Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

January 8, 2010

SIMILAR INCIDENTS, DIFFERENT RESPONSES.... To hear conservatives tell it, the White House's handling of the failed Christmas terrorist plot has been inadequate. President Obama, the Right has argued, waited too long to speak publicly about the incident, and hasn't taken the matter seriously enough.

Of course, the obvious response is probably the most effective one: Obama commented on the Abdulmutallab plot a lot faster than Bush responded to an identical attempted attack eight years ago.

But that doesn't fully capture the important and illustrative differences between the two responses.

The Abdulmutallab attempt was two weeks ago today. Over the course of these two weeks, President Obama has spoken publicly about the incident three times -- Dec. 29, Jan. 5, and Jan. 9. He also devoted his weekly address to the subject last weekend. Also, over the span of two weeks, the president's national security team prepared a relatively thorough security review of what transpired and a new directive on corrective actions.

Now let's compare the previous administration's response to a nearly identical terrorist plot -- Richard Reid's failed shoe-bomb attack (the same chemical, the same target, the same intended consequence, in same month of the year, with the same twisted ideology). Consider these two weeks, from eight years ago:

Dec. 22: Reid's attempt fails.

Dec. 28: Bush hosts a press conference from his Texas ranch. In his opening statement, the president makes no reference to the terrorist attempt. Reporters ask Bush 15 questions, zero about the Reid incident. The president references the failed attack anyway, saying a total of 89 words on the subject.

Dec. 29: The president reads his weekly radio address. He makes no reference to the attempted terrorism.

Dec. 31: Bush again chats with reporters at a media availability in Crawford. Reporters ask Bush 10 questions, zero about the Reid incident. Again, Bush referenced the matter briefly, saying 53 words on the subject.

Jan. 4: Karen Hughes hosts a briefing for reporters. There were no questions about the Reid incident, and the subject wasn't addressed.

Jan. 5: The president reads another weekly radio address, and makes no reference to the attempted terrorism. Later that day, Bush appears at two public events, one in California, the other in Oregon. The shoe-bombing incident doesn't come up at all at either event.

Do you notice a difference between the two weeks after the Abdulmutallab plot and the two weeks after the Reid plot? Tell me -- which of these two presidents seemed to respond to the attempted attacks more forcefully, more seriously, and with more depth? Which of the two seems more engaged when it comes to counter-terrorism?

Keep in mind, Bush faced literally no criticism for hardly responding at all to an attempt to blow up an airplane over the United States. There was no media pushback, no complaints from Congress, nothing. And this was just four months after 9/11, when presumably the terrorist threat was foremost on the nation's mind.

Rudy Giuliani said on CNN this week, "I think [Obama] has to make a major correction in the way he is dealing with terrorism because I think he has mishandled the situation. First of all, it was 10 days too late. This is something you react to immediately, not 10 days later after your vacation. The president of the United States, when there is a potential massive attack on this country, which is what this guy was going to do, should have been on top of this immediately, not 10 days later, 11 days later, 12 days later."

Bush pretty much ignored, at least publicly, the nearly identical "potential massive attack on this country," and no one seemed to care.

If I didn't know better, I might think there was a double-standard here, and a "controversy" has been manufactured by petty partisans hoping to undermine the Obama White House without cause.*

* edited

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

Bookmark and Share

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, is there a sound?

If Obama gets out of bed in the morning, is he wrong?

If Obama stays in bed, is he wrong?

Americans want to know the answers; Republicans already do. . .

Posted by: DAY on January 8, 2010 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

plus 9.11 DID happen on bush's/cheney's watch.

but hey, what's 3,000 KIA when compared to an attempt that .... did not .... kill anyone ????

Posted by: toe jam on January 8, 2010 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Right. How to get the talking heads/reporters to ask these questions? That is the headache...

Who was the dufus on CNN that let Guiliani away without asking questions... I know, pissing in the wind, I am.

Posted by: sduffys on January 8, 2010 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

If he'd come out and spoken about it any earlier Republicans would be hopping up and down in a fit about how he was trying to make political hay out of it, insert himself into it inappropriately or some other such deranged ninny-ism.

Posted by: cld on January 8, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

But wait, wasn't Dick Cheney in charge?

I'm sure he had lots to say in his undisclosed bunker.

Posted by: martin on January 8, 2010 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

This is a classic Rovian tactic. You accuse your opponent of something you are guilty of. It's the old "look at that shiny object" approach. The Republicans know they are vulnerable in this area. So they are trying to make a big deal out of not responding quickly enough and not using the word terror enough. It would make you think they really don't have that much to complain about.

Posted by: Ladyhawke on January 8, 2010 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of people just can't muster the humiliating level of cowardice it takes to be perceived as 'tough on terrorism'.

Posted by: apm on January 8, 2010 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Not to be contrarian but the difference is the degree that our memory of 9-11 has faded. Compared to the WTC attacks, the Reid affair really DID seem like small potatoes. Of course the Republican attacks are ridiculous and Rudy in particular is worse than a clown, but there does remain that one difference between the two events.

Posted by: Paul Dirks on January 8, 2010 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

There is a double standard and a lot of exists because the Bush White House attacked those who criicized it, and the Obama people try to mollify their critics. The Bush folks attacked the motives, the facts and the credibility of anyone who attacked them on national security. The Obama people really don't appear to want to fight.

