Sunday, May 16, 2004

Pentagon declares war on U.S. Press Corps

In letter published Saturday in the Washington Post, the Pentagon compared the Posts with war criminals.

The spokesman for the Pentagon wrote that the Post's concern for the Administration's role in the prison scandal "our concern over whether administration procedures violate international law "puts The Post in the same company as those involved in this despicable behavior.".

Yesterday, the Pentagon strongly denied a compelling New Yorker article stating that Rumsfeld and Bush had approved a highly secret Pentagon program that had led to the abuses.

On its website, the Pentagon responded by effectively declaring war on the New Yorker: "Assertions apparently being made in the latest New Yorker article on Abu Ghraib and the abuse of Iraqi detainees are outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture."

With this remark, the Pentagon effectively gave the New Yorker the back of its hand.

The famous New Yorker magazine is effectively the house journal of smart, Democratic New York --- many of the people on the Democratic side who effectively run America's corporate boardrooms.

Many an elite New York corporate executive's connection with the New Yorker goes back to their Ivy League school days. The journal is supported by some of the wealthiest, most capable, and most influential people in America. These are not the sort of people you want to insult in this way.

Nor was the The New Yorker irreconcilably hostile towards Bush. The New Yorker, although heavily Democratic, had published a number of articles on Saddams' WMDs prior to the Iraq war that in sight sound as if they might have been written by the Administration as propaganda pieces.

Both the New Yorker and Washington Post have long-term interests in maintaining credibility within their respective market niches. Both are family-owned businesses that have been around for centuries or nearly centuries, and hope to remain around for at least that time into the future. Notwithstanding their need to maintain credibility with their readers, they did not feel a desperate need to attack the Administration --- until perhaps now.

The increasingly embattled Bush Administration is unlikely to strategize past November.

Comparing reporters at the highly respected Washington Post to war criminals is probably not the most auspicious way to start a Presidential election campaign and is unlikely to endear Bush to either the left or the right in the reporting business.

These attacks on the New Yorker and the Washington Post are all reminiscent of Nixon's attacks on the Post in the movie "All the President's Men" based on the Watergate scandal.

At the climax of the movie, reporters from the Washington Post feared they had been hoaxed by the White House after the White House met one of the scoops with fervent denials. The late Katharine Graham, then publisher of the Post, provides a non-fiction account of these events in her eminently readable autobiography A Personal History. Post reporters feared the White House was trying to bring down the Post with hoaxed information and electronic surveillance. The movie ended shortly thereafter with Nixon's resignation.

The main difference between the current scandal and Watergate is that now, until then, the President's party is firmly in control of congress.

Unlike Watergate, however, Nixon was not facing re-election in six months at the time he attacked the Post.