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Vice President Spiro Agnew, fresh from helping Richard Nixon win the 1968 election by viciously attacking their Democratic opponents, wins a reputation as a tough-talking, intensely negative public presence in Washington. Much of Agnew’s tirades are crafted by White House speechwriters Pat Buchanan and William Safire. In 1969, Agnew derides antiwar protesters, saying, “A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” (Morrow 9/30/1996) Student war protesters “have never done a productive thing in their lives,” and, “They take their tactics from Fidel Castro and their money from daddy.” (Suder 10/11/1998) In 1970, he attacks the American media and critics of the Nixon administration alike, telling a San Diego audience that “we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism.” Agnew attacks enemies of the administration as “pusillanimous pussyfooters,” “vicars of vacillation,” and “the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.” Democrats are “radic-libs” and “ideological eunuchs.” In Des Moines, reading a speech written by Buchanan, Agnew slams the US media industry, saying it is dominated by a “tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one.” Agnew’s unrelenting attacks on the press raise, reporter Lance Morrow writes in 1996, “issues of media bias, arrogance and unaccountability that are still banging around in the American mind.” Agnew is undone by his own negativity, earning a barrage of critical press coverage for, among other things, calling an Asian-American reporter a “fat Jap,” referring to a group of Polish-Americans as “Polacks,” and dismissing the plight of America’s poor by saying, “To some extent, if you’ve seen one city slum, you’ve seen them all.” Many political observers feel that Agnew’s heated rhetoric is the precursor to the wave of personal, negative attack politics practiced by the GOP in the decades to come. (Clines 9/19/1996; Morrow 9/30/1996) Interestingly, while many Americans celebrate Agnew’s rhetoric, few want him as a successor to the presidency. One Baltimore bar patron says, “I don’t want the president of the United States to sound like I do after I’ve had a few beers.” (Economist 9/28/1996)
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, determined to prove to President Nixon that news stories about the secret Cambodian bombings are not being leaked to the press by liberals in the National Security Council offices, urges FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap several of Nixon’s top aides, as well as a selection of reporters. Kissinger will later deny making the request. (Werth 2006, pp. 169) In March 1973, W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s famous “Deep Throat” background source, will confirm the wiretappings, saying: “In 1969, the first targets of aggressive wiretapping were the reporters and those in the administration who were suspected of disloyalty. Then the emphasis was shifted to the radical political opposition during the [Vietnam] antiwar protests. When it got near election time , it was only natural to tap the Democrats (see Late June-July 1971 and May 27-28, 1972). The arrests in the Watergate (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) sent everybody off the edge because the break-in could uncover the whole program.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 271) Felt will tell Woodward that two of the reporters placed under electronic surveillance are Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg will leak the Defense Department documents to Sheehan (see March 1971). Eventually, future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will reveal that at least 17 wiretaps are ordered between 1969 and 1971. The logs of those wiretaps are stored in a safe in White House aide John Ehrlichman’s office. In all, 13 government officials and four reporters are monitored. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313) The FBI will send Kissinger 37 letters reporting on the results of the surveillance between May 16, 1969 and May 11, 1970. When the surveillance is revealed to the Senate Watergate Committee, it will be shown that among those monitored are Nixon speechwriter and later New York Times columnist William Safire; Anthony Lake, a top Kissinger aide who will later resign over the secret bombings of Cambodia; and the military assistant to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, whom Kissinger regards as a political enemy. (Woodward 2005, pp. 21-22)
The controversial nomination of conservative judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is defeated in the US Senate. Bork is denied a seat on the Court in a 58-42 vote, because his views are thought to be extremist and even some Republicans vote against him.
'Right-Wing Zealot' - Bork, nominated by President Reagan as one of the sitting judges who most completely reflects Reagan’s judiciary philosophy (see 1985-1986), is characterized even by administration officials as a “right-wing zealot.” Reagan also wants a nominee to placate the hard right over their disaffection caused by the brewing Iran-Contra scandal. However, to make him more palatable for the majority of Americans, Reagan officials attempt to repackage Bork as a moderate conservative. Senate Judiciary Committee member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) attacks Bork’s political philosophy, saying before the committee hearings: “[In Bork’s America] women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is the—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.… No justice would be better than this injustice.” Kennedy’s words provoke complaint, but the characterization of Bork is based on his lengthy record of court verdicts and his large body of judicial writings.
