Think the mainstream media has improved since its utter meltdown in the run-up to the Iraq War?
In case you’ve been under a rock the last few days, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published an interview on Saturday in which former President Jimmy Carter, among other things, said, "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history.”
Considering that retired U.S. military generals, former heads of state, historians, politicians, pundits, and the majority of Americans and human beings around the world would concur (or have concurred) with Carter’s assessment, it’s certainly less an incendiary statement than it is an honest, arguably obvious, critique.
You try and name a foreign policy decision that degraded America’s standing in the eyes of the world more than did the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Regardless, the Bush administration reacted as expected. Ignore the substance of the attack and disparage the messenger. On Sunday, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, “I think it's sad that President Carter's reckless personal criticism is out there," adding, "I think it's unfortunate. And I think he is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments."
I’m sure it is “sad” and “unfortunate” (though “infuriating” is probably closer to the truth) for those in the Bush administration to hear a former president level such a clear-eyed criticism, one that resonates at home and abroad, underscoring the accumulating wreckage of this White House’s tragic foreign policy and calculated mendacity. Though, of course, that’s not what Fratto implied. Instead, his words were a desperate attempt to paint Carter as a pathetic has-been – a one-term president defined completely by his failure to bring home American hostages from Iran rather than by his greatest accomplishment in office, bringing peace between Israel and Egypt, and his Herculean humanitarian efforts after leaving office that brought him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
Hardly irrelevant, as far as effecting positive change in the world – you don’t win the Nobel Peace Prize by perfecting your golf swing (Ford), chairing boards of nefarious corporations (Bush I, Carlyle Group, respectively) or making record-breaking public speaking paydays (Reagan) - no former president has worked as tirelessly, courageously and selflessly than the now 82-year-old Carter. Moreover, as John Nichols notes in The Nation: “It seems that, if Carter really was as ‘irrelevant’ as the Bush White House would have us believe, the president's aides would not be attacking the former president in such immediate and aggressive terms.”
What’s more, in a 2004 survey among 415 historians, 81% concluded the Bush administration was a “failure.” In the 2006 Rolling Stone article highlighting this study, author and leading U.S. historian Sean Wilentz wrote, “Twelve percent of the historians polled - nearly as many as those who rated Bush a success - flatly called Bush the worst president in American history. And these figures were gathered before the debacles over Hurricane Katrina, Bush's role in the Valerie Plame leak affair and the deterioration of the situation in Iraq. Were the historians polled today, that figure would certainly be higher.”
Finally, nothing in our Constitution bars a former president from criticizing a sitting one. As Joan Walsh pointed out in Salon yesterday:
In earlier, less prissy times, presidents were hard on one another -- Teddy Roosevelt bashed Woodrow Wilson's foreign policy, and Herbert Hoover bashed FDR's social policy. Even former President Gerald Ford, apparently one of history's nicest presidents if not the most effective, called Carter's presidency a "disaster" and said he "disagreed strongly" with Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq, which he called a "mistake." Sure, Ford's remarks to Bob Woodward were embargoed until after his death -- but not until after Bush's death, which is what Ford might have done if he wanted to obey the supposed commandment that presidents not speak ill of their successors.
Ironically, completely lost as well in the mainstream media’s surface discussion of Carter’s criticism is how the former president’s statement aims to begin mending the very image of America for which he’s castigating this administration for demolishing. As John Nichols also notes : “By making it perfectly clear that Americans are unsettled by their president's reckless disregard for the rule of law and common sense at home and abroad, Carter helps to separate Bush from America in the eyes of the world, which is a very, very good thing for the American people.”
Care to argue with that? Be my guest.
Nevertheless, even as the ever-gracious Carter softened his statements yesterday - no doubt under pressure from the growing media backlash inspired by the White House (and potentially due to the Democratic leadership’s preference that Mr. Carter not steal any thunder from its crop of ’08 frontrunners) – here’s how Today co-host Meredith Vieira handled the topic yesterday:
MEREDITH VIEIRA: And President Jimmy Carter joins us from St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana this morning, where he and the folks from Habitat for Humanity are marking an important milestone.
President Carter, good morning to you.
PRESIDENT CARTER: Good morning.
VIEIRA: Before we talk about your work down there, sir, you did make headlines over the weekend for blasting the Bush administration as "the worst in history." You have criticized the administration before, but never so vehemently. What provoked those words, that choice of words, and why now?
PRESIDENT CARTER: Well, what I was actually doing was responding to a question comparing this administration's foreign policy with that of Richard Nixon. And I think Richard Nixon had a very good and productive foreign policy. And my remarks were maybe careless or misinterpreted, but I wasn't comparing the overall administration, and I was certainly not talking personally about any president. But –
VIEIRA: Are you saying --
PRESIDENT CARTER: -- there's no doubt in my mind -- I'm sorry?
VIEIRA: I was saying, you said your remarks might have been careless. Are you saying now that you believe they were careless or reckless?
PRESIDENT CARTER: Well, I think they were, yes, because they were interpreted as comparing this whole administration to all other administrations, when what I was actually doing was responding to a question about foreign policy between Richard Nixon and this administration. And I think that this administration's foreign policy, compared to President Nixon's, was much worse.
VIEIRA: But not the worst in U.S. history?
PRESIDENT CARTER: No, that's not what I wanted to say. I wasn't comparing this administration with other administrations back through history, but just with President Nixon's.
VIEIRA: Do you believe, sir, that as a former president it is appropriate to criticize the man sitting in the Oval Office, particularly during a time of war?
And there it is: in mid-2007, with the overwhelming majority of Americans certain our country is on a tragic course and that the Iraq invasion was a catastrophic mistake, with nearly 40% of our citizens now embracing the prospect of impeachment for President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, establishment journalists like Vieira are still impugning the patriotism of those who criticize this White House.
It's precisely the kind of feckless journalism that helped to facilitate our hellish misadventure in Iraq.
The interview continues with more of the same: at no time does Vieira consider the substance of Carter’s critique, or why the Bush administration might be so compelled to personally attack him without ever addressing his criticisms.
Nonetheless, the backdrop of Vieira’s satellite interview with Carter spoke volumes.
While the Bush White House perpetuates its rudderless bloodbath in Iraq, the former president, forced to backtrack from a perfectly rational assessment of this administration’s reckless foreign policy, was in New Orleans building houses for people who lost them during Hurricane Katrina and dispensing something for which the mainstream media seems to hold him endlessly in contempt: hope, wisdom and truth.
Shame on you, Mr. Carter.