The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, May 03, 2007

"17th time's the charm... I hope."

Okay. Bear with me for a second. On Tuesday, conservative pundits took yet another crack at the "this justifies everything we've been through in Iraq" gambit. It was the second report that Iraq's top terrorist dog had been killed. And within hours, it was proven to be another fake. Worse, it was suggested that all the folks eagerly passing the story along were dupes of al Qaeda. As I wrote then, the effect seems to have been to take a news day featuring zero al Qaeda and turning it into a reminder that they're doing just fine, thanks, and playing us for suckers.

Naturally, they were hoping it would get the public eye off of that endless list of BushCo investigations, resignations, and general debacles. It didn't work.

Of course, if today's GOP is known for anything, it's that absolute refusal to draw any sort of lesson from anything, ever. So they were back the very next day with another felicitously timed story about a smashing success in the GWOT that, needless to say, wasn't what it seemed. Just another capture kept tightly under wraps for months-- until the White House needed to press the "distract public" button for the umpteenth time.

Facing a mountain of bad news, the Bush administration needed some good news heading into this weekend. Its "AIDS czar" abruptly resigned after admitting he used an escort service that's facing federal prostitution charges. Two batches of new documents were released in the widening U.S. attorneys purge case. Condi Rice indicated she'd refuse to comply with a House subpoena to discuss Iraq War intelligence, and the President earned a career-low 28 percent approval rating in a new poll.

The administration got its good news: One of Al-Qaida's top leaders was captured. But when Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who is believed to have planned the July 7, 2005, subway attacks in London, was captured -- sometime last fall -- raises questions about whether the timing of the story's release was guided by newsworthiness or an effort to combat an unflattering news cycle.

A glance at newspaper headlines suggests the Pentagon's story was taken by some in the press as breaking news. London's Times Online seemed to think so. It ran a present-tense headline, "7/7 'mastermind' is siezed in Iraq." "Al-Qaida aide a big catch, says Pentagon," announced the Chicago Sun Times' story, and Stars & Stripes' front page blared, "Al-Qaida leader at Gitmo after capture."

But read a bit further, and you'll discover that al-Iraqi was captured "late last year" and has been held and interrogated by the CIA since then. Not even the transfer of custody of al-Iraqi to the Department of Defense's Guantanamo Bay facility is breaking news: According to the New York Times that switch happened a week ago. ("Al-Qaeda Bigwig Transferred from One U.S. Agency to Another" doesn't have the same sensational appeal.)

Just a friendly reminder of the many fun and exciting ways in which a political party can say "Ignore the man behind the curtain!"