The Tom Ridge Furor

Allegations that Bush manipulated terror alert levels have made the left feel like it's 2004 all over again

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Admitting he was pressured to raise the terror alert level for political purposes, Tom Ridge has ignited a firestorm of commentary. The Atlantic's own Marc Ambinder has been at the center of the debate for saying that, despite the revelation, reporters were justifiably skeptical when the far-left made the same accusation in 2004.

Anger focused on Ambinder's breezy characterization of the motivations of Bush's critics as reflexive "gut hatred," which he revised, redacted, and eventually apologized for in a lengthy explanation.

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.

The apology won polite acknowledgments from the two critics Ambinder explicitly addressed, Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler. But many on the left are still riled up. Why? More than the substance of Ridge's allegation, this debate is about vindicating the left during its long winter fighting "the corporate media" under Bush. It's also an opportunity for the left to rebut efforts by Michelle Malkin and other right-leaning commentators to portray the unhinged townhall protests against Obama as nothing new. If strident opponents of President Bush also suffered from irrationality, then why are some of their charges being confirmed years later by his former aides?

Here are the best liberal reactions so far:

  • Marginalizing the Left Again, says Juan Cole at Informed Comment. He condemned CNN's coverage of Ridge, which only drew from members of the Bush administration. "It isn't enough that the corporate media lied to us for Bush for 8 years, they are continuing to do it."
  • Told You So, cheers David Sirota at Open Left. "As Glenn Greenwald notes, the evidence we and others pointed out at the time showing that this was going on was summarily ignored by the rest of the media. So to that same media, I'd just like to say: I hate to say we told you so...but we told you so."
  • Journalistic Bias, says Glenn Greenwald in a long, authoritative evisceration of Ambinder's post.  He denounces the double standard of trusting administration officials and doubting liberal activists, excoriating "Ambinder's belief that journalists can and should vest the pronouncements of political leaders with faith and trust rather than the skepticism that should be at the heart of all political journalism."
  • Doubting Bush Was Rational, asserts Brad DeLong, citing Ron Suskind. "There were, Ron Suskind thought starting in 2001, lots of reasons--a pattern of facts--to reach very strong negative conclusions about the Bush administration. These were not "ideological"--although Ambinder claims that they were."
  • Bush Deserved Hatred, says Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake.  Activists came to their dislike of Bush "after we assessed the claims made before the war, concluded they were hyped, and then learned that we were in fact correct that those claims were hyped, we came to loathe a man who would manufacture a case to go to war."

It was only last week that news of Cheney's memoir slamming Bush aroused a short-lived note of sympathy among some critics of our previous president.

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