Thursday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
April 1, 2004 7:38PM (UTC)

Fallout from Fallujah
The Tampa Tribune writes today that "images of charred American corpses hanging from a bridge in Iraq could spark a turning point in U.S. public opinion and damage President Bush's re-election hopes."

"Broadcast and cable television networks, as well as local stations, grappled for much of the day with how to handle the visuals. Most chose not to show the bodies of civilian contractors who were dragged through the streets. Many Americans said the attack in Fallujah recalled the 1993 'Black Hawk Down' episode in which a mob dragged the corpse of a U.S. soldier through Mogadishu, Somalia. Pictures and tapes preceded an eventual U.S. withdrawal from the war-torn nation."

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"If the Fallujah images are republished and replayed, particularly by the voracious 24/7 media of today, there's a real chance of an effect on foreign policy, some experts said. Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an authority on advertising imagery with the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, cautioned that it was too soon to tell whether the latest pictures would be as galvanizing as other opinion-shaping images. 'You've got to wait 24 hours,' Jamieson said. 'You can't say which way it will go.'"

Condi's 9/11 focus was missile defense
The Washington Post got its hands on excerpts of a speech Condoleezza Rice was supposed to give on Sept. 11, 2001 to outline Bush administration policy on global security threats. The focus of the speech was largely missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals, the Post reports.

"The speech provides telling insight into the administration's thinking on the very day that the United States suffered the most devastating attack since the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. [Rice's] address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former U.S. officials who have seen the text."

"The speech was postponed in the chaos of the day, part of which Rice spent in a bunker. It mentioned terrorism, but did so in the context used in other Bush administration speeches in early 2001: as one of the dangers from rogue nations, such as Iraq, that might use weapons of terror, rather than from the cells of extremists now considered the main security threat to the United States. The text also implicitly challenged the Clinton administration's policy, saying it did not do enough about the real threat -- long-range missiles."

"The question of whether the administration was properly focused on the terrorist threat before Sept. 11 is central to a building political storm in Washington, as a commission investigating the attacks prepares to take public testimony from Rice. Last week, President Bush's former counterterrorism chief, Richard A. Clarke, accused the administration of failing to take seriously enough the danger from al Qaeda -- a charge the White House strenuously disputes."

Clarke outsourced intel work
Newsweek reports that "as White House counterterror czar, Richard Clarke was so frustrated by the FBI's inability to identify Islamic radicals within the United States that he turned for help to a freelance terrorism researcher whose work was deeply resented by top bureau officials."

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"Clarke's secret work with private researcher Steven Emerson is among a number of revealing disclosures in the ex-White House aides new book, 'Against All Enemies,' that has been all but obscured by the furor over the author's politically charged allegations against President George W. Bush. As recounted by Clarke in his book, and confirmed by documents provided to NEWSWEEK, Emerson and his former associate Rita Katz regularly provided the White House with a stream of information about possible Al Qaeda activity inside the United States that appears to have been largely unknown to the FBI prior to the September 11 terror attacks."

9/11 questions create uncertainty in swing voters
The New York Times went to Ohio to see how the testimony of Richard Clarke before the 9/11 commission, and the White House reaction to it, is playing with the state's critical swing voters.

"In three dozen interviews this week in this swing state, a number of undecided voters sounded the same note as Ms. Pappas, saying they were growing ever more undecided the more they heard from Washington. Among partisan Democrats and Republicans, the testimony from Mr. Clarke and the Bush administration's reaction to it has only reinforced partisan feelings: those who firmly oppose Mr. Bush said they saw Mr. Clarke's testimony as confirmation that the president could not be trusted. Those who firmly support the president said Mr. Clarke was shifting his story to sell books."

"Some voters, including registered Democrats, said they continued to be impressed by Mr. Bush's response to the Sept. 11 attacks and would support him because of that. But some voters who were not committed to either candidate said in interviews that Mr. Clarke's testimony had reinforced their uncertainty about the president. And what they ultimately decide will be key here, a state where Mr. Bush beat Al Gore by a slim 165,000 votes in 2000."

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Majority believes Clarke
The Los Angeles Times reports that "most Americans accept Richard Clarke's key criticisms of President Bush's anti-terrorism record, but a majority also thinks that politics influenced the timing of the charges by the former White House aide, a Los Angeles Times poll has found."

"Nearly three-fifths of those surveyed echoed the contention by Clarke that Bush placed a higher priority on invading Iraq than combating terrorism. And a smaller majority agreed with the charge by the onetime White House counterterrorism chief that Bush did not focus enough on the terrorist threat before the Sept. 11 attacks."

"Yet nearly three-fifths agreed that Clarke's new book on the subject was "politically motivated" and intended to influence the presidential election. And despite the attention Clarke's charges have received, almost three-fifths of Americans said Bush's anti-terrorism and defense policies had made the nation more secure."

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Ethnic joke riles Kentucky Dems
A Cincinnati Enquirer columnist chastised Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky for making a joke at a GOP dinner at which he said his likely competitor in the fall, who is Italian-American, looked like Odai and Qusai Hussein, Saddam's dead sons.

"According to four Republicans at the event, none of whom would be named for fear of angering Bunning, the crowd reacted with laughter -- along with some gasps. Bunning had apparently met [Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Dan] Mongiardo -- state senator, doctor from the eastern Kentucky mountains, son of Italian immigrants -- earlier that day at the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. But even some of the Republicans who heard Bunning's speech found the remarks insensitive, boorish and beneath a U.S. senator."

" Mongiardo has been through this treatment before from Republicans in Kentucky. In last year's state Senate race, his Republican opponent ran a television ad that mixed Mongiardo's voice with the image of a Sept. 11 hijacker. Tough politics are fine. But ethnic jokes have no place on the campaign trail. Even if you are a senator."

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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