Safire goes on to accuse UN arms inspector Mohamed ElBaradei of joining with bin Laden in trying to mount an “October surprise” to defeat Bush, and details what he believes is a conspiracy between ElBaradei, the United Nations, and CBS News to publish a story concerning US troops’ failure to secure explosive devices in time to affect the election. He says the New York Times refused to hold the article until October 31, as CBS allegedly desired, and printed the article a week before. Safire writes, “If Kerry wins, the Egyptian [ElBaradei] should be chief UN inspector for life,” and he calls bin Laden’s recent videotaped message “anti-Bush overkill” that will “help ensure the president’s re-election.” (Safire 11/1/2004) Contradicting Safire’s assertions, Bruce Hoffman of the RAND Corporation says he “agrees with those who see bin Laden probably preferring the current administration.” The Christian Science Monitor quotes a senior US intelligence official as saying that bin Laden released the videotaped message to help Bush’s re-election chances: “Bin Laden knows us well enough to realize that we will take offense at him, the most reviled man in the world, criticizing our president” (see October 29, 2004 and October 29, 2004). (Feldmann 11/1/2004)
State Attorney General Christine Gregoire (D-WA) is apparently defeated in the Washington State gubernatorial race in the closest such race in US history, losing to former state senator and current real-estate mogul Dino Rossi (R-WA) by 261 votes. The percentage vote is split evenly, 49-49, with 2 percent of the vote going to Libertarian Ruth Bennett. Democrats John Kerry (D-MA) and Patty Murray (D-WA) won the state’s presidential and Senate races, respectively. Both Gregoire and Rossi attempted to run as relatively moderate members of their parties, though their stance on health care, in particular, showed striking differences between them: Rossi ran on a platform of limiting lawsuit awards and drastically cutting state spending on Medicare and other expenditures, while Gregoire promised to expand coverage by finding ways to cut spending in other areas. Both candidates attacked the other relentlessly on the health care issue. On the evening of the election, November 2, Gregoire leads by some 7,000 votes, but as absentee votes are counted over the next few days, her lead dwindles and vanishes. By November 17, when all 39 counties complete their vote tallies, Rossi leads by 261 votes. State law mandates a machine recount, and the recount cuts Rossi’s lead to 42 votes. On November 30, Secretary of State Sam Reed certifies Rossi as the winner. Gregoire requests an additional recount, to be paid for by the Washington Democratic Party, and also files suit asking that ballots rejected in the first count be reconsidered, citing what the suit calls “[p]rior errors and inconsistencies in the initial canvassing and machine recount of ballots.” State Democratic Party chair Paul Berendt says: “I’ve never stopped believing Chris Gregoire was elected governor. It would be easy to demand a recount in a few counties, but she wanted every vote or no vote, and that’s what we’re going to do.” Rossi campaign spokesperson Mary Lane retorts: “As far as we’re concerned, it’s trying to overturn the legitimate result of this election by any means necessary, ethical or not. Christine Gregoire cares more about her own political ambition than what the voters actually think.” Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance calls the lawsuit to reconsider rejected votes “a nuclear bomb. It will blow up our election system in Washington state.” The suit is filed on behalf of four voters who claim they were denied the opportunity to vote. One of those voters, Ronald Taro Suyematsu of King County, says he never received his absentee ballot in the mail. He voted on Election Day using a provisional ballot, but he was not listed as a registered voter and his vote was discarded. Democrats allege that many ballots were inappropriately challenged by Republican observers, that county canvassing board rejected qualified ballots, and voters were denied meaningful notice of challenges. The lawsuit also says counties used varying standards “regarding signature-matching for absentee and provisional ballots.” The suit does not allege deliberate manipulation by county officials. “In some respects, the problems might not be more frequent than in a typical election, but the narrow margin between the candidates means that, unlike the typical election, they are not harmless,” the suit alleges. (Galloway 10/20/2004; 2004 General Election - First Recount > Statewide Offices > Results 11/17/2004; Garber and Postman 12/3/2004; HistoryLink (.org) 6/7/2005)
The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson attacks the Reverend Jesse Jackson for participating in what he calls a liberal conspiracy to “keep black[s] on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Jackson has caused a media stir by raising questions about the fairness of the voting process in the November presidential elections in Ohio (see October 29, 2004 and Evening, October 31, 2004). Jackson, Peterson says, is part of an organized liberal effort to “keep black Americans angry in order to keep them on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Peterson also accuses liberals of being the real racists in America, calls allegations that blacks were disenfranchised in the 2000 elections “a lie” (see November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000, and Early Afternoon, November 7, 2000), and falsely claims that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) supported reparations for slavery during his campaign. Peterson makes his remarks during an appearance on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes. Co-host Sean Hannity is a member of BOND’s advisory board, and is quoted on the BOND Web site as calling Peterson “a great American” and “a man of conscience.” The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Peterson has often attacked Jackson. Peterson’s organization, the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), has held a “National Day of Repudiation of Jesse Jackson” for the last five years. In an August 2000 article in the John Birch Society’s New American magazine, Peterson called Jackson a “problem profiteer… who makes millions by exploiting and exacerbating racial tensions.” He wrote a 2003 book entitled Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America, in which he attacked Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other black civil rights leaders. Peterson and BOND have led a boycott of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), claiming the organization is “a tool of the liberal elite socialist wing of the Democratic Party.” And he is currently suing Jackson for assault and civil rights violations (Seifter 11/30/2004) (the case will be settled out of court in 2006 after a jury dismisses all but one charge against Jackson and deadlocks on the remaining charge). (Judicial Watch 1/27/2006)
Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), an “astroturf” advocacy organization funded by the Koch brothers (see 1984 and After), is accused of breaking campaign laws to support the Bush re-election campaign. Oregon’s CSE branch had attempted to get consumer advocate Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot, in an attempt to dilute Democratic support for presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). Critics argue that it is illegal for a tax-exempt organization such as CSE to donate its services for partisan purposes. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismisses a complaint brought against the organization. (Mayer 8/30/2010)
After the loss of presidential contender John Kerry (D-MA), Democratic media consultant Harold Ickes and a team of media and technology consultants begin building what becomes known as “Catalyst,” a database on some 200 million Americans containing information about their voting intentions, stances on issues, relative income levels, family structures, and the times they could best be contacted via telephone or “cold call” visits. Catalyst, created at a cost of some $15 million, is based on a model called VoterVault that the George W. Bush campaign had used in 2000 and again in 2004. It is a for-profit business and putatively independent of party alliance, though it will be used to great effect by the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). It will remain independent because if it is owned by a political party, it is subject to campaign laws. Just as VoterVault was putatively independent but worked exclusively with the Bush campaigns and the Republican Party, Catalyst works exclusively with Democratic campaigns. Catalyst depends entirely on publicly and commercially available voter information, and has no means of user interaction. (Lachkovic 12/19/2011)
