Thursday, July 06, 2006

Times revealed little that Bush hadn't told us
Gene Lyons

The key thing about the infamous New York Times scoop that's drawn the theatrical wrath of the Bush administration is the last thing you'll hear from the newspaper's embattled editors: how little real news it contained. Nobody who's paying attention could be surprised that U. S. agents monitor international money transfers. George W. Bush has been patting himself on the back about it for years. The June 28 edition of MSNBC's "Countdown" led with several video clips of Bush touting U. S. plans for cutting al-Qa'ida's cash flow. On Sept. 24, 2001, while the rubble of the World Trade Center was still smoking, Bush announced the "Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center at the Department of the Treasury to identify and investigate the financial infrastructure of the international terrorist networks." A veritable barrage of White House press releases has chronicled the government's work with NATO and international agencies like the Financial Action Task Force to combat money laundering and terrorism. The subject of the Times report, SWIFT - the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a Belgian consortium that coordinates commerce among 7, 800 banks - has been discussed in congressional hearings and U. N. reports since 2002.

SWIFT is no secret. It publishes a slick magazine, hosts a lavish yearly trade exposition and features its cooperation with the Financial Action Task Force on its corporate Web site. Indeed, in 2004, Stuart Levey, who heads the Treasury Department's anti-terrorism efforts, told Congress that al-Qa'ida had quit using international banks and taken to dispatching couriers carrying suitcases filled with cash. Numerous reports have documented that fact.

The Times' article concerned not operational details, but worry among some officials that the U. S. might be casting its net too wide, although it concluded that the government was doing nothing illegal. So did same-day stories in the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. In short, the information was of marginal interest to anybody but specialists in international finance.

So how dumb would a terrorist have to be not to know that U. S. spies monitor international money transfers? Maybe dumb enough to fall for the White House's demagogic attack on The New York Times (but not, oddly, The Wall Street Journal or the LA Times) as a left-wing newspaper so consumed with hatred for Bush that it would risk catastrophe to embarrass him.

The New York Times arrogant? Goodness, yes. Condescending, too. During the decade the newspaper devoted to its farcical coverage of the Whitewater hoax, feeding out of Kenneth Starr's soft little hand like a Shetland pony, I experienced that condescension firsthand. Even confronted with dispositive documentary evidence that its Whitewater stories were bunk, its basic response never varied: We're The New York Times and you're not.

But left wing? Well, the Times, along with The Washington Post, led the 2000 "war on Gore" that basically gave Bush the presidency. Then-columnist and now executive editor Bill Keller actually quoted his 3-year-old daughter's opinion that the Democratic nominee was a stiff.

After 9/11, the Times, along with the rest of the newspaper consortium, buried its finding that had all the legal votes in Florida been counted in 2000, Al Gore would have been president.

Lest we forget, it was reporter Judith Miller's series of leaked, single-source "exclusives" touting Saddam Hussein's imaginary nuclear weapons accompanied by TV appearances by Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney carefully coordinated with Times publication dates that helped stampede the nation to war. Columnist Keller thought invading Iraq was a terrific idea.

Now the Times has its reward. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll thinks he knows why.

"Many members of the president's base consider ‘New York' to be a nifty code word for ‘Jewish,'" he writes. "It is very nice for the president to be able to campaign against the Jews without (a) actually saying the word ‘Jew' and (b) without irritating the Israelis."

Actually, that's wishful thinking. Anti-Semitism, as such, is old hat among True Believers on the extreme right. For years, the idea's been percolating through the right's well-organized propaganda apparatus that Democrats aren't loyal Americans.

Regarding Ann Coulter's ludicrous book, "Slander," I once wrote that "the ‘liberal' sins [she ] caricatures - atheism, cosmopolitanism, sexual license, moral relativism, communism, disloyalty and treason - are basically identical to the crimes of the Jews as Hitler saw them." Michael Savage, Michael Reagan, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh and others peddle the same sterilized American update of an ancient slur. Limbaugh recently called 80 percent of Times subscribers "jihadists." Now the Bush White House, desperate to prevail in 2006 congressional elections, has taken up the cry. Reasonable people never want to believe that extremists believe their own rhetoric. But quit kidding yourselves. This is mass psychosis. The next terrorist strike, should it happen, will be blamed on the enemy within: treasonous "liberals" who dissent from the glorious reign of George W. Bush. Unless confronted, it's through such strategems that democracies fail and constitutional republics become dictatorships.

[This article originally appeared in the Arkanasas Democrat-Gazette. Thanks to Moose & Squirrel.]

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