But getting caught didn’t turn the media from what they still believed their mission to be: to promote a progressive agenda. It meant they had to be more careful. They could no longer bury a story and expect it to stay gone, and they had to be more careful with their facts. Old formulas weren’t working the way they used to, but the mainstream media still had the loudest voices around, and they were still as partisan as ever.
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and “frozen.”
– Saul Alinsky
From the start of his 2000 campaign for the presidency, George W. Bush was a target. He was Republican when the press was overwhelmingly Democrat — a forgivable sin if he lost, but he didn’t. That made him the target. He refused to cave in when Al Gore played the race card, charging that racially motivated voter intimidation suppressed the African-American vote at Florida polls during the 2000 election. When Gore demanded selective recounts in heavily Democratic Florida counties, Bush fought back. In a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush won. Immediately, liberal pundits declared Gore the should-have-been winner and Bush the illegitimate president.
The media even conducted its own recount and found that, except with the most liberal interpretation of voter intent, Bush still won. He was still the illegitimate president. A year later after all the recount dust had settled, Dan Keating and Dan Balz of the Washington Post reported:
Had Bush not been party to short-circuiting those recounts, he might have escaped criticism that his victory hinged on legal maneuvering rather than on counting the votes.
Then came 9/11. For a rare, brief moment the country stood united behind President George W. Bush. He inspired all but the most hardened leftists when he stood with his arm across the shoulders of a tired firefighter in the rubble of what once was the World Trade Center and said:
I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.
The Bush presidency was transformed. His new mission was the defense of the United States and the American people. The war on terror was under way.
Ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban was the no-brainer. What to do after that presented the more difficult question, but Iraq was in almost everybody’s mind. In years leading up to 9/11 prominent Democrats had gone on record: Saddam Hussein posed a threat that had to be stopped. Regime change in Iraq was U.S. policy. As late as eight months prior to 9/11, a Washington Post editorial warned of the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq:
[O]f all the booby traps left behind by the Clinton administration, none is more dangerous — or more urgent — than the situation in Iraq. Over the last year, Mr. Clinton and his team quietly avoided dealing with, or calling attention to, the almost complete unraveling of a decade’s efforts to isolate the regime of Saddam Hussein and prevent it from rebuilding its weapons of mass destruction.
A week after the World Trade Center towers collapsed in New York, the Bush administration began to consider taking steps against Saddam Hussein, as the New York Times noted in mid-October of 2001:
On Sept. 19 and 20, the Defense Policy Board, a prestigious bipartisan board of national security experts that advises the Pentagon, met for 19 hours to discuss the ramifications of the attacks of Sept. 11. The members of the group agreed on the need to turn to Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war against Afghanistan and Mr. bin Laden and his organization is over, people familiar with the meetings said. Both Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Mr. Wolfowitz took part in the meetings for part of both days.
But while the group agreed on the goal of ousting Mr. Hussein, they presented a range of views, including a discussion of the many political and diplomatic obstacles to military action.
”If we don’t use this as the moment to replace Saddam after we replace the Taliban, we are setting the stage for disaster,” Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and a member of the group, said in an interview.
Members of the bipartisan Defense Policy Board included Harold Brown, President Jimmy Carter’s defense secretary; former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger; R. James Woolsey, director of central intelligence in the Clinton administration; Adm. David E. Jeremiah, the former deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former Vice President Dan Quayle; and James R. Schlesinger, a former defense and energy secretary.
This letter to the editor of the Times was fairly typical of the climate:
Published: September 25, 2001
To the Editor:
Re ”U.S. to Publish Terror Evidence on bin Laden” (front page, Sept. 24):
War on terrorism must go well beyond Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. While I am prepared to be patient and to give our president as much latitude as he needs to proceed, I will consider this war a failure if one year from now Muammar el-Qaddafi still runs Libya and Saddam Hussein still runs Iraq.
Decisive military action against Libya and Iraq will defang world terrorism much more effectively than killing bandits in Afghanistan.
Setauket, N.Y., Sept. 24, 2001
A country at war had rallied behind its president from Texas, and the mainstream media were temporarily unable to attack their prime target. There was no choice but to rally along and wait for an opportunity. It would come a year and a half later.
An organizer … does not have a fixed truth — truth to him is relative and changing; everything to him is relative and changing.
-- Saul Alinsky