President Bush gives the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA Director George Tenet, former Iraq war leader General Tommy Franks, and former Iraq functionary Paul Bremer. The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor the president can bestow. Bush comments, “This honor goes to three men who have played pivotal roles in great events and whose efforts have made our country more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty.” (Associated Press 12/14/2001; Gerhart 12/14/2004) However, the awards will come in for some criticism, as Tenet, CIA director on 9/11, wrongly believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (see December 21, 2002), Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army (see May 23, 2003), and Franks, responsible for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, failed to assign enough troops to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, thereby enabling him to escape (see Late October-Early December 2001). (Cohen 12/14/2001) John McLaughlin, Tenet’s deputy director, will later say that Tenet “wishes he could give that damn medal back.” (Shenon and Mazzetti 10/2/2006) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that this “well-intentioned gesture designed to create positive impressions of the war seemed to backfire.” Instead of holding these three accountable for their role in the deepening Iraq crisis, Bush hails them as heroes. McClellan will observe: “Wasn’t this supposed to be an administration that prided itself on results and believed in responsibility and accountability? If so, why the rush to hand out medals to people who had helped organize what was now looking like a badly botched, ill-conceived war?” (McClellan 2008, pp. 250-251) David Wade, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says, “My hunch is that George Bush wasn’t using the same standard when honoring Tenet and Bremer that was applied to previous honorees.” Previous recipients include human rights advocate Mother Teresa, civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and Pope John Paul II. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says he “would have reached a different conclusion” on Tenet. “I don’t think [he] served the president or the nation well.” (Associated Press 12/14/2001) Reporter Steve Coll will later comment: “I presume that for President Bush, it was a signal that he wasn’t making Tenet a scapegoat. It would be the natural thing to do, right? You’ve seen this episode of ‘I, Claudius.’ You know, you put the knife in one side and the medal on the other side, and that’s politics.” And author James Bamford will say: “Tenet [retired], and kept his mouth shut about all the things that went on, about what kind of influence [Vice President Dick] Cheney might have had. They still have a CIA, but all the power is now with his team over at the Pentagon. They’re gathering more power every day in terms of intelligence. So largely, Cheney won.” (Kirk 6/20/2006) Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The three medals were given to the men who had lost Osama bin Laden (General Tommy Franks), botched the Iraq occupation (Paul Bremer), and called prewar intelligence on Saddam’s WMDs a ‘slam dunk’ (George Tenet). That the bestowing of an exalted reward for high achievement on such incompetents incited little laughter was a measure of how much the administration, buoyed by reelection, still maintained control of its embattled but not yet dismantled triumphalist wartime narrative.” (Rich 2006, pp. 158)
A reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon asks a question of President Bush during a White House press conference: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy,” Gannon says. “[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you said you’re going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Reid never mentioned soup lines; that reference comes from a satire of Reid by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.) In earlier conferences, Gannon attempted to link Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to actress Jane Fonda, a favorite target of the right, and questioned why anyone would dispute Bush’s National Guard service record. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333)
Works for Fake News Site - The Internet media watchdog site Media Matters, intrigued by Gannon’s highly partisan questions, soon learns that he works for an obscure news Web site called Talon News, itself a front for the extremist Internet organization GOPUSA (see January 28, 2005). New York Times media critic Frank Rich will call Talon News a fake news site staffed by Republican activists and filled with regurgitated press releases from the White House and the Republican National Committee. Rich will go on to note that Talon News is owned by a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican presidential convention, and took part in an effort to falsely smear Kerry with allegations of infidelity. The Boston Globe soon reports of Gannon, “The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his Web site.” (Gannon will call his practice of passing off quotes from the White House as objective news reports “the ultimate in journalistic honesty.”) Examination of press conference transcripts shows that White House press secretary Scott McClellan often calls on Gannon when other reporters begin asking difficult questions; Gannon is a reliable source of “softball” questions that allow McClellan to get back on track and resume issuing White House talking points.
Reporter Actually Male Prostitute - After Gannon becomes a figure of interest to media observers and Internet bloggers, they soon learn that he is really James Guckert, a male prostitute who posts nude pictures of himself on gay escort sites such as “hotmilitarystud.com” and numerous others, and charges $200 an hour (or $1,200 a weekend) for his services. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Boehlert 2/15/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 172-173; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333) Though McClellan will deny that the White House press staff knew anything of Gannon/Guckert’s false identity until just before the story broke in early February 2005, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett will say that “if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.” Further investigation will show that Gannon/Guckert has been posing as a reporter for two years. (Rich 2006, pp. 172-173)
Regular Visits to White House on Days with No Briefings - According to White House logs, Gannon/Guckert has regularly visited the White House on days when no press conferences are being held, and on at least 12 occasions was checked in but not checked out. Gannon/Guckert’s visits raise speculation that he might have visited the White House for licentious purposes, though he will deny ever spending the night there for any reason. The Gannon/Guckert story highlights the existence of the so-called “Lavender Bund,” the cadre of closeted Republican gays who help the religious right and the GOP advance their openly anti-gay agendas. (Byrne 4/24/2005; Leupp 5/21/2005)
Accusations of Plagiarism - Gannon/Guckert will also be accused of plagiarizing other journalists’ work, further calling into question his journalistic credentials. (Byrne 3/31/2005)
Conservative faux journalist and gay prostitute Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, quits as a White House reporter following his exposure by media watchdog organization Media Matters and Internet bloggers. For years, Gannon/Guckert has functioned as a “safe” White House reporter for conservative Internet news site Talon News, providing “softball” questions to President Bush and his press secretaries and representatives that allow the White House to reiterate and emphasize its talking points (see January 26, 2005). He also resigns as a Talon correspondent. Gannon does not apologize for his flatly partisan questioning, and says his questions merely counterbalance those of other reporters, whom he says are largely liberal and hostile towards the Bush administration: “Perhaps the most disturbing thing has been the notion that there isn’t room for one conservative voice in the White House press corps.” Gannon/Guckert refuses to acknowledge his second vocation as a gay prostitute, which he pursues under his given name, and merely says his use of a pseudonym for his journalistic pursuits is a “very innocent… commercial consideration.” Besides, he says, many journalists change their names for broadcast purposes. He does not name any journalists who operate under such pseudonyms. (Block and Norris 2/9/2005)
White House Knew of Pseudonym - Gannon/Guckert’s boss at Talon, Bobby Eberle (see January 28, 2005), says that the White House issued press passes to the “reporter” under his real name, which indicates the White House knew he was writing under a pseudonym. And Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), noting that Gannon/Guckert was denied Congressional press passes because he could not demonstrate that he worked for a legitimate news service, wants to know why Gannon/Guckert was able to pass muster at the White House. “This issue is important from an ethical as well as from a national security standpoint,” Lautenberg says. “It is hard to understand why a man with little real journalism experience was given a White House press corps credential.” (Boehlert 2/15/2005) White House press secretary Scott McClellan denies knowing about Gannon/Guckert’s pseudonym until just recently, and says, “People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors.” (Kurtz 2/16/2005)
Admission and Defense - Days later, in a CNN interview conducted by Wolf Blitzer, Gannon/Guckert admits that he is a “former” gay prostitute, admits his real name, says no one at the White House knew about his sexual past, and says: “I’ve made mistakes in my past. Does my past mean I can’t have a future? Does it disqualify me from being a journalist?” He says he used a pseudonym because his real name is difficult to pronounce. Liberal gay activist John Aravosis, whose AmericaBlog first published pictures of Gannon/Guckert advertising his sexual favors on gay escort Web sites, says the issue is not Gannon/Guckert’s right to be a journalist but his “White House access.… The White House wouldn’t let him in the door right now, knowing of his background.” Aravosis says Gannon/Guckert is guilty of “what I call family values hypocrisy. Basically, he’s asking the gay community to protect him when he attacks us.” Gannon/Guckert wrote numerous articles blasting 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry’s support of gay rights and wrote that Kerry would, if elected, be the country’s “first gay president.” (Kurtz 2/19/2005) On his blog, Aravosis adds: “This is the conservative Republican Bush White House we’re talking about. It’s looking increasingly like they made a decision to allow a hooker to ask the president of the United States questions. They made a decision to give a man with an alias and no journalistic experience access to the West Wing of the White House on a ‘daily basis.’” (Boehlert 2/15/2005)