Racial Equality Issues - Although there is no evidence to suggest that Bork is himself a racist, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that “his positions on civil rights were an anathema to all who cared about equality in America.” Constitutional law professor Herman Schwartz will write in 2004, “Bork condemned the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause decisions outlawing the poll tax (to him it was just ‘a very small tax’), the decision establishing the one-person, one-vote principle, abolishing school segregation in the District of Columbia, barring courts from enforcing racially restrictive housing covenants, preventing a state from sterilizing certain criminals or interfering with the right to travel, and prohibiting discrimination against out-of-wedlock children…. Bork’s hostility to governmental action on behalf of minorities did not stop with his critique of court action. In 1963 he criticized a section of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required white businesses to serve blacks as resting on a principle of ‘unsurpassed ugliness.’”
Ready to Fight - The Reagan administration understands that Bork’s nomination is opposed; on July 1, the day of his announced nomination, the media reports that Reagan will try to ensure Bork’s confirmation by waging an “active campaign.” Even Senate-savvy James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, is uncertain about Bork’s chances at being confirmed, and further worries that even if Bork wins the fight, the cost to Reagan’s political capital will be too high.
His Own Worst Enemy - Conservatives Justice Department official Terry Eastland will later say Senate Democrats sabotage Bork’s chances at faring well in the confirmation hearings, even positioning his table to ensure the least favorable angles for Bork on television. However, the public’s opinion of Bork is unfavorable, and Dean will write: “[I]t was not the position of his chair in the hearing room that made Bork look bad, but rather his arrogance, his hubris, and his occasional cold-bloodedness, not to mention his equivocations and occasional ‘confirmation conversions,’ where he did what no one else could do. He made himself a terrible witness who did not appear to be truthful.” The confirmation conversions even surprise some of his supporters, as Bork abandons his previous stances that the First Amendment only applies to political speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause does not apply to women. The Senate Judiciary Committee passes Bork’s nomination along to the full Senate, where Bork is defeated 58-42.
The Verb 'To Bork' - In 2007, Dean will write, “Bork’s defeat made him both a martyr and a verb,” and quotes conservative pundit William Safire as writing that “to bork” someone means to viciously attack a political figure, particularly by misrepresenting that figure in the media. (Dean 2007, pp. 137-143)
As the end of President Reagan’s final term approaches, conservatives and hardliners have radically changed their view of him. They originally saw him as one of their own—a crusader for good against evil, obstinately opposed to communism in general and to any sort of arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union in specific. But recent events—Reagan’s recent moderation in rhetoric towards the Soviets (see December 1983 and After), the summits with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (see November 16-19, 1985 and October 11-12, 1986), and the recent arms treaties with the Soviets (see Early 1985 and December 7-8, 1987) have soured them on Reagan. Hardliners had once held considerable power in the Reagan administration (see January 1981 and After and Early 1981 and After), but their influence has steadily waned, and their attempts to sabotage and undermine arms control negotiations (see April 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983), initially quite successful, have grown less effective and more desperate (see Before November 16, 1985). Attempts by administration hardliners to get “soft” officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz fired do not succeed. Conservative pundits such as George Will and William Safire lambast Reagan, with Will accusing him of “moral disarmament” and Safire mocking Reagan’s rapport with Gorbachev: “He professed to see in Mr. Gorbachev’s eyes an end to the Soviet goal of world domination.” It will not be until after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (see November 9, 1989 and After) that conservatives will revise their opinion of Reagan, in the process revising much of history in the process. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 143-145)
Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire calls for a second “Team B” competitive intelligence analysis exercise (see November 1976), urging that “a prestigious Team B” be formed “to suggest an alternative Russia policy to Mr. Clinton.” Safire ignores the fact that the Team B procedures and findings were discredited almost immediately (see Late November, 1976). (Mitchell 5/2006 )
A number of witnesses see a helicopter flying near the Pentagon in the minutes before the attack there.
Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, sees a blue and white helicopter that appears as if it is coming in to land, from a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at, near the Pentagon. Parsons will later recall that two or three minutes before the Pentagon attack occurs: “I saw [the helicopter] circle… between the hotel and the Pentagon, going toward the landing pad [at the Pentagon] where that airliner ultimately hit. And I thought that he landed on the pad.” Parsons will say the helicopter flies in at “a weird angle,” and recall that he has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington for almost a month, but has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.” He will recognize the helicopter as a Huey because he has flown Hueys and knows they make “a very distinct sound.” According to John Darrell Sherwood, a Navy historian who interviews Parsons about the incident, the helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and has been instructed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Parsons 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 258)
A senior Air Force officer who is somewhere outside the Pentagon also sees a helicopter circling the Pentagon around this time, although he believes it to be a US military helicopter. Shortly after the Pentagon attack, the unnamed officer will tell a CNN reporter that the helicopter “disappeared behind the building where the helicopter landing zone is… and he then saw [a] fireball go into the sky” when the Pentagon is hit. (CNN 9/11/2001)
Jennifer Reichert, who is stuck in traffic on Route 27 in front of the Pentagon, will describe that just before the attack, “A helicopter takes off from the heliport at the Pentagon.” She will add: “Minutes—maybe seconds—later, I hear it: American Airlines Flight 77 screams toward the Pentagon. The explosion [of the crash] shakes my car.” (Washington Post 9/5/2002)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Denny Watson, his CIA briefer, who are in Rumsfeld’s office at the Pentagon, see a helicopter flying very close to the building, outside the window of the office, and then pulling away just before the building is attacked (see Shortly Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Priess 2016, pp. 244-245)
Perhaps due to the presence of this helicopter in the area, some people will initially think the attack on the Pentagon involves a helicopter hitting the building. Captain William Durm, the commander of the Pentagon’s Triservice Dental Clinic, will head to the building’s center courtyard shortly after the Pentagon is hit. Someone there will tell him a helicopter has hit the other side of the building. (Office of Medical History 9/2004, pp. 11) Some early news reports will suggest a helicopter crashed into the Pentagon. (Thomas Crosbie Media 9/11/2001; Geisler 9/2/2002) One report will claim that “one aircraft and a helicopter have crashed into the Pentagon.” (Airline Industry Information 9/11/2001) Vice President Dick Cheney will tell NBC’s Meet the Press that “the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter” hit the building. (Cheney 9/16/2001) The Guardian will report that one witness claims the explosion that occurs when the Pentagon is hit blows up a helicopter circling overhead. (Borger et al. 9/12/2001) New York Times columnist William Safire will report that, at approximately this time, Cheney is told that either another plane or “a helicopter loaded with explosives” is heading for the White House. (Safire 9/13/2001)
Media coverage relating to an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy named Ahmed al-Ani took place in Prague, Czech Republic, has changed repeatedly over time:
September 18, 2001: It is first reported that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta met in Prague, Czech Republic, with an Iraqi diplomat in April 2001. The name of the diplomat, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, is mentioned in follow up articles. (Gullo 9/18/2001; Lichtblau, Serrano, and Mcdonnell 9/19/2001; CNN 10/11/2001; Safire 11/19/2003)
October 20, 2001: The story is denied by some Czech officials (see October 16, 2001). (Tagliabue 10/20/2001)
October 26, 2001: The story is confirmed by the Czech interior minister (see October 26, 2001). (Tyler and Tagliabue 10/27/2001)
