Author: Dan Froomkin
Posted at 10:22 AM ET, 06/26/2009
Today’s column is my last for The Washington Post. And the first thing I want to say is thank you. Thank you to all you readers, e-mailers, commenters, questioners,Â Facebook friendsÂ andÂ TwitterersÂ for spending your time with me and engaging with me over the years. And thank you for the recent outpouring of support. It was extraordinarily uplifting, and I’m deeply grateful. If I ever had any doubt, your words have further inspired me to continue doing accountability journalism. My plan is to take a few weeks off before embarking upon my next endeavor — but when I do, I hope you’ll join me.
It’s hard to summarize the past five and a half years. But I’ll try.
I started my column in January 2004, and one dominant theme quickly emerged: That George W. Bush was truly the proverbial emperor with no clothes. In the days and weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, the nation, including the media, vested him with abilities he didn’t have and credibility he didn’t deserve. As it happens, it was on the day of myÂ very first columnÂ that we also got the first insider look at the Bush White House, via Ron Suskind’s book,Â The Price of Loyalty. In it, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill described a disengaged president “like a blind man in a room full of deaf people”, encircled by “a Praetorian guard,” intently looking for a way to overthrow Saddam Hussein long before 9/11. The ensuing five years andÂ 1,088 columnsÂ really just fleshed out that portrait, describing a president who was oblivious, embubbled and untrustworthy.
When I look back on the Bush years, I think of the lies. There were so many.Â Lies about the warÂ andÂ lies to cover upÂ the lies about the war.Â Lies about tortureÂ andÂ surveillance.Â Lies about Valerie Plame. Vice President DickÂ Cheney’s lies, criminally prosecutable but for his chief of staffÂ Scooter Libby’s lies. I also think about the extraordinary and fundamentally cancerousÂ expansion of executive powerÂ that led to violations of our laws and our principles.
And while this wasn’t as readily apparent until President Obama took office, it’s now very clear that the Bush years were all about kicking the can down the road — either ignoring problems or, even worse, creating them and not solving them. This was true of a huge range of issues including the economy, energy, health care, global warming — and of course Iraq and Afghanistan.
How did the media cover it all? Not well. Reading pretty much everything that was written about Bush on a daily basis, as I did, one could certainly see the major themes emerging. But by and large, mainstream-media journalism missed the real Bush story for way too long. The handful of people who did exceptional investigative reporting during this era really deserve our gratitude: People such asÂ Ron Suskind,Â Seymour Hersh,Â Jane Mayer,Â Murray Waas,Â Michael Massing,Â Mark Danner,Â Barton Gellman and Jo Becker,Â James Risen and Eric LichtblauÂ (betterÂ lateÂ than never),Â Dana Priest,Â Walter Pincus,Â Charlie SavageÂ andÂ Philippe Sands; there was also some fine investigative blogging over atÂ Talking Points MemoÂ and byÂ Marcy Wheeler. Notably not on this list: The likes ofÂ Bob WoodwardÂ andÂ Tim Russert. Hopefully, the next time the nation faces a grave national security crisis, we will listen to the people who were right, not the people who were wrong, and heed those who reported the truth, not those who served as stenographers to liars.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that there is so very much about the Bush era that weÂ still don’t know.
Now, a little over five months after Bush left office, Barack Obama’s presidency is shaping up to be in large part aboutÂ coming to terms with the Bush era, and fixing all the things that were broken. In most cases, Obama is approaching this taskÂ enthusiasticallyÂ — although in some cases, he is doing so only underÂ great pressure, and in a few cases,Â notÂ at allÂ . I think part of Obama’s abiding popularity with the public stems from what a contrast he is from his predecessor — and in particular hisÂ willingness to take on problems. But he certainly hasÂ a lotÂ of balls in the air at one time. And I predict that his growingÂ penchant for secrecyÂ — especially but not only when it comes to the Bush legacy of torture and lawbreaking — will end up serving him poorly, unless he renounces it soon.
Obama is nowhere in Bush’s league when it comes to issues of credibility, but his every action nevertheless needs to be carefully scrutinized by the media, and he must be held accountable. We should be holding him to the highest standards — and there are plenty of places where we should be pushing back. Just for starters, there are a lot of hugely important but unanswered questions about hisÂ Afghanistan policy, hisÂ financial rescue plans, and hisÂ turnaround on transparency.
So now I’m off. I wish The Washington Post well. I’m proud to have been associated with it for 12 years (I was a producer and editor at the Web site before starting the column.) I remain a big believer in the “traditional media,” especially when it sticks toÂ traditional journalistic values. The Post was, is and will always be a great newspaper, and I have confidence that it will rise to the challenges ahead.
I’ll be announcing my next move soon onÂ whitehousewatch.comÂ and also to anyone who e-mails meÂ
atÂ firstname.lastname@example.org. Please stay in touch.