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Suddenly, the lions are eating the lions

Published October 30, 2005

Civil war has broken out all over. Top White House staffers are stabbing each other in the back over the special counsel's investigation of the CIA leak case. Former Bush administration officials are accusing current Bush administration officials of evil conspiracies. Influential conservative thinkers are duking it out over the federal deficit, Harriet Miers' aborted nomination to the Supreme Court and other supposed breaches of right-wing orthodoxy. Some of the most powerful figures at the New York Times are clawing each other's eyes out over who's to blame for the newspaper's shoddy coverage of events leading up to the war in Iraq. And everybody's infighting at FEMA.

People, people! Scooter! Judy! Brownie! Pinch! Can't we all just reason together?

This isn't the way things are supposed to work. The White House is supposed to be demonizing the press. The press is supposed to be demonizing the White House. The conservatives are supposed to be demonizing liberals. And current and former officials of the two Bush presidencies are supposed to be paragons of loyalty and discretion. Instead, it's like we're watching one of those pro wrestling battle royales where the good guys and the bad guys change sides without warning.

For example, it was nice of Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the State Department's chief of staff under Colin Powell during President Bush's first term, to let us know this month that U.S. foreign policy has been hijacked by a "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal." And Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for former President George Bush, delivered similar criticism of the Iraq war and other White House misadventures in the most recent New Yorker.

But where were these guys before the war?

The same goes for the conservative opinion leaders who piled on Miers. Robert Bork, who should know about such things, said the Miers nomination was "pathetic" and a "disaster." George Will called it a "reckless abuse of presidential discretion." Where were they when Bush was abusing his presidential discretion to appoint characters like Michael Brown?

Still, nobody has done a quicker 180 than the New York Times' brass. The day reporter Judy Miller was released after serving 85 days in jail for her role in the CIA leak investigation, Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. escorted her arm-in-arm and treated her to a massage, manicure and martini at the Ritz-Carlton. And before Miller found an excuse to get out of jail and testify about her confidential sources, Sulzberger browbeat his editorial board into writing more than a dozen editorials championing Miller as a courageous defender of the First Amendment. But Sulzberger and New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller turned on Miller once it finally dawned on them that she had lied to her editors, misled the newspaper's readers and covered for White House officials in the course of her fundamentally flawed reporting on Saddam Hussein's alleged efforts to acquire weapons of mass ddestruction.

So Maureen Dowd finally felt free to write a column, titled Woman of Mass Destruction, that noted Miller's "tropism toward powerful men" and other dubious traits. And some people at the New York Times have finally started openly questioning whether Sulzberger is up to the job he inherited.

But a lot of people had demonstrated years ago that Miller's reporting on Iraq's weapons programs was based on little more than the self-serving fantasies of people such as Scooter Libby and Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi. And a lot of people had concluded even earlier that Sulzberger is a fatuous lightweight who gets things right less frequently than a stopped clock.

Until all these civil wars broke out, I'd never realized how much the Bush administration and the New York Times had in common.

[Last modified October 29, 2005, 02:30:05]

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