With a title like "Broken Government: Power Play," one could probably assume that the upcoming CNN special won’t be very fair to President Bush. But just in case there were any doubt, reporter John King appeared on Thursday’s "American Morning" to drive home the point:
Miles O’Brien: "Twelve days to the election. We're looking at the power of the presidency. A new CNN poll out this morning, we asked some people if they think the President does in fact have too much power. And like so many issues in this country, shows a lot of division among the electorate. CNN's John King is here with a preview of what's going on tonight in our 'Broken Government' series. Good morning, John."
John King: "Good morning to you, Miles. It's a fascinating subject. Many say, post-9/11, this President has crossed, stretched, some say trampled the Constitution in his pursuit of the war on terrorism. The president says whatever it takes. Some say he has busted the balance of powers, if you will, the constitutional lines. The President, of course, says no. It's one of the issues we're exploring as we look at the 'Broken Government.' He began on a very different course, a governor with a famous name who conveyed more West Texas than Washington. Compassionate conservative was his label of choice. Kinder, gentler, his promised world view. A crisp September morning suddenly changed from gorgeous to gruesome. A few whispered words in a Florida school room, transformed a presidency and a president."
How nice of CNN to offer the caveat that President Bush does, in fact, deny stretching and trampling the Constitution. The special, which airs at 8p.m. on October 26, will focus on whether President Bush has more power than any in history. "American Morning" previewed the program with an extended clip that showcased a man supposedly mistreated by the U.S.:
King: "Islamabad, Pakistan. An edgy place in the weeks after September 11th. Moazzam Begg among the newcomers arriving from neighboring Afghanistan after the bombs started falling. He thought he had escaped, until a midnight knock at the door introduced him to the most expansive display of presidential power in American history -- no search warrant, no arrest warrant; enemy combatant was his designation."
Moazzam Begg: "Dragged across the floor, thrown onto the ground. Our clothes were ripped off with knives, with several soldiers sitting on top of us. We were being kicked, punched, beaten, sworn at, spat at. Dogs were barking around us. We were photographed naked, and then dragged naked and shivering into interrogation rooms where the first questioning began."
King: "The President, obsessed with preventing another attack, and convinced people like Begg were the key."
The preview for the special, which aired at 7:32a.m., accepted at face value that Mr. Begg is an innocent victim, and only at the very end of the piece does King inform the viewer that the U.S. government is still watching the Afghani man. Also, note that President Bush is "obsessed" with preventing another attack. The selection of this adjective is generally not done with friendly intent. It’s a bit like describing a conservative as "far right." CNN, which has taken heat in recent days for airing footage of U.S. soldiers being murdered, even allowed Mr. Begg to threaten doom for the United States:
King: "Mr. Bush argues the results justify the extraordinary steps."
Bush: "There can be a legal debate about whether or not they have the authority to do this. I'm absolutely convinced I do."
King: "Moazzam Begg says the President who jailed him in the name of keeping America safe will someday learn his lesson."
Begg: "Once you take this road and once you go down this road, you're actually make the world a less, much less safe place, because if that's what the Americans are going to do around the world, then they must accept repercussions."
A discussion followed the clip, in which King continued his harsh critique of Bush with "American Morning" co-host Miles O’Brien. O’Brien began by asserting that Begg did, indeed, have a point:
O’Brien: "Well, he makes an interesting point, but it's very difficult in a time of war when people feel threatened to strike that balance. We've seen it all throughout history, Japanese detention camps in World War II. These kinds of things inevitably happens; the pendulum swings."
King: It does, and you seeing the pendulum swing back a little bit now. The Supreme Court ruling, saying the President has gone too far. Congress getting involved. Leading Republicans like John McCain on the detainee issue saying, hey, we write the laws; we have a role in this debate, too. It is a fascinating subject. Dick Cheney has wanted to do this, Miles, exert more executive power. It has nothing to do with 9/11, in his view. He was Gerry Ford's chief of staff after Watergate when they took power from the presidency. So it's a very fascinating subject."
O’Brien: "So when we talk about presidential power, we need to talk about the vice president's role in this. There is -- it is a function of that. And this is something, as you say, that long predates 9/11."
King: "It does predate 9/11 in Cheney's case. He came to office saying, ‘Look, after Watergate, they stripped away the prerogatives of the presidency; I think that's wrong’. He argued this when he was in Congress, when Reagan had the problems with Iran Contra. Cheney argued then when he was in the House, saying, look, Congress has no role; the President controls foreign policy. This President has said he believes he will withstand the test of history, but he has lost some big court cases. And I think Congress is beginning to push back, and the person who will pay the biggest price, if you will, if there is a price to be paid for this, will probably be the next president."
So, to recap, "many say" that President Bush has "stretched" or "trampled" the Constitution and Vice President Cheney used 9/11 as a pretext to expand presidential power. Is this the same network that accused Rush Limbaugh of creating a "new low" in political discourse?
Mr. King ended the segment with another negative characterization of Bush’s foreign policy and an acknowledgment that there is some confusion over Mr. Begg’s status:
O’ Brien: "It'll be interesting to see how that all plays out. Now Moazzam Begg, the person we saw there, who made those allegations, where is he now? What's he doing? What's his status?"
King: "This is the paradox of Mr. Bush's 'whatever it takes' approach. Mr. Begg is now back in Birmingham. He says he did nothing wrong. He says he's not a terrorist. But to this day, the CIA and the FBI say that they believe the confession he signed in custody is true. And in that confession, he said he trained at al Qaeda camps. He said he knew a whole bunch of al Qaeda operatives, including the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, Abu Zubaydah, a big 9/11 planner. What Begg says is, no, they coerced me, they tortured me, they made me sign that. The CIA says, no, he's a threat to the United States. He was released, one of the few people released when Tony Blair was coming under so much pressure back home in Britain because of the controversy about Abu Ghraib, about Gitmo. He was released. The CIA objected to his release. The President did it as a favor to Tony Blair."
O’Brien: "So he remains under a cloud of suspicion essentially then?"
King: "He certainly does. Now the CIA says he's not the kind of guy who's going to get on a plane and fly it into a building, but he's one of the type that supports people. He raises money. He's a sympathizer. So they say he's a threat. And we do know that he's still under the watchful eye of U.S. and British intelligence people."
With less then two weeks to election day, conservatives should brace themselves for increasingly biased reporting from outlets such as CNN.