October 27, 2001: It is claimed Atta met with Iraqi agents four times in Prague, and was given a vial of antrax. Atta is alleged to have had further meetings with Iraqi agents in Germany, Spain, and Italy (see October 27, 2001). (McGrory 10/27/2001)
November 12, 2001: Conservative columnist William Safire calls the meeting an “undisputed fact” in a New York Times editorial (see November 12, 2001). (Safire 11/12/2001)
December 9, 2001: Vice President Cheney asserts that the existence of the meeting is “pretty well confirmed” (see December 9, 2001). (Washington Post 12/9/2001)
December 16, 2001: The identities of both al-Ani and Atta, alleged to have been at the meetings, are disputed by a Czech police chief (see December 16, 2001). (Hedges and Mcneil 12/16/2001; Hejma 12/16/2001)
January 12, 2002: It is claimed at least two meetings took place, including one a year earlier. (Johnston 1/12/2002)
February 6, 2002: It is reported that senior US intelligence officials believe the meeting took place, but they believe it is not enough evidence to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks (see February 6, 2002). (Risen 2/6/2002)
March 15, 2002: Evidence that the meeting took place is considered between “slim” and “none.” (Ignatius 3/15/2002)
March 18, 2002: William Safire again strongly asserts that the meeting took place. (Safire 3/18/2002)
April 28-May 2, 2002: The meeting is largely discredited. For example, the Washington Post quotes FBI Director Mueller stating that, “We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on, from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts,” yet no evidence that Atta left the country was found. According to the Post, “[a]fter months of investigation, the Czechs [say] they [are] no longer certain that Atta was the person who met al-Ani, saying ‘he may be different from Atta.’” (Pincus 5/1/2002) Newsweek cites a US official who contends that, “Neither we nor the Czechs nor anybody else has any information [Atta] was coming or going [to Prague] at that time” (see April 28, 2002). (Isikoff 4/28/2002; Pincus 5/1/2002; listed] 5/2/2002)
May 8, 2002: Some Czech officials continue to affirm the meeting took place. (Pitkin 5/8/2002)
May 9, 2002: William Safire refuses to give up the story, claiming a “protect-Saddam cabal” in the high levels of the US government is burying the evidence. (Safire 5/9/2002)
July 15, 2002: The head of Czech foreign intelligence states that reports of the meeting are unproved and implausible. (Swoger 7/15/2002)
August 2, 2002: With a war against Iraq growing more likely, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer suggests the meeting did happen, “despite deep doubts by the CIA and FBI.” (Drogin, Richter, and McManus 8/2/2002)
August 19, 2002: Newsweek states: “The sole evidence for the alleged meeting is the uncorroborated claim of a Czech informant.” According to Newsweek, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is nonetheless pushing the FBI to have the meeting accepted as fact. (Isikoff 8/19/2002)
September 10, 2002: The Bush administration is no longer actively asserting that the meeting took place. (Priest 9/10/2002)
September 17, 2002: Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld “accept reports from Czech diplomats” that the meeting took place. (Diamond 9/17/2002)
September 23, 2002: Newsweek reports that the CIA is resisting Pentagon demands to obtain pictures of the alleged meeting from Iraqi exiles. One official says, “We do not shy away from evidence. But we also don’t make it up.” (Hosenball and Lipper 9/23/2002)
October 10, 2002: British officials deny the meeting ever took place (see October 4-10, 2002). (Huband 10/4/2002; Norton-Taylor 10/10/2002)
October 20, 2002: Czech officials, including President Vaclav Havel, emphatically deny that the meeting ever took place. It now appears Atta was not even in the Czech Republic during the month the meeting was supposed to have taken place. President Havel told Bush “quietly some time earlier this year” that the meeting did not happen (see Early 2002, probably May or later). (Walker 10/20/2002; Risen 10/21/2002)
December 8, 2002: Bush adviser Richard Perle continues to push the story, stating, “To the best of my knowledge that meeting took place.” (Simon 9/5/2002) He says this despite the fact that in October 2002, Czech officials told Perle in person that the meeting did not take place (see October 20, 2002).
