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President Bush, Con Man? Thats Rich - March 24, 2003

Times Watch for 03/24/03

President Bush, Con Man? Thats Rich

When Vice-President Dan Quayle criticized the television show Murphy Brown, the media accused him of confusing TV and reality. Yesterday liberal Times editor Frank Rich compared President Bush to Billy Flynn, a sleazy character from the Academy Award winning movie Chicago, and used the movie as a metaphor for the war on Iraq. The articles subhead: In Oscar week, Billy Flynn goes to war. Chicagos con man and the president are right in step.

Richs inaugural essay for Arts & Leisure followed in the shallow footprints of his last piece for the Times op-ed page back in January. Joe Millionaire for President compared the TV hit to life under Bush. Rich extended his creative reach on Sunday with They Both Reached for the Gun, in which he compared the Iraq war toa movie.

Rich, a former op-ed writer and drama critic for the Times, is now a Times associate editor and will write a weekly cultural essay for the Sunday Arts & Leisure section. Times Executive Editor Howell Raines said in January, Im delighted to welcome him back to the news pages, adding: Mr. Rich will also serve as an adviser to Steven Erlanger, cultural news editor.

Rich wrote yesterday: To see why "Chicago" became the movie of the year in a year when America sleepwalked into war.all you have to do is watch a single scenea press conference in 1920's Chicago.

Through the magic of Hollywood-style flippancy, Rich transmogrified President Bush into the films slick defense attorney, Billy Flynn. Of the scene where Flynn coaches his murderess-client Roxie Hart to spin the media, Rich wrote: Roxie sings to the reporters, who obediently turn her lie into a rousing chorus, repeating it over and over in a production number that portrays them as marionettes, bowing and scraping to the tug of Billy's strings and spin.

Dabbling briefly with reality, Rich described Bushs actual prime-time press conference on March 6, accusing Bush of moral arrogance for discussing his faith in God: One reporter, April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks, asked, Mr. President, as the nation is at odds over war, how is your faith guiding you? a God-given cue for Mr. Bush to once more cloak his moral arrogance in the verbal vestments of humble religiosity.

Rich saw the news conference as a historical low for a pliant press, which he repeatedly likened to the puppets featured in Chicago: At Mr. Bush's sedated show there were no raised voices, not a single query about homeland security or Osama bin Laden.And like their Chicago counterparts, the Washington press corps were more than willing to buy fictions if instructed to do so by the puppeteer. Eight times [Mr. Bush] interchanged the war on Iraq with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, wrote The New York Observer, "and eight times he was unchallenged.

Rich seemed to be recycling Reagan-bashing columns, with Bush as cunning puppet-master instead of dumb actor. Though Mr. Bush usually appears on TV in front of White House backdrops stamped with the sound bite he wants to pummel into our brains, this time he didn't even have to bother. As he knew and said, in his one moment of truth that night the entire show was scripted. It has been from the start.

And what would a hit-piece be without portraying Bush as an uncultured fan of cowboy movies?

It's hard to picture George W. Bush fretting about the fate of the Academy Awards, let alone seeing Chicago, but he knows his westerns. Last weekend Vice President Cheney spoke admiringly to Tim Russert of how the president cuts to the chase. In the Azores last Sunday, Mr. Bush instructed his erstwhile allies to show your cards when you're playing poker. On Monday night, he gave the Hussein gang 48 hours to get out of Dodge.

9/11, Baghdad: Same Thing?

David Chens Saturday story, Baghdad Bombing Brings Back Memories of 9/11, likened the terrorist annihilation of the World Trade Center to the U.S. bombing of Iraqi forces in Baghdad.

They watched it from the streets. They watched it from their offices. And to many New Yorkers, the scenes of a city under siege were achingly familiar. New Yorkers watching the televised bombing of Baghdad yesterday said they were riveted by the raw and uninterrupted display of American military might. But for some, the bombing brought back particularly visceral and chilling memories. They could not help thinking about Sept. 11, and how New York, too, was once under assault from the skies.

Never mind that one incident involved terrorists attacking innocent civilians, the other the U.S. military liberating a country from a dictator.

Even Bushs Allies Hate Him

Delaying Talk About the Cost of War by Richard Stevenson on Sunday pulled together a host of partisan complaints about Bush to suggest some kind of conspiracy of secrecy emanating from the Bush administration: The White House's reticence about war costs has crystallized a sense among its political opponents, some independent observers and even some Republicans that Mr. Bush is willing to suppress information that threatens his agenda. They said it fit a pattern in which the administration had been far from forthcoming on matters including Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force and providing information on detainees taken into custody after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

After quoting a presidential scholar who said: "The Bush style is to ignore that which is difficult or awkward, Stevenson followed up: Indeed, frustration with the lack of information from the administration has bubbled up in recent weeks even among some of the administration's strongest allies. No answers, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, told reporters in exasperation after the administration declined to send witnesses to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this month on postwar reconstruction costs in Iraq.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, one of the administrations strongest allies? Since when?

The Times knows better. Back in August the paper ran a story, Top Republicans Break With Bush on Iraq Strategy, which included this line: Sen. Hagel, who was among the earliest voices to question Mr. Bush's approach to Iraq, said today that the Central Intelligence Agency had absolutely no evidence that Iraq possesses or will soon possess nuclear weapons.

Pleading Democrats Try To Halt Record Republican Deficits

Carl Hulse and David Firestones Sunday story on politics during wartime that implied Congressional Republicans were doing something unseemly by continuing to push Republican legislation.

Though Democrats pleaded for a halt after the war began, they wrote, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate chose not to stop their march toward tax cuts and record deficits, pausing only to pass resolutions in support of the troops and the president. In doing so, they were executing a plan agreed upon weeks ago to keep pressing their legislative program even if the bombs began to fall.

Colin Powell, Non-Frightening Bushie

Liberal Bill Keller, a managing editor for the Times turned op-ed writer, reluctantly came out in favor of the Iraq war recently, though in the most condescending terms imaginable (The I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club ). In his Saturday opinion piece, Keller pleaded for Secretary of State Colin Powell to resign:

Keller admitted: I can't count the number of times in the past two years I've heard occasionally from my own lips the observation that the Bush administration would be a much scarier outfit without Colin Powell. Allied diplomats, international businessmen and the American foreign policy mainstream have regarded him as the lone grown-up in an administration with a teenager's twitchy metabolism and self-centered view of the world. He was the one who acknowledged that other countries had legitimate interests, and that in the application of America's unmatched power there was a case for generosity because what goes around comes around. His pragmatic caution offset a moralism that sometimes verged on recklessness.