A View From The Handbasket

Wednesday, July 05, 2006
The Bauer Doctrine
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:08 PM

One of the observations people made while gazing numbly at their televisions on 9/11 that has entered the collective consciousness was that "it looks like a movie."

And while there's truth there -- the specter of fireballs bursting from the instantly recognizable twin towers almost looked more like CGI than real flames burning real people to death -- what that statement also indicated was that for most Americans, thankfully, such scenes of violence were only to be found at the multiplex, not real life. The only context they had for understanding such things were those offered by familiar Hollywood narratives and archetypes.

Which perhaps explains why so many people persist in trying to apply the Hollywood template to the events following 9/11 continuing until today. For example, we have various "mainstream media"-hating right-wing types (who clearly are on their way to becoming the new mainstream media) taking the lead offered by the White House in attacking the New York Times' reporting on the SWIFT program to broadly monitor financial transactions in an attempt to root out terror activity:

On Monday, President Bush said it was "disgraceful" that The New York Times and other media outlets reported last week that the US government was quietly monitoring international financial transactions handled by an industry-owned cooperative in Belgium called the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Communication, or SWIFT, which is controlled by nearly 8,000 institutions in 20 countries. The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal also reported about the program.

The controversy continued to simmer yesterday when Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican of Kentucky, accused the Times of "treason," telling reporters in a conference call that it "scares the devil out of me" that the media would reveal such sensitive information. Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, requested US intelligence agencies to assess whether the reports have damaged anti terrorism operations. And Representative Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has urged Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez to pursue "possible criminal prosecution" of the Times, which has reported on other secret government surveillance programs.

We'll set aside for a moment the question of whether exposing violations of civil liberties committed in the name of safety is a valid function of a free press. Unsurprsingly, I think it is, and complaining about reporting on SWIFT is akin to complaining about CSI helping murderers better avoid forensic detection:

Victor D. Comras, a former US diplomat who oversaw efforts at the United Nations to improve international measures to combat terror financing, said it was common knowledge that worldwide financial transactions were being closely monitored for links to terrorists. "A lot of people were aware that this was going on," said Comras, one of a half-dozen financial experts UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recruited for the task.

"Unless they were pretty dumb, they had to assume" their transactions were being monitored, Comras said of terrorist groups. "We have spent the last four years bragging how effective we have been in tracking terrorist financing."

What we're really dealing with here, I believe, is indignation over the image of the big secret government safety net being drug into the light by the hated "liberal" Times. For where were the threats to prosecute the conservative Wall Street Journal, which also reported on SWIFT? Nowhere. That didn't fit the narrative of the freedom-hating liberal media frustrating the dangerous work of noble spies and operatives like the ones on 24. (Why, they're probably the ones who got the bad guy in Dirty Harry off on a technicality!)

And once that narrative takes hold, it becomes more compelling than reality. (Why watch the news when you can learn about terrorism from Jack Bauer and James Bond?) Having barely finished chewing on the SWIFT story like a rawhide bone, the right's attack poodles sunk their teeth into fresh treason... in the NYT travel section.

This frothy piece on the playground of the Washington power elite drove 24-addled observers like David Horowitz to red-faced raving:

In an apparent retaliation for criticism of its disclosure of classified intelligence to America's enemies, the New York Times June 30th edition has printed huge color photos of the vacation residences of Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, identifying the small Maryland town where they live, showing the front driveway and in Rumsfeld's case actually pointing out the hidden security camera in case any hostile intruders should get careless.

Make no mistake about it, there is a war going on in this country. The aggressors in this war are Democrats, liberals and leftists who began a scorched earth campaign against President Bush before the initiation of hostilities in Iraq. The initiators of this war were Al Gore and Jimmy Carter who attacked the president's attempt to rally the world against Saddam's defiance of international law in September 2002 just after his appeal to the UN General Assembly.

In Horowitz's TV-land reality, the New York Times travel section is part of a conspiracy with Al Gore and Jimmy Carter to keep the United States from successfully invading Iraq while endangering the most well-protected men on the planet by revealing the publicly-known location of their vacation homes. One can picture a bearded, robe-wearing terror cell eagerly cracking open the Sunday Times, having been unable to locate the infidel Rumsfeld's location through the mere use of Google.

(As is usually the case in such right-wing rage-fests, the actual question of whether Cheney and Rumsfeld themselves had any issue with the article was ignored. They didn't, and Rumsfeld approved of the photo of his house.)

But in the dramatic battle between the enemies of freedom and photogenic counter-terror agents, you never know where the next attack might come from. Doing his best interpretation of the grizzled head of MI-5 grinding his teeth with rage at the latest interference from the ignorant bureaucratic nitwits, leading pro-torture theorist John Yoo reacts to the Supreme Court:

John Yoo, a principal architect of the Bush administration's legal response to the terrorist threat, sounded perplexed and a little bitter. The Supreme Court had methodically dismantled the legal framework that he and a few other administration lawyers had built after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"What the court is doing is attempting to suppress creative thinking," said Yoo, who now teaches law at the University of California at Berkeley. "The court has just declared that it's going to be very intrusive in the war on terror. They're saying, 'We're going to treat this more like the way we supervise the criminal justice system.'"

Of course, fighting criminals is a lot less fun than fighting terrorists because of all those pesky Miranda laws and due process and other buzzkill regulations (not like the "creative thinking" Yoo likes, perhaps a little too much). Faced with not being able to continue living out the fantasy of torturing the location of the deadly virus bomb hidden in downtown L.A. out of a swarthy terrorist mere seconds before detonation (then running in and snipping the correct wire as the clock blinks 00:01), Yoo can only stamp his feet and complain... to the New York Times.

What to do? Why, we need a conference! A conference sponsored by the Heritage Foundation! We could get the creators and writers (and, why not, the stars!) of 24 to tell us how to fight terror and the liberal media! We'll get Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff to attend and learn along with us! And (oh boy!) we'll get Rush Limbaugh to be the moderator! Damn, won't that be great?

And, dear readers, you probably already know that I'm not making any of that up.

EDIT/UPDATE: Turns out that after the conference, Limbaugh and the producers of 24 (and two other men) headed to the Dominican Republic on Limbaugh's network's private jet. As everyone in the world now knows, Limbuagh returned with 29 100mg Viagra tablets. How many he left with is an interesting question...

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