As usual, Glenn Greenwald beat me to one of the day's most amazing stories (he's not only smarter, he's several time zones ahead): Michael Gordon's piece in the New York Times "debunking" the administration's claims about al-Qaida's role in Iraq. It's simply jaw-dropping, given the way Gordon helped spread those claims. First Greenwald took him apart for it, and then Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt followed with a great column on it last Sunday (although following Times tradition, Hoyt didn't name Gordon).
Now, without mentioning any of the criticism, or the Times' own faulty reporting, Gordon and Jim Rutenberg talk to experts who say Bush is simplistically conflating Osama bin Laden's pre-9/11 followers with al-Qaida of Mesopotamia, and inflating the latter group's role in the Iraq insurgency.
What happened? Well, as Greenwald notes, this is likely an example of the corrective force of the blogosphere, amplifying criticism of Gordon and others' al-Qaida reporting to a volume and lucidity at which Times editors can't ignore it. I also think Bush crossed into a whole new world of delusion or dishonesty, which Times editors and reporters also can't ignore, when he brazenly claimed on Thursday: "The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that's why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home."
That's the lead of the Gordon-Rutenberg piece, and I saw the clip on every news show I watched last night. It's outrageous and horrifying -- as was Bush's whole press conference, really. In an administration constantly reaching new milestones of dishonesty and incompetence, yesterday was a different level of scary. After Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff bewildered the nation with his "gut feeling" that a new terror strike is coming this summer, after leaks that al-Qaida has reconstituted itself to pre-9/11 strength and is working to get operatives inside the U.S. for a new attack, to watch Bush and others try to play down domestic al-Qaida threats was sort of chilling. They seem to be actively working to befuddle the country about the terror menace, not warn us or reassure us. Al-Qaida's a big danger in Iraq; not so much at home. Be afraid; don't be afraid. Pay no attention to anything we're saying, because we have absolutely no idea how serious the al-Qaida threat is. Heck of a job, Bushies!
Of course in the past we know the administration hyped dubious terror threats to distract us from Bush's domestic political woes. But I started to think yesterday that they could actively downplay real terror threats just because they're drowning in bad news. The point is, they could say or do pretty much anything, truth be damned. They already have. Bush's constant lying about Iraq has cost him all of his political credibility, and if he really needed it, to marshal the country against a real threat, we'd all be in trouble. I'm no fan of this administration, I didn't vote for this president, but as an American, that terrifies me.
But I'm a glass-half-full kind of person, and this morning I started thinking: Maybe everyone saw what I did yesterday, watching Bush twitch and lie at his press conference. Maybe it's no accident that he hit a Nixonian 26 percent approval rating in the polls on the same day. Maybe even Michael Gordon is coming to understand that the most active danger to the U.S. right now might not be al-Qaida, but an administration that's more interested in protecting itself politically than protecting the country. As Greenwald notes, even Time's Joe Klein is calling Bush a liar, rather than wasting time beating up on the nasty blogosphere. Every day for the last couple of years I've found myself thinking, it can't get any worse, can it? The country has no place to go but up. One of these days, I'll have to be right. Why not today?