Journalists accept GOP’s screwy terrorism scorecard
That George W. Bush kept America safer from terrorism than Barack Obama is a conservative article of faith these days—and corporate media seem little inclined to challenge the blatant falsehoods used to advance this childish GOP talking point.
The most prominent example came on Good Morning America (ABC, 1/8/10) during a discussion of the failed Christmas Day “underwear bomb” plot, when former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani told anchor George Stephanopoulos: “We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We’ve had one under Obama.”
Get that? So-called terrorism expert Giuliani, who can barely finish a sentence without mentioning September 11 (Extra!, 5-6/07), managed to scrub the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history from Bush’s record.
Stephanopoulos failed to challenge the former mayor’s screwball claim. Though he later acknowledged this failure as a “mistake” on his blog (1/8/10), it was not apparently important enough to mention to the roughly 5 million Good Morning America viewers originally subjected to the falsehood.
In addition to the 9/11 attacks, the former mayor’s tally scrubbed from Bush’s watch the September/October 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five people, and the two people murdered in the July 2002 attack on the L.A. airport’s El Al ticket counter. Next to 9/11, Giuliani’s strangest omission was the December 2001 “shoe bomb” plot, which was strikingly similar to the incident under discussion—another failed attempt by a passenger to bring down an American airliner headed into the U.S. (New York Daily News, 12/23/01).
Was the ex-mayor’s falsehood just a slip? Consider this: The day after his Good Morning America stumble, Giuliani suggested to CNN’s Larry King (1/9/10) that the failed shoe bomb plot occurred before 9/11. King failed to challenge or point out the error.
Giuliani’s compulsion to misstate Bush’s anti-terrorism record appears to be shared by many other right-leaning pundits. Six weeks before Giuliani’s Good Morning America appearance, Fox contributor and former Bush press secretary Dana Perino told an unfazed Sean Hannity (Hannity, 11/24/09), “We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.”
New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin (1/6/10) made the claim that Bush kept us safe after 9/11: “Obama often complains about the problems he inherited from George W. Bush, but he also inherited a record of zero successful attacks on America after 9/11. If Islamic terrorists succeed on his watch, he can’t blame Bush.” But giving Bush a pass for attacks that left 3,000 dead makes as much sense as saying, “Aside from Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson kept the U.S. out of war.”
Some conservatives argue that though they happened under Bush’s watch, the 9/11 attacks were actually his predecessor’s fault. GOP adviser Mary Matalin said on CNN’s State of the Union (12/27/09): “I was there. We inherited a recession from President Clinton and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation’s history.” Conservative pundit Dick Morris told Fox’s Hannity (1/4/10), “The reason 9/11 happened is that Bill Clinton treated the ’93 bombing of the Trade Center as a crime, not as an act of war.”
In a comical appearance on the O’Reilly Factor (1/5/10), Fox News contributor and McLaughlin Group panelist Monica Crowley confused viewers and herself, stating, “Look, after 9/11, President Bush and Vice President Cheney had a 100 percent perfect track record in keeping the homeland safe from an Islamic terrorist attack.” When host Bill O’Reilly asked her why the failed shoe bomb plot didn’t count against Bush, she dismissed it by describing it in terms that applied nearly perfectly to the failed Christmas Day bombing: “That was coming into the United States. It was not a domestic terror attack. I mean, it was meant to be, but it was stopped by the folks on the plane.”
A moment later Crowley was listing the Christmas Day “bombing” in her litany of terrorism incidents to be counted against Obama—a list that even included arrests of terrorism suspects: “We’ve got the arrest of five Muslim Americans coming out of Washington, D.C., in Pakistan on terrorism charges. And the list goes on.”
Needless to say, when terrorist suspects were arrested under Bush, conservative pundits saw those as successes, not failures.