Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2002/ 5 Shevat 5762


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If this is McCarthyism... -- IT'S TOO MUCH to ask, I know, that the media stop whining about the Bush administration's alleged draconian curtailment of free speech in the United States today, but at the least reporters and pundits might benefit from a crash course in American history.

Last Sunday, Jan. 13, PBS's American Experience aired the second part of its examination of Woodrow Wilson's presidency, an excellent documentary that puts the current wartime conditions in perspective. FDR's misguided internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II has been the subject of much discussion, although because it's FDR commentators go relatively easy on him. Wilson's extreme abridgment of the First Amendment during World War I, however, which included the shameful imprisonment of Eugene Debs, has been given short shrift. As documented in American Experience, Wilson, addled by a degenerative disease and his unflinching sense of right and wrong, targeted newspapers and protesters who dared to criticize his foreign policy.

No such muzzle on dissent is evident today, despite hysterical cries from the left about John Ashcroft's supposed revival of McCarthyism.

In Wilson's vendetta against the media, surely The New York Times' woe-is-us criticism of the current war would've resulted in arrests. But fortunately, no such administration campaign is under way, proving that President Bush and his Cabinet have a proper reverence for the First Amendment, no matter how distorted the front-page stories in the country's elite newspapers are.

In the Jan. 10 Times, reporter David Sanger, writing a "news analysis" piece, demonstrates just how skewed (what, is this an election year?) that paper's take on the war actually is.

His lede: "America's goals in Central Asia were easily explained as Kabul and Kandahar fell, when daily Pentagon videos showed bombs homing in on caves in Tora Bora and when there was a reasonable prospect that Osama bin Laden, Mullah Muhammad Omar and their top aides would soon fall into American hands.

"But that was last month. And while President Bush was taking a New Year's break on his ranch, and then returned [to Washington] to focus on the economy and education, his war against terrorism entered a murkier, messier moment."

Later in the hit-job, Sanger continues: "'We're in a dangerous phase,' the president volunteered on Saturday during a swing through the West Coast. He was speaking of the cave-to-cave searches in Afghanistan and the death on Friday of Sgt. First Class Nathan R. Chapman, of the Army Special Forces, killed in a firefight that now appears to have been an ambush. But he could just as easily have been talking about everything else that has cropped up while he was cutting new trails across his 1,600-acre ranch."

There are no new low bars of blatant partisanship for the Times to achieve, but Sanger's piece is truly repugnant.

What doesn't he understand about Bush and Rumsfeld's comments-from Sept. 11 until now-that the war will not be short and casualty-free? The administration has constantly warned the nation that the battle against terrorism will take perhaps years to reach a satisfactory conclusion. And you'd have to ask Times Executive Editor Howell Raines why his newspaper permits Sanger to write about Bush, "his [italics mine] war against terrorism," as if it's an act of petty pique on the President's part, say like Rudy Giuliani's aborted crackdown on jaywalkers.

Equally inaccurate is Sanger's silly assertion that Bush is somehow disengaged from the war. Readers are led to believe that while the expected difficulties ensued in Afghanistan, Bush was oblivious, "cutting new trails across his 1,600-acre ranch."

Back in 1917, Sanger and his employers would be jailbirds. That policy indelibly stained Woodrow Wilson's presidential record-as did his embrace of segregation-but while it's unclear whether the Bush administration's ambitious war efforts will be successful, the charge of suppression of dissent is simply ludicrous.

The Times' Don Van Natta Jr., one of the paper's squadron of scandal reporters, is too painful to read thoroughly, but I did find it appalling that his Jan. 11 story was so one-sided on behalf of Rep. Henry Waxman that he waited until the last three paragraphs of the piece to reveal a significant detail. That would be that David Boies (Gore's lead recount lawyer) and Robert Bennett (Clinton's lead Paula Jones lawyer) are now representing Enron and some of its officers before Congress.

Robert Scheer might've been sent to San Quentin under Wilson's regime. Consider his take-me-to-the-funny-farm comments in a Jan. 8 Los Angeles Times op-ed piece. He wrote: "It is Bush and not Osama bin Laden who is responsible for subverting the fiscally conservative policies of the Clinton years. [Naturally, Scheer doesn't fess up that Clinton's belt-tightening was forced upon him by the GOP-controlled Congress that took power after the '94 elections, which mitigated his dumb tax hike in '93.] A true conservative would say that 'over my dead body' would the government siphon the surplus created by Social Security taxes to the pockets of the rich, putting the nation further into the red.

"Bush may be the hero of the moment but it won't be so when future generations try to collect their Social Security checks. If Bush keeps it up he will be remembered as another Herbert Hoover, a president who let the unemployment lines grow while the government went broke catering to the wealthy."

Does any sane person really think the government will literally go broke?

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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