|May 9, 2006|
The Perfect Bushman
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
General Michael C. Hayden is the perfect Bush nominee.
He doesn’t know the Constitution. Especially as it applies to his job. He loudly proclaims that he and his department know it better than most. He blithely breaks the law. When he's asked a difficult question, he simply ignores it. Most important, the media, led by The New York Times, gives him a pass on all of that.
The law he so blithely broke, and continues to break is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA, as it is routinely called, was an attempt to makes surveillance doable, yet within our constitutional limitations. It established secret courts, made it very easy to get a warrant and permitted surveillance to start and the warrant to be sought afterward. President Bush decided "We don’t need no stinking warrants," and General Hayden proceeded to carry out surveillance on an untold number of people without any warrants.
General Hayden was called upon to defend the practice. He did so on January 26, 2006, at the National Press Club. It was there that he displayed his ignorance of the Constitution, while proudly proclaiming his knowledge of it.
Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder asked him the constitutional question:
Here is what the 4th Amendment to the Constitution says: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
At the same conference he was asked, "are you targeting us and people who politically oppose the Bush government, the Bush administration? Not a fishing net, but are you targeting specifically political opponents of the Bush administration?"
If you watch the video, or even read the transcript, it’s clear that speaker was more a polemicist than journalist, nonetheless, it is one of the essential questions and it deserves a real answer. Hayden simply ignored it.
George Stephanopoulos asked him a similar question on ABC’s This Week and so did Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. These other times Hayden evaded the question. He spoke of not having the time or the resources to do anything but go after Al Qaeda and failed to say, simply, "No."
It makes one wish he were in the witness box and a prosecutor could ask, "Would you please answer the question, Yes or No?"
The New York Times, peculiarly, ran two stories about Hayden, side by side.
One said that Republicans were critical of him because he was a military man and a civilian should run the CIA.
The other read like a puff piece that came pretty much straight from the White House spin machine. It was headlined "Dodging Perils On Way to Top Of Spy Game," and had the subhead "General Earns Respect as Master of Briefing." It called him "brainy," had a quote about him "knowing more about intelligence than anyone else," said he had "won generally high marks," that "He had to get past a lot of dinosaurs at NSA, and he did it ... simply no one else who's remotely as qualified." The few critical remarks didn't pop up until you turned to where the story was continued on page 18, but even then it wrapped up with how he is a regular guy from Pittsburgh, the son of a welder and the brother of a truck driver, that he roots for the Steelers and got his "clarity of thought and persuasive arguments" from his parochial school education.
It was possible from both articles to find out that there was some sort of controversy about wiretaps without warrants. But not Hayden's ignorance of the Bill of Rights. Not his arrogance in claiming that he knows the 4th Amendment well. Not his refusal to answer whether or not the wiretaps were used to target enemies of the Bush administration. Or members of the press.
If, indeed, General Hayden is a "Master of Briefing" it is because the press -- with the exception of Mr. Landay -- lets him get away with so much.
It is, however, instructive that being a "Master of Briefing" is the reason he's been head of the NSA and is now being considered to head the CIA. Why not make Scott McClellan head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Or find someone who "gives good cell phone" to head up FEMA?
The blame does not rest, or at least it does not stop, with the hardworking reporters who were up late trying to get those stories out. It rests with the sleeping, inept and unaware leaders of the Democratic Party.
When someone like Hayden is nominated, the first thing a reporter does is think of what he already knows about the nominee. Which is whatever people made the most noise about. Then he looks up old articles, which are filled with the things that people made the most noise about. Next, he picks up the phone to call the people who in the field to get statements, which he will then cut and paste, and put into a coherent narrative.
The Democrats failed to make a big to-do when Hayden inadvertently revealed himself. They failed to make a major issue out of his refusal to answer the question about targeting Bush enemies. They failed to connect Hayden's failures, his lawbreaking and his contempt for the Constitution to a pattern of conduct that exists throughout the Bush administration.
I'm guessing here, but I'm sure that the reporters at the Times, and elsewhere, called various Democrats. Working backward from the results, it is clear that Democrats, once again, failed to make the issues clear, failed to come up with vivid statements, and failed to come up with quotable quotes.
There are real issues. There are serious issues here. Hopefully, someone besides the outsiders will become aware of them before Hayden’s confirmation hearings.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Larry Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog, The Librarian, available at nationbooks.org, and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin, available from BuzzFlash.com.
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