While much of America celebrates the holiday season with reverent sobriety, some liberal media stars sound so daft in their Bush hatred you might suspect they've been swimming in spiked Christmas punch.
In a "web-exclusive commentary," Newsweek's ever-predictable Jonathan Alter went ape over the stories about the National Security Agency (NSA) monitoring phone calls between terror suspects in America and their terrorist contacts abroad. "We're seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War." Alter suggested leaking the NSA story to the New York Times was not shameful, as Bush suggested, but patriotic: "it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab."
Conservatives saw something else: If leaking the name of a CIA agent named Valerie Plame was an indictable offense, and Judy Miller could be imprisoned for not naming her sources, wasn't it time to investigate the leaker "patriots" on this story and incarcerate the Times reporters if their names weren't provided?
The media irony is rich. If a Bushie leaks intelligence information, he should be strung from the nearest branch -- unless that Bushie (or a non-Bushie) is leaking with the intention to harm the president, in which case it's the work of a "patriot."
Unsurprisingly for a Democratic hack, Newsweek's Alter predicted the worst for Bush: "If the Democrats regain control of Congress, there may even be articles of impeachment produced. Similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974." This spurred other networks like CBS and CNN to start asking impeachment questions.
The "dictator" language was not contained to Alter. ABC's new anchorman Bob Woodruff began his newscast with loaded Orwell phrases: "Big Brother. The uproar over a secret presidential order giving the government unprecedented powers to spy on Americans." Woodruff also claimed the Times had "learned of a profound shift in policy that affects the civil liberties of Americans."
The calls in question were largely between targets in America making calls and receiving calls from suspected terrorist cells in foreign destinations. If the NSA has been listening to the next Mohammed Atta plotting the next 9-11 with Osama bin Laden's lieutenants, does that constitute spying on an "American"? No, but the media like to make it sound as shocking as possible. New ABC "Nightline" co-host Terry Moran went so far as to pound Vice President Cheney about how our children will be ashamed to be handed a country where "the government is surveilling Americans without the warrant of a court. Is that the country we want to pass on to them?"
Electronic and satellite surveillance was conducted without a warrant during the Clinton administration without the media going over a cliff about "dictators" in the White House. Clinton's people used a satellite to monitor suspects in the Oklahoma City bombing. Did we hear about a massive, dictatorial violation of civil liberties? (I don't recall Jonathan Alter finding Waco to be an impeachable offense.)
When Attorney General Janet Reno gave the order to press for an end to the siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993, resulting in a lot of death -- which permanently denied a lot of civil liberties -- the media praised her for her candor in taking the blame. CNN called her a "rock star celebrity." Time magazine said she achieved "full-fledged folk hero status." It's examples like this that suggest that reporters' interpretations of eavesdropping and civil liberties change dramatically depending on which party is sitting in the White House.
It's not like this fight over civil liberties is between good liberals and evil conservatives, between the ACLU types, projected as standing purely for liberty, and the Bush team, which is portrayed as willing to trample any right in order to defend against a perceived threat to our national security. It's not that simple. On 9/11, 3,000 Americans were denied their civil liberties forever. Do the liberal media really want to make the case that the civil liberties of Atta and his plotters to make private phone calls was a greater cause for civil liberties than the lives lost in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
Who wouldn't go back and violate those "liberties" to prevent 9/11 from happening? That's what the fight is over today. Both sides of this debate can argue they're making a case for the civil liberties of the American people.