Back-biting drama hides the real news…

A HREF=””>The Washington Times this morning runs the typical political back-biting story. Because the narrative bias of journalism demands drama, it becomes “news” when any among the political opposition question the actions of an administration. While certainly dramatic, these types of articles rarely help citizens make decisions about government or policy.

The story concerns Democrats questioning the timing of the administration’s announcement of the arrest of Abdullah al Muhajir, also known as Jose Padilla, an American citizen accused of plotting to explode a “dirty” bomb for Al Qaeda. Halfway through the article, we learn that Republicans have asked similar questions.

For me, however, the real concern is how the administration characterizes al Muhajir because such characterizations could have a definite impact on citizens’ rights. For example, Attorney General John Ashcroft called him “an enemy combatant.” Precedent exists for treating American citizens differently when they conspire with the enemy in times of war. So by calling al Muhajir “an enemy combatant,” Ashcroft asserts this claim to strip him of his Constitutional rights.

That some politicians will question the administration’s timing of this matter is not news. In fact, many politicians go rushing to the microphones specifically because they know reporters will listen in order to feed journalism’s hunger for drama. But discovering who al Muhajir is, the specific charges against him, the nature of the evidence, and what his treatment says about the possible erosion of our rights, certainly is useful news. A couple of newspapers are running such articles this morning. See Howard Kurtz’s column in The Washington Post for links.