Softballing Gannon/Guckert - New York Times columnist Frank Rich accuses Blitzer of asking “questions almost as soft as those ‘Jeff’ himself had asked in the White House.” Blitzer accepted without question Gannon/Guckert’s assertion that he used the name Gannon because Guckert was too hard to pronounce, and never questioned Gannon/Guckert’s claim that Talon News “is a separate, independent news division” of GOPUSA. Blitzer, Rich notes, waited until a brief follow-up interview to ask why Gannon/Guckert was questioned by FBI investigators about his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson affair (see October 28, 2003). Blitzer did not ask if his knowledge came from the same officials who took care of his White House press credentials, nor did he ask if Gannon/Guckert has any connection with conservative journalist and CNN commentator Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson. “The anchor didn’t go there,” Rich writes. (Rich 2/19/2005)
'Politics of Personal Destruction' - Gannon/Guckert will later say that his resignation from Talon News and from the White House press corps is an example of “the politics of personal destruction.” (Solomon 3/20/2005)
President Bush, stung by the opposition from both left and right that derailed his nomination of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court (see October 3-27, 2005), nominates appeals court judge Samuel Alito to the Court to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor. (Dean 2007, pp. 155-157)
Staunch Advocate of Expanding Presidential Power - Alito has impeccable credentials, especially in contrast to the widely derided Miers. He is a graduate of Yale Law School, a long-time member of the conservative Federalist Society, and has years of decisions behind him as an appellate court judge. He is a product of the Reagan-era Justice Department. Bush calls him “one of the most accomplished and respected judges in America.” He is a powerful anti-abortion advocate, and a staunch supporter of granting ever more power to the executive branch, especially at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. During his time in the Reagan Justice Department, he worked on a project to “increase the power of the executive to shape the law.” In 2000 he called the “unitary executive theory” (see April 30, 1986) the “gospel according to the OLC,” the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, where he worked for four years, and said he was firmly committed to advancing that theory. (Savage 2007, pp. 267-271)
Bland Facade at Hearings - Alito receives a unanimous “well qualified” assessment from the American Bar Association, and the Bush administration expects that his nomination will sail through the Senate confirmation hearings as quickly and painlessly as did Bush’s previous choice for the Court, John Roberts (see September 29, 2005). The hearings are more contentious than Bush would like, and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will say in 2007 that Alito’s performance before the Judiciary Committee “only served to confirm that the entire process has become little more than a great charade.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), one of the longest-serving members of the committee, observes that the Bush administration believes—correctly—that it can nominate radical right-wing extremists to the Court virtually at will, “as long as their views were not well known,” and adds, “[T]he current White House [has] turned the effort to hide nominees’ views into an art form.” Like Roberts, Alito presents a bland, non-confrontational facade to the committee (see January 9-13, 2006), refusing to take a personal stance on any issue and giving the impression that, as Kennedy will say after Alito and Roberts begin their service on the Court, he would be “as neutral as a baseball umpire.… The men who promised to be neutral umpires look more and more like loyal members of the president’s team.” (Dean 2007, pp. 155-157)
Party-Line Confirmation - After an attempt by Senators Kennedy and John Kerry (D-MA) to filibuster Alito’s confirmation fails, the Senate confirms Alito’s ascension to the Court by a near-party line 58-42 vote, the closest such vote since Clarence Thomas’s (see October 13, 1991). Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) condemns what he calls the “very bitter partisanship” over Alito’s nomination, and accuses Democrats of playing politics: “When you have a man who has the decency, the legal ability and the capacities that Judge Alito has treated this way, I think it’s despicable.” Alito, whose hardline conservative beliefs are sufficiently masked during the hearings, replaces the far more moderate O’Connor, who before her retirement made up the “moderate center” of the Court with Justices Anthony Kennedy and David Souter. Now Alito joins Thomas, Roberts, and Antonin Scalia to form a hard-right conservative bloc on the Court which, when joined by center-right conservative Kennedy, forms a nearly unshakable conservative majority. (CNN 2/1/2006)
Overturning Roe? - Many believe that Alito gives the Court the fifth vote it needs to finally overturn the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973), a longtime goal of social conservatives that would go far to make abortions illegal in the US. (Bazelon 10/31/2005)
New York Post editorial writer Deborah Orin echoes charges made by previous columnists in the Wall Street Journal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is conducting a partisan political prosecution of former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 29, 2005 and October 31, 2005), and repeats charges by former Reagan Justice Department official Victoria Toensing that the CIA is behind the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity (see November 3, 2005). Orin repeats previously made assertions that the CIA allowed Plame Wilson’s exposure by allowing her to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), failed to have Wilson sign “the usual confidentiality agreement,” and failed to require him to write a written report (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), and March 8, 2002). Orin accuses Wilson of only voicing his public criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq invasion after he “joined” the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) in May 2003, even though he began publicly criticizing the administration a year earlier (see May 2002, October 13, 2002, November 2002, December 9, 2002, January 28-29, 2003, February 13, 2003, February 28, 2003, March 3, 2003, March 5, 2003, and March 8, 2003), and the White House began its retaliatory attack against his criticisms in March 2003 (see March 9, 2003 and After). Orin also repeats Toensing’s sourceless assertion that Wilson’s New York Times op-ed about his findings in Niger (see July 6, 2003) “sharply conflicted with what he’d told the CIA.” It was the CIA’s actions, not the White House’s, that led to Plame Wilson’s exposure, Orin avers (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). Orin quotes Toensing, who said: “It [the Plame Wilson exposure] was a planned CIA covert action against the White House. It was too clever by half.” The reason, Orin says, was to divert attention from its intelligence failures surrounding the US failure to find WMD in Iraq: “Having Wilson go public was very useful to the CIA, especially the division where his wife worked—because it served to shift blame for failed ‘slam dunk’ intelligence claims away from the agency. To say that Bush ‘twisted’ intelligence was to presume—falsely—that the CIA had gotten it right.” The White House was merely defending itself from the CIA’s propaganda onslaught, Orin writes, adding that since Plame Wilson was not a covert agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996), the agency was “dishonest” in claiming that its intelligence operations had been damaged by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). (Orin 11/7/2005)
Representative Jean Schmidt (R-OH) accuses fellow Representative John Murtha (D-PA) of cowardice. Murtha, an ex-Marine, decorated Vietnam veteran, and longtime military supporter, has called for US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible (see November 17, 2005) and November 17, 2005). Schmidt says she is merely quoting the words of a constituent when she says on the floor of the House: “Yesterday I stood at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a young Marine in my district. He believed in what we were doing is the right thing and had the courage to lay his life on the line to do it. A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body—that we will see this through.” Democrats, appalled by Schmidt’s words, boo and shout her down; Democrat Harold Ford (D-TN) charges across the chamber’s center aisle and shouts that Schmidt’s attack is unwarranted. Democrat Martin Meehan (D-MA) shouts: “You guys are pathetic! Pathetic.” The conflict comes during a debate over a Republican “stunt resolution” that calls for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all troops from Iraq (see November 18, 2005).
