Alibi V.13 No.16 • April 15-21, 2004 

Thin Line

Missing the point. If you picked up the Albuquerque Journal on Friday, April 9, in hopes of getting some solid coverage of Condoleeza Rice's testimony before the 9-11 Commission last week, what you got was a truncated "analysis" originating from the Washington Post.

After reading the article, I was struck by how abruptly it ended. It seemed the most contentious and revealing interactions between Rice, the National Security Advisor, and some of the commissioners weren't analyzed at all.

It turns out, the Journal cut the final eight paragraph's of the original story that appeared in the Post. It was clearly the section that showed how difficult this issue is for the Bush administration.

The Journal version entitled, "Bush Actions Against Terror Threat in Contention" ends with Rice telling the commission that a classified briefing given to President Bush on Aug. 6, 2001 was entitled: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the United States." That's it. The “analysis” ends right there.

But if you read the same article "Zeroing In on One Classified Document" by David Von Drehle on the Post's website like I did, you'll find these eight paragraphs that the Journal chose to omit:

(Washington lawyer Richard) Ben-Veniste tried to stop her at that, but Rice kept talking over his objections, insisting that there was nothing new and nothing solid in the (Aug. 6, 2001) "PDB," or President's Daily Brief.

"It did not warn of attacks inside the United States," Rice insisted. "It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. And it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States."

After some more sparring, Ben-Veniste challenged Rice to have the briefing made public. "If you are willing to declassify that document, then others can make up their minds about it," he said.

It was a dare that left some Washington Republicans nervous. They had watched as the White House resisted calls from survivors of September 11 victims and from the commission for Rice's testimony—only to give in after suffering political damage. Now they wondered whether the administration would once again dig in its heels in a losing cause.

But the administration is moving to release the disputed briefing, White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "We hope to be able to make it available."

The briefing tantalizes many Democrats because it cuts directly to Bush's own understanding of the al Qaeda threat before the attacks. Judging from news accounts at the time, terrorism was hardly a cloud on the national radar. Reporters covering Bush worried over the heat, the length of the president's vacation, the controversy over stem cell research, and the differences between Crawford and Kennebunkport.

Bush took questions the following day. "I'm working a lot of issues—national security matters," he told them. But the one he discussed in detail was not terrorism. Iraqi gunners in the "no-fly" zone had once again tried to shoot down U.S. jets.

"Saddam Hussein is a menace," Bush told reporters after a round of golf. "He's still a menace, and we need to keep him in check, and will. He's been a menace forever, and . . . he needs to open his country up for inspection so we can see whether or not he's developing weapons of mass destruction."

It's obvious why the Journal had to change the Post's headline. Their selective editing clearly conceals the importance of the "one classified document" that has become such a hot-button issue for the White House.

So why cut the most significant and enlightening section of the article? Joe Kirby, assistant managing editor at the Journal, cited “space reasons,” adding: “It might not have been the best cut, not a smooth ending.”