Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
One consistent public relations response of the Bush administration when bad news leaks out is to deny the accuracy of the story and then later, when firmer confirmation is obtained, to dismiss this as old news. This is a strategy that has worked well, given the media's obsession with reporting what is new and novel, as opposed to trying to depict what is.
Think about torture. Remember how, when the photos from Abu Ghraib came out, the administration dismissed this as the work of a few bad actors on the night shift? Just a couple of weeks ago, the 2003 torture memo written by John Yoo, giving Justice Department approval to a wide array of highly specific torture techniques for Department of Defense use, was released to the public.
Last week, ABC broke the story that such torture policies were approved in a series of national security "principals" meetings that included Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice.
Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.
The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.
Reportedly, President Bush was carefully excluded from such discussions. In an interview with ABC on Friday, however, Bush said that he was aware of the discussions and approved them:
"Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people." Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."
The president's top advisers, with his consent, approved the use of torture. Now, is that news? The Bush administration knew it might be, which is why Bush had always been careful about refusing to say what techniques were being used when issues such as waterboarding rose to the surface. Bush himself has been fond of saying, as he did in a 2006 interview with Bill O'Reilly, "I have said all along to the American people we won't torture."
It seems to me clearly to be news in terms of defining the epoch we're living in and how the country is responding to new types of security threats. And it's certainly confirmation that this went all the way up to the top and was not "hazing" performed by a few rogue soldiers.
But then, since we all "knew" this already, the latest torture policy revelations have gotten almost no play. A quick Nexis search of "Bush and torture" on "US Newspapers and Wires" since Friday, when Bush gave his interview to ABC, returns just 30 stories, some of them duplicates and not all of them related to this story.
By contrast, a search for "Obama and bitter" over the same period turns up 174 stories.
Ask yourself, which is the more important story?
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