Defending Murtha - Some House Republicans later defend Murtha’s patriotism: Henry Hyde (R-IL) says, “I give him an A-plus as a truly great American.” But Democrats are unforgiving. “This is a personal attack on one of the best members, one of the most respected members of this House, and it is outrageous,” says Jim McGovern (D-MA). In the Senate, John Kerry (D-MA) says, “I won’t stand for the swift-boating of Jack Murtha.” Kerry is referring to false accusations against him launched during the 2004 presidential election by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that challenged his Vietnam record. (Think Progress (.org) 11/18/2005; Schmitt 11/19/2005)
Schmidt Withdraws Statement - After the speaker pro tempore, Mike Simpson (R-IL) orders that her words be “taken down” (documented as possible violations of House rules), Schmidt attempts to backpedal: “Mr. Speaker, my remarks were not directed at any member of the House and I did not intend to suggest that they applied to any member. Most especially the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania. I therefore ask for unanimous consent that my words be withdrawn.” (Jesse Lee 11/18/2005)
Bubp: Never Discussed Murtha with Schmidt - Three days later, Bubp, the reserve Marine colonel and Ohio state representative Schmidt claims to be quoting, says that he never discussed Murtha with Schmidt and would never impugn a fellow Marine’s patriotism. “There was no discussion of him personally being a coward or about any person being a coward,” Bubp says. “The unfortunate thing about all of that is that her choice of words on the floor of the House—I don’t know, she’s a freshman, she had one minute. Unfortunately, they came out wrong.… My message to the folks in Washington, DC, and to all the Congress people up there, is to stay the course. We cannot leave Iraq or cut and run—any terminology that you want to use.… I don’t want to be interjected into this. I wish she never used my name.” (Rulon 11/22/2005)
The CIA announces that it has fired one of its officers, Mary McCarthy, who, it claims, “knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence” with a newspaper reporter. McCarthy is alleged to have leaked information about the CIA’s network of secret overseas prisons to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. The Post recently published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories on the secret prison network; Priest was one of the main reporters for that series. McCarthy worked at the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, which was investigating allegations that the CIA was torturing detainees at Iraqi prisons. The CIA claims McCarthy has admitted to the leaks, though it will not acknowledge that she was one of Priest’s sources for the prison stories. But McCarthy’s attorney, Ty Cobb, says that his client “emphatically denies she leaked any classified information and the facts would demonstrate that she would not even have access to any of the information attributed to her leaking to anyone.” She is “devastated,” Cobb says, that her long career will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and that her firing was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” Cobb notes that McCarthy is only 10 days short of retirement, and says, “Her hope had been to leave with her dignity and reputation intact, which obviously did not happen.” McCarthy has planned for some time to leave the agency and become a public interest lawyer. Her retirement process began well before the CIA began investigating the Post leaks. (Bazinet 4/22/2006; Waas 4/25/2006; Smith and Linzer 4/25/2006)
Aggressive Internal Probe - The CIA has conducted an aggressive internal investigation, administering polygraph tests to McCarthy and numerous other officials. “This was a very aggressive internal investigation,” says a former CIA officer. “[CIA Director Porter] Goss was determined to find the source of the secret jails story.” (Johnston and Shane 4/21/2006) The agency has not asked the Justice Department to open a formal probe into the allegations against McCarthy, and resultingly, few expect that criminal charges will be filed against her or any others who may be accused of leaking information. (Smith and Linzer 4/25/2006) The Justice Department has already opened a probe of the leaks surrounding the Post stories, but no word of the results of that probe has been revealed. No reporters have been interviewed about the leaks: Post spokesman Eric Grant says, “No Post reporter has been subpoenaed or talked to investigators in connection with this matter.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. says that he cannot comment on the firing, but “[a]s a general principle, obviously I am opposed to criminalizing the dissemination of government information to the press.” (Johnston and Shane 4/21/2006)
McCarthy Often Spoke to Reporters - A former CIA official tells a reporter that part of McCarthy’s job was to talk to the press in authorized interviews. “It is not uncommon for an officer, when they are designated to talk to the press, to let something slip, or not report every contact.” Former Deputy CIA Director Richard Kerr says of McCarthy: “She was a very qualified analyst in a variety of jobs. She had strong views sometimes, but I don’t know anyone who would describe her as a zealot or ideologue.”
CIA Officials Often 'Ignored' When Attempting to Bring Up Issues - Kerr adds that if McCarthy did leak classified information to the press, she behaved wrongly and should be held accountable. “If she believed there was something morally wrong or illegal going on, there were mechanisms within the system to go up the line, or complain,” he says. “The other possibility for her or anyone else is to quit and speak once you are outside.” Former CIA analyst and State Department counterterrorism official Larry Johnson disagrees, saying: “During this administration, there have been any number of CIA officers who have brought up issues through channels internally. There have been intelligence officers who have brought up things within their own agencies, and even spoken to Congressional intelligence committees or presidential commissions. But they have found themselves completely ignored.” (Waas 4/25/2006) A former intelligence official who knows McCarthy says: “Firing someone who was days away from retirement is the least serious action they could have taken. That’s certainly enough to frighten those who remain in the agency.” (Smith and Linzer 4/25/2006)
Senator Praises Firing - Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praises the CIA’s action. However, he is allegedly guilty of a far worse intelligence leak (see April 21, 2006).
Critics Claim Partisan Basis for Leaked Information - Some supporters of the Bush administration will claim that McCarthy’s leaks were politically motivated, and will point to the fact that in 2004, McCarthy contributed $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry (D-MA). (Smith and Linzer 4/25/2006) Columnist Melanie Morgan will accuse McCarthy of having “leftist ties,” and calls her a “revolting… liberal Democrat [sic] activist” who colluded with Priest, another “leftist,” to publish information that would “undermine America’s fight against terrorism.” She will also accuse McCarthy and Priest of working to help defeat Senator Curt Weldon (R-PA) in his 2006 re-election bid, and of having “suspicious” ties to Sandy Berger, the Clinton administration’s national security adviser, and former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. She concludes: “The Clintonites are so desperate to regain power that they are willing to sell out our national security to do it. And the reporters who serve as agents for this effort are rewarded for executing their role in the effort.… And the people who are hurting America are being rewarded.” (Morgan 4/28/2006)
Federal district court judge Anna Diggs Taylor rules that the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002) is unconstitutional and orders it ended. She amends her ruling to allow the program to continue while the Justice Department appeals her decision. The decision is a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil liberties groups. Taylor rules that the NSA program violates US citizens’ rights to privacy and free speech, the Constitutional separation of powers among the three branches of government, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). Taylor writes: “It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution.” (Verdict in ACLU et al v. NSA et al 8/17/2006 ; Eggen and Linzer 8/18/2006) The program “violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III,” Taylor writes, and adds, “[T]he president of the United States… has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders.” (CNN 8/17/2006)
Judge Lets One Portion Stand - Taylor rejects one part of the lawsuit that seeks information about the NSA’s data mining program (see October 2001), accepting the government’s argument that to allow that portion of the case to proceed would reveal state secrets (see March 9, 1953). Other lawsuits challenging the program are still pending. Some legal scholars regard Taylor’s decision as poorly reasoned: national security law specialist Bobby Chesney says: “Regardless of what your position is on the merits of the issue, there’s no question that it’s a poorly reasoned decision. The opinion kind of reads like an outline of possible grounds to strike down the program, without analysis to fill it in.” The White House and its Republican supporters quickly attack Taylor, who was appointed to the bench by then-President Jimmy Carter, as a “liberal judge” who is trying to advance the agenda of Congressional Democrats and “weaken national security.” For instance, Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) says that halting the program “would hamper our ability to foil terrorist plots.” (Eggen and Linzer 8/18/2006)
Democrats, Civil Libertarians Celebrate Ruling - But Democrats defend the ruling. For instance, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) says the ruling provides a much-needed check on the unfettered power of the Bush White House. “[N]o one is above the law,” says Kerry. (Eggen and Linzer 8/18/2006) Lawyers for some of the other cases against the NSA and the Bush administration laud the decision as giving them vital legal backing for their own court proceedings. “We now have a ruling on the books that upholds what we’ve been saying all along: that this wiretapping program violates the Constitution,” says Kevin Bankston, who represents the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in its class-action case against AT&T for its role in the NSA’s surveillance program (see January 31, 2006). (Eggen and Linzer 8/18/2006) Legal expert and liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald writes that Taylor’s ruling “does not, of course, prohibit eavesdropping on terrorists; it merely prohibits illegal eavesdropping in violation of FISA. Thus, even under the court’s order, the Bush administration is free to continue to do all the eavesdropping on terrorists it wants to do. It just has to cease doing so using its own secretive parameters, and instead do so with the oversight of the FISA court—just as all administrations have done since 1978, just as the law requires, and just as it did very recently when using surveillance with regard to the [British] terror plot. Eavesdropping on terrorists can continue in full force. But it must comply with the law.” Greenwald writes: “[T]he political significance of this decision cannot be denied. The first federal court ever to rule on the administration’s NSA program has ruled that it violates the constitutional rights of Americans in several respects, and that it violates criminal law. And in so holding, the court eloquently and powerfully rejected the Bush administration’s claims of unchecked executive power in the area of national security.” (Greenwald 8/17/2006)
White House Refuses to Comply - The Bush administration refuses to comply with Taylor’s ruling, asserting that the program is indeed legal and a “vital tool” in the “war on terrorism.” It will quickly file an appeal, and law professors on both sides of the issue predict that Taylor’s ruling will be overturned. (Savage 2007, pp. 206)
Lawsuit Ends with White House 'Compromise' - The lawsuit will end when the White House announces a “compromise” between the wiretapping program and FISC (see January 17, 2007).
