Not So Fast

The Times calls out the president on his distortions

On the cover of today’s New York Times is a story that critics of the war (and the media’s coverage of it) have been dying to read. Maybe its because a large majority of the population now can be described as a “critic of the war,” thus decreasing the risk of running stories that put the president in a bad light, but the Times, at least to my eyes, really calls it like it is – and in more blatant a way than I can remember seeing in quite some time.

Two weeks ago, I pointed out with approval that The Los Angeles Times had made a point of distinguishing that the group that calls itself “Al Qaeda in Iraq” has only the most tenuous of connections to Osama bin Laden or any other part of the Al Qaeda that attacked America. I felt it was an important distinction to make, partly because the administration often blurs the two in an attempt to gain popular support for the war in Iraq.

Well, the Times, in an article titled, “Bush Distorts Qaeda Links, Critics Assert,” both points out how the president tries to confuse his audiences into thinking they are the same, and shows what little proof there is that they have any connection to one another. It opens with this typical quote from the president: “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.”

For some reason it feels shocking (but refreshing nonetheless) to then read the following lines on the cover of the Times: Bush’s “references to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and his assertions that it is the same group that attacked the United States in 2001, have greatly oversimplified the nature of the insurgency in Iraq and its relationship with the Qaeda leadership.”

And finally this: “There is no question that the group is one of the most dangerous in Iraq. But Mr. Bush’s critics argue that he has overstated the Qaeda connection in an attempt to exploit the same kinds of post-Sept. 11 emotions that helped him win support for the invasion in the first place.”

Read the rest of the piece to get a nuanced understanding of a distinction that often gets jumbled in the president’s mouth.

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Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.