December 19, 2005
How The New York Times Stole ChristmasBy Noel Sheppard
The folks over at The New York Times must be laughing their heads off. With the President's poll numbers on the rise, a fabulous election result in Iraq, and the potential extension of a key antiterrorism bill that the administration holds dear, the Times stole Christmas from the White House last week with the release of one carefully—timed article.
After some pretty horrible months in September and October, President Bush has been fighting his way back up from a virtual poll abyss. The economy —— regardless of left—wing protestations to the contrary —— has been humming. Energy prices —— regardless of, well, you get the point —— have been plummeting. And, the Sunnis, who largely boycotted the past two elections in Iraq, were giving signs that they would participate in Thursday's elections in very large, enthusiastic numbers.
All the President needed to make this holiday season a truly joyous one was a relatively safe, incident—free day at the Iraqi polls Thursday, and the Patriot Act to be extended before Congress adjourned for the year on Friday.
The Grinch...err., I mean, the Times had something else in mind. It couldn't stop Thursday's estimated 11 million Iraqis —— over 70 percent of registered voters —— from making their way to the polls on an almost violence—free, glorious day. Instead, rather than allow the American people to spend the weekend savoring the moment, the Times published an article on Friday claiming that the President had authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans who were thought to be terrorists or al Qaeda operatives without obtaining court orders allowing it to do so.
'You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch!'
The timing of the release of this article was immediately questioned. First, the Times had admittedly been sitting on this story for more than twelve months. Second, the Drudge Report announced at 11:37 AM Friday that one of the article's authors, James Risen, was about to have a book released entitled 'State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,' and that this story was part of the book. Yet, the Times chose not to disclose this fact.
'You really are a heel!'
Regardless, the damage had already been done. As a result of this article, several senators changed their minds about the Patriot Act, and not enough votes materialized on Friday to end the filibuster blocking an extension of this antiterrorism bill.
You're as cuddly as a cactus! You're as charming as an eel!'
On Saturday, the Times had a Grinchy smile:
Confirming the impact this story had on Friday's vote was a Washington Post article published Saturday:
One senator was so convinced this article changed the course of Friday's vote that he accused the Times of endangering national security. As reported by the Associated Press on Saturday:
As has been the case the past few weeks, the President fought back. In his weekly radio address, also delivered before television cameras in an unusual move, the President lashed out at the Times while enumerating some of the errors and omissions in its article. As reported by the AP on Saturday:
In a post—9/11 world, this does seem to be a reasonable strategy to avert further terrorist attacks. Wouldn't most Americans wish that the 9/11 hijackers all had their 'international communications' intercepted regardless of the existence of a court order to do so?
The article continued:
It seems logical that after twelve months, proper research and vetting on the part of Times' editors would have identified the number of times that the President had apprised Congress of this strategy, as well as how often it was reauthorized. Yet, in the 3,300—word Times article that started all this hoopla, Congressional oversight was depicted as:
This is a far cry from the President's claims in his radio address on Saturday as paraphrased by AP that
The AP article concluded:
This is addressed in a couple of instances in the Times article, including in one of the final paragraphs:
This admission raises an important question: what suddenly overrode the Times' reasonable and legitimate concerns for national security issues, causing it to release this story on Friday after keeping it under wraps for more than twelve months?
Regardless of the answer, the momentum that the White House had wrested back in the past month has clearly been stalled judging from the media response. As NewsBusters reported, all three broadcast networks lead with the eavesdropping scandal story on their Friday evening news reports. So did most of the Sunday political talk shows.
As a result, instead of a weekend of Christmas shopping and visions of sugar plum fairies, Americans were bludgeoned with images of George Orwell. The three words that best describe this are as follows, and I quote:
'Stink, STANK, STUNK!'
Noel Sheppard is an economist, business owner, and contributing writer to the Free Market Project. He is also contributing editor for the Media Research Center's NewsBusters.org. Noel welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.