A group of 14 Democratic lawmakers, led by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, sends a letter to the inspector generals of both the Commerce Department and NASA requesting formal investigations into allegations that Bush administration political appointees suppressed evidence linking global warming to increased hurricane intensity (see 2005, October 16, 2005, October 19, 2005, and November 29, 2005- December 2005). (Office of Senator Frank Lautenberg 9/29/2006; Heilprin 11/2/2006)
Senator John Kerry (D-MA) writes to David Addington, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, challenging Cheney and Addington’s claim that the Vice Presidency is not part of the executive branch (see 2003). Kerry tells reporters, “It comes as no surprise that the ‘imperial president’ and his vice president are once again trying to dodge scrutiny with a ridiculous claim that Dick Cheney is not part of the executive branch of government. This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history, and undermines the integrity of executive power and the Executive Order as an institution.” In the letter, Kerry writes of his concern: “[Cheney] self-designated his position as part of neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch, and is therefore not accountable to the laws that govern either branch.… This is an unprecedented break with hundreds of years of history and does not keep good faith with the hierarchy of government. While I appreciate that the Vice President has authority as President of the Senate, this does not exclude him from the executive and its oversight. Claiming to be party to neither the legislative branch nor the executive branch only serves to evade a standing executive order and bring secrecy to the Office of the Vice President.… The Vice President has routinely operated as a member of the executive branch and all the benefits and responsibilities that comes with that position. To propose that all this time the Vice President did not believe he was functioning as a member of the executive branch is disingenuous.” Kerry demands the reasoning behind Cheney and Addington’s assertions, and, in light of Cheney’s refusal to comply with reporting requirements of the National Archives as to how it treats classified documents, demands “to know what steps the Office is taking to protect classified information. This is our nation’s most sensitive information and it is critical that it is kept protected which is why the Archives does this oversight.” (John Kerry 6/25/2007)
Responding to a letter from Senator John Kerry (D-MA) that challenges Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is not part of the executive branch of government (see 2003 and June 25, 2007), Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington seems to imply that the OVP is indeed part of the executive branch. Addington writes that the executive order in question (an order Cheney says his office does not have to follow because of the OVP’s unique status) “makes clear that the vice president is treated like the president and distinguishes the two of them from ‘agencies,’” which are explicitly covered under the order. Addington notes that on June 22, President Bush affirmed that the order does not apply to either the office of the president or the OVP. After this tacit admission that the OVP is part of the executive branch, Addington lectures Kerry on the appropriateness of his questions: “Constitutional issues in government are best left for discussion when unavoidable disputes arise instead of in theoretical discussions.…[I]t is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and history of the legislative functions of the vice presidency and the more modern executive functions of the vice presidency.” (David Addington 6/26/2007 ) The Politico’s Mike Allen writes that Addington’s letter amounts “to throwing in the towel on the claim that the vice president is distinct from the executive branch, according to administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity, and the White House has no plans to reassert the argument.” Kerry calls Addington’s letter “legalistic” and a continued attempt to “duck and dodge on agency scrutiny, classified documents.” He calls the entire argument “Orwellian.” Two senior Republican officials say that the claim originated from OVP lawyers and not Cheney himself. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), who has led a move in the House to strip Cheney’s office of executive branch funding (see June 27, 2007), says the reversal shows that the White House “told Cheney that he would have to come up with another excuse—that this was not sustainable in the public arena.” Emanuel says that regardless of what arguments the OVP makes, it needs to comply with National Archives regulations. (Allen 6/27/2007)
After years of wrangling over whether the Office of the Vice President (OVP) should disclose how often it exercises its powers to classify documents (see March 25, 2003), and an effort by Vice President Cheney to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives (ISOO) pressing the issue (see May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007), President Bush issues an executive order stating that the OVP is not required to follow the law requiring such disclosure. (Savage 2007, pp. 164; Henry A. Waxman 6/21/2007 ) In a letter to Senator John Kerry (D-MA) concerning the matter, Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, writes: “Constitutional issues in government are generally best left for discussion when unavoidable disputes arise in a specific context instead of theoretical discussions. Given that the executive order treats the vice president like the president rather than like an ‘agency,’ it is not necessary in these circumstances to address the subject of any alternative reasoning, based on the law and history of the legislative functions of the vice presidency, and the more modern executive functions of the vice presidency, to reach the same conclusion that the vice presidency is not an ‘agency’ with respect to which ISOO has a role.” (David Addington 6/26/2007 )
Seven weeks after Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling for Congressional briefings on Pentagon plans to withdraw troops from Iraq or explanations as to why those plans do not exist (see May 23, 2007), Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman responds to Clinton in a letter of his own. After giving a brief overview of the current military and political situation in Iraq, Edelman says: “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.…[S]uch talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.” (US Department of Defense 7/16/2007 ) Some observers are surprised by Edelman’s language as Clinton is not only a senator, but a member of the Armed Services Committee. The New York Times’s Kate Phillips terms the letter “a stunning rocket.” (Phillips 7/19/2007) The letter also directly contradicts Gates, who said earlier that the Senate debate on withdrawing from Iraq was “helpful in bringing pressure” on the Iraqi government to work towards peace and unity (see March 30, 2007).
