Peter Baker continues his string of good reporting in today’s Washington Post. Why is it good? Because he’s not a stenographer. He looks behind the statements — a one-man truth squad.
As Bush wound up a three-day campaign swing out west on Wednesday, for example, he attacked Democrats for voting last week against legislation authorizing warrantless telephone and e-mail surveillance.
“One hundred and seventy-seven of the opposition party said, ‘You know, we don’t think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists,’ ” Bush said at a fundraiser for Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) before heading to Colorado for gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.
Asked about the president’s statement, White House aides could not name any Democrat who has said that the government should not listen in on terrorists. (emphasis added) Democrats who voted against the legislation had complained that it would hand too much power to the president and had said that they wanted more checks in the bill to protect civil liberties.
Yesterday, he took on Bush’s cheap “cut-and-run” shots.
While saying he does not question their patriotism, Bush paints Democrats as a “cut-and-run” party that enables terrorists.
His indictment centers on three pieces of legislation: the USA Patriot Act expanding law enforcement powers; a measure authorizing warrantless surveillance of telephone calls and e-mail into and out of the United States when one person is suspected of ties to terrorists; and legislation creating military tribunals that restricts the rights of terror suspects and permits harsh interrogation to extract information. Noting that Democrats supported the Patriot Act in 2001 before filibustering its renewal last winter, Bush said, “They voted for it before they voted against it.”
Bush’s language, though, characterizes Democratic positions through his own prism. Critics of the surveillance program have not argued (emphasis added) against listening to terrorist phone calls but say the government should get warrants from a secret intelligence court. Likewise, many critics of the tribunal measure did not oppose interrogating prisoners generally, as Bush said, but specific provisions of the bill, such as denying the right of habeas corpus or giving the president freedom to authorize what they consider torture.
It’s critical that reporters challenge statements made by politicians, especially those such as Bush who regularly suspends reality and ignores what opponents really said and simply puts words in their mouths.