Our liberal scribes and pundits savaged the Bush administration as being a privacy-shredding, terrorist-suspect-abusing tyranny on the march. Now that President Obama is in charge, they lamely suggest that "the government" has failed, but with no president's name attached in the blame game.
For years, the media insisted that the terrorist holding pen at Guantanamo was a horrific stain on our global reputation. It was a "cancer" (CBS's Bob Schieffer) and the networks uncritically aired Amnesty International quacks denouncing it as "the gulag of our time." Any denunciation had the words "Bush" and "Cheney" inexorably attached.
But now the outrage has died, and the story is being downplayed, since the Evil Bush is no longer the target. Take the case of Gitmo prisoner Ahmed Ghailani, who participated in the U.S. embassy massacre in Tanzania in 1998. When the federal judge crippled his trial in mid-October by omitting a witness, ABC and NBC skipped over it. "CBS Evening News" offered an anchor brief, with Couric calling it a "big setback for federal prosecutors." Nothing was attributed to the Obama administration.
On Nov. 17, when Ghailani was convicted on one count and acquitted on 284 others, Couric did call it "a major setback for the Obama administration." But by the next morning, CBS anchor Erica Hill was back to the generic: "The verdict is in for the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court, and it is being seen by some as a serious setback for the government."
NBC acted like this was barely news. "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams glossed over it for about 100 words: "There's a split verdict tonight in the case of the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be tried in a civilian court, and it's being seen tonight as a message to the Justice Department that these Gitmo terrorism cases are going to be hard to prove."
A terrorist walks on 284 out of 285 charges and Brian Williams calls that a "split verdict."
The next morning, "Today" also disposed of the story in 40 seconds, but at least Ann Curry used the O-word: "The decision could undermine President Obama's plan to put other Guantanamo Bay detainees on trial in civilian courts."
ABC tossed off a few sentences on their evening newscast, with anchorman George Stephanopoulos admitting, "This is something of a setback for the Obama administration."
But ABC's Jake Tapper was the exception to the rule on "Good Morning America" with a full news report that let critics speak. He balanced an anonymous administration spokesman strangely boasting that Ghailani had been "incapacitated" with Rep. Peter King's statement that this "demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama administration's decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts."
At about the same time that the Ghailani fiasco erupted, controversy over the Transportation Security Administration's enhanced pat-downs started to bubble up. Here again, the outrage was usually pitched against the TSA and its administrator ... and not so much against Obama.
On ABC's "Good Morning America" on Nov. 22, Stephanopoulos announced, "The TSA responds to growing outrage from travelers to body searches, including a father whose son had to remove his shirt and the cancer survivor who says he was humiliated."
On the CBS "Early Show," anchor Harry Smith cited "frustrated flyers calling for a boycott over those new invasive security procedures. But will the TSA back down?" On "Today," NBC's Matt Lauer referred to "the latest fallout over those controversial new TSA screening methods at our nation's airports."
ABC and NBC each ran sound bites of Obama calmly instructing the TSA from an assumed political distance that "you have to constantly refine and measure whether what we're doing is the only way to assure the American people's safety."
But the bias went deeper. Lauer now openly sympathized with Obama's TSA fighting off the terrorist threat. Lauer insisted privacy complaints "can be overblown. I'm not going to be the one, and nor can you be, to decide whether people think this is overly invasive or not invasive enough."
You don't need to be a genius to figure out that people think this is overly invasive. But Lauer struck a note of vigilance for "the government" that wasn't seen in the Bush years: "I hate to even think of what happens if the government caves in on this, and relaxes these procedures, and someone manages to get something on board a plane and causes harm. Imagine the questions you'll be asked at that point."
What all this underscores is that all of the liberal media's tub-thumping for civil liberties and against Guantanamo sounds a lot less principled and a lot more partisan. Why was it a "gulag" at Gitmo under Bush, and not Obama? Why was Bush "undermining civil liberties," and Obama isn't?