David Broder and media culpability for Bush crimes

Unanimous opposition among establishment journalists to investigations is unsurprising given their role in what happened.

Published April 26, 2009 2:34PM (EDT)

(updated below)

I read David Broder's truly wretched screed yesterday -- in which he demands immunity for Bush officials from investigation and prosecution and attacks those who advocate accountability -- and decided that I wouldn't write about it until today because I didn't want it to infect my Saturday.  For purposes of catharsis, I did immediately note on Twitter that Broder's article was "a tour de force of Beltway sickness - even for him" and that "the Washington press corps has exactly the 'dean' it deserves."  Fortunately, Hilzoy, Scott Lemieux and Roger Ailes -- among others -- have now made most of the points quite conclusively that need to be made about the morally depraved joke that David Broder is, leaving just a couple of observations worth noting.

To justify the absolute immunity he wants for government lawbreakers, Broder describes the Bush era as "one of the darkest chapters of American history, when certain terrorist suspects were whisked off to secret prisons and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of painful coercion in hopes of extracting information about threats to the United States."  But that's easy to say now that the Bush presidency is over and the evidence of its criminality so undeniable.  But Broder never said any such thing while it was all taking place, when it mattered.  In fact, he did the opposite:  he mocked those who tried to sound the alarm about how radical and "dark" the Bush presidency was and repeatedly defended what Bush officials were doing as perfectly normal, unalarming and well within the bounds of mainstream and legitimate policy.

As but one example, Broder -- in a September 15, 2006 Washington Post chat -- was asked by a reader about an Editorial in The New York Times which appeared that morning that warned of the grave dangers of abolishing habeas corpus and the protections of the Geneva Conventions, as the soon-to-be-enacted Military Commissions Act sought to do.  In other words, back then, the Times Editorial Page was warning of exactly the policies -- "certain terrorist suspects were whisked off to secret prisons and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of painful coercion" -- which Broder today, with Bush safely gone, cites as examples of our "darkest chapter."  Yet here is what Broder was saying about these things when it mattered:

Kingston, Ontario: I'm rather surprised by your and your correspondents' calm tone of voice this morning. Unless the New York Times editorial page is wildly off-track, the U.S. is in the grip of a major constitutional crisis, with the government trying to set aside long established guarantees of legal behavior, both internally and in relation to international law. Where's the sense of urgency?

David S. Broder: Far be it from me to question the New York Times, but I'd like to assure you that Washington is calm and quiet this morning, and democracy still lives here. Editorial writers sometimes get carried away by their own rhetoric.

On other occasions, Broder mocked those who suggested there was anything extremist or radical about Bush's "counter-terrorism" policies; hailed "Bush's conviction that the quest for freedom is a universal truth"; proclaimed his confidence in Donald Rumsfeld's pre-war Iraq plans; and compared 2002 war opponents to "Jane Fonda in Hanoi or antiwar protesters marching under Viet Cong flags."  

Just compare what Broder wrote about the Bush presidency on November 14, 2004, to what he wrote today:


Some of my colleagues in the pundit business have become unhinged by the election results. The always diverting Maureen Dowd of The New York Times wrote the other day that "the forces of darkness" are taking over the country . . . Bush won, but he will have to work within the system for whatever he gets.  Checks and balances are still there. The nation does not face "another dark age," unless you consider politics with all its tradeoffs and bargaining a black art.


Obama, to his credit, has ended one of the darkest chapters of American history, when certain terrorist suspects were whisked off to secret prisons and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of painful coercion in hopes of extracting information about threats to the United States.

What Broder states today as fact (that the Bush presidency is "one of the darkest chapters of American history") is almost verbatim that which, when it mattered, when it was happening, he vehemently and repeatedly denied -- and, of course, given that he works in the most accountability-free profession of all (establishment punditry), he does not even have the minimal honesty to acknowledge that.  Like so many of his colleagues, Broder played a critical role in defending these crimes and insisting that they were not taking place.

