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John Podhoretz

Wednesday, July 5, 2006
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HH: I’m joined by John Podhoretz, New York Post columnist, author of Can She Be Stopped?, a wonderful book on Hillary. More on that in just a moment. John, welcome. Did you have a good 4th of July?

JP: I sure did, Hugh. It was a pleasure. It’s always a pleasure. Greatest holiday of all.

HH: It is. I love the Independence Day holiday. Did you read David Remnick in the New Yorker this week, John Podhoretz?

JP: Oh, I sure did, Hugh, and a lot of interesting stuff is going on. It seems to me that Remnick, who is a journalist that I greatly respect, is joining what I think is a bizarre guild moment in which the media are circling the wagons around the New York Times with these wildly divergent ideas, ideas including A) no harm was done to national security by the revelation of the SWIFT program, or B) the people needed to know, or C), and most interestingly, that the entirely passionate response on the part of people who are worried about the War On Terror and national security were somehow ginned up by a White House that is perfectly aware that no harm was done, which is an astonishing thing for any sensible person to say, when we know from the record that they spent months attempting to do everything in their power to get the New York Times not to publish the story.

HH: And in fact, John Podhoretz, the only way that these claims can be made is on the hope that no one reads the June 23rd story, and the claims that it made, especially the claim that Hambali himself was captured by a SWIFT program, the evidence of which was, now that they say, out in public for months before he was captured.

JP: Okay. It was said that we were having success in interfering with al Qaeda’s finances.

HH: Yes.

JP: Fine. We didn’t know, and al Qaeda didn’t know, and nobody knew how. The how is what matters. It is beyond belief that intelligent people think that they can get away with convincing people that the how doesn’t matter. I mean, think about it. It’s like if we say, if we get a major piece of intelligence information, or something like that…it’s just beggar’s belief.

HH: Now at the end of his New Yorker piece, David Remnick…and you’re right, a superb journalist/reporter on matters Russian, and he’s been a pretty good editor of the New Yorker as well…

JP: I think so, too.

HH: …writes, “In the era of the Pentagon Papers, a war-weary White House went to the courts to stifle the press. You begin to wonder if the Bush White house, in its urgent need to find scapegoats for the myriad disasters is has inflicted, is preparing to repeat a dismal and dismaying episode of the Nixon years.” Now of course, they’ve been talking about the Pentagon Papers, John Podhoretz, but no prior restraint was sought here. None was attempted.

JP: Well, first of all, no prior restraint was sought. Second of all, the Pentagon Papers were a document that was an effort to establish inside the U.S. government a historical record on the debate that took place inside the government about the war in Vietnam. It was not in any way, shape or form a matter of a contemporaneous, ongoing program whose exposure would materially threaten progress in the war that was being made. For example, when Bill Keller of the New York Times says…I know this is an obsession with you, and you keep repeating, talking about it, but when he says that they don’t report troop movements, well, in an asymmetrical struggle, like the War On Terror, banks, monies, are troop movements.

HH: Yes, they are. Yes, they are.

JP: We don’t have troop movements, per se. That is not the way this war is being fought. This is, too, fought in the conventional battlefield, including in Iraq.

HH: Yup.

JP: …where we are not fighting conventional battles. So that is a disingenuous analogy.

HH: Well, it’s all…this disingenuity is everywhere. Doyle McManus admitted to me that it was conceivable, at least conceivable, that the story assisted terrorists in eluding capture. Once that’s on the table, it’s game, set match. It was irresponsible to put it out.

JP: Right. But listen, listen, listen, listen. I’m struck by this event that I say is like a guild, union, you know, needle trade’s effort to circle the wagons on behalf of the profession, because every time in the course of recent history that you can name that a, let us say that an attack bubbles up from the conservative grass roots, whether you want to call it talk radio or organizations or people or something like that, an attack bubbles up like Swift Boats, or something like that, this desperate hunger to presume that this is a top down effort being manipulated by the powerful in Washington for benefit, I think it’s very safe to say that while after a time, the Bush campaign understood that there was benefit, political benefit, to, say, the Swift Boat attack in 2004, I doubt very much in the early going that they thought that at all.

HH: I agree.

JP: Actually, they thought that this was a dangerous thing to raise, that it would boomerang, even that it might be unfair. Who knows? But it is when things work, it is when issues are raised that start to leap out of the control of the mainstream that they descend into this kind of idiotic conspiracy theorizing that they would never do about their own side, that they would never presume on their own side. And I think that so some extent, that’s a mark of success. That’s a mark that this is really having an effect.

HH: Oh, Larry Kudlow thinks they’re just getting killed. Let me add this one line, then we’ll go to break. “Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and others in the Nixon-Agnew-Ford orbit left Washington believing that the imperial presidency had been disastrously hobbled.” Now, and I’m paraphrasing, now they’re back. “And the White House has tried to starve, mock, weaken, bypass, devalue, intimidate and deceive the press with tactics far more toxic than any prose devised in the name of Spiro Agnew.” I just don’t understand this, John. What they’re reacting to is the reality of people hating them.

JP: Well, but I mean, I don’t even understand…I honestly don’t understand what precisely it is that they are referring to.

HH: Neither do I.

JP: I mean, the most toxic thing that has happened to the American press in the last two years, the most dangerous thing that has happened in the pursuit of information has been the Scooter Libby prosecution.

HH: Yup.

JP: The Scooter Libby prosecution was insisted upon by the New York Times editorial page.

HH: Same point Christopher Hitchens made earlier in this hour.

HH: John, have you seen The Devil Wears Prada yet?

JP: I have. It’s…I just wrote a big piece about it for the Weekly Standard. It’ll be out on Saturday.

HH: Oh, what did you think?

JP: I thought it was wonderful.

HH: So did I.

JP: Loved it. Loved it.

HH: And I want to ask you, would Miranda Priestly have anything to do with the way that Keller and Remnick and others are acting?

JP: Well, I mean, she’s pretty high-handed, but…

HH: Confident and arrogant, not defensive and paranoid. That’s the big difference between old elite media and new elite media, is different.

JP: Listen, when Bill Keller gets up and says how dare anyone say that we aren’t fighting the War On Terror? We live in New York. We’re at the center of the target. We’re in the middle of the battlefield. You know, that’s all well and good. That’s a very nice sentiment, and I praise it, and I love the flag waiving. The argument that he is making, that the New York Times has on dozens of occasions done things to protect national security, but in this case chose to reveal the program, is, I believe, a lie. And I’ll tell you why I think it’s a lie, and a knowing lie, because the circumstances are that I cannot imagine that any administration in the history of the world has ever attempted a campaign of such suasion on a news organization. Not threatening, they clearly didn’t threaten, they didn’t, you know, say we’re going to haul you into court, we’re going to arrest your children, we’re going to reveal your love affairs. They substantively sat down with editors, writers, had different people of different political parties, and different positions, and different…and Houses of Congress, and the 9/11 Commission, made phone calls attempting substantively to explain why it was that doing this would be an act of irresponsibility. The choice to do so, in the absence of any allegation of criminality or unconstitutionality, reveals to me that there is no way on Earth that under other circumstances, the New York Times didn’t just do what it chose.

HH: Have you…is this a feeling generally shared inside the Post and other media organizations with which you work, John Podhoretz?

JP: Listen, I think many more people than we know are deeply concerned and confused by the Times’ decision. But when the time came when after three days, the President said that this was shameful, when it became clear just how severe a blow this was, at that point, people began circling the wagons to protect the media.

End of interview.

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