Posted at 10:22 AM ET, 06/26/2009
White House Watched
It’s hard to summarize the past five and a half years. But I’ll try.
I started my column in January 2004, and one dominant theme quickly emerged: That George W. Bush was truly the proverbial emperor with no clothes. In the days and weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, the nation, including the media, vested him with abilities he didn’t have and credibility he didn’t deserve. As it happens, it was on the day of my very first column that we also got the first insider look at the Bush White House, via Ron Suskind’s book, The Price of Loyalty. In it, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill described a disengaged president “like a blind man in a room full of deaf people”, encircled by “a Praetorian guard,” intently looking for a way to overthrow Saddam Hussein long before 9/11. The ensuing five years and 1,088 columns really just fleshed out that portrait, describing a president who was oblivious, embubbled and untrustworthy.
When I look back on the Bush years, I think of the lies. There were so many. Lies about the war and lies to cover up the lies about the war. Lies about torture and surveillance. Lies about Valerie Plame. Vice President Dick Cheney’s lies, criminally prosecutable but for his chief of staff Scooter Libby’s lies. I also think about the extraordinary and fundamentally cancerous expansion of executive power that led to violations of our laws and our principles.
And while this wasn’t as readily apparent until President Obama took office, it’s now very clear that the Bush years were all about kicking the can down the road – either ignoring problems or, even worse, creating them and not solving them. This was true of a huge range of issues including the economy, energy, health care, global warming – and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.
How did the media cover it all? Not well. Reading pretty much everything that was written about Bush on a daily basis, as I did, one could certainly see the major themes emerging. But by and large, mainstream-media journalism missed the real Bush story for way too long. The handful of people who did exceptional investigative reporting during this era really deserve our gratitude: People such as Ron Suskind, Seymour Hersh, Jane Mayer, Murray Waas, Michael Massing, Mark Danner, Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau (better late than never), Dana Priest, Walter Pincus, Charlie Savage and Philippe Sands; there was also some fine investigative blogging over at Talking Points Memo and by Marcy Wheeler. Notably not on this list: The likes of Bob Woodward and Tim Russert. Hopefully, the next time the nation faces a grave national security crisis, we will listen to the people who were right, not the people who were wrong, and heed those who reported the truth, not those who served as stenographers to liars.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that there is so very much about the Bush era that we still don’t know.
Now, a little over five months after Bush left office, Barack Obama’s presidency is shaping up to be in large part about coming to terms with the Bush era, and fixing all the things that were broken. In most cases, Obama is approaching this task enthusiastically – although in some cases, he is doing so only under great pressure, and in a few cases, not at all . I think part of Obama’s abiding popularity with the public stems from what a contrast he is from his predecessor — and in particular his willingness to take on problems. But he certainly has a lot of balls in the air at one time. And I predict that his growing penchant for secrecy – especially but not only when it comes to the Bush legacy of torture and lawbreaking – will end up serving him poorly, unless he renounces it soon.
Obama is nowhere in Bush’s league when it comes to issues of credibility, but his every action nevertheless needs to be carefully scrutinized by the media, and he must be held accountable. We should be holding him to the highest standards – and there are plenty of places where we should be pushing back. Just for starters, there are a lot of hugely important but unanswered questions about his Afghanistan policy, his financial rescue plans, and his turnaround on transparency.
So now I’m off. I wish The Washington Post well. I’m proud to have been associated with it for 12 years (I was a producer and editor at the Web site before starting the column.) I remain a big believer in the “traditional media,” especially when it sticks to traditional journalistic values. The Post was, is and will always be a great newspaper, and I have confidence that it will rise to the challenges ahead.
Franken: “I Deeply Appreciate” Opportunity To Meet With Biden
The Franken campaign has released this statement on Al Franken’s meeting today at the White House with Vice President Biden:
MINNEAPOLIS [05/06/09] – This afternoon, Senator-elect Al Franken visited the White House to meet with Vice President Biden. Franken updated the Vice President on the state of Minnesota’s second U.S. Senate seat, and discussed the administration’s agenda and its potential benefits for the people of Minnesota. Franken was accompanied by his wife, Franni.
“I deeply appreciate the administration’s ongoing support and the opportunity to meet with Vice President Biden today. Minnesotans are eager to see Congress make progress on the administration’s agenda – and I’m eager to do my part in that effort. From investments in alternative energy to the expansion of high-speed rail to the Twin Cities, we have a lot to do to help Minnesota’s working families, and I was pleased to discuss these important issues with the Vice President.”
Late Update: Vice President Biden has released this statement:
“The election process and recount in Minnesota have lived up to the state’s reputation for organization, transparency, and bipartisanship. The officials have been meticulous and every ruling has been unanimous.
“While Senator Amy Klobuchar is one of the hardest working members of the United States Senate, Minnesotans deserve their full representation.
“Once the Minnesota Supreme Court has issued its final ruling in this case, the President and I look forward to working with Mr. Franken on building an economy for the 21st century.”
Last week, in an appalling show of corporate greed, “a small group of speculators” sank the Obama administration’s proposed Chrysler deal for just “an extra fifteen cents on the dollar.” The selfish greed of the hedge funds may, however, have produced a good result by forcing Chrysler into the bankruptcy process. The New York Times reported on Friday, “whatever the outcome, this bit of brinkmanship — which many characterized as a game of chicken with Washington — has become yet another public relations disaster for Wall Street.” But instead, this story of corporate greed has now been turned into a right-wing attack on President Obama. Here’s how it happened in three simple steps.
Step 1: Right-Wing Radio Gives Corporate Hedge Funds A Venue To Attack Obama In an interview with Detroit-based conservative talk show host Frank Beckmann on Friday, Tom Lauria — a corporate lawyer representing the hedge funds calling themselves the Committee of Chrysler Non-Tarp Lenders — alleged that one of its members, the investment firm Perella Weinberg, was “directly threatened by the White House” if it did not cooperate with the Obama’s administration’s rescue plan. (Perella was Rahm Emanuel’s former investment partner.) Lauria claimed that Perella withdrew its opposition to the government deal because the White House threatened “that the full force of the White House press corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight.” (Listen here.)
Step 2: Right-Wing Pressures White House Reporters To Take Up Its Attack After the story was cooked up by right-wing hate radio, it was peddled to members of the White House press corps, at least one of whom took the bait. On his radio show on Friday, right-wing talker Mark Levin discussed Lauria’s claims against Obama, and then called on his listeners to pressure the White House press corps — specifically ABC’s Jake Tapper — to report the story:
LEVIN: Somebody needs to pursue what’s going on in the White House behind the scenes! And stop playing games and making nice! American citizens — whatever walk of life they’re in — should not be threatened by the White House! Should not be told we’re going to drag you through the mud with the White House press corps! So confident is the White House that they have the White House press corps wrapped around their little finger! Maybe Jake Tapper will take a look at this. Ask that doofus — Gibbs.
Levin works for the ABC Radio Networks. Tapper works for ABC News. Step 3: ABC’s Jake Tapper Picks It Up, Drudge Promotes It A day after Levin’s show aired, ABC’s White House correspondent Jake Tapper gave the right-wing attacks the platform they were looking for. Tapper reported, “A leading bankruptcy attorney representing hedge funds and money managers told ABC News Saturday that Steve Rattner, the leader of the Obama administration’s Auto Industry Task Force, threatened one of the firms.” After Tapper reported it, Drudge linked to his story and helped give it further amplification: Both the White House and Perella Weinberg have released statements to ABC News denying the accusations made by Tom Lauria and the right-wing echo chamber. Bottom line: the right wing has morphed a story of corporate greed into a false political attack against Obama.