A November 18 New York Times article on the Bush administration's increasingly aggressive efforts to defend its Iraq war policy falsely asserted that "[f]or the first time, Mr. Bush and his aides have taken their critics by name, declared their motives to be entirely political, and suggested their approach would give aid and comfort to the terrorists." But the administration's recent verbal assaults are not the first instances in which Bush and his subordinates have singled out critics by name, cast them as politically motivated partisans, or suggested they would coddle terrorists.
The November 18 Times article noted that White House press secretary Scott McClellan "issued an unusually blistering statement" in response to Rep. John P. Murtha's (D-PA) call for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. The Times quoted McClellan as saying that Murtha was "endorsing the policy positions of [filmmaker] Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."
From the November 18 New York Times:
What Mr. Bush's Asian hosts have seen, however, is more than a vigorous defense of Iraq policy. For the first time, Mr. Bush and his aides have taken their critics by name, declared their motives to be entirely political, and suggested their approach would give aid and comfort to the terrorists.
The statement by the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, Friday morning in response to Mr. Murtha, for example, declared that ''the eve of an historic democratic election in Iraq is not the time to surrender to the terrorists.''
The Bush administration responded similarly when former National Security Council counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke wrote Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (Free Press, March 2004), a scathing criticism of the administration's terror policies.
During a March 22, 2004, press briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said of Clarke:
MCCLELLAN: Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book. Certainly let's look at the politics of it. His best buddy is Rand Beers, who is the principal foreign policy advisor to Senator [John] Kerry's [presidential] campaign. The Kerry campaign went out and immediately put these comments up on their website that Mr. Clarke made.
Los Angeles Times correspondent Ronald Brownstein described the "extraordinary assault" the Bush administration leveled against Clarke in a March 29, 2004, column. Brownstein wrote: "they portrayed him as a disgruntled job seeker, a self-promoter looking to sell books, a hidden Democratic partisan (who somehow concealed his loyalties while working for presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush), and an unreliable witness whose past praise of President George W. Bush undermined his current criticism."
The White House also attacked Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) as being soft on terrorism during the 2004 presidential race -- even going so far as to suggest that Kerry's election would result in a major terrorist attack. On September 7, 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney told the audience at a Des Moines, Iowa, town hall meeting that "it's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd [Election Day], we make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9-11 mind set if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war. I think that would be a terrible mistake for us."
In contrast to the Times, The Washington Post reported on November 18 that "[b]eset by criticism of its handling of intelligence before the Iraq war, the Bush White House is fighting back with familiar weapons." The Post article, headlined "Iraq Critics Meet Familiar Reply," further noted:
These tactics have worked before -- never more so than during Bush's successful reelection bid in 2004. And it is not a coincidence that they are being revived now. White House officials say they are quite consciously borrowing tested campaign techniques -- aggressive opposition research and blistering partisan invective, to name two -- to lift Bush out of his current problems of mounting criticism and falling public support for the Iraq war.
"One way to look at it is that the need to respond aggressively is born out of the audacity of the Democratic attacks," said Nicolle Wallace, White House communications director. ". . . We recognized the need to set the record straight in a way that hasn't been necessary since the campaign."
The Times' November 18 article is just the latest example of the paper's misleading coverage of the Bush administration's renewed efforts to defend its Iraq policy. After covering Bush's November 11 speech in which he attacked his critics by saying they are sending "the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will," the Times ignored public criticism of Bush's remarks from potential Republican presidential candidate Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE). Similarly, in covering Cheney's November 16 attacks on Democratic war critics, Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller failed to quote -- or even mention -- Kerry's or Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) responses to Cheney.