Liberals And Gut Hatred, Or, Why I'm Sorry I Wrote What I Wrote

Both Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler have written posts eviscerating me for contending that Bush-hatred, not anything else, drove skepticism among liberals about the terrorist threat warnings. They've both written good posts, really; lawyerly, passionate and persuasive, over the top, at times, but they've given me a lot to think about. (One post is better than the other, but I won't say which one.)

They haven't changed my mind, but they've certainly modified my conclusion. I didn't spend enough time thinking about what I wanted to say. Incidentally, if I am a symbol of everything that is wrong in journalism, then I suggest they are both giving me WAY too much credit.

I will say one thing about journalists collectively: we will never, ever change people's minds about the media except by practicing good journalism. So arguing -- and even apologizing -- is kind of useless and counterproductive.

I still think that some journalists were right to be skeptical of the doubters at the time. I think that some journalists were correct to question how they arrived at the beliefs they arrived at.

The evolving history of the Bush administration, we've come to learn, is complex. The White House was never the monolith that it once appeared to me. The story of how the White House revolted against Dick Cheney is only beginning to be told. Administration officials were more political in some areas than we had assumed, and less political in others, and their worldview was shaped by an all-consuming obsession about terrorism. The One Percent Doctrine.

Reading the excerpts from Tom Ridge's book, it is not clear to me that he is actually arguing against interest, or that he is correct. No doubt, Don Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft had very strong views about terrorism, but simply because Ridge -- who disagreed with Rumsfeld and Ashcroft about many, many things -- had a feeling that Rumsfeld was trying to tinker with an election's outcome does not, by a mile, prove anything.

What it establishes is that Ridge had the same suspicions as many liberals and libertarians. And Ridge, having access to most of the intelligence, had sound reasons to object. "Gut hatred" is way too strong a term -- it's the wrong term -- to describe why liberals doubted the fundamental capacity of the White House to be honest about anything. It was ideological and based on their intepretation of a pattern of facts that, in retrospect, seems much more reasonable than it did. The media's skepticism was warranted; our derision wasn't and mine isn't. Quite frankly, I don't think the triumphalism is any more attractive, either.

My hindsight bias is no less offensive than the bias I attribute to these liberals. It was wrong to use the phrase "gut hatred." Had I spent more time thinking about the post, I would have chosen a different phrase. And I should have.

Here's the way to put this into context: the political team at the White House had the honor of using policy to advance politics. That they did, in ways that were tough to handle -- scaring Americans into complacence, taking advantage of weak Democrats, comparing Max Cleland to Saddam Hussein, exploiting the national security divisions in this country for electoral gain.   Though American politics has never been beanbag and it has never been nice, for political journalists, our not calling out Republicans on these tactics -- not calling them strikes, as they were definitely within the strike zone -- was our deepest failing.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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