In response to White House-fueled hysteria on the right about the New York Times' publication of a story about how the U.S. was monitoring the banking activities of suspected terrorists, David Remnick of The New Yorker provides a history less, of sorts, that puts the hubub in some perspective.
President Nixon, did it, too, Remnick writes, when the press dared challenged the official version of events, especially on Vietnam.
And like the Bush White House is doing now, Nixon saw it has a chance to rally his base by bashing the press.
The current smearing of the press is nothing but a Karl Rove operation, another attempt to boost the president's political fortunes. The substance of what the Times reported on the bank monitoring is not important; I would argue revelations about warrantless wiretaps and secret CIA prisons were more damaging, if at all.
But the bank story was published right now, as Bush tries just about anything — including suggestions by some of his surrogates, as well as talk-radio windbags, that the press is guilty of treason — to reverse his declining poll numbers.
In the end, bashing the press did Nixon no good; it was just another way he covered up his misdeeds.
Chances are, Bush, will fail, too.
The Bush Administration can’t really believe that these newspaper stories have undermined the battle against Al Qaeda; what’s more, it knows that over the decades papers like the Times have kept many stories and countless particulars secret when editors saw that it was in the interest of national security and military safety to do so. The Times banking story disclosed no leads, named no targets. To say that it risked lives is like saying that an article revealing that cops tap phones to monitor the activities of the Mafia is a gift to the Five Families of New York.
The Bush Administration knows very well what it is doing and in what climate. The press––particularly the mainstream outlets the White House finds most irritating––is in a collective state of anxious transition, hurt by scandals (Congressman King was quick to mention Jayson Blair, the Times serial fabulist), by the appearance of a blizzard of new technologies and ideologized alternatives like Fox News, and by a general sense of economic, even existential, worry. The era of hegemonic networks and newspapers, of supremely confident Bradlees and Rosenthals, is a memory.
Read all of Remnick's piece here.