Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Big Stall: How Bush gamed the media to get re-elected in 2004

The Big Stall: How Bush gamed the media to get re-elected in 2004

"Nothing gave us more trouble during my years on [the paper] than the conflict with the government over what should and should not be published during periods of war or threats of war."
-- James Reston, New York Times columnist, in his autobiography, "Deadline."

Forty-four years later, the New York Times is still trying to get it right. In 1961, the Kennedy Administration talked the Times into spiking an article that would have prevented the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, the trigger for a series of unfortunate events that stretched to Watergate and, according to H.R. Haldeman, JFK's assassination.

Now, the Times -- again, at the request of the White House -- has held onto a national security bombshell: President Bush's unlawful authorization of domestic spying on international phone calls and emails of hundreds and possibly thousands of people inside the U.S.

The story in and of itself is a shocker, even as it comes right after the NBC report that an obscure Pentagon agency has monitored the activities of peaceful anti-war protestors. It's too early to gauge reaction, but we expect that it will be highly negative, not just from the usual suspects on the left but also from the vast political middle -- the heartland types who just barely propelled Bush to re-election in 2004.

And there lies the real story behind the story. Because it appears it may have been possible for the Times to publish at least some of the details of the Bush-ordered domestic spying before Nov. 2, 2004, the day that the president nailed down four more years. Although Bush won by 2 percent nationally, a switch of just 59,302 Ohio voters from Bush to John Kerry would would have put the Democrats back in the White House.

Would Bush won the election if the extent of his seemingly unconstitutional domestic spying had been known? We'll never know. For roughly a year, the White House successfully leaned on the Times to keep the story under wraps. It's not known when the Bush lobbying of the Times began. But it is clear that the warning signs about the program -- the alarm bells that likely triggered the Times investigation in the first place -- were going off by mid-2004, months before the vote....