Remnick: White House 'Can't Really Believe' Times, Post Scoops Hurt War on Terror

July 6th, 2006 3:40 PM

David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker and a Washington Post reporter from the early 1980s until the early '90s, has written a commentary for his magazine's July 10 issue in which he asserts that the Bush administration's criticism of stories such as Dana Priest's secret-prisons piece in the Washington Post and the New York Times' recent terror-finance-tracking story is insincere and politically calculated. Excerpts (emphasis added):

...More than any other White House in history, Bush’s has tried to starve, mock, weaken, bypass, devalue, intimidate, and deceive the press, using tactics far more toxic than any prose devised in the name of Spiro Agnew.

Firm in the belief that the press can be gored for easy political gain, the Bush Administration has set about reducing the status of the media (specifically, what it sees as the left-wing, Eastern-establishment media) to that of a pesky yet manageable interest group, nothing more...

The Bush Administration can’t really believe that these newspaper stories have undermined the battle against Al Qaeda; what’s more, it knows that over the decades papers like the Times have kept many stories and countless particulars secret when editors saw that it was in the interest of national security and military safety to do so. The Times banking story disclosed no leads, named no targets. To say that it risked lives is like saying that an article revealing that cops tap phones to monitor the activities of the Mafia is a gift to the Five Families of New York.

The Bush Administration knows very well what it is doing and in what climate. The press––particularly the mainstream outlets the White House finds most irritating––is in a collective state of anxious transition, hurt by the appearance of a blizzard of new technologies and ideologized alternatives like Fox News, and by a general sense of economic, even existential, worry. The era of hegemonic networks and newspapers, of supremely confident Bradlees and Rosenthals, is a memory.

By suggesting that the pre-FNC media weren't "ideologized," Remnick, of course, burnishes his own establishment-media credentials. He goes on:

...[I]t is not hard to discern why the White House might find a convenient enemy in the editors of the Times: this is an election year...[B]y smearing the Times for the delectation of the Republican “base,” the Administration could direct attention away from its failures, including, last week, the Supreme Court’s decision to block its plans to try Guantánamo detainees before military commissions.

Yes, thanks to the White House's brilliant ploy, the Hamdan decision got almost no media coverage. Remnick wraps up:   

In the era of the Pentagon Papers, a war-weary White House went to the courts to stifle the press. You begin to wonder if the Bush White House, in its urgent need to find scapegoats for the myriad disasters it has inflicted, is preparing to repeat a dismal and dismaying episode of the Nixon years.