'Impugning the Patriotism of Any of Us Who Raise Questions' - Clinton fires back four days later, accusing Edelman of dodging her questions. Instead, she says, Edelman “made spurious arguments to avoid addressing contingency planning.… Undersecretary Edelman has his priorities backward.” (USA Today 7/20/2007) Edelman, Clinton says, is “impugning the patriotism of any of us who raise serious questions.” (Dorr 8/6/2007) Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines says, “We sent a serious letter to the secretary of defense, and unacceptably got a political response back.” Clinton again asks for a briefing on end-of-war planning, classified if necessary. Edelman does imply that the Pentagon is formulating such plans in his letter, but says that the Pentagon will not divulge any such planned operations. (USA Today 7/20/2007)
Democrats Defend Clinton - Fellow Democratic senator John Kerry joins in criticizing Edelman’s response. “This administration reminds us every day that they will say anything, do anything, and twist any truth to avoid accountability,” Kerry says in a statement. (US Senate 7/19/2007) Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, calls Edelman “one of the more ideological holdovers” in the Defense Department from President Bush’s first term in office. Edelman, who replaced Douglas Feith in the Pentagon, is a former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. (Think Progress 7/22/2007)
Conservatives Weigh In - On the other side, conservative blogger and Fox News pundit Michelle Malkin asks rhetorically, “Wasn’t this a case of Hillary putting on her little imaginary four stars on her sleeve and playing armchair general?” (Media Matters 7/23/2007) But an Army Times writer, Air Force veteran Robert Dorr, calls Edelman’s letter “disrespectful” and writes: “No matter what you think of the war or of Clinton, Edelman’s response was unusually harsh. Senators hold their jobs because people voted for them. Appointees such as Edelman, who weren’t elected by anyone (and in the case of Edelman, received a recess appointment and wasn’t confirmed by the Senate), should be responsive to lawmakers’ concerns.” (Dorr 8/6/2007)
A group of Democrats in Congress, dismayed and angered by recent revelations of a secret Pentagon propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion regarding Iraq (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and April 24, 2008), calls for explanations from the parties involved. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asks Defense Secretary Robert Gates to investigate the program. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) writes to the heads of the five major television networks, asking each to provide more information about their practices for vetting and hiring so-called “independent military analysts” to provide commentary and opinion about Iraq and other US military operations and strategies. DeLauro writes, “When you put analysts on the air without fully disclosing their business interests, as well as relationships with high-level officials within the government, the public trust is betrayed.” (Barstow 4/26/2008) Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct its own investigation. Kerry asks for “the names of all senior Pentagon officials involved in this effort, and the extent of that effort; [t]he extent of the contact between Pentagon officials and the military analysts in question regarding what was said by the analysts over the public airwaves”; what financial interests the analysts had “that were in some way linked to their analysis, including a list of federal contracts that are in any way linked to the companies that employ any of the analysts in question”; to what extent those financial interests were used by Pentagon officials “to promote misleading, inaccurate or false information through the media”; how much, if any, of those interests were disclosed to the media outlets and to the public; if the propaganda program is in any way illegal; what procedures ensure that the analysts aren’t using their access to further their own business interests; and what steps Congress and the Pentagon can take “to ensure that this type of effort is not repeated.” (Senator John Kerry 4/28/2008)
The story of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—is going remarkably unreported in those selfsame media outlets. Political bloggers are keeping the story alive, and Democratic congressmen are beginning to call for investigations (see April 28, 2008 and May 6, 2008)), but remarkably little about the operation has appeared either in the mainstream press or on broadcast news shows. One such lawmaker, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says that he “decided to push this issue hard because ever since the New York Times expose appeared, the silence has been deafening.” Kerry says there needs to be a “thorough investigation” into government contracts and “whether Americans’ tax dollars were being used to cultivate talking heads to sell the administration’s Iraq policy.” But unlike the pre-Internet paradigm, this story may not be so quick to disappear. Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says, “We are in a time when stories can have a second life.” Political bloggers on the Internet, who keep chipping away at stories long after they have disappeared from the headlines, can give stories another chance, says Rosenstiel, citing the example of bloggers reviving the story of the US attorney firings in 2007 (see November 8, 2007). Rosenstiel says that his organization tracked the mainstream media for a week after the Times story was printed. Out of around 1,300 news stories, only two touched on the Pentagon analysts report, and both of those were on PBS’s Newshour (see April 24, 2008). Independent television analyst Andrew Tyndall says it would be too much to expect for any broadcast news outlets to engage in the story over the airwaves, as they almost never do what he calls “self-criticism stories,” but, he says, “this is really the sort of thing that all of the networks should have addressed online.” Virtually the only mainstream response from the broadcast news has been a short piece from NBC anchorman Brian Williams, who responded on his blog ten days after the Times story ran, and generally extolled the virtues of the analysts with whom he had worked (see April 29, 2008). Former CBS editorial director Dick Meyer, who oversaw CBS’s “Public Eye” blog before it was discontinued due to cutbacks, says that would have been the perfect place to examine the story. “This controversy about military analysts would have been right in our ballpark,” says Meyer, who now works for National Public Radio. “It’s irresponsible for a modern news organization to not have some kind of readers’ advocate, some kind of public editor function,” he says. (Calderone and Zenilman 5/8/2008)
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. (CNN 5/15/2008)
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” (Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008)
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” (Begala 5/15/2008) The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” (Boston Globe 5/16/2008) Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” (Bunch 5/15/2008)
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. (Henry 5/16/2008)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
“Democrats are the enemy.”
“When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” (Merida 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 184-190)
Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. (Simon and Schuster 8/1/2008; Corsi 8/12/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” (Rutenberg and Bosman 8/12/2008)
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” (FactCheck (.org) 2008; FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008) And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” (Wills 8/16/2008)
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” (Media Matters 8/4/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008)
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) (Media Matters 8/4/2008) Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” (Media Matters 8/6/2004) (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) (Free Republic 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi 8/7/2004) An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” (Wills 8/16/2008) FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” (Holan 8/20/2008)
Dan Shelley, the former news director/assistant program director at Milwaukee’s WTMJ AM talk radio station, writes of the methodologies he and other programming experts used to make their talk show hosts popular. Like many other radio stations, WTMJ hosts primarily conservative broadcasters, though its only nationally syndicated host with a political bent is former comedian Dennis Miller. Two of its most popular local broadcasters are conservatives Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner. (Shelley is quite complimentary of Sykes in particular as a top-flight talk show host.) Shelley notes: “I was often angrily asked, once by then-Mayor John Norquist, why we just didn’t change our call letters to ‘WGOP.’ The complaints were just another sign of our impact.”
'Differentiating' - Shelley writes that Sykes and Wagner “are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.” Hosts such as Sykes and Wagner “must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims,” he writes, “and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners. This enemy can be a politician—either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a ‘RINO’ (a ‘Republican In Name Only,’ who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the ‘mainstream media’—local or national, print or broadcast.… In the talk radio business, this concept, which must be mastered to be successful, is called ‘differentiating’ yourself from the rest of the media. It is a brilliant marketing tactic that has also helped Fox News Channel thrive. ‘We report, you decide’ and ‘Fair and Balanced’ are more than just savvy slogans. They are code words signaling that only Fox will report the news in a way conservatives see as objective and truthful.”
Vicitimization - One of their most successful strategies is to play into the perception that hosts and audience alike are “victims” of what Shelley sardonically calls “the left-wing spin machine.” Any criticism, especially personal epithets such as “right-winger” or “radio squawker” merely plays into those hosts’ hands, Shelley notes. “This allows a host like Sykes to portray himself as a victim… and will leave his listeners, who also feel victimized, dying to support him.”
One-Sided Discussions - However, talk show hosts rarely, if ever, present “fair, evenhanded discussions featuring a diversity of opinions.… Programmers learned long ago that benign conversations led by hosts who present all sides of an issue don’t attract large audiences.… Pointed and provocative are what win.” Shelley writes that callers never “win a disagreement” with Sykes or Wagner. Calls from listeners who disagree with them do not get on the air “if the show’s producer, who generally does the screening, fears they might make [the host] look bad. Sykes’s producer even denied calls from US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the current and former mayors of Milwaukee, and other prominent figures. However, callers with dissenting points of view would get on the air if the host could “use the dissenting caller to reinforce his original point… [b]y belittling the caller’s point of view.” Shelley notes of Sykes: “You can always tell, however, when the antagonist has gotten the better of Charlie. That’s when he starts attacking the caller personally.”
More Diversity in Audience than Readily Acknowledged - Shelley writes that many liberals believe talk radio audiences are composed of “angry, uneducated white men.” Such is not the case, he writes. “Many are businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, academics, clergy, or soccer moms and dads. Talk show fans are not stupid. They will detect an obvious phony. The best hosts sincerely believe everything they say. Their passion is real. Their arguments have been carefully crafted in a manner they know will be meaningful to the audience, and that validates the views these folks were already thinking.”
Shaping Opinion - Listeners cannot be “led like lemmings” to a particular conclusion, Shelley writes, but “they can be carefully prodded into agreement with the Republican views of the day.” Conservative talk show hosts, both national and local, receive “daily talking points emails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee, and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too.” Shelley writes that Sykes would “mine the emails, then couch the daily message in his own words.… Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim.” Both Sykes and Wagner keep abreast of what other conservative hosts are saying: “Rush Limbaugh’s Web site was checked at least once daily. Atlanta-based nationally syndicated talker Neal Boortz was another popular choice.”
Strategic Disagreement - On occasion, Shelley writes, “[a] smart talk show host will, from time to time, disagree publicly with a Republican president, the Republican Party, or some conservative doctrine.” President Bush’s selection of his own lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court gave Sykes, Wagner, and other conservatives the chance to disagree vehemently with the administration. But, Shelley notes, “these disagreements are strategically chosen to prove the host is an independent thinker, without appreciably harming the president or party. This is not to suggest that hosts don’t genuinely disagree with the conservative line at times. They do, more often than you might think. But they usually keep it to themselves.”
