A true smear job

Posted: Dec 12, 2001 12:00 AM
I'm no Brent Bozell or Bernard Goldberg, but I know undisclosed media bias when I see it. After reading Newsweek's hit piece on Attorney General John Ashcroft, it occurred to me that the publication should consider changing its name to Opinionweek. Or is that name taken? The article in question, "Holy Warrior In the Hot Seat: Devout and steel, John Ashcroft has found a new mission in the battle against terror," was written by Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff. It purports to be a profile of Ashcroft, who is under severe criticism by liberals and civil libertarians for allegedly trampling on the Constitution in his law enforcement campaign against terrorism. It reads more like a brief written by Ashcroft's opponents. The authors deliberately make liberal use of words commonly associated with religion to describe Ashcroft's secular activities at the Department of Justice. In the title and subtitle are the words "holy," "devout" and "mission." Then in the text of the article, the authors continue their barrage. Here's a sampling: "Ashcroft was reaching for inspiration"; "Prosecutors quietly read along, joining in the incantation"; "seizing every opportunity to spread his new gospel"; "A devout Pentecostal, Ashcroft is embracing his new role with quasi-religious zeal"; "he is fired by a messianic sense of mission (he's the son and grandson of fundamentalist Christian preachers)." You must understand that – to many people – conservative Christians are the worst kind of bigots. So, these religious terms are code for right-wing religious zealots. You know … those people who are fanatical, extremist, uncompassionate, intolerant, judgmental, inflexible, sexist, homophobic, racist and, dare I say, fascist? As if to prove the point, the authors sneak in a quote from "a longtime political adviser," who says that Ashcroft loves to talk about how people ought to live and behave, and is "relishing the role." Surely, this is intended to conjure images of a Puritanical Ashcroft hovering over every American's bedroom wagging a disapproving finger and sporting a sadistic grin. They don't just smear Ashcroft by association with the always-maligned religious right. They specifically chronicle his many sins against the Constitution, relying exclusively on unnamed sources. Take a look: "He quietly issued new rules allowing the government to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely." This is a cheap shot, implying that Ashcroft invoked these rules under cover of darkness. There wasn't anything quiet about it. All but the chronically apathetic knew about it almost from day one. "He launched a nationwide dragnet, sweeping up hundreds of foreign nationals, detaining most on minor immigration charges. Many have since been released ... " If not to slander Ashcroft, why do you suppose the authors choose to focus on the relative insignificance of the violations and the innocence of the detainees rather than the other side of the equation? The other side is no small matter. We now believe that the al-Qaida had planned devastating follow-up terror attacks after 9-11, but were thwarted as a direct result of the Ashcroft detentions. "To civil libertarians – and even some GOP senators – the attorney general's nationwide crackdown and high-flown rhetoric recall unseemly periods from the past, when constitutional rights were swept aside in the name of national security." To which unseemly periods from the past do you suppose the authors (or their conveniently anonymous sources) are vaguely referring? The Japanese internment, perhaps? After knocking Ashcroft down they proceed to kick him by referring to his "embarrassing political defeat – losing his Senate re-election to a dead man." The defeat was hardly embarrassing. The implication is that Ashcroft couldn't even beat a dead man, when in reality he lost precisely because his opponent died. Ashcroft, who was ahead by double digits the day before his opponent's death, quit campaigning out of respect for his widow, who ended up running and winning. The authors next describe how Ashcroft's nomination was nearly defeated by his former Senate "colleagues" because of his "years of inflexibility on issues like abortion and judicial picks." How dare Ashcroft not be flexible on a mere matter of life and death, or the fitness of those nominated for lifetime judicial appointments! There are many other jabs at Ashcroft in the article, such as that he's unschooled in the facts critical to many of his decisions, but I'm out of space. Suffice it to say that it's open season on Ashcroft these days, and we shouldn't be surprised that Newsweek is in liberal lockstep with its colleagues elsewhere in the beltway media elite and the Democratic Senate majority. That's why I feel safe being on the other side. Godspeed, General Ashcroft.