Now I won't argue that the President shouldn't lay out what he's doing, and shouldn't do a review of what went wrong. But I would argue that not attacking your critics and even worse trying to mollify them is a horrible PR move. You end up criticizing yourself and looking weak.

Posted by: samuel Knight on January 8, 2010 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

"...I might think there was a double-standard here..."

Again, Steve fails to understand the point!

There is NO standard for republicans. There is a set of standards for Obama and the dumbocrats, subject to constant change. Republicans get to define the standards for the dumbs and Obama.

For Obama, the standard is that whatever he did is incorrect and whatever he did not do is what should have been done.

Hope that clarifies this for you...

Posted by: SadOldVet on January 8, 2010 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Give Bush a break, he was busy ignoring the anthrax attacks at the time.

Posted by: ElegantFowl on January 8, 2010 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Give Bush a break, that Pet Goat book isn't going to read itself.

Posted by: Bobo Teh Clown on January 8, 2010 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, *we* and the RBC appreciate your careful parsing of Bush's inadequacies and Obama's improvements; however: the right-wing really doesn't care about rational, fact-based persuasion anymore. It is an intuitive value to them, to denigrate the other etc. on "principle" so your comparisons and arguments fall on deaf ears. We don't have a rational dialog with that bunch.

Posted by: Neil B on January 8, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I asked a colleague this very question today. Whether there had been this type of media frenzy and criticism after the shoe bomber incident. I was fairly certain there hadn't been.

Same old story - damn liberal media.

Posted by: ckelly on January 8, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

The media frenzy is a direct result of an obvious fact--no attractive blond has gone missing lately.

The media herd is attracted to bright shiny objects. The next thing that comes along will attract them as well.

Of course the comparison between Bush and Obama is totally inappropriate. Remember IOKIYAR

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 8, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

To Paul Dirks

Killing 100 people would not have been small potatoes though. And how would you know that he would have only killed the people on the plane? How do you know it wouldn't have killed more people on the ground?

Posted by: Randy on January 8, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Randy, compared to 9/11 killing 100 people is small potatoes.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 8, 2010 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

If you don't hate Guilliani yet you just don't know him well enough

Posted by: bjobotts on January 8, 2010 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

The difference is that the Republicans have a disciplined, well-connected propaganda machine in place to capitalize politically on any event that occurs, and a pliant corporate-owned media all set to amplify whatever the propaganda machine puts out.

Democrats in office seem oblivious to this, and still operate as if the news environment were actually nonpartisan.

Posted by: jheartney@yahoo.com on January 8, 2010 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me that, by their own admission, Republicans are much more frightened of terrorists than Democrats are. That means that terrorism only really works against Republicans. I believe a major reason for this is that the Republican party has so many religious fanatics of its own.

Posted by: chrenson on January 8, 2010 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Bush and Richard Reid: both white

Obama and Mutallab: both black

This explains the media reaction beyond any doubt.

Posted by: Ohioan on January 8, 2010 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

One thing that hasn't been discussed is who exactly is responsible in Amsterdam or any other foreign city for flights going to America ? And when new flight restrictions are put in place, do all countries follow them, or just America bound flights ?

What about a flights from 'anti-American' nations to the US, Iran, N Korea, Yemen, Libya, or even Venezuela. Who is ensuring state sponsored terrorists aren't loading the plane with explosives bound for LA or NYC ?

Posted by: ScottW on January 8, 2010 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Ghouliani is a fool. I hate to say this, but as terrible an act as blowing a hole in the side of an airplane is (and as glad as I am that the attempt failed and crew and passsengers are ok), that does not constitute a "massive attack on the country."

Posted by: electrolite on January 8, 2010 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

Did Bush provide Obama's prompt, post underpants-type review after the shoe-bomber incident, then let the public in on at least six ages of the conclusions?

Did Bush provide Obama's prompt, post underpants-type review after 9/11?

Posted by: Thaumaturgist on January 8, 2010 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

To be fair, if I were conservative, then I wouldn't want to talk about George W. Bush either.

Posted by: blank on January 8, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

But - but - but!! Bush promply spoke out 6 days later. It took Obama 72 hours to speak out.

6 days is less than 72 hours .... Oh, wait ....

It isn't?

Never mind.

Posted by: Jackinmpls on January 8, 2010 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

"6 days is less than 72 hours .... Oh, wait ....

It isn't?

Never mind."

You are apparently unfamiliar with "Republican math". By "Republican math", 6 days is indeed MUCH SOONER than 72 hours because 6 is a smaller number and that 2 at the end means Obama was closer to 7x2 or 14 days.

You have to keep up!

Posted by: Mark-NC on January 8, 2010 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

"If I didn't know better, I'd say there was a double-standard..."

While I suspect this was sarcasm, I'm curious if you really meant that. Is there some way, any way, you (or anyone else in the press corp) could see this as ANYTHING but a giant, glaring double standard?

Posted by: Tina on January 9, 2010 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

During the Reid incident, we didn't have 22% Americans who hated the rest of us enough to pull this current rude shit off! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 9, 2010 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Based on their current success rate, Islamic terrorists will have destroyed most American airliners and killed most American air travellers by 3738 AD. Scary thought.

Posted by: Yawn on January 9, 2010 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly