Amid War on Terror, a War with the Press ; Bush's Team Pounds the New York Times in Particular, over Reports

By Linda Feldmann writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2006 | Go to article overview

Amid War on Terror, a War with the Press ; Bush's Team Pounds the New York Times in Particular, over Reports


Linda Feldmann writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The disclosure by The New York Times and other major papers that the Bush administration has been monitoring the financial transactions of suspected terrorists perhaps should have come as no surprise.

President Bush himself, speaking on Sept. 24, 2001, had asserted that would happen: "We're putting banks and financial institutions around the world on notice, we will work with their governments and ask them to freeze or block terrorist ability to access funds in foreign accounts."

But in choosing to reveal specifics of the monitoring effort, called the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, the Times in particular has come in for an unusual level of vitriol from top officials in the Bush White House, their allies in Congress, and the corps of conservative commentators. Vice President Dick Cheney called the Times's efforts "very damaging" and the paper's recent Pulitzer Prize for a similar story a "disgrace." Rep. Peter King of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, denounced the Times piece as "treasonous" and called for criminal prosecution. National Review Online called on the administration to withdraw the Times's White House press credentials.

"This is an administration that has been more irritated by the press than most," says Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, a veteran Washington observer going back to his days in the Eisenhower White House. "The New York Times has been a pretty serious, consistent critic of the war. The Times is an obvious, almost iconic, symbolic organization for this Republican administration to use."

On Tuesday, House Republican leaders were drafting a resolution to condemn the stories by the Times and the other papers. While a "free and objective independent media is necessary to the maintenance of liberty, the New York Times and other media outlets that solicit the discovery of sensitive information and unilaterally determine to publish such information could be placing lives at risk," the draft said, according to the Associated Press.

The Times piece, published shortly before similar articles in The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, comes at a time when the administration has recovered a bit of its momentum. The president's poll ratings have crept upward amid some good news out of Iraq. His top adviser, Karl Rove, is now free of legal worries, and can focus on the midterm elections.

But Bush and the Republican- controlled Congress still face an uphill climb. Most major polls show the president below 40 percent in public approval of his performance. …

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