Low poll numbers?

When the Bush administration announced this weekend there was a “credible threat” to the New York subway system, it may have struck you as odd that anytime Republicans face trouble in the media, phantom terrorists decide it’s time to strike.


It is slowly becoming fact that Bush pushes the terror alert button when he is in political trouble. It is high time that the media start charging him with crying wolf.


When the “credible threat” was announced with great fanfare over the weekend, it came amid mounting problems for Republicans. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted on felony criminal conspiracy charges in Texas. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is being investigated for insider trading. Karl Rove may soon be charged with outing a CIA agent, and it is now general consensus that Michael Moore and others were right all along that the Iraq War was, in fact, based on lies.


As it has so many times before, the Bush Administration responded predictably with: “Boo!”

It has become so predictable by now that the media has a new obligation. When newspapers report “the terror threat advisory has risen” to a different color, they should also note that many times these threats are unsubstantiated, especially when they conveniently coincide with inconvenient coverage of Republican mishaps.


To start, media outlets could remind the public that former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was often at odds with the decision to raise the alert level when he ran the agency. According to USA Today, Ridge said in May, “There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘For that?'”


One of these false cries was three days after the highly successful Democratic National Convention. To keep the newspapers from talking about John Kerry’s speeches, and to stifle the buzz mounting in the press that he had a real chance of winning the election, the terror threat level was raised because of threats to financial institutions. Terrorists, apparently, were planning to bomb Citigroup headquarters in Manhattan on August 3, 2004.


It may have struck you as odd that the same day this huge bank was threatened by terrorists, First Lady Laura Bush and her daughters went to visit Citigroup headquarters in Manhattan.

"I want to thank people for coming to work," the first lady said in USA Today. "I’m really glad to be here today."


If this was really a “credible threat,” why would the President, Secret Service, or anyone else allow the wife and daughters of the President to visit a building they thought was about to be blown up by terrorists?


The certain fallout from this spin was that Laura Bush and the phantom terrorists took the front page, and Kerry and Edwards were relegated back under the headlines. Even though democrats had a great time at the convention and got lots of people inspired, the President needed to remind everyone that there are real bogeymen out there, and he is the only one brave enough to send his wife into harm’s way.


The kicker about that whole fiasco was Bush’s attempt to corroborate the terror threat by outing a Pakistani-British double agent, the only one in history. Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan was in a Pakistani prison harvesting information for the British government about Pakistani terrorists. One of his targets, Mohammad Sadiq Khan, got spooked on hearing that Americans released Naeem Noor Khan’s name, and instead of getting caught by the double agent, he escaped and bombed the subways of London on July 7, 2005.


Bush’s political spins on terrorist attacks helped cause a terrorist attack. People have died because of hype. You probably haven’t heard much about this, because there are bogeymen on the front page.


This reflexive use of the panic button is endangering intelligence operations that are supposed to stop terrorists, and it is an attempt to trump any discussion that would be detrimental to Bush and his cronies. On the day of Karl Rove’s indictment, look out for a new terror cell somewhere near you.


The media have a responsibility to note when the terror alert level is politically convenient for Bush. This is no longer off the table for discussion. It is plain fact that he has used old and unreliable evidence to turn headlines away from embarrassing facts. Journalists and commentators have a responsibility to note, along with the new threat and the spooky terrorists, that Bush may be crying wolf, as he has so many times.


By reminding the public of what Bush is trying to hide with terror alerts, the multi-colored advisory system will stop being abused, and may actually have some credibility. Otherwise, we may see “Red: Severe Risk of Terrorist Attack,” and decline to believe what may be a real threat.