The media Bush-bashing on the matter of Hurricane Katrina was somewhat to be expected. But we were shocked to read the “respected” Washington Post columnist David Broder giving readers a history lesson of how other presidents bounced back from disasters. “We have seen this before,” said Broder. “Bill Clinton was foundering in his third year in office when the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City shocked the nation and set the stage for his flawless performance of the symbolic rites of healing and comfort for the victims.”
Flawless performance? First of all, Clinton went around the country trying to blame the bombing on conservative talk radio. He shamelessly politicized the event so that he could politically profit from it. Clinton had charged that there are “purveyors of hate and division” on U.S. airwaves who “leave the impression, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.”
Bryant Gumbel, then co-host on the NBC News Today show, reported that “The bombing in Oklahoma City has focused renewed attention on the rhetoric that’s been coming from the right and those who cater to angry white men. While no one’s suggesting right-wing radio jocks approve of violence, the extent to which their approach fosters violence is being questioned by many observers, including the president?”
Gumbel said that “Right-wing talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan and others take to the air every day with basically the same format: Detail a problem, blame the government or a group, and invite invective from like-minded people.”
That approach-detail a problem, blame the government, and invite invective from like-minded people, sounds like what the media are trying to do to President Bush in the wake of the Katrina disaster. But this approach to Bush is deemed perfectly acceptable.
The twist in the Oklahoma City case is that the “angry white men” blamed for the bombing, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, are seen by many as part of a much larger conspiracy. The best book on this subject is The Third Terrorist, by Jayna Davis.
The FBI also used the “white guy did it” profile in going after the Washington, D.C.-area sniper. It turned out it was two black guys. The “white guy did it” profile is also why the FBI pursued Steven Hatfill in the anthrax case, despite evidence implicating al Qaeda.
Broder’s praise of Clinton’s shameful performance after Oklahoma City demonstrates how a major figure in American journalism can completely get the facts wrong. Or else he decided to ignore the facts. Either way, he ought to retire.