Joe Conason's Journal

Why the Taliban are laughing at Saddam's capture. Plus: Conrad Black's slush fund for conservative pundits.

By Joe Conason
Published December 22, 2003 9:01PM (EST)

Why the Taliban might laugh
In New York City today, we're suffering from a touch of cognitive dissonance. On television and radio and the front pages of our leading newspapers, we hear that federal and local authorities fear we are in such serious jeopardy that they have raised the threat alert level to orange-plus. "We've never quite seen it at this level before," said Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge. "The strategic indicators suggest that it is the most significant threat reporting since 9/11." According to White House press secretary Scott McClellan, "terrorists abroad are anticipating attacks that they believe will rival or exceed the scope and impact of those we experienced on Sept. 11."

Yet on the Op-Ed pages and the propaganda chatter channels, we're assured that the world is a far safer place since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. We're told that the Bush administration's muscular policies have forced Libya into surrender, but nobody mentions that Libya hasn't been a significant threat for at least a decade.

While we await our fate, I would like to hear the president explain how the bloody $200 billion invasion of Iraq improved our defenses against terrorism -- and also why, a week after Saddam's capture, the United States is confronting the worst threat from al-Qaida since the disaster of September 2001. Over the past several days, Washington's great minds have mocked Howard Dean for daring to say what the White House now more or less acknowledges: War in Iraq has made us no safer than we were last spring.

Meanwhile, Newsweek reports that Osama bin Laden's allies in the Taliban found the capture of Saddam quite amusing. They seem unworried that their leaders will suffer the same humiliation -- perhaps because, as Newsweek also mentions, there are far fewer troops hunting for bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mullah Omar in Afghanistan than there were seeking Saddam in Iraq.

George Will's business ethics
Today's most amusing story is this New York Times profile of Conrad Black's conservative cronies. Now accused of looting Hollinger Corp., the newspaper mogul has used his corporate money for many years to forge friendships with elite Republican leaders and pundits. He paid them, and they promoted him. Among the names named are Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, William F. Buckley Jr., and George Will. (Is there any right-wing teat that hasn't suckled Kissinger?)

Buckley estimated that Black has paid him around $200,000 to sit on Hollinger's "international advisory board," although he was unable to describe how his exertions on that body might have benefited the company's stockholders. Asked why he had never informed his readers of his financial relationship with Black, the National Review founder replied, "I didn't think that had any bearing whatsoever."

Exactly how much George Will received from Hollinger is unclear, but he got at least $25,000 every time he showed up in his advisory role. Asked whether he ought to have divulged these payments to readers when he wrote a column last March praising Black, Will played the tough guy. "My business is my business," he barked. "Got it?"

The editor in charge of syndicating Will for the Washington Post told the Times he was unaware of the payments from Black, and added meekly: "I think I would have liked to have known."
[1:00 p.m. PST, Dec. 22, 2003]

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Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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