THE Times anticipates this one in a weekend Op-Ed, which sent the
Contemporary, in this case meaning "November 1, 2001" when, despite the enormous pressures of the 9/11 attacks, mounting Operation Enduring Freedom Fries, the anthrax attacks, the difficulties in deciding whether the frame for the anthrax attacks looked better on Saddam Hussein or The Former Soviet Union (a call ultimately left up to Judith Miller), and the Herculean task of intercepting every last phone call, email, fax, kaffeeklatsch, and snatch of back fence gossip in the country--why, the background checks necessary to set up the Strategic Block Captain Program [STRATBLOC] alone required the reassignment of most of the twenty-five FBI agents attached to the Clinton Scandals, Inc., desk--only half of that comment is made up, by the way--Acting President George W. Bush still found the time to give a chilling foretaste of the next seven years of what historians now jokingly refer to as "his Presidency": he rewrote, via Executive Order, the 1978 Presidential Records Act, excluding from its provisions, well, Presidents. And Vice-Presidents. And anyone named "George", living after 1978.
And here's one of those little historical tidbits people like me--high, clinically depressed, or both--can't get enough of: the decision was written by a then-obscure White House mouthpiece named Alberto Gonzales, later, of course, a Supreme Court nominee.
By the way, what we meant to say above was "foretaste of the chilling Presidency to come", not the other way 'round, since by then we'd already been treated to great heaping platefuls of the Stupidity and Venality on the daily menu. The Times, as we would expect, reported the story with the utmost professionalism, turning a naked power grab by a skid-row bum turned Presidential usurper designed to hide, in perpetuity, public records, and the public's right to know--supposedly the lifeblood of operations like, well, the Times--(effectively sealing off, not coincidentally, all evidence of the criminal activities of the aforementioned bum's father, the Crime Family the father had now passed along, as well as the rap sheet of the bubble-brained capo di tutti capi that father had replaced) into a faux-balanced He said/He said between the Commander-in-Chief in a Time of War and a few fusty academics. In fairness, a couple weeks later the Gray Lady published a scathing editorial moderately deploring the act. In theory.
We don't really mean to be unfair, at least not any more unfair than usual; this was, indeed, a time of great national anguish, which as Mnemosyne has since told us, as She already had countless times before (I guess you can afford infinite patience on the Time beat), is probably the exact moment when you want to be more vigilant, not less. Still, situational-adjusted oversight might be forgiven had realistic standards been applied to the Bush administration, the Bush "election", or the Bush candidacy, for that matter, before Everything Changed, but the news there was taken up with Al Gore's lying ways, Bill Clinton's lying ways and, later, Laura Bush's three weeks as a grade-school librarian and her Crawford Ranch decorating dilemmas. Asking questions and expecting answers is, after all, what lost us Vietnam.
Anyway, by fiat George W. Bush determined that the decision whether to release the papers of Ronald Reagan, e.g., rested with George W. Bush, a complex legal mind-twister which actually makes sense if you pretend you're Alberto Gonzales and really need your job. The American People had not yet begun to notice the funny smell, let alone realize it was coming from the vicinity of its own underwear; this made it incumbent upon a Free Press, and hey! Look over there! Isn't that Bill Clinton with a hot Rolex?
Yes, there were other things to think about at the time, and yes, there's also such a thing as doing so a little too eagerly (if you think I'm exaggerating the abdication of Press responsibility, note that when the Bush administration tried to use the thing four years later to avoid releasing some of John Roberts' records the Boston Globe called the order "little noticed"). By the time of the decision Bush had already delayed the release of the unvacuumed Reagan Papers for a year, despite his clear conflict of interest and the direct contravention of the Republican argument, now eight years strong, that "The President is not above the law". (What a shame Irony was dead.) In fact, had President Clinton been as guilty of trading pardons for campaign contributions as the Burton Commission was
Okay, fine. Let's just say, arguendo, that the Press just couldn't let go of Clinton's cock, or sniggering in general, and/or let's say it was totally in the tank for the Bush Crime Family, Cheney's agents, or SMERSH. Even so, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: on November 1, 2001, Presidential Press Secretary Ari Flescher, a man who had already demonstrated the administration's, and his own, personal, contempt for the truth, anything approaching the truth, or anything which might accidentally brush up against the truth in the middle of the night while headed for the can, as well as each and every "professional" "news" "gathering" operation, told the assembled Press that ''more information will be forthcoming because of the order", and the Press reported this rather than grabbing him by the necktie and pummeling him unconscious. Nothing can explain that, let alone excuse it. We are just twelve months away from the day a male prostitute catering to the Marine fetish specialty market would be admitted into the White House Press room, fully credentialed, little more than 8 uncut inches from the Most Powerful Image In The World. But we're getting ahead of our story. Let's just say, then, that abject fear is one thing, supplicating yourself to a sleezeball like Ari Fleischer, not to mention a malicious clodpate somehow elevated to the Presidency is, and was, quite another.