Here is Jon Carroll's column today!!
Apparently President Bush, as titular leader of the Republican Party, has started campaigning in earnest now. His coattails are just a wee bit short this year, so he's had to pick his opponent carefully. He has chosen to campaign against the New York Times.
The Times is a good target. People who believe in the "left-wing media" believe that the New York Times is the leftiest of them all. The people who believe in the "mainstream media" believe that the Times is the mainest of them all. Hardly anyone has a good word to say about it, except that it's the best newspaper in the country. But really, how important is that?
Also, the name of the New York Times contains the word "New York." Many members of the president's base consider "New York" to be a nifty code word for "Jewish." It is very nice for the president to be able to campaign against the Jews without (a) actually saying the word "Jew" and (b) without irritating the Israelis. A number of prominent Zionist groups think the New York Times is insufficiently anti-Palestinian, so they think the New York Times isn't Jewish enough.
I have heard about how evangelical Christians really like ultra-Orthodox Jews because both groups are eagerly anticipating the end of the world. Since the Bible sets forth certain conditions for the end times, both groups are working hard to fulfill those conditions. We may assume that the New York Times is, implicitly at least, against the end of the world. It's a controversial position -- death of the human race: aye or nay? -- and is another good reason to make the Times a target.
(Of course, Christians and Jews differ about what will happen after the end of the world, but there will be plenty of time to sort that out while the battle on the plains of Armageddon roars on.)
The proximate cause of the president's ire was a story the New York Times published about the government using the records kept by a Belgian banking consortium to track money transfers that the government believed might be related to terrorism. What the government is doing is not illegal and was revealed to Congress; it is, however, part of a general pattern of privacy violations that the New York Times considered newsworthy.
The president called the New York Times story "disgraceful." He said that "if you want to figure out what terrorists are doing, you try to follow their money. And that's exactly what we're doing. And the fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win the war on terror."
OK, let's parse this. The administration has been saying from the beginning that it's been doing everything it can to win the war on terror. It is not a secret that following the money is a useful law enforcement tool; it is not a secret that the terrorists have sought to evade the government by using the "hawala" system, an informal network of money brokers popular in the Middle East and North Africa.
Further, it is known that the government has used secret wiretaps, secret interrogation camps, secret agents and God knows what else -- an entire clandestine operation run with only the most notional relationship to the laws of the land. So the news that the government would subpoena the records of a Belgian banking consortium, while interesting, seems neither surprising nor significant.
Further, it is an article of faith among the terrorists that the United States and Israel control the international banking system. (And, look, we're making their paranoid fantasies a reality! Way to reinforce the crazy people!) Don't you think they've already been warned? Don't you think they've figured out this government strategy? Anyone who reads spy novels could have figured it out 10 years before Sept. 11 even happened.
Of course the government can look at your bank account, at any bank account. What's the point of being the government if you can't pry? This administration has said over and over again that it sees nothing wrong with prying. So where's the treason? Where's the disgrace? Do we really believe that the terrorists are reading the New York Times for clues on what to do, or not do, next?
The administration is desperate to look as if it knows what it's doing. Last week it arrested seven guys in Florida who swore allegiance to al Qaeda to a guy who turned out to be an FBI informant. They told the informant they wanted materials to build an army to attack the Sears Tower in Chicago. They wanted boots, vehicles, machine guns, uniforms -- wait, uniforms? These are supposed to be serious terrorists, and they wanted uniforms? Look, they may be dangerous people, but al Qaeda operatives they ain't.
Ah, but there's always the New York Times. It already has vehicles and footwear; maybe it needs uniforms too. But let's arrest a bunch of editors first, to keep America safe.