The White House criticism, of the New York Times over its story disclosing an ongoing anti-terrorism effort to track financial transactions, sent MSNBC's Keith Olbermann into a tizzy Tuesday night as he showed no interest in the substance of the criticism or behavior of the newspaper and instead focused on the appropriateness of daring to take on the media behemoth. His on-screen text during his tease at the top of Countdown, “DISTRACT THE PEOPLE: Attack the Messenger.” Olbermann soon cited “what some are calling the Swift-Boating of the American media, particularly the New York Times,” as if anyone but his own show is using that term meant to discredit criticism of liberals. "Swift-Boating the Media" was the on-screen display during part of the lead segment.
He also denounced a “hysterical editorial,” on National Review Online, “demanding the Times lose its White House press credentials," before guest Craig Crawford ridiculed the attacks as electoral politics: "I think it goes back to the midterm campaign strategy. This is another way for Republicans to stoke the base, to burn in effigy the elite news media....I think this is just classic attack the messenger, you know, to get those conservatives who hate the news media worked up again.” Olbermann also snuck in this shot, shall we say: “The Vice President hadn't drawn as much blood since he shot poor Mr. Whittington.”
Olbermann teased at the top of the June 27 Countdown: “The Press Secretary rips the Gray Lady of 43rd Street, but will not succumb to a hysterical editorial demanding the Times lose its White House press credentials.”
Olbermann's final question to his first guest, Craig Crawford of Congressional Quarterly:
"Turning lastly here to a topic that you and I have discussed often, and it is, I think you were well ahead of the curve on this, this Bush administration war against the media. Give us a report from the front, Craig. Did the attack on the New York Times succeed or did the administration sustain heavy casualties?"
Craig Crawford: "Well, again I think it goes back to the midterm campaign strategy. This is another way for Republicans to stoke the base, to burn in effigy the elite news media, and this is what they're up to. I really don't take, I don't take it at face value there are real concerns. I don't see how they could be concerned about revelations of this program when the administration itself has been so aggressive over the years about boasting about this program."
Olbermann: "Where did it, where did the umbrage go? It was red-hot, everybody was spitting bullets Monday, Tuesday silence."
Crawford: "Yeah, and it was reported before, the Washington Post three years ago had a story on tapping confidential data in financial accounts, and there was no hue and cry. That was back in the days when they wanted to brag about how aggressive they were being in going after the terrorists. No, I think this is just classic attack the messenger, you know, to get those conservatives who hate the news media worked up again just like flag burning and everything else so that they, it all goes on the brochures in November."
Olbermann segued to his second guest: "As we just mentioned, the Bush White House escalating its war with the media to near nuclear proportions. The New York Times would be a def con 5 for its disclosure of a secret bank tapping program. Two other papers, the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal, all but escaping the onslaught even though each reported the story at almost the same time. The editor of the LA Times writing a defense of its decision to publish the story...” (See my earlier NewsBusters item for a link to Baquet and more.)
“The National Review, meanwhile, advocating that at least the New York Times should lose its White House press credentials. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow telling the trade publication Editor & Publisher that will not be happening, but adding that the New York newspaper deserves the brunt of the criticism, because it quote, 'was way ahead of the other two and started reporting on the story much earlier. The other two were playing catch up.'”
An excerpt from the June 26 National Review editorial:
....The New York Times is a recidivist offender in what has become a relentless effort to undermine the intelligence-gathering without which a war against embedded terrorists cannot be won. And it is an unrepentant offender. In a letter published over the weekend, Keller once again defended the newspaper’s editorial decision to run its TFTP story. Without any trace of perceiving the danger inherent in public officials’ compromising of national-security information (a matter that the Times frothed over when it came to the comparative trifle of Valerie Plame’s status as a CIA employee), Keller indicated that the Times would continue revealing such matters whenever it unilaterally decided that doing so was in the public interest.
The president should match this morning’s tough talk with concrete action. Publications such as the Times, which act irresponsibly when given access to secrets on which national security depends, should have their access to government reduced. Their press credentials should be withdrawn. Reporting is surely a right, but press credentials are a privilege. This kind of conduct ought not be rewarded with privileged access....
Olbermann asked his second guest, Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher:
"All these words we heard Monday, the President was foaming. The Vice President hadn't drawn as much blood since he shot poor Mr. Whittington. Why was it so quiet during the day Tuesday? Did the administration just move on from this, waiting for the next opportunity to hit somebody over the head with a rolled up newspaper?"
Mitchell: "Well, I was wondering where Bush's anger was, and finger-waving was in the days after Katrina..."