This is a crucial and oft-overlooked fact in the debate over whether we should investigate and prosecute Bush crimes.  The very same pundits and establishment journalists who today are demanding that we forget all about it, not look back, not hold anyone accountable, are the very same people who -- like Broder -- played key roles in hiding, enabling and defending these crimes.  In light of that, what is less surprising than the fact that, almost unanimously, these very same people oppose any efforts to examine what happened and impose accountability?  Back in January, I wrote the following about the virtual unanimity among establishment media figures against investigations and prosecutions:

Bush officials didn't commit these crimes by themselves. Virtually the entire Washington establishment supported or at least enabled most of it. . . . As confirmed accounts emerged years ago of chronic presidential lawbreaking, warrantless eavesdropping, systematic torture, rendition, "black site" prisons, corruption in every realm, and all sorts of other dark crimes, where were journalists and other opinion-making elites? Very few of them with any significant platform can point to anything they did or said to oppose or stop any of it -- and they know that.

Many of them, even when much of this became conclusively proven, were still explicitly praising Bush officials. Most of them supported the underlying enabling policies (Guantanamo and the permanent state of war in Iraq and "on terror"), and then cheered on laws -- the Military Commissions Act and the FISA Amendments Act -- designed to legalize these activities and retroactively immunize the lawbreakers and war criminals from prosecution.

So when these media and political elites are defending Bush officials, mitigating their crimes, and arguing that they shouldn't be held accountable, they're actually defending themselves. . . . They can't indict Bush officials for what they did because to do so would be to indict themselves. Bush officials need to be exonerated, or at least have their crimes forgotten (look to the future and ignore the past, they all chime in unison), so that their own involvement in it will also be cleansed and then forgotten.

Earlier this week, Paul Krugman made a similar point:

One addendum to today’s column: the truth, which I think everyone in the political/media establishments knows in their hearts, is that the nine months or so between the summer of 2002 and the beginning of the Iraq insurgency were a great national moral test — a test that most people in influential positions failed. . . . But for those who stayed “sensible” through the test, it’s a moment they’d like to see forgotten.  That, I believe, is the real reason so many want to let torture and everything else go down the memory hole.

Imagine if a police officer were stationed in front of the hospital room of a key witness in a criminal trial, in order to protect the witness from attack, but instead, the officer fell asleep or wondered off to watch TV and, as a result, the defendant's associates were able to enter the room and murder the witness.  Asking establishment journalists if they favor investigations and prosecutions of Bush crimes is like asking that police officer whether he favors an investigation and consequences for what happened or whether he instead prefers that the whole thing just be forgotten and everyone look instead to the future.  People who bear culpability in the commission of destructive and criminal acts always oppose investigations and accountability -- i.e., what they'll call "looking backwards" or "retribution."  They're the last people whose opinions we ought to be seeking on that question.

* * * * *

Directly contrary to the way the establishment media is describing these facts, polling data has consistently shown that large majorities of Americans favor investigations into Bush crimes and large percentages favor criminal prosecutions.  Even with virtually the entire pundit class united in opposition, yet another poll on that question -- from The Washington Post/ABC News today -- finds that a majority (51-47%) answered "yes" when asked:  "Do you think the Obama administration should or should not investigate whether any laws were broken in the way terrorism suspects were treated under the Bush administration?"  It's amazing how much The Hard Left has grown.

* * * * *

More than anything else, Broder's column illustrates the Central Creed of Beltway Culture, which should be memorialized on plaques throughout that city:

When poor and ordinary Americans who commit crimes are prosecuted and imprisoned, that is Justice.  

When the same thing is done to Washington elites, that is Ugly Retribution.

* * * * *

See also:  this post from earlier today on Time Magazine's coverage of drug decriminalization in Portugal and this post on one of the most brazen acknowledgments yet that most establishment journalists operate with no standards.


UPDATE:  For a perfect example of how etablishment journalists and pundits -- including our ostensibly "liberal" ones -- cheered on many of these crimes, see Digby.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------