Selective Facts - Shelley notes that it is often difficult to refute the arguments of a host such as Sykes, who builds “strong case[s] with lots of supporting facts.” Shelley notes that usually “those facts have been selectively chosen because they support the host’s preconceived opinion, or can be interpreted to seem as if they do.… Hosts… gather evidence, but in a way that modifies the old Joe Friday maxim: ‘Just the facts that I can use to make my case, ma’am.’”
Rhetorical Strategies - Shelley writes of the two main strategies conservatives (and presumably other talk show hosts of other political stripes) use to bolster weak arguments or refute strong opposing points of view. He calls them “You Know What Would Happen If” and “The Preemptive Strike.”
Shelley writes: “Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say: ‘You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the “liberal media.”’ This is particularly effective because it’s a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that ‘liberals’ are the enemy.”
He then notes: “The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the US Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the ‘mainstream media’ was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered.”
Such strategies, and others, are reliable and effective, Shelley notes.
Double Standards - Shelley gives numerous examples of the hosts’ double standards with various issues.
“In the talk show world, the line-item veto was the most effective way to control government spending when Ronald Reagan was president; it was a violation of the separation of powers after President Clinton took office.”
“Perjury was a heinous crime when Clinton was accused of lying under oath about his extramarital activities. But when [Lewis ‘Scooter’] Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide, was charged with lying under oath, it was the prosecutor who had committed an egregious act by charging Libby with perjury.”
“‘Activist judges’ are the scourge of the earth when they rule it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights heterosexuals receive. But judicial activism is needed to stop the husband of a woman in a persistent vegetative state—say Terri Schiavo—from removing her feeding tube to end her suffering.”
Shelley adds: “To amuse myself while listening to a talk show, I would ask myself what the host would say if the situation were reversed. What if alleged DC Madam client Senator David Vitter [R-LA] had been a Democrat? Would the reaction of talk show hosts have been so quiet you could hear crickets chirping? Hardly. Or what if former Representative Mark Foley [R-FL] had been a Democrat? Would his pedophile-like tendencies have been excused as a ‘prank’ or mere ‘overfriendly emails?’ Not on the life of your teenage son. Suppose Al Gore was president and ordered an invasion of Iraq without an exit strategy. Suppose this had led to the deaths of more than 4,000 US troops and actually made that part of the world less stable. Would talk show hosts have dismissed criticism of that war as unpatriotic? No chance. Or imagine that John Kerry had been president during Hurricane Katrina and that his administration’s rescue and rebuilding effort had been horribly botched. Would talk show hosts have branded him a great president? Of course not.”
Katrina an Epiphany - Shelley notes that it was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of that disaster that convinced him conservative talk show hosts such as Sykes and Wagner were extremists, and not merely a counterbalance to a left-skewed national media. Shelley was horrified when Sykes and Wagner, emulating their more prominent nationally syndicated colleagues such as Limbaugh and Miller, did not criticize the government’s lethally slow and callous response, but instead attacked the journalists who were obviously part of an “angry left” conspiracy to unfairly smear the Bush administration.
Conclusion - Shelley writes: “[T]he key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons. Because of that, there will always be listeners who believe that Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and their compatriots are the only members of the media who truly care about them.” (Shelley 11/13/2008; WTMJ-AM 11/13/2008)
President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. (Raum and Elliott 1/22/2009) “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009; Priest 1/23/2009) “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009) Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” (US News and World Report 1/23/2009)
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. (Collinson 1/22/2009) Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” (Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009) Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” (Sevastopulo 1/22/2009; Shane, Mazzetti, and Cooper 1/23/2009)
Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, makes several revisions to the “final” draft of the Chairman’s Mark of the America’s Healthy Future Act (AHFA, the name for health care reform legislation—see September 16-17, 2009). The “chairman’s mark” is a recommendation by a committee or subcommittee chair of measures to be considered in a markup, and is usually drafted as a bill. Baucus says in a statement: “The modifications focus largely on making care more affordable for low and middle income Americans by increasing the Health Care Affordability Tax Credit, lowering the penalties for people who fail to meet the individual requirement to have health insurance, and increasing the High Cost Insurance Excise Tax threshold for people whose basic health care is more expensive… and effectively slows the growth of skyrocketing health care costs.… This modification incorporates important ideas from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.” According to Baucus, AHFA as it now stands will make it easier for families and small businesses to buy health care coverage, ensure Americans can choose to keep the health care coverage they have if they like, and slow the growth of health care costs over time. “It will bar insurance companies from discriminating against people based on health status, denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or imposing annual caps or lifetime limits on coverage.” Baucus continues to assert that AHFA will not add to the federal deficit. Some of the new provisions include:
Lowering the amount that insurance companies can vary premiums based on age, ensuring that these companies cannot charge elderly clients far more than younger ones. The provision was first submitted by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Providing $5 billion in additional assistance to small businesses attempting to provide coverage for their workers. The provision was first submitted by Senators Kerry and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Including more senior citizens in the Medicare Advantage program.
Making prescription drugs more affordable for senior citizens by reducing co-payments. This provision was first submitted by Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Ben Nelson (D-NE).
Improving Medicare beneficiary access to bone density tests, a provision first submitted by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR).
Creation of a three-year Medicare Hospice Concurrent Care (HCC) demonstration program that would provide Medicare patients eligible for hospice care with all other Medicare-covered services during the same period of time. This provision was first submitted by Senator Wyden.
Improving access to Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) for low income individuals in Medicaid who are in need of long-term care, a provision first submitted by Senator Kerry.
Creating nursing home alternatives for patients in need of long-term care, a provision first submitted by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Provide alternatives to nursing home care for disabled individuals on Medicaid, a provision first submitted by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).
Improving access to mental health care for Medicaid patients, a provision first submitted by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME).
Financial assistance for “high-need” states having difficulty paying for their Medicaid obligations, and use of surplus Medicaid funds to improve the program.
Create an exemption to encourage health care beneficiaries to use generic prescription drugs by waiving co-payments, a provision first submitted by Senator Stabenow.
Remove the mandate that would require states to cover all prescription drugs for Medicaid beneficiaries.
