Unfit to print?

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 22, 2004 7:30PM (EST)

Richard Clarke's revelations about the White House drive to link Iraq to the 9/11 terror attacks and the Bush administration's relative lack of interest in pursuing al-Qaida are a major story. And it's central to another huge story this week, the 9/11 commission public hearings. On this topic, by the way, the Wall Street Journal has a Page One account today of gaps and inconsistencies in the government's official story about what happened on Sept. 11 and the timeline the panel is putting together to flesh it all out.

But New York Times readers had to stay with the paper for 18 pages before getting the dish from Clarke, the former counter-terrorism chief -- and even then, you had to wade through several grafs of Judith Miller's story and a quote from a Bush spokesman calling Clarke's insider account "politically motivated," "reckless" and "baseless" before getting into any of Clarke's specific and rather troublesome allegations about what he saw at the White House before, on and after Sept. 11, 2001. (Josh Marshall points out why it was inappropriate for Ms. Miller to write the Times piece in the first place and how she not only misrepresents Clarke's comments at one point, but the story was revised since she first wrote it.)

Writing in his blog The Daily Howler, frequent media scourge Bob Somerby was incensed not only by Miller's piece (she's the "White House stenographer" in his book), but by another Times offering today: Elisabeth Bumiller's latest White House (love) Letter which takes on the hard-hitting topic of how much Bush prefers campaigning as a president rather than a challenger. From Somerby: "Incredibly, Bumiller produces such vacuous 'coverage' on a routine basis. In recent weeks, she has written a 'letter' in praise of the Bush bedtime habits, and several 'letters' letting us know how much the great president enjoys his campaigning. Here are the cheery headlines from the past two weeks alone:

March 8: White House Letter: Bush Ready And Bursting To Bring It On
March 15: White House Letter: Want a Reliable President? Here's One You Can Set Your Clocks By
March 18: Political Memo: Bush Glad to Be in the Campaign Fray and Not Above It
March 22: White House Letter: Running on a Campaign Trail Paved in Comfy Feathers

" How far in the bag has the Gotham Times gone?" Somerby asks. "This morning, even the Washington Times gives Clarke more prominence than its more famous namesake does. And Bumiller? She offers another spotless look at a happy president in his warm bed. If you still don't know what the Times has become, you should shell out a dollar this morning."

Send comments to the Times' public editor Daniel Okrent at public@nytimes.com.

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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