Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Damn That Liberal Media - The Berger Hysteria Versus The Khan Leak Silence

Neil Hamilton over at the raw story points out the obvious. Only it's not that obvious to everyone. Especially not that liberal media.

It seemed to be earth-shaking and apocalyptic news that the media seized upon late this past July thanks to a suspiciously timed leak. Just before the release of the 9/11 Commission’s final report, we learned that former Clinton National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, was under investigation for spiriting away classified documents from the National Archives which dealt with that administration’s reaction to terror threats...

...The media went on its characteristic feeding frenzy and dutifully gave plenty of Republican politicians an opportunity to immediately ascribe the most nefarious motives to Mr. Berger’s actions on-air. All sorts of wild and unsubstantiated allegations made by Republicans about Berger having stuffed the documents in his socks were treated as fact by a press seemingly excited by the possibility of a another Clinton-related scandal.

Throughout the day the regular anchors on both stations gave updates about the case. Curiously, these debates and discussions stressed the more inflammatory and damning accusations made against Berger and downplayed some of the more exculpatory facts which would have mitigated the seriousness of the scandal. Republican Congressman like Saxby Chambliss were allowed to go on the air and make unproven assertions, and others like Dennis Hastert accused Berger of trying to “re-write history” by hiding some documents which would have reflected unkindly on the Clinton administrations efforts against terror.

Lost in all the stentorian harrumphing and disingenuous concern of some of these political figures was the fact that it was reported that Berger had taken copies of these documents and that the originals still remained in the possession of the National Archives. On shows like Chris Matthew’s “Hardball,” this fact was lost in the din of all the overheated hyperventilation about Berger’s possible motivations.

Thus, many different hypothetical scenarios were posited about why Berger did what he did. Some theorized ominously that he had been directed by Bill Clinton himself to eliminate all incriminating documents before the 9/11 Commission got their hands on them, while others thought that he might have been pilfering these documents so that he could surreptitiously give them to the Kerry Campaign. In all the commentary of the scandal it was rarely brought up how ridiculous both of these claims were.

Yes, the media did go into a feeding frenzy during the Berger episode, and noone ought to question why. The Republicans staged the whole event - planned and implemented a media strategy to draw attention away from more politically damaging (to them) revelations.

Meanwhile, when the Khan leak broke, aside from an initial comment from Howard Dean, we were met with near silence from the Democratic aisle when Reuters broke the story that U.S. insistence on the public release of Khan's arrest prematurely broke up a counter-terror sting being conducted by the Pakistanis and British, in cooperation with the CIA.

Eager to justify Tom Ridge’s recent terror warnings, unnamed officials in the Bush administration revealed in a background briefing to journalists that the source of the new information behind Ridge’s announcement was Khan.

Khan was an Al Qaeda computer expert who helped Osama bin Laden communicate with his terrorist network and had been “turned” by the Pakistanis after his arrest. He was being used by the Pakistanis in sting operations to break up terrorist cells in the U.S., Britain and around the world, but by blowing his cover the Bush administration effectively terminated his usefulness.

After his name was leaked, counterterrorism officials saw a steep drop off in intercepted communications between suspected terrorists.

In addition, the British MI5 were forced to hastily arrest 13 members of a London cell in the fear that they would flee after learning of Khan’s arrest. Another five who were targeted immediately went underground after hearing that Khan was in custody and have eluded arrest thanks in part to the administrations blunder. It has been exceedingly difficult to penetrate al Qaeda and finally there was a mole to help gather information that could lead to capture of more terrorists, and possibly bin Laden himself. The outing of this mole was an unmitigated disaster.

What was the media’s response after another display of rank incompetence by this administration? It certainly wasn’t nearly as heated and intense as it was during the Berger affair despite the fact that this was far more damaging to U.S. security interests and has much more dire implications for the War on Terror. Other than a handful of senators (Schumer and Allen) voicing concern and politely asking for an explanation from the administration on Blitzer’s show, there has been a very muted reaction expressed through the press. There certainly hasn’t been nearly the amount of accusatory and finger pointing discussions and debates as there were during the previous controversy, and the scandal seems to be fading away without any calls for accountability on the part of those in the Bush administration.

Conclusion? The Republicans play hardball, and the Democrats seem to play scared. I think it's a problem of Big Media, because where are our independent investigative journalists reporting on the Khan leak? Nowhere to be found. Big Media is led, not leading, and this is a continuing and disturbing trend that is likely the result of vertical and horizontal integration, mergers, and a desire to cut costs, combined with a lazy reliance on news releases and spin campaigns from self-interested, motivated actors with the wherewithal to assure the story gets out.

As far as the Khan leak, the Republicans seemed to be as good at damage control as at unsubstantiated smear and spin, as even many Democrats seemed afraid of the story and urging caution at every juncture, as if a few Democrats would push the story, keep it in the limelight, and then find out it was all a big psych warfare campaign or the result of rogue Pakistanis. Well, I'll have more on that later, but there is indeed a rogue Pakistani, by all accounts, or there is not real cooperation with Pakistan, and since the administration is touting the latter, and not claiming the former, something is amiss, and it's not our media's job to try and parse through realist scenarios, but to report on stories.