July 9, 2003: Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmed al-Ani is captured by US forces in Iraq. (Schmidt 7/9/2003)
July 10, 2003: In a story confirming al-Ani’s capture, ABC News cites US and British intelligence officials who have seen surveillance photos of al-Ani’s meetings in Prague, and who say that there is a man who looks somewhat like Atta, but is not Atta. (ABC News 7/10/2003)
September 14, 2003: Vice President Cheney repeats the claims that Atta met with al-Ani in Prague on NBC’s Meet the Press. He says “we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting” the meeting, but he also cites the when making the claim that Iraq officially supported al-Qaeda (see September 14, 2003 and September 14, 2003). (Milbank and Pincus 9/15/2003)
July 25, 2003: The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry makes public its conclusion that the meeting never took place (see January-July 2003).
December 13, 2003: It is reported that al-Ani told interrogators he did not meet Atta in Prague. (Priest and Kessler 9/29/2003; Reuters 12/13/2003)
February 24, 2004: CIA Director George Tenet says of the meeting: “We can’t prove that one way or another.” (Jehl 7/9/2004)
June 16, 2004: The 9/11 Commission concludes that the meeting never happened. They claim cell phone records and other records show Atta never left Florida during the time in question (see June 16, 2004). (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004)
June 17, 2004: Vice President Cheney says no one has “been able to confirm” the Atta meeting in Prague or to “to knock it down” He calls reports suggesting that the 9/11 Commission has reached a contradictory conclusion “irresponsible,” even though the 9/11 Commission did conclude just that the day before (see June 17, 2004). (CNN 6/18/2004)
July 1, 2004: CIA Director Tenet says that the CIA is “increasingly skeptical” the meeting ever took place (see July 1, 2004). (Jehl 7/9/2004)
July 12, 2004: The 9/11 Commission publicly concludes the meeting never took place (see July 12, 2004).
March 29, 2006: Cheney says of the meeting: “And that reporting waxed and waned where the degree of confidence in it, and so forth, has been pretty well knocked down now at this stage, that that meeting ever took place” (see March 29, 2006).
September 8, 2006: A bipartisan Senate report confirms that the meeting never took place (see September 8-10, 2006). (US Senate and Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006 )
September 10, 2006: Cheney still breathes life into reports of the meeting, reversing position and refusing to deny that the meeting took place (see September 10, 2006). (Cheney 9/10/2006)
April 2007: In a new book, former CIA Director Tenet claims, “It is my understanding that in 2006, new intelligence was obtained that proved beyond any doubt that the man seen meeting with [a] member of the Iraqi intelligence service in Prague in 2001 was not Mohamed Atta” (see 2006). (Tenet 2007, pp. 355)
In a New York Times editorial, conservative columnist William Safire calls the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi diplomat in Prague an “undisputed fact.” He does not offer any significant new evidence to support this assertion, however. (Safire 11/12/2001)
As part of the orchestrated media blitz to make the case for war with Iraq (see October 10, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, Late 2001 and After, and Early 2002 and Beyond), former Nixon speechwriter William Safire writes in the New York Times, “It is absurd to claim… that Iraq is not an active collaborator with, harborer of, and source of sophisticated training and unconventional weaponry for bin Laden’s world terror network.” (Unger 2007, pp. 228)
The New York Times exposes the existence of John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness data collection program, begun in early 2002 (see Mid-January 2002; March 2002). (Markoff 11/9/2002) Conservative columnist William Safire writes, “If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you: Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend—all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database.’ To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you—passport application, driver’s license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the FBI, your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance—and you have the supersnoop’s dream: a ‘Total Information Awareness’ about every US citizen.” (Safire 11/14/2002) Poindexter says it will take years to realize his vision, but his office has already begun providing some technology to government agencies. (O'Harrow 11/12/2002) The existence of this program, and the fact that Poindexter is running it, causes concern for many on both the left and right. (Shapiro 1/16/2003) It is regularly called Orwellian, conjuring visions of 1984’s Big Brother, and even supporters admit it sounds Orwellian. (Getz 11/15/2002; Turley 11/17/2002; Goldenberg 11/23/2002; Newsday 12/1/2002; Hertzberg 12/9/2002; Webb 12/12/2002; Mittelstadt 12/16/2002; Baer 1/5/2003) The New York Times suggests, “Congress should shut down the program pending a thorough investigation.” (New York Times 11/18/2002) Experts question not only its civil liberties implications, but also if it is even feasible. If it does work, would its database be swapped with errors that could not be removed? (see March 2002) (Puzzanghera 12/26/2002) However, many newspapers fail to report on the program at all, and ABC is the only network to report the story on prime time television. (ABC News 11/16/2002; ABC News 11/25/2002) Despite so many objections, the program is included in the Homeland Security bill (see November 25, 2002), and only later somewhat curbed by Congress (see January 23, 2003).
Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) has a far more powerful effect on the American populace than it does among others. (Unger 2007, pp. 286-288)
Did Not Convince Skeptical Governments - The presentation does little to change minds on the Security Council. France, Russia, and China remain opposed to the idea of a new resolution that would pave the way for the US to invade Iraq. These countries say that Powell’s speech demonstrates that inspections are working and must be allowed to continue. “Immediately after Powell spoke, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China—all of which hold veto power—rejected the need for imminent military action and instead said the solution was more inspections,” reports the Washington Post. But governments who have been supportive of the United States’ stance remain firmly behind Washington. (DeYoung and Pincus 2/6/2003; Richburg 2/7/2003)
European Press Skeptical - The European press’s response to Powell’s evidence is also mixed. The Times of London, a relatively conservative daily newspaper, describes Powell’s presentation as a “few smudgy satellite photographs, a teaspoon of talcum powder, some Lego-style drawings of sinister trucks and trains, a picture of an American U2 spy plane, several mugshots of Arabic men, and a script that required a suspension of mistrust by the world’s doves.” (Reid 2/6/2003)
American Media Strongly Positive - The US media’s reaction to Powell’s presentation is immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Over 100 press outlets compare his speech to Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 denunciation of the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis (see January 30-February 4, 2003). One poll shows that 90 percent of Americans now believe Iraq has an active WMD program that poses a dire threat to the nation. Another shows 67 percent of Americans believe that the US is justified in going to war with Iraq because of that nation’s illicit WMD. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the speech “impressive in its breadth and eloquence.” The Denver Post compares Powell to “Marshal Dillon facing down a gunslinger in Dodge City,” and adds that he showed the world “not just one ‘smoking gun’ but a battery of them.” Perhaps the most telling reaction is among the media’s liberals. The Washington Post’s Mary McGrory says Powell won her over. Richard Cohen, a moderate Post colleague, writes that Powell’s evidence is “absolutely bone-chilling in its detail… [and] had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hadn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool, or possibly a Frenchman, could conclude otherwise.” And the New York Times writes three separate stories praising Powell as “powerful,” “sober,” “factual,” and “nearly encyclopedic.” Columnist William Safire says Powell’s presentation has “half a dozen smoking guns” and makes an “irrefutable and undeniable” case. Safire’s colleague at the Times, Michael Gordon, concludes, “It will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington’s case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information.” (Unger 2007, pp. 286-288) In the days after the speech, the Washington Post opinion pages are filled with praises for Powell and the presentation. (Massing 2/26/2004) One Post editorial proclaims that after the presentation, it is “hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” (Washington Post 2/6/2004)
Powell 'Trusted' - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write in 2004: “[I]t was Powell’s credibility that finally put public opinion over the top. Over and over again, I was told, ‘Colin Powell wouldn’t lie to us.‘… Powell’s support for invading Iraq with a pseudo-coalition was essential, and he deserves at least as much of the responsibility for the subsequent situation that we find ourselves in as anybody else in the administration, because, more than anybody else, it was his credibility and standing among the American people that tipped the scales.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 317-318) In 2007, CBS anchor Dan Rather gives a simple reason why Powell’s presentation is so strongly accepted by so many. “Colin Powell was trusted. Is trusted, I’d put it—in a sense. He, unlike many of the people who made the decisions to go to war, Colin Powell has seen war. He knows what a green jungle hell Vietnam was. He knows what the battlefield looks like. And when Colin Powell says to you, ‘I, Colin Powell, am putting my personal stamp on this information. It’s my name, my face, and I’m putting it out there,’ that did make a difference.… I was impressed. And who wouldn’t be?” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
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 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)
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