May 27, 2002

The “alarming trend” is politics as usual

Howard Kurtz’s Media Notes column this morning highlights an “alarming trend” in terror alerts: the administration keeps issuing warnings and then complains when the press does its job by questioning them in addition to reporting them. And why shouldn’t the press question them? Ari Fleischer specifically said last week that the rise in warnings was in part a reaction to criticism about how the administration handled the intelligence gathered prior to 9/11. The warnings have been non-specific and horrific. As Kurtz writes:

“In the space of several days, there were reports that another attack on America is almost certain (Dick Cheney), that nuclear weapons will one day be used (Donald Rumsfeld), that suicide bombers are next (FBI chief Robert Mueller) and that the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge could be targets (unnamed officials).”

What are we to believe? I vote for believing Ari Fleischer. There certainly continues to be a terrorist threat. We would be foolish to believe otherwise. But we would be just as foolish to suppose that the Bush administration, or any administration, is above fomenting a little angst among the citizenry in order to redirect mounting criticism. The democratic bargain maintains that winners lead and losers wait. The Republicans would prefer to continue leading. The Democrats are tired of waiting. The press smells a controversy because this situation has the stink of a one-term presidency on it.

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