Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Saddam and Osama, sitting in a tree. Q: What would be the one thing -- other than nuclear weapons -- that would have justified the war in Iraq?

A: Real evidence of ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, especially if those ties extended to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

That's why the hot insider story in the Washington media right now is a Weekly Standard cover story by Stephen Hayes, accompanied by the hyperbolic headline "Case Closed," reporting the existence of a classified memo that concludes such ties really did exist. The memo even revives those stories about 9/11 bomber Mohamed Atta's supposed meeting(s) with a top Iraqi intelligence official in Prague.

So why is this an insider story instead of leading the nightly news? There are various theories. Slate's Jack Shafer thinks it's because the liberal media can't wrap their minds around something that so contradicts their preconceived notions. Josh Marshall argues -- on his weblog and in his column in the Hill -- that it's because Hayes is recycling long-discredited crapola.

And the plot thickens. The Defense Department has attempted to discredit Hayes's scoop, leading Hayes to respond on the Standard's website.

So who's right? Who knows? But logic suggests there may be a lot less to the memo than meets the eye.

The author of the leaked memo was Defense Department official Douglas Feith, currently under considerable fire for his previous efforts at exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq. Feith, in other words, is a man with a track record, and it's not a good one.

More important, even allowing for the fact that the White House has to protect certain intelligence assets, can we agree that the Bush administration would be moving heaven and earth to get this information out there if it had any confidence in it? After all, the Bushies are getting pounded day after day for phonying up the case for war. Presenting convincing evidence that Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11 would shut up a lot of people -- just about everyone, in fact.

Instead, the last time the Dark Lord, Dick Cheney, made such an assertion, George W. Bush felt compelled to take it back.

No, not every loose end has been wrapped up. Edward Jay Epstein, writing in Slate, asserts that evidence of the Atta meeting in Prague has never been adequately addressed.

Still, it's reasonable to expect that the White House is capable of making its own best case. That it has not only failed to embrace the Feith memo, but has actually distanced itself from it, suggests that this is all little ado about very little.

The Phoenix takes on same-sex marriage. Tomorrow's Phoenix will include an extensive package on the Supreme Judicial Court's decision to allow same-sex couples to marry. It's online now.

My piece argues that the Democrats ought to get off the defensive and claim same-sex marriage as their very own wedge issue.

Plug, plug. The website Written Voices has an interview with me about Little People. It's in Windows Media format.

Also, the new Online Journalism Review has a roundtable interview with bloggers and media critics, including yours truly. Unfortunately, they mixed up my photo with Bill Powers's.

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