Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Krugman Understands News

Why doesn't Howard Kurtz?

But U.S. television coverage ranged from respectful to gushing. Nobody pointed out that Mr. Bush was breaking an important tradition. And nobody seemed bothered that Mr. Bush, who appears to have skipped more than a year of the National Guard service that kept him out of Vietnam, is now emphasizing his flying experience. (Spare me the hate mail. An exhaustive study by The Boston Globe found no evidence that Mr. Bush fulfilled any of his duties during that missing year. And since Mr. Bush has chosen to play up his National Guard career, this can't be shrugged off as old news.)

Anyway, it was quite a show. Luckily for Mr. Bush, the frustrating search for Osama bin Laden somehow morphed into a good old-fashioned war, the kind where you seize the enemy's capital and get to declare victory after a cheering crowd pulls down the tyrant's statue. (It wasn't much of a crowd, and American soldiers actually brought down the statue, but it looked great on TV.)

Let me be frank. Why is the failure to find any evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program, or vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons (a few drums don't qualify — though we haven't found even that) a big deal? Mainly because it feeds suspicions that the war wasn't waged to eliminate real threats. This suspicion is further fed by the administration's lackadaisical attitude toward those supposed threats once Baghdad fell. For example, Iraq's main nuclear waste dump wasn't secured until a few days ago, by which time it had been thoroughly looted. So was it all about the photo ops?

Well, Mr. Bush got to pose in his flight suit. And given the absence of awkward questions, his handlers surely feel empowered to make even more brazen use of the national security issue in future.

You see, when a candidate tries to exploit his military experience, as Bush did with the whole fake "flying the plane thing," it is perfectly appropriate to bring up this issue and start asking the questions, which as Howie has pointed out, Bush has never really answered. In Howie's world, such questions are verboten and we shouldn't worry our little heads about them.

If Clinton had pulled a stunt like that, the lead paragraph of every news story would have been something along the lines of "President Clinton, whose relations with the military are somewhat strained due to his irregular draft record..." This was true even though Clinton never dodged the draft any more (and in some cases less) than did Dick Cheney, Pat Buchanan, Spencer Abraham, Elliot Abrams, Richard Perle, John Ashcroft, ...