Al Gore is a fierce voice from the wilderness. On Monday he attacked President Bush's use of torture, kidnapping, faulty intelligence, and called for a special prosecutor to investigate wiretapping. Bush supporters quickly struck back. They challenged Gore's integrity, called him a hypocrite, and counted on the media to repeat such charges uncritically. And why shouldn't they? The media often parrots such lines. The phony story that Gore claimed to have invented the Internet comes to mind. True to form, Big Media went along, but not before Gore drew blood, for Gore has standing as a national figure, and one who drew more votes than Bush in 2000.
Before you write off Gore's call as mere Bush-bashing, consider that conservatives such as Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia and other members of the American Conservative Union joined liberals in sponsoring Gore's talk. They're worried for our civil liberties.
Gore dramatized those worries by delivering his impassioned remarks on the day set aside to honor Martin Luther King, a man whose private life was dragged into public as a consequence of wiretapping. Who knows what else resulted from the spying against King in the months or years leading up to his 1968 assassination in Memphis?
By showing the courage to say publicly what many say privately, Gore stung Bush. If not, then why was the administration and its friends so quick to slime Gore's name the way they've done so many other critics over the years? Could it be related to a Zogby Poll released Monday showing 52 percent of Americans believe Bush should be impeached if he illegally wiretapped Americans? It's unlikely to happen, given Republican control of government. Still, in a week in which robot aerial drones bombed Pakistan, based on faulty intelligence, Bush has cause to worry about political fallout from his many tragic policies.
The White House counter attack on Gore was so false—and the media so toadying in its follow-through--that the watchdog group Media Matters made a fuss about it on Tuesday.
“News outlets such as the Associated Press, CNN, and CBS News repeated Gonzales's comments without challenge,” the group charged on its website. “MSNBC's onscreen `ticker' claimed that Gonzales `shot down Al Gore's criticism' and noted his claim that the former vice president's comments were `inconsistent with policy during the Clinton administration.'” Fox News banged the same drum, calling Gore's attack hypocritical. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had this to say on CNN:
“During the Clinton administration there was activity regarding the physical searches without warrants; Aldrich Ames is an example. I can also say… the deputy attorney general testified before Congress that the president does have the inherent authority under the Constitution to engage in physical searches without a warrant, and so those would certainly seem to be inconsistent with what the former vice president was saying today.”
In repeating those remarks, Big Media failed to point out that the Ames case occurred in 1993, BEFORE the 1995 FISA amendment requiring warrants for physical searches in the case of foreign spying—an amendment Clinton and Gore supported. Moreover, “there is ample evidence that the Clinton administration's investigation of Ames did comply with… statutes on wiretapping--the very laws that the Bush administration chose to ignore,” stated Media Matters, citing sources. Nor did the media bother to bring context by pointing out that Gonzales' example alluded to one man only, whereas, in the case of Bush, “for more than four years, the executive branch has been wiretapping many thousands of American citizens without warrants,” to quote Gore.
It's true that Bush is operating in more dangerous times, with the imagery of 9/11 still vivid in memory. On the other hand, the law long has provided for granting quick judicial authority for presidential wiretaps in cases that threaten national security—a route Bush chose not to follow.
If the president can… “eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?” Gore asked. What we know about Bush's propensity to spy “virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently,” he charged. In our own time, Bush has become representative of “the central threat the founders sought to nullify in the Constitution, an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the king from whom they had broken free.” It's time the nation listened to this voice so fiercely ringing from the wilderness.