Direct the secretary of health and human services to implement programs to reduce waste in the way drugs are dispensed to seniors in long term care facilities. (Senior Journal 9/22/2009; New York Times 9/22/2009; The Capitol (.net) 2011)
Charles and David Koch, the oil billionaires who are behind the conservative tea party movement (see 1940 and After, 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, Late 2004, October 2008, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 2010, August 17, 2011 and October 4, 2011), begin to build a huge, nationwide database of conservative voters that they intend to use to drive conservative votes in elections, beginning with the 2012 Republican primaries and on to the November 2012 general presidential election. The database is nicknamed “Themis,” after the Greek goddess of divine law and order who imposes order on human affairs. According to The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, “the Koch brothers are close to launching a nationwide database connecting millions of Americans who share their anti-government and libertarian views, a move that will further enhance the tycoons’ political influence and that could prove significant in next year’s presidential election.” Pilkington writes that Themis will bring together “the vast network of alliances” the brothers have formed over the last 20 years. (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011) Patrick Glennon of In These Times writes: “Email lists, phone numbers, and other contact information from disperse sources will merge into a comprehensive and streamlined political weapon. Purportedly, the database will also include extensive information relating to occupation and income levels, useful details for targeted fundraising initiatives.” (Vogel 10/10/2011) The database begins in April 2010, and is expected to be completed and functional by the end of 2011. Few details of the project are known; development leader Karl Crow, a Washington lawyer and longtime Koch advisor, refuses to speak about it, as do media representatives of Koch Industries. A member of a Koch affiliate organization who specializes in the political uses of new technology says in November 2011 that the project is almost ready to go live: “They are doing a lot of analysis and testing. Finally they’re getting Themis off the ground.” The project is intended to, Pilkington writes, “bring together information from a plethora of right-wing groups, tea party organizations, and conservative-leaning thinktanks. Each one has valuable data on their membership—including personal email addresses and phone numbers, as well as more general information useful to political campaign strategists such as occupation, income bracket, and so on. By pooling the information, the hope is to create a data resource that is far more potent than the sum of its parts. Themis will in effect become an electoral roll of right-wing America, allowing the Koch brothers to further enhance their power base in a way that is sympathetic to, but wholly independent of, the Republican Party.” The specialist tells Pilkington, “This will take time to fully realize, but it has the potential to become a very powerful tool in 2012 and beyond.” Themis is modeled in part on a project called Catalyst, a voter list that compiled and shared data about progressive groups and campaigns (see Late 2004 and After) and helped Democrats regain momentum after the 2004 defeat of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011; Glennon 11/8/2011) The 2008 Obama campaign used social media outreach techniques to augment Catalyst’s database. Themis apparently incorporates many of those social-media and other interactive features in its construction. (Lachkovic 12/19/2011) Josh Hendler, the former director of technology of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), tells Pilkington that Themis could do for the GOP what Catalyst helped do for the Democrats. “This increases the Koch brothers’ reach,” he says. “It will allow them to become even greater coordinators than they are already—with this resource they become a natural center of gravity for conservatives.” Mary Boyle of the political watchdog group Common Cause says of the reclusive brothers, “What makes them unique is that they are not just campaign contributors; they are a vast political network in their own right.” Themis will only deepen the Koch brothers’ control of American right-wing politics, Pilkington observes. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel writes that the Kochs intend to spend at least $200 million in 2012 on the Republican presidential campaign and other related activities. Pilkington writes: “Their potential to sway the electorate through the sheer scale of their spending has been greatly enhanced by Citizens United, last year’s controversial ruling by the US Supreme Court that opened the floodgates to corporate donations in political campaigns. The ruling allows companies to throw unlimited sums to back their chosen candidates, without having to disclose their spending. That makes 2012 the first Citizens United presidential election, and in turn offers rich pickings to the Koch brothers.” Themis will help the Kochs “micro-target” voters and potential fundraisers. Pilkington writes that it is reasonable to assume that Koch-funded lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are part of Themis, as are Koch-funded think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation. “Between them, they have tentacles that extend to millions of voters,” Pilkington writes. Liberal reporter and blogger Lee Fang says the impact of Themis and the Koch funding on the 2012 presidential campaign will be immense: “This will be the first major election where most of the data and the organizing will be done outside the party nexus. The Kochs have the potential to outspend and out-perform the Republican Party and even the successful Republican candidate.” (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011; Glennon 11/8/2011)
The anti-abortion advocacy organization American Life League (ALL) releases another in a series of “Deadly Dozen” ad campaigns. The first, in 1995, targeted a dozen abortion and health care providers, and was subsequently blamed for a spate of deadly violence against those named in the ads (see 1995 and After). In 2003, ALL launched a second “Deadly Dozen” campaign, this time targeting US senators (see January - April 2003). The current round of ads features a poster listing a dozen Catholic lawmakers, including members of Congress and of the Obama administration. The list includes Vice President Joseph Biden (D-DE); Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); and Representatives Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rosa DeLaurio (D-CT), and Mike Castle (R-DE). As with ALL’s 2003 campaign, the current campaign calls on the named lawmakers’ community bishops to deny them communion. The ad concludes with the slogan, “You can’t be Catholic and pro-abortion!” A blogger in Delaware reports seeing the poster in the vestibule of his church. (Jay Anderson 9/13/2010)
Democrats in Congress are contemplating using the Constitutional amendment process to overturn the controversial Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court that allows unlimited corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). A new poll from Public Polling Policy as commissioned by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) finds that a plurality of voters would support such an amendment. Forty-six percent of voters surveyed agreed that “Congress should consider drastic measures such as a Constitutional amendment overturning the recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections.” Thirty-six percent disagreed, and 18 percent had no opinion. Such an amendment would likely fail in Congress, as it would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers and then ratification by three-quarters of the states. Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) wrote such an amendment, in draft form, the evening that the Citizens United decision was announced. Her proposed amendment reads: “The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, Congress and the States may regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.” She says that there have been times in American history that such amendments catch the public attention and move quickly into law. “The process is very rigorous, and it should be,” she says. “But there have been plenty of examples of amendments to the Constitution that have happened, actually, with fairly rapid-fire when they catch on.” She adds: “I really concluded that the Supreme Court actually put the challenge out to us, here in the Congress. They said, you know, you could make a judgment that this is not really good for the system, but the fact is that the Constitution doesn’t allow you to regulate this. Congress, you have no—the Court told us directly—Congress, you have no authority to regulate. And when the Court says that so directly, it only leaves us one choice.” Two prominent Senate Democrats, John Kerry (D-MA) and Max Baucus (D-MT), support the amendment. A Baucus spokesperson says, “Max is always willing to work with anyone toward the common goal of making sure Montanans’ voices don’t get drowned out by out-of-control corporate campaign donations.” PCCC co-founder Adam Green says: “It’s time to stop thinking small-bore. The solution to Citizens United is not merely disclosure, it’s to overturn Citizens United—and even last November’s Republican-skewed electorate agrees.” Edwards says that Democrats should embrace the concept that the Constitution is a political ground worth fighting on. “A lot of progressives are not accustomed to using the mechanisms of the Constitution,” she says. “The right has used—has tried to do that an awful lot of times on a whole range of different things in state legislatures and across the board. And as progressives, we’re not accustomed to doing that, and this is one instance, though, where the populist demand is there, and our energy and our policy has to match that demand and a Constitutional amendment does that.” (Grim 11/23/2010)
Almost a quarter of the millions donated to super PACs so far during the campaign season comes from just five donors, a USA Today analysis shows. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization. In August 2011, a USA Today analysis showed that a dozen wealthy individuals and corporations contributed over half of the money given to super PACs (see August 4, 2011). Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has called the influence of the supposedly independent organizations corrosively corrupting and extraordinarily dangerous, and correctly predicted that their influence would increase as the campaign season wears on (see January 3, 2012). Four of those donors are:
Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons, who financed the 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign that vilified presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), has given $12 million to the Republican super PAC “American Crossroads” and $2.2 million to super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates;
Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife Miriam has given $10 million to “Winning the Future,” the super PAC supporting Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012), and who says he is willing to donate up to $100 million more to keep Gingrich in the race (see February 21, 2012);
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who has given $2.6 million to “Endorse Liberty,” a super PAC backing Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and his presidential campaign;
Houston real estate developer Bob Perry, who has given $3.6 million to super PACs, including $2.5 million to American Crossroads. Perry formerly backed Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) in the presidential primaries, but has now shifted his allegiance to frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA).
Republican organizations have vastly outraised their Democratic counterparts, though so far much of the money spent by Republican organizations has been to attack Republican presidential candidates during the primary campaigns. Indeed, some political observers say that Romney would have secured the nomination long ago if not for the billionaires supporting other Republican candidates. “Without the flow of super PAC money, the Republican race would be over,” says campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado. “Super PACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agenda.” Political scientist Cal Jillson says of the billionaires contributing these huge sums: “They are extremely wealthy people who put their resources behind their vision of the appropriate relationship between the government and the private sector. That vision is low taxes, small government, and personal responsibility.” The super PAC working on behalf of President Obama, “Priorities USA,” collected $2 million in late 2011 from Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, but since then has raised relatively paltry amounts in comparison to its Republican counterparts. It raised a mere $59,000 in January 2012, most of that made up of a $50,000 contribution from John Rogers, CEO of Arial Investments and a close friend of Obama. (Schouten, Korte, and Schnaars 2/21/2012) The USA Today analysis is congruent with a recent analysis by Robert Reich, the former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton (see February 21, 2012).
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